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When it comes to camera bags, you’ve a lot of options. Over the shoulder or backpack? Designer or functional? Showy or understated? And, of course, then there’s the question of how much to spend. There’s no point in paying for expandability and features you don’t need, but in time your ambitions might outgrow a smaller bag.
Fortunately, the Expert Reviews office is packed with photographers of all stripes, from power-zoom users to ridiculously over-equipped DSLR enthusiasts, so we’ve plenty of bag recommendations. Here, we’ve broken them down for you, detailing which bags are best for which kind of photographer, and what extra features they offer.
How to buy the best camera bag for you
What size of bag should I be looking for?
If you’re looking for a camera bag that’s precisely big enough to accommodate your current photographic equipment, you're doing it wrong. Instead, try this thought exercise: think of your dream photographic expedition, and buy a bag for that. That means you’ll want space for the biggest lens you’re ever likely to use, your dream camera body, a handful of wider lenses and, of course, a laptop and a handful of hard disks for backup. Now we’re talking.
So my bag should have space for non-photography items too?
Even if you’re not a back-up-every-day kind of photographer, a separate space for a tablet or laptop will work wonders when it comes to keeping you moving. With a few ancillary pockets for hard disks, notebooks, pens and your passport, your camera bag can be the only thing you need to carry.
Ok, I’ve found one with enough space. Now what?
Flexibility is everything. A good camera bag should have adjustable, ideally removable dividers, so you can tuck up everything nice and tight whether you’re carrying one lens or five. You certainly don’t want your equipment to get bashed around in transit. Also think about how your bag opens: bags that only open from the top are prone to accumulating forgotten odds and ends at the bottom; ones that unzip all the way make it easy to access all your gear.
Which type of bags are best for different camera types: DSLR, Mirrorless, Compact etc?
If you use mostly light gear, such as mirrorless cameras and pancake lenses, a stylish messenger-style bag should do you fine. But for heavier kit – such as full-frame cameras and pro lenses – it’s likely to quickly get uncomfortable. Consider a backpack with double shoulder straps – and, for added comfort (and nerd) points, a hip strap as well to balance the weight and ease the strain on your shoulders.
What should you do before splashing out?
Bad news, internet shoppers: you really, really need to try out a camera bag in person before you commit to it. That’s true of even cheapo, sub-£30 bags; it’s most definitely the case with £200-and-up pro models. What does it feel like on your back? Is it easy to adjust, even when it’s heavy with kit? Is your gear accessible when it’s in there?
If you insist on buying online then UK distance-selling laws give you 14 days to return it. Try it out as soon as it arrives, and send it back if it’s not perfect. You – and your back – will regret it if you don’t.
The best camera bags from £20
1. AmazonBasics DSLR Gadget Messenger Bag Large with Orange Interior: The best cheap camera bag
Price when reviewed: £20
Cool brand? No. Snappy name? No. Top-notch design credentials? Not especially. But while Amazon’s own-brand camera carrier may lack the cachet of, say, National Geographic’s, there’s plenty to be said for a well-made shoulder bag that barely scrapes the twenty quid mark.
It won’t suit photographers who routinely take the kitchen sink with them: a full-frame camera and a couple of lenses will fill this bag more or less to the brim. But if you’re rocking a mirrorless camera, this may be all the camera bag you ever need. It has enough space for a crop-frame body with a lens attached, plus one or two other smallish lenses, and there’s a pouch at the back for a tablet. Extra pockets allow you to keep a few spare memory cards or a (very) slim external hard disk with you too.
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: Yes/No; Internal dimensions: 254 x 127 x 178mm (WDH); External dimensions: 130 x 200 x 300mm (WDH); Empty weight: 0.73kg
2. Billingham Hadley Pro Canvas Camera Bag With Tan Leather Trim: The best camera bag for classic style
Price when reviewed: £189
Tipping up at a shade under £200, this canvas and leather khaki number is all class. With stitched leather straps and brass fittings, its classic look is underpinned by modern camera-bag trappings. The leather straps have a quick release strap so you don’t need to fiddle with them to get your gear out, and there’s room enough for a big DSLR and a few lenses. Velcro dividers inside let you customise the size and layout of the bag’s compartment – or you can pop the padded lining out entirely, allowing the Hadley Pro to double as a good-looking, practical weekend bag when it’s not on photography duties. Meanwhile, a pair of decent-sized pockets, with poppers to keep them shut, give you options for carrying hard disks, filters or memory cards.
It’s not huge: only the very smallest laptops will fit, and photographers with more than one camera should probably look elsewhere. It’s also a little disappointing that the shoulder strap – the obvious way to carry the bag when you’re out shooting – doesn’t have a pad to ease the wear on your shoulder and clothes. Instead, it’s a £30 option.
Still, when it comes to combining practicality and style the Hadley Pro is a winner. If you’re looking for a medium-sized camera bag while the rest of your stuff chills at your hotel, it’s hard to find a better-looking option.
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 340 x 80 x 230mm (WDH); External dimensions: 350 x 120 x 280mm (WDH); Empty weight: 1kg
3. LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II: The best all-round camera bag under £150
Price when reviewed: £139
After a go-anywhere camera bag, but don’t want to shell out for a high-end beast? The LowePro Pro Runner could be for you. It’s a compact little number – just 40cm tall – but it will take a full-frame DSLR (or two) plus a decent assortment of lenses. You might need to steer clear of enormous ultra-telephotos, but a decent 70-300mm should be fine. Owners of either full-height DSLRs, or DSLRs with battery grips, should try before they buy, as there’s a chance the extra height will pose a problem.
The thick front pocket can fit a tablet, and there’s a CradleFit pocket as well – a suspended compartment within the bag designed to shield a laptop from shocks and jostles. In this model it will only take a laptop up to 13in, but laptops up to 15in can be carried in the pocket at the front of the bag.
A decent handful of additional pockets means you should be able to get everything bar chargers and power cables into a single bag. It’s not as capacious as pricier bags, but for under £150 this bag holds a lot of gear for the money. Perfect for gap-year photographers.
Key specs – Type: Backpack-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/Yes; Internal dimensions: 290 x 115 x 395mm (WDH); External dimensions: 315 x 140 x 460mm (WDH); Empty weight: 2.4kg
4. National Geographic Earth Explorer camera holster S: A classic choice for old-school explorers
Price when reviewed: £30
Who knew National Geographic made camera bags? Well, technically they don’t – the bag itself is made by tripod giant Manfrotto, and branded up for stylish, adventurous types.
Stylish it certainly is. Finished in khaki green and made from cotton and canvas, this is a bag for travellers who yearn for the days when a trip to Africa involved a float plane and pith helmet. It’s a modern piece of kit, though: the zip on the main compartment has a clever seal that gives the bag – and its occupants – a little waterproofing.
You can’t keep loads in it. The “S” stands for “small”, and DSLR photographers – particularly aspirational types with full-frame cameras, battery grips and pro lenses – probably shouldn’t apply. But if you’ve got a mirrorless camera with maybe one or two lenses, bags don’t come much better looking than this.
Storage for accessories is minimal. There are no external straps to connect even a small tripod, and the pocket on the front is good for a USB cable and perhaps a lens cleaning cloth and not much else. Next to the AmazonBasics bag it’s comparatively limited, and it’s a tenner more expensive to boot. But which is going to look better on your Instagram feed?
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 90 x 111 x 130mm (WDH); External dimensions: 125 x 125 x 165mm (WDH); Empty weight: 0.32kg
5. ThinkTank Airport International V3.0: The best for big budgets and bigger lenses
Price when reviewed: £359
American firm ThinkTank’s flagship camera-carrier isn’t cheap, but then a bag suitable for carrying five figures’ worth of kit probably shouldn’t be. You want capacity? You’ve got it. It’ll take two full-height DSLRs (or regular DSLRs with battery grips) with lenses, plus another two to four spare lenses, plus a laptop up to 15in AND a tablet – while a bunch of other pockets provide storage for notebooks, memory cards, cables, hard disks and so on.
ThinkTank’s build quality is legendary among professional photographers: watch any gaggle of paparazzi and you’re bound to spot a few ThinkTanks in there. Top-notch materials including ballistic nylon, abrasion-resistant zips and a water-repellent coating on the outside mean this bag should comfortably survive downpours and disasters. When the weather really comes in, an included blue rain cover with internal seams allow you to bolster the bag’s waterproofing even more.
The Airport International V3.0 is designed to accommodate a whopping 500mm f/4 lens – with a few others alongside – yet will still fit in the overhead locker of all but the smallest domestic jets. So if you’re hiring the lens of a lifetime for a safari, the Airport International V3.0 should see your kit there safe and sound.
Key specs – Type: Backpack-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: Yes/Yes; Internal dimensions: 33 x 16.5–19.1 x 47mm (WDH); External dimensions: 356 x 203 x 533mm (WDH); Empty weight: 4.4kg
6. ThinkTank Glass Taxi: The best pick for long-lens luggers
Price when reviewed: £129
The ThinkTank Glass Taxi occupies a slightly odd photographic niche: it’s ideal for photographers with one big telephoto lens, and not a lot else. It’ll hold a 500mm f/4 super telephoto, as long as it doesn’t have a camera attached, or a 300mm f/2.8 if you insist on putting both your lens and your camera in your bag.
To be fair, if your equipment is more normally-sized equipment it’s much more useful: the adjustable foam dividers allow you to fit a couple of big camera bodies and a series of normal zoom lenses, but you can forget about stuffing a laptop or even a tablet inside.
It feels supremely well-made, and the included waterproof cover is another plus. And where the Glass Taxi really excels is its expandability. The thick band on the front allows you to attach accessories from Think Tank’s Modulus range, which runs from small bags to separate DSLR holster pouches and lens holders. So if the Glass Taxi won’t hold everything you want right now, you can probably expand it to do the job.
For the price it’s a very appealing bag – although photographers with big dreams might find themselves updating sooner rather than later.
Key specs – Type: Backpack/shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 211 x 203 x 414mm (WDH); External dimensions: 216 x 241 x 432mm (WDH); Empty weight: 2kg
Posted on 23 August 2017 | 6:40 am
4 hours 26 min ago
Price when reviewed
The Sony Xperia Touch is like no Android device you’ve ever seen. Rather than sporting a screen of its own, this boxy kittle gadget projects the Nougat interface downward onto the surface of your desk. By monitoring your finger movements, it effectively turns your table-top into a virtual 10-point multitouch display. Alternatively, place it at the foot of a wall and the interface can be scaled up to a massive 80in.
It’s an intriguing idea, and the device itself is pretty versatile, offering a full range of Android features. It supports both 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and provides a micro-HDMI output, built-in stereo speakers and even a 13-megapixel camera. Apps can be installed from Google Play, and if you fill the 32GB of onboard storage, you can add more via a micro-SD card slot.
It’s quite mobile too: we’d hesitate to call the Xperia Touch pocket-sized, but with a 69 x 143mm footprint it’s easily compact enough to carry around, and at 932g it’s lighter than most laptops. You can take it to work for an impromptu presentation, or set it up as a kitchen assistant, without having to worry about getting spillages and mucky fingers on the “touchscreen”.
Unfortunately, the idea is a lot better than the execution. Android simply isn’t designed for an outsized, projected interface. Try to type an email, for example, and you’ll be faced with a gigantic keyboard, with comically oversized keys that pointlessly take up half of the entire display. The motion-detection hardware is also nowhere near as reliable or responsive as a real touchscreen, especially in wall-projection mode. That makes the Xperia Touch irksome for casual use, and downright maddening for gaming.
Another issue is the relatively weedy lamp. If you want to enjoy the screen in its full 80in glory, brightness falls to just 100cd/m2. The native 1,366 x 768 resolution looks pretty ropey at that size too. Finally, we must also mention battery life: the Xperia Touch may be portable, but its internal battery will only give you around an hour of use before it needs plugging in.
We’re certainly not opposed to projectors in principle; we’re very fond of units like the BenQ W2000 or the Optoma GT1080Darbee, which can turn a plain wall into a home cinema for under a grand. But the marriage of projection with touch is something very new, and while Sony deserves credit for fresh thinking, the Xperia Touch feels more like a proof of concept than a proper consumer product.
In fact, it highlights just how far we are from being ready for interactive table- and wall-projection systems. Do you have a suitable expanse of white surface? Is it comfortable to tap and swipe on? Is it resistant to fingerprints? Does it offer a suitable mounting-point for a projector? The more you think about it, the more problems become apparent.
Still, it has been argued that projection is the display technology of tomorrow. And who knows, in years to come we might look back at the Sony Xperia Touch as a device ahead of its time. On its own terms, though, it feels impractical and half-baked; for £1,400 it’s an absurdly optimistic proposition.
Posted on 22 August 2017 | 10:58 am
22 hours 38 min ago
Android co-founder Andy Rubin has a new venture called Essential. The aim of this company is to make a world-class phone – one that combines minimalist style with exceptionally high performance but, most importantly, one that serves to streamline people’s lives rather than clutter or colonise them. Meet the Essential Phone. A stylish high-end smartphone that rivals the major flagships. It features a bezel-less screen, bold design and modular features. But how will it fare performance-wise compared to other high-end competitors? And – as a debut flagship – how much will it set you back?
Here’s everything you need to know about Andy Rubin’s brainchild the Essential Phone, including price, release date, design, features and specs.
Essential Phone UK release date
The Essential Phone will be shopping this week in the US, with mobile retailer Sprint opening pre-orders for the handset on 17 August. Amazon has also put the phone up for pre-order, with a planned shipping date of 1 September.
READ NEXT: The best smartphones of 2017
The Essential Phone’s UK launch will come alongside launches in Western Europe and Japan, although specific dates have not yet been confirmed. Watch this space.
Essential Phone price
As a flagship handset, the Essential Phone comes in at a lofty price point of $699 (£540 before VAT). The Essential Phone is only available in one model – the unlocked 128GB handset. Downsizing just isn’t an option.
However, given the current valuation of the pound, we’d be surprised if it launched for anything less than £599 in the UK.
There’s the small offer of a consolation prize for US buyers, however: there’s a limited time bundle that offers the 360-degree Essential Phone camera for an extra $50 (£40) – a decent saving (if you were thinking of purchasing anyway) from the normal $199 (£155) price tag.
Essential Phone design
The Essential Phone is comprised of a ceramic and titanium body, with a sought-after edge-to-edge screen. In fact, the Essential Phone is almost entirely devoid of bezel, with the exception of a tiny sliver at the bottom of the handset and a cut-away for the front-facing camera.
Despite bezel-less screens being more prone to cracks, it’s likely to be a durable phone given its titanium build, which is more resilient than aluminium. Be wary, though, as there’s no mention of water resistance yet, so users will want to tote their Essential Phones with care.
The colour options currently available are opulent-sounding "Black Moon" and "Pure White", with the equally intriguing "Stellar Grey" and "Ocean Depths" launching soon. Meanwhile, the face of the phone comprises a wholly black, logo-less screen, punctuated solely by a front-facing camera and a fingerprint scanner. As the name would suggest, the design is clean, pared down, and has done away with non-essentials (well, if the shoe fits…)
Essential Phone features
As mentioned above, the Essential Phone will feature a fingerprint scanner on its screen – something the iPhone 8 is also rumoured to have. And that’s not its only high-quality feature: the Essential Phone is said to house the thinnest dual-camera system built for a phone.
Impressively, the dual-rear lenses are said to combine to capture 20 times more light than regular phone cameras, meaning low-light photography on the Essential Phone will be to an excellent standard.
Another feature, or lack thereof, is the absence of the 3.5mm headphone jack, à la the iPhone 7. What it lacks here, it makes up for with extra pieces of hardware that increase the functionality of the phone. The aforementioned 360-degree Essential Phone camera is an example of such hardware, along with a charging dock that’s been announced. Both of these extras will attach to the phone via a magnetic connector on the phone’s rear.
A new AI assistant has also been confirmed for the Essential Phone, as features on its domestic counterpart, the Essential Home. Details of its functionality have not yet been disclosed.
Essential Phone specs
Given the relatively large screen, the handset is surprisingly compact overall, coming in at 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8mm and weighing 185g. The Essential Phone has a 3,040mAh battery, which – although not fantastic – does come in at slightly more than the Samsung Galaxy S8’s 3,000mAh one.
In terms of power, the Essential Phone runs on a Snapdragon 835 chipset, an octa-core chip with four cores at 2.45GHz and four cores at 1.9GHz. The phone also has 4GB of RAM, making it a valiant contender with any recent flagship releases. There’s a hefty 128GB of storage, but there doesn’t appear to be a microSD slot, disappointingly.
Given that the Essential Phone is a high-quality smartphone, the camera quality is duly commendable: the Essential Phone sports dual 13-megapixel rear cameras, and an 8-megapixel front-facing one. Both the rear and front cameras wield the capacity to shoot 4K video.
Oh, and as the brainchild of Android co-founder Andy Rubin, it rather inevitably runs Android. Predictions are that the operating system will be streamlined (again, "Essential" Phone – it’s sort of in the name), with Tech Radar speculating that it’ll be close to stock Android.
Posted on 22 August 2017 | 9:46 am
1 day 4 hours ago
Choosing a motherboard can be daunting. There’s a huge range of options to choose from, each with its own combination of features and technologies. And you don’t want to make the wrong choice, as it’s not something you can easily change. Once you’ve fitted the motherboard into your case, connected all the cables and installed the CPU, memory, drives and expansion cards, it’s generally there for good.
Happily, choosing a motherboard doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to know what you’re looking for, in terms of budget and expansion options. Here’s our pick of the best motherboards on the market, supporting both AMD and Intel processors, and designed to suit every role from casual web browsing to extreme overclocking.
How to buy the best motherboard for you
What type of motherboard do I need?
That depends on what sort of processor you want, or already have. If you’re planning to use an AMD Ryzen processor, you’ll need a motherboard with an AM4 socket. For Intel, things are slightly more complicated: if you’re buying a Core i3, i5 or i7 processor then you need a board with an LGA 1151 socket. But just having the right socket isn’t enough: the onboard chipset must support the specific generation of chip you’re using. If you’re buying right now, that will probably be one of Intel’s latest seventh-generation “Kaby Lake” chips, so check for compatibility. If you’re planning to buy in the near future, it might make sense to hold out for a CPU and chipset from the eighth-generation “Coffee Lake” range.
What chipset should I choose?
There are lots of different chipsets to choose from, but as long as the one you’ve chosen supports your chosen processor, you don’t need to worry about the technical details. The chipset provides various features such as PCI-E slots, USB ports and so forth; just look for a board that provides all the connectivity options you require and you’ll be fine.
What features should I look for?
We like to see at least four high-speed USB 3 ports, so you can easily connect external drives and other peripherals such as printers, scanners, card readers and so on. A reversible USB Type-C port might also be handy if you have a phone or tablet that uses this connector. On-board USB headers let you hook up additional ports at the front of your chosen case.
Every modern motherboard will also have at least one PCI-E x16 slot, so you can install a graphics card should you need one. Additional slots mean you can add extra controllers, such as a Wi-Fi card if your motherboard doesn’t have built-in wireless. The “x”-rating tells you how fast each slot is; you can plug an x1 card into an x4 or x16 slot, but not the other way round. Some high-end boards offer two x16 slots, so you can combine the power of several graphics cards, but that’s overkill for all but the most extreme enthusiasts.
Look for an M.2 slot too, as this allows you to use a super-fast NVMe SSD, rather than relying on a slower SATA connection. And check the number of memory sockets: some smaller boards have only two DIMM slots. A board with four gives you scope to add extra modules in the future should you want to upgrade.
UEFI is the motherboard’s own graphical interface, which lets you access low-level settings such as which drive to boot from. If you’re interested in overclocking your CPU, and adjusting the core voltages and fan speeds, you want a versatile, user-friendly UEFI. If you just want to run Word and browse the web, any UEFI will be fine. Indeed, with the rise of software overclocking tools, you can often tweak your core settings from within Windows, so you don’t need to explore the UEFI at all.
Is the form factor important?
Motherboards come in three common formats: ATX is the largest, measuring 305 × 244mm. Then there’s micro-ATX, at 244mm square, and the smallest is mini-ITX at just 170mm square. They all do the same job, but bigger boards tend to have more slots and built-in features, whereas smaller ones fit in neat, compact cases. Make sure you have a case that’s designed for the form factor of your motherboard. It’s possible to install a micro-ATX board in a regular ATX chassis, but you’ll be left with empty space inside the case, so it’s not an elegant solution.
READ NEXT: The best Intel and AMD CPUs to buy from £99
The best motherboards to buy in 2017
1. Gigabyte AB350-Gaming G3: The best budget motherboard for AMD Ryzen processors
Price when reviewed: £100 inc VAT
The Gigabyte AB350-Gaming G3 is very affordable, yet it looks good and sports some high-end modern features. You get a full-speed M.2 slot (which also supports SATA M.2 SSDs) and, amazingly, Gigabyte has shoehorned in Realtek’s excellent ALC1220 audio codec too. It has a reasonable number of USB ports, with two USB 3.1 Type-A ports and four USB 3 ports, though no reversible Type-C connector. You even get a USB port dedicated to DACs with adjustable voltage, plus RGB lighting to make the inside of your case look pretty.
There are some limitations: the board comes with six rather than eight SATA ports – though that’s more than enough for most people. It also has only two PCI-E x1 slots, and only five fan headers, which is low by AM4 standards.
Still, the AB350-Gaming G3 is perfectly capable of getting the best out of a Ryzen CPU. Our test system was perfectly stable out of the box, and we were able to push our Ryzen 7 1700 CPU right up to 4.025GHz (using a 1.425V vcore). The interface looks a little bland compared to Asus’ efforts, but its new fan control section is excellent, as is the Windows-based version.
There are certainly Ryzen motherboards that offer more in the way of features, but if you’re building a system on a tight budget the AB350-Gaming G3 is a great starting point.
GIGABYTE GA-AB350-Gaming 3 Next Gen AMD Ryzen CPU AM4 Socket DDR4 PCIe Gen3 USB 3.1 ATX Motherboard - Black
£99.97 Buy now
2. Asus Prime Z270-P: The best budget motherboard for Intel processors
Price when reviewed: £114 inc VAT
The Asus Prime Z270-P is a comparatively basic design. There are only three fan headers, just four SATA ports (you usually get six with Intel) and no USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports either. Asus has also opted for the older Realtek ALC887 audio codec, which isn’t as good as the newer ALC1220 used in more expensive motherboards.
Even so, all the most important features are here. You get a pair of M.2 sockets, six USB ports on the back (four being of the USB 3 flavour), plus two on-board USB 3 headers and two USB 2 headers.
It also uses the same excellent UEFI systems as Asus’ more expensive boards. This makes overclocking and tuning very easy, and you can even tap into the Asus AI Suite for Windows-based overclocking and fan control. That’s great, because the Prime Z270-P is an exceptional overclocker, getting our Core i7-7700K to 5GHz with a core voltage of just 1.32V.
If you need USB 3.1 Gen 2 support then look at Asus’ Prime Z270-K, which costs £10 more. However, most PC users won’t miss most of this board’s omissions, and you probably won’t be able to tell the difference in audio quality either. In short, the Asus Prime Z270-P is the ideal for building a cheap overclocked system.
3. Asus Prime X370-Pro: An affordable but powerful AM4 motherboard
Price when reviewed: £137 inc VAT
The Asus Prime X370-Pro uses the X370 chipset – a step up from B350 boards like the Gigabyte AB350-Gaming G3. That means you get an Intel LAN port, as opposed to a Realtek one, and two extra SATA ports, plus Type-A and Type-C USB ports, although they’re USB 3 rather than USB 3.1.
Internally, the layout is good, with all the SATA ports at right angles to the PCB, and the M.2 slot positioned conveniently above the primary graphics card slot. RGB lighting is a big feature too, with a set of individual LEDs sitting under the audio circuitry. The lighting is subtle, providing more of an ambient effect than an in-your-face light show.
You don’t get much in the way of overclocking and testing utilities, but the BIOS is easy to use. The key Windows tools for tuning your PC’s cooling and perforamance – FanXpert and AISuite – are also included, and these allowed us to get all eight of our Ryzen 7 1700’s CPU cores to 4.025GHz. With a competitive price tag, plenty of features, a slick UEFI and excellent fan control, the Prime X370-Pro is an excellent choice for anyone seeking a well-featured but reasonably priced AM4 board.
4. MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic: A visually striking and user-friendly Intel motherboard
Price when reviewed: £140 inc VAT
If your PC case has a transparent side, it makes sense to choose a visually interesting motherboard. the Z270 Tomahawk Arctic certainly fits the bill; there’s a black version too, if white isn’t to your tastes, but the icy design of the Arctic model, with its pure white LEDs, looks fantastic to our eyes.
The board offers the full complement of six SATA ports, two M.2 ports, and both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports as well, plus a generous helping of fan headers. And if the on-board lighting isn’t enough for you, then there’s a 4-pin RGB LED header as well. Just be aware that the on-board audio comes from an ALC892 codec, as opposed to the superior ALC1220.
MSI’s UEFI interface is excellent, although fan control is more limited than some rivals, as you can’t elect to turn off fans completely below certain temperatures. Still, this board is impressively easy to overclock in either the UEFI or the Windows software, and the former is supremely clean and responsive compared to Gigabyte’s front-end.
Overclocking proved fairly fruitful too, with just a 1.35V vcore needed to get our CPU to 5GHz. In all, the Z270 Tomahawk Arctic is a brilliant motherboard; audio performance isn’t quite state of the art, but if you’ll be spending time in the UEFI it’s a very pleasant experience, and its looks are hard to beat.
5. MSI Z270 Xpower Gaming Titanium: An excellent high-end Intel board for those willing to pay the price
Price when reviewed: £320 inc VAT
No two ways about it, this is an expensive motherboard – but to computing enthusiasts it may well be worth every penny of its asking price. One distinctive feature MSI’s M.2 shield, which helps to keep PCI-E M.2 SSDs cool. Our testing showed a 10°C difference, which may well help performance as well as longevity.
And don’t think you’re limited to one super-fast SSD; you get three M.2 sockets, plus a very generous eight SATA ports. There’s also a very unusual four PCI-E 3 x16 slots, dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports and a full complement of overclocking and testing tools. An RGB LED header lets you add your own pretty lights should you so wish.
MSI’s UEFI system is slick and clean, though the Windows-based Command Centre is more user-friendly and allows for basic overclocking and fan control. We managed to hit 5GHz with a vcore of just 1.35V – an impressively low voltage.
If you want to build a PC with support for easy overclocking, multiple graphics cards and multiple M.2 SSDs, this is your board. The price is high, but the Z270 Xpower Gaming Titanium looks fantastic and sports a seemingly endless list of features.
MSI Intel Z270 Xpower Gaming Titanium 7th/6th Gen USB2 Motherboard - Black (Intel Core i3/i5/i7 Processor, LGA 1151, Dual Channel DDR4, USB 3.1, PCI-E 3.0, PCI-E x1, Sata 6 GB)
£334.69 Buy now
6. MSI X370 XPower Gaming Titanium: The ultimate AMD board for a no-holds barred experience
Price when reviewed: £298 inc VAT
The MSI X270 XPower Gaming Titanium is the most expensive AM4 motherboard we’ve seen, but its quality is evident. Overclocking takes just a few seconds, thanks to MSI’s snappy UEFI; at AMD’s maximum recommended benchmarking voltage of 1.45V, our Ryzen 7 1700 CPU happily got to 4GHz. When we pushed the system too far, the X370 XPower Gaming Titanium always recovered superbly. Should you need them, there are onboard power and reset buttons, an LED POST-code display and a Game Boost knob that applies a quick overclock.
This is also the first AM4 board we’ve seen with two M.2 ports. The main one runs at full speed, but the lower slot is only PCI-E 2, so you get half the bandwidth. That still represents nearly 2GB/sec, so it should be ample for secondary storage.
The rear panel offers seven Type-A USB ports in total, one of which has USB 3.1 bandwidth, while three of them are USB 2 and four of them are USB 3. One of the USB 2 ports also moonlights as MSI’s USB BIOS Flashback+ port. Finally, the on-board audio is Realtek ALC1220-based and there are five analogue ports plus an optical output on the I/O panel.
Undoubtedly, most people will be better off saving some money and buying a cheaper board, but if you have the cash, the X370 XPower Gaming Titanium is the best Ryzen board we’ve tested.
MSI X370 XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM Socket AM4 AMD Ryzen 7th Gen Athlon DDR4USB 3.1 ATX Motherboard - Black
£271.89 Buy now
7. Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming: A mini-ITX Intel board that's crammed with features
Price when reviewed: £175 inc VAT
By mini-ITX standards the Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming is expensive, but it’s packed with features. Two M.2 ports combine with four SATA ports to offer plenty of storage options, and the rear panel sports an 802.11ac Wi-Fi module with a magnetic desktop antenna included in the box. Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports are present and correct. There’s also four USB 2 ports and two USB 3 ports, along with DisplayPort and HDMI. The only notable omission is a USB 2 header, which rules out some all-in-one liquid coolers.
There’s even a miniature light show, courtesy of a row of 16 RGB LEDs, which can be configured for rainbow effects, or a host of other displays courtesy of Asus’ Aura software. A 4-pin RGB LED header and extension cable in the box lets you add extra illumination.
Asus’ AI Suite software makes it easy to overclock the Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming in Windows: we overclocked our CPU to 5GHz with a 1.34V vcore. As usual, Asus’ UEFI is also excellent, as is the extensive set of useful software. In short, the Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming is the mini-ITX top dog, bringing a great set of premium features in a convenient miniature format.
£173.95 Buy now
8. Gigabyte AB350M-Gaming 3: A great-value compact motherboard for AMD Ryzen processors
Price when reviewed: £78 inc VAT
The micro-ATX Gigabyte AB350M-Gaming 3 isn’t quite as small as a mini-ITX board, but it offers everything you need to build a compact overclockable system, and the price is hard to beat.
There are a few design compromises, but they’re not too bothersome. You get Realtek’s ALC887 codec instead of the newer, better-performing ALC1220 codec, and just three audio jacks on the rear I/O panel. There’s also only two 16x PCI-E slots and a single 1x PCI-E slot – and the latter could be blocked by your graphics card, depending on the size of the cooler.
Overall, though, connectivity is pretty decent. You do get two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, four USB 3 ports and two USB 2 ports, along with several video outputs to support future AMD processors with integrated graphics. Inside there’s an M.2 slot for fast SSDs, and six SATA ports too, which should be more than enough for a budget system.
One good point for enthusiasts is the fact that you get the same software and UEFI system as on Gigabyte’s more expensive boards. We found it easy to hit 3.9GHz across all our Ryzen 7 1700’s cores, increasing overall performance by 15 per cent.
In all, the AB350M-Gaming 3 is a great choice for a compact AMD system. It won’t fit inside a tiny ITX case, and it lacks a few bells and whistles – but for £80 it’ll serve as the foundation of a very capable modern PC, and that’s not to be sniffed at.
GIGABYTE GA-AB350M-Gaming 3 AMD Ryzen CPU AM4 Socket DDR4 PCIe Gen3 USB 3.1 GB LAN Micro ATX Motherboard
£77.99 Buy now
Posted on 22 August 2017 | 7:47 am
1 day 2 hours ago
Price when reviewed
It doesn’t matter whether you’re one of the world’s fastest athletes or just one of the many millions of gamers across the globe, the difference between winning and losing routinely comes down to fractions of a second. Regardless of whether it’s the right pair of shoes, or the perfect monitor, the right tools can turn a runner-up into a winner. This time around, however, Samsung’s latest gaming monitor has more than just split-second reaction times on its mind: in addition to a claimed response time of just one millisecond, the C27HG70 is also the world’s first HDR gaming monitor.
Samsung C27HG70 review: Price and competition
Scanning through the Samsung C27HG70’s specifications is like reading through a gamer’s monitor-buying wishlist. This is a 27in, 144Hz gaming monitor with HDR, a 1800R curved panel, AMD FreeSync 2 technology (which is also backwards compatible with FreeSync 1), and the VA quantum-dot panel promises more than just quick response times – it’s also capable of displaying a wider range of colour than standard VA panels.
READ NEXT: Best gaming monitors 2017
At £600 in the UK ($600 in the US), the Samsung C27HG70 certainly isn’t a cheap gaming monitor. It’s also worth mentioning that the 32in variant of the monitor costs only £50 more at the time of writing ($650 in the US).
As the only HDR gaming monitor currently available, the Samsung has little in the way of direct competitors. There are plenty of excellent non-curved, non-HDR 144Hz displays out there, though. If £600 is beyond your means, then you can take your pick of the Acer XF270HUA at around £480 with an IPS panel, the AOC AGON AG271QX at around £410 with a TN panel, and the ASUS ROG PG279Q at around £690 with an IPS panel and Nvidia G-Sync.
Samsung C27HG70 review: Design, features and build quality
PC monitors rarely set the pulse racing, but the C27HG70 is keen to buck the trend. Tiny bezels surround the 1800R curved panel, and the wide, almost claw-like stand holds the monitor with the same double-jointed arm design seen on last year’s Samsung C24FG70. This isn’t just fancy-looking for the sake of it: it provides full height, tilt, pivot and swivel adjustments for getting the monitor in millimetre-perfect position. In the unlikely scenario that it doesn’t provide enough adjustability, you can mount the C27HG70 to any compatible VESA 100 x 100mm stand.
Connectivity hits the spot nicely, too. There’s a single DisplayPort 1.4 input alongside two HDMI 2 ports; a 3.5mm audio output jack; and the two USB 3 ports are capable of delivering up to 1.5A per port when the fast charging mode is enabled through the monitor’s onscreen display (OSD). And while we’re on the subject, the Samsung’s OSD is supremely easy to use: the joystick found on the bottom-right-hand corner of the monitor makes it quick and easy to dive in and change settings, and the clear, straightforward menu system does its bit too.
One of the more unusual features of Samsung’s gaming monitors is the addition of “Arena Lighting” – something we’ve seen on previous models such as the C24FG70. A strip of LED lights provides a gentle blue glow behind the monitor, similar to the bias lighting technique employed by Philips’ Ambilight TVs. This isn’t just a gimmick, though: bias lighting is proven to reduce the eye strain caused by viewing a display in darker lighting conditions, and can also improve the perceived depth of blacks and darker greys. The only issue in Samsung’s implementation here is the decision to move the LED array from its usual position on the underside of the monitor to the rear: I had to unscrew the rear circular plastic mould to get enough light to come through to boost the very gentle bias lighting effect, as it was barely noticeable otherwise.
Samsung C27HG70 review: Image quality
The Samsung C27HG70’s 2,560 x 1,440 VA panel uses quantum dot technology to reproduce a wider range of colour. In our tests, the panel is capable of reproducing 99.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, and it also covers a respectable 88% of the DCI P3 gamut. As you’d hope, colour accuracy is a high point too – a measured average Delta E of 1.75 is an excellent result for a non-professional monitor. If you want a gaming monitor that can also turn its hand to photo or video editing, the C27HG70 won’t be out of its depth.
A maximum brightness of 400cd/m2 in the monitor’s Standard response time mode will prove bright enough for pretty much any lighting conditions, but this figure drops substantially when the other response time settings are used. Set the C27HG70 to either of the “Fast” or “Fastest” modes and the maximum brightness dips down to 250cd/m2. This, to me, is too dull to be used in a brightly lit room – a limitation I identified in last year’s C24FG70 – so you’ll need to dim the lights to take full advantage of the monitor’s fastest modes. Thankfully, though, there are no complaints about the quality of the backlighting, and the Samsung passed our brightness-uniformity tests with flying colours.
High contrast ratios are par for the course with VA panel technology, but nevertheless the C27HG60 acquits itself well with both SDR and HDR sources. With an SDR source, the combination of high brightness and a 0.16cd/m2 black level produced a high 2,524:1 contrast ratio. I borrowed Samsung’s Klein K10-A Colorimeter to conduct tests on an HDR test pattern, and the C27HG70 delivered a peak brightness of 667cd/m2 with a 13,340:1 dynamic contrast ratio (0.05cd/m2 black level).
Samsung C27HG70 review: Gaming performance
You’d expect a 144Hz monitor with a quoted 1ms response time (that’s measured using the MPRT standard, in case you’re wondering) to keep up with the very fastest gaming action, and the C27HG70 doesn’t disappoint. Enabling the “Fast” or “Fastest” response-time settings and the “Low Input Lag” mode provide an almost-perfect recipe for competitive gaming. After hours of gaming on the C27HG70, I was consistently impressed by the monitor’s ability to control unwanted visual artefacts – there’s only the tiniest hint of purple fringing visible at the fastest response times.
I say almost perfect, as these faster response time settings do have one other unwanted side effect: as I mentioned previously, the maximum brightness is limited to 250cd/m2. If the lowest response time is an absolute priority, there’s only one solution: turn down those lights.
It’s great to see AMD FreeSync support back on the feature list, and the C27HG70 now supports AMD FreeSync 2. Hook up a Radeon RX series card with the latest Polaris architecture, and you can enjoy crystal-clear, tear-free HDR gaming at the highest frame rates. Nvidia users can still take advantage of the monitor’s 144Hz refresh rate, but sadly are limited to using standard V-Sync – which of course adds unwanted lag.
Samsung C27HG70 review: HDR performance
High dynamic range (HDR) is the key selling point here, and this is the first time that the technology has made its way from Samsung’s TVs to its range of gaming monitors.
A display’s ability to produce a high maximum brightness is the key to great HDR performance, but unlike TVs – which routinely achieve a peak brightness of above 1,000cd/m2 – the C27HG70 achieves a more modest 600cd/m2. However, this isn’t as disappointing as it sounds – given how close you sit to a monitor compared a TV, that should be enough to provide pleasingly intense highlight detail without permanently searing your retinas.
Using the C27HG70 with HDR-enabled consoles such as the Xbox One S couldn’t be easier. Simply plug in the HDMI cable, pop a 4K HDR Blu-ray in the drive, and you’re good to go. The console detects the monitor as an HDR-enabled panel, and passes all of Microsoft’s checks in the Xbox settings menu. If you’re looking to playback HDR content through a Blu-ray player or a compatible console, the Samsung C27HG70 will be able to display the content without any hitches – albeit not at its native 4K resolution.
HDR and Windows 10 don’t play quite so nicely together, however. First, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a compatible graphics card. Samsung lists the AMD RX480, RX470 and RX460, and Nvidia Titan X, GTX 1080 Ti, GTX 1080, GTX 1070, GTX 1060, and GTX 1050 as compatible cards. Naturally, AMD’s newest RX5xx series will also work as it’s based on the same architecture as last year’s RX4xx series.
If your home PC contains a graphics card that isn’t listed, such as an MSI GeForce GTX 960, HDR support is a little more hit and miss. In the case of my GTX 960, HDR works via an HDMI connection, but not DisplayPort – and you’ll encounter similar problems with any graphics cards that don’t support the DisplayPort 1.4 standard required for HDR compatibility. Upgrade to one of the supported cards, however – I tried Sapphire’s RX580 8GB card – and you can use either connection type.
The first time you enable HDR through the Windows display settings, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly wrong. As the Windows desktop, and most apps for that matter, don’t support HDR natively, you’ll be presented with a dim, washed-out image. Don’t panic, though: it’s not until you fire up an HDR-enabled game that you’ll notice the benefits.
Currently, only a handful of titles actually support HDR. At the time of writing, you can take your pick from the seven games listed below.
• Shadow Warrior 2
Shadow Warrior 2 provided a perfect demonstration of the benefits of HDR. Colours become more lifelike thanks to the more natural transition from dark shadows to intensely bright highlights, and reflections or sunlight glinting off objects such as swords or guns suddenly look far more realistic. Look up to the sky and you’ll see an intensely bright sun alongside the clear outline of delicate, wispy clouds – the kind of detail that becomes bleached out almost entirely in SDR mode.
HDR still isn’t a plug-and-play experience on PC, however. In Shadow Warrior 2, I had to reduce the in-game gamma level from 1 to 0.8 to stop images looking washed out – you’ll need to spend a little time experimenting with different games’ settings to achieve the best visuals.
Samsung C27HG70 review: Verdict
Despite the HDR niggles, the Samsung C27HG70 is a superb gaming monitor. Class-leading colour accuracy, response time and input lag would be enough to win many gamer’s hearts, but those traits combined with the Samsung’s other talents – the gorgeous design, HDR and curved panel – go a long way towards making the price look reasonable. Given that the larger 32in model only costs £50 more, that makes the CHG70 look like even better value.
Be in no doubt, though, that you’re paying a premium for HDR. And while the C27HG70 works perfectly with the current crop of HDR-enabled consoles, Windows 10’s implementation is still a long way from the plug-and-play experience delivered by its console cousins. Clearly, this isn’t Samsung’s fault but, as ever, being an early adopter has its downsides.
If you’re happy to spend time tweaking in-game settings to get HDR just so, however – and you don’t mind paying a premium for top-notch performance – then there’s no question about it: the Samsung C27HG70 delivers the kind of visual fireworks that no other monitor can.
Posted on 22 August 2017 | 6:00 am