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Dell Precision 5820 (2019) Review & Rating

The version we reviewed in August 2018 was formidable, but the new incarnation of Dell’s Precision 5820 tower workstation (starts at $969; $4,551 as tested) is downright scary. Big even by tower standards, this high-end, single-CPU system offers configuration choices for almost any budget and application. Its impressive expansion capabilities include up to six storage drives, eight memory slots, two professional-grade GPUs, and up to an 18-core processor. The primary drives even support hot swapping, much like a server’s. Well equipped for our review with an eight-core Xeon CPU and Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 GPU, the Precision rocketed through our benchmarks. With just about every feature a workstation (or an IT department) could need, it’s our top choice for a deluxe, single-CPU workstation.


Defining the Workstation

The Precision 5820 is one of the elite members of Dell’s workstation lineup. It’s an entirely different machine than the Precision 3630 Tower, a smaller, lower-priced mid-tower that’s based on one of Dell’s OptiPlex business desktops.

The 5820 is a larger full-tower with much greater expansion capability and server-grade features that I’ll get into shortly. It shares many design elements with the even more ferocious Precision 7820 and Precision 7920, both of which offer two processors. But if one CPU is enough for your workflow, look no further than the Precision 5820, which offers up to the 18-core, 36-thread Xeon W-2195 chip. The Xeon W-2145 in our test unit has only eight cores and 16 threads, but it has higher base (3.7GHz) and turbo (4.5GHz) clock speeds that should make it more responsive for everyday tasks than higher-core-count chips with lower operating speeds.

The sky is the limit with this tier of workstation, more so than with any consumer-grade desktop. The fact that Dell offers the Precision 5820 with up to 68TB (with a T) of total storage and 256GB of RAM should be enough to tell you this is a serious machine. For this review, though, we asked the company to keep our review unit under $5,000, a reasonable price point for a mainstream workstation.

In addition to the Xeon W-2145 chip, it came with a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive containing Windows 10 Pro for Workstations; a secondary 8TB, 3.5-inch hard drive; and 32GB of quad-channel DDR4-2666 ECC memory (arranged in four 8GB DIMMs). The GPU is the midrange Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 with 8GB of GDDR6 display memory. This kind of hardware means the Precision has no problem earning independent software vendor (ISV) certifications that guarantee proper performance with supported professional apps.

Doing a little comparison shopping, I configured a comparable Lenovo ThinkStation P520 for a nearly identical $4,524 and an HP Z4 Tower for a somewhat steeper $5,321. All told, the price of our Precision 5820 is justifiable for its as-tested build. Dell backs it with a standard three-year on-site warranty extendable to five years.

It’s ironic that the Precision 5820 struggles when it comes to value at its entry-level pricing. The $969 starting loadout’s low-clocked Xeon W-2102 processor (which doesn’t support Turbo Boost or Hyper-Threading), scanty 8GB of RAM, and slow 500GB hard drive won’t show its best colors, or even best the Precision 3630. Judging by my tinkering with Dell’s endless configuration options, you should budget closer to $2,000 for a more balanced configuration with a six-core CPU and at least 16GB of memory, and closer to $3,000 with a decent GPU pick.


Do It Like a Server

The Precision 5820’s industrious appearance will have no one mistaking it for a home or gaming PC. The grated, two-tiered front makes it look more like an enterprise server…

Meet the Dell Precision 5820

There’s a sturdy metal carry handle on the top edge and a matching one at the rear. The review unit tipped the scales at a portly 37.4 pounds, which is no surprise considering the tower is predominantly made of steel. Combined with this workstation’s overall size (16.5 by 7 by 20.4 inches), it’s no small feat to move, so the handles are a godsend. The rubber feet on the right side panel mean the workstation can be placed on its side, an orientation not many towers support.

Dell Precision 5820 Front Three Quarter Alternate

The left side panel is easily removed for access to the interior. Removing it requires pushing a thumb depression, which pops out a handle which you then pull upward to release the panel. Be sure not to do this while the system is running, or you’ll be greeted with a high-pitched warning tone that scared the daylights out of me the first (and only) time I did it.

Looking inside, the interior of the Precision 5820 is dominated by its massive server-style motherboard…

Inside the Tower

The Xeon CPU is its centerpiece, covered with a plastic shroud to channel airflow over its heatsink. Removing the shroud requires no tools. Note the stacked fans to the right of the heatsink:

CPU Cooler

Lifting the shroud also reveals the eight slots for DDR4-2666 ECC memory, four of which were populated in our review unit with 8GB modules for a 32GB total. The memory runs in quad-channel mode when the RDIMMs are properly installed in multiples of four.

Under the memory slots are five PCI Express slots, two of which are x16 slots to accommodate graphics cards. Dell offers dozens of single- and dual-GPU options for the Precision 5820. The single Quadro RTX 4000 in our review unit is a $610 upcharge over the base 2GB AMD Radeon Pro WX 2100. Closely related to the GeForce RTX 2070, it boasts 2,304 CUDA cores and 8GB of dedicated GDDR6. The card has a single-slot design and gets its power from a single 8-pin connector. A support bracket anchors the GPU to the front of the tower for support. This way, the card’s weight doesn’t put extra stress on the PCIe slot, especially during shipping.

One of our review unit’s PCI Express x8 slots was occupied by Dell’s optional Thunderbolt 3 card, which has two USB Type-C connectors and a full-size DisplayPort video-in. The company offers numerous other PCIe card options including a full-height serial port. Below the last PCI Express x8 slot is a PCI slot for legacy devices, in case you have any of those lying around.

All the slots get fresh airflow from the bottom-mounted intake fan at the front of the chassis. My only nitpick there is the 5820’s lack of removable dust filters, which will mean opening up the tower from time to time to clean out dust bunnies. The workstation’s fans were always quiet during my testing, even while running benchmarks. I occasionally heard a low humming, but it was usually drowned out by background noise.


Storage Volumes and Key Connections

As for storage, the Precision supports up to five 3.5-inch or six 2.5-inch SATA drives. Dell also offers optional Ultra-Speed Drives, not included in our review unit, which are PCIe x8 cards holding two or four M.2 slots for SSDs. The four primary drive bays (supporting 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives or M.2 drives with caddies) face out of the tower front. Accessing them entails removing the right-side grate, easily done by pushing the release lever along the centerline.

A Quick-Change Hard Drive Bay

When used as general storage, these drives are hot-swappable: Pushing the button on a drive bay pops out a handle, making it easy to hook a finger and pull out the drive. This is much more convenient than having to open the tower to swap drives as is true of the competing Lenovo ThinkStation P520 and HP Z4 Tower. One more 3.5-inch drive can fit in the 5.25-inch bay, which was empty in our review unit.

While we’re on the front panel, you’ll notice the centerline is populated with ports. The power button at the top, followed by a full-size SD card reader, pairs of USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, and the audio combo jack. It’s a solid selection. You’ll also notice our unit’s optional slimline DVD burner just below the ports.

Dell Precision 5820 Front

Moving to the tower’s rear, the motherboard has microphone/line-in and line-out audio jacks, a serial port, legacy PS/2 connectors, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and six USB 3.1 Type-A ports.

Rear Ports

There’s no built-in wireless connectivity, although Wi-Fi is available as an option. For video output the Quadro RTX 4000 GPU has three full-size DisplayPort connectors plus a VirtualLink (USB-C) port.

Expansion Slots

Another server-grade feature on the Precision 5820 is its swappable power supply. The latter’s modular cables disconnect right at the unit, meaning that replacing the power supply doesn’t require recabling the tower. Once the cables are disconnected, removing the PSU is a simple matter of pushing the blue bar at the rear to unlock it, then using the clear grab handle to slide it out.

Power Supply

After a new power supply is installed, you just need to reconnect the cables, which can be done in minutes. Now that’s easy serviceability. Our review unit has a 950-watt power supply, the strongest choice and a requirement for loaded configurations. The base power supply is 460 watts.

The Precision 5820 doesn’t include peripherals in its base configuration, but ours came with a generic wired USB keyboard and mouse that get the job done for basic productivity.


Workstations on the Workbench

Now let’s put the Precision 5820’s impressive hardware to the test. I used the following workstations for performance comparisons…

Dell Precision 5820 (Configuration Chart)

These units technically aren’t in the same class of machine as the Dell, although they more or less have comparable hardware when it comes to general performance. In fact, the Precision 5820 may take a back seat to them when it comes to raw CPU power; its Xeon W-2145 has eight cores and 16 threads like the Core i9-9900K CPUs in the Asus ProArt PA90 and HP Z2 Tower G4, but less aggressive clock speeds. The Corsair’s 12-core, 24-thread Core i9-9920X is more powerful still. For 3D power, the Corsair is the only unit here to use a consumer-grade GeForce RTX 2080 Ti GPU. The Quadro-class cards in the other units help them carry ISV certifications, which the Corsair lacks.

Storage, Media, and CPU Tests

Normally I’d start with PCMark 10, a general system performance or office productivity benchmark, but our Precision 5820 wasn’t compatible with the test. (The same thing happened with last year’s model.) Let’s briefly look at PCMark 8, then, which grades the performance of the primary storage drive.

Dell Precision 5820 (PCmark)

Around 5,000 points in that benchmark is the magic number we expect for systems with solid-state storage, as is true of all these units.

Next is Maxon’s Cinebench R15 test, which measures CPU performance by taking advantage of all available cores and threads while rendering a complex image.

Dell Precision 5820 (Cinebench R15)

The Precision 5820 is on the tail end of this chart, as I predicted, but it’s far from a slouch. Something notable about the Xeon W-2145 is its 140-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating—which, combined with the Precision’s powerful CPU cooler, should allow it to sustain high clock speeds over long periods of time without running into power or thermal limitations. That said, the 95-watt Core i9-9900K chips in the Asus and HP didn’t have a problem matching its stamina in our Handbrake test, where we transcode a 12-minute 4K video to 1080p…

Dell Precision 5820 (Handbrake)

With workstations like these, we also use POV-Ray 3.7 for CPU assessment. This test uses ray tracing to render a three-dimensional image. (Note that it doesn’t use the ray tracing features of Nvidia’s RTX-class GPUs; this is purely CPU-focused.)

Dell Precision 5820 (POV-Ray)

These results confirm the Precision 5820’s standing in relation to the others. Its Xeon chip is fast, but it’s slightly behind a Core i9-9900K in overall grunt.

The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.

Dell Precision 5820 (Photoshop)

The Dell’s middle-of-the-road result here isn’t as good as I expected, but it’s still reasonable and indicative that it’s more than powerful enough for advanced Photoshop tasks.

Workstation and Graphics Tests

We use two benchmark suites to gauge the gaming performance potential of a PC. In the first, UL’s 3DMark, we run two DirectX 11-driven subtests, the mainstream Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which is more suited to gaming rigs. Our other graphics benchmark is Unigine Corp.’s Superposition, which uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.

Dell Precision 5820 (3Dmark)

Dell Precision 5820 (Superposition)

The Quadro RTX 4000 in the Precision 5820 predictably performs about as well as a GeForce RTX 2070 in these tests, as it shares most its hardware specifications with that card. It’s significantly slower than the HP’s Quadro RTX 5000, which is based on the RTX 2080, though of course you can order an RTX 5000 as a Precision upgrade if you like (in fact, you can get two of them).

There’s little else to take away from these results, as workstations are rarely tasked with playing games (unless you’re a game developer), so we’ll move on to Cinebench R15’s OpenGL test, which taps the hardware rendering capabilities of the GPU.

Dell Precision 5820 (Cinebench OpenGL)

I don’t have results for the Asus ProArt PA90, but the others narrate the story just fine. Power doesn’t count for everything here, as the Corsair finishes dead last with its GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. That card lacks the OpenGL-optimized drivers of the Quadros in the Dell and HP, which are far more capable for this kind of work.

Our next, and most workstation-savvy, benchmark is SPECviewperf 13, which renders and rotates wireframe models using real-world viewsets from popular ISV apps.

Dell Precision 5820 (SPECviewperf)

The Precision 5820 and its Quadro RTX 4000 GPU did very well here. The Corsair’s GeForce card handled the Maya viewset pretty well, but as with Cinebench OpenGL, the Quadro cards in the HP and Dell dominated in Creo. (I unfortunately don’t have SolidWorks numbers for the Corsair.)

Last, I informally ran an experimental version of OctaneBench that rendered a single scene to test the RTX ray tracing features of the Precision’s Quadro RTX 4000. With RTX enabled, the workstation was able to render the scene over 3.5 times faster. It’s true that not many professional apps use RTX features right now, but results like that can make RTX cards a worthwhile upgrade in the long run.


A Top-of-the-Line Workstation Pick

The Precision 5820 offers everything that’s desirable in a high-end, single-CPU workstation. Dell’s daunting array of configuration options means this big tower can fit any budget and workflow. As reviewed, it presents a reasonable value for its feature set and level of performance. The standard three-year on-site warranty across all configurations is notable, too.

What elevates the Precision 5820 above much of its competition is its extra-mile features. It’s certainly not required for a workstation like this to have hot-swappable drive bays and an easily replaceable modular power supply, but it does. It even has carrying handles on top and can be oriented both upright and on its side.

The 5820’s cheapest configurations can be outperformed by lesser mid-tower workstations like Dell’s own Precision 3630, so don’t look to the system unless you have a healthy budget and can pack it with the components it needs to stand out. But when it’s as well equipped as our test unit was, it easily earns our Editor’s Choice for a full-tower, single-CPU workstation.



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MSI GL65 9SC Review & Rating

High-end gaming laptops have all the bells and whistles, but truth be told, you don’t need RGB keyboard lights to play or enjoy today’s games. MSI’s GL65 ($699 as tested) is a value-oriented gaming laptop that proves that in spades. This 15.6-inch rig’s hardware for the money is as good as it gets in late 2019, including a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, a speedy Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, and a surprisingly roomy 512GB solid-state drive. The whole package is topped off by a bright full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display, making the GL65 a stellar example of entry-level notebook gaming and our new Editors’ Choice among bargain gaming laptops.


A Value-Packed Cranker

The GL65 is hardly the only 15.6-inch gamer to retail for under a grand with a quad-core CPU and a 4GB GeForce GTX 1650, but it’s further under that mark than most. As a matter of fact, as I type this, the system I’m reviewing (model 9SC-004) is an unbeatable deal. A Lenovo Legion Y545 with comparable hardware rings up at $849 with only half the storage (256GB). The Dell G3 15 (3590) is in similar straits, costing $100 more than the MSI although that price buys you both a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. Another option is the Asus TUF Gaming FX505 series (a technology refresh of the TUF Gaming FX504G), but it’s also more expensive when outfitted with a comparable AMD Ryzen 7 3750H processor.

MSI GL65-01

Now, that pricing comparison focuses only on core specs, but key hardware is what matters most in the budget gaming world. (Features like RGB lighting, for instance, don’t actually do anything for gaming performance. Blasphemy, I know.) Given that we’re down to basics in this tier, saving $100 or more is nothing to sneeze at. It can buy two or more AAA-level game titles, a gaming peripheral or two, or almost a year’s subscription to Xbox GamePass.

Getting back to the GL65, its 2.4GHz Core i5-9300H processor is a quad-core, eight-thread part with a 45-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating, qualifying it as a chip worthy of a desktop-replacement notebook. Gaming laptops in the next pricing tier usually step up to the Core i7-9750H, a six-core, 12-thread chip that’s better suited to multitasking and livestreaming duties.

Graphics-wise, the MSI’s 4GB GeForce GTX 1650 is Nvidia’s bread-and-butter “Turing” offering for both laptops and desktops. More potent than the “Pascal” GTX 1050 it replaces, it’s generally comfortable playing games at 1080p resolution without compromising on image quality settings too much. (I’ll hone that statement a little further in the benchmarks section of this review.) The next step up for notebooks is a big one, to the 6GB GTX 1660 Ti, as there’s no middle-ground GTX 1660 as in the desktop world. The Ti is much faster than the GTX 1650, but you’ll almost certainly spend four figures for a laptop that has one.

The only hardware spec where the GL65 disappoints a little is its memory. The single 8GB DDR4-2666 stick in my review model is the minimum required by many AAA game titles. During my testing, I noticed some sluggishness while gaming and trying to do other tasks at the same time. It’s possible to inexpensively add a second 8GB DIMM to double the memory, or to upgrade the GL65 to 32GB via two 16GB DIMMs.

Patience and caution are required for such an operation, though. The bottom panel is held on by a dozen screws, and you’ll need a pry tool to undo all the plastic clips holding the chassis halves together. When taking the plastic halves apart, special care is needed to route the chassis port openings around the actual ports (especially the headphone and microphone jacks) to avoid damage. It’s not a process I’d care to undertake more than once.


You’ve Got That Gaming Feeling

The GL65 shares its basic design with MSI’s pricier GE65 Raider. The two even share dimensions, at 1.1 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches. Though on the thick side, this notebook is hardly chunky. Its display bezels are about as thin as you can get.

Visually, the GL65 dips into gamer cliché with its red-and-black color scheme. Most of the red comes from the keyboard backlighting, with only a few accents on the chassis. Despite the colors, the overall look of the machine is conventional, though the MSI gaming logo on the lid (which is passively backlit by the screen) means it won’t be mistaken for anything but a gaming laptop.

MSI GL65-05

Aluminum, which covers the GL65’s top and lid backing, is nice to see on a laptop at this price point. The Asus TUF Gaming FX505 and Dell G3 15 both make exclusive use of plastic. The rest of the MSI’s construction is plastic, keeping its heft in check; I weighed our review model at 4.6 pounds, although MSI’s official specifications say it’s supposed to be 5.1 pounds.


Put It in Red

The red-only keyboard backlighting is one of the ways this GL65 unit keeps costs down. (MSI sells upscale models in the GL65 line with per-key RGB backlighting.)

MSI GL65-02

The keyboard is familiar if you’ve used an MSI gaming notebook recently. The feel is rubbery but pleasant, with enough key travel for communicative feedback. Layout-wise, the left-side Windows key is missing, but the preinstalled MSI Dragon Center utility lets you swap its functionality with the Fn key to the right of the space bar. A dedicated button at the top right of the keyboard launches Dragon Center; next to it is the power button and another to engage maximum fan speed (which I never needed; see the cooling section later in this review).

MSI GL65-04

Speaking of software, note that the GL65’s keyboard, while it’s designed in conjunction with peripheral maker SteelSeries, isn’t compatible with the SteelSeries Engine app like the keyboards of some higher-end MSI notebooks. As such, it doesn’t support remapping keys or saving profiles.

Located left of center in the palm rest, the GL65’s touchpad is spacious enough. It’s marred only by its overly loud button clicks; I found myself tapping the pad to click to avoid the noise.

MSI GL65-03

Built-in biometric features are lacking on the GL65, a drawback it shares with many gaming notebooks. I point this out in reviews since non-gaming laptops that cost much less often include a fingerprint reader, face recognition webcam, or both. At least the GL65 measures up when it comes to its 720p webcam, which offers a reasonable picture in the right light. On the audible side of the spectrum, the MSI’s speakers are just so-so. While they have enough volume, their tinny sound and lack of bass will have you reaching for your headphones.


Bright and Full HD

The GL65’s display is everything a value-oriented gaming rig’s should be. Not only is its 1080p resolution just right for gameplay with the GeForce GTX 1650, but games are brought to life by its bright and colorful picture, wide viewing angles, and anti-glare surface.

The panel’s refresh rate is 60Hz, not the 144Hz (or even 240Hz) supported by deluxe gaming screens, but that’s not a biggie at this price. Outside of some less demanding esports titles, the GTX 1650 isn’t likely to push beyond 60 frames per second (fps) in modern games.


Port Locations Aren’t Ideal

The MSI’s ports are all located on its sides. This wouldn’t be a talking point if it weren’t that most them are too close to the front edge, which can be problematic if you plug in a device that sticks out and encroaches on external mouse space. The good selection almost makes up for the inconvenience, however. On the left, you’ll find an Ethernet jack; HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs; USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports; and separate headphone and microphone jacks…

MSI GL65-08

Meanwhile, the right edge is graced by two more USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a full-size SD card reader, and the power connector.

MSI GL65-07

The 150-watt AC adapter has a right-angle jack so it doesn’t stick out too far. For wireless communications, the GL65 offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.


Solid Entry-Level Performance

Now let’s see how far the GL65’s bargain hardware can carry it in our benchmark suite. I pitted the MSI against the following gaming laptops, most of which pack harder-hitting (and more expensive) components:

MSI GL65 (Config Chart)

The Acer Nitro 7, despite having the same basic hardware as the GL65, has a more premium build and features. Up the performance scale from there is the Lenovo Legion Y545, packing a 6GB GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, followed by the Asus ROG Strix Scar III and Dell G7 15, each equipped with a 6GB GeForce RTX 2060. The MSI GL65 is, on paper, the least capable in the CPU department; its Core i5-9300H has two fewer cores than the Core i7 chips in the others.

CPU and Media Tests

We start with UL’s PCMark 10, a general productivity or system assessment benchmark. The GL65 was a little off the pace here, though still above the 4,000-point mark we expect from a high-performance machine.

MSI GL65 (PCMark)

Also included here is the PCMark 8 storage benchmark, which we use to evaluate the performance of the PC’s primary drive. The MSI and its 512GB PCIe SSD kept up just fine.

Getting back to CPU performance, the Cinebench R15 test uses all available cores and threads to render a complex image. With only four instead of six processing cores, the GL65 was at a clear disadvantage…

MSI GL65 (Cinebench)

Next comes our Adobe Photoshop test, in which we add up the total execution times while using a 2018 release of Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 filters and effects to a standard JPEG image.

MSI GL65 (Photoshop)

The 8GB of RAM in our GL65 is enough to run Photoshop without slowdowns, though for serious use as an image editing system, it’d be better to have 16GB.

Graphics Tests

For the 3D-focused testing, we’ll start with UL’s 3DMark suite. The two gaming-style benchmarks we use are Fire Strike and Sky Diver, both of which are DirectX 11-based. In the more demanding Fire Strike test, the GL65 kept up with the Acer Nitro 7, using the same 4GB GTX 1650 GPU.

MSI GL65 (3DMark)

The GTX 1660 Ti in the Lenovo Legion Y545 was far ahead, however. This general pattern carried over to Unigine’s Superposition test, which we run at two resolutions. It uses a different rendering engine than 3DMark for a second opinion on a PC’s graphics performance.

MSI GL65 (Superposition)

The MSI slightly edged out the Acer. Note the GeForce RTX 2060-based Asus and Dell laptops didn’t greatly distance themselves from the Lenovo—the latter’s GTX 1660 Ti was close in performance, although it lacks the ray tracing and DLSS features inherent in Nvidia’s RTX product line. (None of our tests leverages RTX-specific features.)

Finally, we use the built-in benchmarks in two real-world AAA games, Far Cry 5 (at its Normal and Ultra 1080p presets) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Medium and Very High presets). Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11; we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DX12.

MSI GL65 (Far Cry 5)

MSI GL65 (ROTR)

The MSI GL65 finished neck and neck with the Acer Nitro 7, indicating that its Core i5 CPU isn’t holding it back to a meaningful degree. That said, I found the 57fps average reported by the Rise of the Tomb Raider at the Very High preset to be optimistic. While actually playing the game for an hour, the frame rate often strayed well below that level, so I ended up lowering the detail settings to make the game more playable. The GeForce GTX 1650 will be stretched to its limits at full HD resolution in the most demanding titles, so don’t expect to be able to use maximum visual quality settings in every game.

Battery Rundown Test

In our last benchmark, we measure a laptop’s unplugged runtime while playing a locally stored video with screen brightness at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent. We use the notebook’s energy-saving rather than balanced or other power profile, turn off Wi-Fi, and even disable keyboard backlighting to squeeze as much life as possible out of the system.

MSI GL65 (Battery Test)

The days when gaming notebooks conked out after only 90 minutes or so away from a power outlet are over. The MSI’s five and a half hours isn’t a record, but it’s not a negative, either. It’ll let you step away from a wall socket without having to constantly keep an eye on the battery percentage.


Good Cooling Performance

The GL65 has two cooling fans positioned at its back corners:

MSI GL65-06

Their air intake comes from the underside of the chassis, most of which is grated for airflow.

MSI GL65-09

While I played Rise of the Tomb Raider, the fans’ noise level was noticeable, but not pronounced above the usual household bustle. You won’t game unnoticed, but you won’t drown out nearby conversations, either.

Here’s a look through our FLIR One Pro thermal camera at the GL65 during the gaming session…

MSI GL65 (FLIR Keyboard)

The center of the keyboard is a little toasty (113 degrees F), but the temperature drops off drastically elsewhere. Under the hood, its Core i5-9300H CPU topped off in the mid-70-degree C range, which is quite acceptable. The GTX 1650 GPU reached just 65 degrees C.


An Exceptional Value

Above all else, the GL65 is notable for the gaming performance it delivers for the money. For $699 in our tested guise (and potentially even less, as I spotted it online for as little as $599 after a rebate), it can play the latest games at 1080p resolution with decent visual quality settings. A bright screen and a comfortable keyboard complete the package. There’s even some aluminum in its build, a bonus that its plastic rivals lack.

The downsides are few and relatively minor: The laptop’s speakers could be better, its touchpad buttons are noisy, and some of its ports aren’t ideally placed. Sure, it would be nice if the system had a Thunderbolt 3 port or RGB-backlit keyboard, but those are features you’d expect to find on a notebook that retails well into four figures. The GL65 manages to be inexpensive without eschewing the essentials.

Overall, this MSI has exactly what it needs to be a great buy and our newest Editors’ Choice among value gaming laptops.



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Netflix Review & Rating | PCMag.com

Best of the year 2019 BugAlthough Netflix’s streaming service started as a niche offshoot of the company’s disc-mailing service, it is now the front-runner in the category, thanks to its reliable core catalog and some of the best original programming. Netflix also integrates excellent usability features across interfaces, allows offline downloads on mobile platforms, and features 4K content. However, with other high-profile services now available at cheaper prices, the expensive costs of Netflix’s comparable plans stand out. For now, Netflix remains an Editors’ Choice for on-demand video streaming services, thanks to its varied, top-notch content and capable apps.

What’s in the Catalog?

Netflix has an extremely broad catalog of video content, but it changes all the time. Shows available one day may be gone the next. It’s difficult to state authoritatively what is in Netflix’s catalog at any given moment, but that’s all part of the fun, right? Innumerable third-party websites, including PCMag, offer articles with titles like Everything Coming to Netflix This Month (as well as Everything Leaving Netflix), so that’s one way to stay in the know. Note that Netflix will lose many of its most-watched shows in the near future, including The Office (to NBC’s Peacock), Friends (to HBO Max), and several Marvel movies (to Disney+). This is potentially precarious new ground for Netflix, since it will need to rely more heavily on its original content in the coming years.

The TV shows available on Netflix are season-complete, which isn’t always the case for competitors. Hulu sometimes only has the most recent handful of episodes of a show, making it impossible to catch up if you fall too far behind. On the other hand, Netflix only adds shows a season at a time. Hulu offers at least some of its shows within a day or two of broadcast, so you can at least be within striking distance of the cultural zeitgeist if you’re a cable-cutter.

Netflix

Netflix is in a good position with its original productions though, with many titles becoming pop culture phenomenons. This impressive list includes shows like Black Mirror, Bojack Horseman, Dead to Me, Disenchantment, Mindhunter, Orange Is the New Black, Peaky Blinders, Russian Doll, Stranger Things, The Crown, The OA, The Umbrella Academy, and Unbelievable. Netflix also produces feature films, comedy specials, and documentaries, for those who are looking for something more self-contained. For example, Netflix’s recently released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie received good reviews. Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman is another example.

However, Netflix no longers enjoy its once-untouchable status when it comes to original programming. Amazon Prime Video offers many top-tier shows and adaptations in its library including Bosch, Fleabag, Good Omens, Patriot, The Boys, The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Undone. Hulu may be better known for its broadcast television lineup, but with original productions such as Castle Rock, Casual, Catch 22, Harlots, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the continuation of Veronica Mars, it too is becoming competitive. Apple TV+ and Disney+ also promise tons of upcoming original content, with respective entries such as For All Mankind and The Mandalorian. Even CBS All Access has original shows including Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, The Good Fight, The Twilight Zone (the rebooted series), and Why Women Kill.

On another front, Netflix has quietly built itself into an excellent source for streaming anime. It does a particularly good job with older series, such as Inu Yasha, Robotech, and Rurouni Kenshin. Little Witch Academia. Netflix has brought its considerable production clout to anime as well, including rebooting the venerable Voltron and She-Ra series and developing originals such as Castlevania. The trouble with Netflix’s anime collection is the same as with the rest of its content: It comes and goes unpredictably. Crunchyroll offers a much larger and industry-leading content library of anime titles. Hulu is another option for anime fans, with a collection of over 400 classic and critically acclaimed anime shows and movies such as Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Plans and Platforms

Netflix has consistently raised its prices for all three of its plans over time. The cheapest option, which costs $8.99 per month, gets you access to Netflix’s full content library, but you can only stream in SD quality and on one screen at a time. The $12.99-per-month middle-tier plan allows HD streaming on two screens simultaneously. For families or groups of friends looking to share accounts, the $15.99 four-screen plan might be a more feasible option. This highest tier also unlocks Ultra HD (4K) streaming.

Netflix presents all of its content ad-free, with the exception of its previews of in-house content across its apps. HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video advertise their original content in a similar manner. Note that even Hulu’s ad-free plan still includes limited commercials in rare instances.

Hulu charges $5.99 for its base plan (with ads) though you can pay $11.99 per month for virtually no ads. Amazon Video matches Netflix’s base plan at $8.99 per month. Apple TV+ and Disney+ are both significantly cheaper, at $4.99 per month and $6.99 per month respectively, especially when you consider that they offer more simultaneous streams and support 4K streams. HBO Now is comparatively expensive, at $14.99 per month.

Netflix’s Premium tier costs close to the price of some live TV services. For instance, entertainment-focused Philo is only $20 per month and Sling’s Orange and Blue plans are a bit more at $25 per month. Several sports streaming services are in that price ballpark too, including ESPN+ ($4.99 a month) and Dazn ($20 per month).

In addition to its web interface, Netflix offers apps for Android and iOS; media streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and Roku; and game consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It even has a desktop app in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10.

DVDs on Demand

Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company still offers physical discs, but this is now a separate subscription from the Netflix streaming service. You can subscribe directly at dvd.netflix.com (a Netflix company) or add it to your existing Netflix account.

The Standard DVD plans start at $7.99 per month for one disc out at a time and an unlimited number of DVDs per month. There are no late fees with this plan; shipping and returns are free as well. The more expensive $11.99-per-month Premier plan gives you all the same features as the Standard one, but lets you take two discs out at a time. If you want HD Blu-ray DVDs, the prices for the Standard and Premier plans respectively increase to $9.99 and $14.99 per month.

Netflix

The main reason to use Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service is that it expands Netflix’s catalog. When you can’t find a particular TV show or film to stream, you can often find it among the DVDs. That said, it’s always a good idea to check whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store on a PC or Xbox instead. That way you won’t have to wait for an envelope in the mail.

DVD diehards on mobile must use the service’s dedicated app, called DVD Netflix (Android and iOS). Here, subscribers can browse for content and stay on top of incoming and outgoing shipments.

Netflix on the Web

Netflix’s web interface uses a dark background, white text, and large media thumbnails. It looks elegant and is easy to navigate via the top menu’s sections: Home, TV Shows, Movies, Recently Added, and My List. In the upper right-hand corner, you can use the search bar, manage your profiles, access account settings, and open Netflix’s help center. Account settings go beyond what most other video streaming services offer, with options for email communications, closed captions, parental controls, and playback settings. You can also view recent viewing (content watched) and streaming activity (devices used and when). I didn’t experience any performance issues with Netflix’s web interface.

Netflix

The Home tab highlights current noteworthy content at the top and displays a slightly overwhelming number of horizontally scrolling lists of shows and movies across categories, such as New Releases, Popular on Netflix, and Trending Now. Mousing over any content triggers a video preview with sound; I find these annoying and would like the option to turn them off. If you click on an entry, you can view more detailed information and available episodes, as well as a percentage recommendation based on your watching history. You can also give content thumbs up (or down) ratings. Finally, you can add content to My List to save shows and movies you want to watch.

Netflix allows users to broadly sort the Shows and Movies sections by genre and filter the lists of content further based on recommendations, the release year, and alphabetical order. Oddly, there is no dedicated category in the TV Shows’ or Movies’ genre lists for Netflix’s originals. Instead, you need to scroll down to one of the horizontally scrolling sections to find them all in one place. Given Netflix’s constantly changing library, information on when things are available until would be helpful, along with an option to add reminders for those expirations.

Netflix on Mobile

I had no issues installing or logging in to Netflix’s Android app on a Google Pixel 3 running Android 10 or the iOS variant on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. The app looks and performs fine and closely resembles the web interface.

You navigate the app via a set of five menu icons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Search, Extras, Downloads, and More. Netflix’s iPhone app offers all the same features as its Android counterpart and looks nearly identical, albeit with some insignificant navigational changes. For instance, the iOS app is missing the Extras icon in the bottom menu bar.

Netflix allows you to download select titles for offline viewing, a now common feature among on-demand video streaming services. The Downloads tab shows everything you have designated for offline viewing, but there’s no search function. When I tested download speeds over PCMag’s fast Wi-Fi network, it took less than two minutes to download a 50-minute episode of Planet Earth II in high quality. Note that some titles expire after 48 hours and others can only be downloaded a certain number of times.

The Home tab lets you sort by TV Shows or Movies, as well as access My List entries. The Extras section shows previews of new and notable content based on your viewing history. The More tab hosts all the important app settings, including Netflix’s Smart Downloads feature, which is useful for binge watching. Once you finish watching a downloaded episode, Netflix deletes that episode and automatically downloads the next one. In testing, this feature worked as advertised. You can set network streaming preferences and manage profiles from this section.

Playback and Streaming

Netflix’s playback screen is among the best we’ve tested. In addition to the standard 10-second rewind and fast forward buttons, you can also browse a list of all episodes of a show by season, adjust the audio and subtitle language, and jump to the next episode. The progress bar also shows content previews as you scrub. Yet another useful feature, which several other video streaming services have since copied, is a Skip Intro button. I hope Netflix eventually implements a tool like Prime Video’s X-Ray feature, which identifies actors, actresses, and music in a scene. I would also like an option to control the playback resolution.

Netflix

I tested playback performance on the web over my home Ethernet connection (200Mbps download) by streaming an episode of Bojack Horseman. I didn’t come across any stuttering or lag. Similarly, I streamed an episode of Planet Earth II on my Android device and experienced crisp video and clear audio over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (15 Mbps download). Sadly, Planet Earth II is leaving Netflix soon.

Accessibility and Extras

Although Netflix lets you change the audio and subtitle language from the playback screen, you need to head to the web app to customize subtitles. Netflix, along with Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Disney+, all offer audio descriptions for some programming. Netflix explains audio descriptions as vocal narration that “describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes.”

Netflix is one of the only on-demand video streaming services we’ve reviewed that restricts simultaneous streams and streaming resolutions based on your subscription tier; others offer a single tier with all available features. For instance, Disney+’s only plan allows for four simultaneous streams, which matches Netflix’s highest tier. As mentioned, Netflix also requires you to subscribe to its Premium plan in order to stream shows in 4K, whereas Apple+, Disney+, and Prime Video don’t make users pay extra for this capability.

Netflix, along with those same three services, all support the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos standards for select titles and on supported devices. Apple TV+ has the advantage here, since it can ensure a higher percentage of its content supports these standards going forward. To find 4K content on Netflix, you can search for 4K and UHD directly; detail pages of shows and movies also show this information.

Netflix

Netflix offers lots of family-friendly content, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings on the web, you can block content of certain ratings behind a PIN code or do the same for individual shows and movies. Netflix is notable in that it allows you to create profiles for up to four different users. In addition to the content control benefits, profiles enable Netflix to better tune its recommendations for whoever is watching. Disney+ supports up to seven profiles.

Netflix and VPN

Netflix’s available catalog varies greatly by your locale, and you may not be able to watch some shows at all, depending on which country you live in. Likewise, if you travel abroad, you may suddenly find that you can’t continue watching certain shows. In some cases, you can rectify this with a virtual private network (VPN) service. Netflix has been working hard to block VPN access though, to maintain location-based content restrictions.

I tried to access Netflix from my phone and a PC both of which were connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server. I was not able to stream content on either device.

If you are insistent about finding a VPN that works with Netflix, start with the entries in our roundup of VPN services that worked with Netflix as of the time of our last testing. Note that a VPN that works with Netflix today may be blocked tomorrow. We recommend choosing a VPN based on other factors such as its security practices, value, and performance.

What’s Next for Netflix?

Netflix stocks an enormous array of quirky and quality TV shows, cult hits, family favorites, and trendy original programming. It also offers offline downloads for mobile devices, ad-free streams across all tiers, and convenient features such as Smart Downloads. However, its price has crept up over the years and the launch of high-quality streaming alternatives at significantly lower monthly costs means that it is no longer as good a value. We still give it an Editors’ Choice for on-demand video streaming given its excellent original content and vast library. If you are looking for true cable replacements, try Hulu’s Live TV option or YouTube TV.



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Razer Basilisk Ultimate Review & Rating

I’m a big fan of Razer’s Basilisk mouse line. This family of right-handed gaming mice, designed in the first-person-shooter (FPS) style, is known for having a button where the tip of your thumb rests. It’s one of the most comfortable fits in PC gaming. When Razer made a cheaper model, the Basilisk Essential, I sung its praises, too, for bringing the form factor to a larger audience. Now, for the power-gamer set, Razer has made a $169.99-MSRP wireless version, the Basilisk Ultimate, that updates the Basilisk design inside and out, cuts its cord, and adds wireless charging through an optional dock. In other words, one of the best gaming mice just got a bunch better.


Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Wing

The Basilisk Ultimate’s core look and feel remain mostly unchanged from the original. It’s technically an 11-button, right-handed model, though it has only nine customizable buttons.

On top, you have the usual two main clickers, a scroll wheel that clicks, and two resolution-swapping buttons. On the side, you have two macro/shortcut buttons and a detachable FPS-minded “sniper” paddle that, by default, drops your tracking resolution to low sensitivity for precise clicking.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Angle

Last, underneath the mouse is a button that cycles quickly among the Basilisk’s five onboard profiles without making you open Synapse, Razer’s configuration software. Also, as on the other Basilisks, a dial on the underside lets you tune the scroll wheel’s sensitivity, which keeps you out of system settings if you like to tweak that parameter often.

So where do the last two “buttons” come from? The scroll wheel on the Basilisk got a little hop-up: In addition to the usual scroll-wheel down-click, you can now tilt the scroll wheel to the left or right. The tilt function feels great in action, both for everyday use and in gaming. While browsing the web and looking at documents, I found myself tilting the wheel to scroll up and down pages instead of rolling it. (The default function is repeat scroll.) In games, it pays to reconfigure these tilt actions to your key commands, as it’s faster to tilt the wheel, where you already have a finger resting, than to reach a side button by repositioning your thumb. The Basilisk Ultimate isn’t the only mouse adding these inputs here in late ’19, but it’s the first I’ve reviewed, and I hope more companies embrace it.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Wheel

As I suggested up top, my favorite thing about the Basilisk is its shape, which remains mostly unchanged. With a footprint of 5.1 by 2.8 inches (including the thumb wing) and at 1.65 inches tall, the 3.8-ounce Basilisk Ultimate is nearly identical to the original. Your hand still falls perfectly into place and rests naturally on the mouse in a way that you never feel the need to grip or maneuver your hand to get comfortable. Plus, you need to make only small movements to hit any of its essential inputs.

Part of the comfort is the thumb wing, which returns and continues to stand apart, despite the fact that so many mice employ some kind of extended thumb support. This one isn’t too large or too small, and the curve is just the right shape to let you rest your thumb for long play sessions, or to support it while you grip the side of the mouse.

I did note a couple of small differences. The Basilisk Ultimate has a pair of extra lighting elements, comprising a pair of thin accent lines high on the mouse’s sides. On the thumb side, the line sits right above the macro buttons. It’s subtle, but the added lights, along with the lighting in the palm and scroll wheel, make the lighting a strong element, especially since you can actually see the side lights while you’re playing. (They won’t be covered by your hand, as mouse RGB bling tends to be.)

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Thumb Side Close Up

The detachable sniper paddle on the Ultimate is slightly shorter than what I remember on the original Basilisk and the Basilisk Essential, so for some players (myself included), you may need to reach a bit to tap it. If you don’t use the paddle often, this may be a blessing, as you’ll be less likely to tap it by mistake when gripping the mouse in a tense moment. If you use the paddle often, that could be a slight but noticeable quibble.

Internally, the Basilisk Ultimate has had a few technical upgrades. First and foremost, the click panels in the Basilisk Ultimate now use Razer’s new optical mouse switches, which it introduced earlier this year in the esports-focused Razer Viper. Razer claims the switches cut out microseconds worth of delay on each click, allowing for faster, more accurate clicking. Having used multiple mice with these switches (and many without) the difference was not perceptible to me, but I can attest that the panels deliver a good, quick click.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Top Buttons

The Basilisk Ultimate also features Razer’s new Focus+ sensor, which is also in Razer’s other new high-end mouse, the Viper Ultimate. The new sensor bumps the highest tracking settings up to a whopping 20,000 dots per inch (dpi) and 650 inches per second. In more practical terms, it’s more than capable of keeping track of your movements even when you’re whipping your cursor across multiple monitors like a player possessed.

That accuracy wouldn’t mean much if the Basilisk Ultimate didn’t also have strong wireless connectivity to maintain the connection. Using Razer’s radio-frequency (RF) wireless tech (which the company dubs “Hyperspeed”) over a USB dongle, the Basilisk Ultimate achieves a stable connection with 1,000Hz polling, bringing lag down to an imperceptible level. Gaming-mouse makers have figured that dongle-based wireless connections are the way to go, so this isn’t quite as grand an achievement as it sounds, but it’s noteworthy as many serious gamers still swear they need a wired connection. It may also explain why Razer decided to forgo Bluetooth support.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Dock with Mouse side

Like the Viper Ultimate, the Basilisk Ultimate supports wireless charging through its proprietary, USB-connected mouse dock. The dock comes with the $169.99 version of the mouse reviewed here, but it is also sold separately. Having a wireless charging solution really makes using the Basilisk Ultimate feel like a true wireless experience. Plus, the Basilisk gets decent battery life. Razer claims “up to” 100 hours, and I found the mouse needed a recharge every four or five days, but that feels near-inconsequential if you have the charging dock. When you need to charge, you simply park it on the dock, then remove it when you need the mouse again. It requires no cables to connect or disconnect, so charging is not a hassle at all.

It helps that the dock is very well-designed. It holds the mouse in place on top of the dock magnetically at a jaunty angle, showing off the mouse. (To my eyes, it looks great.) The dock itself is also quite stylish, with a lighting element around its base that you can customize with Razer’s Chroma lighting software and incorporate into your PC’s lighting look. (It also shows the battery’s power level when you dock it.) The dock, thoughtfully, also has a USB port into which you can plug in the mouse’s USB RF dongle, so the dock and dongle together occupy just one USB port on your computer.


From Synapse to Chroma

Like all Razer mice, the Basilisk Ultimate supports the company’s suite of configuration software—namely, Razer Synapse for button-mapping, and Razer Chroma for creating custom lighting. These apps haven’t changed, which is fine, because I find them visually appealing and easy to use in most respects.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse buttons settings

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse more settings

As I mentioned earlier, the Basilisk Ultimate can store up to five profiles in its internal, on-mouse memory, including a default profile. You can also make additional per-game profiles on your PC, which you can tie to specific games and apps or swap in for other onboard profiles. Having the ability to swap among the onboard profiles on the fly without accessing Synapse is a nice touch. While Synapse is easy to use, it’s much quicker to press a button than open an app.


Measuring a Mouse’s Worth

The Basilisk Ultimate completes the wireless fantasy, looks great, and feels comfortable. It does everything I want a gaming mouse to do. There is, of course, a catch. And that’s the price: that whopping $169.99 MSRP.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Dock and Mouse

Even if the mouse sees some modest discounting shortly after release, that’s a lot of dough, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone for saying it’s simply too much for any mouse. You can find cheaper wireless mice out there, as well as several cheaper Razer Basilisks. At the same time, in light of my other favorite wireless mouse this year, the price may not be completely out of line, when you factor in that many wireless charging mice, including the Logitech G502 Lightspeed, require you to spend extra money on a proprietary charging pad to use wireless charging. If you’re looking at the Basilisk Ultimate at or close to its list price, bear in mind that it should include the dock.

Dock or no dock, the Ultimate will be a splurge for most gamers, no doubt. But it’s worth the cash for any hardcore gamer (especially a Razer-gear loyalist) who prizes quality software and shortcut-making, lots of programmable buttons, smooth wireless operation, and a slick look.



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Jabra Elite 75t Review & Rating

Jabra’s latest true wireless earphones, the Elite 75t, aren’t cheap at $179.99, but they have something for just about everyone. Out of the box they deliver a bass-forward sound signature in a secure-fitting, sweat-resistant design. They also work with an excellent companion app that offers 5-band EQ to adjust the powerful bass to more normal levels, and toggle the adjustable HearThrough mode that allows you to monitor your surroundings. We applaud the customizability, and anyone seeking seriously deep lows (or willing to use the app to fine-tune audio) will be pleased with the sonics here, earning the Elite 75t our latest Editors’ Choice for true wireless in-ears under $200.

Design

Available in black or black-and-gray models, the Elite 75t’s earpieces are relatively compact and have no stems or fins. Three pairs of silicone eartips are included, and they stay in place quite well. The outer panel of each earpiece features a button that, when pressed, performs a variety of functions divided between the left and right earpieces.

The left ear’s button controls volume down when pressed and held, skips a track when pressed twice, and navigates back when pressed three times. When not on a call, a single press toggles HearThrough mode (which uses the ambient mics), or mutes the mic when on a call. The right button plays or pauses music with a single tap, or manages phone calls. A long press raises the volume, and pressing it twice summons your phone’s voice assistant (with support for Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant).

All of these controls are easy to operate, but remembering which ear to press and how many times for any given command can be a bit difficult to remember at first. The control layout becomes easier over time, though it’s possible to commit a misfire here or there. For instance, pressing and holding the right button to raise the volume can accidentally trigger your voice assistant if you unintentionally tap it twice while trying to hold it in.

Jabra Elite 75t inline

The rounded, flip-top charging case for the Elite 75t is compact enough to fit in most pockets. On its rear panel, there’s a USB-C port for the included charging cable, and there’s also a status LED that lets you know when the case is charging or the firmware is updating.

Jabra estimates the Elite 75t’s battery life to be roughly 7.5 hours per charge, with 28 extra hours stored in the charging case. These are very solid numbers for a true wireless pair, but your results will vary with your volume levels, and HearThrough mode or EQ adjustments can play a role.

The Elite 75t’s IP55 rating may sound impressive, but keep in mind that only the last digit refers to liquid protection. In other words, the earphones are less water resistant than those with an IPX7 rating. That said, the first 5 means they can withstand limited dust exposure, and the second 5 means they’re protected against low-pressure splashes from all directions. Thus, wearing them in the rain or getting them very sweaty shouldn’t be an issue—be careful rinsing them under a high pressure faucet, though. And remember, the charging case isn’t water resistant; the rating applies only to the earpieces.

The Jabra Sound+ app for Android and iOS devices has a 5-band, customizable EQ, as well as quick user presets. There’s also access to HearThrough mode, which uses the four MEMS mics to allow you to hear your surroundings without removing the earpieces. In the app, you can switch this feature on or off, adjust its levels with a fader, and set whether you want to mute audio playback or not when it is activated. You can also choose whether you want to have auto-pause/auto-play as a feature when one earpiece is removed. (If an earpiece is out for more than 60 seconds, auto-play doesn’t kick in.)

There’s even a call EQ, where you can choose a more treble-focused or bass-focused sound for your incoming audio. You can choose to “prioritize” the Elite 75t for calls, meaning all other Bluetooth devices will be temporarily disconnected when you take or make a call, and will automatically reconnect when the call is finished. In the app, you can also customize one-touch access to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.

The earphones use Bluetooth 5.0, allowing a more secure connection (in terms of dropouts and interference in crowded areas), and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX.

Performance

Internally, 6mm drivers deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver what can only be called intense thump. The bass depth here is quite enhanced—boosted to the point that on a track like this, it can upset the balance a bit, though the high-mids and highs are also quite sculpted and crisp. Normally, this level of bonkers bass would be a negative, but you can use the app to dial things back to a relatively natural-sounding place.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Elite 75t’s general sound signature. With no EQ adjustment to help out, as you might guess, the drums sound like thunder rattling the earth. But with the lowest frequencies backed off a bit in the app’s EQ, the track sounds fantastic—bright, crisp, clear, and with a lovely bass depth that sounds natural. The point is—the drivers here can deliver insane subwoofer force, or they can be mellowed to a warm, rich bass presence that doesn’t upset the mix’s balance.

Jabra Elite 75t

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives perhaps slightly less high-mid presence than we typically hear, so that we notice the loop’s thump more than its punchy attack, but the highs are dialed up—the vinyl crackle and hiss usually relegated to background status steps forward in the mix here. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat sound like they are coming through a club PA system—this is some of the most powerful bass depth you’ll hear in the true wireless realm. Dialing it back is a must for me, but especially on tracks like this, you can see the appeal. The vocals here are delivered cleanly with no added sibilance, though without dialing the bass back, they seem at times like they’re doing battle with the low frequencies for the spotlight.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound unnatural in the default setting—whoa, that’s a lot of bass depth there. Again, dialing it back in the app takes things to a lovely place—there’s still plenty of low-end in the mix when you do this, but the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are able to play their starring roles without fighting against the lower-register instruments.

The mic array offers excellent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could hear every word recorded cleanly and clearly. There was very little Bluetooth distortion, and the mics put out a strong signal that even picks up a little bit of bass depth. The call experience is far better than your typical true wireless in-ears.

Conclusions

Jabra’s Elite 75t earphones have excellent battery life, a secure fit, a useful HearThrough mode, some of the best mic clarity we’ve heard on a true wireless pair, and an easy-to-use EQ that allows you to sculpt the rest of the sound signature to your heart’s content. Those looking for the in-skull subwoofer experience will likely not need to adjust the EQ, but you can even boost things in the bass department if you wish.

For a hefty $250, we’re fans of the recently released Apple AirPods Pro, which deliver a similarly well-rounded experience to the Elite 75t and are our high-end Editors’ Choice for iPhone users. Under $200, both the $170 JBL UA True Wireless Flash and the $180 JayBird Vista deliver better ratings in the water-resistance department, and they deliver solid listening experiences, as well. But for $180, the Elite 75t offer a complete package that will make just about everyone happy, no matter what type of sound signature you prefer, earning our Editors’ Choice.



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Steam (for PC) Review & Rating

Steam is the Adobe Photoshop of video game distribution. Both apps are the leaders in their respective categories, both massive in size and scope, and both may be intimidating to first-time users. Steam, however, is infinitely more fun to explore. Valve’s PC gaming client offers a store, cloud saves, video streaming, remote downloads, video streaming and many other gamer-friendly features. Steam app remains the best game store on Windows PC, despite lacking integrated video recording capabilities and a way for its users to speak to a customer service representative should they experience a problem.

The Steam Library

The free Steam app is a terrific way to buy new releases or pre-order upcoming releases. If there’s a major new PC game, Steam will likely have the title—provided that the game’s publisher isn’t selling it exclusively from its own store. For example, you can only buy the Forza Horizon racing series from Xbox, Overwatch from Battle.net, and Red Dead Redemption 2 from the Rockstar Games Launcher. Still, Steam currently offers thousands of titles, ranging from simple arcade-like games (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+) to simulations (Football Manager 2020) to AAA behemoths (Monster Hunter World). Of course, as Steam is a Valve product, it has titles you won’t find in other PC game stores, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Portal, and the upcoming Half-Life: Alyx. It has a variety that its competitors can’t match.

Steam’s library goes back several years, and it includes excellent classic games like Half-Life and Psychonauts. That said, the store isn’t a comprehensive library of legacy titles (for a wider selection of older games, try GOG.com). Like itch.io, however, Steam has a wide array of indie titles. In fact when you purchase games via itch.io, you’ll often find that what you’re buying are Steam activation keys.

Steam

Buying Steam Games

Newer games are priced similarly to retail releases, with most big titles costing $49.99 or $59.99. Indie and older games can cost anywhere from $5 to $19.99, depending on their release date and popularity. There are numerous free-to-play games, too, like Crusader Kings II and Ring of Elysium. Steam’s midweek and weekend sales reduce game prices by a great deal, but it’s Valve’s legendary, thematic Steam seasonal sales that include incredibly deep discounts on individual games, publishers’ entire libraries, or bundles of their top games. It was during Steam’s Winter Sale that I bought Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death, the platform’s best bargain-bin title, for just 99 cents.

There’s another, riskier way to buy Steam games: Early Access. This section is the petri dish in which video games grow. You buy Early Access titles in unfinished form, so they may have more bugs and fewer features than completed, polished games. Fire Pro Wrestling World started as an Early Access title, and after a series of updates, moved to the regular store as a finished game.

Exploring the Steam Catalog

Steam’s homepage pushes not only big-name titles, but also those that Valve’s recommendation engine thinks would interest you based on your wish list, past purchases, and recent gaming sessions. The last time I logged into Steam, the application suggested I take a look at One Finger Death Punch (because I had just spent a lot of time playing fighting games) and Color Symphony (due to my playing other games listed with the Action, Indie, and Singleplayer tags).

If you want even more suggestions, check the Trending Among Friends section (which displays your buddies’ favorite games, based on their hours logged), Special Offers (game sales), and Recently Updated (games that have received new patches or content).

One of our favorite recommendation tools is Steam Curators. This lets you follow a high-profile video game personality (say, Jim Sterling), a brand (PCMag), or a community (NeoGAF) for their insights. I particularly enjoy the /r/pcmasterrace group, which has a team that recommends only “the most worthy PC Games.” I’ve discovered plenty of excellent titles via Steam Creators.

Alternatively, you can find a game’s Metacritic rating on its store page if you want an at-a-glance aggregated review score from professional gaming outlets.

You can avoid the sting of buying a broken game by visiting a title’s store page and reading user reviews. Well-received games are labeled Positive or Overwhelmingly Positive, while middle-of-the-road titles are tagged as Mixed. The gum sticking to the bottom of Steam’s seat is the Negative and Overwhelmingly Negative games. From what I’ve read in the user reviews and Steam community forums, those tags are usually reserved for the most broken of broken games.

Unfortunately, all of this useful information makes for a very busy interface. You can reduce the interface clutter by opening the Preferences menu and checking the product types and platforms that are of interest to you. Steam also gives you the option to filter content by title or genre. If you’re not a RPG fan, now you’ll never see Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster or Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim in your feed again.

Subpar Customer Service

Thankfully, Steam lets you get refunds for unwanted, recently purchased games, which is something that all digital download services should offer their customers. In addition, Steam now gives users the power to delete unwanted games from their accounts. Previously, you had to contact customer service to delete games. The customer service reps aren’t rude or unfriendly; you simply can’t get anyone on the horn, and it sometimes take days for Valve to resolve a problem submitted by ticket.

Here’s another example of Valve’s frustrating customer service. I once bought a game, but couldn’t download it even though it was listed in my account. I submitted a help ticket, and it took Valve three days to resolve the issue. That’s a long time to hear absolutely nothing from a company in regards to a billing issue. Valve needs to fix this, as soon as possible.

Steam

The Steam Engine

Steam automatically handles game downloads and installation, putting local game files in its Steamapps folder and getting them organized in the background. Large games can take an hour or two to download over fast connections, so prepare to keep your computers on if you plan to download the 35GB Max Payne 3.

Steam lets you install games on multiple computers, but only one can be logged into an account at once. If you set up Steam Family Share, you can lend your games to others—an idea that Microsoft planned for Xbox One before console gamers’ anti-digital-rights-management (DRM) backlash forced the Redmond-based company to ditch the plan.

Steam, too, employs DRM, as you must log into Steam to establish a license check. That said, you can play any installed game in Offline Mode. Steam’s scheme is easily is one of the least offensive DRM implementations. GOG.com, on the other hand, doesn’t apply DRM to the games in its catalog, so you have the freedom to install your games on as many PCs as you see fit, without log-in limitations. That said, you won’t see as many high-profile new releases there. Speaking of installing games, Steam lets you remotely install games using the Steam mobile app.

There aren’t any major restrictions in regards to Steam Family Share beyond the five user-account limitation; borrowers get their own achievements and cloud saves, too. They just can’t check out the game when the owner is playing it. If you’re sick of having friends borrow your games, you can gift them games, too, or buy them digital or physical Steam gift cards.

Steam offers matchmaking inside games and social media services outside of games, thanks to a Friends list with text and voice chat and support for Clans (groups of players). Friends can jump into each other’s games, you can invite friends into your games, and Clans can organize group activities by setting up calendars and posting server IP addresses.

As you play games, you earn badges that you can keep, sell in the Steam Market for Steam Store credit, or trade for other badges. Once you get an entire badge set, you get cool rewards like user profile wallpapers and special showcase badges. This is not at all essential to the gaming experience, but it’s a nice touch that gives achievement chasers yet another thing to hunt.

Steam lets you take a screenshot by tapping your keyboard’s F12 key, but it doesn’t record video. On the other hand, the Xbox app‘s Game DVR tool lets you capture stills and up to four hours of video footage.

Steam

Chill Modes

Valve recognized gamers’ desire to play games in the living room, so it created Big Picture mode. Designed for the lean-back experience, Big Picture caters to people who want to play PC games in the same way that they play console games. The panel-driven UI is quite different from the standard Steam interface, which makes it easy to navigate on a big-screen TV. In addition, Remote Play lets you play select local co-op games with friends via the internet. It’s an excellent way to add online functionality to games that lack it, such as River City Girls. Even better, a friend can play with you without owning the game!

Valve’s living room play doesn’t end there. Steam now has a music player (I’m using it to listen to Stellar Dreams’s “Dimensions” as I type this review) and a slow-growing streaming movie catalog. Yes, movies. The selection is limited, but you can buy John Wick for $13.99 or rent the Keanu Reeves flick for $3.99. Not every movie has a rental option, though. Mad Max: Fury Road is only available as a $14.99 purchase. Unlike Netflix, Steam lacks a monthly streaming plan. You have a 48-hour window to watch your rented movie.

I rented Darren Aronofsky’s Pi to test the service. The 1080p stream opened in its own window, and smoothly played over our high-speed office connection. I was pleased with the experience, but couldn’t see myself returning to Steam for movie rentals until there are more titles in the catalog.

GOG.com has movies, too, but most of its catalog is devoted to nerd-centric topics. Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony and Indie Game: The Movie perfectly sum up GOG.com’s film offerings. Steam also sells productivity software like Camtasia Studio and GeoVox.

Steam Broadcasting lets you view friends’ playthroughs or let others watch your sessions. To view a friend’s stream, open your Friends List, select a buddy, and click Watch Game in the menu. Public streams are found in a game’s community hub. In addition, downloading the Steam Link Anywhere mobile app lets you stream games from your gaming desktop or gaming laptop to Android or Raspberry Pi devices. Naturally, the quality of the video stream varies depending on the PC broadcasting the feed; I’ve encountered both magnificant and awful streams.

Let Off Some Steam, Bennett

Valve’s Steam service is a must-have for any PC gamer. Its great selection, recommendation features, and deals make it one of the first applications to install on any gaming PC. No, Steam isn’t perfect, particularly in the customer support realm, but it’s the best all-round PC game distribution service available. And for that, Steam is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for video game marketplaces.



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SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL Review & Rating

SteelSeries is updating its mechanical keyboards with variations on its new Apex Pro and Apex 7, and some of the changes are subtle in look but significant in practice. Take the $129.99 Apex 7 TKL tested here: It bears a strong resemblance to the company’s earlier Apex M750 TKL, but with some extra flair and functionality, most notably a little OLED display in one corner. “TKL,” for those fluent in keyboard lingo, stands for “tenkeyless,” meaning a reduced-width keyboard without a 10-digit number pad. That’s just about all that this killer keyboard is lacking, though, and it’s not a shortfall. (You buy a tenkeyless keyboard specially for the smaller footprint and the ability to position your hands closer together.) The Apex 7 TKL is attractive, comfortable, and sturdy, and our favorite tenkeyless model of the moment.


Taking Off a Tenner

The Apex 7 TKL can be viewed as an unofficial successor to SteelSeries’ Apex M750 TKL keyboard, and both products share many design features, including a classy, rigid aluminum frame. Both keyboards are available with SteelSeries’ custom Red switches, and the Apex 7 TKL offers the option for Brown or Blue switches, as well. All three key types fall under the umbrella of SteelSeries’ own “QX2” mechanisms. (The overall typing experience on the two keyboards with Red switches should be identical.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box Open)

The Apex 7 TKL model that I tested came with the Blue variety of the QX2 switches, which provide tactile feedback when struck and produce a loud click, in the tradition of the classic Cherry MX Blue switches. (See our guide to mechanical keyboards for more on the nuances among switch types.) Although the audible feedback is part of the attraction with keyboards that use Blue-style switches, the Apex 7 TKL will be uncomfortably loud if you use it in a communal workspace or in a household of light sleepers.

Most of the noise produced by the keyboard sounds like it is produced by the keys bottoming out rather than from the actuation of the Blue switch mechanisms themselves. I’ve used plenty of keyboards with Cherry MX Blue switches, as well as Razer models with Razer’s similar Green switches, and while those keyboards were also a bit noisy, the Apex 7 TKL tops them on key clatter. The Brown-switch alternative might be better if you like the tactile bump of a mechanical but have noise concerns. All three switches for the Apex 7 TKL are rated by SteelSeries for a 2mm actuation point, so the perceived keypress depth ought not vary among the three switch types.

Despite the noise, I found that typing on the keyboard was pleasant and in line with expectations for Blue-class keys. The keys felt like they actuated easily, without the need to apply excessive force, and I didn’t feel any finger fatigue while typing this article using the keyboard.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the keyboard is a narrow, clickable scroll wheel that controls the computer’s volume, and below it is a button that pauses or plays any media you have open. Like all of the keys on the keyboard, the scroll wheel and button can be reprogrammed to support other functions.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB)

What sets the TKL apart from most other keyboards, though, is its on-chassis micro-screen. Beside the scroll wheel and button is a little monochrome OLED display with a resolution of 128×40. Though it may just look like dressing at first, this unusual feature makes the keyboard more customizable. By default, the OLED display shows just the SteelSeries logo and brand name, but you can upload other images (including GIF and JPG files) for the keyboard to display. (Animated images display at a rate of 10 frames per second.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (OLED)

The more useful application of the OLED panel, though, is informational. The panel is designed to work with applications such as Discord (for showing messages and identifying your correspondents) and Spotify (listing what track is being played), as well as to show various game-specific details. The latter vary by game.

You can also use the OLED display to adjust system settings (such as volume), or to switch profiles right from the keyboard display, all without having to reference a dialog or slider on your monitor. SteelSeries implements some of this via an easy-to-use onboard menu system. By pressing and holding the keyboard’s clickable scroll button for a few seconds, the OLED screen will switch to display the menu, which can be navigated using the button and scroll wheel to tweak settings, work with macros, and change profiles. You can even use the menu system to program macros and build profiles without the need of any software on the computer.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Bottom)

SteelSeries also equips this keyboard with a USB passthrough port that illuminates and glows white. In another nice touch, channels on the bottom of the keyboard chassis help with cable management. These tunnels are meant to hold the keyboard’s thick cable and have it exit the keyboard’s rear edge where you like, but they can also be used to help route the cable for whatever device you plug into the USB passthrough port.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB 2)

SteelSeries also provides a sturdy palm rest with the keyboard. The palm rest has a comfortable, rubbery coating and is held on by a pair of magnets. The magnets help keep the wrist rest lined up with the keyboard, but they aren’t all that strong; they do little to keep the palm rest attached. Picking up or moving the keyboard at all will cause the palm rest to promptly detach and fall to the floor or desk.


Rev Up the Engine

Although you can manage many of the functions of this keyboard from the onboard menu system and the mini-screen, more complex key- and light-programming tasks are always more easily handled on your PC proper. To access all of the keyboard’s features, you will need to download SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software. Certain settings are accessible only via this software, and you will also need to use Engine to upload a custom image to the OLED display.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Software)

We’ve looked at the Engine software many times before, so no need to dig too deep here. Our opinion of it holds. Engine 3 is cleanly laid out, with all keyboard functions divided into three tabbed sections (for shortcuts, lighting, and the OLED panel), and it’s both powerful and easy to use, the equal of competing utilities from other gaming-board makers.


Our Top Tenkeyless

All things considered, while the Apex 7 TKL is a loud typer in the Blue sample that we received for review, it remains enjoyable to use. The under-key lights look pleasant, the body is rock-solid, and the small OLED display has actual utility and wow factor in equal measure.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box)

Productivity-minded users likely wouldn’t want to use this keyboard as their everyday driver, due to its lack of a number pad, but that misses the point for the serious gamers and tweakers it is meant for. Positioning your hands closer together when gaming is ergonomically and strategically a better bet, and the need to incorporate fewer pricey mechanical switches on a given keyboard means more of the cost can go toward adding innovative features or more creature comforts.

In that way, the Apex 7 TKL strikes a deft balance for its price. It’s an excellent and stylish solution for anyone who doesn’t need a number pad but does want maximal tweakability, durability, and value from a mechanical board.



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Microsoft OneDrive for Business Review & Rating

Microsoft OneDrive for Business (which begins at $5 per user per month, billed annually) is Redmond’s answer to Google Drive for Work and comparable business cloud storage services. Microsoft OneDrive for Business can be paired with online versions of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Word for painless sharing and team collaboration. You can also combine it with Microsoft Office 365, which has more applications as well as desktop versions of the aforementioned programs.

If you need more robust collaboration and document management tools, then try Zoho Docs Standard, our Editors’ Choice in that category. On the storage side, Microsoft OneDrive for Business is a solid solution and a no-brainer for those who have standardized on Microsoft’s Office, Office 365, or SharePoint platforms. However, when it comes to compliance and integral collaboration features, it lags a bit behind Dropbox Business, our Editors’ Choice winner in the business cloud storage category.

You can purchase a standalone Microsoft OneDrive for Business account by signing up for one of two plans. Plan 1 costs $5 per user per month and includes 1 TB of storage per user, file uploads of up to 15 GB, and the ability to sync files across all of your devices (Mac, PC, smartphone, and tablet). Plan 2 costs $10 per user per month, and includes 5 TB of cloud storage per user for subscriptions with at least five users (otherwise, 1 TB). Plan 2 adds data loss prevention, more robust administrative tools, and the ability to preserve deleted and edited documents.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business is included in the Microsoft Office 365 Business and Enterprise suites (which begin at $8.25 per month), which includes online versions of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint, and other Microsoft programs. It also includes offline access and 24/7 phone support. All Microsoft Office 365 plans have a one-month free trial with no credit card required. However, if you need more time to decide, then you can extend the trial another 30 days by adding payment details.

Getting Started With OneDrive

Signup is no sweat: Just provide some contact information, create a username and password, and you’re good to go. Your username in this case is yourcompany.onmicrosoft.com. Alternatively, if you already have a Microsoft subscription, then you can add Microsoft OneDrive for Business to an existing account. You can also download a desktop application that syncs with your account. Apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and even Xbox are available.

The Microsoft OneDrive for Business user interface (UI) is very clean and somewhat similar to Google Drive for Work. On the left-hand rail is a menu with links to all files, recent files, and files that have been shared with you. Across the top of your dashboard are buttons for New, Upload, and Sync. At the top right is a question mark; clicking the question mark slides in a Help module with some Getting Started information on the right-hand side of the screen.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Dashboard - On the left rail is a menu with links to all files.

Upon signing in for the first time, you’re prompted to sync all of your files into Microsoft OneDrive for Business. If you have many gigabytes of files (and who doesn’t), then you’re encouraged to use the desktop client. You can also upload individual files and folders and invite others to them. To share files and folders, you can either get a public link or input email addresses or names of anyone who has already been invited to your account. Then, you can choose whether to require sign-in and whether or not to send an email invite. This means you can share documents freely with external users. Permissions are limited to view or edit. From this pop-up window, you can also see with whom you’ve already shared a document or folder and stop sharing.

In June, Microsoft announced that it would add a Known Folder Move (KFM) for OneDrive feature to allow a single button to transfer content from the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders to OneDrive. Known folders are pointers that let you transfer docs, desktop, and pictures into OneDrive.

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Though Microsoft OneDrive for Business shares a lot of similarities with Google Drive for Work, Microsoft doesn’t recommend OneDrive for Business as a sharing platform. Instead, it points to team sites, hosted by Microsoft SharePoint Online, which offers a shared dashboard. Still, Microsoft OneDrive for Business can be used much like Google Drive for Work to share, edit, and comment on files with colleagues. You can share folders and files on an ad-hoc basis and use online Microsoft Office programs to collaborate. It’s up to you if you want to use both products together (Office 365 includes one team site) or not.

If you sync your Microsoft OneDrive for Business files with the desktop app, then you can access them even when offline, which is handy for travelers. You can also access your documents by using the mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Office 365 Dashboard - The software's included in Office 365.

Microsoft offers a huge library of help content, including how-to information and troubleshooting. It can sometimes be confusing since there are always multiple versions of the operating system (OS) and its software, so you have to keep that in mind when you search. There’s also an online community where you can ask questions of other users and moderators. You can also ask questions via a virtual assistant but that simply pulls up search results. If you purchase Microsoft OneDrive for Business as part of Office 365 for Business, then you get 24/7 phone support. You can also create a support ticket or tweet questions to @MicrosoftHelps.

Integration and Security

OneDrive for Business has a good selection of readily available integrations with popular web services. Those are good, but as you’d expect, where OneDrive shines is in its depth of integration with other Microsoft products (notably Office 365), the Office Online series of back-end services including SharePoint Online, as well as the desktop suite of Office 2016 products. As of 2015, there has also been a special OneDrive for Business application programming interface (API). Like most web integration APIs, it’s based on REST and fits very well into any Microsoft-centric business. While the number of existing product integrations is rudimentary now, there is a lot of potential for new development. That should be exciting for companies that have a significant stake in using SharePoint and Microsoft Office products in general, and with Microsoft’s huge partner ecosystem, you can expect to see a growing number of value-add integrations becoming available over time.

Surprisingly, given its massive investment in global data centers with advanced security capabilities, Microsoft does not guarantee that OneDrive for Business is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), though Microsoft indicated this is primarily because there’s no known certification for HIPAA compliance. It does point out that the product has undergone audits to ensure compliance with ISO 27001 and that it will sign a HIPAA Business Associate agreement. But this in no way guarantees HIPAA compliance in your organization—that will be between you and your auditor. On the plus side, all data is encrypted to and from client to server via SSL. Data at rest is encrypted using AES 256-bit encryption keys that are stored in the associated SharePoint Content Database. Because the keys are stored under the control of Microsoft, access to data is possible, but strictly controlled via a lockbox system that allows administrators to gain audited access to the data for a short period for troubleshooting purposes.

One major advantage that OneDrive for Business has is the native integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD) service and this extends to it cloud-based counterpart, Azure Active Directory as well. While AD is the only Single Sign-On (SSO) option right now, that’s not too bad a ding since AD is, by far, the most commonly used business-grade identity management and SSO platform. There is also a native two-step authentication feature that can be enabled or disabled from account settings, so you can add an extra layer of security if that suits you.

Simple File Sharing, Big Storage

Microsoft OneDrive for Business offers a lot of cloud storage per user (1 TB or 5 TB, depending on the plan). But it works best when integrated with Microsoft Office 365, which includes online and desktop versions of Microsoft productivity software as well as Microsoft SharePoint Online, which enables sharing documents and collaborating with a team. For a one-stop collaboration shop, though, consider either Ascensio System OnlyOffice or Editors’ Choice winner Zoho Docs Standard. That said, as a standalone business cloud storage solution, it’s a fine standalone solution, especially for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that have standardized on Microsoft’s other productivity tools.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Sharing Documents - You can easily share files and folders.



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Dropbox Business Review & Rating

Dropbox Business (which begins at $12.50 per user per month for the Standard plan) is an excellent cloud storage service that targets mainly small to midsize businesses (SMBs). Available in three plans (Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise), Dropbox is more than just a big bucket of files. Aside from unlimited storage, it also includes administration tools that allow your IT staffers to assign permissions, device approvals, and single sign-on (SSO), among other things. Some even smaller companies might be able to use Dropbox Business as a document management (DM) tool. However, while it’s a decent product when viewed through a DM lens, its lack of built-in editing tools makes it fall short of DM Editors’ Choice winner Zoho Docs Standard. However, when viewed primarily as a sophisticated cloud storage service for businesses, it rises to a level of real excellence and wins our Editors’ Choice award in that category, along with competitor Egnyte Business.

If you move up the plan ladder, you’ll find a variety of different capabilities. The Standard plan gives you unlimited storage, administrator tools, and user management, unlimited deletion and version history, and a suite of collaboration tools. You can try out the Standard plan for 30 days, but you’ll need to provide a credit card or PayPal payment information first. Your trial will automatically upgrade to the paid plan after the 30 days if you don’t cancel. Dropbox Business starts you at 2 terabytes (TB) of storage, but you can request more at no additional cost if you happen to reach that limit. Dropbox Business’ Advanced plan ($20 per user per month) gives you the unlimited storage of the Standard plan and adds advanced admin controls and security features, including device approvals and single sign-on (SSO). The third plan is the custom-quoted Enterprise plan, which includes enterprise mobility management (EMM), network control, and more customized solutions.

Getting Started With Dropbox Business

To create an account, you have to supply your contact details, create a password, and provide payment information, team name, company size, the number of users, and the agree to Dropbox’s Terms of Service. Once you’re done, you can start inviting people right away or go straight to your admin console. There, you’ll see some tips on using features such as inviting and managing members, accessing settings, and monitoring activity usage across your team. You can always revisit this tour by clicking the question mark at top of any page.

Dropbox Business has a simple dashboard. As an admin, you can see how many team members you have, as well as pending invites and remaining licenses (the free trial includes five). On the left-hand side of the screen, you can access activity logs, sharing settings, view your team folder, set up groups, and visit the help center. As an admin, you can restrict sharing documents and links to external users, and allow or block commenting or user requests on files.

The user dashboard shows all of your files and folders, including the team folder managed by the admin. Here, you can add files and folders, share files and folders, and send file requests. You can request files from anyone via email even if they don’t have a Dropbox account (for instance, a client or contractor who is not a part of your staff). There’s also a folder for deleted files; you can restore them at any time.

Dropbox for Business - Activity

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Users can share documents in a few different ways. First, any file you place in the team folder will automatically be available to everyone on the same Standard account. Second, you can share a folder or document link, as you can with Google Drive, which you can set as public (anyone with a link can access) or you can restrict it in several ways. If you don’t want a file or folder to be public, then you can password-protect it, restrict it to only team members, and/or set an expiration date. You can also set editing permissions for both folders and files.

You can’t edit documents inside Dropbox; when you click the Open button on a file, you’re redirected to Microsoft Office 365 online where you have to either set up an Enterprise account or log into an existing one. This isn’t ideal especially since Box (for Business) includes free access to Microsoft’s online Office apps. (Dropbox Basic and Pro accounts also include free access.)

Alternatively, you can sign up for Dropbox Paper, which is in beta but open to all Dropbox users. With Dropbox Paper, you can create and edit documents, comment, and assign related tasks. Once you link your Standard account with Dropbox Paper, you can access your Dropbox Paper documents from your Dropbox dashboard. You can insert Dropbox documents into Dropbox Paper documents but they won’t be editable. If you want to collaborate on documents, then you’re best off creating them in Dropbox Paper in the first place.

The lack of true document-editing capabilities doesn’t compare favorably with Google Drive for Work, which has online editing and track changes. Other DM systems such as Ascensio System OnlyOffice, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Zoho Docs Standard offer such functionality as well.

Dropbox for Business - Dashboard

If you download the Dropbox desktop app, then you can use a feature called Dropbox Badge, which extends some Dropbox features to Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files. A badge appears on any of the documents saved in your Dropbox, so you can see who is viewing or editing the file, add comments, share the file, and view file history. Dropbox also recommends using the desktop app to upload entire folders and large files since the website uploader has a 10GB limit.

Any files you mark as favorites will also be available offline, though you have to do so one by one, same as you do in Citrix ShareFile. This is a nice feature, though Evernote for Business and Google Drive for Work let you access all of your files offline.

In addition to a desktop app, Dropbox also has mobile apps for Android and iOS. Dropbox Business recently added some new mobile features on iOS that let users see file activity and team feedback in file preview. The company plans to add these features on Android soon. All of these mobile apps sync with your online account. The mobile apps let you create files and folders and share them. It also includes another important mobile capability, namely document scanning using your phone, either from your existing camera roll or by taking a photo and transforming it into a document. Dropbox does a good job of outlining whatever document you’re trying to scan, be it as small as a business card or a full-sized page. It straightens the image up (even in the case of the mildly crumpled receipt we threw at it during testing), and it allows you to capture up to 10 pages at a time, which you can save to any Dropbox folder either as a PDF or a PNG file. As with other documents in the Dropbox system, you can add comments to it or @mention someone to notify her that she should take a look.

Dropbox Business is excellent in regards to sharing or annoting documents in this fashion as long as you’re still working with the mobile app. You can add a signature to the document if you have Adobe Acrobat installed or you can do so directly from the app. You can also annotate the image with a date or custom text.

The only miss is with help text, which only has a brief mention of how to do text recognition, and that entry was mostly useless information. We even contacted tech support for more information (without informing them that we were press), and they simply asked for more information and then never replied after we gave it to them. The reason for the query is that the mobile app has a search field implying that you can do a text search on a scanned document you’ve saved in PDF. However, searching for the word “chocolate” on a two-page document that specifically concerned chocolate yielded zero results. As far as we can tell then, users should consider the mobile scanning feature more as an image capture mechanism rather than a tool for optical character recognition (OCR). If a big stack of documents needing OCR is in your future, then you’d be better off with one of the Editors’ Choice winners in our mobile scanning app roundup, Abbyy FineScanner or Evernote Scannable.

Other capabilities were similarly muddled, such as sharing. You can email a scanned document to someone or create a link you can share across almost anything, but you’ll spend some frustrating minutes finding these features in the interface. Once you’ve found them, though, Dropbox’s mobile scanning is a decent enough tool, though full OCR would be a much sought-after addition in future versions.

Integration and Security

Dropbox has been in the cloud storage game for a long time and has a significant API presence for custom integrations. In fact, Dropbox support has been ubiquitous among some of the most popular apps from companies such as Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack. It is also one of the most accessible APIs, supporting a wide variety of approachable programming languages. This translates directly to meeting future business requirements in addition to today’s process and collaboration needs. In addition, the Dropbox DBX Platform offers integration with multiple tools and provides a central location to connect content, devices, and apps.

On the data security side, Dropbox maintains ISO 27001, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, and ISO 22301 certifications. It also maintains SOC1, SOC2, and SOC3 assurances. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance is not active by default and requires a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your organization prior to complying. Activity audit logs are also available to administrators, which can be helpful for maintaining Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliance. Dropbox touts these regulatory success and attributes them largely to its investment in proprietary data centers. Unlike Jungle Disk, for example, which simply offers its software solution on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Rackspace Managed Cloud storage infrastructure, Dropbox has invested in its own data centers. That gives it more direct control of data safety and potential regulatory compliance issues than competitors who leave that to third parties.

Dropbox has not yet produced a user encryption key management feature so any keys are under the control of Dropbox. They have, however, put in very tight controls on what data is available to technicians for troubleshooting purposes and only when it’s absolutely required. It’s not complete privacy but they have worked hard to ensure that their trust is earned. While this may not be enough to qualify for FedRAMP, it’s most likely good enough for many cases.

Dropbox also supports several two-factor and multifactor authentication (MFA) strategies that include the use of a SMS text message that delivers a separate code to the user’s mobile device, Google Authenticator, Duo Mobile, Amazon AWS MFA, or Windows Authenticator. Dropbox strongly recommends that users take advantage of these features because they add a nice layer of safety around sensitive data.

Almost a One-Stop Shop

Dropbox offers a lot of help should you run into issues, including a PDF guide, self-guided support, a searchable Help center and support via live chat, email, and phone (weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET). For phone support, you have to generate a pin code, which you can do directly from the main help page.

With a simple user interface (UI), unlimited storage and file retrieval, and vast user permissions, Dropbox Business helps your team collaborate more efficiently. In fact, Dropbox boasts that 300,000 teams use Dropbox Business. To edit files online, you have to get a separate Microsoft 365 account, which can raise costs, or use Dropbox Paper, which isn’t fully integrated. For the best document management software, look to Editors’ Choice Zoho Docs Standard. But for an all-purpose, business class cloud storage and file sharing solution, Dropbox Business is an excellent solution and fully deserves the PCMag Editors’ Choice designation.



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Egnyte Business Review & Rating

Editors’ Choice pick Egnyte Business is one of the most esteemed business cloud storage solutions designed for business users, mostly because of its scalable platform that can grow with the needs of a business. Its centralized file-storage model is the gold standard for secure and loss-free cloud storage solution. Egnyte Business begins at $8 per employee per month for 5-25 employees in its Office tier, which includes 5 terabytes of online storage, 10 gigabytes max file size, and standard support.

Egnyte Business was created to cater to a businesses’ storage needs; it’s not a consumer or freemium product with business inclinations but a mature and comprehensive cloud storage and sharing solution. Able to cover the needs of startups, small to midsize businesses (SMBs), and even large enterprises, Egnyte Business is equally adept at managing files securely in the cloud and on an office’s local servers. File locking functionality ensure that documents and files can be locked to one individual at a time, which cuts down on reworking or duplication. It is a different approach from more collaborative file sharing features, but one that might suit a businesses’ need for focus and clarity in terms of version control and document ownership.

Egnyte Business can also solve storage needs in various ways. Some companies use the service primarily as a secure file server, while others rely on it as a hub for various integrations and extensions.

With its Enterprise-grade File Synchronization and Sharing (EFSS) foundation features, it earns our Editors’ Choice designation in our business cloud storage roundup, a distinction it shares with
Microsoft OneDrive for Business.

Pricing and Options

Egnyte comes in three basic tiers that cater to different business sizes. Starting at $8 per employee per month (for between 5-25 employees) in the Office tier which includes 5 terabytes of online storage, 10 gigabytes max file size, and standard support. This includes Microsoft Outlook integration, enterprise-class security, the ability to add custom branding, FTP and mobile access, plus desktop sync. The Office tier of Egnyte solely offers cloud deployment with no on-premises component.

The Business tier, which is the offering that I tested, costs $20 per employee per month for 25-100 employees comes with 10 terabytes (TB) of storage, 10 GB of max files size, advanced security, and standard support. This tier offers cloud or hybrid deployment for businesses that require on-premises storage which can be synchronized with a public cloud solution. An Enterprise option is also available for organizations with over 100 employees, but this requires consultation and customization to a larger company’s needs.

Egnyte also offers a Team Plan, which costs $10 per employee per month and is designed for a team of 1-3 users. It comes with one terabyte of online storage, 10 GB maximum file size, and standard support. The Team Plan covers online storage, desktop sync, mobile, and FTP access, Microsoft Outlook integration and enterprise-class security.

Egnyte Connect offers a 15-day free trial for most of its plans through an easy setup page. In terms of pricing, Egnyte Business is similar to Google Drive Enterprise, which also starts at $8 per user per month (plus $1 per 25GB of storage used), this solution has no employee limits and now offers a friendlier pricing scheme where subscribers only pay for the accounts and storage they use.

Signing up with Egnyte Business is straightforward and simple. A free 15-day trial is available for Egnyte Business on the company’s website. All you need are basic user credentials and an email address to get started with the trial. Once signed in, you can operate from the Egnyte Connect page that is modeled after Windows Explorer. For users who prefer to work from the web and avoid downloading the client, there is a lot of functionality here. The main sections at the top of Egnyte Connect’s teal-colored ribbon are Files, My Links, My Tasks, Apps, & Integrations

User Interface and Functionality

Egnyte Connect’s user interface (UI) fully supports drag-and-drop file upload. Downloading, sharing, and bookmarking are available either as a button bar operation or as a right-click operation. A full version history is also available under an icon on the file record. Everything you’d expect to find in a file management UI is right where you’d expect it to be. It’s highly intuitive and easy for a new user to pick up.

Egnyte Connect’s layout will be familiar to users mainly because it looks like a typical desktop file manager. A menu on the left-hand side shows links to the most recent files, bookmarks, a shared folder, a user folder, and all private folders. The main section which takes up most of the middle of the screen is where folders or documents are accessed. If you want to upload files to Egnyte Business, you would do so by opening a folder and dragging the files from your desktop to the folder. A column on the right-hand-side conveniently lists down document names and screenshots under the Activity in this folder section.

From the folder interface, it is possible to upload, download, share, create a new folder and toggle the different view options to suit your needs.

Egnyte Business has a File Previewer feature that allows users to look at files stored in the cloud. The variety of files it can preview is decent but nowhere as comprehensive as what OneDrive for Business can handle. Egnyte Business also sets file size limits for different types of files, which could be a dealbreaker for companies like creative agencies and production houses that need to sling around larger video or multi-layer types of file formats.

Egnyte Business - Web client is modeled after Windows Explorer.

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Egnyte Business offers a number of options for using the service outside of the web interface. Egnyte Drive is the suggested path and provides a mapped drive. It is worth noting that Egnyte uses its own application programming interface (API) for this and does not rely on Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), which has traditionally been fraught with security holes and functional issues. Files copied to and from the mapped drive work exactly as if they were being transferred to a mapped network drive. What is impressive about the solution is that, unlike other offerings, Egnyte Drive replicates directory permissions. For businesses that are heavily entrenched in Active Directory (AD), this is a lifesaver since permissions management no longer has to be managed from more than one location.

Beyond this, there is Egnyte Desktop Sync. It works similarly to other familiar applications such as Dropbox or Box where a designated folder is specified to sync files to and from the service. In essence, it is another flavor of Egnyte Drive and is really a matter of preference. Either one will get the job done. My one complaint is that the mapped drive feature has performance issues on some kinds of configurations. While Egnyte Business provides instructions for overcoming this on many occasions, keeping this fast was a challenge. I would expect that this will be addressed in a future release and should not be a reason to avoid the product. But any large initial uploads should be done using FTP or the Sync option.

Egnyte Business’ server-centric model ensures files are always accounted for, unlike some competing business cloud storage solutions that use a peer-to-peer model, which means everyone on the network shares parts of a file. This means if someone leaves the group or company, components of that file become unavailable. The server-centric models means files reside on the server even when an employee leaves.

Egnyte Business also integrates well with Microsoft Office products. Egnyte WebEdit plugs into offline Microsoft Office products and lets you edit files for saving directly back to the service. It’s a handy feature and is, perhaps, even more, seamless than Microsoft’s own offering. It also plugs into Microsoft Office 365 in case you are on the run or prefer to use Microsoft’s online tools instead.

Egnyte Business is not alone in this focus on Microsoft Office, Google Drive Enterprise is designed to imbue some of the G Suite smoothness when working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. Of course, if integration with Microsoft Office 365 is a major consideration, few solutions will approach the deep integration that Microsoft OneDrive for Business can offer, not just for Office 365, but also for solutions like Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Teams.

Egnyte Business also has a solid mobile component Android and iOS are all fully supported. They are just as powerful as the web client. Files can be edited and managed from the mobile solution as easily as they can be from the web or desktop apps.

A Range of Deployment Options and Solutions

Egnyte Business can be deployed in several ways. In addition to a complete cloud solution, it also offers hybrid and local-only deployments by way of Egnyte Storage Connect and Egnyte Storage Sync. In this way, Egnyte Business can behave not only as a cloud offering but as a true extension of on-premises storage while maintaining the same great look and feel of the standard product.

In addition, Egnyte Business integrates with Active Directory (AD) via Egnyte Active Directory Connector and seamlessly syncs permissions and policies to your data.

There is also a significant number of add-ons and integrations with third-party products such as Salesforce, Slack, and SmartSheet. In addition, the public API used to develop these integrations is available for businesses to use, with a few minor hoops through which to jump. In-house developers should feel right at home connecting Egnyte Business to any custom enterprise solutions.

Egnyte Business has a loyal user base of over 15,000 users and 13,000 businesses. Egnyte started a user community in 2018 and this is designed to help customers solve problems collaboratively via discussion forums, product idea submission, and help desk functionality. The platform also offers a gamification layer that is designed to help foster collaboration amongst the worlds Egnyte users. For new SMB’s looking into Egnyte, this active user community adds another layer of support and offers various solutions on how to deploy the product.

Security

Egnyte Business does not skimp on security. The solution is fully SOC- and ISO 27001-compliant and support for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is available. Encryption is enforced in transit and at rest with 256-bit AES encryption. Furthermore, the company has implemented an Egnyte Key Management service that lets businesses manage their own encryption keys. While the software still technically has access to the data (so the application can still operate as normal), Egnyte employees no longer have access to the keys without permission.

As part of the Enterprise service offering, Active Directory SSO is supported. While it would have been nice to see this in the Business and Office levels of service, it is understandable why this decision was made. Two-factor authentication is also available for an extra level of security. This helps to greatly limit the potential for an attacker to gain access to your data. Several options are available for secondary authentication including SMS, Phone Call, and Duo Push.

Geared for Small Business Needs

Egnyte Business is a great service and deserves a spot next to Box and Dropbox in terms of feature set. It’s got competition from Microsoft OneDrive as well as Google Drive Enterprise, which might make more sense to certain users seeking more universal file compatibility and integrations or more flexible pricing buckets to suit their needs. Unlike these solutions, Egnyte Business does fewer things but does them excellently with a clear focus on secure and seamless cloud storage and a robust sharing model. This reputation of reliability and general stress-free functionality make Egnyte Business a solid choice for our Editors’ Choice in business cloud storage.



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