Weekly News Roundup (31 January 2016)

January 31st, 2016

With any luck, I’ll have the first part of my epic PC building guide out on my blog this week, the first part will cover picking and buying of the parts needed for a system, sharing some of my own learned experience on the issue (like how to do price comparisons, check for compatibility, reviews …). The actual build was finished earlier in the week (very good fun, if you must know), but I haven’t had time to tweak and tune the system yet, let alone overclock. In the meantime, here’s a couple of PC build porn pics for you to enjoy.

PC Build - Innards

PC Build – Innards

PC Build - Outards

PC Build – Outards

Oh yes, we have news to cover, don’t we?

Copyright

Australia's Internet Filter

EFF warns of new plans to filter everything on the Internet

The EFF is on the warpath again, this time protecting all of us Internet users from the latest short-sighted plans by content-holders to remove piracy from the Internet. Instead of the current DMCA system, rights-holders wants a new one that puts the onus on the likes of Google to keep pirated content from being found.

Under the current take-down system, rights-holders have to specifically provide each and every URL to be removed. This game of copyright whack-a-mole has proven extremely ineffective, and so rights-holders have devised a new plan – get Google to do everything! Instead of providing the URL, rights-holders only want to identify the actual content being pirated (eg. the movie “The Hateful Eight”) and they want Google and others to identify and remove all related piracy links for said content. So Google’s copyright policing role expands to being ongoing, perpetual detectives, in a never ending search for pirated links.

For obvious reasons, Google don’t want to do this, and why should they? A search engine should not be responsible for content that it has no control over, and it should not be tasked with identifying the legality of a piece of content that it has no legal claim on. Only the rights-holders really know what and what doesn’t belong to them, and so it’s their responsibility to identify and submit URLs for removal.

And it’s not as if these same rights-holders have no responsibility when it comes to piracy – in fact, some of their inaction may be directly responsible for the stuff being uploaded online, including most of this and last season’s Oscar nominated movies.

Pirated Movies For Sale

Hollywood has been supplying pirates with the best movies of the year, thanks leaks of DVD screeners

A Variety report has confirmed what we’ve all long suspected, that Hollywood really doesn’t like new technology, specifically digital. This is why they are still using snail mail to send DVD screeners to award voters, the same screeners that habitually get leaked and uploaded online. But Hollywood still doesn’t like to do screeners digitally. Why? Because, apparently, they think that the 1% chance of digital screeners being copied and distributed illegally is not a chance worth taking (they much prefer the 99% chance that DVD screeners have of getting leaked, I guess?).

The other reason they don’t like digital screeners is also symptomatic of Hollywood’s slow embrace of all things digital, at least when compared to tech companies. Hollywood execs don’t like digital screeners because there does not exist a single platform that will support every studio’s digital screeners. It’s actually the same problem we as consumers face, and Hollywood studio greed has been the reason why every studio has their own convoluted way to play UltraViolet content (WB has Flixter, Sony has Sony Pictures Store, Fox and Disney don’t even use UltraViolet), as opposed to just supporting one of the major platforms (like iTunes, Android Play and whatever thing Microsoft uses).

So stuck with the irrational fear of digital piracy, and the slowness in embracing the new, I guess it’s going to be DVD screeners for a while longer still. Come January 2017, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the DVD screener leaks of that year’s award contenders.

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I get most of my new music from Spotify, and if that fails (or if my significant other wants to listen to Taylor Swift … oh alright, if *I* want to listen to Taylor Swift), then it’s a quick hop to YouTube. But what if you could combine the best of both worlds, a Spotify like interface that let’s you listen to music sourced from YouTube music videos? Too good to be true? It is.

At least, it is from a legal point of view. New start-up Wefre‘s dream of turning this to reality has quickly turned into a nightmare, part of it because they underestimated how popular this thing could be, but also mainly because they failed to understand the basics of copyright on the Internet: if music labels aren’t getting big money from it, you’re doing it wrong!

Wefre, now “temporarily” suspended only two weeks after launch, was doomed to fail from the beginning. It’s creators failed to see just how rights-holders, and YouTube, might not like what they were doing with the legally uploaded music videos (what they did probably breaks YouTube’s terms of service anyway), and probably also failed to remember you can’t just copy Spotify’s interface without repercussions. Still, despite Spotify’s existence, there still seems to be a wanting of a way to freely stream music, all the music (I’m looking at you Taylor Swift). So those in the industry will have to constantly battle tools like Wefre, or they do the proper thing and just let Spotify have everything (which is a good thing for everyone involved).

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Gotta get back to watching the tennis now, plus doing more writing on the PC build guide. Have a great week!

Weekly News Roundup (24 January 2016)

January 24th, 2016
PC Build - Boxes

PC Building Step 1: Find a place to store a lot of boxes

A pretty quiet week. I wonder if it’s because of MLK Day, but certainly the news stories only started to flow at the end of the week, too late to make it into this edition of the WNR.

Some update on the PC build front – all the parts have finally arrived, and the build can begin proper. Keep on eye out for our series of blog posts on this, which will feature plenty of hints and tips for those looking to start on their own build. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these glorious pics (of a very messy section of my office).

PC Build - Boxes, close up

Let’s get started with this very short WNR.

Copyright

Smartphone Music Headphones

People may be using piracy to sample new music

Some would like you to be believe that piracy is always bad, and that it always leads to losses for the rights-holders. There are also those that say piracy is never harmful, and it may even be beneficial. But like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two extreme, and it’s far more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.

And so concludes a new study which looked at (admittedly old data, from 2008) piracy and how it relates to sales, and found that piracy does indeed negatively affect sales, but can also boost sales at times. According to the paper, piracy affects physical purchases, while helping digital sales, and the least well known artists have more to lose than those that are more popular. This last point is interesting, as it seems to suggest that pirates are picking and choosing which music they pirate, and once they do that, which music they end up paying for. It’s almost as if they’re treating piracy as a discovery tool, to trial new music without having to pay the full price. Good, popular music have less to lose from piracy (and may even gain from it, thanks to the word-of-mouth effect), while bad or unpopular music aren’t being purchased when there’s a free pirated version around.

This is perhaps why Spotify and others like it has become so popular, so quickly, especially among (former) pirates. Spotify is giving them the chance to discover new music without having to be out of pocket, the difference now being that, thanks to ad-supported listening, the artists can get something out of it. Not much, but certainly more than what they would get from piracy. But if you make bad music nobody wants, don’t be surprised that people will listen to it on Spotify and not pay for it.

High Definition

Jurassic World Blu-ray

Jurassic World was 2015’s biggest Blu-ray release

With news hard to come by this week, I finally had the time to write the 2015 Blu-ray sales analysis article, Blu-ray: The State of Play – 2015. Based stats that I’ve been posting weekly through the entire year, and comparing with the same stats from a year ago, the conclusion definitely seem to point to 2013 being Blu-ray’s peak year in terms of sales revenue. Things have been going backwards for two year’s in a row now (although 2015’s decline was slower than that experienced in 2014), despite there being no lack of big titles, including Big Hero 6The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesFurious 7Jurassic World and Minions. Jurassic World was the title to beat in 2015 though (just like The Force Awakens is likely to be hard to beat in 2016), not surprising considering that at the time of its release, it was the third biggest movie in history. There was nothing like it in 2014, and yet Blu-ray revenue was still higher then.

Of course, falling Blu-ray prices contribute to the decline in revenue, but the digital evolution is obviously having an effect too, especially considering you can get pretty good quality HD (and even 4K) from most of the digital outlets, including streaming.

Will Ultra HD Blu-ray lift Blu-ray revenue out from its steady decline? Probably not. There’s just not enough display hardware, and software available in 2016 to make a huge difference, and even if it turns out to be a mainstream success, all it will do is to eat into standard Blu-ray and DVD sales number, without necessarily creating new customers (like DVD did when it first came out). I think the people that will dig Ultra HD and 4K, are those that are already heavily invested into Blu-ray – they will spend money, maybe a little bit more money than normal on Ultra HD, but the average Joe is already looking way from discs, towards streaming and downloads.

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And I’m already looking away from my monitor, towards getting my new build up and running. See you next week!

 

Blu-ray: The State of Play – 2015

January 18th, 2016

Welcome to another edition of our annual Blu-ray sales analysis, where we look at how Blu-ray has performed over the last year. We’ve updated the format of this article slightly to hopefully try and make it clearer, while removing graphs that we think are no longer particularly relevant or useful.

The data used in this analysis derives from our weekly updates, based on figures released by Home Media Magazine. Some of the historical figures you’ll see have also been adjusted, due to slight tweaking of the metrics used by HMM to create these sets of data, although the changes have been very subtle and does not change the bigger picture in any way.

For 2014, we saw for the first time since the Blu-ray format’s inception a decline in revenue compared to the previous year, and at that time, we called 2014 “the year that Blu-ray went backwards”. We declared boldly at that time that it appears Blu-ray’s popularity had peaked in 2013. Were we premature in proclaiming “peak Blu-ray” had been reached, or will Blu-ray make a come-back in 2015? Read on to find out!

Blu-ray Market Share

As has been the case with all of our “Blu-ray: The State of Play” reports in the past, we start with the ever wider Blu-ray Market Share graph. Blu-ray market share represents weekly Blu-ray sales as a percentage of total packaged disc sales. So a Blu-ray market share of 45% means that 45% of all disc packages sold in that week contained a Blu-ray disc (inversely, this also means that 55% of disc packages sold only contained the DVD version of the content). In the graph below, we also point out some of the more obvious milestone releases. 2015’s major releases, at least those that had a significant impact on Blu-ray market share for the week that they were released, were Big Hero 6The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesFurious 7Jurassic World and Minions, and notable mentions to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Interstellar, Fifty Shade of Grey, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Inside Out.

 

Blu-ray Sales Percentage – 4 May 2008 to 26 December 2015

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2015 – Click to see larger version

Note that because Blu-ray market share is proportional to DVD market share, any drop in DVD sales will also result in a higher Blu-ray market share, even if Blu-ray sales are steady. With DVD on a steady decline, Blu-ray market share will continue to rise as long as it’s own sales decline is slower than that of DVD’s.

Below is the same data condensed and with a trend line added. As you can see, Blu-ray market looked to be on the way down until the second half (or rather, the last quarter) of 2015, when the big releases started coming out (starting with Furious 7). The big peak you see in graph below, which represents the current time record in terms of Blu-ray market share, came in the week Jurassic World was released (Blu-ray market share of 48.62%), a movie which, had it not been for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, would have been this year’s biggest movie, and the 3rd biggest of all time worldwide (now down the 4th). Star Wars could break this record again when it is released in March or April, most likely.

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2015

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2015

Blu-ray Revenue

For actual revenue, unfortunately, no records were broken as you can see from the graph below. The peak you see in the graph below again corresponds to the two important sales period, the Black Friday/Cyber Monday week, and the pre-Christmas sales period. 2015’s peaks are comparable, if not slightly higher than that for 2014, but neither of the past two years could compete with 2013. So our earlier premise that 2013 was the peak year for Blu-ray appears to be holding true.

Outside of the two major peaks, the other significant weeks came in the weeks that Furious 7 and Jurassic World were released.

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2015

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2015

2014 vs 2015 Comparison

So let’s take a closer look at how 2015 did compared to 2014, starting with Blu-ray market share as shown in the graph below. It’s much easier to see the initial decline and then major rise in market share from first half of 2015 to the second half. Those big releases mentioned earlier had a major effect on Blu-ray market share,

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

Revenue wise, the differences between 2014 and 2015 were less visible – certainly the first part of 2015 were disappointing for Blu-ray, but the second half at the very least matched, and often beat, the performances of 2014.

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

We can get a clearer picture by looking at the raw numbers. Out of the 52 weeks in 2015, 31 of them had a weekly revenue lower than the same week in 2014. 21 weeks recorded a revenue result that was higher than the same week in 2014 (with 11 of these weeks coming in the last four months of the year). This is an improvement compared to last year, when 35 weeks performed poorer than the same weeks in 2013. So if Blu-ray is in decline, the decline definitely slowed in 2015.

But did total Blu-ray revenue decline in 2015? Unfortunately, it did. Total Blu-ray revenue for 2014 was $2.156 billion, compared to $2.041 billion in 2015, a decline of 5.35%. This makes 2015 only the second year in which there was a year-on-year revenue decline, since Blu-ray was first launched in 2006.

Conclusion

To sum up:

  • Blu-ray market share grew, but it may largely be due to the decline in DVD than any rise in Blu-ray sales
  • Jurassic World was the title to beat in 2015
  • Blu-ray revenue declines for the second year running

These results seem to confirm that 2013 was indeed the peak for Blu-ray sales. 2016 will be an interesting year, with Ultra HD Blu-ray coming onto the scene (still unsure how sales will be tracked at this point), and with a couple of big releases already lined up (Spectre, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The Martian …), not to mention the tent-pole releases of 2016 (Batman vs Superman, Star Trek 3, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse …), it’s hard to say whether we will see a small bounce in 2016, or whether the decline will continue.

Weekly News Roundup (17 January 2016)

January 17th, 2016

Not much progress to report on my new computer build (more info on specs in our last newsletter). Still waiting for some parts to arrive – the RAM was sent incorrectly to me, while the CPU cooler is with the courier for re-delivery as I wasn’t home for the original delivery, so don’t really want to do breadboarding until I get these two essential components (had it been the GPU or SSD that arrived late, I could still have proceeded, but as luck would have it, those two were the first to arrive).

As for the news, there’s plenty to go through this week, so let’s get started.

Copyright

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens and Jurassic World helped 2015 to be a great year for the movie industry, despite fears of piracy

A couple of stories this week that puts the naysayers in their place. First target, Hollywood – it appears that despite the age of rampant piracy, the kind that is putting the entire industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, Hollywood is actually doing great business in the US and abroad.

It looks like two of the top four all time box office hits arrived in 2015 (and in typical Hollywood fashion, both were sequels), with Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens helping Hollywood to a record year. For the first time ever, the $11 billion barrier was broken domestically, with the global number up to a staggering $38 billion.

Now, the same naysayers will say that had it not been for piracy, theses numbers would have been even higher. First of all, this reeks of greed, and second of all, it may not even be true. There’s no magic formula that converts piracy into accurate lost revenue, and for films like Star Wars, people who are willing and able to pay for a cinema ticket, will have done so. Those that rely on bootleg cam copies with hard-coded Spanish subtitles, will never have paid for a ticket, even if said ticket (when discounted) could cost no more than a cup of coffee (at least here in Australia).

It might take the prevention of tens of thousands of pirated downloads before one person is converted into a paying customer, and that particular pirate may have eventually paid for the movie anyway, there’s no guarantee (or inversely, a pirate may already be a paying customer, having paid to watch Star Wars and then downloaded a cam copy for closer inspection while the Blu-ray is still not yet available to buy).

Spotify Logo

Spotify doesn’t really hurt music sales, but helps labels to make more money

The second set of naysayers are in the music business, and they’re the kind that hates Spotify, something they probably refer to as legal piracy. They say that Spotify cannibalises music sales, and that the music streaming platforms pays too little to labels and artists. But it appears that the music industry is actually making more money because of Spotify, as opposed to losing money.

This is because it actually takes many users to listen to the free stream before a lost sale occurs – 137 to be exact. This results in an average loss of USD $0.82 for the rights-holders, but each of the 137 streams also earns them 0.7 cents each – nearly an extra 14 cents earned thanks to Spotify. The reason it takes many streams before a lost sale occurs is because many of the people using Spotify may be former pirates who don’t have a habit of paying, or people who love music so much, they’ve already purchased the song, and instead uses Spotify as an alternative way to enjoy their content.

But unlike Hollywood, the music industry isn’t doing as well business wise. That’s more down to changing consumer habits, than piracy though. Ten years ago, sales of albums outsold singles by a four to one margin – now, singles outsell albums by the same margin. Albums makes more money, while singles make less – hence the declining fortunes of the music industry. Piracy was never ever more than a sideshow.

High Definition

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray)

Ultra HD Blu-ray movies won’t be cheap

Last week we looked at the hardware for Ultra HD Blu-ray, and this week, we have more info on how much movies will cost. They will cost a lot! Lionsgate says their UHD Blu-ray discs will cost $23 for older titles, and up to an eye watering $43 for newer titles such as Sicario. This is actually a little bit better than Sony’s pricing (via Amazon), with the 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 costing $33, compared to only $13.49 for the standard Blu-ray copy.

While the price is definitely premium, for $33 or even $43, you’d expect the overall package to be a bit more premium too. Throw in a nice collector’s packaging, a book, a collector’s figurine, or anything like that to justify the $40+ pricing, not just a standard plastic case with a single disc that looks almost exactly like the standard Blu-ray version. You have to know who you’re marketing to, and you can’t just take them for granted like the double-dipping cash cow studios seems to think they are.

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Netflix has been losing a lot of content lately, mostly big name movies, and it seems savvy subscribers will be losing even more content soon thanks to Netflix’s crackdown on geo-dodging. As reported by our sister site Streambly, Netflix has officially announced they will be taking steps to prevent the use of VPN and smart DNS services to access Netflix content from other regions. Netflix has previously turned a blind eye to this, since it helps them get subscribers, but it seems that pressure from rights-holders have finally got to Netflix, and many geo-dodging and unblocking services have already had its Netflix access cut off.

As a proud geo-dodger, I’m a little sad, but I’ve also been watching more Hulu than Netflix lately, thanks to Hulu’s superior TV content, and it’s vastly improving movie library. Even Amazon has its advantages over Netflix.

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That’s it for the week, hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s WNR. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (10 January 2016)

January 10th, 2016

So here’s something interesting. I’ve started on a new PC build. It’s not because my Surface Pro 3 is no longer good enough as my desktop replacement (it is more than enough), but I just thought I would update my skills (as a PC builder) with some of the new tech and parts since I last played around inside a PC case (erm, probably in 2012?). Plus, there are some processor intensive tasks, such as video encoding, that are just not suited for a laptop/tablet hybrid (it’s fast enough to do it, but it also runs quite hot, maybe too hot). I will start documenting my build process here, once all my parts arrive.

CES is currently on, and so there’s a bit of news here and there that’s relevant to what I cover here. News for things like Roku branded 4K TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray players will be relevant, but things like hoverboard booths getting raided by the DoJ are not really relevant, although interesting. Let’s get started then …

Copyright

Game pirates might have to start worrying about where they’re going to get their new games, as a game cracking group warned that the age of game piracy might be coming to an end. It’s not just because games these days often have so much online interactivity that it’s hard to tell where the single player game ends and the multi-player begins, but apparently the technology used to protect games have advanced to a stage that is making it very difficult for crackers to do their work.

Denuvo

Denuvo becoming a major pain for game crackers

Games like Just Cause 3 and FIFA 16 that use the Denuvo anti-tampering system are proving incredibly difficult to crack, according to the founder of a Chinese cracking forum. Denuvo doesn’t work like traditional DRM, instead it’s another layer on top of existing DRM solutions that protects these platforms (such as Steam, Origin) from being cracked. Sort of like a DRM for DRM. I don’t really know how it works exactly (and the people behind Denuvo, many of whom were responsible for Sony’s controversial SecuROM DRM, are keeping things very secret for obvious reasons), but it apparently makes it much more difficult for crackers to examine and make modifications to game code. Whether this is through obfuscation, encryption or some kind of black magic, I don’t know, but when crackers are struggling to bring out a clean game months after its release, you know things are starting to get difficult.

However it works, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Denuvo might be causing performance problems for certain games, or that it increases the read/write workload for games (which is a bad thing for SSD drives that are becoming the standard for gaming PCs). It’s also apparently a very expensive technology to license, which is why not all games are using it these days.

But if PC gaming piracy can be ended, will this be a good thing for the gaming industry, or will it mean a return to the bad old days of over-priced, buggy, sub-par game release? Oh, never mind.

With everything at CES being 4K, or Internet connected, or both, here’s a copyright story that rides that particular hype train. Remember a few months back when 4K stuff from Amazon and Netflix’s streaming libraries started to appear on pirated sites? The mystery of where these perfect 4K rips came from may have been solved, thanks to court documents from Intel and Warner Bros’ lawsuit against the makers of a 4K HDCP stripper device. The device is apparently capable of dealing with HDCP 2.2 protected sources, which explains how Netflix and Amazon 4K content ended up on the torrent networks. While the cat and mouse game between PC gaming DRM makers and crackers seems to be reaching a conclusion, for video, the idea of “if you can view it, you can rip it” still appears to be holding true (after all, at some point, the video must be displayed unprotected so that the human eye can see it, and this will be true until they invent DRM implants for eyes – oops, did I just give Hollywood a new idea?)

High Definition

Samsung UBD-K8500

Samsung’s $399 Ultra Blu-ray player could be the pick of the early players

On to the real CES 4K stuff now. Both Panasonic and Samsung have shown off their Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES, but both are aimed at very different demographics. Samsung’s UBD-K8500, previously exhibited at the IFA show in Berlin, will go on sale in March (already available for pre-order on Amazon) for an acceptable looking $399. It has HDR and wider-color gamut support, and will do 4K streaming, plus all the normal Blu-ray features (eg. Blu-ray 3D) that you’ll expect in a $399 machine.

For those looking for something a bit more premium-y, have a look at Panasonic’s as-yet-unpriced DMP-UB900. It will do all the same things as the K8500, but will do everything just a little bit better. Being THX certified, featuring dual-HDMI output, high resolution audio playback, a 4K High-Precision Chroma Processor and other goodies, this one will definitely set you back more than $399 once it’s released sometime in 2016 (as firm a release date you’ll get from Panasonic at this time).

Panasonic DMP-UB900

But for those looking for something a bit more premium, try the Panasonic DMP-UB900

On the 4K TV side, there’s a new brand that you might want to look out for: Roku! Not known for anything else other than a media streamer boxes, Roku has been trying to expand their profile by lending their name, and their much praised OS, to lesser known TV brands, mainly Chinese brands such as Haier, Hisense and TCL. At CES, Roku announced that Roku branded 4K TVs will also soon be available, starting at just $600 (so that’s less than $1000 at retail for both a Ultra HD Blu-ray player and 4K TV for those keeping track). It’s a win-win for both Roku and their Chinese TV maker partners – Roku gets to have branded TVs without having to invest in development and manufacturing, while the Chinese TVs get more exposure in the US and a fantastic smart OS (with tons of apps) to boot.

The earlier sets won’t be fully featured like their more bigger branded cousins, so things like HDR will be missing, but Roku says sets with support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10 (two competing HDR standards) will be made available later in the year.

With so many 4K related products being released in 2016, it definitely has the look of being the year 4K reaches the mainstream. The good news is that these products are not entirely out of reach of the average consumer ($399 for a early model Ultra HD Blu-ray player compares well to the $1000+ you had to pay for the first Blu-ray players, same goes for 4K TVs, thanks largely to Chinese TV makers).

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That’s it for the news this week. For those still interesting in my new PC build, here’s a sneak preview of what’s inside: Intel Core i5-6600K with 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2400 memory. For a full list, and I’m sorry for going all promotional on you, you’ll have to check out issue 490 of my newsletter which will contain a link to my PCPartPicker page for the build!

See you next week.


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