Visited: Upgrade Australia 4.0 (29th September 2016)

Upgrade Australia is a yearly event held by nextmedia in conjunction with partner companies. Alternating between Sydney and Melbourne each year, this event focuses on PC technology including the latest upgrades and gear. It is targeted to readers of four major computing magazines, namely Atomic, Hyper, PC PowerPlay and PC & Tech Authority.

This year, it was held on 29th September 2016 at UTS Aerial Function Centre. I wasn’t even aware it was on, until a few days before the event when I got an e-mail from a previous marketing contact letting me know they’d be exhibiting. Never having previously partaken in the Upgrade Australia events, I decided to turn up to see what the “fuss” was all about.

The Event

The event was held inside a medium size hall with stands flanking the sides and a few “islands” here and there. Each person is given two bar tickets for drinks, with free food (who can resist?). Unfortunately, the food was a little lacking in quantity … but that’s okay. We’re here to talk about and ogle technology!

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The event was run by an MC who did a great job in livening up the atmosphere. For one, he really loves to “just throw sh*t into the crowd”, throwing in ad-lib jokes throughout the night. The whole night runs to a timetable of showcases, where each vendor is allocated a set amount of time to pitch to the crowd about their latest gear and do some giveaways. At the end of the night, everyone comes together for the final prize giveaways.

In terms of prize giveaways, the quantity was definitely generous. Multiple Samsung 950 PROs, a Seagate Firecuda hard drive, a few GTX1060s (one from each vendor), a few motherboards, Battlebull gaming chairs and various other small prizes/promotional items. If you were there, your odds of winning are actually quite good. It pays to have a loud voice, fast reaction time and know the products inside-out. Miraculously, this year, it seems that a good number of attendees stayed to the end, and prize draws were swiftly concluded as the lucky winners were on site and elated at their win. Some couples were exceedingly lucky, with both partners winning prizes across the board. Hauling them home, however, proved to be a challenge for some.

There was also a (small) gallery of computer case mods on show, with a poker-chip voting system in place. A “Power Arena” was also in play, allowing you to carry in your box to challenge vendor-supplied pre-built systems in a range of benchmarks.

On the way out, there were a few items on offer including gift cards, trial discs, and print-copy magazines. Of course, being an event organized by a magazine company, their hope is to attract more subscribers, but I decided to pass on it – I need more paper/subscriptions like I need a hole in the head. But I’ll still come along to your events :).

Probably my major complaint would be the PA system, which was quite muffled and not really loud enough to be easily intelligible over the background noise. As people had free choice whether to attend the showcase or not, having the audio broadcast across the whole hall wasn’t ideal. This wasn’t helped especially when some vendors started to use cheering as a marketing technique, resulting in loud shouting of brand slogans over the top of other people trying to have a conversation.

Of course, as it is a marketing event, most of the vendors requested (in various ways) us to participate in their marketing. Giving a Facebook like on their page is the most basic level, which I was happy to partake in, as well as filling in surveys and forms. However, others were a little more prolific, requiring selfies with hashtags which I consider “crossing the line” as “active spam generation”, so I didn’t bother. Others were, however, very happy to do so for a small prize …

On the whole, I did enjoy the night, even if my feet were tired from the long day (as I was at the university and then travelled down to the show afterwards). The biggest value for me was talking to the experts at each vendor’s stands and getting product details at the engineering-level.

Vendors Represented

What follows is a few quick notes about each of the vendors represented at the show and what I saw. Please note that I am not endorsing any of these vendors explicitly, and I may have missed an exhibitor or two.

Samsung

Samsung was the first stand I came across, as they were right next to the entrance. Their display was mainly focused on their NAND-based products, namely their range of SSDs including the 750, 850 EVO, 850 PRO and 950 PRO offerings, their USB memory keys and their T3 external USB 3.0 type C SSD storage.

I had a good conversation with the exhibitor about their products, especially the SD/microSD cards which were not on display at the time. They confirmed for me that they do not produce SLC cards for consumers, and might still do so for OEMs. PRO branded products will be MLC (even memory cards), whereas EVO branded products are TLC. When it comes to memory cards, EVO based cards, the type of NAND (planar, 3D) is not specified.

The other thing I enquired about was capacity – recently, Samsung launched a 4Tb 850 EVO SSD and 2Tb 960 PRO/EVO M.2 SSD, however availability is still thin and demand is not high. That being said … ports are often scarce, so high capacity might be quite desirable for some.

Asus / Capitol Computer

Asus‘ stand was “Republic of Gamers” themed, and featured many pre-built PCs on display along with a few motherboards, graphic cards and their wireless router. The stand was co-branded with a Capitol Computer banner, however, it didn’t seem like there was anything particularly special that I hadn’t seen before and there wasn’t anyone to talk to.

Fractal Design

I was happy to walk by the Fractal Design stand, as I have previously been involved with them as a reviewer of their Node 804 case as part of an OCAU competition. To my surprise, my contact (Lihan Wang) was present at the display, so I had a chance to meet her in person. She was very well presented, and the most polite person I met. I hope to see her again some day, maybe at another expo … maybe I should go to COMPUTEX in their home-ground of Taiwan.

On display were their latest offerings, including some nice demonstrations of water-cooling in small cases – a white Define Nano S (ITX) through to a modified Node 202 HTPC style case where every millimeter was carefully used. There was also a limited edition gold and white Define R5, and a signed Define Nano S given away on the night.

They said that they remain committed to their design ethos to bring well-engineered and well-designed products that are elegant and minimalist, while supporting case-modders by providing a canvas to work with and the features that they need. However, they also signalled a desire to move towards more “loud” concepts to attract a larger market.

Seagate

Seagate was on show with their portfolio of drives under their new branding, namely Barracuda Pro for compute/performance, Ironwolf for NAS, Skyhawk for surveillance and Firecuda for SSHD “hybrid” drives. They did a demonstration comparing pure-SSD based boot times and that of the Firecuda which was able to achieve an almost identical time after “four or so” boots. The hybrid drives use their internal firmware intelligence to determine which blocks to cache, and is thus independent of OS and drivers, however, if your usage patterns change, then it can take some time before optimum performance is restored. They made it clear that it wasn’t an SSD replacement, but more a better HDD or “poor man’s SSD”.

I had a long involved chat with the representative from Seagate about their new 10Tb drives, and determined that they were similar to the HGST/WD drives in that they both use helium technology. The use of helium improves the operating conditions internally, and the media used is different resulting in a lighter drive with a 7-platter/14-head design offering the best performance of a rotating hard drive to date with better power consumption. Specifically, the drives are being rated in terms of workload (e.g. TB per year) as an indication of their intended application and endurance. In terms of reliability, a concern is that helium can escape and diffuse over time. I was assured that the design of the drives incorporate superior technology (as compared to the other helium solutions) to ensure that retention would not be an issue.

The discussions went much further, although I’m not at liberty to disclose anything more. However, I did very much appreciate Seagate’s upfront honesty and directness when it came to their marketing approach.

QNAP

QNAP were on display, showing various NAS solutions including features such as “cloud” synchronization, mobile application access, direct playback of files from the NAS itself, optional upgrades such as surveillance camera handling within the NAS, as well as “hybrid” converged solutions with a NAS and PC “in one”. There was also an SSD-based NASBook using M.2 drives.

I did query them about their cloud system, which apparently uses uPnP to set up port forwarding for external access, and is otherwise brokered by their own back-end for data-relay (proxy) with end to end encryption. They claim to be dedicated to supporting the cloud infrastructure, and will also provide firmware updates for as long as it is feasible to add such features to older platforms, which sounds like a good strategy although I don’t know how well this works in practice.

PLE Computers

PLE was on display with Battlebull gaming chairs, and an HTC Vive based virtual reality demonstration within an omni-directional treadmill. It was rather interesting to watch people playing with the controllers – especially when you’re not seeing what they’re seeing and they just randomly swing the controller to face you and click the button like they’re firing a gun at you. It’s both hilarious and a little disconcerting. It was a rather popular demo, and lots of people were lining up to try it. Because I’m not particularly “compatible” with VR, I decided to pass on that.

MSI

MSI exhibited a collection of motherboards and graphic cards, as well as their gaming laptops (which apparently, are doing well in the market). There was one particularly large “desktop replacement” laptop with 120Hz screen, mechanical keyboard, hybrid touchpad-numeric keypad, multiple M.2 + hard drive storage and slots for two MXM graphics cards for SLi capability (either from factory or later upgrade, provided such modules are available). It’s an interesting concept, and one that other vendors have also implemented.

MSI was, however, the leader in cheering. They really made everyone shout and scream their slogans, their brand name, and some dubious “facts” … I wasn’t impressed myself. Of course, some of the “statements” are a little subjective, and the whole concept just seems like indoctrination – I’m relatively “brand agnostic” so I didn’t bother partaking. But I suppose they do “win” when it comes to actively engaging their potential customers.

Gigabyte

Gigabyte had an island stand in the middle of the hall, where a few motherboards and graphic cards were on exhibit. There was also a compact small-form-factor system running a game, and a “lucky draw” to win a GTX1060. It seems that they’ve moved away from the Windforce name for their cooling solution (and just as well, as I’ve had five fan failures of their Windforce series), but still maintaining their cooling prowess with ever-larger fans and full PCB coverage.

Razer

Razer was demonstrating some of their latest gear, including their very visually attractive Chroma series of keyboards, various gaming laptops, video capture and streaming solutions, headset, webcam and microphone solutions. Unfortunately, they seemed very busy at all times, so I couldn’t get in a word edgewise, but I’m sure they have a relatively loyal fanbase.

Kingston HyperX

They were running a stand in the corner with a number of PCs running a LAN match. It wasn’t really my thing, so I didn’t spend much time at the stand.

Australian Computer Society

The ACS is a society for IT professionals with various networking events, online digital training resources, special interest groups and advocacy roles. Most notably, they had bags to give away, in case you had too much stuff to take home …

While I’m not really an IT professional “as such”, I think it’s important that there is more technology focus in governance and that governments make wise decisions when it comes to technology – both for now, and into the future. Just looking at the NBN, as well as the metadata retention scheme, really makes me think that we have a long way to go. Overseas, we can see the same things happening around encryption, blocking access to websites, etc. Maybe we just don’t have enough voices advising the government, maybe they like to ignore expert advice, and this is only made worse as I don’t think many engineers really want to wrangle with politics …

Power Arena

Unfortunately, it was a little disappointing around the Power Arena, as many people who had promised to come along with their PCs ended up “flaking out”, so only one user-contributed PC from Kenneth battled against more expensive PCs. Nothing unexpected in terms of results – very high end PCs with large core counts don’t handle single threading very well, NVMe based PCIe storage is blazing fast compared to SATA based drives, performance variation can occur due to drivers, etc. Paying more doesn’t automatically equal better performance – you have to consider your applications’ needs.

Conclusion

While the event only had a select number of partners exhibiting, it was especially valuable to have long in-depth conversations with representatives from each company who are familiar with the technology at the engineer-level. Aside from that, it was good to meet with some people I have been in contact with by e-mail, but had never met in person. The amount of giveaways was, as promised, quite numerous and the atmosphere was also quite jovial despite the “tough crowd”, sub-par PA system and long event schedule.

I feel it’s probably worthwhile turning up again in the future when it returns to Sydney just to meet with and have a chat to the companies being represented, although it is a relatively small marketing event with very few things to occupy the four-and-a-half hours.

Thanks to everyone there for making me feel welcome, and thanks for your time and patience!

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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