The Mac mini: the best game console in the house

With a little work you can turn your Mac mini into a powerful Windows gaming system. So why not?

I just heard something: A tectonic eruption of eye-rolling from PC gamers. Look, if you’ve got a custom rig with Nvidia Titan hardware and 4K displays to run Crysis 3 in ridiculous mode, move along. There’s nothing for you here. If, on the other hand, you already have a Mac mini, or if you’ve been thinking about getting one but think it’s underpowered for gaming, what I have to say may surprise you.

One of my kids wanted to play Windows games that weren’t available on the Mac. He can certainly play plenty of games that are out for the Mac, but most stuff still isn’t out for the Mac. That’s not going to change. Apple accepts that, otherwise they wouldn’t provide you with the Boot Camp Assistant utility to begin with.

Our victim is a 2010-era Mac mini. That’s the last Mac mini model to sport a built-in SuperDrive. It has Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics. Not as fast as the average gamer GPU card in a custom-built PC, granted. But enough to run a lot of games at acceptable frame rates.

It may surprise you, but the Mac mini is an adept little Windows gaming system. Its graphics speed can’t compare to a dedicated gaming rig, but it doesn’t have to. Because while it spends some of its time running Windows, it’s also a great general purpose Mac running the latest version of Mavericks.

Better at Windows games than Mac games

Whatever Mac mini you use will probably run Windows games faster than it is does Mac games. Windows graphics tend to run faster than OS X graphics do on the same hardware, thanks to more extensive Windows driver optimization and underlying differences in the way the OSes are structured.

It took a few afternoons to get everything squared away. This Mac’s been well used since it was new, and its drive partition didn’t pass muster with Boot Camp Assistant. Once Drive Utility patched things up I was able to get started.

I used Windows 7, which has broad game support and is available in Home Premium trim for $99 or less from online retailers.

The alternatives

Running Mac games natively and exclusively is always an option. There are a lot of good games on the Mac, games that will run well or decently on the Mac mini. They’re available from the Mac App Store, Steam, and elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a Windows game experience but are reluctant to have to reboot your Mac each time to do it, you can install software that bridges the Windows gap.

VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop get the lion’s share of attention, partly because they broad appeal for Mac users who also want to run business software and specialty apps that won’t run on OS X natively. Both continue to optimize their releases for the broadest and fastest driver support they can.

CodeWeavers’ CrossOver is worth a special look from gamers. It’s optimized for games, and unlike the other two or Boot Camp, doesn’t require you to have a Windows license.

Putting the petal to the medal

How well does it actually run, you ask?

A lot of it depends on the individual performance requirements of the game. Obviously some games employ enormously sophisticated 3D engines that want more horsepower than the Mac mini can muster. Many don’t, and the relatively modest integrated graphics in the mini are perfectly sufficient to play them.

If you keep your expectations realistic, you can usually tweak settings and resolutions enough to get a really playable experience. For many games, that’s frame rates of 20 to 30 frames per second; for others, it’s even higher, with higher levels of detail possible.

I’ve played a combination of FPS, strategy and RPG games on our little Mac mini, and it’s held up well. My 14 year old has been pretty happy; he’s been dividing his time between various Steam games he couldn’t play on the Mac and other fare; a particular favorite is Smite, a multiplayer online battle arena strategy game from Hi-Rez Studios. He also says that old favorites he could play on the Mac, like Valve’s own Team Fortress 2, subjectively run better on Windows than on OS X.

The bottom line

I’m never going to ditch my Mac in favor of a Windows PC — I prefer the Mac user experience to the Windows user experience, that’s all there is to it. But I can’t dispute that there are a lot of fun Windows games to be played, and I’m grateful that Apple’s made it easy to equip my Mac as a Windows PC.

As much as I love Sony and Microsoft’s game consoles, they’re just that — game consoles. The greatest thing about using a Mac for Windows gaming is that you’re still using a Mac at the end of the day.

Tune back in tomorrow as I walk you through installing Boot Camp yourself. In the interim, I’m curious to see what you think: Have you set up Windows using Boot Camp Assistant? Are you tempted to?

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Olympus SH-1: High End Image Stabilization in a Point and Shoot

Olympus SH-1: High End Image Stabilization in a Point and Shoot

The Olympus SH-1 seems at first like any other compact point and shoot camera with a long zoom. But it includes a signature feature usually found in the company’s interchangable-lens bodies: 5-axis on-sensor image stabilization.

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Roundtable: Pebble Smartwatch

I hadn’t been a watch-wearer for years. I’m still not convinced I’m one now — strapping a timepiece onto your wrist doesn’t feel particularly 21st Century — but here I am, with a Pebble proudly displayed on my arm. And I’m not alone. Myself, Jerry, Andrew — Pebble wearers, all.

It certainly took long enough, right? Pebble has been the darling of the “crowdfunding” world since it launched its $100,000 campaign on Kickstarter on April 11, 2012 — and walked away with more than $10.2 million in backers’ money just 37 days later. Fast forward more than a year and watches finally started shipping to those who pledged. In August 2013, Pebble found itself on sale at Best Buy.

Now? It’s safe to say the Pebble made it, albeit in a limited fashion. Samsung has since come into the game with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, but to lukewarm reviews. So there’s still room for the upstarts.

We’ve yet to really weigh in on the Pebble. Given that it’s been out for a bit now, we’re going to do things differently and discuss it in more of a roundtable fashion. So with that, we present our collective views on the Pebble smartwatch.

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Microsoft abandons employee-ranking system

Microsoft is abandoning a ranking system that has been blamed for hampering innovation and pitting employees against one another.

Employees learned of the move in an email from Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources, on Tuesday.

The system, known as “stack ranking,” has become emblematic of much that is wrong with Microsoft’s corporate culture.

Employees have called it the most destructive process inside the company, blaming it for crippling Microsoft’s ability to innovate, according to a Vanity Fair article, “Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant,” published in June last year.

Stack ranking forced managers to give a predetermined proportion of employees in a team a top, fair or bad annual review, even when all team members did an excellent job.

This led to employees competing with each other instead of competing with other companies, according to one developer cited by Vanity Fair.

Now, though, Microsoft has decided to stop the ranking system, Brummel told employees via email on Tuesday. The email was shared with IDG News Service by Microsoft’s German corporate communications department on Wednesday.

“I am pleased to announce that we are changing our performance review program to better align with the goals of our One Microsoft strategy. The changes we are making are important and necessary as we work to deliver innovation and value to customers through more connected engagement across the company,” she wrote.

Stopping the rating system was one of the changes made: “No more ratings. This will let us focus on what matters — having a deeper understanding of the impact we’ve made and our opportunities to grow and improve,” Brummel wrote.

Microsoft will also stop its pre-determined targeted distribution rewards program, she wrote, adding that managers will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget. This will make it easier for managers to allocate rewards, she said.

There will also be more emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. Microsoft will be more specific about what is deemed a special performance and will not only focus on the work an employee does, but will also evaluate how the employee uses ideas from others and what they contribute to others’ success, she said.

Furthermore, there will also be more focus on employee growth and development. Through a process called “Connects” there will be more timely feedback to help employees learn, grow and drive results, she wrote.

The changes were devised after obtaining feedback from thousands of employees over the past few years, and following a review of numerous external programs and practices, she wrote. The transition to the new system started on Tuesday, she said.

Microsoft is currently undergoing a vast restructuring that is aimed to help the company innovate faster and operate in a more coherent manner. The restructuring should focus the company on a single strategy, said departing CEO Steve Ballmer when he announced the his plan in July.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to

Loek Essers, IDG News Service Amsterdam correspondent for IDG News Service, IDG News Service

Loek Essers focuses on online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues.
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Column: Miami case about conformity, not toughness

FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2013 file photo, Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68), center left, and and tackle Jonathan Martin (71), center right, sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. About halfway between the start of exhibition games and the Super Bowl, there have been plenty of unwanted story lines. Bullying in the locker room, coaches collapsing, serious injuries to marquee players, the D.C. Council’s call on Washington’s pro football team to change its name _ examples from the past week alone. (AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2013 file photo, Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68), center left, and and tackle Jonathan Martin (71), center right, sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. About halfway between the start of exhibition games and the Super Bowl, there have been plenty of unwanted story lines. Bullying in the locker room, coaches collapsing, serious injuries to marquee players, the D.C. Council’s call on Washington’s pro football team to change its name _ examples from the past week alone. (AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 16, 2012 file photo, Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin (71) watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Miami. In the stadium program sold at the Dolphins’ game on Halloween, Richie Incognito was asked who’s the easiest teammate to scare. His answer: Jonathan Martin. The troubled, troubling relationship between the two offensive linemen took an ominous turn Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, with fresh revelations: Incognito sent text messages to his teammate that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation said. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

To his Miami Dolphins teammates, Jonathan Martin came across as someone who needed “toughening up.”

But what does that mean, exactly, when you’re talking about a 6-foot-4, 320-pound guy who already had proven he was tough enough to play a violent, brutal sport at the highest level?

We suspect the ugly episode in south Florida is more about Martin being different from those around him — quiet, aloof, perhaps a bit of a gentle giant who had never been subjected to real bullying because he was always the biggest guy in the room.

All around the NFL, there are those who can’t figure out why Martin didn’t retaliate with insults or threats or even fisticuffs if indeed he was harassed mercilessly by teammate Richie Incognito and perhaps other Miami players.

“My mom taught me and my dad taught me how to get rid of bullies,” said Antonio Smith of the Houston Texans. “They used to always say, “You hit a bully in the mouth.’”

Martin took a different tact.

He kept turning the other cheek, allegedly enduring a pattern of cruel insults and hurtful slights that very likely came with the tacit approval of a coaching staff that really didn’t understand Martin, either.

Finally, when he couldn’t take it anymore, he walked away.

In the NFL, with all its bravado and macho overtones, that made him look weak — like he needed toughening up.

How unfair.

“Things like that have got to change,” said Roddy White, a star receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. “You can’t really go out there and make a guy feel that way, where he doesn’t want to be in the locker room with his teammates.”

More than being about rookie hazing or the rigid hierarchy in an NFL locker room — two factors that aren’t likely to change, no matter what the league finds in its investigation — this case points to the need for those in football and all sports, really, to be more tolerant of those who don’t necessarily conform to the mold imposed by the majority.

While there are many uniform traits that go into the making of an elite athlete (intense focus, devoted work ethic, extreme competitiveness), they don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package.

Martin certainly doesn’t fit the standard image of an NFL lineman. He is both brawn and brains, the son and grandson of Harvard graduates, someone who majored in the classics at Stanford while protecting Andrew Luck’s blind side.

But he struggled as many rookie linemen do in the NFL, picking up the reputation for being “soft” — the worst of all four-letter words for a football player.

In retrospect, it seems that label had little to do with how Martin performed on the field and everything to do with how he dealt with those around him. There are reports of Martin resisting the traditional initiation rookies have long endured, from silly pranks to paying for meals that can cost thousands of dollars. That surely didn’t win him any friends. And it’s easy to see him rejecting overtures to hang out with his fellow linemen away from the training facility, especially if they were giving him such a hard time. That would’ve made him even more of a pariah.

And, in the midst of all that, the mandate came down from somebody: Make this guy “tougher.”

What they really meant: Make this guy conform.

“I don’t know if you can really do that,” White said. “You get guys from different backgrounds, different personalities, all these guys coming from different histories. You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to make this guy tougher’ or ‘I’m going to make this guy be this type of player.’ You can’t really transform players.”

That said, it takes a thick skin to survive in an NFL locker room.

It can get very, very cruel in there.

“It’s like being a room with a bunch of comedians. It’s funny. It makes you laugh,” said Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who’s pretty much seen it all during his 17 years in the league. “But just as comedians are, sometimes they push the line. They go overboard a little bit and say stuff that’s racially or economically (charged). Nothing’s out of bounds in this locker room. Any type of insecurity you have, whatever it is, they’re going to play on it. Anything goes.”

Against the backdrop, the Dolphins may have been the perfect storm: an especially sensitive young player; a veteran tormenter with a history of over-the-top behavior; a perennially losing team with a relatively new coaching staff; a roster that had undergone such heavy turnover there was no one to step in when things got out of hand.

There will surely be calls to cut back on — or even eliminate — some of the treatment that rookies have been subjected to for as long as there has been an NFL.

That, too, would be a mistake.

Most of the so-called hazing that goes on is all in good fun and perhaps does contribute to a sense of bonding that is so vital for the success of a team with a 53 disparate personalities.

With the Falcons, for instance, the rookies are expected to lug the shoulder pads of the veteran players back to the locker room after each practice during training camp

“It’s not really hazing,” White said. “It’s just a respect factor.”

Respect works both ways.

That’s the most important thing we can learn from this sordid affair.


Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at or on Twitter at

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Daily Roundup: Steam Controller hands-on, Lumia 929 leak, grim BlackBerry developments and more!

DNP The Daily RoundUp

You might say the day is never really done in consumer technology news. Your workday, however, hopefully draws to a close at some point. This is the Daily Roundup on Engadget, a quick peek back at the top headlines for the past 24 hours — all handpicked by the editors here at the site. Click on through the break, and enjoy.

DNP Daily Roundup TKTKTK

Google finally tightens access to saved passwords in Chrome

Following users’ concerns on Chrome password management earlier this year, Google has now concealed Chrome’s saved credentials behind an authentication wall. This feature is currently limited to the latest Chromium build for Mac, but we expect it’ll show up in an upcoming public release. Read on for more details and François Beaufort’s original announcement.

Steam Controller hands-on

Engadget’s own Ben Gilbert takes Valve’s first consumer hardware for a spin. The Steam Controller, announced alongside SteamOS and Steam Machines this past September, aims to bridge the void between living room-compatibility and roughly 90 percent of Steam’s game database. It’s got clickable touchpads, but can it really serve gamers as a viable keyboard and mouse replacement? Click the link to find out.

Nokia’s high-end Lumia 929

Nokia’s purported Lumia 929 has revealed itself again in another leak from Windows Phone Central. Stamped with the Verizon logo, this 5-inch, high-end device appears to be a polished update of the Lumia 928. Follow the link for the entire spec list and more photos.

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8 Questions About Dell’s Cat Urine Recall

8 Questions About Dell's Cat Urine Recall

Do you own a Dell Latitude 643u ultrabook? Does your Dell Latitude 643u Ultrabook smell like cat urine? And do you, in fact, not own a cat? Well, then, we have some good news for you, friends. Dell has officially issued a recall for their recent fleet of cat pee computers, and it’s giving away the non-odoriferous replacement parts for free.

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Let go of that laptop: the ultimate guide to making a tablet your main computer

The “laptop killer” of tablets has yet to emerge, but you can still configure a slate that puts your laptop out to pasture. With the tablet’s lighter weight, longer battery life, and near-instant boot-up, the building blocks of a productivity engine are already there.

When it comes to getting things done, Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets have one big advantage over the iOS and Android competition: namely, the Office productivity suite, which comes free with every Surface 2 and is, of course, available for the Surface Pro 2 as well. Both also have roomy (compared with other tablets) 10.6-inch displays. The Surface Pro 2, with its full Windows OS and ability to run desktop applications, just needs a Touch or Type Cover to make a mighty fine hybrid.

But for the vast majority of us who have iOS and Android tablets rather than Surface slates, other productivity options are available. With the right apps and accessories, plus a few changes in how you work, your trusty tablet just might replace a conventional laptop.

Pick your tablet

If you don’t already own one, two great choices are Apple’s iPad and Google’s Nexus 10. The latter has a slightly larger screen, built-in NFC (near-field communication), and a lower starting price: $399 for the 16GB model, or $499 for 32GB.

The iPad starts at $499 with 16GB of storage. But the brand-new iPad Air weighs less (just 1 pound to the Nexus 10’s 1.3 pounds), and all models offer optional 4G LTE, a huge perk for frequent travelers and a feature you don’t see on most laptops. (Given that Google’s recently updated Nexus 7 offers a 4G option, it’s a good bet that the forthcoming update to the Nexus 10 will do so as well.)

One thing to acknowledge from the outset: Working on a tablet does involve a few compromises, most notably a smaller screen. An iPad gives you just 9.7 inches of work area, while Google’s Nexus 10 affords only a hair more (10 inches). That’s considerably less space than you get from even a 13.3-inch laptop, something to consider if you work with a lot of spreadsheets or just need to accommodate less-than-stellar eyesight.

On the flip side, both the iPad and the Nexus offer sky-high screen resolution: 2048 by 1536 pixels on the iPad 3 and later, and 2560 by 1600 pixels on the Nexus 10. You’re not losing the capability for ultra-detailed work, you’re merely doing it in a smaller area.

Google’s Nexus 10 can connect to a wired mouse and keyboard for a more laptop-like experience.

Your choice of tablet will also dictate which accessories you can get, and that’s an important consideration. For example, the Nexus 10 supports USB On-The-Go (aka USB OTG), which allows you to connect a wired keyboard or mouse or even a flash drive. The mouse in particular gives the Nexus 10 a huge advantage over the iPad, as it makes the tablet seem significantly more laptop-like. In word processing and spreadsheet apps in particular, it greatly eases the transition.

On the other hand, third-party accessories abound for the iPad, most notably cases and keyboards. Speaking of which…

Add a keyboard

It’s a given that you’ll need a keyboard. Both Android and iOS devices provide onscreen keys that suffice for quick notes, emails, and the like, but they consume nearly half the screen and lack tactile feedback. For any serious data entry, you’ll want a physical set.

iPad users can choose from a variety of third-party keyboards, many of which double as covers and carrying cases. Belkin and Logitech recently announced keyboard cases (in their Qode and Folio series, respectively) for the iPad Air, and various other manufacturers offer similar options for earlier models. These keyboards connect via Bluetooth and typically conform to the iPad’s design, effectively creating a very seamless and laptop-like package.

Logitech’s Folio keyboard for the iPad Air connects via Bluetooth.

Nexus users will find fewer options. The MiniSuit Bluetooth Keyboard Stand Case and VSTN Aluminum Nexus 10 Keyboard Case, for example, both provide a hard-shell cover for the tablet and serve up QWERTY keys and a slot for propping the tablet at a comfortable viewing angle. If you don’t need a form-fitting cover, just about any Bluetooth keyboard will work with the Nexus or any other tablet.

Find apps for that

For many users, software represents the biggest challenge in suiting up a tablet for work. Indeed, you’ll need to take stock of the programs you run daily and figure out how many can be supplanted by app equivalents.

Let’s start with the biggie: Microsoft Office. Microsoft still doesn’t offer the suite for Android or iOS (though CEO Steve Ballmer recently hinted that it’s in the works), but plenty of ways to tackle documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on a tablet are available.

For example, Google’s Quickoffice suite—for both Android and iOS—offers basic document creation and editing, and it’s file-compatible with Microsoft Office. It was originally priced at $15 (a steal compared with Microsoft Office on the desktop), but back in September, Google made Quickoffice free. The only catch is that you have to sync your documents with your Google Drive account. Quickoffice no longer supports Dropbox or any other cloud-storage service.

No Office? No sweat. Google’s Quickoffice suite brings document creation and editing to iOS and Android.

If you’d prefer (or really need) Microsoft Office proper, CloudOn provides a virtualized copy of Office 2010, allowing you to create, edit, and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents using the Office interface you’re accustomed to. It’s available in app form for both Android and iOS, and the basic service is free. However, it requires a live Internet connection—you can’t run it offline.

As for other desktop programs, you might be surprised how many apps can stand in. Adobe Reader, Dropbox, DocuSign, Evernote, Photoshop, RoboForm, Skype, Twitter—all have app counterparts for Android and iOS. Cisco’s AnyConnect can help you get connected to your company VPN, and LastPass can make your desktop passwords accessible on your tablet.

Connect your tablet to your company VPN with Cisco’s AnyConnect.

Can’t find an app solution for some vital program? Consider keeping your laptop PC in the picture. Just leave it running back at the office, then use a remote-access app like LogMeIn to connect to and take control of the system from afar. Now you can run whatever programs you need to, just as if you were sitting back at your desk.

Migrate your data

The final piece of the puzzle: data. Resist the idea of actually copying all your Office files, PDFs, and the like from your laptop to your tablet. If you’re mostly working online anyway, you’re better off leveraging a cloud-storage service like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, or SugarSync. In short order they’ll sync any and all of your desktop files, then make them available via their companion apps on your tablet. And if you know you’re going to need access to certain documents when you’re offline, it’s a simple matter to download them ahead of time.

You’ll definitely want to migrate your browser bookmarks as well. This is a cinch for Google Chrome users, as once you sign into the Chrome browser on Android or iOS, you’ll find your favorites immediately synced. In fact, that could be the path of least resistance even if you use a different browser on your PC: Install Chrome, import your bookmarks from, say, Internet Explorer or Firefox, then run Chrome on your tablet and sync those bookmarks.

Pst Mail transfers Outlook files to your iPad.

As for email, it might be as simple as adding, say, your Gmail or Yahoo account to the stock Mail app in Android or iOS, or it might involve some monkeying with Exchange settings and perhaps even importing an Outlook PST file. PST Reader (Android) and Pst Mail (iOS) help you with the latter option, allowing you to view and search your messages. That said, if your company has an IT department, it may have solutions and/or policies in place for dealing with email on mobile devices. Start there.

Other considerations

It’s important to remember that a tablet can be more than just a replacement for your laptop—it can be an improvement. For example, with an app like CamScanner, you can use your tablet like a scanner, snapping photos of printed documents, converting them to raw text or PDFs, and filing them electronically.

Audiolio captures meetings and presentations through notes, recorded audio, and bookmarking.

Evernote can be an incredibly powerful tool for tablet users, offering basic word processing and robust information capture and management, all coupled with simple syncing and sharing of data. Audiolio (iPad) lets you take notes and capture audio, creating time-synced bookmarks along the way, with an ease no laptop can match. WritePad can turn notes scribbled on your tablet screen (using a finger or stylus) into text, and the new Livescribe 3 pen can likewise send notes scribbled on actual paper directly to your iPad.

It may take a little time to get accustomed to working on a tablet, especially for things like word processing and image editing. But once you start enjoying the benefits, you may never want to touch a laptop again.

Rick Broida , PCWorld

For more than 20 years, Rick Broida has written about all manner of technology, from Amigas to business servers to PalmPilots. His credits include dozens of books, blogs, and magazines. He sleeps with an iPad under his pillow.
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Google Glass redesign gets pictured, plays nice with a mono earbud

Just yesterday, Google revealed that Glass Explorers will soon be able to to swap out their current hardware for a new version, which will work with future shades and prescription frames. Although Page and Co. didn’t divulge just what the next iteration of its wearable will look like, it’s only …

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Raw Five-Point Preview: October 28, 2013

All WWE programming, talent names, images, likenesses, slogans, wrestling moves, trademarks, logos and copyrights are the exclusive property of WWE, Inc. and its subsidiaries. All other trademarks, logos and copyrights are the property of their respective owners. © 2013 WWE, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This website is based in the United States. By submitting personal information to this website you consent to your information being maintained in the U.S., subject to applicable U.S. laws. U.S. law may be different than the law of your home country. WrestleMania XXIX (NY/NJ) logo TM & © 2013 WWE. All Rights Reserved. The Empire State Building design is a registered trademark and used with permission by ESBC.

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