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EVGA and Inno3D Announce the First 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 Cards

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 3, 2015 - 02:44 PM |
Tagged: video cards, nvidia, gtx 960, geforce, 4GB

They said it couldn't be done, but where there are higher density chips there's always a way. Today EVGA and Inno3D have both announced new versions of GTX 960 graphics cards with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, placing the cards in a more favorable mid-range position depending on the launch pricing.

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EVGA's new 4GB NVIDIA GTX 960 SuperSC

Along with the expanded memory capacity EVGA's card features their ACX 2.0+ cooler, which promises low noise and better cooling. The SuperSC is joined by a standard ACX and the higher-clocked FTW variant, which pushes Base/Boost clocks to 1304/1367MHz out of the box.

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Inno3D's press release provides fewer details, and the company appears to be launching a single new model featuring 4GB of memory which looks like a variant of their existing GTX 960 OC card.

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The existing Inno3D GTX 960 OC card

The current 2GB version of the GTX 960 can be found starting at $199, so expect these expanded versions to include a price bump. The GTX 960, with only 1024 CUDA cores (half the count of a GTX 980) and a 128-bit memory interface, has been a very good performer nonetheless with much better numbers than last year's GTX 760, and is very competitive with AMD's R9 280/285. (It's a great overclocker, too.) The AMD/NVIDIA debate rages on, and NVIDIA's partners adding another 4GB offering to the mix will certainly add to the conversation, particularly as an upcoming 4GB version of the GTX 960 was originally said to be unlikely.

Source: EVGA

ARM and Geomerics Show Enlighten 3 Lighting, Integrate with Unity 5

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: Unity, lighting, global illumination, geomerics, GDC, arm

Back in 2013 ARM picked up a company called Geomerics, responsible for one the industry’s most advanced dynamic lighting engines used in games ranging from mobile to console to PC. Called Enlighten, it is the lighting engine in many major games in a variety of markets. Battlefield 3 uses it, Need for Speed: The Run does as well, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Quantum Conundrum mark another pair of major games that depend on Geomerics technology.

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Great, but what does that have to do with ARM and why would the company be interested in investing in software that works with such a wide array of markets, most of which are not dominated by ARM processors? There are two answers, the first of which is directional: ARM is using the minds and creative talent behind Geomerics to help point the Cortex and Mali teams in the correct direction for CPU and GPU architecture development. By designing hardware to better address the advanced software and lighting systems Geomerics builds then Cortex and Mali will have some semblance of an advantage in specific gaming titles as well as a potential “general purpose” advantage. NVIDIA employs hundreds of gaming and software developers for this exact reason: what better way to make sure you are always at the forefront of the gaming ecosystem than getting high-level gaming programmers to point you to that edge? Qualcomm also recently (back in 2012) started employing game and engine developers in-house with the same goals.

ARM also believes it will be beneficial to bring publishers, developers and middleware partners to the ARM ecosystem through deployment of the Enlighten engine. It would be feasible to think console vendors like Microsoft and Sony would be more willing to integrate ARM SoCs (rather than the x86 used in the PS4 and Xbox One) when shown the technical capabilities brought forward by technologies like Geomerics Enlighten.

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It’s best to think of the Geomerics acquisition of a kind of insurance program for ARM, making sure both its hardware and software roadmaps are in line with industry goals and directives.

At GDC 2015 Geomerics is announcing the release of the Enlighten 3 engine, a new version that brings cinematic-quality real-time global illumination to market. Some of the biggest new features include additional accuracy on indirect lighting, color separated directional output (enables individual RGB calculations), better light map baking for higher quality output, and richer material properties to support transparency and occlusion.

All of this technology will be showcased in a new Subway demo that includes real-time global illumination simulation, dynamic transparency and destructible environments.

Geomerics Enlighten 3 Subway Demo

Enlighten 3 will also ship with Forge, a new lighting editor and pipeline tool for content creators looking to streamline the building process. Forge will allow import functionality from Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya applications making inter-operability easier. Forge uses a technology called YEBIS 3 to show estimated final quality without the time consuming final-build processing time.

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Finally, maybe the biggest news for ARM and Geomerics is that the Unity 5 game engine will be using Enlighten as its default lighting engine, giving ARM/Mali a potential advantage for gaming experiences in the near term. Of course Enlighten is available as an option for Unreal Engine 3 and 4 for developers using that engine in mobile, console and desktop projects as well as in an SDK form for custom integrations.

Who Should Care? Thankfully, Many People

The Khronos Group has made three announcements today: Vulkan (their competitor to DirectX 12), OpenCL 2.1, and SPIR-V. Because there is actually significant overlap, we will discuss them in a single post rather than splitting them up. Each has a role in the overall goal to access and utilize graphics and compute devices.

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Before we get into what everything is and does, let's give you a little tease to keep you reading. First, Khronos designs their technologies to be self-reliant. As such, while there will be some minimum hardware requirements, the OS pretty much just needs to have a driver model. Vulkan will not be limited to Windows 10 and similar operating systems. If a graphics vendor wants to go through the trouble, which is a gigantic if, Vulkan can be shimmed into Windows 8.x, Windows 7, possibly Windows Vista despite its quirks, and maybe even Windows XP. The words “and beyond” came up after Windows XP, but don't hold your breath for Windows ME or anything. Again, the further back in Windows versions you get, the larger the “if” becomes but at least the API will not have any “artificial limitations”.

Outside of Windows, the Khronos Group is the dominant API curator. Expect Vulkan on Linux, Mac, mobile operating systems, embedded operating systems, and probably a few toasters somewhere.

On that topic: there will not be a “Vulkan ES”. Vulkan is Vulkan, and it will run on desktop, mobile, VR, consoles that are open enough, and even cars and robotics. From a hardware side, the API requires a minimum of OpenGL ES 3.1 support. This is fairly high-end for mobile GPUs, but it is the first mobile spec to require compute shaders, which are an essential component of Vulkan. The presenter did not state a minimum hardware requirement for desktop GPUs, but he treated it like a non-issue. Graphics vendors will need to be the ones making the announcements in the end, though.

Before we go further, some background is necessary. Read on for that and lots more!

Gigabyte's Force H3X is great for gaming but perhaps not podcasting

Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2015 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: gigabyte, audio, Force H3X, gaming headset, analog

Gigabyte's Force H3X gaming headset sports the 50mm neodymium drivers we have become used to, with a decent frequency response range of 20Hz to 20KHz.  The microphone is a bit different, using two 2mm pickup drivers on each side for a total of four but from the testing Modders Inc performed it did not help with the quality of your recorded audio.  This does not matter so much on a gaming headset but this is perhaps not the best choice for a budding YouTube star.  For audio in gaming Modders Inc does give the headset good marks and they also found it to be very comfortable over long periods of time, definitely worth checking out if you are in the market for a new headset to game with.

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"Don't you hate that when you are camping with a sniper rifle and all of the sudden some one sneaks up behind you and puts a knife through your head? Of course! We have all been there. Don't you wish you heard that guy who was sneaking up on you? Maybe then you could have switched to a Desert Eagle …"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Audio Corner

Source: Modders Inc

GDC 15: AMD Mantle Might Be Dead as We Know It: No Public SDK Planned

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 2, 2015 - 02:31 PM |
Tagged: sdk, Mantle, dx12, API, amd

The Game Developers Conference is San Francisco starts today and you can expect to see more information about DirectX 12 than you could ever possibly want, so be prepared. But what about the original low-level API, AMD Mantle. Utilized in Battlefield 4, Thief and integrated into the Crytek engine (announced last year), announced with the release of the Radeon R9 290X/290, Mantle was truly the instigator that pushed Microsoft into moving DX12's development along at a faster pace.

Since DX12's announcement, AMD has claimed that Mantle would live on, bringing performance advantages to AMD GPUs and would act as the sounding board for new API features for AMD and game development partners. And, as was always trumpeted since the very beginning of Mantle, it would become an open API, available for all once it outgrew the beta phase that it (still) resides in.

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Something might have changed there.

A post over on the AMD Gaming blog from Robert Hallock has some news about Mantle to share as GDC begins. First, the good news:

AMD is a company that fundamentally believes in technologies unfettered by restrictive contracts, licensing fees, vendor lock-ins or other arbitrary hurdles to solving the big challenges in graphics and computing. Mantle was destined to follow suit, and it does so today as we proudly announce that the 450-page programming guide and API reference for Mantle will be available this month (March, 2015) at www.amd.com/mantle.
 
This documentation will provide developers with a detailed look at the capabilities we’ve implemented and the design decisions we made, and we hope it will stimulate more discussion that leads to even better graphics API standards in the months and years ahead.

That's great! We will finally be able to read about the API and how it functions, getting access to the detailed information we have wanted from the beginning. But then there is this portion:

AMD’s game development partners have similarly started to shift their focus, so it follows that 2015 will be a transitional year for Mantle. Our loyal customers are naturally curious what this transition might entail, and we wanted to share some thoughts with you on where we will be taking Mantle next:

AMD will continue to support our trusted partners that have committed to Mantle in future projects, like Battlefield™ Hardline, with all the resources at our disposal.

  1. Mantle’s definition of “open” must widen. It already has, in fact. This vital effort has replaced our intention to release a public Mantle SDK, and you will learn the facts on Thursday, March 5 at GDC 2015.
     
  2. Mantle must take on new capabilities and evolve beyond mastery of the draw call. It will continue to serve AMD as a graphics innovation platform available to select partners with custom needs.
     
  3. The Mantle SDK also remains available to partners who register in this co-development and evaluation program. However, if you are a developer interested in Mantle "1.0" functionality, we suggest that you focus your attention on DirectX® 12 or GLnext.

Essentially, AMD's Mantle API in it's "1.0" form is at the end of its life, only supported for current partners and the publicly available SDK will never be posted. Honestly, at this point, this isn't so much of a let down as it is a necessity. DX12 and GLnext have already superseded Mantle in terms of market share and mind share with developers and any more work AMD put into getting devs on-board with Mantle is wasted effort.

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Battlefield 4 is likely to be the only major title to use AMD Mantle

AMD claims to have future plans for Mantle though it will continue to be available only to select partners with "custom needs." I would imagine this would expand outside the world games but could also mean game consoles could be the target, where developers are only concerned with AMD GPU hardware.

So - from our perspective, Mantle as we know is pretty much gone. It served its purpose, making NVIDIA and Microsoft pay attention to the CPU bottlenecks in DX11, but it appears the dream was a bit bigger than the product could become. AMD shouldn't be chastised because of this shift nor for its lofty goals that we kind-of-always knew were too steep a hill to climb. Just revel in the news that pours from GDC this week about DX12.

Source: AMD

Read more about Intel's new Cherry Trail

Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2015 - 01:49 PM |
Tagged: SoFIA, silvermont, modem, LTE, Intel, Cherry Trail, atom x7, atom x5, atom x3, 7260

With MWC in full swing Intel showed off their mobile silicon to Ryan and to The Tech Report who compiled complete specifications of the Cherry Trail based Atom x5-8300 and 8500 as well as the x7-8700.  All three of these chips will have an Intel designed XMM 7260 LTE modem as well as WiFi and NFC connectivity with the X7 also featuring Intel WiGig. You can also expect RealSense, True Key facial recognition and Pro Wireless Display to send secure wireless video to compatible displays for meetings.  Check out the full list of stats here.

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"Intel says the dual-core Atom x3-C3130 is shipping now, while the quad-core Atom x3-C3230RK is coming later in the first half of the year. The LTE-infused Atom x3-C3440 will follow in the second half. In all, the chipmaker names 19 partners on board with the Atom x3 rollout, including Asus, Compal, Foxconn, Pegatron, Weibu, and Wistron."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Manufacturer: SilverStone

Introduction and First Impressions

The RV05 is the current iteration of SilverStone's Raven enclosure series, and a reinvention of their ATX enthusiast design with a revised layout that eliminates 5.25" drive bays for a smaller footprint.

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Return to Form

The fifth edition of SilverStone's Raven is a return to form of sorts, as it owes more to the design of the original RV01 than the next three to follow. The exterior again has an aggressive, angular look with the entire enclosure sitting up slightly at the rear and tilted forward. Though the overall effect is likely less visually exciting than the original, depending on taste, in its simplicity the design feels more refined and modern than the RV01. Some of the sharpest angles have been eliminated or softened, though the squat stance coupled with its smaller size gives the RV05 an energetic appearance - as if it's ready to strike. (OK, I know it's just a computer case, but still...)

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The Raven series is important to the case market as a pioneer of the 90º motherboard layout for ATX systems, expanding on the design originally developed by Intel for the short-lived BTX form-factor. In the layout implemented in the Raven series the motherboard is installed with the back IO panel facing up, which requires the graphics card to be installed vertically. This vertical orientation assists with heat removal by exploiting the tendency of warm air to rise, and when implemented in an enclosure like the RV05 it can create an excellent thermal environment for your components. The RV05 features large fans at the bottom of the case that push air upward and across the components on the motherboard, forcing warm air to exit through a well-ventilated top panel.

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And the RV05 isn't just a working example of an interesting thermal profile, it's actually a really cool-looking enclosure with some premium features and suprisingly low price for a product like this at $129 on Amazon as this was written. In our review of the RV05 we'll be taking a close look at the case and build process, and of course we'll test the thermal performance with some CPU and GPU workloads to find out just how well this design performs.

Continue reading our review of the SilverStone Raven RV05 enclosure!!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Intel

SoFIA, Cherry Trail Make Debuts

Mobile World Congress is traditionally dominated by Samsung, Qualcomm, HTC, and others yet Intel continues to make in-roads into the mobile market. Though the company has admittedly lost a lot of money during this growing process, Intel pushes forward with today's announcement of a trio of new processor lines that keep the Atom brand. The Atom x3, the Atom x5, and the Atom x7 will be the company's answer in 2015 for a wide range of products, starting at the sub-$75 phone market and stretching up to ~$400 tablets and all-in-ones.

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There are some significant differences in these Atom processors, more than the naming scheme might indicate.

Intel Atom x3 SoFIA Processor

For years now we have questioned Intel's capability to develop a processor that could fit inside the thermal envelope that is required for a smartphone while also offering performance comparable to Qualcomm, MediaTek, and others. It seemed that the x86 architecture was a weight around Intel's ankles rather than a float lifting it up. Intel's answer was the development of SoFIA, (S)mart (o)r (F)eature phone with (I)ntel (A)rchitecture. The project started about 2 years ago leading to product announcements finally reaching us today. SoFIA parts are "designed for budget smartphones; SoFIA is set to give Qualcomm and MediaTek a run for their money in this rapidly growing part of the market."

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The SoFIA processors are based on the same Silvermont architecture as the current generation of Atom processors, but they are more tuned for power efficiency. Originally planned to be a dual-core only option, Intel has actually built both dual-core and quad-core variants that will pair with varying modem options to create a combination that best fit target price points and markets. Intel has partnered with RockChip for these designs, even though the architecture is completely IA/x86 based. Production will be done on a 28nm process technology at an unnamed vendor, though you can expect that to mean TSMC. This allows RockChip access to the designs, to help accelerate development, and to release them into the key markets that Intel is targeting.

Continue reading our look at the new Intel Atom x3, x5 and x7 Processors!!

MWC 15: HP Spectre x360 Has Broadwell Core i5 and i7

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 11:07 PM |
Tagged: spectre x360, spectre, mwc 15, MWC, hp, Broadwell

HP announced their updated Spectre x360 at Mobile World Congress. Like the Lenovo Yoga, it has a hinge that flips the entire way around, allowing the laptop to function as a 13.3-inch tablet with a 1080p, IPS display. There are two stages between “tablet” and “laptop”, which are “stand” and “tent”. They are basically ways to prop up the touch screen while hiding the keyboard behind (or under) the unit. The stand mode is better for hands-free operation because it has a flat contact surface to rest upon, while the tent mode is probably more sturdy for touch (albeit rests on two rims). The chassis is entirely milled aluminum, except the screen and things like that of course.

The real story is the introduction of Core i-level Broadwell. The 12.5-hour battery listing in a relatively thin form-factor can be attributed to the low power requirements of the CPU and GPU, as well as its SSD (128GB, 256GB, or 512GB). RAM comes in two sizes, 4GB or 8GB, which will depend slightly on the chosen processor SKU.

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Which pun would be more annoying?
"Case closed" or "I rest my case"...?

Prices start at $899 and most variants are available now at HP's website.

Source: HP

MWC 15: LG Demos WebOS Smartwatch ("Urbane LTE")

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 09:46 PM |
Tagged: webOS, smartwatch, mwc 15, MWC, LG

A while ago, LG licensed WebOS from HP for use in their smart TVs and, as we found out during CES, smart watches.

The LG Urbane LTE is one such device, and we can finally see it in action. It is based around (literally) a circular P-OLED display (320 x 320, 1.3-inches, 245 ppi). Swirling your finger around the face scrolls through the elements like a wheel, which should be significantly more comfortable to search through a large list of applications than a linear list of elements -- a lot like an iPod (excluding the Touch and the Shuffle). That said, I have only seen other people use it.

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The SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2 GHz. It supports LTE, Wireless-N, Bluetooth 4.0LE, and NFC. It has 1 GB of RAM, which is quite a bit, and 4GB of permanent storage, which is not. It also has a bunch of sensors, from accelerometers and gyros to heart rate monitors and a barometer. It has a speaker and a microphone, but no camera. LG flaunts a 700 mAh battery, which they claim is “the category's largest”, but they do not link that to an actual amount of usage time (only that it “go[es] for days in standby mode”).

Video credit: The Verge

Pricing has not yet been announced, but it should hit the US and Europe before May arrives.

Source: LG

GDC 15: Quixel Advertises MEGASCANS with Jungle Scene

Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2015 - 09:11 PM |
Tagged: quixel, GDC, gdc 15, ue4, unreal engine 4, gdc 2015

You know that a week will be busy when companies start announcing a day or two early to beat the flood. While Game Developers Conference starts tomorrow, Quixel published their Jungle demo to YouTube today in promotion of their MEGASCANS material library. The video was rendered in Unreal Engine 4.

Their other material samples look quite convincing. The vines on a wall (column in this case) is particularly interesting because it even looks like two distinct layers, despite being a single mesh with displacement as far as I can tell. I don't know, maybe it is two or three layers. It would certainly make sense if it was, but the top and bottom suggests that it is single, and that is impressive. It even looks self-occluding.

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Pricing and availability for the library is not yet disclosed, but it sounds like it will be a subscription service. The software ranges from $25 to $500, depending on what you get and what sort of license you need (Academic vs Commercial and so forth).

Source: Quixel

HTC Announces Vive VR Headset in Partnership with Valve

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 05:16 PM |
Tagged: MWC, mwc 15, GDC, gdc 15, htc, valve, vive, vive vr, Oculus

Mobile World Congress (MWC) and Game Developers Conference (GDC) severely overlap this year, and not just in dates apparently. HTC just announced the Vive VR headset at MWC, which was developed alongside Valve. The developer edition will contain two 1200x1080 displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, and it will launch this spring. The consumer edition will launch this holiday. They made sure to underline 2015, so you know they're serious. Want more information? Well that will be for Valve to discuss at GDC.

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The confusing part: why is this not partnered with Oculus? When Michael Abrash left Valve to go there, I assumed that it was Valve shedding its research to Facebook's subsidiary and letting them take the hit. Now, honestly, it seems like Facebook just poached Abrash, Valve said “oh well”, and the two companies kept to their respective research. Who knows? Maybe that is not the case. We might find out more at GDC, but you would expect that Oculus would be mentioned if they had any involvement at all.

Valve will host an event on the second official day of GDC, March 3rd at 3pm. In other words, Valve will make an announcement on 3/3 @ 3. Could it involve Left 4 Dead 3? Portal 3? Will they pull a Crytek and name their engine Source 3? Are they just trolling absolutely everyone? Will it have something to do with NVIDIA's March 3rd announcement? Do you honestly think I have any non-speculative information about this? No. No I don't. There, I answered one of those questions.

Source: HTCVR

MWC 2015: Samsung Has Officially Announced the New Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2015 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: SoC, smartphones, Samsung, MWC 2015, MWC, Galaxy S6 Edge, galaxy s6, Exynos 7420, 14nm

Samsung has announced the new Galaxy S phones at MWC, and the new S6 and S6 Edge should be in line with what you were expecting if you’ve followed recent rumors.

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The new Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge (Image credit: Android Central)

As expected we no longer see a Qualcomm SoC powering the new phones, and as the rumors had indicated Samsung opted instead for their own Exynos 7 Octa mobile AP. The Exynos SoC’s have previously been in international versions of Samsung’s mobile devices, but they have apparently ramped up production to meet the demands of the US market as well. There is an interesting twist here, however.

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The Exynos 7420 powering both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is an 8-core SoC with ARM’s big.LITTLE design, combining four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. Having announced 14nm FinFET mobile AP production earlier in February the possibility of the S6 launching with this new part was interesting, as the current process tech is 20nm HKMG for the Exynos 7. However a switch to this new process so soon before the official announcement seemed unlikely as large-scale 14nm FinFET production was just unveiled on February 16. Regardless, AnandTech is reporting that the new part will indeed be produced using this new 14nm process technology, and this gives Samsung an industry-first for a mobile SoC with the launch of the S6/S6 Edge.

GSM Arena has specs of the Galaxy S6 posted, and here’s a brief overview:

  • Display: 5.1” Super AMOLED, QHD resolution (1440 x 2560, ~577 ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
  • OS: Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop) - TouchWiz UI
  • Chipset: Exynos 7420
  • CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
  • GPU: Mali-T760
  • Storage/RAM: 32/64/128 GB, 3 GB RAM
  • Camera: (Primary) 16 MP, 3456 x 4608, optical image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash
  • Battery: 2550 mAh (non-removable)

The new phones both feature attractive styling with metal and glass construction and Gorilla Glass 4 sandwiching the frame, giving each phone a glass back.

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The back of the new Galaxy S6 (Image credit: Android Central)

The guys at Android Central (source) had some pre-release time with the phones and have a full preview and hands-on video up on their site. The new phones will be released worldwide on April 10, and no specifics on pricing have been announced.

So Long Adware, and Thanks for All the Fish!

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 1, 2015 - 07:30 AM |
Tagged: superfish, Lenovo, bloatware, adware

Obviously, this does not forget the controversy that Lenovo got themselves into, but it is certainly the correct response (if they act how they imply). Adware and bloatware is common to find on consumer PCs, which makes the slowest of devices even more sluggish as demos and sometimes straight-up advertisements claim their share of your resources. This does not even begin to discuss the security issues that some of these hitchhikers drag in. Again, I refer you to the aforementioned controversy.

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In response, albeit a delayed one, Lenovo has announced that, by the launch of Windows 10, they will only pre-install the OS and “related software”. Lenovo classifies this related software as drivers, security software, Lenovo applications, and applications for “unique hardware” (ex: software for an embedded 3D camera).

It looks to be a great step, but I need to call out “security software”. Windows 10 should ship with Microsoft's security applications in many regions, which really questions why a laptop provider would include an alternative. If the problem is that people expect McAfee or Symantec, then advertise pre-loaded Microsoft anti-malware and keep it clean. Otherwise, it feels like keeping a single finger in the adware take-a-penny dish.

At least it is not as bad as trying to install McAfee every time you update Flash Player. I consider Adobe's tactic the greater of two evils on that one. I mean, unless Adobe just thinks that Flash Player is so insecure that you would be crazy to install it without a metaphorical guard watching over your shoulder.

And then of course we reach the divide between “saying” and “doing”. We will need to see Lenovo's actual Windows 10 devices to find out if they kept their word, and followed its implications to a tee.

Source: Lenovo

Ahead of MWC, 2015 Is Shaping up to Be a Good Year for Low-Cost Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | February 28, 2015 - 04:42 PM |
Tagged: smartphones, MWC 2015, MWC, Moto E, LG Magna, ios, Android 5.0

Last year my favorite smartphone became the 2014 version of the Moto G. This was (and still is) a $179 unlocked Android phone that shipped with 4.4.4 KitKat, but recently received an OTA update to 5.0 Lollipop (and subsequently 5.0.2 via a second OTA update). Motorola’s aggressive pricing made the phone compelling on paper, but using the device was even more impressive. It looked good, with a 5-inch 720p IPS display and the same design language as the Moto X and later Nexus 6, and ran a virtually untouched stock Android OS. It was never going to win any awards for raw speed, but the quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC was plenty fast for daily use. The main drawback was a glaring one, however: the Moto G was not LTE capable. Enter the new Moto E.

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The Moto E 2nd Edition

Here are some quick specs from Motorola:

Moto E 2nd Edition (LTE capable)
4.5” 540x960 display
Android 5.0.x
Snapdragon 410
Quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53/Adreno 306
1GB RAM/8GB storage
2390 mAh battery
Unlocked, $149

We are already off to a solid start in 2015 with a great option from Motorola in the new 2nd edition Moto E. This LTE capable smartphone might look a little chunky, but the specs make it more that just a compelling option at $149 (unlocked) as it could have the disruptive impact on price that Microsoft just couldn’t make last year with their inexpensive Lumia phones. With 2015’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) fast approaching the Moto E has already been making some noise in the affordable phone space that last year’s Moto G played a big part in, and this time the message is clear: in 2015 a smartphone needs to have LTE, regardless of price.

To be fair Microsoft has already addressed need for LTE with their low-cost Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 635 (which is actually selling for just $49 on Amazon now), but the app ecosystem for the platform is just too restrictive to make it a viable solution compared to Android and iOS. Honestly, I love the Windows Phone OS but there are too many missing apps to make it a daily driver. So, since Windows clearly isn’t the answer and Apple won’t be selling a sub-$200 unlocked smartphone anytime soon (the cheapest unlocked iPhone is the 8GB 5c at $450), that leaves Android (of course).

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LG's 2015 mid-range smartphone lineup

Another possibility comes from LG, as ahead of MWC there was a press release from the company showcasing their new “mid-range” smartphone lineup for 2015. Among the models listed is another phone that matches the specs associated with a $200-ish unlocked phone, but pricing has not been announced yet.

LG Magna (LTE capable) - Unreleased
5.0” 720x1280 display
Android 5.0.x
Quad-core 1.2/1.3GHz
1GB RAM, 8GB storage
2540 mAh battery

We await the announcements from MWC and there are sure to be many other examples of low-cost LTE devices, but already it’s looking like it won’t take more than $200 and a SIM card to avoid the endless device upgrade cycle in 2015.

New Intel NUC Will Feature i7 Broadwell-U CPU With Iris 6100 Graphics

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2015 - 04:41 PM |
Tagged: SFF, nuc5i7ryh, nuc, Intel, broadwell-u, Broadwell

We recently reviewed a new small form factor NUC PC from Intel powered by Broadwell. That i5-powered NUC5i5RYK will soon be joined by an even higher end Broadwell NUC (NUC5i7RYH) equipped with an i7-5557U CPU and Iris 6100 graphics.

According to FanlessTech, this slightly thicker NUC will come as a barebones system with a processor, motherboard, and wireless card pre-installed in a case with customizable lids (to add NFC, wireless charging, or other features). Note that, unlike the Broadwell i5 version we reviewed, this model supports 2.5” SSDs.

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External I/O includes:

  • Front:
    • 2 x USB 3.0 ports (one charging capable)
    • 1 x Audio jack
    • 1 x IR sensor
  • Rear:
    • 2 x USB 3.0 ports
    • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet RJ45
    • 1 x Mini HDMI 1.4a
    • 1 x Mini DisplayPort 1.2

Internally, the NUC5i7RYH is powered by a dual core (with Hyper-Threading) i7-5557U processor clocked at 3.1 GHz base and 3.4 GHz turbo with 4MB cache and 28W TDP. The processor also features Intel’s Iris 6100 GPU which our own Scott Michaud estimates it at 48 execution units and 845 GFLOPS of performance. He further speculates that it gets to a similar level of theoretical performance as the Intel Iris 5100 graphics (used in Haswell CPUs) using more (but lower clocked at up to 1050 MHz) shaders.

The Iris 6100 GPU is likely to be the highest processor graphics we will see with Broadwell-U. It supports 4K resolutions at 24Hz as well as video decode (though apparently not hardware accelerated) of VP8, VP9, and H.265 (HVEC) via wired displays or over Intel’s WiDi wireless display technology. Further, the GPU supports DirectX 12 in its current iteration as well as OpenGL 4.3 and OpenCL 2.0.

Internal connectivity includes support for two DDR3L SODIMMs (up to 16GB), a single 2.5” solid state drive, one M.2 SSD, an Intel Wireless AC 7265 card (802.11ac+BT), a NFC header, and a header for two USB 2.0 ports.

Intel has not released pricing, but expect it to hit at least $500 since the i5 version without Iris graphics has an MSRP of $399. It is slated to arrive soon with a launch window of Q2 2015.

Source: Fanless Tech
Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of Cooler Master

Cooler Master is known in the enthusiast community for their innovative designs with product offerings ranging from cases to desktop and laptop cooling implements. Cooler Master also offers their own line of all-in-one (AIO) CPU liquid cooling solutions for better system performance without the noise of a typical air cooler. With their Nepton 240M cooler, they enhanced the existing design of their previous AIO products, optimizing its performance with an enhanced pump and radiator design. We measured the unit's performance against that of other high-performance liquid and air coolers to best illustrate its abilities. The Nepton 240M's premium performance comes with a premium price, at a $139.99 MSRP.

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Courtesy of Cooler Master

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Courtesy of Cooler Master

The Nepton 240M AIO liquid cooler features a 240mm aluminum-finned radiator tied to a base unit consisting of a 120 liter per minute pump and a micro-finned copper base plate. Unlike the Glacer model, the Nepton 240M does not feature the ability to drain and refill the unit. Cooler Master designed the Nepton 240M with a 27mm deep, 2x120mm copper radiator with brass internal channels, bundled with two of its 120mm Silencio model fans. The Silencio fans are optimized for low noise and high pressure, perfect for use with a liquid cooling radiator. The radiator and unit base are connected by ribbed FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene) tubing, allowing for high flexibility without the worry of tube kinking.

Continue reading our review of the Cooler Master Nepton 240M CPU AIO liquid cooler!

A new way to rack up your mobile data bills

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2015 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: Huawei, EE, qualcomm, 4g lte

If 4G speeds of 400Mbps become common there are going to be some very happy media streamers, at least until the bill comes in.  In a proof of concept test Huawei EE and Qualcomm demonstrated a 4G LTE carrier aggregated connection in Wembley stadium which hit peak speeds of 400Mbps and should provide most attendees of events at Wembley with speeds hitting up to 150Mbps. The carrier will use the existing 4G LTE network, only tweaking was needed to increase the speeds as opposed to a new standard and so any phone capable of connecting to LTE should be able to take advantage of the speed increase.  Check out The Inquirer for more information.

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"HUAWEI, EE AND QUALCOMM have demonstrated a blink-and-you-missed-it 4G network at Wembley Stadium that achieved speeds of 400Mbps."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

NVIDIA Hosts Pro/Am Hearthstone Tournament

Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2015 - 11:29 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, hearthstone, esports

Professional and amateur players of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft can compete for a share of the $25,000 prize pool and other perks, hosted by NVIDIA. Once the pool of players are whittled down to the sixteen invited pros and the top sixteen non-professionals, they will compete in a playoff format. The 32 players at that stage will each receive an NVIDIA Shield Tablet, the top 16 will receive money, and the top eight will get Blizzard World Championship qualifier points may either start their career or get them even closer to being invited to the autumn finals.

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Breaking down the above into a little more detail:

  Prize Money Qualification Points Shield Tablet
1st Place $10,000 100
2nd Place $5,000 50
3rd & 4th Place $1,500 Some
5th - 8th Place $750 Some
9th - 16th Place $500 -
17th - 32nd Place - -

NVIDIA will be streaming the event as a four-hour event every week, which consist of group-stage highlights. Registration will close on March 19th at noon (EST). The actual playoffs will take place on May 30th and May 31st, also streamed on NVIDIA's Twitch channel.

Source: NVIDIA

Corsair extends the Carbide Series line up with the Air 240 High Airflow

Subject: Cases and Cooling | February 26, 2015 - 05:39 PM |
Tagged: corsair, Carbide Series, Air 240 High Airflow, MicroATX, mini-itx, SFF

Corsair designed the Carbide Series Air 240 High Airflow for small motherboards but left enough room to fit fair sized add in cards and coolers.  The case is 397 x 260 x 320mm (15.6 x 10 x 12.6") and will hold GPUs up to 290 mm in length and a cooler of up to 120mm as well as a full sized ATX PSU.  [H]ard|OCP installed two GTX 280's with no issues and had no problems installing several popular AiO watercoolers either.  Even with just air cooling it would seem that Corsair's Direct Airflow Path is much more than just a marketing gimmick and kept the components at reasonable temperatures even after heavy loads.  It certainly earned the Gold Award it received and for less than $100 it deserves to be on your short list of tiny cases to consider purchasing.

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"Are you in the market of a case for that new Mini-ITX or MicroATX PC build? Corsair today shows off its Carbide Series Air 240 High Airflow MicroATX and Mini-ITX PC Case. It's big, it's black, and it will remind you the the Borg. OK, maybe it is not that big, but big enough to allow mATX fans plenty of room for cooling and hot dual GPUs."

Here are some more Cases & Cooling reviews from around the web:

CASES & COOLING

Source: [H]ard|OCP