Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | November 5, 2013 - 09:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Amazon Web Services allows customers (individuals, organizations, or companies) to rent servers of certain qualities to match their needs. Many websites are hosted at their data centers, mostly because you can purchase different (or multiple) servers if you have big variations in traffic.
I, personally, sometimes use it as a game server for scheduled multiplayer events. The traditional method is spending $50-80 USD per month on a... decent... server running all-day every-day and using it a couple of hours per week. With Amazon EC2, we hosted a 200 player event (100 vs 100) by purchasing a dual-Xeon (ironically the fastest single-threaded instance) server connected to Amazon's internet backbone by 10 Gigabit Ethernet. This server cost just under $5 per hour all expenses considered. It was not much of a discount but it ran like butter.
This leads me to today's story: NVIDIA GRID GPUs are now available at Amazon Web Services. Both companies hope their customers will use (or create services based on) these instances. Applications they expect to see are streamed games, CAD and media creation, and other server-side graphics processing. These Kepler-based instances, named "g2.2xlarge", will be available along side the older Fermi-based Cluster Compute Instances ("cg1.4xlarge").
It is also noteworthy that the older Fermi-based Tesla servers are about 4x as expensive. GRID GPUs are based on GK104 (or GK107, but those are not available on Amazon EC2) and not the more compute-intensive GK110. It would probably be a step backwards for customers intending to perform GPGPU workloads for computational science or "big data" analysis. The newer GRID systems do not have 10 Gigabit Ethernet, either.
So what does it have? Well, I created an AWS instance to find out.
Its CPU is advertised as an Intel E5-2670 with 8 threads and 26 Compute Units (CUs). This is particularly odd as that particular CPU is eight-core with 16 threads; it is also usually rated by Amazon at 22 CUs per 8 threads. This made me wonder whether the CPU is split between two clients or if Amazon disabled Hyper-Threading to push the clock rates higher (and ultimately led me to just log in to an instance and see). As it turns out, HT is still enabled and the processor registers as having 4 physical cores.
The GPU was slightly more... complicated.
NVIDIA control panel apparently does not work over remote desktop and the GPU registers as a "Standard VGA Graphics Adapter". Actually, two are available in Device Manager although one has the yellow exclamation mark of driver woe (random integrated graphics that wasn't disabled in BIOS?). GPU-Z was not able to pick much up from it but it was of some help.
Keep in mind: I did this without contacting either Amazon or NVIDIA. It is entirely possible that the OS I used (Windows Server 2008 R2) was a poor choice. OTOY, as a part of this announcement, offers Amazon Machine Image (AMI)s for Linux and Windows installations integrated with their ORBX middleware.
I spot three key pieces of information: The base clock is 797 MHz, the memory size is 2990 MB, and the default drivers are Forceware 276.52 (??). The core and default clock rate, GK104 and 797 MHz respectively, are characteristic of the GRID K520 GPU with its 2 GK104 GPUs clocked at 800 MHz. However, since the K520 gives each GPU 4GB and this instance only has 3GB of vRAM, I can tell that the product is slightly different.
I was unable to query the device's shader count. The K520 (similar to a GeForce 680) has 1536 per GPU which sounds about right (but, again, pure speculation).
I also tested the server with TCPing to measure its networking performance versus the cluster compute instances. I did not do anything like Speedtest or Netalyzr. With a normal cluster instance I achieve about 20-25ms pings; with this instance I was more in the 45-50ms range. Of course, your mileage may vary and this should not be used as any official benchmark. If you are considering using the instance for your product, launch an instance and run your own tests. It is not expensive. Still, it seems to be less responsive than Cluster Compute instances which is odd considering its intended gaming usage.
Regardless, now that Amazon picked up GRID, we might see more services (be it consumer or enterprise) which utilizes this technology. The new GPU instances start at $0.65/hr for Linux and $0.767/hr for Windows (excluding extra charges like network bandwidth) on demand. Like always with EC2, if you will use these instances a lot, you can get reduced rates if you pay a fee upfront.
Amazon's Kindle Matchbook Program Offers Discounted or Free E-Books for Users That Buy Physical Copies
September 5, 2013 - 05:05 PM | Tim Verry
Amazon recently announced a new service called Kindle Matchbook. Akin to the digital and physical music album matching AutoRip service, Matchbook will offer users Kindle editions of physical books purchased from Amazon at steep discounts.
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Starting in October, Matchbook will offer Kindle editions for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or for free to customers that purchased the physical version of the book new from Amazon. The company is extending the program to those books purchased from 1995 to the present, and to future purchases. The program will cover approximately 10,000 books at the time of the program's launch in October.
Notably, the Kindle Matchbook program depends on publisher support, which means that users will only be able to get the discounted ebooks if the physical book publisher allows it. Hopefully, publishers will jump on board with the program and add more books to the supported library!
Keep an eye on Amazon's homepage for more information next month.
July 18, 2013 - 04:56 PM | Scott Michaud
Adam DeConinck, high performance computing (HPC) systems engineer for NVIDIA, built a personal computer cluster in his spare time. While not exactly high performance, especially when compared to the systems he maintains for Amazon and his employer, its case is made of Lego and seems to be under a third of a cubic foot in volume.
Image source: NVIDIA Blogs
Raspberry Pi is based on a single-core ARM CPU bundled on an SoC with a 24 GFLOP GPU and 256 or 512 MB of memory. While this misses the cutesy point of the story, I am skeptical of the expected 16W power rating. Five Raspberry Pis, with Ethernet, draw a combined maximum of 17.5W, alone, and even that neglects the draw of the networking switch. My, personal, 8-port unmanaged switch is rated to draw 12W which, when added to 17.5W, is not 16W and thus something is being neglected or averaged. Then again, his device, power is his concern.
Despite constant development and maintenance of interconnected computers, professionally, Adam's will for related hobbies has not been displaced. Even after the initial build, he already plans to graft the Hadoop framework and really reign in the five ARM cores for something useful...
... but, let's be honest, probably not too useful.
April 2, 2013 - 06:41 AM | Tim Verry
Amazon has announced two new Java-based applications for Windows and Mac PCs that will sync files between multiple computers and the company's Cloud Drive online storage service.
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Amazon Cloud Drive is a companion service that was spun off of its Cloud Player music locker service. Users get 5GB for free, with additional tiers of storage available for purchase. (Any music from Amazon side-loaded to Cloud Drive and Cloud Player before July 31st does not count towards your storage quota). Until now, Cloud Drive has been merely a web storage locker, but with the new desktop apps Amazon is adding file syncing capabilities that will keep your files updated across multiple PCs. The desktop apps will create a folder which will then contain a locally-stored copy of your Amazon Cloud Drive files. If you choose to install the desktop app onto a second PC, it will also sync with Cloud Drive and store a copy of the files locally. The most recently modified version will sync to all the other computers' local store and the cloud drive. There is no word on versioning support, so note that this should not be a replacement for a true file backup. With that said, the multiple-PC file sync is a welcome addition that makes Cloud Drive much more useful than ever before.
The new desktop apps will run on Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8, and on Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7, and 10.8.
When Amazon was asked about mobile apps and file sync, the company told Ars Technica that it had "nothing specific to share." That could mean that Cloud Drive will bring file synchronization to iOS, Android, and WP8, or it could be a literal statement. It is difficult to say, but I think if Amazon wants its Cloud Drive storage service to be taken seriously the company will need to enter the mobile space (as it has done with Cloud Player).
January 10, 2013 - 10:38 AM | Tim Verry
Today, Amazon rolled out a new feature for users of its Cloud Player music service called AutoRip. The new feature will provide free MP3 files to users that purchase CDs from Amazon with the AutoRip logo. The MP3 files will automatically be made available for streaming or download in your Cloud Player application (or the web browser-based music library) upon purchase of an eligible album.
The MP3s are 256kbps files and can be played on Kindle Fire, Android and iOS devices as well as Samsung Smart TV, Roku, and Sonos boxes. You will also be able to stream them from the Cloud Player website. The free music files from AutoRip are stored in your Amazon Cloud Player library, but they will not count against your storage quota.
Currently, the AutoRip program extends to 50,000+ physical CDs available on the Amazon website. Amazon has stated that it is working to add additional albums to the program. Interestingly, the AutoRip program applies to all future purchases as well as any AutoRip eligible CD purchase from Amazon since 1998(!). Albums that are eligible for the free MP3 copies can be identified by the AutoRip logo, which is a double blue and green arrow.
Considering older CDs were likely ripped with inferior codecs and/or bitrates (like RealMedia...), the AutoRip service may be a great deal if you purchased your discs from Amazon! Personally, I’m surprised Amazon did not restrict the value add to Prime subscribers only (not that I’m complaining), but it should help to bolster physical CD sales if you are getting the MP3s anyway along with a physical disc.
The full press release is available below the break.
September 10, 2012 - 06:24 AM | Tim Verry
Amazon announced four new Kindle Fire tablets at a live event yesterday. Now that I’ve had time to let it all sink in, it is time to run through and compare the new offerings! Included in the new lineup are two 7” models and two 8.9” models. Further, the tablets with the new internals are differentiated with Kindle Fire HD branding whereas the updated model keeps the traditional Kindle Fire name.
7” Kindle Fire Tablets:
1. Updated Kindle Fire 7"
During the event in Santa Monica, California Amazon announced an update to the existing Kindle Fire and introduced a new “HD” version. The original Kindle Fire (which we reviewed here) packed a dual core 1GHz ARM processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 8 GB of storage. It weighed in at 14.5 ounces and was .45” thick. That hardware cost $199.
The new (updated) 7” Kindle Fire
The updated model keeps the 7” display but has a 1.2GHz OMAP 4430 processor (that Amazon claims is 40% faster), 1GB of RAM, battery life improvements, and in a surprising twist will actually cost less than the original Fire at $159. Software has also been improved for the new Kindle Fire but it is not clear if the first-generation model will also be getting an update. Once reviews start coming out, it should be more apparent what exactly has been changed (Amazon mostly focused on hardware at the event). You can expect it to be a customized version of Android that looks nothing like the stock experience, however. The updated Kindle Fire will be available September 14th for $159.
2. Kindle Fire HD 7"
The Kindle Fire HD is where the hardware starts to get interesting as the specifications have been improvement greatly versus the original $199 Kindle Fire. The new tablet measures 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches and weighs 13.9 ounces. The front of the tablet features an HD webcam and a 7" display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. Interestingly, the 10 point multitouch panel is laminated onto the display itself, which Amazon claims reduces glare by cutting down on air gaps. Powering the tablet is a OMAP 4460 SoC featuring a dual core processor running at 1.2 GHz, 1 GB of RAM, and 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage, and stereo speakers. Connectivity options include dual band 2.4/5 GHz Wi-Fi with two hardware antennas, HDMI, and a Bluetooth radio.
The 7" Kindle Fire HD will be available September 14th. The 16 GB model will cost $199 while the 32 GB model is $249.
8.9” Kindle Fire HD Tablets:
The 8.9-inch tablet is a new form factor for Amazon, and an interesting one at that. The tablet is sits nicely between the 7" tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 and larger 10"+ tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad. It remains to be seen whether it will be successful for Amazon, but at only 20 ounces it's still fairly portable. Specific measurements are as follows: 9.45 x 6.5 x 0.35 inches. There is just a single tablet model in the 8.9" form factor, but there are two options based on that. Specifically, you will need to choose between a Wi-Fi only tablet and a tablet that can connect to both Wi-Fi and 4G cellular networks.
The 8.9" Kindle Fire HD features an 8.9" display with resolution of 1920x1200. Further, like the 7" model, the 10 point multitouch panel is laminated onto the display itself to reduce glare. Above the display is an HD webcam. Connectivity options on the base Wi-Fi only model include HDMI, Bluetooth, and dual band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with dual antennas. The 4G version further adds a cellular modem.
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Internally, the Kindle Fire HD is powered by a Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 SoC running at 1.5 GHz and 1GB of RAM. Internal storage is either 16 GB or 32 GB for the Wi-Fi model and 32 GB or 64 GB in the 4G Kindle Fire HD. Any amazon purchased content can be stored on your Amazon Cloud Drive as well.
Both the Wi-Fi and 4G tablets will be available on November 20th, and are available for pre-order now.
The Wi-Fi model will cost $299 for 16 GB or $369 for 32 GB.
The 4G model gets a bit more complicated, thanks to the cellular modem. In basic terms, the 32 GB version will cost $499 and the 64 GB version will cost $599. With purchase, you get a $10 Amazon Appstore credit and 20 GB of Amazon Cloud Drive storage. On the data plan front, for $50 a year, Amazon will provide you with 250 MB per month of data usage over the cellular connection. It's not much, but it is still a pretty good deal if you are around Wi-Fi most of the time and/or plan to only use the Fire to read books and listen to music on. The bad news is that if you do happen to go over that 250 MB limit, you'll be subject to AT&T's going rate for the next tier of data. IE, expect to pay about $30 if you go over (ouch!).
On TWICH, Ryan brought up the Kindle Fire HD and mentioned the big price difference between the 4G and Wi-Fi only model. You are looking at about $250 extra from the 4G model, and the addition of the cellular radio definitely does not cost Amazon that much per tablet to integrate. One likely reason is that Amazon is subsidizing part (or all) of the data plan (the cost above the $50 it is charging customers) with the increased cost of the hardware. (Sort of the opposite of the traditional cell phone subsidizing arrangement where the contract subsidizes the hardware). You will just have to determine if the 4G modem is worth the cost increase or not.
Opt out of ads for $15, information on charging
Speaking of cutting costs, Amazon has done two things to reduce the price of its Kindle Fire tablets. For one, all Kindle Fire tablets will come with Kindle Special Offer ads turned on. These are deals and ads that display on the home screen and lock screen of your Kindle (and in my experience are not very intrusive). If you want an ad-free experience, you can opt out by paying a one-time $15 fee – which essentially amounts to you paying the full cost of the hardware versus the ad-subsidized cost.
The other cost cutting measure is that the company is not bundling a wall charger with any of the tablets. You can purchase the Kindle PowerFast for Accelerated Charging wall charger for $9.99 if you buy it at the same time as you purchase the tablet, but is $19.99 if purchased separately. Note that a wall charger is not required, as you can charge the Kindle over USB connected to a computer or cell phone charger – it does not necessarily have to be the expensive Amazon charger.
Lastly, all of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablets are running a customized version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Unfortunately, I would not expect an update to Jelly Bean any time soon. The biggest question i have is whether or not the original Kindle Fire will get the same software update as the new tablets are coming out with. It is difficult to comment on any specific improvements as Amazon primarily focused on hardware at the event. Once reviewers get hands on with the tablets, more information should become available. I'm looking forward to trying out the tablets once they show up as demos at retail to see how well the UI runs on the updated hardware.
If you are interested in one of the new Kindle Fire tablets, I highly recommend checking out the handy comparison chart on the bottom of any Kindle Fire product pages as it puts all the specifications in a simple table.
What do you think about the new Amazon tablets, will you be picking one up or sticking with the Nexus 7?
September 6, 2012 - 02:10 PM | Tim Verry
Amazon announced at a live event today that its popular Kindle e-reader is getting an upgrade. The most significant upgrade is a new display which has a higher resolution and is (front) lit. As a result of the new display, Amazon is calling the new Kindle e-reader the Kindle Paperwhite, suggesting that the e-ink display is now closer than ever to replicating actual paper (though without the new book smell).
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The new Kindle Paperwhite comes in two versions, one with free (whispersync) 3G and the other with only Wi-Fi. The physical keyboard is replaced with a touchscreen (like the Kindle Touch) and the e-reader is now 9.1mm thick and 7.5 ounces (a bit under half a pound). The Verge quoted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in saying the Kindle Paperwhite is "thinner than a magazine, lighter than a paperback." Further, the display panel has a stated 62% more pixels than its predecessor, with 212 pixels per inch (PPI). Due to the nature of e-ink, Amazon had to get creative with the lighting and had to place the lighting element above the display (e-ink is reflective). This new “Light Guide” is a thin layer of material that takes light produced by LEDs along the edges of the display and spreads it over the entire display. Doing this allows Amazon to maintain the thin form factor and make the e-reader useable in more environments (readable in bed, or outside on a clear day, for example).
Software improvements allow the Kindle to start up in 60 seconds, 15% faster page turns, and free storage in Amazon’s Cloud Drive. In addition, the Kindle Paperwhite supports showing book covers in your library, (reading) time remaining in book chapters, and X-Ray reference material technology. According to Amazon, the Kindle Paperwhite’s battery has also been improved, allowing up to 8 weeks between charges (I’m assuming that includes stand-by time, not just when active/reading).
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The new Light Guide used to light up the Kindle Paperwhite's display.
Both Kindle Paperwhite e-readers will be available on October 1st, 2012. The 3G model will cost $179 while the Wi-Fi model will cost $119. Amazon is currently taking pre-orders for the devices, as well.
Meanwhile, the current Kindle e-reader is going to continue to be available – and is getting a nice price cut. At a new price of $69, I expect it to sell like Honey Buns (forget hotcakes). That is a price that is definitely impulse buy territory, and also makes it easy to give as a gift. I expect that it would also make a good device to give to kids to try to get them interested in reading. At $69, it won’t be as big of a deal if they break it (heh).
What do you think about the new Paperwhite Kindles? I’m interested to see one of the displays in person, to see if it lives up to the claims of replicating the look of paper. You can find more photos of the new Kindle over at The Verge's live blog of the event.
August 25, 2012 - 04:33 AM | Tim Verry
Amazon has inked a new deal with NBCUniversal to bring a number of new TV shows to its Prime Instant Video subscription service. The new shows include "Parks and Recreation, Parenthood, The Starter Wife, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and more."
Internet shopping juggernaut Amazon recently announced a new deal with NBCUniversal to expand the catalog of free movies and television shows offered to Amazon Prime members. Specifically, the company is adding additional content to the Prime Instant Video library which customers subscribed to Amazon's $79 (per year) Prime shipping service get free access to.
Thanks to the new deal, Amazon Prime fans will soon see an influx of new content from NBCUniversal which should hold you over until Amazon can work more deals with studios to make it more competitive with market leader Netflix.
According to Amazon, the new content deal will include several TV series. Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Parks and Recreation, Parenthood, and The Starter Wife will soon all be available to stream to PCs and Kindle Fires (and other Amazon compatible devices, of course). The company claims that the Prime service now offers up to 22,000 videos, and the NBCUniversal deal should add a couple hundred more to the catalog. These relatively new titles will be a nice addition to the Prime lineup, and if all goes according to plan there should be even more new content for customers to look forward to.
NBCUniversal Cable and New Media Distribution President Frances Manfredi stated the following:
“We look forward to further expanding NBCU’s content offering available to Prime subscribers in the near future.”
It is not yet clear what other shows might be included in that "near future," but here's hoping it is additional recent TV shows as Prime could really benefit from more of those. I'll admit to being a bit disappointed in the Prime offerings compared to what is available to buy/rent (the full Amazon Instant catalog is really good, but the Prime subscription catalog is only a very small subset of that content library). However, with a rumored Kindle Fire successor on the way, I would not be surprised to see the company push Prime more–and hopefully use its online retailer muscle to bring more studios in on delivering content for Prime subscribers.
Amazon has made the full press release available on its website.
Do you use the Prime video streaming service? What shows would you most like to see available with your Prime subscriptions? (Personally, i wouldn't say no to some Stargate).
March 25, 2012 - 06:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Taiwanese-based machining company, Catcher Technology, is rumored to start producing an order of chassis for the new Kindle Fire.
Amazon has thus far been very successful at gaining public awareness about their tablet devices. Apple still holds the dominant position in the tablet market although Amazon seems to be comfortably secure where they are. Sales of the original Kindle Fire were somewhere north of 5.5 million units.
Like Sandra Bullock -- start with a Fire on the Amazon, add Speed and get really big.
Despite hefty sales of their first product, the Fire was based on the Blackberry Playbook design to saturate the market for Christmas and was not what Amazon originally intended.
Rumors have suggested that the new Kindle would include a 10-inch screen and have higher performance. ZDNet recently questioned the value of a larger and higher performance model. ZDNet attributes the success of the Kindle Fire to its cheap price point and argues that $200 is the impulse buy point.
Unfortunately, although strong rumors claim that Catcher Technology will develop the chassis -- the rumors appear to say nothing about what size they will be.
But hey, at least Catcher will have new CNC machines to play around with.
February 17, 2012 - 08:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Amazon had quite the successful launch of their Kindle Fire tablet PC. The original Kindle Fire is based on the Blackberry Playbook design and manufactured by the same company, Quanta. Despite being out for just three months, we may be just three or four months away from its successor.
Foxconn is expected to do the work as OEM... a Quanta of solace.
The news was first reported by The Commercial Times, a Chinese-language Taiwan publication and put online by their sister publication, China Times (Microsoft Translation). According to the article, the original Kindle Fire may not be dying an early death. As is almost expected from Amazon, the original Kindle Fire will persist as Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire model. The new Kindle Fire is rumored to compliment that product, not replace it.
The new Kindle Fire is expected to be a 10-inch model and, unlike the Blackberry Playbook design which Quanta sold Amazon last year, be more heavily designed by Amazon themselves. It is expected that while Quanta will continue to manufacture the 7-inch Kindle Fire, the 10-inch will be assembled at Hon Hai (Foxconn). Commercial Times does not suggest what other changes Amazon will introduce with the new product.