Subject: General Tech | June 3, 2015 - 08:00 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: touch, synaptics, smartbar, opinion, gaming, computex 2015, computex
Synaptics revealed more details on its SmartBar technology today at Computex. The human interface company most known for its trackpads is looking to expand its reach into keyboards. Specifically, SmartBar is technology that will add touch input functionality to the keyboard spacebar. Using the technology, OEMs can integrate capacitive touch sensors into the spacebar allowing for several unique and productivity boosting gestures.
The SmartBar spacebar can be broken up into five logical (touch sensitive areas) buttons each of which can be associated with user created macros using a bundled macro editing utility. Alternatively, users can enable touch gestures. Synaptics is touting the ability to use quick left and right swipe motion to edit text by moving the cursor back and forth word by word though a document as well as the ability to use a two thumb pinch gesture to zoom in and out on an image or document. The touch input would also be useful to gamers who want to future increase their actions per minute in RTS games or even something as simple as shifting gears or switching weapons in racing and first person games respectively.
Along the lines of gaming, it turns out that Thermaltake under it's Tt eSports line will be the first adopter of this SmartBar technology, and while Synaptics did not reveal any exact products I am looking forward to see what Thermaltake does with the technology in its future gaming keyboards. This could be a gimmick, or it could really take off and be a must have feature depending on how well it is implemented in both hardware and software. It does make sense though; the spacebar is the natural resting place for your thumbs, so it should not take too much effort to incorporate touch gestures (literally at your fingertips...) to improve your game or work efficiency. A simple but promising idea for sure.
From the press release:
“Desktop PCs still represent a sizeable portion of the PC market, especially in the commercial segment, but most desktop users have been left behind in terms of next-generation interfaces such as touch,” said Tom Mainelli, VP of Devices & Displays at International Data Corporation (IDC). “Companies are always looking for ways to help drive employee efficiency, and feature-rich, touch-enabled keyboards represent a straightforward, affordable way to help increase worker productivity.”
The SmartBar technology is available now to OEMs, but we might have to wait until CES to see actual products offering touch sensitive spacebars.
What do you think of the technology, and would you use it for gaming?
Subject: Editorial, Processors | March 12, 2015 - 08:29 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Xeon D, xeon, servers, opinion, microserver, Intel
Intel dealt a blow to AMD and ARM this week with the introduction of the Xeon Processor D Product Family of low power server SoCs. The new Xeon D chips use Intel’s latest 14nm process and top out at 45W. The chips are aimed at low power high density servers for general web hosting, storage clusters, web caches, and networking hardware.
Currently, Intel has announced two Xeon D chips, the Xeon D-1540 and Xeon D-1520. Both chips are comprised of two dies inside a single package. The main die uses a 14nm process and holds the CPU cores, L3 cache, DDR3 and DDR4 memory controllers, networking controller, PCI-E 3.0, and USB 3.0 while a secondary die using a larger (but easier to implement) manufacturing process hosts the higher latency I/O that would traditionally sit on the southbridge including SATA, PCI-E 2.0, and USB 2.0.
In all, a fairly typical SoC setup from Intel. The specifics are where things get interesting, however. At the top end, Xeon D offers eight Broadwell-based CPU cores (with Hyper-Threading for 16 total threads) clocked at 2.0 GHz base and 2.5 GHz max all-core Turbo (2.6 GHz on a single core). The cores are slightly more efficient than Haswell, especially in this low power setup. The eight cores can tap into 12MB of L3 cache as well as up to 128GB of registered ECC memory (or 64GB unbuffered and/or SODIMMs) in DDR3 1600 MHz or DDR4 2133 MHz flavors. Xeon D also features 24 PCI-E 3.0 lanes (which can be broken up to as small as six PCI-E 3.0 x4 lanes or in a x16+x8 configuration among others), eight PCI-E 2.0 lanes, two 10GbE connections, six SATA III 6.0 Gbps channels, four USB 3.0 ports, and four USB 2.0 ports.
All of this hardware is rolled into a part with a 45W TDP. Needless to say, this is a new level of efficiency for Xeons! Intel chose to compare the new chips to its Atom C2000 “Avoton” (Silvermont-based) SoCs which were also aimed at low power servers and related devices. According to the company, Xeon D offers up to 3.4-times the performance and 1.7-times the performance-per-watt of the top end Atom C2750 processor. Keeping in mind that Xeon D uses approximately twice the power as Atom C2000, it is still looking good for Intel since you are getting more than twice the performance and a more power efficient part. Further, while the TDPs are much higher,
Intel has packed Xeon D with a slew of power management technology including Integrated Voltage Regulation (IVR), an energy efficient turbo mode that will analyze whether increased frequencies actually help get work done faster (and if not will reduce turbo to allow extra power to be used elsewhere on the chip or to simply reduce wasted energy), and optional “hardware power management” that allows the processor itself to determine the appropriate power and sleep states independently from the OS.
Being server parts, Xeon D supports ECC, PCI-E Non-Transparent Bridging, memory and PCI-E Checksums, and corrected (errata-free) TSX instructions.
Ars Technica notes that Xeon D is strictly single socket and that Intel has reserved multi-socket servers for its higher end and more expensive Xeons (Haswell-EP). Where does the “high density” I mentioned come from then? Well, by cramming as many Xeon D SoCs on small motherboards with their own RAM and IO into rack mounted cases as possible, of course! It is hard to say just how many Xeon Ds will fit in a 1U, 2U, or even 4U rack mounted system without seeing associated motherboards and networking hardware needed but Xeon D should fare better than Avoton in this case since we are looking at higher bandwidth networking links and more PCI-E lanes, but AMD with SeaMicro’s Freedom Fabric and head start on low power x86 and ARM-based Opteron chip research as well as other ARM-based companies like AppliedMicro (X-Gene) will have a slight density advantage (though the Intel chips will be faster per chip).
Which brings me to my final point. Xeon D truly appears like a shot across both ARM and AMD’s bow. It seems like Intel is not content with it’s dominant position in the overall server market and is putting its weight into a move to take over the low power server market as well, a niche that ARM and AMD in particular have been actively pursuing. Intel is not quite to the low power levels that AMD and other ARM-based companies are, but bringing Xeon down to 45W (with Atom-based solutions going upwards performance wise), the Intel juggernaut is closing in and I’m interested to see how it all plays out.
Right now, ARM still has the TDP and customization advantage (where customers can create custom chips and cores to suit their exact needs) and AMD will be able to leverage its GPU expertise by including processor graphics for a leg up on highly multi-threaded GPGPU workloads. On the other hand, Intel has the better manufacturing process and engineering budget. Xeon D seems to be the first step towards going after a market that they have in the past not really focused on.
With Intel pushing its weight around, where will that leave the little guys that I have been rooting for in this low power high density server space?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 7, 2014 - 02:25 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, steambox, opinion, Gabe Newell, CES 2014, CES
Valve Co-Founder Gabe Newell took the stage at a press conference in Las Vegas last night to introduce SteamOS powered Steam Machines and the company's hardware partners for the initial 2014 launch. And it has been quite the launch thus far, with as many as 13 companies launching at least one Steambox PC.
The majority of Steam Machines are living room friendly Mini-ITX (or smaller) form factors, but that has not stopped other vendors from going all out with full-tower builds. The 13 hardware partners have all put their own spin on a SteamOS-powered PC, and by the second half of 2014, users will be able to choose from $500 SFF cubes to ~$1000 Mini-ITX builds with dedicated graphics, to powerhouse desktop PCs that have MSRPs up to $6,000 and multiple GPUs. In fact, aside from SteamOS and support for the Steam Controller, the systems do not share much else, offering up unique options–which is a great thing.
For the curious, the 13 Steam Machine hardware vendors are listed below.
- Digital Storm
- Falcon Northwest
- Origin PC
- Scan Computers
As luck would have it for those eager to compare all of the available options, the crew over at Ars Technica have put together a handy table of the currently-known specifications and pricing of each company's Steam Machines! Some interesting takeaways from the chart include the almost even division between AMD and NVIDIA dedicated graphics while Intel has a single hardware win with it's Iris Pro 5200 (Gigabyte BRIX Pro). On the other hand, on the CPU side of things, Intel has the most design wins with AMD having as many as 3 design wins versus Intel's 10 (in the best case scenario). The pricing is also interesting. While there are outliers that offer up very expensive and affordable models, the majority of Steam Machines tend to be closer to the $1000 mark than either the $500 or $2000+ price points. In other words, about the same amount of money for a mid-range DIY PC. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as users are getting decent hardware for their money, a free OS, and OEM warranty/support (and there is nothing stopping the DIYers from making their own Steamboxes).
A SFF Steambox (left) from Zotac and a full-tower SteamOS gaming desktop from Falcon Nothwest (right).
So far, I have to say that I'm more impressed than not with the Steam Machine launch which has gone off better than I had expected. Here's hoping the hardware vendors are able to come through at the announced price points and Valve is able to continue wrangling developer support (and to improve the planned game streaming functionality from a Windows box). If so, I think Valve and it's partners will have a hit on their hands that will help bring PC gaming into the living room and (hopefully) on par (at least) in the mainstream perspective with the ever-popular game consoles (which are now using x86 PC architectures).
What do you think about the upcoming crop of Steam Machines? Does SteamOS have a future? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments below!
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 8, 2012 - 02:36 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: opinion, gaming, game of the year, fps, deus ex: human revolution, deus ex
I have to say that 2011 was a pretty good year for PC gaming. Sure, it wasn't without some drab moments; however the diamonds in the rough more than made up for it. Those gems are the PC games that especially stood out for being of quality stock and most of all were awesomely fun.
Skyrim and Battlefield 3 have received a good deal of attention and praise among the PC Per staff, but I'm going to toss the guys a curve ball and name Deus Ex: Human Revolution as my personal favorite PC Game of the Year 2011. Here's why!
Well, first a bit of history. Growing up, I was always a big PC gamer (earliest game I remember is Digger on an actually floppy floppy disk), but somehow missed the first Deus Ex. I read about it year after year on various technology and gaming sites' "Greatest PC Games of All Time" lists, but somehow never picked it up. A couple years ago, I saw it pop up on a Steam sale, so (naturally) I bought it and gave it a shot. There was a lot of hype behind it, and as such it had a lot to live up to.
Try taking away my equiptment now!
Unfortunately, it never really came close to living up to all of the hype and praise that people gave it. That is not to say that it's a bad game, just that compared to the newer games that I was used to it wasn't my personal favorite. From the perspective of comparing it with games of its time, it certainly is an interesting release and relatively really good. Compared to the much improved graphics, controls, budgets, and hardware of years later (when I finally played it); however, it simply did not measure up. One of my main gripes with the game was that the AI was not all that great and at some points would have super vision that could spot me from a football field away in the shadows. Had I played it when it came out and had games of that era to compare it to, (and the nostalgic love) I'm sure I would be among those singing it's praises but as a late comer to the game I just wasn't interested.
While PC gamers grew up with Deus Ex, I grew up with the Metal Gear Solid series and I absolutely loved sneaking around and being Solid Snake. Sure, the story was a crazy one, but the same could be said for Deus Ex. That's not to say that I didn't play PC games like Doom 3 (I went from Wolfenstein 3D to Doom 3 due to not growing up with constant internet access living out in the boonies and not having the money for a powerful GPU) but that the games that most stick around in my mind as favorites and fond memories were things like MGS (whereas others may have held Deus Ex for example). I did find Deus Ex's story interesting though even if I wasn't too impressed with the graphics or game play, so when I read that a new Deus Ex was coming out and that it was getting the proper PC attention (thanks, Nixxes!) as it should, I jumped on the chance to play it. Now that I have built a few PCs and have a decent video card, playing the new Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a "no-brainer".
Enough vents to make even Solid Snake jealous!
To make what could be a long and spoiler-ific story about Deus Ex: HR short, the game is my personal game of the year because it made me feel like Solid Snake again, vents and all. The conversations, hacking, story, augments, and graphics were all really fun and memorable. From walking around the city and listening to the people to punching through a wall to take out an enemy to sneaking through the vents and reading all the emails the game was immersive and I found myself staying up all night not wanting to go to sleep in favor of breaking into my co-workers office and reading their email... umm all in the name of keeping the office secure (some Head of Security I was!). Some of the comments I blogged about just after completing the game include that despite the long loading times, there are more vents than you can shake a stick at and being able to stealth around was very fun. More specifically, I noted:
"The emails and conversations that you overhear walking around the city are nice touches that help immersion. Some people have complained about the graphics quality; however, for what it is I find them to be very good. For a multi-platform game, it certainly runs well on the PC, which is an exceptional feat in this day and age!. . . . I have to say that it was an awesome experience!"
I'm sure that Ryan will disagree that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the Game Of The Year, but for me it was very memorable, fun, and far exceeded my expectations. Now that I have found out about some cool sounding mods for the original Deus Ex, I may have to give it a second chance ;)
I invite the rest of the PC Per crew to share their personal Game of the Year as well as you, the readers! What was your favorite game this year, and why?
Runners up included Saints Row: The Third which is also crazy fun and Portal 2 who's story was awesome but came out so early in the year that it slipped my mind as GOTY.