The Creative Assembly tries a different take on DLC for Total War: Warhammer

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 13, 2016 - 05:57 PM |
Tagged: creative assembly, warhammer fantasy, total war, dlc, gaming

After committing the double sin of pimping preorders and Day 1 DLC announced before the release date, The Creative Assembly seems to be trying to win back some of their fans by offering free new content for all some time down the road.  There will be new Legendary Lords, magic items, quest chains, and units and towards the end of the year.  If you want to play as Chaos you will still have to preorder the game or pay for it after release.

The offer of free content is appreciated, apart from one small problem; the game's release date is still over a month away.  The offer of future free content seems to be a thinly veiled effort to increase the sales of preorders, since many of us have refused to take them up on their offer.  Hopefully this is a hint that the industry is beginning to realize that publishing the actual game in full will draw more customers than releasing a partial game with DLC already planned. 

Iceberg Interactive has a much better model, Endless Legends was released as planned and once they realized how popular the game was they put effort into adding entirely new features and races.  Instead of taunting their customers with DLC announced at the same time as they released the game, they have treated it more as a reward for customer loyalty.  Then again, perhaps their customers are the exception and The Creative Assembly's announcement will succeed in selling more copies of the game before the release date.

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"Now, developers The Creative Assembly have released details of their post-release plans and that includes loads of free add-ons. There will be new Lords with their own quest chains, items and campaign bonuses, new magic, and, most intriguing of all, an entire new playable race."

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Software defined USB may help save your devices

Subject: General Tech | April 13, 2016 - 04:59 PM |
Tagged: usb type-c

The USB Implementers Forum, in charge of developing the standards for USB interfaces have developed software which can confirm the authenticity of a USB device or USB charger before allowing power to pass over the connection.  This is intended to prevent the death of another Pixel, or any other device which might charge over a Type C connection thanks to a dodgy cable.  It is not yet released but was written with the intention enabling it to be distributed as a patch to your OS as it was designed with a proper signature and certificate to ensure it is not easy to tamper with.  The Register has more on this story as well as information on Google's WebUSB protocol which will allow a connected USB device to communicate with connected networks.

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"The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has announced the "USB Type-C Authentication specification", a set of software-defined rules that a device can use to protect itself from potential sizzlage."

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Source: The Register

PS4 Remote Play Now Available On PCs and Macs With 3.50 Firmware Update

Subject: General Tech | April 13, 2016 - 04:54 AM |
Tagged: sony, remote play, PSN, ps4, playstation 4, game streaming

Sony is rolling out a new firmware update for its PlayStation 4 gaming console. The 3.50 firmware update adds social networking features to schedule events and allow users to appear offline along with a major change that opens up Remote Play to allow game streaming from the PS4 to Macs and Windows PCs.

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Users should start receiving the console update shortly. In order to stream to PCs, users will need to download the Remote Play utility for Windows or OS X. PC system requirements are modest requiring a minimum of a dual core (4 thread) Intel Core i5 560M (2.67 GHz) and 2GB of RAM when running Windows. Mac users can get by with an even lower end i5 520M (2.4 GHz). Users will need to be running the 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows (8.1 or 10) or Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite or newer.

Sony recommends having a bare minimum of a 5Mbps symmetrical broadband internet connection in order to stream games to remote devices, and it recommends a connection with at least 12 Mbps download and upload speeds for the best results. Unfortunately, this rules out most DSL users, though they should still be able to play locally over their LAN. (It is not clear whether you can direct connect to the console to stream or if you have to go through a Sony server to stream, other remote play devices seem to be able to work only off of the LAN connection though so it should work.)

Sony makes it easy to play your games by supporting the DualShock 4 controller – users will simply need to plug it into the PC via USB cable and it will work as expected on PlayStation games. You will also need a Sony Entertainment Network account to pair devices and it is recommended to set the desired PS4 as your primary account. Specific setup instructions can be found here.

Streaming capabilities are currently limited as there is no support for streaming at 1080p resolution. Out of the box, Remote Play will stream at 540p and 30 FPS (frames per second). Users (preferably with wired devices including the PS4) can go into the settings and max it out at 720p and 60 FPS or dial it all the way down to 360p if you really need to play remotely over the internet with a small upload pipe.

Sony notes that not all games support Remote Play, but it seems like the majority of the console's catalog of games do.

There are several YouTube videos of users testing out Remote Play, and it does work. It seems to be a bit behind Xbox One streaming in the video quality and usability departments (e.g. no 1080p and you can't change resolution and frame rate on the fly). Hopefully Sony continues to flesh out the application and features.

Have you had a chance to try PS4 to PC game streaming? I'm now waiting for Microsoft to allow PC to Xbox One streaming hehe.

Source: Sony

Thrustmaster Introduces Xbox One Compatible TMX Wheel

Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2016 - 06:33 PM |
Tagged: Thrustmaster, TMX, T300, tx f458, force feedback, wheels, racing pedals, DiRT Rally, project cars, Assetto Corsa, xbox one

Some months ago I had the chance to review the PS3/4 and PC compatible Thrustmaster T150.  This turned out to be a solid little wheel with full functionality that would not break the bank.  The force feedback was not as strong or as nuanced as what I had found with the higher end TX F458 and T300 products, but it provided a wholly satisfactory experience that was around one half the price of the higher end products.
 
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Something missing from the lineup was a budget/entry level product for the Xbox One.  The TX F458 provides support for that platform, but it is anywhere from $300 to $400 US in price.  Essentially the same price as the console itself.  This comes at a pretty good time as a whole slew of racing games are being released on consoles these days (or soon).  Products such as DiRT Rally, Project Cars, and the upcoming console release of Assetto Corsa have injected new life into racing titles on consoles.  Add in Microsoft's continued development of the Forza series, console users have a good excuse to purchase racing inspired gear for their products.
 
In speaking with the DiRT developers, they admitted that they have to adjust the difficulty of the games to make them playable on game pads.  This makes sense as there are not nearly enough degrees of movement from either a turning or throttle/braking standpoint.  There is maybe a 30 degree movement in total with the thumbpads as well as not very many gradiations when using the triggers on the gamepad for braking and throttle control.  To get the most out of racing games a wheel is very necessary.  It provides the accuracy needed to drive very fast without the application helping a user out by decreasing the realism of the driving experience.
 
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The Thrustmaster TMX Force Feedback wheel is very similar in build and size to the earlier T150.  The primary differences are of course the Xbox One compatibility as well as a 900 degree rotation.  The T150 had the full 1080 degrees, but it seems like the 900 number is a hard limit on the Xbox.  The wheel can be programmed to handle rotations as low as 270 degrees as well as up to 900.  It is a hybrid pulley/geared unit with solid force feedback strength.  It features a metal axle and metal ball bearings so the wear will be minimal over the lifetime of the product.  It also features the same 12 bit optical tracking mechanism that the T150 utilizes that gives 4096 values for each 360 degrees of rotation of the wheel.
 
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No specialty drivers or software are needed for use with the Xbox One, but drivers are needed for the PC.  The firmware in the wheel contains all the necessary software to run successfully on the Xbox One, so it is simply plug and play for that platform.  The wheel comes with the wide 2 pedal unit which also allows users to remove the pads and adjust their position to their own liking.  The paddle shifters are also made of metal so that they will not break after extended use and wear.  While the actual wheel itself cannot be swapped out like with the TX and T300 bases, the TMX does support the Thrustmaster ecosystem of add-in parts.  It is compatible with the T3PA and T3PA-Pro bedals and the TH8A manual shifter (that can also be configured as a sequential shifter).
 
EcosystemTMX.jpg
 
$199.99 is not inexpensive, but it is a reasonable price for a product of this nature.  It looks to be a very good introductory wheel of the Xbox One platform that will last years.  It could also act as a gateway drug to more expensive purchases in the future, such as the pro pedals, a new base, and a fancy Alcantara based wheel.  The TMX should be available by next month at major retailers around the world.
Source: Thrustmaster

T'is but a flesh wound! The PC market shrinks by about 10% this Q1

Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2016 - 04:41 PM |
Tagged: Lenovo, apple, asus, market share, doom

That rustling you hear outside your door is the press getting ready to once again predict the impending doom of the PC industry, ready with bon mots describing how the world, including statisticians, engineers and animation creators will be using tablets for their work from now on.  As is always the case, these doomsayers are vastly overstating their case, though this is not to say there are some hurdles facing the PC industry as a whole.

Windows 10 has failed to drive consumers to update their hardware, for a variety of reasons obvious to everyone but Gartner, IDC and Microsoft's marketing team.  Intel's latest offerings have not provided a solid reason for enthusiasts to upgrade their machines and AMD is worryingly quiet lately.  This has lead to a fall in sales compared to this time last year of between 9.6-11.5% depending on which of the two sources The Inquirer quoted you choose to believe is more accurate

Apple and ASUS are the only two companies showing growth and a 1% increase is nothing you should brag about, even if you are beating the competition.  Even Lenovo is seeing their sales shrink, to the tune of roughly 10%.  There is new hardware slated to arrive soon and the falling price of M.2 and PCIe SSDs may provide some impetus for enthusiasts to pick up a new motherboard at the very least, so hopefully we will see this trend begin to reverse itself before the end of the year.

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"Gartner's report said that PC shipments reached 64.8 million units in the first quarter of 2016, while IDC offered the more pessimistic figure of 60.6 million. This represents a decline of 9.6 per cent or 11.5 percent, depending on which figure you go on."

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Source: The Inquirer

The Priv has been flushed

Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2016 - 05:30 PM |
Tagged: Android, blackberry, Priv

Blackberry has abandoned the Priv, calling it somewhat of an expensive mistake not only because of the investment costs but also because it was priced well above what consumers are willing to pay for a phone.  They will be developing a new Android device which is intended to sell at $400, in line with the competitions prices.  This also seems to imply that the BB10 OS will no longer be actively developed at Blackberry although they have not stated that for the record.  They also haven't disclosed how many Priv's were sold but considering what they told The Register and others it is likely to be well below what they had hoped.  They aren't dead yet but they are certainly low on health.

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"BlackBerry's CEO has used an interview with United Arab Emirates outlet The National to announce plans to move the troubled mobe-maker's Android efforts downscale."

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Source: The Register

Oh, we like this; Edge will now pause some Flash content

Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2016 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: flash, microsoft, edge, windows 10

The new insider build of Windows 10 includes a new feature on Edge, similar to the one already found on Chrome, it will pause Flash assets on webpages which are not the main content.  This should mean far less annoying advertisements blaring from your speakers if you happen to visit an uncouth website which features that type of advertisement.  It is also a step in the right direction for security, considering Adobe has posted yet another critical update for a gaping security hole in Flash.  You can follow the links from Slashdot to grab the update if you wish, or delve into the morass of comments about this update.

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"Microsoft Edge will "intelligently auto-pause" Flash content that is "not central to the webpage." If you want to try this out now, you can take the feature for a spin with Windows 10 build 14316, which was recently made available to Windows Insiders"

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Source: Slashdot

You know you want it, Little Tikes kidBoard

Subject: General Tech | April 7, 2016 - 09:44 PM |
Tagged: Little Tikes, kidBoard, input

Look at that colour scheme, LEDs would just ruin the beautiful clash of blue, red and purple on the yellow background.  Clicky keys?  You bet this thing clicks, so much better than any mere Cherry MX keyboard.  It is also ruggedized, you could keep typing even when falling down stairs, you might feel bad by the time you hit the ground floor but this keyboard won't care. It may not survive a jamming though, so keep your milk and cookies or PBJ to the side when composing on this keyboard.  Drop Modders Inc a note to let them know they've done a top notch job with this review as well as with their sense of humour.

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"The Little Tikes kidBoard: the name says it all. An undisputed titan of computer peripherals, the engineers at Little Tikes have set the bar higher than ever with their newest release. The kidBoard incorporates an incredible combination of bleeding-edge software, phonics integration, and hardware mastery to create the next generation of gaming keyboards."

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Source: Modders Inc

IBM is feeling Powerful in the Core Wars, details on the Power9 architecture have arrived

Subject: General Tech | April 7, 2016 - 07:43 PM |
Tagged: GLOBALFOUNDRIES, IBM, power9

IBM's Power9 processor is scheduled to appear on the scene just over a year from now and finally we have some details about what it will be.  Firstly the core count is to be two higher than Intel, 24 cores and is optimized for use in two socket servers.  The chips are 14nm FinFETs fabbed by GLOBALFOUNDRIES which will be compatible with modern industry standards including DDR4, PCIe 4.0 and NVLink 2.0 so you can even take advantage of Jen-Hsun's latest products. 

The list of customers is quite impressive, Google has moved to Power8 already and described changing to the infrastructure as simple as flipping a switch,  the US Department of Energy will build their next HPCs using Power9 and Rackspace is currently working with Google to develop Power9 server blueprints for the Open Compute Project. 

Several Chinese companies will take advantage of those OpenPower blueprints to develop their own 'partner chips', Power8 and 9 architecture which will be using 10nm gates in 2018 to 2020.  This is somewhat amusing considering the shipping of Xeon processors to China has been banned by the US Government.  Check out more of the slides from IBM's presentation at The Register.

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"IBM's Power9 processor, due to arrive in the second half of next year, will have 24 cores, double that of today's Power8 chips, it emerged today.

Meanwhile, Google has gone public with its Power work – confirming it has ported many of its big-name web services to the architecture, and that rebuilding its stack for non-Intel gear is a simple switch flip."

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Source: The Register

Podcast #394 - Measuring VR Performance, NVIDIA's Pascal GP100, Bristol Ridge APUs and more!

Subject: General Tech | April 7, 2016 - 06:47 PM |
Tagged: VR, vive, video, tesla p100, steamvr, Spectre 13.3, rift, podcast, perfmon, pascal, Oculus, nvidia, htc, hp, GP100, Bristol Ridge, APU, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #394 - 04/07/2016

Join us this week as we discuss measuring VR Performance, NVIDIA's Pascal GP100, Bristol Ridge APUs and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Lenovo!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath and Allyn Malventano

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

A can of Ashes; benchmarking the Singularity

Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2016 - 05:20 PM |
Tagged: gaming, ashes of the singularity, dx12

Ashes of the Singularity comes with a canned benchmark which makes it easier to compare the performance delta between DX11 and DX12, though actual gameplay may differ in performance it does make things much easier.  [H]ard|OCP set the graphics to Crazy and tried out the two top cards from NVIDIA and AMD in both APIs and found some very interesting results.  The AMD cards performed well above expectation, the Fury X happily sitting at the top of the pack but the 390X was more impressive, matching the performance of the 980 Ti.  The AMD cards also increased in performed when running underDX12 compared to DX11, a feat the NVIDIA cards were not able to replicate. 

It is still early days for the new DirectX and we should expect to see performance changes as drivers and game engines are refined but for now if you are looking to play this new RTS AMD is the way to go.  Check out the full performance details as well as VRAM usage in [H]'s full review.

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"The new Ashes of the Singularity game has finally been released on the PC. This game supports DX11 and the new DX12 API with advanced features. In this Day 1 Benchmark Preview we will run a few cards through the in-game canned benchmark comparing DX11 versus DX12 performance and NVIDIA versus AMD performance."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Regular Surface, Large Surface are in stock, soon you will be able to order a Small from Microsoft

Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2016 - 04:16 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, surface phone

For those masochists who like to run Windows phones there is good news on the horizon, three Surface phones are due to arrive some time in 2017.  The market segmentation is different from the competition, instead of offering curved screens or a different size they will sell consumer, business and enthusiast models.  That is an interesting way to separate your products and with the amount that usual phone usage has changed an Enthusiast model actually makes sense for those who spend more time gaming and watching HD content on their phones than on their laptops.

The Inquirer has heard rumours that the phones will have a 5.5" QHD AMOLED screen, an Intel Atom CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of local storage, though one hopes the enthusiast model gets a little boost in specs.

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"MICROSOFT'S RUMOURED Surface Phone reportedly won't see the light of day until next year, but will arrive in three versions when it does."

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Source: The Inquirer

Check out the soundstage on this review

Subject: General Tech | April 5, 2016 - 09:35 PM |
Tagged: audio, Abyss 1266, Cavalli Liquid Gold, Hi-Fi HE1000, Luxman P700u, Audeze LCD 4, Chord Hugo TT, Stax 009, Blue Hawaii SE, headphone, amp

The least expensive pairing in this review will run you £5,194 and the most expensive doubles that, not the audio source and cables whose prices leave Monster green with envy.  Kitguru has taken on the high end of headphones and amps, leaving even those $1000 studio headsets far behind.  Each has their own usage, when you are spending this much on equipment they tend to be very specialized; usable in all scenarios but best served for what they were designed for.  Check out the review to laugh, cry or in some cases feel jealous of equipment you might actually want for some reason.

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"This article today is focused around the synergy between amplifier and headphone and the four setups I have chosen for this article are to my mind some of the best that money can buy. There is about £70,000 of equipment on test today."

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Source: KitGuru

Behold, the spectrum of storage

Subject: General Tech | April 5, 2016 - 04:47 PM |
Tagged: NVMe, SAS, sata, PCIe SSD, low latency

The Register have put together a nice graphic and table displaying current storage technologies and how they relate to each other.  They constructed the graph to demonstrate the major boundaries in storage, between cache/memory, local storage and external storage and how these are going to move thanks to new technology.  NVMe-over-fabric will enable companies to utilize external storage at latencies lower than internal storage that still uses SATA or SAS, with only pure PCIe local storage outpacing its potential.  X-Point, assuming it lives up to the hype, will blur the line between local storage and memory/cache storage, offering latency previously only seen in system memory or on-die cache.

They also provide a table to give you some rough ideas how this translates between storage media, normalizing it a theoretical task which would take L1 cache 1 second to access, this can make it somewhat easier to comprehend for some than nanoseconds.

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"Two technology changes are starting to be applied and both could have massive latency reduction effects at the two main storage boundary points: between memory and storage on the one hand, and between internal and external, networked storage on the other."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 Will Finally Get a Dark Theme in Redstone 1

Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 06:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft has been slowly shifting Windows and the rest of their software toward a dark theme over the last couple of years. This is the case on Visual Studio, Edge, and... some of the operating system's user interface. You can see it in the taskbar, in a few context menus on the desktop, and so forth. If you then open the system settings, you are greeted with light grey and white.

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According to Brad Sams at Thurrott.com, Windows 10 will receive an actual dark theme option in the upcoming Anniversary Update. It could have been unlocked in the registry since before Windows 10 initially launched last year, but it was very incomplete. I also don't exactly like enabling experimental things in the registry, because you never know if Microsoft will test all possible combinations of work-in-progress flags when said feature actually goes public.

Speaking of which, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is expected at some point in July. You know, the one-year anniversary of Windows 10 reaching RTM totally not RTM, because Windows 10 doesn't go RTM.

Source: Thurrott.com

Now that the Oculus Rift has arrived you can see how shady the T&C's are

Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 05:35 PM |
Tagged: Privacy, rift, Oculus, facebook

As expected, Facebook has added some questionable features to the Oculus Rift and if any of it surprises you then you haven't been paying attention.  The Register went through it to pull out a variety of terms than many may find questionable.  Your usage will be tracked while you are using the headset and just like Facebook and many other social media apps it will use the data collected for targeted advertising.  There does not seem to be any incognito mode, so think twice before using the Rift for certain applications unless you want some interesting adverts showing up on your Facebook page. 

A Slashdot post points out a different concern for content creators, if you use the Oculus to create something original then while Oculus can't claim to own it, it can use it without your consent and without  having to pay you for for using it.  Again, this should not be surprising but if you weren't aware of the possibility, you should consider these T&C's before picking the Rift.

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"THOSE OF a weak disposition should look away. News has reached us that face fun virtual reality machine, and eye of Facebook, the Oculus Rift has features that track things that people do, and use the information for the purposes of advertising."

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Source: The Register

Legend of Zelda in WebGL Voxels

Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 05:30 PM |
Tagged: zelda, webgl, Nintendo

Before it invariably gets taken offline, you might want to check out a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. It's not just a straight port of the original, though. Its pixel art assets were remade in voxels, which are rendered in WebGL at an angle that's similar to what the original pixel art implies. Original NES controls are overlaid on the screen, which is useful for multi-touch, but keyboard also works.

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Most of the game is plugin-free and running in the browser. The only thing that requires plug-in support is audio, and it doesn't play nice with click-to-activate. It would have been nice for them to implement it in WebAudio API, and implement Gamepad API while they're at it, but who am I to criticize a passion project that will likely be challenged by Nintendo in a handful of days?

I'm not sure how complete the game is. They seem to imply that all eight dungeons are available, but I haven't had a chance to check.

A new version of Intel E5 for your server room; Broadwell Xeon E5-2600 v4

Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2016 - 05:55 PM |
Tagged: Xeon E5-2600 v4, Intel, Broadwell-EP

Yesterday, towards the end of the day, Intel announced the arrival of their newest Xeon chips, the v4 series of Xeon E5 CPUs.   As you would expect of server chips there is no GPU present however there are new features to improve your servers performance.  The new Broadwell-EP chips will have up to 22 cores and 44 threads, an impressive 55MB of cache on some models and support for DDR4-2400.  As far as raw performance goes, Intel advertises these chips as delivering about 5% instructions per second compared to Haswell and handles AVX instructions more efficiently, allowing cores not running these tasks to remain at full speed.  The Register has a great breakdown of the other new features which these Xeons can provide.

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"These chips follow up 2014’s Xeon E5 v3 parts, which used a 22nm process size and the Haswell micro-architecture. Intel shrunk Haswell to 14nm, and after some tinkering, codenamed the resulting design Broadwell."

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Source: The Register

Epic Games Releases Unreal Engine 4.11

Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 06:52 PM |
Tagged: epic games, unreal engine, unreal engine 4

It has been in preview since December, but Epic Games has finally released Unreal Engine 4.11 for developers to create awesome things with. This version focused on performance and the features that were added for Paragon, which entered early access two weeks ago. DirectX 12 is still considered experimental, and Vulkan is missing officially (although John Alcatraz has a tutorial to add it to Unreal Engine built from source), but the rendering back-end has received significant changes to accommodate the new graphics APIs in the future.

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The three features that I'm most interested in, apart from free performance, are lighting channels, capsule shadows, and improved building of static light. Light channels are very difficult to implement in a deferred renderer, but Epic managed. This means that you can have dynamic lights only affect certain objects in the scene, either for performance, if enough lights are ignored to justify the cost of the channels themselves, or for special effects, like making a specific object stand out in a scene. They also added new shading models for eyes, hair, skin, and cloth, and added a bunch of interesting audio features.

Unreal Engine 4.11 is available now from Epic's Launcher. It's free to use, but Epic takes a royalty on certain revenues.

Source: Epic Games

Toshiba laptops are so hot right now

Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 05:29 PM |
Tagged: toshiba, recall, fire

Forget the concerns about fertility when using a laptop placed directly on your lap, having your lap catch fire is a bit more of a concern.  If you are using a Toshiba laptop right now, quickly flip it over and check if it is on fire, or if the serial number resembles G71Cxxxxxxxx.  If either of those conditions are true, please contact Toshiba customer support on this page, which also has a software utility you can run to see if you are affected by this recall.  According to The Register, some of these batteries may have been sold individually or as repair kit for Satellite, Portégé and Tecra models so you should check; better safe than on fire.

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"Toshiba is recalling the battery packs in 39 notebook models over fears they could be prone to catching fire."

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Source: The Register