CES 2016: Activision Blizzard Confirms MLG Purchase

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2016 - 11:44 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, mlg, esports, blizzard, Activision

On New Year's Day, rumors flew about MLG being purchased by Activision Blizzard for $46 million USD. At the time, the vast majority of available information discussed how this would affect shareholders, particularly those with lower-class stock in the eSport company. (As it turns out, very poorly.) I wondered why Activision Blizzard would want MLG's assets, especially considering their heavy involvement with ESL, afreecaTV, and others.

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According to a press release from Activision Blizzard themselves, they intend to “create the ESPN of esports.” The Activision Blizzard Media Networks division will be led by the former CEO of ESPN, Steve Bornstein, and the co-founder of MLG, Mike Sepso. The other co-founder of MLG, Sundance DiGiovanni, will remain at MLG. It was previously rumored, during the investor's leak, that he was replaced by the former CFO of MLG, Greg Chisholm. While I expect that some shuffling has occurred, DiGiovanni will apparently remain in a management role at MLG. Granted, it could be equivalent to Hideo Kojima's “holiday” last October, but that would just be silly.

As far as I can tell, other broadcasters have not commented on what this means to them.

Coverage of CES 2016 is brought to you by Logitech!

PC Perspective's CES 2016 coverage is sponsored by Logitech.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

G.Skill makes a move into the gaming headset market

Subject: General Tech | January 4, 2016 - 11:16 AM |
Tagged: SV710, SR910, gskill, gaming headset, audio

G.Skill have been focusing on the peripheral market recently, releasing a gaming mouse and keyboard and now a pair of headphones, the SR910 and SV710.  Hardware Canucks recently put up a video review of the two headsets, which are almost identical apart from the external controls.  The SV710 has a very large inline volume controller that was not well received while the SV910 has a larger control hub that sits on your desktop and allows individual control over the drivers in the headset.  Unfortunately they were not overly impressed with the design and performance of the headsets and the less expensive stereo SV710 model was preferred over the more complex and expensive SR910.

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"G.Skill has entered the audio segment with its SR910 and SV710 gaming headsets—and that's a big step for a company still finding its feet outside its core market."

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Meet GCN next, AMD's Polaris

Subject: General Tech | January 4, 2016 - 10:48 AM |
Tagged: amd, Polaris, FinFET

Ryan's coverage of the new Polaris architecture will be up momentarily but in the meantime you can take a peek at The Tech Report's coverage here.  The new architecture will utilize FinFETs of an unspecified process node and is designed to power the new UHD displays and VR headsets due for release over this coming year.  Raja Koduri discusses the two major goals of the new architecture, fast pixels and deep pixels.  Fast pixels refers to the awe inspiring amount of bandwidth required to draw on UHD displays, twin 4K displays would require addressing 1.8 gigapixels per refresh which would certainly need some fast pixels.  Deep pixels refers to improved support for variable refresh rates and likely encompasses support for the new HDR technology we will see appear on the market in the near future.  If you can't hold off your curiosity for our coverage you can pop over here.

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"AMD will release new Radeons built on its next-gen Polaris architecture in mid-2016. We got an early look at this new architecture and AMD's plans for building these chips with FinFETs last month at the company's Radeon Technologies Group tech summit."

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Keep your tired lithium batteries on ice

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2016 - 02:02 PM |
Tagged: battery

We know that heat and Lithium based batteries don't mix but there is more to worry about than catastrophic failure.  A post over at Hack a Day illustrates the consequences of heating a Lithium based battery with 1% or less charge, the complete and permanent death of the batteries ability to hold a charge.  There are some uses for these batteries in designs which can trap heat near to the battery and not properly transfer it out and it is apparently very important to keep those batteries at least moderately charged.  If you are making something which might expose the batteries to excess heat ensure you monitor the charge to prevent having to replace the batteries.  The complete discharge of a Lithium cell is never a good practice and this illustrates another reason to keep those batteries charged.

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"There’s a million ways to kill a battery, and lithium batteries are known not to like being completely discharged, but it looks like the combination of deep discharge and heat is entirely deadly. Now you know."

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Source: Hack a Day

Rumor: MLG "Assets" Sold to Activision Blizzard

Subject: General Tech | January 1, 2016 - 10:08 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, mlg, esports, blizzard, Activision

Update (10:10pm ET): Forgot to add "rumor" to title.

So I didn't expect this. According to eSports Observer, MLG has basically been liquidated to Activision Blizzard for $46 million USD. Neither company has confirmed the report. The source is a leaked letter that was allegedly sent to stockholders, many of whom, if the rumors are true, were not informed prior to the sale. That's kind-of crappy.

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We will probably hear this story evolve, if true, over the next couple weeks. The organization was said to have been running on a substantial amount of debt, relative to the company's size, for quite some time. If the organization shuts down as it seems it will, then many investors will probably get next to nothing.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see what Activision Blizzard will do with their acquisition. The publisher holds several popular spectator titles, such as Call of Duty, StarCraft, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, and soon to be Overwatch. I doubt that the company would roll their games into their own eSport service, especially as they are growing closer to rival ESL, so I would have to expect that these “assets” will be used to support (or leverage control) over third-party broadcasters and/or leagues.

WebGL2 Is On Its Way

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 10:25 PM |
Tagged: webgl2, webgl, mozilla, firefox

The Khronos Group created WebGL to bring a GPU-accelerated platform to web browsers. With a few minor differences, it is basically JavaScript bindings for OpenGL ES 2.0. It also created a few standards in JavaScript itself to support things like raw buffers of data that could be assigned types in an unmanaged way. Basically every latest-version web browser supports it these days, and we're starting to see it used in interesting ways.

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The next step is WebGL2. OpenGL ES 3.0 adds a bunch of new features that are sorely needed for modern games and applications. For instance, it allows drawing to multiple render targets, which is very useful for virtual cameras in video games (although the original WebGL software could access this as an optional extension when supported). The addition of “Uniform Buffer Objects” is a better example. This allows you to store a bunch of data, like view transformation matrices, as a single buffer that can be bound to multiple applications, rather than binding them one at a time to every draw that needs them.

It's hard to describe, but demos speak a thousand words.

The news today is that Mozilla Nightly now ships with WebGL2 enabled by default. It was previously hidden, disabled by default, behind an option in the browser. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but one of the largest hurdles to WebGL2 is how the browsers actually implement it. The shading language in WebGL was simple enough that most browsers convert it to DirectX HLSL on Windows. This is said to have the added advantage of obfuscating the ability to write malicious code, since developers never directly writes what's executed. GLSL in OpenGL ES 3.0 is much more difficult. I'm not sure whether the browsers will begin to trust OpenGL ES 3.0 drivers directly, or if they finally updated the GLSL translator, but supported implementations means that something was fixed.

Unfortunately, OpenGL compute shaders are not supported in WebGL2. That said, the biggest hurdle is, again, to get WebGL2 working at all. From my talks with browser vendors over the last year or so, it sounds like features (including compute shaders) should start flying in easily once this hurdle is cleared. From there, GPGPU in a website should be much more straightforward.

Meanwhile, Oculus Touch Won't Arrive Until 2H16

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 07:49 PM |
Tagged: Oculus, oculus rift, oculus touch, vive vr

Valve and Oculus are targeting roughly the same window to release the consumer editions of their respective VR equipment. While technical information will likely wait until next week, we are hearing about delays ahead of CES. In the Vive's case, they couldn't afford to wait until the show, because it was supposed to launch in Holiday 2015. That has been revised to April.

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But this is about Oculus. Their headset is still expected to arrive on time, which is enough for many experiences. The Xbox One controller is supposedly the default for this platform. This puts them out of the running for motion-control software, as seen on the Vive, though. Oculus is developing their own, called the Oculus Touch. They said they were launching without it and that it is optional. We now know that this will be in the second half of the year, which could be as early as the “few months after the Rift” as we were told, or as late as a year from now.

We're already hearing concerns about incompatibility between the two systems, since it will lead to some level of platform-exclusivity. Lead time could help a platform gain ground, unless consumers outright refuse to buy in to any of them in case it ends up being the Betamax or HD-DVD. I'm not sure what we, as consumers, can do to prevent any of these negative outcomes, but it's something we need to be mindful of, especially throughout 2016.

Source: Oculus

Final Fantasy IX PC Version Confirmed (for Japan)

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 04:23 PM |
Tagged: square enix, pc gaming, final fantasy

Back in September, SquareEnix announced that Final Fantasy V was coming to the PC. I took the opportunity to list all the main-line Final Fantasy titles, sorted by generation, and classified them as having a PC release (or not). The odd one out was Final Fantasy IX. It belongs in the set of three original PlayStation titles, but, unlike VII and VIII, was not given a PC release at the time. I was worried that SquareEnix might not go through the trouble for just a single game.

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Apparently, they are doing a version for PCs and Smartphones. It looks somewhat similar to the handheld remake of Final Fantasy III, although that is similar to the PlayStation graphics. It is possible that it will not make it to a worldwide release, but, since the website is fully translated into English, you would expect that the game would be localized, too. If the game is localized, there's very little reason to block it off geographically.

They only have system requirements for iOS. They will probably list Windows system requirements at a later date, which I assume the disable “System” button refers to. Android 4.1 is required for that platform, but they don't say anything about hardware. Regardless, I doubt that this will require much.

Source: Square Enix

FCC Approves the Vive VR "Base station"

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 03:00 PM |
Tagged: htc, valve, vive, vive vr

This bit of news is a little more pleasant for Valve. According to Engadget, the HTC Vive has passed FCC approval. HTC recently announced that the product would launch in April, slipping from its original launch date, Holiday 2015, by a few months. This was due to a “very, very big technological breakthrough” that was in no way elaborated on.

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The linked FCC report calls the device the “HTC Base station.” This likely refers to the Lighthouse laser tracking system that are monitored by light sensors on the headset and controllers. The public notice includes the FCC warning label, which mentions that the device is a Class 1 laser system. There are five classifications of lasers, from Class 1 through Class 4 (with Class 3 split into Class 3a and Class 3b). Class 1 means that the laser is completely incapable of producing harmful radiation. Class 4 can cause fires. Since HTC's device is Class 1, this means that either the laser's intensity is too low to cause damage, even with sustained viewing, or the laser never produces a harmful amount of radiation in a way that could be viewed under normal operation. For instance, a laser printer is a “Class 1” laser, because everything occurs within the device. Laser pointers, on the other hand, are typically Class 2.

This raises an interesting question about how the lasers are used. They are clearly emitted into open space, because the sensors are on the visor. This suggests that the lasers are either very low power, or the beam is manipulated in such a way that it cannot be pointed into someone's eye for a meaningful amount of time. How? No idea.

HTC and Valve are expected to fully unveil the product at CES. PC Perspective will be at the event, and we'll probably have more information at that time.

Source: Engadget

Podcast #381 - Picks of the Year, the EK Predator 240, ASUS MG278Q FreeSync and more!

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: video, Skylake, Silverstone, predator 240, podcast, picks of the year, mg278q, Intel, g-sync, freesync, EKWB, Broadwell, asus

PC Perspective Podcast #381 - 12/31/2015

Join us this week as we discuss our Picks of the Year, the EK Predator 240, ASUS MG278Q FreeSync 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!

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, Morry Tietelman, and Sebastian Peak

Program length: 2:13:30

  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. PC Perspective Hardware Picks of the Year
    1. 0:48:30 Graphics Card of 2015
    2. 1:00:40 CPU of 2015
    3. 1:06:55 Storage of 2015
    4. 1:11:15 Case of 2015
    5. 1:20:50 Motherboard of 2015
    6. 1:29:20 Price Drop of 2015
    7. 1:38:30 Mobile Device of 2015
    8. 1:45:50 Best Trend of 2015
    9. 1:57:40 Worst Trend of 2015
  4. Closing/outro

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

Valve Comments on Christmas Security Issues

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 11:48 PM |
Tagged: valve, steam, security, Privacy

On Christmas Day, Valve had a few hours of problems. Their servers were being overloaded by malicious traffic. The best analogy that I could provide would be a bad organization who sent a thousand people to Walmart, to do nothing but stand in the check-out line and ask the cashier about the time. This clogs up the infrastructure, preventing legitimate customers from making their transactions. This was often done after demanding a ransom. Don't pay? Your servers get clogged at the worst time.

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A little too much sharing...

There are two ways to counter-act a DDoS attack: add hardware or make your site more efficient.

When a website is requested, the server generates the page and sends it to the customer. This process is typically slow, especially for complicated sites that pull data from one or more database(s). It then feeds this data to partners to send to customers. Some pages, like the Steam Store's front page, are mostly the same for anyone who views it (from the same geographic region). Some pages, like your order confirmation page, are individual. You can save server performance by generating the pages only when they change, and giving them to relevant users from the closest delivery server.

Someone, during a 20-fold spike in traffic relative to the typical Steam Sale volume, accidentally started saving (caching) pages with private information and delivering them to random users. This includes things like order confirmation and contact information pages for whatever logged-in account generated them. This is pretty terrible for privacy. Again, it does not allow users to interact with the profiles of other users, just see the results that other users generated.

But this is still quite bad.

Users complained, especially on Twitter, that Valve should have shut down their website immediately. From my position, I agree, especially since attempting to make a purchase tells the web server to pull the most sensitive information (billing address, etc.) from the database. I don't particularly know why Valve didn't, but I cannot see that from the outside.

It's probably a simple mistake to make, especially since Valve seems to blame a third-party for the configuration issue. On the other hand, that also meant that Valve structured their website such that sensitive information is in the hands of third-parties to properly cache. That might have been necessary, depending on their browser compatibility requirements, but I would hope that it's something Valve restructures in the future. (For instance, have the caching server store the site's framework, and fill in the individual's data with a JavaScript request to another, uncached server.)

But again, I don't work there. I don't know the details.

Source: Valve

Rantopad and Gateron, a switch from your usual mechanical keyboard provider

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 03:04 PM |
Tagged: cherry mx rgb, Gateron Black, Gateron Blue, K70 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, rantopad, Rantopad MXX

Gateron is yet another company to join the mechanical switch crowd and appears on the Rantopad MXX gaming keyboard.  The keyboard is tenkeyless and designed tore let you remove keys as you see fit thought it does not seem to come with additional keys to customize the board.  As you might expect it is backlit, there will soon be a Cherry MX RGB model for those who want more than just a single colour of light to display.  MadShrimps provides a full review of this $80 mechanical keyboard here, for those interested.

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"Despite the fact that the Rantopad MXX does not feature software for additional configuration purposes, we were quite impressed with the build quality of the keyboard, while the compact (TKL) size and space-grade aluminum cover give the product a professional look. MXX does come for now with Gateron Black or Blue switches (and aluminum covers in blue or dark grey), but in the future we will also see white and red variants introduced and a much wider switch selection, including Cherry MX RGB switches."

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Source: MadShrimps

UNIGINE 2 Earth Demo (Video)

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 02:15 PM |
Tagged: UNIGINE, unigine 2

Apparently something is coming in 2016, but I don't know what that is. All I can see at the moment is a highly-detailed rendering of Earth, which UNIGINE classifies as a research and development project. The first couple of views are pretty impressive although, despite begging in the comments for a flight simulator with this technology, it looks like this content only works in an as viewed from space context.

That said, it ends up scaling down to the planet's surface, that would be highly entertaining.

Even still, the technology required to convert from recorded, public data into a rendered sphere is impressive. The “procedural data refinement” that converts various masks into clusters of human-made lighting, and so forth, look shiny and believable. This could be highly useful for space games and cinematics at the very least.

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The engine itself is impressive. The original UNIGINE was a staple of DirectX 11 benchmarks for years. It made use of tessellation in one of the most compelling, stylized ways we've seen to date. Unfortunately, they seem to be sticking with their large (but not too large) up-front licensing cost business model. This stands against the free with royalty trend of modern engines today, such as CryEngine, Unity, and Unreal. Hopefully it delivers enough revenue to keep them running.

UNIGINE 2.1 was just released in November.

Fallout 4 can get confused if you aren't a gun toting yahoo

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 01:35 PM |
Tagged: fallout 4, bug, gaming

The Fallout series has never been pacifistic, the isometric originals could allow you to become a drug addicted slave trader however they did not used to be so linear as Fallout 4 seems to be.  An inventive gamer decided to try to play the new Fallout without killing a soul and has accomplished that goal after much effort and a few bugs.  While it is certainly a blast to roam the wastelands slaughtering all those who get in your way, this article at Kotaku illustrates the problems you can face when playing a game differently than the developers expected you to.  The usual, and sadly inevitable game bugs aside, there are quite a few new ones that arise when you get creative with your playthrough.  As any DM worth their salt knows, you can never account for everything your players will do and flexibility is a must.  One hopes that devs at Bethesda read through this article and expand their creativity as a result.

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"Fallout 4 expects you to commit murder. While you can occasionally avoid killing others, the wasteland is ruthless and demands violence. That’s how Bethesda intended the game to be played, anyway—but clever players are finding ways around it."

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Source: Kotaku

Sigh ... your Windows 10 device is probably only as secure as Microsoft's database

Subject: General Tech | December 29, 2015 - 02:13 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, security

If your Windows 10 machine uses your Microsoft account as the login then your system's recovery key now resides on a Microsoft database in the cloud.  That recovery key is used in the file system encryption present on Windows 10 systems.  The backup is good news for people who find themselves with computer problems and need access to the key from a different machine, however this is also a huge security concern as your key could be stolen or demanded from Microsoft.  Follow the link from the Slashdot article to find out how to delete that back up recovery key and consider using a domain or workgroup style account as opposed to a Microsoft account to log into your machine.

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"The fact that new Windows devices require users to backup their recovery key on Microsoft's servers is remarkably similar to a key escrow system, but with an important difference. Users can choose to delete recovery keys from their Microsoft accounts – something that people never had the option to do with the Clipper chip system. But they can only delete it after they've already uploaded it to the cloud.....As soon as your recovery key leaves your computer, you have no way of knowing its fate."

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Source: Slashdot

HAMR strike delayed until 2018

Subject: General Tech, Storage | December 28, 2015 - 07:21 PM |
Tagged: HAMR, delay

We had hoped to see Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording sometime in 2017 but that goal has proved to be optimistic and 2018 is now the current expectation for its arrival.  This technology will allow storage densities higher than 1.5 Tb/in2 but is not quite ready for primetime at the moment.  Prototypes do exist and some are being sent to customers to test the reliability and performance of drives in real life test scenarios.  The drives will be slower than flash based storage of course, however when it comes to storage density spinning rust still holds the crown and will continue to do so for some time.  You can refresh yourself on the technology by following the links in this post and read more about the delays over at Slashdot.

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"Unfortunately the hard disk drive industry is not ready to go live with Heat-assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR). The technology is yet not reliable enough for mass production. Over the years, producers of hard drives, platters and recording heads have revealed various possible timeframes for commercial availability of drives with HAMR technology. Their predictions were not accurate."

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Source: Slashdot

Microsoft to Reclassify Certain Ad-Injectors as Malware

Subject: General Tech | December 24, 2015 - 05:52 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows defender, adware, Malware, superfish

The Microsoft Malware Protection Center has announced that, on March 31st, 2016, certain types of advertisement-injection will be reclassified as malware. This does not include all forms of ad-injection, just ones which use confusing, difficult to remove, or insecure methods of displaying them. Specifically, adware must use the browser's default extension model, including their disable and remove functions. Recent adware has been known to modify DNS and proxy settings to force web traffic through a third party that injects ads, including secure websites using root certificates.

In other words, Superfish.

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An interesting side-story is that, while Microsoft requires that adware uses default browser extensions, Microsoft Edge does not yet have any. Enforcement doesn't start until March 31st, but we don't have a date for when extensions arrive in Microsoft. I seriously doubt that the company intends to give Edge a lead-time, but that might end up happening by chance. The lead time is probably to give OEMs and adware vendors a chance to update their software before it is targeted.

The post doesn't explicitly state the penalties of shipping adware that violates this blog post, but the criteria is used for antimalware tools. As such, violators will probably be removed by Windows Defender, but that might not be the only consequence.

Source: Microsoft

Podcast #380 - Microsoft's Surface Devices, the ASUS X99-E WS. HTC Vive and more!

Subject: General Tech | December 23, 2015 - 11:23 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, asus, X99-E WS, microsoft, surface pro 4, surface book, htc, vive, ECS, LIVA, vulkan, dx12, Mantle, nvidia, shield tablet k1

PC Perspective Podcast #380 - 12/24/2015

Join us this week as we discuss Microsoft's Surface Devices, the ASUS X99-E WS. HTC Vive 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!

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Morry Tietelman, and Sebastian Peak

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

The silence of the keyboards, a different type of feature from the Corsair Strafe RGB MX

Subject: General Tech | December 22, 2015 - 02:39 PM |
Tagged: input, corsair, Strafe RGB MX Silent, gaming keyboard, Cherry MX RGB red

In a world once again dominated by clicky keyboards a new marketing gimmick has emerged, silent keyboards.  The Corsair’s Strafe RGB MX Silent keyboard still uses Cherry switches but these particular switches are linear and so do not make noise when depressed.  If you like Cherry Red switches this keyboard will still feel comfortable as the keys still require 45g of actuation pressure, though they will feel different at the end of the stroke.  The keyboard still retains the LED backlighting of other Corsair Strafe keyboards and you can control your display with the Corsair Utility Engine.  Check out Benchmark Reviews for more on this hybrid mechanical keyboard.

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"The glut of mechanical keyboards with per-key RGB lighting continues with the release of Corsair’s Strafe RGB Cherry MX Silent series. In addition to features such as extremely versatile programmable lighting, a pass-through USB port, optional textured key caps, and a detachable wrist rest, Corsair adds a unique to them (for now) “silent” version of the Cherry MX Red key switch."

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Tech Talk

Samsung adding AMD to their customers?

Subject: General Tech | December 22, 2015 - 02:07 PM |
Tagged: amd, Samsung, 14nm, rumour

The talk around the watercooler includes a rumour that AMD may use Samsung to produce at least some of their 14nm chips in the coming year.  If true this has been a huge year for Samsung who produce NVIDIA chips as well as recently picking up a contract with Apple to produce some of their A9 SoCs.  The rumour still includes GLOBALFOUNDRIES as a source for APUs and GPUs so this would make Samsung a second source for working silicon, which we can hope will alleviate some of AMD's difficulty in maintaining supplies of products.  This could also help fund Samsung's development of their 10nm FinFET node which the claim should be in production by the end of 2016.  As always, take the rumour for what it is but if you want to learn more about what is being said you can pop over to The Inquirer.

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"A report in South Korea's Electronic Times, which cited unknown sources, said that Samsung Electronics will start making new chips for AMD sometime next year."

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Source: The Inquirer