NVIDIA SHIELD: New Features and Promotional Price Cut

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 25, 2014 - 03:01 PM |
Tagged: shield, nvidia

The SHIELD from NVIDIA is getting a software update which advances GameStream, TegraZone, and the Android OS, itself, to KitKat. Personally, the GameStream enhancements seem most notable as it now allows users to access their home PC's gaming content outside of the home, as if it were a cloud server (but some other parts were interesting, too). Also, from now until the end of April, NVIDIA has temporarily cut the price down to $199.

nvidia-shield-gamestream-01.jpg

Going into more detail: GameStream, now out of Beta, will stream games which are rendered on your gaming PC to your SHIELD. Typically, we have seen this through "cloud" services, such as OnLive and GaiKai, which allow access to a set of games that run on their servers (with varying license models). The fear with these services is the lack of ownership, but the advantage is that the slave device just needs enough power to decode an HD video stream.

nvidia-shield-gamestream-02.jpg

In NVIDIA's case, the user owns both server (their standard NVIDIA-powered gaming PC, which can now be a laptop) and target device (the SHIELD). This technology was once limited to your own network (which definitely has its uses, especially for the SHIELD as a home theater device) but now can also be exposed over the internet. For this technology, NVIDIA recommends 5 megabit upload and download speeds - which is still a lot of upload bandwidth, even for 2014. In terms of performance, NVIDIA believes that it should live up to expectations set by their GRID. I do not have any experience with this, but others on the conference call took it as good news.

As for content, NVIDIA has expanded the number of supported titles to over a hundred, including new entries: Assassin's Creed IV, Batman: Arkham Origins, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Daylight, Titanfall, and Dark Souls II. They also claim that users can add other apps which are not officially supported, Halo 2: Vista was mentioned as an example, for streaming. FPS and Bitrate can now be set by the user. A bluetooth mouse and keyboard can also be paired to SHIELD for that input type through GameStream.

nvidia-shield-checkbox.jpg

Yeah, I don't like checkbox comparisons either. It's just a summary.

A new TegraZone was also briefly mentioned. Its main upgrade was apparently its library interface. There has also been a number of PC titles ported to Android recently, such as Mount and Blade: Warband.

The update is available now and the $199 promotion will last until the end of April.

Source: NVIDIA

Ubuntu powered Nexus 4

Subject: Mobile | March 19, 2014 - 06:27 PM |
Tagged: nexus 4, Ubuntu Mobile

We have yet to see the launch of the purpose built Ubuntu smartphones but that didn't stop The Inquirer from getting a preview of the new Ubuntu Mobile OS.  By installing the current version of the OS on a Nexus 4 they got a chance to see and use the new mobile OS.  Similar in design to the version we have seen previously on tablets it will likely feel a bit odd to those used to a multi-window OS like Android though the interface wall allow customization.  There will indeed be a Canonical App store but the open nature of Ubuntu will allow third-party stores to be set up, over and above supporting third-party apps.  Check out the hands on review here.

ubuntu-smartphone-open-apps-540x334.JPG

"CANONICAL ANNOUNCED earlier this year that the first Ubuntu smartphones will be made by BQ and Meizu. That created a wave of interest in how the open source Linux operating system (OS) distribution will look and work on a smartphone or tablet."

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Source: The Inquirer

GDC 14: WebCL 1.0 Specification is Released by Khronos

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:03 AM |
Tagged: WebCL, gdc 14, GDC

The Khronos Group has just ratified the standard for WebCL 1.0. The API is expected to provide a massive performance boost to web applications which are dominated by expensive functions which can be offloaded to parallel processors, such as GPUs and multi-core CPUs. Its definition also allows WebCL to communicate and share buffers between it and WebGL with an extension.

WebCL_300_167_75.png

Frequent readers of the site might remember that I have a particular interest in WebCL. Based on OpenCL, it allows web apps to obtain a list of every available compute device and target it for workloads. I have personally executed tasks on an NVIDIA GeForce 670 discrete GPU and other jobs on my Intel HD 4000 iGPU, at the same time, using the WebCL prototype from Tomi Aarnio of Nokia Research. The same is true for users with multiple discrete GPUs installed in their system (even if they are not compatible with Crossfire, SLi, or are from different vendors altogether). This could be very useful for physics, AI, lighting, and other game middleware packages.

Still, browser adoption might be rocky for quite some time. Google, Mozilla, and Opera Software were each involved in the working draft. This leaves both Apple and Microsoft notably absent. Even then, I am not sure how much interest exists within Google, Mozilla, and Opera to take it from a specification to a working feature in their browsers. Some individuals have expressed more faith in WebGL compute shaders than WebCL.

Of course, that can change with just a single "killer app", library, or middleware.

I do expect some resistance from the platform holders, however. Even Google has been pushing back on OpenCL support in Android, in favor of their "Renderscript" abstraction. The performance of a graphics processor is also significant leverage for a native app. There is little, otherwise, that cannot be accomplished with Web standards except a web browser itself (and there is even some non-serious projects for that). If Microsoft can support WebGL, however, there is always hope.

The specification is available at the Khronos website.

Source: Khronos

GDC 14: EGL 1.5 Specification Released by Khronos

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:02 AM |
Tagged: OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, gdc 14, GDC, EGL

The Khronos Group has also released their ratified specification for EGL 1.5. This API is at the center of data and event management between other Khronos APIs. This version increases security, interoperability between APIs, and support for many operating systems, including Android and 64-bit Linux.

khronos-EGL_500_123_75.png

The headline on the list of changes is the move that EGLImage objects makes, from the realm of extension into EGL 1.5's core functionality, giving developers a reliable method of transferring textures and renderbuffers between graphics contexts and APIs. Second on the list is the increased security around creating a graphics context, primarily designed for WebGL applications which any arbitrary website can become. Further down the list is the EGLSync object which allows further partnership between OpenGL (and OpenGL ES) and OpenCL. The GPU may not need CPU involvement when scheduling between tasks on both APIs.

During the call, the representative also wanted to mention that developers have asked them to bring EGL back to Windows. While it has not happened yet, they have announced that it is a current target.

The EGL 1.5 spec is available at the Khronos website.

Source: Khronos

GDC 14: SYCL 1.2 Provisional Spec Released by Khronos

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:01 AM |
Tagged: SYCL, opencl, gdc 14, GDC

To gather community feedback, the provisional specification for SYCL 1.2 has been released by The Khronos Group. SYCL extends itself upon OpenCL with the C++11 standard. This technology is built on another Khronos platform, SPIR, which allows the OpenCL C programming language to be mapped onto LLVM, with its hundreds of compatible languages (and Khronos is careful to note that they intend for anyone to make their own compatible alternative langauge).

khronos-SYCL_Color_Mar14_154_75.png

In short, SPIR allows many languages which can compile into LLVM to take advantage of OpenCL. SYCL is the specification for creating C++11 libraries and compilers through SPIR.

As stated earlier, Khronos wants anyone to make their own compatible language:

While SYCL is one possible solution for developers, the OpenCL group encourages innovation in programming models for heterogeneous systems, either by building on top of the SPIR™ low-level intermediate representation, leveraging C++ programming techniques through SYCL, using the open source CLU libraries for prototyping, or by developing their own techniques.

SYCL 1.2 supports OpenCL 1.2 and they intend to develop it alongside OpenCL. Future releases are expected to support the latest OpenCL 2.0 specification and keep up with future developments.

The SYCL 1.2 provisional spec is available at the Khronos website.

Source: Khronos

GDC 14: OpenGL ES 3.1 Spec Released by Khronos Group

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 17, 2014 - 09:01 AM |
Tagged: OpenGL ES, opengl, Khronos, gdc 14, GDC

Today, day one of Game Developers Conference 2014, the Khronos Group has officially released the 3.1 specification for OpenGL ES. The main new feature, brought over from OpenGL 4, is the addition of compute shaders. This opens GPGPU functionality to mobile and embedded devices for applications developed in OpenGL ES, especially if the developer does not want to add OpenCL.

The update is backward-compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0 and 3.0 applications, allowing developers to add features, as available, for their existing apps. On the device side, most functionality is expected to be a driver update (in the majority of cases).

opengl-es-logo.png

OpenGL ES, standing for OpenGL for Embedded Systems but is rarely branded as such, delivers what they consider the most important features from the graphics library to the majority of devices. The Khronos Group has been working toward merging ES with the "full" graphics library over time. The last release, OpenGL ES 3.0, was focused on becoming a direct subset of OpenGL 4.3. This release expands upon the feature-space it occupies.

OpenGL ES also forms the basis for WebGL. The current draft of WebGL 2.0 uses OpenGL ES 3.0 although that was not discussed today. I have heard murmurs (not from Khronos) about some parties pushing for compute shaders in that specification, which this announcement puts us closer to.

The new specification also adds other features, such as the ability to issue a draw without CPU intervention. You could imagine a particle simulation, for instance, that wants to draw the result after its compute shader terminates. Shading is also less rigid, where vertex and fragment shaders do not need to be explicitly linked into a program before they are used. I inquired about the possibility that compute devices could be targetted (for devices with two GPUs) and possibly load balanced, in a similar method to WebCL but no confirmation or denial was provided (although he did mention that it would be interesting for apps that fall somewhere in the middle of OpenGL ES and OpenCL).

The OpenGL ES 3.1 spec is available at the Khronos website.

Source: Khronos

Microsoft, Along with AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm, Will Announce DirectX 12 at GDC 2014

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 5, 2014 - 08:28 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, nvidia, microsoft, Intel, gdc 14, GDC, DirectX 12, amd

The announcement of DirectX 12 has been given a date and time via a blog post on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) blogs. On March 20th at 10:00am (I assume PDT), a few days into the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, the upcoming specification should be detailed for attendees. Apparently, four GPU manufacturers will also be involved with the announcement: AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.

microsoft-dx12-gdc-announce.jpg

As we reported last week, DirectX 12 is expected to target increased hardware control and decreased CPU overhead for added performance in "cutting-edge 3D graphics" applications. Really, this is the best time for it. Graphics processors are mostly settled into highly-efficient co-processors of parallel data, with some specialized logic for geometry and video tasks. A new specification can relax the needs of video drivers and thus keep the GPU (or GPUs, in Mantle's case) loaded and utilized.

But, to me, the most interesting part of this announcement is the nod to Qualcomm. Microsoft values DirectX as leverage over other x86 and ARM-based operating systems. With Qualcomm, clearly Microsoft believes that either Windows RT or Windows Phone will benefit from the API's next version. While it will probably make PC gamers nervous, mobile platforms will benefit most from reducing CPU overhead, especially if it can be spread out over multiple cores.

Honestly, that is fine by me. As long as Microsoft returns to treating the PC as a first-class citizen, I do not mind them helping mobile, too. We will definitely keep you up to date as we know more.

Source: MSDN Blogs

Verizon ALLSET Pre-Paid Plans Offer Rollover Mobile Data

Subject: Mobile | March 4, 2014 - 01:33 AM |
Tagged: verizon, rollover data, mobile data, data caps, allset

Verizon has taken the wraps off of a new pre-paid cell phone plan called “ALLSET.” The plans offer unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and 500MB of base data for $35/month for feature phones and $45 a month for smartphones. At first glance, they are pretty standard fare, and not the cheapest pre-paid option either. However, Verizon has added a bit of a twist to the pre-paid equation by allowing ALLSET users to add “Bridge Data” on top of the base plan’s 500MB cap that can be rolled over to future months if not used right away.

Verizon AllSet Plans.jpg

The ALLSET plans come with a 500MB (or 1GB if enrolled in Auto Pay) of cellular data each month that cannot be saved. From there, users can purchase up to two data packages that can be saved or rolled over to future months if not used right away. The Bridge Data packs work out to $5 for 500MB, $10 for 1GB, or $20 for 3GB. Users can save the $5 (500MB) pack for a month while the $10 (1GB) and $20 (3GB) packs can be saved or have the remaining bits rolled over for up to three months after purchase. The base data is used first, after which the first package is used completely before dipping into the second package (if purchased at all), which is important to consider in relation to the expiration dates.

In another bit of good news for ALLSET users, Verizon allows the mobile hotspot feature which is extremely rare for the cellphone industry (without charging an additional fee).

The system is not perfect due to the short expiration dates (at most 90 days) for rollover and the fact that base data cannot be saved (only the additional bridge data packs), but it is definitely a step in the right direction and a feature I have been wanting to see for years now. Hopefully this encourages other providers to consider rollover data plans, and the competition forces relaxed restrictions on the expiry of rollover data.

Samsung Launching 11-Inch and 13-Inch Chromebook 2s

Subject: Mobile | March 3, 2014 - 05:58 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, exynos 5, chromebook 2, Chromebook, chrome os, arm

Samsung is bringing a new Chromebook to market next month. Coming in 11-inch and 13-inch form factors the new Samsung Chromebook 2 offers updated hardware and more than eight hours of battery life.

The Chromebook 2 will be available in 11.6” and 13.3” models. The smaller variant will come in white or black while the larger SKU is only available in gray. The lids use a soft touch plastic that resembles stitched leather like that found on some Samsung smartphones. The 11.6” is 0.66-inches thick and weighs 2.43 pounds. The 13.3” model is 0.65-inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds. The 11.6” Chromebook 2 has a 1366x768 display while the 13.3” Chromebook uses a 1920 x 1080 resolution display.

Samsung Chromebook 2 11-Inch In Black.jpg

Internally, the Chromebook 2 is powered by an unspecified Exynos 5 Octa SoC at either 1.9GHz (11.6”) or 2.1GHz (13.3”), 4GB of DDR3L memory, and 16GB internal SSD storage. Internal radios include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Samsung rates the battery life at 8 hours for the 11.6” Chromebook and 8.5 hours for the 13.3” Chromebook.

Beyond the wireless tech, I/O includes one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, one HDMI, one headphone output, and one micro SD card slot. This port configuration is available on both Chromebook 2 sizes.

Samsung Chromebook 2 13-Inch In Gray.jpg

Samsung is launching its Chromebook 2 in April at $319.99 and $399.99 for the 11.6” and 13.3” respectively. This new Chromebook is coming to a competitive market that is increasingly packed with Bay Trail-powered Windows 8.1 notebooks (and tablets) that are getting cheaper and Android tablets that are getting more features and more powerful thanks to new ARM-based SoCs. I'm interested to see what platform users start gravitating towards, is the cloud-connected Chrome OS good enough when paired with good battery life and a physical keyboard?

Are you looking forward to Samsung's new Chromebook 2?

Source: Ars Technica

Samsung Galaxy S5 Coming To Sprint MVNOs In Q2 2014

Subject: Mobile | March 2, 2014 - 12:21 AM |
Tagged: virgin mobile, Sprint, Samsung, mvno, galaxy s5, boost mobile

Samsung officially launched the Galaxy S5 at MWC last month, with tweaked software and slightly improved hardware specifications. The new smartphone will launch in 150 countries, including the US, on April 11th. Unfortunately, Samsung did not disclose the exact pricing and carriers that will offer the device at launch. Naturally, the big US carriers will all get the latest flagship at some point this year, but beyond that it is hard to say who will pick it up and who will pass. With that said, at least two MVNOs are confirmed to be offering up the Galaxy S5 later this year.

Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile are MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) that run pre-paid cell phone plans without contracts that run hardware on Sprint's cellular network. The two carriers announced on their respective Facebook pages that the Galaxy S5 is officially coming to their network in the second quarter of this year. Both companies are remaining silent on the pricing of the smartphone though, with a Virgin Mobile representative stating that the company did not have pricing information yet.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Coming to Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile Sprint MVNOs.jpg

Users can expect to pay nearly full price for the Galaxy S5 as the pre-paid carriers do not subsidize the price over a multi-year contract. I would expect the phone to go for around $800, however. While it may seem counter-intuitive to pay upwards of $800 out of pocket only to run it on a cheap MVNO, there are still cost savings to be realized so long as you are not upgrading every year. More options are always nice, and seeing a flagship smartphone coming to MVNOs so soon after launch is a welcome change. Here's hoping more MVNOs jump on board, especially those using alternative networks for pre-paid customers living in areas with poor Sprint coverage.

Source: Engadget

HP Launches Bay Trail-Powered X360 Convertible Laptop

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 26, 2014 - 09:20 PM |
Tagged: x360, Windows 8.1, tablet, hp, convertible tablet, convertible, Bay Trail

At MWC 2014, HP showed off an interesting convertible laptop similar in form factor to Lenovo's Yoga lineup. The HP X360 is a Bay Trail-powered laptop running Windows 8.1 that brings the 360-degree hinged hybrid laptop/tablet form factor to an affordable $460 price point. The red plastic and brushed aluminum PC is available for purchase now and will begin shipping in early March.

HP X360 Angled.png

HP's new X360 tablet measures 12.12” x 8.46” x 0.86” and weighs in at a portable 3.08 pounds. It is noticeably larger than other Bay Trail tablets like the ASUS T100 and Dell Venue series, but it also has an integrated keyboard and trackpad attached via a permanently attached double hinge to the 11.6” LED-backlit touchscreen with a resolution of 1366x768. The chassis is a glossy red plastic while the keyboard cover and palm rest use a brushed aluminum surface that surrounds a large gesture compatible touchpad and a chiclet-style keyboard that appears to be well spaced for an 11.6” machine (excluding the arrow keys which are bunched up in the bottom-right corner in order to allow full sized shift and enter keys). A silver chassis version is also in the works, but will not be available until later this year.

HP X360 Back Panel.png

The HP X360 features external I/O more akin to a traditional laptop than a tablet with the following connectivity options.

  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x RJ45 (10/100 Ethernet)
  • 1 x headphone/mic combo jack
  • 1 x SD card slot
  • 1 x SIM card slot

Internally, the HP X360 uses an Intel Pentium N3520 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and a 2 cell Lithium Ion battery rated for up to four and a half hours of use. HP has further packed its tablet with Beats Audio technology. Interestingly, the Pentium N3520 CPU is a quad core chip based on Intel's Bay Trail (Atom) architecture which uses Silvermont cores and Intel HD graphics. The CPU is clocked at 2.166 GHz base and 2.42 GHz Turbo with 2MB of cache.

The X360 can be used as a laptop or a tablet in several configurations by swinging the display around appropriately. It is very similar to Lenovo's Yoga system, though HP is using a slightly different hinge design.

HP X360 Tablet Mode.png

The real advantage of the HP X360 is its price. At a starting price of $389 for the 4GB model, the X360 is much cheaper than the (admittedly more powerful) Yoga alternatives while still being a capable machine for note taking and media consumption. It lies in a middle ground between Bay Trail-powered tablets and Haswell-powered laptops. For an $80 premium over the ASUS T100, users get a more traditional convertible PC with more storage (albeit slower mechanical storage) and a faster clocked processor.

Personally, I'm tempted and have been debating between this and the T100 as a second portable machine to replace my aging Dell XT with comparably abysmal battery life (heh).

You can find more information on the new X360 (HP Pavilion 11t-n000 x360 PC) on this HP product page.

Source: HP

Phone companies branding tablets? What's next; dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria ...

Subject: Mobile | February 25, 2014 - 07:49 PM |
Tagged: verizon, Ellipsis 7, 4g lte, phablet

Not content with selling phones and hotspots, Verizon combined both into a phablet called the Ellipsis 7 4G LTE tablet.  It features a 1280x800 7" HD IPS display and runs Android 4.2.2 on an quad-core ARM Cortex A7 @ 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM.  At $120 with a 2 year contract, plus connectivity charges of course, it is not a bad price for an LTE capable tablet and even the $300 price tag without a contract beats the price of many phones on the market.  Of course price is not everything, which is why you should check out Legit Reviews full coverage of the tablet here.

verizon-ellipss-7-7-645x452.jpg

"The Verizon Ellipsis 7 Tablet is a new release from 'The Worlds Most Reliable Network'. The Ellipsis 7 is targeted at those looking for productivity on the go, as well as a touch of entertainment. A 7" tablet is small enough to toss into a jacket pocket or purse, but large enough to use for most tasks without an issue. The Verizon Ellipsis 7 Tablet isn't just a Wi-Fi tablet like many of the tablet out there, the Ellipsis 7 is connected to the Verizon 4G LTE network and has all the benefits that come with it. If you're interested in the Verizon Ellipsis 4G LTE tablet you can pick it up on Amazon.com for as little as $119.99 with a 2 year contract, or $299.99 without a contract. Read on to see how it performs!"

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Video Perspective: CM Storm SF-17 Gaming Laptop Cooler by Cooler Master

Subject: Mobile | February 25, 2014 - 06:24 PM |
Tagged: video, laptop cooler, cooler master, CM Storm SF-17, CM Storm

When we were testing the ORIGIN PC EON17-SLX gaming notebook over the last few weeks we wanted to try out another component that high end laptop gamers might be interested in: notebook coolers.  Obviously with a beast of a machine like the EON17-SLX, we couldn't just go with something you might find on the shelves at Best Buy.  Instead, today we have a video overview of the CM Storm SF-17 Gaming Laptop Cooler by Cooler Master.

This cooler includes a 180mm fan, 4-port USB hub and a red LED light bar to give some style to your gaming setup.

You can find the Cooler Master CM Storm SF-17 cooler on Amazon.com for $59.

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MWC 2014: Qualcomm Snapdragon 610 and 615 are 64-bit, 8-core with LTE

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 05:30 PM |
Tagged: snapdrdagon 615, snapdragon 610, snapdragon 410, snapdragon, qualcomm, MWC 14, MWC, adreno 405, adreno

Intel, Mediatek and Allwinner have all come out with new SoC announcements at Mobile World Congress and Qualcomm is no different.  By far the most interesting release is what it calls the "first commercial" 64-bit Octa-Core chipset with integrated global LTE support.  The list of features and technologies included on the chipset is impressive.  

The Snapdragon 615 integrates 8 x ARM Cortex-A53 cores that opterate on the newer 64-bit ARMv8 architecture while supporting 32-bit for backwards compatibility.  Qualcomm is not using a custom designed CPU core for this chipset but the company has stated it will have its own custom 64-bit core sometime in 2015.  This 8-core model is divided into a pair of quad-core clusters that will be tuned to different clock speed and power levels, offering the ability to run slightly more efficiently than would be possible with all cores tuned to the highest performance.

snapdragon.jpg

Snapdragon 610 is essentially the same design but is limited to a quad-core, single cluster setup.  

Both of these parts will integrate the Qualcomm custom built Adreno 405 GPU that brings a DX11 class feature set, along with OpenGL ES 3.0 and OpenCL 1.2.  The Adreno 405 performance is still unknown but it should be able to compete with the likes of PowerVR's Series6 used in the Apple A7 and Intel Merrifield parts.  Quad HD resolutions are supported up to 2560x1600 and Miracast integration enables wireless display.  H.265 hardware decode acceleration also found its way into the 615/610.

Connectivity features of the Snapdragon 615/610 include 802.11ac wireless as well as the company's 3rd generation LTE modem.  Category 4 and carrier aggregation are optional.

Qualcomm has publicly stated that the move to 8-core processors with software lacking the capability to manage them properly was a poor decision.  But it would appear that the "core race" has infected just about everyone.

Check out the full details in the press release after the break!!

MWC 2014: Allwinner launches UltraOcta A80 processor with big.LITTLE and PowerVR

Subject: Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 02:17 PM |
Tagged: ultraocta a80, PowerVR, MWC 14, MWC, big.little, Allwinner

The wheels keep turning from Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona with Allwinner's announcement of the UltraOcta A80 SoC.  Dubbed the "world's first big.LITTLE octa-core (8-core) heterogeneous SoC to included PowerVR Series6 GPU technology", the UltraOcta A80 combines four Cortex-A7 and four Cortex-A15 cores in a single chip design.  

The UltraOcta A80 is aimed at tablets, portable game consoles, set-top boxes, media players and other devices that require "premium performance" level parts.  The first devices will apparently hit "soon" but no other details were offered.  

a80-diagram.jpg

ARM is definitely on-board with Allwinner for this product as it is the poster child example of how the big.LITTLE design philosophy can be implemented to offer both high performance and low power results in one SoC.  This chip is built on 28nm process technology and also includes high performance graphics with the PowerVR G6230 GPU.  This GPU includes two "clusters" for a total of 64 ALUs (called cores in other SoC).  Keep in mind that this Series6 GPU is about half the performance of the G6400 series included in the iPhone 5s and even Intel's new Merrifield and Moorefield processors.

The Allwinner UltraOcta A80 will also support 4K video encode and decode with H.265 thrown in for good measure.  I am very curious to see the load on the SoC during these types of high quality video processes as the amount of acceleration on the chip isn't known yet.

View the full press release after the break!

MWC 2014: Intel Announces XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced Wireless Modem

Subject: Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 04:00 AM |
Tagged: xmm, MWC 14, MWC, lte-advanced, LTE, Intel, 7260

Intel also announced Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs at Mobile World Congress today.

In 2011, Intel acquired SysDSoft to improve and accelerate the companies transition into the mobile wireless controllers, LTE in particular.  As a result, Intel released the XMM 7160 modem in 2013 which included the X-GOLD 716 baseband controller that could support LTE and HSPA functions.  This modem was adopted by a handful of OEMs in the market with Cat 4 bandwidth up to 150 Mbps (downstream) and 50 Mbps (upstream), LTE voice implementation and globally capability with 15 bands.

lte03.jpg

This modem was available as a multi-chip solution for mobile device vendors to implement but was shipped in a M.2 module. The latter form gave a quick option for notebook and tablet vendors to include in ready-built systems.

lte05.jpg

At Mobile World Congress today though, Intel is announcing its next generation modem, the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced.  As the name implies, this update includes support for LTE-Advanced that adds in features like carrier aggregation and a pair of downlink channels for up to 300 Mbps data rates.  Carrier aggregation can be used for additional bandwidth performance or to disperse spectrum in a more efficient way to improve reliability.  Intel claims that this controller and modem meets the maximum specification levels of LTE today.

lte06.jpg

The XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced includes the X-GOLD 726 that is truly a global market ready part with frequency compatibility on LTE FDD/TDD, WCDMA/HSPA+, TD-SCDMA/TD-HSPA/EDGE.  This iteration uses fewer components, thus is smaller and easier to integrate than the 7160, and will be "on shelf" as early as next quarter.  There is no CDMA support included, though. For users on Verizon and Sprint, we'll have to see if handset makers for those carriers have adjusted their timelines for LTE-only devices.  AT&T and T-Mobile, in the US, will have no issues with 4G and 3G support.

This modem is meant to compete directly with the stranglehold that Qualcomm has on the LTE market (and one source tells me that carriers "are dying for an alternative" to help drive down costs).  Though it might seem odd in some ways, I fully expect this XMM 7260 modem to be paired with non-Intel SoC devices, including smartphones and tablets.  In fact, it is quite possible that the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced modem might have more successful adoption than the upcoming Merrifield SoCs, also announced today. Device manufacturers might be satisfied with their choice in SoCs, not demanding an alternative in x86, but also might appreciate a new modem.

As a side note, the XMM 7260 is being built on TSMC's 28nm process technology rather than on Intel's own fabs (this isn't the first time it has happened).  I don't expect this to be a concern for performance but it is interesting to see a chip that Intel is placing so much emphasis on being constructed outside its own walls.

The XMM 7269 LTE-Advanced modem is currently in certification and is expected to be available for integration in Q2, 2014.

MWC 2014: Intel Atom Moorefield and Merrifield officially unveiled

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 04:00 AM |
Tagged: z3480, PowerVR, MWC 14, MWC, moorefield, merrifield, Intel, atom

Intel also announced an LTE-Advanced modem, the XMM 7260 at Mobile World Congress today.

Last May Intel shared with us details of its new Silvermont architecture, a complete revamp of the Atom brand with an out-of-order design and vastly improved performance per watt.  In September we had our first real-hands on with a processor built around Silvermont, code named Bay Trail.  The Atom Z37xx and Z36xx products were released and quickly found their way into products like the ASUS T100 convertible notebook.  In fact, both the Bay Trail processor and the ASUS T100 took home honors in our end-of-year hardware recognitions.  

Today at Mobile World Congress 2014, Intel is officially announcing the Atom Z35xx and Z34xx processors based on the same Silvermont architecture, code named Moorefield and Merrifield respectively.  These new processors share the same power efficiency of Bay Trail and excellent performance but have a few changes to showcase.

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Though there are many SKUs yet to be revealed for Merrifield and Moorefield, this comparison table gives you a quick idea of how the new Atom Z3480 compares to the previous generation, Atom Z2580 and Clover Trail+.  

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The Atom Z3480 is a dual core (single module) processor with a clock speed as high as 2.13 GHz.  And even though it doesn't have HyperThreading support, the new architecture is definitely faster than the previous product.  The cellular radio listed on this table is a separate chip, not integrated into the SoC - at least not yet.  PowerVR G6400 quad core/cluster graphics should present performance somewhere near that of the iPhone 5s with support for OpenCL and RenderScript acceleration.  Intel claims that this PowerVR architecture will give Merrifield a 2x performance advantages over the graphics system in Clover Trail+.  A new image processor allows for 1080p60 video capture (vs 30 FPS before) and support Android 4.4.2 is ready.  

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Most interestingly, the Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs do not use Intel's HD graphics technology and instead return to the world of Imagination Technology and the PowerVR IP.  Specifically, the Merrifield chip, the smaller of the two new offerings from Intel, is using the PowerVR G6400 GPU; the same base technology that powers the A7 SoC from Apple in the iPhone 5s.  

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A comparison between the Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs reveals the differences between what will likely be targeted smartphone and tablet processors.  The Moorefield part uses a pair of modules with a total of four cores, double that of Merrifield, and also includes a slightly higher performance PowerVR GPU option, the G6430.  

Intel has provided some performance results of the new Atom Z3480 using a reference phone, though of course, with all vendor provided benchmarks, take them as an estimate until some third parties get a hold of this hardware for independent testing.  

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Looking at GFXBench 2.7, Intel estimates that Merrifield will run faster than the Apple A7 in the iPhone 5s and just slightly behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 found in the Samsung Galaxy S4.  Moorefield, the SoC that adds slightly to GPU performance and doubles the CPU core count, would improve performance to best the Qualcomm result.

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WebXPRT is a web application benchmark and with it Intel's Atom Z3480 has the edge over both the Apple A7 and the Qualcomm S800.  Intel also states that they can meet these performance claims while also offering better battery life than the Snapdragon S800 as well - interestingly the Apple A7 was left out of those metrics.

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Finally, Intel did dive into the potential performance improvements that support for 64-bit technology will offer when Android finally implements support.  While Kitkat can run a 64-bit kernel, the user space is not yet supported so benchmarking is a very complicated and limited process.  Intel was able to find instances of 16-34% performance improvements from the move to 64-bit on Merrifield.  We are still some time from 64-bit Android OS versions but Intel claims they will have full support ready when Google makes the transistion.

Both of these SoCs should be showing up in handsets and tablets by Q2.  Intel did have design wins for Clover Trail+ in a couple of larger smartphones but the company has a lot more to prove to really make Silvermont a force in the mobile market.  

MWC 2014: NVIDIA and Wiko Release First Tegra 4i Smartphone

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 03:00 AM |
Tagged: wiko, Tegra 4i, tegra, nvidia, MWC 14, MWC

NVIDIA has been teasing the Tegra 4i for quite some time - the integration of a Tegra 4 SoC with the acquired NVIDIA i500 LTE modem technology.  In truth, the Tegra 4i is a totally different processor than Tegra 4.  While the big-boy Tegra 4 is a 4+1 Cortex-A15 chip with 72 GPU cores, the Tegra 4i is a 4+1 Cortex-A9 design with 60 GPU cores.  

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NVIDIA and up-and-coming European phone provider Wiko are announcing at Mobile World Congress the first Tegra 4i smartphone: Wax.  That's right, the Wiko Wax.

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Here is the full information from NVIDIA:

NVIDIA LTE Modem Makes Landfall in Europe, with Launch of Wiko Tegra 4i LTE Smartphone

Wiko Mobile, France’s fastest growing local phonemaker, has just launched Europe’s first Tegra 4i smartphone.

Tegra 4i – our first integrated LTE mobile processor – combines a 60-core GPU and our own LTE modem to bring up to 2X higher performance than competing phone chips.

It helps the Wiko WAX deliver fast web browsing, best-in-class gaming performance, smooth video playback and great battery life.

Launched at Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, the Wiko WAX phone features a 4.7-inch 720p display, 8MP rear camera and LTE / HSPA+ support.

The phone will be available throughout Europe – including France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, UK and Belgium – starting in April.

Within two short years, Wiko has become a major player by providing unlocked phones with sophisticated design, outstanding performance and the newest technologies. It has more than two million users in France and is expanding overseas fast.

Wiko WAX comes pre-installed with TegraZone – NVIDIA’s free app that showcases the best games optimized for the Tegra processor.

As a refresher, Tegra 4i includes a quad-core CPU and fifth battery saver core, and a version of the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem optimized for integration.

The result is an extremely power efficient, compact, high-performance mobile processor that unleashes performance and capability usually only available in costly super phones.

MWC 2014: Lenovo S860, S850, S660 Phones Announced

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 24, 2014 - 12:01 AM |
Tagged: smartphones, MWC 14, MWC, Lenovo

Also at Mobile World Congres, Lenovo expanded their smartphone portfolio with three additions. Each of these belong to the S-series, although they are only loosely related to one another. North American readers will probably not be able to purchase them, of course; Lenovo's US and Canada websites do not even have a section for smartphones (products like the Vibe Z can be searched directly - but are not available). I take that as a sign.

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Anyway, the three phones belong to the S-series but each has a distinct customer in mind. The S860 seems to picture a business user who travels and wants to talk for long periods of time between charges. The similarly named S850 cuts back on RAM and charge capacity, replacing it with aesthetics (colors and an all-glass exterior) and a slightly lower price for users looking for design. Finally, the S660 is the lowest-price of the three, sacrificing things like camera, storage, and screen resolution for users who do not care about any of that.

Let us compare the three phones in a table.

  S860 S850 S660
Display 5.3" 720p 5" 720p 4.7" 960x540
Processor (SoC) MediaTek Quad-Core, 1.3 GHz
RAM 2GB 1GB
Dual SIM Card Yes
Storage 16GB 8GB
Battery Capacity 4000mAh 2000mAh 3000mAh
Battery Life
24 hours
(3G voice)
Unlisted "All Day"

All three phones will be available this year, either at retail or on Lenovo's website. The Lenovo S860 is expected to retail for $349, the S850 should be $269, and the S660 comes in at $229.

Source: Lenovo

MWC 2014: Lenovo YOGA Tablet 10HD+ Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 23, 2014 - 01:01 PM |
Tagged: tablet, MWC 14, MWC, lenovo yoga, Lenovo

At Mobile World Congress 2014, Lenovo has announced the YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. Just last month, we discussed the Yoga Tablet 8 and Yoga Tablet 10 which were presented in October. Those tablets each had a 1280x800 display (even the 10-inch model), both sizes use the same MediaTek MT8125 SoC (Wi-Fi, MT8389 for 3G), and it is 1GB of RAM all-around. Performance was expected to be in the ballpark of a Tegra 3 device.

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These are all areas which are bumped for the new YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. The 10.1-inch screen is now at 1080p quality, the SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad running at 1.8 GHz, and the RAM is doubled to 2GB. It will running Android 4.3 with an alleged over-the-air (OTA) update to 4.4 KitKat, at some point.

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Make sure to bend at the knee and put your hands toge... oh right.

Comparing between the Yoga Ultrabooks, running Windows, and the YOGA Tablets, running Android, would probably not be wise. They are very different designs. The Ultrabooks hinge with an always-attached keyboard while the tablets have a keyboard-less stand. Rather than the Ultrabooks trying to make a keyboard comfortable in tablet usage, the tablets use the small metal hinge to prop up the screen. They key aspect of the cylindrical hinge is its usage as a handle and the volume it provides as battery storage. Ryan found the old versions' 18-hour rated battery life to be fairly accurate, and the new 10 HD+ is rated for the same duration (actually, with a bonus 1000 mAh over the original Tablet 10). Another benefit of its battery location is that, if you are holding the tablet by its hinge, the battery's weight will not have much torque on your fingers.

Of course, now comes the all-important pricing and availability. The Lenovo YOGA Tablet 10 HD+ will be released in April starting at $349. This is higher than the prices of the Tablet 8 and Tablet 10, $199 and $274 respectively, but you also get more for it.

Lenovo Press Release after the break.

Source: Lenovo