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Subject: Systems, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 11:34 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: asus, gaming desktop, CES, CES 2016, ROG, rog gt51
While many of our readers that are interested in high-end desktop PCs will typically assemble their own, a handful might like to get someone else to deal with the assembly and support. That's perfectly valid. You will typically spend a little more, especially if you value your free time as free labor, but that might be worth it for some.
The ASUS ROG GT51 gaming desktop PC will be one such option. It places itself at the high end, to say the least. It has the Skylake-based Intel Core i7-6700K paired with “up to” a pair of NVIDIA GeForce TITAN X graphics cards. ASUS, like their individual components, support overclocking on the device with their tuning software. The machine also has a USB 3.1 Type-C port, which is highly sought after, even in the DIY motherboard space.
Again, no pricing or availability. I expect the top-of-the-line version will be pretty expensive though, especially with two TITAN X GPUs. It also might be a bit much, since the video cards have been out for almost a year and Pascal might arrive at any time. It might be worth it if they offer other options, like the 980 Ti, depending on your specific needs.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 09:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: external graphics, CES 2016, CES, asus
While external graphics has been a thing for quite some time, it was rarely an available thing. Several companies, such as AMD, Lucid, and others, announced products that were never sold. ASUS had their XG Station for Windows Vista that allowed laptops to plug into a GeForce 8600 GT, which was only available in Australia. Only now are we beginning to see options from Alienware, MSI, and even Microsoft that are widely available.
ASUS is jumping back in, too. Not much is known about the XG Station 2, except that it is “specially designed for ASUS laptops and graphics cards.” This sounds like it is using a proprietary connector, similar to Alienware and MSI, to connect to ASUS laptops. Also saying it's specifically for ASUS graphics cards is a bit confusing, though. If it is an open PCIe slot, I'm not sure why or how it would be limited to ASUS cards. If the graphics cards are pre-installed, then we don't know the list of potential GPUs.
Either way, ASUS states that the dock can be disconnected without shutting down the PC. I'm interested to see how the GPU is supposed to be unplugged, as Alienware's option can only be done when the system is off, and Microsoft's Surface Book has a software detach with a hardware latch. The connector will also charge the laptop, which is an interesting add-in.
Pricing and availability varies, like the other ASUS announcements, by region.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 06:39 AM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, Fasetto, Link, wifi, NAS, ssd, Samsung, vnand, 802.11ac
Fasetto is a company previously known as one of those cross-platform file-sharing web apps, but I was shocked to see them with a space at CES Unveiled. Companies without physical products tend to fall flat at this type of venue, but as I walked past, boy was I mistaken!
To give the size a bit of perspective here, that's a business card sitting in front of the 'Link', which only measures 1.9x1.9x0.9" and weighs just under 4 ounces. That's a belt clip to the right of it. Ok, now that we have the tiny size and low weight described, what has Fasetto packed into that space?
- Aluminum + ABS construction
- Waterproof to 45 feet (and it floats!)
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- 802.11AC dual band WiFi (reportedly 4x4)
- 4GB RAM
- Quad core ARM CPU
- 9-axis compass/accelerometer/gyro
- 1350 mAh Li battery
- Wireless charging (Chi style)
- Up to 2TB SSD
For a portable storage device, that is just an absolutely outstanding spec sheet! The Link is going to run an OS designed specifically for this device, and will have plugin support (simple add-on apps that can access the accelerometer and log movement, for example).
The BIG deal with this device is of course the ability to act as a portable wireless storage device. In that respect it can handle 20 simultaneous devices, stream to seven simultaneously, and can also do the expected functions like wireless internet pass-through. Claimed standby power is two weeks and active streaming is rated at up to 8 hours. Even more interesting is that I was told the internal storage will be Samsung 48-layer VNAND borrowed from their T3 (which explains why the Fasetto Link will not be available until late 2016). This is sure to be a hit with photographers, as WiFi compatible cameras should be able to stream photos to the Link as the photos are being taken, eliminating the need to offload cameras at the end of a shoot.
We will definitely be working with Fasetto to help shake out any bugs prior to the release of this little gem. I suspect it might just be the most groundbreaking storage product that we see come out of this CES.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 04:44 AM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2016 - 09:08 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: zenfone zoom, zenfone, CES 2016, CES, asus
Here is another x86 smartphone from ASUS. Sebastian reviewed the ZenFone 2 in June, which he gave an Editor's Choice award to. It was a high-performance, very responsive phone with a great, IPS screen, and it was available for just $199 or $299.
Today, they are announcing the ZenFone Zoom. This one has a 3x optical zoom using lenses from HOYA. The camera also has a laser autofocus that, ASUS claims, can adjust in three hundredths of a second. While auto modes are available, it also allows the user to override ISO gain, exposure, white balance, and “other options.” It has a dual-LED flash, which is said to generate photos with “more lifelike colors and skin tones.” No flash can overcome the physics of flooding light from a single, small point source. Any dominant light will dominate shadows, which exaggerate wrinkles, intensify oil glare, and so forth. While you will always get better photos in an environment that is lit from several, wider angles, it's good to have a flash that can make the most of a bad situation (have a good control over color, etc.).
Two SoCs are available for this phone. The lower-end chip is the same as the ZenFone 2's higher-end one, the Intel Atom Z3580 (up to 2.3 GHz boost). A higher-end processor is available as well, the Z3590, which gives a 200 MHz bump in boost frequency (up to 2.5 GHz boost). All models are backed with 4GB of RAM, which is a huge amount for a phone. It will come in two storage sizes: 64GB or 128GB. It also includes a MicroSD card slot that supports up to 128GB. It uses the Intel LTE modem.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom will be available in February, with prices starting at $399.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Shows and Expos | December 29, 2015 - 01:18 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, LG, webOS, smart tv
webOS was the final attempt by Palm to regain the smartphone market. It launched with the Palm Pre in 2009, but it failed to attract any consumer attention away from Android and iOS. It did catch HP's eye, though. Palm was purchased by that company for just over a billion dollars, which we would call “half of a Minecraft” today. After a series of unsuccessful products, they started licensing it to LG, who eventually purchased the project (minus patents).
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ahead of next month's CES, LG announced that a new version will be released at the show. It will be present on their new smart TVs at the show. Some sources claim that the new OS version would also be upgraded on their existing TVs. Unfortunately, this also comes alongside a wave of layoffs at the OS' development group. Former employees claim this was for cost-cutting, while LG says that they intend to consolidate user interface and product management.
We don't typically report on smart TVs, but its heritage as a mobile OS makes it interesting. It has also been used on smart watches, although that area has been silent so-far.
Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | December 17, 2015 - 07:32 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: benq, VZ2470H, freesync, XR3501, XL2730Z, 144hz, CES 2016
BENQ sent out a teaser of three of the displays they will be demonstrating at CES 2016, the VZ2470H with a slim bezel and impressive contrast ratio, the huge, curved XR3501 and the XL2730Z with VESA Standard Adaptive-Sync, the technology once known as FreeSync.
The VZ2470H is a VA panel, with an impressive 3000:1 native contrast ratio, 4ms GTG response time and what BenQ refers to as ZeroFlicker which they claim will reduce eyestrain from LED backlight flickering. The picture shows this 23.8" 1920 x 1080 display will have a very thin bezel, we can hope that it is not an exaggeration as it would make this a good choice for multiple monitor setups in an office or even for a lower cost gaming system.
The BenQ XR3501 will be of far more interest to gamers, this 35" 2560 x 1080 monitor is curved to give you a great view. It also runs at a 144Hz refresh rate with a 4ms GTG response time. BenQ does not specifiy the panel type but it is likely to be VA as well.
Last but not least is the BenQ XL2730Z, a 27" 2560x1440 display that is fully VESA Standard Adaptive-Sync compliant, with a top refresh rate of 144Hz. It also has a 1ms GTG and is advertised as having no input lag, as you might expect this also means it is a TN panel, but remember, this is not the TN of a few years ago.
The monitor also has some other interesting tricks up its bezel, Display Mode and Smart Scaling allow you to virtually scale the monitor in a variety of sizes, 17", 19", 19"W, 21.5", 22"W, 23"W, 23.6"W and 24"W are defaults but you can create your own as well. The Auto Game Mode feature lets you save monitor settings specific to a game profile and even to export them to a USB drive to take with you if you so desire. All of those functions and more are controlled by the small device you can see on the stand above.
2016 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for displays.
They will also being showing off three different projectors, the HT4050, HT3050 and the budget-friendly HT2050, a portable electrostatic Bluetooth speaker called the treVolo and even even a fancy desk lamp.
Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 12:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android
Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.
Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.
This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.
Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.
The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.
Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.
The Dinosaur in the Room
Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.
The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.
While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.
Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | September 23, 2015 - 12:37 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Nexus, google, Android
Well, the event is apparently official. It's the contents that are rumored...
It's been a little while since Google announced new Android phones, almost a year in fact. Two phones have been rumored this year, which are allegedly named the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P. I am not sure how much of the leaks are pure speculation, versus grounded in actual fact, so I will leave it as an exercise to you to read a couple of links that summarize them. A grain of salt will be necessary of course. It's not that we are afraid to look at rumors, as we do so frequently, but I'd rather not play arbitrator this time. I don't think that I can research this topic enough to arrive at a sufficient level of confidence at the moment.
What I can say is that Google will host an event on September 29th, 2015, to announce whatever they have. The invitations have gone out to sites like CNet and it will present devices that use Android 6.0 M, which Google announced stands for “Marshmallow” last August. An updated Chromecast is also expected to be launched at the same event.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | September 15, 2015 - 05:07 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: VR, virtual reality, Tilt Brush, PAX Prime 2015, paint, nvidia, art
A group of six artists from the gaming industry were brought together at this month's PAX Prime event in Seattle in a joint vebture between NVIDIA, Valve, Google and HTC. The idea? To use virtual reality to create art. The result was very interesting, to say the least.
Wearing HTC’s VR headset the artists had 30 minutes each to create their work using Tilt Brush. What is Tilt Brush, exactly?
"Tilt Brush uses the HTC Vive’s unique hand controllers and positional tracking to allow artists to paint in three dimensions. The software includes a remarkable digital palette, letting users draw GPU-powered real-time effects like fire, smoke and light."
The artists included Chandana Ekanayake from Uber Entertainment, Lee Petty from Double Fine Productions, Michael Shilliday from Whiterend Creative, Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade, Sarah Northway from Northway Games and Tristan Reidford from Valve.
NVIDIA is hosting a contest to pick the winner on their Facebook page; so what's in it for you? "The artist with the most votes will win ultimate bragging rights, and voters will be entered to win a new GeForce GTX 980 Ti!" Not bad.
This is certainly a novel application of VR, but serves to illustrate (pun intended) that the tech really does provide endless possibilities - far beyond 3D art or gameplay immersion.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | September 14, 2015 - 12:53 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, steam
As far as I can tell, this video is not from a larger organization. I sent OMGChad a tweet to verify that he was at PAX as an independent YouTube personality, but I didn't get a response. I couldn't recognize the intro bumper, and it didn't seem to be in use on any of his other videos, or any other PAX video that I could find, but it seemed like a significant amount of work for a one-off. If someone in the comments knows anything, be sure to leave a note.
Update, Sept 14th, 2015: OMGChad has just responded to my tweet. He was there "for myself and @MindcrackLP". Again, it's a minor point, but it's something that I should get correct if possible.
As for the story, OMGChad talks with Robin Walker, the man who takes responsibility for all the hats in TF2, about the Steam Controller in Alienware's booth at PAX Prime 2015. After several delays, the input device is scheduled to launch on November 10th (which will be a busy day apparently). It has changed significantly over time, with early prototypes even playing around with a touch screen. The two touch pads, while markers on them have changed from concentric rings to a cross on the left and nothing on the right, were relatively close to their original concept.
Robin Walker goes over the main design decisions and what rationale led to them. For instance, the reason for the grips on the back is because they found that people were taking their thumbs off of the view stick for just a couple of actions, such as reload or “use”. He also discusses the dual-stage triggers, which have a button at the end for secondary actions (like a nitro boost at the end of your throttle). It is somewhat expected that a representative for a company selling a controller would highlight what makes their product unique, but it's nice to have that extra behind-the-scenes insight.
The Steam Controller will launch on November 10th for $49.99 USD ($59.99 CDN). There was an option to pre-order to get it early, but the early batch is over so -- let's be honest -- you don't need me to tell you what you already did.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 10, 2015 - 01:01 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: vulkan, spir, siggraph 2015, Siggraph, opengl sc, OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, Khronos
When the Khronos Group announced Vulkan at GDC, they mentioned that the API is coming this year, and that this date is intended to under promise and over deliver. Recently, fans were hoping that it would be published at SIGGRAPH, which officially begun yesterday. Unfortunately, Vulkan has not released. It does hold a significant chunk of the news, however. Also, it's not like DirectX 12 is holding a commanding lead at the moment. The headers were public only for a few months, and the code samples are less than two weeks old.
The organization made announcements for six products today: OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenGL SC, OpenCL, SPIR, and, as mentioned, Vulkan. They wanted to make their commitment clear, to all of their standards. Vulkan is urgent, but some developers will still want the framework of OpenGL. Bind what you need to the context, then issue a draw and, if you do it wrong, the driver will often clean up the mess for you anyway. The briefing was structure to be evident that it is still in their mind, which is likely why they made sure three OpenGL logos greeted me in their slide deck as early as possible. They are also taking and closely examining feedback about who wants to use Vulkan or OpenGL, and why.
As for Vulkan, confirmed platforms have been announced. Vendors have committed to drivers on Windows 7, 8, 10, Linux, including Steam OS, and Tizen (OSX and iOS are absent, though). Beyond all of that, Google will accept Vulkan on Android. This is a big deal, as Google, despite its open nature, has been avoiding several Khronos Group standards. For instance, Nexus phones and tablets do not have OpenCL drivers, although Google isn't stopping third parties from rolling it into their devices, like Samsung and NVIDIA. Direct support of Vulkan should help cross-platform development as well as, and more importantly, target the multi-core, relatively slow threaded processors of those devices. This could even be of significant use for web browsers, especially in sites with a lot of simple 2D effects. Google is also contributing support from their drawElements Quality Program (dEQP), which is a conformance test suite that they bought back in 2014. They are going to expand it to Vulkan, so that developers will have more consistency between devices -- a big win for Android.
While we're not done with Vulkan, one of the biggest announcements is OpenGL ES 3.2 and it fits here nicely. At around the time that OpenGL ES 3.1 brought Compute Shaders to the embedded platform, Google launched the Android Extension Pack (AEP). This absorbed OpenGL ES 3.1 and added Tessellation, Geometry Shaders, and ASTC texture compression to it. It was also more tension between Google and cross-platform developers, feeling like Google was trying to pull its developers away from Khronos Group. Today, OpenGL ES 3.2 was announced and includes each of the AEP features, plus a few more (like “enhanced” blending). Better yet, Google will support it directly.
Next up are the desktop standards, before we finish with a resurrected embedded standard.
OpenGL has a few new extensions added. One interesting one is the ability to assign locations to multi-samples within a pixel. There is a whole list of sub-pixel layouts, such as rotated grid and Poisson disc. Apparently this extension allows developers to choose it, as certain algorithms work better or worse for certain geometries and structures. There were probably vendor-specific extensions for a while, but now it's a ratified one. Another extension allows “streamlined sparse textures”, which helps manage data where the number of unpopulated entries outweighs the number of populated ones.
OpenCL 2.0 was given a refresh, too. It contains a few bug fixes and clarifications that will help it be adopted. C++ headers were also released, although I cannot comment much on it. I do not know the state that OpenCL 2.0 was in before now.
And this is when we make our way back to Vulkan.
SPIR-V, the code that runs on the GPU (or other offloading device, including the other cores of a CPU) in OpenCL and Vulkan is seeing a lot of community support. Projects are under way to allow developers to write GPU code in several interesting languages: Python, .NET (C#), Rust, Haskell, and many more. The slide lists nine that Khronos Group knows about, but those four are pretty interesting. Again, this is saying that you can write code in the aforementioned languages and have it run directly on a GPU. Curiously missing is HLSL, and the President of Khronos Group agreed that it would be a useful language. The ability to cross-compile HLSL into SPIR-V means that shader code written for DirectX 9, 10, 11, and 12 could be compiled for Vulkan. He expects that it won't take long for a project to start, and might already be happening somewhere outside his Google abilities. Regardless, those who are afraid to program in the C-like GLSL and HLSL shading languages might find C# and Python to be a bit more their speed, and they seem to be happening through SPIR-V.
As mentioned, we'll end on something completely different.
For several years, the OpenGL SC has been on hiatus. This group defines standards for graphics (and soon GPU compute) in “safety critical” applications. For the longest time, this meant aircraft. The dozens of planes (which I assume meant dozens of models of planes) that adopted this technology were fine with a fixed-function pipeline. It has been about ten years since OpenGL SC 1.0 launched, which was based on OpenGL ES 1.0. SC 2.0 is planned to launch in 2016, which will be based on the much more modern OpenGL ES 2 and ES 3 APIs that allow pixel and vertex shaders. The Khronos Group is asking for participation to direct SC 2.0, as well as a future graphics and compute API that is potentially based on Vulkan.
The devices that this platform intends to target are: aircraft (again), automobiles, drones, and robots. There are a lot of ways that GPUs can help these devices, but they need a good API to certify against. It needs to withstand more than an Ouya, because crashes could be much more literal.
Subject: Shows and Expos | July 10, 2015 - 06:58 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: workshop, QuakeCon 2015, quakecon
Hey everyone, Ryan here. I have some bad news to report this week: the 2015 edition of the PC Perspective Hardware Workshop at Quakecon is canceled. I apologize for late announcement, but we were trying diligently to figure out a way to make it happen as expected. That just didn't happen.
My wife gave birth to our first child, a baby girl named Emmaline, on June 27th. However, her original due date was August 18th. Based on that original due date, we had planned to host and operate the workshop at the 20th Quakecon as we normally have. However, on June 9th, my wife was admitted to the hospital with pre-eclampsia and placed on full-time hospital bed rest until the birth of the baby. Every day that we could keep Emma safely inside mom meant a lot fewer complications with pre-term birth, so that was our focus.
Regardless of our intent to make it to August, Emma had other ideas and she was born at 3:51am on June 27th. She was immediately carted off in an incubator to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where she has remained ever since. Expected "go home" dates vary from day to day, but as of last week it was getting pretty close to the dates of Quakecon.
As you might imagine, my heart belongs here at home, with my wife and baby, as we try to carefully coax her into health as a preemie of nearly 8 weeks. Planning and finalizing the workshop and traveling to Dallas for one of the most fun weekends of my year just isn't possible this time.
Emmaline apologizes for messing up the workshop this year!!
Things are looking good for us, so I don't want to paint a dire picture here. Emmaline is growing, is off oxygen and IV fluids and taking bottles like a champ!
I also want to be sure everyone knows that the entire Quakecon staff has been great with me on this, understanding my need to cancel last minute and offering all the support they could. It's great to have people that care and we have already been invited back for next year - and that's our plan!
So, I apologize to all the fans and gamers of the PC Perspective Workshop and Quakecon. Hopefully you all understand the circumstances this time around. Thanks to all the sponsors of our event as well for being cool with my change of plans. Have a blast at Quakecon everyone, I'll see you next year!
- Ryan Shrout
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 20, 2015 - 06:19 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: hitman, E3 2015, E3 15, E3
SquareEnix would apparently prefer to say “no DLC or microtransactions” when referring to free, post-launch, content updates. Personally, I think “free DLC” would be an acceptable name for their plans. However you want to brand it, the new Hitman will have content added for not additional cost. This was once a common practice for PC games, at a time when they had access to internet, consoles did not, and there was nothing like Steam or Xbox Live to facilitate microtransactions.
Some of the updates could deviate from what is considered “traditional DLC” though. For instance, they might push an update that adds or modifies an NPC to be a target, but just for a couple of days. Since Hitman has been one of the games that scores how effectively you can take down opponents, PC Gamer hopes that impromptu and time-limited missions will test players on skill and intuition, rather than manufacturing a calculated strategy. In fact, some will only occur once and you might not have more than a photo to go off of.
Hitman (no subtitle) is scheduled to launch on December 8th.
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 09:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: E3, E3 15, E3 2015, blizzard, Starcraft II, legacy of the void, whispers of oblivion
While StarCraft II is known for its multiplayer component, some of us are mostly interested in the campaign... and Arcade mods, but there's no news on that front. Legacy of the Void is the end of the StarCraft II trilogy, which is said to finally deal with the hybrids that were introduced in the secret missions of Brood War and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. They played a larger role in Heart of the Swarm's campaign although that did not even have unlockable missions, so they wouldn't exist otherwise.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void does not yet have a release date, but there will be a mini-campaign released for free before it launches. StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion (or is that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void: Whispers of Oblivion?) are three single-player missions that will be released in July. Those who pre-purchase Legacy of the Void will get the missions first, which might mean that everyone else needs to wait until after July to play them... or not. That said, if you are patient, you do not even need to own StarCraft II at all. Free to all, but timed-exclusive for those who pre-order.
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 11:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, E3 2015, E3 15, E3
This has been a good E3 for the PC platform. We got our first keynote, organized by PC Gamer and AMD, which took the format in its own direction. This had basically the same reaction as putting Skittles in an M&Ms vending machine; they are good, but you'll see lots of weird faces on those who were expecting chocolate that melts in their mouths and not in their hands. It also ran long, celebrating the platform for almost two and a half hours, which is problematic for fans of console games who are very busy (and anyone with sub-phenomenal blood circulation or irritable bowels). Personally, I found it very interesting (while a bit long).
Throughout E3, PC Gamer has also kept a vast (but not as complete as they claim) list of titles at the event. Each entry in the slideshow (I know) format has a brief blurb about the game, its release date if available, and whether it is coming to the PC platform. It is updated as the event progresses, but it already has about forty entries. Of the current list, only four are not yet confirmed for the PC. That sounds pretty good, and a stark contrast from five-to-ten years ago.
These four are:
- The Last Guardian (no surprise)
- Fallout Shelter (iOS only)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider (which will probably make it to the PC at some point)
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake (which was twice a PC release already)
Unfortunately, they are missing many titles that would be excluded from the PC, so I will add to it here. Gears 4 has not been confirmed for the PC, although the developer is bringing the original Gears remake to the platform. Yup, we get the one Gears we already had (at least until Games for Windows Live had something to say about it). Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Dreams are pretty safe bets against the PC. Microsoft has been extremely quiet about Halo 5 and its chances on the PC; ReCore and Rare Replay sounds like Xbox One exclusives, as in excluding the PC as well as the other consoles, as well. Then you add Nintendo, and this list blows up from 12, including my additions, to a much bigger number that I don't even want to figure out.
Still, it is interesting to browse through PC Gamer's slideshow and look at all the content that we will get. It has been a good year for the PC. Microsoft is pulling Windows 10 forward with equivalent effort to what they have spent dragging the mostly unprofitable Xbox division around. They know that gaming is an essential component of why people are locked in to Windows, and it has thrived even through the decade-plus of neglect and maltreatment. On the other side, we see Sony appreciating the PC as a profitable market that can exist alongside their PlayStation initiatives for Sony Online content, and they don't even have as much first-party developers as they used to anyway.
But yeah. Lots of games is good. While I've managed for the last couple years, I feel it's getting much easier to ignore the console exclusives. How about you?
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 02:24 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Steam Controller, microsoft, E3 2015, E3 15, E3, controller
And, of course, Xbox One... but I can assume who is the bulk of my audience.
Microsoft announced the Xbox One Elite Controller at E3, which includes support for Windows 10. This is part of their initiative to amend relations with the PC gaming industry. They seem to be going about it by focusing on the high-end gamer first. If not, then I wonder why they chose a $150 controller as a leading product.
At that price, you could literally purchase three Steam Controllers from Valve instead of a single one of these, but whether you should... depends. In all honesty, I might end up purchasing both and doing a comparison between them over a variety of games. Of course, my primary input device is the mouse and keyboard for most games, but I occasionally add an early model Xbox 360 wired controller to the mix for Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, NASCAR 2003, and a few other titles.
The real disappointment is its D-Pad, though. It just cannot reliably send a single direction without sometimes accidentally sending others. This gets worse in games that are styled in the “8-bit” and “16-bit” era. I actually need to play most of those on a keyboard, which is a terrible experience. Valve's implementation looks interesting with the cross-shaped thumbpad, but Microsoft's new version has options: an old-fashioned cross as well as a nine-sectioned cup, called a “faceted D-pad”.
That leads into the main design of Microsoft's controller: customization. Two switches on the back of the controller allow the range of trigger motion to be limited on the fly. This is designed for games like Grand Theft Auto, where the player wants precise control over throttle and brake, but would prefer to rapidly max-out the trigger as fast as possible when shooting a weapon. With this controller, you flip the switch when you leave the car and, what normally would be some fraction of its range, would be considered “bottoming out” and it would apparently even physically stop the trigger from pushing in further. According to the website, the threshold is user-customizable. I did not use it personally because I wasn't at E3.
Like Valve's controller, it has optional rear paddles near the grips. They are stainless steel apparently, and can be used to compensate for weird button combinations by mapping them to fingers that normally just clutch the device itself. In Valve's version, there is just two while Microsoft's allows for up to four. Microsoft also allows you to detach them, rather than just disable them.
This is when we get to software customization. Valve claims that the Steam Controller can be bound to many events across mouse, keyboard, and gamepad buttons and axises. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be keeping within the range of buttons found on a standard Xbox One controller. This is concerning to me because it means that extended inputs will be redundant, which is fine for an Xbox One game but could be annoying for a PC title that has many independent, simpler commands. This might be a limitation of XINPUT, which supposedly cannot address more than 10 buttons. I thought I remembered that limit being extended, but that seems to be true even in the MSDN documentation. Even still, the driver could address the extra functions as a secondary virtual device (keyboards, etc.) but Microsoft doesn't seem to want to. As a final note, Valve also allows the end of both triggers to be considered a clicky button, while Microsoft just recognizes it as a bottomed-out axis.
The Xbox One Elite Controller will ship in October for $149.99. A wireless adapter for the PC will not be required if you use the included USB Micro cable, but add that to the price if you want it wireless. Add batteries on top of that, because it takes AA. They include a pair of disposable AA, but that is obviously not a permanent solution.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2015 - 11:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sound card, powercolor, devil hdx, computex
PowerColor is best known as an add-in board (AIB) partner of AMD who has also branched out into cases and power supplies. This year, they have introduced a new product category: sound cards. The PowerColor Devil HDX connects via PCIe and can take up one or two slots, depending on whether the user wants to install its included (!!) daughterboard with analog (4 x 3.5mm) surround outputs and a microphone input. Without the daughterboard, the card has a quarter-inch headphone jack, two analog RCA jacks for stereo, an RCA SPDIF output, and an optical SPDIF output. The main card is covered in a full EMF shield, because it's inside a computer.
The card includes switchable OP-AMPs, high quality capacitors, a Cmedia CM8888 audio processor, and a Wolfson WM8741 DAC. This configuration is capable of driving headphones with up to 600 Ohm impedance. The signal-to-noise ratio is a little better on the RCA jacks, because they're not amplified, but not by much. The RCA jacks are rated at 124 dB SNR, while the headphones are rated at 120 dB SNR with the supplied OP-AMPs. PowerColor wrote a driver interface, called “Xear”, which includes ASIO 2.2 support.
The PowerColor Devil HDX doesn't have a release date but Tom's Hardware, who spoke with the company, said it should be “over the coming months”. They also said it will retail for $159, which is apparently $50 less than their competition.
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 3, 2015 - 03:47 AM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: tlc, ssd, micron, flash, computex 2015, computex, 16nm
While 16nm TLC was initially promised Q4 of 2014, I believe Micron distracted themselves a little with their dabbles into Dynamic Write Acceleration technology. No doubt wanting to offer ever more cost effective SSDs to their portfolio, the new TLC 16nm flash will take up less die space for the same capacity, meaning more dies per 300mm wafer, ultimately translating to lower cost/GB of consumer SSDs.
Micron's 16nm (MLC) flash
The Crucial MX200 and BX100 SSDs have already been undercutting the competition in cost/GB, so the possibility of even lower cost SSDs is a more than welcome idea - just so long as they can keep the reliability of these parts high enough. IMFT has a very solid track record in this regard, so I don't suspect any surprises in that regard.
Full press blast appears after the break.
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 3, 2015 - 03:18 AM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: Z-Drive 6300, Z-Drive 6000, Trion, ssd, pcie, OCZ Technology, ocz, NVMe, computex 2015, computex
OCZ is showing off some new goodies at Computex 2015 in the form of a completely new SSD model – the Trion:
The Trion is based on an in-house Toshiba ‘Alishan’ controller – the first internal design from that company. Since it is sourced from within Toshiba, the new SSD controller is to be tuned for consumer workloads and should employ lower power states than prior OCZ / Indilinx SSD controllers, as well as Toshiba’s own proprietary QSBC (Quadruple Swing-By Code) error correction technology, which should squeeze a bit more usable life out of the A19nm TLC flash. This is what QSBC looks like compared to competing BCH and LDPC technologies:
We suspect Toshiba dialed back the algorithm a bit for client usage, but it should still be far superior to BCH. We don’t have many more details as the Trion has not yet been officially launched, but we do have this shot of a round of benchmark results from a pre-production 960GB model:
From what we can see, it appears to be a good performer (by modern SATA 6Gb/sec SSD standards), but we naturally can't tell anything for sure until we get samples in for local testing, as we have no idea of the state of preconditioning of the Trion in those tests.
Also on display were the recently launched Z-Drive 6000 and 6300 Series parts:
These are OCZ’s enterprise-grade NVMe devices, available in 800GB, 1.6TB, and 3.2TB. The 6000 series is a 2.5” 15mm SFF-8639 device aimed at lighter workloads with a rating of 1 Drive Write Per Day (DWPD) over a 5-year period, while the 6300 series brings that figure up to 3 DWPD and offers an HHHL PCIe card as an optional form factor. The higher writes per day are facilitated by the move to A19nm eMLC flash.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on these new developments from OCZ and we are eager to get these in the shop for some thorough testing!
Press blast for the Trion and Z-Drive 6300 Series after the break!