Smaller than a breadbox; building mini-ITX systems

Subject: Systems | May 31, 2013 - 04:01 PM |
Tagged: htpc, mini-itx

Building a mini-ITX system that is small enough to be attached to the back of a monitor or hidden with your stereo components takes a bit more thought than assembling a full ATX system.  It is not just about the size of the components you are purchasing, heat dissipation is much more important in a small system especially if it will be located somewhere that does not have great air circulation.  TechSpot has put together a guide for those thinking of building such a system, using the Akasa Euler Case as the housing and powered with a Core i5-3470T.  As you can see from the picture below, the final system is smaller than an HD7970.

TS_Image_32S.jpg

"The idea behind the Thin Mini-ITX form factor, besides the obvious which is to create seriously compact computers, is also to allow for DIY all-in-ones (think of little PCs you can attach to the back of your monitor). Having that said, we don't fully intend to go the all-in-one route in this article, but are aiming to build a powerful Thin Mini-ITX system that can be used in the office or at home as a media PC.

This is what our finished system should look like: extremely compact, powerful, and near silent operation, as in no-moving-parts silent. For less than $700 including a 256GB SSD, we believe you'll love what the final product will look like."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

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Source: TechSpot

Windows 8.1 can Boot to Desktop and has a Start Button

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2013 - 04:16 PM |
Tagged: windows blue, Windows 8.1, windows, microsoft

Personally, I really cannot care too much about the user experience quirks inherent to Windows modernization; the wedge slowly being shoved between the user and their machine is far too concerning. No matter how they modify the interface, restricting what users and developers can install and create on their machine is a deal breaker. But, after that obligatory preface reminding people not to get wound up in UX hiccups and be complacent to the big issues, Windows Blue will certainly address many of those UX hiccups.

As we reported, last month, boot-to-desktop and the Start Button were planned for inclusion with Windows 8.1. Then, the sources were relentless to emphasize: "Until it ships, anything can change."

blue-desktop.jpg

Images courtesy, Paul Thurrott.

Mary Jo Foley gathered quite a few details since then. Firstly, the option (as in, disabled by default) to boot directly to desktop will be there; from the sounds of it, it looks like it will be disabled by default but not exclusive to Enterprise SKUs. This is somewhat promising, as it would be slightly less likely for Microsoft to kill support for the desktop (and, by extension, x86 applications) if they feel pressure to punctuate it. Still, assuming because "it makes sense" is a bad way to conduct business.

blue-desktop-closeup.jpg

Also available (albeit, enabled by default) is the Start Button, seen in higher quality above. This will be, as far as we know, enabled by default. Its functionality will be to bring up the Start Screen or, alternatively, a new All Apps screen visible at ZDNet. Now this has me interested: while I actually like the Start Screen, a list of apps should provide functionality much closer to the Start Menu than Microsoft was previously comfortable with. Previously, the Start Screen attempted to make the desktop applications feel less comfortable than modern apps; this interface appears like it would feel more comfortable to the desktop. While probably still jarring, it looks to make finding desktop applications easier and quickly gets out of the way of your desktop experience.

blue-start.jpg

According to Paul Thurrott, for those who wish to personalize the Start Screen, you will have the option to share your desktop wallpaper with the it. For tasteful backgrounds, like the one above, I can see this being of good use.

Just please, do not grief someone with a background full of fake tiles.

As a final note, there is still no word about multiple monitor support for "Modern Apps". If you have tried to use them in the past, you know what I am talking about: basically only one at a time, it will jump between monitors if you bring up the Start Screen, and so forth.

Cirrus7 Launches SFF Nimbus PC With Aluminum Fin Stack (Heatsink) Case

Subject: Systems | May 28, 2013 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: SFF case, SFF, passive cooling, nimbus, heastink, fanless, cpu cooler, cirrus7

German PC manufacturer Cirrus7 has launched a new small form factor (SFF) PC called the Nimbus that uses slices of aluminum that do double duty as both a case and a passive CPU cooler (heatsink).

The Nimbus PC features an Intel DQ77KB motherboard and low-power Intel processor along with configurable DDR3 and mSATA storage options. The base model will come with 4GB of DDR3 and a 60GB mSATA SSD. CPU options include the Intel G1610T, G2020T, Core i3-3220T, i3-3470T, i5-3570T, and i7-3770T. From there you can add up to two 7mm 2.5” hard drives (or SSDs) and increase the amount of RAM (for a higher price, of course).

Cirrus7 Nimbus SFF PC.jpg

The Intel DQ77KB board supports vPro and KVM over IP on systems with the Core i5 or higher processor. It has the following external IO options:

  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x Intel Gigabit LAN
  • 2 x Audio jacks (green jack is dual purpose, mini-TOSLink compatible)
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort

The SFF PC comes preloaded with either Ubuntu 13.04, Ubuntu 12.04, or Windows 8 (depending on your choice at checkout).

Cirrus7 Nimbus PC.jpg

Check out more photos of the Nimbus at FanlessTech.

In order to keep the hardware cool, Cirrus7 has opted for an all-aluminum enclosure that is built around and over the motherboard in a fin-spacer-fin pattern. Each aluminum fin is 12mm high and the height of the system can be varied by adding or reducing the number of fins used. For example, using all fins allows Cirrus7 to support higher TDPs like the Core i7 3770T. Alternatively, if you are just using an i3-3220T, you could get by with a smaller (and lighter) case/heatsink. Notably, judging by the hands-on photos over at FanlessTech, the Nimbus does not use a copper CPU block which may have reduce the heatsink's effectiveness. That, or maybe Cirrus7 expects that they have slapped enough aluminum fins on the system that it doesn't matter much (heh). Also note that the case is not completely sealed, so although it is passively cooled, it is definitely not water or dust proof. Beyond that though, the case looks nice and the system would make a nice silent backup server, router, or HTPC!

The Nimbus will be available towards the end of June in Germany and Europe, with worldwide shipping available upon request. The system starts at €499 for the base model which is approximately $640 USD (before shipping). That price includes the case, processor, motherboard, RAM, and mSATA drive. Cirrus 7 has stated that Haswell-based models of the Nimbus will be available at some point, but are not expected until around the end of 2013 at the earliest.

Source: Cirrus7

Console manufacturers don't want much, just the impossible.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 27, 2013 - 12:08 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, consolitis, consoles

So, as Wired editorial states it: hardcore console gamers don't want much, just the impossible. They want a "super-powered box" tethered to their TV; they want the blockbuster epics and innovative indie titles; they want it to "just work" for what they do. The author, Chris Kohler, wrote his column to demonstrate how this is, and has for quite some time been, highly unprofitable.

I think the bigger problem is that the console manufacturers want the impossible.

Console manufacturers have one goal: get their platform in your house and require their hand be in the pocket of everything you do with it. They need to make an attractive device for that to be true, so they give it enough power to legitimately impress the potential buyer and price it low enough to catch the purchasing impulse. Chances are this involves selling the box under cost at launch and for quite some time after.

But, if all of this juicy control locks the user into overspending in the long run, then it is worth it...

... right?

5-depressing.png

But Microsoft should be thankful that I cost them money to be acquired as a customer.

Well, looking at the Wired article, not only are console gamers ultimately overspending: it is still not enough! Consoles truly benefit no-one! The console manufacturers are not doing any more than maybe breaking even, at some point, eventually, down the line, they hope. Microsoft and Sony throw obnoxious amounts of money against one another in research, development, and marketing. Redundant technologies are formed to pit against their counterparts with billions spent in marketing to try to prove why either choice is better.

All of this money is spent to corral users into a more expensive experience where they can pocket the excess.

Going back to the editorial's claims: with all of this money bleeding out, Microsoft wants to appeal more broadly and compensate the loss with more cash flowing in. Sure, Microsoft has wanted a foothold in the living room for decades at this point, but the Xbox Division bounces between profitability and huge losses; thus, they want to be an entertainment hub if just for the cash alone.

But think back to the start, these troubles are not because it is impossible to satisfy hardcore gamers. These troubles are because Microsoft and Sony cannot generate revenue from their acquired control quicker than they can bleed capital away trying to acquire that control, or at least generate it more than just barely fast enough.

1-game-over.png

The other solution, which I have felt for quite some time is the real answer (hence why I am a PC gamer), has a large group of companies create an industry body who governs an open standard. Each company can make a substantial profit by focusing on a single chunk of the platform -- selling graphics processors, maintaining a marketplace, or what-have-you -- by leveraging the success of every other chunk.

This model does work, and it is the basis for one of humanity's most successful technology products: the internet.

As a side note: this is also why PC gaming was so successful... Microsoft, developers, Steam/GoG/other marketplaces, and hardware vendors were another version of this... albeit Microsoft had the ability to override them and go in whatever direction they wanted. They didn't, until Windows RT.

And the internet might even be the solution. The web browser is capable, today, of providing amazing gaming experiences and it does not even require a plugin. It is getting more powerful, even faster than the rate at which underlying hardware has evolved.

You could, in some browsers today, plug a USB flash drive into your computer; browse to some "index.html" file on it; and run an Unreal Engine 3 (and as Epic stated in a recent interview, soon Unreal Engine 4) game that is programmed in Javascript and is stored on that USB device. Never an internet connection required -- although if you wanted online features, web browsers are kind-of good at that, go figure.

To end on an ironic note, that makes a web browser more capable of offline play than our current understanding of the Xbox One (and Sony has said nothing either way, for that matter).

I guess the takeaway message is: love the web browser, it "just works".

Source: Wired

Epic Games is disappointed in the PS4 and Xbox One?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 03:40 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games

Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.

Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.

Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.

A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.

As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.

Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.

This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.

Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.

But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.

Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:

MSI Launches GX70 and GX60 Gaming Notebooks Powered By AMD Richland APUs

Subject: Systems | May 21, 2013 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: Richland, msi, gx70, gx60, gaming notebook, gaming, APU, amd

MSI announced two new gaming notebooks powered by AMD's latest Richland APUs today called the GX70 and GX60. Both gaming notebooks use AMD A10-5750M processors, a discrete AMD graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 750GB (7200 RPM) hard drive. Other shared specifications include a Killer E2200 NIC, Blu-ray drive, THX certified speakers, a headphone amp, and a large 9-cell battery.

MSI-GX70_front.jpg

The GX70 is the largest of the two gaming notebooks at 8.6 pounds and packing a 17.3” display. The GX70 uses the A10-5750M APU and a Radeon 8970M discrete mobile GPU to deliver gaming performance to the 1080p display. The system is also capable of outputting to multiple displays over HDMI and supports AMD's Eyefinity 3D technology. On the outside, the MSI GX70 features a 17.3” 1920 x 1080p display with an anti-reflective coating as well as a SteelSeries gaming keyboard.

MSI-Specs1.png

Meanwhile, the MSI GX60 is a 15-inch notebook that weighs 7.7 pounds. This gaming notebook uses an AMD A10-5750M APU and a Radeon 7970M mobile discrete GPU. Further, the GX60 has a 15.6” 1080p anti-reflective display and SteelSeries gaming keyboard.

MSI-GX70.jpg

MSI claims that the new AMD Richland APUs will give its gaming notebooks much better battery life. The new GX70 and GX60 will have up to 40% better graphical performance compared to previous generations thanks to the new APUs and discrete cards. According to MSI VP of Sales Andy Tung, “the GX70 and GX60 deliver the ultimate sensory experience for both professional and amateur gamers.” More information on the new gaming notebooks can be found on this MSI press release.

Source: MSI

Xbox One announced, the games: not so much.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems | May 21, 2013 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox

xbox-one-head.jpg

Almost exactly three months have passed since Sony announced the Playstation 4 and just three weeks remain until E3. Ahead of the event, Microsoft unveiled their new Xbox console: The Xbox One. Being so close to E3, they are saving the majority of games until that time. For now, it is the box itself as well as its non-gaming functionality.

First and foremost, the raw specifications:

  • AMD APU (5 billion transistors, 8 core, on-die eSRAM)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 500GB Storage, Bluray reader
  • USB 3.0, 802.11n, HDMI out, HDMI in

The hardware is a definite win for AMD. The Xbox One is based upon an APU which is quite comparable to what the PS4 will offer. Unlike previous generations, there will not be too much differentiation based on available performance; I would not expect to see much of a fork in terms of splitscreen and other performance-sensitive features.

xbox-one-controller.jpg

A new version of the Kinect sensor will also be present with all units which developers can depend upon. Technically speaking, the camera is higher resolution and more wide-angle; up to six skeletons can be tracked with joints able to rotate rather than just hinge. Microsoft is finally also permitting developers to use the Kinect along with a standard controller to, as they imagine, allow a user to raise their controller to block with a shield. That is the hope, but near the launch of the original Kinect, Microsoft filed a patent to allow sign language recognition: has not happened yet. Who knows whether the device will be successfully integrated into gaming applications.

Of course Microsoft is known most for system software, and the Xbox runs three lightweight operating environments. In Windows 8, you have the Modern interface which runs WinRT applications and you have the desktop app which is x86 compatible.

The Xbox One borrows more than a little from this model.

The home screen, which I am tempted to call the Start Screen, for the console has a very familiar tiled interface. They are not identical to Windows but they are definitely consistent. This interface allows for access to Internet Explorer and an assortment of apps. These apps can be pinned to the side of the screen, identical to Windows 8 modern app. I am expecting there to be "a lot of crossover" (to say the least) between this and the Windows Store; I would not be surprised if it is basically the same API. This works both when viewing entertainment content as well as within a game.

Xbox_Home_UI_EN_US_Male_SS.jpg

These three operating systems run at the same time. The main operating system is basically a Hyper-V environment which runs the two other operating systems simultaneously in sort-of virtual machines. These operating systems can be layered with low latency, since all you are doing is compositing them in a different order.

Lastly, they made reference to Xbox Live, go figure. Microsoft is seriously increasing their server capacity and expects developers to utilize Azure infrastructure to offload "latency-insensitive" computation for games. While Microsoft promises that you can play games offline, this obviously does not apply to features (or whole games) which rely upon the back-end infrastructure.

xbox-one-live.jpg

And yes, I know you will all beat up on me if I do not mention the SimCity debacle. Maxis claimed that much of the game requires an online connection due to the complicated server requirements; after a crack allowed offline functionality, it was clear that the game mostly operates fine on a local client. How much will the Xbox Live cloud service offload? Who knows, but that is at least their official word.

Now to tie up some loose ends. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games although that is no surprise. Also, Microsoft says they are allowing users to resell and lend games. That said, games will be installed and not require the disc, from what I have heard. Apart from the concerns about how much you can run on a single 500GB drive, once the game is installed rumor has it that if you load it elsewhere (the rumor is even more unclear about whether "elsewhere" counts accounts or machines) you will need to pay a fee to Microsoft. In other words? Basically not a used game.

Well, that has it. You can be sure we will add more as information comes forth. Comment away!

Source: Xbox.com

Haswell Laptop specs! NEC LaVie L to launch in Japan

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems, Mobile | May 14, 2013 - 12:54 PM |
Tagged: haswell, nec

While we are not sure when it will be released or whether it will be available for North America, we have found a Haswell laptop. Actually, NEC will release two products in this lineup: a high end 1080p unit and a lower end 1366x768 model. Unfortuantely, the article is in Japanese.

nec_haswell_01.jpg

IPS displays have really wide viewing angles, even top and bottom.

NEC is known for their higher-end monitors; most people equate the Dell Ultrasharp panels with professional photo and video production, but their top end offers are ofter a tier below the best from companies like NEC and Eizo. The laptops we are discussing today both contain touch-enabled IPS panels with apparently double the contrast ratio of what NEC considers standard. While these may or may not be the tip-top NEC offerings, they should at least be putting in decent screens.

Obviously the headliner for us is the introduction of Haswell. While we do not know exactly which product NEC decided to embed, we do know that they are relying upon it for their graphics performance. With the aforementioned higher-end displays, it seems likely that NEC is intending this device for the professional market. A price-tag of 190000 yen (just under $1900 USD) for the lower end and 200000 yen (just under $2000 USD) for the higher end further suggests this is their target demographic.

nec_haswell_02.jpg

Clearly a Japanese model.

The professional market does not exactly have huge requirements for graphics performance, but to explicitly see NEC trust Intel for their GPU performance is an interesting twist. Intel HD 4000 has been nibbling, to say the least, on the discrete GPU marketshare in laptops. I would expect this laptop would contain one of the BGA-based parts, which are soldered onto the motherboard, for the added graphics performance.

As a final note, the higher-end model will also contain a draft 802.11ac antenna. It is expected that network performance could be up to 867 megabits as a result.

Of course I could not get away without publishing the raw specifications:

LL850/MS (Price: 200000 yen):

  • Fourth-generation Intel Core processor with onboard video
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB HDD w/ 32GB SSD caching
  • BDXL (100-128GB BluRay disc) drive
  • IEEE 802.11ac WiFi adapter, Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB3.0, 2x2W stereo Yamaha speakers
  • 1080p IPS display with touch support
  • Office Home and Business 2013 preinstalled?

LL750/MS (Price: 190000 yen):

  • Fourth-generation Intel Core processor with onboard video
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB HDD (no SSD cache)
  • (Optical disc support not mentioned)
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi adapter, Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB3.0, 2x2W stereo Yamaha speakers
  • 1366x768 (IPS?) touch-enabled display

Deal for May 9th - Alienware X51 Core i7 mini Gaming PC @ $1200

Subject: Systems | May 9, 2013 - 09:45 AM |
Tagged: deals

Sometimes it is much easier to buy a complete gaming system than to build one yourself for a variety of reasons, perhaps one good reason would be a two year warranty so you won't have to worry about spending your quality time with a recalcitrant PC.  The Alienware X51 sports some nice components for the price tag such as a Core i7-3770 @ 3.4GHz, 8GB DDR3, a 2TB SATA III Hard Drive, and Blu-ray.  Perhaps the only possible letdown is the GeForce GTX 660 1.5GB, but consider the price and the form factor before you dismiss the system.  Also worth noting, it ships with Win7 64bit, not Win8.

x51.jpg

To get our recommended Alienware X51 deal, follow these steps:

1. Start here at Dell Home direct store
2. Configure as per needs (optional), click Review & Buy button at the top
3. Add to cart
4. Apply coupon code: BHW1L0MX0D?MCX in shopping cart and proceed to final checkout/payment

Source: LogicBUY

ZOTAC Supercharges ZBOX with Intel Core i5

Subject: Systems | May 8, 2013 - 12:10 PM |
Tagged: htpc, zotac, zbox id88, zbox id89

HONG KONG – May 8, 2013 – ZOTAC International, a global innovator and leading manufacturer of graphics cards, mainboards and mini-PCs, today supercharges the ZBOX mini-PC with desktop Intel Core i5 and i3 processors for outstanding performance that can match and outpace larger full-size desktop PCs. The new 3rd Generation ZOTAC ZBOX with Intel Core Processors ushers in a new era of performance to the mini-PC form factor.

“Users demanded the same performance as larger desktop PCs from our ZBOX but the small size made it virtually impossible to deliver the same performance as desktop PCs. After many months of engineering and fine tuning, we came up with a solution that enables us to install desktop LGA1155 socket Intel Core i5 and i3 processors without sacrificing size, noise or power consumption that will make our end users very happy,” says Carsten Berger, senior director, ZOTAC International.

Users have two choices of processor with the 3rd Generation ZOTAC ZBOX with Intel Core Processors. Casual users seeking great performance for everyday computing can opt for the dual-core Intel Core i3 3220T-equipped ZBOX ID88 series while more demanding users can step up to the Intel Core i5 3470T-equipped ZBOX ID89 series.

The Intel Core i5 3470T processor adds Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology to intelligently increase clock speeds of individual processor cores up to 3.6 GHz depending on computing demands of the operating system and applications. Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d) enhances virtualization capabilities on the Intel Core i5 3470T for superior performance for virtualization uses.

Intel HD Graphics 2500 graphics processing transforms the 3rd Generation ZOTAC ZBOX with Intel Core Processors into powerhouse HTPCs with Intel Quick Sync Video technology for lightning fast video conversions, Intel InTru 3D technology for stunning and smooth Blu-ray 3D playback with advanced audio technologies, and Intel Clear Video HD technology for hardware-accelerated high-definition video playback.

It’s time to play with the 3rd Generation ZOTAC ZBOX with Intel Core Processors.

ZBOX ID88 series

ZBOX ID88 PLUS-17.jpg

    Intel Core i3 3220T (dual-core, 2.8 GHz)

ZBOX ID89 series

ZBOX ID89 PLUS-3.jpg

    Intel Core i5 3470T (dual-core, 2.9 GHz, up to 3.6 GHz Turbo)
    Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology

PLUS models available with preinstalled memory and hard drive

    4GB DDR3
    500GB HDD

HDMI & DVI-I outputs
802.11n Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 4.0 w dual external WiFi antennas
Dual Gigabit Ethernet
High-amperage USB charging capable (yellow ports)
Bundled MCE-compatible remote w USB IR receiver
Bundled VESA75100 mount

Source: Zotac

Lenovo's new IdeaCentre was designed for Win8

Subject: Systems | May 6, 2013 - 01:06 PM |
Tagged: Lenovo, IdeaCentre B540, win8, all in one

Lenovo's IdeaCentre B540 is an all in one PC, built into a 23" 1080p touchscreen that should make using Win8 a little more user friendly.  The specs are not up to gaming, the Core i3-3220 @ 3.3GHz only has Intel HD2500 graphics but with 6GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD it should serve well as a light workstation or home PC.  TechReviewSource does mention a higher end model containing a Core i5 CPU and a discrete Nvidia GPU but with the heat constraints of this type of form factor you are still going to have troubles playing the newest FPSes.  Check out their preview here.

TRS_Ideacentre.jpg

"The stylish design of the Lenovo IdeaCentre B540 is one that catches our eye in tandem with its budget price tag. The 23-inch 1080p touch screen works well with Windows 8 and looks great for multimedia viewing. Performance is good, especially for the price, but it does make a slight compromise with a Core i3 CPU."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Sapphire heads to the Edge again with the new VS8 Mini PC

Subject: Systems | April 24, 2013 - 03:52 PM |
Tagged: sapphire, htpc, edge VS8

Sapphire continues to improve their Edge mini-PCs, the VS8 sports an quad core A8-4555M @ 1.6GHz with HD 7600G, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 500GB 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, not the most powerful GPU on the planet but more than enough for an HTPC.  The entire system is 19.7x18.2x3.1cm, about the size of a 5.25" drive and has both WiFi and BlueTooth connectivity.  For outputs you can choose between Mini Display Port and HDMI for video and optical and line out for audio as well as a line in if you need that connectivity.  TechSpot really liked this machine but they would like to see a more expensive model with an SSD inside to really make the system snappy.

TS_sap13b.jpg

"While full-sized desktop computers are still around, tablets and smartphones have proven that technology has come far enough to essentially cram a fully capable computer into a space that is suitable for your pants pocket, a purse, or a small backpack. This idea of shrinking hardware hasn’t been overlooked by manufacturers as several now feature space-saving designs based on mobile hardware.

Such is the case with Sapphire’s new Edge VS8 mini-PC powered by AMD’s A8 APU. The system is hardly any larger than an external optical drive, while still packing 4GB of DDR3 memory, Radeon HD 7600G graphics, a 500GB SATA HDD, built-in support for Bluetooth 3.0 as well as 802.11 b/g/n wireless and a bevy of rear I/O connections."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Source: TechSpot

If Kickstarter is for your oculars: what about your legs?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | April 22, 2013 - 03:16 PM |
Tagged: Kickstarter, oculus rift, Virtuix Omni

Even if you no-one watches you game, this device would probably be difficult to store in a closet.

Team Fortress 2 is a fun game and one of the first with support for the Oculus Rift VR headset. But why stop there? The Omni is an omnidirectional treadmill which allows users to move within the device and have that motion translate into computer input. This means that running, strafing, and apparently jumping in your containing vessel will control a videogame character.

How the heck they expect to Scout double-jump? Beats me.

The company is currently in preparation for a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. Under the assumption that no trickery is going on, this could be a leap forward for VR.

Perhaps a small-business arcade might like to get a few gaming PCs set up? To me, it sounds like an interesting novelty previously reserved for theme parks and traveling mall demonstrations. If it works as planned, it might even be a better technology.

Still no word on price or predicted availability, but I expect that will come soon.

Source: Virtuix

Stop Pushing Microsoft's Buttons! Take the Start Button!

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | April 20, 2013 - 04:36 PM |
Tagged: windows, start button, Metro

The latest rumors, based on registry digging and off-the-record testimony, claims that Windows 8.1 will including the option of booting directly into the desktop. A bold claim such as this requires some due diligence. Comically, the attempts to confirm this rumor has unearthed another: the start button, but not necessarily the start menu, could return. On the record, Microsoft also wants to be more open to customer feedback. Despite these recent insights into the future of Windows, all's quiet with the worst aspect of modernization.

Mary Jo Foley, contributor to ZDNet and very reliable bullcrap filter for Microsoft rumors, learned from a reliable source that the Start Button might have a place in the modern Windows. Quite the catch while fishing to validate a different rumor; she was originally investigating whether Microsoft would consider allowing users to boot direct to desktop via recently unearthed registry keys. Allegedly both are being planned for at least some SKUs of Windows 8.1, namely the Professional and Enterprise editions.

But, as usual for Microsoft, the source emphasized, "Until it ships, anything can change." No-one was clear about the Start Button from a functional standpoint: would it be bound to display the Start Screen? Would it be something more?

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Personally, I liked the modern Windows interface. Sure, it is messed up on the modern-side when it comes to multiple monitor support, but that can easily be fixed. As you will note, I am still actively boycotting everything beyond Windows 7 and this news will not change my mind. We are bickering over interface elements when the real concern is the deprecation of user control. Outside of the desktop: the only applications you can use are from the Windows Store or Windows Update; the only websites you can browse are ones which Internet Explorer can render; and the only administrator is Microsoft.

Imagine if Microsoft is told by a government that its citizens are not allowed encryption applications.

The Windows Store is clearly modeled by, and about as messed up as, the Xbox Marketplace. Even if your application gets certified, would Microsoft eventually determine that certification fees should be the burden of the developer? That is how it is on the Xbox with each patch demanding a price tag of about $40,000 after the first-one-free promotion. That would be pretty hard to swallow for an open-source application or a cute game that a teenage woman makes for her significant other as a Valentine's gift.

Microsoft's current Chief Financial Officer, Peter Klein, stated in his third quarter earnings release that Windows Blue, "Further advances the vision of Windows 8 as well as responds to customer feedback." Despite how abrupt this change would seem, the recent twitchy nature should not come as a surprise; Microsoft has had a tendency to completely change course on products for quite some time now. Mary Jo mentioned how Microsoft changed course on UAC but even that is a bad example; a better one is how Microsoft changed from its initial assertions that Windows 8 Developer Preview would not be shaped by customer feedback.

A lot has changed between Developer Preview and RTM.

Then again, we can hope that Microsoft associates this pain with love for the desktop. I would be comfortable with the modern Windows if we were given a guarantee that desktop x86 applications would forever be supported. I might even reconsider using and developing applications if they allow loading uncertified metro-style applications and commit to never removing that functionality.

I can get used to a new method of accessing my applications. I can never get used to a middle-man who only says "no". If Microsoft is all ears, I hope we make this point loud and clear.

Source: ZDNet

Applied Micro's X-Gene SoC Will Be Used In HP Project Moonshot Servers

Subject: Systems | April 19, 2013 - 12:56 AM |
Tagged: servers, project moonshot, microserver, hp, arm, Applied Micro Circuits, 64-bit

A recent press release from AppliedMicro (Applied Micro Circuits Corporation) announced that the company’s X-Gene server on a chip technology would be used in an upcoming HP Project Moonshot server.

HP Project Moonshot Server Chassis.jpg

An HP Moonshot server (expect the X-Gene version to be at least slightly different).

The X-Gene is a 64-bit ARM SoC that combines ARM processing cores with networking and storage offload engines as well as a high-speed interconnect networking fabric. AppliedMicro designed the chip to provide ARM-powered servers that will reportedly reduce the Total Cost of Ownership of running webservers in a data center by reducing upfront hardware and ongoing electrical costs.

Applied Micro X-Gene SoC.jpg

The X-Gene chips that will appear in HP’s Project Moonshot servers feature a SoC with eight AppliedMicro-designed 64-bit ARMv8 cores clocked at 2.4GHz, four ARM Cortex A5 cores for running the Software Defined Network (SDN) controller, and support for storage IO, PCI-E IO, and integrated Ethernet (four 10Gb Ethernet links). The X-Gene chips are located on card-like daughter cards that slot into a carrier board that has networking fabric to connect all the X-Gene cards (and the SoCs on those cards). Currently, servers using X-Gene SoCs require a hardware switch to connect all of the X-Gene cards in a rack. However, the next-generation 28nm X-Gene chips will eliminate the need for a rack-level hardware switch as well as featuring 100Gb networking links).

The X-Gene chips in HP Project Moonshot will use relatively little power compared to Xeon-based solutions. AppliedMicro has stated that eh X-Gene chips will be at least two-times as power efficient, but has not officially release power consumption numbers for the X-Gene chips under load. However, at idle the X-Gene SoCs will use as little as 500mW and 300mW of power at idle and standby (sleep mode) respectively. The 64-bit quad issue, Out of Order Execution chips are some of the most-powerful ARM processors to date, though they will soon be joined by ARM’s own 64-bit design(s). I think the X-Gene chips are intriquing, and I am excited to see how well they fare in the data center environment running server applications. ARM has handily taken over the mobile space, but it is still relatively new in the server world. Even so, the 64-bit ARM chips by AppliedMicro (X-Gene) and others are the first step towards ARM being a viable option for servers.

X-Gene Server Platform Supports LAMP.jpg

According to AppliedMicro, HP Project Moonshot servers with X-Gene SoCs will be available later this year. You can find the press blast below.

Gigabyte Shows Off SFF BRIX PC During Its New Idea Tech Tour

Subject: Systems | April 15, 2013 - 02:47 PM |
Tagged: SFF, Intel, gigabyte, brix

The WindForce 450W GPU cooler was not the only piece of hardware Gigabyte showed off at its New Idea Tech Tour event in Berlin, Germany. The company also detailed a new small form factor PC called BRIX. The Gigabyte BRIX computer is set to compete with Zotac's Nano and Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PCs. There is no word on pricing or availability, but GIgabyte did delve into specifications of the tiny desktop PCs.

Gigabyte BRIX Small Form Factor Mini PC Debuted At New Idea Tech Tour In Berlin (2).jpg

Computerbase.de was on hand at the New Idea event in Berlin.

The Gigabyte BRIX PC is similar to Intel's NUC with a small motherboard, Intel CPU, mSATA connector for storage, Mini PCI-E slot for a Wi-Fi card, and a small case. The BRIX system is slightly smaller than both the NUC and Zotac's Nano systems, though the BRIX motherboard itself is a bit larger than the NUC's. The BRIX motherboard measures 100 x 105mm and the case with internals measures 114.8 x 108 x 29.5mm and weighs 404 grams.

Gigabyte BRIX Small Form Factor Mini PC Debuted At New Idea Tech Tour In Berlin (1).jpg

Internal specifications on the BRIX include an Intel ultrabook-class processor with sub-17W TDPs, two SO-DIMM slots (a maximum of 16GB at 1600MHz), one mSATA port, and one Mini PCI-E slot. The BRIX further comes with a Wi-Fi card and VESA mount. Processor options include:

  • Intel Celeron 1007U
  • Intel Core i3-3227U
  • Intel Core i5-3337U
  • Intel Core i7-3537U

The top-end Core i7-3537U gives you a dual core processor with hyper-threading clocked at 2GHz and 3.1GHz max turbo and 4MB cache. Pretty impressive for such a tiny PC!
The Gigabyte BRIX features a single USB 3.0 port on the front of the glossy black case. Rear IO includes an additional USB 3.0 port, one HDMI port, one DisplayPort video output, and a single Gigabit LAN port.

The Gigabyte BRIX looks to be a decent system that will give Zotac and Intel some needed small form factor competition. Here's hoping Gigabyte will allow custom cases, as I would love to see a passively-cooled option!

Computerbase.de has further details on the Gigabyte BRIX PC as well as a gallery of photos from the event.

Source: Gigabyte

Dell Launches Cheaper Alienware X51 With Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

Subject: Systems | April 9, 2013 - 12:37 AM |
Tagged: ubuntu 12.04 lts, ubuntu, linux, dell, alienware x51

Dell has been one of the biggest (major OEM) supporter of the open source Ubuntu Linux operating system, and it seems the Linux love is trickling down to the company's boutique Alienware PC lineup as well. A new version of the Alienware X51, a small form factor gaming PC, is now available with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS pre-installed. Quite possibly the closest thing (so far) to a Steam Box, the Alienware X51 can run the Steam for Linux client along with all of the Linux games available on Valve's digital distribution service. Granted, the Ubuntu version cannot tap into the relatively-massive Windows game library out of the box, but it is also $100 cheaper than the X51 pre-installed with Windows due to Linux being free, and thus costing Dell less.

The Alienware X51 hardware is decent for a small form factor system, though it maxes out at a NVIDIA GTX 660 in the highest-end SKU. For $600, you can get an X51 will a dual-core Intel Core i3-3220 processor clocked at 3.3GHz, a NVIDIA GTX 645 1GB graphics card, 6GB of DDR3 1600MHz RAM, and a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive. On the other end fo the part configuration is the highest-end $1049 option, with a quad-core Core i7-3770 CPU clocked at 3.4GHz, a NVIDIA GTX 660 1.5GB GPU, 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz memory, and a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive.

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The Alienware X51 chassis measures 12.5" x 12.5" x 3.74" and should fit into most entertainment centers (if you can get past the significant-other approval factor, that is). The PC comes equipped with Dell's 1506 802.11g/n Wi-Fi card as well, for situations where Ethernet or Powerline Ethernet is not an option.

It is nice to see Dell continuing to support Linux in some small way. Hopefully as Valve pushes for further Steam for Linux adoption, we will see more Linux-compatible games and OEMs will take notice and support the open source OS more openly in consumer lineups (a geek can dream...)!

You can find more information on the Alienware X51 at alienware.com/ubuntu/.

Does the inclusion of Ubuntu sway you towards the Alienware X51 (at least it's cheaper than the PISTON...), or will you be building your own custom Steam Box?

Source: Dell

(Not) The End of DirectX

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems, Mobile | April 7, 2013 - 07:21 PM |
Tagged: DirectX, DirectX 12

Microsoft DirectX is a series of interfaces for programmers to utilize typically when designing gaming or entertainment applications. Over time it became synonymous with Direct3D, the portion which mostly handles graphics processing by offloading those tasks to the video card. At one point, DirectX even handled networking through DirectPlay although that has been handled by Games for Windows Live or other APIs since Vista.

AMD Corporate Vice President Roy Taylor was recently interviewed by the German press, "c't magazin". When asked about the future of "Never Settle" bundles, Taylor claimed that games such as Crysis 3 and Bioshock: Infinite keep their consumers happy and also keep the industry innovating.

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Keep in mind, the article was translated from German so I might not be entirely accurate with my understanding of his argument.

In a slight tangent, he discussed how new versions of DirectX tends to spur demand for new graphics processors with more processing power and more RAM. He has not heard anything about DirectX 12 and, in fact, he does not believe there will be one. As such, he is turning to bundled games to keep the industry moving forward.

Neowin, upon seeing this interview, reached out to Microsoft who committed to future "innovation with DirectX".

This exchange has obviously sparked a lot of... polarized... online discussion. One claimed that Microsoft is abandoning the PC to gain a foothold in the mobile market which it has practically zero share of. That is why they are dropping DirectX.

Unfortunately this does not make sense: DirectX would be one of the main advantages which Microsoft has in the mobile market. Mobile devices have access to fairly decent GPUs which can use DirectX to draw web pages and applications much smoother and much more power efficiently than their CPU counterparts. If anything, DirectX would be increased in relevance if Microsoft was blindly making a play for mobile.

The major threat to DirectX is still quite off in the horizon. At some point we might begin to see C++Amp or OpenCL nibble away at what DirectX does best: offload highly-parallel tasks to specialized processing units.

Still, releases such as DirectX 11.1 are quite focused on back-end tweaks and adjustments. What do you think a DirectX 12 API would even do, that would not already be possible with DirectX 11?

Source: c't magazin

Boxx Launches 3DBoxx 8950 Workstation

Subject: General Tech, Systems | March 26, 2013 - 03:18 PM |
Tagged: workstation, nvidia, GTC 2013, BOXX, 3dboxx 8950

Boxx Technologies recently launched a new multi-GPU workstation called the 3DBoxx 8950. It is aimed at professionals that need a fast system with beefy GPU accelerator cards that they can design and render at the same time. The 8950 is intended to be used with applications like Autodesk, Dassault, NVIDIA iray, and V-Ray (et al).

8950 front.jpg

The Boxx 3DBoxx 8950 features two liquid cooled Intel Xeon Ed-2600 processors (2GHz, 16 cores, 32 threads), up to 512GB of system memory (16 DIMM slots), and seven PCI-E slots (four of which accept dual slot GPUs, the remaining three are spaced for single slot cards). A 1250W power suppy (80 PLUS Gold) powers the workstation. An example configuration would include three Tesla K20 cards and one Quadro K5000. The Tesla cards would handle the computation while the Quadro can power the multi-display ouput. The chassis has room for eight 3.5" hard drives and a single externally-accessible 5.25" drive. The 8950 workstation can be loaded with either the Windows or Linux operating system.

Rear IO on the 8950 workstation includes:

  • 5 x audio jacks
  • 1 x optical in/out
  • 4 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x serial port
  • 2 x RJ45 jacks, backed by Intel Gigabit NICs

The system is available now, with pricing available upon request. You can find the full list of specifications and supported hardware configurations in this spec sheet (PDF).

Source: Boxx

Will ARMing your server room with Calxeda put you at a disadvantage?

Subject: Systems | March 25, 2013 - 10:14 AM |
Tagged: arm, calxeda, Boston Viridis

Perhaps the most telling part of AnandTech's review of the Calxeda Boston Viridis server was the statement that "It's a Cluster, Not a Server" as that paints a different picture of the appliance in many tech's heads.  When you first open the chassis you are greeted by 24 2.5” SATA drive bays and a very non-standard looking motherboard full of PCIe slots, each of which can hold a EnergyCard which consists of four quad-core ARM SoCs, each with one DIMM slot and 4 SATA ports with the theoretical limit being 4096 nodes interconnected by physical, distributed layer-2 switches not virtualized switches which use CPU cycles.  Check out the results of AnandTech's virtual machine testing and a deeper look at the architecture of the cluster in the full article.

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"ARM based servers hold the promise of extremely low power and excellent performance per Watt ratios. It's theoretically possible to place an incredible number of servers into a single rack; there are already implementations with as many as 1000 ARM servers in one rack (48 server nodes in a 2U chassis). What's more, all of those nodes consume less than 5KW combined (or around 5W per quad-core ARM node). But whenever a new technology is hyped, it's important to remain objective. The media loves to rave about new trends and people like reading about "some new thing"; however, at the end of the day the system administrator has to keep his IT services working and convince his boss to invest in new technologies."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Source: AnandTech