You got your FPGA in my Xeon!

Subject: General Tech | June 19, 2014 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: xeon, Intel, FPGA

Intel has just revealed what The Register is aptly referring to as the FrankenChip, a hybrid Xeon E5 and FPGA chip.  This will allow large companies to access the power of a Xeon and be able to offload some work onto an FPGA they can program and optimize themselves.  The low power FPGA is actually on the chip, as opposed to Microsoft's recent implementation which saw FPGA's added to PCIe slots.  Intel's solution does not use up a slot and also offers direct access to the Xeon cache hierarchy and system memory via QPI which will allow for increased performance.  Another low power shot has been fired at ARM's attempts to grow their share of the server market but we shall see if the inherent complexity of programming an FPGA to work with an x86 is more or less attractive than switching to ARM.

intel-inside-logo-370x290.jpg

"Intel has expanded its chip customization business to help it take on the hazy threat posed by some of the world's biggest clouds adopting low-power ARM processors."

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Tech Talk

Source: The Register

AMD Planning Open Source GameWorks Competitor, Mantle for Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | June 19, 2014 - 10:35 AM |
Tagged: video, richard huddy, radeon, openworks, Mantle, freesync, amd

On Tuesday, AMD's newly minted Gaming Scientist, Richard Huddy, stopped by the PC Perspective office to talk about the current state of the company's graphics division. The entire video of the interview is embedded below but several of the points that are made are quite interesting and newsworthy. During the discussion we hear about Mantle on Linux, a timeline for Mantle being opened publicly as well as a surprising new idea for a competitor to NVIDIA's GameWorks program.

Richard is new to the company but not new to the industry, starting with 3DLabs many years ago and taking jobs at NVIDIA, ATI, Intel and now returning to AMD. The role of Gaming Scientist is to directly interface with the software developers for gaming and make sure that the GPU hardware designers are working hand in hand with future, high end graphics technology. In essence, Huddy's job is to make sure AMD continues to innovate on the hardware side to facilitate innovation on the software side.

AMD Planning an "OpenWorks" Program

(33:00) After the volume of discussion surrounding the NVIDIA GameWorks program and its potential to harm the gaming ecosystem by not providing source code in an open manner, Huddy believes that the answer to problem is to simply have NVIDIA release the SDK with source code publicly. Whether or not NVIDIA takes that advice has yet to be seen, but if they don't, it appears that AMD is going down the road of creating its own competing solution that is open and flexible.

The idea of OpenFX or OpenWorks as Huddy refers to it is to create an open source repository for gaming code and effects examples that can be updated, modified and improved upon by anyone in the industry. AMD would be willing to start the initiative by donating its entire SDK to the platform and then invite other software developers, as well as other hardware developers, to add or change to the collection. The idea is to create a competitor to what GameWorks accomplishes but in a license free and open way.

gameworks.jpg

NVIDIA GameWorks has been successful; can AMD OpenWorks derail it?

Essentially the "OpenWorks" repository would work in a similar way to a Linux group where the public has access to the code to submit changes that can be implemented by anyone else. Someone would be able to improve the performance for specific hardware easily but if performance was degraded on any other hardware then it could be easily changed and updated. Huddy believes this is how you move the industry forward and how you ensure that the gamer is getting the best overall experience regardless of the specific platform they are using.

"OpenWorks" is still in the planning stages and AMD is only officially "talking about it" internally. However, bringing Huddy back to AMD wasn't done without some direction already in mind and it would not surprise me at all if this was essentially a done deal. Huddy believes that other hardware companies like Qualcomm and Intel would participate in such an open system but the real question is whether or not NVIDIA, as the discrete GPU market share leader, would be in any way willing to do as well.

Still, this initiative continues to show the differences between the NVIDIA and AMD style of doing things. NVIDIA prefers a more closed system that it has full control over to perfect the experience, to hit aggressive timelines and to improve the ecosystem as they see it. AMD wants to provide an open system that everyone can participate in and benefit from but often is held back by the inconsistent speed of the community and partners. 

Mantle to be Opened by end of 2014, Potentially Coming to Linux

(7:40) The AMD Mantle API has been an industry changing product, I don't think anyone can deny that. Even if you don't own AMD hardware or don't play any of the games currently shipping with Mantle support, the re-focusing on a higher efficiency API has impacted NVIDIA's direction with DX11, Microsoft's plans for DX12 and perhaps even Apple's direction with Metal. But for a company that pushes the idea of open standards so heavily, AMD has yet to offer up Mantle source code in a similar fashion to its standard SDK. As it stands right now, Mantle is only given to a group of software developers in the beta program and is specifically tuned for AMD's GCN graphics hardware.

mantlepic.jpg

Huddy reiterated that AMD has made a commitment to release a public SDK for Mantle by the end of 2014 which would allow any other hardware vendor to create a driver that could run Mantle game titles. If AMD lives up to its word and releases the full source code for it, then in theory, NVIDIA could offer support for Mantle games on GeForce hardware, Intel could offer support those same games on Intel HD graphics. There will be no license fees, no restrictions at all.

The obvious question is whether or not any other IHV would choose to do so. Both because of competitive reasons and with the proximity of DX12's release in late 2015. Huddy agrees with me that the pride of these other hardware vendors may prevent them from considering Mantle adoption though the argument can be made that the work required to implement it properly might not be worth the effort with DX12 (and its very similar feature set) around the corner.

(51:45) When asked about AMD input on SteamOS and its commitment to the gamers that see that as the future, Huddy mentioned that AMD was considering, but not promising, bringing the Mantle API to Linux. If the opportunity exists, says Huddy, to give the gamer a better experience on that platform with the help of Mantle, and developers ask for the support for AMD, then AMD will at the very least "listen to that." It would incredibly interesting to see a competitor API in the landscape of Linux where OpenGL is essentially the only game in town. 

AMD FreeSync / Adaptive Sync Benefits

(59:15) Huddy discussed the differences, as he sees it, between NVIDIA's G-Sync technology and the AMD option called FreeSync but now officially called Adaptive Sync as part of the DisplayPort 1.2a standard. Beside the obvious difference of added hardware and licensing costs, Adaptive Sync is apparently going to be easier to implement as the maximum and minimum frequencies are actually negotiated by the display and the graphics card when the monitor is plugged in. G-Sync requires a white list in the NVIDIA driver to work today and as long as NVIDIA keeps that list updated, the impact on gamers buying panels should be minimal. But with DP 1.2a and properly implemented Adaptive Sync monitors, once a driver supports the negotiation it doesn't require knowledge about the specific model beforehand.

freesync1.jpg

AMD demos FreeSync at Computex 2014

According to Huddy, the new Adaptive Sync specification will go up to as high as 240 Hz and as low as 9 Hz; these are specifics that before today weren't known. Of course, not every panel (and maybe no panel) will support that extreme of a range for variable frame rate technology, but this leaves a lot of potential for improved panel development in the years to come. More likely you'll see Adaptive Sync ready display listing a range closer to 30-60 Hz or 30-80 Hz initially. 

Prototypes of FreeSync monitors will be going out to some media in the September or October time frame, while public availability will likely occur in the January or February window. 

How does AMD pick game titles for the Never Settle program?

(1:14:00) Huddy describes the fashion in which games are vetted for inclusion in the AMD Never Settle program. The company looks for games that have a good history of course, but also ones that exemplify the use of AMD hardware. Games that benchmark well and have reproducible results that can be reported by AMD and the media are also preferred. Inclusion of an integrated benchmark mode in the game is also a plus as it more likely gets review media interested in including that game in their test suite and also allows the public to run their own tests to compare results. 

Another interesting note was the games that are included in bundles often are picked based on restrictions in certain countries. Germany, for example, has very strict guidelines for violence in games and thus add-in card partners would much prefer a well known racing game than an ultra-bloody first person shooter. 

Closing Thoughts

First and foremost, a huge thanks to Richard Huddy for making time to stop by the offices and talk with us. And especially for allowing us to live stream it to our fans and readers. I have had the privilege to have access to some of the most interesting minds in the industry, but they are very rarely open to having our talks broadcast to the world without editing and without a precompiled list of questions. For allowing it, both AMD and Mr. Huddy have gained some respect! 

There is plenty more discussed in the interview including AMD's push to a non-PC based revenue split, whether DX12 will undermine the use of the Mantle API, and how code like TressFX compares to NVIDIA GameWorks. If you haven't watched it yet I think you'll find the full 90 minutes to be quite informative and worth your time.

UPDATE: I know that some of our readers, and some contacts and NVIDIA, took note of Huddy's comments about TressFX from our interview. Essentially, NVIDIA denied that TressFX was actually made available before the release of Tomb Raider. When I asked AMD for clarification, Richard Huddy provided me with the following statement.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct a false impression that I inadvertently created during the interview.

Contrary to what I said, it turns out that TressFX was first published in AMD's SDK _after_ the release of Tomb Raider.

Nonetheless the full source code to TressFX was available to the developer throughout, and we also know that the game was available to NVIDIA several weeks ahead of the actual release for NVIDIA to address the bugs in their driver and to optimize for TressFX.

Again, I apologize for the mistake.

That definitely paints a little bit of a different picture on around the release of TressFX with the rebooted Tomb Raider title. NVIDIA's complaint that "AMD was doing the same thing" holds a bit more weight. Since Richard Huddy was not with AMD at the time of this arrangement I can see how he would mix up the specifics, even after getting briefed by other staff members.

END UPDATE

If you want to be sure you don't miss any more of our live streaming events, be sure to keep an eye on the schedule on the right hand side of our page or sign up for our PC Perspective Live mailing list right here.

Sound like a pro with Blue Microphones' Spark Digital Lightning

Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2014 - 05:45 PM |
Tagged: audio, blue microphones, spark digital lightning, microphone

The Spark Digital Lightning condenser microphone contains its own DAC which means that all the signal processing is done before the audio is sent to the device which you are recording to or broadcasting from.  That saves processor cycles on a PC but also means you can use this with a phone and other mobile devices and still produce audio of a decent quality.  It comes with a shock mount and your choice of either USB and Lightning cords or USB and the old style 30-pin Apple connector.  You can control volume, gain and mute directly on the mic as well as switch on a Focus option which alters the bias voltage of the condenser capsule similar to a low frequency filter.  Check out Benchmark Reviews full look at this ~$200 microphone that can almost compete with studio mics bearing a much higher price tag.

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"The Spark Digital from Blue Microphones is an all-in-one solution for high quality digital audio production. All the signal processing is done inside the body of the microphone, and the interface to your computer is through one of several available serial connections. The Spark Digital supports USB 1.1/2.0, the relatively new Lightning connection, or the older Apple 30-pin interface, through the use of separate cables for each connection type."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Audio Corner

PCPer Live! Interview with AMD's Richard Huddy June 17th, 4pm ET / 1pm PT

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | June 18, 2014 - 05:08 PM |
Tagged: video, richard huddy, live, amd

UPDATE: Did you miss the live event? Well, there's good news and bad news. First, the bad: you can't win any of those prizes we discussed. The good: you can watch the replay posted below!

AMD recently brought back Richard Huddy in the role of Gaming Scientist, acting as the information conduit between hardware development, the software and driver teams and the game developers that make our industry exciting. 

Richard stopped by the offices of PC Perspective to talk about several subjects including his history in the industry (including NVIDIA and Intel), Mantle and other low-level APIs, the NVIDIA GameWorks debate, G-Sync versus FreeSync and a whole lot more.

This is an interview that you won't want to miss! 

On June 3rd it was announced that Richard Huddy, an industry stalwart and vetern of ATI, NVIDIA and Intel, would be rejoining AMD as Chief Gaming Scientist

Interesting news is crossing the ocean today as we learn that Richard Huddy, who has previously had stints at NVIDIA, ATI, AMD and most recently, Intel, is teaming up with AMD once again. Richard brings with him years of experience and innovation in the world of developer relations and graphics technology. Often called "the Godfather" of DirectX, AMD wants to prove to the community it is taking PC gaming seriously.

richardhuddy.jpg

Richard Huddy will be stopping by the PC Perspective offices on June 17th for a live, on-camera interview that you can watch unfold on PC Perspective's Live page. Though we plan to talk anything and everything centered on gaming and PC hardware we have a few topics that have been hot-buttons lately we know we want to ask about. Those include the AMD versus NVIDIA stint with GameWorks, AMD's developer relations and the Gaming Evolved program, how AMD feels about the current status of Adaptive Sync (G-Sync like features) and much more.

We want to take your questions as well, which is one of the reasons for this post. Richard has agreed to answer as many inquiries as possible in our allotted time and to help make this easier, we are asking our readers to give us their questions and input in the comments section of this news post. We will still take live questions in the chat room during the event, but if your question is here then you have a much better chance of that being seen and addressed.

If the intensity of these topics wasn't enough to entice you to watch the live stream, then how about this? We have a massive prize pool provided by AMD that is unmatched in our live stream history! Here's the list:

  • 1x AMD Radeon R9 295X2 8GB Graphics Card plus a power supply!
  • 1x MSI Radeon R9 280X
  • 1x Sapphire Radeon R9 280
  • 1x MSI Radeon R9 270
  • 1x HIS Radeon R9 270
  • 1x Sapphire R7 260X
  • 15x Never Settle Forever codes

Yup, that's all correct; no typos there. All you have to do is be on the PC Perspective Live! page during the stream on June 17th! We will be giving all of this hardware away to those watching the interview.

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AMD's Richard Huddy Interview and Q&A

4pm ET / 1pm PT - June 17th

PC Perspective Live! Page

How can you be sure you are here at the right time? If you want some additional security besides just setting your own alarm, you can sign up for our PC Perspective Live mailing list, a simple email list that is used ONLY for these types of live events. Just head over to this page, give us your name and email address, and we'll let you know before we start the event!

I am very excited to talk with Richard again and I think that anyone interested in PC gaming is going to want to take part in this discussion!

UPDATE: I know that some of our readers, and some contacts and NVIDIA, took note of Huddy's comments about TressFX from our interview. Essentially, NVIDIA denied that TressFX was actually made available before the release of Tomb Raider. When I asked AMD for clarification, Richard Huddy provided me with the following statement.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct a false impression that I inadvertently created during the interview.

Contrary to what I said, it turns out that TressFX was first published in AMD's SDK _after_ the release of Tomb Raider.

Nonetheless the full source code to TressFX was available to the developer throughout, and we also know that the game was available to NVIDIA several weeks ahead of the actual release for NVIDIA to address the bugs in their driver and to optimize for TressFX.

Again, I apologize for the mistake.

That definitely paints a little bit of a different picture on around the release of TressFX with the rebooted Tomb Raider title. NVIDIA's complaint that "AMD was doing the same thing" holds a bit more weight. Since Richard Huddy was not with AMD at the time of this arrangement I can see how he would mix up the specifics, even after getting briefed by other staff members.

END UPDATE

Source: PCPer Live!

Fly like an eagle

Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2014 - 04:33 PM |
Tagged: gaming, oculus rift, Birdly

Creative geniuses have found another way to combine the Oculus Rift with other hardware to create something new, in this case it is a bird simulator.  Strap yourself in to the device and use your arms to flap the wings of your bird body and lean to try your skills at aerial manoeuvring. The Oculus provides your birds eye view of the ground and there is even a fan placed in front of you to give even more immersion.  Hack a Day also mentions an olfactory component, it will be interesting to see how that was pulled off.

birdly.jpg

"Have you ever dreamed of being able to fly like a bird? Sadly, we’re just too heavy with our solid bones and fatty tissues – but now there’s a simulator called Birdly which will give you the experience you crave."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Gaming

Source: Hack a Day

Get some help choosing your next mobile device

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | June 18, 2014 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: Transformer, tablet, laptop, Chromebook, apple

If you are overwhelmed by the choice of mobile products on the market and are looking for a little guidance this article at The Tech Report is a good resource.  Their staff have picked out what they feel are the best mobile devices from tablets to transformer pads to full sized laptops.   You can choose between several models in each category depending on your budget, as the best solutions tend to be the most expensive.  The budget models are nothing to sneer at though as even on the low end mobile devices pack a lot more power than they used to.

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"Earlier this year, we revised the structure of the TR System Guide to focus exclusively on PC components. Our aim was to cover peripherals and mobile gear in separate articles. We posted our first standalone peripheral picks in April, and today, we're completing the set with our first standalone mobile staff picks."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

So Watch_Dogs Graphical Mods Didn't Take Long...

Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2014 - 02:32 AM |
Tagged: watch dogs, mod

The "PC Master Race" meme has some merits. Gamers who care about a title, given some technical knowledge, will often make it look better than the developers intended. Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV can both look better than most next-gen releases. Watch Dogs is peculiar, though, because it just came out.

watchdogs-mod-01.jpg

Both images, credit: TheWorse from Guru3d forums

TheWorse Mod for Watch_Dogs apparently started as an attempt to restore the bloom effects from the game's E3 2012 trailer. Since then, TheWorse has improved performance, reduced stuttering, and improved many other effects (such as adding bokeh DOF blurring). The end result is quite pleasing to the eye.

watchdogs-mod-02.jpg

Check out the Guru3d thread as it develops. The versions seem to by arriving frequently.

Battlefield Will Not Be Annualized Says Patrick Söderlund

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 17, 2014 - 07:54 PM |
Tagged: battlefield, medal of honor, ea

Last year, we got Battlefield 4. The year before? Medal of Honor: Warfighter. The year before? Battlefield 3. The year before? Medal of Honor (Reboot). We will not be getting a new Medal of Honor this year, because Danger Close was shut down in June 2013. Danger Close developed the two recent Medal of Honor titles and, as EA Los Angeles, many of the previous Medal of Honor titles and many RTS games (Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth).

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Many of their employees are now working at DICE LA.

So, when a new Medal of Honor title should be released, we get Battlefield: Hardline. A person with decent pattern recognition might believe that Battlefield, or its spinoffs, would fill the gap left by Medal of Honor. Not so, according to Patrick Söderlund, Executive VP of EA Studios. As was the case at E3, where both studios (DICE and Visceral) repetitively claimed that Battlefield: Hardline was the product (literally) of a fluke encounter and pent-up excitement for cops and robbers.

Of course, they do not close the door for annualized Battlefield releases, either. They just say that it is not their plan to have that be "the way it's going to be forever and ever". Honestly, for all the hatred that annualized releases get, the problem is not the frequency. If EA can bring out a Battlefield title every year, and one that is continually a good game, then power to them. The problem is that, with an annual release cycle, it is hard to get success-after-success, especially when fatigue is an opposing, and (more importantly) ever-increasing force.

It is the hard, but lucrative road.

Source: PC Gamer

Less than One Hour Until Team Fortress 2 Announcement

Subject: General Tech | June 17, 2014 - 07:26 PM |
Tagged: tf2

TF2, the free-to-play dress-up game with a remarkably deep combat mechanic, is less than an hour away from announcing something. It, currently, is a countdown timer above a mock TV test pattern above an old-timey military control panel. That is all we know at the moment. We'll update when we find out what is going to happen. Personally, I expect that we will see a video and likely details about a large update.

tf2-testscreen.jpg

Apparently it is called "Love & War". It is a 15 minute video with an actual plotline. It seems to align with an update for between-team actions, like conga lines and square dancing. Also, there are few interesting achievements for doing those actions.

The real highlight has to be the video though. I've embedded it above. Take a quarter of an hour out of your time. It seems pretty hilarious.

Plextor's M.2 PCIe SSD, the M6e

Subject: Storage | June 17, 2014 - 06:48 PM |
Tagged: plextor, Plextor M6e, M.2, PCIe SSD

The Plextor M6e M.2 SSD Series comes in 128, 256 and 512GB models and for those lacking a M.2 slot you can opt for the model below which ships with a PCIe 2.0 adapter for an additional $60.  One caveat that Legit Reviews offers immediately is that for many models of motherboards you must manually enable the M.2 slot in the UEFI, otherwise your drive may not be detected.  Once enabled properly and benchmarked the performance was found to be in line with the advertised speeds of 770MB/s sequential read and 580MB/s sequential write speeds for the 256GB version.  It would seem that the SATA 6Gbs limitation can indeed be overcome but of course that was not enough for the crew at Legit Reviews, they picked up a second M6e and RAIDed them to reach 1408MB/s read and 1098MB/s write!

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"Are you wanting to get beyond 550MB/s without having to do a RAID setup? Are you willing to try a new interface? Meet the Plextor M6e Series of PCI Express SSDs! Plextor is leading the charge for native PCIe SSDs and has come up with the first readily-available M.2 PCIe SSD on the consumer market. Other drives like the Samsung XP941 series have been around much longer, but they are OEM only and aren’t really meant for end users. Plextor has stepped up to the plate with a drive that had end user firmware updates, an impressive 5-year warranty and mouth watering speeds."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

Razer and NZXT Announce H440 "Special Edition" Case

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling | June 17, 2014 - 06:39 PM |
Tagged: nzxt, razer, cases, steel

There does not seem to be much difference between the newly announced Special Edition H440, "Designed by Razer", and the original. The announcement claims: a custom paint design, LED lighting, a tinted window, and more. The design includes four fans (3x 120mm and 1x 140mm) and supports water cooling radiators up to 360mm.

razer-nzxt-case.jpg

By the specifications, nothing is different, functionally. That said, when you are dealing with a company who will budget out hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and development for a USB port color, it is entirely possible that a few screws might have moved slightly, and so forth. Then again, the images on the product pages seem fairly identical. Speaking of Razer's expensive USB ports, it looks like the USB 3.0 ports are that shade of green. Call it, "Extending their return on investment"?

Annnnd of course, no pricing or availability. That is, apart from: "Coming Soon".

ASUS got a brand new brand; meet STRIX

Subject: Graphics Cards | June 17, 2014 - 03:29 PM |
Tagged: asus, STRIX GTX 780 OC 6GB, DirectCU II, silent, factory overclocked

The new ASUS STRIX series, which currently has only one member, is a custom built card designed for silent operation by not spinning up the fans until the GPU hits 65C.  They've also doubled the RAM for the first model, the GTX 780 OC 6GB which should help with 4k gaming as well as putting a 52MHz overclock on the GPU out of the box.  [H]ard|OCP had a chance to try out this new card and test it against the R9 290X and a standard GTX 780.  Considering the price premium of $100 on this card it needs to do significantly better than the base GTX 780 and in line with the R9 290X which indeed it does do out of the box. 

Of course the first thing you do with a silent card is attempt to overclock it until it screams which of course [H] did and managed to get GPU up to 1.215GHz on air which offered noticeable improvements.  Stay tuned for 4k and SLI results in the near future.

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"We take the new ASUS STRIX GTX 780 OC 6GB video card and push it to its limits while overclocking. We will compare performance overclocked with a GeForce GTX 780 Ti, AMD Radeon R9 290X and find out what gameplay improvements overclocking allows. This card isn't just silent, its got overclocking prowess too."

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP

Is it Bait and Switch or not?

Subject: General Tech | June 17, 2014 - 01:59 PM |
Tagged: kingston, pny, ssdnow v300, optima

There is a wee bit of outrage in the community over the internals of Kingston's SSDNow V300 and PNY's Optima SSDs.  In both cases the internals being sold at the moment do not match the internals that were originally benchmarked and people are outraged that the same product with a different model number has changed internals.  The two drives are marketed towards value conscious purchasers and represent two different cases of modifications; Kingston with a flash change and PNY with a controller change.

The complaints against PNY are a little odd, it would seem that the 4-channel SMI 2246en controller was swapped for an 8-channel LSI SandForce SF-2281 with no price change and the only way you can be upset by that is because of a ridiculous level of brand loyalty.  On the other hand Kingston has switched from Synchronous to Asynchronous NAND flash memory which does have a noticeable impact on performance and the stamina of the flash and also happens to be less expensive to manufacture.  If Kingston had left the price as it was originally and specified the use of Synchronous Flash in the V300 series then you would have a good argument that they had intentionally mislead customers.  The reality is that the type of flash was not specified and the price of a 120GB SSDNow V300 has halved since its release which makes this more of a slightly shady product refresh.  It is not the best way to update your product line but considering the specifics of this particular case it really does not show intent to deceive.

If you really want something to be upset about then consider the example provided by The SSD Review; ASUS's swapping out of the SSD in their ZenBook with utterly no warning or price change.  Now that is Bait and Switch!

H_kingstonssdnow.jpg

"It seems that the world of technology has stopped with allegations that some SSD companies are pulling the old ‘bait and switch’ routine in their SSDs by switching off components that many had recognized through initial SSD reviews. We have read several reports and forums, most of which simply repeat the original information, and finally have decided to clarify things just a bit from our perspective. Get ready though as many may not like our viewpoint; it goes against the grain somewhat."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Why would SanDisk buy Fusion-io for $1.1 Billion?

Subject: Editorial, Storage | June 17, 2014 - 09:56 AM |
Tagged: sandisk, fusion-io, buyout

Fusion-io was once a behemoth of flash memory storage. Back when SSDs were having a hard time saturating SATA 3Gb/sec, Fusion-io was making fire breathing PCIe SSDs full of SLC flash and pushing relatively insane IOPS and throughput figures. Their innovations were a good formula at the time. They made the controller a very simple device, basically just a simple bridge from the PCIe bus to the flash memory. This meant that most of the actual work was done in the driver. This meant that Fusion-io SSDs were able to leverage the CPU and memory of the host system to achieve very high performance.

iops (2010).jpg

Fusion-io ioDrive 160 creams the competition back in 2010.

Being the king of IOPS back in the early days of flash memory storage, Fusion-io was able to charge a premium for their products. In a 2010 review, I priced their 160GB SSD at about $40/GB. In the years since, while flash memory prices (and therefore SSD products) have steadily dropped in price while achieving higher and higher performance figures, Fusion-io products have mostly remained static in price. All of this time, the various iterations of the ioDrive continued to bank on the original model of a simple controller and the bulk of the work taking place in the driver. This actually carries a few distinct disadvantages, in that the host system has to spent a relatively large amount of CPU and memory resources towards handling the Fusion-io devices. While this enables higher performance, it leaves less resources available to actually do stuff with the data. This ends up adding to the build cost of a system, as more CPU cores and memory must be thrown at the chassis handling the storage. In more demanding cases, additional systems would need to be added to the rack space in order to handle the additional storage overhead in addition to the other required workloads. Lastly, the hefty driver means Fusion-io devices are not bootable, despite early promises to the contrary. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker for enterprise use, but it does require system builders to add an additional storage device (from a different vendor) to handle OS duties.

iops (2014).png

In 2014, the other guys are making faster stuff. Note this chart is 4x the scale of the 2010 chart.

Lets fast forward to present times. Just over a week ago, Fusion-io announced their new 'Atomic' line of SSDs. The announcement seemed to fall flat, and did little to save the continuous decline of their stock price. I suspect this was because despite new leadership, these new products are just another iteration of the same resource consuming formula. Another reason for the luke warm reception might have been the fact that Intel launched their P3700 series a few days prior. The P3700 is a native PCIe SSD that employs the new NVM Express communication standard. This open standard was developed specifically for flash memory communication, and it allows more direct access to flash in a manner that significantly reduces the overhead required to perform high data throughputs and very high IO's per second. NVMe is a very small driver stack with native support built into modern operating systems, and is basically the polar opposite of the model Fusion-io has relied on for years now.

NVMe.png

Intel's use of NVMe enables very efficient access to flash memory with minimal CPU overhead.

Fusion-io's announcement claimed "The Atomic Series of ioMemory delivers the highest transaction rate per gigabyte for everything from read intensive workflows to mixed workloads.". Let's see how this stacks up against the Intel P3700 - an SSD that launched the same week:



Model Fusion-io PX600 Intel P3700
Capacity (TB) 1.0 1.3 2.6 5.2 0.4 0.8 1.6 2.0
Interface / Flash type PCIe 2.0 x8 / 20nm MLC PCIe 3.0 x4 / 20nm MLC
Read BW (GB/sec) 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.8 2.8 2.8
Write BW (GB/sec) 1.5 1.7 2.2 2.1 1.2 1.9 1.9 1.9
4k random read IOPS 196,000 235,000 330,000 276,000 450,000 460,000 450,000 450,000
Read transactions/GB 196 181 127 53 1,125 575 281 225
4k random write IOPS 320,000 370,000 375,000 375,000 75,000 90,000 150,000 175,000
Write transactions/GB 320 285 144 72 188 113 94 88
4k 70/30 R/W IOPS Unlisted 150,000 200,000 240,000 250,000
Read latency 92us 20/115us
Write latency 15us 20/25us
Endurance (PBW) 12 16 32 64 7.3 14.6 29.2 36.5
Endurance / TB 12.0 12.3 12.3 12.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 18.3
Cost Unlisted $1,207 $2,414 $4,828 $6,035
Cost/GB Unlisted $3.02 $3.02 $3.02 $3.02
Warranty 5 years 5 years
                 

Source: Fusion-io / Intel

We are comparing flagship to flagship (in a given form factor) here. Starting from the top, the Intel P3700 is available in generally smaller capacities than the Fusion-io PX600. Both use 20nm flash, but the P3700 uses half the data lanes at twice the throughput. Regarding Fusion-io's 'transaction rate per GB' point, well, it's mostly debunked by the Intel P3700, which has excellent random read performance all the way down to its smallest 400GB capacity point. The seemingly unreal write specs seen from the PX600 are, well, actually unreal. Flash memory writes take longer than reads, so the only logical explanation for the inversion we see here is that Fusion-io's driver is passing those random writes through RAM first. Writing to RAM might be quicker, but you can't sustain it indefinitely, and it consumes more host system resources in the process. Moving further down the chart, we see Intel coming in with a ~50% higher endurance rating when compared to the Fusion-io. The warranties may be of equal duration, but the Intel drive is (on paper / stated warranty) guaranteed to outlast the Fusion-io part when used in a heavy write environment.

For pricing, Intel launched the P3700 at a competitive $3/GB. Pricing data for Fusion-io is not available, as they are behind a bit of a 'quote wall', and no pricing at all was included with the Atomic product launch press materials. Let's take a conservative guess and assume the new line is half the cost/GB of their previous long-standing flagship, the Octal. One vendor lists pricing directly at $124,995 for 10.24TB ($12.21/GB) and $99,995 for 5.12TB ($19.53/GB), both of which require minumum support contracts as an additional cost. Half of $12/GB is still more than twice the $3/GB figure from Intel.

My theory as to why SanDisk is going for Fusion-io?

  • A poor track record since the Fusion-io IPO have driven the stock price way down, making it prime for a buyout.
  • SanDisk is one of the few remaining flash memory companies that does not own their own high end controller tech.
  • Recent Fusion-io product launch overshadowed by much larger (Intel) company launching a competing superior product at a lower cost/GB.

So yeah, the buyout seemed inevitable. The question that remains is what will SanDisk do with them once they've bought them? Merging the two will mean that Fusion-io can include 'in house' flash and (hopefully) offer their products at a lower cost/GB, but that can only succeed if the SanDisk flash performs adequately. Assuming it does, there's still the issue of relatively high costs when compared to freshly competing products from Intel and others. Last but not least is the ioDrive driver model, which grows incresingly dated while the rest of the industry adopts NVMe.

Tech Report's SSD Endurance: The Petabyte Club

Subject: General Tech, Storage | June 17, 2014 - 01:38 AM |
Tagged: ssd, Samsung 840, Samsung, kingston hyper x, kingston, endurance, corsair neutron gtx, corsair

In The Tech Report's ongoing SSD endurance challenge, three SSDs are soldiering forward. We have reached the thousand-terabyte mark, which is at least five times more than any of the survivors are rated for. These survivors: The Corsair Neutron GTX, the Samsung 840 Pro, and the Kingston HyperX 3K. Technically, the HyperX was able to reach 1PB of written data with performing only 716TB of actual writes, due to compression.

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Image Credit: The Tech Report

Of course, each of the drives are less-than prestine. The Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB was slowly decreasing in its "life" attribute since the beginning, claiming to be somewhere between 75% and 80% with a fairly linear decline. If this trend continues, the drive will reach "zero" at around 4-5PB of writes. That said, its read speed has substantially dropped from the time between 900TB and 1000TB of total writes, from 500MB/s to just under 400MB/s. Also, this "life" could drop substantially if the drive encounters reallocated sectors (which this model has apparently yet to do).

The other two drives are a similar, remarkably successful story.

The Kingston HyperX drive is reporting itself to be substantially worse off, within the last 10% of its life. That said, even though it claims to be pining for the fjords, it is still working and has only reported a couple of reallocated sectors, those occurring in the last 100TB of writes.

The Samsung 840 Pro seems to still be going strong, although it had more zero or "a couple" of reallocated sectors -- every hundred terabytes yields about 500 reallocations.

As always, this is just our brief discussion of what The Tech Report found out. Be sure to check out their full article for many more benchmarks, tests, and conclusions.

Source: Tech Report

EVGA goes all out with their first gaming mouse

Subject: General Tech | June 16, 2014 - 04:18 PM |
Tagged: input, evga, gaming mouse, TORQ X10

We first saw the EVGA TORQ X10 at CES and recently one arrived at Scott's doorstep so we will have a full review in the near future.  If you can't wait to see what this mouse is capable of  you can check this review at Hardware Canucks even if you cannot buy the mouse until towards the end of this month.  Not only can you adjust the weight of this mouse, the hand rests can be raised and lowered to ensure it fits perfectly in your palm.  If you are wondering why this model is more expensive, it is because it has a carbon fibre shell as opposed to ordinary plastic.

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"The TORQ X10 may be EVGA's first gaming mouse but its design, feature set and excellent build quality competes with some of the best peripherals available today."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

A kid friendly 3D printer

Subject: General Tech | June 16, 2014 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: 3d printing, Printeer

Kids these days get all the cool toys, not just G.I. Joe's with missiles that actually fire and portable gaming devices capable of more colours than light and dark green.  Mission Street Manufacturing's Printeer is a way to get kids interested in 3D printing and creating their own masterpieces, though at an estimated $550 it will likely be limited to schools and clubs as opposed to having their own printer.  The interface is a drawing program on an iPad, something that will be quite familiar to most children but now they will have the opportunity to print out their creations.  The printer is transparent as you can see from the picture at Engadget which allows these young makers to watch their creation made right in front of their eyes, a great way to get them excited about making things and a lot more fun than ShrinkyDinks!

printeer.jpg

"If Mission Street Manufacturing's Printeer hits its crowdfunding goal, though, children will have a 3D printer they can truly call their own. All you need to create a plastic masterpiece with Printeer is an iPad and a basic ability to draw. There's no scary-looking CAD programs or other intermediary tools."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Engadget

ADATA Announces CFast 2.0 "Industrial Memory Cards"

Subject: General Tech, Storage, Mobile | June 16, 2014 - 01:54 AM |
Tagged:

CFast is a standard, based on the merging of CompactFlash with SATA, for memory cards to have SSD-like performance. It has been around for a while, CFast 2.0 having been released in Q4 2012, but with very limited adoption. You could count the number of camera models which use it on a single hand. Still, ADATA is entering that market with a lineup of memory cards, with quite a bit of variety.

adata-logo.jpg

The ADATA ISC3E will come in SLC (one stored bit per memory cell) and MLC (two stored bits per memory cell) models. Capacities will range from 4GB to 64GB (SLC) or 4GB to 128GB (MLC). Speeds are fairly low, compared to modern SSDs. SLC is rated at 165 MB/s read and 170 MB/s write, while MLC can read at 435 MB/s and write at 120 MB/s. They support ECC and S.M.A.R.T.

Of course, this is kind-of interesting in terms of its small, removable form factor. Beyond that, it seems to be a few years back in terms of SSD technology. For the high resolution (or high frame rate) camera use case, read and write speeds really do not matter, except when you transfer your media off of your device (which the MLC version is clearly better suited for). Otherwise, as long as your write speed is consistently above what the camera can output, going bigger will be wasted overhead. ADATA suggests using these CFast 2.0 cards in POS terminals and kiosks but, at that point, would you really need small and removable memory?

ADATA has not released pricing and availability.

Source: ADATA

Steam Deals: Splinter Cell Blacklist Is ~$10, Thief Is ~$15

Subject: General Tech | June 15, 2014 - 02:19 AM |
Tagged: thief, steam sale, steam, splinter cell blacklist

Update: Uh, apparently GOG's DRM-Free Summer Sale (note: everything on GOG is DRM-Free) has not yet ended. Those deals are definitely worth your time to check out.

While I missed writing about GOG's Summer Sale (okay, at the time of this publishing, theres a few hours left), I can at least alert our readers about these two deals. Splinter Cell: Blacklist, released late last summer, is almost two-thirds off at $10.19 USD (normally $29.99). Also on sale is Thief, released in late February, for about half price at $14.99 USD (normally $29.99). If you purchased these games and wanted a little more content to them, each title's downloadable content is on sale for an equivalent markdown.

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Image Credit: Klow from CombineOverwiki

While not as unforgiving as Splinter Cell: Conviction, a UPLAY account is required to activate Blacklist. You do not, however, need to be continuously logged in to it in order to play its single player mode. I believe that Thief, on the other hand, just uses Steam for its DRM.

Source: Steam

E3 2014: SteamBoy Project Is Not a Valve Product

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | June 15, 2014 - 01:51 AM |
Tagged: x86, SteamOS, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, steam, mobile, handheld, E3 14, E3

To be doubly clear, if the title was not explicit enough, this announcement is not made by Valve. This company is called, "SteamBoy Machine team". If not a hoax, this is one of the many Steam Machines which are expected to come out of the SteamOS initiative. Rather than taking the platform to a desktop or home theater PC (HTPC) form-factor, this company wants to target the handheld PC gaming market.

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Image Credit: SteamBoy Machine team via The Escapist

If it comes out, that is a clever use of SteamOS. I can see Big Picture Mode being just as useful on a small screen as it is on a TV, especially with its large font and controller navigation. The teasers suggest that it will use the haptic feedback-based touchpads which Valve are expected to base the Steam Controller on. It will also include a 5-inch touchscreen.

The Escapist got into contact with the team and received a few more specs:

  • Quad-Core CPU (x86)
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB built-in storage

Even if this company does not make good on their expectations, companies will now be considering portable SteamOS devices. This is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that Valve was pushing for when they wanted to create an open platform. Each party will struggle to win in their personal goals, yet they can also rely on the crowd (other companies or individuals) to keep up in areas where they do not want an edge.

Philosophy aside, the company is targeting 2015 with a "Standard Edition" supporting WiFi and 3G. It would make sense to have a WiFi-only model, but who knows.

Source: Escapist