Another overview of the Win 10 Technical Preview

Subject: General Tech | October 20, 2014 - 12:46 PM |
Tagged: windows 10

This time it is The Tech Report who are taking a look at Win10 and what it brings to the table and what it takes away.  As you can see from the screenshot below the Start Menu is mostly back, with a selection of large tiles already added to the side of the menu, though they are easily removable or can be replaced with non-Metro applications.  Since the contextual search still appears at the bottom of the Start Menu the search button on the taskbar seems unnecessary. The multiple desktops work as promised, with ways to easily switch between your workspaces, windows have been visually trimmed along the outside and drop shadows are back.  Check out the new command prompt and other changes in their three page article.

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"TR's Cyril Kowaliski has spent some time with the Windows 10 Technical Preview, and he's jotted down his thoughts about each of the major new features and changes. His conclusion? This has the potential to be the best Windows release since Windows 7."

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Unreal Engine 4.5 Recently Released

Subject: General Tech | October 19, 2014 - 11:20 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, epic games

Epic Games released Unreal Engine 4.5 last Tuesday, and it is one of their largest releases since launch. While most point-releases occur on a four-to-six week schedule, this one took about nine weeks.

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The headlining feature from the press release is Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows. In the real world, lights have an actual size. A light bulb is not an infinitesimal point, it fills up your hand when you grab it (when it is off and cooled to roughly room temperature, of course). If a surface can see a light, it is lit by it. If the surface cannot see the light, it is not lit by it, which looks like it is covered in shadow. If a light is big enough that part of it lights a part of a surface, but part of it is blocked, you get "soft shadows".

Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows is a dynamic effect, which means that it can update over time. This is very useful if, for instance, the object that is casting a shadow gets blown up by a rocket launcher or, less entertainingly, the sun sets. The effect is also particularly quick, with scenes rendering in just a couple of milliseconds (you get about 16ms to hit 60 FPS). This is faster than cascaded shadow maps (a method to generate shadows that is optimized for shadows near the camera) in benchmarks listed at Epic's documentation.

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Unreal Engine 4.5 has also updated Subsurface Scattering. I am not exactly sure what is different, because Unreal Engine 4 had SSS for quite some time now, but they changed something. This technique is useful to create realistic skin, but is also very useful for oceans, ice, and wax.

Although Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows and Screen-Space Subsurface Scattering are the most interesting feature to write about, I would consider C++ Hot Reload to be the most important feature of this version. To explain it, I will need to first describe how Unreal Engine 4 is designed. When you subscribe, you are given source code access to the engine on GitHub; alternatively, you can download the Unreal Engine Launcher, which allows you to manage canonical builds of Unreal Engine. When a version of the engine is run, it will open a project in Unreal Editor. These projects could be programmed either in C++ or Epic's flowchart-based scripting system, "Blueprints". Complete games could be made in Blueprints, and developers are encouraged to do so, but they are often used for simple objects (lights and elevators), modifications of complex objects, and rapid prototyping.

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Rapid prototyping is the key part of my explanation. Remember how there is "engine code" that, when compiled, opens an editor to run "game code" for any given project? Despite the E3 2012 demo, many changes in a project's C++ source require the editor to be shut down and reloaded when game code is compiled. This led people to use Blueprints as a prototyping tool, not because of its logical, visual layout, but because you could manipulate objects several times in just a couple of minutes and without closing the editor. Now C++ is said to be a first-class citizen in this regard (unfortunately I have not had time to test this). As long as you are not modifying the engine's code, just the C++ code associated with your project, your changes should be possible while remaining in editor.

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Also updated, and finally supported by default, is Unreal Motion Graphics (UMG). UMG is a UI platform that is built upon Slate, which itself is the main UI platform for Unreal Engine 4 (Unreal Editor, for instance, is created with Slate). Basically, it extends Slate and includes a Flash Professional-like editor for it, complete with styles, animations, and scaling for high-DPI devices.

Because I am not in the DirectX 12 private beta, I am unsure whether that branch has been updated. Microsoft has announced that it was based on Unreal Engine 4.4. They have not said anything publicly since, at least not regarding that.

Unreal Engine 4.5 is available now for subscribers through GitHub or the Unreal Engine Launcher.

Source: Epic Games

You haven't forgotten about the PCPer Forums have you?

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2014 - 07:42 PM |
Tagged: forums, friday

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It has been a while since we mentioned the PC Perspective Forums on the front page, except of course the Fragging Frogs who have been having a great time lately and have put together some amazing VLANs full of gaming, fun and hardware giveaways.  There is a lot more than that hidden behind the tab at the top of the page for you to discover.   For anyone who has read about the latest and greatest hardware on our news and reviews but who isn't quite certain about if the hardware is right for them, we have a variety of forums specifically targeting the various components that we talk about.  I don't just mean GPUs and Cases or Motherboards and Processors, there is a forum specifically devoted to overclocking in general and for specific components as well.  You can also comment on my current choices on the Hardware Leaderboard and get feedback on your own choice of components.

If you have a working machine but are looking for tips on how to deal with Steam on Linux or what Windows tweaks might help you out then you are covered and can join in with the gurus which hang out here.  If networking is more your thing, be it a small LAN or suggestions on strange errors you are seeing in a large network environment then check out this forum which also contains information on setting up and securing your network and the clients attached to it.  If you have some old kit you would love to trade off for different equipment or were hoping for a deal on some used components; well head on over to the Trading Post and browse through the offers.

On the other hand if you are looking to harness the power of your PC for something a little more altruistic than Bitcoin why not join the Folding Frogs in the hunt for new configurations proteins which could help cancer research or join the BOINC crew to chug SETI or any of the wide variety of projects available in that Distributed Computing network.  If fun and games is more to your liking right now then the Off Topic board is always hopping with humour; however if a nice argument is more your style then join in The Lightning Round!

Your comments on our posts are always appreciated but there is a lot more to discover on PC Perspective when you look behind the front page.

New Mount & Blade: Warband Expansion

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2014 - 06:32 PM |
Tagged: taleworlds, mount & blade

While it seems odd, it makes more sense once you realize that TaleWorlds is not actually developing it. The company supports its mod community and, for the second time, decided to promote one into a full DLC. The previous mod was Napoleonic Wars, developed by Flying Squirrel Entertainment, which is now a full independent game studio.

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The expansion, Mount & Blade: Viking Conquest, is the commercialized and updated Brytenwalda mod. Being an external effort, I doubt that TaleWorlds diverted much resources away from Mount and Blade II: Bannerlords to release this expansion. As an added benefit, it might launch a new independent games company -- maybe even a virtual furniture and meatball franchise.

While the company has not announced online player counts yet, this engine is known for supporting hundreds of players. Napoleonic Wars regularly has servers with 200-player caps not including horses (although I have heard, but not seen, that people have pushed that up to 250). This could be very interesting for a Viking Age theme.

Source: TaleWorlds

Apple Announces New Mac Minis with Haswell. What?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | October 17, 2014 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: Thunderbolt 2, thunderbolt, mac mini, mac, Intel, haswell, apple

I was not planning to report on Apple's announcement but, well, this just struck me as odd.

So Apple has relaunched the Mac Mini with fourth-generation Intel Core processors, after two years of waiting. It is the same height as the Intel NUC, but it also almost twice the length and twice the width (Apple's 20cm x 20cm versus the NUC's ~11cm x 11cm when the case is included). So, after waiting through the entire Haswell architecture launch cycle, right up until the imminent release of Broadwell, they are going with the soon-to-be outdated architecture, to update their two-year-old platform?

((Note: The editorial originally said "two-year-old architecture". I thought that Haswell launched about six months earlier than it did. The mistake was corrected.))

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I wonder if, following the iTunes U2 deal, this device will come bundled with Limp Bizkit's "Nookie"...

The price has been reduced to $499, which is a welcome $100 price reduction especially for PC developers who want a Mac to test cross-platform applications on. It also has Thunderbolt 2. These are welcome additions. I just have two, related questions: why today and why Haswell?

The new Mac Mini started shipping yesterday. 15-watt Broadwell-U is expected to launch at CES in January with 28W parts anticipated a few months later, for the following quarter.

Source: Apple

AMD's anorexia, another 7% of its workforce has been dropped

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2014 - 01:44 PM |
Tagged: amd

Sad news again from AMD as roughly 710 employees from across the globe will be getting severance packages for Christmas.  The cuts are likely to come from the Computing and Graphics division as they saw a 16% year-on-year decline in income.  The Enterprise, Embedded, and Semi-Custom division saw a 21% increase and were the reason AMD's total income only dropped 2% when compared to this quarter last year.  The news for the future is also not good, with The Inquirer reporting that AMD expects its revenues to slide another 10-16% per cent in the next quarter.  Perhaps that is part of the reason Lisa Su will take home a salary that is $150K less than what Rory Read was earning.

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"Following a grim earnings report on Thursday, AMD has announced a restructuring plan that includes axing seven per cent of its workforce by the end of the year.

The plan will see AMD issuing layoff notices to about 710 employees worldwide, and is expected to cost the chipmaker $57m in severance payment."

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Source: The Register

Google is looking for a brand new band

Subject: General Tech | October 16, 2014 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: wireless, google, FCC

Google seems to be investigating a new way to extend their reach as an ISP, over and above Google Fibre and WiFi in Starbucks.  They have applied to the FCC to test data communication on 1mm frequency waves between 5.8GHz and 24.2GHz frequency band as wll as 2mm waves from 71-76GHz and 81-86GHz.  The wireless spectrum available continues to shrink as carriers bid on the remaining unclaimed frequencies which can penetrate the electronic noise that permeates highly populated areas and so companies are exploring frequencies which were not used in the past.  From what The Inquirer was told, these particular frequencies could be capable of sending data at speeds of several gigabits per second bandwidth over short distances, that could really help reduce the cost of connecting new users to their fibre network as the last mile could be wireless, not wired.

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"GOOGLE HAS FILED A REQUEST with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test high-speed wireless spectrum at several locations in California."

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Source: The Inquirer

Podcast #322 - GTX 980 4-Way SLI, Samsung's EVO Performance Fix, Intel Earnings and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 16, 2014 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, nvidia, GTX 980, sli, 3-way sli, 4-way sli, amd, R9 290X, Samsung, 840 evo, Intel, corsair, HX1000i, gigabyte, Z97X-UD5H, Lenovo, yoga 3 pro, yoga tablet 2. nexus 9, tegra k1, Denver

PC Perspective Podcast #322 - 10/16/2014

Join us this week as we discuss GTX 980 4-Way SLI, Samsung's EVO Performance Fix, Intel Earnings and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Morry Tietelman

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Flustered over Win10's surveillance habits? Have you met Predix?

Subject: General Tech | October 14, 2014 - 06:28 PM |
Tagged: predix, Cisco, Intel, GM, verizon, Privacy, security

GM's Predix asset management platform has been used for a while now, after they came to the realization that they were in the top 20 of the largest software developers on the planet.  They found that by networking the machines in their factories as well as products that have been shipped to customers and are seeing active use that they could increase the efficiency of their factories and their products.  They were aiming for 1% increase, which when you consider the scale of these industries can equate to billions of dollars and in many cases they did see what they had hoped for.

Now Cisco and Intel have signed up to use the Predix platform for the same results, however they will be applying it to the Cloud and edge devices as well as the routers and switches Cisco specializes in.  This should at the very least enhance the ability to monitor network traffic, predict resource shortages and handle outages with a very good possibility of a small increase in performance and efficiency across the board.  This is good news to those who currently deal with the cloud but it is perhaps worth noting that you will be offering up your companies metrics to Predix and you should be aware of any possible security concerns that may raise because of that integration to another system.  You could however argue that once you have moved to the cloud that this is already happening.

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"GE, Intel, Cisco, and Verizon have announced a big data deal to connect Predix — GE’s software platform — to machines, systems, and edge devices regardless of manufacturer."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

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Source: The Register

Samsung Announces 60GHz Wi-Fi (802.11ad)

Subject: General Tech | October 14, 2014 - 05:43 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, 802.11ad, wigig

Samsung Electronics, a member of the WiGig Alliance, has just announced an implementation that is capable of achieving 4.6 gigabit (575MB/s) speeds under the 802.11ad standard. Samsung claims that they have overcome "the barriers to commercialization" of wireless over 60GHz. This band has several disadvantages, including resonance with oxygen molecules (included under the blanket of "path loss" in the press release) and its opacity to many solid objects (referred to as "weak penetration properties" in the release).

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

Some features that Samsung credits themselves with are beam-forming with less than four-tenths of a millisecond latency and the ability to track multiple devices simultaneously. Beam-forming in particular is said to help offset the mostly line-of-sight properties of earlier 60GHz prototypes. This allows the signal to be directed toward devices, typically by manipulating interference patterns to reduce the energy lost by transmitting to locations without a receiver and thus giving more energy to the locations that do.

Its usage as a product will mostly depend on how tolerant they are to non line-of-sight situations. This rate is comparable to a high-end SATA SSD. Samsung claims that it will be useful for their Smart Home and Internet of Things initiatives, similar to the Stanford and Berkeley announcement last month, but also mention it in terms of medical devices.

Source: Samsung