Subject: General Tech | August 1, 2016 - 06:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
Remember, folks, that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. Microsoft has been trying to shed their stigma as a giant source of malware, but all solutions have side-effects, and those side-effects can have damaging consequences. When you believe that you or someone else is doing good, that is when you should be extra cautious, not less. It's a source of complacency.
With tomorrow's Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft will require kernel-mode drivers to be signed by them on systems with Secure Boot enabled. This change will not affect PCs that have been upgraded from a previous version of Windows, including Windows 10 1507 and Windows 10 1511. That said, this could be a concern for those (like me) who are planning to clean install soon.
To me, this doesn't look like it will be that big of a deal. Hobbyists should be able to manage with either disabling Secure Boot, if their system allows it, or by fitting their driver around the user-mode framework. It might cause an issue with hotfix graphics drivers, though, which are pushed out before getting signed by Microsoft.
Also, if Microsoft changes their driver signing policy in the future, then this
is could be (Update @ 7:30pm ET: original verbage was a little too strong) huge leverage against anyone attempting to circumvent it (such as implementing a graphics API that outperforms whatever DirectX version they have at the time -- see how Vulkan is not allowed on MacOSX). Even if you trust Microsoft now, you need to think about what Microsoft in 10+ years can do if they choose to.
Subject: General Tech | July 30, 2016 - 06:37 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10
For the majority of users, the Windows 10 free upgrade period has just ended. That said, Microsoft is extending the offer for a specific group of people: those who use assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech software for those with visual impairments. They are being intentionally vague with which AT software allow users to qualify, which makes sense, because being pedantic to users with disabilities after offering it to everyone (sometimes like a hot potato) for a whole year wouldn't be the best PR.
They haven't yet announced an end date for this new offer. They also haven't really discussed why they are making this exemption, although they do promote the upcoming Anniversary Update several times, with its new accessibility features highlighted. This makes me think that, while of course Microsoft is going to namedrop the new build whenever possible, they might have found that users were hesitant to upgrade to 1507 and 1511 because of accessibility concerns. Since the general public upgrade offer ended just before the Anniversary Update, they might be allowing those users to jump aboard Windows 10 even though their disability prevented them from using 1511.
Either way, it's a nice extension to make.
Subject: General Tech | July 28, 2016 - 05:33 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xiaomi, ultraportable, ultrabook, thin and light, Intel, core m3, core i5
According to the guys over at The Tech Report, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is jumping into the notebook game with two new Mi Notebook Air ultrabooks. The all aluminum notebooks are sleek looking and priced very competitively for their specifications. They are set to release on August 2nd in China.
The new Mi Notebook Air notebooks come in 13.3" and 12.5" versions. Both models use all aluminum bodies with edge to edge glass displays (1080p though unknown what type of panel), backlit keyboards, and dual AKG speakers. Users can choose from gold or silver colors for the body and keyboard (Xiaomi uses a logo-less design which is nice).
Xiaomi Mi Notebook Air via Ars Technica.
Both models sport a single USB Type C port (which is also used for charging), two USB 3.0 Type A ports, one HDMI video output, and a headphone jack. The Xiaomi website shows an USB Type C adapter that adds extra ports as well. Internally, they have a M.2 slot for storage expansion but the notebooks do not appear to be user serviceable (though iFixit may rectify that...). Also shared is support for the company's Mi Sync software and Mi fitness band which can be used to unlock the computer when the user is in proximity.
The smaller 12.5" Mi Notebook Air is 0.51" thick and weighs just over 2.3 pounds. It is powered by an Intel Core M3 processor and Xiaomi claims that this model can hit 11.5 hours ouf battery life. Other specifications include 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SATA SSD, and 802.11ac wireless.
If you need a bit more computing power, the 13.3" notebook is slightly bulkier at 0.58" thick and 2.8 pounds with the tradeoff in size giving users a larger display, keyboard, and dedicated graphics card. Specifically, the 13.3" ultrabook features an Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia Geforce 940MX GPU, 8 GB DDR4 RAM, a 256GB NVMe PCI-E SSD, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. This laptop is a bit heavier but I think the extra horsepower is worth it for those that need or want it.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about what many will see as an Apple MacBook Air clone is the pricing. The 12.5" laptop will MSRP for RMB 3499 while that 13.3" notebook will cost RMB 4999. That translates to approximately $525 and $750 USD respectively which is a great value for the specifications and size and seemingly will give Apple a run for its money in China. That's the bad news: Xiaomi does not appear to be bringing these slick looking notebooks to the US anytime soon which is unfortunate.
Chinese technology company LeEco (SZSE: 300104) will purchase US television manufacture Vizio (NASDAQ: VZIO (not trading)) in a deal worth $2 Billion USD set to close in the fourth quarter of this year.
LeEco plans to acquire Vizio's hardware and software divisions and run the US company as a wholly owned subsidiary while spinning off Vizio's Inscape television viewership data arm as a privately held company. With approximately 400 employees, yearly revenue in the billions ($3.1 billion in 2014), and at least 20% of the US television market, the acquisition would allow LeEco to enter the US market in a big way. Vizio is best known in the US for its televisions where it is a respected brand, but the company also produces ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones, and sound bars. It is a private US-based company with manufacturing in Mexico and China.
Founded in 2004, LeEco is involved in a number of technology related fields across China, India, and soon the US. The Vizio brand (and partnerships such as the one with Walmart to carry its TVs) alone will be instrumental in LeEco's plans to break into the US market which has been resistant to Chinese brands making inroads (Lenovo apparently being the exception, but even Lenovo was not able to get its smartphones into the US market in a big way). The company of 5000+ employees is involved in Internet TV, video production and distribution, e-commerce, smartphones, tablets, gadgets, home automation, and even (soon) driverless cars.The company had 2014 revenue of $1.6 billion.
It is interesting to see all of the buy outs of US tech companies by overseas companies. To be clear, I don't necessarily think that these deals are a bad thing or being done with malicious intentions, but they do piques my curiosity. In this case it could be a good partnership that would allow both companies to benefit with LeEco getting a strong US brand and the recognition and market trust that entails and Vizio getting a much larger staffed company with experience in Chinese markets where it could help Vizio push its smart TV platform and ultrabooks and phone aspects further. Here's hoping that a LeEco owned Vizio grows and maintains its quality and price points.
What do you think about LeEco buying out Vizio? What will the future hold for the US TV maker?
Subject: General Tech | July 27, 2016 - 08:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, epic games, unreal engine, unreal engine 4, ue4, uwp
The head of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, doesn't like UWP too much, at least as it exists today (and for noble reasons). He will not support the new software (app) platform unless Microsoft makes some clear changes that guarantee perpetual openness. There really isn't anything, technically or legally, to prevent Microsoft (or an entity with authority over Microsoft, like governments, activists groups who petition government, and so forth) from undoing their changes going forward. If Microsoft drops support for Win32, apart from applications that are converted using Project Centennial or something, their catalog would be tiny.
SteamOS would kick its butt levels of tiny, let alone OSX, Android, and countless others.
As a result, Microsoft keeps it around, despite its unruliness. Functionality that is required by legitimate software make it difficult to prevent malware, and, even without an infection, it can make the system just get junked up over time.
UWP, on the other hand, is slimmer, contained, and authenticated with keys. This is theoretically easier to maintain, but at the expense of user control and freedom; freedom to develop and install software anonymously and without oversight. The first iteration was with Windows RT, which was basically iOS, right down to the “you cannot ship a web browser unless it is a reskin of Internet Explorer ((replace that for Safari in iOS' case))” and “content above ESRB M and PEGI 16 are banned from the OS” levels of control.
Since then, content guidelines have increased, sideloading has been added, and so forth. That said, unlike the technical hurdles of Win32, there's nothing to prevent Microsoft from, in the future, saying “Okay, we have enough software for lock in. Sideloading is being removed in Windows 10 version 2810” or something. I doubt that the current administration wants to do this, especially executives like Phil Spencer, but their unwillingness to make it impossible to be done in the future is frustrating. This could be a few clauses in the EULA that make it easy for users to sue Microsoft if a feature is changed, and/or some chunks of code that breaks compatibility if certain openness features are removed.
Some people complain that he wasn't this concerned about iOS, but he already said that it was a bad decision in hindsight. Apple waved a shiny device around, and it took a few years for developers to think “Wait a minute, what did I just sign away?” iOS is, indeed, just as bad as UWP could turn into, if not worse.
Remember folks, once you build a tool for censorship, they will come. They may also have very different beliefs about what should be allowed or disallowed than you do. This is scary stuff, albeit based on good intentions.
That rant aside, Microsoft's Advanced Technology Group (ATG) has produced a fork of Unreal Engine 4, which builds UWP content. It is based upon Unreal Engine 4.12, and they have apparently merged changes up to version 4.12.5. This makes sense, of course, because that version is required to use Visual Studio 2015 Update 3.
If you want to make a game in Unreal Engine 4 for the UWP platform, then you might be able to use Microsoft's version. That said, it is provided without warranty, and there might be some bugs that cropped up, which Epic Games will probably not help with. I somehow doubt that Microsoft will have a dedicated team that merges all fixes going forward, and I don't think this will change Tim's mind (although concrete limitations that guarantee openness might...). Use at your own risk, I guess, especially if you don't care about potentially missing out on whatever is added for 4.13 and on (unless you add it yourself).
The fork is available on Microsoft's ATG GitHub, with lots of uppercase typing.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | July 25, 2016 - 09:48 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: siggraph 2016, Siggraph, capsaicin, amd, 3D rendering
At their Capsaicin Siggraph event tonight AMD has announced that what was previously announced as the FireRender rendering engine is being officially launched as AMD Radeon ProRender, and this is becoming open-source as part of AMD's GPUOpen initiative.
From AMD's press release:
AMD today announced its powerful physically-based rendering engine is becoming open source, giving developers access to the source code.
As part of GPUOpen, Radeon ProRender (formerly previewed as AMD FireRender) enables creators to bring ideas to life through high-performance applications and workflows enhanced by photorealistic rendering.
GPUOpen is an AMD initiative designed to assist developers in creating ground-breaking games, professional graphics applications and GPU computing applications with much greater performance and lifelike experiences, at no cost and using open development tools and software.
Unlike other renderers, Radeon ProRender can simultaneously use and balance the compute capabilities of multiple GPUs and CPUs – on the same system, at the same time – and deliver state-of-the-art GPU acceleration to produce rapid, accurate results.
Radeon ProRender plugins are available today for many popular 3D content creation applications, including Autodesk® 3ds Max®, SOLIDWORKS by Dassault Systèmes and Rhino®, with Autodesk® Maya® coming soon. Radeon ProRender works across Windows®, OS X and Linux®, and supports AMD GPUs, CPUs and APUs as well as those of other vendors.
Subject: General Tech | July 25, 2016 - 04:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, mental ray, maya, 3D rendering
NVIDIA purchased Mental Images, the German software developer that makes the mental ray renderer, all the way back in 2007. It has been bundled with every copy of Maya for a very long time now. In fact, my license of Maya 8, which I purchased back in like, 2006, came with mental ray in both plug-in format, and stand-alone.
Interestingly, even though nearly a decade has passed since NVIDIA's acquisition, Autodesk has been the middle-person that end-users dealt with. This will end soon, as NVIDIA announced, at SIGGRAPH, that they will “be serving end users directly” with their mental ray for Maya plug-in. The new plug-in will show results directly in the viewport, starting at low quality and increasing until the view changes. They are obviously not the first company to do this, with Cycles in Blender being a good example, but I would expect that it is a welcome feature for users.
Benchmark results are by NVIDIA
At the same time, they are also announcing GI-Next. This will speed up global illumination in mental ray, and it will also reduce the number of options required to tune the results to just a single quality slider, making it easier for artists to pick up. One of their benchmarks shows a 26-fold increase in performance, although most of that can be attributed to GPU acceleration from a pair of GM200 Quadro cards. CPU-only tests of the same scene show a 4x increase, though, which is still pretty good.
The new version of mental ray for Maya is expected to ship in September, although it has been in an open beta (for existing Maya users) since February. They do say that “pricing and policies will be announced closer to availability” though, so we'll need to see, then, how different the licensing structure will be. Currently, Maya ships with a few licenses of mental ray out of the box, and has for quite some time.
Subject: General Tech | July 25, 2016 - 01:12 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, kernel 4.7, security, rx 480, LoadPin
For now we are awaiting the benchmarks but with the release of this new kernel, Linux users will be able to run the new RX 480 from AMD. The new kernel also contains a new security feature called LoadPin which ensures that kernel-loaded files come from within the same file system in an attempt to maintain security without requiring each file to be individually signed. There were also some improvements made to network drivers along with several other changes which The Inquirer covers in their own unique manner.
"Despite it being two weeks since RC7, the final patch wasn't all that big and much of it is trivial one- and few-liners. There's a couple of network drivers that got a bit more loving."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- We threw a Minecraft party to test Samsung's Gear VR headset @ The Tech Report
- Free Windows 10 upgrade: Time is running out – should you do it? @ The Register
- Tesoro Interview @ techPowerUp
- Moore's Law to be revoked in five years' time @ The Inquirer
Make Sure You Understand Before the Deadline
I'm fairly sure that any of our readers who want Windows 10 have already gone through the process to get it, and the rest have made it their mission to block it at all costs (or they don't use Windows).
Regardless, there has been quite a bit of misunderstanding over the last couple of years, so it's better to explain it now than a week from now. Upgrading to Windows 10 will not destroy your original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license. What you are doing is using that license to register your machine with Windows 10, which Microsoft will create a digital entitlement for. That digital entitlement will be good “for the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device”.
There's three misconceptions that kept recurring from the above paragraph.
First, “the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device” doesn't mean that Microsoft will deactivate Windows 10 on you. Instead, it apparently means that Microsoft will continue to update Windows 10, and require that users will keep the OS somewhat up to date (especially the Home edition). If an old or weird piece of hardware or software in your device becomes incompatible with that update, even if it is critical for the device to function, then Microsoft is allowing itself to shrug and say “that sucks”. There's plenty of room for legitimate complaints about this, and Microsoft's recent pattern of weakened QA and support, but the specific complaint that Microsoft is just trying to charge you down the line? False.
Second, even though I already stated it earlier in this post, I want to be clear: you can still go back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x. Microsoft is granting the Windows 10 license for the Windows 7 or Windows 8.x device in addition to the original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license granted to it. The upgrade process even leaves the old OS on your drive for a month, allowing the user to roll back through a recovery process. I've heard people say that, occasionally, this process can screw a few things up. It's a good idea to manage your own backup before upgrading, and/or plan on re-installing Windows 7 or 8.x the old fashioned way.
This brings us to the third misconception: you can re-install Windows 10 later!
If you upgrade to Windows 10, decide that you're better with Windows 7 or 8.x for a while, but decide to upgrade again in a few years, then your machine (assuming the hardware didn't change enough to look like a new device) will still use that Windows 10 entitlement that was granted to you on your first, free upgrade. You will need to download the current Windows 10 image from Microsoft's website, but, when you install it, you should be able to just input an empty license key (if they still ask for it by that point) and Windows 10 will pull down validation from your old activation.
If you have decided to avoid Windows 10, but based that decision on the above three, incorrect points? You now have the tools to make an informed decision before time runs out. Upgrading to Windows 10 (Update (immediate): waiting until it verifies that it successfully activated!) and rolling back is annoying, and it could be a hassle if it doesn't go cleanly (or your go super-safe and back-up ahead of time), but it might save you some money in the future.
On the other hand, if you don't want Windows 10, and never want Windows 10, then Microsoft will apparently stop asking Windows 7 and Windows 8.x users starting on the 29th, give or take.
Subject: General Tech | July 22, 2016 - 03:50 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: audio, hifiman, Edition X, planar
As opposed to the more common dynamic driver, the Edition X uses lighter and more responsive planar drivers. These tend to provide much better sound but also come with a very hefty price tag, in this particular case an $1800 one. That puts these headphones soundly into the audiophile and professional market as opposed to being intended for gamers. In testing TechPowerUp found these to be not quite as clear as the HE-1000 model but they were more comfortable. If you are looking for high end headphones or just like window shopping you can read the full review here.
"HiFiMAN's newest high-end headphone, the Edition X, bears a striking resemblance to their flagship HE-1000. It uses the same driver design without the fancy nano materials found in the $1200 more expensive HE-1000, but is, at $1799, still the second most expensive headphone in HiFiMAN's line-up."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Turtle Beach Elite Pro Gaming Headset @ eTeknix
- Creative Sound BlasterX H7 Headset @ eTeknix
- Astell & Kern AK Junior Review featuring Sennheiser HD650 @ Kitguru