Blizzard's New Battle.net Launcher Feels Slick...

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2014 - 03:31 AM |
Tagged: blizzard, battle.net

There has been a new Battle.net launcher in the works for quite some time now, about thirteen months. Blizzard is finally rolling it out to users of StarCraft II. Loading up the game a couple of days ago, I was transitioned to the new system. I must say: it looks and feels pretty slick.

blizzard-battlenet-real01.jpg

First, the main pages have a glass-like blur atop a background image for its window chrome. It has a borderless window style with a simple, one-pixel frame. When focused, it lights up a little central region at the top, rather than an entire strip of it. Personally, I find that this looks a little bit better than even Steam's most recent update -- but that is just being picky. Blizzard definitely thought about how it would look, and it shows.

The games are currently limited to World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, and Hearthstone. This leaves the shop quite limited, except for a few in-game mounts, pets, and services attached to WoW. Beyond the store, the layout is definitely intuitive and clean, despite only playing StarCraft II. And who knows, it might encourage me to branch out a little bit (but probably not).

blizzard-battlenet-01.jpg

The app is also designed to function as a messenger client. When playing StarCraft II, I found it quite weird to have a chat and instant messenger client built into each of their games, which needed to be running for it to be useful. Obviously, it is much easier to have Battle.net run in the background 24/7 than, say, Diablo III or StarCraft II, so this should make their messenger application more useful. This is a fairly obvious statement. The part that feels weird is how it doesn't seem to integrate with any of the game's chatrooms. I would have expected that I could interact with the chat groups of Blizzard's various games, but that is not that case. It seems like I still need to launch into StarCraft II, or whatever, to go about doing that. This, as stated, feels weird... almost like they have not got around to it yet.

Blizzard's new Battle.net launcher is available for download basically the next time you launch StarCraft II.

Source: Blizzard

Steam Adds App Types: Film, TV, Video, Plugin, and Music

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2014 - 01:50 AM |
Tagged: steam os, steam, htpc

In a recent Steam Beta update, Valve added a few new entries to its EAppType structure. Previously, the options were invalid, game, application, tool, demo, media, DLC, guide, driver, config, shortcut, and "depotonly". The recent update adds five new ones: film, TV series, video, plugin, and music.

Steam-eapp-additions.png

These additions could mean that Steam is intending to distribute film, TV, video, plugins, and music; alternatively, it could just allow users to integrate existing catalogs into the same interface. Of course, this is coming from someone with just about zero knowledge of Steam's internal structure. Someone who is more familiar with Steam might be able to say that I am stupid and this specific enum structure is only used the interface with the catalog or the store. I do not know.

What I am confident in saying is that Valve is serious about making Steam a full home theater PC platform. At LinuxCon, prior to the announcement of SteamOS, Gabe Newell discussed the family ownership (and sharing) of music and movie libraries right alongside his discussion of video games. Whether they want to deal with media company relations is a different story, however.

But let's not get too caught up in media for a second. What is a "plugin"?

This entry was what really caught my eye. Could Valve be designing a plugin architecture for the Steam client? Its built in web browser (or third-party browsers if Valve allows)? Or could it be a method of delivering user content for other apps on their system (similar to how DLC has its own type). If it is a Steam Client or SteamOS plugin, what would that even entail? I am definitely curious.

NVIDIA Announces GAME24: Global PC Gaming Event

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | September 2, 2014 - 05:51 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, game24, pc gaming

At 6PM PDT on September 18th, 2014, NVIDIA and partners will be hosting GAME24. The evemt will start at that time, all around the world, and finish 24 hours later. The three main event locations are Los Angeles, California, USA; London, England; and Shanghai, China. Four, smaller events will be held in Chicago, Illinois, USA; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Mission Viejo, California, USA; and Stockholm, Sweden. It will also be live streamed on the official website.

nvidia-game24-2014.png

Registration and attendance is free. If you will be in the area and want to join, sign up. Registration closes an hour before the event, but it is first-come-first-serve. Good luck. Have fun. Good game.

Source: NVIDIA

NETGEAR Announces Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Router

Subject: General Tech, Networking | September 2, 2014 - 08:31 AM |
Tagged: nighthawk x4, netgear, mu-mimo, 802.11ac

Today, NETGEAR has announced the Nighthawk X4 802.11ac router. It is dual-band, with up to 1733 Mbps of bandwidth (four channels of 433 Mbps) on 5.0 GHz and up to 600 Mbps (three channels of 200 Mbps) on 2.4 GHz. Compared to the Nighthawk X6, released earlier in the year, the X4 is design for fewer users who demand more performance.

netgear-nighthawkx4-01.jpg

The first thing that stood out for me was its processor...s. The router contains two of them. Its main CPU is a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon-based (Update - Sept 2nd @ 5:20pm EDT: "Snapdragon-based" is unclear and misleading. It has "Snapdragon DNA with dual Krait cores". It is from their Qualcomm Internet Processors (IPQ) line, as mentioned in the following sentence.) ARM processor, clocked at 1.4 GHz. It is from their Qualcomm Internet Processors (IPQ) line, so it is not directly comparable to an SoC from their mobile line-up. NETGEAR also added a second, dualcore processor, clocked at 500 MHz, that is dedicated to deal with WiFi-related tasks as an "offload".

The reason why I found this interesting was that, not too many years ago, routers did not advertise their processor and RAM. There was once a niche who would create their own routers out of old PCs and an x86-compatible firmware (like OpenWRT). The push was to cheap routers with high bandwidth ratings. When I asked NETGEAR at what point did the industry decide to take the internal hardware seriously, their response was that about 73% of customers are repeat buyers. They upgraded their router because they were not happy with the performance that they were getting. Users have changed. HD video is going to numerous devices all over the home at the same time as games and downloads do their thing. The extra performance is necessary to keep the potential bandwidth in line with its usage.

netgear-nighthawkx4-02.png

One feature about this router that NETGEAR was promoting is Dynamic QoS. Using the extra processing power, mentioned in the two paragraphs above, the device identifies applications and allocates bandwidth accordingly. One example that they gave is YouTube versus Netflix. While both stream, Netflix will only grab what it needs while YouTube will load as quickly as possible to buffer ahead. If resources are tight, and Netflix is attempting to coexist with YouTube at any given time, the router will throttle the YouTube stream to provide it with at least enough bandwidth to stream, but not buffer, like, ten times faster than real time and choke out Netflix into a lower bit rate. If necessary, it will also prioritize the larger screen (TV) with the higher bit rate Netflix connection, where it will be more noticeable (than the smaller screen of a tablet, for instance).

And yes, QoS has been present in routers for more than a dog's age. They claim that it is typically a feature that users turn on, dislike, then turn right back off again. They believe that their new implementation will actually win you over.

netgear-nighthawkx4-03.jpg

The router will also feature two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA connection. It will allow networked PC backup to an external hard drive and streaming media (photos, music, and videos) to TVs by DLNA.

The NETGEAR Nighthawk X4 AC2350 (R7500) is available now for $279.99.

Source: NETGEAR

Volition to Release Saint's Row IV Mod Kit

Subject: General Tech | August 31, 2014 - 05:15 PM |
Tagged: Saints Row IV, mod, pc gaming

I just finished discussing how Grand Theft Auto IV's mod community thrives almost in spite of not having an official toolkit. Apparently, at PAX 2014, Volition announced that Saint's Row IV's official development kit will be released to the public. This follows their announcements of Saint's Row 4: Re-elected, an updated version for PS4 and Xbox One, and Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, a spin-off of Saint's Row IV for the PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, and Windows PC, that claims to place the Third Street Saints in a Disney-esque musical set in Hell.

As usual, I encourage as many developers as possible to release their development tools to the community. If you have a good game, and the community believes they could make it even better, that could help you. This seems obvious but has some development costs and (irrational?) fear of eating into DLC sales. On the other hand, it could help promote your product and its DLC, spin-offs, and so forth... see above.

Source: Joystiq

Watch_Dogs Mod for Grand Theft Auto IV

Subject: General Tech | August 31, 2014 - 04:40 PM |
Tagged: watch_dogs, watch dogs, pc gaming, mod, GTA4

If you are not in our IRC chat room, at irc.pcper.com in the #pcper channel, then you could be missing out. We often promote the forums, especially when they review components or host a LAN party, the chatroom is populated just about 24/7. A couple of days ago, KngtRider, IRC regular and owner of Nitroware, an Australian computer hardware news and review website, dropped me a link to a Grand Theft Auto IV mod that adds Watch Dogs elements. You can see the main features in the video below.

The level to which Grand Theft Auto games have been modded is surprising, especially since the tools are community-developed (unless I am completely mistaken). In this mod, the player is able to hack into cameras, ATMs, lights, and even blackout the area around his or her character. The developers even add in a custom HUD, the new wanted level system, and take down attacks.

While I did not try it, the video is impressive. For more information, check out the Kotaku article.

Source: Kotaku

Creative Introduces Sound Blaster E5 Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2014 - 11:44 AM |
Tagged: usb, Portable Audio, headphones, Headphone Amp, DAC, D/A Converter, Cirrus Logic

Creative has added a new member to their portable Sound Blaster "E" series lineup with the E5. 

SoundBlaster_E5.png

This new multi-function DAC and headphone amp features a reference-grade D/A converter chip from Cirrus Logic, the CS4398, which supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM audio (and technically DSD 2.8MHz/5.6MHz, though this does not seem to be implemented here). In addition to the realistic analog reproduction possible from a high quality chip like the CS4398, the Sound Blaster E5 provides amplification via a Texas Instruments TI6120A2, which Creative says gives the E5 a "best-in-class 600 ohm headphone amplifier".

Another aspect of the E5 that sets it apart from the previous E1 and E3 models is the inclusion of optical digital input/output, to go along with USB and dual 3.5mm headphone jacks. The two 3.5mm jacks can simultaniously drive two pairs of headphones, and on the back of the unit there are additional 3.5mm jacks for microphone input, line input/output, and these double as optical input/output via mini TOSLINK. (This might be geared for portable use, but would serve as a fine external sound solution for desktops as well!)

feature_10.jpg

The input stage of the E5 uses another Cirrus Logic chip, the CS5361, enabling high quality recording options from various sources at up to same 24-bit/192kHz. While supporting external microphones (as well as line/optical input) the E5 also has "built-in beamforming CrystalVoice microphones for audio recording and calls". And while the E5 is employing Creative's SBX sound processing chip, this DSP can be switched off with a button on the side of the device - a welcome option for serious music listening from high-resolution source material.

feature_04_high.jpg

The Sound Blaster E5 also supports digital input from iPhone and "select" Android phones (listed compatible devices include the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5, Galaxy Note 2/3, and Nexus 5/7). For portable use the E5 has a built-in rechargeable 3200mAh lithium polymer battery, which Creative says will provide up to 8 hours of playback per charge.

The Sound Blaster E5 will be available in October for $199 at Creative's online store (and likely various other retail outlets).

Source: Creative

New Haswell's aren't just for the desktop, they go in the server room too

Subject: General Tech | August 29, 2014 - 12:55 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Haswell-EP, E5-2600v3, hp, proliant

HP is releasing numerous new systems that will be running the Haswell-EP E5-2600v3, a tower format ML350 and the rack-mount DL360 and DL380 systems as well as a BL460c blade server and two brand new entry level models, the racked DL360e and DL380e.  These systems will be optimized heavily to take advantage of a proprietary PCI Express workload accelerator, HP Smartcache, HP DDR4 SmartMemory and Flexfabric adapters.  We won't see pricing until the release date of September 8 but until then you can check out the some of the stats at The Register.

hp-dl380-gen9-540x334.jpg

"The Gen9 Proliant systems will be made available on 8 September, HP said at the London launch event, and will be based on Intel's upcoming Xeon E5-2600v3 processors, which the chipmaker has yet to release."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Podcast #315 - AMD Radeon R7 SSD, Haswell-E Rumors, Radeon R9 285, and more!

Subject: General Tech | August 28, 2014 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, amd, radeon r7 ssd, Haswell-E, r9 285, haf stacker, coolermaster, Broadwell, nuc, zotac, zbox pico

PC Perspective Podcast #315 - 08/28/2014

Join us this week as we discuss the AMD Radeon R7 SSD, Haswell-E Rumors, Radeon R9 285, and more!

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

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Program length: 1:22:59
 

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

 

ASUS Quietly Refreshes Its Transformer T100 Tablet With New Hardware and Color Options

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | August 28, 2014 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, transformer t100, Intel, Bay Trail, Atom Z3775, asus

Following rumors earlier this summer, ASUS has quietly refreshed its Transformer T100 tablet. ASUS is now offering T100 tablet versions in multiple colors with a faster Intel Bay Trail processor as well as a version that retains the original SoC but adds a 500GB hard drive to the keyboard dock. I have been keeping an eye on the T100 since it first launched almost a year ago at IFA 2013, and have been eagerly waiting for the rumored refresh. Fortunately, that wait is now over because the updated Transformer T100s are finally starting to appear and be available for purchase on retailers' websites (first at Tiger Direct, then Amazon, and others now).

ASUS T100 Red Windows 8 Tablet.jpg

The T100 is now available in red and white as well as the original gray. The red and white SKUs feature a higher end Bay Trail SoC while the updated gray SKU comes with a 500GB mechanical hard drive nested inside the keyboard dock. The table below lists the model numbers for the new tablets. I should note that there are conflicting specifications at different retailers for the model numbers listed, which makes this under-the-radar refresh so frustrating, but after a bit of digging I believe the specifications to be accurate and any conflicting information to simply be errors on the part of those retailers.

New ASUS Transformer T100 Tablet SKUs (T100 Refresh)
Model Numbers Processor Internal Storage Color Price (Amazon) Price (MSRP)
T100TA-C1-WH(S) Intel Z3775 64GB eMMC White $394.99 $399
T100TA-C1-RD(S) Intel Z3775 64GB eMMC Red $388.99 $399
T100TA-C1-GR(S) Intel Z3775 64GB eMMC Gray $329.99 $399
T100TA-H2-GR Intel Z3740 64GB eMMC + 500GB HDD Gray $449.99 $?
T100TA-H1-GR Intel Z3740 32GB eMMC + 500GB HDD Gray $369.00 $399

The new colors are nice (I'm partial to the red T100), but the upgraded processor is the truly interesting bit about this Windows tablet (which won PC Perspective's "Best Hardware of 2013" award). The original T100 launched with an Intel Atom Z3740 SoC an the refreshed Transformer T100 uses a higher clocked Atom Z3775. The Z3775 is a higher-end Intel Bay Trail processor with four Silvermont CPU cores clocked at 1.46GHz that can boost to as high as 2.39GHz. The HD Graphics GPU retains the same base clockspeed as the Z3740 but has a higher turbo frequency of 778MHz (versus 667MHz on the Z3740). The table below lists the specifications of the two chips. The new SoC has significantly higher CPU clocks and a decent boost to potential GPU horsepower (thermals permitting).

Intel Atom SoC Z3740 Z3775
CPU Cores 4 x "Silvermont" Cores 4 x "Silvermont" Cores
CPU Clockspeeds (Base/Boost) 1.33GHz / 1.86GHz 1.46GHz / 2.39GHz
HD Graphics GPU Clockspeeds (Base/Boost) 311MHz / 667MHz 311MHz / 778MHz
L2 Cache 2MB 2MB
Memory Support 4GB 1066MHz 4GB 1066MHz
SDP 2W 2W
Process Node 22nm 22nm
Tray Price $32.00 $35.00

The refreshed T100 has an MSRP of $399 USD for the red and white versions with 64GB eMMC storage and gray SKU with 32GB internal storage and 500GB keyboard dock though retail prices are slightly less than that at the time of writing. The Transformer T100 with 64GB eMMC and additional 500GB hard drive has a retail price of around $450 but the MSRP is unknown.

ASUS T100 White WIndows Tablet.jpg

If you have been holding off, now is a good time to pick up an updated version for a small price premium (or an older version at a discount!). However, if you already own a T100, the relatively minor update will is a hard to justify upgrade (you would likely be better off waiting on Cherry Trail-based devices with better battery life or other improvements as possible upgrades).