Psst, hey buddy I got some nice Android apps for you cheap! They just fell off the back of a truck ya know.

Subject: General Tech | March 25, 2015 - 12:25 PM |
Tagged: Android, security

If you are running a device with Android 4.3 or earlier you should avoid third-party app stores; arguably all users should but there are times when Google Play does not offer what you need.  A security problem with the way that APK files are authenticated during install can allow a seemingly harmless app to be modified, either at the source or while being transmitted, leading to the installation of an app that may not be entirely honest about what it does.  Palo Alto Network's testing shows versions 4.4+ do not suffer from this particular problem nor do the vetted apps at the Google Play store.  It is unlikely you will encounter this problem unless you usually install things from places like Creepy Ice Cream Van Discount Apps and Malware,  but you should be aware of the existence of this issue.  More at The Inquirer.

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"A FRESH VULNERABILITY CALLED Android Installer Hijacking is making itself known as a threat to almost half of all Android users."

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Source: The Inquirer

Pixar Renderman Is Free for Non-Commercial Use

Subject: General Tech | March 24, 2015 - 09:44 PM |
Tagged: renderman, pixar, disney

Well that's a surprise. Pixar Renderman, the software used and developed by Pixar to turn computer-represented geometry into wonderful images, is now free for non-commercial use. This is not quite as free as Unreal Engine 4, which does not require royalties for rendered audio/video at all because the content is viewed without the engine, but free for non-commercial is still a big deal considering what Renderman is. While Pixar is known for their movies, they are very much software engineers.

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Thumbs up all around.

Image Credit: Pixar via Animation Magazine

Currently the rendering package integrates with Autodesk Maya and KATANA by The Foundry. Pixar has Cinema4D and Houdini listed as “in development”. They also claim to be interested in 3D Studio Max, because of course they are, as well as Modo, Rhino, Lightwave, and Blender.

Yay Blender!

The above list only considers dedicated plug-ins. Pixar Renderman can also be run as a standalone application that accepts their file format, “RIB”, from a command-line interface. There has been many of these for Blender and other 3D suites over the last basically forever. A plug-in is nicer for artists however, and it is good to see Pixar is not afraid of open-source suites to pair with their proprietary rendering package. Also, "Blenderman" is a hilarious name.

Source: Pixar

Getting heavy into HAMR's theory

Subject: General Tech | March 24, 2015 - 12:43 PM |
Tagged: HAMR, science

If you are curious just how Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording is able to increase the storage densities of your HDDs then this post at Nanotechweb and the linked article will make a great read.  They deal with how plasmonic near-field transducers, which will oscillate in time with the frequency of a light source, as long as the light source's frequency is equal to or less than the plasma frequency.  This causes heat but nowhere near as much as if the light was used directly and so avoids potentially damaging hotspots.  They also delve into the materials which are being tested to provide more efficient heat transmission; it is not light reading but it is very informative for those curious about HAMR's development and future.

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"Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) is a leading technology for advancing hard-disk-drive areal density beyond 1 Tb/in2. To reduce the magnetic coercivity, near-field transducers (NFTs) made of plasmonic nanostructures are used."

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Source: Nanotechweb

Looking for an Android emulator?

Subject: General Tech | March 23, 2015 - 01:08 PM |
Tagged: DuOS, Android

Be it for development reasons or a serious addiction to a certain game, there are those who find themselves wanting to run Android on a device larger than a phone or tablet.  For a mere $10 you can pick up DuOS, a supported Android emulator which will run on a PC, or at least a modern Intel powered machine as the emulator uses VT-x to run properly which is a shame for AMD users.  It will not run on ARM hardware but it is ARM v-7 compliant so you can use applications designed for the chip that most mobile hardware runs on with DuOS.  The footprint on your machine is tiny, 16GB maximum and you can root the installation very quickly if you are looking to test your modifications to the Android OS before installing them on your phone.  Techgage does mention that there is no help menu and you will need to update the application manually so plan to spend some time on the DuOS forums if you will be making use of this software.

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"With so many devices out there, on many different operating systems, deciding which one you should purchase can be difficult. DuOS helps lessen that burden by providing an Android tablet experience on your Windows computer. Does DuOS step beyond the barriers that currently divide these OS’s, or are we still locked into one OS per device?"

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Source: Techgage

Microsoft Changes Secure Boot Rules with Windows 10, Could Mean OS Lockout

Subject: General Tech | March 22, 2015 - 09:14 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, Secure Boot, microsoft, linux

Secure Boot is a security measure that prevents malware from interfering with the boot process, but it can also prevent unsigned operating systems from booting on the same hardware. While Microsoft’s “Designed for Windows 8” guidelines required manufacturers to permit users to disable the Secure Boot option, the upcoming Windows 10 release will not have this rule in effect. At WinHEC it has been revealed that Windows 10 guidelines leave it up to the OEM to decide if they will allow users to disable UEFI Secure Boot in the system setup, and making this optional presents an interesting question about compatibility with other operating systems. OEM's will be required to ship computers with Secure Boot enabled to comply with “Designed for…” rules, and while they could then choose to provide the option to disable it (currently the required standard), preventing user installation of other OS software could be seen as a way to streamline support by eliminating variables.

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Image Credit: Ars Technica

Why does this matter if most people who purchase a Windows 10 computer will run Windows 10 on it? This could be an issue for someone who wished to either replace that Windows 10 installation with another OS, or simply dual-boot with an OS that didn’t support the Secure Boot feature (which could be a build of Linux or even an older version of Windows). Requiring OS files to contain digital signatures effectively locks out other operating systems without special workarounds or keys, and although open-source operating systems represent a small segment of the market thanks to the way computer hardware is sold to most people, it is concerning to think future hardware could cause a loss of the freedom of choice we have always had with operating systems.

Microsoft enjoys market dominance with Windows thanks to its licensing model (giving it a monopoly on pre-built PC systems that don’t have an Apple or Chrome logo on them), but reportedly began considering possibilities "to assert its intellectual property against Linux or any other open-source software” a decade ago, and this has reached farther than they probably imagined with the adoption of Android (from which Microsoft makes money on every device sold). Is this Secure Boot move nefarious, and does Microsoft consider Linux to be a potential threat to the their desktop market share? It could be that Microsoft would simply like to claim that Windows 10 is the safest version of Windows yet, and that isn’t a bad thing for consumers. Unless they want to easily use another OS on the hardware they purchased, that is.

Source: Ars Technica

SEC Filing Reveals NVIDIA Now Using Samsung for Some Manufacturing

Subject: General Tech | March 21, 2015 - 12:09 AM |
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, Semiconductor, Samsung, process node, nvidia, gpu, fab

Want to liven up your weekend? Forget college basketball, we all know that few things are more exciting than SEC filings - and oh boy do we have a great read for you! (OK, this one is actually interesting!)

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Ah, legal documents...

NVIDIA has disclosed in their latest 10-K filing that none other than Samsung is manufacturing some of the company’s chips. TSMC has been the source of GPUs for both AMD and NVIDIA for some time, but this filing (the full document is available from the SEC website) has a very interesting mention of the suppliers of their silicon under the “Manufacturing” section:

"We utilize industry-leading suppliers, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, to produce our semiconductor wafers."

Back in December NVIDIA commented on its lawsuit against Samsung for alleged IP theft, which only makes this partnership seem more unlikely. However even Apple (which has their own famous legal history with Samsung, of course) has relied on Samsung for some of the production of their A-series SoCs, including the current crop of A8 chips.  Business is business, and Samsung Foundry has been a reliable source of silicon for multiple manufacturers - particularly during times when TSMC has struggled to meet demand at smaller process nodes.

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Samsung's Current Semiconductor Offering

It is unclear at this point whether the wafers produced by Samsung Semiconductor are for NVIDIA’s mobile parts exclusively, or if any of the desktop GPUs were produced there rather than at TSMC. The partnership could also be attributed simply to scale, just as Apple has augmented A8 SoC supply with their rival’s fab while primarily relying on TSMC. It will be interesting to see just how pervasive the chips produced by Samsung are within the NVIDIA lineup, and what future products might be manufactured with their newest 14nm FinFET process technology.

Source: SEC

Once pirated, always pirated? Microsoft muddles the Win10 upgrade news

Subject: General Tech | March 20, 2015 - 12:18 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, confusion

Slashdot has linked to news out of Microsoft that the option to upgrade your non-genuine version of Win7, 8 or 8.1 to Windows 10 is not as clear cut as it sounded earlier in the week.  Microsoft stated in the interview that "they will remain in a “non-genuine” status and Microsoft will not support them".   This is more than a little odd if the stated purpose of this move, to reduce piracy rates across Asia, is correct as there is little to no reason to upgrade if your PC still remains unsupported.  Perhaps there is some sort of disconnect at Microsoft in which they think that one look at their new OS and Store will cause an epiphany in lifelong software pirates and they will leap at the opportunity to pay for Windows 10?

As Microsoft declined to elucidate further we really have no idea what they mean when they state that your Windows will remain unlicensed.  Will you simply have the same Reduced Functional mode, the black desktop overwrite that appears on non-genuine Windows currently?  Will you get all, some or none of the security updates?  Will it simply refuse to boot after a certain amount of time?  All in all it seems that Microsoft could have just skipped their original announcement as nothing seems to have changed.

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"When Microsoft confirmed it will offer free Windows 10 upgrades to pirates worldwide, many were shocked. VentureBeat has been trying to get more details from the company, which disclosed today that after PCs with pirated copies of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are upgraded to Windows 10, they will remain in a 'non-genuine' status and Microsoft will not support them."

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Source: Slashdot

Podcast #341 - NVIDIA GTX TITAN X, News from GTC2015, Mini-ITX X99 and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 19, 2015 - 06:12 PM |
Tagged: Xeon D, X99, windows 10, video, usb 3.1, titan x, podcast, nvidia, msi, Intel, HSA 1.0, gtx titan x, gtc 2015, digits devbox, DIGITS, asrock

PC Perspective Podcast #341 - 03/19/2015

Join us this week as we the NVIDIA GTX TITAN X, News from GTC2015, Mini-ITX X99 motherboard 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
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Hosts: Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, Allyn Malventano, and Morry Teitelman

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

Dammit Gabe, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Subject: General Tech | March 19, 2015 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: sad, half life 3, gaben

Gabe, once again, will not confirm or deny the possibility of another Half Life game but did imply in an interview that there are no teams currently working on one.  The reason is sad but obvious, as our sometimes maligned Raptr posts have shown, DOTA 2 and CS:GO make up over 10% of the time spent gaming by those with Raptr installed and at the time this article was written 14% of online Steam users are playing those games.  That translates to a lot of hats being sold and a lot of money coming into Valve; significantly more than would come from a new Half Life thanks to the ongoing nature of those online games and the market they have created.

You can catch the interview from the links on Slashdot but stating that this is the end of single player focused games from Valve is an overstatement.  The online gaming market is more lucrative but there is still a market for those of us who prefer stories to online bragging rights and some of the work they have done on current game engines should be translatable to a financially viable single player game or ten.

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"Half-Life 3 is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated games in history. While Valve transitioned from the revolutionary series that brought the company most of its original success, to online games like Team Fortress, Dota and Left 4 Dead, people still desperately want to believe that there is more coming for Half-Life."

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Source: Slashdot

Windows 10 Build 10041 Released to Insiders

Subject: General Tech | March 18, 2015 - 05:35 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, build 10041

It has been a long time coming, but the new preview build of Windows 10 has been released. 10041 can be installed for users on the “Fast” ring, leaving users who opt into “Slow” to be on 9926 for a bit longer. You know, the wise enthusiast learns from their mistakes, but the smart enthusiast learns from the mistakes of others. At any rate, pun intended, a few things have changed in this build, but I expect that most of it is under the hood.

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On the user-facing side though, the Start menu has been modified to include transparency and Virtual Desktops can now support dragging windows between instances (or onto the + to create a new Virtual Desktop with that window in it). Each update, I have attempted to use Virtual Desktops but I have never stuck with it. Rather than being organized, it felt separated, which gave the impression that I was wasting more time context-switching than if I just sifted through cluttered windows. As always, I will give it another chance with 10041. Perhaps I am just using it wrong. We'll see.

There are some known bugs in this version, like always, so read up on it before making the update if your machine is important. I mean, even 9926 has some noticeable problems that are getting annoying, so you might even be net-positive, but look before you leap. That is, unless you are on an unimportant device or are amused by bugs and you want the newest nowest yesterday.

Speaking of which, as previously discussed, Microsoft intends to speed up the rate of “Fast” builds. Their users seem to want less-stable and more cutting edge builds, so they are hoping to have one or two builds per month.

Also, don't let my posts discourage anyone from trying Windows 10. Just because I need to report on all the issues that I experience (even some that ended up being coincidentally exploded hardware, whoops...) doesn't mean that I am casting shame on it. Ultimately, whatever you install Windows on is a device. If that device performs a critical function in your life, then you need to be aware of the issues that I know about. If not, then enjoy the pre-release experience.

I will probably be installing 10041 soon, especially if it brings new Intel and NVIDIA GPU drivers.

Update (March 19th @ 4PM EDT): I installed 10041 last night, and was greeted with two new graphics drivers: one for Intel and another for NVIDIA. Still to early to tell whether it fixed issues or made things worse, but nothing bad happened yet. I am hearing that some people are having difficulty installing audio drivers, though. Allyn linked me to a problem with Xonar cards, and people in the comments of this article mention "audio drivers" in general. About that, all I can say is that my Blue Yeti works fine, as both a mic and sound card.

Source: Microsoft