Neither IBM nor the mainframe are dead yet

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: IBM, mainframe, power8

IBM has just released a new mainframe based on their new 5GHz 22nm Power8 based Processing Units with some models supporting up to 10TB of RAM, the minimum you can run is a mere 64GB.  It can not only run IBM's zOS but is also capable of directly supporting Linux and can be managed with a Blade running Windows if you so desire. These fancy looking little mainframes are set up with drawers of either 39 or 42 PUs, so you can upgrade as your usage requires although 2 are actually spares and 6 are System Assist Processors, the remaining PUs can be assigned to varying roles as in previous IBM Z models.  These machines are designed to handle large amounts of data traffic, providing real time encryption on up to 2.5 billion transactions per day.  The Register feels that the most likely usage scenario will be to provide secure mobile data traffic, something which is certainly needed.  You can also glean more information from this blog entry if you are curious about the architecture and capabilities of this mainframe.

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"Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the market, but IBM will be hoping that the billion dollars it's poured into developing the new z13 mainframe will get the big end of town as excited as Big Blue itself is."

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Source: The Register

Windows 7 Is Now Classified as Extended Support

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 03:41 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, extended support

According to Microsoft's lifecycle calendar, Windows 7 left mainstream support on the 13th of January and has entered “Extended Support”. This means that the operating system will still receive security updates, but not non-security ones, and “requests to change product design and features” will not be accepted. While the OS is over five years old, it is still very popular, especially among PC gamers.

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My concern is that this occurred while we anticipate major changes to the Windows platform. While I never really expected that Microsoft would release DirectX 12 for Windows, there was still hope that we would see a pre-release or developer build while Windows 7 was still in mainstream support (despite being several driver models behind). Now that the window has closed, so to speak, that hope is diminishing. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, might be okay, but I have no idea why you would want to stick with it over Windows 10, especially if it is a free/cheap update.

Besides DirectX 12, I am also concerned about Microsoft cutting off first-party web browsers at IE11. Sure, it is a much better place to end than IE8 on Windows XP, and the end-user could always install a third-party browser, but it could lead to problems for web developers. It is much easier to say “keep Internet Explorer up to date” (heck, even Microsoft is saying it) than the alternative, “use a different browser”. There are still many features under consideration (Shadow DOM being the most interesting for me) that would be nice to have, and not need to worry about the fraction of a fraction.

But at least it will be kept secure until 2020.

Source: Microsoft

FarCry 4 performance, it is almost ready for prime time

Subject: General Tech | January 14, 2015 - 02:24 PM |
Tagged: ubisoft, sad, gaming, farcry 4

[H]ard|OCP recently put out a pair of articles covering Far Cry 4, the first of which covered the various new graphics features, many of which are only available to NVIDIA users and others like the Godrays which have such a performance impact on AMD GPUs that they may as well be NVIDIA only.  The second will be of more interest to gamers as they benchmark a dozen GPUs, covering NVIDIA from the GTX 750Ti through to the GTX 980 and AMD from the R7 260X through to the R9 290X.  They also had a chance to test SLI performance but unfortunately as Ubisoft decided to disable Crossfire completely in the game there could not be any multiple AMD GPU setups tested.  Perhaps the most telling conclusion from [H]ard|OCP is also the most obvious, even though this is an evolution of the FarCry3 engine there have been numerous issues with the game since launch and even after six patches major issues with the game and the continued refusal to support Crossfire are hurting this games performance.  If you still plan to play the game you can read [H]'s full performance review to see how your GPU should perform in Ubisoft's latest ... release.

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"We play Far Cry 4 on no less than twelve different GPUs for this in-depth look at what graphics settings are playable in Far Cry 4. We will talk about playable settings and show apples-to-apples so you know what to expect in this game and what upgrading your video card may do for you in this new game."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Sure it is still 1's and 0's but a lot has changed in 25 years

Subject: General Tech | January 14, 2015 - 12:32 PM |
Tagged: history, cpu, errata, dan luu

A question was asked of Dan Luu about what new tricks silicon has learned since the early days of the eighties.  The answer covers a gamut of what tools those who work on low level code such as drivers and UEFI/BIOS now have at their disposal.  It is far more than just the fact that we have grown from 8 bit to 64 bit or the frequencies possible now that were undreamed of before but delves into the newer features such as out of order instructions and single instruction, multiple data instructions.  If you are not familiar with how CPUs and GPGPUs operate at these low levels it is a great jumping off point for you to learn what the features are called and to get a rough idea of what tasks they perform.  If you know your silicon through and through it is a nice look back at what has been added in the last 25 years and a reminder of what you had to work without back in the days when flashing a BIOS was a literal thing.  You can also check the comments below the links at Slashdot as they are uncharacteristically on topic.

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"An article by Dan Luu answers this question and provides a good overview of various cool tricks modern CPUs can perform. The slightly older presentation Compiler++ by Jim Radigan also gives some insight on how C++ translates to modern instruction sets."

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Source: Slashdot

Grand Theft Auto V (PC) Delayed Until March 24, 2015

Subject: General Tech | January 14, 2015 - 04:20 AM |
Tagged: GTA5, GTA Online, consolitis

The fifth major release of Grand Theft Auto was launched sixteen months ago on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, without the PC. Eventually, Rockstar announced next-gen versions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which explained why the PC was missing before: it was considered a next-gen platform. Those platforms launched a year after the initial release, but the PC was pushed into January 2015. Now it has been pushed again, into late March (the 24th to be precise).

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It's not like we're not trying!

Again, I hope that the extra time will be worth it -- and it might be, too. The game was overwhelmingly successful from a sales standpoint, but Grand Theft Auto Online (its multiplayer component) was criticized for a wide range of issues: service connectivity, glitches including loss of characters and progression, and some even claim a lack of content. Maybe, just maybe, it will be polished by the time it gets to us. And hey, Rockstar even claims that it will launch with Heists (which could be considered a running joke in itself).

They also claim that Grand Theft Auto Online for the PC will support 30 players. Nice.

The system specifications were also released, and they're fairly modest (unlike other recent titles). At a minimum, you will need a 64-bit OS with 4GB of memory and 65GB of drive space, which might be a stumbling block for some. Besides that? Core 2 Quad Q6600 and a GeForce 9800 GT. Its recommended specs push the CPU up to an Ivy Bridge Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 660.

It is interesting to see that only quad cores (or higher) are supported, but fairly old ones. Unless something like Far Cry 4 happens, there should be plenty enough performance in a dual-core Pentium Anniversary Edition to keep up. Hopefully Rockstar doesn't error-out machines if they do not detect at least four threads.

Source: Joystiq

NZXT Enters the Set-Top Box Market with the DOKO Remote PC Streaming Device

Subject: General Tech | January 13, 2015 - 03:52 PM |
Tagged: set-top box, remote access, pc game streaming, nzxt, DOKO

The new DOKO device from NZXT is an interesting spin on the living room streaming box, and it's a lot more than another Netflix player.

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So what exactly is it? According to NZXT "DOKO is a low latency (50-80ms), 1080p 30 FPS PC streaming device that brings you the full functionality of your PC, anywhere in your home."

The DOKO provides the interface to remotely connect to computers over your network, providing access to whatever resources you have on your PC. The DOKO has USB ports to connect peripherals and though there is no proprietary hardware required, the company has compiled a “recommend” list of compatible keyboards, mice, and game controllers on their site.

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The DOKO interface

And NZXT is making the gaming aspect of the streamer’s capability a big part of the product, though with a 30 FPS limit it isn't as exciting as it could be.

“DOKO brings you unrestricted, latency-free gaming direct to your TV. Experience a new way to play your favorite PC games, with complete access to ALL of them, whether they are from Steam, Origin, Uplay or any other source.”

In-home streaming is already a part of Steam, but the idea of an agnostic gaming experience without a second computer is attractive if it works as well as advertised. The company also points out the advantage of being able to do everything your PC can do… (Uh, we’re talking about spreadsheets, right?)

The DOKO will be available exclusively from NZXT’s online store (sorry, online "Armory") for $99, and will start shipping January 28.

Source: NZXT

Alas poor Win7, I knew him ...

Subject: General Tech | January 13, 2015 - 12:59 PM |
Tagged: win7, extended support, the cycle of life, inevitable

Sigh, the end draws nigh for that most common of desktop operating systems, Windows 7, has moved into Extended Support.  This follows the move at Halloween from an active product to one no longer available but is not the final straw for the OS which is currently scheduled for 2020.  The Inquirer quotes a source which places the current market share of Win7 at just over 56% globally, far above the currently selling Win8.1 but this number will slowly begin to fall, likely at a quicker pace than did WinXP's share.  When a Windows product reaches Extended Support it still receives security patches and serious bug fixes, albeit at a slower pace than when it is current so don't worry that your Win7 boxen will be dying any time soon but it does make it even more worthwhile to familiarize yourself with Windows 10 as new machines will be running that OS very soon.  Drop by The Inquirer for other upcoming dates, such as the final nail in Vista's coffin.

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"WINDOWS 7 has reached an important milestone that begins its long, slow descent into obscurity and eventually end of life, where it will doubtless continue to command more market share than its successor."

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Source: The Inquirer

Using the embedded HD7850 to spot the next generation of gamers in the womb

Subject: General Tech | January 12, 2015 - 01:29 PM |
Tagged: ultrasound, opencl, hd 7850

The new bk3000 Ultrasound System from Analogic will use an embedded HD7850 and OpenCL to triple the quality of the information the ultrasound reveals.  This will allow ultrasounds to reveal anatomical detail and micro-vascularization that was not available with previous ultrasound technology and could even enable Gamegaters to locate their own heads with the use of the E14C4t transducer.  The most familiar usage of ultrasound is for displaying a fetus in utero but there are far more medical uses for this type of (mostly) non-invasive scan and the increase in detail and the transformation abilities that Open CL brings will not only make it more effective but could expand the usefulness of ultrasounds as a diagnostic tool.  As we at PC Perspective continue to age we are very appreciative of advances such as this, especially if we can get a split screen that allows us to do a little light gaming while the doctors poke and prod!

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SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Jan. 12, 2015 — AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) today announced that the AMD Embedded Radeon HD 7850 GPU is enabling cutting-edge application performance for the BK Ultrasound, powered by Analogic, bk3000 ultrasound system. Analogic is a leader in developing healthcare and security technology solutions to advance the practice of medicine to save lives.

“The AMD Embedded Radeon HD 7850 GPU with OpenCL provides a powerful and efficient pairing,” said Cameron Swen, segment marketing manager, medical applications, AMD Embedded Solutions. “This product is yet another proof point to AMD’s dedication to the healthcare segment through its technology, which helps facilitate crisp, detailed medical image visualization and other advanced graphics-driven capabilities, helping doctors provide improved care for patients.”

Analogic used OpenCL standard to gain access to the GPU for general-purpose computing, referred to as “GPGPU,” delivering exceptional performance and offering system and development cost reduction through cross-platform portability. As a result of using AMD GPU technology, Analogic achieved a 3x improvement in the amount of information in each ultrasound image and reduced time from capture to presentation. Traditional FPGAs and DSPs create a fixed, inflexible implementation that requires custom software targeted at specific hardware. Going to a software-based solution using OpenCL helps to further lower the development cost and provides improved long term value since the software can be used across product lines and through generation shifts.

“It was a critical design goal for us to implement a platform that delivered exceptional performance,” said Jacques Coumans, chief marketing and scientific officer, Analogic. “After reviewing the options available, we chose the AMD Embedded Radeon HD 7850 GPU for its excellent quality and scalability. The bk3000 ultrasound system, powered by AMD embedded graphics technology, delivers exceptional speed and image fidelity, which allows clinicians to identify anatomy and flow dynamics deeper in challenging patients.”

The AMD Embedded Radeon HD 7850 is based on AMD’s award-winning Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture to advance the visual growth and parallel processing capabilities of embedded applications. In addition to ultrasound, other applications for GPGPU include some of the most complex parallel applications such as terrain and weather mapping, facial and gesture recognition, and biometric and DNA analysis.

The new Analogic bk3000 ultrasound system is targeted for urology, surgery, general imaging, and procedure guidance applications and is commercially available in key markets worldwide.

Source: AMD

Still wondering about adaptive refresh and why it matters to more than the 144Hz crowd?

Subject: General Tech | January 12, 2015 - 12:42 PM |
Tagged: freesync, amd

The Tech Report published a video of Freesync in action using a camera which records at 240 fps.  The subject material is running at less than the 60Hz that most of our monitors use which means that you can actually see what it does for you.  Watching the video at 60Hz you can see the tearing on the blades of the windmill as the actual frame rate of the render is 44 - 45Hz while when Freesync is active the matched frequencies do not cause any tearing.  The demonstration shows how Freesync can benefit lower end systems that are not going to push a 144Hz monitor to the limits, if you can only manage 40-50 fps in a game Freesync is going to make it much easier on your eyes.  You can catch our latest coverage of Freesync here.

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"We've been hearing about FreeSync, AMD's answer to Nvidia's G-Sync variable refresh display tech, for just over a year now. This week at CES, we finally got a chance to see FreeSync in action, and we used that opportunity to shoot some enlightening 240-FPS footage. We were able to find out some new specifics from AMD, as well."

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Two of Intel's CES Wearables Powered by ARM Processors

Subject: General Tech | January 11, 2015 - 03:08 PM |
Tagged: wearables, SoC, smartwatch, Intel, ces 2015, CES, arm

Wearable tech shown at this year's CES by Intel included the Intel MICA and Basis PEAK wearables, but a blog post from ARM is reporting that a pair of these devices are powered by an ARM SoC.

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The Intel MICA (Image credit: Intel)

ARM has posted pictures of teardowns from different wearable products, highlighting their presence in these new devices. The pictures we have taken from ARM's blog post show that it is not Intel at the heart of the two particular models we have listed below.

First is the Basis PEAK, and it actually makes a lot of sense that this product would have an ARM SoC considering Intel's aquisition of Basis occurred late in 2014, likely after the development of the PEAK had been completed.

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The Basis PEAK (Image credits: Basis, ARM)

Of course it is likely that Intel has plans to integrate their own mobile chips into future versions of wearable products like the PEAK.

Of some interest however is the SoC within their own MICA luxury wearable.

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The Intel MICA (Image credits: Intel, ARM)

For now, ARM is the industry standard for mobile devices and they are quick to point this out in their their blog post, writing "it’s important to remember that only ARM and its partners can meet the diversity requirements and fuel innovation in this space". Intel seems to be playing the "partner" role for now, though not exclusively as the company's mobile technology is powering the newest ASUS ZenFone, for instance.

Source: ARM IoT Blog