Is it better to freeze or give bad results? Skylake and complex math need to learn to get along

Subject: General Tech | January 11, 2016 - 03:00 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Skylake, bug

You may remember the infamous Pentium FDIV bug, which could cause the wrong decimal results to be given in an answer to complex mathematical calculations which caused much consternation among scientists in the early 90's.  Now there is a new bug to remember, found on Skylake processors, which can cause the processor to freeze during complex calculations such as you would do in Prime95 or if you contribute to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search project.  The issue has been replicated on both Windows and Linux systems and on different motherboards, signifying that the issue does indeed come from the CPU.  While having a freeze is certainly better than getting an incorrect result, it is still inconvenient and we hope that Intel's BIOS update will arrive soon.  You can follow the detection and investigation of the bug and what is being done over at The Register.

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"The good news is that the bug's triggered by complex workloads. It was turned up by prime number experts the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), who use Intel machines to identify and test new large prime numbers."

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Source: The Register

CES 2016: HP Refreshes Spectre x360 Convertible Tablet Series

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 9, 2016 - 11:44 PM |
Tagged: CES 2016, hp, spectre x360, convertible tablet, ultrathin

During CES HP announced a refresh of its Spectre x360 series of convertible tablet PCs. The 13” Spectre x360 will shortly be joined by a new 15” version and both notebooks will be powered by Skylake processors.

There are not many details on the Spectre x360 13 available, but HP did reveal a new display option in the form of a 2560 x 1440 OLED panel. Thanks to the OLED not requiring a separate backlight, HP was able to make the notebook slightly thinner and 50 grams lighter than the current 13” Spectre x360. It will also feature Bang & Olufsen audio. This OLED-equipped refresh will be available in spring for an as-yet-unannounced price.

HP was more forthcoming with information on the Spectre x360 15. Featuring the same 360° hinge and general design as its smaller sibling, it weighs just over 4 pounds (1.83kg) and measures 15.9mm (0.63”) thick. A silver colored body made of machined aluminum surrounds silver keys (1.5mm key travel) and while there is no number pad, there is a rather wide trackpad sitting below the keyboard. Bang & Olufsen audio, a webcam, USB 3.0, USB-C, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, audio jack, and SD card round out the I/O options. The display options top out at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 here though this is an LED backlit panel not OLED.

HP Spectre x360 15 tablet.jpg

HP is using Intel Core i5 or i7 (depending on configuration) “Skylake” processors with Intel Iris graphics to drive the 4K display. There are no discrete GPU options so gaming at native resolution is out, but the Iris graphics will be plenty for everything else. It can be further configured with up to 16GB of memory and 1TB of solid state storage. A 64.5Wh battery offers up to 9.5 hours of productivity.

We’ll have to wait a few months for pricing on the 13” refresh, but the Spectre x360 15 will start at $1,149 in February. It is a bit pricey, but not out of line with the competition. There are even reviews popping up around the Internet if you are interested in this thin-and-light convertible.

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Source: Ars Technica

Windows 8 Also Deprecated on January 12th

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 10:31 PM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, windows 8, microsoft

So I was just browsing ZDNet when I came across a post by Ed Bott. Turns out that Microsoft, on top of deprecating Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10, will also end support for the original Windows 8 on that date. To receive security updates, users will need to install the Windows 8.1 update first. Alternatively, if they have Windows 8 Pro, they can exercise their downgrade rights and install Windows 7 Pro. You can also install Windows 10, but I'm sure Microsoft has told you that ad nauseum.

Windows8TheEndLogo.png

They reason for this is because Windows 8.1 is considered a service pack. Microsoft allows service packs to be delayed for up to 24 months before they stop developing security updates. Once they upgrade to Windows 8.1, they will remain supported until 2018 with “extended” support until 2023. Windows 7 will continue to be supported until 2020.

The vast majority of our readers probably don't care. One or two might have an old laptop that you've never bothered pushing the service pack on, or they work for an enterprise IT firm that will have an annoying week starting Monday.

Source: ZDNet

Marc Laidlaw, Lead Writer for Half-Life Franchise, Retires

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 07:06 PM |
Tagged: valve, half life 3

I won't blame them if they hide the silverware, however. I can be trusted with company secrets, but not with spoons. Never with spoons.

Marc Laidlaw is an author of science fiction, who wrote much of the story of Half-Life, its expansions, and Half-Life 2. Valve's flat corporate structure (at least at the time) makes it difficult to find out who did what. All employees are listed alphabetically in the credits. He hasn't been given a lot of public credit since Half-Life 2, though.

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Whatever he's been working on, he has since retired from the company after eighteen years. On his way out, he emailed a Reddit user with opinions regarding his departure, because that's a Valve thing to do I guess. Gamasutra confirmed it's true. It's a relatively short, interview format letter. The Reddit user apparently initiated contact and didn't realize Marc had just retired.

He wouldn't go into too many details about why he left the company, except that he's “old” and he wants to start writing his own narratives. He published several novels before being hired at Valve Software, which he apparently shelved after The 37th Mandala at the short story Catamounts in 1996. He wrote a couple of short stories in the last 2000s, right after Half-Life 2: Episode 2 launched. He wishes to go back to doing that again, which should be a nice retirement pass-time.

What this means for future Half-Life titles? Who knows.

He says that everything's in Valve's hands at the moment, but he could very well have wrapped up involvement in a project just before he left. I mean, it's been five or six years since his last publicly credited work. That's plenty of time to finish an unannounced product. Again, who knows?

Source: Reddit

Razer's sharp new Smartwatches, the Nabu and Nabu Forged Edition

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 02:22 PM |
Tagged: CES, smartwatch, razer, Nabu, forged edition

Razer announced two new smartwatches which will be on sale towards the end of the month, $150 for the Nabu and $200 for the Forged Edition.  Both watches will have the features you should expect, an illuminated backlit display, countdown timer, stopwatch, and automatic time sync via Bluetooth to ensure that you are on time.  The secondary screen will display call, text and email notifications once it is paired to your cellphone, as well as app alerts and fitness tracking information such as sleeping patterns and distance travelled.

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The Nabu

The watch will also be able to communicate directly with other Razer Nabus which are in range, allowing you to swap Facebook and Twitter info as well as letting you keep up with the latest Gungan politics.  You can expect 7 days worth of usage on a single charge and the coin-style battery should be good for 12 months of usage before you need to replace it. 

NabuWatch_frg_02.png

The Nabu Forged Edition

LAS VEGAS (CES 2016) – Razer, a world leader in connected devices and software for gamers, today announced the Razer Nabu Watch. The full-featured digital timepiece includes a Nabu secondary screen that previews notifications streamed from a smartphone, as well as tracks fitness and sleep activity via an in-built accelerometer.

While smartwatches have proliferated the industry in 2015, one of the biggest challenges to the devices have been their battery life and their fundamental lack of capability as a multi-function watch. Razer addresses these issues by focusing first on the digital chronograph as the primary function and the smart features as a secondary addition.

The Razer Nabu Watch includes features expected of top-tier digital watches – an illuminated backlit display, countdown timer, stopwatch, World time clocks and alarms – as well as automatic phone time sync via Bluetooth to ensure the watch is always accurate to the global standard. Most importantly, the Razer Nabu Watch digital chronograph component has a 12- month life on its coin cell replaceable battery.

A secondary screen outfitted in the Razer Nabu Watch delivers all the features of a Nabu wearable, including discreet notifications, fitness tracking and watch-to-watch communication. Paired to a user’s smartphone via Bluetooth, calls, texts, emails and app alerts all stream to the secondary screen for ease of viewing. An in-built accelerometer enables comprehensive fitness tracking – steps walked, distance traveled, calories burned and more.

Finally, with its unique watch-to-watch communication capability, two Nabu Watch users can shake hands to exchange Facebook and Twitter info easily. This feature works interchangeably between any Nabu Watch, Nabu and/or Nabu X. The watch’s secondary screen has seven days of rechargeable battery life via an included charging cable. “We’re bringing together the reliability and incredible functionality of a digital timepiece, with added smart features to empower the tech enthusiasts of today,” says Razer CEO and co- founder, Min-Liang Tan.

“We’re also just really excited to create a digital watch that we’re proud to call our own – a natural intersection between our popular work in apparel and wearables. This was something our fans have asked for, and we’re happy to deliver.” The Razer Nabu Watch is available in two versions. The standard edition is designed with tough polycarbonate materials and with Razer green highlights. It will be available from late January 2016 and is priced at $149.99. The Razer Nabu Watch Forged Edition has machined stainless steel buttons for added durability and a premium black finish. It is available from January 6th 2016 exclusively at RazerStore retail locations and at RazerStore.com, priced at $199.99.

For more information on the Razer Nabu Watch, please visit www.razerzone.com/watch.

 

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Source: Razer

If you really don't want to upgrade to Windows 10 ...

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 01:21 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

There are those who are not interested in upgrading to Windows 10 from 7 or 8.x and they offer a variety of reasons as to why they will not.  Recently two objections have been resolved, with the newest Media Creation Tool from Microsoft you are now able to do a clean install, using your Win7/8.x key during the installation process.  As well Scott has shown how you can force a roll-back if you encounter difficulties after the upgrade.

If you still have no interest in the new OS, then take a gander at these tips from The Register which will disable those annoying popups.  By making these changes to the registry you will retain the ability to recieve updates via Microsoft Update, you just will not see the nag screen asking you to upgrade to Win10.  They also mention a way to stop the update files from being downloaded.  You can also just choose to ignore this until Microsoft's stated deadline of  July, at which point the popup should disappear as well.

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"If you're using a PC running Windows 7 or 8, you may be getting a little sick of endless popup screens telling you to upgrade to version 10. And you may be worried about inadvertently installing the upgrade as part of a security update."

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Source: Slashdot

Is Windows 10 Nagging Actually Getting Worse?

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 03:18 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

My production machine has been on Windows 10 since the second Insider Preview build, back in 2014. We have a handful of laptops that are on older versions, however. One of them, which runs Windows 8.1, was upgraded to Windows 10 for a few weeks once 1511 landed, but it did not handle the transition well. There was a few nasty glitches, including 100% screen brightness for some reason being interpreted as 0% screen brightness, making the display turn off when I plugged it in (until I realized what was going on).

No problem, I thought to myself, I will just roll back to Windows 8.1. I gave it a shot.

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That's apparently not good for Microsoft. Windows Update apparently has no record of an upgrade being rolled back, because the first thing it asked me when Windows 8.1 was restore was to upgrade back to Windows 10. Noooooooooooooooo. I will not, Microsoft, at least not until some later service release fixes these issues.

All I could think of is, if these are the problems that I'm having, how are novice users supposed to figure this out. It turns out that Microsoft has added a couple of Windows Registry keys to block the various naggings. Once I set them, the OS didn't complain or try to hide standard Windows Update buttons with Upgrade to Windows 10 ones. Registry keys are definitely not for novice users, but many of our readers should be comfortable with registry editing, and they may know novice users who would like a little help.

ll you need to do is change two keys:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\WindowsUpdate\OSUpgrade
    • Change or add a DWORD named AllowOSUpgrade with a value of 0
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\GWX
    • Change or add a DWORD named DisableGWX with a value of 1
    • The GWX folder (called a key in the registry) wasn't present. I needed to add it.

After editing the registry and rebooting, everything Windows 10 nag-related was disabled and I could install Windows Updates. Applications exist to set these keys for you, but it's probably better to just do it yourself. The ZDNet article, linked below, also has a few files to automatically apply these registry keys to your system. I like doing these things by hand, though.

Thanks to Ed Bott at ZDNet for making a big write-up about this, just yesterday actually.

Source: ZDNet

CES 2016: New Cooler Master Mechanical Keyboards

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2016 - 11:02 PM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, cooler master, mechanical keyboard, RGB LED

Back in September, we mentioned that the CoolerMaster QuickFire XTi was launched worldwide. They have now launched three more keyboards. Two of them have Cherry MX switches and RGB LEDs, while the third uses a supposedly high-quality membrane switch.

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According to The Tech Report at the show, Cooler Master has apparently used their own LED solution, rather than just purchase Cherry MX RGB switches directly. They also say that they needed to change the housing to fit those. The MasterKeys Pro L and S are fairly minimalist keyboards. I assume L stands for long, and S stands for short, because the S is the tenkeyless version of the L (which means it is cut off to the right of the arrow keys).

The Devastator II has switches that Cooler Master calls “Mem-chanical.” They apparently created high-end membrane switches that are supposed to feel like tactile mechanical ones. I guess this means that they were trying to emulate the Cherry MX Brown force curve. This doesn't say what quality the keyboard will end up being, that said, one of the most precise keyboards I've had (according to my straight-edge test) was a Microsoft Media keyboard from the early 2000s.

The Devastator II also has an ambidextrous mouse. Not sure about pricing and availability, though. The Tech Report claims $30, which is right around what the original Devastator costs today.

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CES 2016: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820A SoCs To Drive Future Car PCs

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 7, 2016 - 06:55 PM |
Tagged: snapdragon 820A, snapdragon 820, qualcomm, LTE, Kryo, adreno

Qualcomm is branching out with its SoCs to the auto industry with its upcoming line of Snapdragon 820 Automotive processors. The planned Snapdragon 820A and 820Am will begin sampling to auto makers and ODMs within the next few months and are aimed at in-car navigation, entertainment, dash displays, HUDs, and safety/driver assist systems.

Sharing a similar pedigree to the mobile-oriented Snapdragon 820, the new automotive series features Qualcomm's custom 64-bit "Kryo" CPU cores, an Adreno 530 GPU, Hexagon 680 DSP capable of processing up to eight car camera sensors, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless. The 802Am adds a Snapdragon X12 LTE modem  which supports a maximum of 600 Mbps down and 150 Mbps upload speeds. Both chips are built on a 14nm manufacturing process and reportedly utilize a modular package and chip design that would allow auto manufacturers to save money on development costs of new vehicles by allowing upgraded hardware to be used with minimal software changes being necessary. End users aren't going to benefit from the modular nature, but the companies making the "infotainment" systems and those integrating them into new vehicles will.

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Qualcomm envisions the 820 Automotive processors driving navigation and entertainment systems as well as being used for digital information displays such as dashboard readouts and windshield HUDs. The chips are also capable of limited driver assist functionality, though they won't be powering a self driving car all on their own yet. They can utilize always on sensors to provide collision alerts and 3D navigation that is aware of relative positioning (it can look for stop signs to assist a GPS which might not be accurate enough to tell you to turn at the correct time). Using between four and eight cameras, the 820Am is able to provide lane departure warnings, front collision warnings, traffic sign recognition, and object detection while backing up using machine learning / computer vision. That last bit is apparently powered by a Qualcomm technology called the Zeroth Machine Intelligency Platform.

There are rumors that Qualcomm will not be pursuing it's custom Kryo CPU cores beyond the Snapdragon 820, though I have my doubts that will happen. The higher margins of the auto industry and opportunity to sell even more chips that can be higher clocked may help to justify the higher R&D in the competitive mobile market. I'm interested to see if these once-mobile SoCs can live up to Qualcomm's promises for future vehicle tech.

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Source: Ars Technica

CES 2016: Razer Stargazer Webcam Announced

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2016 - 04:52 PM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, razer, razer stargazer, webcam, Intel RealSense

Razer has announced the Stargazer webcam with a few tricks up its sleeve. Each of these has a downside or catch though, so be sure to read my commentary.

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The first advanced feature is the sensor. It supports 1080p output, which is common these days, but it can be driven at 60 FPS when dropped to 720p. For video streamers, who usually shrink their webcam to a fraction of the screen anyway, this bump in refresh rate will match that game or desktop capture. 720p is more resolution than a corner of a 1080p broadcast, so you're throwing out pixels anyway. The problem would be streamers who have a full-screen webcam shot. This is common for educational or discussion-based podcasts, which would likely need to choose between 720p60 or 1080p30. I don't think it's possible for any webcam to output both resolutions at the same time, so you'd need to release and renew the device when you switch, which isn't feasible. That said, I'm not sure if there was a major, technical reason for Razer not just shipping 1080p60. There might be.

The second feature the webcam's inclusion of Intel RealSense. This is their technology for gesture recognition, 3d scanning, and background removal. Having the camera automatically key out the background on webcam video is interesting, and probably quite accurate given that it knows 3D positional data. The ability to 3D scan would also be interesting for game and mod developers. The catch? It apparently requires a sixth-generation Core processor (Skylake). This entirely removes AMD and DDR3-era Intel processors from the equation, including the high-end Core i7-4790k. It also requires Windows 10. Note that Razer lists these requirements for the webcam in general, including the Skylake processor, but it might only apply to RealSense features. It also might apply to everything, though.

If these limitations, including the very high system requirements, don't apply to you, then look for the Razer Stargazer in Q2. It will apparently cost about $200 USD.

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Source: Razer