Mozilla Summit 2013, Day 2: APCs and Servos in a Flash

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | October 6, 2013 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, Mozilla Summit 2013

The second day of Mozilla Summit 2013 kicked off with three more keynote speeches, a technology fair, and two blocks of panels. After two days and about two dozen demos, several extremely experimental, I am surprised to only see one legitimate demo fail attempting to connect two 3D browser games in multiplayer over WebRTC… and that seemed to be the fault of a stray automatic Windows Update on the host PC.

Okay technically another demo “failed” because an audience member asked, from the crowd, to browse a Mozilla Labs browser prototype, Servo, to an arbitrary website which required HTTPS and causing the engine to nope. I do not count that one.

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Speaking of Servo, the HTML rendering engine ended the “Near Term Strategy and the Products we Build” keynote with an announcement of its full score to ACID1. The engine, developed in Mozilla’s own RUST language, is a sandbox for crazy ideas such as, “What would happen if you allow Javascript to execute in its own thread when it would normally be blocked by Gecko?” Basically any promising task to parallelize is being explored (they openly solicit community insights) in making the web browser better suited for the current and upcoming multi- and many-core devices out there. Samsung is also involved on the project, which makes sense for their mobile products.

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Also discussed is Shumway, a Javascript rendering engine for Flash content. Candy Crush Saga was presented as an example of a game, entirely reliant on Flash, playing without the plugin installed in a similar way to how WINE allows Windows applications within Linux. Shumway has been known for a while but is becoming quite effective in its performance. What happens to content after Flash becomes deprecated (be it 3 years, 10 years, or 100 years) has been a concern of mine with videos such as HomestarRunner holding cultural relevance despite not updating in almost 3 years.

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Lastly, we saw a demo of the APC Paper which is expected to lead Firefox OS into the desktop market. It is actually a little smaller than I expected from the pictures.

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One more day before everyone heads home. So far not much has happened but I will keep you updated as things occur.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Summit 2013, Day 1: Unreal Engine and UP

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | October 5, 2013 - 03:58 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, Mozilla Summit 2013

I have volunteered with Mozilla starting about a month after I read the Windows Store certification requirements (prior to that I was ramping up development of modern apps). I am currently attending, due to that volunteer work, Mozilla Summit in Toronto. The first day, Friday, has been filled with keynotes including some partially-new announcements.

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Mozilla has a number of branded elevator doors, signs, and carpets covering the hotel to promote the event for the attendees. Unfortunately, my hotel room was not in the tower this elevator serviced. Also unfortunate, I did not realize that until I was on said elevator at in the 27th floor. Moving between the first and 27th floors took all of about 5 seconds; popping my ears took longer. To be fair I was given correct directions by the hotel staff I just did not realize that the building was, in fact, multiple buildings and so my interpretation was off.

On to the important stuff: explosions! The second keynote contained high performance 3D browser games and, albeit less kablooieie, site personalization.

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The latter we have talked about before. Mozilla is implementing interface elements in the browser for users to share demographic information with websites. They understand that advertising is how the web works and does not want it outright dead. They do believe (at least some) advertisers mine too much data from their users because they need to mine some data from their users. One-on-one conversation with a couple Mozilla staff somewhat confirms my suspicions that the initiative is to remove the temptation for just a little more data with homegrown solutions. This seems to be their last idea, however, given the discussion at the panel.

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The former was an Unreal Engine demo on stage during the “Envisioned Future State” keynote. The presenter had several multi-kills with a rocket launcher. I should note the entire demo ran off of the file protocol so no internet connection was required. This was quite literally Unreal Tournament 3 running native to Firefox.

Well, I think that is it for today! A lot of information was released but I believe these were the top-two most interesting points.

Source: Mozilla

Basemark X Creator Comments on Benchmark Cheating

Subject: Mobile | October 4, 2013 - 12:27 AM |
Tagged: Android, cheating, basemark x

Even if you haven't been paying attention to the world of mobile benchmarking over the past week you have likely heard about the now rampant cheating that is going on with Android testing.  Device makers are doing simple detection for benchmark applications and unrealistically changing the performance attributes of the SoC (CPU and GPU) to improve benchmark scores.  This does not represent the behavior that an end user would see in real-world usage but is intended only to move the device up to the top of benchmark graphs to gain attention and drive sales.

Long time PC enthusiasts will recognize this problem though thanks to the openness of the PC ecosystem that issue is largely removed as there are independent press and researchers keeping all parties honest. 

Anandtech (and many other outlets) are again discussing the issue of cheating in mobile testing, even going as far as creating a chart titled "I Can't Believe I Have to Make This Table" that shows which benchmarks are being compromised by which devices and OS configurations.  I highly suggest you check out the story by Anand and Brian to get more details on the state of cheating in mobile benchmarks. 

The creator of one of the affected benchmarks, Basemark X, contacted the media with some interesting comments I wanted share. 

It has come to our attention that Galaxy Note 3 may be targeting our benchmark, Basemark X.

Rightware’s mission is to provide trusted performance evaluation tools you can depend on. Therefore, we have produced an updated version of Basemark X that solves this issue.

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I asked Tero Sarkkinen, founder of Rightware, what could be done to prevent this type of unfair performance skewing going forward. 

Basically every benchmark and application out there can be targeted by a new handset or tablet and no one can really prevent it. What makes a difference is will the benchmark vendor do something about it when this is recognized.

At Rightware, we take our mission seriously and we monitor day in and day out what is going on. As in this case, we noticed that Note 3 is targeting Basemark X, we immediately provided the press with a version that the handset is not able to detect.

We get thousands of benchmark results in every day to our Power Board http://results.rightware.com and therefore we have a pretty good idea of what's going on.

In other words, we are not sticking our heads into the sand.

While the sentiment that "no one can really prevent it" is disappointing to hear, it is what we expected and what we are planning for.  Sarkkinen is confident that Rightware is able to stay up on the situation and is going to keep pace with online media and analysts to make sure these hardware vendors are staying honest. 

It's the best news we have seen in a sea of disappointing information on mobility benchmarking this week.

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Design

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As we’re swimming through the veritable flood of Haswell refresh notebooks, we’ve stumbled across the latest in a line of very popular gaming models: the ASUS G750JX-DB71.  This notebook is the successor to the well-known G75 series, which topped out at an Intel Core i7-3630QM with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX dedicated graphics.  Now, ASUS has jacked up the specs a little more, including the latest 4th-gen CPUs from Intel as well as 700-series NVIDIA GPUs.

Our ASUS G750JX-DB71 test unit features the following specs:

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Of course, the closest comparison to this unit is already the most recently-reviewed MSI GT60-2OD-026US, which featured nearly identical specifications, apart from a 15.6” screen, a better GPU (a GTX 780M with 4 GB GDDR5), and a slightly different CPU (the Intel Core i7-4700MQ).  In case you’re wondering what the difference is between the ASUS G750JX’s Core i7-4700MQ and the GT60’s i7-4700HQ, it’s very minor: the HQ features a slightly faster integrated graphics Turbo frequency (1.2 GHz vs. 1.15 GHz) and supports Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d).  Since the G750JX doesn’t support Optimus, we won’t ever be using the integrated graphics, and unless you’re doing a lot with virtual machines, VT-d isn’t likely to offer any benefits, either.  So for all intents and purposes, the CPUs are equivalent—meaning the biggest overall performance difference (on the spec sheet, anyway) lies with the GPU and the storage devices (where the G750JX offers more solid-state storage than the GT60).  It’s no secret that the MSI GT60 burned up our benchmarks—so the real question is, how close is the ASUS G750JX to its pedestal, and if the differences are considerable, are they justified?

At an MSRP of around $2,000 (though it can be found for around $100 less), the ASUS G750JX-DB71 competes directly with the likes of the MSI GT60, too (which is priced equivalently).  The question, of course, is whether it truly competes.  Let’s find out!

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Continue reading our review of the ASUS G750JX-DB71 Gaming Notebook!!!

Manufacturer: Scott Michaud

A new generation of Software Rendering Engines.

We have been busy with side projects, here at PC Perspective, over the last year. Ryan has nearly broken his back rating the frames. Ken, along with running the video equipment and "getting an education", developed a hardware switching device for Wirecase and XSplit.

My project, "Perpetual Motion Engine", has been researching and developing a GPU-accelerated software rendering engine. Now, to be clear, this is just in very early development for the moment. The point is not to draw beautiful scenes. Not yet. The point is to show what OpenGL and DirectX does and what limits are removed when you do the math directly.

Errata: BioShock uses a modified Unreal Engine 2.5, not 3.

In the above video:

  • I show the problems with graphics APIs such as DirectX and OpenGL.
  • I talk about what those APIs attempt to solve, finding color values for your monitor.
  • I discuss the advantages of boiling graphics problems down to general mathematics.
  • Finally, I prove the advantages of boiling graphics problems down to general mathematics.

I would recommend watching the video, first, before moving forward with the rest of the editorial. A few parts need to be seen for better understanding.

Click here, after you watch the video, to read more about GPU-accelerated Software Rendering.

MSI Launches New GP Series Business Notebooks With Dedicated Graphics

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 30, 2013 - 10:30 AM |
Tagged: msi, gp70, gp60, gaming notebook

Today, MSI unveiled its new GP series of notebooks aimed at business professionals that want a work machine that can also handle multimedia and gaming workloads. Specifically, MSI is launching one 17" GP70 and two 16" GP60 notebook SKUs which vary slightly in terms of storage, screen resolution, and processor (and the GP70 being physically larger). The new GP series notebooks are available now at various online and brick-and-mortar retailers with a starting MSRP of $899.99.

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MSI's GP70 gaming/professional laptop.

The GP series laptops have Intel Haswell processors, NVIDIA GT740M graphics, 8GB of DDR3 memory, and up to 750GB (GP60) or 1TB (GP70) of mechanical hard drive storage options. Further, all GP series notebooks are equipped with 720p webcams, SteelSeries gaming keyboards, multi-touch trackpads, and gold plated audio jacks backed by a headphone amplifier. IO on the various GP SKUs includes two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, two audio jacks, one Gigabit Ethernet LAN jack, one SD (XC/HC) card slot, and HDMI video outputs. The laptops all have 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless radios.

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The MSI GP60 laptop.

At the low end is the MSI GP60 2OD-052US which includes an Intel i5-4200M CPU, up to 750GB of HDD storage, and a 15.6" display with a resolution of 1366x768. The MSI GP60 2OD-072US bumps the specifications up a bit to an Intel i7-4700MQ processor and a non reflective 1080p 15.6" display. Meanwhile, the MSI GP70 offers up to 1TB of HDD storage but has a 17.3" anti-glare display with a resolution of 1600x900. The laptops range from 5.29 to 5.95 pounds.

The following chart (courtesy of MSI) breaks down the individual SKUs in more detail.

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The MSI GP series is available now with starting MSRPs of $899.99 (GP60 with i5), $1,049.99 (GP60 with i7), and $949.99 (GP70) respectively. It is nice to see more notebooks coming out with dedicated graphics, especially in the business sector where laptops tend to be less 'flashy'.

Source: MSI
Manufacturer: Microsoft

If Microsoft was left to their own devices...

Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.

The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.

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Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.

It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.

Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.

A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.

Keep reading to see what Microsoft... probably still cannot.

APC Plays Rock, Paper, Firefox OS. Fix Bug? Free Device!

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 26, 2013 - 05:25 PM |
Tagged: Rock, Paper, Firefox OS, APC

Update: (9/28/2013) APC responded to my email and confirmed all models support up to 32GB microSD cards (so, microSD or microSDHC).

Firefox OS is an operating system which boots into a web standards rendering engine. All applications and user interface elements are essentially web sites, often hosted by the device but could obviously have online components as the creator desires, web standards making it easier to port and manage code.

Hardware designers are continuing to adopt the platform.

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APC Paper

APC, an initiative of VIA Technologies, got our attention over a year ago when they launched their smaller-than-a-banana Android desktop. It was an interesting design which came out at roughly the same time as the Raspberry Pi. I cannot tell whether that boost or harmed consumer interest.

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From behind

Either way, the APC has announced two successors: The APC Paper and the APC Rock. Both devices dropped Android (side note: the $50 APC 8750 based on Android 2.3 is apparently still available) replacing it, instead, with Firefox OS. Both devices are in the Neo-ITX form factor although that should not matter too much, for Paper, as it includes a case.

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APC Rock

Paper covers Rock, get it?

The raw specifications are as follows:

  • SoC: VIA ARM Cortex-A9 @ 800 MHz
  • GPU: Built in 2D/3D up to 720p
  • Memory: 512MB DDR3
  • Storage: 4GB NAND Flash
  • Expandable Storage: microSD (maximum 32GB)
    • Update: APC confirmed all models support up to 32GB, which is microSDHC
  • I/O: HDMI, VGA (Rock-only), 2x USB 2.0, MicroUSB, 3.5mm Headphone/Mic

This build of Firefox OS contains mouse and keyboard support. If you wish to install your own operating system, while you are on your own, the kernel and bootloader are available on the APC website and the hardware is unlocked. They also provide access to the ARM debug headers for the real developer types.

If you are one of these developer types, would you consider fixing a known issue? APC will donate free devices to users who submit fixes for specially tagged bugs on their Github repo. Think of it like investing time fixing a product which, if you would have bought it, probably would have crushed the bug anyway.

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It would have been nice to see a bump in processor performance and graphics functionality, and perhaps more than 512 MB of RAM, although it should be sufficient for light web browsing. As a developer of GPU-intensive web applications, which I expect to have an article on soon, I am not sure how much that colors my view of these devices. Then again, we are also talking about devices in the Roku price-point, so (apart from sticking with 720p... come on now) I may not have a valid complaint.

Both devices are available now, in limited quantities, through the manufacturer website. The Paper carries a price tag of $99 USD while the Rock is slightly cheaper at $79 USD.

Source: APC

Fun facts about your new fruity phone

Subject: Mobile | September 20, 2013 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: jailbreak, iphone 5s, iphone 5c, iphone, ios 7

The Tech Report loves a good Apple release, even if things didn't go as smoothly on the supply side as many had hoped.  They haven't had time to do a full review of either the iPhone 5C or 5S but they did put together an overview of the two devices which you can read here.  The new phones were not the only new release from Apple, iOS7 became available for iPhone and iPad users and it has failed to impress them.  While it is certainly usable and not unattractive The Tech Report feels that some of the elegance of design has faded and the special feeling they had because they owned an iThing is no longer there.  If you haven't upgraded because you have jailbroken your iPhone they won't judge you too harshly and have put together a post describing how to un-jailbreak that phone so you can join with the cool kids of iOS7 and wait for the chance to unlock the new OS when the steps for that are posted; likely in the very near future.

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"Today, it's the turn of our resident Mac blogger, Jason Fox, to blog about his upgrade to iOS 7. Fox also recounts the process of un-jailbreaking his iPhone to accommodate the new software update."

Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:

Mobile

NVIDIA Tegra Note Tablet Platform Launches - $199 from EVGA, PNY

Subject: Mobile | September 18, 2013 - 12:04 PM |
Tagged: tegra note, tegra 4, tegra, tablet, pny, nvidia, evga

Over the past couple of months there have been several leaks about a potential NVIDIA-branded tablet based on the Tegra 4 SoC.  Most speculated that NVIDIA had decided to enter into the hardware market directly with a "Tegra Tab" in a similar vein to the release of NVIDIA SHIELD.  As it turns out though NVIDIA has created a platform for which other companies can rebrand and resell an Android tablet.

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According to NVIDIA, the Tegra Note platform will enable partners to bring 7-in tablets to market packed with the feature set NVIDIA has been promising since the launch of the Tegra 4 SoC.  Those include stylus support, high quality audio, HDR camera capabilities and 100% native Android operating systems.

Maybe more interesting are the partners that NVIDIA is teaming with for this launch.  While companies like ASUS have already done the development work to prepare various size tablets based on Tegra chips in the past, NVIDIA is going to introduce a couple of its graphics cards partners to the mobility ecosystem: EVGA and PNY in North America.

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While we have questions about the capability for either of these companies to truly support a tabletin today's market but the truth is likely that NVIDIA is handling most if not all of the logistics on this project.  What is not in question is the potential for high value: these tablets will start with a suggested retail price of $199.

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We already know most of the technical details about the Tegra 4 SoC including the 4+1 Cortex A15 CPU cores and the 72-core GPU.  NVIDIA claims they will get 10 hours of video playback with this platform but I would like to get data on the weight and battery size before calling that a win.  The display resolution is a bit lower than other competing high-end options in the market today but the sub-$200 price point does mean there had to be some corners cut.

UPDATE: I asked NVIDIA for more information on the size, weight and battery capacity and got a quick answer.  The battery capacity is 4100 mAh and the entire device weighs 320g.  Compared to the Google Nexus 7, the current strongest 7-in tablet in my opinion, that is a 4% larger battery (vs 3950 mAh) and 10% heavier device (vs 290g).  The Tegra Note reference is also a bit thicker at 9.6mm compared to the 8.65mm of the Nexus 7.

There are more details on the official NVIDIA blog post making the announcement this morning including direct OTA Android updates so check that out if you think you might be interested in one of these tablets in the coming months!

Source: NVIDIA