A third primary processor
As the Hot Chips conference begins in Cupertino this week, Qualcomm is set to divulge another set of information about the upcoming Snapdragon 820 processor. Earlier this month the company revealed details about the Adreno 5xx GPU architecture, showcasing improved performance and power efficiency while also adding a new Spectra 14-bit image processor. Today we shift to what Qualcomm calls the “third pillar in the triumvirate of programmable processors” that make up the Snapdragon SoC. The Hexagon DSP (digital signal processor), introduced initially by Qualcomm in 2004, has gone through a massive architecture shift and even programmability shift over the last 10 years.
Qualcomm believes that building a balanced SoC for mobile applications is all about heterogeneous computing with no one processor carrying the entire load. The majority of the work that any modern Snapdragon processor must handle goes through the primary CPU cores, the GPU or the DSP. We learned about upgrades to the Adreno 5xx series for the Snapdragon 820 and we are promised information about Kryo CPU architecture soon as well. But the Hexagon 600-series of DSPs actually deals with some of the most important functionality for smartphones and tablets: audio, voice, imaging and video.
Interestingly, Qualcomm opened up the DSP to programmability just four years ago, giving developers the ability to write custom code and software to take advantages of the specific performance capabilities that the DSP offers. Custom photography, videography and sound applications could benefit greatly in terms of performance and power efficiency if utilizing the QC DSP rather than the primary system CPU or GPU. As of this writing, Qualcomm claims there are “hundreds” of developers actively writing code targeting its family of Hexagon processors.
The Hexagon DSP in Snapdragon 820 consists of three primary partitions. The main compute DSP works in conjunction with the GPU and CPU cores and will do much of the heavy lifting for encompassed workloads. The modem DSP aids the cellular modem in communication throughput. The new guy here is the lower power DSP in the Low Power Island (LPI) that shifts how always-on sensors can communicate with the operating system.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile | August 12, 2015 - 07:30 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: snapdragon 820, snapdragon, siggraph 2015, Siggraph, qualcomm, adreno 530, adreno
Despite the success of the Snapdragon 805 and even the 808, Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 810 SoC had a tumultuous lifespan. Rumors and stories about the chip and an inability to run in phone form factors without overheating and/or draining battery life were rampant, despite the company’s insistence that the problem was fixed with a very quick second revision of the part. There are very few devices that used the 810 and instead we saw more of the flagship smartphones uses the slightly cut back SD 808 or the SD 805.
Today at Siggraph Qualcomm starts the reveal of a new flagship SoC, Snapdragon 820. As the event coinciding with launch is a graphics-specific show, QC is focusing on a high level overview of the graphics portion of the Snapdragon 820, the updated Adreno 5xx architecture and associated designs and a new camera image signal processor (ISP) aiming to improve quality of photos and recording on our mobile devices.
A modern SoC from Qualcomm features many different processors working in tandem to impact the user experience on the device. While the only details we are getting today focus around the Adreno 530 GPU and Spectra ISP, other segments like connectivity (wireless), DSP, video processing and digital signal processing are important parts of the computing story. And we are well aware that Qualcomm is readying its own 64-bit processor architecture for the Kryo CPU rather than implementing the off-the-shelf cores from ARM used in the 810.
We also know that Qualcomm is targeting a “leading edge” FinFET process technology for SD 820 and though we haven’t been able to confirm anything, it looks very like that this chip will be built on the Samsung 14nm line that also built the Exynos 7420.
But over half of the processing on the upcoming Snapdragon 820 fill focus on visual processing, from graphics to gaming to UI animations to image capture and video output, this chip’s die will be dominated by high performance visuals.
Qualcomm’s lists of target goals for SD 820 visuals reads as you would expect: wanting perfection in every area. Wouldn’t we all love a phone or tablet that takes perfect photos each time, always focusing on the right things (or everything) with exceptional low light performance? Though a lesser known problem for consumers, having accurate color reproduction from capture, through processing and to the display would be a big advantage. And of course, we all want graphics performance that impresses and a user interface that is smooth and reliable while enabling NEW experience that we haven’t even thought of in the mobile form factor. Qualcomm thinks that Snapdragon 820 will be able to deliver on all of that.
Subject: Mobile | August 11, 2015 - 01:39 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: smartphones, Moto G, galaxy s6, LG G4, iphone 6, HTC One M9, blackphone
The Inquirer has taken a look back at the past years smartphone releases with an eye towards providing a resource to help you compare them. So far there are 11 phones in their round up, including the somewhat maligned Blackphone which was intended to be completely secure but turned out to be a little less invulnerable than advertised. An overview of each phone is provided covering basic statistics such as screen size and resolution and often the processor inside. As you would expect they also include a link to their reviews of the phone and they plan on updating the article as new phones are released.
"THE SMARTPHONE MARKET is becoming increasingly competitive, make it harder and harder for buyers to choose which handset is right for them."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Testing Motorola's Moto G third-gen mobe: Is it still king of the hill? @ The Register
- Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 @ Kitguru
- PCSpecialist Lafité Ultrabook @ Kitguru
- Lenovo ThinkPad YOGA 15 Laptop @ Kitguru
- Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition @ The Inquirer
- Tegra On The Small Screen: NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Review @ Techgage
Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 10, 2015 - 09:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: vulkan, spir, siggraph 2015, Siggraph, opengl sc, OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, Khronos
When the Khronos Group announced Vulkan at GDC, they mentioned that the API is coming this year, and that this date is intended to under promise and over deliver. Recently, fans were hoping that it would be published at SIGGRAPH, which officially begun yesterday. Unfortunately, Vulkan has not released. It does hold a significant chunk of the news, however. Also, it's not like DirectX 12 is holding a commanding lead at the moment. The headers were public only for a few months, and the code samples are less than two weeks old.
The organization made announcements for six products today: OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenGL SC, OpenCL, SPIR, and, as mentioned, Vulkan. They wanted to make their commitment clear, to all of their standards. Vulkan is urgent, but some developers will still want the framework of OpenGL. Bind what you need to the context, then issue a draw and, if you do it wrong, the driver will often clean up the mess for you anyway. The briefing was structure to be evident that it is still in their mind, which is likely why they made sure three OpenGL logos greeted me in their slide deck as early as possible. They are also taking and closely examining feedback about who wants to use Vulkan or OpenGL, and why.
As for Vulkan, confirmed platforms have been announced. Vendors have committed to drivers on Windows 7, 8, 10, Linux, including Steam OS, and Tizen (OSX and iOS are absent, though). Beyond all of that, Google will accept Vulkan on Android. This is a big deal, as Google, despite its open nature, has been avoiding several Khronos Group standards. For instance, Nexus phones and tablets do not have OpenCL drivers, although Google isn't stopping third parties from rolling it into their devices, like Samsung and NVIDIA. Direct support of Vulkan should help cross-platform development as well as, and more importantly, target the multi-core, relatively slow threaded processors of those devices. This could even be of significant use for web browsers, especially in sites with a lot of simple 2D effects. Google is also contributing support from their drawElements Quality Program (dEQP), which is a conformance test suite that they bought back in 2014. They are going to expand it to Vulkan, so that developers will have more consistency between devices -- a big win for Android.
While we're not done with Vulkan, one of the biggest announcements is OpenGL ES 3.2 and it fits here nicely. At around the time that OpenGL ES 3.1 brought Compute Shaders to the embedded platform, Google launched the Android Extension Pack (AEP). This absorbed OpenGL ES 3.1 and added Tessellation, Geometry Shaders, and ASTC texture compression to it. It was also more tension between Google and cross-platform developers, feeling like Google was trying to pull its developers away from Khronos Group. Today, OpenGL ES 3.2 was announced and includes each of the AEP features, plus a few more (like “enhanced” blending). Better yet, Google will support it directly.
Next up are the desktop standards, before we finish with a resurrected embedded standard.
OpenGL has a few new extensions added. One interesting one is the ability to assign locations to multi-samples within a pixel. There is a whole list of sub-pixel layouts, such as rotated grid and Poisson disc. Apparently this extension allows developers to choose it, as certain algorithms work better or worse for certain geometries and structures. There were probably vendor-specific extensions for a while, but now it's a ratified one. Another extension allows “streamlined sparse textures”, which helps manage data where the number of unpopulated entries outweighs the number of populated ones.
OpenCL 2.0 was given a refresh, too. It contains a few bug fixes and clarifications that will help it be adopted. C++ headers were also released, although I cannot comment much on it. I do not know the state that OpenCL 2.0 was in before now.
And this is when we make our way back to Vulkan.
SPIR-V, the code that runs on the GPU (or other offloading device, including the other cores of a CPU) in OpenCL and Vulkan is seeing a lot of community support. Projects are under way to allow developers to write GPU code in several interesting languages: Python, .NET (C#), Rust, Haskell, and many more. The slide lists nine that Khronos Group knows about, but those four are pretty interesting. Again, this is saying that you can write code in the aforementioned languages and have it run directly on a GPU. Curiously missing is HLSL, and the President of Khronos Group agreed that it would be a useful language. The ability to cross-compile HLSL into SPIR-V means that shader code written for DirectX 9, 10, 11, and 12 could be compiled for Vulkan. He expects that it won't take long for a project to start, and might already be happening somewhere outside his Google abilities. Regardless, those who are afraid to program in the C-like GLSL and HLSL shading languages might find C# and Python to be a bit more their speed, and they seem to be happening through SPIR-V.
As mentioned, we'll end on something completely different.
For several years, the OpenGL SC has been on hiatus. This group defines standards for graphics (and soon GPU compute) in “safety critical” applications. For the longest time, this meant aircraft. The dozens of planes (which I assume meant dozens of models of planes) that adopted this technology were fine with a fixed-function pipeline. It has been about ten years since OpenGL SC 1.0 launched, which was based on OpenGL ES 1.0. SC 2.0 is planned to launch in 2016, which will be based on the much more modern OpenGL ES 2 and ES 3 APIs that allow pixel and vertex shaders. The Khronos Group is asking for participation to direct SC 2.0, as well as a future graphics and compute API that is potentially based on Vulkan.
The devices that this platform intends to target are: aircraft (again), automobiles, drones, and robots. There are a lot of ways that GPUs can help these devices, but they need a good API to certify against. It needs to withstand more than an Ouya, because crashes could be much more literal.
After spending some time in the computer hardware industry, it's easy to become jaded about trade shows and unannounced products. The vast majority of hardware we see at events like CES every year is completely expected beforehand. While this doesn't mean that these products are bad by any stretch, they can be difficult to get excited about.
Everyone once and a while however, we find ourselves with our hands on something completely unexpected. Hidden away in a back room of Lenovo's product showcase at CES this year, we were told there was a product would amaze us — called the LaVie.
And they were right.
Unfortunately, the Lenovo LaVie-Z is one of those products that you can't truly understand until you get it in your hands. Billed as the world's lightest 13.3" notebook, the standard LaVie-Z comes in at a weight of just 1.87 lbs. The touchscreen-enabled LaVie-Z 360 gains a bit of weight, coming in at 2.04 lbs.
While these numbers are a bit difficult to wrap your head around, I'll try to provide a bit of context. For example, the Google Nexus 9 weighs .94 lbs. For just over twice the weight as Google's flagship tablet, Lenovo has provided a full Windows notebook with an i7 ultra mobile processor.
Furthermore the new 12" Apple MacBook which people are touting as being extremely light comes in at 2.03 lbs, almost the same weight as the touchscreen version of the LaVie-Z. For the same weight, you also gain a much more powerful Intel i7 processor in the LaVie, when compared to the Intel Core-M option in the MacBook.
All of this comes together to provide an experience that is quite unbelievable. Anyone that I have handed one of these notebooks to has been absolutely amazed that it's a real, functioning computer. The closest analog that I have been able to come up with for picking up the LaVie-Z is one of the cardboard placeholder laptops they have at furniture stores.
The personal laptop that I carry day-to-day is a 11" MacBook Air, which only weighs 2.38 lbs, but the LaVie-Z feels infinitely lighter.
However, as impressive as the weight (or lack thereof) of the LaVie-Z is, let's dig deeper into what the experience of using the world's lightest notebook.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | August 2, 2015 - 05:00 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: maker, fallout 4, DIY
Yvo de Haas, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle, Netherlands, creates props, robots, and other objects as a hobby. Previous creations include a joystick-controlled turret from Portal, GLaDOS, and a Fallout 3-style Pip-Boy.
The latest project was a Fallout 4-style Pip-Boy that accepts a smartphone, with an LG Nexus 5 shown in the demo video, above. It also contains a (non-functioning) cassette player at the top, which take Fallout-style tapes... so unfortunately you cannot pretend that your Vault Dweller is obsessed with Thriller. This model is currently available on the website for anyone with time and access to a 3D printer. The work is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution ShareAlike, so you can use and modify the model however you like, as long as you share your alterations in a similar fashion (and assuming that you also don't violate Bethesda's trademarks in any way -- even though Haas' license permits commercial usage, Bethesda won't).
A second model (the “Accurate version”) is still in progress. This one is supposedly intended to be used with an embedded computer like a Raspberry Pi. It sounds like you will need to install a bare display and other components to make it work, but that will probably be more clear when it is published.
Subject: Mobile | July 28, 2015 - 02:21 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: pebble, pebble time, smartwatch
The Register tried out the new Pebble Time which features a colour e-paper Gorilla glass screen for better visibility outdoors, a battery which will last a full week, waterproofing to 90' and all for a $200 price tag. With over 8000 apps for the device it offers most of the functionality of the Apple watch for a fraction of the price. Certain features it lacks such as a heart rate monitor or GPS can be added by using Smartstraps, which not only allows the watch to stay on your wrist but also adds functionality as well. The improvements were noticeable but The Register preferred last years Steel but if you are in the market for a smartwatch you might be wise to hold on as the new Pebble Time Steel is due out in the near future.
"I love what Eric Migovsky has done with the Pebble by creating an antidote to modern smartwatches. The two generations of Pebble so far have been useful, durable and practical – qualities which elude the over-specced and costly Apple and Android kit."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Acer Iconia One 7 is a £99 Lollipop-powered iPad Mini rival @ The Inquirer
- Asus ROG G551J Gaming Laptop @ Kitguru
- Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi @ Kitguru
- VKWorld VK6735 Smartphone Review @ Madshrimps
- How Useful Is The Extra Memory In The ASUS ZenFone 2 @ TechARP
Introduction and First Impressions
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G gaming laptop is a beast of a portable, with a GeForce GTX 980M graphics card and a 5th-Gen Intel Core i7 processor within its massive frame. And this iteration of the GT72 features NVIDIA's G-SYNC technology, which should help provide smooth gameplay on its 75 Hz IPS display.
The gaming laptop market is filled with options at just about any price you can imagine (as long as your imagination starts at around $1000), and there are seemingly limitless combinations of specs and minute configuration differences even within a particular brand’s offering. A few names stand out in this market, and MSI has created a product meant to stand tall against the likes of Alienware and ASUS ROG. And it doesn’t just stand tall, it stands wide - and deep for that matter. Running about the size of home plate on a regulation baseball diamond (well, approximately anyway), this is nearly 8 ½ lbs of PC gaming goodness.
Not everyone needs a 17-inch notebook, but there’s something awesome about these giant things when you see them in person. The design of this GT72 series is reminiscent of an exotic sports car (gaming laptops in general seem to have fully embraced the sports car theme), and if you’re considering completely replacing a desktop for gaming and all of your other computing the extra space it takes up is more than worth it if you value a large display and full keyboard. Doubtless there are some who would simply be augmenting a desktop experience with a supremely powerful notebook like this, but for most people laptops like this are a major investment that generally replaces the need for a dedicated PC tower.
What about the cost? It certainly isn’t “cheap” considering the top-of-the-line specs, and price is clearly the biggest barrier to entry with a product like this - far beyond the gargantuan size. Right off the bat I’ll bring up this laptop’s $2099 retail price - and not because I think it’s high. It’s actually very competitive as equipped. And in addition to competitive pricing MSI is also ahead of the curve a bit with its adoption of the 5th-Gen Core i7 Broadwell mobile processors, while most gaming laptops are still on Haswell. Broadwell’s improved efficiency should help with battery life a bit, but your time away from a power plug is always going to be limited with gaming laptops!
Gaming laptops are something that most people are quick to reject as out of their price range. There is a lot of sense in this train of thought. We know that laptop components are inherently lower performing than their desktop counterparts, and significantly more expensive. So the idea of spending more money for less powerful components seems like a bad trade off for the added gains of portability for many gamers.
However, we also seem to be in a bit of a plateau as far as generation-to-generation performance gain with desktop components. Midrange processors from a few generations ago are still more than capable of playing the vast majority of games, and even lower-end modern GPUs are able to game at 1080p.
So maybe it's time to take another look at the sub-$1000 gaming notebook options, and that's exactly what we are doing today with the Acer Aspire V 15 Nitro Black Edition.
The Aspire V Nitro is equipped with fairly modest components when compared to what most people think of gaming laptops as. Where machines such as the MSI GT70 Dominator or ASUS G751 seem to take the kitchen sink approach towards mobile gaming machines, The Aspire V is a more carefully balanced option.
|Acer Aspire V 15 Nitro Black Edition|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4720HQ 2.6 GHz|
|Graphics Card||NVIDIA GTX 960M 4GB|
|Storage||1 TB Hard Drive|
|Dimensions (W x D x H)||15.34" x 10.14" x 0.86" - 0.94"|
Anchored by an Intel Core i7-4720HQ and a GTX 960M, the Aspire V Nitro isn't trying to reach to the top stack of mobile performance. A 15.6" display along with 8GB of RAM, and a single 1TB spindle drive are all logical choices for a machine aimed towards gaming on a budget.
While it's difficult for us to recommend that you buy any machine without an SSD these days, a 1TB drive is great for game storage on a machine like there. There are also other configurations optiosn which add SATA M.2 SSDs alongside the 1TB drive, and we managed to open up our sample and put an SSD in ourselves with little pain.
Subject: Mobile | July 19, 2015 - 06:43 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Android, microsoft, windows, windows 10, cortana
When it graduated from high school, Microsoft was voted “least likely to have an open relationship with itself”. Well who's laughing now, member of the Yearbook Committee? You thought you were so clever, sitting in the back of the late bus for students in extra-curricular activities, giggling as you doodled in your Five Star binder. Even though they always hogged the Windows seat, maybe they would have opened it up for a little fresh air in the Summer time had you taken the time to ask.
Image Credit: Ars Technica
While Cortana is first and foremost a Windows 10 feature, it will appear on iOS and Android as well. Peter Bright of Ars Technica got in on the pre-release, invite-only beta and walked through the features. He notes that, while many have complained about crashes, his experienced wasn't marred with stability issues. On the other hand, because Cortana is not as deeply integrated into the operating system, despite the laundry list of permissions it requests, he expects that most users looking for a digital assistant will look to Google Now on their Android devices, even if they use Cortana on Windows 10.
Image Credit: Ars Technica
There really wasn't a whole lot of note in the article though, at least in my opinion. There are a few interesting screenshots, but it basically looks like someone grafted the Cortana fly-out menu from Windows 10 onto a fullscreen mobile device. Even though I already saw the similarities in the Windows 10 Technical Previews, it is funny to see it so explicit.
No release date has been set for Cortana on Android or iOS.