Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:03 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: WebCL, gdc 14, GDC
The Khronos Group has just ratified the standard for WebCL 1.0. The API is expected to provide a massive performance boost to web applications which are dominated by expensive functions which can be offloaded to parallel processors, such as GPUs and multi-core CPUs. Its definition also allows WebCL to communicate and share buffers between it and WebGL with an extension.
Frequent readers of the site might remember that I have a particular interest in WebCL. Based on OpenCL, it allows web apps to obtain a list of every available compute device and target it for workloads. I have personally executed tasks on an NVIDIA GeForce 670 discrete GPU and other jobs on my Intel HD 4000 iGPU, at the same time, using the WebCL prototype from Tomi Aarnio of Nokia Research. The same is true for users with multiple discrete GPUs installed in their system (even if they are not compatible with Crossfire, SLi, or are from different vendors altogether). This could be very useful for physics, AI, lighting, and other game middleware packages.
Still, browser adoption might be rocky for quite some time. Google, Mozilla, and Opera Software were each involved in the working draft. This leaves both Apple and Microsoft notably absent. Even then, I am not sure how much interest exists within Google, Mozilla, and Opera to take it from a specification to a working feature in their browsers. Some individuals have expressed more faith in WebGL compute shaders than WebCL.
Of course, that can change with just a single "killer app", library, or middleware.
I do expect some resistance from the platform holders, however. Even Google has been pushing back on OpenCL support in Android, in favor of their "Renderscript" abstraction. The performance of a graphics processor is also significant leverage for a native app. There is little, otherwise, that cannot be accomplished with Web standards except a web browser itself (and there is even some non-serious projects for that). If Microsoft can support WebGL, however, there is always hope.
The specification is available at the Khronos website.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:02 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, gdc 14, GDC, EGL
The Khronos Group has also released their ratified specification for EGL 1.5. This API is at the center of data and event management between other Khronos APIs. This version increases security, interoperability between APIs, and support for many operating systems, including Android and 64-bit Linux.
The headline on the list of changes is the move that EGLImage objects makes, from the realm of extension into EGL 1.5's core functionality, giving developers a reliable method of transferring textures and renderbuffers between graphics contexts and APIs. Second on the list is the increased security around creating a graphics context, primarily designed for WebGL applications which any arbitrary website can become. Further down the list is the EGLSync object which allows further partnership between OpenGL (and OpenGL ES) and OpenCL. The GPU may not need CPU involvement when scheduling between tasks on both APIs.
During the call, the representative also wanted to mention that developers have asked them to bring EGL back to Windows. While it has not happened yet, they have announced that it is a current target.
The EGL 1.5 spec is available at the Khronos website.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 09:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: SYCL, opencl, gdc 14, GDC
To gather community feedback, the provisional specification for SYCL 1.2 has been released by The Khronos Group. SYCL extends itself upon OpenCL with the C++11 standard. This technology is built on another Khronos platform, SPIR, which allows the OpenCL C programming language to be mapped onto LLVM, with its hundreds of compatible languages (and Khronos is careful to note that they intend for anyone to make their own compatible alternative langauge).
In short, SPIR allows many languages which can compile into LLVM to take advantage of OpenCL. SYCL is the specification for creating C++11 libraries and compilers through SPIR.
As stated earlier, Khronos wants anyone to make their own compatible language:
While SYCL is one possible solution for developers, the OpenCL group encourages innovation in programming models for heterogeneous systems, either by building on top of the SPIR™ low-level intermediate representation, leveraging C++ programming techniques through SYCL, using the open source CLU libraries for prototyping, or by developing their own techniques.
SYCL 1.2 supports OpenCL 1.2 and they intend to develop it alongside OpenCL. Future releases are expected to support the latest OpenCL 2.0 specification and keep up with future developments.
The SYCL 1.2 provisional spec is available at the Khronos website.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 17, 2014 - 09:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: OpenGL ES, opengl, Khronos, gdc 14, GDC
Today, day one of Game Developers Conference 2014, the Khronos Group has officially released the 3.1 specification for OpenGL ES. The main new feature, brought over from OpenGL 4, is the addition of compute shaders. This opens GPGPU functionality to mobile and embedded devices for applications developed in OpenGL ES, especially if the developer does not want to add OpenCL.
The update is backward-compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0 and 3.0 applications, allowing developers to add features, as available, for their existing apps. On the device side, most functionality is expected to be a driver update (in the majority of cases).
OpenGL ES, standing for OpenGL for Embedded Systems but is rarely branded as such, delivers what they consider the most important features from the graphics library to the majority of devices. The Khronos Group has been working toward merging ES with the "full" graphics library over time. The last release, OpenGL ES 3.0, was focused on becoming a direct subset of OpenGL 4.3. This release expands upon the feature-space it occupies.
OpenGL ES also forms the basis for WebGL. The current draft of WebGL 2.0 uses OpenGL ES 3.0 although that was not discussed today. I have heard murmurs (not from Khronos) about some parties pushing for compute shaders in that specification, which this announcement puts us closer to.
The new specification also adds other features, such as the ability to issue a draw without CPU intervention. You could imagine a particle simulation, for instance, that wants to draw the result after its compute shader terminates. Shading is also less rigid, where vertex and fragment shaders do not need to be explicitly linked into a program before they are used. I inquired about the possibility that compute devices could be targetted (for devices with two GPUs) and possibly load balanced, in a similar method to WebCL but no confirmation or denial was provided (although he did mention that it would be interesting for apps that fall somewhere in the middle of OpenGL ES and OpenCL).
The OpenGL ES 3.1 spec is available at the Khronos website.
Maxwell and Kepler and...Fermi?
Covering the landscape of mobile GPUs can be a harrowing experience. Brands, specifications, performance, features and architectures can all vary from product to product, even inside the same family. Rebranding is rampant from both AMD and NVIDIA and, in general, we are met with one of the most confusing segments of the PC hardware market.
Today, with the release of the GeForce GTX 800M series from NVIDIA, we are getting all of the above in one form or another. We will also see performance improvements and the introduction of the new Maxwell architecture (in a few parts at least). Along with the GeForce GTX 800M parts, you will also find the GeForce 840M, 830M and 820M offerings at lower performance, wattage and price levels.
With some new hardware comes a collection of new software for mobile users, including the innovative Battery Boost that can increase unplugged gaming time by using frame rate limiting and other "magic" bits that NVIDIA isn't talking about yet. ShadowPlay and GameStream also find their way to mobile GeForce users as well.
Let's take a quick look at the new hardware specifications.
|GTX 880M||GTX 780M||GTX 870M||GTX 770M|
|GPU Code name||Kepler||Kepler||Kepler||Kepler|
|Rated Clock||954 MHz||823 MHz||941 MHz||811 MHz|
|Memory||Up to 4GB||Up to 4GB||Up to 3GB||Up to 3GB|
|Memory Clock||5000 MHz||5000 MHz||5000 MHz||4000 MHz|
Both the GTX 880M and the GTX 870M are based on Kepler, keeping the same basic feature set and hardware specifications of their brethren in the GTX 700M line. However, while the GTX 880M has the same CUDA core count as the 780M, the same cannot be said of the GTX 870M. Moving from the GTX 770M to the 870M sees a significant 40% increase in core count as well as a jump in clock speed from 811 MHz (plus Boost) to 941 MHz.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 5, 2014 - 08:28 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: qualcomm, nvidia, microsoft, Intel, gdc 14, GDC, DirectX 12, amd
The announcement of DirectX 12 has been given a date and time via a blog post on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) blogs. On March 20th at 10:00am (I assume PDT), a few days into the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, the upcoming specification should be detailed for attendees. Apparently, four GPU manufacturers will also be involved with the announcement: AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.
As we reported last week, DirectX 12 is expected to target increased hardware control and decreased CPU overhead for added performance in "cutting-edge 3D graphics" applications. Really, this is the best time for it. Graphics processors are mostly settled into highly-efficient co-processors of parallel data, with some specialized logic for geometry and video tasks. A new specification can relax the needs of video drivers and thus keep the GPU (or GPUs, in Mantle's case) loaded and utilized.
But, to me, the most interesting part of this announcement is the nod to Qualcomm. Microsoft values DirectX as leverage over other x86 and ARM-based operating systems. With Qualcomm, clearly Microsoft believes that either Windows RT or Windows Phone will benefit from the API's next version. While it will probably make PC gamers nervous, mobile platforms will benefit most from reducing CPU overhead, especially if it can be spread out over multiple cores.
Honestly, that is fine by me. As long as Microsoft returns to treating the PC as a first-class citizen, I do not mind them helping mobile, too. We will definitely keep you up to date as we know more.
Subject: Mobile | March 4, 2014 - 01:33 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: verizon, rollover data, mobile data, data caps, allset
Verizon has taken the wraps off of a new pre-paid cell phone plan called “ALLSET.” The plans offer unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and 500MB of base data for $35/month for feature phones and $45 a month for smartphones. At first glance, they are pretty standard fare, and not the cheapest pre-paid option either. However, Verizon has added a bit of a twist to the pre-paid equation by allowing ALLSET users to add “Bridge Data” on top of the base plan’s 500MB cap that can be rolled over to future months if not used right away.
The ALLSET plans come with a 500MB (or 1GB if enrolled in Auto Pay) of cellular data each month that cannot be saved. From there, users can purchase up to two data packages that can be saved or rolled over to future months if not used right away. The Bridge Data packs work out to $5 for 500MB, $10 for 1GB, or $20 for 3GB. Users can save the $5 (500MB) pack for a month while the $10 (1GB) and $20 (3GB) packs can be saved or have the remaining bits rolled over for up to three months after purchase. The base data is used first, after which the first package is used completely before dipping into the second package (if purchased at all), which is important to consider in relation to the expiration dates.
In another bit of good news for ALLSET users, Verizon allows the mobile hotspot feature which is extremely rare for the cellphone industry (without charging an additional fee).
The system is not perfect due to the short expiration dates (at most 90 days) for rollover and the fact that base data cannot be saved (only the additional bridge data packs), but it is definitely a step in the right direction and a feature I have been wanting to see for years now. Hopefully this encourages other providers to consider rollover data plans, and the competition forces relaxed restrictions on the expiry of rollover data.
Subject: Mobile | March 3, 2014 - 05:58 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Samsung, exynos 5, chromebook 2, Chromebook, chrome os, arm
Samsung is bringing a new Chromebook to market next month. Coming in 11-inch and 13-inch form factors the new Samsung Chromebook 2 offers updated hardware and more than eight hours of battery life.
The Chromebook 2 will be available in 11.6” and 13.3” models. The smaller variant will come in white or black while the larger SKU is only available in gray. The lids use a soft touch plastic that resembles stitched leather like that found on some Samsung smartphones. The 11.6” is 0.66-inches thick and weighs 2.43 pounds. The 13.3” model is 0.65-inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds. The 11.6” Chromebook 2 has a 1366x768 display while the 13.3” Chromebook uses a 1920 x 1080 resolution display.
Internally, the Chromebook 2 is powered by an unspecified Exynos 5 Octa SoC at either 1.9GHz (11.6”) or 2.1GHz (13.3”), 4GB of DDR3L memory, and 16GB internal SSD storage. Internal radios include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Samsung rates the battery life at 8 hours for the 11.6” Chromebook and 8.5 hours for the 13.3” Chromebook.
Beyond the wireless tech, I/O includes one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, one HDMI, one headphone output, and one micro SD card slot. This port configuration is available on both Chromebook 2 sizes.
Samsung is launching its Chromebook 2 in April at $319.99 and $399.99 for the 11.6” and 13.3” respectively. This new Chromebook is coming to a competitive market that is increasingly packed with Bay Trail-powered Windows 8.1 notebooks (and tablets) that are getting cheaper and Android tablets that are getting more features and more powerful thanks to new ARM-based SoCs. I'm interested to see what platform users start gravitating towards, is the cloud-connected Chrome OS good enough when paired with good battery life and a physical keyboard?
Are you looking forward to Samsung's new Chromebook 2?
Subject: Mobile | March 2, 2014 - 12:21 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: virgin mobile, Sprint, Samsung, mvno, galaxy s5, boost mobile
Samsung officially launched the Galaxy S5 at MWC last month, with tweaked software and slightly improved hardware specifications. The new smartphone will launch in 150 countries, including the US, on April 11th. Unfortunately, Samsung did not disclose the exact pricing and carriers that will offer the device at launch. Naturally, the big US carriers will all get the latest flagship at some point this year, but beyond that it is hard to say who will pick it up and who will pass. With that said, at least two MVNOs are confirmed to be offering up the Galaxy S5 later this year.
Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile are MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) that run pre-paid cell phone plans without contracts that run hardware on Sprint's cellular network. The two carriers announced on their respective Facebook pages that the Galaxy S5 is officially coming to their network in the second quarter of this year. Both companies are remaining silent on the pricing of the smartphone though, with a Virgin Mobile representative stating that the company did not have pricing information yet.
Users can expect to pay nearly full price for the Galaxy S5 as the pre-paid carriers do not subsidize the price over a multi-year contract. I would expect the phone to go for around $800, however. While it may seem counter-intuitive to pay upwards of $800 out of pocket only to run it on a cheap MVNO, there are still cost savings to be realized so long as you are not upgrading every year. More options are always nice, and seeing a flagship smartphone coming to MVNOs so soon after launch is a welcome change. Here's hoping more MVNOs jump on board, especially those using alternative networks for pre-paid customers living in areas with poor Sprint coverage.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 26, 2014 - 09:20 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: x360, Windows 8.1, tablet, hp, convertible tablet, convertible, Bay Trail
At MWC 2014, HP showed off an interesting convertible laptop similar in form factor to Lenovo's Yoga lineup. The HP X360 is a Bay Trail-powered laptop running Windows 8.1 that brings the 360-degree hinged hybrid laptop/tablet form factor to an affordable $460 price point. The red plastic and brushed aluminum PC is available for purchase now and will begin shipping in early March.
HP's new X360 tablet measures 12.12” x 8.46” x 0.86” and weighs in at a portable 3.08 pounds. It is noticeably larger than other Bay Trail tablets like the ASUS T100 and Dell Venue series, but it also has an integrated keyboard and trackpad attached via a permanently attached double hinge to the 11.6” LED-backlit touchscreen with a resolution of 1366x768. The chassis is a glossy red plastic while the keyboard cover and palm rest use a brushed aluminum surface that surrounds a large gesture compatible touchpad and a chiclet-style keyboard that appears to be well spaced for an 11.6” machine (excluding the arrow keys which are bunched up in the bottom-right corner in order to allow full sized shift and enter keys). A silver chassis version is also in the works, but will not be available until later this year.
The HP X360 features external I/O more akin to a traditional laptop than a tablet with the following connectivity options.
- 1 x USB 3.0
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x RJ45 (10/100 Ethernet)
- 1 x headphone/mic combo jack
- 1 x SD card slot
- 1 x SIM card slot
Internally, the HP X360 uses an Intel Pentium N3520 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and a 2 cell Lithium Ion battery rated for up to four and a half hours of use. HP has further packed its tablet with Beats Audio technology. Interestingly, the Pentium N3520 CPU is a quad core chip based on Intel's Bay Trail (Atom) architecture which uses Silvermont cores and Intel HD graphics. The CPU is clocked at 2.166 GHz base and 2.42 GHz Turbo with 2MB of cache.
The X360 can be used as a laptop or a tablet in several configurations by swinging the display around appropriately. It is very similar to Lenovo's Yoga system, though HP is using a slightly different hinge design.
The real advantage of the HP X360 is its price. At a starting price of $389 for the 4GB model, the X360 is much cheaper than the (admittedly more powerful) Yoga alternatives while still being a capable machine for note taking and media consumption. It lies in a middle ground between Bay Trail-powered tablets and Haswell-powered laptops. For an $80 premium over the ASUS T100, users get a more traditional convertible PC with more storage (albeit slower mechanical storage) and a faster clocked processor.
Personally, I'm tempted and have been debating between this and the T100 as a second portable machine to replace my aging Dell XT with comparably abysmal battery life (heh).
You can find more information on the new X360 (HP Pavilion 11t-n000 x360 PC) on this HP product page.