CES 2016: Windows 10 PC-Exclusive Data Plans

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 09:44 PM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, microsoft, windows 10

Microsoft is partnering with Transatel to provide cellular data services for Windows 10 PCs and tablets, but not phones. It will launch in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, but could be rolled out to other regions over time. This will not be a contract service. Everything will be pre-paid, with short-term plans (think “XGB for the next 30 days for Y upfront”) available for a discount before a trip or something.

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One downside is that compatible PCs will require a SIM card slot, which a Microsoft-branded SIM card will be inserted into. The write-up at Thurrott.com doesn't discuss external adapters, like the USB cellular modems that carriers offer and were popular until tethering became mainstream. A few unlocked LTE, USB modems can be found online, which you'd think would be compatible, but I'm not up on many of the details. I'm not a mobile enthusiast.

Despite the source being a Microsoft corporate VP, speaking on the record, it has not been officially announced by the company yet. Details, like when it will be available, have not been released.

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Source: Thurrott.com

CES 2016: Polaroid Phones Actually Sound Interesting

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 03:15 AM |
Tagged: southern telecom, polaroid, CES 2016, CES

Of course, the Polaroid name is a trademark used under license for these phones. According to FoneArena, Southern Telecom is the underlying manufacturer, who I don't know much about. These sorts of arrangements happen frequently, such as when Funai licenses RCA and Magnavox to sell consumer electronics in department stores. It's basically an endorsement, with maybe some cross-promotion.

polaroid-2016-phone-snap.jpg

Image Credit: GSMArena

There were two types of phones at CES. I wasn't there personally, and I don't think anyone at PC Perspective saw these, so I'm not sure how they were announced at the show. Each image were product renders, so I'm guessing they weren't at a booth. Regardless, the specs are listed and they seem really good for the price.

The low-end version is called the “Polaroid Snap,” which is also the name of a previously released digital camera with an instant printer. The phone is based on a 720p, IPS panel in one of three sizes: 5-inch, 5.5-inch, or 6-inch. It has a quad-core processor of some sort with either 1GB or 2GB of RAM. They ship with Android 5.1.1, but some (not all) sources claim it will be upgraded to Android 6.0. Both front (5MP) and rear (13MP) cameras have LED flashes. The 1GB version has 8GB onboard storage (eugh!) but the 2GB one has 16GB of storage. Small, but that's all for $130 - $180 USD.

polaroid-2016-phone-power.jpg

Image Credit: GSMArena

Then we get to the Polaroid Power.

As you can guess, this is the more powerful version. It has a 6-inch, 1080p, IPS panel, which is backed by an eight-core, 64-bit processor. It has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which makes it much more interesting. The front (now 8MP) camera seems to have lost its flash, but the rear (13MP) one still has one. Again, it ships with Android 5.1.1 but definitely can be upgraded to Android 6.0. All of that hits a $250 price point.

All phones have a 3000 mAh battery, but they come with an 8000 mAh external booster.

As someone who rarely uses smartphones, this could be a decent offering for the price. In general, the mid-range smartphone ecosystem is getting quite competitive, as we've said on our year-end podcast. There is room for high-end devices to keep their mark, but at least there's a better gradient between cheap, “feature” phones and impressive, high-end devices.

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Source: FoneArena

CES 2016: Hello Moto

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 02:01 AM |
Tagged: motorola, Lenovo, CES 2016, CES

A little over a year ago, Lenovo purchased Motorola from Google for $2.91 billion USD. They did not acquire the vast majority of the patents, and they did not purchase Motorola Research. It was assumed that Lenovo wanted the Motorola brand and their connections with global cell carriers. Your hardware means very little without a network provider to sell, support, and connect it with their infrastructure.

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Today, Motorola / Lenovo announced that the Motorola brand will be deprecated. They will still operate within Lenovo as their own division, but the consumer-facing brand will be Lenovo, and it will run their entire mobile effort. The company will continue to make nods to Motorola, however. The stylized “M” logo will remain an identifiable trademark, and their line of high-end devices will be given the “Moto” name.

This doesn't feel like an admission of failure on Lenovo's part. I have the impression that they are trying to assimilate Motorola into their organization, but that makes me wonder what they wanted in the first place. They can use the connections and the workforce that they acquired, which is highly valuable, and they can use the brand in subtle ways (as they are). Really, I'm just confused whether Lenovo changed their mind about the Motorola brand, or if this was expected from the start.

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Source: CNet

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

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 7, 2016 - 11:55 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

Rumor: Intel and Xiaomi "Special Deal"

Subject: Processors, Mobile | January 7, 2016 - 03:56 AM |
Tagged: xiaomi, Intel, atom

So this rumor cites anonymous source(s) that leaked info to Digitimes. That said, it aligns with things that I've suspected in a few other situations. We'll discuss this throughout the article.

Xiaomi, a popular manufacturer of mobile devices, are breaking into the laptop space. One model was spotted on pre-order in China with an Intel Core i7 processor. According to the aforementioned leak, Intel has agreed to bundle an additional Intel Atom processor with every Core i7 that they order. Use Intel in a laptop, and they can use Intel in an x86-based tablet for no additional cost.

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A single grain of salt... ...
Image Source: Wikipedia

While it's not an explicit practice, we've been seeing hints of similar initiatives for years now. A little over a year ago, Intel's mobile group reported revenues that are ~$1 million, which are offset by ~$1 billion in losses. We would also see phones like the ASUS ZenFone 2, which has amazing performance at a seemingly impossible $199 / $299 price point. I'm not going to speculate on what the actual relationships are, but it sounds more complicated than a listed price per tray.

And that's fine, of course. I know comments will claim the opposite, either that x86 is unsuitable for mobile devices or alleging that Intel is doing shady things. In my view, it seems like Intel has products that they believe can change established mindsets if given a chance. Personally, I would be hesitant to get an x86-based developer phone, but that's because I would only want to purchase one and I'd prefer to target the platform that the majority has. It's that type of inertia that probably frustrates Intel, but they can afford to compete against it.

It does make you wonder how long Intel plans to make deals like this -- again, if they exist.

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Source: Digitimes

CES 2016: EVGA Announces SC17 Gaming Laptop

Subject: Systems, Mobile | January 7, 2016 - 12:44 AM |
Tagged: SC17, gaming laptop, evga, CES 2016, CES

EVGA has announced a gaming laptop (yes, EVGA), and the company says this computer was designed completely in-house.

Highlights from EVGA:

  • 100% EVGA in-house design from the ground up
  • GPU, CPU and Memory Superclock support with software and GUI BIOS
  • 4K ready (G-SYNC and non G-SYNC)
  • Unibody design with 1.05 inch (2.65 cm) thickness including RJ45
  • USB 3.1 Type-C support

The SC17 offers a 4K display with G-Sync (a first for laptops at this resolution) and features the company's "Superclocked" branding for the main components, with a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor running at 3.8 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M GPU clocked at 1200 MHz, and G.SKill DDR4 2133 memory overclocked to 2666 MHz.

The known specs:

  • 17.3-inch 4K G-Sync display
  • Intel Core i7 6820HK Unlocked CPU
  • NVIDIA GTX980M with overclocking support
  • 16GB 2666 MHz memory
  • 256 GB M.2 RAID-0 (2 x 128 GB SSDs)
  • 2 TB storage drive
  • USB 3.1 Type-C
  • FHD front camera
  • Synaptics Clickpad 1.5

Other than the promise that this laptop will ship at some point in 2016, we don't have much to go by as far as pricing or availability is concerned just yet.

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Source: EVGA

Meet the new PowerVR Series7XT Plus family of GPUs from Imagination Technologies

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2016 - 07:42 PM |
Tagged: Series7XT Plus, PowerVR, hsa. GT7200 Plus, GT7400 Plus, CES

Update (Jan 7th, 2016 - Scott Michaud): Imagination sent us an updated diagram, and they wanted to clarify that there is "a 1:1 correspondance between the FP32 ALUs and the integer units." The updated diagram is just below.

PowerVR Series7XT Plus GPU - ALU architecture_2.png

Original article below

PowerVR GPUs are found in a variety of devices from the PlayStation Vita to the last couple of iPhones and at one point was the GPU in Intel APUs.  Their latest offerings are the GT7200 Plus and GT7400 Plus both of which offer quite a few improvements over their previous generations, not least of which is wholesale adoption of heterogeneous computing and its various benefits such as shared virtual memory.

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These GPUs expand their support to INT16 and INT8 data paths, keeping the legacy INT32 paths for applications that require it.  They have also adopted the OpenCL 2.0 API for heterogeneous computing as well as OpenGL ES 3.2 and even Vulkan support.  The GT7200 Plus is in a dual-cluster configuration with 64 ALU cores and the GT7400 Plus doubles that to a quad-cluster with 128 ALU cores.

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Along with the performance and feature upgrades comes a focus on upgrading the machine vision capabilities of the Rogue GPUs to be able to  identify thousands of objects directly from the camera input stream in real-time.  Check out their blog entry for more information on the new chips and if you want a refresher on the technology in these GPUs you can refer back to Ryan's article here.

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Intel Announces Core m Skylake and Cherry Trail Compute Sticks

Subject: Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2016 - 06:59 PM |
Tagged: Skylake, Intel, core m5, core m3, compute stick, Cherry Trail, CES 2016, CES

First up on the meeting block with the official opening of CES 2016 was Intel and its NUC and Compute Stick division. You should remember the Intel Compute Stick as a HDMI-enabled mini-computer in the shape of a slightly over sized USB drive. The first iteration of it was based on Bay Trail Atom processor and though we could see the benefits of such a device immediately, the follow through on the product lacked in some key areas. Performance was decent but even doing high bit rate video streaming seemed like a stretch and the Wi-Fi integration left something to be desired.

Today though Intel is announcing three new Compute Stick models. One is based on Cherry Trail, the most recent Atom processor derivative, and two using the Intel Core m processors based on the Skylake architecture.

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Old Compute Stick on top, new on the bottom

The Intel STK1AW32SC uses the Cherry Trail Atom x5 processor, the x5-Z8300 quad-core CPU with a 1.44 GHz base clock and a 1.84 GHz Turbo clock. This CPU only has a 2 watt SDP so power consumption remains in line with the design we saw last year. Other specifications include an updated 802.11ac 2x2 wireless data connection (nice!), 32GB of internal eMMC storage, 2GB of DDR3-1600 memory and Bluetooth 4.0 support. Intel claims this configuration will offer about 2x the graphics performance of the previous model though CPU changes will be less noticeable. Still, we should see much improved 1080p streaming video performance without the dropped frames that were a problem last generation.

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For connectivity, Intel has moved from a single USB port to a pair, one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0. There is still a requirement for external power via the micro USB port on the side.

The design is definitely more refined and feels higher quality than the original Compute Stick concept. This model is shipping today and should have an MSRP of $159 on the market.

More interesting are the pair of new Core-based Compute Sticks. There are two different models, one with a Core m3-6Y30 and another with a Core m5-6Y57 and vPro support. These devices get a nice bump to 64GB of internal eMMC storage, which Intel promises has better performance to take advantage of the USB 3.0 ports, along with 4GB of DDR3-1833 memory to keep things running smoothly.

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The processor differences are noteworthy here – the Core m5-6Y57 has a sizeable advantage in peak boost clock, hitting 2.8 GHz versus only 2.2 GHz on the Core m3-6Y30. Base clocks are 1.1 GHz and 900 MHz, respectively, so I am curious how much time these devices will spend in the higher clocked modes in this form factor. As with the original Compute Stick, all three of the new models include an active fan cooling system.

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The build quality on the Core variants of the Compute Stick are very similar to the Atom Cherry Trail model, though with a couple of unique changes to the I/O. On the device itself you have just a single USB 3.0 port and a single USB 3.0 Type-C connection used for both power and data.

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On the wall power connector though, Intel has smartly integrated a USB 3.0 hub, giving us two more USB ports available at the wall, moving data to the Compute Stick itself through the Type-C cable. It’s really neat design idea and I can easily see this moving toward more connectivity on the power device in the future – maybe additional displays, audio outputs, etc.

The STK2M3W64CC, the Core m3-6Y30 variant that has Windows 10 pre-installed, will MSRP for $399. A version without Windows (STK2M364CC) will sell for around $299. Finally, the Core m5-6Y57 model, the STK2M3W64CC, is going to be $499, without an OS, targeted at the business markets. All three will be shipping in February.

We have a Cherry Trail Compute Stick in our hands already for testing but I am very curious to see how both the Core m3 and Core m5 version of the device improve on it with performance and usability. It’s very possible that these 4.5 watt parts are going to be more than enough for a large portion of the market, making truly headless computing a viable solution for most workloads.

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CES 2016: Razer Blade Stealth Has External GPU Dock

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2016 - 05:59 AM |
Tagged: razer, CES 2016, CES, blade stealth, blade

I've been seeing a handful of Razer laptops in my day-to-day life. They are known to pay attention to details, including the precise shade of green that their USB ports are colored. This seems to translate well to designing ultrabooks. Once again, they announced a new line of Razer Blade PCs. The headlining feature is the Razer Core external graphics enclosure, but I'm more interested in the display.

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First, the graphics. Instead of integrating a discrete, mobile GPU, Razer is using the Intel HD 520 graphics on their chosen Core i7-6500U Skylake processor. This is not a powerhouse. It can barely play Rainbow Six: Siege and Star Wars Battlefront on low settings. It is power efficient though, and it will handle just about any professional, media, or light gaming task you throw at it. If you want to use it for high-performance graphics, then you will need to connect their optional Razer Core GPU dock by Thunderbolt 3. Pricing and availability are not yet available for that, which can be a deal-breaker quite easily. The other problem is that the Skylake processor is dual-core (four threads). Even with a good GPU, some games might be riding the line on the CPU side. It allows you to dock whatever graphics card you like, though. It's worth considering once we get the rest of the details.

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But back to the laptop. As I mentioned before, the screen is possibly more interesting than the graphics situation. The panel is based on IGZO technology, which fights with IPS in terms of picture quality. You have two choices in resolution: 2560x1440 with 70% Adobe RGB, or 4K with 100% Adobe RGB. That doesn't seem like much, but Adobe RGB is actually a very wide color space, designed to cover both video and print color spaces. Even the professional grade Dell monitors do not claim 100% Adobe RGB, although they've come within 3% for years now. Having full coverage of Adobe RGB could be very appealing to professionals, especially magazine publishers and similar jobs.

The Razer Blade Stealth is available now, starting at $999.

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Source: Razer

CES 2016: ASUS Announces XG Station 2 External Graphics

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 09:47 PM |
Tagged: external graphics, CES 2016, CES, asus

While external graphics has been a thing for quite some time, it was rarely an available thing. Several companies, such as AMD, Lucid, and others, announced products that were never sold. ASUS had their XG Station for Windows Vista that allowed laptops to plug into a GeForce 8600 GT, which was only available in Australia. Only now are we beginning to see options from Alienware, MSI, and even Microsoft that are widely available.

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ASUS is jumping back in, too. Not much is known about the XG Station 2, except that it is “specially designed for ASUS laptops and graphics cards.” This sounds like it is using a proprietary connector, similar to Alienware and MSI, to connect to ASUS laptops. Also saying it's specifically for ASUS graphics cards is a bit confusing, though. If it is an open PCIe slot, I'm not sure why or how it would be limited to ASUS cards. If the graphics cards are pre-installed, then we don't know the list of potential GPUs.

Either way, ASUS states that the dock can be disconnected without shutting down the PC. I'm interested to see how the GPU is supposed to be unplugged, as Alienware's option can only be done when the system is off, and Microsoft's Surface Book has a software detach with a hardware latch. The connector will also charge the laptop, which is an interesting add-in.

Pricing and availability varies, like the other ASUS announcements, by region.

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Source: ASUS