Dango Durango -- Next-Gen Xbox developer kit in the wild.

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems | July 31, 2012 - 08:35 PM |
Tagged:

Eurogamer and Digital Foundry believe that a next-generation Xbox developer kit somehow got into the hands of an internet user looking to fence it for $10,000. If the rumors are true, a few interesting features are included in the kit: an Intel CPU and an NVIDIA graphics processor.

A little PC perspective on console gaming news…

If the source and people who corroborate it are telling the truth: somehow Microsoft lost control of a single developer’s kit for their upcoming Xbox platform. Much like their Cupertino frenemies who lost an iPhone 4 in a bar which was taken and sold for $5000 to a tech blog, the current owner of the Durango devkit is looking for a buyer for a mere $10000. It is unlikely he found it on a bar stool.

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One further level of irony, the Xbox 360 alpha devkit were repurposed Apple Mac Pros.

Image source: DaE as per its own in-image caption.

Alpha developer kits will change substantially externally but often do give clues to what to expect internally.

The first Xbox 360 software demonstrations were performed on slightly altered Apple Mac Pros. At that time, Apple was built on a foundation of PowerPC by IBM while the original Xbox ran Intel hardware. As it turned out, the Xbox 360 was based on the PowerPC architecture.

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Huh, looks like a PC.

The leaked developer kit for the next Xbox is said to be running X86 hardware and an NVIDIA graphics processor. 8GB of RAM is said to be present on the leaked kit albeit that only suggests that the next Xbox will have less than 8GB of RAM. With as cheap as RAM is these days -- a great concern for PC gamers would be that Microsoft would load the console to the brim with memory and remove the main technical advantage of our platform. Our PCs will still have that advantage once our gamers stop being scared of 64-bit compatibility issues. As a side note, those specifications are fairly identical to the equally nebulous specs rumored for Valve’s Steam Box demo kit.

The big story is the return to x86 and NVIDIA.

AMD is not fully ruled out of the equation if they manage to provide Microsoft with a bid they cannot refuse. Of course practically speaking AMD only has an iceball’s chance in Hell of have a CPU presence in the upcoming Xbox – upgraded from snowball. More likely than not Intel will pick up the torch that IBM kept warm for them with their superior manufacturing.

PC gamers might want to pay close attention from this point on…

Contrast the switch for Xbox from PowerPC to X86 with the recent commentary from Gabe Newell and Rob Pardo of Blizzard. As Mike Capps has allured to – prior to the launch of Unreal Tournament 3 – Epic is concerned about the console mindset coming to the PC. It is entirely possible that Microsoft could be positioning the Xbox platform closer to the PC. Perhaps there are plans for cross-compatibility in exchange for closing the platform around certification and licensing fees?

Moving the Xbox platform closer to the PC in hardware specifications could renew their attempts to close the platform as has failed with their Games for Windows Live initiative. What makes the PC platform great is the lack of oversight about what can be created for it and the ridiculous time span for compatibility for what has been produced for it.

It might be no coincidence that the two companies who are complaining about Windows 8 are the two companies who design their games to be sold and supported for decades after launch.

And if the worst does happen, PC gaming has been a stable platform despite repetitive claims of its death – but could the user base be stable enough to handle a shift to Linux? I doubt that most would even understand the implications of proprietary platforms on art to even consider it. What about Adobe and the other software and hardware tool companies who have yet to even consider Linux as a viable platform?

The dark tunnel might have just gotten longer.

Source: Eurogamer

ARM, TSMC to Produce 64-bit Processors With 3D Transistors

Subject: Processors | July 24, 2012 - 12:07 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, ARMv8, arm, 64-bit, 3d transistors, 20nm

 

Yesterday ARM announced a multi-year partnership with fab TSMC to produce sub-20nm processors that utilize 3D FinFET transistors. The collaboration and data sharing between the two companies will allow the fabless ARM SoC company the ability to produce physical processors based on its designs and will allow TSMC a platform to further its process nodes and FinFET transistor technology. The first TSMC-produced processors will be based on the ARMv8 architecture and will be 64-bit compatible.

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The addition of 3D transistors will allow the ARM processors to be even more power efficient and suitable for both mobile devices. Alternatively, it could allow for higher clockspeeds at the same TDP ratings as current chips. The other big news is that the chips will be moving to a 64-bit compatible design, which is huge considering ARM processors have traditionally been 32-bit. By moving to 64-bit, ARM is positioning itself for server and workstation adoption, especially with the recent ARM-compatible Windows 8 build due to be released soon. Granted, ARM SoCs have a long way to go before taking market share from Intel and AMD in the desktop and server markets in a big way but it is slowly but surely becoming more competitive with the x86-64 giants.

TSMC’s R&D Vice President Cliff Hou stated that the collaboration between ARM and TSMC will allow TSMC to optimize its FinFET process to target “high speed, low voltage and low leakage.” ARM further qualified that the partnership would give ARM early access to the 3D transistor FinFET process that could help create advanced SoC designs and ramp up volume production.

I think this is a very positive move for ARM, and it should allow them to make much larger inroads into the higher-end computing markets and see higher adoption beyond mobile devices. On the other hand, it is going to depend on TSMC to keep up and get the process down. Considering the issues with creating enough 28nm silicon to meet demand for AMD and NVIDIA’s latest graphics cards, a sub-20nm process may be asking a lot. Here’s hoping that it’s a successful venture for both companies, however.

You can find more information in the full press release.

Source: Maximum PC
Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

A selection of parts

AMD is without a doubt going through some very tough times with massive personnel issues as well as some problems with products and profitability.  But that doesn’t mean the current product line from AMD is without merit and that you can’t build a great system for various environments, including those users looking for a mainstream and small form factor gaming and home theater PC. 

While preparing for Quakecon 2012 we needed to build a system to take on the road for some minor editing and presentation control purposes.  We wanted the PC to be small and compact, yet still powerful enough to take on some basic computing and gaming tasks.  I happen to have some AMD Llano APUs in the office and thought they would fit perfectly.

If you are on the hunt for a small PC that can do some modest gaming and serve as an HTPC, then you might find our build here interesting.  And while it isn't nearly as exciting as building a Llano PC while blindfolded - it's pretty close.

Case: Lian-Li PC-Q08B

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Continue reading our AMD Llano APU Build article!!

AMD Blames Lackluster Earnings on Weak Economy

Subject: Processors | July 20, 2012 - 11:21 AM |
Tagged: quarterly earnings, loss, APU, amd

AMD recently released its Q2 2012 earnings (as did Intel), and things are continuing to look bleak for the number two x86-64 processor company. The company stated that the lower than expected numbers were the result of a weak economy and during a time of the year when people are not buying computers. The may be some truth to that as the second quarter is in the post-Christmas holiday season lul and before the big back-to-school retail push. On the economy front, it’s harder for me to say but without going political or armchair economist on you, the market seems better than it has been but is really still recovering–At least from a consumer perspective.

AMD reported revenue of $1.41 billion in the second quarter of 2012, which does not seem terrible, but when compared to Intel’s $13.5 billion Q2 revenue, and the fact that AMD’s numbers represent an 11-percent lower value than last quarter and 10-percent decrease versus Q2 2011, it’s easy to say that things are not looking good for the company.

According to Paul Lilly over at MaximumPC, when breaking AMD’s numbers down by business segment it gets even worse. Its Computing Solutions business fell 13-percent versus the previous quarter and Q2 2011. On the other hand, the company has the ever-so-slightly better news that the graphics card division stayed the same versus last year and was down 5-percent versus last quarter. The company was quoted as stating that the respective revenue drops were due to lower desktop sales in China and Europe and a “seasonally down quarter.”

PC Perspective’s Josh Walrath recently wrote up an editorial (note: pre-earnings call) that talks about AMDs new plan to focus on APUs, take on less risk, and push out new products faster. As a future-looking article, it talks about the impact of the company’s upcoming VIshera and Kaveri processors as well as AMD’s increased focus on heterogeneous system architectures. It remains to be seen if that new path for company will help them to make money or if it will hurt them. AMD cautions that Q3 2012 may not see increased revenue, but here’s hoping that they will be able to pull together for a strong Q4 and sell chips during the big holiday shopping season.

I for one am excited about the prospects of Kaveri and believe that HSA could work and is what AMD needs to focus on as it is one advantage that they have over NVIDIA and Intel – NVIDIA does not have an x86-64 license and Intel’s processor graphics leave room for improvement, to put it mildly. AMD may not have the best CPU cores, but it’s not an inherently bad design and where they are moving with the full convergence of the CPU and GPU is much farther ahead of the other big players.

Read more about AMD's Q2 2012 earnings (transcript).

Source: Maximum PC

AMD Social Media Reviewers Wanted - 2000 AMD APUs Available Free!

Subject: General Tech, Processors | July 12, 2012 - 03:51 PM |
Tagged: amd, llano, APU, comiccon

If you are in the San Diego area today or tomorrow, you should make it a point to stop by Belo San Diego (http://www.belosandiego.com/ 438 E Street), a night club near the convention area, to visit with the AMD and the Geek and Sundry group.

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Felicia Day, most popular for her role in the web-series The Guild, will be part of the on going event between 10am and 2am both today (the 12th) and tomorrow sponsored by AMD.  She is excited to be there - just look!

If you stop by the Belo nightclub during those hours you can take home a FREE AMD A8-3870K APU (with accompanying motherboard) if you agree to use your social media outlets (Twitter and Facebook) to tell your friends about the experience.  You will in fact become an AMD Social Media Reviewer!

Sorry, if you aren't in the San Diego area, you are out of luck on this promotion.  This is just another reason why attending ComicCon is so enticing!

Source: AMD

Can a 12-Core ARM Cluster hit critical mass?

Subject: Processors | June 26, 2012 - 05:08 PM |
Tagged: arm, cortex-a9, e-350, i7-3770k, z530, Ivy Bridge, atom, Zacate

Taking a half dozen PandaBoard ESes from Texas Instruments that have a 1.2GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor onboard, Phoronix built a 12-core ARM machine to test out against AMD's E-350 APU as well as Intel's Atom Z530 and a Core i7 3770K.  Before you you make the assumption that the ARM's will be totally outclassed by any of these processors, Phoronix is testing performance per Watt and the ARM system uses a total of 31W when fully stressed and idles below 20W, which gives ARM a big lead on power consumption. 

Phoronix tested out these four systems and the results were rather surprising as it seems Intel's Ivy Bridge is a serious threat to ARM.  Not only did it provide more total processing power, its performance per Watt tended to beat ARM and more importantly to many, it is cheaper to build an i7-3770K system than it is to set up a 12-core ARM server.  The next generation of ARM chips have some serious competition.

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"Last week I shared my plans to build a low-cost, 12-core, 30-watt ARMv7 cluster running Ubuntu Linux. The ARM cluster that is built around the PandaBoard ES development boards is now online and producing results... Quite surprising results actually for a low-power Cortex-A9 compute cluster. Results include performance-per-Watt comparisons to Intel Atom and Ivy Bridge processors along with AMD's Fusion APU."

Here are some more Processor articles from around the web:

Processors

 

Source: Phoronix
Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

A slightly lower cost Ivy Bridge

Just a couple of short months ago, Intel released the desktop versions of its latest CPU architecture codenamed Ivy Bridge – and officially named the Intel 3rd Generation Core Processor. Ivy Bridge has a much cleaner sound to it if you ask me.  

At launch, we tested and reviewed the highest-end offering, the Core i7-3770K, a quad-core HyperThreaded part that runs as fast as 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost. It included the highest end processor graphics Intel has developed – the HD 4000. Currently selling for only $350, the i7-3770K is a fantastic processor, but isn't the bargain that many DIY PC builders are looking for. The new Core i5-3470 from Intel – the processor we are reviewing today – might be just that.

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I am not going to spend time discussing the upgrades and benefits that the new Ivy Bridge processors offer over their predecessors, or the competition, from an architectural stand point. If you want some background on Ivy Bridge and why it does what it does, you'll want to read the first few pages of our original Core i7-3770K / Ivy Bridge review from April

The Core i5-3470 Processor

Interestingly, in the initial information from Intel about the Ivy Bridge processor lineup, the Core i5-3470 wasn't even on the list. There was a 3450 and 3550, but nothing in between. The Core i5-3470 currently sells for about $200 and compares with some other Ivy Bridge processors with the following specifications:

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Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i5-3470 Ivy Bridge and HD 2500 Processor!!

Intel Introduces Xeon Phi: Larrabee Unleashed

Subject: Processors | June 19, 2012 - 11:46 AM |
Tagged: Xeon Phi, xeon e5, nvidia, larrabee, knights corner, Intel, HPC, gpgpu, amd

Intel does not respond well when asked about Larabee.  Though Intel has received a lot of bad press from the gaming community about what they were trying to do, that does not necessarily mean that Intel was wrong about how they set up the architecture.  The problem with Larrabee was that it was being considered as a consumer level product with an eye for breaking into the HPC/GPGPU market.  For the consumer level, Larrabee would have been a disaster.  Intel simply would not have been able to compete with AMD and NVIDIA for gamers’ hearts.
 
The problem with Larrabee and the consumer space was a matter of focus, process decisions, and die size.  Larrabee is unique in that it is almost fully programmable and features really only one fixed function unit.  In this case, that fixed function unit was all about texturing.    Everything else relied upon the large array of x86 processors and their attached vector units.  This turns out to be very inefficient when it comes to rendering games, which is the majority of work for the consumer market in graphics cards.  While no outlet was able to get a hold of a Larrabee sample and run benchmarks on it, the general feeling was that Intel would easily be a generation behind in performance.  When considering how large the die size would have to be to even get to that point, it was simply not economical for Intel to produce these cards.
 
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Xeon Phi is essentially an advanced part based on the original Larrabee architecture.
 
This is not to say that Larrabee does not have a place in the industry.  The actual design lends itself very nicely towards HPC applications.  With each chip hosting many x86 processors with powerful vector units attached, these products can provide tremendous performance in HPC applications which can leverage these particular units.  Because Intel utilized x86 processors instead of the more homogenous designs that AMD and NVIDIA use (lots of stream units doing vector and scalar, but no x86 units or a more traditional networking fabric to connect them).  This does give Intel a leg up on the competition when it comes to programming.  While GPGPU applications are working with products like OpenCL, C++ AMP, and NVIDIA’s CUDA, Intel is able to rely on many current programming languages which can utilize x86.  With the addition of wide vector units on each x86 core, it is relatively simple to make adjustments to utilize these new features as compared to porting something over to OpenCL.
 
So this leads us to the Intel Xeon Phi.  This is the first commercially available product based on an updated version of the Larrabee technology.  The exact code name is Knights Corner.  This is a new MIC (many integrated cores) product based on Intel’s latest 22 nm Tri-Gate process technology.  The details are scarce on how many cores this product actually contains, but it looks to be more than 50 of a very basic “Pentium” style core;  essentially low die space, in-order, and all connected by a robust networking fabric that allows fast data transfer between the memory interface, PCI-E interface, and the cores.
 
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Each Xeon Phi promises more than 1 TFLOP of performance (as measured by Linpack).  When combined with the new Xeon E5 series of processors, these products can provide a huge amount of computing power.  Furthermore, with the addition of the Cray interconnect technology that Intel acquired this year, clusters of these systems could provide for some of the fastest supercomputers on the market.  While it will take until the end of this year at least to integrate these products into a massive cluster, it will happen and Intel expects these products to be at the forefront of driving performance from the Petascale to the Exascale.
 
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These are the building blocks that Intel hopes to utilize to corner the HPC market.  Providing powerful CPUs and dozens if not hundreds of MIC units per cluster, the potential computer power should bring us to the Exascale that much sooner.
 
Time will of course tell if Intel will be successful with Xeon Phi and Knights Corner.  The idea behind this product seems sound, and the addition of powerful vector units being attached to simple x86 cores should make the software migration to massively parallel computing just a wee bit easier than what we are seeing now with GPU based products from AMD and NVIDIA.  The areas that those other manufacturers have advantages over Intel are that of many years of work with educational institutions (research), software developers (gaming, GPGPU, and HPC), and industry standards groups (Khronos).  Xeon Phi has a ways to go before being fully embraced by these other organizations, and its future is certainly not set in stone.  We have yet to see 3rd party groups get a hold of these products and put them to the test.  While Intel CPUs are certainly class leading, we still do not know of the full potential of these MIC products as compared to what is currently available in the market.
 

The one positive thing for Intel’s competitors is that it seems their enthusiasm for massively parallel computing is justified.  Intel just entered that ring with a unique architecture that will certainly help push high performance computing more towards true heterogeneous computing. 

Source: Intel

Live Blog: AMD Fusion Developer Summit 2012 (AFDS)

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Shows and Expos | June 14, 2012 - 11:46 AM |
Tagged: live blog, arm, APU, amd, AFDS

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Day 3 - Thursday, June 14th

We are here at AFDS 2012 for the day 3 keynotes - join us as find out what else AMD has in store.  

If you are looking for Tuesday or Wednesday keynotes and information on the announcement of the HSA Foundation, you can find it below, after the break!

AMD Licenses ARM Technology: AMD Leans on ARM for Security

Subject: Processors | June 13, 2012 - 10:00 AM |
Tagged: TrustZone, hsa, Cortex-A5, cortex, arm, APU, amd, AFDS

Last year after that particular AFDS, there was much speculation that AMD and ARM would get a whole lot closer.  Today we have confirmed that in two ways.  The first is that AMD and ARM are founding members of the HSA Foundation.  This endeavor is a rather ambitious project that looks to make it much easier for programmers to access the full computer power of a CPU/GPU combo, or as AMD likes to call them, the APU.  The second confirmation is one that has been theorized for quite some time, but few people have actually hit upon the actual implementation.  This second confirmation is that AMD is licensing ARM cores and actually integrating them into their x86 based APUs.

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AMD and ARM are serious about working with each other.  This is understandable as both of them are competing tooth and nail with Intel.
 
ARM has a security functionality that they have been working with for several years now.  This is called ARM TrustZone.  It is a set of hardware and software products that provide a greater amount of security in data transfer and transactions.  The hardware basis is built into the ARM licensed designs and is implemented in literally billions of devices (not all of them enabled).  The biggest needs that this technology addresses are that of secure transactions and password enabled logins.  Money is obviously quite important, but with identity theft and fraud on the rise, secure logins to personal information or even social sites are reaching the same level of importance as large monetary transactions.
 
AMD will actually be implementing a Cortex-A5 processor into AMD APUs that will handle the security aspects of ARM TrustZone.  The A5 is the smallest Cortex processor available, and that would make sense to use it in a full APU so it will not take up an extreme amount of die space.  When made on what I would assume to be a 28 nm process, a single A5 processor would likely take up as little as 10 to 15 mm squared of space on the die.
 
This is not exactly the licensing agreement that many analysts had expected from AMD.  It is a start though.  I would generally expect AMD to be more aggressive in the future with offerings based on ARM technologies.  If we remember some time ago Rory Read of AMD pronounced their GPU technology as “the crown jewel” of their IP lineup, it makes little sense for AMD to limit this technology just to standalone GPUs and x86 based APUs.  If AMD is serious about heterogeneous computing, I would expect them to eventually move into perhaps not the handheld ARM market initially, but certainly with more server level products based on 64 bit ARM technology.
 
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Cortex-A5: coming to an AMD APU near you in 2013/2014.  Though probably not in quad core fashion as shown above.
 
AMD made a mistake once by selling off their ultra-mobile graphics group, Imageon.  This was sold off to Qualcomm, who is now a major player in the ARM ecosystem with their Snapdragon products based on Adreno graphics (“Adreno” is an anagram of “Radeon”).  With the release of low powered processors in both the Brazos and Trinity line, AMD is again poised to deliver next generation graphics to the low power market.  Now the question is, what will that graphics unit be attached to?
 
 
Source: AMD