Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 11, 2013 - 04:06 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: wwdc 13, MacBook Air, Mac Pro, apple
Sometimes our "Perspective" is needed on Apple announcements because some big points just do not get covered by the usual sources. Other times, portions of the story can be relevant to our readers. This is one of those days where both are true. Either side should review our thoughts and analysis of Apple's recent ultrabook and, especially, their upcoming desktop offerings.
The MacBook Air has been, predictably, upgraded Intel's Haswell processors. Battery life is the first obvious benefit of the CPU, and that has been well reported. The 11-inch MacBook Air gains an extra four hours of battery life, usable for up to 9 hours between charges. The extra space on the 13-inch MacBook Air allows it to last 12 hours between charges.
Less discussed, both MacBook Airs will contain Intel's Iris iGPU more commonly known as Intel HD 5000. You cannot get Intel HD 5000 graphics without selecting a BGA socket component which you would install by soldering it in place. While there are several better solutions from competing GPU vendors, Apple will have one of the first shipping implementations of Haswell's canonical graphics processor. Iris is said to have double the performance of previous generation Ivy Bridge graphics for a fraction of its power consumption.
Also included in the MacBook Air is an 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi network adapter and Bluetooth 4.0. Apple is not typically known to introduce new standards and often lags severely behind what is available on the PC unless they had a hand in trademarking it, USB 3.0 being the obvious and recent example.
The specifications will be somewhat customizable, the user is able to select between: an i5 and an i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128, 256, or 512GB SSD. It has shipped the day it was announced with base prices ranging between $999 for an entry-level 11-inch and $1099 for an entry-level 13-inch.
But now we move on to the dying industry, desktop PCs, where all innovation has died unless it is to graft a touch interface to anything and everything.
"Can't innovate any more, my ass", grunts Phil Schiller, on the keynote stage.
Whether you like it, or think "innovation" is the best word, it's a legitimate new design some will want.
While the new Mac Pro is not a system that I would be interested in purchasing, for issues I will outline soon, these devices are what some users really want. I have been a very strong proponent of OEM devices as they highlight the benefit of the PC industry: choice. You can purchase a device, like the new Mac Pro, from a vendor; alternatively, you can purchase the components individually to assemble yourself and save a lot of money; otherwise, you can hire a small business computer store or technician.
We need more companies, like Apple, to try new devices and paradigms for workstations and other high-performance devices. While it is less ideal for Apple to be the ones coming up with these redesigns, Apple's platform encourages applications to be vendor-specific (only run on a Mac), it can still benefit the PC industry by demonstrating that life and demand still exists; trying something new could reap large benefits. Not everyone wants to have a full ATX case with discrete components but still want workstation performance, and that is okay.
Now when it comes to actual specifications, the typical coverage glossed over what could be easily approximated by a trip to Wikipedia and Google. Sure, some may have been in a rush within the auditorium, but still.
The specifications are:
- Intel Xeon E5-2600 V2-class CPU, Ivy Bridge-E, 12 cores max (suggests single-socket)
- 4-channel DDR3 ECC RAM, apparently 4 DIMMS which suggests 4x16GB (Max).
Dual FirePro GPUs, 4096 total shaders with 2x6GB GDDR5.
- Pretty clearly based on FirePro W9000
- Seems to be slightly underclocked, losing about 0.5 Teraflop per GPU.
- PCIe SSD
- Thunderbolt 2, USB3.0, and WiFi ac (+ a/b/g/n??), Bluetooth 4.0
Now the downside is that basically anything you wish to add to the Mac Pro needs to be done through Thunderbolt, Bluetooth 4.0, or USB 3.0. When you purchase an all-in-one custom design, you forfeit your ability to reach in and modify the components. There is also no mention of pricing, and for a computer with this shoplist you should expect to pay a substantial invoice even without "The Apple Tax", but that is not the point of purchasing a high-end workstation. Apple certainly put in as close to the best-of-the-best as they could.
Now could people stop claiming the PC is dead and work towards sustaining it? I know people love stories of jarring industry shifts, but this is ridiculous.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | June 10, 2013 - 02:49 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Ultra, geforce titan, computex
So long to Computex 2013, we barely knew thee. You poured stories all over our news feed for more than a whole week. What say you, another story for the... metaphorical road... between here... and... Taipei? Okay, so the metaphorical road is bumpy and unpaved, work with me.
It was substantially more difficult to decipher the name of a video card a number of years ago. Back then, products would be classified by their model numbers and often assigned a suffix like: "Ultra", "Pro", or "LE". These suffixes actually meant a lot, performing noticeably better (or maybe worse) than the suffix-less number and possibly even overlapping with other number-classes.
Just when they were gone long enough for us to miss them, the suffixes might make some measure of a return. On the show floor, Colorful exhibited the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Ultra Edition. This card uses a standard slightly-disabled GK110-based GeForce GTX Titan GPU, with the usual 2688 CUDA cores, and 6GB of GDDR5. While the GK110 chip has potential for 2880 CUDA cores, NVIDIA has not released any product (not even Tesla or Quadro) with more than 2688 CUDA cores enabled. Colorful's Titan Ultra and the reference Titan are electrically identical; this "Ultra" version just adds a water block for a cooling system and defaults to some amount of a factory overclock.
But, this is not the first time we have heard of a Titan Ultra...
Back in April, ExtremeTech found a leak for two official products: the GTX Titan LE and the GTX Titan Ultra. While the LE would be slightly stripped down compared to the full GTX Titan, the GTX Titan Ultra would be NVIDIA's first release of a GK110 part without any CUDA cores disabled.
So if that rumor ends up being true, you could choose between Colorful's GTX Titan Ultra with its partially disabled GK110 based on the full GTX Titan design; or, you could choose the reference GTX Titan Ultra based on a full GK110 GPU unlike the partially disabled GK110 on the full GTX Titan.
If you are feeling nostalgic... that might actually be confusion... as this is why suffixes went away.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 08:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: serious sam, E3 13, E3
We still have another 5-or-so days left on the Serious Sam Humble Weekly Sale and so if you were interested in donating a bunch of money for mindless shooters, you still have a chance. Also, you apparently have another reason to do so.
Crowdfunding is popular these days, we even did it. Basically anyone can set up a project, collect money from random people on the internet, and give perks in return. In this case, according to PC Gamer, Croteam is apparently using revenue collected from the Humble Bundle to fund the creation of the next Serious Sam: Serious Sam 4.
If you wish to snag a bunch of Serious Sam games for yourself or your friends, all while supporting Croteam and their future titles, then donate to the Humble Sale by Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at (I believe) 2PM EDT. By the way, that is the last official day of E3.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 06:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: E3, E3 13, thief, Thief 4
The pre-expo press conferences are still three days out but only suckers want to get swamped in the press coverage, right? It is like people who leave work two days early to beat the traffic caused by people leaving a day early from a long weekend to beat traffic. This is all like that, if it were directed by Michael Bay.
And speaking of live action E3 movies, Eidos released a trailer for their upcoming Thief reboot. I really cannot tell which sections are in-engine, which are pre-rendered, and which are live action. As for the game? Well, all I know is that you are going to be stealing stuff.
Thief will be coming to the PC, PS4, and Xbox One sometime in 2014.
Let us play a little game here: what do you think is in-engine; what do you think is pre-rendered; and what do you think is live action? Let us know in the comments.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 03:56 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: seasonic, PSU, m12II evo, m12II bronze, haswell, computex 2013, computex
Following Intel's announcement of new Haswell sleep states, various power supply manufacturers have released compatibility lists detailing which PSUs are able to deliver the low load necessary to support the power sipping sleep states on the 12V rail (which has not been much of a concern until Haswell).
One such PSU manufacturer was Seasonic, who has quite a few Haswell-ready power supplies across several lineups including its Platinum, G, and M12II series, among others. Included in that compatibility list were two new power supplies that Seasonic is showing off at Computex this week: the Seasonic Platinum 1200 and Seasonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition.
SeaSonic Platinum 1200
The Platinum 1200 is a high-end modular power supply that is capable of powering beefy multi-GPU setups. It is 80+ Platinum rated and is up to 92% efficient at 50% load.
Sesonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition
The Seasonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition is an updated version on past models and includes two SKUs that come in at 750W and 850W. It is a fully modular unit with flat black cables and fan control tech. It is 80+ Bronze and Energy Star rated, and is compatible with Intel's 4th Generation Core processors.
Also read: The full list of Haswell-compatible Seasonic power supplies @ PC Perspective.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 08:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, E3 13, E3
So heading up to E3, Microsoft decided to drop their DRM bombshell so it would get buried over the next couple of days. In terms of permissiveness, the Xbox One is not nearly as bad as feared; of course, it is still terrible in certain ways.
Microsoft will allow games to be played offline on the Xbox One... for 24 hours. If your internet connection has been offline for longer than that period (unclear whether the timer starts when internet goes out or from last update) then your system will be locked to live TV and disc-based movies. Games and apps, even ones which should have no online functionality, will cease to function until you reconnect with Xbox servers.
This also means that if the Xbox servers have an outage lasting between 24 hours and "taken offline forever", all gaming and apparently apps will cease to function on the Xbox One.
It's like if Wall-E grew a Freddie Mercury
But at least they will allow some level of used-game transfer... if the publisher agrees. Check out this statement from Microsoft Studios:
In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers. Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers. Microsoft does not receive any compensation as part of this. In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.
So this will be an interesting experiment: how will revenue and profitability be affected for game publishers who deny used game sales? I honestly expect that used game sales actually promote the purchasing of more games and that initiatives to limit used game transfers will reduce user engagement. Of course Microsoft is now taking all of the flak from Sony, who may or may not be considering the same practice, but I am sure at least Microsoft is hoping that everyone will forget this when shiny new trailers erase the collective gamer memory.
In return, however, Microsoft is being fairly permissive when it comes to how many users can be licensed on a single disk. Up to ten family members are allowed access to your collective library.
And, after all, it should not be a surprise that a console game disappears when Microsoft shuts down their servers: consoles were always designed to be disposable. I have been proclaiming that for quite some time. The difference is now, people cannot really deny it.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 05:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: unreal engine 4, ue4, E3 13, E3, computex
We are bleeding through the overlap between Computex and E3 media windows; this news has a somewhat relevant fit for both. Unreal Engine 4 is coming and I expect we will see one or more demos and UE4-powered titles over the next week. In fact, I would be fairly shocked if we do not see the end of the Elemental Demo with the Xbox One E3 keynote. We may also potentially see Unreal Engine 4 running on mobile devices and maybe even HTML5 at some point throughout the tradeshow, either canonically through Epic or via a licensee product.
This morning, Epic opened the Unreal Engine 4 Integrated Partners Program (IPP). Of course they already have a couple of members, most of which were partners with Unreal Engine 3.
The founding IPP partners are:
Wwise from Audiokinetic
- Manages large databases of sound effects and voice-overs
- Manages subtitles and multiple dubbings of voice clips
Autodesk Gameware from Autodesk
- Contains multiple packages including Beast, Navigation, and Scaleform
- Scaleform is a Flash rendering engine for HUDs, menus, etc. developed using Flash Professional in 2D or 3D. It is what StarCraft II, Mass Effect, and Borderlands uses.
- Beast is a lighting toolkit for global illumination, radiosity, etc.
- Navigation is an AI solver, predominantly for pathfinding.
Simplygon from Donya Labs
- Reduces polygon count of models so they take up less processing resources especially as they get further away from the camera.
Enlighten from Geomerics
- Another Global Illumination solver, most popular usage being Battlefield 3.
SpeedTree for Games from IDV
- Makes a bunch of efficient trees so studios do not need to hire as many minimum wage peons.
Intel Threading Building Blocks (TBB) from Intel
- Helps developers manage C++ threading for multicore systems.
- Deals with memory management and scheduling tasks
morpheme from NaturalMotion
- Animation and physics software for designers to create animations
- Works with NVIDIA PhysX
euphoria from NaturalMotion
- Simulates animations based on driving conditions via the CPU, most popular usage being GTA IV.
PhysX and APEX from NVIDIA
- You probably know this one.
- GPU-based rigid body, soft body, fluid, and cloth solvers.
- Allows for destructible environments and other complex simulations.
Oculus Rift from Oculus VR
- You probably also know this one, especially if you keep up with our Video Perspectives.
- Head-mounted display with motion tracking for VR.
Bink Video from Rad Game Tools
- ... is not included! Just kidding, that stuff'll survive a nuclear apocalypse.
- Seriously, check in just about any DirectX or OpenGL game's credits if it includes pre-rendered video cutscenes or video-textures.
- I'll wait here.
- In all seriousness, Rad Game Tools has been licensed in over 15,500 titles. It's been a meme to some extent for game programmers. This should be no surprise.
Telemetry Performance Visualizer from Rad Game Tools
- Allows developers to see graphs of what their hardware is working on over time.
- Helps developers know what benefits the most from optimization.
RealD Developer Kit (RDK) from RealD
- Helps game developers create stereoscopic 3D games.
Umbra 3 from Umbra Software
- Determines what geometry can be seen by the player and what should be unloaded to increase performance.
- Sits between artists and programmers to the former does not need to think about optimization, and the latter does not need to claw their eyes out.
IncrediBuild-XGE from Xoreax
- Apparently farms out tasks to idle PCs on your network.
- I am not sure, but I think it is mostly useful for creating a pre-render farm at a game studio for light-baking and such.
We still have a little while until E3 and so we do not know how E3 will be, but I highly expect to see Unreal Engine 4 be a recurring theme over the next week. Keep coming back to PC Perspective, because you know we have a deep interest in where Epic is headed.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 03:29 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: computex, Windows 8.1, windows blue
Jensen Harris, member of the Windows User Experience (UX) team at Microsoft, performed a video walk-through of the new Windows interface. Of course, as I always say when discussing Windows 8, the real problems will arise with the Windows Store and certification requirements; interface problems annoy, censorship problems harm.
But, disclaimer aside, the interface of Windows 8.1 seems much more useable.
First and foremost is the Lock Screen. People enjoy digital photo frames and a locked tablet certainly looks more classy than any other that I have seen. It will collage photos together, stored locally and shared from a phone or Skydrive over wireless, with a thin font date and time. Combined with a decent resolution IPS display, that could be an interesting way to encourage users to leave their device on its charger. Not to mention, the frame would continually synchronize with Skydrive and thus receive new photos without end-user interaction; it is useful, for instance, for the family of an elderly person who wants to keep in touch but actively rejects technology.
The All Apps screen lists all applications installed on screen. This allows users to take a little weight off of the Start Screen and, instead of using it as a launcher, use the All Apps screen as a launcher and use the Start Screen as a nexus of important information. If you wish to use the Start Screen as a launcher, similar to pinned icons for Windows 7, you will have more choice in icon size to either fit more apps or give tiles with relevant information more space.
Screen splitting was pretty horrendous in Windows 8. An application could either be in full screen, be a sidebar app, or take up the room not taken by a sidebar app. If you have multiple monitors, bringing up the Start Screen would shuffle everything around pretty much ensuring that you do not have more than a couple of apps focused at any given time. Windows 8.1 allows you to split apps directly down the middle and, if you have a large display, allow you to fit three or four applications on screen at once.
Unfortunately, and I contacted Paul Thurrott last week to confirm I was up to date, there does not seem to be any multiple monitor enhancements in Windows 8.1. If you have want to punch through your second display because of applications from the Windows Store, keep using the desktop.
Or, if you wish to try it out for yourself, Windows 8.1 will be available for public preview on June 26th.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 5, 2013 - 08:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: computex, thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, Light Peak
We received Thunderbolt, on the PC at least, a year ago. While not yet ubiquitous, we will be receiving an update to the interface sooner than you would expect. The main advantages of Thunderbolt is the ridiculous bandwidth and ability to daisy-chain with displays. Thunderbolt 2 looks to advance both of those features.
Thunderbolt is based around a PCI Express signal for data and DisplayPort for video, both combined down a single cable. The cable, in fact, is compatible with Mini DisplayPort adapters and devices if used exclusively for video. The upgrade to Thunderbolt 2 advances the video standard to DisplayPort 1.2; as a result, Thunderbolt 2 devices will be capable of driving a 4K monitor (supposedly with sound) without requiring multiple cables to be connected.
In terms of strict bandwidth, Thunderbolt 2 will provide double the data rate of the original Thunderbolt. Instead of 10Gbps, new devices will be able to transfer at 20Gbps. This is especially useful for video content creators looking to manage, in real time, 4K or 120Hz data transferring between cameras and video gear. Struggling with large video capture bandwidth is something we know about...
As expected, there is not really any talk about specific prices yet (I would expect that depends on implementation) but you should look forward to it landing either really late this year or early next year. As for the original Thunderbolt? Well, the new standard is backwards compatible but there is concern whether new devices would be fairly crippled without the new standard.
An new era for computing? Or, just a bit of catching up?
Early Tuesday, at 2am for viewers in eastern North America, Intel performed their Computex 2013 keynote to officially kick off Haswell. Unlike ASUS from the night prior, Intel did not announce a barrage of new products; the purpose is to promote future technologies and the new products of their OEM and ODM partners. In all, there was a pretty wide variety of discussed topics.
Intel carried on with the computational era analogy: the 80's was dominated by mainframes; the 90's were predominantly client-server; and the 2000's brought the internet to the forefront. While true, they did not explicitly mention how each era never actually died but rather just bled through: we still use mainframes, especially with cloud infrastructure; we still use client-server; and just about no-one would argue that the internet has been displaced, despite its struggle against semi-native apps.
Intel believes that we are currently in the two-in-one era, which they probably mean "multiple-in-one" due to devices such as the ASUS Transformer Book Trio. They created a tagline, almost a mantra, illustrating their vision:
"It's a laptop when you need it; it's a tablet when you want it."
But before elaborating, they wanted to discuss their position in the mobile market. They believe they are becoming a major player in the mobile market with key design wins and outperforming some incumbent system on a chips (SoCs). The upcoming Silvermont architecture pines to be fill in the gaps below Haswell, driving smartphones and tablets and stretching upward to include entry-level notebooks and all-in-one PCs. The architecture promises to scale between offering three-fold more performance than its past generation, or a fifth of the power for equivalent performance.
Ryan discussed Silvermont last month, be sure to give his thoughts a browse for more depth.