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: Seasonic prepares flagship Prime series of PSUs

Subject: Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 07:07 PM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, seasonic, prime, power supply

In a meeting with Seasonic at CES this week, the company revealed plans for a completely new series of power supplies coming this spring. The new Seasonic Prime series will come in both Platinum and Titanium editions, with wattage ranges of 650 watts to 1000 watts on the former and 550 watt to 1200 watts on the latter. These power supplies will now be ahead of the X-Series in the brand hierarchy. 

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Seasonic is well known in the industry for top quality products and is one of the key manufacturers for other PSU brands that you know and love. They want to build a new flagship brand of their own though, going with an impressively svelte design and include enough features and capabilities to stand out in a crowded market. 

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Both Platinum and Titanium designs will include a totally new hybrid fan control design that allows for a zero fan speed design up to 45% of system load on the higher wattage units. Zero PCB cabling minimizes the chances for individual failure and is aided by the completely modular design. Though the unit is analog rather than digital, Seasonic promises to maintain a 0.5% nominal tolerance on the load regulation on the 12V line. Also, all of the Seasonic Prime power supplies will come with a full 10-year (!!) warranty.

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Looking for a fanless design? Seasonic will have you covered with the Titanium Fanless units at both 400 watt and 550 watt variants.

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Expect the newest Seasonic power supplies to hit stores in April!

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Source: Seasonic

CES 2016: New Intel Compute Sticks

Subject: Systems, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 08:45 AM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, Intel, compute stick

Intel has announced two new Compute Sticks with a handful of available SKUs.

On the high end, in terms of Compute Sticks at least, two products are available. At the low end of the two, a Core m3 processor will be present, and Windows 10 will be pre-installed for $399. The high-end variant will have a faster Core m5 processor, but no pre-installed OS for $499. It seems odd that a choice in SoC will be tied to the OS, but I'm guessing the Intel doesn't want to have too many SKUs for a potentially low-volume product.

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Regardless of the above choice, both Core M-level Compute Sticks, above, have 4GB of RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage, HDMI, and 3x USB ports. They also have Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 for wireless connectivity.

Beyond the above two products, a low end, Intel Atom-based Compute Stick is available. Just one SKU will be available, though. It has the same Intel Atom x5-Z8300 that was present on the Zotac PC Stick. It also has 2GB of RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage, HDMI, and 2x USB ports. It has Wireless AC, but Bluetooth 4.0 (instead of the Core M version's 4.1). It will be available for $159.

Release dates are not announced, but the Atom-based Compute Sticks are in production, and the Core M-based one will enter production next month.

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Source: Intel (pdf)

CES 2016: Zotac Skylake ZBOX and PC Stick

Subject: Systems, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 07:06 AM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, zotac, zbox

Zotac is one of the most memorable manufacturers of mini PCs. We have been highlighting their tiny creations since at least 2011, which was as far back as our site's Zotac tag went. At the time, we appreciated them as media center PCs, but interest seems to have picked up substantially since then. They are also appreciated in the fanless community, because silent and tiny devices are even more novel.

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Image Credit: Liliputing

They had several products at CES, which span the gamut of uniqueness. Some are fanless, others are in a PC stick form factor, and other ZBOXes are there, too. Liliputing went through a few different models, and gave a pretty detailed discussion of the PC Stick, the ZBOX Pico (T3 and T4), and the ZBOX C series. Be sure to check the site out for a more elaborate look.

The fanless model had a pretty interesting upgrade, though. With a Core i5-6300U, it has a lot of performance for something like an audio recording PC, especially if it's maxed out with 16 GB of RAM. The Intel HD 520 is a bit light otherwise though, but it could play most new games at low settings (~720p). On the other hand, it has two USB 3.1 Type-C ports, as well as a few regular USB 3.0 ports.

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Image Credit: Liliputing

The PC stick is definitely low powered, though. It has an Intel Atom x5-Z8300, which could really do without the “Z” in the model name. It has 2GB of RAM, which should be sufficient for those applications, and 32GB of on-device storage, which is better than many other offerings. It even has a MicroSD card slot on top of the internal storage.

Pricing and availability are not yet provided.

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Source: Liliputing

CES 2016: New Cooler Master Mechanical Keyboards

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2016 - 04:02 AM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, cooler master, mechanical keyboard, RGB LED

Back in September, we mentioned that the CoolerMaster QuickFire XTi was launched worldwide. They have now launched three more keyboards. Two of them have Cherry MX switches and RGB LEDs, while the third uses a supposedly high-quality membrane switch.

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According to The Tech Report at the show, Cooler Master has apparently used their own LED solution, rather than just purchase Cherry MX RGB switches directly. They also say that they needed to change the housing to fit those. The MasterKeys Pro L and S are fairly minimalist keyboards. I assume L stands for long, and S stands for short, because the S is the tenkeyless version of the L (which means it is cut off to the right of the arrow keys).

The Devastator II has switches that Cooler Master calls “Mem-chanical.” They apparently created high-end membrane switches that are supposed to feel like tactile mechanical ones. I guess this means that they were trying to emulate the Cherry MX Brown force curve. This doesn't say what quality the keyboard will end up being, that said, one of the most precise keyboards I've had (according to my straight-edge test) was a Microsoft Media keyboard from the early 2000s.

The Devastator II also has an ambidextrous mouse. Not sure about pricing and availability, though. The Tech Report claims $30, which is right around what the original Devastator costs today.

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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.

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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.

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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: Razer Stargazer Webcam Announced

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2016 - 09:52 PM |
Tagged: CES, CES 2016, razer, razer stargazer, webcam, Intel RealSense

Razer has announced the Stargazer webcam with a few tricks up its sleeve. Each of these has a downside or catch though, so be sure to read my commentary.

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The first advanced feature is the sensor. It supports 1080p output, which is common these days, but it can be driven at 60 FPS when dropped to 720p. For video streamers, who usually shrink their webcam to a fraction of the screen anyway, this bump in refresh rate will match that game or desktop capture. 720p is more resolution than a corner of a 1080p broadcast, so you're throwing out pixels anyway. The problem would be streamers who have a full-screen webcam shot. This is common for educational or discussion-based podcasts, which would likely need to choose between 720p60 or 1080p30. I don't think it's possible for any webcam to output both resolutions at the same time, so you'd need to release and renew the device when you switch, which isn't feasible. That said, I'm not sure if there was a major, technical reason for Razer not just shipping 1080p60. There might be.

The second feature the webcam's inclusion of Intel RealSense. This is their technology for gesture recognition, 3d scanning, and background removal. Having the camera automatically key out the background on webcam video is interesting, and probably quite accurate given that it knows 3D positional data. The ability to 3D scan would also be interesting for game and mod developers. The catch? It apparently requires a sixth-generation Core processor (Skylake). This entirely removes AMD and DDR3-era Intel processors from the equation, including the high-end Core i7-4790k. It also requires Windows 10. Note that Razer lists these requirements for the webcam in general, including the Skylake processor, but it might only apply to RealSense features. It also might apply to everything, though.

If these limitations, including the very high system requirements, don't apply to you, then look for the Razer Stargazer in Q2. It will apparently cost about $200 USD.

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Source: Razer

CES 2016: Rise of the Tomb Raider NVIDIA Bundle

Subject: Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2016 - 07:03 PM |
Tagged: square enix, nvidia, CES 2016, CES

NVIDIA has just announced a new game bundle. If you purchase an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, GTX 980 desktop or mobile, GTX 980 Ti, GTX 980M, or GTX 970M, then you will receive a free copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider. As always, make sure the retailer is selling the participating card. If the product has a download code, it will be specially marked. NVIDIA will not upgrade non-participating stock to the bundle.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider will go live on January 29th. It was originally released in November as an Xbox One timed exclusive. It will also arrive on the PlayStation 4, but not until “holiday,” which is probably around Q4 (or maybe late Q3).

If you purchase the bundle, then you graphics card will obviously be powerful enough to run the game. At a minimum, you will require a GeForce GTX 650 (2GB) or an AMD HD 7770 (2GB). The CPU needs are light too, requiring just a Sandy Bridge Core i3 (Intel Core i3-2100) or AMD's equivalent. Probably the only concern would be the minimum of 6GB system RAM, which also requires a 64-bit operating system. Now that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have been deprecated, 32-bit gaming will be increasingly rare for “AAA” titles. That said, we've been ramping up to 64-bit for the last decade. one of the first games that supported x86-64 was Unreal Tournament 2004.

The Rise of the Tomb Raider NVIDIA bundle starts today.

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Source: NVIDIA

Gigabyte reveals two motherboards and a Next Generation BRIX at CES 2016

Subject: Motherboards, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2016 - 06:28 PM |
Tagged: X170-Extreme ECC, gigabyte, GA-X150M-PLUS WS, GA-X150-PLUS WS, CES, brix

Gigabyte revealed two high end LGA1151 motherboards which will support Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 processors in addition to the more common Core models purchased by enthusiasts.  The GA-X150-PLUS WS is a full sized ATX board with a PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 connector with transfer rates of up to 32Gb/s as well as SEx ports and a network traffic management application called cFosSpeed on the gigabit NIC to reduce latency.

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The GA-X150M-PLUS WS is a Micro-ATX version of the previous board, keeping all of the features of the larger model but sacrificing dual GPU support due to size constraints.  They also released a X170-Extreme ECC, one of the few consumer boards to support ECC memory for those who regularly use programs which can benefit from error correcting DRAM.

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For those who like their systems small and ready to go out of the box, the new Brix line up is a mere 0.46L (34.4 x 112.6 x 119.4mm) and uses the new Skylake processors, the model number indicating the processor you will find within the Brix.  They all sport an M.2 SSD slot, a pair of slots for SO-DIMM DDR3L, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort 1.2 outputs along with four USB connectors and both wired and wireless network connectivity.  These new Brix will also support Thunderbolt 3 over their USB Type-C port

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Full PR after the break.

Source: Gigabyte