Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 11, 2013 - 06:36 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, Steam Controller
Jeff Bellinghausen, former Chief Technology Officer at Sixense, currently works for Valve with their hardware initiative. He will be provide the voice over for today's controller walkthrough video. Four very different games are shown with very input configurations.
As a little background, Sixense partnered with Valve and Razer to develop the Hydra motion controller. I had a strong feeling that this technology would form the basis of the Steam hardware experience when first rumors of "The Steam Box" circulated. Clearly, either I was wrong or Valve dumped the prototype for their current (slightly more standard) gamepad.
Yet at least one of the engineering minds behind it kept with Steam OS.
The first and third games shown are Portal 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive, respectively. Portal 2 is operating in keyboard and mouse "legacy mode" where sliding your right thumb emulates the movement of a mouse and the left thumb activates a virtual D-Pad. This input method seems to have some sort of throw velocity when you quickly swipe your thumb across the pad and release although I obviously have not directly experienced it.
On the other hand, CounterStrike does not require auto aim.
Civilization V has the left thumb pad bound to map scroll and the right thumb pad controlling mouse movement. While precise, I could see speed being a problem for a game such as Starcraft 2. It seems to be slightly slower than a mouse. I would like to see someone learn the controller and attempt to ladder for a relevant amount of time.
Speaking of speed to complement precision: Papers, Please blends both thumbs into a single mouse movement. This highlights what, at least I guess, is the entire point of the new controller: allow new schemes to be tested.
Certainly, there are a bunch of possibilities even before the design leaves Valve's hands.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | October 10, 2013 - 06:59 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: amd, nvidia, Intel, Steam Machine
This should be little-to-no surprise for the viewers of our podcast, as this story was discussed there, but Valve has confirmed AMD and Intel graphics are compatible with Steam Machines. Doug Lombardi of Valve commented by email to, apparently, multiple sources including Forbes and Maximum PC.
Last week, we posted some technical specs of our first wave of Steam Machine prototypes. Although the graphics hardware that we've selected for the first wave of prototypes is a variety of NVIDIA cards, that is not an indication that Steam Machines are NVIDIA-only. In 2014, there will be Steam Machines commercially available with graphics hardware made by AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel. Valve has worked closely together with all three of these companies on optimizing their hardware for SteamOS, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
Ryan and the rest of the podcast crew found the whole situation, "Odd". They could not understand why AMD referred the press to Doug Lombardi rather than circulate a canned statement from him. It was also weird why NVIDIA had an exclusive on the beta program with AMD being commercially available in 2014.
As I have said in the initial post: for what seems to be deliberate non-committal to a specific hardware spec, why limit to a single graphics provider?
Get your wallet ready
While I was preparing for the release of Intel's Core i7 Ivy Bridge-E processors last month ORIGIN PC approached me about a system review based on the new platform. Of course I rarely pass up the opportunity to spend some time with unreasonably fast PC hardware so I told them to send something over that would impress me.
This system did.
The ORIGIN PC Millennium custom configuration is one of the flagship offerings from the boutique builder and it will hit your wallet nearly as hard as it will your games and applications. What kind of hardware do you get for $4200 these days?
- ORIGIN PC Millennium
- Intel Core i7-4930K (OC to 4.5 GHz)
- ASUS Rampage IV Gene mATX motherboard
- Custom Corsair H100i 240mm water cooler
- 16GB (4 x 4GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 memory
- 2 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB SLI
- 2 x Samsung 840 Pro 128GB SSD (RAID 0)
- 1TB Western Digital Black HDD
- Corsair AX1200i power supply
- Corsair Obsidian 350D case
- Windows 8
Our custom build was designed to pack as much processing power into as small a case as possible and I think you'll find that ORIGIN did a bang up job here. By starting with the Corsair 350D micro ATX chassis yet still including dual graphics cards and an overclocked IVB-E processor, the results are going to impress.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 9, 2013 - 12:24 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Kenilworth, New Jersey – October 9, 2013 (9:00am EST) - MAINGEAR, an award-winning PC system builder of custom gaming desktops and notebooks has been working closely with AMD and EA to build two exclusive branded flagship systems that will sport the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics solutions to offer the best PC gaming experience for the highly anticipated BATTLEFIELD 4 game.
The flagship MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops will be equipped with the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card that harnesses the visionary GCN architecture, providing higher clockspeeds on the whim and offering better performance on high performance for PC gamers such as BF4. The SHIFT will offer two R9 290X cards in CrossFire with options to configure up to 3 cards, while the F131 will start with one R9 290X and configurable up to two cards in CrossFire. This new generation of AMD graphics provides the best gaming experience possible with maximum detail settings enabled. The AMD Radeon R9 290X architecture offers the horsepower necessary to support ultra-resolution 4K gaming with smooth and consistent frame rates. Loaded with up to 4GB of memory and with AMD TrueAudio Technology that offers more immersive audio, gamers won’t miss anything and will hear every pin drop and explosion. The exclusive MAINGEAR BF4 SHIFT and F131 with Radeon R9 GPUs combined with AMD’s FX 590 unlocked CPU processor will be the top choice for gaming.
These elegant PCs will feature exclusive Battlefield 4 aesthetics including artwork that is illustrated on the side panel of the SHIFT and laser etched on the F131. The SHIFT will include subtle touches of the iconic Battlefield 4 orange color on the exterior and interior and the MAINGEAR logo on the front panel on the F131 will have an orange glow. Both systems will have an exclusive wallpaper of Battlefield 4 artwork on the desktop and of course a game code that comes with the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics while supplies last.
“Powered by the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card, the latest and greatest in graphics technology, the MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops are ready for combat in ‘Battlefield 4’,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager, Graphics Business Unit, AMD. “The partnership between AMD and MAINGEAR delivers high performance rigs designed to bring the finest PC gaming experience for ultra-enthusiasts.”
"We're pleased to work with AMD and EA on these exclusive Battlefield 4 systems featuring the exciting AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. AMD has been a great technology partner and the new Radeon R9 290X is a fantastic addition to our award winning lineup of high performance gaming PCs. Forward-looking technologies like TrueAudio and especially Project Mantle show AMD's commitment to gaming. And bundling Battlefield 4 is just icing on the cake!"
The special edition MAINGEAR Battlefield 4 SHIFT and F131 desktops are available for pre-orders today. The SHIFT starts at $3,789 with two AMD Radeon R9 290X in CrossFire while the F131 starts at $2,199 with one AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. All MAINGEAR system receive lifetime labor and phone support with one to three year hardware warranty For more information, go to: www.maingear.com/bf4
Subject: Systems | October 7, 2013 - 06:09 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, ceton, tv tuner
TV addicts and members of large families rejoice as Ceton's InfiniTV6 PCIe digital cable tuner card allows you to record up to 6 separate channels concurrently. The $300 price tag makes it a bit of an investment but for those uninterested in online TV streaming services may really like the idea of being able to record that many shows at the same time. Activating and pairing your cable card is not too difficult and the included instructions should be able to help anyone who does encounter troubles. Missing Remote mentions that Win7 is the way to go with this card, Win8 support is in beta and nowhere near as reliable.
"Six is a good number – even better when it is equated to the number of tuners in your current HTPC. Obviously it is possible to get by with less, but after considering EPG overlaps, a couple children and the spouse – what was an impossible luxury not that long ago quickly becomes a celebrated necessity. With ClearQAM disappearing and ATSC difficult to master in some markets, it is hard to argue with the simplicity that a single Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) provides. Ceton InfiniTV6 PCIe Digital Cable Tuner card includes the ability to use an M-CARD CableCARD to record any channel you subscribe to from your Cable TV Provider."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Streacom FC5 EVO Fanless HTPC Case @ Kitguru
- ASRock M8 Mini-ITX Z87 Barebones System @ Kitguru
- Google Chromecast Review @ Legit Reviews
- Apple TV Review @ Hardware Secrets
- Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK Review @MissingRemote
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Cases and Cooling, Systems | October 4, 2013 - 07:19 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine
Well, that did not take long.
Valve announced the Steam Machines barely over a week ago and could not provide hardware specifications. While none of these will be available for purchase, the honor of taking money reserved for system builders and OEMs, Valve has announced hardware specifications for their beta device.
The raw specifications, or range of them, are:
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce Titan through GeForce GTX660 (780 and 760 possible)
- CPU: Intel i7-4770 or i5-4570, or i3-something
- RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)
- Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD
- Power Supply: 450W
- Dimensions: approx. 12" x 12.4" x 2.9"
Really the only reason I could see for the spread of performance is to not pressure developers into targeting a single reference design. This is odd, since every reference design contains an NVIDIA GPU which (you would expect) a company who wants to encourage an open mind would not have such a glaring omission. I could speculate about driver compatibility with SteamOS and media streaming but even that feels far-fetched.
On the geeky side of things: the potential for a GeForce Titan is fairly awesome and, along with the minimum GeForce 660, is the first sign that I might be wrong about this whole media center extender thing. My expectation was that Valve would acknowledge some developers might want a streaming-focused device.
Above all, I somewhat hope Valve is a bit more clear to consumers with their intent... especially if their intent is to be unclear with OEMs for some reason.
Subject: Systems | September 30, 2013 - 03:56 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: overclocking, nuc, Intel, d54250wyk
Perhaps your first thought upon seeing the new Haswell based NUC was something other than how to overclock it but when Legit Reviews got their hands on the D54250WYK they went straight to the BIOS to see what they could get out of this tiny system. Intel's Visual BIOS made it a snap with their Performance Dashboard page that allows you access to all the usual frequencies you need. Along the way they investigated RAM compatibility, both speed and size, but in the end they succeeded in getting 1866MHz RAM running full speed.
"We’ve spent pretty much all our free time this week using the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK and if you couldn’t tell from our review, we love the new design and the Intel 4th Generation Core i5-4250U Haswell processor that powers it. In our review we showed you the general performance of the system running at stock speeds. The one question that we didn’t answer at that time is how it performs when overclocked. There aren’t too many things that you can overclock on the NUC since the CPU multiplier and bus speeds are locked down, but we can overclock the DDR3 memory. In the past overclocking the memory clock frequency has yielded some pretty good results for memory bandwidth limited applications and gaming benchmarks. Read on to see how the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK performs with 1866MHz memory!"
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK Review @ Legit Reviews
- HP Envy Rove 20 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Shuttle Fanless Slim-PC DS47 @ techPowerUp
- MESH Elite G4 760SLi @ Kitguru
- 8Pack Releases Ultra High End Systems Range with OverclockersUK @ Kitguru
- CyberPower PC Zeus EVO Lightning 2000 SE System Review @ Ninjalane
- Acer Aspire AZ3-605-UR23 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Gigabyte Brix XM11-3337 @ Legion Hardware
If Microsoft was left to their own devices...
Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.
The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.
Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.
It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.
Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.
A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.
Another Next Unit of Computing
Just about a year ago Intel released a new product called the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short. The idea was to allow Intel's board and design teams to bring the efficient performance of the ultra low voltage processors to a desktop, and creative, form factor. By taking what is essentially Ultrabook hardware and putting it in a 4-in by 4-in design Intel is attempting to rethink what the "desktop" computer is and how the industry develops for it.
We reviewed the first NUC last year, based on the Intel Ivy Bridge processor and took away a surprising amount of interest in the platform. It was (and is) a bit more expensive than many consumers are going to be willing to spend on such a "small" physical device but the performance and feature set is compelling.
This time around Intel has updated the 4x4 enclosure a bit and upgrade the hardware from Ivy Bridge to Haswell. That alone should result in a modest increase in CPU performance with quite a bit of increase in the integrated GPU performance courtesy of the Intel HD Graphics 5000. Other changes are on the table to; let's take a look.
The Intel D54250WYK NUC is a bare bones system that will run you about $360. You'll need to buy system memory and an mSATA SSD for storage (wireless is optional) to complete the build.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | September 27, 2013 - 02:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: SteamOS, Steam Controller, reverse-consolitis
Steam Controller is the third, and final, announcement in the Steam Hardware event. Sure, the peripheral looks weird. It looks very weird. The first thing(s?) you will notice, and likely the driving influence for the iconography, is... or are... the touch pads which replace the expected thumbsticks. The second thing you will notice is the "high resolution" (no specific resolution or dimension was provided) touchscreen.
The most defining aspect of the controllers, as previously stated, is its pair of trackpads. This input method might actually stand the chance of precise controls while maintaining comfort for a couch. To start, I will quote Valve:
In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.
The emphasis was placed by me.
Last year, almost to the date, I published an editorial, "Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?" In it, I analyzed console controllers from an engineering standpoint. I blamed velocity-based joystick control for the need to enable auto-aim on console titles. Quoting myself, which feels a little weird to be entirely honest:
Analog sticks are a velocity-oriented control scheme where the mouse is a relative position-oriented control scheme. When you move a joystick around you do not move the pointer to a target rather you make it travel at some speed in the direction of the target. With a mouse you just need to move it the required distance and stop. It is easier to develop a sensitivity to how far you need to pull a mouse to travel to the target than a sensitivity to how long to hold a joystick in a given direction to reach a target. Joysticks are heavily reliant on our mental clocks and eye coordination.
Each trackpad can also be clicked, like the thumbsticks of current controllers just probably more comfortably, to provide extra functionality. From a User Experience (UX) standpoint, I can envision a first-person shooter which emulates a (velocity-based) joystick when the right trackpad is pressed (assuming it is very light to press and comfortably to rub your thumb against while pressing) but switches to position-based when touched but not pressed.
The implication is quick rotation when firing from the hip, but positionally-based targeting when precision is required. Maybe other methods will come up too? I find the technology particularly exciting because Valve, clearly, designed it with the understanding of position-based versus velocity-based control. This challenge you rarely hear discussed.
The touchscreen is also a large clickable surface. The controller recognizes touch input and overlays the contents of the screen atop the user's screen but it will not commit the action until the touchpad is pressed. This is designed so the gamer will not need to look at their controller to see what action they are performing.
Personally, I hope this is developer-accessible. Some games, as the WiiU suggests, can benefit from hiding information.
Haptic feedback also ties into the trackpads. Their intent is to provide sensations to the thumbs and compensate for loss of mechanical sensation with thumbsticks. Since they are in there, Valve decided to offer a large, programmable, data channel to very precisely control the effect.
They specifically mention the ability to accept audio waveforms to function as speakers "as a parlour trick".
The devices will be beta tested, via the Steam Machine quest, but without wireless or touchscreen support. Instead of a touchscreen, the controller will contain a four-quadrant grid of buttons mapped to commands.
Thus wraps up the three-pronged announcement. Valve directs interested users to their Steam Universe group for further discussion.