An Upgrade Project
When NVIDIA started talking to us about the new GeForce GTX 750 Ti graphics card, one of the key points they emphasized was the potential use for this first-generation Maxwell GPU to be used in the upgrade process of smaller form factor or OEM PCs. Without the need for an external power connector, the GTX 750 Ti provided a clear performance delta from integrated graphics with minimal cost and minimal power consumption, so the story went.
Eager to put this theory to the test, we decided to put together a project looking at the upgrade potential of off the shelf OEM computers purchased locally. A quick trip down the road to Best Buy revealed a PC sales section that was dominated by laptops and all-in-ones, but with quite a few "tower" style desktop computers available as well. We purchased three different machines, each at a different price point, and with different primary processor configurations.
The lucky winners included a Gateway DX4885, an ASUS M11BB, and a Lenovo H520.
Subject: Systems | February 14, 2014 - 06:20 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, nuc, Bay Trail
If you are thinking of saving some money when picking up a NUC by skipping Windows and using Linux instead then Phoronix has two articles you should be reading before you order. The initial testing on the Bay Trail processor did not go as well as hoped even if the architecture is based on Haswell but now that they have been on the market for a bit it is time to revisit them. If you are just concerned about the performance then quickly pop over and read this article. On the other hand if you want the full story then not only should you read that article but make sure to catch their full review here.
"With the early Atom "Bay Trail" hardware being disastrous for Linux, when Intel recently announced their Bay Trail based NUC Kit we were anxious and decided to give this unit a go. The Intel NUC Kit DN2820FYK packs an Intel Celeron N2820 Bay Trail CPU and motherboard supporting up to 8GB of DDR3L system memory and 2.5-inch HDD/SSD in a 116 x 112 x 51 mm form-factor. In this article is a rundown of the Phoronix experience so far for this Atom NUC Kit and how well it's running with Ubuntu Linux."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Intel NUC Kit (Haswell edition) @ The Inquirer
- Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) D54250WYKH - "H" is for 2.5" HDD Mount Review @MissingRemote
- Intel NUC DN2820FYKH Bay Trail System Review @ Legit Reviews
- Falcon Computers Dead Silence Kaveri Gaming BattleRig @ Kitguru
- CompuLab Utilite: A Tiny, Low-Power, Low-Cost, ARM Linux Desktop @ Phoron
- Cyberpower PC ‘Ultra Fusion’ AMD Gaming System @ eTeknix
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 13, 2014 - 10:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Chromebook, google, vmware
Google has just announced a partnership with VMware for "cloud access" to virtualized Windows desktops through Chrome OS. The Verge takes the narrative that Google is looking to hurt Microsoft via their enterprise market. Honestly, I think it just makes sense as a business.
As time passes, the list of tasks which require native applications is diminishing. Legacy applications, which cannot be reprogrammed for copyright or development reasons, are still on a leash to their intended platform, however. Google knows that their customers want access to those programs and utilities. Virtualization is one of the easiest ways, especially since it is already happening.
Some will prefer native apps on a dedicated machine (and that is okay).
Google also notes that Windows XP is nearing its end of life. They claim that Chromebooks and virtualized Windows instances nullifies security vulnerabilities and compatibility woes. Of course, you are never perfectly secure but at least Google puts their money where their mouth is.
VMware Horizon View 5.3 is currently available "as an on-premise service".
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | February 12, 2014 - 10:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox, xbone, ps4, Playstation, pc gaming
PCMag, your source for Apple and gaming console coverage (I joke), wrote up an editorial about purchasing a gaming console. Honestly, they should have titled it, "How to Buy a Game Device" since they also cover the NVIDIA SHIELD and other options.
The entire Console vs PC debate bothers me, though. Neither side handles it well.
I will start by highlighting problems with the PC side, before you stop reading. Everyone says you can assemble your own gaming PC to save a little money. Yes, that is true and it is unique to the platform. The problem is that the public vision then becomes, "You must assemble and maintain your own gaming PC".
No. No. No.
Some people prefer the support system provided by the gaming consoles. If it bricks, which some of them do a lot, you can call up the manufacturer for a replacement in a few weeks. The same could be absolutely true for a gaming PC. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a computer from a system builder, ranging from Dell to Puget Systems.
The point of gaming PC is that you do not need to. You can also deal with a small business. For Canadians, if you purchase all of your hardware through NCIX, you can add $50 to your order for them to ship your parts as a fully assembled PC, with Windows installed (if purchased). You also get a one-year warranty. The downside is that you lose your ability to pick-and-choose components from other retailers and you cannot reuse your old stuff. Unfortunately, I do not believe NCIX USA offers this. Some local stores may offer similar benefits, though. One around my area assembled for free.
The benefits of the PC is always choice. You can assemble it yourself (or with a friend). You can have a console-like experience with a system builder. You can also have something in-between with small businesses. It is your choice.
Most importantly, your choice of manufacturer does not restrict your choice in content.
As for the consoles, I cannot find a rock-solid argument that will always be better on them. If you are thinking about purchasing one, the available content should sway your decision. Microsoft will be the place to get "Halo". Sony will be the place to get "The Last of Us". Nintendo will be the place to get "Mario". Your money should go where the content you want is. That, and wherever your friends play.
But, of course, then you are what made the content exclusive.
Note: Obviously the PC has issues with proprietary platforms, too. Unlike the consoles, it could also be a temporary issue. The PC business model does not depend upon Windows. If it remains a sufficient platform? Great. If not, we have multiple options which range from Linux/SteamOS to Web Standards for someone to develop a timeless classic on.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 12, 2014 - 08:25 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ubuntu, SteamOS, nuc, Intel, debian
Two days ago, Intel added a new BIOS for the NUC to their download center. Its main update addresses a problem with booting some operating systems, such as SteamOS. Ars Technica published an editorial a couple of weeks ago about using the Haswell-based NUC with four Linux distributions. It basically comes down to the NUC not seeing a bootloader file that Debian-based OSes leave in their own branded folder. The BIOS was available less than two weeks later.
The update also addresses (PDF) fan speed control, a bug with disk encryption passwords, a couple of BIOS settings, and a system hang with certain USB thumb drives.
If you have a NUC and want to make it a SteamOS (or Ubuntu, etc.) device, this should fix your woes. I mean, there was already a workaround involving four terminal commands but it is that much easier nonetheless. It is available now at Intel's store.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 7, 2014 - 01:30 AM | Scott Michaud
There is actually a bit more to the title's pun than meets the eye. Amazon has just purchased Double Helix Games, the video game company which resulted from a merger between The Collective and Shiny Entertainment (or whatever was left of them). Their most recent title was Killer Instinct for the Xbox One.
The Amazon Cauldron gag, now extra Shiny.
Snarkiness aside, the obvious question is: "Amazon, why are you purchasing a game developer?"
While Amazon is stating that they are simply building innovative games for customers, the rumor mill believes it is more than that. Beyond having an Android-based marketplace, various sources are reporting that Amazon is expecting to develop a sub-$300 gaming console based on that platform. It certainly sounds reasonable. It would give Amazon's video and audio services a controlled set-top box as well as a portal to their Android Appstore. Beyond that, it would not require much extra research and development. It would be a sensible next step.
That said, Amazon has already been developing games for a little while. Their current portfolio could easily be classified as, "2D". The acquisition of Double Helix could simply be a play for games with a little more... depth. Yes, I should feel bad for that pun. No, I do not.
Finally, all 75 of the employees will keep their jobs, according to TechCrunch. Their paychecks will now have an Amazon logo on them, and that is about it. Don't you love it when you can report on a merger or acquisition and not feel bad about it?
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 6, 2014 - 03:26 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sony vaio, sony
Oh look, something that was not purchased by Lenovo.
Sony has decided to sell its VAIO brand to Japanese Industrial Partners (JIP). Sony has been developing computers under thO brand since the mid 90's. While never a top-five player in the industry, they had a significant presence in stores and in the possession of people I bumped into on a day-to-day basis. The division was apparently in the red. It currently employs 1,000 people, of which 250-300 are expected to be hired with this deal.
Whether the rest will be laid off or reshuffled within Sony remains to be seen.
As for Sony, they hope to focus on smartphones and tablets. They had a significant presence at last month's CES where they brought multiple Xperia models. VAIO also had its share of the attention though, so I guess that really does not mean much.
The acquisition is expected to complete near the end of July.
Subject: Systems | February 5, 2014 - 01:46 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, zotac, ZBOX ID45, gt 640
HONG KONG – Feb. 5, 2014 – ZOTAC International, a global innovator and manufacturer of graphics cards, mainboards and mini-PCs, today combines the power of 3rd Generation Intel Core i3 processing with NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 graphics to create the ultimate 4K ready HTPC. The new ZBOX ID45 series delivers the perfect synergy of energy-efficiency and high-quality video processing in a compact form factor.
“ZOTAC has always married the capabilities of energy-efficient Intel processors with incredible NVIDIA GeForce graphics since the first ZBOX shipped with NVIDIA ION,” said Carsten Berger, senior director, ZOTAC International. “The latest ZBOX ID45 series pushes that synergy even further with greater performance while maintaining excellent energy-efficiency.”
The NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 graphics enhances the video playback capabilities of the ZOTAC ZBOX ID45 series with high-quality HD processing and 4K video decode capabilities for a superior HTPC experience. An Intel Core i3 3227U processor delivers outstanding CPU performance with dual processor cores and Intel HyperThreading technology for unmatched multitasking responsiveness and quick video transcoding capabilities.
Dual Gigabit Ethernet enables excellent wired networking capabilities for redundant connectivity or to transform the ZBOX ID45 series into a high-performance network router. Wireless 802.11ac networking technology delivers a wireless experience that’s comparable to wired Ethernet on the ZOTAC ZBOX ID45 series.
The ZOTAC ZBOX ID45 series ships as a barebones and as a PLUS version with 4GB DDR3 and 500GB hard drive preinstalled. Users can install a variety of operating systems on the ZOTAC ZBOX ID45 series including Windows 7, 8 and OpenELEC.
- ZOTAC Combines 3rd Generation Intel Core i3 with NVIDIA GeForce GT 640
- New ZBOX ID45 series Intel Core i3 3227U 1.9 GHz, dual-core, 3MB L2 cache
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 2GB DDR3
- PLUS models available with 4GB DDR3 500GB HDD
- HDMI, DVI-I and VGA (with included adapter) outputs 4K video decoding
- High quality HD video processing
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 4.0 w/ external WiFi antenna
- 4 x USB 3.0
- Gigabit Ethernet Bundled
- VESA75/100 mount
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 4, 2014 - 09:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Chromebox, asus
Often, people purchase a device with the intent of running a web browser on it. I understand the appeal of Joshtekk.com and we can all relate to the desire for it to have a dedicated machine. Google, through Chrome OS, targets this market with a line of laptops dedicated to web browsing. They are effective against virulent infections, a useful feature for casual Joshtekk encounters, with its limited native applications and simple recovery process.
ASUS is, by no means, first to this market. Samsung had a couple of Chromebox models almost two years ago. That said, the ASUS Chromebox will start at $179 USD (which is much cheaper than Samsung's $329 offering). The base model will contain an Intel Celeron 2955U processor (the aforementioned Samsung packed a Celeron B840), which is not a high-performance processor, but may suffice for your web browsing needs. If not, an Intel Core i3 model has also been announced but I do not have pricing to relay about that one. A Core i7-4600U version may or may not surface, as well. Its graphics will support options up to an Intel HD 4400.
One feature that is unexpected is its video outputs. The ASUS Chromebox supports both HDMI and DisplayPort connections for dual monitors and 4K. Given that this is a 5-inch by 5-inch (and fanless) design, with access to Netflix and other streaming services, it could make a good replacement for a "smart TV".
The ASUS Chromebox will be available in March starting at $179 USD. This price comes with 100GB of Google Drive space, free for 2 years. Also free: a VESA mount kit to, I believe, attach the Chromebox to the back of an HDTV.
If interested, read on for the press release.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 28, 2014 - 04:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: gigabyte brix, gigabyte, amd
If you feel a little déjà vu while reading this, it is because this system is identical to the MAINGEAR SPARK. Both devices are powered by an AMD A8-5557M APU backed with an AMD Radeon R9 M275X mobile discrete GPU. They even use the same case with the same color scheme. The only difference that I could find is the MAINGEAR logo on the front versus the GIGABYTE logo on the top. I think we could safely say that both devices are made at the same place. I expect that GIGABYTE was the OEM for MAINGEAR's Steam Machine.
Check out Tim's post about the SPARK.
Check out GIGABYTE's product page for the BRIX Gaming.
When Tim published his post about the SPARK for CES, back on January 6th, little was known about the R9 M275X (beyond its 2GB of GDDR5). That is still the case. AMD has not said anything further about the mobile GPU. The press release from GIGABYTE claims that it will support DirectX 11.1 (which implies it will not support DirectX 11.2) and OpenGL 4.1 (which implies a lack of support for OpenGL 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4). GIGABYTE also claims that it will support "the latest OpenCL 1.1 standard" (which implies lack of support for OpenCL 1.2).
I seriously doubt that this is true.
I cannot see AMD regressing that heavily on API compatibility. OpenGL 4.2 has been supported since the HD 5000 (desktop) and HD 6000M (laptop) series. OpenCL 1.2 has been supported since the HD 5000 (desktop) and HD 7000M (laptop) line. One of the main features of OpenCL 1.2 is the ability share resources with DirectX 11 (OpenCL 1.1 shares with DirectX 10). In fact, I cannot find a single chip that AMD produced which supports OpenGL 4.1 and OpenCL 1.1 and fails to support OpenGL 4.2 and OpenCL 1.2.
I would not trust GIGABYTE's press release when it comes to the R9 M275X.
Still nothing on pricing and availability for the GIGABYTE BRIX Gaming. Its product code will be the "GB-BXA8G-8890", which totally rolls off the tongue, so we have that going for us. It is a very interesting device. I wonder if we will see it, and other BRIX entries, find their way into the catalogs of other system builders.