No Longer the Media Center of Attention
Gabe Aul, of Microsoft's Windows Insiders program, has confirmed on Twitter that Windows 10 will drop support for Windows Media Center due to a decline in usage. This is not surprising news as Microsoft has been deprecating the Media Center application for a while now. In Windows 8.x, the application required both the “Pro” SKU of the operating system, and then users needed to install an optional add-on above and beyond that. The Media Center Pack cost $10 over the price of Windows 8.x Pro unless you claimed a free license in the promotional period surrounding Windows 8's launch.
While Media Center has been officially abandoned, its influence on the industry (and vice versa) is an interesting story. For a time, it looked like Microsoft had bigger plans that were killed by outside factors and other companies seem to be eying the money that Microsoft left on the table.
There will be some speculation here.
We could go back to the days of WebTV, but we won't. All you need to know is that Microsoft lusted over the living room for years. Windows owned the office and PC gaming was taking off with strong titles (and technologies) from Blizzard, Epic, iD, Valve, and others. DirectX was beloved by developers, which led to the original Xbox. Their console did not get a lot of traction, but they respected it as a first-generation product that was trying to acquire a foothold late in a console generation. Financially, the first Xbox would cost Microsoft almost four billion dollars more than it made.
At the same time, Microsoft was preparing Windows to enter the living room. This was the company's power house and it acquired significant marketshare wherever it went, due to its ease of development and its never-ending supply of OEMs, even if the interface itself was subpar. Their first attempt at bringing Windows to the living room was Windows XP Media Center Edition. This spin-off of Windows XP could only be acquired by OEMs to integrate into home theater PCs (HTPCs). The vision was interesting, using OEM competition to rapidly prototype what users actually want in a PC attached to a TV.
This leads us to Windows Vista, which is where Media Center came together while the OS fell apart.
Subject: Systems | May 6, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Okay, so some people are drawing parallels between this and Lenovo's Superfish scandal that happened late last year and carried on for the first few months of 2015. I am not a fan of that comparison. In the case of Superfish, Lenovo added third-party software that tampered with security for the purpose of advertising on the user's machine. In this case, a first-party application has a remote code execution vulnerability that was dealt with responsibly.
This happens to pretty much everyone, regularly.
But, so our readers know, they should update their Lenovo System Update. The current version, which seems to be 188.8.131.52 as far as I can tell, has been available since April and is not affected. This bug only concerns 184.108.40.206 and earlier. The issues were discovered in February by IOActive and disclosed to the PC manufacturer, who updated them before the security company published the issue. Unless I'm missing something, this is how it is supposed to be done.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | May 3, 2015 - 04:27 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: z97, xeon e5-2699v3, X99, tiki-z, tiki, SFF, liquid cooling, Haswell-E, falcon northwest, core i7-5960x
Falcon Northwest recently upped the hardware ante on its small form factor Tiki PC. Previously limited to Z97-based hardware, the company is now offering Tiki PCs with X99 motherboards. Even better, the Tiki can be configured with Intel’s Haswell-E Core i7-5000 or Haswell-EP Xeon chips such as the Core i7-5960X or Xeon E5-2699V3.
The updated Tiki maintains the same steel and aluminum case measuring 13” x 4” x 13” (HxWxD) with customizable paint work and a removable solid aluminum or granite base as its predecessors (e.g. Tiki-Z). External I/O options include the latest USB 3.1, eSATA, and Dual Intel Gigabit LAN ports. Internally, the Tiki has space for an Intel Z97 or X99 motherboard with a liquid cooled processor, up to 32GB of DDR4 (or 16GB DDR3 with Z97) memory, a dedicated graphics card up to an NVIDIA GTX TITAN X or Quadro and ample storage space in the form of four 2.5” drives or one 3.5” and two 2.5” drives.
All this hardware amounts to an impressive amount performance in general – much less a small form factor system. At the upper echelon, the Xeon E5-2699V3 offers 18 cores (36 threads with HT) clocked at up to 3.6 GHz paired with 45MB of L3 cache. Paired with a Quadro card like the M6000, that is one powerful workstation!
The updated Tiki is aimed at gamers and workstation builds doing intensive workloads like CAD, 3D animation, and video production.
The downside to this stylish powerhouse is, of course, pricing – the Tiki is far from cheap and the boutique premium is quite evident here. Available now, the updated Tiki starts at $1,860 for a base level Z97 system with quad core CPU or $2,492 for an eight core X99-based system. Fully loaded, the Tiki tops $10,000.
It is definitely an extremely niche product, but the engineering and styling is impressive all the same!
When I first was handed the Intel Compute Stick product at CES back in January, my mind began to race with a lot of questions. The first set were centered around the capabilities of the device itself: where could it be used, how much performance could Intel pack into it and just how many users would be interested in a product like this? Another set of questions was much more philosophical in nature: why was Intel going in this direction, does this mean an end for the emphasis on high performance componentry from Intel and who comes up with these darned part numbers?
I have since settled my mind on the issues surrounding Intel’s purpose with the Compute Stick and began to dive into the product itself. On the surface the Intel Compute Stick is a product entering late into a potentially crowded market. We already have devices like the Roku, Google Chromecast, the Apple TV, and even the Amazon Fire TV Stick. All of those devices share some of the targets and goals of the Compute Stick, but the one area where Intel’s product really stands out is flexibility. The Roku has the most pre-built applications and “channels” for a streaming media box. The Chromecast is dirt cheap at just $30 or so. Even Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is clearly the best choice for streaming Amazon’s own multimedia services. But the Intel Compute Stick can do all of those things – in addition to operating as a standalone PC with Windows or Linux. Anything you can do I can do better…
But it’s not a product without a few flaws, most of which revolve around the status of the current operating system designs for TVs and larger displays. Performance obviously isn’t peeling the paint off any walls, as you would expect. But I still think at for $150 with a full copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing, the Intel Compute Stick is going to find more fans that you might have first expected.
Subject: Systems | April 20, 2015 - 06:00 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows, SoC, mini-pc, Intel, ECS, Bay Trail-M
When Sebastian reviewed the LIVA X he focused on the performance of the device as an HTPC running Ubuntu ... before attempting to determine its effectiveness in creating a peanut butter and banana omelette, but that is a different story.
Overclocker's Club took a different tack, examining how it would perform for light gaming duties. On default settings the LIVA X managed 517 in Sky Diver, 1198 in Cloud Gate, 14200 in Ice Storm, and 9598 in Ice Storm Extreme. This would make it effective at playing mobile games or even playing through legacy games available through GoG or the Internet Archive; they tested CivV as a more modern title and while playable it wasn't great. Check out the full review for the other benchmark results.
"The ECS LIVA X surprised me with its small size and completely silent operation. I was able to surf the internet and do work on it very quickly. I enjoyed using it and experienced no problems with browsing the internet, using Office applications, or watching streaming videos on Netflix. Amazon Prime would occasionally lag a little – usually when the HUD would pop up."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Get Your Old Rig Gaming Ready on a Tight Budget @ eTeknix
- Intel NUC 5I3RYH (DinoPC) @ Kitguru
- OcUK Ultima Finesse Blackhole Gaming PC @ Kitguru
Subject: Systems | April 6, 2015 - 04:24 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Intel, compute stick, Bay Trail-D
Back at CES in January Intel shared with us a preview of the company's latest new platform form factor, the Compute Stick. That's the formal, official name, a follow up from the same team that brought us the NUC (Next Unit of Computing). The Compute Stick is a thumb-drive-shaped, full PC integration that has a physical HDMI connection to plug directly into your TV.
The specifications remain unchanged from what we learned at CES:
The Intel Compute Stick, aptly named, seems to fit somewhere between these two devices. It is an HDMI dongle enclosing an x86, quad-core, computer with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Intel eventually plans to have the device powered by the HDMI port, but it currently requires power over micro USB. Besides power, it also has a standard USB (Type A-Female) port and a micro SD card slot. It also has 802.11n wireless networking inside it. Being a full Windows device, you can stream media, browse the web, and use many other applications on it.
This week the devices have started showing up for pre-order on Newegg.com and even Amazon.com.
- Intel Compute Stick - Win 8.1, 32GB - Newegg.com ($149) - Amazon.com ($149)
- Intel Compute Stick - Linux, 32GB - Newegg.com ($109) - Amazon.com ($109)
Newegg.com has a specific pre-order going but it looks like Amazon is still on the waiting list process. Interestingly, a quick search for "compute stick" on Amazon reveals a host of other very similar devices, the most popular of which are sold as the MeeGoPad Stick with a price tag of ~$109. I'm not sure what those products will ship with when it comes to an operating system and some reviews indicate that the Windows version installed is not activated, so go in at your own risk.
As for the official Intel sold Compute Stick, I'm excited to try one out. The device includes a Bay Trail quad-core CPU, a single micro-USB port for power, a full-sized USB 2.0 port for connectivity (webcam, etc.) as well as a MicroSD slot for storage expansion. The device embeds Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth so you'll be able to connect to a network and get wireless keyboards and mice up and running easily.
The amount of capability you get for $149, including a full copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing, is astounding and, if it lives up the hype, could be a great replacement for a Google Chromecast or a Kindle Fire TV. Look for a review very soon!
Subject: Systems | March 13, 2015 - 06:12 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: sli, quiet computing
Silent PC Review spends a lot of effort choosing components which offer a great performance but do not create a lot of noise and their latest sytem is a perfect example. Even with a pair of air cooled GTX 970's and an i5-4690K this system only hit 23dBA under load, quiet enough for SPCR to confirm their 970's suffer from coil whine. The sound came primarily from the GPUs as you would expect so it is possible that finding a very quiet radiator and watercooling them might reduce the sound produced even further. It just goes to show how much quieter air cooling has become from the days of screaming 40mm Deltas.
"For our 8th Quiet Gaming PC Build Guide, we take on the challenge of two high-end video cards in an SLI configuration featuring a pair of Zotac GTX 970s in the SilverStone Fortress FT05 case."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Chillblast Fusion Barbarian Gaming PC @ Kitguru
- ECS Liva SOC Mini-PC System @ eTeknix
- TR's February 2015 System Guide
Subject: Systems | March 4, 2015 - 12:11 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Skylake, zotac, valve, SteamOS, Steam Machine, steam, gdc 2015, gdc 15, GDC, GTX 970M
Favor a steamier TV gaming experience? ZOTAC has announced a new Steam Machine on the eve of Valve’s presentation at GDC on Wednesday.
The SN970 presumably gets its name from the GTX 970M mobile GPU within, and this does the heavy lifting along with an unspecified 6th-generation Intel (Skylake) CPU. The massive amount of HDMI outputs (there are 4 HDMI 2.0 ports!) is pretty impressive for a small device like this, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are a premium feature as well.
There's a lot going on back here - the rear I/O of the ZOTAC SN970
Here's the rundown of features and specs from ZOTAC:
- SteamOS preloaded
- NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M MXM graphics
- 4 x HDMI 2.0, supports 4K UHD @ 60Hz
- 6th Gen Intel Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5
- 8GB DDR3 SODIMM
- 64GB M.2 SSD
- 1 x HDMI in
- 2D/3D NVIDIA Surround
- Dual Gigabit Ethernet
- 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
- 1 x 2.5” 1TB HDD
- 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Mic-In, Stereo Out
- SD/SDHC/SDXC Card Reader
The release for this new Steam Box isn't specified, but we will be doubtless be hearing more from Valve and their partners tomorrow so stay tuned!
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 11:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: spectre x360, spectre, mwc 15, MWC, hp, Broadwell
HP announced their updated Spectre x360 at Mobile World Congress. Like the Lenovo Yoga, it has a hinge that flips the entire way around, allowing the laptop to function as a 13.3-inch tablet with a 1080p, IPS display. There are two stages between “tablet” and “laptop”, which are “stand” and “tent”. They are basically ways to prop up the touch screen while hiding the keyboard behind (or under) the unit. The stand mode is better for hands-free operation because it has a flat contact surface to rest upon, while the tent mode is probably more sturdy for touch (albeit rests on two rims). The chassis is entirely milled aluminum, except the screen and things like that of course.
The real story is the introduction of Core i-level Broadwell. The 12.5-hour battery listing in a relatively thin form-factor can be attributed to the low power requirements of the CPU and GPU, as well as its SSD (128GB, 256GB, or 512GB). RAM comes in two sizes, 4GB or 8GB, which will depend slightly on the chosen processor SKU.
Prices start at $899 and most variants are available now at HP's website.
Subject: Systems | February 23, 2015 - 03:24 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: nuc5i5ryk, nuc, next unit of computing, Intel, Broadwell, 5i5ryk, 5250u
Ryan just polished off his review of the next generation of Intel NUC, the Broadwell powered NUC5i5RYK in both video and written form but perhaps you still have some questions. If so, or if you are wise enough to prefer a second opinion then you should make time to visit The Tech Report who also received a unit for review. They covered the performance of several indie games, which ran quite well as well as CS:GO which could handle 1600x900 at medium settings. Their conclusion matched Ryan's, not only is this a great HTPC and light gaming machine but for most office purposes this is a perfect solution to present to your users.
"Thanks to the Broadwell-U silicon inside, Intel's new NUC promises better performance and power efficiency than the previous generation. There are other improvements under the hood, too, including the addition of an M.2 storage slot and a built-in Wi-Fi controller."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- SteamBox – Building Your Own HTPC Gaming System @ eTeknix
- Chillblast Fusion Raptor Gaming PC @ Kitguru
- ASRock Vision X 471D Mini PC @ Kitguru
- ASUS Republic of Gamers G20 Gaming PC Review @ Techgage
- Shuttle XH97V w/ Pentium G3258 @ techPowerUp