Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | February 26, 2013 - 08:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ps4, unreal engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 was present at Sony's Playstation 4 press conference, but that is no surprise. Epic Games has been present at several keynotes for new console launches. Last generation, Unreal Engine 3 kicked off both Xbox 360 and PS3 with demos of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 2007, respectively. The PS4 received a continuation of the Elemental Demo first released at the end of E3 last June.
All I could think about when I watched the was, “This looks pretty bad. What happened?”
If you would like to follow along at home, both demos are available on Youtube:
As you can see from the animated GIF above, particle count appears to have been struck the worst. The eyes contain none of the particle effects in the PS4 version. There appears to be an order of magnitude or two more particles on the PC version than the PS4. There are no particle effects around the eyes of the statue. Whole segments of particles are not even rendered.
In this screenshot, downsampled to 660x355, the loss of physical detail is even more apparent. The big cluster of particles near the leg are not present in the PS4 version and the regular cluster is nowhere near as densely packed.
And the lighting, oh the lighting.
On the PS4 everything looks a lot higher contrast without a lot of the subtle lighting information. This loss of detail is most apparent with the volcano smoke and the glow of the hammer but are also obvious in the character model when viewed in the video.
Despite the 8GB of RAM, some of the textures also seem down-resolution. Everything appears to have much more of a plastic look to it.
Still, while computers still look better, at least high-end PC gaming will still be within the realm of scalability for quite some time. We have been hampered by being so far ahead of consoles that it was just not feasible to make full use of the extra power. At least that is looking to change.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 26, 2013 - 04:19 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Firefox OS, mozilla, firefox, MWC, MWC 13
Mobile World Congress is going on at Barcelona and this year sees the official entry of a new contender: Firefox OS.
Mozilla held their keynote speech the day before the official start to the trade show. If there is anything to be learned from CES, it would be that there is an arms race to announce your product before everyone else steals media attention while still being considered a part of the trade show. By the time the trade show starts, most of the big players have already said all that they need to say.
If you have an hour to spare, you should check it out for yourself. The whole session was broadcast and recorded on Air Mozilla.
The whole concept of Firefox OS as I understand it is to open up web standards such that it is possible to create a completely functional mobile operating system from it. Specific platforms do not matter, the content will all conform to a platform of standards which anyone would be able to adopt.
I grin for a different reason: should some content exist in the future that is intrinsically valuable to society, its reliance on an open-based platform will allow future platforms to carry it.
Not a lot of people realize that iOS and Windows RT disallow alternative web browsers. Sure, Google Chrome the app exists for iOS, but it is really a re-skinned Safari. Any web browser in the Windows Store will use Trident as its rendering engine by mandate of their certification rules. This allows the platform developer to be choosey with whichever standards they wish to support. Microsoft has been very vocally against any web standard backed by Khronos. You cannot install another browser if you run across a web application requiring one of those packages.
When you have alternatives, such as Firefox OS, developers are promoted to try new things. The alternative platforms promote standards which generate these new applications and push the leaders to implement those standards too.
And so we creep ever-closer to total content separation from platform.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 25, 2013 - 02:18 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Chromebook Pixel, Chromebook
We have covered many Chrome OS-based devices, even a pair of reviews, but we have never seen the platform attempt to target the higher-end of the price spectrum. As you could guess by my ominous writing tone, that has changed.
The development commentary video could have been an Apple advertisement. We will embed it below, but it definitely had that whimsical tone we all know and groan. The Pixel was heavily focused on design and screen quality.
The display is quite small, just under 13”, but it has a higher resolution than professional-grade 30” monitors. It leapfrogs Catleap. When trying to visualize the use case, the first thought which comes to mind is a second PC for someone to take with them. If you can get a really high resolution experience with that, then bonus. Right?
The specifications, according to their Best Buy product page, are actually quite decent for a web browser-focused device.
- Ivy Bridge Core i5
- 4GB DDR3 RAM
- 32GB SSD
- Intel HD 4000 Graphics
- With the low cost of RAM
The downside? The price starts at $1299 USD and goes up from there. You can get a larger SSD and LTE for just 150$ more, at the $1449 price point if you can wait until April.
Once you factor in the price, and a mighty big factor that is too, it makes it really difficult to figure out who Google is targeting. The only explanation which makes sense to me is a high-end laptop which is easy for IT departments to manage for executives and students.
Lastly, 4GB of RAM is ridiculously cheap nowadays. Could it have killed them to add in a little extra RAM to get more headroom?
Also, what about the lack of connectivity to external displays? (Update: Sorry, just found mini displayport on the product tech specs.)
Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 20, 2013 - 06:53 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sony, ps4
We're currently in the middle of Sony's Playstation announcement and right off the bat they discussed system specifications.
(Update 2: Press conference was over a few hours ago, and we now have an official press release.)
The Playstation 4, as it will be titled, is very similar to a mid-range gaming PC. When discussing with developers, they requested for Sony to stick with a typical x86-based architecture. Of course that does not stop Sony from describing it as a “Supercharged PC architecture”. Still, they do seem to have quite a decent amount of hardware in this box.
- 8-core x86 CPU
2 Teraflops GPU integrated on same
- I did not hear AMD mentioned, but it totally is.
- 8GB GDDR5 RAM (shared)
- Stereo Camera on the controller with a light bar, like the Wii, to judge distance to TV.
- Also touch sensor in the controller.
- (Update/correction: At least a ...) Spindle-based Hard Drive
While these specifications have been sufficiently leaked in the recent past, we have not been able to pin down exactly how much RAM is provided. We found the development kit contained 8GB of system memory. The problem is that development kits require more RAM than the system it pretends to be to account for development tools and unoptimized assets.
As it turns out, the system itself will contain 8GB of GDDR5 shared between the CPU and GPU, which is quite a lot. Developers will need to finally push the PC platform past the 4GB RAM+VRAM 32-bit barrier in order to keep up with the next generation consoles.
Most of our gaming limitations were due to art assets being limited by memory constraints. Thanks to the new Sony console, PC releases could finally be taken off the 512MB-long leash of Sony and Microsoft.
(Update 2, cont.: The press release has official tech specs as below but are "subject to change")
Single-Chip Custom Processor
CPU: x86-64 AMD "Jaguar", 8 cores
GPU: 1.84 Teraflops, AMD next-generation Radeon(tm)-based graphics engine
|Hard Disk Drive||Built-in|
|Optical Drive (Read-Only)||
BD 6x CAV
DVD 8x CAV
|I/O Ports||Super-Speed USB (USB3.0), AUX|
Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T)
IEE 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR)
So clearly Sony was slightly rounding up when they claimed it was a 2 Teraflop GPU. Still, this looks to be a healthy computer.
We now have the official confirmation we needed that AMD Jaguar cores will power the PS4. Given AMD's big wins in the console platforms, I would wonder if game developers would be able to take some of the tricks they will learn in a few years and be able to start optimizing PC gamers for AMD CPUs.
GPUs too for that matter... this could mean a lot for AMD's PC gamers.
Subject: Systems | February 13, 2013 - 02:49 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: DIY, econobox, sweet spot, double stuff
The Tech Report has updated their System Guide for February and added in a new SFF build as well as instructional videos on building a PC for those just joining the enthusiast crowd. The four price points that they aim for are $600, $1,000, $1,500, and $3,000 and range from an EconoBox for basic usage up to the Double Stuff workstation and of course the new Mighty Mite system. Head on over to see what they've assembled and feel free to contrast it with our own Hardware Leaderboard.
"In the latest edition of the TR System Guide, we've tweaked our usual builds to incorporate newer components and price changes, making our recommended systems better than ever. We've also included a small-form-factor gaming build priced just under $1,000."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- HP Pavilion 20-b010z Review @ TechReviewSource
- Acer T232HL - Touch Comes to the Desktop @ AnandTech
- HP Envy 23 TouchSmart @ Hardware.info
- Intel’s Next Unit of Computing Review: Desktop of the Future or Another Nettop @ X-bit Labs
- Wired2Fire Diablo Predator System @ Kitguru
- Zotac's Zbox ID42 Plus nettop @ The Tech Report
Subject: Systems | February 12, 2013 - 02:57 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, Hauppauge, HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition
Now that capturing PC gaming is so easy to do, through either software or hardware, game walkthroughs and trick videos are commonplace on YouTube but the console gamers have not had that ability until recently. XSReviews recently took a look at the Hauppage HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition which is a device that sits on an HDMI connection between your console or PC and your display and is capable of either passing through or recording a 1080p signal. Unfortunately their testing did not go smoothly and even after updating the software they had issues recording or even playing at 1080p, however at 720p the device worked as advertised. If you are needing to record at full resolution you might want to wait for another patch as you might run into some of the same issues.
"On PC, it’s pretty easy to record footage of your games. Whether you’re using streaming software like XSplit or recording directly to your hard drive with Fraps, getting your gameplay out there is fairly well understood.
For consoles, it’s much harder – with a locked down environment devoid of third party applications, you can’t just download a program off the ‘net and start recording. Instead, you’ll need some physical hardware to do the job.
Enter the Hauppage HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition. This small cuboid is designed to make recording and even streaming your gameplay incredibly simple – just hook up a few wires and, if the back of the box is to be believed, you’ll be away.
In this review, we’ll put that to the test as we enter the exciting world of console recording and streaming!"
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Dune HD TV-303D Universal FullHD Network Media Player Review @ NikKTech
- Sapphire EDGE HD4 Mini PC @ Kitguru
- Antennas Direct ClearStream Micron-R HDTV High Gain Indoor Antenna Review @ ModSynergy
- Fractal Design Node 605 HTPC Chassis @ Tweaktown
- Cubitek Mini Cube ITX Case Review @ Pro-Clockers
- Silverstonetek Grandia GD07 HTPC Enclosure @ Metku.net
- Netgear NeoTV MAX HD Streaming Player Review @ Legit Reviews
Subject: General Tech, Memory, Systems | February 10, 2013 - 03:44 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: NVDIMM, micron, IMFT NAND, imft
So a RAM chip, a NAND module, and an “ultracapacitor” walk into stick...
This week Micron released a press blast for technology called, “NVDIMM”. The goal is to create memory modules which perform as quickly as DRAM but can persist without power. At this point you could probably guess the acronym: Nonvolatile Dual In-line Memory Module. It has been around for a few years now, but it is in the news now so let's chat about it.
I often like to play the game, “Was this named by an engineer or a marketer?” You can typically tell who was responsible for naming something by gauging how literally it breaks down into a simple meaning versus not having any apparent meaning at all. A good example of an engineer name is UHF, which breaks down into ultra-high frequency because it's higher than VHF, very-high frequency. A good example of a marketing name would be something like “Centrino”, which sounds like the biggest little penny-slot machine in the world. I would quite comfortable guessing that NVDIMM was named by an engineer.
This is AgigA Tech's module, who provides the capacitors for Micron and their NVDIMMs.
The actual makeup of NVDIMMs is quite sensible: DIMMs are fast but die when the power goes out. You could prevent the power from going out but it takes quite a lot of battery life to keep a computer online for extended periods of time. NAND Flash is quite slow, relative to DIMMs, in normal operation but can persist without power for very long periods of time. Also, modern-day capacitors are efficient and durable enough to keep DIMMs powered for long enough to be copied to flash memory.
As such, if the power goes out: memory is dumped to flash on the same chip. When power is restored, DIMMs get reloaded and continue on their merry way.
According to the Micron press release, the first NVDIMM was demonstrated last November at SC12. That module contained twice as much NAND as it did DIMM memory: 8GB of Flash for 4GB of RAM. Micron did not specify why they required having that much extra Flash memory although my gut instinct is to compensate for write wearing problems. A two-fold increase to offset NAND that had just one too many write operations seems like quite a lot compared to consumer drives. That said, SSDs do not have to weather half of their whole capacity being written to each time the computer shuts down.
Who knows, double-provisioning might even be too little in practice.
Subject: Systems | February 6, 2013 - 10:55 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbmc 12, SFF, openelec 3.0, htpc, arctic
Arctic has released a small form factor PC that comes pre-installed with the recently-released XBMC 12 media center software. The Arctic MC001-XBMC is available in the United States and Europe. It measures 161 x 40 x 266mm with the PC attached to the stand. The MC001-XBMC comes in black or white and should fit easily into your AV rack.
The HTPC can be used to playback a variety of music and video file formats and can also be used as a network attached storage (NAS) device. On the software side of things, it comes pre-loaded with XBMC 12 “Frodo” and Openelec 3.0. It can act as a media center and television PVR.
The HTPC is powered by a dual core Intel Atom D525 processor clocked at 1.8GHz, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5430 with 512MB of GDDR3 memory, 2GB DDR3 1333MHz system memory, and a 1TB laptop hard drive (5400 RPM). Networking is handled by a Gigabit Ethernet controller and a 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi radio.
The front of the system includes an IR receiver, two USB 3.0 ports, two audio jacks (headphone/mic), and a card reader. The back of the MC001-XBMC features the following IO options.
- 6 x analog audio jacks
- 1 x S/PDIF optical audio output
- 1 x VGA
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x RJ45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
- 5 x USB 2.0
- 1 x DVB-T connector for the ATSC tuner
- 1 x DC power jack (19V, 60W)
The XBMC 12 UI is a Windows Media Center alternative, and while setting up TV recording features requires additional software and is more difficult to setup it is otherwise a decent media center experience. Users can control the HTPC using the included infrared remote or via apps on Android or iOS smartphones.
The MC001-XBMC comes with a two year warranty and has an MSRP of $229 US or EUR 199. It is no speed demon by any means, but the SFF system is plenty of hardware to playback up to 1080p video files.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile | February 5, 2013 - 05:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Dell, dude, you're getting a Dell!
So it is official that Dell is going private. Michael Dell, CEO, as well as: Silver Lake, MSD Capital, several banks, and Dell itself will buy back stocks from investors 25% above the January 11th trading price. The whole deal would be worth $24.4 billion USD.
Going private allows the company to make big shifts in their business without answering to investors on a quarterly basis. We can see how being a publicly traded company seems to hinder businesses after they grow beyond what a cash infusion can assist. Even Apple finds it necessary to keep an absolutely gigantic pile of cash to play with, only recently paying dividends to investors.
Also contributing to the buyback, as heavily reported, is a $2 billion USD loan from Microsoft. While it sounds like a lot in isolation, it is only just over 8% of the whole deal. All you really can pull is that it seems like Microsoft supports Dell in their decision and is putting their money where their intentions are.
Subject: Systems | February 3, 2013 - 09:32 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: mintbox, mint, linux, fitpc3, compulab
The MintBox is a small form factor, fanless computer released in summer 2012. It was developed in collaboration between CompuLab and the Linux Mint project. At launch, the base model retailed for $476, but CompuLab has cut the price by almost $100 to kick off 2013.
The MintBox basic is powered by a dual core AMD G-T40N APU clocked at 1.0 GHz, 4GB of RAM, an APU-integrated Radeon G290 GPU, and 250GB hard drive. The system has a aluminum chassis that acts as a heatsink. It is essentially CompuLab’s fitPC3 case with a few custom tweaks to add the Linux Mint logo. Further, it comes pre-loaded with the Linux Mint 13 operating system. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 radios are included as well as two mini-PCIe cards and one mSATA connector (for an SSD).
The front of the MintBox has four USB 2.0 ports surrounding the Mint logo. The rear of the MintBox includes the following connectivity options:
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x DisplayPort
- 1 x S/PDIF
- 2 x USB 3.0
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 2 x eSATA
- 1 x RS232 serial port
- 2 x external Wi-Fi antennas .
In many respects, the MintBox resembles a typical home wireless router, but it is actually a full PC. Before shipping and any applicatable taxes, the MintBox Basic is $379. Reportedly, 10% of the proceeds will go towards the Linux Mint project to assist with development of the open source operating system. While the hardware itself is not new, Mint and CompuLab are offering up a healthy discount which may bring it more in line with Intel’s NUC systems. It may not be as fast, but it will cost less and is pre-configured unlike the DIY NUC.
Have you been looking to get a small form factor system? What do you think about a fanless box running Linux Mint for your next PC?
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