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Divinity: Original Sin 2 arrives

Subject: General Tech | September 20, 2017 - 02:13 PM |
Tagged: gaming, divinity original sin 2

The original game was the first RPG that offered you a chance to argue with yourself, with a unique method of dialogue between the two main characters you played.  It incorporated the environmental effects of spells in a much more effective way than the majority of RPGs, making it wise to dump water on an opponent before zapping them with a lightning bolt.  The quests were often quite unique and the sequel seems to keep that alive, one reviewer at Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN describes how they "ate the meat from the shark’s mouth" as part of the solution to a quest.  If you are looking for a different type of fantasy RPG that will make you smile, cry and scratch your head, often simultaneously, then check out the review and see if you want to pick up the game that launched today.

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"Divinity: Original Sin 2 is out of Early Access and fully released. Adam and John have both spent many, many hours with the alpha, and are now beginning to chew their way through the full version."

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Imagination Technologies Agrees to Canyon Bridge Offer

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | September 23, 2017 - 09:59 PM |
Tagged: Imagination Technologies

Canyon Bridge, a private investment LLC and a believable codename for an Intel processor architecture, has just reached an agreement with Imagination Technologies to acquire most of their company. This deal is valued at £550 million GBP and does not include MIPS Technologies, Inc., which Imagination Technologies purchased on February 8th of 2013.

According to Anandtech, however, MIPS Technologies, Inc. will be purchased by Tallwood Venture Capital for $65 million USD.

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The reason why Imagination Technologies is expected to be split in two like this is because purchasing CPU companies places you under national security review with the United States, and Canyon Bridge is backed by the Chinese government. As such, they can grab everything but the CPU division, which lets another party swoop in for a good price on the leftover.

That said, it is currently unclear what either company, Canyon Bridge Capital Partners or Tallwood Venture Capital, wants to do with Imagination Technologies or MIPS Technologies, Inc., respectively. When Canyon Bridge attempted to purchase Lattice Semiconductor last year, they mentioned that they were interested in their FPGAs, their “video connectivity” products (HDMI, MHL, etc.), and their wireless products (60 GHz, etc.). I would assume that they’re just picking up good technology deals, but it’s also possible that they’re looking into accelerated compute companies in particular.

There’s still a few barriers before the sale closes, but it’s looking like we’re not going to end up with Imagination just merging into an existing player or something.

Source: Reuters

Skimmer Scanner, a start to protecting yourself at the pump

Subject: General Tech | September 25, 2017 - 01:12 PM |
Tagged: skimmer scanner, security, bluetooth

If you haven't seen the lengths which scammers will go to when modifying ATMs to steal your bank info you should really take a look at these pictures and get in the habit of yanking on the ATM's fascia and keyboard before using them.  Unfortunately as Hack a Day posted about last week, the bank is not the only place you have to be cautious, paying at the pump can also expose your details.  In this case it is not a fake front which you need to worry about, instead a small PIC microcontroller is attached to the serial connection between card reader and pump computer, so it can read the unencrypted PIN and data and then store the result in an EEPROM device for later collection.  The device often has Bluetooth connectivity so that the scammers don't need to drive right up to the pump frequently.

There is an app you can download that might be able to help stop this, an app on Google Play will detect Bluetooth devices utilizing the standard codes the skimmers use and alert you.  You can then tweet out the location of the compromised pump to alert others, and hopefully letting the station owner and authorities know as well.  The app could be improved with automatic reporting and other tools, so check it out and see if you can help improve it as well as keeping your PIN and account safe when fuelling up. 

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"It would be nice to think that this work might draw attention to the shocking lack of security in gas pumps that facilitates the skimmers, disrupt the finances of a few villains, and even result in some of them getting a free ride in a police car. We can hope, anyway."

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Source: Hack a Day

Texting troubles with 2FA

Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2017 - 02:07 PM |
Tagged: security, sms, 2fa

Two factor authentication is the way to go when dealing with important information online, unfortunately the most common way of enabling 2FA has proven rather vulnerable.  With just your name, surname and phone number an unsavoury type could use a vulnerability on cellular networks to gain access to your accounts.  The example given over at Slashdot is of a Coinbase wallet with 2FA, registered with a Gmail address also protected by 2FA, which the security researchers easily took control of.  Take a look at the article for more details on the SS7 network vulnerabilities this attack exploits as well as better ways of making use of 2FA. 

If you do intend to continue to use SMS as part of your 2FA, at least consider disabling the feature on your phone which allows you to breifly read a text without unlocking your phone.

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"The report notes of several ways you can protect yourself from this sort of attack: "On some services, you can revoke the option for SMS two-factor and account recovery entirely, which you should do as soon as you've got a more secure app-based method established. Google, for instance, will let you manage two-factor and account recovery here and here; just set up Authenticator or a recovery code, then go to the SMS option for each and click 'Remove Phone.'"

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Source: Slashdot

Crytek Releases CRYENGINE 5.4

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, crytek

The latest version of CRYENGINE, 5.4, makes several notable improvements. Starting with the most interesting one for our readers: Vulkan has been added at the beta support level. It’s always good to have yet another engine jump in with this graphics API so developers can target it without doing the heavy lifting on their own, and without otherwise limiting their choices.

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More interesting, at least from a developer standpoint, is that CRYENGINE is evolving into an Entity Component framework. Amazon is doing the same with their Lumberyard fork, but Crytek has now announced that they are doing something similar on their side, too. The idea is that you place relatively blank objects in your level and build them up by adding components, which attaches the data and logic that this object needs. This system proved to be popular with the success of Unity, and it can also be quite fast, too, depending on how the back-end handles it.

I also want to highlight their integration of Allegorithmic Substance. With game engines switching to a PBR-based rendering model, tools can make it easier to texture 3D objects by stenciling on materials from a library. That way, you don’t need to think how gold will behave, just that gold should be here, and rusty iron should be over there. All of the major engines are doing it, and Crytek, themselves, have been using Substance, but now there’s an actual, supported workflow.

CryEngine is essentially free, including royalty-free, to use. Their business model currently involves subscriptions for webinars and priority support.

Source: Crytek

EFF Leaves the W3C over DRM Decision

Subject: General Tech | September 24, 2017 - 02:30 PM |
Tagged: w3c, eff, DRM

On September 18th, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF, announced that they were leaving the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C, due to its stance on DRM, effective immediately. This was published in the form of an open letter from Cory Doctorow, which is available on the EFF’s website.

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There’s several facets to the whole DRM issue. In this case, Cory Doctorow seems focused mostly on the security side of things. Creating an architecture to attach code that manipulates untrusted data is sketchy, at a time that browser vendors are limiting that attack surface by killing as many plug-ins as possible, and, in this case, a legal minefield is layered atop it due to copyright concerns. Publishers are worried about end-users moving data in ways that they don’t intend... even though every single time that content is pirated before its release date is a testament that the problem is elsewhere.

We can also get into the issue of “more control isn’t the same as more revenue” again, some other time.

As for the consequences of this action? I’m not too sure. I don’t really know how much sway the EFF had internally at the W3C. While they will still do what they do best, fight the legal side of digital freedom, it sounds like they won’t be in a position to officially guide standards anymore. This is a concern, but I’m not in a position to quantify how big.

Source: EFF

Double the price; not so much performance though ... Skylake-X versus ThreadRipper

Subject: Processors | September 25, 2017 - 03:19 PM |
Tagged: skylake-x, Skylake, Intel, Core i9, 7980xe, 7960x

You cannot really talk about the new Skylake-X parts from Intel without bringing up AMD's Threadripper as that is the i9-7980XE and i9-7960X's direct competition.   From a financial standpoint, AMD is the winner, with a price tag either $700 or $1000 less than Intel's new flagship processors.  As Ryan pointed out in his review, for those whom expense is not a consideration it makes sense to chose Intel's new parts as they are slightly faster and the Xtreme Edition does offer two more cores.  For those who look at performance per dollar the obvious processor of choice is ThreadRipper; for as Ars sums up in their review AMD offers more PCIe lanes, better heat management and performance that is extremely close to Intel's best.

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"Ultimately, the i9-7960X raises the same question as the i9-7900X: Are you willing to pay for the best performing silicon on the market? Or is Threadripper, which offers most of the performance at a fraction of the price, good enough?"

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Source: Ars Technica

Google Introduces Tesla P100 to Cloud Platform

Subject: Graphics Cards | September 23, 2017 - 12:16 AM |
Tagged: google, nvidia, p100, GP100

NVIDIA seems to have scored a fairly large customer lately, as Google has just added Tesla P100 GPUs to their cloud infrastructure. Effective immediately, you can attach up to four of these GPUs to your rented servers on an hourly or monthly basis. According to their pricing calculator, each GPU adds $2.30 per hour to your server’s fee in Oregon and South Carolina, which isn’t a lot if you only use them for short periods of time.

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If you need to use them long-term, though, Google has also announced “sustained use discounts” with this blog post, too.

While NVIDIA has technically launched a successor to the P100, the Volta-based V100, the Pascal-based part is still quite interesting. The main focus of the GPU design, GP100, was bringing FP64 performance up to its theoretical maximum of 1/2 FP32. It also has very high memory bandwidth, due to its HBM 2.0 stacks, which is often a huge bottleneck for GPU-based applications.

For NVIDIA, selling high-end GPUs is obviously good. The enterprise market is lucrative, and it validates their push into the really large die sizes. For Google, it gives a huge reason for interested parties to consider them over just defaulting to Amazon. AWS has GPU instances, but they’re currently limited to Kepler and Maxwell (and they offer FPGA-based acceleration, too). They can always catch up, but they haven’t yet, and that's good for Google.

Source: Google

Unity 2017.2.0f1 Released

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 12:22 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, Unity

While it’s not technically released yet, Unity has flipped the naming scheme of Unity 2017.2 to Unity 2017.2.0f1. The “f” stands for final, so we will probably see a blog post on it soon. This version has a handful of back-end changes, such as improved main-thread performance when issuing commands to graphics APIs, but the visible changes are mostly in two areas: XR (VR + AR) and baked lighting.

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From the XR standpoint, a few additions stand out. First, this version now supports Google Tango and Windows Mixed Reality, the latter of which is tied to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, so it makes sense that Unity would have support in the version before that gets released (October 17th). In terms of features, the editor now supports emulating a Vive headset, so you can test some VR elements without having a headset. I expect this will mostly be good for those who want to do a bit of development in places where they don’t have access to their headset, although that’s blind speculation from my standpoint.

The other area that got a boost is baked global illumination. Unity started introducing their new Progressive Lightmapping feature in Unity 5.6, and it bakes lighting into the scenes in the background as you work. This update allows you to turn shadows on and off on a per-object basis, and it supports double-sided materials. You cannot have independent lighting calculations for the front and back of a triangle... if you want that, then you will need to give some volume to your models. This is mostly for situations like the edge of a level, so you don’t need to create a second wall facing away from the playable area to block light coming in from outside the playable area.

I’m not sure when the official release is, but it looks like the final, supported build is out now.

Source: Unity

Amazon Web Services Discuss Lumberyard Roadmap

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 12:41 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, amazon

Lumberyard has been out for a little over a year and a half, and it has been experiencing steady development since then. Just recently, they published a blog post highlighting where they want the game engine to go. Pretty much none of this information is new if you’ve been following them, but it’s still interesting none-the-less.

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From a high level, Amazon has been progressing their fork of CryEngine into more of a component-entity system. The concept is similar to Unity, in that you place objects in the level, then add components to them to give them the data and logic that you require. Currently, these components are mostly done in Lua and C++, but Amazon is working on a visual scripting system, like Blueprints from Unreal Engine 4, called Script Canvas. They technically inherited Flow Graph from Crytek, which I think is still technically in there, but they’ve been telling people to stop using it for a while now. I mean, this blog post explicitly states that they don’t intend to support migrating from Flow Graph to Script Canvas, so it’s a “don’t use it unless you need to ship real soon” sort of thing.

One of Lumberyard’s draws, however, is their license: free, but you can’t use this technology on any cloud hosting provider except AWS. So if you make an offline title, or you use your own servers, then you don’t need to pay Amazon a dime. That said, if you do something like leaderboards, persistent logins, or use cloud-hosted multiplayer, then you will need to do it through AWS, which, honestly, you were probably going to do anyway.

The current version is Lumberyard Beta 1.10. No release date has been set for 1.11, although they usually don’t say a word until it’s published.

Source: Amazon

Unreal Engine 4.18 Preview Published to Epic Launcher

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:39 PM |
Tagged: ue4, epic games, pc gaming

Epic Games has released a preview build of Unreal Engine 4.18. This basically sets a bar for shipped features, giving them a bit of time to crush bugs before they recommend developers use it for active projects. This version has quite a few big changes, especially in terms of audio and video media.

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WebAssembly is now enabled by default for HTML5.

First, we’ll discuss platform support. As you would expect, iOS 11 and XCode 9 are now supported, and A10 processors can use the same forward renderer that was added to UE4 for desktop VR, as seen in Robo Recall. That’s cool and all, but only for Apple. For the rest of us, WebAssembler (WASM) is now enabled by default for HTML5 projects. WASM is LLVM bytecode that can be directly ingested by web browsers. In other words, you can program in C++ and have web browsers execute it, and do so without transpiling to some form of JavaScript. (Speaking of which, ASM.js is now removed from UE4.) The current implementation is still single-threaded, but browser vendors are working on adding multi-threading to WASM.

As for the cool features: Epic is putting a lot of effort in their media framework. This allows for a wider variety of audio and video types (sample rates, sample depths, and so forth) as well as, apparently, more control over timing and playback, including through Blueprints visual scripting (although you could have always made your own Blueprint node anyway). If you’re testing out Unreal Engine 4.18, Epic Games asks that you pay extra attention to this category, reporting any bugs that you find.

Epic has also improved their lighting engine, particularly when using the Skylight lighting object. They also say that Volumetric Lightmaps are also, now, enabled by default. This basically allows dynamic objects to move through a voxel-style grid of lighting values that are baked in the engine, which adds indirect lighting on them without a full run-time GI solution.

The last thing I’ll mention (although there’s a bunch of cool things, including updates to their audio engine and the ability to reference Actors in different levels) is their physics improvements. Their Physics Asset Editor has been reskinned, and the physics engine has been modified. For instance, APEX Destruction has been pulled out of the core engine into a plug-in, and the cloth simulation tools, in the skeletal mesh editor, are no longer experimental.

Unreal Engine 4.18 Preview can be downloaded from the Epic Launcher, but existing projects should be actively developed in 4.17 for a little while longer.

Source: Epic Games

Still no good news on the DRAM front

Subject: General Tech | September 22, 2017 - 02:05 PM |
Tagged: DRAM, Samsung, SK Hynix, micron

The change process technology continues to have a negative effect on DRAM supplies and according to the story posted on Electronics Weekly there is no good news in sight.  The three major vendors, Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron are all slowing production as a result of new fabs being built and existing production lines upgraded for new process technology such as EUV.  This will ensure that prices continue to slowly creep up over the remainder of this year and likely into 2018.  Drop by for more information on the challenges each are facing.

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"While overall DRAM demand will remain high in 2018, new fabs being planned will not be ready for mass production until 2019 at the earliest."

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Noctua Focused on Ryzen with NH-L9a-AM4 and NH-L12S Low-Profile Coolers

Subject: Cases and Cooling | September 25, 2017 - 10:43 AM |
Tagged: ryzen, noctua, low-profile, htpc, cooler, APU, amd, AM4, air cooling

AMD's popularity with Ryzen CPUs (and upcoming APUs) has made waves across the industry, and Noctua have jumped in with a pair of low-profile offerings that update previous designs for cramped case interiors.

First up is the new version of the NH-L9a:

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"The new NH-L9a-AM4 is an AM4-specific revision of Noctua’s award-winning NH-L9a low-profile CPU cooler. At a height of only 37mm, the NH-L9a is ideal for extremely slim cases and, due to its small footprint, it provides 100% RAM and PCIe compatibility as well as easy access to near-socket connectors, even on tightly packed mini-ITX motherboards."

Next is the new NH-L12S:

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"The new S-version of the renowned NH-L12 not only adds AM4 support but also gives more flexibility and improved performance in low-profile mode. Thanks to the new NF-A12x15 PWM slim 120mm fan, the NH-L12S provides even better cooling than the previous model with its 92mm fan. At the same time, the NH-L12S is highly versatile: with the fan installed on top of the fins, the cooler is compatible with RAM modules of up to 45mm in height. With the fan installed underneath the fins, the total height of the cooler is only 70mm, making it suitable for use in many compact cases."

Noctua says that these new coolers now shipping "and will be available shortly", with an MSRP of $39.90 for the NH-L9a-AM4 and $49 for the NH-L12S.

Source: Noctua