Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2017 - 07:25 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: usb 3.0, sony, ps4 pro, ps4, gaming, console
Sony is taking the wraps off of its latest firmware with the release of version 4.50 “Sasuke” beta firmware for the PS4. With the new firmware, Sony is rolling out a number of UI/UX improvement and users will finally be able to use external storage with the game console. On the PS4 Pro front, Sony will be adding a “boost mode” in a future update (it may not be ready in time for a production 4.50 release) that lets legacy games access the additional GPU horsepower of the Pro version of the console to smooth out frame rates without needing any special patches from the game developers.
The new firmware adds support for USB 3.0 hard drives (or SSDs) up to 8TB. Users will be able to use the external storage to store games, downloaded applications, screenshots, and videos and have it all show up on the main system menu along with the local storage. Users will not need to shuffle game data back and forth in order to play their games either. Note that currently, the actual save game data is still stored locally even if the game itself is stored on the external hard drive. Fans of the PlayStation VR (PS VR) also get an update with firmware 4.50 in the form of support for watching 3D Blu Rays. Beyond those big feature updates, Sony is also changing up the interface slightly. The Quick Menu now takes up less screen space and will allow gamers to create and join parties right from there rather than going to a separate app. In the notification area, Sony has condensed all the various notification types into a single unified list. Further, users will be able to set in game screenshots as the home screen wallpaper.
Perhaps most interesting is the planned “boost mode” for the PS4 Pro which is currently in beta. Gamers are reporting that titles such as The Evil Within and Just Cause 3 are significantly smoother frame rates with noticeably reduced stuttering. Reportedly, the boost mode will work with most PS4 games that were programmed with unlocked frame rates though the exact benefits will vary. Games that have a hard cap on the frame rate will still need specific patches from the game developers to get any improvements. Ars Technica speculates that the “boost mode” is simply Sony removing its own blocks it put in place to force compatibility with older games that were developed with the base PS4 in mind. When the boost mode is off, the PS4 Pro GPU has part of itself turned off such that it functions exactly as the PS4’s GPU and activating boost mode takes away the blocks and allows the full GPU (with it's 36 CUs) to process the game data as best it can. Getting things like native higher resolutions or more detailed textures will still require patches, of course.
If you have a PS4 or PS4 Pro, keep an eye on the beta Sasuke 4.50 firmware.
- Console Gaming on the PC: PS4 Remote Play vs. Xbox One Streaming
- PS4 Remote Play Now Available On PCs and Macs With 3.50 Firmware Update
Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2016 - 03:06 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one s, xbox one, TSMC, microsoft, console, 16nm
Microsoft recently unleashed a smaller version of its gaming console in the form of the Xbox One S. The new "S" variant packs an internal power supply, 4K Blu-ray optical drive, and a smaller (die shrunk) AMD SoC into a 40% smaller package. The new console is clad in all white with black accents and a circular vent on left half of the top. A USB port and pairing button has been added to the front and the power and eject buttons are now physical rather than capacitive (touch sensitive).
Rear I/O remains similar to the original console and includes a power input, two HDMI ports (one input, one output), two USB 3.0 ports, one Ethernet, one S/PDIF audio out, and one IR out port. There is no need for the power brick anymore though as the power supply is now internal. Along with being 40% smaller, it can now be mounted vertically using an included stand. While there is no longer a dedicated Kinect port, it is still possible to add a Kinect to your console using an adapter.
The internal specifications of the Xbox One S remain consistent with the original Xbox One console except that it will now be available in a 2TB model. The gaming console is powered by a nearly identical processor that is now 35% smaller thanks to being manufactured on a smaller 16nm FinFet process node at TSMC. While the chip is more power efficient, it still features the same eight Jaguar CPU cores clocked at 1.75 GHz and 12 CU graphics portion (768 stream processors). Microsoft and AMD now support HDR and 4K resolutions and upscaling with the new chip. The graphics portion is where the new Xbox One S gets a bit interesting because it appears that Microsoft has given the GPU a bit of an overclock to 914 MHz. Compared to the original Xbox One's 853 MHz, this is a 7.1% increase in clockspeed. The increased GPU clocks also results in increased bandwidth for the ESRAM (204 GB/s on the original Xbox One versus 219 GB/s on the Xbox One S).
According to Microsoft, the increased GPU clockspeeds were necessary to be able to render non HDR versions of the game for Game DVR, Game Streaming, and taking screenshots in real time. A nice side benefit to this though is that the extra performance can result in improved game play in certain games. In Digital Foundry's testing, Richard Leadbetter found this to be especially true in games with unlocked frame rates or in games that are 30 FPS locked but where the original console could not hit 30 FPS consistently. The increased clocks can be felt in slightly smoother game play and less screen tearing. For example, they found that the Xbox One S got up to 11% higher frames in Project Cars (47 FPS versus 44) and between 6% to 8% in Hitman. Further, they found that the higher clocks help performance in playing Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One in backwards compatibility mode such as Alan Wake's American Nightmare.
The 2TB Xbox One S is available now for $400 while the 1TB ($350) and 500GB ($300) versions will be available on the 23rd. For comparison, the 500GB Xbox One (original) is currently $250. The Xbox One 1TB game console varies in price depending on game bundle.
What are your thoughts on the smaller console? While the ever so slight performance boost is a nice bonus, I definitely don't think that it is worth specifically upgrading for if you already have an Xbox One. If you have been holding off, now is the time to get a discounted original or smaller S version though! If you are hoping for more performance, definitely wait for Microsoft's Scorpio project or it's competitor the PlayStation 4 Neo (or even better a gaming PC right!? hehe).
I do know that Ryan has gotten his hands on the slimmer Xbox One S, so hopefully we will see some testing of our own as well as a teardown (hint, hint!).
- Xbox One Teardown - Microsoft still hates you
- PC vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One Hardware Comparison: Building a Competing Gaming PC
- Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One Already Hitting a Performance Wall
- Tech Interview: Inside Xbox One S @ Eurogamer
Finally, a SHIELD Console
NVIDIA is filling out the family of the SHIELD brand today with the announcement of SHIELD, a set-top box powered by the Tegra X1 processor. SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming device. Selling for $199 and available in May of this year, there is a lot to discuss.
Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk and bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movies and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.
Here is a full breakdown of the device's specifications.
|NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications|
|Processor||NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM|
|Video Features||4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)|
|Audio||7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
|Wireless||802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
|Gaming Features||NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
|SW Updates||SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA|
|Power||40W power adapter|
|Weight and Size||Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
|OS||Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready|
|In the box||NVIDIA SHIELD
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
|Requirements||TV with HDMI input, Internet access|
|Options||SHIELD controller, SHIELD remove, SHIELD stand|
Obviously the most important feature is the Tegra X1 SoC, built on an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor and a 256 CUDA Core Maxwell architecture GPU. This gives the SHIELD set-top more performance than basically any other mobile part on the market, and demos showing Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on the hardware drive the point home. With integrated HEVC decode support the console is the first Android TV device to offer the support for 4K video content at 60 FPS.
Even though storage is only coming in at 16GB, the inclusion of an MicroSD card slot enabled expansion to as much as 128GB more for content and local games.
The first choice for networking will be the Gigabit Ethernet port, but the 2x2 dual-band 802.11ac wireless controller means that even those of us that don't have hardwired Internet going to our TV will be able to utilize all the performance and features of SHIELD.
Subject: General Tech | December 27, 2014 - 04:23 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Xbox live, retro, PlayStation network, pc gaming, GOG, gaming, DRM, console
With the outage over Christmas of both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network (both pretty much restored, though it took Sony much longer to recover) many console gamers were unable to play.
Screen captures of the official status from both networks this morning
Beyond online gaming even those attempting to play their own local games were often hampered by the inability of the DRM system to work, preventing the game from loading. Oh, DRM...who needs it? Not the person playing old games that don't use it!
While the term "retro gaming" will likely evoke images of an Atari 2600 or NES, it is retro gaming of the PC persuasion to which we direct our attention now. The website known as Good Old Games (GOG.com) sells many classic titles from distant and not so distant past, and everything sold is DRM free. Install, run; no internet connection required (after you use the internet to actually download the game, that is).
The games are inexpensive as well, but get so much more so during the frequent sales the site promotes. One such sale is going on now, where various Square Enix-owned titles are 75% off, which puts them at $1.49 to $2.49 each. Take that, modern console gaming!
Does downloading make a difference?
I posted a story earlier this week that looked at the performance of the new PS4 when used with three different 2.5-in storage options: the stock 500GB hard drive, a 1TB hybrid SSHD and a 240GB SSD. The results were fairly interesting (and got a good bit of attention) but some readers wanted more data. In particular, many asked how things might change if you went the full digital route and purchased games straight from the Sony's PlayStation Network. I also will compare boot times for each of the tested storage devices.
You should definitely check out the previous article if you missed it. It not only goes through the performance comparison but also details how to change the hard drive on the PS4 from the physical procedure to the software steps necessary. The article also details the options we selected for our benchmarking.
- HGST 500GB 5400 RPM HDD - $50 - $0.10/GB
- Seagate 1TB Hybrid SSHD - $122 - $0.12/GB
- Corsair 240GB Force GS SSD - $189 - $0.78/GB
Today I purchased a copy of Assassin's Creed IV from the PSN store (you're welcome Ubisoft) and got to testing. The process was the same: start the game then load the first save spot. Again, each test was run three times and the averages were reported. The PS4 was restarted between each run.
The top section of results is the same that was presented earlier - average load times for AC IV when the game is installed from the Blu-ray. The second set is new and includes average load times fro AC IV after the installation from the PlayStation Network; no disc was in the drive during testing.
Load time improvements
On Friday Sony released the PlayStation 4 onto the world. The first new console launch in 7 years, the PS4 has a lot to live up to, but our story today isn't going to attempt to weigh the value of the hardware or software ecosystem. Instead, after our PS4 teardown video from last week, we got quite a few requests for information on storage performance with the PS4 and what replacement hardware might offer gamers.
Hard Drive Replacement Process
Changing the hard drive in your PlayStation 4 is quite simple, a continuation of a policy Sony's policy with the PS3.
Installation starts with the one semi-transparent panel on the top of the unit, to the left of the light bar. Obviously make sure your PS4 is completely turned off and unplugged.
Simply slide it to the outside of the chassis and wiggle it up to release. There are no screws or anything to deal with yet.
Once inside you'll find a screw with the PS4 shapes logos on them; that is screw you need to remove to pull out the hard drive cage.
Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2013 - 03:22 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, SoC, microsoft, gaming, console, amd
At the Hot Chips conference earlier this week, Microsoft showed off several slides detailing the SoC used in its upcoming Xbox One gaming console.
The Xbox One uses a System on a Chip (SoC) designed by AMD’s Semi-Custom Business Unit. The processor features eight “Jaguar” AMD CPU cores, an AMD GCN (Graphics Core Next) based GPU with 768 shader cores, an audio co-processor, and 32MB of on-chip eSRAM.
The SoC, measuring 363mm^2 is manufactured on TSMC’s 28nm HPM process. The chip can interface with 8GB of DDR3 main memory with bandwidth of 68.3 GB/s or utilize the on-chip SRAM which has bandwidth of 102GB/s. The embedded SRAM is in addition to the smaller L1 and L2 caches. The slides indicate that the GPU and CPU can at least access the SRAM, though it still remains frustratingly unknown if the SoC supports anything like AMD’s hUMA technology which would allow the CPU and GPU to both read and write to the same memory address spaces without having to copy data between CPU and GPU-accessible memory space. It may be that the CPU and GPU can use the SRAM, but the same memory spaces can not be shared, though that may be the pessimist in me talking. On the other hand, there could be something more, but it’s impossible to say from the block diagram spotted by Semi-Accurate at the Microsoft presentation.
With that said, the slides do reveal a few interesting figures about the SoC that were not known previously. The Xbox One SoC has 47MB of on-chip memory including 32MB eSRAM used by the CPU and GPU and 64KB of SRAM used by the audio co-processor. The chip’s GPU is rated for Microsoft’s DirectX 11.1 and above graphics API. Further, Microsoft rates the GPU at 1.31 TFLOPS, 41 Gigatexels-per-second, and 13.6 Gigapixels-per-second. Additionally, the GCN-based GPU is able to hardware-encode multi-stream H.264 AVC MVC video and hardware decode multiple formats, including H.264 MVC. The hardware encoder is likely being used for the console’s game capture functionality.
The audio processors in the Xbox One SoC use two 128-bit SIMD floating point vector cores rated at 15.4 GFLOPS and “specialized hardware engines” and “signal processing optimized vector and scalar cores.”
The final interesting specification I got from the slides was that the SoC is able to go into a low power state that is as low as 2.5% of the chip’s full power using power islands and clock gating techniques.
You can find all of the geeky details in these slides over at SemiAccurate.
Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2013 - 10:26 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: valve, Steam Box, steam, pc gaming, gaming, console, big picture mode
In talking with the BBC, Valve CEO Gabe Newell revealed several details regarding the company’s upcoming Steam Box gaming PC. The console competitor will go up against Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 successor. So far we know that the Steam Box will utilize Valve’s Steam distribution service and its Big Picture Mode user interface. Valve will be manufacturing its own reference design, but third parties will also be allowed to construct Steam Boxes that will tap into Valve’s gaming library. Xi3 in particular looks to be at least one of the likely Steam Box partners to produce hardware.
Newell indicated that Valve would be sending prototype devices to customers within “the next three to four months.” The designs are not yet finalized, however, as evidenced by Newell’s statement that the prototypes would be used to gather feedback, and Valve is still working on balancing heat, noise, and performance.
“We're working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it.” - Gabe Newell in an interview with BBC before receiving an award for Portal 2.
Further, Valve has not yet determined exactly what it wants the controller to be. It will reportedly be shipping several different prototype controllers along with the Steam Box PCs. One area that Newell is particularly interesting in is in gathering bio-metric data -- such as heart rate -- and using that data to change the game experience for the gamer. This would be one area that Valve could focus on and have an advantage over other consoles. As a fully-fledged PC, the Steam Box could tap into existing bio-metrics technology and easily have the horsepower to effectively parse the bio-feedback. I can only think of a few situations in which such data would be useful (horror games, party/dancing/exercise games), but I do see it as being at least as beneficial as the Kinect was/is to the Xbox.
With that said, we still do not know much about the Steam Box. Much like the PS4, we still do not know what the actual hardware will look like (though we have at least been shown the PS4 controller). Pricing is also one of the major unknowns, and BBC reporter Leo Kelion quoted an industry analyst Lewis Ward (IDC) as noting that Valve will likely not be able to subsidize the hardware nearly as much as the other major console players (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) are able to. The Steam Box is inevitably going to be priced more in like with PCs than with consoles, as a result. On the other hand, gamers that buy a Steam Box can look forward to getting games that are much cheaper than the console equivalents. Give Steam Box gamers a couple of Steam holiday sales and they will easily make up the price difference!
What do you expect the Steam Box to be, and will it finally take PC gaming to the masses?
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | January 16, 2013 - 06:10 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: stolen, nvidia, legal, Lawsuit, console, amd
Things might get interesting for a little while between AMD and NVIDIA again as a complaint has been filed by AMD accusing recently converted NVIDIA employee's of downloading and stealing 100,000 documents on the way out AMD's door.
The company alleges that Robert Feldstein, Manoo Desai, and Nicolas Kociuk collectively downloaded over 100,000 files onto external hard drives in the six months before leaving the company. All three and another manager, Richard Hagen, were accused of recruiting AMD employees after leaving for Nvidia.
The most senior of these employees is Robert Feldstein who was acting as the VP of Strategic Development at AMD before leaving for NVIDIA and was responsible for getting AMD inside the Nintendo Wii U as well as the upcoming Xbox and Playstation consoles due out this year. To say that "stealing" Feldstein was a big win for NVIDIA would seem like a bad pun now with the accusations on the table, but there, we said it.
After looking at the former employees computers AMD found that "Desai and Kociuk conspired with each other to misappropriate AMD's confidential, proprietary, and/or trade secret information; and/or to intentionally access AMD's protected computers, without authorization and/or in a way that exceeded their authorized access." And since Feldstein and Hagan were responsible for the recruitment of those former AMD employees, they were breaking the "no-solicitation of employees" agreement made before departure.
Obviously AMD hasn't come out with exactly what is in those 100,000 documents they accuse of being stolen, but the company is hoping that the US District Court in Massachusetts will help them recover the incriminating documents with a restraining order for all four current employees of NVIDIA forcing them to retain all current AMD-related documents.
The unfortunate part of this for AMD is that if the document leak is true, the damage has likely already been done and they will have to sue for damages down the road. NVIDA could be in for a world of hurt if the court finds that they were actively requesting those documents from the the four named in the complaint.
If you want to read all the legal source for this complaint, you can find it right here.
Subject: General Tech | December 7, 2012 - 09:42 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Wii U, Nintendo, gaming, engadget, console
Nintendo recently unveiled its next generation console with the Wii U. While Ryan managed to get his hands on a couple of consoles, I still have not been able to get a hold of the elusive 32GB black SKU because they have been sold out at the retail stores in my area since launch day. Specifically, new data uncovered by the NPD Group puts into perspective just how popular Nintendo's new hardware is by the sheer number of units purchased in the first week of sales alone!
According to a press release by the NPD Group (available here), Nintendo managed to sell 1.75 million units of hardware in the US from October 28th to November 24th. The 1.75 million total units is further broken down between mobile and console hardware. For mobile, Nintendo sold an impressive 910,000 mobile gaming handhelds. On the console side of things, the results are not record breaking but still notable. Nintendo sold 845,000 consoles during the entire month of november.
Surprisingly, the majority of those 845,000 sales are comprised of Wii U sales over a one week period. During the first week of the Wii U being launched, Nintendo sold 425,000 consoles. That is in comparison to the original Wii’s 475,000 consoles sold in its first week. Another interesting console number is that Nintendo has managed to sell 40 million total consoles since its launch, so the new Wii U still has a long way to go before it can topple the original motion-controlled console.
The NPD Group attributes the successful sale of 1.75 million units of gaming hardware to Black Friday sales and the initial launch excitement surrounding the new Wii U. It will be interesting to see if the Wii U will surpass its predecessor in popularity, and how long it will take to do so.
I'm sure he broke the warranty on this torn apart Wii U so it is a good thing he didn't brick it with a failed firmware update! (heh)
Overall, it does appear to be a decent system with DRM, a 2GB firmware update, and retail (un)availability being the only major gripes from the Internet that I’ve picked up on. I look forward to getting my hands on some games to see how well the asynchronous gameplay works with the new gamepad in particular.
Are you excited about he Wii U?
See a full tear down of the Wii U with photos, video, and leftover screws at PC Perspective.