Vulkan is not extinct, in fact it might be about to erupt

Subject: General Tech | February 15, 2017 - 01:29 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Intel, Intel Skylake, kaby lake

The open source API, Vulkan, just received a big birthday present from Intel as they added official support on their Skylake and Kaby Lake CPUs under Windows 10.  We have seen adoption of this API from a number of game engine designers, Unreal Engine and Unity have both embraced it, the latest DOOM release was updated to support Vulkan and there is even a Nintendo 64 renderer which runs on it.  Ars Technica points out that both AMD and NVIDIA have been supporting this API for a while and that we can expect to see Android implementations of this close to the metal solution in the near future.

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"After months in beta, Intel's latest driver for its integrated GPUs (version 15.45.14.4590) adds support for the low-overhead Vulkan API for recent GPUs running in Windows 10. The driver supports HD and Iris 500- and 600-series GPUs, the ones that ship with 6th- and 7th-generation Skylake and Kaby Lake processors."

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Source: Ars Technica

Clearing storage newsblasts from cache

Subject: General Tech | February 13, 2017 - 12:59 PM |
Tagged: acronis, caringo, Cisco, fujitsu, Intel, mimecast

The Register received more than a few tidbits of news from a wide array of storage companies, which they have condensed in this post.  Acronis have released new versions of their Backup suite and True Image, with the Backup suite now able to capture Office 365 mailboxes.  Cisco have released a product which allows you to have your onsite cloud run like Azure while Fujitsu announced their mid-range ETERNUS AF650 all-flash array.  Intel have updated their implementation of the open source Lustre parallel file system for supercomputers and several companies released earning data, though Mimecast wished their news was better.

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"Incoming! Boom, boom and boom again – storage news announcements hit the wires in a relentless barrage. Here's a few we've received showing developments in data protection, cloud storage, hyper-converged storage, the dregs of flash memory and more."

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Source: The Register

NVIDIA Announces Q4 2017 Results

Subject: Editorial | February 9, 2017 - 06:59 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, Samsung, Results, quadro, Q4, nvidia, Intel, geforce, Drive PX2, amd, 2017, 2016

It is most definitely quarterly reports time for our favorite tech firms.  NVIDIA’s is unique with their fiscal vs. calendar year as compared to how AMD and Intel report.  This has to do when NVIDIA had their first public offering and set the fiscal quarters ahead quite a few months from the actual calendar.  So when NVIDIA announces Q4 2017, it is actually reflecting the Q4 period in 2016.  Clear as mud?

Semantics aside, NVIDIA had a record quarter.  Gross revenue was an impressive $2.173 billion US.  This is up slightly more than $700 million from the previous Q4.  NVIDIA has shown amazing growth during this time attributed to several factors.  Net income (GAAP) is at $655 million.  This again is a tremendous amount of profit for a company that came in just over $2 billion in revenue.  We can compare this to AMD’s results two weeks ago that hit $1.11 billion in revenue and a loss of $51 million for the quarter.  Consider that AMD provides CPUs, chipsets, and GPUs to the market and is the #2 x86 manufacturer in the world.

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The yearly results were just as impressive.  FY 2017 featured record revenue and net income.  Revenue was $6.91 billion as compare to FY 2016 at $5 billion.  Net income for the year was $1.666 billion with comparison to $614 million for FY 2016.  The growth for the entire year is astounding, and certainly the company had not seen an expansion like this since the early 2000s.

The core strength of the company continues to be gaming.  Gaming GPUs and products provided $1.348 billion in revenue by themselves.  Since the manufacturing industry was unable to provide a usable 20 nm planar product for large, complex ASICs companies such as NVIDIA and AMD were forced to innovate in design to create new products with greater feature sets and performance, all the while still using the same 28 nm process as previous products.  Typically process shrinks accounted for the majority of improvements (more transistors packed into a smaller area with corresponding switching speed increases).  Many users kept cards that were several years old due to there not being a huge impetus to upgrade.  With the arrival of the 14 nm and 16 nm processes from Samsung and TSMC respectively, users suddenly had a very significant reason to upgrade.  NVIDIA was able to address the entire market from high to low with their latest GTX 10x0 series of products.  AMD on the other hand only had new products that hit the midrange and budget markets.

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The next biggest area for NVIDIA is that of the datacenter.  This has seen tremendous growth as compared to the other markets (except of course gaming) that NVIDIA covers.  It has gone from around $97 million in Q4 2016 up to $296 million this last quarter.  Tripling revenue in any one area is rare.  Gaming “only” about doubled during this same time period.  Deep learning and AI are two areas that required this type of compute power and NVIDIA was able to deliver a comprehensive software stack, as well as strategic partnerships that provided turnkey solutions for end users.

After datacenter we still have the visualization market based on the Quadro products.  This area has not seen the dramatic growth as other aspects of the company, but it remains a solid foundation and a good money maker for the firm.  The Quadro products continue to be improved upon and software support grows.

One area that promises to really explode in the next three to four years is the automotive sector.  The Drive PX2 system is being integrated into a variety of cars and NVIDIA is focused on providing a solid and feature packed solution for manufacturers.  Auto-pilot and “co-pilot” modes will become more and more important in upcoming models and should reach wide availability by 2020, if not a little sooner.  NVIDIA is working with some of the biggest names in the industry from both automakers and parts suppliers.  BMW should release a fully automated driving system later this year with their i8 series.  Audi also has higher end cars in the works that will utilize NVIDIA hardware and fully automated operation.  If NVIDIA continues to expand here, eventually it could become as significant a source of income as gaming is today.

There was one bit of bad news from the company.  Their OEM & IP division has seen several drops over the past several quarters.  NVIDIA announced that the IP licensing to Intel would be discontinued this quarter and would not be renewed.  We know that AMD has entered into an agreement with Intel to provide graphics IP to the company in future parts and to cover Intel in potential licensing litigation.  This was a fair amount of money per quarter for NVIDIA, but their other divisions more than made up for the loss of this particular income.

NVIDIA certainly seems to be hitting on all cylinders and is growing into markets that previously were unavailable as of five to ten years ago.  They are spreading out their financial base so as to avoid boom and bust cycles of any one industry.  Next quarter NVIDIA expects revenue to be down seasonally into the $1.9 billion range.  Even though that number is down, it would still represent the 3rd highest quarterly revenue.

Source: NVIDIA

AMD Details Zen at ISSCC

Subject: Processors | February 8, 2017 - 09:38 PM |
Tagged: Zen, Skylake, Samsung, ryzen, kaby lake, ISSCC, Intel, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, amd, AM4, 14 nm FinFET

Yesterday EE Times posted some interesting information that they had gleaned at ISSCC.  AMD released a paper describing the design process and advances they were able to achieve with the Zen architecture manufactured on Samsung’s/GF’s 14nm FinFETT process.  AMD went over some of the basic measurements at the transistor scale and how it compares to what Intel currently has on their latest 14nm process.

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The first thing that jumps out is that AMD claimes that their 4 core/8 thread x86 core is about 10% smaller than what Intel has with one of their latest CPUs.  We assume it is either Kaby Lake or Skylake.  AMD did not exactly go over exactly what they were counting when looking at the cores because there are some significant differences between the two architectures.  We are not sure if that 44mm sq. figure includes the L3 cache or the L2 caches.  My guess is that it probably includes L2 cache but not L3.  I could be easily wrong here.

Going down the table we see that AMD and Samsung/GF are able to get their SRAM sizes down smaller than what Intel is able to do.  AMD has double the amount of L2 cache per core, but it is only about 60% larger than Intel’s 256 KB L2.  AMD also has a much smaller L3 cache as well than Intel.  Both are 8 MB units but AMD comes in at 16 mm sq. while Intel is at 19.1 mm sq.  There will be differences in how AMD and Intel set up these caches, and until we see L3 performance comparisons we cannot assume too much.

Zen-comparison.png

(Image courtesy of ISSCC)

In some of the basic measurements of the different processes we see that Intel has advantages throughout.  This is not surprising as Intel has been well known to push process technology beyond what others are able to do.  In theory their products will have denser logic throughout, including the SRAM cells.  When looking at this information we wonder how AMD has been able to make their cores and caches smaller.  Part of that is due to the likely setup of cache control and access.

One of the most likely culprits of this smaller size is that the less advanced FPU/SSE/AVX units that AMD has in Zen.  They support AVX-256, but it has to be done in double the cycles.  They can do single cycle AVX-128, but Intel’s throughput is much higher than what AMD can achieve.  AVX is not the end-all, be-all but it is gaining in importance in high performance computing and editing applications.  David Kanter in his article covering the architecture explicitly said that AMD made this decision to lower the die size and power constraints for this product.

Ryzen will undoubtedly be a pretty large chip overall once both modules and 16 MB of L3 cache are put together.  My guess would be in the 220 mm sq. range, but again that is only a guess once all is said and done (northbridge, southbridge, PCI-E controllers, etc.).  What is perhaps most interesting of it all is that AMD has a part that on the surface is very close to the Broadwell-E based Intel i7 chips.  The i7-6900K runs at 3.2 to 3.7 GHz, features 8 cores and 16 threads, and around 20 MB of L2/L3 cache.  AMD’s top end looks to run at 3.6 GHz, features the same number of cores and threads, and has 20 MB of L2/L3 cache.  The Intel part is rated at 140 watts TDP while the AMD part will have a max of 95 watts TDP.

If Ryzen is truly competitive in this top end space (with a price to undercut Intel, yet not destroy their own margins) then AMD is going to be in a good position for the rest of this year.  We will find out exactly what is coming our way next month, but all indications point to Ryzen being competitive in overall performance while being able to undercut Intel in TDPs for comparable cores/threads.  We are counting down the days...

Source: AMD

Jump into Kaby Lake naked

Subject: Processors | February 8, 2017 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: kaby lake, i5-7600K, Intel

[H]ard|OCP followed up their series on replacing the TIM underneath the heatspreader on Kaby Lake processors with another series depicting the i5-7600K in the buff.  They removed the heatspreader completely and tried watercooling the die directly.  As you can see in the video this requires more work than you might immediately assume, it was not simply shimming which was involved, some of the socket on the motherboard needed to be trimmed with a knife in order to get the waterblock to sit directly on the core.  In the end the results were somewhat depressing, the risks involved are high and the benefits almost non-existent.  If you are willing to risk it, replacing the TIM and reattaching the heatspreader is a far better choice.

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"After our recent experiments with delidding and relidding our 7700K and 7600K to see if we could get better operating temperatures, we decided it was time to go topless! Popping the top on your CPU is one thing, and getting it to work in the current processor socket is another. Get out your pocket knife, we are going to have to make some cuts."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Intel's Atom C2xxx processors may just make like a banana and split

Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2017 - 01:31 PM |
Tagged: Intel, c2000, Avoton

"System May Experience Inability to Boot or May Cease Operation" is not the errata note you want to read, but for those running devices powered by an Intel Avoton C2xxx family Atom processor it is something to pay attention to.  The Low Pin Count bus clock may stop functioning permanently after the chip has been in service for a time, rendering the device non-functional.  Intel had little to say about the issue when approached by The Register but did state that there is a board level workaround available to resolve the issue.

The Avoton famliy of chips were released in 2013 and were designed to compete against ARM's new low powered server chips.  The flaw is likely responsible for the issues with Cisco routers that have been reported on recently; the chip can also be found in the Synology DS1815+ and some Dell server products.  It will be interesting to see how Intel responds to this issue, they have a history of reluctance discussing flaws in their product's architecture.

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"Intel's Atom C2000 processor family has a fault that effectively bricks devices, costing the company a significant amount of money to correct. But the semiconductor giant won't disclosed precisely how many chips are affected nor which products are at risk."

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Source: The Register

Intel Has Started Shipping Optane Memory Modules

Subject: Memory | February 3, 2017 - 08:42 PM |
Tagged: XPoint, server, Optane, Intel Optane, Intel, big data

Last week Hexus reported that Intel has begun shipping Optane memory modules to its partners for testing. This year should see the launch of both these enterprise products designed for servers as well as tiny application accelerator M.2 solid state drives based on the Intel and Micron joint 3D memory venture. The modules that Intel is shipping are the former type of Optane memory and will be able to replace DDR4 DIMMs (RAM) with a memory solution that is not as fast but is cheaper and has much larger storage capacities. The Optane modules are designed to slot into DDR4 type memory slots on server boards. The benefit for such a product lies in big data and scientific workloads where massive datasets will be able to be held in primary memory and the processor(s) will be able to access the data sets at much lower latencies than if it had to reach out to mass storage on spinning rust or even SAS or PCI-E solid state drives. Being able to hold all the data being worked on in one pool of memory will be cheaper with Optane as well as it is allegedly priced closer to NAND than RAM and the cost of RAM adds up extremely quickly when you need many terabytes of it (or more!). Various technologies attempting to bring higher capacity non volatile and/or flash-based storage in memory module form have been theorized or in the works in various forms for years now, but it appears that Intel will be the first ones to roll out actual products.

Intel Optane Memory Module.JPG

It will likely be years before the technology trickles down to consumer desktops and notebooks, so slapping what would effectively be a cheap RAM disk into your PC is still a ways out. Consumers will get a small taste of the Optane memory in the form of tiny storage drives that were rumored for a first quarter 2017 release following its Kaby Lake Z270 motherboards. Previous leaks suggest that the Intel Optane Memory 8000P would come in 16 GB and 32 GB capacities in a M.2 form factor. With a single 128-bit (16 GB) die Intel is able to hit speeds that current NAND flash based SSDs can only hit with multiple dies. Specifically the 16GB Optane application accelerator drive is allegedly capable of 285,000 random 4K IOPS, 70,000 random write 4K IOPS, Sequential 128K reads of 1400 MB/s, and sequential 128K writes of 300 MB/s. The 32GB Optane drive is a bit faster at 300,000 4K IOPS, 120,000 4K IOPS, 1600 MB/s, and 500 MB/s respectively.

Unfortunately, I do not have any numbers on how fast the Optane memory that will slot into the DDR4 slots will be, but seeing as two dies already max out the x2 PCI-E link they use in the M.2 Optane SSD, a dual sided memory module packed with rows of Optane dies on the significantly wider memory bus is very promising. It should lie somewhere closer to (but slower than) DDR4 but much faster than NAND flash while still being non volatile (it doesn't need constant power to retain the data).

I am interested to see what the final numbers are for Intel's Optane RAM and Optane storage drives. The company has certainly dialed down the hype for the technology as it approached fruition though that may be more to do with what they are able to do right now versus what the 3D XPoint memory technology itself is potentially capable of enabling. I look forward to what it will enable in the HPC market and eventually what will be possible for the desktop and gaming markets.

What are your thoughts on Intel and Micron's 3D XPoint memory and Intel's Optane implementation (Micron's implementation is QuantX)?

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Source: Hexus

Intel Announces Compute Card To Power Smart Devices

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 7, 2017 - 10:38 PM |
Tagged: vpro, SFF, kaby lake, iot, Intel, compute stick

Intel announced the Compute Card today, a modular small form factor compute system for smart appliances, home automation, industrial applications, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The Compute Card is a full PC in a card slightly longer than credit card at 95 x 55 x 5mm with an Intel SoC, memory, storage, wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), and standardized I/O built in. The compute card is designed the fit into an internal or external slot where it locks into place. According to Intel, the idea is to standardize the compute aspect of these smart devices so that manufacturers can reduce time to market and design costs as well as make them easier to repair. Manufacturers would design their devices with a slot for an Intel Compute Card and then choose a card that meets their performance and price requirements as the brains of the smart device whether that is your toaster, virtual assistant, IoT gateway, or security system. Outside of the home, Intel wants to sell cards to makers of digital signage, kiosks, and industrial control systems for machinery and factories.

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One of the first things that came to mind for me was its usage in smart TVs and that may happen but the hope of an upgrade-able model where I could just slap a new Compute Card in to get new features and better performance I fear will never happen if only because while that model would be good for Intel the TV manufacturers that want to sell you new TVs every year would never go for it heh.

Unfortunately, Intel has not released full specifications on the Compute Card, only saying that they would utilize 7th Generation Core vPro processors. Looking around on their website, I would make an educated guess that Intel plans to use the 4.5 watt "7th Generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ Processors" intended for mobile devices. These chips range from 1.1 GHz to 1.3 GHz and are two core / four thread processors paired with Intel HD Graphics (515, 615, or 630). There are also 15W vPro processors with faster clockspeeds but they may not do well in such a small form factor where there is not guaranteed cooling. Still, even the lower power models should offer up quite a bit of computing power for connected devices that do basic tasks.

Intel expects to release its Compute Cards in mid-2017 and has partnered with Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Sharp as well as regional partners Seneca, DTx, InFocus, tabletkiosk, and Pasuntech. I notice that Samsung is missing from this list but would be a good partner to have if only because of their appliance line. The chip giant is said to be expanding that partner list though so we may yet see more appliance and home automation manufacturers pop up on there. I think that standardizing the brains of IoT is a good plan and smart on Intel's part but I am a bit skeptical whether or not it will catch on and how well it will be adopted in the targeted markets.

What are your thoughts on Intel's Compute Card?

Source: Intel

CES 2017: EVGA Announces a Trio of Intel Z270 Motherboards

Subject: Motherboards, Chipsets | January 6, 2017 - 05:24 PM |
Tagged: stinger, motherboard, mini-itx, kaby lake, intel z270, Intel Optane, Intel, FTW K, eatx, Classified K, CES 2017, CES, atx

EVGA has introduced three new motherboards based on the new Intel Z270 chipset, with new versions of their Classified K, FTW K, and Stinger designs.

EVGA_Z270.jpg

We'll start with the Z270 Classified K, an EATX form-factor board with all of the storage support bases covered (M.2, U.2, and Intel Optane Memory ready), Killer E2500 and Intel i219 NICs, Creative Sound Core3D audio, along with "a newly-designed VRM and hardware design built for cutting-edge performance and overclockability".

EVGA Z270 Classified K features:

  • Highly-Efficient 13 Phase Digital VRM
  • Onboard Power, Reset and Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • Triple BIOS Support
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel Optane Memory Ready
  • Intel Thunderbolt Support
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • Onboard CPU Temperature Monitor
  • 300% Increase in CPU Gold Content

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Next there is Z270 FTW K, a standard ATX form-factor option that offers the same storage flexibility as the larger Classified K including Intel Optane Memory support, Killer E2400 and Intel i219 NICs, and 11-Phase Digital VRM power delivery (among other things).

EVGA Z270 FTW K features:

  • Highly-Efficient 11 Phase Digital VRM
  • Onboard Power, Reset and Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel Optane Memory Ready
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • Onboard CPU Temperature Monitor
  • 150% Increase in CPU Gold Content

EVGA_stinger.jpg

Finally, there is the mini-ITX Z270 Stinger, which packs a surprising number of features into a 6.7-inch square, including 802.11ac dual band Wi-Fi, an Intel i219 NIC, M.2, U.2, and Intel Optane support:

  • Highly-Efficient 6 Phase VRM
  • Onboard Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel Optane Memory Ready
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • 150% Increase in CPU Gold Content

Pricing and availablity information is not yet available.

Coverage of CES 2017 is brought to you by NVIDIA!

PC Perspective's CES 2017 coverage is sponsored by NVIDIA.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at https://pcper.com/ces!

Source: EVGA

Intel's Cannon ball dropping in the Lake before the end of the year

Subject: General Tech | January 5, 2017 - 01:37 PM |
Tagged: Intel, cannon lake

Intel will be waiting for the water to warm up a bit before jumping in but they have promised that Cannon Lake will arrive before the end of 2017.  Unfortunately, The Inquirer were not able to pull out much more from Brian Krzanich, we still do not have a firm date nor any more details on the specifications.  Intel is showing off a device using the 10nm based CPU and tout a 25% reduction in power usage and will use a Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU.  It is also compatible with Qualcomm's octa-core Kryo 280 CPU and Hexagon 682 DSP so we should see some interesting products come with the release of the new processor.

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"At CES in Las Vegas, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich confirmed that the Kaby Lake successor was still on track for a release this year and showed off the first 2-in-1 PC based on the 10nm architecture. "

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Source: The Inquirer