Optical disillusion; Microsoft's HoloLens

Subject: General Tech | January 26, 2017 - 01:42 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, hololens

Microsoft seems to be exploring new territory, previously reserved for those who need a nice mouse or headphones with the pure sound of platinum.  Their HoloLens has been available for several months and they have managed to sell several thousand of them in that time.   Roger Walkden, the commercial lead for HoloLens spoke with The Register and stated that he is happy with the amount of sales so far.  While you cannot expect a headset costing well over $2000 to have large commercial appeal, the pittance of sales of the HoloLens so far makes you wonder if they have misjudged the market.  Then again, maybe we will be seeing Windows 11 Rhodium Exclusive Edition on offer for a select few.

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"The Microsoft HoloLens, Judge Dredd-style "mixed reality" headset, went on sale in the UK last year, with the firm offering a developer-only version for £2,179, and an enterprised-focused model for £4,529."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Xbox Project Scorpio Whitepaper Leaked

Subject: Systems | January 24, 2017 - 10:30 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Project Scorpio, microsoft

Digital Foundry received an Xbox Project Scorpio whitepaper from an anonymous source, although they were able to validate its authenticity. Basically, they sent it to their own, off-the-record sources who would have access to the same info, and those individuals confirmed it’s an official document that they’ve seen before. Of course, the trust bottlenecks through Digital Foundry, but they’re about as reputable as you can get in this industry, so that works.

Anywho, disclaimer aside, the whitepaper unveils a few interesting details about how Project Scorpio is expecting to provide higher performance. The most interesting change is what’s missing: the small, on-chip RAM (ESRAM). Microsoft claims that the higher global memory bandwidth removes the need to have it on Project Scorpio.

Digital Foundry is still a bit concerned that, while the 320 GB/s bandwidth might be enough, the latency might be a concern for compatibility. Personally, I’m not too concerned. Modern GPUs do a huge amount of latency-hiding tricks, such as parking whole shaders at global memory accesses and running other tasks while the GPU fetches the memory the original shader needs, swapping it back and finishing when it arrives. Also, the increased GPU performance will mean that the game has more room to be wasteful of GPU resources, since it only needs to perform at least as good as a regular Xbox One. I expect that there wouldn’t be enough round-trips to ESRAM for it to be a major slowdown when running on Project Scorpio (and its not-ESRAM).

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Seriously, Wall-E with a Freddie Mercury 'stache.

Microsoft does suggest that developers make use of ESRAM on Xbox One and Xbox One S, though. Yes, don’t deliberately throw away performance on the slower machines just because that accelerator isn’t available on higher-end devices, like Project Scorpio or a gaming PC (heh heh heh).

Another point that Digital Foundry highlighted was that the actual number of rendered fragments (pixels that may or may not make it to screen) didn’t scale up by a factor-of-four (going from 1080p to 4K) in all cases. A first-party developer noticed a case where it was only a 3.5x scaling between the two resolutions. (This metric was actually rendered pixels, not even just GPU load, which would include resolution-independent tasks, like physics simulations.) I’m not exactly sure how the number of fragments decreased, but it could be due to some rendering tricks, like when Halo renders the background at a lower resolution. (Yes, I’m using Khronos verbiage; it’s less ambiguous.)

They also assume that Project Scorpio will use pre-Zen AMD CPU cores. I agree. It seems like Zen wouldn’t be around early enough to make production, especially when you consider the pre-release units that are circulating around Microsoft, and probably third-party developers, too.

Project Scorpio launches this holiday season (2017).

Windows 10 Build 10240 End of Life on March 26th

Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2017 - 08:42 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft will be ending support for Windows 10 build 10240 on March 26th (via Mary Jo Foley), after a year and eight months since it launched in July 2015. For our home readers, this will not be too much of a concern, as most of us are on the Anniversary Update (or another OS entirely). Also, Microsoft supported it longer than some hardware vendors, such as NVIDIA, who requires a later build for PCs with a Pascal-based GPU. (Update: I haven't been able to find out whether AMD supports 10240 or not, and it's really a small point for home users anyway. The point was to show that users are heavily intended to be on the latest version.)

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Rippin' off the band-aid.

Again, these new builds are free from Microsoft, so, from a financial standpoint, there’s little reason to not update if your machine can support it. What it does show, however, is how short of a time we have between a bad decision being implemented and a bad decision being forced upon all Windows PCs. If a change upsets you, or feels like it could be used anti-competitively now or in the future, don’t be shy to raise the concern when it appears. You will only have a year or two before it can no longer be avoided... at most... even if you're a business. In most cases, you'll only have a handful of months.

Source: Microsoft

Windows Insiders Receive Several New Features Post-Holiday

Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2017 - 06:27 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Now that the holidays are over, software developers are going back to work. It seems like ones at Microsoft had several big changes stashed away, waiting to release when they would be around to support them in the new year. Over the last two weeks, we received three different builds, each with several significant changes. They seem to be tapering off, though, which would make sense if they’re merging through their backlog from 2016.

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One feature that might be lauded by our readers is the ability to temporarily pause updates. This one came in on build 15002, and it gives users an option to delay any update that will cause a restart for up to 35 days. Unfortunately for some, this will be restricted to Windows 10 Pro and above, because Microsoft still does not trust that Windows 10 Home users will not ignore updates then complain about how insecure Windows is when a 9-month-old worm hits them. Instead, from Home users, they are pushing a change to “Active Hours”, allowing it to be extended into an 18-hour window. Sorry if you have a 24-hour render or something!

Moving on, some users will appreciate the lunar calendar being added to the taskbar calendar, alongside the conventional, Gregorian one. You would think that this localization feature should have been implemented years ago, but, with the Creator’s Update, affected users will have a more functional, built-in calendar.

Another interesting feature, which came out in the most recent build, 15014, is the power mode slider attached to the battery icon. Rather than having it buried in the advanced power settings, Microsoft is allowing users to “slide right” when they need things like higher CPU power states. In the current build, the UI isn’t hooked up to the back-end yet, because they’re still discussing (with OEMs) what power settings the slider options should correspond to.

There are also a lot of enhancements for Edge, of course, as all web browsers are still undergoing a rapid release schedule. A lot of it involves tab management, such as stashing tabs for later (like a more transient bookmark) and sharing them to other applications.

The Windows 10 Creators Update (1703) is expected for April.

Source: Microsoft

Another reason IPv6 is not as common as it should be

Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2017 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: ipv6, microsoft

Among the numerous incompatibilities and troubles we are seeing with the rollout of IPv6 is a new hitch.  It seems Microsoft just opened up a ticket with themselves over a problem they are having with their Azure Active Directory cloud-based ID system; it would seem it is incompatible with IPv6.  The Register specifies Windows 10 for this issue however it is very likely that previous versions are also going to encounter issues.  You can read more about the troubles and attempted solutions here.

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"According to Redmond's principal network engineer Marcus Keane, the software giant is struggling to move over to the decade-old networking technology due to a DHCPv6 bug in Windows 10, which made it "impossible" to expand its planned corporate network."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Confirms Windows 10 Creators Update Game Mode

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2017 - 07:17 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, pc gaming

A few weeks ago, Windows Insiders noticed GameMode.dll was added to the Windows 10 preview builds. It was speculated by Windows Central, based on their anonymous sources, that it would allow the user to increase performance for games. Now, in an Xbox blog post, Mike Ybarra of Microsoft confirmed the existence of this feature. It will arrive with the Creators Update and, yes, it is intended to “optimize your Windows 10 PC for increased performance in gaming”.

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That’s about all of the detail that is mentioned explicitly in the blog post. It does make a passing reference to “Windows Insiders will start seeing some of the visual elements for Game Mode this week, with the feature being fully operational in builds shortly thereafter”. While we don’t need to wait too long to actually find out, this snippet suggests that user involvement will be required. This might be a launcher or something else entirely.

On his Twitter, he also added that Game Mode will work for both Win32 and UWP games. Assuming this isn’t a mistake, and it’s stated quite bluntly albeit on Twitter, it looks likely that Game Mode’s UI won’t be an extension of Windows Store and it will work for any game. It will probably reside elsewhere, like an Xbox App or something, but we don’t really know yet.

The Windows 10 Creators Update arrives this spring. While its version number is 1703, rumors have it set for an April release date.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft looking to lower licensing costs to compete with Chromebooks

Subject: General Tech | January 13, 2017 - 02:31 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, licensing

Microsoft has confirmed that they will reduce the cost of Windows 10 volume licenses associated with 14.1" and smaller laptops, which is intended to help their partners to compete against Chromebooks.  We have seen low cost Chromebooks launched by Lenovo, Acer, Asustek Computer, Dell and Samsung, all of which have taken market share from models running Windows as there are no associated licensing fees.  Microsoft's Volume Licensing pricing is extremely variable, screen size and relative power of the machine changing pricing, as well as the geographic location it will be sold and the size of the manufactures account.  This means we do not know the exact price reduction, only that it will be lowered.  According to what DigiTimes have found, you can expect to see this change start on March 1st.

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"Microsoft has settled with notebook vendors on Windows 10 licensing rates for models to be launched in 2017, with costs for under 14.1-inch low-cost models lowered from 2016, according to Taiwan-based supply chain makers."

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Source: DigiTimes

Multi-monitor gaming troubles? It might not be your driver

Subject: General Tech | January 11, 2017 - 12:42 PM |
Tagged: patch, oops, microsoft

If you game on multiple monitors and have noticed problems recently, with screens rendering with off clipping or not a timely manner you may want to look to Microsoft.  It seems that KB3213986 which was released yesterday, may well be to blame.  As there are no serious security updates contained in this particular patch you can feel safe uninstalling it, unless you really need two keyboards and a fingerprint touchscreen attached to your system.  Cheers to The Guru of 3D for posting this first.

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"Users may experience delayed or clipped screens while running 3D rendering apps (such as games) on systems with more than one monitor."

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Source: Guru of 3D

Pay closer attention Microsoft; this is the year of RGB, not Neon!

Subject: General Tech | January 6, 2017 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, project neon

Remember Aero Glass? Remember anyone that used it?  Well, it will be back in Redstone 3, the Windows 10 update after the upcoming update, or at least that is what The Inquirer has been told.  The headlines screaming that this is whole new Windows are a little far fetched, this is a work in progress GUI update, which one person describe as looking similar to the old Windows 8 mobile interface.  We don't have much more detail apart from the fact that once again Microsoft will be messing with the way their OS looks, again.  It can't always be a disaster, can it?

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"Project Neon, the UI upgrade for Windows 10 has had its first leak courtesy of MSPowerUser, and it's absolutely gorgeous, even if you're a Windows cynic. Probably because it looks more like Google's Material Design for Android than ever."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows 10 "Game Mode" Library Spotted

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2016 - 02:19 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

A new version of Windows 10 was leaked, and it apparently contains a file called “gamemode.dll”. Some people are speculating that this could be API hooks for applications to request higher priority with CPU and GPU resources, increasing performance. Microsoft gave a "no comment" to PC Gamer about the issue, but Windows Central cites anonymous sources claiming that this is the case, and it is either related or analogous to how the Xbox One multitasks.

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While I believe the DLL exists, of course, I’m skeptical about its function -- but I would bet that it’s true (given how sure everyone seems to be). Also, I’ve seen GPGPU compute times fluctuate wildly by leaving other windows open, so there is probably some overhead that the OS can reduce. It just seems weird that this has come out of nowhere.

We’ll probably find out soon, because the Creators Update (Windows 10 1703) is coming out in a few months. Whatever this DLL is, it seems targeted at that feature update.

You can also check out other features of the leaked 14997 build, listed by Paul Thurrott.