Microsoft Launches Cheaper Surface Book and Surface Laptop

Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2018 - 12:46 AM |
Tagged: surface laptop, surface book, surface, microsoft

Microsoft is introducing lower-end versions of its Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop thin and lights in a very good news/bad news way. The good news is that customers will not have to give up much in the way of specifications, but the bad news being that these new SKUs are not much cheaper than their predecessors as a result. If you were hoping for a budget Surface Book, this is not the device you are looking for.

Tech Report reports that Microsoft is now offering a Surface Book 2 with the same Core i5 7300U (dual core with Hyperthreading) and 8GB base RAM as the exiting i5 model, but with half the storage at 128 GB. All other specifications remain the same including the 13.5” 3000x2000 resolution display, 23mm thick chassis with 2-in-1 folding hinge, and the same USB 3.1 Gen 1, headphone, SD card, and Surface Dock I/O ports. The new “budget” model starts at $1,199 which is $300 cheaper than the i5 7300U model with 256 GB storage. Not bad considering you are only giving up storage space but still priced at a premium.

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In addition to the Surface Book 2, Microsoft is also adding a cheaper Surface Laptop which cuts the cost to entry to $799. Customers will have to settle for the silver version however, as that is currently the only color option at that price point. Performance as well as storage take a hit on this cost-cutting endeavor as well with the previous Core i5 base CPU (2c/4t up to 3.1 GHz) replaced with a Core m3-7Y30 (2c/4t up to 2.6 GHz). The new budget model further includes 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. Fortunately, the 13.5” 2256x1504 touchscreen display remains the same. The price difference between the Core m3 SKU and the previously base Core i5 7200U SKU is only $200 and you are giving up more than storage this time to get there.

It appears the Surface Laptop still comes with Windows 10 S while the Surface Book 2 comes with Windows 10 Pro. Microsoft provides 1-year warranties on these machines.

Are the new lower-cost versions enough to get you to buy into the Surface and Windows 10 ecosystem? 

Also read:

Source: Tech Report

Windows S is now just an awkward phase which your PC can grow out of

Subject: General Tech | February 5, 2018 - 01:39 PM |
Tagged: windows s, windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft is changing how they will distribute Windows S, their Chrome-like locked down OS.  It will now become an option on all Windows 10 installations, allowing you to enable it if you feel the need to set up a computer which can only run apps from the Microsoft Store and only surf via Edge.  The Inquirer cites an interesting fact, 83% of users who do not disable Windows S mode in the first week remain with that OS permanently.  Perhaps they don't know any better, or perhaps they were one of those who were satisfied with the original Surface's Windows RT?

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"Now, the company has confirmed that it will instead offer an "S Mode" on standard versions of Windows 10 instead, locking the machine down to a walled garden of apps from the Microsoft Store, and blocking traditional Win32 programs. And, of course, restricting you to using bloody Edge browser. "

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Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

It's about damn time; Windows Defender will start removing those bloody registry cleaners

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2018 - 01:40 PM |
Tagged: registry cleaner, windows 10, microsoft, windows defender, crapware

Have you experienced the sheer frustration of explaining to a friend or family member that the reason their machine slowed down somewhat and is generating popups at a fearsome rate is because of the crapware they downloaded and not your ministrations?  Convincing someone who installed a registry cleaner or supposed driver update tool that that software is the root of their suffering can be as profitable as arguing with a brick wall that it is mostly empty space and thus you should be able to walk through it; in other words an exercise in futility.  Come March, Windows Defender will remove many of the more questionable ones automatically, though The Inquirer suggests some of the more innocuous ones may remain.

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"We've all been there - warnings of out of date drivers, thousands of registry errors, and usually with a message claiming "we'll fix 30 for free, then you pay". Most of it is utter twaddle and won't affect your computing experience at all. In fact, in a lot of cases, they do more harm than good."

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Source: The Inquirer

What could possibly go wrong? Microsoft may be looking to buy EA, Valve and PUBG

Subject: General Tech | January 30, 2018 - 02:12 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, ea, valve, pubg, rumour, xbox

This one needs more than a few grains of salt but it is possible the Microsoft store might be looking at a significant expansion.  Phil Spencer, once head of XBone and now Executive Vice President of Gaming is taking his role seriously and may be looking to grow Microsoft's presence in gaming.  The company certainly has enough money to purchase all three companies, and in the case of EA they may actually improve the usefulness of Origin.  Valve on the other hand has already mastered the art of online game distribution, unless Microsoft is willing to go with something 'not invented here' that Steam library of yours may be in some peril.  This is pure rumour but that doesn't mean you can't fan the flames at The Inquirer, Polygon or below.

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"SOMEONE HAS GIVEN the rumour mill an almighty kick as it's been suggested that Microsoft is considering buying-up game publishing behemoths EA and Steam, along with PUBG Corp."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer will let you see what your computer sends back to Redmond

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2018 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Some time towards the end of March or the beginning of April Windows 10 will be getting another major update and one of the components will allow you to read through all the information which your computer has collected about your usage.  This won't mean you can easily read through the data as it will be presented in a JSON format with little detail as to what the various attributes mean.  The numbers may not remain a mystery for long, once released various enterprising souls will get to work decoding the information and writing applications to translate the JSON files.  This does not mean Microsoft will no longer collect data, merely that they are going to be a bit more transparent about what they are doing.  Pop by Ars Technica for more information.

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"Following the publication last year of the data collected by Windows 10's built-in telemetry and diagnostic tracking, Microsoft today announced that the next major Windows 10 update, due around March or April, will support a new app, the Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer, that will allow Windows users to browse and inspect the data that the system has collected."

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Source: Ars Technica

DigitalFoundry Discusses Xbox Backwards Compatibility

Subject: General Tech | December 3, 2017 - 04:50 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, xbox

While not directly relevant to our PC enthusiast demographic, DigitalFoundry has just published a discussion about Xbox One backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 and Original Xbox games. There will be a written post, interviewing the backwards compatibility team at Microsoft Xbox, on their website soon, but, currently, just the video (embed below) is available.

The video touches on several different topics in sort-of a stream of consciousness fashion, so it’s hard to summarize but interesting to watch. For instance, with the extra GPU power, Microsoft increases resolution by a whole-number multiple, bringing 720p to 4k with a 3x3 bump, because 1080p is exactly 1.5x 720p, and 4k is exactly 2x 1080p. This leads to a problem with certain original Xbox games. More interesting, to me, is that they can directly emulate the old Xbox 360 CPU instructions. Even though AMD’s CPU is faster than a 2005 PowerPC, the clock rate is lower, and I would have expected that to cause an issue in some algorithm that is heavily frequency-dependent.

Apparently not?

A look at the latest Radeon graphics driver stack

Subject: Graphics Cards | November 29, 2017 - 03:20 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, vega 64, RX 580, microsoft, linux 4.15, linux, amd

With a new Linux kernel out, Phoronix revisited the performance of two of AMD's new cards running on that kernel as well as the current version of Windows 10.  GPU testing on Linux has gotten more interesting thanks to the upsurge in compatible games, this review encompasses the recent Deus Ex, Shadow of Mordor, F1 2017 and GRID Autosport.  The tests show there is still work to be done on the Mesa Radeon graphics driver stack as in all cases the performance lagged behind on Linux even though the hardware was exactly the same.

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"As we end out November, here is a fresh look at the current Windows 10 Pro Fall Creator's Update versus Ubuntu 17.10 with the latest Linux 4.15 kernel and Mesa 17.4-dev Radeon graphics driver stack as we see how various games compete under Windows 10 and Linux with these latest AMD drivers on the Radeon RX 580 and RX Vega 64 graphics cards."

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Gaming

 

Source: Phoronix

Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One X ...

Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2017 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, console, gaming, xbox one x, model numbers gone wild

AMD will once again benefit from the launch of a new console, the Xbox One X is powered by eight Jaguar cores running at 2.3 GHz and 40 custom AMD CUs which run at 1172 MHz which will provide six teraflops of processing power.  Ars Technica took the new console for a spin and were quite impressed, in theory.  The XbOX does offer proper 4k HDR video output, assuming you have the TV for it, however most of the available games do not offer both so you might be somewhat disappointed with a title such as Halo3.  On the other hand, all games do look better on the X1X and perform quite well.  Drop by for a large number of screenshots comparing the Xbone to the XbxX and details on which games benefit the most from the new device.

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"When it comes to hard numbers, the Xbox One X definitely merits Microsoft’s marketing hype as “the most powerful console ever.” Microsoft has pulled out the stops in squeezing stronger components into the same basic architecture of the four-year-old Xbox One."

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Source: Ars Technica

Microsoft goes on a bender in Andromeda

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2017 - 02:15 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, andromeda, foldable

Microsoft have completely abandoned their mobile line which is why they have announced the new prototype Andromeda foldable mobile device.  The foldable eReader-like device will run Win10 on ARM and will take advantage of Windows Ink to allow users to take accurate notes on the touchscreen.  The device is rumoured to have celluar capabilities so it could replace an executives phone, or at least let them leave the laptop at the office.  Unfortunately the announcement left out the most interesting detail, we do not know if the fold is between two seperate screens or if the Andromeda will feature a folding screen.  Hopefully Windows Central will have an updated post soon.

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"Microsoft isn't building this device for your average consumer. If it ever comes to market, and that's a big if, it isn't going to be an iPhone or Android competitor because as Microsoft has publicly claimed in the past, it's just too late for that."

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AMD Q3 2017 Earnings: A Pleasant Surprise

Subject: Editorial | October 25, 2017 - 12:43 PM |
Tagged: Vega, Threadripper, sony, ryzen, Q3, microsoft, EPYC, earnings, amd, 2017

Expectations for AMD’s Q3 earnings were not exactly sky high, but they were trending towards the positive.  It seems that AMD exceeded those expectations.  The company announced revenue of $1.64 billion, up significantly from the expected $1.52 billion that was the consensus on The Street.

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The company also showed a $71 million (GAAP), $110 million (non-GAAP) net for the quarter, which is a 300% increase from a year ago.  The reasons for this strong quarter are pretty obvious.  Ryzen has been performing well on the desktop since its introduction last Spring and sales have been steady with a marked increase in ASPs.  The latest Vega GPUs are competitive in the marketplace, but it does not seem as though AMD has been able to provide as many of these products as they would like.  Add into that the coin mining effect on prices and stocks of these latest AMD graphics units.  Perhaps a bigger boost to the bottom line is the introduction of the Epyc and Threadripper CPUs to the mix.

Part of this good news is the bittersweet royalties from the console manufacturers.  Both Sony and Microsoft have refreshed their consoles in the past year, and Microsoft is about to release the new Xbox One X to consumers shortly.  This has provided a strong boost to AMD’s semi-custom business, but these boosts are also strongly seasonal.  The downside to this boost is of course when orders trail off and royalty checks take a severe beating.  Consoles have a longer ramp up due to system costs and integration as compared to standalone CPUs or video cards.  Microsoft and Sony ordered production of these new parts several quarters ago, so revenue from those royalties typically show up a quarter sooner than when actual product starts shipping.  So the lion’s share of royalties are paid up in Q3 so that there is adequate supply of consoles in the strong Q4/Holiday season.  Since Q1 of the next year is typically the softest quarter, the amount of parts ordered by Sony/Microsoft is slashed significantly to make sure that as much of the Holiday orders are sold and not left in inventory.

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Ryzen continues to be strong due to multiple factors.  It has competitive single and multi-core performance in a large variety of applications as compared to Intel’s latest.  It has a much smaller die size than previous AMD parts such as Bulldozer/Piledriver/Phenom II, so they can fit more chips on a wafer and thereby lower overall costs while maximizing margins.  Their product mix is very good from the Ryzen 3 to the Ryzen 7 parts, but is of course still missing the integrated graphics Ryzen parts that are expected either late this year or early next.  Overall Ryzen has made AMD far more competitive and the marketplace has rewarded the company.

Vega is in an interesting spot.  There have been many rumors about how the manufacturing costs of the chip (GPU and HBM) along with board implementations are actually being sold for a small loss.  I find that hard to believe, but my gut here does not feel like AMD is making good margins on the product either.  This could account for what is generally seen as lower than expected units in the market as well as correspondingly higher prices than expected.  The Vega products are competitive with NVIDIA’s 1070 and 1080 products, but in those products we are finally seeing them start to settle down closer to MSRP with adequate supplies available for purchase.  HBM is an interesting technology with some very acute advantages over standard GDDR-5/X.  However, it seems that both the cost and implementation of HBM at this point in time is still not competitive with having gone the more traditional route with memory.

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There is no doubt that AMD has done very well this quarter due to its wide variety of parts that are available to consumers.  The news is not all great though and AMD expects to see Q4 revenues down around 15%.  This is not exactly unexpected due to the seasonal nature of console sales and the resulting loss of royalties in what should be a strong quarter.  We can still expect AMD to ship plenty of Ryzen parts as well as Vega GPUs.  We can also surmise that we will see a limited impact of the integrated Ryzen/Vega APUs and any potential mobile parts based on those products as well.

 Q3 was a surprise for many, and a pleasant one at that.  While the drop in Q4 is not unexpected, it does sour a bit of the news that AMD has done so well.  The share price of AMD has taken a hit due to this news, but we will start to see a clearer picture of how AMD is competing in their core spaces as well as what kind of uptick we can expect from richer Epyc sales throughout the quarter.  Vega is still a big question for many, but Holiday season demand will likely keep those products limited and higher in price.

AMD’s outlook overall is quite positive and we can expect a refresh of Zen desktop parts sometime in 1H 2018 due to the introduction of GLOBALFOUNDRIES 12nm process which should give a clock and power uplift to the Zen design.  There should be a little bit of cleanup in the Zen design much as Piledriver was optimized from Bulldozer.  Add in the advantages of the new process and we should see AMD more adequately compete with Coffee Lake products from Intel which should be very common by then.

 

Source: AMD