Subject: General Tech | February 17, 2017 - 12:01 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
Don’t worry if you didn’t receive cumulative Windows Updates this month.
At first, Microsoft showed no love for Valentine’s Day when they delayed the update that was supposed to roll out to the public. No explanation was provided. Two days later, Microsoft decided to write off the whole month. Everything that has been fixed since January 10th will be delayed until March 14th.
This is quite the wait. Peter Bright of Ars Technica notes that “off-cycle updates are also unpopular”. Yes, IT professionals hate it when software vendors are difficult to schedule around. I’m not sure how much that had to do with this decision, though. On the one hand, when a new build launches to the public, it’s not uncommon to have an update (or more) per week over the first couple of months. On the other hand, it would be reasonable for Microsoft to assume that customers, those who carefully test patches before deploying them, would not have ingested a huge, nebulous feature release into their network just weeks after launch. Still, out-of-band updates happen, and it’s interesting that it didn’t happen in this circumstance.
One thing that this patch should have fixed, however, is delayed or clipped display output in games (and other 3D applications) on multi-monitor systems. While not as critical as security, it is probably annoying for anyone affected to need to wait another 28 days. Microsoft claims it will be fixed then, though.
Subject: General Tech | February 9, 2017 - 06:51 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: workaround, microsoft
Have you ever noticed how many drivers on your system are dated June 21st, 2006? If not, pop open device manager and take a look at some of your devices which don't use a driver directly from the manufacturer. Slashdot posted a link to the inimitable Raymond Chen who explains exactly why so many of your drivers bear that date. The short version is that this is a workaround which prevents newer Microsoft drivers from overwriting manufacturer's drivers by ensuring the date stamp on the Microsoft driver will never have a more recent date. This is especially important for laptop users as even the simple chipset drivers will be supplied by the manufacturer. For instance this processor is old, but not that old!
"When the system looks for a driver to use for a particular piece of hardware, it ranks them according to various criteria. If a driver provides a perfect match to the hardware ID, then it becomes a top candidate. And if more than one driver provides a perfect match, then the one with the most recent timestamp is chosen."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Malware that skulks in memory, invisibly collecting sysadmins' passwords @ The Register
- SK Hynix joins bid for Toshiba flash business @ DigiTimes
- HP’s Elite Slice is a cool possible future for the desktop @ Ars Technica
- Tosh's new workhorse drive: Not too desktop, not too enterprise @ The Register
- Apple is storing your 'deleted' Safari search history in iCloud @ The Inquirer
- Samsung battery factory bursts into flame in touching Note 7 tribute @ The Register
- DR Brings Movie Cinematography into the Home @ Hardware Secrets
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 28, 2017 - 02:19 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, DirectX, llvm, dxil, spir-v, vulkan
Over the holidays, Microsoft has published the DirectX Shader Compiler onto GitHub. The interesting part about this is that it outputs HLSL into DirectX Intermediate Language (DXIL) bytecode, which can be ingested by GPU drivers and executed on graphics devices. The reason why this is interesting is that DXIL is based on LLVM, which might start to sound familiar if you have been following along with The Khronos Group and their announcements regarding Vulkan, OpenCL, and SPIR-V.
As it turns out, they were on to something, and Microsoft is working on a DirectX analogue of it.
The main advantage of LLVM-based bytecode is that you can eventually support multiple languages (and the libraries of code developed in them). When SPIR-V was announced with Vulkan, the first thing that came to my mind was compiling to it from HLSL, which would be useful for existing engines, as they are typically written in HLSL and transpiled to the target platform when used outside of DirectX (like GLSL for OpenGL). So, in Microsoft’s case, it would make sense that they start there (since they own the thing) but I doubt that is the end goal. The most seductive outcome for game engine developers would be single-source C++, but there is a lot of steps between there and here.
Another advantage, albeit to a lesser extent, is that you might be able to benefit from performance optimizations, both on the LLVM / language side as well as on the driver’s side.
According to their readme, the minimum support will be HLSL Shader Model 6. This is the most recent shading model, and it introduces some interesting instructions, typically for GPGPU applications, that allow multiple GPU threads to interact, like balloting. Ironically, while DirectCompute and C++AMP don’t seem to be too popular, this would nudge DirectX 12 into a somewhat competent GPU compute API.
DXIL support is limited to Windows 10 Build 15007 and later, so you will need to either switch one (or more) workstation(s) to Insider, or wait until it launches with the Creators Update (unless something surprising holds it back).
Subject: General Tech | January 26, 2017 - 06:42 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- IBM old guard dropping like flies in POWER and cloud restructure @ The Register
- Cisco: We know what you all want – a $10,000 70in whiteboard with a $190/mo cloud sub @ The Register
- Security Updates Guide @ Microsoft
- Samsung's Galaxy S8 Will Feature a Headphone Jack, Desktop Dock, 'Infinity Display' and More, Says In-Depth Report @ Slashdot
- Google releases all-HTML5 Chrome 56 with extra encryption cues @ The Inquirer
- Tesoro Zone Balance Gaming Chair Review @ Techgage
- Tesla Vs. Edison @ Hack a Day
Subject: Systems | January 25, 2017 - 03:30 AM | Scott Michaud
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).
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).
Subject: General Tech | January 22, 2017 - 01:42 AM | Scott Michaud
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.)
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.
Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2017 - 11:27 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2017 - 06:00 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Windows 10: Microsoft is spamming Chrome users with pop-up adverts @ The Inquirer
- Print Flexible PCBs with a 3D Printer @ Hack a Day
- 3D TV Is Dead @ Slashdot
- Asustek to launch next generation ZenFone 4 smartphones in May, say sources @ DigiTimes
Subject: General Tech | January 16, 2017 - 12:17 AM | Scott Michaud
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”.
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.
Subject: General Tech | January 13, 2017 - 07:31 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- At Last, An Open Source Electric Vehicle From A Major Manufacturer @ Hack a Day
- It's not just your browser: Your machine can be fingerprinted easily @ The Register
- Everything wrong with IoT (and how to fix it) – according to Uncle Sam @ The Register
- Chrome is Getting the Ability To Play FLAC @ Slashdot
- Microsoft's New Windows 10 Game Mode Will Maximize Gaming Performance @ Slashdot
- Nintendo Switch for £280? They must be joking. Here's why it's not going to sell @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft cans pay-as-you-go Azure for new MPSA licensees @ The Register