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

How To: Add AptX Bluetooth Audio to a Windows PC

Subject: Mobile | May 10, 2017 - 05:11 PM |
Tagged: windows, sony, qualcomm, mdr1000x, CSR Harmony, bluetooth, aptX, a2dp

Recently, to prepare for a long plane flight I bought a pair of Sony MDR-1000X Bluetooth noise canceling headphones. While I won't get into the specifics of these headphones other than that I have been really satisfied with them, when I returned from my trip I wanted to start using them at the office.

Seemingly that would be easy, as these headphones feature a 3.5mm input, but I am frequently walking around the office and I wanted to fully utilize the wireless features. While I could have just used any Bluetooth adapter compatible with Windows, I wanted to test out one of the features of these headphones —  AptX technology.

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AptX is an alternate Bluetooth audio codec from Qualcomm which aims to feature higher audio quality. Sebastian took a look at a pair of AptX-enabled headphones earlier this year, and I have wanted to check out the technology ever since.

I went to Amazon, and did a search for "AptX Bluetooth USB" and found a wide array of options, so I did what anyone would naturally do — I bought the cheapest one and hoped it would work

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After receiving the USB adapter, I first installed the CSR Harmony software from the Azio website. This is a piece of software that sits on top of the Windows Bluetooth Stack and enabled advanced Bluetooth features, including AptX, on certain Bluetooth chipsets.

Once the software was installed, I plugged in the device and found a new Bluetooth icon sitting in my Windows tray.

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From here, you can simply right click the icon and search for a new Bluetooth device.

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Once I put the headphones into pairing mode I was able to pair to them successfully.

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And, that's it! Once you are successfully paired to an AptX device, you should see this popup from the Windows tray confirming that AptX is working. From here, you can use the headphones just like you would with any Windows audio playback device. 

This certainly isn't a review of AptX audio quality, I will defer to Sebastian's analysis for that in which he calls the headphones he tested "audiophile-approved Bluetooth."

For a $12 investment, it seems like a no-brainer for users who already have an AptX-enabled device that they use on their smartphone.

Source: Azio

Sony Will Add USB Hard Drive Support To PS4 and Boost Mode to PS4 Pro

Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2017 - 02:25 AM |
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.

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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.

Also read:

Source: Ars Technica

Sony Wins PC Crapware Lawsuit

Subject: Systems | September 9, 2016 - 04:36 AM |
Tagged: eu, crapware, sony, Lawsuit

Back in 2008, a customer purchased a laptop from Sony, but refused to accept its end-user license agreement due to its pre-installed software. The customer contacted Sony, demanding to be reimbursed for the junkware. Sony, instead, offered a refund for the PC. The customer, instead of taking the refund, sued Sony for about 3000 Euros.

According to The Register, the EU's highest court has just ruled against the customer.

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Honestly, this makes sense. The software was around when they purchased the computer, and Sony offered a refund. Yes, companies should offer crapware-free versions of their laptops, even for a slight fee. If adware-free version existed at all, then there might be an issue, but that would belong with Microsoft (or whoever owns the actual platform). It shouldn't be a burden for the individual system builders, unless collusion was involved.

It's also funny to think that, since the laptop was purchased in 2008, we are probably talking about a Vista-era device. Interesting to think about the difference in speed between the legal system and the tech industry.

Source: The Register

Podcast #416 - Intel SSD 600p, Leaked Zen Performance, new iPhone and PS4 and more!

Subject: General Tech | September 8, 2016 - 01:28 PM |
Tagged: Zen, VR, video, ssd, sony, qualcomm, ps4 pro, ps4, prodigy, power9, podcast, phanteks, logitech, iPhone 7, Intel, IBM, gtx 1050, geekbench, Enthoo, corsair, carbide, amd, a10, 600p

PC Perspective Podcast #416 - 09/08/16

Join us this week as we discuss the Intel SSD 600p, Leaked Zen Performance, new iPhone and PS4 and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath and Jeremy Hellstrom

Program length: 1:48:53
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
    1. Razer PAX 2016
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
  4. Closing/outro

Sony Announces the New PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro

Subject: General Tech | September 7, 2016 - 09:18 PM |
Tagged: sony, ps4, ps4 pro, microsoft, Project Scorpio, xbox

At today's media briefing event, Sony announced two new versions of their PlayStation 4 console. The first is not even given a new name; they are just referring to it as the “new slimmer and lighter PS4” in their marketing material. It replaces the current version with one that is about 30% smaller, 16% lighter, and 28% more power efficient, according to a press release provided by AMD.

This update will be sold for $299.99 USD ($379.99 CDN) starting on September 15th.

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The main topic of discussion was the PlayStation 4 Pro, though. Like Microsoft is doing with Project Scorpio, Sony wants the PS4 Pro to be compatible with the same catalog of titles, but do so at higher resolution and color depths. Sony claims that this generation is basically maxing out what can be done with 1080p. PC developers do not seem to have a problem using performance for new features, but the point that development costs are quickly becoming the limiting factor is valid to some extent.

In terms of specifications, while the CPU got an unspecified speed bump, the main upgrade is a new GPU, which is rated at 4.2 TFLOPs. This is about 30% slower than Microsoft's announced Project Scorpio (6 TFLOPs) but it also will arrive a year sooner. Will this lead time matter, though? The software catalog is already being built up by both companies, and it has been since each console launched in 2013.

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Did they ever explain the extra ring on the case?

Also, because Microsoft started with a weaker console, scaling up to 4K resolution should be easier for their game developers. Project Scorpio is about 4.6x faster than the Xbox One, and it intends to draw four times the number of pixels. The gap between the PS4 and the PS4 Pro is just 2.3x. That could be a problem for them. (Meanwhile, us PC gamers can strap multiple 10+ TFLOP GPUs together for true 4K at decent frame rates, but that's another discussion.)

Granted, theoretical is different than real-world. We'll need to re-evaluate the industry in a couple of years, once an appropriate amount of hindsight is available. Also, Sony claims that PlayStation VR will still be available for both consoles, and that it will be a good experience whatever you choose. This is clearly aimed at Microsoft requiring Project Scorpio for their upcoming VR initiative, although likely to prevent confusion in their own fan base, rather than prodding their competitor.

Again, the PlayStation 4 Pro is launching this year, November 10th, and is expected to retail for $399.99 USD ($499.99 CDN). It's not a big jump in performance, but it's also not a big jump in price, either. In fact, I would consider it priced low enough to question the value of the regular PS4, even at $299.

What are your thoughts? Is this actually priced too low for pro?

Source: Sony

PlayStation Now Arrives for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10

Subject: General Tech | August 31, 2016 - 07:30 PM |
Tagged: sony, PS3, Playstation, playstation now

As of yesterday, Sony has launched the PC version of their PlayStation Now client for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10. This service allows a catalog of PlayStation 3-era titles (which includes remakes from their previous consoles) to be streamed, in a way similar to OnLive. While the US and Canada are both supported, it's difficult to tell the other regions that it is available in, at least from Sony's official sources.

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One caveat is that the service requires the DUALSHOCK 4 controller (and their upcoming, official wireless adapter if you aren't happy with USB cables). From an openness standpoint, this isn't really much better than the console, and actually worse if a far-future title becomes exclusive to it; you can't emulate software that can only be remotely accessed, but that's okay as long as you go in with those expectations. Games can be added and removed from the service with zero recourse, which means that you can lose content that has intrinsic value, especially if it's controversial. On the other hand, it allows you to experience games that you otherwise couldn't, because they were already locked into a platform. On the other-other hand, you're perpetuating that by supporting the platform, but that's your decision to make.

I'll stop that infinite loop here.

All of that aside, the service offers a seven day trial. One month is $19.99 USD, which adds to about $240 each year, while 12 months pre-paid is $99.99 USD.

Source: Sony
Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

Intro and Xbox One

Introduction to Remote Streaming

The ability to play console games on the PC is certainly nothing new. A wide range of emulators have long offered PC owners access to thousands of classic games. But the recent advent of personal game streaming gives users the ability to legally enjoy current generation console games on their PCs.

Both Microsoft and Sony now offer streaming from their respective current generation consoles to the PC, but via quite different approaches. For PC owners contemplating console streaming, we set out to discover how each platform works and compares, what level of quality discerning PC gamers can expect, and what limitations and caveats console streaming brings. Read on for our comparison of Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10 and PS4 Remote Play for the PC and Mac.

Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10

Xbox One Streaming was introduced alongside the launch of Windows 10 last summer, and the feature is limited to Microsoft's latest (and last?) operating system via its built-in Xbox app. To get started, you first need to enable the Game Streaming option in your Xbox One console's settings (Settings > Preferences > Game DVR & Streaming > Allow Game Streaming to Other Devices).

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Once that's done, head to your Windows 10 PC, launch the Xbox app, and sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on your Xbox One. By default, the app will offer to sign you in with the same Microsoft account you're currently using for Windows 10. If your Xbox gamertag profile is associated with a different Microsoft account, just click Microsoft account instead of your current Windows 10 account name to sign in with the correct credentials.

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Note, however, that as part of Microsoft's relentless efforts to get everyone in the Virgo Supercluster to join the online Microsoft family, the Xbox app will ask those using a local Windows 10 account if they want to "sign in to this device" using the account associated with their Xbox gamertag, thereby creating a new "online" account on your Windows 10 PC tied to your Xbox account.

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If that's what you want, just type your current local account's password and click Next. If, like most users, you intentionally created your local Windows 10 account and have no plans to change it, click "Sign in to just this app instead," which will allow you to continue using your local account while still having access to the Xbox app via your gamertag-associated online Microsoft account.

Once you're logged in to the Xbox app, find and click on the "Connect" button in the sidebar on the left side of the window, which will let you add your Xbox One console as a device in your Windows 10 Xbox app.

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Continue reading our comparison of Xbox One Streaming and PlayStation 4 Remote Play!!

Sony plans PlayStation NEO with massive APU hardware upgrade

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | April 19, 2016 - 11:21 AM |
Tagged: sony, ps4, Playstation, neo, giant bomb, APU, amd

Based on a new report coming from Giant Bomb, Sony is set to release a new console this year with upgraded processing power and a focus on 4K capabilities, code named NEO. We have been hearing for several weeks that both Microsoft and Sony were planning partial generation upgrades but it appears that details for Sony's update have started leaking out in greater detail, if you believe the reports.

Giant Bomb isn't known for tossing around speculation and tends to only report details it can safely confirm. Austin Walker says "multiple sources have confirmed for us details of the project, which is internally referred to as the NEO." 

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The current PlayStation 4 APU
Image source: iFixIt.com

There are plenty of interesting details in the story, including Sony's determination to not split the user base with multiple consoles by forcing developers to have a mode for the "base" PS4 and one for NEO. But most interesting to us is the possible hardware upgrade.

The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we've received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed.

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Games running in NEO mode will be able to use the hardware upgrades (and an additional 512 MiB in the memory budget) to offer increased and more stable frame rate and higher visual fidelity, at least when those games run at 1080p on HDTVs. The NEO will also support 4K image output, but games themselves are not required to be 4K native.

Giant Bomb even has details on the architectural changes.

  Shipping PS4 PS4 "NEO"
CPU 8 Jaguar Cores @ 1.6 GHz 8 Jaguar Cores @ 2.1 GHz
GPU AMD GCN, 18 CUs @ 800 MHz AMD GCN+, 36 CUs @ 911 MHz
Stream Processors 1152 SPs ~ HD 7870 equiv. 2304 SPs ~ R9 390 equiv.
Memory 8GB GDDR5 @ 176 GB/s 8GB GDDR5 @ 218 GB/s

(We actually did a full video teardown of the PS4 on launch day!)

If the Compute Unit count is right from the GB report, then the PS4 NEO system will have 2,304 stream processors running at 911 MHz, giving it performance nearing that of a consumer Radeon R9 390 graphics card. The R9 390 has 2,560 SPs running at around 1.0 GHz, so while the NEO would be slower, it would be a substantial upgrade over the current PS4 hardware and the Xbox One. Memory bandwidth on NEO is still much lower than a desktop add-in card (218 GB/s vs 384 GB/s).

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Could Sony's NEO platform rival the R9 390?

If the NEO hardware is based on Grenada / Hawaii GPU design, there are some interesting questions to ask. With the push into 4K that we expect with the upgraded PlayStation, it would be painful if the GPU didn't natively support HDMI 2.0 (4K @ 60 Hz). With the modularity of current semi-custom APU designs it is likely that AMD could swap out the display controller on NEO with one that can support HDMI 2.0 even though no consumer shipping graphics cards in the 300-series does so. 

It is also POSSIBLE that NEO is based on the upcoming AMD Polaris GPU architecture, which supports HDR and HDMI 2.0 natively. That would be a much more impressive feat for both Sony and AMD, as we have yet to see Polaris released in any consumer GPU. Couple that with the variables of 14/16nm FinFET process production and you have a complicated production pipe that would need significant monitoring. It would potentially lower cost on the build side and lower power consumption for the NEO device, but I would be surprised if Sony wanted to take a chance on the first generation of tech from AMD / Samsung / Global Foundries.

However, if you look at recent rumors swirling about the June announcement of the Radeon R9 480 using the Polaris architecture, it is said to have 2,304 stream processors, perfectly matching the NEO specs above.

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New features of the AMD Polaris architecture due this summer

There is a lot Sony and game developers could do with roughly twice the GPU compute capability on a console like NEO. This could make the PlayStation VR a much more comparable platform to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive though the necessity to work with the original PS4 platform might hinder the upgrade path. 

The other obvious use is to upgrade the image quality and/or rendering resolution of current games and games in development or just to improve the frame rate, an area that many current generation consoles seem to have been slipping on

In the documents we’ve received, Sony offers suggestions for reaching 4K/UltraHD resolutions for NEO mode game builds, but they're also giving developers a degree of freedom with how to approach this. 4K TV owners should expect the NEO to upscale games to fit the format, but one place Sony is unwilling to bend is on frame rate. Throughout the documents, Sony repeatedly reminds developers that the frame rate of games in NEO Mode must meet or exceed the frame rate of the game on the original PS4 system.

There is still plenty to read in the Giant Bomb report, and I suggest you head over and do so. If you thought the summer was going to be interesting solely because of new GPU releases from AMD and NVIDIA, it appears that Sony and Microsoft have their own agenda as well.

Source: Giant Bomb

Sony's Optical Disc Archive Storage Reaches 3.3 TB

Subject: Storage | April 18, 2016 - 12:32 PM |
Tagged: storage, sony, optical disc archive, optical disc, ODA, hard drives, backup, Archival

Sony has developed a higher-capacity version of their Optical Disc Archive (ODA), which now allows up to 3.3 TB of archival storage with the promise of 100-year retention.

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Sony ODS-D280U (Image credit: Sony via Computer Base)

Of course the viability of such a system in the next century is unknown, and a working cartridge (which is similar to the multi-CD systems found in cars a few years ago) would be needed to access the data. The idea is certainly interesting considering the potential for failure with traditional hard drives, though hard drives are relatively inexpensive and offer more utility, unlike the write-once Sony ODA cartridges.

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Cartridge exploded view (Image credit: Sony via Computer Base)

For those seeking pure read-only archival storage, the higher capacity of the second-generation Sony ODA at least brings it closer to parity with current hard drive storage.