A trio of mechanical keyboards from AiZO, the new MGK L80 lineup

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2016 - 03:14 PM |
Tagged: AiZO, MGK L80, Kailh, gaming keyboard, input

The supply of mechanical keyboards continues to grow, once Cherry MX was the only supplier of switches and only a few companies sold the products.  Now we have choice in manufacturer as well as the switch type we want, beyond the choice of Red, Brown, Blue and so on.  AiZO chose to use Kailh switches in their MGK L80 lineup, your choice of click type and also included a wrist rest for those who desire such a thing.  Modders Inc tested out the three models on offer, they are a bit expensive but do offer a solid solution for your mechanical keyboard desires.

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"The MGK L80 series is the latest line of gaming keyboards manufactured by AZIO. Available in red, blue or RGB backlighting, the MGK L80 offers mechanical gaming comfort with a choice of either Kailh brown or blue switch mounted on an elegant brushed aluminum surface."

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Source: Modders Inc

Use Bing in Edge for 30 hours a month and get ...

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2016 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, microsoft rewards, windows 10, bing, edge

If you remember Bing Rewards then this will seem familiar, otherwise the gist of the deal is that if you browse on Edge and use Bing to search for 30 hours every month you get a bribe similar to what credit card companies offer.  You can choose between Skype credit, ad-free Outlook or Amazon gift cards, perhaps for aspirin to ease your Bing related headache; if such things seem worth your while.  The Inquirer points out that this is another reminder that Microsoft tracks all usage of Edge, otherwise they would not be able to verify the amount of Bing you used. 

Then again, to carry on the credit card analogy ...

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"Microsoft Rewards is a rebrand of Bing Rewards, the firm's desperate attempt to get people using the irritating default search engine, and sure enough the bribes for using Edge apply only if you use Bing too."

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Source: The Inquirer

Mozilla Publishes WebVR 1.0 to Nightly Releases

Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2016 - 05:36 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, webvr, Oculus

Earlier this month, the W3C published an Editor's Draft for WebVR 1.0. The specification has not yet been ratified, but the proposal is backed by engineers from Mozilla and Google. It enables the use of VR headsets in the web browser, including all the security required, such as isolating input to a single tab (in case you need to input a password while the HMD is on your face).

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Firefox Nightly, as of August 16th, now supports the draft 1.0 specification.

The browser currently supports Oculus CV1 and DK2 on Windows. It does not work with DK1, although Oculus provided backers of that KickStarter with a CV1 anyway, and it does not (yet) support the HTC Vive. It also only deals with the headset itself, not any motion controllers. I guess, if your application requires this functionality, you will need to keep working on native applications for a little while longer.

Source: Mozilla

Now we know what happened to Josh's stream; does your camera do YUY2 encoding?

Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2016 - 01:06 PM |
Tagged: yuy2, windows 10, skype, microsoft, idiots

In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has disabled MJPEG and H.264 encoding on USB webcams for Skype in their Adversary Update to Windows 10, leaving only YUY2 encoding as your choice.  The supposed reasoning behind this is to ensure that there is no duplication of encoding which could lead to poor performance; ironically the result of this change is poor performance for the majority of users such as Josh.  Supposedly there will be a fix released some time in September but for now the only option is to roll back your AU installation, assuming you are not already past the 10 day deadline.   You can thank Brad Sams over at Thurrott.com for getting to the bottom of the issue which has been plaguing users of Skype and pick up some more details on his post.

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"Microsoft made a significant change with the release of Windows 10 and support for webcams that is causing serious problems for not only consumers but also the enterprise. The problem is that after installing the update, Windows no longer allows USB webcams to use MJPEG or H264 encoded streams and is only allowing YUY2 encoding."

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Source: Thurrott

Gamescom 2016: Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord Video

Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2016 - 01:40 AM |
Tagged: mount & blade ii, taleworlds

Mount & Blade is a quite popular franchise in some circles. It is based around a fairly simple, but difficult to master combat system, which mixes melee, blocking, and ranged attacks. They are balanced by reload time (and sometimes accuracy) to make all methods viable. A 100 vs 100 battle, including cavalry and other special units, is quite unique. It is also a popular mod platform, although Warband's engine can be a little temperamental.

As such, there's quite a bit of interest for the upcoming Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord. The Siege game mode involves an attacking wave beating down a fortress, trying to open as many attack paths as possible, and eventually overrunning the defenders. The above video is from the defending perspective. It seems like it, mechanically, changed significantly from Warband, particularly the Napoleonic Wars DLC that I'm used to. In that mod, attackers spawn infinitely until a time limit is reached. This version apparently focuses on single-life AI armies, which Warband had as Commander Battles.

Hmm. Still no release date, though.

Intel's new SoC, the Joule

Subject: General Tech | August 18, 2016 - 02:20 PM |
Tagged: Intel, joule, iot, IDF 2016, SoC, 570x, 550x, Intel RealSense

Intel has announced the follow up to Edison and Curie, their current SoC device, called Joule.  They have moved away from the Quark processors they previously used to a current generation Atom.  The device is designed to compete against NVIDIA's Jetson as it is far more powerful than a Raspberry Pi and will be destined for different usage.  It will support Intel RealSense, perhaps appearing in the newly announced Project Alloy VR headset.  Drop by Hack a Day for more details on the two soon to be released models, the Joule 570x and 550x.

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"The high-end board in the lineup features a quad-core Intel Atom running at 2.4 GHz, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of eMMC, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 3.1, CSI and DSI interfaces, and multiple GPIO, I2C, and UART interfaces."

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Source: Hack a Day

Skyrim isn't done with you yet; full conversion Enderal arrives

Subject: General Tech | August 17, 2016 - 02:02 PM |
Tagged: Enderal, SureAI, mod, skyrim

 Enderal: The Shards of Order is a complete conversion of the Steam version of Skyrim into a completely new game in a brand new world.  The mod is 8 GB in size and requires a separate launcher, both available at Enderal.com and you can expect between 30 to 100 hours playtime.  You may remember this team from Nehrim, their previous total conversion mod for Oblivion.  Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN have covered this mod previously, however until now it was only available in German.  The full English version, including voice acting, is now complete and ready for you to dive into.  You might want to consider unmodding your Skyrim to install the mod, it does create a copy of the Skyrim installation so you can restore your Thomas the Tank Engine mod once you are set up. 

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"A final version of Enderal: The Shards of Order has been completed and can be downloaded for free now. While ‘Enderal’ sounds like it could be something made by a United States pharmaceutical company, it is actually a massive total conversion mod for Skyrim, not just adding new weapons or turning it into a survival game, but creating a whole new RPG using the raw materials of its parent."

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Source: rock

That old chestnut again? Intel compares their current gen hardware against older NVIDIA kit

Subject: General Tech | August 17, 2016 - 12:41 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, Intel, HPC, Xeon Phi, maxwell, pascal, dirty pool

There is a spat going on between Intel and NVIDIA over the slide below, as you can read about over at Ars Technica.  It seems that Intel have reached into the industries bag of dirty tricks and polished off an old standby, testing new hardware and software against older products from their competitors.  In this case it was high performance computing products which were tested, Intel's new Xeon Phi against NVIDIA's Maxwell, tested on an older version of the Caffe AlexNet benchmark.

NVIDIA points out that not only would they have done better than Intel if an up to date version of the benchmarking software was used, but that the comparison should have been against their current architecture, Pascal.  This is not quite as bad as putting undocumented flags into compilers to reduce the performance of competitors chips or predatory discount programs but it shows that the computer industry continues to have only a passing acquaintance with fair play and honest competition.

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"At this juncture I should point out that juicing benchmarks is, rather sadly, par for the course. Whenever a chip maker provides its own performance figures, they are almost always tailored to the strength of a specific chip—or alternatively, structured in such a way as to exacerbate the weakness of a competitor's product."

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Source: Ars Technica

Interesting, Simple Vulkan Tutorial Now Online

Subject: General Tech | August 16, 2016 - 08:10 PM |
Tagged: vulkan

Vulkan-Tutorial.com, while not affiliated with The Khronos Group, is a good read to understand how the Vulkan API is structured. It is set up like the tutorials I followed when learning WebGL, which seems to make it quite approachable. I mean, we are still talking about the Vulkan API, which was in no way designed to be easy or simple, but introduction-level material is still good for developers of all skill level, unless they're looking for specific advice.

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To emphasize what I mean by “approachable”, the tutorial even includes screenshots of Visual Studio 2015 at some points, to help Windows users set up their build environment. Like... step-by-step screenshots. This explanation is also accompanied by Linux instructions, although those use Ubuntu terminal commands.

IDF 2016: Intel Project Alloy Promises Untethered VR and AR Experiences

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Displays, Shows and Expos | August 16, 2016 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: VR, virtual reality, project alloy, Intel, augmented reality, AR

At the opening keynote to this summer’s Intel Developer Forum, CEO Brian Krzanich announced a new initiative to enable a completely untether VR platform called Project Alloy. Using Intel processors and sensors the goal of Project Alloy is to move all of the necessary compute into the headset itself, including enough battery to power the device for a typical session, removing the need for a high powered PC and a truly cordless experience.

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This is indeed the obvious end-game for VR and AR, though Intel isn’t the first to demonstrate a working prototype. AMD showed the Sulon Q, an AMD FX-based system that was a wireless VR headset. It had real specs too, including a 2560x1440 OLED 90Hz display, 8GB of DDR3 memory, an AMD FX-8800P APU with R7 graphics embedded. Intel’s Project Alloy is currently using unknown hardware and won’t have a true prototype release until the second half of 2017.

There is one key advantage that Intel has implemented with Alloy: RealSense cameras. The idea is simple but the implications are powerful. Intel demonstrated using your hands and even other real-world items to interact with the virtual world. RealSense cameras use depth sensing to tracking hands and fingers very accurately and with a device integrated into the headset and pointed out and down, Project Alloy prototypes will be able to “see” and track your hands, integrating them into the game and VR world in real-time.

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The demo that Intel put on during the keynote definitely showed the promise, but the implementation was clunky and less than what I expected from the company. Real hands just showed up in the game, rather than representing the hands with rendered hands that track accurately, and it definitely put a schism in the experience. Obviously it’s up to the application developer to determine how your hands would actually be represented, but it would have been better to show case that capability in the live demo.  

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Better than just tracking your hands, Project Alloy was able to track a dollar bill (why not a Benjamin Intel??!?) and use it to interact with a spinning lathe in the VR world. It interacted very accurately and with minimal latency – the potential for this kind of AR integration is expansive.

Those same RealSense cameras and data is used to map the space around you, preventing you from running into things or people or cats in the room. This enables the first “multi-room” tracking capability, giving VR/AR users a new range of flexibility and usability.

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Though I did not get hands on with the Alloy prototype itself, the unit on-stage looked pretty heavy, pretty bulky. Comfort will obviously be important for any kind of head mounted display, and Intel has plenty of time to iterate on the design for the next year to get it right. Both AMD and NVIDIA have been talking up the importance of GPU compute to provide high quality VR experiences, so Intel has an uphill battle to prove that its solution, without the need for external power or additional processing, can truly provide the untethered experience we all desire.

RRAM that can do the twist

Subject: General Tech | August 16, 2016 - 01:38 PM |
Tagged: RRAM, flexible silicon

Flexible computers are quickly becoming more of a reality as researchers continue to find ways to make generally brittle components such as processors and memory out of new materials.  This latest research has discovered new materials to construct RRAM which allow working memory to remain viable even when subjected to flex.  Instead of using traditional CMOS they have found certain tungsten oxides which display all of the properties required for flexible memory.  The use of those oxides is not new, however they came with a significant drawback; in order to fabricate the material you needed a larger amount of heat than for CMOS.  Nanotechweb reports on new developments from a team led by James Tour of Rice University which have lead to a fabrication process which can take place at room temperature.  Check out their article for an overview and link to their paper

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"Researchers in the US and Korea say they have developed a new way to make a flexible, resistive random access memory (RAM) device in a room-temperature process – something that has proved difficult to do until now."

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Source: Nanotechweb

Logitech G Pro Gaming Mouse: Designed With And For Professional eSports Players

Subject: General Tech | August 16, 2016 - 03:00 AM |
Tagged: pro, mouse, logitech g, logitech, gaming

Readers of PC Perspective have noticed that in the last couple of years a very familiar name has been asserting itself again in the world of gaming peripherals. Logitech, once the leader and creator of the gaming-specific market with devices like the G15 keyboard, found itself in a rut and was being closed in on by competitors such as Razer, Corsair and SteelSeries. The Logitech G brand was born and a renewed focus on this growing and enthusiastic market took place. We have reviewed several of the company’s new products including the G933/633 gaming headsets, G402 mouse that included an accelerometer and the G29 racing wheel.

Today Logitech is announcing the Logitech G Pro Gaming Mouse. As the name would imply, this mouse is targeted at gamers that fancy themselves as professionals, or aspiring to be so. As a result, I imagine that many “normie” PC gamers will find the design, features and pricing to be attractive enough to put next to the keyboard on their desk. This is a wired-only mouse.

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The design of the Pro Gaming Mouse is very similar to that of the Logitech G100s, a long running and very popular mouse with the professional community. It falls a bit on the small side but Logitech claims that the “small and nimble profile allows gamers of many different game types to play as precisely as possible.” It’s incredibly light as well – measuring in at just 83g!

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This mouse has 6 programmable buttons, much less than some of the more extreme “gaming” mice on the market, all of which can be controlled through the Logitech Gaming Software platform. The on-board memory on the Pro allows gamers to configure the mouse on their own system and take those settings with them to competition or friends’ PCs without the need to re-install software.

RGB lights are of course included with the Pro mouse and I like the idea of the wrap around the sides and back of the mouse to add some flair to the design. 

Logitech is using the PMW3366 sensor in the Pro Gaming Mouse, the same used in the G502, G900 and others. Though mouse sensors might be overlooked for their importance in a gaming, the PMW3366 optical sensor is known to deliver accurate translations from 200-12,000 DPI with no acceleration or smoothing integrated that might hinder the input from the gamer.

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The buttons on the Logitech G Pro use a torsion spring system rated at 20 million clicks (!!) which works out to 25 kilometers of button travel for the life of the mouse. The spring system used is designed to minimize effort and distance required for button actuation.

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All aspects of the mouse were built with gamers in mind and with Logitech’s in-house professional gamers at the design table. Everything from the plastic feel, size, weight, etc. The scroll wheel is optimized for gamer’s use, not productivity, while the braided cable prevents snags. And the best part? The Logitech G Pro Gaming Mouse is set to have an MSRP of just $69.

The full press release is after the break and we are due to have a Logitech G Pro Gaming Mouse in our hands later today. We will follow up with thoughts and impressions soon!

Source: Logitech

Google tests switching to a low fibre diet; WiFi almost all the way

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2016 - 12:22 PM |
Tagged: google, wireless isp, LTE

The FCC bidding was not terribly exciting but the result was numerous companies buying up parts of the spectrum and more importantly to this post, the opening of 3550-3650 MHz band for anyone to use.  The 3.5GHz band is already allocated to shipborne navigation and military radar systems, this will be a test of ability of computer systems to moderate interference instead of the blanket ban they have always relied on in the past. 

Google is about to test that ability, they will be running a test in several US cities to check the propagation of the signal as well as any possible maritime or military interference from the broadcast.  This could be a way to get high speed internet to the curb without requiring fibre optic runs and would also be compatible with LTE, if Google wanted to dip their toes into that market.  You can read about the tests and where they will be happening over at Hack a Day.

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"In a recently released FCC filing, Google has announced their experimental protocol for testing the new CBRS. This isn’t fast Internet to a lamp pole on the corner of the street yet, but it lays the groundwork for how the CBRS will function, and how well it will perform."

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Source: Hack a Day

Xaggerated claims from Intel? Psah, we've heard that googolplex of times before

Subject: General Tech | August 12, 2016 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: 3D XPoint, Intel, FMS 2016

You might have caught our reference to this on the podcast, XPoint is amazingly fast but the marketing clams were an order or magnitude or two off of the real performance levels.  Al took some very nice pictures at FMS and covered what Micron had to say about their new QuantX drives.  The Register also dropped by and offers a tidbit on the pricing, roughly four to five times as much as current flash or about half the cost of an equivalent amount of RAM.  They also compare the stated endurance of 25 complete drive writes per day to existing flash which offers between 10 to 17 depending on the technology used. 

The question they ask at the end is one many data centre managers will also be asking, is the actual speed boost worth the cost of upgrading or will other less expensive alternatives be more economical?

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"XPoint will substantially undershoot the 1,000-times-faster and 1,000-times-longer-lived-than-flash claims made by Intel when it was first announced – with just a 10-times speed boost and 2.5-times longer endurance in reality."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Won't End Support for Skylake on Windows 7/8.1

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Previously, Microsoft said that they will end support for Skylake-based processors on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 before the OS's extended support date. Later processors, like Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Bristol Ridge, will not be supported on 7 and 8.1 at all. To use those processors, their associated devices will need to be running Windows 10 (or, you know, Linux or something).

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This has just changed for Skylake, but not for Kaby Lake and Bristol Ridge. Skylake will now be supported through the entire life-cycle of Windows 7 (January 14, 2020) and Windows 8.1 (January 10, 2023). This is particularly good because Skylake was already released and in the hands of users when they first announced pulling the plug. Now users will know before they purchase their hardware (albeit not before many have purchased a retail copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.x with transfer rights that intend to continually upgrade beyond Skylake or to AMD's Zen architecture) that Microsoft will not support it outside of Windows 10.

Source: Microsoft

Helicopter headphones from ARCTIC, for AirWolf enthusiasts and ... others

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 03:51 PM |
Tagged: audio, arctic, P533 Military, gaming headset

Arctic has a rather unique product up for sale, an analog gaming headset modelled after the style you would see a helicopter pilot on TV wearing.  The P533 Military Stereo Headset utilizes the standard 40mm neodymium drivers common to many headsets with a dynamic range of 20Hz-20KHz, 32Ohm impedance and 95dB sensitivity.  The microphone boom is longer than usual and features several joints to allow you to position it exactly where you want.  The P533 also has an integrated volume control knob on the outside of the right ear cup as opposed to inline on the cord, which ends in 3.5mm jacks.  There is no doubt that the hard, rounded cups are unique looking although perhaps not what most of us are looking for.  Check out Nikktech's review of the P533, even if it is just to see the design of these things.

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"It may not be the best attack helicopter headset clone in the market today but the P533 Military Stereo Headset by ARCTIC might just be the most affordable one."

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Source: Nikktech

Backdoors are bad Microsoft; hadn't this become very obvious already?

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 12:48 PM |
Tagged: Secure Boot, microsoft, backdoor, security

Yes, even though this occurs on a regular occasion, we are to be shocked that another secret backdoor into a security product has been discovered, exploited and published.  In this case it is Microsoft's Secure Boot which has been unlocked and even better news is that it probably cannot be completely repaired without rendering previous backups and installations incompatible.  On the positive side, devices which are locked down even for those with administrative privileges such as ARM-based Windows RT tablets can be unlocked and you can chose a different OS to install.  The negatives will have more of an effect on businesses and system builders who relied on it to prevent modified Windows installs from booting, preventing infections and questionably sourced Windows images from being used. 

The Register has links to more information on Secure Boot and Microsoft's response and you can read some information about the group which found and released the information about this over at The Inquirer.

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"Microsoft leaked the golden keys that unlock Windows-powered tablets, phones and other devices sealed by Secure Boot – and is now scrambling to undo the blunder."

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Source: The Register

Playing with VR, Call of the Starseed edition

Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2016 - 02:13 PM |
Tagged: gaming, starseed, VR, amd, nvidia, htc vive

When [H]ard|OCP looks at the performance of a VR game, be it a Vive or Rift title, they focus on the gameplay experience as opposed to benchmarks.  There are numerous reasons for this, from the fact that these games do not tend to stress GPUs like many triple A titles but also because the targets are different, steady render times below 11.1ms are the target as opposed to higher frame counts.  AMD initially had issues with this game, the newest driver release has resolved those issues completely.  The takeaway quote in [H]'s conclusions provide the most telling part of the review, "If we were to perform a blind gaming test, you would not be able to identify which GPU you were gaming with at the time."

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"We are back this week to take another objective look at AMD and NVIDIA GPU performance in one of the the top selling games in the VR-only realm, The Gallery Episode 1: Call of Starseed. This is another GPU-intensive title that has the ability to put some GPUs on their heels. How do the new RX 480 and GeForce 1000 series perform?"

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Retro nerd fight; something is amiss with the rebooted ZX Spectrum team

Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2016 - 12:44 PM |
Tagged: sinclair, ZX Spectrum Vega, Spectrum Vega+, crowdfunding

If you like your drama and tech mixed you should pop over to the The Inquirer to read about what is going on behind the scenes at Retro Computers Ltd, who successfully crowdfunded the return of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.  Two founders and former directors quietly left the company back in April and are now loudly lawyering up in a suite they launched due to lack of communication from the remaining directors of Retro Computers.  In return Retro have revealed that they too have lawyers, which are demanding information about unaccounted company funds which they believe were siphoned off or otherwise mismanaged. 

Shortly after The Inquirer published their article both sides come out with updates about the case and more accusations.  It could prove to be an interesting saga, especially with the upcoming release of the Vega+.

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"Look, we're going to keep reporting this because it's fascinating, but at the same time, how much more of this dirty laundry is going to get aired, and why is it happening? There's a missing piece of the puzzle here. "

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Source: The Inquirer

Mechanically sound, the Patriot Viper V760

Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2016 - 06:54 PM |
Tagged: input, patriot, viper v760, Kailh, RGB LED

Patriot have been focusing on peripherals as of late, while still more commonly known for volatile memory they have branched out into numerous other product lines.  The Viper V760 uses Kailh switches equivalent to Cherry MX Brown; of the RGB LED variety for this is another colourful keyboard.  Techgage tried out this keyboard in their latest review, appreciating many of the features of the board, perhaps most notibly the price of $100 or less.

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"While mechanical keyboards have slowly become ubiquitous, not everyone has had a chance to try one out. For this article, we not only test out the latest keyboard from long-time memory company Patriot, with its Viper V760, we take a look at it from a new perspective – the perspective of someone who’s never used a mech before."

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Source: Techgage