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A much needed architecture shift
It has been almost exactly five years since the release of the first Atom branded processors from Intel, starting with the Atom 230 and 330 based on the Diamondville design. Built for netbooks and nettops at the time, the Atom chips were a reaction to a unique market that the company had not planned for. While the early Atoms were great sellers, they were universally criticized by the media for slow performance and sub-par user experiences.
Atom has seen numerous refreshes since 2008, but they were all modifications of the simplistic, in-order architecture that was launched initially. With today's official release of the Silvermont architecture, the Atom processors see their first complete redesign from the ground up. With the focus on tablets and phones rather than netbooks, can Intel finally find a foothold in the growing markets dominated by ARM partners?
I should note that even though we are seeing the architectural reveal today, Intel doesn't plan on having shipping parts until late in 2013 for embedded, server and tablets and not until 2014 for smartphones. Why the early reveal on the design then? I think that pressure from ARM's designs (Krait, Exynos) as well as the upcoming release of AMD's own Kabini is forcing Intel's hand a bit. Certainly they don't want to be perceived as having fallen behind and getting news about the potential benefits of their own x86 option out in the public will help.
Silvermont will be the first Atom processor built on the 22nm process, leaving the 32nm designs of Saltwell behind it. This also marks the beginning of a new change in the Atom design process, to adopt the tick/tock model we have seen on Intel's consumer desktop and notebook parts. At the next node drop of 14nm, we'll see see an annual cadence that first focuses on the node change, then an architecture change at the same node.
By keeping Atom on the same process technology as Core (Ivy Bridge, Haswell, etc), Intel can put more of a focus on the power capabilities of their manufacturing.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Oyen Digital
Oyen Digital, a popular manufacturer of portable storage enclosures and devices, provided us with its MiniPro™ eSATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure for testing USB 3.0 enhanced mode on the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard. This enclosure offers support for USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA ports in conjunction with a 2.5" hard drive. We put this enclosure on the test bench with the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe board to test the performance limits of the device. The MiniPro™ enclosure can be found at your favorite e-tailer for $39.95.
The MiniPro™ SATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure is a simple aluminum enclosure supporting any 2.5" form factor hard drive up to SATA III speeds. The enclosure itself supports USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA connections. Because of its use of the ASMedia 1053e chipset for USB 3.0 support, the enclosure supports both USB 3.0 normal mode transfer speeds and UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) mode transfer speeds. UASP mode is a method of bulk transfer for USB 3.0 connections that increases transfer speeds through the use of parallel simultaneous packet transfers. Per our sources at ASUS, UASP can be explained as follows:
The adoption of the SCSI Protocol in USB 3.0 provides its users with the advantage of having better data throughput than traditional BOT (Bulk-Only Transfer) protocol, all thanks to its streaming architecture as well as the improved queuing (NCQ support) and task management, which eliminated much of the round trip time between USB commands, so more commands can be sent simultaneously. Moreover, thanks to the multi-tasking aware architecture, the performance is further enhanced when multiple transfers occur.
The downside of UASP is that the receiving device (Flash drive/external hard drive etc) must also be UASP enabled for the protocol to work. This requires checking your peripherals before purchase. However since UASP is an industry standard, the device support for ASUS UASP implementation is not restricted to a particular controller manufacturer or device type, so the overall number of peripherals available should undoubtedly grow.
Technical Specifications (taken from the Oyen Digital website)
eSATA 6G (Up to 6.0 Gbps)
USB 3.0: (Up to 5.0 Gbps)
|SATA III (up to 15mm SATA 2.5" HDD/SSD)|
|Windows XP/Vista/7/8 & above; MAC OS 10.2 & above; Linux 2.4.22 & above|
NVIDIA releases the GeForce GT 700M family
NVIDIA revolutionized gaming on the desktop with the release of its 600-series Kepler-based graphics cards in March 2012. With the release of the GeForce GT 700M series, Kepler enters the mobile arena to power laptops, ultrabooks, and all-in-one systems.
Today, NVIDIA introduces four new members to its mobile line: the GeForce GT 750M, the GeForce GT 740M, the GeForce GT 735M, and the GeForce GT 720M. These four new mobile graphics processors join the previously-released members of the GeForce GT 700m series: the GeForce GT 730M and the GeForce GT 710M. With the exception of the Fermi-based GeForce GT 720M, all of the newly-released mobile cores are based on NVIDIA's 28nm Kepler architecture.
Notebooks based on the GeForce GT 700M series will offer in-built support for the following new technologies:
Automatic Battery Savings through NVIDIA Optimus Technology
Automatic Game Configuration through the GeForce Experience
Automatic Performance Optimization through NVIDIA GPU Boost 2.0
ARM is a company that no longer needs much of an introduction. This was not always the case. ARM has certainly made a name for themselves among PC, tablet, and handheld consumers. Their primary source of income is licensing CPU designs as well as their ISA. While names like the Cortex A9 and Cortex A15 are fairly well known, not as many people know about the graphics IP that ARM also licenses. Mali is the product name of the graphics IP, and it encompasses an entire range of features and performance that can be licensed by other 3rd parties.
I was able to get a block of time with Nizar Romdhane, Head of the Mali Ecosystem at ARM. I was able to ask a few questions about Mali, ARM’s plans to address the increasingly important mobile graphics market, and how they will compete with competition from Imagination Technologies, Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.
We would like to thank Nizar for his time, as well as Phil Hughes in facilitating this interview. Stay tuned as we are expecting to continue this series of interviews with other ARM employees in the near future.
AMD Exposes Richland
When we first heard about “Richland” last year, there was a little bit of excitement from people. Not many were sure what to expect other than a faster “Trinity” based CPU with a couple extra goodies. Today we finally get to see what Richland is. While interesting, it is not necessarily exciting. While an improvement, it will not take AMD over the top in the mobile market. What it actually brings to the table is better competition and a software suite that could help to convince buyers to choose AMD instead of a competing Intel part.
From a design standpoint, it is nearly identical to the previous Trinity. That being said, a modern processor is not exactly simple. A lot of software optimizations can be applied to these products to increase performance and efficiency. It seems that AMD has done exactly that. We had heard rumors that the graphics portion was in fact changed, but it looks like it has stayed the same. Process improvements have been made, but that is about the extent of actual hardware changes to the design.
The new Richland APUs are branded the A-5000 series of products. The top end is the A10-5750M with HD-8650 integrated graphics. This is still the VLIW-4 based graphics unit seen in the previous Trinity products, but enough changes have been made with software that I can enable Dual Graphics with the new Solar System based GPUs (GCN). The speeds of these products have received a nice boost. As compared to the previous top end A10-4600, the 5750 takes the base speed from 2.3 GHz to 2.5 GHz. Boost goes from 3.2 GHz up to 3.5 GHz. The graphics portion takes the base clock from 496 MHz up to 533 MHz, while turbo mode improves over the 4600 from 685 MHz to 720 MHz. These are not staggering figures, but it all still fits within the 35 watt TDP of the previous product.
One other important improvement is the ability to utilize DDR-3 1866 memory. Throughout the past year we have seen memory densities increase fairly dramatically without impacting power consumption. This goes for speed as well. While we would expect to see lower power DIMMs be used in the thin and light categories, expect to see faster DDR-3 1866 in the larger notebooks that will soon be heading our way.
The Ice Storm Test
Love it or hate it, 3DMark has a unique place in the world of PC gaming and enthusiasts. Since 3DMark99 was released...in 1998...with a target on DirectX 6, Futuremark has been developing benchmarks on a regular basis in time with major API changes and also major harware changes. The most recent release of 3DMark11 has been out since late in 2010 and has been a regular part of our many graphics card reviews on PC Perspective.
Today Futuremark is not only releasing a new version of the benchmark but is also taking fundamentally different approach to performance testing and platforms. The new 3DMark, just called "3DMark", will not only target high-end gaming PCs but integrated graphics platforms and even tablets and smartphones.
We interviewed the President of Futuremark, Oliver Baltuch, over the weekend and asked some questions about this new direction for 3DMark, how mobile devices were going to affect benchmarks going forward and asked about the new results patterns, stuttering and more. Check out the video below!
Make no bones about it, this is a synthetic benchmark and if you have had issues with that in the past because it is not a "real world" gaming test, you will continue to have those complaints. Personally I see the information that 3DMark provides to be very informative though it definitely shouldn't be depended on as the ONLY graphics performance metric.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Lenovo
As one of the newest members of Lenovo's Thinkpad line, the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist attempts to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets in a convertible Ultrabook format. We decided to put the Twist through the normal suite of benchmark and functional tests, along with some tests specifically geared towards laptops, to gage how well it performs. At a starting MSRP of $829.00 for the base model, the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist offers an intriguing price to feature proposition with its ability to convert from a fully functional laptop into a tablet almost seamlessly.
Courtesy of Lenovo
The Thinkpad Twist offers an innovative take for the user that wants the best of both worlds - the portability and usability of a laptop with the ease of use of a tablet. Featuring the Windows 8 OS, the Twist comes with a 5-point touchscreen usable in all modes of operation. Lenovo designed in support for the following features: USB 2.0 and 3.0 type devices; three networking types including a Realtek-based GigE NIC, a Broadcom-based 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, and a Broadcom-based Bluetooth adapter; 4-in-1 media card reader port; mini-HDMI and mini-Display Port video output ports; a dual-purpose audio port; and a 720p HD-capable integrated webcam.
Courtesy of Lenovo
In designing the Twist, Lenovo decided to use a center hinge on which the screen pivots to support its four modes of operation: laptop mode, presentation mode where the screen can be rotated to face the audience, tent mode which allows the system to stand upright for movie or other media viewing, and tablet mode where the screen folds down to cover the keyboard entirely.
Windows RT: Runtime? Or Get Up and Run Time?
Update #1, 10/26/2012: Apparently it does not take long to see the first tremors of certification woes. A Windows developer by the name of Jeffrey Harmon allegedly wrestled with Microsoft certification support 6 times over 2 months because his app did not meet minimum standards. He was not given clear and specific reasons why -- apparently little more than copy/paste of the regulations he failed to achieve. Kind-of what to expect from a closed platform... right? Imagine if some nonsensical terms become mandated or other problems crop up?
Also, Microsoft has just said they will allow PEGI 18 games which would have received an ESRB M rating. Of course their regulations can and will change further over time... the point is the difference between a store refusing to carry versus banishing from the whole platform even for limited sharing. The necessity of uproars, especially so early on and so frequently, should be red flags for censorship to come. Could be for artistically-intentioned nudity or sexual themes. Could even be not about sex, language, and violence at all.
Last month, I suggested that the transition to Windows RT bares the same hurdles as transitioning to Linux. Many obstacles blocking our path, like Adobe and PC gaming, are considering Linux; the rest have good reason to follow.
This month we receive Windows RT and Microsoft’s attempt to shackle us to it: Windows 8.
To be clear: Microsoft has large incentives to banish the legacy of Windows. The way Windows 8 is structured reduces it to a benign tumorous growth atop Windows RT. The applications we love and the openness we adore are contained to an app.
I will explain how you should hate this -- after I explain why and support it with evidence.
Microsoft is currently in the rare state of sharp and aggressive focus to a vision. Do not misrepresent this as greed: it is not. Microsoft must face countless jokes about security and stability. Microsoft designed Windows with strong slants towards convenience over security.
That ideology faded early into the life of Windows XP. How Windows operates is fundamentally different. Windows machines are quite secure, architecturally. Con-artists are getting desperate. Recent attacks are almost exclusively based on fear and deception of the user. Common examples are fake anti-virus software or fraudulent call center phone calls. We all win when attackers get innovative: survival of the fittest implies death of the weakest.
Wireless storage for PC, Mac, iOS and Android
Today we are taking a look at the new Patriot Gauntlet 320 external USB 3.0 and wireless hard drive, available starting at $149 at Newegg.com.
The premise is quite simple: take a portable hard drive with USB 3.0 support and add in the ability to share the unit wirelessly with up to 8 different machines and power it by a lithium-ion battery. Not only does the Gauntlet show up in your network as a mountable drive in Windows and Mac OS, the Gauntlet supports using free applications for iOS devices and Android devices to share and stream media.
There are some limitations that you might want to consider including the inability to access network-based devices when using the pass through Internet capability the Gauntlet provides. Also, data transfer performance on the wireless connectivity that the Gauntlet provides seemed pretty low, even with the 802.11n support.
Potential uses cases for the Gauntlet include any time you need a shared data source like working on group projects for school or the office, on-the-go storage for devices like Ultrabooks with smaller hard drives and users that have large media collections they want to use with smart phones and tablets.
Check out our full video review below!
Note that in the video, our early sample of the Gauntlet 320 has the "node" label on it; the Gauntlet Node is a separate device that is only a DIY enclosure WITHOUT an included hard drive. Originally there was a sticker cover the "node" label but incorrectly removed it before filming. Just a heads up!
Or: the countdown to a fresh Start.
Over time – and not necessarily much of it – usage of a platform can become a marriage. I trusted Windows, nee MS-DOS, guardianship over all of my precious applications which depend upon it. Chances are you too have trusted Microsoft or a similar proprietary platform holder to provide a household for your content.
It is time for a custody hearing.
These are the reasons why I still use Windows – and who could profit as home wreckers.
1st Reason – Games
The most obvious leading topic.
Computer games have been dominated by Windows for quite some time now. When you find a PC game at retail or online you will find either a Windows trademark or the occasional half-eaten fruit somewhere on the page or packaging.
One of the leading reasons for the success of the PC platform is the culture of backwards compatibility. Though the platform has been rumored dead ad-infinitum it still exists – surrounded by a wasteland of old deprecated consoles. I still play games from past decades on their original platform.
Ahead of the release of Windows 8 and the onslaught of Windows 8-based tablets that will hit the market next month, Intel is taking the cover off the processor that many of these new devices will be powered by, the Intel Atom Z2760 previously known by the codename of Clover Trail. Intel is claiming that the Atom Z2760 is the beginning of a completely new Atom direction, now a complete SoC (system-on-a-chip) design that lowers power requirements, extends battery life and allows Intel's x86 architecture to find its way into smaller and more portable devices.
At it's heart, Clover Trail is based on the same Saltwell CPU core design that was found in the Medfield processor powering a handful of smartphones over in Europe. That means the Atom lineup remains an in-order architecture with a dual-issue command structure - nothing incredibly revolutionary there.
Unlike Medfield though, the Atom Z2760 is a dual-core design that still enables HyperThreading for four-threaded operating system integration. The cores will run at 1.8 GHz and it includes 1MB of L2 cache divided between the two cores evenly. Memory is connected through a dual-channel 32-bit bus to low power DDR2 memory running at 800 MHz and capacities up to 2GB.
Before Intel released the ultrabook standard there were already laptops that we’re close to what Intel would envision, and while some had already gained attention on their own, most were not given any special attention. One of these laptops was the IdeaPad U series, a part of Lenovo’s consumer line-up which had long focused on thin and light design.
I reviewed one of those laptops, the Lenovo U260, in 2010. That 12.5 laptop weighed in at just 3.04 pounds and is - to this very day - among the thinnest and lightest laptops we’ve reviewed at PC Perspective.
Alas, the U260 was not long for this world, but its largest siblings live on. Now we’re taking a look at the U410, Lenovo’s 14-inch ultrabook and the largest product in the U-Series. Let’s see what kind of hardware it brings to this suddenly crowded category.
Well, there are no surprises here, but you shouldn’t have expected any. Intel’s moves to make cool, thin laptops more widespread has ironically robbed them of their excitement. They’re all roughly the same in size and weight and they can all be equipped with identical Intel processors.
This makes it hard for any particular ultrabook - even those with a bloodline that starts prior to Intel’s ultrabook push - to stand out. Let’s see if the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 can conjure some magic.
Lenovo is one of several companies–including Acer and HP–that have embraced the ultrabook concept with both arms. Lenovo has not simply released a few high-end models similar to what as ASUS has done. Rather, it has released a fleet of products which include the U300/U310, the U410 and the U300S. And now there is a new high end product in the lineup called the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
There several traits that mark the ThinkPad X1 Carbon as unique. This is the first ThinkPad to bear the ultrabook title, for example. Further, the 430u (which was initially announced all the way back in January at CES 2012) is not yet available. The X1 Carbon is also one of only a few laptops to use carbon fiber in its frame. And this laptop is the only ultrabook on the market with a trackpointer. As I’ve mentioned before, unique design traits are kind of a big deal, and a peek inside the X1 reminds us why.
There’s nothing in that spec sheet that stands out. Yes, the Core i7 low-voltage processor will prove faster than the Core i5s in most competitors, but you can usually option to an i7 if that’s what you desire. The solid state drive is completely standard for an ultrabook above $1000, and four gigabytes of RAM can be hand in virtually any laptop on store shelves today–even those selling for $500.
This means Lenovo needs to bring something special if it wants to justify a premium price. You can buy this laptop right now for about $1250, but grabbing the upgrades found in our review unit raises the price to about $1500. That’s in line with the HP Envy 14 Spectre, an editor’s choice winner, and the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A, which would have won an editor’s choice if ASUS had a handle on its quality control. Let’s see if the Carbon can deal with these top-tier competitors.
I say let the world go to hell
… but I should always have my tea. (Notes From Underground, 1864)
You can praise video games as art to justify its impact on your life – but do you really consider it art?
Best before the servers are taken down, because you're probably not playing it after.
Art allows the author to express their humanity and permits the user to consider that perspective. We become cultured when we experiment with and to some extent understand difficult human nature problems. Ideas are transmitted about topics which we cannot otherwise understand. We are affected positively as humans in society when these issues are raised in a safe medium.
Video games, unlike most other mediums, encourage the user to coat the creation with their own expressions. The player can influence the content through their dialogue and decision-tree choices. The player can accomplish challenges in their own unique way and talk about it over the water cooler. The player can also embed their own content as a direct form of expression. The medium will also mature as we further learn how to leverage interactivity to open a dialogue for these artistic topics in completely new ways and not necessarily in a single direction.
Consciously or otherwise – users will express themselves.
With all of the potential for art that the medium allows it is a shame that – time and time again – the industry and its users neuter its artistic capabilities in the name of greed, simplicity, or merely fear.
Introduction, Virtual V-Sync Testing
In my recent review of the Origin EON11-S portable gaming laptop I noted that the performance of the laptop was far behind that of a larger 15.6” or 17.3” model. The laptop won a gold award despite this, as all laptops of this size are bound to physics, but it was an issue worth nothing.
Origin surprised me by responding that they had something in the works that might buff up performance. This confused me. Were they going to cast a spell on it? Would they beam in a beefier GPU? What could they possibly do that would increase performance without changing the hardware?
Now I have the answer. It’s called Lucid VirtuMVP and it uses your existing integrated GPU to improve performance. As with Lucid’s other products, VirtuMVP makes it possible for two different GPUs – in this case, your integrated GPU and your discrete GPU – to work together. It’s not magic – just ingenuity. Let’s take a closer look.
I often think of ASUS as the PC’s answer to Apple. Their products are not up to Apple’s rigorous engineering, nor is the customer service as accessible, but ASUS does offer a number of products that were obviously designed to meet a set of high standards. I’ve always enjoyed the company’s G-Series gaming laptops, ultraportables like the U33 Bamboo and high-end multimedia laptops like the N53 and N56.
The original Zenbook didn’t impress me, however. PC Perspective never reviewed it, but I did have some hands-on time with one courtesy of Intel’s CES 2012 ultrabook giveaway. The build quality wasn’t great, the touchpad was quite poor and the overall look and feel proved a bit tacky (the cursive lettering below the display panel being the most obvious example).
ASUS has now followed up the original Zenbook with the new Zenbook Prime. There are a couple of different variants. We received the 13-inch UX31A which come equipped with the 1080p IPS display panel. As for the rest? Well, see below.
This is one well equipped ultrabook, which explains why it comes with a nearly $1500 price tag. You don’t have to spend that much, however. The basic Zenbook Prime, which still has the IPS display but downgrades to a Core i5, is $999 on Amazon.
Does the flagship of ASUS design deliver the goods? Let’s find out.
Lenovo has become an important player in the mainstream laptop market. Five years ago the offerings from Lenovo were not great, but today the IdeaPad line has matured. This has been reflected in Lenovo’s growth. The company has posted gains in global market share over the last few years.
In this review we’re looking at the Z580, a laptop that’s smack dab in the middle of the company’s IdeaPad brand. It’s a 15.6” laptop that starts at $469 but can be optioned to around $900. Our review unit is a well configured version which includes an Intel Core i5-3210M processor. Lenovo’s website prices it out at a cool $599.
What else will six Benjamin Franklins buy you? Let’s take a look.
The $600 price point is important. Studies of the laptop market have consistently shown that the average price of a new laptop hovers around $600 (much to the dismay of manufacturers, who’d rather people spent more).
This market is extremely completive as a result. If you want a portable laptop with an IPS display you don’t have many options, but consumers who want a powerful and competent laptop for $600 have a buffet to choose from. Can the Z580 make room for itself in this crowd?
Introduction and Design
Introduction and Design
Introduction, Design and Connectivity