AMD Unveils Next-Generation GPU Branding, Details - Radeon RX Vega

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2017 - 05:46 PM |
Tagged: amd, Vega, radeon rx vega, radeon, gdc 2017, capsaicin, rtg, HBCC, FP16

Today at the AMD Capsaicin & Cream event at GDC 2017, Senior VP of the Radeon Technologies Group, Raja Koduri officially revealed the branding that AMD will use for their next generation GPU products.

While we usually see final product branding deviate from their architectural code names (e.g. Polaris becoming the Radeon RX 460, 470 and 480), AMD this time has decided to embrace the code name for the retail naming scheme for upcoming graphics cards featuring the new GPU – Radeon RX Vega.

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However, we didn't just get a name for Vega-based GPUs. Raja also went into some further detail and showed some examples of technologies found in Vega.

First off is the High-Bandwidth Cache Controller found in Vega products. We covered this technology during our Vega architecture preview last month at CES, but today we finally saw a demo of this technology in action.

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Essentially, the High-Bandwidth Cache Controller (HBCC) allows Vega GPUs to address all available memory in the system (including things like NVMe SSDs, system DRAM and network storage.) AMD claims that by using the already fast memory you have available on your PC to augment onboard GPU memory (such as HBM2) they will be able to offer less expensive graphics cards that ultimately offer access to much more memory than current graphics cards.

Vega-HBCC.jpg

The demo that they showed on stage featured Deus Ex: Mankind Divided running on a system with a Vega GPU running with 2GB of VRAM, and Ryzen CPU. By turning HBCC on, they were able to show a 50% increase in average FPS, and a 100% increase in minimum FPS.

While we probably won't actually see a Vega product with such a small VRAM implementation, it was impressive to see how HBCC was able to dramatically improve the playability of a 2GB GPU on a game that has no special optimizations to take advantage of the High-Bandwidth Cache.

The other impressive demo running on Vega at the Capsaicin & Cream event centered around what AMD is calling Rapid Pack Math.

Rapid Pack Math is an implementation of something we have been hearing and theorizing a lot about lately, the use of FP16 shaders for some graphic effects in games. By using half-precision FP16 shaders instead of the current standard FP32 shaders, developers are able to get more performance out of the same GPU cores. In specific, Rapid Pack Math allows developers to run half-precision FP16 shaders at exactly 2X the speed of traditional standard-precision FP32 shaders.

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While the lower precision of FP16 shaders won't be appropriate for all GPU effects, AMD was showing a comparison of their TressFX hair rendering technology running on both standard and half-precision shaders. As you might expect, AMD was able to render twice the amount of hair strands per second, making for a much more fluid experience.

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Just like we saw with the lead up to the Polaris GPU launch, AMD seems to be releasing a steady stream of information on Vega. Now that we have the official branding for Vega, we eagerly await getting our hands on these new High-end GPUs from AMD.

 

The Microsoft Store's unintentional cash back offer

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2017 - 03:48 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, oops, Lawsuit

If you purchased anything from the Microsoft store between November 2013 and February 24 of this year and live in the USA you could be eligible for up to $100 in cash damages.  It seems that the credit card information they provided on receipts contained more than half of your credit card numbers which is in violation of a law implemented in 2003 which states that no more than five numbers can be shown on receipts.  Now that the judgment against Microsoft is in, the proposed settlement for Microsoft to set aside $1,194,696US for customers who were affected by this issue.  The settlement needs to be approved by the judge so you cannot claim your money immediately, keep an eye out for more new.  The Register have posted links to the original lawsuit as well as the judgment right here.

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"On Friday, the Redmond giant agreed to give up roughly seven minutes of its quarterly revenue to a gaggle of Microsoft Store customers who claimed that their receipts displayed more of their payment card numbers than legally allowed."

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Source: The Register

Futuremark at GDC and MWC

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 27, 2017 - 03:39 PM |
Tagged: MWC, GDC, VRMark, Servermark, OptoFidelity, cyan room, benchmark

Futuremark are showing off new benchmarks at GDC and MWC, the two conferences which are both happening this week.  We will have quite a bit of coverage this week as we try to keep up with simultaneous news releases and presentations.

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First up is a new benchmark in their recently released DX12 VRMark suite, the new Cyan Room which sits between the existing two in the suite.  The Orange Room is to test if your system is capable of providing you with an acceptable VR experience or if your system falls somewhat short of the minimum requirements while the Blue Room is to show off what a system that exceeds the recommended specs can manage.  The Cyan room will be for those who know that their system can handle most VR, and need to test their systems settings.  If you don't have the test suite Humble Bundle has a great deal on this suite and several other tools, if you act quickly.

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Next up is a new suite to test Google Daydream, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR performance and ability.  There is more than just performance to test when you are using your phone to view VR content, such as avoiding setting your eyeholes on fire.  The tests will help you determine just how long your device can run VR content before overheating becomes an issue and interferes with performance, as well as helping you determine your battery life.

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VR Latency testing is the next in the list of announcements and is very important when it comes to VR as high or unstable latency is the reason some users need to add a bucket to their list of VR essentials.  Futuremark have partnered with OptoFidelity to produce VR Multimeter HMD hardware based testing. This allows you, and hopefully soon PCPer as well, to test motion-to-photon latency, display persistence, and frame jitter as well as audio to video synchronization and motion-to-audio-latency all of which could lead to a bad time.

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Last up is the brand new Servermark to test the performance you can expect out of virtual servers, media servers and other common tasks.  The VDI test lets you determine if a virtual machine has been provisioned at a level commensurate to the assigned task, so you can adjust it as required.  The Media Transcode portion lets you determine the maximum number of concurrent streams as well as the maximum quality of those streams which your server can handle, very nice for those hosting media for an audience. 

Expect to hear more as we see the new benchmarks in action.

Source: Futuremark

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it - Macchina opens up your car's hardware

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2017 - 12:56 PM |
Tagged: M2, Arduino Due, macchina, Kickstarter, open source, DIY

There is a Kickstarter out there for all you car enthusiasts and owners, the Arduino Duo based Macchina M2 which allows you to diagnose and change how your car functions.  They originally developed the device during a personal project to modify a Ford Contour into an electric car, which required serious reprogramming of sensors and other hardware in the car.  They realized that their prototype could be enhanced to allow users to connect into the hardware of their own cars to monitor performance, diagnose issues or even modify the performance.  Slashdot has the links and their trademarked reasonable discourse for those interested, if you have the hardware already you can get the M2 interface $45, $79 or more for the hardware and accessories.

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"Challenging "the closed, unpublished nature of modern-day car computers," their M2 device ships with protocols and libraries "to work with any car that isn't older than Google." With catchy slogans like "root your ride" and "the future is open," they're hoping to build a car-hacking developer community, and they're already touting the involvement of Craig Smith, the author of the Car Hacker's Handbook from No Starch Press."

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Source: Slashdot

Qualcomm Announces First 3GPP 5G NR Connection, X50 5G NR Modem

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 27, 2017 - 11:12 AM |
Tagged: x50, Sub-6 Ghz, qualcomm, OFDM, NR, New Radio, MWC, multi-mode, modem, mmWave, LTE, 5G, 3GPP

Qualcomm has announced their first successful 5G New Radio (NR) connection using their prototype sub-6 GHz prototype system. This announcement was followed by today's news of Qualcomm's collaboration with Ericsson and Vodafone to trial 5G NR in the second half of 2017, as we approach the realization of 5G. New Radio is expected to become the standard for 5G going forward as 3GPP moves to finalize standards with release 15.

"5G NR will make the best use of a wide range of spectrum bands, and utilizing spectrum bands below 6 GHz is critical for achieving ubiquitous coverage and capacity to address the large number of envisioned 5G use cases. Qualcomm Technologies’ sub-6 GHz 5G NR prototype, which was announced and first showcased in June 2016, consists of both base stations and user equipment (UE) and serves as a testbed for verifying 5G NR capabilities in bands below 6 GHz."

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The Qualcomm Sub-6 GHz 5G NR prototype (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm first showed their sub-6 Ghz prototype this past summer, and it will be on display this week at MWC. The company states that the system is designed to demonstrate how 5G NR "can be utilized to efficiently achieve multi-gigabit-per-second data rates at significantly lower latency than today’s 4G LTE networks". New Radio, or NR, is a complex topic as it related to a new OFDM-based wireless standard. OFDM refers to "a digital multi-carrier modulation method" in which "a large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel data streams or channels". With 3GPP adopting this standard going forward the "NR" name could stick, just as "LTE" (Long Term Evolution) caught on to describe the 4G wireless standard.

Along with this 5G NR news comes the annoucement of the expansion of its X50 modem family, first announced in October, "to include 5G New Radio (NR) multi-mode chipset solutions compliant with the 3GPP-based 5G NR global system", according to Qualcomm. This 'multi-mode' solution provides full 4G/5G compatibility with "2G/3G/4G/5G functionality in a single chip", with the first commercial devices expected in 2019.

X50_Modem_Logo.jpg

"The new members of the Snapdragon X50 5G modem family are designed to support multi-mode 2G/3G/4G/5G functionality in a single chip, providing simultaneous connectivity across both 4G and 5G networks for robust mobility performance. The single chip solution also supports integrated Gigabit LTE capability, which has been pioneered by Qualcomm Technologies, and is an essential pillar for the 5G mobile experience as the high-speed coverage layer that co-exists and interworks with nascent 5G networks. This set of advanced multimode capabilities is designed to provide seamless Gigabit connectivity – a key requirement for next generation, premium smartphones and mobile computing devices."

Full press releases after the break.

Source: Qualcomm

ZeniMax Seeks an Injunction Against Oculus VR

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: zenimax, Oculus

As far as I know, it’s fairly common to seek injunctions during legal fights over intellectual rights cases, so I’m not sure how surprising this should be. Still, after the $500 million USD judgment against Oculus, ZeniMax has indeed filed for a court order to, according to UploadVR, block the usage of Oculus PC software, Oculus Mobile software, and the plug-ins for Unity and Unreal Engine. They also demand, as usual, that Oculus deletes all copies of the infringing code and a few other stipulations.

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I should stress that this is just a filing. It would need to be accepted for it to have any weight.

The timing is quite disruptive to Oculus, too, even if by total co-incidence. Epic Games is about to release their flagship, Oculus-exclusive title, Robo Recall, which was intended to be released for free to those who have Oculus Touch controllers. If it succeeds, and that’s way more if than when at this point, then that could sting for whoever gets stuck with the game’s invoice, which (I assume) would be Oculus.

Personally, I’m not quite sure how far this will go. Based on my memory of the jury decision, ZeniMax is entitled to $500 million USD for prior damages, and nothing for ongoing damages. You would think that, if a jury ruled that the infringement has no lasting effect, that an injunction wouldn’t recover any of that non-existent value. On the other hand, I’m not a judge (or anyone else of legal relevance) so what I reason doesn’t really matter outside the confines of this website.

We’ll need to wait and see if this goes anywhere.

Source: UploadVR

Valve Software Releases Steam Audio SDK on GitHub

Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2017 - 12:13 AM |
Tagged: valve, pc gaming

When VR started to take off, developers begun to realize that audio is worth some attention. Historically, it’s been difficult to market, but that’s par for the course when it comes to VR technology, so I guess that’s no excuse to pass it up anymore. Now Valve, the owners of the leading VR platform on the PC have just released an API for audio processing: Steam Audio SDK.

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Image Credit: Valve Software

First, I should mention that the SDK is not quite open. The GitHub page (and the source code ZIP in its releases tab) just contain the license (which is an EULA) and the readme. That said, Valve is under no obligation to provide these sorts of technology to the open (even though it would be nice) and they are maintaining builds for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. It is currently available as a C API and a plug-in for Unity. Unreal Engine 4, FMOD, and WWISE plug-ins are “coming soon”.

As for the technology itself, it has quite a few interesting features. As you might expect, it supports HRTF out of the box, which modifies a sound call to appear like it’s coming from a defined direction. The algorithm is based on experimental data, rather than some actual, physical process.

More interesting is their sound propagation and occlusion calculations. They are claiming that this can be raycast, and static scenes can bake some of the work ahead-of-time, which will reduce runtime overhead. Unlike VRWorks Audio or TrueAudio Next, it looks like they’re doing it on the CPU, though. I’m guessing this means that it will mostly raycast to fade between versions of the audio, rather than summing up contributions from thousands of individual rays at runtime (or an equivalent algorithm, like voxel leakage).

Still, this is available now as a C API and a Unity Plug-in, because Valve really likes Unity lately.

Source: Valve

AZiO's Armato mechnical keyboard has a big knob

Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2017 - 03:58 PM |
Tagged: cherry mx brown, input, mechanical keyboard, armato, AZiO

The Azio Armato is a big aluminium keyboard, with five macro keys located on the lower left, on the upper right are media control buttons beside the large volume knob.  The keyboard does come with a wrist rest, which attaches via a magnet so you can choose to remove it at will.  The keyboard does not require software, lighting is controlled via keystrokes and macros are recorded by pushing that large REC button and one of the macro keys, then up to up to 31 keys in sequence and the REC button again to save the macro.  You can see more of the Armato over at Benchmark Reviews.

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"In any case Benchmark Reviews has in hand their Armato Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, model MGK-ARMATO-01. As a single-color backlit mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches, it might seem as if there’s little to distinguish it from the many other similar products available. But first appearances can be deceiving, as we’ll find out in this review."

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Farm out your hard drive for profit?

Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2017 - 03:04 PM |
Tagged: storj, farming, bitcoin

Startup company Storj has a new twist on an old service, they are offering secure, distributed storage but the storage is located on hard drives which consumers are renting to them.  You can set up an account and get 1.5 cents per gigabyte you give to them.  You certainly are not going to get rich running out and buying some SSDs to use but if you have a few old HDDs kicking around perhaps you would like to make a few crypto-coins on the side.  They current have 8200 farmers and more than 15000 users so there is certainly some interest.  On the other hand residential internet stability and the reliability of consumer hard drives could lead to unexpected interruptions to your access.  Drop by The Register for links to sign up for the service or sell some space if you are interested.

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"The network consists of the internet and a shared community of “farmers”, users who rent out their spare desktop hard drive space and bandwidth. Payment, at $0.015/GB, is via a cryptocurrency: namely, Bitcoin."

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Source: The Register

30 nanoseconds is way too slow, down with the latency gap!

Subject: General Tech | February 23, 2017 - 10:45 AM |
Tagged: hbll, cache, l3 cache, Last Level Cache

There is an insidious latency gap lurking in your computer between your DRAM and your CPUs L3 cache.  The size of the latency depends on your processor as not all L3 cache are created equally but regardless there are wasted CPU cycles which could be reclaimed.   Piecemakers Technology, the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan and Intel are on the case, with a project to design something to fit in that niche between the CPU and DRAM.  Their prototype Last Level Cache is a chip with 17ns latency which would improve the efficiency at which L3 cache could be filled to pass onto the next level in the CPU.  The Register likens it to the way Intel has fit XPoint between the speed of SSDs and DRAM.  It will be interesting to see how this finds its way onto the market.

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"Jim Handy of Objective Analysis writes about this: "Furthermore, there's a much larger latency gap between the processor's internal Level 3 cache and the system DRAM than there is between any adjacent cache levels.""

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Source: The Register