Hard Drive Prices Spike on Thailand Flooding

Subject: General Tech, Storage | October 27, 2011 - 08:00 PM |
Tagged: wdc, shortage, Seagate, Samsung, hitachi, hdd, Hard Drive

Chances are good you have heard about the recent flooding in Thailand - as Yahoo puts it: "The country's worst flooding in half a century, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rain, has killed 373 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million."  Obviously this is a horrific disaster and we feel for the people affected by it.

But there is a tech angle to the story that has been showing up in many of our discussions as late and is the impact this disaster has had on the production of spindle-based hard drives.  Looking for a 2TB hard drive today on Newegg.com this is what I found:

price01.png

Prices for hard drives have sky rocketed in the last week or so due to the pending shortage of them across the world.  Many of the top manufacturers have facilities based in Thailand for production as well as partners that are responsible for supplying companies like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung and Hitachi with the parts they need to produce platter-based drives. 

While we used to talk about finding 2TB hard drives in the $89 price range, the best prices we could find on comparable units today start at $129; and this is for the slower units.  Western Digital Caviar Black drives are starting at unit prices of $229 now!

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Pricing graph from Pricegrabber.com for Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB

If you are careful and shop around, you can still find drives like this for the $149 price point at sellers like Amazon are bit slower to update their prices.  (Scratch that, after publication this was already at $199!)  But don't just blindly purchase drives at this point - do your research!

WD drives aren't the only ones affected.  When doing a search for a Seagate 2TB drive, these were our results:

price03.png

When asked for comment, a representative of one of the affected manufacturers expressed concern for the people of Thailand first, but when pressed, said:

"The entire hard drive business is affected. Two of our factories are inundated with water, which supports 60% of our output. But a ton of suppliers that the entire industry uses are also flooded so we are all impacted."

While looking over at WD's press center we found this comment from John Coyne, President and CEO:

In mid-October, to protect our employees and our equipment and facilities, we temporarily suspended production at our two factories in Thailand, which have been inundated by floodwater. In addition, many of our component suppliers have been impacted, leaving material for hard drive production considerably constrained. We are working with suppliers to assess the extent of their impact and help devise short- and long-term solutions. This is a complex and dynamic challenge that will require extensive rebuilding for the Thai people and government, and present unprecedented obstacles to the hard drive industry for multiple quarters.

Obviously with a majority of the facilities affected we can only expect these prices hikes to increase and to linger.  That fact that Coyne specifically notes "multiple quarters" indicates that users likely won't see a return to the pricing we were used to until at least mid-2012.  With competition from solid-state drives heating up, this could be bad timing for companies dependent on spindle drives as the driving revenue source: comparing a $300 SSD to a $90 standard drive is a much different decision than that same $300 SSD and a $240 standard drive of high capacity. 

According to this report from Xbit labs, the industry has "two to four weeks" of hard drive inventory available.  The author claims that this points to the situation not being so dire, but with the WD's CEO stating the effects will be seen for "multiple quarters", I am guessing we will see a major buy-up of inventory from system builders like HP and Dell that will cause drive shortages much more quickly than anticipated.  

PC Perspective will keep tracking the effects on driving pricing and if any player in the business has other input they want to offer us.  Stay tuned!

A tiny little wireless keyboard and trackpad for your Bluetooth devices

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2011 - 04:57 PM |
Tagged: input, keyboard, mobile, touchpad, chill innovation

The tiny Chill Innovation KB-1BT Bluetooth Micro Keyboard is 155mm x 61mm x 12mm (6.1" x 2.4" x 0.5") so you obviously can't expect full sized keys especially with the 31mm2 (1.2"2) trackpad on the side.  What you can expect is to hook up the keyboard wirelessly to any device that can manage Bluetooth, the USB connection is to recharge the keyboard. MektuMods enjoyed using the device but question its value, the model they reviewed was 70 Euros (~$100USD) to purchase.

MM_bundle.jpg

"There are several keyboard/mouse bundles available these days. The new KB-1BT combines these two items into a single package. This is something that one could imagine using while watching movies via HTPC or writing a document with an iPad. So, is it worth your money? Let us find out..."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

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Source: MektuMods

Intel watches sadly from a window as HP goes out ARM in ARM with Caxeda

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2011 - 04:44 PM |
Tagged: arm, hp, servers, Calexda, MIPS, Godson

There have been many discussions as of late on the eventual arrival of ARM in the server room, with AMD and Intel suffering the losses.  A company called Calexda has made the possibility into reality with their own custom designed ARM chips. They figure on cramming 120 of the processors into a 2U box with incredibly low power draw; in the neighbourhood of a 90% reduction.  AMD's customers may stay with an architecture that they know, however Intel stands to lose power conscious customers if Calexda can provide performance and compatibility.  SemiAccurate also touches on Lenovo's investigation of building servers based on a MIPS design called Godson.

CalxedaX2.jpg

"According to a report from Bloomberg News Service HP (NYSE:HPQ) will start manufacturing servers based on the ARM architecture in a sharp departure from its previous Intel-only design philosophy.

The processors for the HP servers will come from the startup Caxeda, which is partly owned by ARM. Caxeda is planning a quadcore processor based on the ARM Cortex-A9 design."

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Source: SemiAccurate

Google Updates Chrome With Streamlined New Tab Page

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2011 - 04:33 AM |
Tagged: Internet, google, chrome, browser

Google has been playing around with the "new tab" page in the beta and development builds of Chrome to streamline the interface, and the company has recently rolled one such update into the latest stable release of the popular browser.

Chrome_New New Tab Interface.png

The new tab page is the page that you are presented with when first firing up Chrome or hitting the new tab button(s).  The new interface is much more streamlined than the old one, and has rearranged several items.  The old interface showed everything all on one canvas; however, the updated new tab page has separated the most visited tabs from the Chrome Apps which now have their own page.  Users are able to navigate between the most visited tabs page and applications page by clicking on the tabs at the bottom of the screen or moving the mouse to the side of the browser window and using the arrows that appear upon mouse-over.

Chrome_Compare.png

Further, where the recently visited/closed web pages horizontal list resided below the most visited tabs on the old interface, in the new interface Google has decided to hide the recently used list.  It can now be accessed by clicking on a menu item in the bottom right corner of the browser window.

Chrome_Recently Closed.png

Google has also made it a bit easier to organize applications.  You can now click and drag applications around to organize them.  When clicking and holding an application, a new recycle bin option appears in the lower right corner of the window that will allow you to remove applications.  Removing is now a matter of clicking and dragging items into the "Remove from Chrome" area.  This remove / uninstall feature is also available when clicking and holding on the most visited tabs on the tabs page.  Finally, the various icons have been given a slight makeover and now are presented with a shiny mouse-over effect.

Google has provided a quick video overview of the interface changes.

Personally, after playing around with the new interface for a few hours now I prefer it to the old way of doing things as it allows for larger "most visited" icons due to having a greater percentage of the Chrome window area available to it (as opposed to the old interface where it was a bit crowded and things tended to fight to attention).  Further, I rarely use the applications, so having them hidden away in their own section is okay with me.  It definitely seems to have been (at least slightly) by tablets and touch interfaces; however, unlike Netflix's recent tablet inspired redesign i actually like the improvements Google has made.  What are your thoughts on the improvements?

Source: Google

For those looking at the internet and not Battlefield 3

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2011 - 05:54 PM |
Tagged: gaming, battlefield 3, tweaks

For those of you who already know if their machine can get the most out of Battlefield 3; you probably aren't reading this post as you are playing right now.  For those of you who have yet succumb to EA's new client and installed BF3 or for those who haven't the time to fully tweak the settings to get the most graphical goodness out of the newest instalment to the Battlefield series, [H]ard|OCP has done quite a bit of work pegging down what performance you can expect.  GTX 580s against HD 6970s in both single and multiple card configurations against themselves as well as against each other in single player and they delve into multiplayer settings as well as commenting on the out of game server browser and what it brings to your non-BF3 experience.

H_BF3_Graphics.jpg

"Battlefield 3 just landed to excited gamers everywhere today. We've got a preview of performance in single player mode and a look at multiplayer mode. If you are going to be playing this game today, or this week, you will want to give this a read for a preview of what performance to expect."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Bulldozing through Linux benchmarks

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2011 - 04:15 PM |
Tagged: amd, bulldozer, FX 8150, linux

With the lacklustre performance we saw from AMD's new Bulldozer CPUs on Windows except in seriously multi-threaded applications; it is with a hopeful heart that Phoronix tests the performance of the FX-8150 under Ubuntu 11.04.  There are a lot of benchmarks to go through, from general performance to specific AMD-centric tests to those focusing specifically on multi-threaded performance and even a look at the bundled watercooler.  Read through the benchmarks they've run themselves as well as user submitted test and then realize that this is only the first of a series of articles they are working on ... so for now they hold judgment on AMD's newest product.

phoronix_8150.jpg

"Two weeks ago AMD introduced the Bulldozer FX-Series CPUs to much excitement, although many were letdown by the initial results, and it was months after showing the first Linux benchmarks of an AMD Dual-Interlagos pre-production system. In the days that followed I delivered some initial AMD FX-4100 Linux benchmarks when securing remote access to a low-end Bulldozer system running Ubuntu 11.04 (and there were also some Linux benchmarks from independent Phoronix readers), but then last week a Bulldozer kit arrived from AMD. The centerpiece of this kit is an eight-core AMD FX-8150 CPU, which is now being used to conduct a plethora of AMD Bulldozer benchmarks on Linux."

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Source: Phoronix

A milquetoast reception to the next generation of GPUs

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2011 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: gpu, amd, nvidia, southern islands, kepler, TSMC, 28nm

While most enthusiasts are living up to the name as far as the build up to the coming GPU refreshes from both AMD and NVIDIA is concerned, the manufacturers are quite the opposite.  There are several probable reasons for this attitude, not least of which are the number of HD 6570s and GTS 450s that are still in their stock.  Remember those cards from back in the spring of this year, which were the high end of a huge range of GPUs from both companies spanning $20 to either side of $100?  Think that with the current generation of Llano and SandyBridge that any knowledgeable person is going to purchase one, let alone when you consider how close the release of next generation of APUs is?  The two major players in the discrete GPU market not only updated the top end of their cards quickly over the past several quarters there was a widening of the market which saw current generation cards available from ~$75 to ~$750 with some segments separated by as little as $10.  That translates to huge inventories at the manufacturer level which they then have to convince resellers and retailers to purchase for stock to sell to the consumer and many of those cards are still sitting there collecting dust.  No wonder these same companies are leery of purchasing more stock before finding a way to recover some profit from the stock they have now.

To make things even worse there exist doubts about the 28nm process from TSMC, which DigiTimes discusses here.  While AMD is still claiming delivery of HD7000 family cards before the coming year, the troubles that NVIDIA seems to be having with the same process concerns those who need to be able to buy large volumes of chips in order to turn a profit selling graphics cards.  Even worse is the realization that the first cards NVIDIA will be releasing are simply a die shrink, without architectural changes.  When two companies go to the same source for the same thing and one reports getting apple cider and the other apple vinegar, you really have to start to wonder what is really going on. 

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"While Nvidia and AMD are poised to use Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (TSMC's) 28nm technology to produce the GPUs Kepler and Southern Islands respectively, most Taiwan-based graphics card makers hold a conservative attitude about the new GPUs with some makers cautiously watching the market status before making any further decisions, according to industry sources.

Compared to the makers' eagerness for the previous-generation GPUs, graphics card makers are rather conservative about the upcoming 28nm chips due to concerns such as TSMC's weak 40nm process yield rate issues may re-occur in its 28nm process and weakening demand for graphics cards and lower-than-expected gross margins."

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Source: DigiTimes

HP Testing Windows 8 Developer Preview on Touchpad Tablets

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | October 26, 2011 - 02:17 AM |
Tagged: windows 8, webOS, touchpad, tablet, slate, hp

The HP Touchpad was tablet that ran HP's WebOS mobile operating system.  It was also a tablet with an extremely short lifespan, one that was ended long before its time according to the sentiments of many enthusiasts.  The tablet's demise was a casualty of the company's former CEO Léo Apotheker getting rid of HP's PC division, and it started going for fire sale prices only a few weeks after its initial release.

There may yet be hope for the tablet, however.  According to Fox News, an HP employee has told them that a team within the company is playing around with the (not so) dead HP Touchpad tablets by replacing the WebOS operating system with Windows 8 Developer Preview.

hp_win8.png

It seems as though the idea of a Windows powered slate may be something that HP is willing to try out.  Although slates nor convertible tablets have never really caught on (at least in the US) due to Windows not being the most touch friendly interface, with the rise in popularity of tablets and Microsoft beginning to put a bit more care into a touch friendly UI, HP may be weighing the odds of a Windows 8 powered slate computer.  If; however, HP goes ahead with the previous plans to ditch the PC division, the idea of a HP Touchpad reincarnation may be moot anyway.

If the souce turns out to be true; however, there may be hope for a new HP Touchpad in the future sans WebOS.  Do you think HP will go ahead with the plan to follow in the footsteps of IBM, or will it give its PC division and(/or) touchpad tablet line a second chance?

Source: Fox News

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim PC System Requirements Revealed

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2011 - 10:19 PM |
Tagged: skyrim, PC, gaming

Although most of you are busy blasting away at Battlefield 3, there are likely quite a few that are also interested in the RPG genre, and in that vein Kotaku has recently gotten their hands on and released the minimum and recommended system requirements for the upcoming Elder Scrolls: Skyrim PC game.  Keep in mind when looking at the recommended system requirements, that they are for running the game at "High" graphics settings and not "Ultra" which will require more powerful specifications.

Skyrim_elf.jpg

Source: Gameinformer

The minimum system requirements for Skyrim are as follows:

CPU (Processor) Dual Core @ 2.0 GHz
GPU (Graphics Card) DirectX 9c compatible w/ 512MB RAM
RAM (System Memory) 2GB
OS (Operating System) Windows XP, Vista, or 7 (32 or 64 bit)

 

Those are fairly tame, and most computers around today should be able to at least run the game, with some concessions.  The recommended system requirements bump things up a bit for those that prefer shinier graphics in their RPGs.

CPU (Processor) Quad Core Intel or AMD
GPU (Graphics Card) DirectX 9 compatible w/ 1GB RAM
  AMD 4890 or Nvidia GTX 260 or higher
RAM (System Memory) 4GB
Sound Card DirectX compatible
OS (Operating System) Windows XP or 7

 

Interestingly (though not surprisingly to some), Windows Vista doesn't make the list for recommended specs, which may or may not be a mistake.  As you can see, even the recommended specifications aren't too high, at least compared to other (more demanding) new releases this year.  Is your PC ready for Skyrim?

Source: Kotaku

"We do not see the PC as the leading platform for games," my sweet patootie

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2011 - 06:08 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, jon peddie

When the senior gaming analyst from Jon Peddie Research notices that smartphone and tablet gaming is resulting in a direct increase in gaming on laptops and desktops you really have to wonder where Carmack formed his belief that the days of PC gaming are kaput.  As well a growing trend in Asia where you can go to a boutique style PC store, purchase your components and build your machine in store with the assistance of employees there is obviously a growing market of PC gamers.  DigiTimes does point out that the actual estimated growth for PC gaming hardware did shrink from $22 billion to $19 billion, but any industry seeing 11% growth in market is not dying.  From the sounds of JPR's research, mobile gaming grows the PC gaming market, not the console market.

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"Jon Peddie Research (JPR) has announced its latest figures on the PC gaming hardware market for the second half of 2011 and forecast to 2014.

In 2011, over 250 million game capable home and personal use PCs will ship. To get a sense of perspective, only 220 million PS3, the Wii, and Xbox 360 consoles have shipped since the era of the modern console began in 2005.

PC gaming hardware will grow at a rate of 11% through 2014. However, the ongoing economic recession is having its effect on even the gaming market. Taking the reality into consideration, JPR has reduced its 2011 global PC Gaming hardware market estimate to US$19 billion from US$22 billion.

Nevertheless PC gaming activity (as opposed to sales) has increased in 2011 as evidenced by ongoing game sales and online activity. JPR has raised estimates of the number of people playing PC games from their previous forecast by 3% for 2011. With a base of about a half billion people who regularly engage in PC gaming, gaming is an attractive market for hardware manufacturers, many of whom consider gamers in their product design and marketing."

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Source: DigiTimes