Wi-Fi on Rosepoint SoC die. Intel flexes before ARM wrestle.

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 20, 2012 - 01:50 AM |
Tagged: Rosepoint, ISSCC 2012, ISSCC, Intel

If there is one thing that Intel is good at, it is writing a really big check to go in a new direction right when absolutely needed. Intel has released press information on what should be expected from their presence at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference which is currently in progress until the 23rd. The headliner for Intel at this event is their Rosepoint System on a Chip (SoC) which looks to lower power consumption by rethinking the RF transceiver and including it on the die itself. While the research has been underway for over a decade at this point, pressure from ARM has pushed Intel to, once again, throw money at R&D until their problems go away.

Intel could have easily trolled us all and have named this SoC "Centrino".

Almost ten years ago, AMD had Intel in a very difficult position. Intel fought to keep clock-rates high until AMD changed their numbering scheme to give proper credit to their higher performance-per-clock components. Intel dominated, legally or otherwise, the lower end market with their Celeron line of processors.

AMD responded with series of well-timed attacks against Intel. AMD jabbed Intel in the face and punched them in the gut with the release of the Sempron processor line nearby filing for anti-trust against Intel to allow them to more easily sell their processors in mainstream PCs.

At around this time, Intel decided to entirely pivot their product direction and made plans to take their Netburst architecture behind the shed. AMD has yet to recover from the tidal wave which the Core architectures crashed upon them.

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Intel wishes to stop assaulting your battery indicator.

With the surge of ARM processors that have been fundamentally designed for lower power consumption than Intel’s x86-based competition, things look bleak for the expanding mobile market. Leave it to Intel to, once again, simply cut a gigantic check.

Intel is in the process of cutting power wherever possible in their mobile offerings. To remain competitive with ARM, Intel is not above outside-the-box solutions including the integration of more power-hungry components directly into the main processor. Similar to NVIDIA’s recent integration of touchscreen hardware into their Tegra 3 SoC, Intel will push the traditionally very power-hungry Wi-Fi transceivers into the SoC and supposedly eliminate all analog portions of the component in the process.

I am not too knowledgeable about Wi-Fi transceivers so I am not entirely sure how big of a jump Intel has made in their development, but it appears to be very significant. Intel is said to discuss this technology more closely during their talk on Tuesday morning titled, “A 20dBm 2.4GHz Digital Outphasing Transmitter for WLAN Application in 32nm CMOS.”

This paper is about a WiFi-compliant (802.11g/n) transmitter using Intel’s 32nm process and techniques leveraging Intel transistors to achieve record performance (power consumption per transmitted data better than state-of-the art). These techniques are expected to yield even better results when moved to Intel’s 22nm process and beyond.

What we do know is that the Rosepoint SoC will be manufactured at 32nm and is allegedly quite easy to scale down to smaller processes when necessary. Intel has also stated that while only Wi-Fi is currently supported, other frequencies including cellular bands could be developed in the future.

We will need to wait until later to see how this will affect the real world products, but either way -- this certainly is a testament to how much change a dollar can be broken into.

Source: Intel

Blender 2.62 released -- getting better all the time.

Subject: General Tech | February 18, 2012 - 11:11 PM |
Tagged: Blender

So what do you do if you blew all of your money on a professional workstation and have nothing left for software?

Well, you get a better business strategy.

Occasionally there are open source products which rival or exceed the usability of the packaged products. I first started learning 3D modeling on a perpetual educational license of Maya and 2D art on a combination of Photoshop and GIMP. While I could not manage to eliminate Photoshop from my workflow I found the switch from Maya to pre-release Blender + Bmesh builds felt like an upgrade -- not just a manageable change. Blender is rapidly getting even better with each new bi-monthly version such as their just-released 2.62 update.

Blender 2-62.png

Flower power?

(Photo Credit: Blender Project / Alexey Lugovoy)

Blender decided to introduce many new features throughout the 2.6 series of releases by developing them in parallel and merging branches into the release trunk as they became worthy. This release yielded a new renderer known as “Cycles”, new UV unwrapping tools, reprogrammed Boolean tools, and motion tracking features.

Personally, I look most forward to the official 2.63 release scheduled for April. It appears as if the secrecy surrounding the development status of Bmesh was lifted and its introduction to the canon application is pinned to that release. Prior to pre-release Bmesh builds, Blender just felt too distant to the style of modeling which I developed in my years of using Maya. Since the addition of Bmesh, Blender was able to fit all of the essential roles which Maya satisfied and avoided some of my long-standing gripes with Autodesk’s $3000 package in the process. I was not even referring to its cost.

By the end of the 2.6 line, I expect that Blender will be an upgrade for users of many 3D applications. Check it out, for free, at their website.

Source: Blender

Intel urges you to program better now, not the same -- later.

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | February 18, 2012 - 09:06 PM |
Tagged: Intel, mobile, developer

Clay Breshears over at Intel posted about lazy software optimization over on the Intel Software Blog. His post is a spiritual resurrection of the over seven year’s old article by Herb Sutter, “The Free Lunch is Over: A Fundamental Turn Toward Concurrency in Software.” The content is very similar, but the problem is quite different.

The original 2004 article urged developers to heed the calls for the multi-core choo choo express and not hang around on the single core platform (train or computing) waiting for performance to get better. The current article takes that same mentality and applies it to power efficiency. Rather than waiting for hardware that has appropriate power efficiency for your application, learn techniques to bring your application into your desired power requirements.

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"I believe your program is a little... processor heavy."

The meat of the article focuses on the development of mobile applications and the concerns that developers should have with battery conservation. Of course there is something to be said about Intel promoting mobile power efficiency. While developers could definitely increase the efficiency of their code, there is still a whole buffet of potential on the hardware side.

If you are a developer, particularly of mobile or laptop applications, Intel has an education portal for best power efficiency practices on their website. Be sure to check it out and pick up the tab once in a while, okay?

Source: Intel Blog

"Lego spelunking!" LEGO Minecraft available for pre-order

Subject: General Tech | February 18, 2012 - 01:22 AM |
Tagged: Minecraft, Lego

Most of the success of Minecraft can be attributed to that little part of your brain which desires to be creative while at play. Prior to Minecraft, other toys such as LEGO clung on to that yearning for their successes. A mash-up between the old and the new is a natural stage in the evolution of Minecraft. LEGO and Mojang announced a LEGO-themed Minecraft set.

Who knows, maybe we will eventually get LEGO Minecraft the videogame and complete the circle.

Recent events would lead you to believe that Mojang has enough money -- and you are correct. The Minecraft LEGO set was created from LEGO’s CUUSOO program. If a CUUSOO product is selected to become a part of LEGO’s portfolio, it can collect 1% of total net sales of the product. According to the official LEGO press release, Mojang will donate the royalties they collect from this LEGO product to charity.

If you desire to explore blocky caves in real life then head on down to the Jynx website and submit your order. The set is expected to be available sometime in the summer. Also, check out the LEGO CUUSOO project to submit or vote upon other potential products.

Source: LEGO

HP dates NVIDIA on Valentine's Day. We get Z1 workstation.

Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 17, 2012 - 10:39 PM |
Tagged: workstation, nvidia, hp

Here is a story for the professional computer users out there.

Professionals have standards: be polite, be efficient, and have a multi-year plan to cram as much hardware into a small case as you can seat. NVIDIA and HP have obviously played too much Team Fortress -- or I did -- let us just all three of us have. The engineers have dispensed with the desktop tower and crammed everything in the monitor with their Z1 product series. While not original, it does hold a number of nice features.

HP-Z1.jpg

… But honestly, what the user really wants is for it to dispense Bonk!

As soon as I read the announcement I immediately jumped over to HP’s product page and confirmed the existence of external display connections. Sure enough, HP did not entirely botch this product and allows the connection of one extra monitor by display port. While being limited to just two monitors is a bit disappointing -- I currently have a three monitor setup -- if they were to introduce a workstation computer with just a single monitor it would have been product suicide. Thankfully they had enough sense.

The real flaunted feature of the Z1 workstation is its ease of upgrade. The included power supply is rated at 400W which to my knowledge is decent for a single-card workstation class computer. HP claims support for up to 2 internal 2.5-inch drives or a single 3.5-inch drive; unfortunately they do not clarify whether you can install all three drives, or if you must choose between the one larger versus the two smaller drives.

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HP and NVIDIA go on a date -- they dress workstation classual.

The workstation is expected to start at $1899 when it ships sometime around April. Unfortunately HP’s technical specifications list an Intel Core i3 and Integrated HD 2000 GPU -- most likely to hide the price of the products with the components that you actually want. I guess you will need to wait a couple of months to find out what you will actually be paying.

Source: NVIDIA

Rumor: Amazon didn't start the Fire. Kindle Fire 2 in May?

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 17, 2012 - 08:58 PM |
Tagged: kindle fire, amazon, foxconn, Quanta

Amazon had quite the successful launch of their Kindle Fire tablet PC. The original Kindle Fire is based on the Blackberry Playbook design and manufactured by the same company, Quanta. Despite being out for just three months, we may be just three or four months away from its successor.

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Foxconn is expected to do the work as OEM... a Quanta of solace.

The news was first reported by The Commercial Times, a Chinese-language Taiwan publication and put online by their sister publication, China Times (Microsoft Translation). According to the article, the original Kindle Fire may not be dying an early death. As is almost expected from Amazon, the original Kindle Fire will persist as Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire model. The new Kindle Fire is rumored to compliment that product, not replace it.

The new Kindle Fire is expected to be a 10-inch model and, unlike the Blackberry Playbook design which Quanta sold Amazon last year, be more heavily designed by Amazon themselves. It is expected that while Quanta will continue to manufacture the 7-inch Kindle Fire, the 10-inch will be assembled at Hon Hai (Foxconn). Commercial Times does not suggest what other changes Amazon will introduce with the new product.

Source: China Times

HTC at MWC R-U-M-O-R-S

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 17, 2012 - 06:33 PM |
Tagged: tegra 3, MWC, htc

Mobile World Congress (MWC) is approaching and you should expect our coverage of the event from a hardware perspective. The actual event occurs from February 27th through March 1st although, like most events, we expect that the news coverage will begin a couple of days before that time. Rumors about what will appear at the show are already surfacing and include a few leaks about upcoming HTC releases.

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Probably there's a very simple answer to it... still curious though.

(Update: As pointed out in the comments, one of the phones actually IS Tegra 3 powered. I read it as including some other processor... and somehow I only found the LG X3 when looking for Tegra 3 powered phones.)

TechCrunch rounded up details from a few sources about several phones from HTC that are expected at MWC. Ice Cream Sandwich appears to be the common thread amongst each of the leaks. Of particular note, HTC appears to be demonstrating a 10.1” tablet running an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor. Their phones, on the other hand, do not. (Update: Yeah they do, my mistake.)

Unlike (Update: Actually, like) HTC, LG is expected to reveal a Tegra-3 powered phone, the LG X3, at Mobile World Congress -- so Tegra 3 phones are not nonexistent -- just seemingly a scarce commodity. It would be interesting to know why NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 technology appears, at least from my standpoint, so common on tablets yet so scarce on phones.

Be sure to keep checking back for our coverage of the event and all of your other hardware needs.

Source: TechCrunch

Switch on a hinge and a 350 foot network cable - how to rig up your new office

Subject: General Tech | February 17, 2012 - 03:41 PM |
Tagged: asus, office tour

Sometimes things don't work out the way you want them and you have to improvise.  In our case this week, as we prepare to move into a new office space, we had a couple of dilemmas crop up.

  1. The "cabinet" the previous owner made for network was an actual cabinet and didn't have enough depth for a switch, let alone a server.
  2. Fiber internet is coming but not for another 6 weeks - what do we do until then?

The first issue of our networking cabinet was resolved by putting a 24-port Gigabit switch on a hinge inside the not-quite-deep-enough space we had for it.  And sure, once you find out we used Gorilla glue, a block of wood and standard door hinges from Home Depot, it might sound a little bit on the ghetto side, but the fact is...it worked!

Our problem with an actual internet connection to apply to the switch in question was a bit harder.  Since our fiber wasn't going to be installed until late March, and I didn't want to see the office space simply sit there and be wasted until then, we had to find another solution.  We asked our neighbors about using their connections temporarily and while several were open to it, speed tests showed consistent 1.4 mbps downstream and 0.45 mbps upstream connections.  Not good for the amount of video we do here.

So, another option presented itself: our current office that has 20 mbps down and 2 mbps up service (mediocre, but still better) was only a short 100-110 meters away.  Could a Cat5e cable simply be run between them?  Turns out it could and we were even able to run a length has long as 500 ft without a problem, connecting 10/100 rather than Gigabit speeds.  

In total, our hinge modification cost us about $4.50 and the 500 ft spool of cable just around $50 but the hassle we saved has been worth thousands.  The cable connection issue is obviously not permanent but barring any rogue squirrel retaliation in the next 4-6 weeks, it should more than serve our purposes.

Enjoy the weekend!

NVIDIA is up for a rough year

Subject: General Tech | February 16, 2012 - 12:45 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, 28nm, TSMC, kepler, tegra, tegra 3

If you caught the podcast last night you would have heard Josh discussing NVIDIA's year end financial conference call, otherwise you will have to wait until the 'cast is posted later this week.  Until then you can read SemiAccurate's take on the call here.  There is a lot of news about NVIDIA and none of it is good, from wafer yields to chip demand nothing seems to have gone right for them.  Attempting to move off of their cursed 40nm line and switching to 28nm, NVIDIA has run into big yield problems as in entire wafers having issues as opposed to just some dies being bad.  

Tegra is not doing so well either, with sales of Tegra 2 dropping as we approach the release of Tegra 3, which is getting a lot of bad press.  SemiAccurate refers to the chip as bloated in size as well as being downright expensive to make.  Combine that with the fact that NVIDIA is lagging on A15 adoption and Samsung and Apple turning their backs on Tegra and it doesn't look good for NVIDIA's mobile plans. The one ray of sunshine is that even combined Samsung and Apple do not account for even half of smartphones on the market, so there is still room for NVIDIA and Tegra to grow.

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"Nvidia seems to be so far ahead of the curve that they are experiencing problems that are unique in the industry. In their recent year end financial conference call, there was enough said to draw some very grim conclusions.

Today’s conference call was a near complete validation of all the things SemiAccurate has been saying about Nvidia. Remember when we asked if Nvidia could supply Apple? Anyone notice the part about dumping early 28nm capacity, and the disappearance of 28nm Fermi shrinks? Remember how 28nm was not an issue for Nvidia, even if their product roadmap slips said otherwise. How well does this mesh with the quotes from Jen-Hsun himself on the topic?"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: SemiAccurate

Mass Effect 3 is Coming, Pre-Order Now and Get Battlefield 3 (PC) Free

Subject: General Tech | February 16, 2012 - 02:08 AM |
Tagged: PC, mass effect 3, gaming, game, ea, bf3, battlefield 3

Update: Apparently EA has decided to pull the deal because it was too good of an idea :(. 

The final installment in the Mass Effect trilogy is almost upon us, and for those itching to get a taste of Mass Effect 3 can now go and download the Mass Effect 3 demo for the PC via EA's Origin service. The demo delivers about an hour (they claim two hours, but I finished it in about an hour and I was purposefully taking it slow to take in the scenery and such) of Shephard battling against a (spoilers ahead) Reaper invasion.

Personally, from playing the demo I'm not convinced that it is going to live up to the hype, and it seems to be rather "dumbed down" compared to the first one. With that said, it was not terrible and I will likely pick it up if only to finish out the story.  The story itself hits hard in the demo and I am excited for that aspect of the Mass Effect sequel, for example.  If you have not already done so, check out the demo that's out now.

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Anyway, if you do enjoy the demo and are getting pumped for the release this March, EA is currently running a rather good deal on Origin for those willing to Pre-Order Mass Effect 3 from the Origin store. According to EA, users who place a pre-order for Mass Effect 3 through the Origin store for any platform (including digital download, boxed PC copy, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3) before March 5, 2012 will receive a free digital PC edition of Battlefield 3 for free.  The codes for BF3 will be emailed to customers when they become available.

As always, there are some caveats:

  • The offer is only valid for those in US and Canada.
  • You must pre-order through Origin and cannot be combined with any other discounts.
  • You are not eligible for the free copy if you already own Battlefield 3 on Origin.
  • The Battlefield 3 codes will be emailed no later than March 8, 2012.

That last one is a big one (for me anyway).  Considering Battlefield 3 is already released, why can't those that pre-order ME3 get instant access to it?  I was all for the deal at first as I have not yet purchased BF3 and if I could get it for free by pre-ordering a game I was likely to buy anyway it sounded like a sweet deal.  Unfortunately, not being able to jump into BF3 to hold me over until Mass Effect 3 launched makes it less awesome.  After all, once Mass Effect 3 releases, I'm not going to want to play Battlefield 3 anymore!  Considering Battlefield 3 will likely still be approximately $60 on Origin in a few months, getting it free is still a good deal, but it's less of a impulse purchase knowing I might not get the Battlefield 3 code until after I have Mass Effect 3 downloaded.

It's there if you want it though, so go download the Mass Effect 3 demo and let us know what you think of it!

Source: EA