Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 3, 2011 - 09:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Just recently we looked at a Tom’s Hardware review of CPU architecture since about 2005. While the performance of the CPU itself was not covered in the review, that was entirely not the purpose of the article; the problem investigated was whether there was a lot of innovation with the architectures themselves or whether companies were just ramping up the clock rate and adding more cores to get their performance. Implied in the article’s findings was the extent to which Intel was relying on a higher clock rate to even be comparable to AMD at the time, and even if they were being comparable is debatable. At some point AMD decided to change their tactics and stop ranking their processors by clock rate due to the huge disparity between Intel’s performance and their own at any given clock. This drew some flak in the forums but ended up sticking as even Intel dropped the Gigahertz moniker.
I owned a Core 2 Duo E6600 MHz! It’s so fast they needed to count in hex!
Scott, not me but another Scott, accused AMD back in 2001 of confusing users about the actual clock rate of their products. That post was crushed by video gaming’s most popular astrophysicist: yes, exactly. That didn’t stop the debate about whether that is an ethical thing to do, whether Intel’s ethics are any better, or whether they’re hypocrites. Regardless, the soapbox was eventually put away and everyone went back to their lives.
Subject: General Tech | August 3, 2011 - 02:38 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: steam, gaming
Could it be? Is there an actual explanation as to why every single Steam game you ever bought just has to install DirectX, even though you just installed it for that last game you bought and the one before that and the one before ...
Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN has the explanation as to what is going on, though it is up to you to decide if it is reasonable or not. Gone are the days of one DX fits all games, instead each of the currently used versions of DX, as in DX9, DX10 and DX11 depending on your software and hardware have many sub-versions. In DX9's case, there are over 40 versions of a D3D helper library called D3DX and that number grows in DX10 and DX11 and that is before you toss in 32bit versus 64bit OS versions.
Doesn't it make you happier to know the reason why you are stuck watching that stupid progress bar slowly grow instead of being able to play the game you just bought?
"Oh God, not again – can’t I just play the damned thing? WHY? [Stomp, stomp, stomp."] This is a sound surely as familiar to the residents of the Brunswick area of Brighton as are the constant squawks of seagulls fighting over the contents of their recycling boxes. This is a sound I make, or at least variations upon it, every single time I first run a game I have downloaded via Steam. This time, I always think. This time it won’t ask me to install DirectX again first. Surely the 1023rd time’s the charm. That dream will likely never come to pass. However, at least we now know why – Valve have explained this particularly modern annoyance."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Hard Reset: PC exclusive, single-player only, new engine, OMG @ Ars Technica
- Preview of id Software's Rage @ Slashdot
- Diablo 3 will let you buy and sell items for real-world cash @ Ars Technica
- Preorder Battlefield 3 with Origin, get early beta access @ Ars Technica
- Limbo @ HEXUS
- Borderlands 2 Is Really Real, Due 2012 @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Titanic Quest: Crate Speak About Grim Dawn @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Dead Island - PC, Xbox 360, PS3 @ HEXUS
- Call of Juarez: The Cartel PlayStation 3 @ Tweaktown
Subject: General Tech | August 3, 2011 - 02:24 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: ultrabook, Intel
Look at that UX21 there, isn't it gorgeous? Only 1.1kg of brushed aluminium, fully kitted out with a new style lithium battery, is only 1.7cm thick and it has ASUS' Instant On technology which will boot you to desktop in 5 seconds. It was shown off as the shining example of what Intel's Ultrabook could be at this years CES and everyone who saw it loved it. It seemed that Intel was going to go straight to the core of Apple's ultra light market, not that their processors aren't already in Apple's MacBooks but it is nice to keep the PC partners happy as well.
DigiTimes has heard from a few manufacturers and are ready to add a large lead weight to the Ultrabook, the same weight that dragged down the CULV; namely price. When competing with Apple, the number one thing you need to do is beat them on price. You might be able to match their quality of design, or match them on the size of the notebook or even on the weight but the problem is that Apple was there first. Consumers know Apple's ultramobile platforms and have been using them for years, so if a newcomer tries stealing market share from Apple the only thing they cannot match is Apple's prices. The manufacturers that DigiTimes talked to placed the cost of the components they need to include to meet Intel's specfications are ~$1000, which is the market price of a lower end MacBook Air. Since businesses tend to like to make a bit of profit, as does everyone else in the supply chain, the cost of even a low end Ultrabook will be higher than an equivalent MacBook. Unless Intel is willing to drop prices, the Ultrabook will likely do even worse than the CULV, since at least the CULV had a mobile power user niche to crawl into and hide.
"While Intel is positioning ultrabook as a set of specifications to enable partners to design notebooks imitating MacBook Air, ultrabooks may encounter the same frustrations as CULV notebooks did if prices are not lower than those of the Air, according to sources from Taiwan-based supply chain makers.
The sources pointed out that Intel's ultrabook concept is not a brand new innovation, but a design to allow first-tier notebook players to quickly catch up with Apple's advances in the ultra-thin segment and help the notebook industry recover from the impact of tablet PCs.
Intel has been hosting conferences with the upstream notebook supply chain about its ultrabook since the second quarter and is providing suggestions and assistance in designing related components and methods for reducing costs. Ultrabooks will feature a similar design as MacBook Air and adopt li-polymer batteries, which will completely remove the device's capability of exchanging the battery, to significantly reduce weight, while the machine will adopt metal chassis for heat dissipation and a solid state drive (SSD).
In addition, all the components will be soldered on to the machine's PCB to save space and reduce weight, but the new methods will completely change the existing notebook production process of combining several modules together.
The sources pointed out that the new MacBook Airs are priced at about US$999-1,599 with rather strong demand in the US; however, designing an ultrabook based on Intel's technical suggestions will still be unable to reduce the machine's price level to lower than the MacBook Air's unless Intel is willing to reduce its prices, which already account for one-third of the total cost. If Intel does reduce its prices there is a chance for vendors to provide pricing below US$1,000."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Apple II+ retrocomputing with an FPGA @ ExtremeTech
- IE users are stupid report was faked @ The Inquirer
- Zero day bug threatens many WordPress sites @ The Register
- Google Patches 30 Chrome Bugs, Adds Instant Pages @ Slashdot
- Elpida starts producing 25nm DRAM chips @ The Inquirer
- IBM To Unveil Secure Open Wireless At Black Hat @ Slashdot
- Intel Sandy Bridge Speeds Up On Linux 3.1 Kernel @ Phoronix
- Compro IP70 Network camera @ Bjorn3D
- Real World Labs And Antec Joint Contest
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | August 3, 2011 - 01:21 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SoC, qualcomm, PC, mobile, gaming, console
Mobile gaming has seen a relatively sharp rise in popularity in recent years thanks to the rise of powerful smartphones and personal media players like the iPod Touch and its accompanying App Store. Mobile networks, powerful System On A Chips (SoC) that are capable of 3D graphics, lighting, and physics, and a large catalog of easy to download and play games have created an environment where people actually want to play games on their mobile devices. Many people now indulge themselves in quick Angry Birds sessions while in long lines, on work breaks, or wherever they have time when out and about.
One area where mobile devices have not caught on; however, is at home. Mobile devices face stiff competition from game consoles and the PC. That competition has not stopped numerous manufacturers from trying to implement an all-in-one mobile console that was portable and easy to plug into a larger display when at home. Everything from cheap controllers with logic inside that allows them to play old arcade games to smart phones with HDMI outputs costing hundreds of dollars have passed through the hands of consumers; however, the mobile console has yet to overcome the sheer mind share of consumers who prefer dedicated game consoles and their PCs.
According to Anandtech, Qualcomm, a popular manufacturer of ARM SoC for smart phones has announced its plans to pursue that vision of an integrated, mobile console. They claim that the increased power provided by next generation SoC technology will allow tablets and smartphones to deliver graphics that are better than those of current dedicated game consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360. Due to Sony and Microsoft wanting to extend the lives of consoles well into the future, mobile technology may well surpass it. The company "is committed to delivering both the hardware and the software support needed to bring developers to these mobile platforms," according to Anandtech.
Qualcomm wants to bring portable consoles to the masses powered by their SoCs and backed by their software. The tablets and smartphones would be able to connect to displays using HDMI or wireless technology in addition to supporting controllers (or acting as a controller itself). Further, the games library will be the culmination of software from all platforms and will rival the graphical prowess of the current consoles. Qualcomm hopes that a large library and capable hardware will be enough to entice consumers to the idea of a portable console becoming their all-in-one gaming device.
Portable consoles are similar to tablets and 3D television in that there is a major push for it every few years, a few devices come out, and then it dies off to be reborn again a few years later. Whether Qualcomm is able to pull off the plans for a portable console remains to be seen; however, the device is bound to catch on at some point. At the very least, this is certainly not the last time we will hear about the portable console. You can see more of Qualcomms plans here.
What do you believe is holding back the portable console from catching on with consumers? Is it a good idea in the first place?
As Superman fans well know, Kal-El is faster than a speeding bullet, and NVIDIA’s new Tegra 3 Kal-El chip is no different. We reported on a demonstration of the Kal-El chip running games with dynamic lighting and realistic cloth physics earlier this year, and it is certainly an impressive mobile chip.
Speaking of “impressive,” Asus’ chairman Jonney Shih was quoted by Forbes recently in stating that the upcoming Transformer 2 device would be “impressive.” While Shih was not able to share any details about the device in question, he did mention that Asus will be unveiling new tablets before the end of this year. With the NVIDIA Kal-El chip set to launch this month, the timing is certainly favorable for a quad core Transformer 2.
The Transformer 1, will the second iteration have even more oomph?
Of all the Android tablets, the Transformer has been one of the most well recieved; therefore, it seems likely that Asus would pursue another iteration of the device. Whether that device will be powered by the Tegra 3 chip is still uncertain, however. Do you think the rumor of a quad core Transformer is likely, or is this something that is "too good to be true?"
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Processors | August 3, 2011 - 02:11 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Netburst, architecture
It is common knowledge that computing power consistently improves throughout time as dies shrink to smaller processes, clock rates increase, and the processor can do more and more things in parallel. One thing that people might not consider: how fast is the actual architecture itself? Think of the problem of computing in terms of a factory. You can increase the speed of the conveyor belt and you can add more assembly lines, but just how fast are the workers? There are many ways to increase the efficiency of a CPU: from tweaking the most common or adding new instruction sets to allow the task itself to be simplified; to playing with the pipeline size for proper balance between constantly loading the CPU with upcoming instructions and needing to dump and reload the pipe when you go the wrong way down an IF/ELSE statement. Tom’s Hardware wondered this and tested a variety of processors since 2005 with their settings modified such that they could only use one core and only be clocked at 3 GHz. Can you guess which architecture failed the most miserably?
Pfft, who says you ONLY need a calculator?
(Image from Intel)
Netburst architecture was designed to get very large clock rates at the expensive of heat -- and performance. At the time, the race between Intel and its competitors was clock rate: the higher the clock the better it was for marketers despite a 1.3 GHz Athlon wrecking a 3.2 GHz Celeron in actual performance. If you are in the mood for a little chuckle, this marketing strategy was all destroyed when AMD decided to name their processors “Athlon XP 3200+” and so forth rather than by their actual clock rate. One of the major reasons that Netburst was so terrible was branch prediction. Branch prediction is a strategy you can use to speed up a processor: when you reach a conditional jump from one chunk of code to another, such as “if this is true do that, otherwise do this”, you do not know for sure what will come next. Pipelining is a method of loading multiple commands into a processor to keep it constantly working. Branch prediction says: “I think I’ll go down this branch” and loads the pipeline assuming that is true; if you are wrong, you need to dump the pipeline and correct your mistake. One way that Pentium Netburst kept high clock rates was by having a ridiculously huge pipeline, 2-4x larger than the first generation of Core 2 parts which replaced it; unfortunately the Pentium 4 branch prediction was terrible keeping the processor stuck needing to dump its pipeline perpetually.
The sum of all tests... at least time-based ones.
(Image from Tom's Hardware)
Now that we excavated Intel’s skeletons to air them out it is time to bury them again and look at the more recent results. On the AMD side of things, it looks as though there has not been too much innovation on the efficiency side of things only now getting within range of the architecture efficiency that Intel had back in 2007 with their first introduction of Core 2. Obviously efficiency per core per clock means little in the real world as it tells you neither about raw performance of a part nor how power efficient it is. Still, it is interesting to see how big of a leap Intel made away from their turkey of an architecture theory known as Netburst and model the future around the Pentium 3 and Pentium M architectures. Lastly, despite the lead, it is interesting to note exactly how much work went into the Sandy Bridge architecture. Intel, despite an already large lead and focus outside of the x86 mindset, still tightened up their x86 architecture by a very visible margin. It might not be as dramatic as their abandonment of Pentium 4, but is still laudable in its own right.
Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 03:43 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: asus, ROG, Vulcan ANC Pro, headset, audio
If you find yourself gaming in a noisy environment and are trying to keep your contribution to the noise down by using headsets it can be frustrating if you cannot hear the game you are playing. ASUS has a way to solve that, thanks to the active noise cancellation in their Republic of Gamers Vulcan ANC Pro Gaming Headset. Red & Blackness Mods tried out a pair for review and were impressed by the light weight of the headset as well as detachable mic for when you don't need to communicate with team mates. They were not overly impressed with the sound quality but as these are specifically designed for gaming that is not a major concern and not attempting for high end audio helped keep the price down.
"Asus mostly known for their high end laptops and motherboards have recently started pumping out various accessories and even touchpads. Today we are taking a look at the Asus Vulcan ANC Pro Gaming headphones that you can pick up for around 50$. What type of quality and sound quality can we expect from these?"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- ASUS Vulcan ANC (Active-Noise-Cancelling) Pro Gaming Headset Review @ HardwareHeaven
- Cooler Master Sirus Gaming Headset @ XSReviews
- Tt eSPORTS Shock One Gaming Headset Review @ eTeknix
- SonoCore Cindy COA-805 IEM @ reviewstash
- CM Storm Sirus Headset Review @ Hardware Secrets
- CM Storm Sirus @ OC3D
- TTesports Shock Spin Headphones @ Rbmods
- Grace Digital GDI-IRMS300 Internet Micro Hi-Fi Stereo System Review @MissingRemote
- Thermaltake Shock One Headset @ Bjorn3D
- Roccat KULO 7.1 USB Virtual Surround Headset Review @ Real World Labs
- Scythe Kama Bay AMP 2000 Rev. B Amplifier Review @ Madshrimps
- SteelSeries Siberia V2 for PS3 @ OC3D
Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 03:07 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: idf, intel developers forum, Ivy Bridge, haswell
At last years Intel Developers Forum, the star of the show was Sandy Bridge as we had not yet seen the chip in action. That seems longer than a year ago, but it was only last September which means that we are drawing close to the 2011 IDF. According to DigiTimes this year they will be focusing on mobility products, as we know Intel is working on a new(ish) form factor which they are calling Ultrabook which will replace the CULV form factor that we have known previously. There were not that many ultrabook branded Sandy Bridge products released this year and with the upcoming release of Ivy Bridge it seems that there won't be many in the future, as Ivy Bridge is intended to do everything Sandy could and use less power doing it. The other focus that DigiTimes expects to see, as do we at PC Perspective, is more information on Haswell which will be the next generation of Intel chip architecture. We don't expect to see working silicon until 2013, but you can expect a lot more information about the instruction sets it will use, which is only to be expected at a developers conference.
"CPU maker Intel is set to host its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) show in San Francisco from September 13-15 and its plans for ultrabook, upcoming Ivy Bridge- and Haswell-based processors as well, as its strategy for next-generation tablet PC processor, are all expected to become focuses at the show, according to sources from PC players.
Intel, was originally set to enter the Ivy Bridge-based CPU generation in the fourth quarter of 2011, but after considering the yield rate of the 22nm process and the market status worldwide, the company, in the end, decided to postpone the launch of the new-generation CPU to March of 2012, allowing a smooth transition between the two generation of CPU structures.
In addition to the Ivy Bridge structure, Intel is also set to reveal the detail specifications of its Haswell processor, which will appear in 2013, at IDF in September, the sources noted.
As for ultrabook, Intel will display several completed models from the first-tier notebook players including Asustek Computer, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Lenovo, at the show with Intel is also expected to provide the detail of its ultrabook design concept as well as its three stages of execution plan for the device.
For tablet PCs, Intel has been cooperating with Google to pair up its Atom Z670 processor with Android 3.0, while will showcase its latest progress in MeeGo and AppUP Center at the show."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Intel and Mobile Computing @ ThinkComputers
- In-Depth with Mac OS X Lion Server @ AnandTech
- HTML5 poses security risks @ The Inquirer
- Skype releases its Ipad app @ The Inquirer
- TechwareLabs Zotac Factory Tour in Dong Guan China
- Weekly Giveaway #9: Dirt 3 @ eTeknix
Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 11:43 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: firefox, chrome, browser
The Firefox UX development team recently posted a presentation showing off some of the latest design and UI (user interface) improvements for the popular Firefox web browser by Mozilla. While not all of the design choices shown in the presentation will make it into the Aurora or other beta builds, they do indicate that Mozilla is at least considering mixing up their traditional interface for upcoming releases. The image below is one of the screenshots included in the presentation, and at first glance it may be mistaken for Google's Chrome browser. However, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that Mozilla have not simply copied Chrome's minimalist design but they have gone with a similar tab design, continued with the transparency that is already present in certain builds and sprinkled some Mozilla flair on top to create one possible look for a future Firefox browser.
Some other proposed changes of the design include a new menu that is icon based versus word lists and is located on the right side of the window as well as an improved full screen experience that seeks to give web apps the screen real estate they need. A new home tab and add-on manager interface are also proposed changes. As shown in the screenshot above, tabs that are not in focus, have their backgrounds become fully transparent so that only the text is visible. This definitely helps the main tab stand out and may help in reducing the amount of distraction users face when having multiple tabs open.
While these are only proposed changes, it is apparent that Mozilla are planning some kind of major UI overhaul if they can get the users to accept it, and the next major release may well see a slightly more chrome-esque appearance with that special Firefox flair. What are your thoughts on the proposed designs, do they seem likely? If you are still using Firefox, what features of other browsers would you like to see Firefox emulate?
Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 07:54 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows, operating system, microsoft
Windows XP is almost old enough that revisionist historians can have a crack at it without anyone speaking out against it. That is, it would be if not for the large number of users still using the operating system at their home and work. The decade old operating system has only now fallen below 50% of Windows' market share. More specifically, the slip in market share occurred between June and July where it fell 0.63% to a total of 49.94%.
The numbers are percentages of MS's total 87.66% market share.
In comparison, Windows Vista holds a much smaller 9.24% market share after dropping 0.28%. Microsoft’s most recent operating system, Windows 7; meanwhile, saw a gain of 0.74% to a total of 27.87% market share, which puts the new operating system well on its way to overtaking the XP juggernaut. Techspot has the full scoop on the market share situation, which you can read about here.
Are you still using Windows XP?