Typing without a wire on Corsair's K83 hybrid keyboard

Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2019 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: wireless keyboard, K83, iCUE, corsair

Corsair's K83 wireless keyboard offers you a variety of ways to interact with whatever you connect it to in its brushed aluminium shell.  Not only do you get the standard keys, there is a large touchpad with laptop style buttons and a joystick at the top, all of which can be programmed with iCUE.  This should help you interface with even the most poorly designed GUI, or well designed ones which support gestures, TechPowerUp offers a list of compatible TVs and other devices in the full review.

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"The CORSAIR K83 Wireless keyboard attempts to be an integral part of your living room, bringing with it a deluge of relevant features. Multiple connection options and modes give it a role with many host devices, including PCs and smart TVs, with navigation in the form of a keyboard, touch pad, and even a joystick to boot."

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Source: TechPowerUp

The pen is mightier than the car alarm

Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2019 - 12:57 PM |
Tagged: security, hack, automotive, car alarm

Another week goes by and another half dozen vulnerabilities have been announced, as has sadly become tradition.  If you prefer to jump directly to the Chrome and Win7 ones below feel free, but this particular vulnerability Hackaday describes is a bit different from the norm.  It seems popular car alarm systems from Viper/Clifford and Pandora can be used quite effectively as carjacking tools. 

They both had poorly implemented security protocols which made it fairly trivial to change any users password so you could gain access to the account.  That access allows you to locate the car via GPS, listen to what is going on if the car has a microphone open or lock the doors and even start and stop the engine, as well as triggering the alarm.  This is as they say, a bad thing, and thankfully it was effectively patched once reported to the companies involved.

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"As ethics demand, the group notified the vendors and supposedly the holes have been plugged. Sometimes you hear about a hack that requires some very exotic work, but these were trivially simple. It is unknown if anyone ever used these hacks in a bad way, but it was certainly a real possibility."

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Source: Hackaday

ASUS's ROG Delta for those who have given up on the headphone jack

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2019 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: gaming headphones, asus, ROG, delta usb-c, RGB, ROG Armory, audio

Hopefully the ASUS ROG USB-C RGB headset will survive the lunacy that those in charge of the USB spec have been inflicting upon the world, but for now it will work on your phone or computer.  Kitguru does suggest installing the ROG Armory software to make use of the features offered by the built in DAC.  

Check out the full review and why the reviewer preferred it over their Corsair Void Pro, in the full video review.

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"Today we are reviewing the high-end ASUS Republic of Gamers Delta USB-C RGB headset. It has a beautifully ergonomic D-shaped ear cup design, and provides detailed, true to life audio with its updated Essence drivers and hi-fi grade ESS quad DAC"

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Source: Kitguru

Call it ThirdRipper, and other topics Ryzen from AMD's investor group meeting

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2019 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: Zen 2, threadripper the third, ryzen pro mobile, Ryzen 3000, epyc 2, amd

Near the beginning of AMD's Investor Relations slidedeck sits a glimpse at what we will see from the company, except for a date with Navi.  Some time before summer break we will see the release of the second generation of Ryzen Pro Mobile chips (picture not to scale), which will bring Zen 2 and improved graphics to your office devices.  

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Just after the mobile chips and in time to give you a reason not to go outside the third generation of Ryzen desktop chips will hit the market, just as AMD promised.  We already have a good idea about what those chips will be called as well as their specifications; Tim covered it in length here if you have yet to memorize all the models.

We will also see Thirdripper or as The Tech Report prefers, Threadripper the Third, though we lack any information on the date or models, you should expect to see it before the end of the year with even more cores running at a higher frequency.

AMD will also be releasing a Zen 2 based EPYC family, for chiplet fans everywhere!  They suggest it will be twice as fast as the previous generation overall, up to four times as fast in certain floating point operations and as is tradition it will be compatible with the current sockets on EPYC motherboards so you can do a quick and easy drop in upgrade. 

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"Can you really call something a leak if the company released it on purpose? AMD's just released a slide deck for its investors, and buried in those slides are a few tiny nuggets of interesting information. Let's take a quick peek into the red team's path ahead."

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Logitech's 24-Hour Gaming Stream and Fundraiser for International Women’s Day Starts Today

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2019 - 10:37 AM |
Tagged: water, twitch, streaming, logitech g, logitech, IWD, International Women’s Day, gaming, fundraiser, event, charity, blue microphones, ASTRO Gaming

Logitech is hosting a 24-hour live stream beginning today (March 7) at 2:00 PM Pacific Time / 5:00 PM Eastern  to celebrate International Women’s Day; with Logitech G, ASTRO Gaming, and Blue Microphones also involved in this "multi-city live stream".

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"To celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to acknowledge the women who contributed to gaming. Some of our favorite games have women at the helm, and many women are involved in creating the amazing technology used to play these great games.

As a part of this celebration,  Logitech, Logitech G, ASTRO Gaming and  Blue Microphones will host a 24-hour, multi-city live stream on March 7 and 8 to raise funds for charity: water. Their goal is to bring clean and safe drinking water to developing countries improving health, education and opportunity – especially for women and children, who spend up to 40 billion hours a year walking to collect clean water. It’s our goal to help improve the quality of life for women globally."

You can access the stream via the Logitech G Twitch channel and on TILTIFY, featuring "female gamers and Logitech employees around the world." Donations can be made to the foundation during the live stream, with Logitech matching the first $15,000.

"Please join us for this one-of-a-kind event. Help us celebrate diversity and donate to a worthy cause. As little as a $30 donation will bring clean water to an individual for an entire year. And if we hit our $30,000 goal, we’ll be able to bring three full communities clean water!"

Logitech provides this 24-hour stream schedule:

Thursday, March 7

  • 2pm – 10pm PT
    • Broadcast from the Logitech office in Newark, Calif.
    • Guest Streamer: @JessBrohard
  • 10pm – 2am PT /  Mar 8 7pm – 11pm Napier, New Zealand
    • Broadcast from New Zealand
    • Guest Streamer: LoriiPops

Friday, March 8

  • 2am – 6am PT / 10am – 2pm GMT
    • Broadcast from the Logitech office in Cork, Ireland
    • Guest Streamer: Fuzzy Freaks
  • 6am – 10am PT / 8am – 12pm CST
    • Broadcast from Mexico City, Mexico (in Spanish)
    • Guest Streamer: Why So Sara
  • 10am – 2pm PT
    • Broadcast from ASTRO Gaming in San Francisco, Calif.
    • Guest Streamer: @JessBrohard
Source: Logitech

OK, we exeucted Order 66 ... now what?

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2019 - 03:23 PM |
Tagged: Respawn Entertainment, ea, Star Wars, Jedi: Fallen Order, gaming

On April 13th the true power of the Fallen Order shall be demonstrated, as EA and Respawn Entertainment will reveal a demonstration of the new Star Wars game at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Chicago.  Along with the new game, there will also be an announcement involving Star Wars: The Old Republic, for those who are still playing that game. 

We don't know much about the new game, and with the developer of Titanfall and Apex Legends involved it could be just about anything.  You can see the official announcement of the pending announcement over at Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN.

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"If you’ve been off in a galaxy far, far away, Fallen Order is set shortly after the prequel trilogy, and tells the story of a young Padawan who somehow survived Order 66, the backstabbilicious Jedi purge carried out by the Emperor’s loyal clone army."

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How about some good news for a change, like a GPU price correction?

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2019 - 12:34 PM |
Tagged: amd, nvidia, cryptocurrency

The cryptocurrency fad has been driving us insane for the past few years as we saw unprecedented demand for GPUs cause prices to jump far above MSRP and possibly contribute to the launch prices of the current generation of GPUs.  Now that the miners have moved on to other things, or to ASICs designed specifically for mining, NVIDIA and AMD saw a large drop in sales volume.

DigiTimes have heard from card vendors that they have an immense amount of inventory stuck in warehouses now that demand has dried up.  According to their sources, the price cuts we've seen on the GTX 1060 and 1070 as well as the RX580 may start to spread to other cards in an attempt to clear space for new inventory.  You shouldn't expect huge drops over a short time, but you should definitely keep your eye out for bargains over the coming months.

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"With the dissipation of the cryptocurrency mining fad, graphics card players have begun cutting product prices in a bid to clear out excess inventory at the expense of profitability, according to industry sources."

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Source: DigiTimes

Spoiler alert! Don't have a Meltdown but Spectre isn't the only spooky thing about Intel chips

Subject: General Tech | March 5, 2019 - 06:29 PM |
Tagged: spoiler, spectre, security, meltdown, Intel

******Update*****

A spokesperson from Intel reached out to provide a statement for us.

“Intel received notice of this research, and we expect that software can be protected against such issues by employing side channel safe software development practices. This includes avoiding control flows that are dependent on the data of interest. We likewise expect that DRAM modules mitigated against Rowhammer style attacks remain protected. Protecting our customers and their data continues to be a critical priority for us and we appreciate the efforts of the security community for their ongoing research.”

This is good news as the original report suggested a sofware mitigation might not be possible.

********** End Update ***********

If Tim's post earlier today was bright spot on an otherwise dismal day, then get ready for the clouds to roll back in.  The performance drop experience from protecting yourself against Spectre and it's variants may have been mitigated to a point, however researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts, and the University of Lubeck have discovered Intel chips are still vulnerable to a newly discovered vulnerability dubbed Spoiler. 

Like the previous vulnerabilities it exploits speculative execution however unlike Spectre, Meltdown and their variants, it attacks via the Memory Order Buffer, using the timing behaviour it exposes.  If there is one bit of good news in this discovery, it is that only Intel processors are affected and not AMD nor ARM.

Read on at Slashdot if you aren't already depressed enough.

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"Like the Spectre and Meltdown attacks revealed in January 2018, Spoiler also abuses speculative execution in Intel chips to leak secrets. However, it targets a different area of the processor called the Memory Order Buffer, which is used to manage memory operations and is tightly coupled with the cache."

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Source: Slashdot

Samsung Mass Producing eUFS 3.0 Mobile Storage

Subject: General Tech | March 5, 2019 - 11:05 AM |
Tagged: V-NAND, smartphone, Samsung, eUFS

Samsung has begun mass production of its latest V-NAND based mobile storage solution. Conforming to the eUFS 3.0 standard, Samsung’s latest chips pair eight layers of 512Gb dies with a high-performance controller into a tiny 512 GB chip suitable for thin phones and tablets.

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Samsung claims its eUFS (embedded Universal Flash Storage) 3.0 chips offer up to twice the sequential performance of previous generation eUFS 2.1 storage and 20-times the performance of a typical micro SD card (~100 IOPS though some are faster). Specifically, the 512GB eUFS 3.0 chip offers up to 2,100 MB/s sequential read, 410 MB/s sequential write, 63,000 random read, and 68,000 random write speeds. The chart below compares eUFS 3.0, eUFS 2.1, eMMC 5.1, and a M.2 NVMe SSD.

  Samsung eUFS 3.0 Samsung 1TB eUFS 2.1 Samsung 512GB eUFS 2.0 MyDigitalSSD SBX M.2 NVMe eMMC 5.1
Sequential Read 2,100 MB/s 1,000 MB/s 860 MB/s 1,600 MB/s 250 MB/s
Sequential Write 410 MB/s 260 MB/s 255 MB/s 1,300 MB/s 125 MB/s
Random Read IOPS 63,000 58,000 42,000 240,000+ 11,000
Random Write IOPS 68,000 50,000 40,000 180,000+ 13,000

eUFS 3.0, eUFS 2.1, and eMMC 5.1 numbers courtesy Samsung. NVME PCI-E x2 SSD numbers are from PC Perspective in our review of the drive. For further comparison typical modern SATA SSD tend to be around 550 MB/s for sequentials and 95,000 IOPS.

Smartphone and tablets utilizing eUFS 3.0 should end up being notably faster than previous storage solutions. Interestingly, Samsung has managed to pull off sequential read performance that rivals much larger multi-chip NVME PCI-E x2 M.2 solid state drives though writes do not come close to those drives due to the number of chips/channels being much higher on the M.2 form factor whereas the eUFS 3.0 is limited to a single chip and limited layers to spread writes across. Random read and write performance is respectable with eUFS 3.0 but again not anywhere close to PCI-E/NVMe M.2 drives. Compared to a SATA SSD however, eUFS 3.0 looks much better offering significantly faster sequential reads (writes are fairly low to be competitive though) and with random performance that starts to approach budget and/or low capacity SATA SSD performance. That’s not to say computer users should give up M.2 for eUFS, of course, but that smartphone storage is rapidly improving and starting to close the gap between the platforms / form factors.

Samsung will be launching 512 GB and 128 GB eUFS 3.0 chips imminently with 1 TB and 256 GB chips to follow in the second half of 2019. We may have to wait until next year to see the new eUFS 3.0 standard catch on with most smartphones launching in 2019 already announced last month at Mobile World Congress. It is possible that some of those phones will use the faster internal storage, like Samsung’s own Galaxy Fold, but most will likely be based on eUFS 2.1.

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Source: Samsung

Microsoft Rolling Out Retpoline Optimizations Update to Reduce Performance Impact of Spectre 2 Mitigations

Subject: General Tech | March 4, 2019 - 08:12 PM |
Tagged: windows udpate, spectre, security, retpoline, microsoft, meltdown, cve-2017-5715

Microsoft recently detailed its testing of retpoline optimizations present in Windows Insider Preview builds of its Windows 10 operating system (18272 and newer) and has announced that starting with Microsoft Update KB4482887 on March 1st the company will be rolling out and enabling the Google-developed Retpoline performance optimizations that reduce the performance impact of security mitigations put in place to combat Spectre Variant 2 (CVE-2017-5715). Windows 10 users running 64-bit versions of Windows 10 Build 1809 and newer will have the Retpoline optimizations installed with the KB4482887 and other updates turned on via cloud configuration in a phased rollout.

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No retpoline fixups for me, at least not until Microsoft Update stops failing to install a newer build (heh). It may be time to nuke it from orbit and start fresh! If you get this error on a supported build you may have to run this PowerShell script from the Microsoft Support website to get it to work though when I tried I was not able to get PS to import the module...

As a refresher, Spectre Variant 2 is a security vulnerability related to speculative execution that requires CPU microcode as well as OS kernel updates to mitigate. Red Hat summarizes CVE-2017-5715 as “an indirect branching poisoning attack that can lead to data leakage. This attack allows for a virtualized guest to read memory from the host system.” Microsoft further clairifies:

“At a high level, the Spectre variant 2 attack exploits indirect branches to steal secrets located in higher privilege contexts (e.g. kernel-mode vs user-mode). Indirect branches are instructions where the target of the branch is not contained in the instruction itself, such as when the destination address is stored in a CPU register.”

Unfortunately, while Spectre Variant 1 was able to be patched at the OS kernel level, Spectre Variant 2 required processor microcode updates (or new hardware with different speculative execution methods) and the patches while necessary to improve security and mitigate potential attacks have an impact on performance. Last year, Google began work on “retpoline” to attempt to reduce the performance impact that these security measures have on systems. Retpoline ended up being much faster than IBRS (indirect branch restricted speculation) which is the default behavior post-mitigations but still slower than regular indirect calls / jumps (pre-mitigations). Retpoline replaces all indirect calls or jumps in kernel-mode binaries with indirect brand sequences that have safe speculation behavior, according to Microsoft. Retpoline applies to all AMD processors as well as Intel Broadwell and older architecture-based chips where the CPU RET (return from procedure) instructions do not speculate based on the contents of indirect call brand prediction. The retpoline methods allow for safe control transfers to target addresses by performing a function call, modifying the return address, and returning it. The optimizations are traditionally done at compile time with indirect calls being replaced with retpoline sequences. Microsoft stated that due to its need for legacy support and third-party driver code, such a compile-time optimization was simply not practical. Instead, Microsoft performs the retpoline optimizations at runtime. It extended the DVRT (Dynamic Value Relocation Table) format and NT Memory Manager to support the new retpoline metadata that can be added to the DVRT without breaking backwards compatibility. Speaking of backwards compatibility, the Redmond-based software giant plans to continue shipping Windows 10 as-is in a non-retpoline state to maintain wider compatibility and software support. Drivers and software that do support retpoline will be able to take advantage of the optimizations, however.

“As mentioned earlier, the Windows implementation needs to support mixed environments in which some drivers are not compiled with retpoline support. This means that we cannot simply replace every indirect call with a retpoline sequence like the example shown in the introduction. We need to ensure that the kernel gets the opportunity to inspect the target of the call or jump so that it can apply appropriate mitigations if the target does not support retpoline.” - Mehmet_Iyigun, Microsoft

DVRT metadata can store retpoline data for import calls/jumps, switchable jumps, and generic indirect calls/jumps, and then the extended NT Memory Manager infrastructure is used to understand that metadata and apply fixups / retpoline optimizations where applicable.

What does all this mean for performance though? Well, according to Microsoft and its internal testing, the company saw approximately 25% faster Microsoft Office application startup times and between a 1.5 to 2-times increase in storage and networking performance which is a notable improvement post-Spectre 2 patches. They also claimed that the performance impact has been "reduced to noise level for most situations." If you are running Windows Insider Preview 18272 or later on supporting hardware the retpoline optimizations should already be turned on for you (you can double check with PowerShell cmdlet Get-SpeculationControlSettings) and if you are running Windows 10 1809 or later the optimizations will be enabled within the first half of this year in a phased rollout.

Until we get new processors that are not affected by the various speculative execution attacks (which could be difficult if not impossible to totally eliminate just due to the nature of how those performance tricks work), optimizations like retpoline to reduce the performance impact of patches that improved security but limited full potential chip performance may well be our best bet.

Are you running one of the Windows Insider builds with retpoline enabled and noticed any increased application performance? You can check out Microsoft’s blog post with all the juicy programming details here. You can find the KB4482887 update information page here.

Related reading:

Source: Microsoft