MSI Is Turning Thirty Years Old with Thirty Giveaways

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Motherboards | November 1, 2016 - 05:23 PM |
Tagged: msi, giveaway, giveaways, pc gaming

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, MSI is having a massive giveaway. Each day, from today (November 1st) to November 30th, you are able to answer a trivia question to be entered in that day's drawing. Being that it's MSI, they are also requiring that you capitalize every letter of your answer. I'm not joking; that really is in their How to Enter process. You also need to follow MSI and HyperX on Twitter to enter but, although the form is through Facebook, it looks like you do not need a Facebook account. I could be wrong about that last part, though.

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Also, winning a prize does not exclude you from winning future prizes. Don't bother trying to game the system, like waiting to enter until the “good prizes” but not the “great prizes” that will get too many entries, etc. Try every day if you can, even if you already won previously.

The prize for today is the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GAMING 4G from MSI, but they vary wildly from day to day. Even though NVIDIA is a partner in this giveaway, along with HyperX and Intel, there are even some AMD cards scattered throughout the month. I mean, it makes sense: MSI sells AMD cards. Their contest page claims that the total prize pool is up to $14,000 USD.

Check out the contest page for more details, and enter at the button below the list of prizes.

Source: MSI

Adobe Releases Another Flash Player Update for Linux

Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2016 - 12:49 PM |
Tagged: Adobe, linux, mozilla

Apparently I missed this the first time around, but Adobe has decided to continue supporting the NPAPI version of Flash Player on Linux. They have just released their second update, Flash Player 24 Beta, on October 28th for both 32- and 64-bit platforms. Before September, Adobe was maintaining Flash Player 11.2 with security updates. Adobe has also extended NPAPI support beyond 2017, which was supposed to be the original cut-off for that plug-in architecture on Linux, and pledge to keep “major version numbers in sync”.

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This took me by surprise. Browser vendors, even Mozilla, have been deprecating NPAPI for a while. Plug-ins are unruly from a security and performance standpoint, and they would much rather promote the Web standards that they work so hard to implement, rather than being a window frame around someone else's proprietary platform.

So what are Adobe thinking? Well, they claim that this “is primarily a security initiative”. As such, it would make sense that, possibly, and again I'm an outsider musing here, the gap between now and 11.2 was large enough that it would be easier to just maintain two branches.

Still, this seems a little... late... for that to be the reason, unless Adobe, then, expected Flash to die off and, now, see it hanging around a little while longer. Meanwhile, on the tools side of things, Adobe has pivoted Flash Professional into Animate CC, with the ability to export to HTML and JavaScript, so they don't really need to keep Flash on life support. It's not at feature parity, but it's getting there. Granted, a lot of the game and animation hosting sites are set up to just accept a packaged Flash file, so maybe that market is holding them back?

Whatever the reason, Flash on Linux is continuing to be supported for all browsers. If you find yourself at the intersection of Linux, Firefox, and hobbyist-developed Tower Defense games, you can pick up the latest plug-in at Adobe Labs.

Source: Adobe Labs

The Dell Alienware 13 arrives, with a 1440p OLED screen and GTX 1060

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | November 1, 2016 - 12:25 PM |
Tagged: oled, GTX1060, dell, Alienware 13, alienware

Dell has announced four base models of Alienware 13 gaming notebooks, a TN model, a 1080p IPS model and two 1440p OLED models; one with 8GB of DDR4 and one with double that amount.  The two non-OLED models are powered by an i5-6300HQ while the OLED models contain an i7-6700HQ and all four have a desktop class GTX 1060.  That should offer you enough to power an Oculus or Vive, especially if you opt to purchase the Alienware Graphics Amplifier which is an external GPU dock that uses a proprietary connection from Dell.  It is described as a proprietary PCIe connection which provides four lanes of PCIe 3.0, which sounds very similar to Thunderbolt 3.0 which also provides four lanes when done correctly.

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It is also nice to see that all use SSDs for storage, the TN model a SATA drive and the other four base models a PCIe SSD.  One must assume that the pink can be turned off in the BIOS, though there are those guaranteed to like the glow.  You can check out all of the additional features and options on Dell's page and perhaps even pick one up as they are available as of today.  Hopefully we will have a chance to test Dell's external GPU connection against the more common Thunderbolt solutions in the near future.

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Source: Dell

Feral Interactive Plans Vulkan Ports in 1st Half of 2017

Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2016 - 07:12 PM |
Tagged: feral interactive, pc gaming, vulkan, linux

Beginning in the first half of next year, Feral Interactive plans to release software running on the Vulkan API. Feral is one of the three well known Linux port developers, the other two being Aspyr Media and an independent contractor, Ryan C. Gordon, who convert Windows games under some deal with the original creators.

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They didn't claim which game would be first. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be initially released on OpenGL, but people are speculating that, since its rendering back-end is set up to efficiently queue DirectX 12 tasks, which is the same basic structure that Vulkan uses, Feral might release a patch to it later. Alternatively, they could have another title in the works, although I cannot think of anything short of DOOM that would fit the bill, and there has been nothing from Bethesda, id, or Feral to suggest that is leaving Windows. Maybe Tomb Raider?

Whatever it is, we're beginning to see more than just engine developers port software to the new graphics APIs, and on multiple platforms, too.

Lenovo now allows Linux on Signature Edition Yoga laptops but still protest their innocence

Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2016 - 12:29 PM |
Tagged: Lenovo, yoga, linux, Yoga 900S

As we discovered back in September, the new Lenovo Yoga Signature Editions on the market would not allow you to boot your machine from a Linux installation.  This was caused by the Intel software RAID used in these machines which has had a long history of trouble with Linux.  Today Lenovo made a BIOS update available which will allow your Yoga to see a disk with Linux installed and to boot from it, likely by allowing you to switch your SATA drive from RAID to AHCI mode.  Lenovo has made it clear that any support for RAID mode will have to come from Linux developers which makes perfect sense as they are the driving force behind such support.  What confuses many, including The Register, is why Lenovo removed the ability to switch SATA modes in the BIOS in the first place.

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"Following last month's criticisms, Lenovo has released a BIOS update for its Yoga 900 range of laptops, finally allowing them to support GNU/Linux installations."

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Source: The Register

Mozilla Unveils Quantum Project

Subject: General Tech | October 30, 2016 - 01:09 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, servo, gecko, firefox

One of the big announcements at Mozilla Summit 2013, despite Firefox OS being the focus of the event, was their research (with Samsung) into a new rendering engine, Servo. Rendering HTML5 is horrifically complex, so creating a new rendering engine from scratch is a big “nope!” for basically all organizations. Mozilla saw this as a big potential, because current engines are very difficult to scale to multiple cores, so they went in to this as a no-assumptions experiment.

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At the time, they didn't know whether Servo would be built up into a full rendering engine, or whether it would be picked apart and pulled back into their current engine, Gecko. Mozilla has now unveiled Quantum, and the first sentence of its MozillaWiki entry is “Quantum is not a new web browser.” They go on to say that they will be “building on the Gecko engine as a solid foundation”. So it seems pretty clear that, like they've recently done with their media file parser in Firefox 48.

While this will likely not have the major impact that “boom, new engine” would, in terms of performance, this piece-wise method should be quicker than bulking up Servo. Mozilla expects that big changes will begin to land next year.

Source: Mozilla

Kaby Lake for your Gigabyte boards

Subject: General Tech, Motherboards | October 28, 2016 - 12:25 PM |
Tagged: Z170, LGA 1151, kaby lake, Intel H170, Intel B150, H110, bios

If you are running an LGA 1151 Gigabyte motherboard then you should stop at this post over at the Guru of 3D some time in the near future and grab an updated BIOS.  They were kind enough to provide links for the updates of 47 different motherboards ranging from Z170's down to H110's.  Q-Flash means you can update from within the BIOS with USB drive and with Q-Flash Plus you don't even need memory or a CPU installed; we've come a long way from the customized 3.5" boot disks involved in flashing.  On the other hand that special thrill of terror has gone away.

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"Following MSI and ASUS, Gigabyte now as well offers Kaby Lake compatible BIOS updates for their Z170, H170, B150 and H110 series motherboards. "

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Source: Guru of 3D

Opera Adds Built In VPN and Ad Blocking To Web Browser

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | October 28, 2016 - 12:46 AM |
Tagged: editorial, web browser, vpn, Privacy, Opera, Blink

It has been some time since I last looked at Opera, and while I used to be a big fan of the alternative web browser my interest waned around the time that they abandoned their own engine to become (what I felt) yet another Chrome (Webkit) clone. Specifically, it looks like the last version I tested out was 12.10. Well, last month Opera released version 40 with just enough of a twist to pique my interest once again: the inclusion of a free built-in VPN.

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I (finally) got around to testing out the new browser today, and it works fairly well. While setting the default to share usage data is not ideal, offering to enable the ad blocker after installation is a good touch. The VPN feature is a bit more tucked away than I would like but still accessible enough from the settings menu. Further, once it is enabled, it is easy to turn it off and on using the icon in the search/address bar.

According to Opera, the built-in VPN (virtual private network) comes courtesy of SurfEasy – a company that Opera acquired last year. SurfEasy uses OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption and also lauds itself on being a no-log VPN (they do not maintain logs tracking users' usage). Opera is not currently imposing any restrictions on the free VPN built into Opera with bandwith and data usage not being capped. Not bad for a free offering! For comparison, I've used the free version of ProXPN on occasion (public Wi-Fi mostly), and while the VPN is for the entire PC (not just the browser like in Opera's case) they heavily throttle the download speeds to entice you to pay (heh).

In a quick test, I got the following results:

  Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
No VPN 13 90.26 12.14
Opera VPN 108 89.72 12.06
ProXPN Basic 38 1.74 11.19

Considering the exit point was much further away (SpeedTest chose a Kansas test server, and it looks like the VPN server may have been in Houston, TX), the performance was not bad. Download and Upload speeds were only slightly slower, but (as expected) the ping was much higher.

Opera offers five locations for its free VPN: Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States.

Users can enable the VPN by browsing to opera://settings and clicking on Privacy & Security in the left hand list then checking the box next to "Enable VPN."

On another note, the included ad blocker seemed to work well (it apparently has already blocked 86 ads even though I only hit up a couple sites!). My only complaint here is that it does not make it as easy as AdBlock Plus to block/unblock specific elements (or if there is a way it's not intuitive). It is only a minor complaint though, and not really relevant for the majority of users.

I am by no means a browser benchmarker, but it feels fast enough when switching between tabs and loading websites. Fortunately, Michael Muchmore and Max Eddy put Opera through its paces and compiled the benchmark results from several synthetic tests if you are into the nitty-gritty numbers. From their data it appears that Opera is not the fastest, but by no means a slouch. The one test it fell hard on was the Unity WebGL benchmark, though it was not the only browser to do so (Opera, Chrome, and Vivaldi were all close with FireFox and Edge getting the top scores).

Other features of Opera 40 (41 in my case) include a personalized newsfeed that can be fed with any user-supplied RSS feeds, a new battery saver mode, hardware accelerated pop-out videos, Chromecast support, and a number of under the hood performance and memory optimizations (especially with more than 10 tabs open).

I am going to keep it installed and may switch back to using Opera as my daily browser. It looks like it has come a long way since Opera 12 and while it is similar to Chrome under the hood, Opera is doing enough to set itself apart that it may be worth looking into further.

What are your thoughts on Opera 41? 

Source: Opera

Cooler Master MasterPulse Pro, giving the bass more room to breathe

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2016 - 02:00 PM |
Tagged: coolermaster, MasterPulse Pro, gaming headset, audio

The feature which Cooler Master would like you to focus on when listening to their MasterPulse Pro is the bass, specifically their Bass FX.  The covers on the ear cups are magnetic, allowing you to swap between a closed ear cup or open concept audio experience in an instant; apparently when open you let the bass breath like a fine wine.  Does this have any effect or is it the 44mm drivers and inline soundcard which could make these your next headphones?  Check out Kitguru and see what you think.

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"As important as having a decent keyboard and mouse is for any enthusiast PC gaming setup, having decent audio quality should also be on the priority list. Today, we are taking a look at the Cooler Master ‘MasterPulse’ Gaming Headset, aiming to offer a ‘groundbreaking audio experience’ with its new headphone drivers and patented Bass FX technology. "

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Source: Kitguru

Qualcomm is going for a drive

Subject: General Tech | October 27, 2016 - 01:03 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, billions, nxp

Qualcomm will obviously be expanding into the automotive industry with their purchase of NXP Semiconductors. You may not have heard of them but if you own a car you likely have a few of their products, they supply the chips which handle keyless entry, entertainment systems, RF comms and even the USB chargers.  They generally utilize ARM chips and while this is unlikely to change, Qualcomm will add their own special sauce to upcoming generations of vehicular electronics.  The mobile phone industry is very large but also slowing down and this purchase should help Qualcomm stay at the forefront of the market.  Pop over to Slashdot for links and reactions.

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"San Diego-based Qualcomm agreed to pay $110 a share in cash for NXP, the biggest supplier of chips used in the automotive industry, or 11 percent more than Wednesday's close, the companies said in a statement Thursday. The deal will be funded with cash on hand as well as new debt. Chief Executive Officer Steve Mollenkopf is betting the deal, the largest in the chip industry's history, will accelerate his company's entry into the burgeoning market for electronics in cars."

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Source: Slashdot