The first Cyber Grand Challenge; using AI to hunt bugs. What could go wrong?

Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2017 - 01:36 PM |
Tagged: darpa, ai, security, Usenix Enigma 2017

DARPA hosted the first Cyber Grand Challenge last summer, in which the software from seven machine learning projects competed to find and patch vulnerabilities in a network, and to attack each other.  While the specific vulnerabilities discovered have not been made public you can read a bit about what was revealed about the contest at Usenix Enigma 2017 over at The Register.  For instance, one of the programs managed to find a flaw in the OS all the machines were running on and then hack into another to steal data.  A different machine noticed this occurring and patched itself on the fly, making sure that it was protected from that particular attack.  Also worth noting is that the entire contest was over in 20 minutes. 

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"The exact nature of these new bug types remains under wraps, although we hear that at least one involves exploitable vulnerabilities in data queues."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 Game Mode Gets Benchmarked, Still Needs Work

Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2017 - 11:54 PM |
Tagged: windows insider, Windows Game Mode, windows 10, pc gaming, creators update, beta

Last month Microsoft confirmed that a new "Game Mode" would be part of the upcoming Windows 10 Creator's Update planned for a spring release ("early 2017"). Microsoft has recently started rolling out the Game Mode to its beta testers in the latest Windows Insider preview build (for those on the fast track anyway, I am currently on the slow ring and do not have Game Mode yet). Now that it is rolled out in preview form, gamers have naturally started benchmarking it, and PC Games News has posted an article on their testing of the new feature and their findings on two Win32 and one UWP game. Not to spoil the results, but at this point Game Mode does not appear to offer anything and can even result in less frames per second with it turned on with its only saving grace being that in some situations it does offer increased performance when the Game DVR feature is also being used to record gameplay. They tested both a NVIDIA GTX 1060 and an AMD RX 480, and Game Mode in it's current preview software on a preview OS appears to have more benefits for NVIDIA while the AMD card PC Games News tested mostly just did it's thing regardless of whether Game Mode was turned on or off (heh, not necessarily a bad thing). 

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With Game Mode now rolling out to Windows Insiders, there is more information on how Microsoft plans to implement it. Rather than hiding it in the Xbox app, Microsoft has thankfully put it in the main settings app under the Gaming category and users access it by bringing up a Game Bar menu in-game for those games that support it (PC Games News noted Doom and GTA V did not work). Game Mode is an OS-level feature that will dedicate a certain amount of CPU threads to the game when it is turned on and leaves the remaining threads to be used by background processes (which themselves are reportedly minimized). Currently, this seems to work better with multi-threaded games and older games that were coded to only use one or two threads may not see any benefit in turning Game Mode on (and it may actually result in lower FPS). To Microsoft's credit, they are not over promising with Game Mode and note that it should be good for around 2% better performance when enabled with Game Mode having a bigger impact on UWP titles.

I encourage you to check out the PC Games News article where they have their benchmark results presented in a number of bar graphs. Most of the tests saw little to no benefit from using Game Mode, but not a negative effect. Some games like Hitman saw a 6% increase in average frames per second on the GTX 1060. On the other side of things, Forza Horizon 3 (ironically, a UWP game) performance actually drops when Game Mode is turned on to the tune of 13% to 23% less FPS with the RX 480 and 9% to 15% less with the GTX 1060. As far as Tomb Raider, things are more in the middle and things stay the same or get slightly better minimum frames per second when Game Mode and Game DVR are both turned on (though oddly there is a result in there that shows a performance drop with Game Mode on and Game DVR off).

It ia also worth noting that overall, the trend seems to be that Game Mode is going to be most beneficial at increasing the minimum frame rates on games with the Game DVR feature is being used moreso than getting overall maximum or average FPS out of a game. The biggest hurdle is going to be game compatiblity, especially for older games, and Microsoft tweaking things so that at worst Game Mode won't tank performance (like it currently does with Hitman minimum frame rates when Game Mode is on but DVR is off) and things will stay the same as if Game Mode was not on at all and at best gamers will get slightly smoother gameplay.

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Source: PCGamesN.com

Right now Game Mode is not compelling, but it is still a work in progress and if Microsoft can get Game Mode right it could be a useful addition (and incentive to upgrade to Windows 10 is probably why they are interested in pursuing this feature) and could come in handy especially on gaming laptops! I am not writing off the feature yet, and neither should you, but I do hope that compatibility is improved and the performance hits are reduced or eliminated when it is enabled. My guess is that the games that will work well with Game Mode are going to be almost all newer games and especially games that are developed post Creator's Update final release with Game Mode in mind.

Hopefully we can use our frame rating on the final product to see how well it truly works as far as user experience and smooth gameplay. What are your thoughts on Windows 10's Game Mode?

Sony Will Add USB Hard Drive Support To PS4 and Boost Mode to PS4 Pro

Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2017 - 02:25 AM |
Tagged: usb 3.0, sony, ps4 pro, ps4, gaming, console

Sony is taking the wraps off of its latest firmware with the release of version 4.50 “Sasuke” beta firmware for the PS4. With the new firmware, Sony is rolling out a number of UI/UX improvement and users will finally be able to use external storage with the game console. On the PS4 Pro front, Sony will be adding a “boost mode” in a future update (it may not be ready in time for a production 4.50 release) that lets legacy games access the additional GPU horsepower of the Pro version of the console to smooth out frame rates without needing any special patches from the game developers.

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The new firmware adds support for USB 3.0 hard drives (or SSDs) up to 8TB. Users will be able to use the external storage to store games, downloaded applications, screenshots, and videos and have it all show up on the main system menu along with the local storage. Users will not need to shuffle game data back and forth in order to play their games either. Note that currently, the actual save game data is still stored locally even if the game itself is stored on the external hard drive. Fans of the PlayStation VR (PS VR) also get an update with firmware 4.50 in the form of support for watching 3D Blu Rays. Beyond those big feature updates, Sony is also changing up the interface slightly. The Quick Menu now takes up less screen space and will allow gamers to create and join parties right from there rather than going to a separate app. In the notification area, Sony has condensed all the various notification types into a single unified list. Further, users will be able to set in game screenshots as the home screen wallpaper.

Perhaps most interesting is the planned “boost mode” for the PS4 Pro which is currently in beta. Gamers are reporting that titles such as The Evil Within and Just Cause 3 are significantly smoother frame rates with noticeably reduced stuttering. Reportedly, the boost mode will work with most PS4 games that were programmed with unlocked frame rates though the exact benefits will vary. Games that have a hard cap on the frame rate will still need specific patches from the game developers to get any improvements. Ars Technica speculates that the “boost mode” is simply Sony removing its own blocks it put in place to force compatibility with older games that were developed with the base PS4 in mind. When the boost mode is off, the PS4 Pro GPU has part of itself turned off such that it functions exactly as the PS4’s GPU and activating boost mode takes away the blocks and allows the full GPU (with it's 36 CUs) to process the game data as best it can. Getting things like native higher resolutions or more detailed textures will still require patches, of course.

If you have a PS4 or PS4 Pro, keep an eye on the beta Sasuke 4.50 firmware.

Also read:

Source: Ars Technica

Learn about AMD's Vega Memory Architecture

Subject: General Tech | February 3, 2017 - 01:40 PM |
Tagged: amd, Vega, Jeffrey Cheng

Tech ARP had a chance talk with AMD's Jeffrey Cheng about the new Vega GPU memory architecture.  He provided some interesting details such as the fact that the new architecture can handle up to 512 TB of addressable memory.  With such a large pool it would be possible to store data sets in HBM2 memory to be passed to the GPU as opposed to sitting in general system memory.  Utilizing the memory present on the GPU could also reduce costs and energy consumption, not to mention the fact it will perform far more quickly.  Pop by to watch the video to see how he feels this could change the way games and software could be programmed.

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"Want to learn more about the AMD Vega memory architecture? Join our Q&A session with AMD Senior Fellow Jeffrey Cheng at the AMD Tech Summit!"

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Source: TechARP

Well, forget about gifting those bundled NVIDIA games

Subject: General Tech | February 2, 2017 - 12:54 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, GFE, game bundle, geforce experience 3.0

Giving away a bonus to your customers is a nice thing to do; watching them jump through hoops to get the bonus is less so.  Many companies have realized that offering a mail in rebate is a great way to look like you are doing something for your customers while at the same time ensuring a significant percentage of those customers never actually claim said MIR.  Strangely this practice has not impressed consumers.

NVIDIA started to embrace something similar towards the end of 2016 with GeForce Experience 3.0, requiring a mandatory login to get at beta drivers and more pertinently, giveaways.  That login requirement includes all the game bundles, such as the one announced yesterday.  Ars Technica reported something interesting this morning that anyone thinking of picking up one of the games bundles should be aware of; NVIDIA now intends to tie these game codes to hardware.  Currently you will need to sign into GFE, verify your code and then allow GFE to verify you have a GTX 1070 or 1080 installed in your system, which strongly suggests you will need to install software.  Ars speculates that this could one day be tied directly to a card via a hardwareID or serial number; making it impossible to give away.

The rational offered references an incident with Microsoft a few months back when "some Gears 4 Windows 10 keys were obtained illegitimately via our Nvidia promotion".  This was  thanks to a loophole created by Amazon's return policy.  Of course, some of those so called illegitimate installations were caused by someone giving or even selling the game key which they obtained legally, because they had already purchased Gears 4.  It is unclear if NVIDIA only pays for codes which are redeemed or if the money has already been invested; in the former it at least makes financial sense, if the latter then Bird Culture has an appropriate phrase.

Once again, everyone must be punished thanks to the overreaction caused by a few smegheads.  Keep this in mind when you are shopping in the future.

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"GFE then performs "a hardware verification step to ensure the coupon code is redeemed on the system with the qualifying GPU." It's not yet clear whether the codes will be tied to a specific serial number/hardware identifier, or whether they will be tied to an overall product line like a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080."

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Source: Ars Technica

ZeniMax Awarded $500 Million USD in Oculus Lawsuit

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2017 - 08:19 PM |
Tagged: zenimax, VR, Oculus, facebook

On May 1st, 2014, ZeniMax, who owns id Software and Bethesda Softworks, sued Oculus VR, claiming that it had some ownership of their virtual reality technology. This accusation occurred about a month after Facebook announced that they were acquiring Oculus for $2 billion USD. At least part of their claim was due to work that John Carmack did before he left id Software the year prior, in August 2013.

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Today, a North Texas jury awarded ZeniMax $500 million USD from Oculus. This figure is broken down as follows: $300 million against Oculus as a company, $50 million against Palmer Luckey as an individual, and $150 million against Brendan Iribe as an individual. The jury found John Carmack wasn’t responsible for any damages as an individual, so he’s clear of this whole issue.

Oculus and Facebook plan to appeal their judgments.

According to this decision, the jury believes that ZeniMax has some ownership over Oculus’ trademark and source code copyrights. They also believe that, again, according to the verdict, which is hosted by Ars Technica, Oculus violated a non-disclosure agreement that caused $200,000,000 in damages to ZeniMax, but will not continue to damage the company in the future. (See the few pages before Page 49, inclusive.) The personal judgments against Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe are due to the pair not acknowledging ZeniMax’s contributions to Oculus.

Update (February 2nd @ 12:30pm EST): As pointed out in the comments, that was an old tweet from 2014. I just came across it and somehow missed the date stamp. My mistake!

After this decision, John Carmack tweeted:

 

 

As always, lots of things can change during the appeals process. For now, it looks like both ZeniMax and John Carmack received a little vindication, though.

Source: Ars Technica

You load 58GB and what do you get? A prettier settlement Garvey says is facing a threat

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2017 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: gaming, fallout 4

Arriving soon on Steam for Fallout 4 owners is an texture update which is rather impressive in size.  Not only do you need the space to fit a game that will triple in size but the hardware requirements have gone up, at the least an i7-5820K, 8GB GTX 1080 or RX 490 8GB and  8GB of RAM is recommended.  You will be able to add the content on Steam and easily remove it if your box is not quite up to the task. Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN were also told next week is bringing new features to Mod content.  Follow the link for screenshots.

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"Can your box blast bonny Boston? Is your rig ready for the roof felt? Can your hog handle HD hats? Is your silicon-snorting framecrusher pumped for 60 reps of sand a second? Will your deck deck the decking? Read on for the system requirements."

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Microsoft's hot new idea for the server room; IR lasers

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2017 - 12:51 PM |
Tagged: wireless, servers, firefly

Forget LiFi, Firefly uses infrared lasers to transmit data and torture acronyms.  Researchers out of Penn State, backed by Microsoft, are working on a way to get rid of the wiring in your server room and replace it with IR lasers and mirrors; hold the smoke.  By using multiplexed beams, they have created a proof of concept test which allows bi-directional data streams at 10 gigabits per second though there is some work to be done before it is ready for a full test.

The mirrors would be MEMs controlled, ensuring that the signal should theoretically be able to reach any receiver, even ones obscured by other equipment.  Anyone sick of cable management or looking for new ways to keep people out of the server room can take a peek at the link to the research that The Register posted.  On the other hand, the simple act of walking into your server room, setting down a box or even a leaf on the wind would be likely to cause downtime.  Could protective goggles might be the newest sysadmin fashion faux pas? 

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"Shown off at Photonics West 2017 in San Francisco, Firefly (acronymically tortured out of Free-space optical Inter-Rack nEtwork with high FLexibilitY, we kid you not) proposes FSO to provide multiple 10 Gbps inter-rack links."

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Source: The Register

Razer Announces Yellow Mechanical Keyboard Switch

Subject: General Tech | January 31, 2017 - 07:49 PM |
Tagged: razer, mechanical keyboard

Since they ended their reliance upon Cherry’s MX line of switches, Razer created / co-created their own line. Until this month, desktop keyboards contained one of two, color-coded entries: the Razer Green or the Razer Orange mechanical keyboard switches. The Green is designed to be similar to the Cherry MX Blue, with a 50cN activation force and a clicky response. The Orange, on the other hand, aims at the Cherry MX Brown, with a 45cN activation force and a bumpy response, without a click. As such, both of them have some sort of feedback at the point of activation.

(One cN weighs about as much as a gram on the surface of the Earth.)

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This month, Razer announced the Razer Yellow switch. They are claiming this one is linear and silent, with an activation force of 45cN. Comparing back to my table, you would see this fits right in with the Cherry MX Red switch, although Razer has, again, changed the design slightly, mostly around travel distance. I’m personally not really a fan of linear switches on keyboards, mostly because I type and I tend to bottom them out. Still, they are a beloved option for many, and now Razer provides the option.

The Razer Yellow switch is just available in the Razer Blackwidow Chrome V2 at the moment.

Source: Razer

NVIDIA Bundle launches today! For Honor or Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

Subject: General Tech | January 31, 2017 - 12:57 PM |
Tagged: game, nvidia, GTX 1080, gtx 1070, For Honor, tom clancy, Ghost Recon Wildlands

Today NVIDIA offers a new free Ubisoft game for those picking up a GTX 1070, GTX 1080 or a system containing one or more of those cards.  You can choose either For Honor, an arena stlye game pitting Knights, Samurai and Vikings in hand to hand combat or Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands which will lie somewhere between Arma and Just Cause.  Neither game is yet released, For Honor arrives February 14th while Ghost Recon Wildlands doesn't launch until March 7th but you can get an early look at the game.

NVIDIA has also made the process to collect your game somewhat easier, as long as your GeForce and Ubisoft accounts are linked you can simply enter the code to chose your free game.  If you are one to avoid Uplay at all costs you could always give your code away as a gift.

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"We are also debuting a new easier way to redeem codes through GeForce Experience, it means customers no longer have to tolerate long sign up webpages but can simply enter their code within GeForce Experience itself and have their choice of game automatically added to their Uplay account."

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Source: NVIDIA