Microsoft Announces Xbox One Elite Controller for Windows 10

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2015 - 10:24 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Steam Controller, microsoft, E3 2015, E3 15, E3, controller

And, of course, Xbox One... but I can assume who is the bulk of my audience.

Microsoft announced the Xbox One Elite Controller at E3, which includes support for Windows 10. This is part of their initiative to amend relations with the PC gaming industry. They seem to be going about it by focusing on the high-end gamer first. If not, then I wonder why they chose a $150 controller as a leading product.

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At that price, you could literally purchase three Steam Controllers from Valve instead of a single one of these, but whether you should... depends. In all honesty, I might end up purchasing both and doing a comparison between them over a variety of games. Of course, my primary input device is the mouse and keyboard for most games, but I occasionally add an early model Xbox 360 wired controller to the mix for Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, NASCAR 2003, and a few other titles.

The real disappointment is its D-Pad, though. It just cannot reliably send a single direction without sometimes accidentally sending others. This gets worse in games that are styled in the “8-bit” and “16-bit” era. I actually need to play most of those on a keyboard, which is a terrible experience. Valve's implementation looks interesting with the cross-shaped thumbpad, but Microsoft's new version has options: an old-fashioned cross as well as a nine-sectioned cup, called a “faceted D-pad”.

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That leads into the main design of Microsoft's controller: customization. Two switches on the back of the controller allow the range of trigger motion to be limited on the fly. This is designed for games like Grand Theft Auto, where the player wants precise control over throttle and brake, but would prefer to rapidly max-out the trigger as fast as possible when shooting a weapon. With this controller, you flip the switch when you leave the car and, what normally would be some fraction of its range, would be considered “bottoming out” and it would apparently even physically stop the trigger from pushing in further. According to the website, the threshold is user-customizable. I did not use it personally because I wasn't at E3.

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Like Valve's controller, it has optional rear paddles near the grips. They are stainless steel apparently, and can be used to compensate for weird button combinations by mapping them to fingers that normally just clutch the device itself. In Valve's version, there is just two while Microsoft's allows for up to four. Microsoft also allows you to detach them, rather than just disable them.

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This is when we get to software customization. Valve claims that the Steam Controller can be bound to many events across mouse, keyboard, and gamepad buttons and axises. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be keeping within the range of buttons found on a standard Xbox One controller. This is concerning to me because it means that extended inputs will be redundant, which is fine for an Xbox One game but could be annoying for a PC title that has many independent, simpler commands. This might be a limitation of XINPUT, which supposedly cannot address more than 10 buttons. I thought I remembered that limit being extended, but that seems to be true even in the MSDN documentation. Even still, the driver could address the extra functions as a secondary virtual device (keyboards, etc.) but Microsoft doesn't seem to want to. As a final note, Valve also allows the end of both triggers to be considered a clicky button, while Microsoft just recognizes it as a bottomed-out axis.

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The Xbox One Elite Controller will ship in October for $149.99. A wireless adapter for the PC will not be required if you use the included USB Micro cable, but add that to the price if you want it wireless. Add batteries on top of that, because it takes AA. They include a pair of disposable AA, but that is obviously not a permanent solution.

Computex 2015: PowerColor Debuts Devil HDX Sound Card

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2015 - 07:00 AM |
Tagged: sound card, powercolor, devil hdx, computex

PowerColor is best known as an add-in board (AIB) partner of AMD who has also branched out into cases and power supplies. This year, they have introduced a new product category: sound cards. The PowerColor Devil HDX connects via PCIe and can take up one or two slots, depending on whether the user wants to install its included (!!) daughterboard with analog (4 x 3.5mm) surround outputs and a microphone input. Without the daughterboard, the card has a quarter-inch headphone jack, two analog RCA jacks for stereo, an RCA SPDIF output, and an optical SPDIF output. The main card is covered in a full EMF shield, because it's inside a computer.

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The card includes switchable OP-AMPs, high quality capacitors, a Cmedia CM8888 audio processor, and a Wolfson WM8741 DAC. This configuration is capable of driving headphones with up to 600 Ohm impedance. The signal-to-noise ratio is a little better on the RCA jacks, because they're not amplified, but not by much. The RCA jacks are rated at 124 dB SNR, while the headphones are rated at 120 dB SNR with the supplied OP-AMPs. PowerColor wrote a driver interface, called “Xear”, which includes ASIO 2.2 support.

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The PowerColor Devil HDX doesn't have a release date but Tom's Hardware, who spoke with the company, said it should be “over the coming months”. They also said it will retail for $159, which is apparently $50 less than their competition.

Source: PowerColor

Computex 2015: Micron Announces 16nm TLC For Consumer SSDs

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:47 PM |
Tagged: tlc, ssd, micron, flash, computex 2015, computex, 16nm

Chugging right along that TechInsights Flash Roadmap we saw last year, Micron has announced the TLC extension to their 16nm flash memory process node.

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While 16nm TLC was initially promised Q4 of 2014, I believe Micron distracted themselves a little with their dabbles into Dynamic Write Acceleration technology. No doubt wanting to offer ever more cost effective SSDs to their portfolio, the new TLC 16nm flash will take up less die space for the same capacity, meaning more dies per 300mm wafer, ultimately translating to lower cost/GB of consumer SSDs.

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Micron's 16nm (MLC) flash

The Crucial MX200 and BX100 SSDs have already been undercutting the competition in cost/GB, so the possibility of even lower cost SSDs is a more than welcome idea - just so long as they can keep the reliability of these parts high enough. IMFT has a very solid track record in this regard, so I don't suspect any surprises in that regard.

Full press blast appears after the break.

Computex 2015: OCZ Trion and Z-Drive 6000, 6300 SSDs Sighted

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:18 PM |
Tagged: Z-Drive 6300, Z-Drive 6000, Trion, ssd, pcie, OCZ Technology, ocz, NVMe, computex 2015, computex

OCZ is showing off some new goodies at Computex 2015 in the form of a completely new SSD model – the Trion:

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The Trion is based on an in-house Toshiba ‘Alishan’ controller – the first internal design from that company. Since it is sourced from within Toshiba, the new SSD controller is to be tuned for consumer workloads and should employ lower power states than prior OCZ / Indilinx SSD controllers, as well as Toshiba’s own proprietary QSBC (Quadruple Swing-By Code) error correction technology, which should squeeze a bit more usable life out of the A19nm TLC flash. This is what QSBC looks like compared to competing BCH and LDPC technologies:

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We suspect Toshiba dialed back the algorithm a bit for client usage, but it should still be far superior to BCH. We don’t have many more details as the Trion has not yet been officially launched, but we do have this shot of a round of benchmark results from a pre-production 960GB model:

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From what we can see, it appears to be a good performer (by modern SATA 6Gb/sec SSD standards), but we naturally can't tell anything for sure until we get samples in for local testing, as we have no idea of the state of preconditioning of the Trion in those tests.

Also on display were the recently launched Z-Drive 6000 and 6300 Series parts:

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These are OCZ’s enterprise-grade NVMe devices, available in 800GB, 1.6TB, and 3.2TB. The 6000 series is a 2.5” 15mm SFF-8639 device aimed at lighter workloads with a rating of 1 Drive Write Per Day (DWPD) over a 5-year period, while the 6300 series brings that figure up to 3 DWPD and offers an HHHL PCIe card as an optional form factor. The higher writes per day are facilitated by the move to A19nm eMLC flash.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on these new developments from OCZ and we are eager to get these in the shop for some thorough testing!

Press blast for the Trion and Z-Drive 6300 Series after the break!

A substantial upgrade for Thunderbolt

Today at Computex, Intel took the wraps off of the latest iteration of Thunderbolt, a technology that I am guessing many of you thought was dead in the water. It turns out that's not the case, and this new set of features that Thunderbolt 3 offers may in fact push it over the crest and give it the momentum needed to become a useable and widespread standard.

First, Thunderbolt 3 starts with a new piece of silicon, code named Alpine Ridge. Not only does Alpine Ridge increase the available Thunderbolt bandwidth to 40 Gbps but it also adds a native USB 3.1 host controller on the chip itself. And, as mobile users will be glad to see, Intel is going to start utilizing the new USB Type-C (USB-C) connector as the standard port rather than mini DisplayPort.

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This new connector type, that was already a favorite among PC Perspective staff because of its size and its reversibility, will now be the way connectivity and speed increases this generation with Thunderbolt. This slide does a good job of summarizing the key take away from the TB3 announcement: 40 Gbps, support for two 4K 60 Hz displays, 100 watt (bi-directional) charging capability, 15 watt device power and support for four protocols including Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, USB and PCI Express.

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Protocol support is important and Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C will be able to connect directly to a DisplayPort monitor, to an external USB 3.1 storage drive, an old thumb drive or a new Thunderbolt 3 docking station. This is truly unrivaled flexibility from a single connector. The USB 3.1 controller is backward compatible as well: feel free to connect any USB device to it that you can adapt to the Type-C connection.

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From a raw performance perspective Thunderbolt 3 offers a total of 40 Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth, twice that of Thunderbolt 2 and 4x what we get with USB 3.1. That offers users the ability to combine many different devices, multiple displays and network connections and have plenty of headroom.

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With Thunderbolt 3 you get twice as much raw video bandwidth, two DP 1.2 streams, allowing you to run not just a single 4K display at 60 Hz but two of them, all over a single TB3 cable. If you want to connect a 5K display though, you will be limited to just one of them.

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For mobile users, which I think is the area where Thunderbolt 3 will be the most effective, the addition of USB 3.1 allows for charging capability up to 100 watts. This is in addition to the 15 watts of power that Thunderbolt provides to devices directly - think external storage, small hubs/docks, etc.

Continue reading our preview of the new Thunderbolt 3 technology!!

Rivet Networks Announces Killer Wireless-AC 1535

Subject: Networking, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: msi, killer nic, killer, computex 2015, computex, 802.11ac

Killer Networking has developed several networking solutions, focused on gamers, over the last decade or so. Ryan reviewed their first product way back in 2006, and he found it had some merit but struggled when quantifying it, especially to the price tag that it bore. Many years later, Qualcomm picked them up and their technology found a few design wins, especially with Gigabyte motherboards. They also branched out into wireless networking, a segment that undeniably could benefit from innovation. They are also, now, under the Rivet Networks brand, which is listed as an “Authorized Design Center” for Qualcomm.

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Today, they are announcing the Killer Wireless-AC 1535 Networking Adapter. This brings their technology to the 802.11ac standard. It includes features like DoubleShow Pro, which allows Windows to balance network traffic between wireless and wired networks. It also allows the user to monitor their wireless traffic, even providing an interface to throttle or outright disable certain applications from using the internet. They are mostly promoting their “ExtremeRange” technology, which uses the MU-MIMO standard of 802.11ac, along with beamforming and two signal amplifiers, to provide high bandwidth at longer ranges.

The Killer Wireless-AC 1535 has received a few design wins, this time with MSI. It will be available in the MSI GT72 and MSI GT80 gaming laptops, as well as the MSI X99A GODLIKE GAMING motherboard. Thankfully, they are not adopting MSI's love of uppercase letters.

Computex 2015: Intel Announces Quad-Core Broadwell for Desktop, Mobile

Subject: Processors, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:10 AM |
Tagged: Intel, computex 2015, computex, Broadwell

Earlier this morning you saw us post a story about MSI updating its line of 20 notebooks with new Broadwell processors. Though dual-core Broadwell has been available for Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s for some time already, today marks the release of the quad-core variations we have been waiting on for some time. Available for mobile designs, as well as marking the very first Iris Pro graphics implementation for desktop users, Broadwell quad-core parts look to be pretty impressive.

Today Intel gives to the world a total 10 new processors for content creators and enthusiasts. Two of these parts are 65 watt SKUs in LGA packaging for use by enthusiasts and DIY builders. The rest are BGA designs for all-in-one PCs and high performance notebooks and include both 65 watt and 47 watt variants. And most are using the new Iris Pro Graphics 6200 implementation.

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For desktop users, we get the Core i7-5775C and the Core i5-5675C. The Core i7 model is a quad-core, HyperThreaded CPU with a base clock of 3.3 GHz and a max Turbo clock of 3.7 GHz. It's unlocked so that overclockers and can mess around with them in the same way do with Haswell. The Iris Pro Graphics 6200 can scale up to 1150 MHz and rated DDR3L memory speeds are up to 1600 MHz. 6MB of L3 cache, a 65 watt TDP and a tray price of $366 round out the information we have.

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The Core i5-5675C does not include HyperThreading, has clock speed ranges of 3.1 GHz to 3.6 GHz and only sees the Iris Pro scale to 1100 MHz. Also, it drops from 6MB of L3 cache to 4MB. Pricing on this model will start a $276.

These two processors mark the first time we have seen Iris Pro graphics in a socketed form factor, something we have been asking Intel to offer for at least a couple of generations. They focused on 65 watt TDPs rather than anything higher mostly because of the target audience for these chips: if you are interested in the performance of integrated graphics then you likely are pushing a small form factor design or HTPC of some kind. If you have a Haswell-capable motherboard then you SHOULD be able to utilize one of these new processors though you'll want a Z97 board if you are going to try to overclock it.

From a performance standpoint, the Core i7-5775C will offer 2x the gaming performance, 35% faster video transcoding and 20% higher compute performance when compared to the previous top-end 65 watt Haswell part, the Core i7-4790S. That 4th generation part uses Intel HD Graphics 4600 that does not include the massive eDRAM that makes Iris Pro implementations so unique.

For mobile and AIO buyers, Intel has a whole host of new processors to offer. You'll likely find most of the 65 watt parts in all-in-one designs but you may see some mobile designs that go crazy and opt for them too. For the rest of the gaming notebook designs there are CPUs like the Core i7-5950HQ, a quad-core HyperThreaded part with a base clock of 2.9 GHz and max Turbo clock of 3.8 GHz inside a TDP of 47 watts. The Iris Pro Graphics 6200 will scale from 300 to 1150 MHz so GPU performance should basically be on par with the desktop 65-watt equivalent. Pricing is pretty steep though: starting at $623.

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These new processors, especially the new 5950HQ, offer impressive compute and gaming performance.

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Compared to the Core i7-5600U, already available and used in some SFF and mobile platforms, the Core i7-5950HQ is 2.5x faster in SPECint and nearly 2x faster in a video conversion benchmark. Clearly these machines are going to be potent desktop replacement options.

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For mainstream gamers, the Iris Pro Graphics 6200 on 1920x1080 displays will see some impressive numbers. Players of League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm and WoW will see over 60 FPS at the settings listed in the slide above.

We are still waiting for our hardware to show up but we have both the LGA CPUs and notebooks using the BGA option en route. Expect testing from PC Perspective very soon!

Google I/O 2015: Android OS M Revealed

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | May 29, 2015 - 03:42 PM |
Tagged: Android, google, google io, google io 2015

I'll be honest with you: I did not see a whole lot that interested me out of the Google I/O keynote. The company released a developer preview of their upcoming Android OS “M”, which refers to the thirteenth alphabetical release (although only eleven were formally lettered because they started with “C”upcake). Version nomenclature aside, this release is supposed to tune the experience. While the platform could benefit from a tune-up, it is also synonymous with not introducing major features.

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But some things are being added, including “Google Now on Tap”. The idea is that Google will understand what is happening on screen and allow the user to access more information about it. In a demo on Engadget, the user was looking at scores for the Golden State Warriors. She asked “When are they playing next”, actually using the pronoun “they”, and the phone brought up their next game (it was against the Cavaliers).

Fingerprint reading and Android Pay are also being added to this release.

Other than that, it is mostly performance and usability. One example is “Doze State”, which allows the OS to update less frequently when the device is inactive. It is supposed to play nice with alarms and notifications though, which is good. Normally, I would wait to see if it actually works before commenting on it, but this seems like something that would only be a problem if no-one thought of it. Someone clearly did, because they apparently mentioned it at the event.

Android M, whatever it will actually be called, is expected to ship to consumers in the Fall.

Source: Tech Report

Hands-On with the Lenovo Magic View Dual-Screen Smartwatch Concept

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | May 28, 2015 - 02:04 AM |
Tagged:

Shortly after the keynote at Lenovo Tech World today,we got hands on with the Dual-Screen Smartwatch concept, the Magic View.

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The Magic View is an Android Wear device, which integrates a unique “virtual interactive display" via a small prism on the watch band. Users must bring the device up to their face and look through the prism to see a secondary display for tasks such as video viewing. 

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Looking inside the Magic View reminded us a lot of Google Glass. As you put your eye up to the prism on the watch band, you could see what looked like a display off in the distance. It was difficult to determine the relative size, but Lenovo claims this display is 20x bigger than the display on the smartwatch itself. Resolution was also undetermined, but it seemed to be low and about on par with the original Google Glass units.

The device itself was a bit warm and the additional display unit added some bulk, but these weren't immediate deal breakers. The design was still ergonomic and seemed like something that you wouldn't have an issue wearing all-day long.

This is definitely an early concept, but the fact that Lenovo are showing off demo units here means that they are serious about the ideas presented in the Magic View. If additional development can solve some of the heat issues, it seems like this would be a feature that doesn't detract from the core use of the device and can provide a potentially value new interaction method.

Lenovo Tech World: Magic View Smartwatch and Smart Cast Smartphone concepts shown

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | May 27, 2015 - 10:55 PM |
Tagged: wearable, tech world, smartwatch, smartphone, smart cast, magic view, lenovo tech world, Lenovo, concept

Today at the Lenovo Tech World keynote presentation, Lenovo CTO Peter Hortensius took the opportunity to show some of the far reaching concepts for smartphones and smartwatches.

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The Magic View smartwatch is a stylish, round smartwatch reminiscent of the Moto 360 that seems from the concept renderings to be based around Android Wear. However, the uniqueness comes from what Lenovo is claiming makes it the only smartwatch with two screens.

Optical reflection is used inside of a portion of the strap in order to project a second “virtual interactive display” more than 20 times larger than the integrated display. This is made possible through Lenovo-designed silicon aimed at miniaturizing the components for this type of projection while maintaining the same performance.

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Lenovo claims this secondary screen will be useful for things like maps, as well as photo and video viewing, but it be remains to be seen if users would favor a virtual display like this over simply using their existing smartphone display. Privacy is also a big part of what Lenovo is pitching with the Magic View. Since users must place the lens portion next to their eye, other people in the same area cannot look over their shoulders and view potientially sensitive information.

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The Lenovo Smart Cast concept plays on a similar idea as the Magic View. Through the use of a build in laser projector, as well as specialized sensors, Lenovo aims at allowing users to project a large virtual touch screen onto tabletop surfaces.

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With the use of infrared sensors, users can touch the surface underneath the projection and interact just as if it were a physical display. Lenovo points towards this being useful for such applications as virtual keyboards in productivity apps, or even for media control of projected movies and light gaming such as Fruit Ninja.

The projected display is also independent of the smartphone display, allowing things such as two separate views for video chatting applications.

 

It remains to be seen if these concepts will ever actually make it into production devices, and if those devices will ever hit North America, but it's always interesting to see what R&D divisions of large companies like Lenovo are up to.

Source: Lenovo