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ET Weekend Deals: Save Up to $800 on New Apple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro

ExtremeTech

Apple’s highly anticipated iPhone 12 is now officially available for pre-order with special deals from AT&T and Verizon giving you the option to get Apple’s newest smartphone with a substantial discount.

The new iPhone 12 comes in four different models and three sizes. The smallest is the iPhone 12 Mini, which has a smaller physical footprint than the others with a 5.4-inch display. The standard iPhone 12 is larger with an 6.1-inch screen. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro is the same size, but this model also comes equipped with a telephoto camera for taking long-distance photos. The largest is the iPhone 12 Max, a monster with an enormous 6.7-inch screen. All four models utilize OLED displays with HDR support and a high resolution, and they’re driven by Apple’s new A14 Bionic chip, which is the company’s fastest SoC to date.

Currently, AT&T and Verizon have pre-order offers available for the standard iPhone 12 model and the iPhone 12 Pro, which are priced at $799.99 and $999.99, respectively. If you trade-in your current phone, however, you can save up to $800 on either phone from AT&T. You will need to also upgrade your service or transfer your line from a competing carrier, but this is the best discount you can get currently on the iPhone 12.

Verizon is offering essentially the same deal. In order to qualify for Verizon’s $800 offer, you must trade-in your current phone and switch from another carrier to Verizon. The $800 is split between a $550 discount on your phone purchase and a $250 gift card though, and it can’t all be used towards the new iPhone.

If you’re eager to be among the first to try Apple’s new iPhone 12 when it officially releases on November 13, pre-order yours today.

Featured Deals

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 23rd 2020, 4:32 pm

Save 30 Percent on This Logitech HD Webcam That’s Perfect for Streaming Video Games

ExtremeTech

Streaming video games has grown in popularity over the past few years, with an incredible growth rate in 2020 as more people spend greater amounts of time inside on their computers than ever before. And there are plenty of good reasons for that.

Steaming is a fun hobby for thousands of gamers worldwide, allowing talented and entertaining gamers to connect with others who are passionate about their favorite titles or the latest games. Even cooler, streaming can become a full-time career for the most talented gamers out there, making it possible to earn a living doing what they love.

As someone who regularly plays video games, you probably have thought about trying your hand at streaming but didn’t know where to start. Well, whether you want to stream for fun or have ambitions of growing a huge audience on today’s most popular streaming platforms, you’ll need a camera to get started.

The Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam Full 1080p HD Camera empowers you to stream and record high-quality video content easily with crystal clear audio. Normally $199, this camera is on sale today for $139.99 (30 percent off).

It’s easier than ever to power your online video content with the Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam. First off, this HD camera is more than capable of streaming and recording superb video content. It has a full HD lens that records 1080p videos at 30 frames per second and can record 720p resolution at 60 frames per second. In other words, you and your viewers can enjoy superior video quality that doesn’t lag behind your gameplay.

Alongside that, this HD camera has premium autofocus that adjusts to various lighting conditions. So, whether you have a glare because of a multiple monitor setup or are streaming straight from a dimly lit bedroom, this camera adjusts accordingly to give your stream a professional quality look. Just as valuable, the camera comes with two integrated omnidirectional microphones with noise reduction technology. These microphones pick up sounds from every direction for an immersive streaming experience that you and your audience will love.

On top of those helpful features, this camera also comes with a license that makes it possible to broadcast on popular websites, such as Twitch and YouTube. Logitech helps you get started with your streaming journey by giving you a free, six-month XSplit license. Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) XSplit Broadcaster is one of the most popular streaming apps today, allowing you to fine-tune all your live stream’s different aspects, from sound levels and lighting to text overlays, graphics, music, and more.

Overall, The Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam Full 1080p HD Camera empowers you to start streaming video games today. Pick it up on sale for $139.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 23rd 2020, 2:31 pm

The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle Is Way Tougher Than You

ExtremeTech

Diabolical Ironclad Beetle. Photo by J. Maughn, CC BY-NC 2.0

Scientists are not always great at naming things. Amazingly, you can often pick up on this fact even if you don’t speak Latin. Consider the joys of studying the moth Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis, the fossil fungus Cryptodidymosphaerites princetonensis, or the amphipod *deep breath* Rhodophthalmokytodermogammarus cinnamomeus. At the microscopic level, we have the abysmally named “Sonic hedgehog” gene. SHH, as its abbreviated, plays a critical role in normal embryo development. That means doctors face the joyful task of telling parents their unborn child is non-viable due to a problem with its “Sonic hedgehog” gene expression because the guy who discovered it named it after a game magazine his partner brought home.

But the diabolical ironclad beetle (nosoderma diabolicum)? Now that’s a name. And the little bug lives up to it. It has the unusual distinction of being one of the very few bugs that can survive being run over by a Toyota Camry — twice. Thanks to evolution, the bug can survive being crushed by roughly 39,000 times its own body weight, or roughly the equivalent of a human bearing up under the weight of 125 blue whales stacked on top of each other. (The question of how one stacks 125 blue whales on top of each other is best left to the imagination.)

Biologically, the beetle uses a number of proteins designed to enhance its durability. Its exoskeleton evolved from a pair of forewings, stretching across the creature’s back and hooking to a second structure on its ventral side. Internally, the structure of the creature resembles a Russian nesting doll:

Image by David Kisailus

“Having these layers helps toughen the joint,” Talia Moore, a roboticist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan who wasn’t involved in the study, told The New York Times. “It allows some of the stress to be dissipated.” Any attempt to crush the beetle instead redistributes the force across it, with the plates bowing outwards and flexing rather than shattering. When the two halves of the exoskeleton meet, they interlock together like a jigsaw puzzle, providing additional strength. The creature is both impact-resistant and crush-resistant, implying that its predators might be confined to the wild packs of M1 Abrams tanks that roam the deserts of the Western United States.

Scientists’ interest in the diabolical ironclad beetle is more than academic. This creature has evolved a method of resisting force that puts our best material science and engineering to shame. If we can duplicate its structural engineering, we could use it in everything from aeronautics to construction. It might even be useful in certain types of body armor or other protective gear. If it’s fragile or smashes like a large grape under the weight of even one blue whale (nominal weight 110,000 – 330,000 lbs (50,000 – 150,000 kg), tech derived from the diabolical ironclad beetle might protect it.

Feature image by J. Maughn.

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October 23rd 2020, 1:47 pm

Report: Nvidia May Have Canceled High-VRAM RTX 3070, 3080 Cards

ExtremeTech

Not long after the RTX 3080 and 3090 debuted, rumors surfaced of high VRAM variants that would supposedly appear in-market by December. The reasoning was obvious — AMD is expected to launch GPUs with more VRAM than Nvidia’s equivalents. This is a known strategy for Team Red, and they’ve deployed it consistently with the Polaris GPU family against the GTX 1050 and 1060.

One reason a high VRAM version of an Ampere GPU is so interesting is that it opens up a realm of additional possibilities in AI work. According to our sister site PCMag, this plan has been at least temporarily scuttled. They state: “Two independent sources have confirmed the new RTX cards are no longer coming to market.”

Nvidia, however, isn’t the only company to blame for this production problem. Micron’s yields on GDDR6X are also reportedly poor. The difference between GDDR6 and GDDR6X is shown below:

GDDR6X is faster-clocked GDDR6, with higher RAM bandwidth per pin and per placement, and a much smaller power consumption benefit than the jump from GDDR5 to GDDR5X (Presumably pJp stands for picoJoules per bit). With GDDR5X, Micron cut what I’m assuming is per-bit power by 11.12 percent. With GDDR6X, the company only managed to reduce power by 3.5 percent.

The major innovations of GDDR6X are its new encoding scheme and the long-term potential to double bandwidth per pin compared with existing GDDR6, but these improvements come with their own difficulties as far as hitting effective yield. Up until now, we’ve focused on the Nvidia side of the equation, but Micron may be playing a part here as well. If yields on the RAM chips are low, and each RTX 3080 / 3090 high-VRAM GPU needs twice as much, that would effectively slash Nvidia’s already-limited ability to get cards into market.

I would go so far as to argue that it makes more sense that this is a VRAM shortage issue than an RTX GPU issue. We don’t have any reason to believe the qualification issues are on Nvidia’s side of things. Dividing a limited number of Ampere GPUs between SKUs will make it harder to find parts. But needing to divert twice as much VRAM to each card could choke production even further if demand is higher for those cards. While we have no insight into the particulars of the situation, it could easily be playing a part.

If rumors are true, AMD will dodge this shortage by relying on ordinary GDDR6 at lower total bandwidth compared with cards like the RTX 3090. This is not necessarily a bad thing — higher memory bandwidth is only useful to a GPU if the card is bandwidth-bound in the first place.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these cards eventually do become available, once the production-line issues are solved. A high VRAM Ampere would be a lovely part to own for certain workloads.

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October 23rd 2020, 11:45 am

Huawei Announces Mate 40 Series, Another Flagship Phone No One Will Buy

ExtremeTech

Huawei is in a tough spot, but it’s still releasing phones like nothing is wrong. The Chinese megafirm’s newest devices are the Mate 40 and Mate 40 Pro. As usual, they have incredible camera setups and super-premium hardware, but the Android software is still bereft of all Google apps and services. That makes it a non-starter in most countries, and Huawei’s chip situation is potentially perilous for its global operations. 

As the names imply, the Mate 40 is the cheaper of the two phones, but it’s still plenty powerful. The Mate 40 has a 6.5-inch 1080p OLED, 8GB of RAM, and 128-256GB of storage. The Pro is just a little bigger at 6.67 inches and has a higher 1344 x 2772. It also has 256GB of storage. Both phones also have a hole-punch in the display for the front-facing cameras; a single 13MP sensor for the base model and a larger space for the 13MP/depth sensor combo on the Pro.

Early reviews are already praising the camera setup, which includes a 50MP RYYB primary sensor on both phones. It has an impressive f/1.9 aperture, allowing it to capture a ton of light. The Mate 40 also has an 8MP 3x telephoto and a 16MP ultrawide sensor. The Mate 40 Pro, meanwhile, has a 12MP periscope camera with 5x optical zoom and a 10MP ultrawide.

These devices still lack Google services thanks to the trade ban enacted back in 2019. That means buyers will have to make do with Huawei’s App Gallery and cloud services instead of Google. There are no Google services inside China, so Huawei’s sales have remained high even with this major feature gap. However, new actions from the US could be hitting Huawei where it really hurts. 

The phones, which look a bit like upside-down iPods from the back, run on the new Kirin 9000 5G chip. Reports indicate that Huawei has only stockpiled about 10 million of these ARM-based octa-core chips, and that’s all it may ever have. New US trade restrictions on semiconductors have forced Taiwan-based TSMC to stop supplying Huawei. Going forward, Huawei might only have access to manufacturing processes that are several generations out of date. Without its custom silicon, Huawei would lose the last advantage it has over the competition. While 10 million phones might sound like a lot, it’s not very many for a company like Huawei that used to move tens of millions per year.

The Mate 40 and Mate 40 Pro are probably only coming to Asia and Europe, priced at €899 for the Mate 40 and €1,199 for the Mate 40 Pro. With a limited supply of chips, Huawei will have to think long and hard about which markets will get units.

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October 23rd 2020, 10:47 am

Microsoft’s Next Big Idea for Minecraft: Mandatory Microsoft Accounts

ExtremeTech

Microsoft has declared that beginning in 2021, you’ll have to create a Microsoft account in order to play the game. Up until now, players with a Mojang account created through Minecraft: Java Edition were tied to a different authentication system than Minecraft: Bedrock Edition, which is what you get if you buy Minecraft through Windows 10 or play it on a console.

Microsoft’s public justification for this move is that it will improve the Minecraft experience for everyone. With this shift, Microsoft will finally implement two-factor authentication and offer improved parental controls. Players will also have the option to block others in chat or to ignore invitations from certain people.

This Has Nothing to Do With Safety

Security improvements and anti-harassment tools are always welcome, particularly two-factor authentication. That said, there is no reason why these changes had to be implemented via a mandatory Microsoft account. Players have been asking for things like two-factor authentication for years via tools like Google Authenticator, especially after Microsoft added the ability to spend real money in the Minecraft Marketplace.

There is a genuine improvement that Microsoft could offer Java Edition customers in exchange for compelling them to switch, but Microsoft explicitly isn’t offering it. According to the Minecraft Java Account Mitigation FAQ, “Java Edition will still only allow you to play with other players who have Java Edition.” Microsoft even admits that this is strictly an account front-end change in the FAQ, when it states: “There will be no changes to Java Edition besides the account move and the new security features. Java Edition will still be available, supported, and updated just as before!”

The good news is, PvP and modding in the Java Edition will remain completely unchanged. The bad news is, Microsoft has so little to offer, the company attempted to pre-empt the problem by hanging a lantern off it.

Spoiler: Your reward for doing this (in-game, at least) is a… free cape. Microsoft has not revealed if players will have any input into the design of their cape, or if literally every single player will receive the exact same model.

Minecraft Java players who migrate may be forced to choose new usernames if your old name is already taken or if it violates Microsoft’s naming policies. You will be able to retain your Minecraft Java name for in-game use.

Microsoft is likely making this move for several reasons. First, running one centralized login system is probably simpler than running two of them. Second, Minecraft’s player base skews young. As Chromebooks become a larger part of the educational curriculum, Microsoft can no longer count on the idea that people will just “encounter” the Microsoft ecosystem. Satya Nadella has made it clear that Windows is a secondary priority at Microsoft compared with growing Azure and that means growing the number of backend services that can run on it.

Now that Microsoft has bought Bethesda, I’d bet $1 it’ll only be a matter of time before the same thing happens again. Bethesda is another company with a devoted fanbase courtesy of series like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Integrating players into the Xbox ecosystem is a way of creating brand stickiness. If you’re used to logging in with your Microsoft account (the theory goes), you won’t think much of signing up for other products and services that use it.

People aren’t going to like this shift, but there’s no choice short of cracking the game. Microsoft’s FAQs are very clear. If you don’t switch to a new account, you will no longer be able to play Minecraft at some point in early 2021.

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October 23rd 2020, 9:01 am

Scientists Found an Ancient Tectonic Plate Buried Deep Inside the Earth’s Mantle

ExtremeTech

Plate tectonics — the slow movement of the Earth’s continents across the globe, and their interactions with each other — is a relatively new discovery, having only been broadly accepted in the geologic community since the mid-1960s. In addition to studying the seven large plates that make up the major continents on Earth, some scientists study the remains of vanished plates that were subducted under the edge of a continent and driven down into the mantle. Now, one group studying northwest North America has discovered what it believes are the remnants of a now-vanished plate that slid underneath the Pacific Northwest millions of years ago.

Geologists agree that the West Coast of North America was formed by a complex interplay between multiple plates. Two of the now-subducted plates underneath this area of the United States and Canada are the Farallon and Kula plates. A third plate — dubbed Resurrection — has been controversially theorized to exist, with some geologists arguing that it explains certain features of the terrain (and terranes) in particular regions. Now that new evidence has come in, it looks as though the Resurrectionists have won.

Hrm. Probably shouldn’t use that name.

The “Pro-Resurrection” side of the debate seems to have won. After isolating masses that appear to belong to Kula and Farallon, the team reports there are reconstruction gaps in the record, which:

…correlate spatiotemporally to published NW Cordillera near-trench magmatism, even considering possible terrane translation. We attribute these gaps to thermal erosion related to ridge subduction and model mid-ocean ridges within these reconstruction gap mid-points. Our reconstructions show two coeval ridge-trench intersections that bound an additional “Resurrection”-like plate along the NW Cordillera prior to 40 Ma. In this model, the Yukon slab represents a thermally eroded remnant of the Resurrection plate.

Now, I’m sure nobody needs a translation of that, but just in case it’s helpful, here’s a YouTube video of how this process is believed to have unfolded.

“When ‘raised’ back to the Earth’s surface and reconstructed, the boundaries of this ancient Resurrection tectonic plate match well with the ancient volcanic belts in Washington State and Alaska, providing a much sought after link between the ancient Pacific Ocean and the North American geologic record,” says geologist Jonny Wu, from the University of Houston.

A few more interesting things about the relationships of really, really have things on Earth. Mountain ranges form at plate boundaries, but they don’t form at anything like a consistent speed. One explanation for this is that fast mountain formation is caused by pieces of subducting plates breaking off and plunging (very slowly) through the mantle, towards the core/mantle boundary. Imagine hurling a bowling ball into a bathtub, then freezing the water in the instant it hit maximum height, and you’ve got an idea for how these events played out over geologic time.

Plate subduction is not the only thing that reshapes the continents. After the last ice age, continents all over the world began to rise as the sheets of ice melted. This is believed to have had the side effect of making local volcanic eruptions more likely because there wasn’t nearly so much weight holding the continents down. Isostatic rebound is still occurring to this day, though it’s much slower than current rates of sea-level rise and is not beneficial to solving the problem due to the timescales involved.

Understanding where these vanished plates are underneath our feet can aid our understanding of geologic events on the surface, like volcanism. If volcanoes and earthquakes ever become predictable, it’ll likely be thanks to a greater understanding of the deeper layers of the Earth.

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October 23rd 2020, 9:01 am

ET Deals: Dell G5 15 Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 2070 Gaming Laptop for $1,199, Insignia 70-Inch 4K

ExtremeTech

Today you can save $440 on one of Dell’s powerful 15.6-inch gaming laptops that comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-10750H processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU. There’s also a strong deal on a 70-inch Insignia TV that can be picked up for just $499.99.

Dell G5 15 Intel Core i7-10750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070, 16GB RAM and 1TB NVMe SSD ($1,199.99)

Dell’s newly redesigned G5 15 gaming laptop comes equipped to run games with high graphics settings. The system’s Intel Core i7 processor has six cores that can hit speeds as high as 5GHz, and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 graphics chip can handle advanced graphics techniques including ray-tracing. Add to that a 144Hz 1080p display and it becomes clear that this system is well equipped for gaming. Right now, you can get this system with a steep $440 discount from Dell that drops its price from $1,639.99 to $1,199.99.

Insignia NS-70DF710NA21 70-Inch 4K TV – Fire TV Edition ($499.99)

This large TV features a 70-inch 4K display panel with HDR support. The TV was also designed to use Amazon’s Fire TV software, giving it the smooth interface and easy streaming access of an Amazon Fire TV Stick without the need of a separate device. Usually 70-inch TVs are quite expensive, but now you can get this one marked down from $649.99 to just $499.99 from Amazon.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 AMD Ryzen 7 4800HS 14-Inch 1080p Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, 8GB RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($899.99)

Asus engineered this laptop with AMD’s powerful Ryzen 7 4800HS processor that has eight SMT enabled processor cores that can hit speeds as high as 4.2GHz. The system also has an Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU, and this hardware makes Asus’s ROG Zephyrus G14 well suited for running games on the notebook’s 14-inch 1080p display. It’s also incredibly compact for a gaming PC measuring just 0.7-inches thin and weighing a mere 3.64lbs. Currently you can get one of these systems from Best Buy marked down from $1,099.99 to $899.99.

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2019 + AVG Internet Security ($79.97)

This bundle includes a copy of Microsoft’s Office product suite including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In short, giving you everything you need to do homework assignments, write reports, and prepare for presentations. The bundle also comes with a copy of AVG Internet Security 2020 to help keep your PC safe from viruses. Sold separately these programs would typically cost you a total of $219.97, but for a limited time you can now get them together from Newegg for just $79.97.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 22nd 2020, 5:35 pm

Save 80 Percent on This Epic Collection of Entertainment Subscriptions Featuring PlayStation Plus

ExtremeTech

Entertainment comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some people like to play video games, others enjoy streaming TV shows and movies, plenty more prefer to work up a sweat with exercise, and a lot of people love it all. Whatever you consider entertainment, keep in mind that by making time for entertainment in your life, you’re actually improving your mental health, reducing stress, boosting self-esteem, and increasing productivity.

In other words, it’s smart to invest some of your time, energy, and even money into sources of entertainment that will allow you to unwind from the hecticness of life. That’s where this bundle of entertainment subscriptions makes a huge difference, all while scoring you major savings.

The Complete Entertainment Bundle ft. PlayStation Plus gives you 12 epic subscriptions to gaming, streaming, and fitness services, and more. Normally $1,011, this bundle is on sale today for $199.99 (80 Percent off).

Upon purchase, you get immediate access to 12 epic subscriptions for gaming, streaming, fitness, and other useful services. For instance, you can take your PS4 gaming experience to the next level with a one-year subscription to PlayStation Plus. PlayStation Plus empowers you to play your favorite PS4 games online, as well as connect with others to compete in and enjoy PlayStation classics like Star Wars: Battlefront, Uncharted, and many more.

Alongside enhancing your gaming entertainment, this bundle also ups your viewing options by giving you access to streaming platforms outside of Netflix, Hulu, and the like. That means you can enjoy the unique offerings of Topic, which brings you TV and films from around the world, and History Hit TV, which hooks you up with hundreds of history documentaries, films, interviews, podcasts, and original programming. So, just when you thought you’d streamed it all, you now have plenty of new critically and commercially acclaimed content at your fingertips.

Just as valuable, you can take your fitness to the next level with the help of this bundle. For many people, yoga is a game-changer since it’s relatively low impact and can be done from the comfort and safety of home. With this bundle, you get a one-year subscription to YogaDownload, which provides you with convenient access to 1,500 top-rated classes perfect for any level practitioner. Meaning, you can get healthy and happy by working up a sweat with at-home yoga classes.

Finally, there are eight other subscriptions in this bundle that help you get the most from entertainment and life. These include a language-learning app, a VPN, streaming services designed to help you (and your dog!) relax, and much more.

Long story short, The Complete Entertainment Bundle ft. PlayStation Plus gives you 12 incredible subscriptions that help you get the most from your entertainment and life. Get it on sale today for $199.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 22nd 2020, 4:18 pm

Researchers Make ‘Super-Tomatoes’ With Genetically Stressed Root Grafts

ExtremeTech

Humans have been grafting plants onto other plants for thousands of years, but only in the last few generations have we understood the genetic implications of the technique. Researchers from Penn State and the University of Florida partnered with a Nebraska startup to combine genetically “stressed” roots with regular tomato plants to study the effects on crop yields. The team found that stressed roots boosted production dramatically, even several generations down the line. This could have applications far beyond bigger, better tomatoes. 

Grafting allows you to combine the properties of two different plants. Usually, this takes the form of a “rootstock” that grows from the ground and a “scion” above ground. The rootstock is usually selected for heartiness or adaptability, and the scion contains the genes you wish to produce fruit, flowers, or seeds. 

Many of the techniques currently used to boost crop yields rely on adding or removing genes, which comes with a whole set of concerns and controversies. However, neither the rootstock nor the scions in this study have any new genetic material. Instead, they have been modified “epigenetically.” That simply means the researchers have altered the expression of genes to change how the plant behaves rather than changing the genes. 

The team targeted a gene in tomato plants known as MSH1, which controls stress responses in many plants. MSH1 is a DNA repair protein that slows the rate of mutation, which is usually what you want. However, plants can suppress MSH1 when stressed by extreme temperatures or lack of water, allowing them to become more adaptable. The rootstocks used in this study had been modified in just such a way, and grafting scions onto them caused a whopping 35 percent increase in growing productivity. This boosted growth even persisted over five generations when those seeds were cultivated without further grafts. Growing that first generation on genetically stressed rootstocks essentially turned them into a line of super-growers. 

An unexpected weather system also revealed the offspring of the grafted plants were hardier than your average tomato plant. In 2018, storms dropped more than seven inches of rain at Penn State’s agricultural research center. Many of the unmodified control plants were wiped out, but the offspring of grafted plants largely survived and thrived. 

The team notes that the same techniques could work on a wide variety of plants, and this could become vitally important as climate change affects crops. It might be possible to create stressed rootstocks to induce quick, effective genetic changes in scions that go on to produce more food in harsher conditions for generations to come.

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October 22nd 2020, 2:19 pm

AMD Wants to Prevent Bots and Scalpers From Wrecking Ryzen 5000, Radeon Launches

ExtremeTech

Bots and scalpers have been a problem at all of the major tech launches this year, to the general dismay of people who want to buy products at the price they’re actually supposed to sell for. AMD hasn’t said much publicly about what it plans to do about the bot problem, but a leaked document sheds light on what the company is doing behind the scenes.

AMD has apparently sent a letter to multiple retail partners with a list of suggested best practices, including bot detection, CAPTCHA implementations, and purchase limits (AMD suggests customers be limited to one GPU per user, and that the store monitor all orders for duplicate names, addresses, or email addresses). It also recommends that stores switch to manual order processing and verification on the day of launch to prevent automated systems from letting bots through previously undetected gaps.

In addition to these steps, AMD recommends not allocating a GPU in inventory until an order has actually been submitted, or setting a time limit on how long a customer can hold an item in their cart before it is made available to the general pool. Stores should also limit the number of cards they sell to commercial resellers over this time period, to keep more stock available in-channel. The letter ends with a request that stores reach out to their AMD representatives in order to review which solutions will work for their business.

These are exactly the kinds of security practices stores should practice to fend off bots and scalpers. Now that bots are proliferating across e-commerce, we need companies to adopt validation procedures that maximize the chance that limited launch hardware winds up in the hands of those who intend to buy it, rather than those attempting to make a quick buck. What was previously a tolerable irritant has become a problem that threatens to swamp the entire market. This isn’t good for anyone.

Nvidia has taken steps to improve its own store as a result of the RTX 3080 launch disaster and we can see that AMD is working with store owners to lock things down before its own launch day. Any vendor planning to sell the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 had best be paying attention to this problem unless they want to see their entire stock of hardware vanish in seconds, only to reappear on eBay next week for 3x the original price.

Will they be enough? That’s anyone’s guess. A lot of these bots aren’t free, and they aren’t a one-and-done purchase, either. There’s a monthly fee if you want access to a bot, and it isn’t cheap ($75 per month was quoted in connection with the RTX 3080 issues). These developers don’t want to see their cash cow evaporate, and the people who have earned themselves a pretty penny this way don’t want to be prevented from ripping more people off. Bots are likely here to stay. The good news is, a lot of the best solutions are pretty low-tech. Manual order verification and order limits aren’t a guaranteed solution to this problem, but they’re options that ought to be available to any company on relatively short notice.

It’s in the best interest of companies to deal with this problem. If the issue gets bad enough, companies with a retail channel presence such as AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Sony, and Microsoft will feel they have no choice but to preferentially deal with those stores willing to invest in anti-bot security. Would-be buyers are well aware, at this point, of how the gouging game is played — and that there are ways for stores to protect their inventories from predation. The stores that put product in the hands of those who want to use it will be the stores that win business, long term.

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October 22nd 2020, 11:03 am

High Demand May Not Be Entirely Responsible for the Lack of RTX 3080 GPUs

ExtremeTech

Ever since the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 launched, they’ve been nearly impossible to find. Sometimes, an OEM builder will have stock if you’re buying a new system, even if cards aren’t available in-channel, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

Origin PC’s shipping time increases from 14-16 days to 29-31 days if you want an RTX 3080. Maingear doesn’t give a specific date, but says “Lead times are currently extended for systems with RTX-3000-series cards.” Maingear already has a separate “Shipping times may be delayed from the following stated lead time due to COVID-19” and an estimated 3-4 week shipping window, but evidently the company felt the need for a second disclaimer.

A different way to get a handle on the situation is to check ProShop.de. The German company has been publishing periodic updates on everything related to Ampere GPU sales, including how many cards its customers have ordered, how many GPUs it has ordered from manufacturers, when those cards are expected to arrive, and how many GPUs have already shipped.

According to ProShop, it breaks its categories down as follows:

Customer orders: Number of current customer orders, which have yet to be delivered. Orders that have been canceled at this point are not included.
Ordered from mfr: Number of graphic cards Proshop has ordered from the manufacturer.
Incoming cards: Confirmed number of graphic cards to be delivered by the manufacturer to Proshop asap.
Received: Total number of graphic cards received from manufacturers and shipped to customers by Proshop since launch. This doesn’t include the 3070-series, which launch on October 29.

I screenshotted ProShop’s figures on October 12, and again on October 21, added up the differences in the figures, and built a chart to show them. I should note that there are places in the original data where, instead of a number, ProShop lists “15th” or “7th.” These dates appear to correspond to when a GPU will be available for customer order, when ProShop can order it from the manufacturer, when the cards will ship to ProShop, or when ProShop will ship them itself.

Data by ProShot, 10-21-2020

The chart below contains raw figures for each category based on ProShop’s published data for 10-12 and 10-21, along with two categories I added. Fulfillable Orders is the percent of total orders that ProShop could fill on each date if it had every GPU listed as “Incoming” along with every GPU listed as “Received.” “% Mfr Supply” examines the same question, but uses the total number of cards ProShop ordered as opposed to the total number it received.

We see a few interesting things here. First, overall availability as a percentage of total customer orders is higher. This is only true because of a large number of RTX 3080s in the “Incoming” column — if we confine ourselves solely to the “Received” column, availability has only increased from 9 percent to 11 percent. If we remove the “Incoming” column from manufacturing data, GPU availability has gotten worse.

The reason I’m presenting the data this way is that GPUs on their way to the store are functional cards effectively “on the market.” The growth in “Incoming” shipments could mean that AIBs are finally able to ship some hardware.

The fact that ProShop has been unable to get allocation for weeks suggests that Samsung’s 8nm yields might be part of the problem. There were rumors months ago that Nvidia had limited its orders to Samsung out of concern that the company wouldn’t be able to manufacture enough good die. This squares with other rumors we’ve heard expressing doubts regarding Samsung’s 8nm process. It could also explain why Nvidia is rumored to be moving some production back to TSMC. DigiTimes wrote last week that Nvidia was getting a substantial discount on Samsung’s 8nm process, but that the GPU designer still wants to diversify its offerings to get around Samsung’s yield problem.

So, is Nvidia lying when it says that demand is the reason there are no RTX 3000 GPUs to be found, and that this situation will persist through the end of 2020 and possibly into 2021? It certainly looks as though there are supply problems in the mix, too, but the number of GPUs ProShop has ordered suggests that demand is genuinely sky-high. Nobody wants to sit on several thousand GPUs they can’t sell. Even Nvidia admitted during the Ampere unveil that Turing had not been the hit it was hoping for, in terms of uptake, which means there’s a lot of pent-up demand in the market.

ProShop has data on the RTX 3070 as well, but I deliberately didn’t discuss it. That GPU hasn’t launched yet, and it’s possible that there will be a wave of late shipments out to stores to boost inventory. As always, keep in mind that data like this, however thorough, is a snapshot of a single store. We do not know what these figures look like for Amazon or Newegg, where the ratios could be entirely different. Nvidia has admitted that these GPUs will be in short supply through the end of the year. There might appear to be a supply problem because Nvidia is prioritizing the largest channel distributors, but the fact that boutique builders can’t get cards all that easily, either, suggests more to the story. The rumors of low yields on Samsung 8nm and the rumors that Nvidia will return to TSMC all point in the same direction.

This is not the first time we’ve seen foundries struggle to get yield on a part (assuming that’s what’s happening), and both AMD and Nvidia had a terrible time shipping cards in 2016. It’s not unusual to see these kinds of problems at the beginning of a launch. Hopefully, they’ll resolve more quickly than anticipated.

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October 22nd 2020, 9:49 am

Someone Made a Free Browser App to Play Stadia Games on iOS, and Then Apple Killed It

ExtremeTech

Apple’s animosity toward cloud gaming services like xCloud and Stadia are well-known at this point, but one iOS developer Zach Knox thought he had a good solution. The free “Stadium” app runs a stripped-down browser on the iPhone and iPad designed specifically to play titles from Google’s Stadia streaming service. Well, it did. Apple removed the app from the App Store after it started to gain popularity, citing its esoteric API rules. 

Like other cloud gaming services, Stadia renders games in the cloud and streams that video to your devices over the internet. Stadia launched almost a year ago on Android and Chrome, but Apple has consistently refused to allow cloud gaming clients unless they adhere to the same rules as standalone apps. That means each game (and game update) needs to be reviewed and approved by Apple, and they all need to have individual store pages on the App Store. Clearly, that doesn’t mesh with the model of cloud gaming, which is probably Apple’s intent. 

Stadium was a clever workaround, as it used the WebKit engine that Apple requires for all browsers on its platform. There was no UI — Stadium simply loaded Stadia and let you stream games. It also tied into the iOS Bluetooth framework for controller support. The app launched just a few weeks ago, and Apple has already smacked it down. The developer now says the app has been removed because of the way it leveraged Bluetooth. 

Apple justifies its action by pointing to App Store Review Guideline section 2.5.1, which requires apps to only use public APIs “for their intended purpose.” In the case of Stadia, the dev “extended” WebKit to allow Stadia to access the Bluetooth stack. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to control your game. However, this isn’t the intended purpose of the API, so Apple is within its rights to block the app from its store. Since there’s no supported way to install software from another source, the app is effectively dead. Although, Knox says he has some plans for Stadium in the future. 

This once again leaves iOS users with no easy way to play Stadia titles on their devices. It’s unlikely Google will completely redesign its service to adapt to Apple’s app-centric rules, and Apple is never going to accept cloud gaming services that can circumvent Apple’s 30 percent cut of sales. It’s quite a pickle.

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October 22nd 2020, 7:50 am

ET Deals: $25 Off Apple Watch Series 6, Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum and Mop for $419.99

ExtremeTech

Today you can pick up one of Apple’s new Watch Series 6 smartwatches with a $25 discount. This is the biggest discount we’ve seen on the new Apple watch to-date, and it also beats the price we saw during Amazon’s Prime Day sales event.

Apple Watch Series 6 40mm GPS Smartwatch ($374.98)

Apple’s Series 6 smartwatch has built-in hardware for tracking your blood oxygen level and heart rate. These features as well as a built-in fitness tracker make the Watch Series 6 an excellent accessory for any exercise routine. This model is also up to 20 percent faster than its predecessor, the Watch Series 5. You can now get one of these watches from Amazon marked down from $399.00 to $374.98.

Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum and Mop ($419.99)

This high-powered robot vacuum has 2,000Pa of suction power and it has a built-in mop function, which makes it a versatile cleaning tool for your home. The Roborock S6 was also built to be fairly quiet with an average cleaning volume of just 56dB. Currently, these robot vacs are selling on Amazon marked down from $649.99 to just $419.99.

Dell S2721D 2K 75Hz 27-Inch IPS Display ($239.99)

Dell’s S2721D monitor features a 2K IPS display panel with a faster than average 75Hz refresh rate. The monitor also comes with a pair of 3W speakers built-in, and it’s currently available for an exceptional price. Typically this monitor is priced at $319.99, but for a limited time you can get one directly from Dell for just $239.99.

Kindle Paperwhite 8GB ($79.99)

Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite is rated IPX8 waterproof, which means it can spend up to an hour submerged under two meters of water and continue to work. This model also has 8GB of storage space, giving you plenty of room to hold countless books. Right now it’s marked down from $129.99 to $79.99 from Best Buy.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 21st 2020, 5:54 pm

Boost Your Productivity with a Second Screen That’s as Dynamic as You

ExtremeTech

According to Jon Peddie Research, information workers, designers, and engineers can realize up to a 42 percent increase in productivity by using multiple displays. In layman terms, whether you’re coding, sketching, studying, or even gaming, you can increase your output with a second monitor. Yet, not all monitors can keep up with your lifestyle, especially if you’re on the move regularly. That’s where this deal makes a grand entrance.

The Desklab Portable Touchscreen Monitor is the lightest portable monitor with a touchscreen display, 1080p resolution, plug and play setup, and universal compatibility. Normally $275, it’s on sale today for $248.95 (9 percent off).

Desklab makes it possible to boost your productivity anywhere. For starters, Desklab isn’t just another monitor that mirrors and distorts your device’s screen. Instead, it’s an ultra-portable 1080p screen and a fully functional touch panel, which optimizes your ability to code, design, game, make music, manage data, chat, and more. Just as valuable, Desklab is incredibly versatile. With USB-C, HDMI, and 3.5 auxiliary ports, you can connect your laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, or even your favorite gaming system to Desklab in an instant. In other words, whether you need to get work done or want to relax, you can make the most of your time with a second screen that’s dynamic enough to match the ins and outs of your busy schedule.

Alongside portability and versatility, Desklab also delivers on convenience. Unlike other monitors that take up a lot of space and weigh a considerable amount, Desklab is compact and lightweight enough to fit in your backpack or briefcase. Heck, you can even carry it from home to the coffee shop or your office without breaking a sweat. Plus, thanks to its intuitive design, all you need to do is plug your device into this second screen, and you can instantly use it —  there’s no complicated setup or configuration required.

Overall, The Desklab Portable Touchscreen Monitor is a portable, versatile, and convenient-to-use touchscreen monitor that empowers you to boost your productivity anywhere. Pick one up on sale today for $248.95 and save 9 percent off its original price tag.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 21st 2020, 5:24 pm

Microsoft Is Still Forcing Restarts in Windows. Here’s How to Stop It

ExtremeTech

More than five years after Windows 10 launched, Microsoft has never managed to curtail one of the operating system’s most annoying features: its willingness to restart the computer while work is being done. For all the company’s claims about how it has optimized this process, it pretends not to understand that users generally hate forced reboots.

As Sean Hollister points out for The Verge, he had actually been in the process of writing about Microsoft’s new habit of force-installing links to the Progressive Web Application (PWA) versions of its Office suite. PWAs are applications that are supposed to behave like a native application despite running in a window. Hollister got up to eat dinner, came back to his desk, and found his own machine had forcibly restarted, leaving him with — you guessed it — the same PWA applications.

Microsoft is once again distributing its software like malware. While I am not accusing Microsoft of shipping a trojan, applications that forcibly install themselves without user permission or consent are, in fact, malware. There’s nothing new about the apps themselves; they’re the same version of Office you could previously use online. The difference is, now they’ve stuffed themselves into the Start Menu so Microsoft can advertise its cloud services to you. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has made Azure a major part of Microsoft’s business going forward, to the point that the company claims Amazon and Facebook are its major gaming competitors rather than Sony and, to a lesser degree, Nintendo. This is, presumably, part of the effort to shove users into new paradigms of usage.

It’s Your Computer, Not Microsoft’s

Hollister acknowledges that putting web links in the Start Menu is a fairly mild annoyance, but writes:

[T]hey’re the latest proof that Microsoft doesn’t respect your ownership of your own PC, the latest example of Microsoft installing anything it likes in a Windows update up to and including bloatware, and the latest example of Microsoft caring more about the bottom line than whether a few people might lose their work when Windows suddenly shuts down their PC. Luckily, I didn’t lose any work today, but a friend of mine recently did:

Given Microsoft’s ongoing and presumably permanent hostility towards user control, I’d like to take a moment to inform readers of a utility called the Windows Update Blocker (WUB). The Windows Update Blocker does exactly what it says on the tin: It prevents Microsoft from ever rebooting your PC or installing updates without permission.

There is, of course, a real risk to this. If you activate this utility and do not regularly turn it off to allow the machine to receive security updates, you risk being unprotected. It’s a bad idea to turn Windows Update off and then forget to update manually, so if you choose to go this route, you may want to set a periodic alarm or alert to remind you to update every few weeks or months. It’s possible for a person to actively want to be updated as soon as patches arrive while refusing to allow Microsoft to reboot systems out from under people.

I disable Windows Update on all testbeds after patching them up because I’ve been burned before, by having an update arrive 5-10 days after I configured the system. I’ve been in the middle of 6-8 hour benchmark runs (SPEC Workstation takes a while) and had the system rebooted out from under me, forcing a complete restart of the tests from scratch.

It is not sufficient to define “Active Hours.” It is unreasonable to expect people to keep an exact log of what their Active Hours at all times so they can remember to change them while working late. It is, apparently, too much work for Microsoft to program Windows not to reboot a computer outside of Active Hours if the keyboard is in use, or if the CPU and GPU are both loaded. I can understand why this might be so — the company might be afraid of malware deliberately loading the CPU and GPU as a way to keep Windows Update from running.

But if this is true, the correct way to deal with it is to present the user with a periodic message that says “Windows Update has not rebooted to install patches because you appear to be using the computer. Please schedule a time to reboot or press the ‘Delay’ button to see this prompt again in 4 – 24 hours.” The only thing Microsoft needs to do to fix this problem is bring back a feature that used to be a staple of Windows: The ability to delay a reboot. In Windows 7, if the “A restart is required” prompt popped up, and you didn’t answer it, the machine assumed that it should not restart.

I’m not recommending that people install the Windows Update Blocker, because it’s bad policy to recommend people make their computers less secure, as if this carried no potential downsides. But given Microsoft’s behavior and its significant, negative ongoing impact on end-users, it’s time to talk about solutions, even imperfect ones. Windows Update Blocker won’t prevent Microsoft from eventually installing its malware-ish PWAs, but if you delay the installation until you’re ready to deal with it, you’ll at least know what you’re getting into and where the problems are. PWA installations, incidentally, can be removed in the “Add/Remove Programs” section of Settings or Control Panel.

The correct answer to the question “When is it acceptable to reboot the user’s computer without permission?” is “Never.” Microsoft would like to pretend otherwise. Everyone deserves the right to decide if they want to rent a PC that Microsoft retains control over, or if they prefer owning it themselves. The only time it ought to be permissible to reboot or shut down a computer without the consent of the user is if shutting the machine off is the only way to prevent thermal or electrical damage. In those circumstances, the CPU has far faster reflexes than any human could match. In every other situation, consent should be required.

If Windows can reboot at will through a process I have no opportunity to interrupt, I’m not the person in control of the PC. Until and unless Microsoft wants to start paying me to use one, they’ve got no right to interfere in how it operates.

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October 21st 2020, 3:23 pm

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Successfully Boops Asteroid Bennu

ExtremeTech

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed the most critical phase of its mission: booping an asteroid. The probe has been orbiting the asteroid Bennu for almost two years, but yesterday it descended to the surface to scoop up a few grams of precious primordial material for eventual return to Earth. 

According to the NASA team, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft fired its thrusters at 1:50PM EDT to drop out of orbit. As it floated toward the unexpectedly craggy surface on its pre-programmed maneuver, the robot extended its sampling arm. The low gravity of Bennu allowed the craft to tap the surface at a carefully chosen location known as Nightingale. On the way, the spacecraft had to execute two precise burns to line up with the sampling site and avoid running into any rocks like the house-sized boulder nicknamed Mount Doom. 

Once OSIRIS-REx reached the surface, it used a puff of nitrogen to blow material into the sample container. The mission was designed to collect as much as 60 grams of dust and pebbles from the asteroid, but NASA doesn’t know how much the probe was able to scoop up. All we can say is that the mechanism worked perfectly after coming in contact with Bennu. Following sample acquisition, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters to head back into a safe distance. 

NASA will now work on downloading the video captured by OSIRIS-REx during the touch and go (TAG) maneuver. By comparing images of Nightingale from before and after the operation, the team should be able to estimate how much material it collected. In the coming days, NASA will also analyze the spacecraft’s moment of inertia, which could indicate how much the mass changed after sample acquisition. 

Bennu as seen from OSIRIS-REx.

Once the team is confident OSIRIS-REx has sufficient material, they will order the robot to load the sample into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) for its trip back to Earth. In the event there isn’t enough asteroid gravel in the container, OSIRIS-REx can make one more attempt in January. In either case, the spacecraft will begin its trip back to Earth in March 2021. The SRC is scheduled to reach Earth in September 2023. 

NASA chose Bennu because it has undergone very little geological change since its formation billions of years ago. All previous asteroid samples scientists have analyzed took a trip through Earth’s atmosphere, the heat of which altered their composition. Studying this pristine material from the early solar system could shed light on the past and future or our planet.

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October 21st 2020, 1:37 pm

Microsoft Finally Launches Edge Browser on Linux

ExtremeTech

Odds are very good that you’re reading this article in Google Chrome, which has dominated the browser market for years. Since Chrome launched, Microsoft has killed Internet Explorer, launched Edge, killed Edge, and launched a version of Edge based on the same open-source code as Chrome. Microsoft is now looking to expand its new Chromium-based Edge browser to as many devices as possible. To that end, you can finally install the new Edge on Linux. That might not get Microsoft a lot more users, but it does signify the company’s commitment to its shiny new browser. 

Microsoft launched the original Edge with its EdgeHTML engine alongside Windows 10. In fact, it was restricted to Windows 10, where it did not serve as incentive for people to upgrade to the new Windows. If anything, it blunted any impact Edge might have had on the browser market. Despite aggressive marketing and annoying popups, Edge didn’t see much success. So, Microsoft decided in late 2018 to scrap Edge as it existed and rebuild the browser based on the open-source Chromium code, making it more similar to Google’s browser. 

Microsoft launched the new Edge in early 2020 with support for Windows 7, 8, 10, and macOS. The wider support was one of the primary selling points of the Chromium conversion, but Microsoft also promised a Linux version. It took a little longer, Microsoft has kept its promise to give Linux users a new browser alternative. 

Keep in mind, this is a preview. So, Linux is basically running about a year behind other platforms. Microsoft says the preview is suitable for developers who want to build and test their apps and sites on Linux with Edge. The core rendering behavior and dev tools “should generally behave consistently with other platforms like macOS and Windows.”

Microsoft made a lot of changes to Chromium to integrate its services, and this may be the first time Linux users will see that kind of Microsoft integration on their preferred platform. However, some features aren’t quite ready for prime time. In this initial release, Edge will only support local accounts with no Microsoft sign-in. That means no syncing your data from other devices to or from Linux at this time. These features will come in a future preview. 

Microsoft has made .deb and .rpm packages available for direct download on the Microsoft Edge Insider site. There are also instructions here for downloading the browser from Microsoft’s Linux repository. The preview will get weekly updates along with the dev channel on other operating systems. If you decide to give the new Linux version a shot, Microsoft hopes you’ll provide feedback via the integrated feedback tools.

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October 21st 2020, 11:23 am

Microsoft Kicks Off Its Windows 2H20 Feature Rollout

ExtremeTech

Fall has rolled around again, and Microsoft is greeting the season with its biannual Windows 10 feature update. All of the usual caveats regarding rollouts apply. At first, 2H20 will only be available to a relatively limited set of users, but Microsoft will make it available to a wider group of individuals as compatibility blocks are resolved.

So, what’s new this build?

It’s the first build that will ship with Chromium Edge automatically installed. Microsoft has added a price comparison tool directly in the browser so you can find the best available price on a product while you search. You’ll also be able to navigate within Edge using Alt-Tab (no word on how easily this synchronizes with the more regular use of Alt-Tab to swap between desktop windows). In addition, you can hover over a pinned website icon on the taskbar and see all open tabs that point to that site.

There are also some new customization options and a partially transparent “Start” menu background. Microsoft calls this look “more streamlined,” but I don’t see how that term applies — the number of icons and their presentations are identical in the “Before” shot versus the “After.”

The Display section in “Settings” now contains an option for adjusting the display refresh rate directly, rather than requiring you to dig into the Nvidia Control Panel or use the advanced display options buried deep in a menu that hasn’t changed since Windows 95 was hot. If you use a 2-in-1 system, the machine will now automatically detect that you have switched into tablet mode and will swap to that interface method without being asked.

Most of the other functions are of limited value to anyone who doesn’t need to connect to remote services. Mobile Device Management now has a Local Users and Groups policy “that gives administrators the same options as on-premises Group Policy.” Microsoft claims that Windows 2H20 includes enhanced biometric security, but there’s an asterisk on that claim big enough to drive a plane through, namely:

Enhanced sign-in security requires specialized hardware and software components that can be leveraged starting on devices shipping with Windows 10 October 2020 Update configured out of factory. Documentation will be available later this year.

There’s not much else to chew on in this update, at least not that Microsoft felt compelled to mention. Over at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley has heard rumors that Microsoft might not push another Windows 10 feature update until the second half of 2021. Supposedly the principle goal at the moment is to get Windows 10X ready for single-screen devices and prioritizing that output for early 2021.

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October 21st 2020, 9:49 am

The Google Pixel 5 Seems to Have a Serious Design Flaw

ExtremeTech

It is not unusual for a brand new phone to suddenly generate a flurry of problematic reports. It can be difficult, at least initially, to determine how widespread these issues are, and whether they represent a real problem for a product or are random issues cropping up at an inopportune moment. Multiple reports from XDA-Forums and Google’s support boards suggest issues with the new Pixel 5 might be more the former and less the latter. According to a very busy thread on the Google Support forums, a number of users have received devices with a gap between the top-left-hand side of the device and the screen.

The reason this image looks so odd is that I assembled it out of two different pictures of the same phone showing both the left and right sides. Click to enlarge. Check the space between the body and screen on the left versus the space available on the right. Original images by Andy Richardson.

Several factors point towards this being unintentional. First, the gap is almost invariably on the upper-left side, but not on the right side. Second, it’s large enough that some people report being able to work a fingernail in between the display and the frame of the case. Flexing upwards will cause the edge of the display to shift as well, implying that the phone display is not firmly secured to the chassis. End users have also reported returning their phones and receiving a new phone with exactly the same problem.

Image by Florian Brauchle

If this were a design decision Google had made, we’d expect every user to be affected to more or less the same degree, but different users report a range of experiences ranging from no issues to fairly large gaps. More than one end-user reports that the crevice has already begun to accumulate dust and detritus. It’s not clear if this issue threatens the device’s IP68 rating or not — in theory, the phone could have an internal gasket around the screen mount that’s still perfectly intact, even with this gap. But with a gap like that, however, anything that works its way into the space can itself exacerbate the problem. ExtremeTech recommends all users with this issue assume their phones are not waterproof rather than testing the theory to see if they are. Cell phone manufacturers will sometimes deny support if the water exposure markers inside the device indicate it’s been wet at some point in the past.

Google customer service has evidently told some users that the gap is not intentional or desired, though we don’t have a formal statement from Google itself yet. No one seems to be having any trouble getting replacement devices (good), but there’s no explanation for how this problem slipped through QA. The number of users reporting it in different countries suggests that this issue is either fairly widespread or that one of Google’s manufacturing partners shipped out a fair number of improperly assembled devices for some period of time.

There are no reports of this issue causing damage to anyone’s device, so you don’t need to worry about that just yet, but if you have a phone that’s been hit with this flaw we recommend getting in touch with either Google, your carrier, or the store you bought the device from. The risk to IP68 and the chance of internal contamination over the long term make ignoring the problem risky. Anything that could quickly compromise waterproofing and potentially allow dust ingress into the device is a mistake that needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Feature image by Sylabo, XDA-Developers forum.

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October 21st 2020, 9:06 am

Tesla: Rain Can Cause Model 3 Bumpers to Detach

ExtremeTech

Early in the Tesla Model 3’s life, there were reports of poor build quality, with one analysis from the CEO of Munro & Associates claiming, “The [trunk edge] gaps on the car are like you can see them from Mars.” Later reports have indicated that Tesla improved quality control over the first Model 3s to roll off the line…but there have also been videos of Tesla bumpers falling off during rainstorms.

Initial reports of the problem date back to early 2019, but while Tesla appears to have fixed the issue within a few months, it didn’t get around to telling anyone about it until today.

Rainy, With a Chance of Bumper

First, the service bulletin, which reads in part:

In rare instances, certain components on Model 3 vehicles built at the Fremont Factory before May 21, 2019, might be damaged when driving through standing water on a road or highway with poor drainage or pooling water. In these rare instances, the rear fascia might detach from the vehicle.

While this is a rare event, it’s completely unacceptable that the public is only finding out about it now. Having the bumper of your vehicle suddenly detach isn’t just dangerous for you, it’s incredibly dangerous for anyone driving behind you.

Tesla’s service bulletin is over at Electrek. It states that vehicles that have driven on roads with poor drainage or through standing water are eligible for warrantied repair. Customers whose vehicles have been flooded or were driven through deep water are not covered by this bulletin.

The service bulletin does not address whether Tesla will be reimbursing owners for repairs they may have had to pay for on their own, or for the cost of replacement bumpers. Given that the problem began in late 2018 and affected vehicles were shipped until May 2019, it is not clear if anyone who has had the problem is actually outside the warranty period yet.

The other concern is that Tesla hasn’t put out a general recall notice to all owners so they know to bring their vehicles in for servicing. Recalls don’t literally mean that you give up your car — it means Tesla tells you, “Bring it in here so we can fix it.”

It’s not clear how many Model 3 owners have been affected by this, but Tesla should make every effort to replace the rear bumper on every Model 3 that shipped before May 21, 2019. Anyone who tries to swerve out of the way of a sudden, unexpected road obstacle risks colliding with someone in another lane or running off the road. Anyone who suffers such an event is, at best, left with a badly damaged vehicle that probably isn’t street legal, since bumpers are typically required. Customers have an incredibly reasonable expectation that their vehicles will not disintegrate under rainwater. If any customers paid out of pocket to fix this problem, for any reason, Tesla needs to reimburse them. Every vehicle potentially impacted by this issue should be recalled for service.

Feature images by Logan Jamal, who owns the vehicle in the video above. 

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October 21st 2020, 8:05 am

ET Deals: Over $400 Off Alienware Aurora AMD Ryzen 7 Gaming Desktop, Insignia 55-Inch 4K Fire TV for

ExtremeTech

Step up your game with a high-end Dell Alienware desktop. Today you can save over $400 on one of these edgy looking systems; it comes equipped with a top-tier Ryzen 7 3700X processor and an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super graphics card.

Dell Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 1TB NVMe SSD ($1,599.99)

This Alienware desktop features an edgy, rounded design and powerful gaming hardware capable of running most current AAA titles with maxed out graphics settings. In addition to looking cool, this system was also designed to provide improved airflow over the older Aurora desktops, which means the hardware inside will also run cooler as well. For a limited time you can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,029.99 to $1,599.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Insignia NS-55DF710NA21 55-Inch 4K UHD HDR Fire TV Edition Smart TV ($319.99)

Insignia’s 55-inch 4K TV features HDR support and Amazon’s Fire TV software. This allows the TV to stream content from various sources, and it enables you to control your TV with voice commands using an included voice remote with Alexa support. Normally this model would cost $429.99, but right now you can get it for $319.99 from Best Buy.

Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Intel Core i7-1165G7 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 12GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($749.00)

Dell designed this modern laptop with one of Intel’s new Core i7-1165G7 processors and a fast 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD. The notebook also features an LED-backlit keyboard, which makes the system look cool as well as being useful while typing in the dark. The system also utilizes Intel’s new Iris Xe graphics processor, which is twise as fast as the company’s older iGPU technology and can run some modern games with low settings. If you’ve been looking for a computer for work or for your child to do online classes, this system should work well for you. Currently, you can get this system from Dell marked down from $879.99 to $749.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Ring Video Doorbell 3 ($139.99)

Ring’s new Video Doorbell 3 features a 1080p HD video camera and it has built-in speakers and a microphone. Compared with the older Video Doorbell 2, this device has upgraded motion detection. You can get it now from Best Buy marked down from $199.99 to $139.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 20th 2020, 4:15 pm

Advance Your Cybersecurity Career at a Bargain Price with These Training Courses

ExtremeTech

From deepfakes and AI-powered cyberattacks to cloud jackings and more, the emergence of new types of cyber threats and their greater impact on both individuals and companies illustrates the growing demand for certified cybersecurity professionals in today’s workforce. Not only that, but it demonstrates the need for cybersecurity professionals to stay on top of the different types of cyber threats digital deviants have at their disposal.

So, if you have a basic understanding of cybersecurity, or at the very least, a deep interest in technology and coding, it’s now a smart time to invest in the educational resources that will help you take your cybersecurity skills to an advanced level. Perfect for you, that’s precisely what this bundle of online courses helps you do.

The Advanced Cyber Security Career Advancement Bundle teaches you how to protect any person, business, or website from cyber threats with 56 hours of instructional video content on industry-standard cybersecurity certifications. Typically $4,500, this bundle of online courses is on sale today for $49.99 (98 percent off).

It’s easier to advance your cybersecurity career with the help of this bundle. Upon purchase, you get instant access to six courses covering the fundamentals of cybersecurity and essential certifications for this discipline. In other words, this bundle helps you kickstart your career advancement with an overview of cybersecurity. This introduction gives you a thorough look at today’s cybersecurity landscape and teaches you how to use the tools that make it possible to evaluate and manage security protocols in information processing systems. With a strong foundation in cybersecurity, you then begin to train for various certifications.

These include the CISA Certification, the CompTIA Cloud Essentials Certification, the CCSP Certification, the CISM Certification, and the CISSP Certification. By studying for these professional certifications, you practice the concepts, skills, and technologies needed to become an in-demand cybersecurity professional. Even better, you actively prepare for the exams you need to pass to demonstrate your qualifications when it comes time to present your resume to potential employers. So, by the time you finish up with the 56 hours of content included in this bundle, you’ll have the conceptual and technical skills needed to use modern technology to protect people’s data and privacy — talk about advancement in a meaningful career!

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Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 20th 2020, 3:14 pm

DOJ’s Files Google Antitrust Case That Could Reshape the Internet

ExtremeTech

When you need to search for something on the internet, you are almost certainly turning to Google. Following years of investigations, the DOJ has filed an antitrust case against the search giant, revolving around the way Google keeps us using its search and advertising services. According to the Department of Justice, Google has abused its market position to hobble competitors. Naturally, Google has fired back, calling the action “deeply flawed.”

The US government has flirted with filing charges against Google in the past — an investigation in 2012 was called off at the last moment when the DOJ decided it was unlikely the charges would stick. Today, the DOJ has joined with 11 state Attorneys General to file the case against Google. Interestingly, all of those state officials are Republicans. However, Democratic AGs have also been investigating Google, and several plan to join a separate lawsuit that covers issues beyond search and ads. 

The case hinges on the way Google keeps its search engine in front of as many eyeballs as possible. For example, it pays Apple billions of dollars to make Google the default on its phones. It also forces Android licensees to provide Google search through uninstallable apps. The DOJ alleges these practices have made it impossible for upstart search providers to gain market share, and thus, significant advertising revenue. 

This is the most aggressive antitrust action the US government has undertaken in decades, harkening back to the Microsoft case in the late 90s. That lawsuit eventually ended with a 2001 settlement that took the wind out of Microsoft’s sails and helped Google and other companies gain a foothold. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen says Google “achieved some success in its early years,” but that it has maintained power through “exclusionary practices.” Even most fans of Google products would admit there are potential issues with the way it runs its business today, but minimizing the revolutionary nature of Google’s early years as “some success” seems a bit disingenuous. 

One of the many examples Google has provided to show it doesn’t monopolize the search market.

Google consistently claims that people use Google search not because they have to, but because they want to. That might be true, but it also sidesteps the DOJ’s point — regulators believe there would be more search options that people might want to use if not for Google’s alleged anticompetitive behavior. Still, Google has numerous examples of other search products integrated with Windows, iOS, and even its own Android platform. It will no doubt expand on these examples in excruciating detail as the case unfolds. 

It could take years for this case to run its course, and more technology giants could be drawn in as time goes on. When the dust settles, the internet could end up being a vastly different place.

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October 20th 2020, 1:44 pm

Sony Will Optimize PlayStation 5 Speeds Via Fan Controller DLC

ExtremeTech

Earlier this month, Sony posted an extensive teardown of the PlayStation 5. Now, the engineer featured in that video has given an exclusive interview to Japanese website 4Gamer, in which he shared some additional details on how the console functions and what kind of game improvements customers can expect over a game’s lifetime.

One particularly interesting tidbit is that the PlayStation 5 will be able to tweak its own fan speeds on a game-by-game basis. This is likely an outgrowth of Sony’s guarantee that all PlayStation 5’s will perform identically, despite the intrinsic individual variation between SoCs that typically leads to different boost clocks. If you missed Sony’s teardown video, you can see it below:

In the 4Gamer interview, Yasuhiro Otori details some aspects of the PlayStation 5 design that might have slipped under the radar. While discussing the cooling system and thermal sensors built into the system, Otori stated:

Various games will appear in the future, and APU behavior data for each game will be collected. Based on this, there is a plan to proceed with the optimization of fan control.

Calling this type of profile update “DLC” is a bit of cheek on my part, but there’s no rule saying that a company has to charge for DLC, and this is, after-all, game-specific downloadable content that could theoretically impact the overall experience of playing the game depending on just how noisy the fan gets.

The PlayStation 5 has three separate thermal sensors mounted to the mainboard, as well as the integrated network of sensors built into AMD’s APUs. This sensor network is what enables Adaptive Voltage and Frequency Scaling (AVFS), which is a core component of AMD’s overall push towards higher energy efficiency. Unlike Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling, which defines a CPU family’s performance based on the average bins and frequencies the CPU family can reach, AVFS is tuned on a per-chip basis to deliver the best overall performance and power consumption that specific APU can offer.

By combining data from the motherboard as well as the APU, Sony can tweak the PlayStation 5’s fan speed to ensure the system remains adequately cooled. Under very heavy load or sustained high temperatures, the fan is designed to spin up to a higher RPM to keep system temperatures in a safe operating range. The idea that Sony can update fan profiles to keep games running optimally, however, is an interesting one. It suggests that the company might attempt to build an overall usage profile for the PlayStation 5, with the goal of ascertaining how well its models of user testing actually square with what end-users experience.

A few other tidbits from the article that I thought were interesting, though some were also covered in the original teardown video: The liquid metal thermal paste Sony uses is, as expected, incredibly damaging to aluminum, but it apparently is bad for copper, too. Otori notes that while Sony initially used copper for its cooler, the company wound up plating the bottom of the cooler with silver. Apparently, copper, while famed for being non-reactive where gallium is concerned, isn’t quite as non-reactive as Sony wanted. Silver apparently fits the bill, though I genuinely don’t know if tarnishing will be an issue (or if tarnishing would impact the system’s cooling performance). I’m assuming that it won’t, since that’s something Sony could easily investigate.

Image by 4Gamer.net

The difference between Sony and Microsoft in terms of their approach to clocks remains one of the most interesting low-level differences between the two companies, along with Microsoft’s dual-speed memory bus with its mixture of faster and slower memory. Last time around, Sony won the day with its “It plays games” mantra. This time around, it’s Microsoft promising constant clocks and static performance, while Sony has emphasized the dynamic nature of its console and its ability to clock up and down depending on workload. Both companies have claimed their respective designs are key to delivering next-generation performance. In a few more weeks, we’ll see if they arrived at mostly the same place with different methods, or if one company has an edge over the other.

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October 20th 2020, 10:54 am

Microsoft Flight Simulator Players Are Swapping Bing Maps Data With Google

ExtremeTech

When Microsoft launched the new version of Flight Simulator, it made a great deal of noise about its extensive use of photogrammetry throughout the game. Photogrammetry, if you haven’t heard the word before, is the process of gathering reliable data about the physical world through various forms of photography and electromagnetic imaging. If you have a data set consisting of the same town photographed from different heights at known altitudes, you can use this information to correctly calculate the heights and sizes of objects.

This data set can be retrieved from the cloud and is built using Azure and information gathered via Bing Maps. There are 341 fully modeled cities in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and that’s a significant achievement — a genuine leap forward compared with anything any simulator has tried to do before.

Unfortunately, it looks like Microsoft just isn’t very good at doing this kind of thing yet. End-users have begun to notice that the data sets available from Google are better. In some cases, they’re much better. It’s not that the Bing sets are necessarily bad — reviewers and players alike were excited by the unparalleled detail, even if the game’s notable bugs have also generated their share of headlines.

In a plaintive post titled “Can we talk about photogrammetry quality,” user MegaRiceBall734 writes:

In regard to photogrammetry, we often talked about number of cities or places that have it on Bing vs. Google. However, when I was examining the same area on both platforms, to my surprise (or not), the quality of photogrammetry on Bing is a lot worse, both in texture quality and polygon counts. This is probably why sometimes I feel the autogen is even because the polygon count could be higher and the texture is definitely sharper.

He then provides some specific examples of photogrammetry comparisons between the Bing and Google data sets. Data shown below:

Williamsburg, NY. Google Maps. Photo by MegaRiceBall734

Williamsburg, NY. Bing. Photo by MegaRiceBall734

West Chester, PA. Google Maps. Photo by MegaRiceBall734

West Chester, PA. Bing photogrammetry, photo by MegaRiceBall734

According to the thread discussion, these images reflect what is seen in-game if you fly over these areas. Some players admit to using the autogenerated landscape specifically because the quality of the photogrammetry just isn’t good enough. According to The Register, gamers are launching mod projects to convert the data set used by Bing over to the data set used by Google before loading those assets into the game. You can see a video tutorial on how to pull off this asset-switching here, if you’re curious about improving your own image quality.

This kind of photogrammetric replacement is, it seems to me, a kissing cousin to the kinds of work upscalers are doing for both video and gaming. One of the biggest changes ushered in by the industrial revolution was the invention of the sewing machine. Prior to the sewing machine, the amount of time required to make a garment hadn’t changed much in centuries. It was mostly a function of the materials used, the skill and speed of the tailor, and the difficulty of the design. The invention of the sewing machine slashed the time required for clothing manufacturing from hours per piece to minutes per piece. It also spawned a huge cottage industry all across America. For decades, women’s magazines regularly featured patterns in the back — a do-it-yourself kit for some of the fashions displayed within their pages.

Fifteen years after the term “big data” was coined, we’re seeing the impact of these data sets at the individual, voluntary level. In the beginning, it was Google, Facebook, and Microsoft declaring that they were using this invisible quantity of “Big Data” to make various improvements to their ecosystems and products. Even as recently as 2018, when Nvidia began pushing out technologies like DLSS, the focus was on what the company could do internally with its own cloud data centers. There were already texture upscale projects for games running in 2018, but it was still a pretty new phenomenon. Heck, it’s still a pretty new phenomenon today.

Whether it’s swapping out photogrammetric assets in a flight simulator or rebuilding textures for video games, gamers are building improvements like they never could before. Image quality gains that would have taken the insane dedication of an entire modding team can now be accomplished by a couple of people working a fraction of the time.

Exciting times, all the way around. Also, Microsoft: might be a good time to fix that aspect of Bing. Doesn’t look like the current solution measures up.

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October 20th 2020, 9:38 am

SK Hynix Buys Intel’s Memory Business and NAND Foundry for $9B

ExtremeTech

SK Hynix has announced it will acquire Intel’s NAND memory business for $9B, including Intel’s NAND SSD foundry, its component and wafer business, and the manufacturing facility Intel built in Dalian, China. The announcement specifically states that Intel will retain its Optane business.

Not the Fastest Timeline

The two companies envision a protracted sale process. SK Hynix and Intel hope to have regulator approval for the merger by late 2021. Once approval has been granted, SK Hynix will pay Intel $7B for its NAND business, associated IP, employees, and the Dalian foundry. Let’s say this happens by early 2022. The agreement then calls for an extended period in which SK Hynix owns most (but not all) of Intel’s NAND IP.

In March 2025, SK Hynix pays Intel the last $2B and receives “the remaining assets, including IP related to the manufacture and design of NAND flash wafers, R&D employees, and the Dalian fab workforce.” SK Hynix is buying the building in 2022, but it won’t be responsible for the workers until March 2025. Under this arrangement, Intel will build NAND at Dalian until the end of Q1 2025 and will retain all of the IP related to the manufacture of NAND until the last part of the transaction is finalized.

The Intel Non-volatile Memory Solutions Group (NSG) had a rough 2019, which isn’t surprising, given that the entire NAND flash market took a beating that year. What’s surprising is that Intel would sell the business now, given the bump in revenue NSG has enjoyed during the pandemic. First, here are results for the last few years and the total revenue provided by the unit.

Here’s a more specific breakdown of last quarter, contrasting the massive growth in NSG with the much smaller growth in the Programmable Solutions Group (PSG).

PSG is responsible for Intel’s FPGA business, including the Agilex and Stratix brands. NSG is responsible for NAND flash and Optane (which Intel will retain). Intel is reportedly planning to get out of the NAND business due to the sagging price of flash, which raises lots of questions about… well, everything, really. The recent bust in NAND flash prices wasn’t all that surprising; both NAND and DRAM are subject to boom-and-bust cycles. Intel is well aware of this.

First, foundries build out more capacity to meet existing high demand. Then, as the market absorbs that capacity, prices fall. Eventually, supply becomes constrained, either by total worldwide production capacity or by manufacturing difficulties and low yields, all of which can raise prices. Manufacturers then find new approaches to the technical problems (boosting yield) or build new fabs (boosting absolute output), and the cycle repeats again.

Intel may be attempting to offload its memory business while the unit looks particularly strong. In its Q2 2020 conference call, the company said:

NSG’s record quarterly revenue of approximately $1.7 billion was up 76% year-on-year on strong NAND bit growth and improved pricing. Q2 was an all time record for quarterly revenue for our memory business. The business also returned to profitability this quarter, generating approximately $300 million in operating income.

Intel had previously said this year that the firm needed to generate more attractive returns from the NAND business and that it was considering a partnership of some kind, but that was before the business unit had one of its strongest quarters of all time. Intel already reduced its overall investment in memory technology when the company sold its share of the Optane / 3DXPoint-focused joint venture back to Micron for $1.5B. This $9B deal with SK Hynix dwarfs that sale.

Intel is third from the bottom (the last gray bar, just below the blue). Its market share has fluctuated from high single digits to 10.6 percent over the past four years.

It’s also possible (if unlikely) that Intel is reacting to ongoing pressure from the US government for US companies to draw down their investment and exposure to China, particularly in semiconductors.

What Will Happen to PLC NAND?

Intel had previously told ExtremeTech that it was continuing to work on penta-level cell (PLC) NAND, with a maximum capacity of five bits of data per NAND cell. This additional capacity increase would boost per-bit capacity by 1.25x, but at the cost of endurance. Erasing flash memory is a destructive process, and NAND cells can only be erased and rewritten so many times before they lose the ability to hold the necessary number of charge states. The more charge states a NAND cell is asked to hold, the fewer times it can be erased before becoming damaged.

 

Thus far, manufacturers have dealt with the decrease in longevity by over-provisioning drives and reducing write amplification with better algorithms. In order for this to be effective, the cost of overprovisioning the drive must be lower than the die cost penalty of shipping an equivalent amount of QLC or TLC storage. Yield plays a part in the overall cost analysis as well.

It’ll be interesting to see if SK Hynix picks up the proverbial torch on PLC development or if the company sticks to QLC. One interesting thing about the chart above is that the penalty for moving to the next “bit” increases the lower your initial process node for every transition except QLC -> PLC. With 5Xnm technology, SLC is only 1.1x more reliable than MLC. At 1Xnm, it’s 3.5x more endurant. Similarly, the gap between TLC and QLC is much smaller at 5Xnm than it is at 1Xnm. It is not clear if PLC’s very different figures reflect the early stage of development or a shift in technology. SK Hynix will command a significantly larger share of the NAND market by the time Intel’s fabs are integrated into its own production.

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October 20th 2020, 8:54 am

InSight Mars Lander’s ‘Mole’ Probe Now Completely Underground

ExtremeTech

NASA’s InSight Lander made history when it became the first mission to take seismic readings on another planet, but the lander’s other major experiment hasn’t been as successful. The mission’s burrowing heat probe, sometimes called the “Mole,” has struggled to even make it underground, but NASA has finally reported success getting it to stay there. The instrument managed to drag itself below the surface and is no longer visible. We don’t yet know if it will work as intended, but this is a big step in the right direction. 

After landing on the red planet, InSight sent back images of its surroundings. NASA engineers built a replica of the landing zone to carefully plan the instrument deployment. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) was placed on the surface several months later, and it has since sent back a plethora of data on the planet’s internal structure. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) was supposed to hammer itself into the ground, relying on the friction of soil to help it along. However, the Mole encountered issues almost immediately. 

NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided the probe, now believe the unusual stickiness of the soil is responsible for the issues. The Mole is designed to allow loose soil to flow around it, which provides friction as it hammers deeper into the planet. However, the soil at InSight’s landing site clumps together, forming a small pit around the Mole. As a result, the probe just bounces itself out of the hole

Starting late last year, the InSight team started using the lander’s robotic arm to tamp down the soil around the mole in hopes it would increase friction. Eventually, they just started pushing the Mole with the arm. The Mole has since advanced slowly in a series of brief tunneling operations, aided by the arm scooping soil on top of it to provide increased traction. 

The pit after lifting the scoop on 3 October (Sol 659).

NASA now reports that the Mole is fully underground. The team has even moved the arm to ensure that it has completely descended below the surface. There is now hope the Mole will be able to dig down deeper as originally intended. As it burrows, it will drag the tether and its temperature sensors along with it. This will allow scientists to take the planet’s temperature, which was not possible before. 

NASA and DLR currently believe the Mole will start hammering away early next year. In the meantime, they plan to dump more Martian soil on top of the probe and pack it down to ensure it doesn’t jump back out of the hole.

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October 20th 2020, 7:24 am

NASA Awards Nokia $14.1 Million to Bring 4G LTE to the Moon

ExtremeTech

Companies have been building cell towers all over Earth for decades, and yet, you still don’t have to look hard to find dead zones. Some people even live in places where they can’t get a bar to save their lives. Soon, the surface of the moon might even have better cell service than your living room. NASA has awarded Nokia $14.1 million to develop a lunar 4G LTE network for astronauts. 

The grant is part of NASA’s Tipping Point initiative to develop new technologies that support space exploration. The latest iteration of the program has a total value of $370 million. In addition to Nokia’s LTE plans, NASA has chosen to fund research into cryogenic fuel transfer technology at SpaceX, lunar oxygen extraction at Sierra Nevada Corporation, and more. 

NASA, of course, is planning ahead for the upcoming Artemis Program, which will see the first woman set foot on the moon. The communication systems currently in place rely on simple radio frequency signals. A true cellular network on the moon could provide much more reliable communication over a larger area. It could even be more efficient than LTE here on Earth because there are no obstacles (or air) to degrade the signal. 

Nokia’s Bell Labs says it will design the network in such a way that it will be upgradable to 5G in the future. The company hasn’t mentioned anything about frequencies, but there won’t be a lot of interference on the moon. Many of the coverage and reliability issues here on Earth are due to obstructions and crowded wireless spectrum. On the moon, NASA will have its pick of cellular bands. This might even be a viable use case for millimeter-wave 5G down the road. These signals are very fast but unreliable on Earth because they degrade quickly and can’t pass through walls—not many of those on the moon!

So, why not just use existing cellular tech on the moon? We can’t deploy terrestrial cell tower technology there because it’s a vastly more harsh environment. There’s no atmosphere, and temperatures range from 250 to -208 degrees Fahrenheit. The levels of radiation will also fry electronic components that are not hardened against it. Nokia hopes to develop hardware that will address all these issues without taking up too much space in cargo vessels. You’ve probably seen the transmitters atop towers here on Earth. They’re not very portable, and every ounce counts when you’re launching a rocket to the moon. 

The initial $14.1 million grant won’t get us all the way to streaming Netflix on the moon, but it will allow the company to demonstrate its technology. It can then pursue additional funding to bring LTE to the moon.

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October 19th 2020, 2:44 pm

Google Launches YouTube Music on Apple Watch, Bypassing Wear OS

ExtremeTech

Google is currently moving full-speed ahead with YouTube Music, leaving the aging Play Music in the dust. Despite announcing this change last year, YouTube Music still hasn’t reached feature parity with Play Music. It’s a little bit closer today thanks to the new YTM smartwatch app. However, that app is only available on the Apple Watch. It’s almost like Google forgot Wear OS exists, and honestly, that’s understandable. I forget it exists sometimes, too. 

The new YouTube Music app for the Apple Watch has many of the same features as the full-fledged iOS version. You can access playlists, control playback, search for content, and even cast tunes to Google Cast-enabled devices. It is, by all accounts, a very good app. 

Meanwhile, Wear OS users are stuck with little to no support for Google’s music streaming platform. Wear OS captures playback notifications from Android phones, so you get that with all media apps. However, the demise of Play Music took with it most on-device features like playlists and the option to save tracks to the watch. 

We’ve seen numerous wearable apps bypass Google’s underperforming smartwatch platform in favor of Apple’s. For all the App Store’s flaws (you can just ask Epic about that), Apple has done a great job of encouraging developers to create apps for its wearables. Whereas Google hasn’t done much of anything to make Wear OS appealing to developers. In fact, it can be hard to believe that Google even cares about Wear OS — it killed the Nest app for Wear OS just last year. 

It’s hard to know the exact number of wearables out there, but most estimates peg the Wear OS market share in the single digits. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch has about half the market all to itself. Samsung and Fitbit each take a larger chunk than Google, which probably explains why Google has entered into a deal to acquire Fitbit, along with all that juicy health data it has on people. The clear privacy issues have slowed down the deal, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that Google will get what it wants. 

This isn’t entirely Google’s fault — Wear OS smartwatches rely on Qualcomm ARM chips, and the company’s wearable offerings have been disappointing. The Snapdragon Wear 3100 was basically a rehash of the 2100, which itself was barely more powerful than the archaic Snapdragon 400 chips from the very first Wear OS devices. The new Wear 4100 does look like a significant improvement, but there are precious few watches with that chip on the horizon. It could take time before the 4100 becomes the norm, and no one even knows if Wear OS will survive long enough for that to matter. 

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October 19th 2020, 11:15 am

AMD’s Mark Papermaster Dishes the Goods on Zen 3

ExtremeTech

As we head towards November 5 and the upcoming launch of AMD’s 5000 Series and the Zen 3 architecture, a lot of folks have had questions about various facets of the Zen 3 design. AMD shared details on the chip earlier this month and CTO Mark Papermaster was evidently willing to sit down with members of the technical press as well. In a recent interview with Anandtech, Papermaster shed light on the future of AMD designs, its IPC gains, process nodes, fabric technology, security, silicon binning, and much more. I’m going to cover the major points, but there’s plenty of additional data in the extensive interview.

Performance, Process, and Power Consumption

According to Papermaster, rearchitecting the Zen 3 core with an 8-core complex design and full access to its 32MB L3 cache was “the single biggest lever” in reducing overall latency in gaming applications. While AMD once implied that it would move to a second-generation 7nm node for this product, this guidance has since changed. The improvements it speaks of are the gains we would expect from any maturing process.

So if you look at the transistors, they have the same design guidelines from the fab. What happens of course in any semiconductor fabrication node is that they are able to make adjustments in the manufacturing process so that of course is what they’ve done, for yield improvements and such. For every quarter, the process variation is reduced over time. When you hear ‘minor variations’ of 7nm, that is what is being referred to.

As for the power efficiency improvements that give Ryzen its 24 percent improved performance per watt, Papermaster ascribes the boost to better granularity and responsiveness, as well as efficiency gains from the new eight-core complex. Further improvements to Precision Boost and to the low-level sensor network blanketing the chip have also helped AMD to reduce power consumption without changing nodes for 7nm or 12nm. The I/O die contains some unspecified “incremental improvements,” but Papermaster advises fans to look for larger gains in AMD’s next round of generational improvements.

Papermaster’s comments on specific load/store improvements are worth quoting directly:

The load/store enhancements were extensive, and it is highly impactful in its role it plays in delivering the 19% IPC. It’s really about the throughput that we can bring into our execution units. So when we widen our execution units and we widen the issue rate into our execution units it is one of the key levers that we can bring to bear. So what you’ll see as we roll out details that we have increased our throughput on both loads per cycle and stores per cycle, and again we’ll be having more details coming shortly.

Note: AMD considers Zen 3 to be a full redesign of the original Zen architecture. This is a point we’ve actually heard from more than just him. The entire reason AMD has gotten this type of improvement out of the chip is that AMD rebuilt the core. The expected IPC + clock speed improvement for the 5000 series over the 3000 series is ~1.24x, though this may or may not apply to the 5950X the way it does the other CPUs. The 5950X is the most likely CPU to run into the TDP limits AMD builds into AM4.

Papermaster’s response to a question about new markets AMD might branch into is particularly interesting. According to him, AMD is not pursuing “the markets that may have a lot of media attention but are not well matched to the kind of high performance and incredible focus that we have at AMD. We want to deliver high performance at a value to the industry.” It is not clear what this means for the rumors of a Xilinx acquisition or if those rumors were credible in the first place. A Xilinx purchase would likely focus on AI and 5G, but AMD’s consistent messaging on chips is that it isn’t focused on adding narrow support for specific fields right now. As such, it isn’t clear if the CPU manufacturer would consider an FPGA business to be a complementary purchase.

As far as Zen 3 goes, we’ll see what they’ve brought to the table, come November 5.

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October 19th 2020, 9:59 am

Supergiant Star Betelgeuse Might Be Much Closer Than We Thought

ExtremeTech

You probably know Betelgeuse as that star with the weird name, but it’s of particular interest to astronomers right now. It’s a red supergiant in Orion many thousands of times brighter than the sun, and it’s dying. Astronomers expect Betelgeuse will go supernova in the next 100,000 years, and it turns out this star might be much closer to Earth than we thought. Don’t start building a supernova-proof bunker just yet — it may be closer, but it’s still not dangerous. 

Betelgeuse made headlines recently with speculation that it may be on the verge of exploding (it’s the red star on the left in the image above). This was based on some very bizarre changes in the star’s brightness. Since we don’t know exactly how a star like Betelgeuse looks immediately before it dies, this was not an unreasonable hypothesis. However, astronomers now believe it’s much more likely that the star simply released a cloud of gas that partially obscured our view. And that makes sense — supergiant stars are so hot and energetic that they shed huge amounts of matter in their solar wind. 

This event reminded astronomers there’s still a lot to learn about Betelgeuse before it explodes. Rather than wait another 99,000 years or so, a team from The Australian National University (ANU) took a look at the data we have on Betelgeuse to get a better handle on its size, mass, age, and distance from Earth. Most of what they found jives with previous estimates, with the notable exception of the size. 

This comparison image shows the star Betelgeuse before and after its unprecedented dimming.

In the past, astronomers believed Betelgeuse was just under a billion miles (1.5 billion kilometers) in diameter. However, using data from the Department of Defense’s Coriolis mission, the team claims it’s closer to 1 billion kilometers. That’s still huge; in fact, Betelgeuse is so big that astronomers can see the disk of the star rather than a mere point of light. The size of that disk is a function of its size and distance, and the new size estimate means it would also need to be closer to account for its incredible brightness. It’s actually the tenth brightest star in the sky. 

The team estimates that if the new reading is correct, Betelgeuse is about 25 percent closer than we thought. Luckily, that’s still about 530 light-years, which is too far away to fry Earth when it eventually explodes. The study also suggests that the explosion is still a long way off. If the new calculations are right, the model predicts Betelgeuse is still in its carbon fusion stage. That stage lasts about 100,000 years before the star moves to heavier elements. So, we’ve got time and distance, which is nice. Of course, we will have to wait on other teams to verify these findings before Betelgeuse’s position in the cosmos is officially updated. 

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October 19th 2020, 8:29 am

Happy 35th, NES: The Console I Always Wanted and Am Glad I Never Got

ExtremeTech

Yesterday marked the 35th birthday of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s launch in North America. On October 18, 1985, the NES went on sale in limited markets across America (a broad launch would follow in September 1986). To say that initial expectations were low might be an understatement. The North American market was still reeling after the video game collapse of 1983, and plenty of pundits had limited expectations for Japan’s first game console.

Nintendo was sensitive to the risk of introducing a new video game console just two years after the market’s implosion, and it took specific steps to make the NES look more like a VHS player than a then-traditional top-loading console like the Atari 2600. Large, bulky cartridges and a front-loading device were intended to distance Nintendo from Atari and earlier competitors, while devices like ROB (Robotic Operated Buddy) positioned the NES as a unique toy rather than just a video game player.

A 1985 CES brochure, uploaded as fair use to Wikipedia. ROB is remembered for being a brilliant marketing fakeout much more than for its actual contributions to gaming.

In terms of technical specs, the NES is powered by a 1.79MHz (NTSC) or 1.66MHz (PAL) Ricoh 2A03 CPU with a second-source MOS 6502 inside and a whopping 2KB of onboard RAM. Most NES games are between 8KB and 1MB, with 128KB to 384KB being most common. The system also contains an onboard Picture Processing Unit (PPU), again developed by Ricoh. The PPU offered 2KB of dedicated video RAM and a color palette of 48 colors and six shades of gray. The machine can display up to 64 sprites on-screen at a time and displayed images at a standard 256×240 pixels. The actual guts of the NES were quite similar across the world, though the console’s loading mechanism, shape, and game controllers varied by region.

Image by Bololabich, CC BY-SA 4.0

All of this, I learned later. When I actually encountered the NES in real life, my reaction was immediate: I wanted one. Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, my parents did not.

PC Gaming in the Mid-to-Late 1980s Kinda Sucked

Now, before anyone takes my head off, let me be clear: I love the computer games of the mid-to-late 1980s: Space Quest, Hero’s Quest Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, Zork, and Ultima IV would be just a few examples. There were some all-time great games produced in this era — but none of them realistically compared with what Nintendo could achieve.

Today, PC gamers pride themselves on having access to hardware consoles can’t match. Thirty-five years ago, it was the other way around. Nintendo shipped seven million NES systems in 1988, nearly matching the number of Commodore 64s that had been sold in its first five years. By 1990, 30 percent of American households owned an NES, compared with 23 percent with a PC.

Playing on the NES was fluid in a way that no IBM PC or clone equivalent of the time could deliver. Characters could move quickly across screens, and games transitioned nearly instantly from one area to another. Compared with the slow, disk- or hard-drive-based games that ran on PCs, the NES felt positively zippy. In a game like The Legend of Zelda, you could theoretically move continuously through each area, dodging enemies in real-time. Games like Commander Keen would finally begin to close the gap with Super Mario Bros. (Captain Comic doesn’t count), but SMB was a much faster platformer than CK, and it had shipped five years earlier. Super Mario World on the SNES actually came out the same year as the Commander Keen series and was clearly the better, more complex game.

There were a few years where I was pretty unhappy about not being allowed to own a console. My parents were not fond of gaming of any kind, but PCs at least held the potential for educational uses. Consoles, at least in my parents’ eyes, did not.

I doubt they realized the long-term impact of their own decision. I learned to tinker with MS-DOS because being a gamer required it. I learned to upgrade my own hardware and eventually build my own systems for the same reason. My love of gaming drove my interest in hardware, and my interest in hardware drove my career. Even my desire to game on better hardware was once driven by wanting a way to match or exceed console performance as opposed to forever playing second fiddle.

Happy birthday to the console that changed my life, even though I never got to own one.

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October 19th 2020, 8:29 am

ET Weekend Deals: $260 off Dell S3220DGF Curved 2K 165Hz Gaming Monitor, Dell Alienware M15 R3 Nvidi

ExtremeTech

Amazon’s Prime Day has came and gone, but if you’re looking for deals on PCs and monitors then Dell has you covered. Today you can get a 32-inch curved Dell gaming monitor with a 2K resolution and a 165Hz refresh rate for just $349.99.

Dell S3220DGF Curved 2560×1440 165Hz Gaming  Display ($349.99)

This feature rich gaming display has a resolution of 2560×1440 and a fast 165Hz refresh rate. The monitor also have a curved VA panel that helps to create a more immersive gaming experience, and it also ha a built in USB 3.0 hub and HDR support. Best of all, this monitor is also an excellent deal right now as it’s marked down $260 from Dell. This drops the price from $609.99 to just $349.99.

Dell Alienware M15 R3 Intel Core i7-10750H 15.6-Inch 1080p 144Hz Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 2x256GB M.2 PCI-E RAID-O SSDs ($1,499.99)

If you want a fast notebook with plenty of performance for running the latest games, you may want to consider Dell’s Alienware M15 R2. This system was literally built for gaming and it features a fast six-core processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, and a high-quality 1080p 144Hz IPS display. The system also has two 256GB NVMe SSDs in RAID-0, which gives you plenty of space for everyday use and faster transfer speeds. You can get this system from Dell marked down from $1,849.99 to $1,499.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Dell XPS 8940 SE Intel Core i7-10700 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD and 1TB HDD ($1,199.99)

Dell’s new XPS 8940 SE features an updated design and it comes loaded with powerful processing hardware that’s able to tackle just about any task you throw at it. The high-end Intel Core i7-10700 with its eight CPU cores is well suited for running numerous applications at the same time. As it also has RTX 2060 Super graphics card from Nvidia gives the system’s also able to run games exceptionally well, and the graphics card can also help with editing images and videos when you’re not gaming. Currently you can get one of these systems from Dell marked down from $1,649.99 to just $1,199.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Featured Deals

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 16th 2020, 5:27 pm

Facebook Is Permabanning Oculus Quest 2 Owners for Owning an Oculus Quest 2

ExtremeTech

Back in August, Facebook announced it would begin requiring a Facebook account to use future Oculus devices. This was received with all the love Facebook’s abysmal data practices and willful disregard for the negative impact of its own policies deserves. Nevertheless, the company pushed ahead.

What happened next couldn’t be more on-the-nose if it’d happened in a movie. End-users who are signing up for Facebook or attempting to link their accounts to Facebook are finding themselves permabanned from the site. Furthermore, the automated ban tools Facebook uses are telling them that the decision is permanent and cannot be undone. Users have taken to reddit and Twitter to discuss the problem.

Stunning Arrogance

Demanding that end-users begin using Facebook accounts as though this represented some kind of improvement to the end-user experience took chutzpah enough, but look at that bit circled in red. “We have already reviewed this decision and it cannot be reversed.”

1). Yes, it can be. Any decision to ban an account can be lifted. Deleted accounts can be recovered. Since Facebook insists on a real-name policy, the company could institute a 72-96 hour period before it unlocks an available user name, just to allow for an appeal/review process. If it doesn’t, it’s because it doesn’t want to.

2). No human has reviewed this decision. That’s obvious. People are being banned by automated bot. Upon being banned, they are told that because a computer has made a decision, that decision cannot be appealed to a human. This is a perfect example of how the assumed infallibility of computers makes life vastly more difficult for humans.

Facebook has since admitted that it may have screwed up and asked customers to reach out and contact it. But consider the implications: Facebook’s default is to claim that its computers are so infallible, no mistake could possibly be made. It’s confident enough in this claim that it feels safe slapping it on a broad notice to be sent to anyone whose account has been banned, regardless of the reason.

Customer service used to be something people expected. Today, customer service is something internet companies mostly can’t be bothered to provide. Got a problem with Gmail, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, or Microsoft? Good luck ever speaking to a human if you aren’t a massive business customer, and sometimes, even if you are. Help resources for these services are confined to a list of FAQ answers to questions you’re unlikely to be asking and maybe some forums for end-users to post their problems so they can be ignored.

According to one Reddit reader, starting a ticket with Oculus just leads to getting an email directing you to check the Facebook Help Center. If you want to appeal a Facebook ban — because apparently some bans *are* appealable, despite the wording — you have to submit photographic proof of ID. This doesn’t change the fact that the company tells people, up-front, that bans are final.

Personal Opinion

As far as I’m concerned, Oculus is dead. I do not care if the as-yet-unannounced Oculus Quest 3 grants X-ray vision and craps gold doubloons. Facebook’s conduct has made it impossible for me to recommend anyone become entangled with the service for any reason, including giving it more information about any part of your life. There’s also the minor fact that Facebook no longer cares about PC gaming specifically, has canceled future Rift development, and didn’t bother to build proper IPD adjustments into the Quest hardware. Nothing says “F*** off” quite like refusing to build hardware that works with the full range of human eyeballs.

I have loved Oculus hardware, but I am not an unbiased observer on this issue, and I won’t pretend to be. I resent the fact that the best consumer VR company has decided to become the worst consumer VR company solely to suck down just a little more personal information nobody wants to give them. This is not the official opinion of ExtremeTech. My colleague Ryan has a review of the Quest 2 coming soon.

Presumably, Facebook will fix this account-banning issue, but readers who encounter it are advised (by myself) to box their Quest 2 back up and return it to the store. If you’ve been away from Facebook or never signed up, treat this encounter as emblematic of how you can expect to be treated by the company.

I will never recommend an Oculus product again, under any circumstances. If given a choice between a free Oculus Quest 2 and the $900 Cosmos Elite from HTC, I’d take the Cosmos every single time. That’s strictly my opinion, and I’m not going to pretend everyone shares it. Plenty of people will say “Eh, what can you do?” and buy a Quest 2 anyway. I’m under no illusions. Nevertheless, there comes a point when a company has acted so poorly, so often, it is no longer possible to recommend anyone become involved with it if they can help it. As far as I’m concerned, Facebook blew through that barrier years ago. The mandatory data integration is the last straw. I will not turn over data to Facebook on my own gaming habits.

I respect that a lot of people aren’t going to agree with that, but part of being a reviewer is being honest about where you stand on products, even if you aren’t actively reviewing them at the time. I loved the Oculus Quest. If the Oculus Quest 2 lacked mandatory Facebook integration I’d be willing to recommend it to anyone whose eyes could use it.

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October 16th 2020, 5:27 pm

Save 46 Percent on a 1-Month Subscription To Fubo TV’s Streaming Service for Live Sports & TV

ExtremeTech

2020 has been an unusual year. Many different industries and aspects of life have been shut down at one point or another, slowly reopening only when deemed safe by leading public health professionals. One aspect of life that’s back in a major way, though, is professional sports.

If you’re a die-hard sports fan, it can easily feel like there’s not enough time in the day to follow your favorite teams or catch the most competitive games of the week. Well, that’s a problem and paying for cable to watch live sports, as well as other TV programs, certainly isn’t the most practical or cost-effective way of staying on top of your live programming needs. So, it’s time for a smarter approach to viewing live sports and TV without cable.

fuboTV Streaming Service lets you stream and record 100+ channels right from your phone, laptop, tablet, or smart TV. Normally $64, a one-month subscription to this streaming service is on sale today for $34.99 (46 percent off).

With fuboTV, you can easily stay on top of live sports and must-watch television. First off, this streaming service provides you with convenient access to over 100 channels, including ESPN, NFL Network, CBS, NBC, FOX, AMC, MSNBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, TLC, Discovery, and more. That means you still get to watch your live sports, TV shows, breaking news, and movies — you simply do it without needing to sign a long-term, expensive contract with a cable company. Plus, since this streaming service includes all the channels you’d normally use with cable, everyone in your family will be happy knowing they can still watch their favorite live TV.

Alongside all that goodness, you also get access to fuboTV’s Cloud DVR. The Cloud DVR lets you record games and shows you can’t see live. Meaning, you can rest easy knowing that work or other responsibilities will never stop you from catching the big game or watching the newest show without any spoilers. Finally, fuboTV takes your viewing experience to any device. With this streaming service, you can watch live sports and television on your phone, laptop, tablet, and, of course, smart TV.

fuboTV Streaming Service makes it easier to stay on top of must-watch television by letting you stream and record 100+ channels right from your phone, laptop, tablet, or smart TV. Get a one-month subscription on sale today for $34.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 16th 2020, 4:27 pm

Xbox Series X Has Great Features, Small Content Library

ExtremeTech

Microsoft has given some reviewers the green light to publish extensive previews of the Xbox Series X. A few weeks ago, we got reports based specifically on backward compatibility. Now, the company has authorized other disclosures regarding the system.

The reports — at least as concern the hardware themselves — are uniformly excellent. There was some concern that the Xbox Series X hardware might run hot, but Ars Technica reports that the console never gets warmer than an equivalent Xbox One X. They write: “As a computing device, Xbox Series X may go down in history as one of the most remarkable machines ever made—as compared to other products in its era, power level, and price.”

Polygon’s writeup focuses on the use of AutoHDR and an HDR calibration feature that makes enabling the option a snap. This sounds incredibly useful — if you’ve ever tried to calibrate a display for HDR on a per-game basis, you know that getting the feature to work properly on the PC can be a bit of a chore. Consoles have been ahead of PCs as far as deploying HDR support, but it looks like Microsoft has taken some necessary steps to make the feature easier to deploy. AutoHDR is used to add the feature to games that don’t support it by default, while the calibration app walks you through the process of calibrating the software to work well on your own display.

The Verge minces no words, declaring the $500 box is “quieter and far easier to use and maintain than the $3,000 gaming PC I built a few weeks ago. There’s a reason the Xbox Series X looks like a PC — it’s because it often feels like one.” The Verge also published a comparison of load times for modern titles between the Xbox One X and the Xbox Series X.

It is assumed that many of these gaps would be even larger if they’d compared against the Xbox One / One S, so keep that in mind. Overall, the performance gains are exactly what Microsoft promised. In The Outer Worlds, load times fall by nearly 80 percent. Even in the weakest case, CoD: Warzone, the Xbox Series X is still 25 percent faster. 40-60 percent accelerations are fairly common. Gamers have access to 802GB of the 1TB SSD, which is actually a bit more than the Xbox One X (780GB).

Everyone Loves 120Hz Gaming, PC-Quality Detail

The 120Hz option that Microsoft offers requires you to trade off a lot of graphics detail, generally speaking, but the tradeoff in certain games is well worth it according to various publications. Ars writes: “There’s no getting around it: Series X is a fundamental game-changer in terms of console power, and Gears 5’s buttery smooth 120fps toggle has me instantly excited at the prospect of other console-game developers following suit.” (Emphasis original).

Xbox Series X Gears 5, Swamp Edition, 120Hz. Image by Ars Technica

PC Gears 5, Maximum Detail, Swamp Edition. Photo by Ars Technica

The PC still retains a small advantage over the Xbox Series X in Gears of War 5, thanks to a superior ambient occlusion implementation. I zoomed into a pair of Ars’ screenshots to create the following close-up examination of how detail levels vary between the two:

Xbox Series X extreme closeup, 120Hz. Image by Ars Technica. Accidental inclusion of Paint.net tool selector reflects an error on my part, not a bundling decision by Microsoft.

PC extreme close-up, maximum detail. Image by Ars Technica.

While PC image quality is still higher, the PC image was taken with the game running at maxed-out detail levels on a Core i7-8700K and an RTX 3080. The RTX 3080 alone will cost you $700 if you can find one, while the Xbox Series X is a $500 platform. Also, it loads data stupidly faster than a PC in at least some cases. Ars reports that some areas of the game took as long as 53 seconds to load on an NVMe PCIe 3.0 drive, compared with 12 seconds for the Xbox Series X. A gap that large is unlikely to be explained by the difference between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0. One might expect performance to double with doubled bandwidth, but the Xbox takes 22 percent as long as the PC to load the same content. It isn’t 2x faster, it’s 4.4x faster.

Ars does note that there’s one game that runs terribly on Xbox Series X: The Xbox 360 version of Dark Souls will apparently drop to 10fps in places.

The games being tested in these previews are “Optimized for Series X,” but Microsoft is keeping a lid on actual next-generation titles. Weak links in the current design include the length of time it takes to upload clips (Polygon) and the rather clumsy means of sharing content compared to equivalent features on the PC side of the equation.

Apart from ongoing concerns about launch titles and the impact COVID-19 has had on software development, the folks who’ve spent time hands-on with the platform love it. Multiple previews talk about how much gaming on the console feels like playing on a PC. In some places, the Xbox Series X outperforms even a top-end PC. It’ll be impossible to match the console’s performance with a $500-$700 full system build, and it may even challenge the value of mainstream PC upgrades. Imagine, for example, that the Xbox Series X proves to match the performance of a $300 – $450 discrete GPU. This is arguably likely, considering it has 52 CUs to the Radeon 5700 XT’s 40 and runs at equivalent clock speeds. Given that we’ve already measured the performance of RDNA and we know how fast a Ryzen 7 3800X is, Microsoft should be able to beat the current Ryzen 5700 XT with its RDNA2-powered GPU.

It would be ridiculous to declare a winner between Microsoft and Sony when Microsoft is sharing extensive details and Sony is keeping quiet. But at the very least, we can say the Xbox Series X looks to be much better competition for the PlayStation 5 than the Xbox One ever was against the PlayStation 4. The fastest console isn’t always the one that wins the generation, but Sony had a known advantage in that department when the PS4 launched back in 2013. This time around, the technical numbers favor the Xbox Series X. We’ll see if that does or doesn’t translate into a real-world advantage in a few more weeks.

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October 16th 2020, 11:26 am

AMD’s A9-9820 8-Core Jaguar APU Won’t Offer Xbox One S Performance

ExtremeTech

There’s a rumor going around claiming that an AMD APU called the A9-9820 is capable of offering Xbox One S-class performance. This is potentially interesting to folks because the nameless motherboard with this piece of silicon attached is selling for just $125 — significantly less than the supposedly-equivalent Xbox One S.

As a curiosity, the A9-9820 would be a fabulous buy. This is an 8C/8T Jaguar (probably) rumored to be the Xbox One’s SoC, and the rumor may well be true. Unfortunately, despite what people are saying, it’ll never match the performance of an Xbox One S. Let’s talk about why.

Core Confusion

I am not willing to absolutely swear that the A9-9820 is a Jaguar CPU. It’s numbered like a member of the Excavator CPU family and there’s no performance evidence that I can find either way, save for some CPU-Z benchmarks that seem much lower than they ought to be. There’s also the fact that one of the lines below refers to 8MB of cache, split between L2 and L3. The Xbox One S doesn’t have an L3 cache. Excavator, however, does.

See below for translation

The above reads, in order:

  1. 8 CPU cores
  2. 8 Threads
  3. Max turbo 2.35GHz
  4. Base Frequency 1.75GHz
  5. TDP 135W (Possibly a typo, intended to read “35W”. The Xbox One S only draws ~90W of power for gaming)
  6. Cache = 8MB split between L2 and L3
  7. Max RAM bandwidth = 68GB/s
  8. Socket: PGA

On the side of it being the Xbox One S’s CPU, there’s the shape of the die, the packaging, and the fact that AMD factually built an eight-core Jaguar part with an attached GPU. We’ve never heard of an eight-core APU based on a Piledriver-derived core. We also know that AMD did scale Jaguar up as high as 2.5GHz on 28nm. In theory, some of the original 32MB of ESRAM could be getting tapped as an L3 cache, though it’s not clear what type of performance boost the chip would get, or what its L3 clock would be.

Given the claims Chuwi has made about its Aerobox, which also uses the A9-9820, it seems much more likely to be Xbox One-related than not.

This spec sheet implies a base and boost clock of 1.75GHz / 2.35GHz, but the actual Aliexpress listing only states 2.35GHz. If the core has a boost mode, it would probably mean the CPU is based on Puma+ rather than the original Jaguar. A 16nm Jaguar with these characteristics and a small slice of its old ESRAM cache makes sense.

From Chuwi’s Aerobox copy.

If the APU can hold that 2.35GHz clock at full load, the A9-9820 would outperform the Xbox One S CPU (1.75GHz, no Turbo), or at least it would if both CPUs were being tested in standard Windows 10. But the Xbox One runs a specialized variant of the OS designed specifically for the platform. Running on the Xbox One S’s APU isn’t the same thing as having access to the Xbox One S’s operating system.

Anemic GPU Performance

According to both Chuwi and this advertisement, the GPU inside the core is an R7 350. As a desktop card, the R7 350 GPU featured 512 cores, 32 Texture Mapping Units (TMUs), and 16 Render OutPuts (ROPs) at 800MHz, with 72GB/s of memory bandwidth. AMD’s A12-9800 Pro APUs carried a similar version of this GPU, with a 512:32:8 configuration. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the R7 350 inside the A9-9820 is identical to the original dGPU, but with 68GB/s of memory bandwidth instead of 72GB/s. Chuwi reports that their version clocks in at 935MHz, which is just a touch faster than the original Xbox One S’ 914MHz.

Unfortunately, the desktop version of the R7 350 was never a match for Edmonton (the Xbox One GPU). Edmonton is a 768:48:16 GPU, and the disadvantage in GPU cores is going to drag heavily on this chip. The actual Xbox One S has 1.5x more GPU cores and 1.5x the TMUs, best-case. The tiny advantage in clock isn’t going to offset the stark disadvantage in GPU cores, and the A9-9820 has only a fraction of the cache available to the Xbox One S.

Could AMD have labeled the onboard GPU an R7 350 and actually included the full Xbox One S core? Yes. So little information is available, I can’t prove they didn’t. But AMD also could have just re-used the R7 360 moniker, since that GPU matches Edmonton exactly. If the company claims it performs like an R7 350, we should treat that as a given until we know differently, and the R7 350 cannot match the Radeon 7790 (aka, the Xbox One S GPU).

Why Dismiss the Extra CPU Performance?

Neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 ever showed much sign of being limited by CPU performance. The PS4 was faster than the Xbox One/One S in virtually every title. The Xbone had a 1.09x clock advantage on the PS4, but we almost never saw real-world performance favor Microsoft. Jaguar (or Puma+) should have the horsepower to do some light gaming at relatively low resolution, and there are undoubtedly at least a few games that would benefit from the faster clock, but this isn’t the Xbox One X APU, and it doesn’t have the more powerful onboard GPU that would require a dramatically faster chip to keep it fed. The R7 350 was a budget card at launch, after all.

Where the A9-9820 Might Shine

If I wanted to build a low-end gaming system for a child (or just a low-end PC for somebody), this little chip+motherboard might be one of the cheapest options around. You’re not going to be gaming above 720p — frankly, you might even need to drop to 540p — but any relatively lightweight task with good threading will run well here. The integrated GPU and its 68GB/s of bandwidth have a shot at matching current AMD APUs, which only offer 51.2GB/s of bandwidth. It would actually be interesting to see the two compared: Would the A9-9820’s 1.32x bandwidth be enough to overcome the 3400G’s advantages in core efficiency, GPU clock (935MHz vs. 1.4GHz), and the larger number of cores? I suspect the 3400G would easily take the fight, despite its lower memory bandwidth, but it’d be interesting to see the differences. The 3400G, it must be noted, is also selling for ~$140 – $150, which is significantly more than the total price of this motherboard+APU combo.

This is a much easier decision if you still have 8GB of DDR3 lying around or can scare some up cheap. For $125, you get a motherboard + CPU, with an integrated GPU that ought to still put up decent numbers compared with AMD chips today. Single-thread performance would be pretty anemic at an estimated 109 in CB20 (compared with ~450 on the Ryzen 3100), but the estimated CB20 multi-core score would be 764, which is… also really anemic compared with the Ryzen 3 3100, at ~2350. But the Ryzen 3 3100 is $120 for just the chip, compared with ~$125 for the A9-9820, motherboard, and (theoretically) some old DDR3 RAM. All benchmark numbers are estimates based on the known performance of Jaguar desktop chips like the A4-5000 in single and multi-core testing. Cinebench R20 tends to be pretty easy to predict, so I’m reasonably confident in the figures.

If we compare against the Athlon 3000G ($87), we get an interesting mix of wins and tradeoffs. The R7 350 GPU core is much more powerful than the 192 GPU cores on the 3000G, and clocking the newer GPU core at 1100MHz isn’t going to make up the gap. In Cinebench R20, the Athlon 3000G scores 339 in single-core (3x faster than our estimated Jaguar) but just 887 in multi-core (1.16x faster than our estimated performance numbers for the A9-9820). If we assume $87 for the CPU and $50 for a motherboard, the A9-9820 might be a better option for a lightweight gaming system. At the very least, it promises a faster GPU for less money.

I’m not considering whether the A9-9820 is overclockable because it’s highly unlikely the motherboard offers this option. Any overclocking features would be icing on the cake. DDR3-2400 would probably boost the GPU’s performance another 8-10 percent given historic scaling patterns, and given that AMD shipped Jaguar CPUs at 2.5GHz, it might even be possible to squeeze another 5-10 percent out of the CPU core as well. It wouldn’t change the value proposition much, but any additional amount of performance is helpful, and while the half-speed L2 cache will always drag on performance, bringing the clock up reduces the latency in absolute terms.

There’s an interesting argument for using this chip in a low-end, ultra-low-cost gaming box intended for SD or near-SD resolutions, or for using it to handle well-threaded lightweight applications. The price point could also make it an interesting option for folks who need a cheap system that might still offer reasonable performance at a rock-bottom price.

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October 16th 2020, 10:09 am

Second LAX Flight Reports Sighting Person in Jetpack

ExtremeTech

What’s that in the sky? A bird? A plane? No, it’s apparently a person wearing a jetpack buzzing Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). This is the second such incident reported in the last several months, which seems awfully suspicious when jetpacks are only barely functional. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating both reports for fear whoever (or whatever) is up there could interfere with air traffic. 

The latest incident report comes from a China Airlines flight, which claimed to spot a person wearing a jetpack at an altitude of 6,000 feet about seven miles (11 kilometers) north of LAX on Wednesday afternoon. The FAA didn’t say if the alleged jetpacker posed a danger to planes, but they would need to be very close to the aircraft to be visible. That certainly seems like a problem. 

Skepticism is definitely still warranted, even with a second sighting. While jetpacks technically exist, they’re very different from what you’ve seen in the movies. A company called Jetpack Aviation will let you fly one of its custom packs for a mere $4,950. That gets you two days of training with at least three flights on each day. You’re not going to be soaring through the air, though — the company’s aircraft have a maximum of 10 minutes of endurance. Simply reaching 6,000 feet with such a contraption would be a challenge. Another company known as Martin Aircraft Co. made waves a few years ago claiming it would sell a $200,000 jetpack that was more of a wearable helicopter. However, the company closed down in 2019 without selling any (confirmed) units. 

It was easy to dismiss the first sighting as a mistake or misidentification, but a second jetpack pilot in the same area suggests there’s something going on. Whether or not it’s actually a person with a jetpack is impossible to say, but it would be a truly death-defying feat if someone is rocketing through the sky near LA. That would require someone to have designed and built a previously unknown jetpack that vastly outperforms all previous designs, and that is pretty unlikely. A more plausible explanation would be a drone of some sort that maybe, from a certain angle, looks like a person.

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October 16th 2020, 8:12 am

Presenting Doom, Powered by Potatoes

ExtremeTech

Typically, when someone presents a demonstration of “Doom running on X,” it’s a way to demonstrate how powerful low-end computing has become. The reason we use Doom for this purpose, I suspect, is because Doom is more-or-less the father of the FPS genre. This tendency also results in Doom being played on devices that aren’t a lot of fun to play with (which is integral to this story). This story is a bit different. The device in question — a Ti-84 graphing calculator — is long-conquered territory, as far as Doom is concerned. What sets this project apart is the fact that the graphing calculator is powered entirely by potatoes.

Ever heard of a potato battery? Stick zinc and copper electrodes into a potato, and voila — you’ve got yourself a tiny, crappy battery. Boiling the potatoes first helps. The electrical output from this kind of battery is tiny — Wikipedia helpfully notes that “We can conclude that it would take more than 6 million lemons to give us the power of an average 4320W car battery.” This is not a task for the faint of heart or those with less-than-strong stomachs.

Intrepid Youtuber Equalo had a dream: To build a potato-powered Raspberry Pi and play Doom on it. This was going to be difficult from the start — potatoes can be used as batteries, yes, but they’re bad at it — and even a Raspberry Pi Zero (the type used) requires 120-140 milliamps to boot with HDMI disabled. Keeping HDMI enabled would have cost additional power.

This initial attempt fizzles out after the 100 pounds of potatoes Equalo boiled and cut into ~7 pieces fail to generate the appropriate amount of power. The spuds top out at around 80mA and 4.5V. It’s not enough juice, and while his monitor recognizes when an HDMI plug has been connected, nothing else happens. Based on the results he got and the fact that he started with 100 lbs of potatoes, it looks to me like he might have needed another 50 to 100 lbs to actually achieve his goal. That’s a lot of potatoes.

This many potatoes can’t run a Raspberry Pi. My dreams of a tater-powered laser and/or railgun died aborning.

But Equalo, spud-stud that he is, has another trick up his sleeve. Instead of attempting to power a Raspberry Pi, he decides to go for a Ti-84. Ti-84s only use 10-30 milliamps, which makes sense, considering the Zilog Z-80 that powers it only runs at 15MHz. To put this in perspective, the Z-80 was first developed during the Carter Administration and current eZ80 versions of the chip clock up to 50MHz. The Ti-84 Plus is basement-level equipment even by the standards of minimally-powered embedded devices, and if Texas Instruments had been willing to allow end-users to have more than 24KB of RAM to play with, the version of Doom he eventually gets running wouldn’t look like a Vectrex game.

The brand-new, yam-energized Tater-84 Plus proves capable of zipping through the game, making this the first time to my knowledge that any computing device capable of playing Doom has been powered entirely by potato. The experience on a Z80 with 24KB of RAM is far from what you’d want, but it is Doom (at least the Ti-84 Plus version), and it is being powered by a massive, rotting organic battery.

Oh yeah. We didn’t mention that part. During the six days it took the ‘Tuber to boil, cut, wire, and construct his battery, the potatoes — having no idea they were being used in such an illustrious project — began the rote process of decomposing. By day 6, you can hear Equalo struggling for air that doesn’t smell like the world’s worst storage cellar.

Hilariously, rotting may turn the potato into a better battery.

His final verdict is that you should, under no circumstances, attempt this project. The potatoes are expensive, the power they yield is tiny, and they rot within days. But as far as unusual feats go? He’s got that on lock. Also, just in case you were curious, apparently a garage full of rotting potatoes smells a lot like rotting fish.

Special to Equalo’s wife, who helped wire the battery together and apparently put up with the month-long project in good humor.

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October 15th 2020, 4:33 pm

This Brain Training Program Makes It Easy to Stay on Top of Your Mental Fitness

ExtremeTech

Fitness plays an important part in everyday life, and it extends well beyond keeping your body in good shape. As you may already know, mental fitness is just as important to your overall health and well-being as physical fitness. Mental fitness means keeping your brain and emotional health in tip-top shape through a series of daily exercises that can help you slow down, decompress, boost memory, and so much more.

Even better, when you have the right daily exercises at hand, staying on top of your mental fitness can be fun and quick. And that’s where this brain training platform takes center stage.

CogniFit Premium Brain Training allows you to measure, train, and properly monitor your cognitive skills with science-backed tasks and games. Normally $119, a one-year subscription to this program is on sale today for $49.99 (58 percent off).

It’s easier than ever to stay on top of your mental fitness with a subscription to CogniFit. First off, you get immediate access to a convenient online program that provides you with everything you need to stay sharp mentally. CogniFit is a professional tool designed to detect risk factors for alterations in your cognitive functioning using neuropsychological assessments. It uses real-time monitoring to track your cognitive skills evolution compared to the results for age group norms.

So, if it seems like you’re experiencing cognitive deficiencies in any of the program’s 23 cognitive skills, such as contextual memory, focus, or short-term memory, the program continually takes note of this in your profile and adjusts your CogniFit plan to help you strengthen those deficiencies. In other words, in as little as 20 minutes a day, you can easily stay on top of your mental fitness with clinically tested and approved brain exercises.

On top of all that, CogniFit has stellar accolades and reviews. A global leader in the Cognitive Assessment and Training Market, CogniFit has a 4.3/5 star rating on Google Play from 4.5K+ reviews and a 4.4/5 star rating on the App Store 450+ reviews. In short, you can be confident that spending a small portion of your day with CogniFit will lead to better mental fitness, just as it has for thousands of CogniFit users from around the world.

Overall, CogniFit Premium Brain Training allows you to measure, train, and properly monitor your cognitive skills with science-backed tasks and games in as little as 20 minutes a day. Get a one-year subscription to this program on sale today for $49.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 15th 2020, 3:16 pm

ET After Prime Day Deals: Apple Watch Series 6 for $384, Dell G5 Gaming Desktop for $699

ExtremeTech

Amazon’s Prime Day is now officially over, but there are still some lingering deals on devices like Apple’s Watch Series 6 and a few laptop computers.

Apple Watch Series 6 40mm GPS Smartwatch ($384.99)

Apple’s Series 6 smartwatch has built-in hardware for tracking your blood oxygen level and heart rate. These features as well as a built-in fitness tracker make the Watch Series 6 an excellent accessory for any exercise routine. This model is also up to 20 percent faster than its predecessor, the Watch Series 5. You can now get one of these watches from Amazon marked down from $399.00 to $384.99.

Dell G5 Intel Core i5-10300H Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($599.99)

Dell built this gaming desktop with an Intel Core i5-10300H and a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics processor. Together, this hardware can run games with high settings at 1080p resolution. The system also has a unique front panel that looks cool and edgy, and with promo code 50OFF699 you can get it now marked down from $899.99 to just $699.99 from Dell.

Apple MacBook Air Intel Core i3 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($849.99)

Apple’s MacBook Air was designed to be exceptionally lightweight at 2.8 pounds. It also has a high-quality 2560×1600 display, and Apple built the system out of durable 6000 series aluminum. If you would like to buy one of these systems, you can get it marked down today from $999.00 to $849.99 at Amazon.

Apple AirPods Pro ($199.00)

Apple’s AirPods Pro utilizes a new design that’s different from the company’s older AirPod earphones. The key new feature that these earphones have is active noise cancellation. Each earphone also uses a custom driver and a high dynamic range amplifier to improve sound quality. You can snag them with a $50 discount from Amazon that drops the price from $249.00 to $199.00.

Roku Premiere 4K HDR Media Player ($27.00)

Roku’s Premiere media player features 4K and HDR video support and competes directly with Amazon’s Fire TV 4K. It’s able to stream content from numerous sources including Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and Sling TV. Right now you can get it from Amazon marked down from $39.99 to $27.00.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 15th 2020, 3:16 pm

The Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU Can Probably Crack Your Passwords

ExtremeTech

The new Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 is a gaming powerhouse, but that’s not all it can do. According to the makers of a popular password recovery application, the RTX 3090 is also good at brute-forcing passwords. That’s great if you forget an important password, but that’s probably not why people are using such tools. The latest Nvidia cards could make cracking someone else’s files almost trivially easy. 

The RTX 3090 is Nvidia’s latest top-of-the-line GPU with a GA102 graphics processor sporting 10,496 cores and 24GB of GDDR6X memory. It is monstrously, obscenely powerful by today’s gaming standards, and comes with a correspondingly high price of $1,500, give or take a few hundred depending on supply. With a focus on high core counts, GPUs are also great for parallel computing. That’s why you couldn’t even buy a GPU for several months when Bitcoin was at its peak. In the same vein, GPUs are very good at cracking passwords. 

Passcovery recently updated to add support for RTX cards like the 3090, and it vastly increased the speed of brute force attacks. In the past, it wasn’t practical to guess every possible password until you hit on the right one — computers just weren’t fast enough. However, a GPU can do that quickly enough to find passwords in certain instances. With v20.09 of the Passcovery suite, a relatively modest GTX 1060 can go from 3.4 million guesses per second to 669 million per second. This version of the software added support for RTX 3000-series cards, which might be a problem for your weak passwords. The RTX 3090 is almost seven times faster in GPU compute benchmarks than the 1060 — that’s a lot of guesses per second. 

This testing was carried out on a ZIP file with classic encryption, but brute force is a danger to any encrypted file given enough time and power. A password we might have considered “strong” a few years ago could collapse under the assault of a 3090 in no time. These GPUs are very expensive currently, but prices will come down and make brute force attacks more common, and that’s a problem. This is just one password “recovery” suite, and more will surely add support for the latest Nvidia cards in the future. 

We’ve reached the point that anything important enough to be encrypted needs to be secured with a very, very strong password if you have any hope of keeping it safe. You should always use a generator to create random strings for passwords. Programs like Passcovery are designed to grind away at local encrypted files, so keeping those files out of nefarious hands is also a vital part of security in the age of GPU password cracking.

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October 15th 2020, 2:17 pm

Intel Demos PCIe 5.0 on Upcoming Sapphire Rapids CPUs

ExtremeTech

Feature image by Synopsys, from 2019.

Intel and Synopsys have jointly announced the first PCIe 5.0 IP interoperability test. The goal of this type of testing is to demonstrate Intel’s commitment to future high-speed interfaces, as well as to create reference platforms for early PCIe 5.0 certification.

It’s also a sign that PCIe 5.0 could show up on motherboards in as little as 12 months, though I think 2022 is a bit more likely than late 2021. If Intel launches Rocket Lake at the end of Q1 2021, as is expected, it’s not clear the company would then refresh Alder Lake in the October / November time frame. Typically Intel likes to wait a bit longer than that between product cycles. This, in turn, means that the Sapphire Rapids platform — which is where Intel is expected to debut both PCIe 5.0 and technologies like DDR5 — would debut some time in 2022. There are also rumors that AMD might not move to DDR5 until around this time, so the timeframe is consistent (even if we don’t know if the rumor itself is accurate).

Just as PCIe 4.0 doubled PCIe 3.0 bandwidth, PCIe 5.0 is expected to double PCIe 3.0. That works out to 4GB/s in each direction for an x1 link, 15.754GB/s for an x4 link, and 63GB/s in each direction for an x16 link. This is an interesting set of developments with potentially long-term ramifications.

Microsoft and Sony have both demonstrated that an SSD with comparatively low performance (compared with DRAM) can dramatically accelerate game performance and loading times. If effective PCIe performance continues to scale, it implies this trend of using fast SSD storage in lieu of RAM could have legs beyond a single console generation. PCIe 6.0 is supposedly targeting a 2021 release date, which means we could see interfaces with support for up to 8GB/s per link by 2024 – 2025. A 4x PCIe 6.0 link would offer 4x the bandwidth of a PCIe 4.0 x4 connection, allowing for even faster storage configurations and a potential extension of the benefits we’re already seeing today.

Two things to keep in mind, as far as the potential impact future PCIe standards could have on computing. PCIe 5.0 and PCIe 6.0 hit bandwidth levels equivalent to what we expect from modern DRAM, but even if they can sustain equivalent bandwidth, PCI Express’ latencies are much, much higher than RAM. That’s not a problem for NAND flash, which also has much higher latency than DRAM, but it’s part of why NAND connected via PCIe can’t completely replace DRAM, no matter how much bandwidth can be provided.

Second, the power consumption from these standards could be formidable. AMD’s PCIe 4.0 motherboards draw more power than previous platforms, and while we don’t know how Intel will compare, it stands to reason that PCIe 5.0 and PCIe 6.0 will increase power consumption to some degree.

It’s also interesting to consider what this massive bandwidth boost could mean for AI. Generally speaking, the goal with AI is to keep workloads as close to the chip as possible — moving data across PCIe is a great way to waste tremendous amounts of power. Still, there are likely to be at least some workloads where the ability to leverage this kind of bandwidth would be useful. It will be interesting to see how Nvidia evolves technologies like NVLink if PCIe starts jumping by leaps and bounds.

One thing these improvements are unlikely to change is overall GPU performance. Tests repeatedly show that PCIe improvements have only a small impact on graphics cards, and if we truly quadruple available bandwidth in the next 4-5 years, we’ll be moving much faster than any GPU can match. Expect the biggest impacts in markets like storage and AI.

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October 15th 2020, 10:47 am

Scientists Have Discovered a Genuine Room-Temperature Superconductor

ExtremeTech

The search for a truly room-temperature superconducting material has been one of the great Holy Grails in engineering and physics. The ability to move electricity from Point A to B with zero resistance and hence no losses would be a game-changer for human civilization. Unfortunately, until today, every known superconductor still required very cold temperatures. Today, scientists announced they’ve achieved superconducting at 59 degrees Fahrenheit/15 Celsius. While this is still a bit chilly, you can hit 59F in a well air-conditioned building. This is a genuine breakthrough, but it doesn’t immediately clear the path towards easy deployment of the technology.

At extremely low temperatures, the behavior of electrons through a material changes. At temperatures approaching absolute zero, electrons passing through a material form what are known as Cooper pairs. Normally, single electrons essentially ping-pong through the ionic lattice of the material they are passing through. Each time an electron collides with an ion in the lattice, it loses a tiny amount of energy. This loss is what we call resistance. When cooled to a low enough temperature, electrons behave dramatically differently. Cooper pairs behave like a superfluid, meaning they can flow through material without any underlying energy loss. Tests have demonstrated that current stored inside a superconductor will remain there for as long as the material remains in a superconductive state with zero loss of energy.

There are two problems yet standing between us and a more effective exploitation of this discovery. First, we aren’t sure exactly why this combination of elements works in the first place. The research team used sulfur and carbon, then added hydrogen, forming hydrogen sulfide(H2S) and methane (CH4). These chemicals were placed on a diamond anvil and compressed, then exposed to a green laser for several hours to break sulfur-sulfur bonds. This much is known. Unfortunately, determining the exact composition of the material has proven impossible thus far. The diamond anvil prevents the use of X-rays, and existing technologies that can work around that problem aren’t capable of locating hydrogen atoms in a lattice. The team’s efforts to characterize and understand its own discovery are still ongoing.

If this discovery were added to this chart, it would be sitting at the 288K mark. Image by PJRay, from Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

The researchers also have a second pressing problem: It takes about 2.5M atmospheres of pressure to create the superconducting effect. That’s roughly 75 percent of the pressure found at the Earth’s core, and it’s a bit difficult to replicate on planet Earth. If we were on Jupiter, we’d have a lot fewer problems with duplicating this kind of pressure, but that’s mostly because we’d all be dead and would have a lot fewer problems, period.

The importance of this work is that it proves room-temperature superconductors actually exist. This new material runs 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than any previously-known superconductor, which would make it an impressive step forward even if we were still working with sub-zero supercooled temperatures. While the amount of pressure required to reach this operating state makes practical deployment impossible, we now have one known-good method of solving this problem. Where there is one, there could be more.

This discovery doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a fundamental and necessary part of the puzzle.

Feature image by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester. 

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October 15th 2020, 8:13 am

OnePlus 8T Arrives With 65W Charging, Android 11

ExtremeTech

OnePlus has announced a new phone, right on time. Since this is autumn, it’s time for the Chinese OEM’s latest T-series phone release, which this year takes the form of the OnePlus 8T. This phone has been rumored for weeks, and the final device itself doesn’t pack any major surprises. However, the early response to the OnePlus 8T seems a bit tepid compared to past releases. It’s not a bad phone, but some of the magic seems to be missing. 

The OnePlus 8T is a big phone with a 6.55-inch 1080p OLED screen. That display also has a 120Hz refresh rate, just like Samsung’s latest phones. According to DisplayMate, it’s an excellent panel from a technical standpoint. OnePlus even managed to slim down the bezels even more to make them almost completely symmetrical all the way around — phones in this price range often have larger “chins” to house display drivers. 

There are four camera modules on the OP8T, and two of them are what I would call “useful.” You get a capable 48MP primary sensor and a 16MP ultrawide. The device also has a 5MP macro camera that is bad, just like all dedicated macro cameras. There’s also a 2MP depth sensor that allegedly helps with focus and portrait mode effects, but I suspect it’s just there to boost the sensor count. 

Inside, the phone has an almost-top-of-the-line Snapdragon 865 (with 5G) and a 4500mAh battery with super-fast 65W charging. In the US, the 8T has 12GB of RAM and 265GB of storage for $750. Internationally, there’s a cheaper version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The pricing is about what we’d expect from a OnePlus phone — slightly higher than the previous version with a corresponding spec bump. However, the smartphone arena has shifted in the last few months. 

Reviews are generally positive, but not positive like OnePlus reviews used to be. At $750, the 8T is competing directly with phones like the $700 Galaxy S20 FE, which has most of the same specs plus wireless charging and an IP68 rating. The 8T only has IP68 if you purchase the carrier version from T-Mobile. OnePlus also changed around its OS skin, which is now based on Android 11. The modifications are more extensive and further from the “stock” Android experience, which some consider a step backward. 

By all accounts, the OnePlus 8T is a good phone. It just doesn’t undercut the big names like it used to. You might even consider OnePlus to be one of those big names these days. So, who’s going to undercut OnePlus? You can pre-order a OnePlus 8T now, and it’ll ship October 23. 

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October 14th 2020, 4:52 pm

Asus Confirms Zen 3 Will Be Supported on X470, B450 Boards

ExtremeTech

When we first talked about Zen 3 some months ago, one of the downsides to the chip was the limited backward compatibility for older motherboards. At the time, AMD indicated they would be able to support a few specific X470 motherboards in the equivalent of a beta-testing program. That guidance has since changed. Not only is X470 support coming to Zen 3, but AMD is also enabling the CPU on the B450 platform as well. Asus has confirmed this, with a specific statement on the topic:

We’ve seen the recent forum posts about X470 and other 400 series boards not being supported by ASUS for 5000 series processors from AMD. This is false information and incorrect.

To clarify, ASUS will follow AMD’s support plan to release a new BIOS on X470, B450 and B450 II motherboards and all those available in the market at present will also be compatible with that BIOS upgrade. Beta BIOS support, following AMD guidelines and timelines means this will be ready to roll out around Jan 2021.

The statement also notes that all new Asus B450 II motherboards will come with BIOS flashback, allowing you to buy a new CPU and use that feature to load a new UEFI. Asus will update on the upgrade situation for other boards closer to the expected January 2021 release date for X470 / Zen 3 support. As always, motherboard vendors will be the ones who determine which boards they update, but the capability will be there.

We’ve updated AMD’s chipset support graph to reflect this more recent news.

AMD also has a program that will provide you with a free CPU for flashing your UEFI if you purchase a motherboard that lacks support for a Zen 3 / Ryzen 5000-series CPU. I’ve never taken advantage of it myself, but I personally know someone who has, and the offer worked exactly as advertised. While Asus says it will notify users which motherboards need to be upgraded with an older CPU, anyone planning to upgrade an existing B450 or X470 motherboard should plan to flash the UEFI before you swap CPUs. Don’t take the chance that you won’t have to, especially if you haven’t updated your UEFI since you built your system.

Excellent Backwards Compatibility

The backward compatibility situation is not perfect — it would have been even better to see support for B350 and X370 — but it’s very, very good. AMD is claiming substantial performance per watt improvements while leaving its TDPs unchanged compared to the last generation. The X470, in particular, is going to be the real performance/watt champion here, especially if you aren’t concerned with PCIe 3.0 as compared with high power efficiency.

It’ll take a few months for support to roll out across the ecosystem, but once it does, this is going to be excellent news for AMD fans. I recently wrote a story illustrating that Ryzen was the fastest-scaling CPU AMD has launched going back to the 1999 debut of K7. It’s also the fastest-scaling CPU compared with any Intel product dating back to the Pentium 4’s brief frequency surge from 2GHz to 3.06GHz with Hyper-Threading from January-November 2002. With this announcement, the X470 seems to be bidding fair as one of the most upgradeable platforms of all time. The X370 got Zen+, Zen 2, and a bump to 16 cores. The X470 got the same 16-core bump, Zen 2, and now Zen 3. AMD’s plan to deliver strong upgradeability year-on-year has been an excellent value-add for its customers, with top-end performance more than doubling in the same socket thanks to the combination of additional core counts and IPC.

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October 14th 2020, 4:06 pm

Want Prime Day Level Deals on Earbuds, Earphones, and Headphones? We’ve Got You Covered

ExtremeTech

Prime Day is upon us, which means you have the opportunity to save big on thousands of products, goods, and services when you buy them with your Amazon Prime account on October 13th and 14th. However, not every item you find on Amazon will be marked down during this two-day shopping extravaganza.

Not to worry, though, because we’re here to make sure you get the best deals possible on the products you want and need, even when you can’t find them on Prime Day. Exclusive for ExtremeTech readers, here’s a roundup of 20 incredible deals on wireless earbuds, earphones, headphones, and more. For this week only, use coupon code OCTSALE20 at checkout for an additional 20 percent off any of these deals.

Mymanu CLIK S: Award-Winning Translation Earbuds

Kicking off this list is the Mymanu CLIK S. This unique pair of wireless earbuds provides you with real-time speech-to-speech translation in 37+ languages. In other words, these earbuds empower you to speak to more than two billion people across the globe in real-time, allowing you to experience local life and explore hidden gems to the fullest. Alongside translating conversations, this pair of earbuds also lets you listen to your favorite music in HD sound, answer calls, and read texts or other notifications at your leisure for up to 30 hours on a single charge. Lastly, thanks to the various sized memory foam ear tips included with this deal, you always experience a comfortable and secure fit when rocking the Mymanu CLIK S.

Normally $220, a pair of Mymanu CLIK S: Award-Winning Translation Earbuds is on sale today for $129.95 (40 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $103.96.

Skullcandy Indy™ True Wireless Earbuds

Up next, we have a pair of earbuds that’s perfect for the independent music lover that’s always on the go. With up to 16 hours of battery life on a single charge, a water-resistant design, and touch controls for music and calls, these wireless earbuds make it easier to enjoy your soundtrack with more freedom than before — all without breaking the bank. Plus, thanks to their quality design, you get crisp highs, warm lows, and no distortions while listening to your favorite music

Normally $83.99, the Skullcandy Indy™ True Wireless Earbuds are $67.19 (20 percent off) when you use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) at checkout.

Coby® True Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 Earbuds

The Coby True Wireless Earbuds are a great way to listen to your favorite music or podcasts when working out, traveling, biking, or relaxing at home. Not only do these earbuds automatically pair with your device, making your setup a breeze, but also, the earbuds come with a built-in microphone that lets you answer calls and activate Siri or Google Assistant. On top of that, this pair of earbuds comes with foam ear tips so you can listen to your favorite music or podcasts longer without hurting your ears. Finally, these earbuds provide 6.5 hours of playtime on a single charge and an additional 22 hours of playtime with the included charging case.

Normally $79, the Coby® True Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 Earbuds are on sale today for $39.99 (50 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.99.

Vodo Vibe True Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones

Featuring modern Bluetooth 5.0 technology, precision craftsmanship, and a six-hour battery life, these earphones let you enjoy your favorite music or podcasts for longer with crisp and well-balanced sound. What’s more, they’re ergonomically designed to sit comfortably in and around your ear, so you can jog, hit the gym, or do your daily commute without stressing about them falling out. Sweat-proof, water-resistant, and intuitive to use, these earbuds make it easier to take all of your activities to the next level.

Normally $129, the Vodo Vibe True Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones are on sale today for $99.99 (22 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $79.99.

Syver True Wireless 2-in-1 Earbuds + Speaker

Rock out loud or on a personal level with this speaker + earbud combo. The Syver Bluetooth speaker houses the true wireless earbuds and doubles as a charging case. With the Bluetooth speaker, you get up to 10 hours of loud music, which is great for sharing your tunes with the world. On the other hand, the naturally-angled earbuds deliver four hours of stellar audio on a single charge thanks to their 8.2mm neodymium drivers. Best of all, though, no matter how you choose to listen, you can easily pair the waterproof earbuds and speaker to your smartphone with one easy step.

Normally $99, the Syver True Wireless 2-in-1 Earbuds + Speaker is on sale for $89.99 (10 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $71.99.

Skullcandy Indy™ Evo True Wireless Earbuds

 

No wires mean no snagging, yanking, or tangling. With Indy Evo buds, a slightly smaller and more ergonomic model of the first-gen Indy, you get up to 30 hours of total playtime with the buds and the included charging case. You also can take calls or activate your virtual assistant (i.e., Siri or Google Assistant) with ease. Coolest of all, though, you can control everything straight from your buds rather than needing to touch your device all the time. With a simple series of touches, you can answer calls, skip tracks, adjust volume, and even turn on Ambient Mode to hear more of your surroundings.

Normally $79.98, the Skullcandy Indy™ Evo True Wireless Earbuds are $63.98 when you use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) at checkout.

PowerHBQ Pro Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones

Built for elite athletes, these totally wireless earphones have no wires to hold you back. The adjustable, secure-fit ear hooks are customizable with multiple ear tip options for extended comfort. In other words, they’re made to stay in place, no matter how hard you go. Alongside comfort, these lightweight earphones are IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant, so you can easily take your workouts to the next level. With up to 10 hours of playtime, as well as powerful and balanced sound, these earphones always make sure you stay motivated when putting in hard work for your sport.

Normally $59, the PowerHBQ Pro Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones are on sale for $54.99 (8 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $43.99.

Decibullz: Custom Moldable True Wireless Earphones

Successfully funded on Kickstarter, Decibullz are the first DIY custom molded truly wireless earphones that easily form to your ears’ exact shape in minutes. All you need to do is heat the Decibullz thermo-fit earpieces in water and press them into your ears for a perfect fit. Alongside the best fit possible, these wireless earphones feature award-winning sound engineering, loud noise protection, an IPX7 waterproof rating, and 24-hour battery life.

Normally $149, the Decibullz: Custom Moldable True Wireless Earphones are on sale for $98.99 (33 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $79.19.

SOLO Aqua Tunes V2 Waterproof Bluetooth Earphone

Perfect for anyone who spends plenty of time near water, the SOLO Aqua Tunes V2 has an extra layer of silicone waterproof case and a six-hour battery life. Thanks to this design, you can enjoy distortion- and error-free music playback while swimming, taking a shower, working out, or while doing any other outdoor activity. Plus, with a built-in mic, you can answer calls or perform voice commands with ease.

Normally $69, the SOLO Aqua Tunes V2 Waterproof Bluetooth Earphone is on sale for $39.95 (42 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.96.

HyperSonic Lite True Wireless Earphones

The Hypersonic Lite True Wireless Earbuds let you feel the electricity, love, and magic behind your favorite tracks. Engineered to take on the urban jungle, these Bluetooth earphones are IPX6 water-resistant, so you can wear them and sweat in them 24/7. With six to eight hours of playtime per charge, an additional 18 hours of life with the included charging case, and pillow-soft ear tips that drown out surrounding noise, these form-hugging earphones give you an excellent listening experience.

Normally $79, the HyperSonic Lite True Wireless Earphones are on sale for $49.99 (37 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $39.99.

HyperGear Active True Wireless Earbuds

Experience sound that’s designed to move with the HyperGear Active True Wireless Earbuds. These powerful and compact earbuds deliver convenient auto-pairing and crisp sound for up to five hours on a single charge, with an extra 10 hours of playtime with the included charging case. Combine all of that with these earbuds’ special hydrophobic nano-coating that guards against sweat and dust, and you can work out harder, for longer, without holding back.

Normally $39, the HyperGear Active True Wireless Earbuds are on sale for $28.99 (27 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.19.

Aunu Audio M50 True Wireless Headphones + Companion Translator App

This headphone + app combo is great for anyone who regularly travels the world or spends plenty of time away from home. These truly wireless headphones get up to six hours of music playtime per charge and can be recharged up to 25 times with the included charging case. Meaning, you get an additional 150 hours of battery life for your life on the go. Alongside all that goodness, the headphones’ graphene-powered drivers deliver exceptional sound, and their ergonomic fit ensures they won’t come off, even during the hardest of workouts. Most impressive of all, though, you can pair the headphones with the companion Aunu language app to translate more than 33 languages on the go, making it easier to travel worldwide.

Normally $229, the Aunu Audio M50 True Wireless Headphones + Companion Translator App is on sale for $99.99 (56 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $79.99.

TREBLAB XFIT Bluetooth Sports Headphones

Get a boost of energy with clear, True-HD sound, and deep bass from the TREBLAB XFIT Bluetooth Sports Headphones. These ergonomic wireless headphones deliver an impeccable audio experience protected by noise-canceling tech and are IPX6 to boot. In other words, you can pump out any workout, no matter how sweaty, without these guys falling out. Plus, unlike other headphones that only last for six hours max, XFIT lets you enjoy the utmost comfort and optimal performance for up to 30 hours, thanks to the extra 25 you get from the included charging case.

Normally $69, the TREBLAB XFIT Bluetooth Sports Headphones are on sale for $39.99 (42 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this month) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.99.

Veho STIX True Wireless Earphones

Designed for those with active lifestyles, the STIX by Veho are perfect for people who want to listen to their favorite music or podcasts while playing sports and doing outdoor activities. For starters, these splashproof wireless earphones let you play music up to 33 feet away from your smartphone or laptop. That’s plenty of freedom to work up a sweat, have some fun, or get some work done while still listening to your audio entertainment. In addition, thanks to its built-in microphones and smart-touch interface, you can make hands-free calls and control your audio easily. Last but not least, this pair of wireless earphones comes with a rechargeable docking case for multiple charges and extended playtime.

Normally $249.95, the Veho STIX True Wireless Earphones are on sale for $199.96 (20 percent off) when you use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) at checkout.

EarFun Air True Wireless BT 5 Earbuds

A CES Innovation Award Nominee, these wireless earbuds are the perfect companion for your daily commute, workout, music streaming, or answering calls. Thanks to its custom-built composite cellulose drivers and enhanced four-microphone call technology, you get to filter our the disruptive noise around you. In other words, you get crystal clear audio, no matter if you’re listening to music, talking with a friend, or anything in between. Even cooler, you enjoy a seamless fit with these earbuds, even during the most challenging workouts, because of their superior design and SweatShield™ Technology. Finally, when you combine the battery life both from the earbuds and the included charging case, you get up to 35 hours of sweet listening at a time.

Normally $79, the EarFun Air True Wireless BT 5 Earbuds are on sale for $54.99 (31 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $43.99.

TREBLAB X5 True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds (2020 Upgraded)

Upgraded to keep up with your needs, the TREBLAB X5 sweatproof and water-resistant earbuds instantly connect with any Apple or Android device and were designed to make listening to your favorite music while exercising, traveling, or working an absolute dream. These earbuds use expandable silicone-tips to reduce outside noise while delivering clear, crisp stereo-quality sound thanks to their advanced 8.2mm drivers. Reaching 35 hours of battery life with the charging case, these user-friendly and practical earbuds are perfect for those serious about their music and physical fitness.

Normally $99, the TREBLAB X5 True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds (2020 Upgraded) are on sale for $59.47 (40 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $47.58.

EarFun Free True Wireless Earbuds (Black)

Say goodbye to mediocrity and hello to excellence with this 2020 CES Innovation Awards Honoree. EarFun Free is powered by the most advanced Bluetooth 5.0 protocol, which dramatically enhances the earbuds’ stability and connection so that they work flawlessly with a range of 49 feet. With its built-in 6mm graphene drivers, these earphones offer powerfully deep bass and premium sound while its built-in MEMS microphone with noise cancellation assures crystal-clear hands-free calls in noisy circumstances. Lastly, the pair feature IPX7 waterproof rating and SweatShield™ Technology for an ultra-comfortable fit while working hard.

Normally $79, the EarFun Free True Wireless Earbuds (Black) are on sale for $49.99 (37 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $39.99.

HYPHEN Wireless Earbuds

Designed with real functionality in mind, the HYPHEN Wireless Earbuds give you premium earbuds at an affordable price. You’ll get Bluetooth 5.0, integrated wireless charging, advanced touch controls, and even IPX5 water resistance with these earbuds, allowing you to rock them in any weather and up to 15 meters away from your device.

Normally $89, the HYPHEN Wireless Earbuds are on sale for $71.20 when you use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) at checkout.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 14th 2020, 2:49 pm

Civilization VI Gets New Game Mode Inspired by Sid Meier’s Pirates

ExtremeTech

Today’s most popular games are fast-paced shooters like Fortnite and immersive RPGs like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but there’s still a place for some good old-fashioned turn-based strategy with Civilization VI. This game remains in active development after four years, with two major expansions and numerous add-on packs. The latest October update includes a game mode based on the classic Sid Meier’s Pirates!. It’s free, but then, everything is free when you’re a pirate. 

The overall look and feel of the pirate scenario gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time plotting world combination in Civilization VI. It’s a top-down interface with units, cities, and resources on a hex map. The maps and assets have been tweaked to give the game a more tropical feel. Players can choose between one of four pirate factions: Dread Pirates, Privateers, Swashbucklers, and Hoarders. Each one has its own special abilities that set it apart from other pirate factions and the land-lovers. 

As a pirate, you’re on the hunt for treasure — it’s all about that short-term gain. Building a civilization that will last for a thousand years? Pft. You leave that to the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish. They’re going to be buzzing around the map, doing what nations do. Founding cities, harvesting resources, and trying to blow up pirates (that’s you). 

The Civ team notes that it was a challenge to bring the Sid Meier’s Pirates! RPG gameplay into Civilization, but they made it work with some creative adaptations of existing mechanisms. For example, the relic system lets you customize your playstyle in every match. It took a lot of gameplay testing to “find the fun,” which is apparently the Sid Meier’s approach to game design. 

This update will also include some optimizations for the core game. One of the most important changes is the addition of scaling to more features based on game speed. So, that means no one will end up with hundreds or thousands of diplomatic favor points to spam the World Congress votes. The team also made changes based on player requests, chief among them nerfing the “Recruit Partisans” spy mission. No longer will enemy spies be able to repeatedly spawn overpowered units in your cities; they can only do it once, and the units will be weaker. The AI will also behave a bit more realistically by repairing city defenses more quickly and won’t build a dozen holy sites when it doesn’t have a religion. 

The October update goes live on October 22nd for PC and consoles. Start brushing up on your pirate lingo now, matey.

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October 14th 2020, 1:32 pm

AMD’s Project Quantum Could Rise from the Grave

ExtremeTech

Back in 2015, AMD demonstrated an intriguing concept PC it dubbed “Project Quantum.” It was an AMD high-concept PC that combined up to two Fiji GPUs with an Intel CPU to build a gaming box in a unique form factor. The upper part of the chassis held the closed-loop liquid coolers and exhausted heat out the top, while the bottom of the machine held all of the electronic components.

Project Quantum actually drew quite a bit of interest, but AMD wasn’t in a position to build the concept around its own hardware. AMD even went so far as to demonstrate the hardware with the Intel CPU inside, but given Nvidia’s position with the GTX 900 series at the time, customers would likely have wanted options that came with an Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU. The concept generated a lot of buzz but no hardware ever emerged to take advantage of it.

Now, AMD has filed for a patent on the design, which has sparked discussion that the company may be preparing to revive it. I have no specific knowledge of AMD’s plans in this regard, but we can speak to the overall competitive situation between AMD and Intel, which is better than it’s been in nearly 15 years. The Ryzen 5000 series is expected to deliver significant performance uplifts, with 1.19x additional IPC and the potential for an unknown amount of additional clock (1.2x – 1.25x are the common figures). Assuming the company delivers, this is a sufficiently large boost to catch many an enthusiast eye. But the performance of Big Navi is still an unknown factor.

It would make sense for AMD to reserve Project Quantum for a time when it was in a much better competitive situation with respect to Intel. The question is, is this a chassis design AMD would license to other companies? The idea that AMD would build the machine itself seems unlikely, since it would essentially be competing against its own customers.

It would be interesting to see if AMD could boost the performance of CPUs it sold into Project Quantum systems, specifically, as a way of creating a premium boutique product — but how that product would be distributed is anyone’s guess. It makes sense for AMD to take out a patent on the Project Quantum concept whether it builds anything around it or not, just to prevent a competitor from sniping the idea out from underneath them.

The fact that people are buzzing about this concept is an example of how much things have changed in the past five years. In 2015, AMD had to outfit its own hardware concept with Intel CPUs in order to get the market to take it seriously. Today, it’s a given that the Ryzen 3000 and 5000 families would be at least competitive for the socket, while the performance of Big Navi is the larger question mark.

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October 14th 2020, 10:31 am

PC Sales Soared in Q3, Chromebook Shipments Up 90 Percent

ExtremeTech

PC sales boomed in Q3 2020, driven by massive new demand in the education market and continuing strong sales in business and gaming segments. The coronavirus has fueled a tremendous surge in PC sales throughout 2020. Initially, demand was expected to taper off in Q3, but we now know the market grew significantly.

How much the market grew depends on whether you count Chromebooks. Gartner (which doesn’t) reports that PC sales grew 3.6 percent compared with Q3 2019. Now, understand — 3.6 percent is not nothing for a market that’s been in almost continuous decline for a decade now.

But the 3.6 percent growth Gartner reports is dwarfed by the 14.1 percent growth that IDC recorded, and the difference comes down to Chromebooks. IDC counts them. According to Gartner’s figures, counting Chromebooks, the market grew at 9 percent, with Chromebooks representing about 11 percent of total shipments. A 9 percent/14 percent gap between the two firms is still large, but it’s much closer than the previous figure.

Chromebook shipments surged an astounding 90 percent year-on-year, driven by massive demand ahead of the deployment of remote learning in US school systems. Non-Chromebook sales were driven by an increase in Windows laptops and in gaming systems, but the huge 28 percent surge in laptop sales was undercut by a nearly equivalent decline in desktops. Outside of gaming, where they remain fairly popular, overall desktop adoption declined sharply.

Lenovo hit 18 million PC shipments this quarter and retained its position at the top of the stack according to Gartner and IDC, followed by HP, Dell, Apple, Acer, and Asus (this last only according to Gartner, IDC only gives the top 5.)

Both firms also note that the PC market would have done even better if it weren’t for widespread component shortages across the entire market. It isn’t clear if this situation will improve in Q4, given increased demand around the holidays and the ongoing difficulties of COVID-19.

The one downside to the entire situation is the inescapable fact that it’s being driven by massive amounts of human misery. IDC writes: “The traditional PC market witnessed yet another extraordinary quarter posting strong double-digit shipment growth. Preliminary results reflect continued strong buyer sentiment fueled by stay-at-home PC needs and resultant inventory replenishment.”

It’s nice to see the PC market growing again after years of decline. It’d be a whole lot nicer if it was for any other reason.

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October 14th 2020, 8:46 am

Apple Reveals the 5G-Equipped iPhone 12, Pro, Pro Max, and Mini

ExtremeTech

Apple used to make one iPhone per year, and then it upped that to two. In 2020, there are a plethora of iPhone models, including three (or four, depending on how you count) new models today. They all have a tweaked design reminiscent of older iPhones, and they’re also the first to have 5G connectivity. That will no doubt please carriers, but not really anyone else. Let’s go over the new models in descending order of size. 

iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max

Apple’s top-of-the-line smartphones are the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. The smaller of the two has a 6.1-inch 1170 x 2532 OLED display that goes almost edge-to-edge with the trademark notch at the top. The edges of the steel body are now squared-off instead of rounded, which makes the device look a bit more like the old iPhone 4. The Pro Max bumps the display to 6.7 inches and 1284 x 2778 resolution. 

Around back, the phones have a trio of camera modules, all 12MP resolution. Like most high-end phones, you get a wide, ultrawide, and telephoto (2.5x). There’s also a new LIDAR sensor for AR functionality and better focus in low-light. There’s a 12MP front camera, along with the Face ID sensors in the notch. 

Inside, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max have the latest A14 Bionic, a chip with six CPU cores and four GPU cores. Apple says it’s 50 percent faster than other, non-Apple devices. It also supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G networks. Apple is notoriously hesitant to provide real technical specifications, but we can say these phones will have 128, 256, and 512GB storage options. The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $1,000, and the Pro Max is $1,100. Pre-orders start on Friday this week, and the phones will ship on October 16th. 

iPhone 12

The iPhone 12 is Apple’s new middle-of-the-road smartphone, priced at $799 with 64GB of storage. There are also 128 and 256GB versions. It has the same overall shape as the Pro iPhones, but it’s aluminum instead of steel and comes in a few different colors. The display remains 6.1-inches, the same as the last non-pro iPhone. However, it’s now an OLED instead of LCD like the iPhone 11. In fact, it’s the same 1170 x 2532 panel as the iPhone 12 Pro. 

You lose the telephoto camera and the LIDAR with this device. You just get the 12MP wide and 12MP ultrawide sensors on the back. There’s a 12MP selfie camera in the notch on the front, along with the Face ID sensors. 

This device has the same A14 Bionic chip found in the more expensive phones, along with both sub-6 and mmWave 5G support. This makes the iPhone 12 one of the less expensive smartphones to support the faster but less stable 5G standard. Pre-orders go live this Friday, and the phone ships October 23rd. 

iPhone 12 Mini

The iPhone 12 Mini is a completely new product in Apple’s lineup. It’s not as cheap as the iPhone SE 2 from earlier this year, but it offers a lot more functionality. It really does look like a shrunken down iPhone 12 with those same flat (aluminum) edges, but Apple managed to keep most of the same internals. There’s the A14 ARM chip with performance far above non-Apple smartphones and all the same 5G support as the more expensive versions. Apple says it’s the smallest and lightest 5G phone in the world, which sounds plausible based on the relative lack of small Android phones. 

It all fits inside a phone with a 5.4-inch 1080 x 2340 OLED. While that screen is larger than the iPhone SE, the Mini is a bit smaller overall thanks to the slim bezels. There’s also no Touch ID—the Mini has Face ID like the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro.

Despite being smaller and less expensive than the other iPhones, the 12 Mini might be the star of the show—you just can’t get a tiny high-end phone like this from anyone else. Apple is only asking $699 for the iPhone 12 Mini, which you can pre-order on November 6th with shipping on November 13th.

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October 13th 2020, 5:07 pm

You Can Now Play Doom Eternal on a Samsung Fridge

ExtremeTech

The idea of using a fridge as some kind of combined viewing/food storage apparatus isn’t a new one. The first display-equipped fridge was the LG Digital DIOS, which shipped in June 2000. Twenty years later, we can do a hell of a lot more than slap weather reports on a large slab of metal. Thanks to xCloud, you can now play games like Doom Eternal on your fridge.

As a purely technical demonstration of sideloading skill, I applaud the hack. Richard Mallard of Instagram sideloaded the Android version of Xbox Game Pass on to his Samsung smart fridge. Games maintain the proper aspect ratio and the wireless controller seems to work fine. This also means that Apple’s iPhone lacks mobile gaming features that a Samsung fridge ships with. We’ve talked about various gaming match-ups such as consoles versus PCs or smartphones versus PCs, but I’ve never even considered the possibilities in the “Fridge versus Phone” gaming comparison. Pros: “Larger screen.” Cons: “Doesn’t fit in pocket.” The iPhone brings superior performance-per-watt, but the fridge can be tilted to crush someone who beats you in multiplayer or gets you killed by needing milk at the wrong time.

Loading Doom (or Doom Eternal) on various devices is a computing past-time at this point. Give it another two decades, and we’ll be reading about someone playing Doom on their wallpaper.

With that said: Can we please stop trying to combine screens and-or gaming and kitchen appliances?

The “It’s gaming, but on your food storage device!” has always seemed, to me, to be one of the dumbest possible ideas for a kitchen. Kitchens are definitionally places where food prep is done, which means the chances of getting something onto either the controller or the screen are at their highest. Do you put the display closer to eye level, so that a standing player can see it? Or do you lower it, to encourage gamers to drag a La-Z-Boy next to the dishwasher?

Everything about kitchens screams “Don’t game in here.” Kitchens are designed for bright, sometimes fluorescent lighting, which will play merry hell with color and detail reproduction on an LCD. There’s also the difficulty of ensuring your door/LCD is a high-resolution, top-tier display. Remember, you aren’t the kind of gamer who wants to play on anything as silly as a couch, or a 60-inch TV. No. You’re the kind of gamer who can only be satisfied with linoleum, chrome, and the challenge of playing through lag when someone needs to use the microwave right next to your head. Better have a nearby 5GHz router because your 2.4GHz signal isn’t exactly going to be up to the task.

Most people occupy the kitchen to perform a specific task, such as cooking, loading a dishwasher, or hand-washing the dishes. None of these activities are amenable to gaming. Nobody seems to have considered the idea of putting a display on the splashback behind the appliances (probably because anything called a “splashback” is a bad place to put a screen). But unless you really enjoy listening to content, having a screen on your fridge isn’t much help. The two places in the kitchen you’re most likely to be facing, on an ongoing basis, are either the sink or the stove. We talk about people “staring at the fridge,” but most of the time when they do it, the fridge is open. Staring at closed refrigerators is not a major part of anyone’s day.

I even wrote some terrible poetry about it:

I do not want Doom on my fridge
I do not like it, not a smidge
It runs much better, in my house
When played from disk, and with a mouse

Streaming is all well and fine
But my fiancée needs a lime
People come and go all day
While I sit and try to play

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October 13th 2020, 2:37 pm

OnePlus Co-Founder Carl Pei Has Abruptly Left the Company

ExtremeTech

In the last few years, OnePlus has gone from being a plucky upstart with questionable advertising to a 5G powerhouse that regularly partners with US carriers to launch new flagship smartphones. All through that meteoric rise, co-founder Carl Pei has been a director at the company. Until now. Pei unexpectedly left OnePlus this week to start a new, as-yet-unnamed, company. 

Pei, along with co-founder and current CEO Pete Lau, started OnePlus in 2013. They immediately embarked on a “flagship killer” advertising and social media blitz, and this was long before the phone was ever announced. They ran the company like a scrappy startup, but it was actually backed by Chinese tech giant Oppo. Regardless, OnePlus didn’t have much cash on hand at first, which is why you needed an invite to purchase the first few OnePlus phones. Pei said he only expected to sell about 50,000 of the first phone, known as the OnePlus One. However, sales eventually reached nearly 1 million. That’s impressive for an invite-only product. 

Pei’s role had always been amorphous to those on the outside, especially in the last few years. However, he came out of the woodwork in 2020 to spearhead the OnePlus Nord, a budget phone that launched internationally with the company’s customary mix of great specs and a low price. That came at a time when the company’s primary product line pricing had crept up into traditional flagship phone territory. 

The OnePlus Nord. Credit: PCMag

Publicly, OnePlus was enthusiastic about the Nord, but privately, I’ve been told that there were two camps internally. One, headed by Pei, pushed to make the Nord a reality. The other, under Lau, didn’t want to devote resources to another budget phone line as they were finally gaining traction witch carriers. 

We don’t know if this is an amicable parting, but OnePlus didn’t announce Pei’s departure. That suggests to me the parting might not have been on the best of terms. The company circulated several memos on management changes with Pei’s name notably absent. Someone leaked those documents on Reddit, of course, which is how we know about the Pei’s departure. OnePlus declined to comment on the matter, which is as good as a confirmation in this case. 

Later, several sites were able to corroborate the news. TechCrunch claims Pei left within the last several weeks, and that he plans to start “his own venture.” It’s uncertain if that means a OnePlus competitor or something entirely unrelated. The future of the Nord line is uncertain, but OnePlus has assigned its head of India operations to oversee the project for now.

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October 13th 2020, 1:51 pm

ET Amazon Prime Day Deals: Save on Laptops, Smartphones, 4K TVs, Robot Vacuums, and More

ExtremeTech

Amazon’s long-awaited Prime Day sales event is now officially in full swing, with deals available on just about everything imaginable. Of particular note are some exceptional discounts on laptops and 4K TVs. Apple’s popular MacBook Air is currently sitting at an all-time low price of just $849, and you can also snag a 43-inch 4K Toshiba TV for a mere $209. Both of these are exceptional deals, but they are far from alone. Below we’ve listed the best deals we were able to find currently available. And with so many deals, there’s bound to be something that will pique your interest.

Apple MacBook Air Intel Core i3 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($849.99)

Apple’s MacBook Air was designed to be exceptionally lightweight at 2.8 pounds. It also has a high-quality 2560×1600 display, and Apple built the system out of durable 6000 series aluminum. If you would like to buy one of these systems, you can get it marked down today from $999.00 to $849.99 at Amazon.

Toshiba TF-55A810U21 55-Inch 4K Smart TV — Fire TV Edition ($209.99)

Toshiba designed this 55-inch 4K TV with Amazon’s Fire TV technology built-in. This gives you a seamless and easy-to-use interface for streaming content from multiple sources. The price has also been slashed from $329.99 to $209.99 from Amazon, which makes this TV a phenomenal deal.

iRobot Roomba i6+ 6550 Robot Vacuum w/ Self Emptying Bin ($599.99)

All robot vacs help save you time by cleaning the floors in your home for you, but the Roomba i6+ takes this a step further by reducing the amount of time you need to spend servicing the robot vacuum itself. Most robot vacuums can only hold a limited amount of dirt before they need to be cleaned out. But the i6+ has a charging station that also will empty the rubbish bin in the vacuum, which ultimately means you have to do this less often. Currently, you can get one from Amazon marked down from $799.99 to just $599.99.

Top Deals

Amazon Devices

TVs

Laptops

Robot Vacuums

Apple

Networking

Desktops

Monitors

Tablets

Smart Home

Home Security

Headphones

Speakers

Smartphones

Storage

Components

Gaming

Wearables

Computer Accessories

Electronics

Miscellaneous

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 13th 2020, 10:50 am

Windows 10 Adds Hardware Support for AV1 Codec This Fall

ExtremeTech

Microsoft has announced that it will add hardware acceleration support for the Aomedia Video 1 (AV1) video codec to Windows 10 this fall. AV1 is an open, royalty-free codec intended to provide high-quality internet video at higher compression rates than those achieved by standards like H.264 and VP9. Typical quoted figures are a 50 percent compression improvement over H.264 and 20 percent over VP9.

There’s a caveat to this announcement, as our sister site PCMag notes: Very limited hardware support. Up until now, it hasn’t mattered that Windows 10 only implemented AV1 in software, because there were no AV1-supporting GPUs to handle decode in the first place. Hardware support for AV1 decode requires a GPU based on Intel’s Xe, an Nvidia RTX 30-series GPU, or an AMD Radeon RX 6000 GPU. All of these are very new, to the point that the 6000 series of cards hasn’t even been released yet.

Secondary requirements include that you be running Windows 1909 or later, have the AV1 video extension installed, and that your web browser has AV1 hardware support built-in.

What’s Important About AV1?

AV1 is important because it substantially improves on the compression of older open-source, freely available codecs. The question of how it performs against HEVC (H.265) seems to be an open one — there are a handful of benchmarks available suggesting it’s roughly on par with HEVC, though different comparisons come to somewhat different results.

Chart and data by the BBC

Codecs like HEVC are heavily encumbered by commercial patents and cannot be played in a browser like Firefox unless Firefox pays a licensing fee to the appropriate patent holders. AV1 was launched by Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Netflix with a specific focus on delivering high-quality web video. As the benchmark above shows, VVC (h.266) provides even better results than H.265 or AV1, but VVC is also patent-encumbered and requires royalty payments. AV1 is the replacement project that supplanted Google’s VP10 and is specifically designed for real-time applications and higher resolutions than those typically supported by H.264 or VP9. It’s the spiritual descendent of Theora — an open-source codec intended to provide a royalty-free web standard for handling online video.

With support integrated into Windows 10 and hardware support not far behind, Netflix and other streaming services will have a royalty-free method of distributing content that doesn’t carry the patent entanglements or problems of H.265. It’s not clear if any major services intend to switch to AV1 immediately, but the option to lower yearly license payments will surely be attracted to at least some companies.

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October 13th 2020, 9:49 am

Get Prime Day Savings When You Check Out These Deals On VPNs, Password Managers, & Cloud Storage Pla

ExtremeTech

Everyone knows you can save a lot of money on Black Friday and Prime Day. But have you heard about the 10.10 Shopping Festival? It’s a new shopping day in the U.S., mirroring China’s Singles’ Day that happens every year on 11.11, which aims to celebrate the consumer while supporting the retail industry.

More importantly, it means you have another opportunity to save big on the goods and services that can enhance your life. To help you make the most of the 10.10 Shopping Festival, we’ve rounded up 20 deals on top VPNs, password managers, cloud backup solutions, and more that will help you maximize and secure your online activities. For this week only, use coupon code OCTSALE20 at checkout to save an additional 20 percent on any of these deals.

Speedify 10 Bonding VPN: 3-Yr Subscription

Speedify is the only VPN and connectivity tool that allows you to use all of your internet connections at once. It uses channel bonding technology that distributes your online traffic across all available connections for optimal performance. Alongside speed, that means you also receive enhanced connection stability. So, if one of your connections drops, even in the middle of an important file transfer or while live streaming, you will seamlessly connect to your other working internet connection(s) without skipping a beat. Alongside that, it secures your data using VPN-grade encryption, delivering more than twice the performance of conventional VPNs.

Normally $107, a Speedify 10 Bonding VPN: 3-Year Subscription is on sale for $59.99 (44 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $47.99.

KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription (5 Devices)

Regain control over your digital life with full security and anonymity online with KeepSolid VPN Unlimited. Trusted by more than 10 million customers globally, this top-rated VPN solution ensures you’ll enjoy full browsing speeds on up to five devices simultaneously, without the dangers of leaving your data exposed or the geographic restrictions on websites abroad. Add it to your cybersecurity toolkit, and enjoy 400+ servers worldwide, a rich variety of VPN protocols, a zero-logging policy, and much more to keep hackers out of your sensitive data.

Normally $199, a KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $39 (80 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.20.

KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Infinity Plan (10 Devices)

Much like the previous deal, this one scores you a lifetime subscription to KeepSolid VPN Unlimited. However, this deal gives you a single account with the Infinity Plan, which allows you to use up to 10 devices simultaneously. In other words, with this deal, you can go online with all of your gadgets with ultimate security.

Normally $299, a KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Infinity Plan (10 Devices) is on sale for $59 (80 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $47.20.

VPNSecure: Lifetime Subscription

VPNSecure delivers a cross-platform VPN service you can trust. While most VPNs help your surf the web undetected, some still maintain logs on your browsing movements, defeating the purpose of getting one in the first place. VPNSecure proudly assures that zero logs are recorded, so you can browse online with absolute peace of mind. In addition, its Smart DNS component allows you to bypass annoying geo-restrictions that block you from getting the most content on Netflix, Hulu, and the like. Finally, it encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address so that you can secure your sensitive info and render your VPN traffic unrecognizable.

Normally $450, a VPNSecure: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $19.99 (95 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $15.99.

Seed4.Me VPN: Lifetime Subscription (Unlimited Devices)

Seed4.Me is a straightforward, easy-to-use VPN application for any device. With it, you can unblock geo-restricted websites, surf the web anonymously, protect your traffic from hackers and internet providers, and hide your real IP. Best of all, though, one Seed4.Me account works on an unlimited number of devices. Meaning, with just one account, you can encrypt your traffic and protect your privacy on all your Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices.

Normally $432, a Seed4.Me VPN: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $39.99 (90 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.99.

Disconnect iOS Premium VPN: Lifetime Subscription

Disconnect Premium VPN is founded on the belief that privacy is a fundamental human right. And thanks to its unique SmartVPN technology, it empowers you with an unprecedented amount of privacy (way beyond just a strict no-logging policy) and control over device-wide tracking and encryption. In short, it protects yourself from all kinds of trackers, including corporations, cybercriminals, and government entities, while preventing eavesdroppers from collecting your sensitive online activity and personal information. Finally, since it works on WiFi and any cellular network, you can rest easy knowing that your iOS device and everything linked to it will remain secure and anonymous.

Normally $249, a Disconnect iOS Premium VPN: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $39.99 (84 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.99.

VPN by VeePN: Lifetime Subscription

This all-in-one platform includes all the features essential to any VPN, and this 10-device subscription allows you to grab enhanced cybersecurity for life. VPN by VeePN delivers lightning-fast connection speeds, access to 2,500 servers worldwide, bank-level encryption, a strict no-logging policy, a true incognito mode, and more for up to 10 devices simultaneously. So, whether you have a family or just a ton of gadgets, this subscription has you covered for life.

Normally $659, a VPN by VeePN: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $29.99 (95 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.99.

SlickVPN: Lifetime Subscription

If you’re regularly on the go, for travel, work, or just life, you’ll want to check out SlickVPN. Offering HYDRA protection, SlickVPN provides you with the most secure connection possible, completely masking your traffic from anyone, anywhere who might try to observe your online activities. In other words, you get the utmost privacy and security, going totally anonymous so that nobody can see your real IP address. Plus, SlickVPN has gateways in over 45 countries, with more than 125 gateways in total. No matter where you are, SlickVPN is nearby to keep you safe, anonymous, and speedy online.

Normally $1,200, a SlickVPN: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $19.99 (98 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $15.99.

FastestVPN: Lifetime Subscription (5 Devices)

With hackers afoot these days, it’s essential to protect your browsing activity by using a VPN. FastestVPN offers a smart, intuitive VPN service for all devices, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Smart TV, and routers. With a NAT firewall, ad blocker, anti-malware software, and a strict no-logging policy, FastestVPN is extremely committed to your online security. Plus, as the name implies, this VPN operates with a 99.9 percent uptime and gives you instant access to 350+ high-speed servers worldwide — all of which you can make the most of on up to five devices at the same time.

Normally $600, a FastestVPN: Lifetime Subscription (5 Devices) is on sale for $19.99 (96 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $15.99.

Ivacy Lifetime Subscription (10 Devices)

Ivacy VPN makes it possible to enjoy P2P file-sharing with complete anonymity and blazing fast speeds. With this highly reviewed VPN, you can also unblock and enjoy buffer-less HD instant access to your favorite movies, TV shows, and sports events. Official partners with the National Cyber Security Alliance, Ivacy VPN promotes cybersecurity and privacy education and awareness, as well as the need for internet freedom. Best of all, though, this deal scores you a lifetime subscription that can be used on up to 10 devices simultaneously, ensuring you always have the speed, protection, and anonymity you need when using the internet.

Normally $2,338, an Ivacy Lifetime Subscription (10 Devices) is on sale for $59.99 (97 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $47.99.

Enpass Password Manager: One-Time Premium Lifetime License

You know it, and you hate it. Everyday life is filled with too many passwords, and it’s nearly impossible to remember every single one of your login credentials. Luckily, password managers like Enpass are here to help. With Enpass, you can organize all of your passwords and various login credentials (think credit cards, your social security number, etc.) in one secure place. Then, when it comes time to plug in your password, username, or sensitive information, Enpass will automatically complete it for you. Best of all, though, Enpass is designed with security in mind. Not only will it help you generate random and strong passwords if needed, but also it stores all of your Enpass data locally on your device rather than on a server elsewhere.

Normally $59, an Enpass Password Manager: One-Time Premium Lifetime License is on sale for $24.99 (58 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $19.99.

Password Boss Premium: Lifetime Subscription (3 Devices)

Take your password game to the next level with a lifetime subscription to Password Boss Premium. This premium app stores and auto-fills usernames and passwords for all your online digital accounts. All you need to do is remember one master password, and Password Boss will do the rest. Meaning, it will generate strong passwords composed of randomized character strings for all of your accounts and fill them in when it’s time to log in, allowing for maximum security and total peace of mind. Better yet, you can use Password Boss on up to three devices simultaneously with this deal, making it easier than ever to up your password game.

Normally $150, a Password Boss Premium: Lifetime Subscription (3 Devices) is on sale for $19.99 (86 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $15.99.

Dashlane Password Manager Premium Plan: 1-Yr Subscription

Dashlane is the world’s smartest, simplest, most secure password manager. With patented security architecture, the most accurate autofill, and an instant password generator and changer, you don’t trade convenience for security — you get both. Available for every platform and browser, Dashlane lets you instantly log into websites, make digital payments, securely store vital personal data, and more. Most unique of all, though, Dashlane lets you set up an emergency contact to inherit your passwords in the event of an accident. In other words, when it comes to password management, Dashlane has thought of it all and has you covered.

Normally $59, a Dashlane Password Manager Premium Plan: 1-Yr Subscription is on sale for $29.99 (50 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.99.

NordPass Password Manager: 1-Yr Subscription

Passwords should work for you, not the other way around. With NordPass, you manage and secure your passwords with ease. It remembers and autosaves all your complex passwords, auto-fills online forms, generates strong passwords when needed, and more. Coolest of all, though, NordPass follows the latest security practices and industry standards, including XChaCha20, zero-knowledge architecture, master password, backups & synch, and two-factor authentication, to ensure your data stays safe. And if you ever have any questions or concerns, you can always reach out to Nord’s award-winning customer service.

Normally $59, a NordPass Password Manager: 1-Yr Subscription is on sale for $29.99 (49 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.99.

Koofr Cloud Storage: Lifetime Subscription (100GB)

Koofr is a straightforward, safe, and private cloud storage service accessible through web, mobile, and WebDav. It easily connects to your existing cloud accounts (Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon, and OneDrive) so that you can view all your files in one place. What’s more, Koofr allows you to transfer huge files to external clouds with no limit. With 100GB of storage, tools that help you stay organized and find files with lightning-speed, and customization options, Koofr is a great cloud backup option for everyone from professionals to students. Oh, and did we mention it’s the only cloud storage that doesn’t track you? That’s a big bonus when it comes to privacy and security.

Normally $540, a Koofr Cloud Storage: Lifetime Subscription (100GB) is on sale for $29.99 (94 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.99.

ThunderDrive Cloud Storage: Lifetime Subscription

Six times faster than Amazon storage, Thunder Drive is a secure and easy-to-use cloud storage service that allows you to create folders, manage files, and share private links from the convenience of your favorite device. With this deal, you not only get 2TB of storage, but you also secure your files with 256-bit AES encryption, which is the standard used by banks and the military. On top of that security layer, the Thunder Drive service is also housed in a premier Tier IV data center facility, giving you even more robust security and reliability.

Normally $1,200 a ThunderDrive Cloud Storage: Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $59 (95 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $47.20.

ElephantDrive 1,000GB Plan: 2-Yr Subscription

ElephantDrive, a complete cloud storage solution, offers secure cloud backup and sync, tightly integrated with leading storage hardware solutions. It runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices, automatically syncs across those devices, and starts you off with 1,000GB of cloud storage. What’s more, ElephantDrive is natively integrated with leading NAS devices, such as Western Digital, NETGEAR, Drobo, Seagate, Synology, TerraMaster, and more, so you can also directly back up your files without mapping them to your computer.

Normally $240, an ElephantDrive 1,000GB Plan: 2-Yr Subscription is on sale for $38.99 (83 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $31.19.

The Eureka Hosting & Storage Lifetime Subscription Bundle

How about getting two great cloud-based solutions for less than the price of one? Yes, please! This deal gets you lifetime access to a EurekaHost Solo Plan and a EurekaDrive Premium Plan, two cloud-based solutions that make it easier than ever to host and maintain a website. One the one hand, EurekaHost streamlines your website’s capacity so that it always loads quickly and defends it from threats, such as DDoS attacks. On the other hand, EurekaDrive gives you convenient access to 1TB of cloud storage so that you can store, manage, secure, and back up all of your website’s essential files.

Normally $844, The Eureka Hosting & Storage Lifetime Subscription Bundle is on sale for $99 (88 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $79.20.

GeoZilla Phone GPS Locator & Tracker App: Premium Lifetime Subscription

This safety app is on a mission to offer peace of mind to families worldwide. GeoZilla helps you keep your loved ones safe, allowing you to know where members of your family are and making it easier to come to their rescue if needed. It features smart location sharing, emergency alerts, and monitoring. With over four million registered users, backed by five years of R&D, GeoZilla strives to make families worldwide safer.

Normally $300, a GeoZilla Phone GPS Locator & Tracker App: Premium Lifetime Subscription is on sale for $29 (90 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $23.20.

Call Control Premium: 1-Yr Subscription

Robocallers are running rampant these days, placing an estimated 35 billion calls to American homes each year. Put a stop to all of that nonsense with Call Control. Trusted by more than 12 million users, this app leverages community reports and do-not-call complaints to block thousands of unwanted calls and text messages. Just as valuable, Call Control features a personal call and SMS blacklist to keep scammers at bay, as well as reverse phone number lookup, so you never get caught off-guard by unknown numbers.

Normally $29, a Call Control Premium: 1-Yr Subscription is on sale for $19.99 (33 percent off). Use coupon code OCTSALE20 (expires this week) for an additional 20 percent off and a final sale price of $15.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 13th 2020, 8:03 am

AI-Powered Quadrotor Drone Learns Aerial Acrobatics

ExtremeTech

Quadrotor drones are extremely maneuverable flying machines. In the hands of a skilled pilot, they can perform feats of aerial acrobatics not possible with any other aircraft. However, most of us are not skilled pilots. What if there was an AI that could do all that fancy flying for you? Researchers from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich have created just such a system, which operates entirely on-board the aircraft and has never crashed—at least in real life. 

Similar piloting AI systems for quadrotor aircraft are either much less maneuverable or relied on external systems like cameras and motion tracking. The custom 3.3-pound (1.5 kilograms) drone has an impressive 4:1 thrust ratio, and the on-board environmental processing happens on an Nvidia Jetson TX2 board. To see the world around it, the quadrotor has an Intel RealSense T265 dual fisheye camera. 

The team, known collectively as the Robotics and Perception Group, also trained this autonomous system in a unique way. Training a neural network to do something challenging like piloting a drone usually requires a great deal of real-world testing. So, you would run simulations until the network could pull off the desired maneuver, and then test it with the real thing. Early real-world tests often lead to catastrophic failure as the program attempts to apply simulated learning to real life. In this case, the Robotics and Perception Group went straight from a simulation to a fully functional real-world demo. 

They accomplished this by using a pair of “controllers” in the simulation: an expert and a student, both operating inside a Gazebo environment modified for quadrotor physics. The expert controller had exact data, and the student controller only received abstracted data. Over time, the expert helps the student learn maneuvers without this “privileged” data. That has the effect of making the network better at piloting in real life, which is much less predictable than a simulation. 

The system learned to do three complicated maneuvers, including a Power Loop, a Barrel Roll, and a Matty Flip. All the tricks include up to three Gs and very precise control of the aircraft. You can see them diagrammed above, along with a routine that includes all three. The AI is flexible enough to string together any combination of the learned maneuvers. The researchers say it took just a few hours of simulated training before the neural network was able to perform these maneuvers in real life without crashing. Honestly, that’s more than most human pilots could ever hope to do.

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October 13th 2020, 8:03 am

ET Pre-Prime Day Deals: $400 Off Dell Alienware Aurora R8 RTX 2070 Super Gaming PC, Apple MacBook Ai

ExtremeTech

Amazon’s Prime Day sales event officially begins tomorrow, but there’s already deals aplenty that you can take advantage of right now. Walmart kicked off its own sales event on Sunday, and early deals From Amazon, Best Buy and Dell have been leaking out all weekend. The following are some of the most notable deals that we’ve seen so far.

Dell Alienware Aurora R8 Intel Core i7-9700K Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD and 1TB HDD ($1,299.99)

Dell’s Alienware Aurora pairs a fast Intel Core i7-9700 processor with an immensely powerful Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card. This combination makes the system excellent for gaming — not to mention it also comes with a 512GB NVMe SSD as well as a 1TB HDD that gives you plenty of storage space. This system typically retails for $1,799.99 but right now you can get it for $1,299.99 from Dell.

Apple MacBook Air Intel Core i3 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($849.99)

Apple’s MacBook Air was designed to be exceptionally lightweight at 2.8 pounds. It also has a high-quality 2560×1600 display, and Apple built the system out of durable 6000 series aluminum. If you would like to buy one of these systems, you can get it marked down today from $999.00 to $849.99 at Amazon.

Apple AirPods Pro ($199.00)

Apple’s AirPods Pro utilizes a new design that’s different from the company’s older AirPod earphones. The key new feature that these earphones have is active noise cancellation. Each earphone also uses a custom driver and a high dynamic range amplifier to improve sound quality. You can snag them with a $50 discount from Amazon that drops the price from $249.00 to $199.00.

Roborock S5 Max Robotic Vacuum ($439.99)

This high-powered robot vacuum has 2,000Pa of suction power and it also has a built-in mopping function to help keep your floors extra clean. The Roborock S5 Max also supports Wi-Fi and can be controlled using a smartphone app and Alexa voice commands. Right now you can get it from Amazon marked down from $549.99 to $439.99 with promo code ROBOROCKS5.

Western Digital Black SN750 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($69.99)

This WD M.2 SSD has a capacity of 500GB and it can transfer data at a rate of up to 3,430MB/s. This makes it significantly faster than a 2.5-inch SSD, and it’s also fairly inexpensive, marked down at Amazon from $129.99 to $69.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 12th 2020, 6:15 pm

Enjoy optimal performance every match with this gaming PC that’s 40 Percent off

ExtremeTech

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As you probably already know, the eSports industry has seen tremendous growth over the past few years, both in terms of viewership and revenue. Whether it’s Fortnite, League of Legends, DOTA 2, CS: GO, Overwatch, or any other popular eSports title, there’s a lot of fun and money wrapped up in today’s most popular eSports games.

Yet, to deliver your best effort when playing these eSports games, whether you’re just having fun with friends, streaming for an audience, or hoping to make it pro, you’ll need a computer that gives you an optimal performance every match. And that’s where this deal makes a big difference — all without leaving a big hole in your wallet.

The Periphio Portal Gaming PC packs more than enough performance to play today’s most popular eSports titles without breaking the bank. Normally $999, you can pick up the Portal on sale today for $599.99 (40 percent off).

This gaming PC delivers everything you need to play eSports at a competitive level and an affordable price. For starters, the Portal includes impressive specs. It sports an Intel Core i5 Quad-Core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a Radeon RX 570 Graphics Card with 4GB of graphics memory to ensure optimal performance for competitive settings. Alongside that, it comes with a new 128GB Periphio Solid State Drive technology that powers the Windows boot drive with a 500GB storage drive for all of your games, music, movies, and pictures. In other words, the Portal focuses on maximizing performance-per-dollar, giving you everything you need to play and enjoy games at a competitive level without nickel and diming you for superfluous bells and whistles.

Besides allowing you to play eSports games competitively, the Portal also delivers on aesthetics and convenience. Its sleek white case and blue and orange fans make this machine stand out from the crowd. Plus, with this deal, you get a one-year warranty for this gaming PC and free tech support. Put another way, you have a team of experts on standby ready to help you out if anything happens to your gaming PC.

The Periphio Portal Gaming PC empowers you to play and enjoy today’s most popular games at a competitive level — all without breaking the bank. Grab it on sale today for $599.99 and save 40 percent off its original price tag

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 12th 2020, 6:15 pm

Avery Brooks Rumored to Return as Benjamin Sisko in Future Star Trek Role

ExtremeTech

Ever since Star Trek: Picard hit the airwaves 20 years ago, in January 2020, people have wondered whether other Star Trek icons will return to the small screen. Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis all reprised their roles in Season 1, while Whoopi Goldberg will return to the role of Guinan in Season 2. Stewart has said he hopes to eventually see the entire cast of TNG on the show.

This, naturally, raised a question of its own: What about characters from other franchises? There’s sadly no chance of an appearance from either René Auberjonois’ Odo or Aron Eisenberg’s Nog, since both men have passed away, but the vast majority of the cast of all three shows is still alive — including Avery Brooks, who played Captain Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now, there’s news that Avery Brooks might return to the role, either as a cameo on a different Star Trek series (almost certainly Picard), or in a show of his own. As regular readers know, I’ve been working to remaster Deep Space Nine for the past 10 months, so I took more than a passing interest in the news. The screenshot above, posted as our feature image, is from my own upscaling work on “Way of the Warrior”, the premiere episode of Season 4.

It would be particularly interesting to find out what happened to Sisko, considering he’s got a unique plot arc. Specifically: He’s the only major character of a Star Trek franchise who straight-up vanishes in the series finale, with no word on what happened to him afterward. While his fate was explored in various non-canon publications, Paramount has never released a canonical explanation for what happens to Sisko after his confrontation with the Pah Wraiths in the Fire Caves of Bajor. While he obviously wasn’t literally gone from the universe at the end of the show, it wasn’t clear if he was technically alive, either. It wasn’t the first time Star Trek has played with existence at the edge of mortality — Q once took Picard on a journey through an alternate route his life might have taken — but Sisko’s fate was left ambiguous.

Emissary to the Parents

Star Trek never met a part of the human condition it didn’t want to explore, and the relationship between parents and their children was explored as early as “Journey to Babel” in the original TOS. While multiple characters were shown as parents, including Kirk (David), Worf (Alexander), Dr. Crusher (Wesley), O’Brien (Molly, Kirayoshi), and Rom (Nog), Deep Space Nine invests far more energy in portraying Sisko specifically as a father than any other character in any Star Trek show.

Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton (Benjamin Sisko and Jake Sisko, respectively).

The only TV show to even come close is the recently-released Star Trek: Lower Decks, which depicts the adult relationship between Captain Carol Freeman and her eternal ensign / ne’er-do-well daughter, Beckett Mariner. The relationship between Mariner and Freeman is, shall we say, slightly more fraught than the relationship between Jake and his father.

Captain of the Cerritos, Carol Freeman, and her daughter, Beckett Mariner

Watching the show when it aired, I didn’t pay much attention to the father/son interactions of the show. Watching it as an adult, Sisko’s patience and encouragement of Jake to follow his own path — and the way the show explores the powerful bond between them — resonates more. Every Starfleet captain occasionally acts in a fatherly role to various crewmembers, but Sisko is the only captain we ever got to see as a father to a boy in the process of growing up — Kirk didn’t know he had a son until David was a full-grown adult, Picard famously dislikes children, Janeway had a dog, and Archer appears childless. Sisko is the only captain to have both his father and his grandson appear on-camera. He’s the only Star Trek captain who ever really had a family, or at least one that appeared in more than a one-off episode. Throughout the show, Sisko encourages Jake to find his own voice and to follow his own path as far as the kind of man he wanted to be. The relationship between the two characters is complex and multi-faceted, and it’s explored from both of their viewpoints at various points throughout the show.

If Sisko cameos on Star Trek: Picard, it would be nice if the cameo were somehow substantial enough to address the question of how he resolved the predicament he was last in. If a new show were to actually focus on him — and the rumor above says that this might just happen — it would hopefully explore the relationship he and Jake have as adults. I’m not going to claim that Sisko’s relationship with his son was the central plot of Deep Space Nine — it wasn’t — but it’s a thread I’d still like to see revisited.

I still thrill to see Avery Brooks standing on the bridge of the Defiant, facing down Klingons and Jem’Hadar in battle, but I now enjoy the quieter moments more, when the show demonstrates the enduring value of its message. As a young man, I liked Sisko for his willingness to fight. As an older one, I appreciate his willingness not to, when it wasn’t necessary.

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October 12th 2020, 4:30 pm

Amazon Cancels Crucible, Will Shut Down Servers Next Month

ExtremeTech

Amazon has been an integral part of the gaming universe ever since it acquired Twitch in 2014. That’s also when Amazon Game Studios started working with Relentless Studios on a multiplayer shooter called Crucible. The game launched earlier this year, but Amazon stuffed it back into closed beta a few weeks later. Now, Amazon is admitting defeat and canceling the game in its entirety

Crucible was just the latest in a long line of multiplayer first-person shooters such as Overwatch, Apex Legends, Destiny, and many more. Then you have the similar but distinct “battle royale” shooters like PUBG and Fortnite. This is a crowded space, to put it mildly, but Amazon forged ahead with Crucible anyway. 

Unfortunately, early reviews of the game were mostly negative, citing boring combat, predictable enemies, and badly balanced PvP. Interest from gamers was also lacking. After several weeks, there were more people watching streams of the original Everquest on Twitch than there were watching Crucible matches. The number of people playing Crucible, which was free to download, numbered in the dozens. 

Amazon and the developer seemed to take all this to heart, pulling the game from open access and returning it to closed beta status. It presented a list of changes it intended to make in the game like adding voice chat, cleaning up the combat, and coming up with a way to deal with players going AFK. 

That was in July, and news has been scarce ever since. According to the latest Crucible dev update, the team has concluded there’s no “healthy, sustainable future ahead of Crucible.” The developers didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the shutdown, but things must be rough if they’re willing to lose six years of development on a game that will never launch. The raft of similar games with established player bases probably also helped convince Amazon Crucible had little chance of success. 

While the game will never launch, dedicated players will have a chance to experience the mediocre shooter for a little longer. In the coming weeks, the developers will host one final playtest with the community. After that event, the Crucible team will disable matchmaking for online play. You will still be able to create custom games until the servers go offline, which happens at noon PST on November 9th. Anyone who spent money on in-game items will get a refund — Amazon even has a support page to help with that. 

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October 12th 2020, 3:28 pm

Apple’s First ARM-Powered Mac Could Launch in November

ExtremeTech

Ever since Apple announced it would move to its own custom ARM CPUs for laptops and desktops, there’ve been questions about what kind of platform we should expect and how the company will position its first entry into homegrown product design. There are now rumors that the firm will launch its first ARM-based Mac hardware next month rather than using the “Hi, Speed” event scheduled for tomorrow to do the job.

Originally, the Mac was tipped to arrive in November, so we don’t know if Apple will launch and ship the device quickly, or if it’ll launch in November but ship in December. With COVID-19 still screwing up shipment schedules across the world, it wouldn’t be surprising if the hardware slipped into early 2021, though Apple doesn’t typically launch hardware more than a few weeks before it starts shipping.

This latest rumor comes from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, who believes the new systems will launch at another event next month. Separately, we’ve gotten some reports on what kind of hardware might be inside the next-generation Mac. It’s generally thought that Apple might re-introduce the chassis for the MacBook, as rumor suggests the upcoming machine has just one USB-C port. Leaked specifications on the machine are shown below:

The reappearance of the much-loathed butterfly keyboard is anything but positive, but maybe 4th time’s the charm as far as designing butterfly switches that don’t jam on a single grain of dust.

Apple believes it can hit higher performance and greater efficiencies with its own silicon. It might be right.

Comparative and Sustained Performance

One important caveat on Apple’s existing A-series chips is that while these CPUs offer great performance, they also boost to thermal limits that are unsustainable in mobile form factors. This will be significant for any consideration of Apple’s ARM silicon versus an Intel x86 chip — how does performance compare as the device heats up, and what does sustained performance look like compared with x86 chips?

Keep in mind that while Apple’s A14 is a six-core, the chip is actually a brace of high-performance cores with four high-efficiency cores behind it. The assumed upscaled configuration would be four high-performance cores and eight high-efficiency cores, though it’s also possible that Apple will use a different mixture of cores in the higher-end SoC.

There are a lot of moving parts that will play into how x86 and ARM compare against each other in this market, including how effective the system is at taking advantage of the two different core types simultaneously versus the more-homogenous distribution of CPU cores in a Windows PC. Given that we know Intel is planning to add little cores to its own chips and that AMD has its own interests in the segment, it seems safe to conclude the market, as a whole, is moving in this direction.

If these rumors regarding positioning are true, I don’t expect Apple’s first ARM hardware to be an x86 killer in some absolute sense. What I expect, rather, is that it’ll offer far better battery life than any other current Apple product paired with good, possibly even very good, performance for its price point. The alternative idea — that Apple would build an amazingly fast SoC and then chain it into a single-port MacBook at a bargain-basement price, forcing customers to choose between literally every other reason to buy a MacBook Pro and a fast CPU — makes no sense. Neither does the idea that Apple would draw out the replacement process by doing it piecemeal for no good reason.

Given that Apple has signaled that the x86 transition will take two years, we can assume the company will introduce at least some refreshed x86 products over the next 18 months. The implication here is that the ARM-powered Mac will appear in markets where long battery life is likely to be most appealing, similar to how Microsoft has attempted to position ARM-powered Windows devices. As Apple’s absolute performance and SoC scaling both improve, the company will introduce new ARM-based devices to replace its Intel hardware, dropping these chips into market when it knows it can ship a better — or at least equivalently good — solution to an existing x86 chip. If Apple thought it could shift its entire market with a single, unified launch, the company would likely do it.

We may see this lower-end launch in 2020, followed by MacBook and iMac refreshes in 2021, with an iMac Pro / Mac Pro refresh cycle in 2022. Each wave of refreshes would introduce a new ARM option to a higher-tier market segment, while phasing x86 parts out simultaneously. Whether Apple would build an x86 MacBook Pro and an ARM MacBook or just swap the entire mobile product line at once is open to speculation.

Either way, this is going to be one of the most interesting CPU launches in decades. Intel’s Tiger Lake is a significant boost to overall CPU efficiency, and we expect great things from AMD’s Zen 3 architecture. For now, I think we’ll see an emphasis on efficiency, which seems to be the angle Apple is playing up, but we’ll learn a great deal from the performance comparisons and hopefully come away with a better understanding of how each company’s products fare against the other.

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October 12th 2020, 2:27 pm

Sony Releases List of PS4 Games You Can’t Play on PS5

ExtremeTech

For months, there have been questions about what Sony’s backward compatibility looked like, and which titles would and wouldn’t be supported. The company has been cagey on this issue, stating that 99 percent of PS4 games would work, but declining to offer specifics much past that. Sony has now published what it calls “a list” of PS4 games that won’t work on its newest console. They are:

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1, in addition to being one of the worst-named titles of all time, was one of the worst-received games of all time. How bad is it? Well, GameSpot gave Daikatana a 4.6/10, while AS2RKV1 got a 2/10. Draw your own conclusions.

Not all of these games are bad. TT Isle of Man is well-reviewed, and Shadow Complex Remastered, while based on an old game, received strong reviews. So did Hitman: Go. All of them, however, seem like fairly niche titles.

There are a few things of note on Sony’s new backward compatibility page. First, the company does not state that the list of incompatible titles is complete, referring to it as “a list” rather than “the” list. Games might still be added as launch day approaches. Second, Sony is warning gamers to be cautious before assuming perfect backward compatibility. The company states:

Although many PS4 games are playable on PS5 consoles, some functionalities that were available on the PS4 console may not be available on PS5 consoles. In addition, some PS4 games may exhibit errors or unexpected behavior when played on PS5 consoles. Before purchasing add-ons to play with your PS4 games on PS5 consoles, please try to boot and play your PS4 games on your PS5 console to see if you are happy with the play experience.

Sony has not clarified what errors, missing features, or unexpected behaviors might occur, so it’s difficult to know how much emphasis to put on the warning. Until more is known, we suggest taking the company’s recommendation to test the base game experience before committing to any additional content purchases. Games that only run on PS4 will be marked in the PlayStation Store as “Playable On: PS4 Only.”

One tidbit of information we discovered today is that the PlayStation 5 has a Game Boost mode to improve the performance of older titles. The FAQ states that “select” games will run in this mode, which may make frame rates on last-generation titles higher or smoother compared to playing the same game on PlayStation 4.

The More Details, the Better

I’d really like to see Sony speak more transparently on this issue, not because I think Microsoft is automatically offering a better deal, but because it’s impossible to compare them given how little we know about the specifics of Sony’s support.

It’s good to know that the first list of incompatible games is both short and a bit niche-y, but it’d be nice to know if there are more titles to be added or not. COVID-19 has dictated that backward compatibility is a major feature this generation, but we don’t know if Microsoft and Sony will support “boost” modes in the same games, or how the feature upgrades will differ.

We also don’t know how the emphasis on backward compatibility will impact purchasing decisions this year. Microsoft’s Xbox Series S/X is a great deal for anyone already invested in the Xbox ecosystem because you can once again play any game you’ve previously owned. Does it offer much value to a current PlayStation gamer (or vice-versa?) I’m less certain.

I’m sure some PlayStation gamers will buy an Xbox this generation and then pick up a few last-gen games for it (or vice-versa), but the entire point of offering backward-compatibility as a feature is to keep support for games you already own. I doubt many gamers are going to pick up an Xbox Series or a PlayStation 5 primarily to play older titles in the long term, and that may limit the ability of this feature to attract new buyers. Back-compat is more for the customers you’ve previously had, though obviously there’s a certain promise being dangled in front of new owners as well.

With the launch just weeks away, we’ve gotten most of the information we’re going to get from both Sony and Microsoft, but there are a few things I’d still like to know: How many games are going to get the Game Boost treatment, and are there any more titles expected to drop on the initial no-play list?

For now — assuming that these 10 titles are all that’s coming — Sony is in a pretty good place as far as backward compatibility for the PS4 generation is concerned. It’s disappointing that older consoles aren’t included, but that difference is a known point between fans of both platforms these days.

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October 12th 2020, 9:58 am

NASA to Sample Asteroid Said to Contain Building Blocks of Life

ExtremeTech

Bennu, one of the two objects used as a test case in the MIT study.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been in orbit of the asteroid Bennu since late 2018, and it’s almost time for the main event: collecting a sample from the surface. Researchers have used the last few years to get familiar with Bennu, and that has led to six studies that were just published in the journals Science and Science Advances that describe the environment and composition of the space rock. We know what OSIRIS-REx is likely to scoop up from the asteroid. Yes, rocks, but they’re exciting rocks. 

One study, led by Amy Simon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows that carbon-bearing minerals are widespread on Bennu, including at the Nightingale landing zone where OSIRIS-REx will touch down. Scientists on Earth are already planning experiments on these materials that could help us understand the origin of water and life on Earth. 

Another study focused specifically on carbonate minerals (a salt of carbonic acid), which is visible in veins crisscrossing some boulders. Carbonates are usually produced in systems that have both water and carbon dioxide, leading scientists to conclude that Bennu’s long-destroyed parent body contained water. The size of the carbonate veins suggests the water system was large, on the order of miles. Again, these materials are widespread and may be present in the samples OSIRIS-REx picks up, which has researchers excited. 

Part of the probe’s mission before collecting its sample was to map the surface in detail. This allowed NASA to study the asteroid’s topography and choose a landing location. With data acquisition complete, the agency has created the most detailed map ever of an asteroid with a resolution of 20cm per pixel. The video below takes you on a tour of Bennu created with a combination of photos and laser altimeter data. 

When OSIRIS-REx descends on October 20th, it will tap the surface and use a blast of compressed nitrogen gas to (hopefully) blow regolith into the sample container. Of course, numerous asteroids fall to Earth every day, but they’ve been scorched by their journey through the atmosphere. Sampling Bennu allows scientists to study primordial material from the early solar system. One of the new studies suggests that the material around Nightingale is even better for this purpose than expected. The Nightingale site is “spectrally red” compared to much of the surface. That indicates the material was only recently uncovered and exposed to space, making it super-pristine. 

The samples from OSIRIS-REx should be back on Earth in September 2023. Until then, we’ll have to root for the probe from a few million miles away.

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October 12th 2020, 7:58 am

Google’s Big Idea for YouTube: Make It More Like QVC

ExtremeTech

I thought the Bluetooth male chastity device was going to be the worst idea I wrote about this week, but apparently Google took one look at that concept and said: “Hold my beer.”

Well, no, that’s not quite right. One half of CEO Sundar Pichai and his team apparently said “Hold my beer,” while the other half said: “Business opportunity!”

“Is that real neoprene and a GENUINE matte paint job?”
“I do believe it is, Gunther. Just 12 easy payments of $99.”

Google’s big idea, according to Bloomberg, is to turn YouTube into QVC and directly monetize products. Instead of seeing someone review a product and having to visit a website like Amazon or Newegg to buy it, you’ll just be able to click on a link and buy the goods directly, with YouTube getting a cut somewhere along the way. It isn’t clear where YouTube would make money in this process — well, more than the $15B per year it already makes — but Bloomberg speculates it could be related to the subscriber business YouTube now offers influencers, from which it extracts a 30 percent fee. YouTube CEO Sundar Pichai has suggested that “unboxing” videos could be directly monetized as product opportunities.

“When you think about things like unboxing and product reviews, those are a natural home for transactions as well,” Pichai said, during the Q1 2020 earnings call. ” I earlier mentioned about all the work we are doing now on commerce. All of that, I’m looking forward to those integrations coming into YouTube and working better as well.”

Part of this expansion has been billed as a way to help creators diversify their earnings away from advertising, but the potential for abuse seems tremendous here. A handful of influencers would undoubtedly become spokespeople for big-name, reputable brands, and as for the rest… what, exactly? Influencers failing to disclose relationships with the brands they cover has already been a significant problem, and this type of arrangement seems incredibly unlikely to change that.

Bloomberg notes that: “At a minimum, the new measures could help YouTube deepen the data it collects from videos to strengthen its ads business,” which is a great reason not to engage with any effort YouTube makes to sell you stuff. But secondary to that, does anyone think the problem with Google services is that you can’t engage with enough products quickly enough?

Google Search Has Gone Downhill

If you’ve been on the internet for longer than a decade, you probably remember when searching for things brought up something other than product ads and link after link to websites whose URLs mark them as SEO-optimized spam sites, not links to any kind of meaningful content.

This is one of those issues that people seem to talk quietly about but that never get mentioned in an article. I cannot show 100 search results from 2010, flip over to the 2020 results, and demonstrate that the search engine has been taken over by product sales and vapid commentary, but look at the results for “google search getting worse” and look at how many of them were written in the past few years. This isn’t just random people complaining about how the internet was better “back in our day.” The internet — at least the internet as shown to the world by Google — used to be about something other than shoveling more bottom-end goods from China into people’s houses.

Here’s the list of “also ask” suggestions when you Google “is Google getting worse.”

It’s become much harder — though not impossible — to use Google to perform any kind of actual work, partly because you have to shovel through 50 tons of useless shit served by every e-commerce company under the sun + Pinterest + whatever random SEO crap is triggered by your search terms. Google has been under fire for these changes from all sides, and the company’s solution — its big idea for 2020 — is that it could attempt to extract even more revenue from people by blurring the lines between carnival barkers and influencers even more than they are already. Nothing could possibly go wrong from encouraging influencers, some of whom are in their mid-to-late teens, to sign up as brand ambassadors for products.

Here’s the list of “also asks” if you search for “is Google getting better.” Spot the difference!

It’s not that you can’t find great information on the internet. It’s that you increasingly can’t find it from Google.com. Not, at least, without wading through four obvious ads, two fake search results that are also ads, 36 images of products you aren’t trying to buy, and 15 articles on sites like “FixGoodWindows.com” telling you how to perform an antivirus scan with grammar a remedial ESL student would laugh at.

If there’s one thing we don’t need from YouTube, it’s a QVC-like experience. And if you’re trying to use Google to perform serious searching — which is basically anything that doesn’t involve buying a pair of pants — try using the most exact and scholarly language you can think of. Verbatim search is sometimes still useful, and selective use of quotes can punch through the crap if there’s a term of art commonly used to refer to a topic or subject that’s different from the colloquial comparison.

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October 9th 2020, 5:01 pm

ET Deals: $700 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7 & Nvidia GTX Laptop, Alienware Aurora R11 Nvidia

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with over $700 marked off the retail price. This system is perfect for work, but it also has a 100 percent sRGB compatible display for editing images and a GPU that’s powerful enough to keep the average gamer happy.

Dell Vostro 15 7500 Intel Core i7-10750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($969.00)

The new Vostro 15 7500 laptop is a true jack-of-all-trades. Dell’s Vostro systems are oriented as business solutions, and this system is no different, but it also has fairly strong gaming capabilities. Its 100 percent sRGB display is also well suited for editing images. No matter what you need a laptop for, this system should fit the bill. Currently, you can get this system from Dell with a hefty discount that drops the price from $1,712.86 to just $969.00.

Dell Alienware Aurora R11 Intel Core i7-10700F Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB HDD ($1,899.99)

If you’re looking for a gaming desktop, you can’t go wrong with one of Dell’s newly redesigned Alienware Aurora R11 PCs. This version of the Aurora features an Intel Comet Lake Core i7-10700F CPU as well as an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card. This GPU is currently one of, if not the fastest single graphics card in the world, and it’s able to run games with maxed settings with exceptional ease. Currently with promo code 50OFF699 you can get this system from Dell marked down from $1,999.99 to just $1,899.99.

Asus Zenbook Q407IQ-BR5N4 AMD Ryzen 5 4500U 14-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce MX350 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD ($549.99)

Asus designed this Zenbook computer with a capable AMD Ryzen 5 processor and a highly compact design. The system measures just 0.7-inches thin and weighs a meager 2.65lbs making it well suited for travel. Coming equipped with an Nvidia GeForce MX350 GPU, it should also be able to run games reasonably well for such a compact notebook. Currently you can get one of these systems from Best Buy marked down from $699.99 to just $549.99.

Blink Mini 1080p Security Camera – Set of 2 ($49.98)

These little security cameras have a 1080p resolution and a rich feature set including built-in motion detector and night vision. There low price makes them an excellent option if you’ve been looking for an affordable home security camera. Currently you can get two of these cameras from Amazon marked down from $64.99 to just $49.98.

Featured Deals

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 9th 2020, 4:15 pm

Break into Web Development with These Discounted Online Courses

ExtremeTech

These days, everyone needs a professional website. So, the latest statistics on web developers, a.k.a. the guys and gals who design and program websites for a living, shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, web developers’ employment is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is double the average growth rate (4 percent) for all occupations.

Put another way, there will be around 14,000 new web development opportunities created over that ten year period. Best of all, though, is that a career in web development is rewarding, both from a creative perspective and a financial one — the median salary for a web developer in May 2019 was $73,760.

If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, you’ll need to know how to program and have a strong understanding of the technology that powers the internet. Perfect for you, this bundle of online courses helps you kickstart a career in web development by teaching you everything you need to know.

The Web Development Masterclass Certification Bundle provides you with 35 hours of educational video content on essential programming languages and web development frameworks. Normally $1,194, you can pick it up on sale today for $34.98, saving 97 percent off its regular price tag.

This bundle makes it easier to kickstart a career in web development. You get instant access to six courses that teach you the fundamental skills and technologies for this in-demand career. You begin your training with courses that guide you through how to work with various programming languages, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. These four coding languages are must-knows for any web developer since they’re the foundation of most websites currently on the web.

Alongside helping you build a strong foundation in web development, you also learn how to work with Bootstrap, JQuery, MySQL, and AJAX. Each item from this list is a different tool, resource, or technique that professional web developers employ when building a website or web application. So, learning how to work with each one will make you more competitive when it’s time to land a new client or apply for a web development job.

Better yet, you learn everything under the guidance of an expert online instructor. YouAccel, the e-learning platform behind this bundle, used a professional web developer with years of experience to teach these courses. Plus, each course includes assignments, quizzes, and exams that help you gauge your progress and make it easier to retain the concepts and skills you’ve just learned.

Long story short, The Web Development Masterclass Certification Bundle helps you kickstart a web development career. Pick it up on sale today for just $34.98.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 9th 2020, 4:15 pm

AMD Said to be in Advanced Talks to Buy Xilinx

ExtremeTech

AMD is said to be in talks to buy Xilinx in a move that would be worth an estimated $30B and would give AMD a foothold in the FPGA market. Such a move could be a good one for the CPU manufacturer, as it would open new markets for the company where it doesn’t currently compete.

Xilinx is the inventor of the Field-Programmable Gate Array, which are integrated circuits designed to be reconfigured at-will (hence “Field Programmable”) and can be reprogrammed for a huge range of logic functions, including any function that an ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) can perform. CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, and ASICs are part of a continuum of hardware stretching from CPUs (most flexible, least efficient) to ASICs (least flexible, most efficient), as shown in this diagram from Intel below (ignore the “core counts,” as they’re not relevant for our purposes). Intel bought Altera several years ago, so AMD acquiring Xilinx would make a certain degree of sense.

AMD’s attempt to purchase Xilinx could be a move towards the AI market, which is the one major computing area where AMD is currently only semi-active. While the company has its ROCm platform for Linux, it serves as a wrapper for CUDA and isn’t Windows-compatible. ROCm also lacks Navi support at the moment, which is something that’s expected to change once AMD launches its CDNA computing architecture. Still, this is one area where Team Red doesn’t have much presence. Intel has pushed ahead with AVX-512 on CPUs and its own OneAPI for GPU and other device support, Nvidia has CUDA, and AMD has been focused on the general computing market, where Zen has been remarkably successful.

Still, it’s only a matter of time before the company turns its attention to AI, and owning Xilinx would give it a leg into that space. Xilinx has previously partnered with companies like Mipsology to create simple methods for developers to port code from GPUs to FPGAs. For its fiscal year 2020 (ended April 22, 2020), Xilinx reported $3.16B in sales and net income of $793M.

Source: Xilinx

This kind of revenue and positioning would definitely give AMD a new market. Intel hasn’t put much emphasis on the idea of shipping Xeons with integrated FPGAs, but the adoption of chiplets creates new opportunities for different types of silicon to share the same physical chip. It’s not hard to imagine AMD mixing and matching different types of chiplets — FPGA blocks, GPU blocks, and CPU blocks — to build products that target different markets.

The original article by the Wall Street Journal notes that AMD is now worth more than $100B, with its stock up 89 percent this year. Xilinx is worth about $26B. With premium, that brings the value of the deal to ~$30B, which AMD would presumably pay for in stock, since it doesn’t have a war chest quite that large to buy the other company with. Xilinx sales have been hit by the Trump Administration’s restrictions on sales to companies like Huawei, with that firm accounting for an estimated 6-8 percent of its revenue, according to the report.

Any acquisition would need to be managed properly and hopefully better negotiated than AMD’s purchase of ATI in 2006. AMD drastically overpaid for that company, wrote off 50 percent of the purchase price within two years, and spent years struggling to fully integrate its CPU and GPU businesses. Any acquisition of a major firm like Xilinx would need to be careful not to fall down a similar post-acquisition well.

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October 9th 2020, 3:14 pm

Microsoft Spots Android Ransomware That Hijacks Your Home Button

ExtremeTech

Malware goes where people go, and there are many people around the world using Android to do the bulk of their computing. Naturally, ransomware has found its way to Android, and there’s a new, particularly devious strain of it floating around. According to Microsoft’s Defender Research team, MalLocker.B manipulates multiple Android OS functions to take over your phone when you press the home button

MalLocker.B won’t just appear on your phone like magic — it’s being distributed on sketchy third-party app stores and forums. Users have to go through several steps to deactivate Google’s built-in app security before they can install the malicious app, which hides in a seemingly unrelated app. 

Once installed on a system, it creates a “call” notification, which has privileged system access. Apps that use this legitimately need it to create full-screen incoming call notifications, but MalLocker.B uses it to display a ransom note. This is a clever way to get around Google’s recent changes to the system alert window, which used to be a primary target for malware. However, it’s the way the malicious code ties into the home button that makes it truly different.

Android has a function called onUserLeaveHint(), which is called when you want to push an app to the background. For example, by pressing the home button. MalLocker.B hijacks this function to bring the ransom activity back into the foreground every time the user attempts to close it. And just like that, your phone is unusable. 

Like most Android ransomware, MalLocker.B does not encrypt files. Desktop ransomware usually does this, selling the decryption key to the victim to retrieve their files. MalLocker.B masquerades as a notice from law enforcement, informing the user they have committed a crime and must pay a fine. However, doing so won’t remove the malware. 

The good news is that all the data on the phone is intact — there’s just an app getting in your way. It doesn’t have root access or any special system permissions, so MalLocker.B can be removed via safe mode or ADB. The creators are simply betting that most users won’t realize that, and they’re probably right. That’s why ransomware like this is effective. The moral of the story is clear: don’t sideload apps from untrustworthy sources.

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October 9th 2020, 1:14 pm

Intel Confirms Rocket Lake Blasts Off in Q1 2021

ExtremeTech

Space shuttle Atlantis is seen as it launches from pad 39A on Friday, July 8, 2011, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch of Atlantis, STS-135, is the final flight of the shuttle program, a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Intel’s John Bonini, Intel VP and GM of Client Computing Group Desktop, Workstations and Gaming, writes that Intel’s upcoming Rocket Lake platform will debut in Q1 (other rumors say March), putting it about five months away. Beyond support for PCIe 4.0 and an emphasis on Intel’s continued ability to run at higher clock speeds than its rival, Bonini didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t previously know about the core.

The purpose for Intel’s tease was to steal a bit of AMD’s thunder from the Ryzen 5000 announcement and to firm up expectations that Rocket Lake would debut earlier, rather than later in the year. The big question about RKL, from the reviewer perspective, is whether it’s based on yet another Skylake iteration or if (as rumored) the company backported some of the capabilities of Sunny Cove or Willow Cove into a new core (reportedly nicknamed Cypress Cove).

It seems highly unlikely that Intel would recycle Skylake again, and if we assume the best-case scenario for Intel is full IPC uplift + no loss of clock, Rocket Lake might pick up a 1.15x – 1.2x boost in performance relative to Skylake. This would also explain why Intel is rumored to only be shipping eight-core Rocket Lake chips rather than 10-core Comet Lake parts — the higher IPC might compensate for the lower number of cores.

One market where Rocket Lake might shine, however, is lower-end integrated gaming systems. Ice Lake and Tiger Lake have both boosted Intel’s integrated GPU performance up to very respectable levels, and Rocket Lake reportedly ships with Gen 12 Xe-LP graphics. Give the chip a desktop-level TDP, and the end result might be a great low-end gaming solution. This is not to imply that Rocket Lake will only compete with AMD’s APUs at the lower end of the market, but Intel has told us virtually nothing about the CPU core, while the Xe-based GPU core is a little easier to predict.

The PCIe 4.0 support coming with Rocket Lake is a feature Intel some of Intel’s motherboard partners preseeded into the market last year with the launch of Z490. If you bought one of those boards with a 10th Generation chip, you’ll be able to upgrade to an 11th Generation CPU and unlock PCIe 4.0 support.

Given what we know about Zen 3, and the likely-significant uplift Intel will pick up with Rocket Lake, it seems likely the company will take a competitive stand around AMD’s 8-12 core pricing. Intel historically charges more per-core than AMD does (and does so successfully), so I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to come in at equal pricing.

Unless rumors about Rocket Lake configurations and core counts are wildly wrong, Intel will not be able to reclaim absolute performance superiority. Chips like the 16-core 5950X are going to make that impossible for any eight-core competitor. What I suspect Intel will try to do is reclaim specific markets like single-threaded performance and gaming, along with AI and AVX-512 support. Intel may not be able to challenge chips like the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X with an eight-core Rocket Lake, no matter how additionally efficient, but it could price the chip well against the 5800X, or drop it in-between the 5800X and 5900X at a price/performance ratio that makes it a tempting alternative to either. The six-core market could also get pretty interesting, depending on what Intel brings to market and how aggressively the company wants to play things.

If Rocket Lake doesn’t launch until March 2021, it seems unlikely we’d see Alder Lake before 2022. I’m not going to say that Intel couldn’t launch two desktop sockets in the same year, but the company typically allows ~12 months to pass between generations. If it does launch RKL and ADL in the same year, expect Alder to drop no earlier than the holiday season.

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October 9th 2020, 12:14 pm

Apple Forced ProtonMail to Add In-App Purchases to Its Free App

ExtremeTech

Apple talks up iPhone security, but Zerodium says it's falling behind.

Apple has always maintained complete control over the iPhone app ecosystem, but that policy is increasingly coming under scrutiny from regulators and developers. We’ve heard from a few developers who say Apple pushed them to add in-app purchases (IAPs) to their free apps, and a new congressional report features yet another tale of Apple’s IAP strong-arming. Secure email provider ProtonMail says Apple threatened to ban its app from the App Store if it didn’t start paying Apple a cut. 

It’s taken a long time to get where we are now — Apple launched the App Store at a time when installing software on mobile devices was tedious and expensive. The era of $0.99 apps changed everything, and Apple raked in cash from each sale. The addition of in-app purchases several years later brought with it stricter rules. Now, developers are not permitted to provide payment options or links to purchase digital goods inside their apps because that would deprive Apple of its 30 percent share. 

According to ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen, Apple targeted his company like it has the likes of Hey and WordPress. ProtonMail offers its encrypted email service free for light users, but paid accounts are available for those who need additional domains or storage. For years, Apple was content to allow ProtonMail’s app to exist with no in-app purchases. The paid plans were only sold on the website, which should have been allowed under Apple’s rules.  

Yen says that Apple abruptly changed its tune in 2018 after realizing ProtonMail offered paid services. It demanded ProtonMail add in-app purchases to the app or face a ban. “There’s nothing you can say to that,” Yen told The Verge. “They are judge, jury, and executioner on their platform, and you can take it or leave it.” Numerous companies have told reporters under the condition of anonymity that Apple did the same to them. 

ProtonMail complied with the demand to ensure its customers would continue to have access to the app, but the 30 percent cut was hard to swallow. To maintain its margins, ProtonMail had to make the IAP plans more expensive. Apple also threatened the company with a ban for attempting to explain this conundrum to its users. 

Apple recently updated its rules to clarify that apps can remain in the App Store as “stand-alone companions to a paid web based tool.” However, Yen says his company has decided to keep the IAPs for fear of angering Apple. Since there’s no other way to distribute software on iOS, even a minor disagreement can hit a company’s bottom line. These arbitrary rules are increasingly coming under scrutiny, but Apple isn’t going to open up its walled garden lightly.

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October 9th 2020, 10:26 am

AMD Has Scaled Ryzen Faster Than Any Other CPU in the Past 20 Years

ExtremeTech

Note: This article assumes that Zen 3 will deliver the 1.19x IPC improvement it has promised over the Zen 2 / Ryzen 3000 CPU family. AMD’s Zen disclosures have consistently been accurate enough that I am comfortable making that assumption.

When AMD launches Zen 3 on November 5, it isn’t just going to be another iteration of the company’s CPU family. Mathematically, it’s going to break — or at least match — one of its own records that it hasn’t challenged for nearly 15 years. Statistically, the amount of cumulative improvement delivered between April 5, 2017, and November 5, 2020, represents the highest, fastest scaling AMD has delivered at any point since the year 2000 — including during the Athlon 64/Athlon 64 X2 era.

The Athlon 64 3200+ launched at 2GHz (single-core) on September 23, 2003, while the Athlon 64 X2 6000+ launched at 3GHz in February 2007. That’s a 1.5x improvement in core clock and a 2x improvement in core count delivered over 1,246 days. IPC improvements over this period from architectural changes were very small; most gains came from moving to dual-core, using dual-channel memory via Socket 939 as opposed to Socket 754, and increased CPU clock.

The Ryzen 7 1800X launched on April 5, 2017, while the Ryzen 9 5950X launches on November 5, 2020. The Ryzen 7 1800X tended to clock around 3.7GHz under load. We don’t know how the Ryzen 9 5950X will clock under load, but ~3.8GHz was typical for full-load on the 3950X, so let’s assume a very modest improvement of 100-200MHz.

Over the course of 1,344 days, AMD will have once again doubled its top-end CPU core count and improved effective IPC (which is to say, IPC + sustained higher clocks) by ~1.51x. If AMD has improved the Ryzen 9 5950X’s all-core boost by 100-200MHz, that’s a further 2.6 – 5.2 percent improvement, which would cumulatively match or exceed the theoretical scaling performance AMD delivered during the most competitive time in its history. If anything, I’d expect modern scaling to be better than what we saw on Athlon 64/Athlon 64 X2, simply because far more software is multi-threaded now compared with then. And if AMD can squeeze a little more clock out — say, 4.2 – 4.4GHz — it would cleanly beat the previous time period. The Cinebench R20 benchmark Lisa Su showed implied AMD may have done just that.

The benchmarks AMD showed during its Zen 3 unveil showed a single-threaded CB20 score of 631 and claimed a 640 for the 5950X. Zen 1 scored a 381 in the same benchmark back in 2017.

Cinebench R20 is one test, these are AMD-provided numbers, and feel free to eat a salt shaker if you feel it necessary. But then sit down and think about the fact that AMD has improved single-threaded performance by ~1.68x in 3.5 years. For comparison, in 2017, an Intel Core i7-7700K scored 446 in CB20. The Core i9-10900K scores 518 today. That’s a gain of 1.16x for Intel in single-threaded performance over the same amount of time. AMD may have started from farther behind, but they’ve clearly outpaced Intel.

This achievement is even more impressive when you consider that from 2003-2007, AMD could still take advantage of the waning days of Dennard scaling. From 2017-2020, the company had no such luxury. AMD has matched or exceeded — and I’m betting on “exceeded” — its fastest performance scaling in two decades. It has done so without relying on clock speed as its primary method of improving performance, though clock gains have contributed.

To beat the cumulative rate of scaling AMD claims it will deliver from March 2017 to November 2020, you have to go all the way back to 1999, when Dennard scaling was still firing on all thrusters.

An original Slot A Athlon. Image by Tullius from Wikimedia Commons, provided under the GNU Free Documentation License

On June 23, 1999, AMD launched the original Athlon, at speeds of up to 600MHz. The arrival of the K7 heralded a new chapter in AMD’s competitive war against Intel, dubbed the “Gigahertz Wars.” On June 5, 2000, AMD launched the Athlon “Thunderbird” 1GHz CPU.

This technically wasn’t AMD’s first 1GHz chip, but it was the first with an integrated, full-speed L2 cache that brought AMD up to par with what Intel was delivering in that regard with the Coppermine-based Pentium 3, so I’m counting it as a better marker of capability than the earlier slot-based 1GHz chip, with its L2 clocked at 1/3 CPU speed.

On June 5, 2000, AMD could claim to have delivered a 1.66x boost in clock speed, as well as full-speed L2 cache, in under a year. Original reviews of the CPU show that AMD picked up between 1.3x and 1.5x by moving from the old, slot-based Athlon 600 to the Thunderbird-based Athlon 1000. These types of radical performance leaps are well and truly gone until someone invents a new post-CMOS architecture, so I wouldn’t look to any company to return to the heady days of what we took for granted at the time.

But the fact that AMD has matched or exceeded the performance scaling it offered during its first golden age says volumes about the company AMD is today versus the company it has been at any previous point in history. For years, AMD was notorious for its ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but if you think that phrase still describes the company today, you haven’t been paying attention. Zen wasn’t luck and Zen 2 wasn’t a fluke. AMD continues to deliver exactly the CPU performance improvements it promises, year after year.

Intel, needless to say, has not kept up with AMD’s onslaught. Coffee Lake was an excellent upgrade over Kaby and chips like the Core i9-9900K temporarily held off Zen+, but given the size of the gains AMD is predicting with Zen 3, Intel’s Rocket Lake will need to be something truly special to put the larger company in a desktop leadership position again.

AMD’s second golden age shows no signs of slowing down.

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October 9th 2020, 8:40 am

SpaceX: Starman Just Flew Elon’s Tesla Past Mars for the First Time

ExtremeTech

SpaceX has made history too many times to count in the last few years, but the 2018 Falcon Heavy test stands out. Not only did SpaceX ace its first heavy-lift demonstration, but it also gave us all a good laugh by launching Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into space. It’s still up there, complete with the spacesuited mannequin known as Starman. SpaceX has noted that Starman has made his first close pass of Mars, getting within a few million miles of the red planet. 

The Falcon Heavy began life as the Falcon 9 Heavy, the first heavy-lift SpaceX vehicle that could reach destinations like Mars. The rocket is actually three rockets—a central Falcon 9 with structural reinforcement and then two more Falcon 9s mounted to the side. While SpaceX has since begun focusing on its next-generation Starship vehicle for heavy-lift missions, the Falcon Heavy has completed a few flights since its maiden voyage. 

That first flight was a real barn-burner, though. SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy from historic launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The side-mounted Falcon 9 boosters flew back down for a perfect landing, but the center was going too fast and hit the water. The payload, however, made it to space as planned. 

The Roadster’s current orbit.

When testing a new rocket, engineers don’t want to put anything important inside. Musk reminded everyone at the time there was a significant chance the rocket would just explode. Instead of something boring, SpaceX used Musk’s Tesla Roadster as ballast. Because SpaceX has a flair for the dramatic, it added cameras to the car so we could see “Starman” riding the car into space. It was, admittedly, pretty cool. 

Following the launch, SpaceX burned the second stage’s engines until the fuel was exhausted. That left the car and its eternal passenger crossing the orbit of Mars. Every now and then, we can expect Starman and Mars to be in the same part of space, and that just happened for the first time. 

According to SpaceX, Starman got very close to the red planet, at least on an orbital scale. The car made it within 0.5 AU (under 5 million miles) of Mars before the pair moved apart again. Mars would have appeared smaller from that vantage than the moon does from Earth, but it would have looked like a planet and not a distant point of light. 

This dance will continue long into the future. Whatever is left of the car might crash into Earth or Venus in a few million years, but it’ll keep cruising the stars until then.

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October 9th 2020, 7:40 am

ET Deals: Dell Alienware Nvidia RTX 2060 Gaming Desktop for $849, Shark Ion AV751 Robot Vacuum for $

ExtremeTech

Step up your game with a Dell Alienware desktop. Today you get one of these systems with an RTX 2060 graphics card and a Core i5 processor on sale with over $300 knocked off the retail price.

Dell Alienware Aurora Intel Core i5-9400 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($849.99)

Dell’s new Alienware Aurora gaming desktops utilize a new case design with RGB LED lighting and high-end hardware, which is capable of running the latest games with next-gen effects including ray tracing. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,159.98 to $849.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Shark Ion AV751 Robot Vacuum ($149.99)

Shark Ion’s AV751 is a highly affordable robot vacuum that just costs a mere $149.99 during the sale. This vacuum regularly costs $219.99 and was designed to work for up to two hours on a single charge. The vacuum also features a tri-brush cleaning system that helps to clean effectively clean various types of floor surfaces.

Dell UltraSharp 24 U2419H 24-Inch 1080p Monitor + $100 Dell eGift Card ($197.99)

This display has a 1080p IPS panel, and it has a stand that supports using the display in either landscape or portrait mode. Currently, you can get it from Dell discounted from $289.99 to $197.99, and it comes with a $100 gift card, which makes it an exceptional deal.

Samsung 970 Evo 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD ($169.99)

Reading data at 3,500MB/s, this SSD hits the limits of what the M.2 interface is capable of when connected using PCI-E 3.0 lanes. With a total of 1TB of storage capacity, this drive removes any need to have a second drive to store files as it can hold more data than the average user typically needs. The drive was built using Samsung’s V-NAND 3-bit MLC NAND, which offers excellent performance. The drive is also rated to last for up to 1.5 million hours before failing. Right now you can get it from Newegg marked down from $249.99 to $179.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 8th 2020, 6:19 pm

Make the Most of Your Time with a 3-Month Subscription to GameThrill

ExtremeTech

Over time, the progression of technology has empowered video game developers to make more immersive, higher-quality experiences for players to enjoy. Alongside making “better” games than ever before, the talented men and women behind your favorite titles, whether they work for triple AAA powerhouses or indie studios, tend to produce a higher volume of games as well.

neat infographic from Statistica shows how the number of games published on Steam has largely grown with each passing year, reaching a mind-boggling 9,050 released games in 2018. That trend also probably resonates with your experience — there are always too many games you want to play, and never enough time to enjoy them all. But, what if there were a way to play the games you missed out on at an affordable price? Well, that’s where this deal enters the picture.

GameThrill Big Game Box: 3-Month Subscription (10 Games/Month) lets you make the most of your time with 30 awesome games over a three-month period. Typically $74, you can get this 3-month subscription on sale today for $49.99, saving 33 percent off its regular price tag.

It’s easier to make the most of your time, all while scratching your itch to play something new, with this deal. For starters, GameThrill is an awesome subscription service that offers you various games in a classic loot box style at an affordable price. Meaning, you get to play and enjoy 10 awesome new games each month for a three-month period. Talk about value! That’s a total of 30 fantastic games for less than the price of a single new one. But what exactly does this list of games include?

Well, you can play everything from excellent platformers like Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition and silly simulation titles like Goat Simulator to well-reviewed RTSs like Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation (full list here). So, whether you want to play a game you missed the first time around, revisit one of your favorites, or are just looking for something new to play, this three-month subscription to GameThrill has you covered.

Overall, GameThrill Big Game Box: 3-Month Subscription (10 Games/Month) helps you make the most of your time by giving you convenient access to 30 awesome games over a three-month period. Grab this subscription on sale today for $49.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 8th 2020, 5:18 pm

AMD’s Zen 3 Drops November 5 With Major IPC Enhancements

ExtremeTech

At its Zen 3 launch event today, AMD’s Lisa Su, Mark Papermaster, and Robert Hallock collectively demoed what looks like the most impressive CPU AMD has launched since Zen 1, back in April 2017. That’s saying something, considering that Zen+ and Zen 2 were no slouches themselves.

AMD is predicting a 1.19x IPC uplift for Zen 3 over last years’ Zen 2 architecture. This improvement is coming, as was rumored, from some fundamental changes to the CPU architecture. Instead of the classic, quad-core CCX with two CCX’s on a single chiplet, AMD has created a unified CPU design with all eight cores sharing a single 32MB L3 cache.

There are several significant things about this change. Prior to Zen 3, AMD didn’t really have a 32MB L3 cache. Rather, it had two 16MB L3 caches, each backed up by a quad-core Ryzen CPU. That’s not a perfect comparison, because in this case, each quad-core could access the L3 partition of the other, but the performance penalty for doing so was non-trivial. Now, there’s a unified core cluster and the performance improvements that come along with it — plus an unspecified number of performance gains from what Mark Papermaster called “a total, front-to-back redesign” with “end-to-end improvements in caching, load-store, prefetching, dispatch, and decode.” Execution units are now wider and AMD has implemented a feature it calls “Zero Bubble” to hide latency.

The benchmarks AMD showed claim a 1.19x IPC uplift overall and a 1.26x uplift over Zen 2 / Ryzen 3000 CPUs in 1080p gaming. While we don’t assume that any company is being 100 percent accurate in its benchmark disclosures, AMD has been quite honest over the past three years about what kind of performance reviewers should expect to see out of Ryzen compared to what ships out the door.

Pricing Bumps Up

This 1.19x improvement isn’t going to come quite as cheap, this time around. AMD is launching a Ryzen 5 5600X, a Ryzen 7 5800X, and the Ryzen 9 5900X, with 6, 8, and 12 cores respectively. As we expected, and contrary to the rumor mill’s predictions, AMD did not launch a 10-core chip at this event.

This time around, the CPUs are coming in slightly above the MSRP’s their predecessors offered. The 5600X is $299, the 5800X is $449, and the 5900X is $549. This represents an increase of ~$50 on all parts relative to Zen 2’s launch pricing, and it’s a higher price for the Ryzen 5 family than AMD has charged before. The Ryzen 7 5800X remains cheaper than the debut price of the Ryzen 7 1800X ($449 versus $500). 12 cores are harder to compare, because prior to the 3900X, AMD’s 12-core chips required a Threadripper platform and were more expensive as a result. AMD’s 5900X is $50 more expensive than the 3900X, but still far cheaper than the $800 launch price of the Threadripper 1920X.

Assuming AMD delivers the performance it is promising, the Ryzen 5 5600X will keep its price/performance ratio — a 1.2x increase in price is canceled out (in that metric) by the 1.2x improvement in performance. Both the 5800X and 5900X actually improve their price/performance ratios, despite being more expensive — the 5800X is 1.3x more expensive over the 3800X and 1.2x faster, while the 5900X is 1.11x more expensive and (again, assuming AMD’s numbers hold up) 1.2x faster.

AMD is claiming the Zen 3 microarchitecture is better for gaming than Intel Core, which is a claim we’ll dig into once we have chips. If true, it represents the decimation of Intel’s last high-end, consumer-focused, hold-out category. AVX-512 would be the last major feature or capability Intel offers that AMD doesn’t match, and AVX-512 support isn’t common in the consumer market.

Oh, and one more thing. While we don’t have a die shot, the 16-core 5950X is coming to market on November 5 with a 4.9GHz maximum turbo clock, the same 1.2x IPC uplift, and a price of $800.

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October 8th 2020, 3:05 pm

MSI Apologizes Over High Markups on RTX 3080, 3090 GPUs

ExtremeTech

MSI has acknowledged that one of its subsidiaries, Starlit Partners, was able to access stockpiles of RTX 3080 GPUs that the reseller should not have had access to, and that at least a few of these cards ended up being sold on eBay at much higher prices. End users discovered the relationship between the two companies and called it out on Reddit.

MSI has posted a brief note on Twitter, in which they claim that Starlit Partners is a reseller that’s supposed to handle refurbished equipment and excess inventory. According to the company, no RTX 3080 GPUs should have been sold through Starlit in the first place. The company has been ordered to contact all of the customers that it sold video cards to and offer them either a complete refund in exchange for returning the product or a refund on what they paid over MSRP in exchange for keeping the card they’ve already received.

We can safely assume that everyone affected will be taking option #2.

It looks as though both RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 GPUs slipped through this net, with four of the former and 11 of the latter being sold. MSI has claimed that this is an error, and if I’m being honest, I find that believable. Assume that MSI made an extra $1,000 per GPU sale and that’s still just $15,000. Nvidia has taken a great deal of flak from end-users who are frustrated about the non-availability of RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 GPUs, especially those frustrated about bots. Jensen Huang is not going to look favorably on any OEM found to be kicking cards out the door at 2-3x base price right now.

Fifteen cards is about what I’d expect from an individual employee or a handful of employees with access to inventory they shouldn’t have access to. If I’m being honest, I’d also rather MSI acknowledged these kinds of problems — that companies in general acknowledged them — rather than being left entirely in the dark while firms smile and promise that no, really, they’ve taken every precaution to safeguard stockpiles of GPUs from bots and scalpers, while actually taking no action whatsoever to safeguard their supply lines from bots and stalkers. Granted, this would look a little better if MSI had found the problem themselves, but the company is at least taking steps to refund the money of everyone who overpaid for a launch GPU.

It’s important, in an overarching sense of the word, for customers to be able to expect that they’ll be able to buy hardware on launch day if they take some reasonable steps to do so or, failing this, that they be able to pick it up in reasonably short order. Nobody on the manufacturing side of things has any reason to game the system at the moment, especially not given how sensitive Nvidia is going to be to anything delaying shipping RTX GPUs to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang told reporters earlier this week that Nvidia does not expect RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 to improve before 2021, and that the RTX 3070 could also be tough to find this year. According to Jensen, this is entirely due to pent-up demand for Ampere. That’s certainly possible, but there are also additional factors in play, from questions about Samsung’s 8nm yields to the impact of bots and scalpers on near-term availability. Regardless of the exact mix of causes, getting Ampere into more people’s hands is a top priority.

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October 8th 2020, 12:13 pm

Hands On With Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements 2021

ExtremeTech

For those who don’t need the power or want the complexity of the full version of Photoshop or Premiere Pro, Adobe’s Elements offerings have long been a strong alternative. Their optional annual upgrades also appeal to those who don’t like the idea of having to subscribe to software licenses. I’ve been testing an early version of the 2021 editions of Adobe Premiere Elements ($99.99) and Adobe Photoshop Elements ($99.99). There are some nice new bells and whistles in both, which I’ll cover below, but it’s probably not a “must-have” upgrade for users on a tight budget.

Home Page Gets More Interesting

I’m kind of old school when it comes to using applications. I generally prefer that they get right down to business when you open them. So flashy start screens with lots of distracting promotions for things you may not be interested in at all, and probably not right at that moment, mostly just get in my way. That’s been true of the Elements’ start screen — called the Home Page — at least until now. Adobe has enhanced it with more useful items and more actions you can take directly from it. I still wish it was easier to simply get to the editors, but the new Home page is growing on me.

Elements Auto Creations continue to get more interesting, like this one that automatically applied a portrait effect to a random — 20-year-old — image in my library

Face Tilt Added to Portrait Enhancement Features

One of the headline features of the new Photoshop Elements is the ability to change the direction a portrait subject is looking. Common use cases include having them face the same direction as other people in the photo or facing towards the camera. It allows you a limited ability to tilt one or more faces in an image up/down, left/right, and ??

I tried it on some group portraits and found it to be powerful but not unlimited. In the example below, you can see that while I could fairly successfully tilt one face towards the direction of the camera, with another face the direction of the eyes doesn’t change, so the effect doesn’t work very well:

This otherwise reasonable family snapshot suffers from not everyone looking at the camera, a perfect situation to try out the new Face Tilt features

Face tilt allows you to re-orient faces towards the camera, although as you can see from the center face it doesn’t fix the direction of the subject’s eyes

New, Fun Features and Quick Edits Added

Personally I would prefer to see less silly pictures with quotes filling up my Facebook feeds, but for when you have one that’s really worth it Elements now makes it simple to create your own in just about any format — and quickly either share or print them.

Speaking of things you may or may not want to see more of, there is a new Moving Photos… feature under the Enhance menu. It can automatically create zooming or panning effects.

Three new Quick Edits are also included. Perfect Landscape is a combination of sky replacement, haze removal, and erasing unwanted objects, along with more traditional image corrections. I’m not a fan of sticking clip art skies into my images (although I’ve certainly taken the sky from one image taken of a specific scene and blended it with another image taken when the sky wasn’t as dramatic), but the tool does a pretty-good job technically and provides lots of options for helping make it look appropriate. Duotone lets you create a two-color version of your images, while Move and Scale allows you to do just that to an object in your image.

Premiere Elements Goes Real-Time

Premiere Elements 2021 uses the GPU for more types of rendering than previous versions, so some operations that used to require waiting and buffering now operate smoothly.

In addition, there are two new Video Quick Edits — Double Exposure and Animated Mattes. Double Exposure allows you to place a video in a photo so that for example you can have a video of someone running through a fixed background. Animated Mattes lets you do video reveals using various matte overlays.

Elements Organizer Gets Automatic Backup

Elements Organizer doesn’t seem to have changed much since last year’s version. It still has excellent face tagging and object recognition for quick image search and retrieval. One new feature is that it will prompt you to do an automated backup of your catalog to minimize the possibility of data loss due to catalog corruption. Personally I haven’t had any issue with my large Elements catalog getting corrupted, although I have the same images cataloged with Lightroom and have had multiple instances where my Lightroom catalog broke and I had to revert to a backup.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Elements 2021 is available now, and Adobe has maintained its traditional pricing. Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements are $99.99 each, or $79.99 to upgrade from an earlier version. A bundle of both of them is $149.99, or $119.99 for an upgrade.

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October 8th 2020, 9:58 am

New Hack Turns ‘Smart’ Male Chastity Device Permanent

ExtremeTech

In my time at ExtremeTech, I’ve developed a habit of covering some of the worst ideas the IoT collectively has to offer. We’ve discussed personal butthole scanning, self-igniting heating ovens, microwaves with integrated Netflix, bricked shoes, smart toasters, and Juicero, the $700 juicer with rapidly-expiring DRMed bagjuice that rivaled the best hand-pulped beet squeezings you’d never want to drink.

Today, I bring news of a frustrating flaw in the Qiui Cellmate, a remote-controlled male chastity device from the cutting-edge field of teledildonics, a word that combines the Greek word meaning “remote” with an even worse version of the word “dildo” that sounds like it was coined by Data during his “Sexy Riker beard” phase.

Note: I did research for this story, and you’re going to be the unlucky recipients of it.

The Qiui Cellmate is a metal and neoprene device designed to be worn by a man as a deliberate means of preventing him from having sex. As near as I can tell, this fetish is created by taking the wrong lesson from not being allowed to eat cookies as a child. Ever seen a kid that can’t have cookies staring at a cookie jar? It’s kinda like that, except instead of wanting to eat cookies, you get really into the feeling of wanting to eat cookies… without (necessarily) ever getting around to eating them.

No, that’s not sexual innuendo. You’ll know when I’m invoking sexual innuendo, trust me. Or, maybe you won’t. If you get frustrated trying to figure out when I’m employing double entendres, you’re getting into the spirit of the fetish, at least as I understand it. I admit, I may not have a sound grasp of the principles. This is a bit off our beaten path.

These devices come in an astonishing range of materials, colors, sizes, and shapes, which makes sense considering this is a fetish intended to encase what is, perhaps, the least-encasable part of a human body. Since you probably haven’t considered this idea before, and I’ve been forced to, I’d like you to consider a glove. Now, imagine your fingers were sometimes twice as long as they are right now, and sometimes half the length. Sounds inconvenient, right? Now, imagine playing the same game, only you’re doing it with a metal tube-and-ring contraption that fits around the place men least enjoy encountering unexpected, sharp pressure. Some people do this for fun. Uncomfortable yet? SO AM I. 

Nobody is taking themselves *too* seriously in all of this, except hopefully for those who took seriously the idea of being in one of these.

Now that we’ve locked down the meaning of what a chastity device is, let’s talk about what makes this one special: Bluetooth.

Well, Bluetooth and the kind of casual attitude towards security that’s either a turn-off (because your partner isn’t paying attention) or a turn-on. According to reddit, a lot of people like these things to have really long timers. Qiui’s Cellmate cocks up its locking mechanism in one critical way: The company completely forgot to secure it. As a result, any random jackoff could theoretically take control of it and lock it forever. This is according to security firm PenTestPartners, whose name is absolutely not snicker-worthy in this context, and their faithful sidekick, the Internet of Dongs Project.

The IoD (IDOP?) focuses on security in sex toys, which is a worthwhile idea IMO, thanks to the intimate circumstances in which such devices are used and the degree of personal information that could be milked from them. According to the IoD, the CellMate has a number of security problems, including:

When contacted, Qiui was somewhat responsive and rolled out a new version of its API which fixed some problems but caused others. It also rolled out API v2 without retiring API v1, meaning all customer PII was still available via the original API interface. This is the “Maybe if I tell everyone to come ’round to the back door, they won’t notice that my front door is actually a blanket” method of computer security. The company went silent for months thereafter, and it wasn’t until the folks at IoD talked to PenTestPartners and realized they were also trying to report the same vulnerabilities to the same company that the two groups decided to daisy-chain the release of their findings to the public.

As PenTestPartners notes, “We are not in the business of kink shaming. People should be able to use these devices safely and securely without the risk of sensitive personal data being leaked.” ExtremeTech agrees with this as a matter of principle. What consenting adults do — or don’t do — is 100 percent their business.

Remote attackers, according to PTP, can cause the device to lock, permanently, requiring the use of an angle grinder and/or approximately four quarts of lube to remove. I will not be testing whether the latter is a solution and you shouldn’t, either. The good news is that if you wind up locked into one of these things — and frankly, PTP’s discussion doesn’t make it sound like the company is long for this world, which means you really might not want to keep it on — there’s a guide on how you can try to short the motor and remove it, here.

In all seriousness, the implication of PenTestPartner’s blog post is that the failure of the company behind the app could leave the app offline, which would also leave the device locked. For that reason alone, a toy like this is a bad idea. While all the coverage has been about the idea of being hacked, the disappearance of the company (which was reportedly down to very little funding over the summer) could be a much bigger threat. Also, to leave you with a final bit of trivia, it’s a holiday month in the chastity fetish community! Happy “Locktober.”

You’re welcome.

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October 8th 2020, 8:28 am

Better Than Earth? Scientists Identify 24 ‘Superhabitable’ Planets

ExtremeTech

Our observations of distant stars have revealed more than 4,000 exoplanets, and some of them have been labeled as potentially habitable. That doesn’t mean there’s anyone living there, but it’s possible. It may also be possible that there are so-called “superhabitable planets” in the cosmos where the chances are higher. A new analysis published in the journal Astrobiology seeks to identify these worlds, and the researchers say we might have already detected 24 of them

When we talk about habitable planets, that usually means worlds that are very much like Earth — the kind of place where there’s liquid water and an atmosphere. A human, plopped down on such a world, would not immediately curl up and die. A superhabitable planet isn’t just one that’s better for human life. The team led by astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch from the Technical University Berlin defines a superhabitable planet as one that is even more likely than Earth to have life. The research argues that these are the worlds we should focus on when hunting for aliens. 

We only have this one living ecosystem on which to base our assumptions about what’s “habitable.” It’s possible that Earth isn’t anything special as a home for life. Perhaps an alien observing Earth from a great distance would be surprised intelligence could evolve on such an unsuitable hunk of rock. The authors note that restraining our anthropocentric view of the universe could be vital to finding life among the stars. 

So, what makes a planet superhabitable? We know that Earth’s warmer regions have greater biological diversity, so a planet somewhat warmer than Earth could host more life. That might not make it very comfortable for humans, but that’s not the point. Likewise, the team looked for exoplanets that are about 1.5 times as massive as our home planet. These worlds are more likely to have a dense atmosphere, and there would be more surface area for life to occupy. 

Credit: ESO

The star an exoplanet orbit is also an important factor. The sun is a yellow dwarf, and it does a good job of keeping Earth livable, but maybe this isn’t the best kind of star for life. The sun has a lifespan of about nine billion years, and we’ve only got another billion years or so before it heats up and boils Earth like an egg. If you’re playing the odds, planets that orbit longer-lived stars like orange dwarfs could have a higher chance of hosting life. 

The team surveyed the known exoplanet catalog and found 24 worlds that might qualify as superhabitable. One such planet is KOI 5715.01, which is 3,000 light-years away. It’s 1.8 times Earth’s mass and orbits an orange dwarf. However, none of the exoplanets cited in the paper are within 100 light-years. The hunt for superhabitable worlds may be at an impasse until more advanced instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope come online.

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October 8th 2020, 8:28 am

ET Deals: Dell 34-Inch Ultrawide Curved 2K Monitor for $647, Insignia 43-inch 4K HDR Fire TV Edition

ExtremeTech

Today you can save over $300 dollars on one of Dell’s high-quality UltraSharp displays. This particular model has a large 34-inch curved panel and supports a resolution of 3,440×1,440.

Dell UltraSharp U3419W 34-Inch Curved 2K Display ($647.99)

With a 1900R screen curvature and a resolution of 3440×1440, this 34-inch display can give you plenty of space to work and an immersive gaming experience for when work is finished. It also features support for 99 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, which is helpful for photo and video editing as well as just making colors look better in general. Get this display from Dell marked down from $959.99 to just $647.99 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Insignia 43DF710NA21 43-inch 4K UHD HDR Fire TV Edition Smart TV ($199.99)

Insignia’s 43-inch 4K TV features HDR support and Amazon’s Fire TV software. This allows the TV to stream content from various sources, and it enables you to control your TV with voice commands using an included voice remote with Alexa support. Normally this model would cost $299.99, but right now you can get it for $199.99 from Amazon.

Asus Vivobook 15 X512DA-BTS2020RL AMD Ryzen 5 3500U 1080p 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ AMD Radeon RX Vega 8 Graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($479.99)

Equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 5 3500U processor, this system is capable of competently running both office applications and games. The system also has 8GB of RAM, a 1080p display, and a fast 512GB NVMe SSD. Best Buy is currently selling these systems marked down from $599.99 to just $479.99.

Dell UltraSharp 27 U2719D 2560×1440 27-Inch Display + $100 Gift Card ($314.99)

This 27-inch IPS work display has a resolution of 2560×1440 and excellent color accuracy that covers 99 percent of the sRGB color spectrum. If you buy it now you can also get it with a free $100 Dell gift card. Dell is also offering it discounted from $499.99 to $314.99 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-42-R9YN AMD Ryzen 7 4700U 14-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ AMD Radeon Graphics, 8GB LPDDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($655.00)

Utilizing AMD’s powerful eight-core Ryzen 7 4700U processor, this notebook can handle multiple tasks with relative ease. The system also has a fairly capable iGPU that can run games with low graphics settings, and it features an ultra thin design that measures just 15.95mm at its thickest point. Currently you can get one from Amazon marked down from $679.00 to $655.00. It’s not much of a discount, but as the system is well priced to begin with it’s still a decent deal.

Dell Vostro 5000 Intel Core i7-10700 Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($699.00)

Dell’s Vostro computers were designed as office and business solutions, and this Vostro 5000 is no different. It’s equipped with an Intel Core i7-10700 processor that offers solid performance that’s perfect for a wide range of office and work tasks. Dell is offering these systems for a limited time marked down from $1,212.86 to $699.00.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 7th 2020, 6:56 pm

Save 97 Percent on Training Courses in AWS, Cisco, and CompTIA That Can Help Boost Your IT Career

ExtremeTech

It pays well to work in the computer and information technology (IT) field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that field will experience a bigger growth rate (11 percent) than the average growth rate for all occupations (4 percent) between 2019 and 2029. To make that percentage a bit more understandable, it means 531,200 new jobs will be created in the computer and IT field, most of which will end up in cloud computing, big data, and information security.

Therefore, if you want to turn your love for technology into a money-making career, it’s wise to learn the concepts, skills, and technologies that will set you up for success in this field of work. Lucky for you, that’s precisely what this bundle of online courses will help you do.

The 2021 All-In-One AWS, Cisco, & CompTIA Super Certification Bundle trains you to become an in-demand, top-notch tech professional with 22 classes on leading IT skills and technologies, including AWS, Cisco, and CompTIA. Normally $4,378, you can pick up this bundle on sale today for $99 and save an impressive 97 percent off its regular price tag.

Right away, you gain immediate access to the instructional resources that help you become an in-demand, top-notch tech professional. First off, this bundle comes with 22 online courses, or 240+ hours of video content, you can view anytime and anywhere. That means you remain in charge of your training, deciding whether you want to learn before or after work, on the weekends, or whenever you have a few moments of downtime. Better yet, these 22 courses cover the crucial concepts, skills, and technologies you’ll need to know to land a secure and lucrative job in the computer and IT field.

Several courses teach you the underlying concepts and skills for cloud computing, big data, and information security. Alongside each of those introductory courses, you’ll also learn about particular technologies, such as Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Microsoft Azure, to prepare for valuable professional certifications. In short, this bundle offers you the most comprehensive training on the web — a rock-solid conceptual foundation, plus specialized deep dives to help you prep for and ace professional certifications that boost your value and credibility when applying for jobs.

TLDR, The 2021 All-In-One AWS, Cisco & CompTIA Super Certification Bundle trains you to become an in-demand, top-notch tech professional on your schedule from home. Get it on sale today for $99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 7th 2020, 5:43 pm

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X Reportedly Runs Quiet, Quite Hot

ExtremeTech

When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox Series X, it was obvious that the console was going to have some serious heat to dissipate. Its components — an eight-core Ryzen CPU, powerful SSD, and 52-CU RDNA2 GPU running at over 1.8GHz — were all guaranteed to be power-hungry parts. The Xbox Series X was accordingly large (though not as large as the PlayStation 5), and mounted a 130mm fan to vent heat from the entire console.

There are reports that the console, while quiet, runs quite warm. It sounds as though it’s hovering around the point where touching certain parts of it, like the expansion card for SSDs, can be uncomfortable while the console is in operation.

Our sister site PCMag quotes multiple individuals who have tested the console remarking on just how hot it is, with Jeux Video’s Ken Bogard saying in a no-longer-available video that: “The Series X is hot, like really hot! It doesn’t make any noise, but damn it’s hot! The console is emitting heat like crazy. It’s almost like a fireplace shaft. You can heat up your flat with it.”

Admit it. There’s a resemblance. Image by Mike Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0

PCMag does make one statement I want to unpack a little bit. It writes: “More worryingly, the games being played and producing so much heat are backward-compatible games. No next-gen titles have been played yet, which will surely push the Series X harder.”

This is not automatically true.

Turning on the ray-tracing capabilities of the RDNA2 GPU could add additional power consumption, but it will also lower the frame rate, partly offsetting the increase. We also don’t know what the penalty for enabling RT on RDNA2 will be, or how much additional power it consumes. The frame rate penalty could completely offset the heat increase if enabling RT leads to other parts of the GPU idling more often. We also cannot assume that AMD and Nvidia will pay the exact same penalty for enabling ray tracing — in the past, when AMD and Nvidia have implemented a feature in different ways, like tessellation in the days of the Fermi architecture, the power consumption of these features differed as well. AMD has not yet revealed if they dedicated specific parts of the chip to these workloads the way Nvidia did, or if they opted for a different strategy.

Games running in backward-compatibility mode could actually be drawing more power than a modern title will, not less. This might seem counterintuitive — but imagine that a game which previously ran relatively inefficiently on the Xbox 360 or even Xbox One now runs remarkably better on the Xbox Series X, thanks to increased L2, higher cache bandwidth, a higher efficiency architecture, and a faster memory bus. The Ryzen CPU core is also better at feeding the GPU than the older Jaguar core was. In these cases, the game would execute far more efficiently on the new console than the old one — and could burn more power in the process.

The game that causes the highest power consumption isn’t necessarily the title with the biggest visual effects or fastest frame rates. I used to use Left 4 Dead 2 for GPU power consumption testing long after it was outdated visually because it was extraordinarily good at pushing GPUs to use high amounts of power. It is entirely possible that playing last-generation games at top speed represents a worst-case scenario for the Xbox Series X, thermally speaking, compared with playing modern titles at slower frame rates. I’m not saying this is the case, but we don’t know enough either way to rule it out.

The final reason I suspect that the console’s ambient temperature is unlikely to change is this: If it’s uncomfortably hot to the touch now, it doesn’t have a whole lot more headroom before “uncomfortably hot” becomes “first-degree burn.” Microsoft has little interest in boosting sales of Neosporin and certainly not at the expense of its gaming division.

Note: Microsoft doesn’t seem to be using Dynamic Resolution Scaling this time around, but there’s no reason the company couldn’t use frame rate locking to maintain appropriate thermals if required. Clamping a game to 60fps or 30fps for a short period of time during a peak scene would reduce power consumption and thermals dramatically. The difference between unlocked >60fps and a static 60fps is fairly small, and even a rock-steady locked 30fps is acceptable (if less desirable). I’ll take a solid, consistent 30fps over an inconsistent 45-60fps with 15-20fps dips at random intervals any day of the week, even if I prefer higher in general.

It’s entirely possible that Microsoft needs to increase its fan speeds a bit, but I wouldn’t assume that the platform will automatically heat up even further during regular play. That could go either way.

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October 7th 2020, 4:44 pm

NASA’s Next-Gen Spacesuit Is Being Tested Underwater

ExtremeTech

xEMU/Z2 EVA Hardware Review - Zena Cardman in Z2, Feustal/Graff in KM97. Photo Date: September 1, 2020. Location: NBL - Underwater. Photographer: Bill Brassard

NASA is gearing up for a return to the moon, and that’s going to require a whole new wardrobe. After all, astronauts haven’t stepped out on the lunar surface in decades, and spacesuit technology has advanced considerably. To that end, NASA unveiled its next-generation lunar exploration suit earlier this year, and now it’s testing it with the help of an underwater laboratory

We’ve all seen the suits astronauts wore on the Space Shuttle and during spacewalks outside the International Space Station. That suit, known as the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), doesn’t offer the capabilities NASA wants for the Artemis missions. The new spacesuit, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), will be the first new design for NASA in more than 40 years. It sports a raft of major upgrades over the EMU, including redundant life support, better mobility, and a redesigned communication system. 

Of course, none of that will matter if the suit doesn’t work correctly. While it’s designed for use on the moon, we have to test it here on Earth. That’s where Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) comes into play. It’s a massive underwater testing facility with a total volume in excess of six million gallons — that’s almost 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This allows NASA to simulate low-gravity environments where astronauts can practice a variety of tasks in the xEMU. NASA says these underwater tests are essential because they can replicate the limited mobility of a real mission. 

NASA is also testing the xEMU in the “rock yard” at Johnson Space Center (above). This outdoor facility has several types of simulated terrain including craters, and you guessed it, lots of rocks. This environment helps NASA simulate EVA missions on the lunar surface to ensure the suit can hold up under the strain. NASA’s Aerospace Safety Council believes xEMU development is running on schedule, which is more than we can say for the next moon rocket. 

The xEMU has is a vital piece of the Artemis program, but it has been overshadowed by the delayed Space Launch System. Currently, NASA hopes to have an uncrewed demo launch in late 2021. The first crewed lunar flyby will take place around 2023, and a landing could be as soon as 2024. These dates all assume no further delays. But hey, at least astronauts on the Artemis missions will look good and be more mobile than Apollo astronauts.

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October 7th 2020, 2:55 pm

Steam Shows CPU Core Counts Slowly, Finally, Creeping Upwards

ExtremeTech

When AMD launched Ryzen back in April 2017, the company made it a point to emphasize higher core counts than Intel was selling in the consumer market, with a Ryzen 7 1800X offering up to eight CPU cores, compared with four on the 7700K. From a gaming perspective, however, Ryzen wasn’t quite as strong against Intel as it was in other segments. At 1440p and 4K the difference was minimal, but Intel had a modest advantage at 1080p.

It’s now been several years since Ryzen launched, and AMD has been steadily improving its gaming performance at 1080p versus its larger rival with every passing product generation. Intel has responded at various points with new, higher core count CPUs of its own, though the company’s current mainstream consumer desktop socket tops out at 10 CPU cores, compared with AMD’s 16. AMD has improved its performance and core counts more rapidly, but Intel is still shipping far more CPU cores per chip than it did four years ago. Are gamers buying them?

Despite its flaws, the Steam Hardware Survey remains our best source of information for this kind of data. As always, keep in mind that the SHS is a survey of every machine on which Steam is installed, not every computer used to play games. If you download Steam to a low-end laptop to install a game like League of Legends or Darkest Dungeon, it counts for just as much as if you build a dedicated gaming rig and bring it online for the first time.

First, the cumulative data (not shown) shows AMD gaining market share. In May, AMD had 22.45 percent of the market. In September, it holds 25.75 percent of the total install base. The breakdown by CPU core count is shown below:

This covers every chip but 18-core CPUs, which have 0.01 percent market share. All CPU core counts above that, up to 56 (not 64) cores are listed at 0.00 percent, so we stopped at 16. We see evidence of growth in the 6, 8, 10, 12, and 16-core markets. While quad-cores are still the most popular configuration by far, 36.63 percent of the market now uses six cores or more. If you want to see games using more CPU cores in the future, moving the needle on median CPU core count is how we’ll get there.

We cannot distinguish between AMD and Intel when it comes to the lower core counts, but above eight cores, we can take a pretty good guess at which company is gaining market share in certain SKUs. AMD does not sell a 10-core or a 14-core CPU. Intel does not currently sell a 10th Generation 16-core CPU. While Intel has sold 16-core chips in the past, any recent growth in the segment is almost certainly being driven by AMD, now a sudden surge in demand for last-generation Intel Core X CPUs.

Intel’s 10-core CPUs include the Core i9-10900K, as well as multiple members of the Core X family. Most of the recent growth has likely come from the 10900K, and the CPUs collectively account for 0.16 percent of the market, 2x what they held in May.

AMD shares the 12-core space with a similar range of older Core X CPUs, but 12-core market share has increased from 0.37 percent in May to 0.61 percent in September. We can safely assume most, if not all, of that increase was driven by the Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 9 3900XT. There are virtually no 14-core chips, but the 0.01 percent of them out there are all Intel CPUs. The number of 16-core chips has also edged upwards, from 0.1 percent in May to 0.14 percent in September. 6-core chips improved their market share by 1.15x, while 8-core chips grew faster, at 1.32x.

Fun Fact: The only three-core CPU ever released that I recall was AMD’s Toliman-core Phenom II. Toliman wasn’t a bad chip, but there would have to be an absolute ton of them out there in the ether to be holding 1 percent of the market all by themselves. But what else could be holding down the 3 CPU market?

We don’t know how large the difference is in CPU core count between the median gaming PC and the total Steam install base, but it seems safe to bet that most gamers are now playing on quad-cores at minimum. Unlucky dual-core mobile owners who last bought lightweight gaming systems in 2016 – 2017 are likely approaching an upgrade cycle.

With so many gamers already using six-core and eight-core systems, this may finally be the console generation where we start seeing games practically optimized for high core counts on upper-end Ryzen and Core systems. If quad-cores continue declining at the current rate and six cores keep growing, the two markets will switch places in the next few years. Between the growth in CPU core counts and the likelihood that we’ll start seeing games beginning to play with using AI for calculations this cycle, we could see a bit more innovation in the gaming market than we’ve seen in the past seven years or so. The improvements to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will help with this — outfitting both consoles with an eight-core Ryzen CPU will ensure developers have reason to target optimal performance on a modern high-end CPU as opposed to optimizing against last-generation’s Jaguar.

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October 7th 2020, 10:21 am

DDR5-5600 Is Ready, but Intel, AMD Are Sticking With DDR4 for Now

ExtremeTech

SK Hynix launched the first DDR5-5600 RAM, even though you can’t currently purchase a computer that supports it. SK Hynix is well aware of this, of course, but launching the product is still an important step. It signals to anyone working on proofing a DDR5 solution or designing a DDR5-using chip that they can now buy actual hardware for test evaluation. The first customers, in a situation like this, aren’t end-users or even server deployments — they’re the manufacturers who will build solutions that use these chips. Also, Hynix is starting now so it can have a robust product supply built up by the time the RAM does go mainstream.

DDR5 will arrive with a minimum speed of at 4800Mbit/s, which works out to 76.8GB/s of bandwidth in a dual-channel configuration. DDR5-5600 would support 89.6GB/s, while DDR5-8400 — a still-theoretical configuration that Hynix has pledged to hit — would deliver 134.4GB/s of bandwidth. Once that happens, a dual-channel board would have a bit less bandwidth than an Nvidia GTX 660, a midrange GPU from 2012. A quad-channel board would hit 268.8GB/s, which is only about 20GB/s off the GTX 780, circa 2013.

But, hey, since AMD is prepping an octa-channel board for ultra-high-end workstations, let’s do that comparison, too. An eight-channel DDR5-8400 board, in the event you could load all eight channels at that clock speed, would offer 537.6GB/s of memory bandwidth. At that memory bandwidth level, we get to leave 2013 behind. 537.6GB/s of bandwidth matches the Nvidia Titan Xp from 2017 and beats an RTX 2080 Super from 2019. Now, obviously having the bandwidth of a GPU doesn’t mean your CPU can act like a GPU, but the benchmark nerd in me would love to see how onboard GPU performance scales when you can offer the chip a fire hydrant as opposed to a relative trickle of bandwidth. The vast majority of consumer applications today are latency-sensitive more than bandwidth-sensitive, but there are also interesting implications for AI workloads when you’ve got that kind of bandwidth to play with. GPUs or dedicated hardware would always be faster for AI, but the implications of ~500GB/s of memory bandwidth on a workstation chip are interesting, to say the least.

When Will AMD and Intel Support It?

Zen 3 and Rocket Lake are both DDR4 products, so we won’t see support in 2020 or early 2021. Alder Lake is rumored to support DDR5, but we haven’t heard anything precise about Zen 4 and Zen 5 yet.

It isn’t unusual for both AMD and Intel to introduce supporting consumer chips well after a new memory standard has begun to ship, and the two companies don’t always transfer to a new standard at the same time. Sometimes they delay introductions based on price, to make certain OEMs will be able to build profitable systems using the new RAM.

It would not surprise me if Intel and AMD both waited until 2022 to introduce DDR5 on consumer products. The server launch would happen next year, clearing the way for early product ramps, with consumer following after as yields improve and per-IC pricing falls. If the companies do launch consumer DDR5 support next year, it’ll almost certainly happen at the end of the year, not at the beginning.

One important question in all of this is the degree to which AMD or Intel CPUs are currently memory bound. Zen 3 is rumored to improve AMD’s memory subsystem performance due to the improved L3 cache layout and 8-core unified CCX, but both the Ryzen 9 3950X and the Threadripper 3990X showed strong scaling, even up to 64 cores. There are absolutely memory bandwidth-limited applications that run into the 3990X’s bandwidth limits, but there aren’t many. AMD may not currently feel any particular pressure to move to DDR5. It wouldn’t surprise me if AMD launched Zen at up to eight cores in 2017, doubled consumer core counts with Zen 2 in 2019, then paused for 2-3 years to give developers time to catch up. By 2022, eight-core and higher systems will have been on sale for multiple years.

Even if AMD doesn’t choose to increase core counts at that point, faster GPUs and features like AI will demand DDR5. Memory bandwidth is critical to fast AI processing, and while dedicated chips make use of technologies like GDDR6 or HBM, smartphones and likely some PC processors will probably rely on the good ol’ fashioned DRAM bus. AI is clearly the next frontier in computing and Intel is already integrating CPU-based capabilities like AVX-512.

While we don’t know when AMD will follow suit or how they’ll do it, it’s practically inevitable that they will. That’ll increase the need for memory bandwidth, and we’d expect both AMD and Intel to jump on the DDR5 bandwagon by the time they start integrating dedicated silicon (or additional dedicated silicon) to this sort of processing, if not before. Call it late 2021 at the earliest and probably no later than mid-2023, unless something goes catastrophically wrong with production.

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October 7th 2020, 9:21 am

The First Exoplanet Was Discovered 25 Years Ago

ExtremeTech

This artist’s view shows the hot Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, sometimes referred to as Bellerophon, which orbits a star about 50 light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse). This was the first exoplanet around a normal star to be found in 1995. Twenty years later this object was also the first exoplanet to be be directly detected spectroscopically in visible light.

There was a time when humanity believed Earth was the entire universe. As our place in the cosmos became clear, it was natural to wonder if there were planets around other stars. Today, we know the answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” and it all started exactly 25 years ago. That’s when astronomers announced the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star. It was known as 51 Pegasi b, and it forever changed how we study the universe. 

Astronomers announced the discovery of 51 Pegasi b on October 6, 1995. I vividly recall watching a news report on this when I was a nerdy 11-year-old. Within a week of the announcement, another team had confirmed the observation, cementing 51 Pegasi b’s place in history. It was a big deal at the time, and the importance of the discovery has only become clearer now that we’re in the golden age of exoplanet detection. 51 Pegasi b even earned its discoverers a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019. 

51 Pegasi b orbits the star 51 Pegasi about 50 light-years away from Earth. Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva spotted 51 Pegasi b using what we now know as the radial velocity method. A very sensitive spectroscope pointed at the star showed small velocity changes on the order of 70 meters per second. The pair confirmed that wobble was due to the gravity of an exoplanet—51 Pegasi b. We still discover some exoplanets using this same basic method, although most detections are made with the transit method. That’s what the Kepler telescope and the newer TESS satellite use. 

The researchers determined that 51 Pegasi b was a gas giant about half the size of Jupiter, and that later served as the basis for the planet’s new name. In 2014, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) launched a project to give important stars and exoplanets proper names instead of the awkward lettering scheme we use for most of them. It settled on Helvetios for the star and Dimidium for the planet, the latter of which comes from Latin for “half.”

The radial velocity method to detect an exoplanet.

While 51 Pegasi b was not the very first planetoid discovered outside the solar system, it was the first that we would think of as a “real” planet. The first exoplanet detections were made in 1992 when astronomers saw a pair of (probably wrecked) worlds orbiting a pulsar known as PSR B1257+12. However, 51 Pegasi is a “main sequence” star similar to the sun, making its planet a much more interesting object. The planet also orbits very close to the star with a temperature in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That was not compatible with our theories on solar system formation in 1995, but we now know “hot Jupiters” are quite common. 

Dimidium set us on a path to better understand the universe, and think about all the progress made in the ensuing 25 years. In 1995, we knew about one exoplanet. Now, there are more than 4,000 in the books. There’s even one right next door in Proxima Centauri. Where will we be in another 25 years? Extragalactic planets? Planets that support alien life? Your guess is as good as ours. 

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October 7th 2020, 7:35 am

ET Deals: $700 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7 & Nvidia GTX Laptop, Dell Ultrasharp U2419H 1080

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with over $700 marked off the retail price. This system is perfect for work, but it also has a 100 percent sRGB compatible display for editing images and a GPU that’s powerful enough to keep the average gamer happy.

Dell Vostro 15 7500 Intel Core i7-10750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($969.00)

The new Vostro 15 7500 laptop is a true jack-of-all-trades. Dell’s Vostro systems are oriented as business solutions, and this system is no different, but it also has fairly strong gaming capabilities. Its 100 percent sRGB display is also well suited for editing images. No matter what you need a laptop for, this system should fit the bill. Currently, you can get this system from Dell with a hefty discount that drops the price from $1,712.86 to just $969.00.

Dell UltraSharp 24 U2419H 24-Inch 1080p Monitor + $100 Dell eGift Card ($197.99)

This display has a 1080p IPS panel, and it has a stand that supports using the display in either landscape or portrait mode. Currently, you can get it from Dell discounted from $289.99 to $197.99, and it comes with a $100 gift card, which makes it an exceptional deal.

Toshiba TF-55A810U21 55-Inch 4K Smart TV — Fire TV Edition ($299.99)

Toshiba designed this 55-inch 4K TV with Amazon’s Fire TV technology built-in. This gives you a seamless and easy to use interface for streaming content from multiple sources. The price has been slashed from $449.99 to $299.99 from Amazon.

Roborock S4 Robot Vacuum ($299.99)

This robot vacuum comes with 2000Pa of suction power giving it the strength it needs to lift all the dirt from your floor. This model also sports a large 5,200mAh battery that can last over 150 minutes of nonstop cleaning. Currently, you can get it from Amazon marked down from $399.99 to $299.99.

Amazon Echo Show 5 ($44.99)

Amazon’s Echo Show 5 is a feature-rich mini-display with built-in support for Alexa voice commands. The screen is fairly small and has a lower resolution, but it still works well for video calling your friends and family and for getting helpful information such as cook recipes. Today you can get one from Amazon marked down from $89.99 down to just $44.99.

Acer ET322QK WMIIPX 32-Inch 4K FreeSync Monitor ($319.99)

Acer designed this monitor with a 32-inch 4K display panel that gives you a large amount of screen space and desktop real estate. The monitor covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it a practical solution for editing images and video, and it also has a pair of 2W speakers built-in. Newegg is currently selling this display with a substantial discount that drops the price from $499.99 to just $319.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 6th 2020, 6:15 pm

Create Your Own Video Games with 160+ Hours of Training + Subscriptions to a Top VPN & PlayStation P

ExtremeTech

Everyone plays video games for different reasons. Some love the action and adventure they find in the virtual world. Others enjoy socializing with friends and family over an online match. Many more dedicate hours to their favorite titles to unlock achievements or attain mastery of a game’s core mechanics. Regardless of “the why” behind your gaming, you’ve probably thought about transforming your passion into a profession in the gaming industry. Well, that’s where this bundle enters the picture and can make a big difference, alongside landing you some sweet extra perks.

The Game Developer and Player Bundle Ft. PlayStation Plus teaches you how to create amazing games of your own with a lifetime membership to The School of Game Design and 40 hours of instructional video content on Unity, as well as subscriptions to PlayStation Plus and VPN Unlimited. Normally $7,049, you can pick it up on sale today for $99.99 and save 98 percent off its original price tag.

PlayStation Plus: 12-Month Subscription

PlayStation Plus empowers you to take your gaming experience to the next level. With this subscription, you can connect with an enormous online community of gamers, as well as compete in and enjoy PS classics like Star Wars: Battlefront, Uncharted, and many more. Just as cool, the subscription gives you access to two free games a month and cloud storage so that you can upload saved games and character profiles for seamless play across PlayStation devices.

VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription

VPN Unlimited makes it easy to regain control over your digital life with full security and anonymity online. This top-rated VPN secures your internet connection, no matter if it’s your at-home private network or public WiFi, with military-grade AES 256-bit encryption so that your data is always safe. On top of that, it allows you to surf the web with lightning-fast speed and makes it a breeze to bypass geo-restrictions so you can always access your favorite streaming content. Add this to your cybersecurity toolkit, and you’ll enjoy a massive selection of servers worldwide, a wide variety of VPN protocols, and much more to keep hackers out of your sensitive data.

Game Development & Design: Lifetime Membership

The School of Game Design is a great place to kickstart your game development training. This lifetime membership grants you full access to an enormous library of step-by-step training videos, helping you learn game development and design at your pace. From the absolute basics to performing advanced techniques with Unity, this membership ensures you’ll have access to the resources and instruction needed to develop your coding and digital artistry skills for a career in the gaming industry.

The Ultimate Guide to Game Development with Unity

Perfect for those who want to dive straight into working with Unity, this course introduces you to the Unity Engine, as well as the fundamentals of C# programming. Meaning, you kickstart your training by learning how to navigate the Unity Engine and discover unique features like the Asset Store. Throughout the course, you’ll work on over 30 interactive challenges to test your knowledge and cement the concepts you’ve just learned. Even cooler, you’ll learn a bit about distribution at the end of the course and discover how to deploy your finished game to over 20 web and mobile platforms.

The Unity C# Survival Guide

It’s common for people who don’t have much experience programming to struggle writing lines of code with C# in Unity. This course teaches you the basics of coding using interactive challenges and problem-solving techniques so that you can progress from a novice C# developer to an advanced, job-ready one by the course’s end. If you already have a strong programming background, this course becomes a helpful reference guide for working with C# in Unity.

The Ultimate Guide to Cinematography with Unity

Cutscenes are a powerful tool game developers often use to advance the storyline within their video games. In this course, you learn how to create a complete stealth adventure game in Unity, where you’ll create four finished, cinematic cutscenes that tell your game’s story. Using two of Unity’s latest features, Timeline and Cinemachine, you’ll discover how to build amazing cutscenes for your Unity games and take your game a step further by adding animation tracks to tell a story.

The Ultimate Guide to 2D Mobile Game Development

Mobile gaming is one of the most popular segments within the industry. As such, knowing how to build mobile games can boost your resume and make you a more valuable hire. This course teaches you how to create engaging and profitable mobile games. Throughout this course, you discover how to create a dungeon escape adventure game using 2D animations. In doing so, you also fine-tune your C# programming skills by covering intermediate concepts like class inheritance, abstract classes, and interfaces. Alongside all that, this course guides you through the monetization process and shows you how to publish your app to the Google Play Store for distribution purposes.

Overall, The Game Developer and Player Bundle Ft. PlayStation Plus teaches you how to create amazing games of your own, as well as sets you up for better gaming and internet experiences with subscriptions to PlayStation Plus and VPN Unlimited. Pick it up on sale today for $99.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 6th 2020, 5:29 pm

Asus ROG Phone 3 Coming to the US for $1,000

ExtremeTech

Asus has been making the occasional Android phone since the early days of the platform, but only recently has the company’s Republic of Gamers (ROG) division gotten into mobile. The third-generation ROG Phone launched this summer internationally, and now it’s officially coming to the US for a hefty $1,000. 

As a “gaming phone,” the ROG Phone 3 prioritizes some features that often fall by the wayside in mainstream phones while skimping on features that might not matter as much to avid mobile gamers. For example, it has a super-fast 144Hz display refresh display, but the 6.59-inch panel is only 1080p. Likewise, it’s got a whopping 12GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 865+ in the base model, but a relatively modest camera array with no telephoto lens. 

Because the ROG Phone 3 is for gamers, it has some interesting extras that no doubt contribute to the high price. On the back, the phone has a large ROG logo that lights up — you can even control the colors and patterns in software. When held in landscape orientation, the phone has touch-sensitive ultrasonic shoulder buttons on the “top” that allow you to trigger buttons on the screen. This can make shooters like Fortnite (which is still available on Android) much easier to play on a phone. Asus says it has improved these “AirTriggers” with additional gesture and screen mapping tools. 

There’s also a second USB-C port on the side (bottom in landscape) that can be used to charge the phone or to connect various accessories. The phone comes with a cooling fan module, but it doesn’t seem to do much aside from making the phone heavier and adding a headphone jack. Other add-ons include a $150 gamepad and the $330 TwinView dock that boasts a second display. 

The Asus ROG Phone 3 sports a big 6,000mAh battery and 5G connectivity. Both of those features tend to inflate the size of a phone, and the ROG 3 is unsurprisingly beefy at 240g. The similarly sized OnePlus 8 is just 180g. 

This phone doesn’t have millimeter wave 5G, which would have made it even more bulky and expensive. That means it won’t work on Verizon’s 5G network, which only has mmWave at this time. It’s not a big loss — mmWave signals only travel about a block and can’t pass through walls. It will work on T-Mobile and AT&T 5G, which is more widely available. Although, current low-band 5G implementations aren’t much faster than 4G in the best circumstances. Still, you probably already know if you want this phone, and 5G support won’t be a deal-breaker. It’s available from Asus, Amazon, and other retailers.

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October 6th 2020, 5:29 pm

Apple’s T2 Security Processor Has an Unpatchable Security Flaw

ExtremeTech

Apple loves to market itself on security and does so more often than most firms. This is always a risky proposition because nothing yells “Please attack me!” more loudly than advertising the strength of one’s security implementation. In this case, security researchers have found a problem in Apple’s T2 security chip that the company will not be able to patch. As far as anyone is aware, it exists on every T2-equipped system.

Now, one thing to know up-front about this attack is that it’s going to be more of interest to state actors than common hackers. The exploit isn’t persistent, which means booting the machine in this mode requires a malicious USB-C cable or other device loaded with malicious software. Individuals using FileVault2 should be aware this security breach doesn’t grant access to your data — but one of the things an attacker could do with the machine is load a keylogger into the T2 security processor and store your passwords for later retrieval.

The security researcher who published the exploit, axi0mX, writes that the flaw allows an attacker to whitelist any kernel extension, load a keylogger directly into firmware, and potentially achieve a semi-tethered exploit, though this seems of limited value in-context unless the malicious USB-C cable could also function as the Mac’s primary power cable and somehow do its dirty work that way. This scenario is not addressed in the blog post but we can assume any laptop is being plugged in on a regular basis.

The standard Mac boot process. Nonstandard rooted implementation not shown

axi0mX writes: “I have sources that say more news is on the way in the upcoming weeks. I quote: be afraid, be very afraid.”

Whether that’s actually true, I guess we’ll see. According to the researcher, he approached Apple about this problem, reached out to Tim Cook personally, and attempted to raise the issue with various websites. He’s now published “almost all” of the exploit details after failing to get a response from anyone. He summarizes his own claims as follows:

The last point makes the previous points mostly a non-issue, but not entirely. Corporate espionage is definitely a thing, as is the targeting of specific individuals for knowledge extraction. We’ve written about a highly-specific malware attack hidden in Asus’ LiveUpdate software that was designed to target the computers of very specific people.

It is no longer the stuff of science fiction to imagine that a state actor might infiltrate the computers of specific people, who may have no idea they are targets of interest or under attack. While these attacks are still spectacularly unlikely in absolute terms, there is a group of people for whom this type of threat is very real.

axi0mX believes the reason Apple hasn’t responded to his entreaties is that they hope to release a new version of T2 that lacks this problem as part of the 5K iMac refresh. This exploit also is only relevant to x86 Macs — the new ARM-powered Macs will presumably lack this issue. For now, only Macs purchased between 2018 – 2020 have this problem. While there’s no patching it, it shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of Apple owners. If you’re using a 2018 – 2020 Mac and you regularly have access to materials that your company or the government would consider trade secrets or other genuinely sensitive material, it may be worth keeping an eye on this.

As for Apple’s security flaw, I’d expect events like this to renew calls for silicon companies to open up their security work so more researchers can see how the pieces fit together — and I wouldn’t expect Intel, AMD, or Apple to suddenly start opening any of their respective black boxes on this issue. Security remains a topic the wider silicon industry is more interested in keeping quiet about than transparently discussing — at least, where specific hardware implementations are concerned.

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October 6th 2020, 3:45 pm

Nvidia: RTX 3080 and 3090 Shortages Likely to Persist Into 2021

ExtremeTech

For all the strengths of Ampere as a GPU, it’s going to be difficult to get your hands on this holiday season. That’s according to Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, who claims his company has been hit by a double whammy.

I believe that demand will outstrip all of our supply through the year. Remember, we’re also going into the double-whammy. The double-whammy is the holiday season. Even before the holiday season, we were doing incredibly well, and then you add on top of it the Ampere factor, and then you add on top of that the Ampere holiday factor, and we’re going to have a really really big Q4 season.

Jensen also reiterated that the problem with Ampere was overwhelming demand, not an issue of supply. So many people apparently want the cards, it’s impossible to keep them on store shelves. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of the reason because Turing uptake has been quite low. A lot of gamers are back on 10xx GPUs, and the RTX 30xx family look like great upgrades relative to those cards. Could Ampere demand be the entire reason stocks are so hard to come by? It could be — but I suspect it isn’t the entire explanation.

First, we know bots were a problem at the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 launches, and it’s not as if those users are going to have quit using them in the intervening period. Every retailer who isn’t running effective bot detection is going to be a problem.

Second, according to semiconductor analyst Daniel Nenni, Samsung’s 8nm yields are anything but good. In an August 30 podcast, Nenni said: “Samsung has had yield problems – serious, serious yield problems – throughout their history because they were first to a node, but TSMC is always first to high volume manufacturing, so you really have to separate the two.”

This does not automatically mean that Samsung’s 8nm is a low-yielding node, but there have certainly been questions about what yields look like, and no clear answers yet. Samsung has struggled to land major customers other than its own business for more recent advanced nodes. IBM and Nvidia are both fairly recent announcements, especially Nvidia’s high-end manufacturing.

Ampere Availability Could Make AMD’s Big Navi More Attractive

I really appreciate Jen-Hsun being honest about the limited supply of Ampere. It’s more common for companies to say nothing and leave us wondering when, exactly, GPU prices will start coming down from the stratosphere.

It is unlikely that scalpers will have allowed RTX 3080 and 3090 GPU prices to settle down in 30-60 days if supply remains limited relative to demand. If Nvidia truly delayed the RTX 3070 to build inventory, your best chance of getting one may be the moment they go on sale. After that, it could be catch-as-catch-can.

The big question now is: “Will AMD have a similar problem?” If RDNA2 and Ampere are relatively well-matched and one of them is $500 theoretically and $800 practically, that’s going to impact people’s buying decisions. AMD probably wins some sales based on Nvidia’s difficulty supplying the market, if prices on Nvidia GPUs stay inflated. Alternately, it’s possible that RDNA2 will get hit by exactly the same wave of bots or upgrade demand. It won’t really matter how RDNA2 compares with Ampere if both of them are impossible to find, and the reason won’t really matter to customers who don’t get to buy one.

Either way, I wouldn’t necessarily pin your hopes on a new GPU this Christmas.

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October 6th 2020, 11:00 am

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Now Requires Its Own SSD

ExtremeTech

Jokes about the size of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare have been running for some months. Last year before launch, the company requested that end-users reserve up to 175GB of SSD space for the game, but promised that the final version would be smaller.

That promise has been merrily obliterated. First, the game hit that 175GB limit. Then, an August update pushed it over the 200GB limit. Now we’ve hit the point where Call of Duty literally fills a 250GB SSD to the very brim.

This is absurd. If the recent rumors about the PS5 having ~660GB of usable storage are true, Activision believes CoD deserves to eat 1/3 of your storage space for a game that came out a year ago. Given that video game sizes typically increase with every generation, it would scarcely be surprising if Activision just claims the entire available partition for itself and recommends you buy additional storage if you want to play anything else.

I’ll admit, I’m exaggerating there, but only by a little. On console, players can choose if they want to install the COD single-player campaign, a co-operative mode (Special Ops), or Warzone, which grafts battle royale tactics on to CoD-style gameplay. On PC, they can’t.

Games Can Be Too Big

We don’t normally think about storage as a problem for gaming, beyond grumbling about needing to remove a game or two to fit a new one. But blowing past the 250GB mark means that games are now exceeding the capacity of a lot of SSDs that were sold and shipped in OEM systems as primary storage up to and including today. Manufacturers have largely focused on adding faster SSDs and emphasizing cloud services as opposed to simply shipping large SSDs.

Computers ship with far faster storage than they once did — but also far less of it.

Alienware’s M15 R3 starts at 256GB of storage for $1,499. 512GB will cost you $1,649, though some other upgrades are included. For 1TB, you’ve got to go up to a $2,199 base price.

Developers should not build games that require more storage space than the entire drive capacity OEMs are selling. If you bought a $1,449 Alienware and brought it home, you’d discover yourself literally unable to play CoD because Activision finds it inconvenient to support PC players with modular installs.

The 128GB SSDs that were popular at the beginning of SSD adoption are, yes, now too small for anything but very light use. But 256GB drives are still being sold as mainline storage in $1,000+ machines. It’s not as if ignoring this fact is in Activision’s best interests. If someone buys a $1,500 PC, brings it home, and discovers they have to fork over more cash to play one game — plus deal with the headache of a laptop with attached external storage — they’re not going to be all that happy.

It’s long past time to deal with this problem. Give PC gamers the same option to remove components of the game they don’t want to play that you’ve extended to console players.

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October 6th 2020, 8:59 am

Godfall on PS5, PC Requires an Internet Connection, Even for Single-Player

ExtremeTech

Sony and Microsoft are gearing up for a big holiday season. We’ll all still be stuck at home with time to kill thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that makes a shiny new gaming console even more appealing than usual. Sony is hoping its lineup of exclusive launch titles will tip the scales in its favor, but the action-RPG Godfall is losing some of its hype today. Sony and the developers have confirmed this title will only work with an active internet connection. Yes, even the single-player mode. 

PlayStation fans were tipped off about this odd restriction when Sony updated the Godfall landing page with a clarification that online play is “required.” A follow-up tweet from developer Counterplay Games confirmed that Godfall will need an internet connection. Both single-player and the “drop-in drop-out” cooperative mode will only work if you’ve got connectivity. However, they say that it won’t be a “service game.” 

We’ve seen restrictions like this before, but it’s usually a consequence of DRM. Some games need to maintain a connection to a licensing server to verify that your copy of the game is legitimate, which really only punishes people who bought the game and have poor connectivity — pirates usually have the wherewithal to crack DRM. In this case, the restriction is most likely a consequence of how Counterplay Games designed the game’s loot system. 

While there are no microtransactions in Godfall, the developer describes it as a “loot-slasher.” It’s third-person with a heavy focus on items and character upgrades, which require players to complete missions alone or as part of a group. When you combine loot and online play, the potential for cheating and hacks skyrockets. It would appear that Counterplay Games decided the best way to combat that is to make the entire game online, even if you’re playing alone. 

Godfall will be one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 5, and that means it’ll be one of the first games on the market at the new $70 AAA price. Some gamers might scoff at paying more for a game with online such requirements. Godfall will launch on November 12th on the PS5. While the Xbox won’t get a version of the game, the PC edition will launch on the Epic Games Store with the same always-on internet requirement. 

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October 6th 2020, 7:59 am

ET Deals: Dell Curved 38-Inch 4K IPS Monitor $859, Roborock S5 Max Robot Vacuum and Mop for $439

ExtremeTech

Today’s best deal is a high-end productivity monitor from Dell that features a 4K resolution and 10-bit color support with a 37 percent discount.

Dell UltraSharp U3818DW 38-Inch 4K Curved IPS Display ($859.49)

Dell’s UltraSharp U3818DW features a large curved 38-inch IPS panel with 10-bit color support and an ultrawide resolution of 3,840×1,600. This makes the display exceptionally well suited for professional image editing and office work. Right now you can get one from Dell marked down from $1,269.99 to $859.49 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Roborock S5 Max Robotic Vacuum ($439.99)

This high-powered robot vacuum has 2,000Pa of suction power and it also has a built-in mopping function to help keep your floors extra clean. The Roborock S5 Max also supports Wi-Fi and can be controlled using a smartphone app and Alexa voice commands. Right now you can get it from Amazon marked down from $549.99 to $439.99 with promo code ROBOROCKS5.

Western Digital Black SN750 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($62.99)

This WD M.2 SSD has a capacity of 500GB and it can transfer data at a rate of up to 3,430MB/s. This makes it significantly faster than a 2.5-inch SSD, and it’s also fairly inexpensive, marked down at Amazon from $129.99 to $62.99.

Dell Vostro 3671 Intel Core i5-9400 Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB HDD ($499.00)

This desktop comes equipped with a six-core processor that operates at up to 4.1GHz and offers solid performance for everyday tasks. This model also has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Right now it’s marked down from $998.57 to $499.00 from Dell.

Apple AirPods w/ Charging Case ($129.00)

What better way to celebrate your independence than with a pair of high-quality earbuds to help block out bothersome external noises and enjoy your music? You can get Apple’s AirPods today from Walmart marked down from $159.00 to $129.00.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 5th 2020, 6:11 pm

These Motorola Verve Earbuds are as Reliable as Their Superior Sound and Cost Just $50

ExtremeTech

When shopping for wireless earbuds, practically any consumer will tell you one consideration shines above all others: How good do they sound?

But if sound quality is fairly even between a competing pair, the next qualifying question to help make that decision may well be how reliable these buds will be out in the world. When they’re confronted by real-world connectivity issues, harsh elements, knock-around treatment, and more, which pair will step up and perform — and which will break or meekly fold up and wither?

If anything, Motorola is known for products that hit the road and deliver through most any conditions. By those standards, the Motorola Verve Buds 200 True Wireless Bluetooth Sport Earbuds ($49.99, 16 percent off) become instantly worthy of consideration as a road warrior worthy of the Motorola name.

The Verve Buds were engineered with mobility in mind, crafted for a lightweight, secure fit with ear tips in three distinct sizes to help each user create the most optimal listening conditions. When you work out with the Verve Buds, don’t expect them to come popping out or causing problems while you’re trying to concentrate on getting your sweat on.

But if slippage is still a concern, this set also includes an attachable neck strap, holding your buds together so one doesn’t find a way to escape and disappear.

In case you do plenty of sweating, the Verve Buds are IPX5-rated waterproof, which means they’re more than ready to shrug off some perspiration or even some rain and power through. That also makes them a heads-up option for any active skiers and snowboards as well.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that earbuds still have to produce killer audio, and backed with rich stereo sound powering deep bass and sparkling highs, the Verve Buds absolutely measure up.

Finally, battery life is always forefront in the mind of an earbud buyer — and the Verve Buds don’t disappoint there either, offering up to 10 hours of playtime when you bring along the portable charging case.

As if that wasn’t enough, these buds also sync perfectly with all the most popular smart assistants like Amazon Alexa, Siri, or Google Home so you can make calls, send texts and even issue voice commands right through the buds.

Right now, you can get a $10 savings off the price of the Motorola Verve Buds 200 Sport Earbuds at just $49.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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October 5th 2020, 5:11 pm

Nvidia RTX 3070 Beats the RTX 2080 Ti, Costs $700 Less

ExtremeTech

When Nvidia announced Ampere, most of the attention was focused on the RTX 3090 and RTX 3080. It’s the RTX 3070, however, that I suspect will be the most enduring and impactful card in the family.

Last generation, Nvidia raised the price of the RTX 2080 Ti to $1,200, nearly double the price of the GTX 1080 Ti. Now, the company is promising an RTX 3070 that can match the 2080 Ti and costs just 42 percent as much. According to new data released by the company and helpfully tabulated by VideoCardz, we can see exactly what improvements Nvidia is claiming:

First, here’s Nvidia’s graph:

Here’s the VideoCardz summary:

How accurate is this information likely to be? Pretty accurate. Companies don’t typically bother to show incorrect results they know reviewers will be able to disprove. What’s more typical is that they show accurate benchmark results, but cherry-pick the test and settings to showcase products in the most favorable light.

What do we see here? The RTX 3070 appearing to fully match the RTX 2080 Ti’s overall performance. At worst, the two GPUs are the same speed. At best — mostly in applications — the RTX 3070 can be 1.23x faster than the older card.

If we compare the specs of the RTX 3070 with the RTX 2080 Ti, this ranking makes sense. The RTX 2080 Ti has 4,352 GPU cores, 272 texture units, and 88 ROPs. The RTX 3070 has 5,888 cores, 184 TMUs, and 96 ROPs. On paper, we’d expect the RTX 3070 to potentially be even faster over the RTX 2080 Ti than Nvidia is claiming. So on the question of “Is Nvidia presenting cherry-picked tests?” I doubt it. The RTX 3070 is, on average, about 1.6x faster than the RTX 2070, so the upgrade value here is pretty strong, especially if you’re coming from a GPU like the GTX 980 or GTX 1080.

Of course, whether you’ll be able to buy one is anyone’s guess.

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October 5th 2020, 5:11 pm

Kaspersky Finds Sophisticated UEFI Malware in the Wild

ExtremeTech

An Circuit electronic on motherboard .

(Credit: Getty Images)
Researchers from security firm Kaspersky are used to coming across advanced and devious malware, but rarely have they seen anything like MosaicRegressor. According to the company’s latest blog post, this is just the second known UEFI-based malware. Because it operates on the low-level boot manager that underlies most modern computers, it has extreme system access and staying power. The good news is you’re probably not going to have to worry about getting infected. 

The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is the software that lives on your computer’s motherboard. It’s the first thing to turn on when you boot up the system, and that allows it access to almost every part of the operating system. It will also persist after reboots, formats, and even system component replacement. Since the UEFI resides on a flash memory chip soldered to the board, it’s very hard to inspect for malware and even harder to purge.

So, if you want to own a system and reduce the likelihood of getting caught, UEFI malware is the way to go. The problem is that it’s very difficult to get malicious code into UEFI systems. Still, Kaspersky integrated a special firmware scanner into its antivirus products in 2019. Now, the firm says it has detected the second known instance of UEFI malware, which it calls MosaicRegressor. 

The infection was discovered on just two computers, both belonging to diplomatic officials in Asia. The full exploit chain is long and varied, allowing the attackers to load multiple modules to control the target system and steal data. However, it all starts with the UEFI loader. On each boot, MosaicRegressor checks to see if its malicious “IntelUpdate.exe” file is in the Windows startup folder. If not, it adds the file. This is the gateway to all the other nasty things MosaicRegressor can do. We don’t even know the full extent of the operation’s capabilities, as Kaspersky was only able to capture a handful of the malware modules. The team has confirmed MosaicRegressor can exfiltrate documents from the infected systems, though. 

Several clues point to a Chinese threat actor.

Kaspersky researchers note that the attack appears to come from a Chinese-speaking individual or group — it may be a tool developed by the Chinese government for all we know. Kaspersky was unable to determine how the original UEFI code was altered, but the team made some educated guesses based on a piece of 2015 UEFI malware. That exploit required physical access to the machine, making it unlikely anyone other than the targets would get infected. That suggests a professional operation orchestrated by an intelligence agency, but we’re unlikely to ever get confirmation of that.

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October 5th 2020, 2:41 pm

The Worst Storage Mediums of All Time

ExtremeTech

Credit: KMJ, Published under the GNU Free Documentation License

Last week, we rounded up the best storage mediums of all time. This week, we’re doing the worst. A few notes before we get started: The history of writing and symbolic communication is a fascinating and rich topic — but not a simple one. Different groups of people have developed a wide range of communication methods depending on where and how they lived. Furthermore, it’s not exactly fair to judge prehistoric art against a modern SSD in terms of information density. For this reason, we’ve looked for mediums that were objectively bad at doing what they did — not to insult the people who invented them, but to illustrate that ancient peoples left these approaches behind for a reason.

Cave Paintings and Petroglyphs

I feel a little bad picking on cave painting or petroglyphs. They’re the oldest known forms of symbolic communication after all, and everybody has to start somewhere. The problem with cave paintings and petroglyphs as a storage medium is twofold:

A petroglyph of bighorn sheep from the American Southwest. Photo by Jim Bouldin, CC BY-SA 3.0

1). They contain little information modern scholars can use to place them in a historical or cultural context.
2). They’re not exactly portable.

It’s obvious that petroglyphs and cave art had meaning to the people who created them. Not many people are interested in exploring pitch-black caves with primitive torches to find the best place to paint ibex in just the right shade of ochre. The problem is that, in many cases, we have no idea what those meanings really were.

As writing evolved, we gained the ability to record contextualizing information directly into the narrative, with images serving as illustrations of described events rather than containing the entirety of the event within themselves. We also figured out how to use less durable media. Advantage? Written communication becomes possible without hauling a 20-ton slab of granite around with you. Disadvantage? Keep reading.

Scrolls (Particularly in the Mediterranean)

Think about the characteristics of a good storage medium. It should be physically tough, able to suffer an indignity or two without immediately collapsing. It ought to be efficient and allow for maximum use of the supplied material. It should withstand the ambient effects of the climate on its own long-term storage. It should facilitate easy copying and searching of its own contents.

Scrolls utterly fail at accomplishing most of these things, particularly outside Egypt and the Middle East. Confined to hot, dry, desert conditions, scrolls can last for thousands of years, which is why we have artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptian papyrus dating back to the reign of Khufu some 4,600 years ago. It’s also why we don’t have anything comparable from the time of the Romans or Greeks, who lived thousands of years closer to our own era.

Scrolls are fragile. They can only be written on a single side and were typically read vertically, not horizontally. A single scroll could be up to 10 meters (33 feet) long, and because they were rolled up, a scribe couldn’t hold the text and take notes or make copies simultaneously. They made no use of indents or page breaks, making them impossible to bookmark. Finally, they rot over time due to ambient exposure to the humidity of Mediterranean climates. If you’re going to invent a storage medium that’s difficult to copy, it’s best to invent one that doesn’t require regular copying to maintain the information within.

The only surviving library in all of antiquity to make it to the modern era was found at Herculaneum, after being buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The scrolls — which now resemble carbonized dog turds — were first burned, thrown away, and destroyed until someone recognized a scrap of writing. We have recovered 1,826 papyri in total, of which ~340 are “almost complete,” 970 are “decayed and partly decipherable,” and more than 500 are merely charred fragments. There may yet be further buried papyri on the site.

The Herculaneum papyri look like this, when they’re still intact at all.

Think about that for a moment. We have less than 1 percent of the writings of antiquity, and one of the major reasons we lack so much is because, prior to finding the Villa of the Papyri, we had no surviving scrolls from this time period at all.

Humans moved on to codices (covered in the previous story) almost immediately after they were invented, because books — or even primitive, book-like objects — are so much better than scrolls.

Just to be clear: Paper, papyrus, and the like are one of the all-time best storage mediums of all time, but not when stored as scrolls. We had to find a different method of collating information and binding it together before we could make full use of this remarkable invention. Thus, paper is amazing, but scrolls — at least in the climate of the Mediterranean — aren’t.

Avco Cartrivision

It’s common, in these sorts of articles, to recall the BetaMax-versus-VHS format war of the 1980s and declare that VHS “won” by sucking more and costing less, thereby making it the both the more successful format and objectively the worse one.

Nah.

Let’s talk about the Avco Cartrivision, which sucked in ways VHS could only dream about.

Image by Retrosunshine2006, Creative Commons CC0 1.0

Did it have a separate machine you could purchase and hook to a TV? Nope. The only units commercially available included an integrated television and the cheapest cost $1350 in 1972 ($8,537 today). Cartrivision used a “skip field” system in which only one field (half a frame) of data was recorded to save space. This field was then repeated 3x. The end result of this system was blurry, jumpy video… and you could only watch each movie once.

Remember, this is 1972. There is no home video market. There are no tapes for sale. Avco partnered with retailers to deliver films from a 200-movie catalog. Once you got the movie, you could watch it once. Avco consumer players, you see, lacked a rewind function. The movie could only be rewound by a special machine owned by the retailers.

You have to give Avco some credit, here. The company basically invented DIVX and Netflix while it was busy attempting to invent the VCR. Unfortunately, the entire experience cost nearly $10K in today’s money and customers weren’t wild about the idea of only being able to watch a film once. The endeavor lasted 13 months before going out of business. After this, it was found that storing Cartrivision films in ambient humidity can lead them to decay and rot to uselessness in a matter of months.

Zip Disks

The 3.5-inch floppy was wildly successful through the 80s and 90s, and many attempts were made to replace the format. The Floptical, HiFD, SuperDisk, and the UHD144 were all high-capacity diskettes in roughly the same form factor as the 3.5-inch floppy, but Iomega’s Zip disk was by far the most well-known competitor.

The initial run of Zip disks could store roughly 100MB of data — nearly 70x the capacity of the standard 1.44MB floppy disk. That was nothing to sneeze at in the mid-90s, but at $20 per disk, the cost-per-megabyte just wasn’t small enough to gain proper traction across the entire tech industry.

Earlier “Zip-100” drives were incompatible with larger capacity disks, and the performance of older disks was spotty on newer hardware. Even worse, Zip drives weren’t even compatible with 3.5-inch disks, so compatibility issues ended up bogging down the format for its entire existence. Regardless of competition from other mediums, the market fragmentation within the format itself made Zip disks a hard sell to consumers.

Zip drives did have the benefit of relatively fast (roughly 1MB/s) transfer rate, but the falling price of hard drives and writeable CDs in the late 1990s made the “superfloppy” format war obsolete. On top of that, Iomega was slapped with a class-action lawsuit in 1998 in response to widespread failures — the dreaded “click of death,” signaling that the drive’s read/write actuator could no longer read disks and would repeatedly return to its initial position to try again. Iomega eventually tried to revive the brand by releasing Zip-branded CD drives, but the company never fully recovered.

Most Sony Proprietary Standards

Sony has historically built a number of proprietary standards besides Betamax, most of which have existed for the sole purpose of generating more revenue for Sony rather than contributing to any useful technological progress. Sony Memory Stick, for example, debuted in 1998 and may have been industry-leading at announcement — I am not certain on this point — but just a few years later, CompactFlash and later SD Cards were doing everything that Memory Sticks could do.

For years, Sony wouldn’t budge. Devices like the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita both used expensive media formats that raised the price of owning these products for no reason. Sony Memory Stick’s primary purpose was to capture more profits for Sony, which is why the company continued to use it in lieu of cheaper, consumer-friendly standards. The format had no particular reason to exist and offered no benefit over other formats like SD Card. Sony’s proprietary format insistence isn’t *the* reason that the Vita failed in-market, but it didn’t do the company any favors, either.

Dishonorable Mention: LaserDisc

LaserDiscs have earned themselves a qualified mention here. What distinguishes LD from other standards on the list is that it was often the best way to view a film in the years before DVD, despite the drawbacks. It also introduced a number of features that VHS players lacked. With a horizontal resolution of 425 lines compared with 240 lines for VHS, LaserDisc players delivered nearly DVD quality nearly 20 years before DVDs were widely available. They could store multiple audio tracks and handled both digital and analog formats, and unlike VHS, LDs wouldn’t degrade with use and offered instant rewind and fast forward, similar to CDs. The Wikipedia entry for LaserDisc notes that it took DVDs several years to actually exceed LD quality, despite being better on paper from the start.

Image by Wendell Oskay, Flickr, CC-BY 2.0

The reason LaserDisc is on this list at all is because of all the other sacrifices that had to be made to support cutting-edge image quality circa 1978. The discs themselves were the size of 33 RPM records (12 inches / ~300mm). They spun at 1800 RPM, which made playback slightly noiser than your typical record. Discs weighed over a half-pound each and only held, at most, 64 minutes of recording per side. Some players could flip discs automatically, but for years budget-priced models didn’t and some movies shipped on multiple discs anyway, necessitating a mid-play shift regardless.

What saves LaserDisc from being a straightforwardly “worst” technology is that if you were willing to pony up money for the player and the media, you really did get a better experience than you could have anywhere else outside a movie theater. My family didn’t own a LaserDisc player, but a longtime family friend did, and I was lucky enough to catch a few movies that way in the late 1990s. The quality, even on an average TV set of the era, was vastly better than VHS.

LaserDisc was less a horrible format than a deliberate choice some videophiles made, accepting inconvenience for a better quality at-home film than you could get through any other method at the time.

Feature image by KMJ, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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October 5th 2020, 9:52 am
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