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ET Deals: $80 Off Apple MacBook Pro M1 Laptop, Dell XPS 8940 Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 2060 Super

ExtremeTech

Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptops equipped with the company’s revolutionary M1 chip offer excellent performance for a wide range of tasks, and you can get one now with an $80 discount.

Apple MacBook Pro M1 Chip 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($1,219.00)

Apple’s latest MacBook Pro comes equipped with Apple’s new M1 SoC, which contains an 8-core processor that’s reportedly 3.5 times faster than the hardware inside of the preceding model. Apple said the system can also last for up to 20 hours on a single charge, giving you all the power you need to work from sunrise to sunset. Now for a limited time you can get one of these systems from Amazon marked down from $1,249.99 to just $1,199.99. Final price and discount will be shown at checkout.

Dell XPS 8940 Intel Core i7-10700 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD and 2TB HDD ($1099.00)

Dell’s new XPS 8940 SE features an updated design and it comes loaded with strong processing hardware that’s able to tackle just about any task you throw at it. The mid-range Intel Core i7-10700 with its eight CPU cores is well suited for running numerous applications at the same time. As the system also has an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super graphics card, the system’s is able to run games with high settings with ease, making it a fitting machine for gaming and work. Currently you can get one of these systems from Dell marked down from $1,739.99 to just $1,099.00 with promo code XPS1099.

Amazon Echo Show 5 + Blink Mini Indoor Security Camera ($54.99)

Amazon’s Echo Show 5 features a 5.5-inch display and is compatible with a wide range of Amazon- and Alexa-enabled services. It can work as a display for home security devices, which is why this particular model is bundled with a Blink Mini security camera. The Blink Mini can record 1080p video and features built-in motion detection. Typically these devices sell separately for a combined total of $124.98, but you can get them together for just $54.99 from Amazon.

Apple Watch Series 3 38mm w/GPS & Cellular ($169.00)

Apple’s Series 3 smartwatch is powered by a dual-core S3 processor and it features a built-in GPS as well as a cellular connection. It can also keep count of your steps and display information from your smartphone. This watch originally sold for $379.00, but you can get it today from Amazon for $169.00.

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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January 21st 2021, 6:05 pm

Master Mathematics Once And For All With This Expert-Led Training

ExtremeTech

As we continue to stay safer at home as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, some of us are running out of ways to pass the time. If you’re sick and tired of binging shows on Netflix and Zoom happy hours, why not use this time to do something productive? Now is the perfect time to brush up on your mathematic skills, whether you just want to sharpen your brain or you need to help the kids with that pesky math homework.

The Mastering Mathematics Training Prep Bundle is equipped to get you up to speed on a wide range of mathematics. It comes packed with 10 info-packed courses that are filled with over 96 hours of essential math content. And though these courses would typically all retail for $2,000, they’re available in this bundle for a whopping 98 percent off at just $29.99.

Brush up on your number theory, calculus, clustering and more with the 10 courses included in this mathematics bundle. They’ll get you up to speed on all these areas of math under the expert tutelage of highly-rated instructors like Nouman Azam. Nouman has a 4.4 out of 5 star rating, a Ph.D degree in computer science and an impressive resume as a MATLAB professor.

There are also many courses taught by Miran Fattah, the holder of a BS in mathematics and geophysics with a 4.4 out of 5 star instructor rating. Kumaresan Ramanathan, a principal architect at Coroman Systems, is also an instructor known for helping beginners. And finally Eduonix teaches other courses in the bundle, a team of industry professionals with the goal of teaching technology the way it’s used in the industry and professional world.

Use this time at home to expand your mind by working on mathematics. The Mastering Mathematics Training Prep Bundle is available now for just $29.99.

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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January 21st 2021, 6:05 pm

Hardware Accelerators May Dramatically Improve Robot Response Times

ExtremeTech

Group of robots in warehouse

(Credit: onurdongel/Getty Images)
New work in robotics research at MIT suggests that long-term bottlenecks in robot responsiveness could be alleviated through the use of dedicated hardware accelerators. The research team also suggests it’s possible to develop a general methodology for programming robot responsiveness to create specific templates, which would then be deployed into various robot models. The researchers envision a combined hardware-software approach to the problem of motion planning.

“A performance gap of an order of magnitude has emerged in motion planning and control: robot joint actuators react at kHz rates,” according to the research team, “but promising online techniques for complex robots e.g., manipulators, quadrupeds, and humanoids (Figure 1) are limited to 100s of Hz by state-of-the-art software.”

Optimizing existing models and the code for specific robot designs has not closed the performance gap. The researchers write that some compute-bound kernels, such as calculating the gradient of rigid body dynamics, take 30 to 90 percent of the available runtime processing power in emerging nonlinear Model Predictive Control (MPC) systems.

The specific field of motion planning has received relatively little focus compared with collision detection, perception, and localization (the ability to orient itself in three-space relative to its environment). In order for a robot to function effectively in a 3D environment, it has to first perceive its surroundings, map them, localize itself within the map, and then plan the route it needs to take to accomplish a given task. Collision detection is a subset of motion planning.

The long-term goal of this research isn’t just to find a way to perform motion-planning more effectively, but it’s also to create a template for hardware and software that can be generalized to many different types of robots, speeding both development and deployment times. The two key claims of the paper are that per-robot software optimization techniques can be implemented in hardware through the use of specialized accelerators, and that these techniques can be used to create a design methodology for building said accelerators. This allows for the creation of a new field of robot-optimized hardware that they dub “robomorphic computing.”

The team’s methodology relies on creating a template that implements an existing control algorithm once, exposing both parallelism and matrix sparsity. The specific template parameters are then programmed with values that correspond with the capabilities of the underlying robot. 0-values contained within the matrices correspond with motions that a given robot is incapable of performing. For example, a humanoid bipedal robot would store non-zero values in areas of the matrices that governed the proper motion of its arms and legs. A robot with a reversible elbow joint that can bend freely in either direction would be programmed with different values than a robot with a more human-like elbow. Because these specific models are derived from a common movement-planning template, the evaluation code for all conditions could be implemented in a specialized hardware accelerator.

The researchers report that implementing their proposed structure in an FPGA as opposed to a CPU or GPU reduces latency by 8x to 86x and improves response rates by an overall 1.9x – 2.9x when the FPGA is deployed as a co-processor. Improving robot reaction times could allow them to operate effectively in emergency situations where quick responses are required.

A key trait of robots and androids in science fiction is their faster-than-human reflexes. Right now, the kind of speed displayed by an android such as Data is impossible. But part of the reason why is that we can’t currently push the limits of our own actuators. Improve how quickly the machine can “think,” and we will improve how quickly it can move.

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January 21st 2021, 4:05 pm

Newegg Debuts Lottery System to Sell Scarce CPUs and GPUs

ExtremeTech

It’s not uncommon for the latest computer hardware to be in short supply, but the pandemic has pushed everything into overdrive. Being stuck inside for months on end has led to an explosion of interest in gaming, and that has made new high-end hardware like the AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs and Nvidia RTX 3000 GPUs nigh impossible to find. Newegg has a controversial solution: raffles. 

If you were to go hunting for an Nvidia RTX 3080 right now, you’d be able to buy one immediately. However, you’d probably have to pay about double the retail price to a scalper on eBay or Amazon. It’s been like this for months, too. Sitting at your (presumably old and busted) PC trying to buy an in-demand component isn’t a great way to spend your quarantine, so Newegg is trying something new. 

This week, the site briefly put up a page that explains its solution. It took the page down shortly thereafter but not before the wider internet got a peek. The “Newegg Shuffle” event will allow interested customers to join a lottery for select parts during a three-hour window. Sometimes these will be bundles of several components that include the highly sought-after AMD and Nvidia hardware, and other times it will be just those components on their own.

Newegg will do a drawing, and those who win the lottery will be contacted via email to complete their purchases. Products will be sold to winners on a first-come, first-served basis, and you will have just two hours to complete your purchase before Newegg goes to the next person on the list. With this system, you won’t have to hope you happen to be watching when new stock pops up and that you can beat everyone else to the checkout. Instead, you’ll have to hope that Newegg’s random number generator favors you. 

There was some clear aggravation around the internet when Newegg’s page went live. The only bundle with an RTX 3080 had an Intel motherboard, and Intel CPUs aren’t exactly in short supply. Newegg later clarified this was just a “test” to get feedback and improve the system. The retailer says that future Shuffle events will include single items in addition to combos. However, we don’t know when that will be. It still might be your best chance to get a retail-priced CPU or GPU for the foreseeable future.

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January 21st 2021, 1:48 pm

Report: Intel Will Outsource Core i3 Production to TSMC’s 5nm Node

ExtremeTech

As CPU designs have become more complex and node sizes have shrunk, the chance of bugs and errata has risen significantly.

There’s a rumor that Intel is planning to outsource Core i3 production to TSMC’s 5nm node. This would be the first time the chip giant has built one of its Core CPUs on a different company’s process node. Intel originally planned to announce its future foundry plans on January 21, but this may have changed with the recent appointment of Pat Gelsinger as CEO.

TrendForce reports that Intel is specifically moving the Core i3 to TSMC 5nm for 2H 2021, with a plan to shift mid-range and high-end products to TSMC’s 3nm node in the second half of 2022. TSMC recently reported that its 3nm development is “on track with good progress.” Unlike Samsung, which is adopting gate-all-around (GAA) FETs, TSMC will continue to use FinFET at the 3nm node, albeit FinFET with “innovative features” intended to improve overall performance.

When TSMC shifted from 7nm to 5nm, virtually all of the improvement was to density. Density improved by 1.8x, but power and performance lagged behind. N3 will continue this trend, with a 25-30 percent improvement in power consumption, a 10-15 percent improvement in performance, and a 70 percent improvement in density compared to N5.

It would be a little surprising if Intel shipped 3nm hardware in 2022, even if the company does outsource Core i5/i7/i9 CPUs to TSMC. TSMC typically partners with Apple for its early launches, and Apple returns the favor by buying TSMC’s early node capacity. Launching Intel and Apple on the same brand-new process node, inside the same 3-4 month window, would put even more pressure on yields.

On the other hand, TSMC’s increased capital expenditures in 2021 could be a sign that the company will ramp up more leading-edge capability this time around, to better support multiple 3nm launches in 2022. There’s also the possibility that Intel will move certain markets to TSMC but keep the others for itself. Redwood Cove is intended to debut with Intel’s Meteor Lake architecture and is supposedly designed to be node-agnostic. It may even have been built with an eye towards porting the core to TSMC, though this is highly speculative.

CPUs like Lakefield and Alder Lake are expected to use Foveros. It’s not clear how this would work in a joint TSMC / Intel manufacturing arrangement.

Right now, there’s some ambiguity in Intel’s overall roadmap. We know that Tiger Lake will be followed by Alder Lake in mobile. Intel’s Alder Lake-S desktop CPUs have been picked up in databases, but it’s an open question if Intel will refresh desktop and laptop both with Alder Lake in 2021. Typically, Intel does one hardware platform refresh per year. With Rocket Lake launching at the end of March, it makes a lot more sense for Intel to bring Alder Lake to mobile in 2021 (replacing Tiger), before launching Alder Lake-S in 2022 (replacing Rocket, and finally moving desktop chips to a new node). Presumably, we’d see a hypothetical future mobile platform built at TSMC on 3nm if TrendForce’s report is accurate.

Intel announces its earnings today, and the company is expected to either give a formal update to its foundry plans or announce a delay to allow incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger to review the decision himself. The TrendForce timeline is very aggressive. It typically takes 8-12 months to port a CPU design from one foundry to another, and while Intel has been talking about the need to create foundry-agnostic designs since 2018, Alder Lake hasn’t previously been described as one. Alder Lake, like Lakefield, is a hybrid design featuring both high-efficiency and high-performance CPUs. Lakefield is built using Intel’s 3D chip-stacking technology as well as EMIB (Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge). It isn’t clear if Intel can package chips with these technologies if they are etched at TSMC or if the entire process needs to be handled in-house.

The TrendForce rumor makes sense as far as the idea that Intel would move a single product before launching an entire line-up, but it’s not a guarantee. It’s not an exaggeration to call this a pivotal moment in Intel’s history. No matter what path the company takes, it’ll be making decisions that shape its business for at least the next decade.

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January 21st 2021, 8:31 am

ET Deals: Nearly $1,000 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7 Laptop, Dell G5 Nvidia GTX 1650 Super D

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with nearly $1,000 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 Ti GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($1,099.00)

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 $2,070.00 to just $1,099.00.

Dell G5 Intel Core i5-10400F Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($599.00)

Dell built this gaming desktop with an Intel Core i5-10400F and a GeForce GTX 1650 Super 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 DBBFDTAFF1 you can get it now marked down from $904.98 to just $599.99 from Dell.

Western Digital Black SN850 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($119.99)

This WD M.2 SSD has a capacity of 500GB and it can transfer data at a blistering fast rate of up to 7,000MB/s. These speeds are only possible when used in an M.2 slot with PCI-E x4 lanes, but when in the proper slot it can operate far faster than most SSDs on the market. It’s also fairly affordable too for such a fast drive as it has been marked down from Amazon from $149.99 to $119.99.

Roku Premiere 4K HDR Media Player ($29.00)

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 Walmart marked down from $39.99 to $29.00.

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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January 20th 2021, 5:06 pm

Make The Move To A Career In IT With This Bundle

ExtremeTech

For many of us, 2020 was not a walk in the park, from the COVID-19 pandemic raging on to the widespread job loss and rampant unemployment. If you’re among the unlucky who found themselves out of a job during this difficult year, it might be smart to start thinking about a new career path. And if you’re looking for a brand new field to dive into, the world of IT is a promising place to work in 2021.

The IT field continues to boom and is filled with many potentially lucrative positions. With increasing need to fill these positions, picking up the necessary skills is a great way to pass the time while staying safer at home in 2021. You never know what brand new job awaits!

If you’ve been meaning to get involved in IT, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on tuition and years going back to school. You can start learning from home with The Complete 2021 CompTIA Certification Training Bundle, the biggest CompTIA training that’s ever been offered. Yep, this year’s bundle is packed with more classes than ever  a whopping 18 different courses that come packed with 467 hours of content. And though these courses would typically cost $5,225, they’re available with this bundle for an amazing 98 percent off at just $69.

You can become a CompTIA professional from the comfort of your couch. Build your reputation while checking out these 18 expert-led prep courses that cover everything from IT basics, networks, cloud, security and even more. And you don’t need any prior knowledge in the field, as courses like The CompTIA IT Fundamentals Certification is a perfect entry-level certification that introduces newbies to basic computer principles.

These courses are all taught by iCollege, one of the most trusted marketplaces in E-Learning. Courses from iCollege are trusted by major tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 companies to help train and equip their employees for success.

Make the move into the world of IT in 2021 with the biggest CompTIA training that’s ever been offered on the site. Get The Complete 2021 CompTIA Certification Training Bundle for just $69 today.

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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January 20th 2021, 5:06 pm

Rumors Suggest Nvidia Might Re-Launch RTX 2060, RTX 2060 Super

ExtremeTech

Nvidia announced its RTX 3060 during CES last week, but according to one report, the company has actually restarted production of its RTX 2060 and RTX 2060 Super. If true, it would mean Nvidia doesn’t think it can alleviate the graphics card shortage quickly enough if it relies solely on 7nm GPUs.

The rumor comes from French site Overclocking.com, which claims to gotten confirmation from several brands. Reportedly, Nvidia shipped out a new set of RTX 2060 and 2060 Super GPUs to re-enable the manufacture of these cards. If true, Nvidia could potentially alleviate the GPU shortage by relying on TSMC’s older (and presumably, less-stressed) 12nm product line.

Nvidia showed the following slide during the RTX 3060 launch. It gives some idea how the two compare, though it does not look as though DLSS is being used for the RTX 2060, and there’s no 2060 Super.

Nvidia’s published claims about RTX 3060 versus 2060 performance. Remember, DLSS is enabled on some RTX 3060 benchmarks.

Either way, there should be some room in the product market beneath the RTX 3060 to carve out space for the 2060, 2060 Super, or both.

How’d We Get Here, Anyway?

We’re in this position today because Nvidia wanted to avoid a repeat of Turing’s disastrous launch. Back in 2018, Nvidia repeatedly told investors that the huge spike in GPU sales through 2017 and into 2018 was being driven by gamers, not by cryptocurrency mining. It’s never been clear how true that was — and Nvidia has been sued by shareholders over the idea that the firm knew full well where its demand was coming from. But whether the company misread the market or not, it appears to have been genuinely caught off-guard when the crypto market cooled off. This left a lot of Pascal GPUs on shelves that had to be moved.

Turing’s second problem was its pricing. Nvidia decided to raise prices with Turing and increased the prices of its GPUs accordingly. It proved unwise to raise Turing prices when Pascal cards were hitting some of the best prices of their lives, and sales of the cards suffered.

Turing’s third problem was that its major feature wasn’t supported in any shipping titles yet. This is not unusual when major new features are introduced to gaming — hardware support has to precede software support, because the arrow of time is annoying and inconvenient — but it still counts as a drag on the overall launch.

This time around, Nvidia wanted to avoid these issues. Turing production was discontinued well before Ampere launched. The end-user community was deeply unhappy with Nvidia’s Turing pricing, and Nvidia, to its credit, adjusted its prices. The non-availability of ray tracing, similarly, is not a problem here. While the number of ray-traced games remains small, there’s now a small collection — including AAA titles — with RTX / DXR support integrated.

Nvidia did everything right, in terms of building appeal for gamers. The one thing it didn’t count on was the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on semiconductor demand. Bringing back the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super could give Nvidia a way to respond to this problem without sabotaging its new product lineup.

Frankly, it’d be nice to see the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super back in-market, if only to bring a little stability to it. Here are Newegg’s current top-selling GPUs as of 1/20/2021:

It’s not unusual for the Top 10 to have a few cheap cards in it, but every GPU with any horsepower whatsoever is far above retail price.

Newegg’s best-selling GPUs are bottom-end Pascal cards. The last-gen RX 580 and the GTX 1660 Super are the only two consumer cards selling for under $500. Both of them are terrible deals at this price point.

There’s always a bunch of low-end garbage stuffed into the GPU market. Typically, these parts live below the $100 price point, where you’ll find a smorgasbord of ancient AGP cards, long-vanished GPU micro-architectures, and rock-bottom performance that almost always costs too much. Today, the garbage has flooded into much higher price points. Want a GTX 960? That’ll be $150. How about a GTX 460 for $145 or an HD 7750 for $155? There’s a GTX 1050 Ti for $170, which is only $40 more than the GPU cost when new, over four years ago.

Right now, it’s impossible to buy any GPU for anything like MSRP. If bringing the RTX 2060 and RTX 2060 Super back to market actually provides some stability and some kind of modern GPU to purchase, I’m in favor of it. At this point, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if AMD threw the old Polaris family back into market, either. While they wouldn’t be a great value at this point ordinarily, the cheapest RX 5500 XT at Newegg is $397. Under these circumstances, any midrange GPU manufactured in the last four years that can ship for less than $300 would be an improvement.

The past five years have been the worst sustained market for GPUs in the past two decades. Currently, GPU prices have been well above MSRP for 24 out of the past 56 months, dating back to the launch of Pascal in late May, 2016. This isn’t expected to change until March or April at the earliest. When cards aren’t available at MSRP for nearly half the time they’ve been on the market over five years and two full process node deployments, it raises serious issues about whether we can trust MSRPs when making GPU recommendations. Right now, the best price/performance ratio you can get in the retail market might be an RX 550 for $122.

The GPU market in its current form is fundamentally broken. Manufacturer MSRPs have the same authority as any random number you might pick out of a hat. There are a lot of factors playing a part in the current situation, including manufacturing yields and COVID-19, but this problem started four years before the pandemic.

AMD and Nvidia need to find a better way to ensure that customers are able to buy the cards they actually want to purchase, or they need to delay their launches for a sufficient length of time as to build up a meaningful stockpile of hardware, sufficient to supply launch demand for a matter of days, not seconds. Alternately, they may need to delay launches until yield percentages and availability are high enough to ensure a constant stream of equipment to buyers.

Right now, we have launch days that sell out instantly and interminable delays between new shipments. If these rumors are true, and we hope they are, Nvidia bringing back the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super will help a little in the short term, but what we obviously need is for AMD and Nvidia to take a fundamentally different approach to product inventory management. As things stand, these aren’t product launches. They’re product teases.

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January 20th 2021, 4:07 pm

In Leaked Memo, LG Proposes Withdrawing From Smartphone Market

ExtremeTech

LG has struggled to remain competitive in the plateauing smartphone industry, and now there’s word the company might be looking to throw in the towel. A memo circulated at LG declares some hard choices are necessary after $4.5 billion in losses over the past five years. The memo lists several possible courses of action, including the end of LG’s mobile business. 

The memo from LG CEO Kwon Bong-Seok notes that competition in smartphones has increased markedly. It doesn’t cite any specific trends, but the rise of Chinese smartphone makers and the increasing dominance of Samsung have no doubt put LG on the ropes. The memo admits that it’s time for LG to exercise “cold judgment” when it comes to the smartphone business. 

LG has confirmed the authenticity of the letter and stresses that no decisions have been made. But the memo lays out three possible measures: sale, withdrawal, and downsizing. Of these, “withdrawal” seems like the most rational course of action, and I don’t say that lightly. However, LG has attempted to restructure its smartphone team multiple times — the annual culling of executives has become something of a tradition at LG after each round of devices fails to sell. It’s already scaled back the number of phones it makes, having canned the V and G series of devices. I don’t see where you can possibly scale back is still have any hope of turning a profit. 

What about a sale? For that to work, you’d need to find someone who’s interested in purchasing LG’s struggling smartphone division. I can’t imagine who would want to buy a business that’s been losing hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter. The best LG has been able to say in its quarterly results is that scaling back has narrowed those losses. 

Perhaps LG had hoped that 5G would revitalize the market and get consumers interested in upgrading again after years of stagnation. We’re coming up on two years of consumer 5G availability, and phone buyers seem unimpressed. That’s not surprising considering 5G has suffered from mediocre speeds, high prices, and meager availability. 5G will not save LG. 

So, what does that leave? Shutting it down. Maybe LG will go through the motions for a few more quarters, but the memo clearly indicates the company’s leadership is beginning to come to terms with reality — everyone’s got a smartphone now, and you can’t expect people to care about your new phones simply because they’re new. Gimmicks like the LG Wing (top) and Dual Screen cases (above) haven’t worked. 

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January 20th 2021, 3:06 pm

PC Display Ratios Other Than 16:9 Creep Toward the Mainstream

ExtremeTech

If you’ve been secretly hoping that the 16:9 display standard would die a terrible death for 15 years or so, we have good news. While it remains the most common aspect ratio by far, there are reasons to think the laptop industry might be willing to consider other ratios going forward.

16:9 never managed to completely take over the market. Microsoft and Apple both offer alternatives to 16:9 — Microsoft has 3:2 with the Surface while Apple uses 16:10 on its MacBook laptops. Even with these exceptions, however, the majority of the market has been 16:9. Several laptops introduced at CES, however, suggest manufacturers are rethinking this paradigm. Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and LG all showed machines that featured both 16:10 and 3:2.

How’d 16:9 Win, Anyway?

In a word: Economics. As 16:9 panel production ramped up, companies minimized costs and maximized yield by standardizing monitors and televisions on the same aspect ratio. This is back in the 2006 – 2009 period, when HDTV adoption is really taking off and laptop ASPs are still headed downwards. It didn’t take long for 4:3, 5:4, and 16:10 to almost entirely fall by the wayside.

Microsoft’s various Surface devices use a 3:2 ratio instead of 16:9.

There’s a myth that Silicon Valley or technology in general always promotes the best, most-efficient solution. 16:9 is an example of how this isn’t true. If OEMs had been attempting to balance cost, content viewing, and using a laptop for everything but content viewing, they would have kept the 16:10 display standard. While the two are nearly identical, 16:10 gives you an additional vertical resolution to work with and makes it easier to code, write, or edit spreadsheets. The tiny letterbox introduced when watching 16:9 content on a 16:10 display is virtually unnoticeable. There was no end-user advantage to swapping away from 16:10. It just made laptop panels cheaper.

Today, we’re starting to see more options to choose from. Lower-end systems in the PC space are pretty firmly 16:9, but as the Verge points out, most of the major manufacturers now have flagships that aren’t 16:9 machines. This is an improvement for a host of reasons. 3:2 on a laptop is fabulous for productivity. The extra vertical height does a lot to make the monitor feel roomy, and the letterboxing during 16:9 content, while larger than you’d get with 16:10, still isn’t much to write home about.

People who really like 16:9 but would like just a bit more vertical space benefit from 16:10. If you aren’t sure how to tell them apart: 1920×1080 is a 16:9 resolution, while the 16:10 equivalent is 1920×1200. Instead of 2560×1440 (16:9), we use 2560×1600. 4K panels shift from 3840×2160 to 3840×2400.

What’s less clear is whether these features will come to lower-end hardware. It’s easy to imagine a future in which most hardware remains 16:9, but higher-end systems go 16:10 or 3:2. If you love 16:9 and mostly watch movies, you might not benefit from a different aspect ratio, but everyone who disliked the resolution should know that for the first time in probably a decade, there’s going to be some real options on the table.

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January 20th 2021, 10:36 am

Qualcomm Revamps Snapdragon 865 Again, Calls It Snapdragon 870

ExtremeTech

Qualcomm just unveiled a new high-end 800-series ARM processor, and I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t Qualcomm already announce its 2021 flagship system-on-a-chip (SoC)? It did, but the new Snapdragon 870 will slot in below the flagship Snapdragon 888. The 870 is more akin to last year’s 865, but it’ll be cheaper for OEMs to build on compared with the 888. 

Most of the chip specs are unchanged from the 865. This is still an eight-core ARM chip with four efficient A55 cores, three faster A77 cores, and one A77 core that operates at a higher frequency. This “Prime Core” is the primary difference between the chips. The 870’s Prime Core can hit 3.2GHz compared with 3.09GHz for the 865+. Those are both faster than the original 865 chip, which topped out at 2.84GHz. The Snapdragon 888 is a completely different part with the latest 5nm manufacturing process, a new GPU, and redesigned CPU cores. 

Qualcomm also made a big improvement in the 888 that won’t be shared by the 870. Instead of the new integrated X60 5G modem, the 870 will use the same external X55 seen in the SD865 family, which makes sense from a technical standpoint. The 870 is just an 865 by another name — it used the same SM8250 silicon after all. An external modem isn’t as power-efficient as an integrated part, which has led to lackluster battery life in many 865-based phones. 

The 870 uses the same silicon as last year’s 865 chip.

We’ve been hoping to see a successor to the Snapdragon 765, but that’s not the 870. The 765 chip had six efficient cores and two high-speed, making it slightly slower than its big brother 865 (the two were announced in tandem). However, the 765 had an integrated 5G modem that made it cheaper and less of a battery hog. However, Qualcomm doesn’t see the 870 as a successor to the 765 — a true replacement for that chip is allegedly still on the way. 

So, what’s the Snapdragon 870 going to be for? Qualcomm says it has already inked deals with Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, and others to use the 870 in products launching this year. This is essentially a year-old chip design with a fresh coat of paint, and companies like OnePlus pride themselves on using the latest and greatest. Whatever they have in store probably won’t be marketed as a flagship phone — at least it shouldn’t be. 

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January 20th 2021, 8:47 am

Arctic Apparently Planning to Launch First New Thermal Paste in Almost a Decade

ExtremeTech

Arctic — once known as Arctic Cooling — appears to have a new thermal paste inbound to market. Right now, Arctic sells two types of paste — Arctic MX-2 and Arctic MX-4, with the latter positioned as a more expensive and better-performing product. According to Amazon, there’s a new MX-5 paste on the way, with a claimed lifespan of up to eight years.

How is MX-5 improved over MX-4? No idea, and the Amazon listing doesn’t help a darn bit. The MX-5 claims to be a “carbon-based high performance paste,” which is more or less what MX-4 claims. The lifespan of eight years matches the MX-4 and MX-2.

Comparisons of MX-2 and MX-4 show two things: First, there’s a measurable difference between them, though it varies depending on what kind of cooler you are testing. Second, the gap in measured temperatures isn’t as large as the implied gap based on the specs of the two compounds. MX-2 claims 5.6W/mK, while MX-4 claims 8.5W/mK. These values are known as k-values — they refer to the thermal conductivity of the material, and higher numbers mean a material is more conductive.

Image by THG, from this article.

This graph from THG compares 85 different thermal compounds. The gap between MX-4 and MX-2 ranges from 0.1C to 0.6C in their various comparisons, but it’s much smaller than the implications of 5.6W/mK versus 8.5W/mK. CoolLab Liquid Ultra claims 38W/mK, and while it obviously outperforms any standard paste, there’s a huge difference between the degree of improvement and the roughly 4.4x difference between MX-4’s thermal conductivity and that of liquid metals. Note: Don’t buy a liquid metal TIM until you’ve read up on how to apply them and what the restrictions are to using them.

The reason the improvement in thermal conductivity doesn’t yield dramatically better temperatures is partly that the thermal paste we apply between heatsink and CPU is one of the last stops on the CPU’s primary heat path. No matter how optimal the material used to transfer heat between the bottom of the heatsink and the top of the CPU heatspreader, there’s still a heatspreader on top of the die in the first place. Below the heatspreader there’s another layer of thermal interface material joining the bottom of the heatspreader and the top of the CPU die. Once we’re inside the die, there are the inevitable thermal conductivity issues with moving heat out of the chip in the first place. All of these contribute to the problem of moving heat out of a CPU.

This is not to imply that thermal paste doesn’t matter — thermal paste matters quite a lot — but the biggest benefit of switching to a better paste these days is typically to quiet a machine, not because you’ll get a dramatic improvement in overclocking performance. While the latter is possible, it typically depends on either a misapplication of decent TIM or the use of a wretched material in the first place. End-users sometimes delid chips to further improve cooling performance, though this only works on a chip that’s used thermal paste instead of solder. It’s technically possible to delid a soldered CPU, but there’s little reason to do so since the solder will be more effective than any alternative an end-user might use instead.

In short, it’s interesting to see Arctic bringing a new product to market, and the overall performance of MX-4 on the chart above suggests there’s room for the company to improve. But the relative paucity of the gap between the best- and worst-performing TIMs, if you don’t count liquid metal, means other factors are stacking up and preventing more dramatic improvements.

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January 20th 2021, 8:04 am

ET Deals: Nearly $700 off Dell XPS 13 7390 13.3-Inch Intel Core i7 4K Laptop, Amazon New FIRE HD 8 T

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a compact 13.3-inch Dell laptop with a Core i7 processor, a 4K display and an aluminum chassis all for just $1,079.99. You can also get one of Amazon’s new Fire HD 8 tablets marked down to $59.99.

Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i7-10710U 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,079.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-10710U quad-core processor and a 4K display touchscreen. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 19 hours on a single charge. Right now you can one from Dell marked down from $1,758.99 to $1,079.99 with promo code LTWXPS13AFF.

Amazon Fire HD 8 8-Inch 32GB Tablet ($59.99)

Amazon’s new Fire HD 8 tablet features an 8-inch display with a resolution of 1,280×800 that is suitable for watching HD videos. This new model also has more RAM and storage than the old Fire HD 8 tablet with a total of 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The integrated quad-core processor is also faster at 2GHz. The tablet’s battery is rated to last for up to 12 hours on a single charge as well. Right now it’s marked down from Amazon from $89.99 to $59.99.

Dell Vostro 3681 Intel Core i7-10700 Desktop w/ Intel UHD Graphics 630, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB HDD ($679.00)

This compact desktop PC comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-10700 processor that gives it strong performance for multitasking. In general it would work well as an office PC or home desktop. The system also has a 1TB HDD that gives it plenty of storage, a DVD-ROM drive and it has four USB ports on the front to make connecting devices easy. Currently you can get this desktop from Dell marked down from $1,141.43 to just $679.00.

Google Nest Hub 7-Inch Smart Display ($69.99)

Google’s Nest Hub is a versatile device that makes it easy to connect to and control various other smart devices around your home. It also accepts voice commands and it can display information on a wide assortment of topics on it’s built-in 7-inch touchscreen display. Currently you can get one from Best Buy marked down from $89.99 to just $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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January 19th 2021, 5:56 pm

Train For A Lucrative Career in Cybersecurity For Less Than $40

ExtremeTech

If you’re among the many who lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be time to consider a new career path. And if you’re interested in getting into a booming field that’s only expanding with time, cybersecurity could be the perfect new career path for you. Since it’s one of the fastest-growing fields in IT, there will only be more and more demand for workers as time goes on.

Worried about learning the ropes? Don’t be, as a career in cybersecurity doesn’t require you to spend thousands of dollars on tuition and head back to school for years. That’s because you can learn everything you need and acquire a credible reputation in the IT field with The A-Z Cybersecurity Developer Bundle. And it’s available at the low price of $39.99, a whopping 95 percent off the usual price of all these courses, $999.

This bundle gets you up to speed with over 120 hours of training that covers everything from ethical hacking, to the CompTIA PenTest, InfoSec, data security and more. You don’t need any prior experience or coding knowledge to get started, you can just jump right into these 10 courses. And you have lifetime access, so you can work at your own pace at whatever time is most convenient for you.

You’re in great hands with the instructors of these informative courses. ITU Online is a leader in providing online IT training courses. They use proven educational concepts and sound instructional design principles, so you’ll pick up all the skills you need from the comfort of your couch.

January 19th 2021, 5:26 pm

Samsung’s 870 EVO SSDs: SATA Strikes Back

ExtremeTech

Remember SATA? We don’t talk about the older storage standard much anymore, not since M.2 became popular, but there are still a huge number of SATA SSDs on the market. Samsung’s 870 EVO SSD family is the latest iteration of Samsung hardware to serve that market, and multiple reviews online today testify to the product’s overall effectiveness.

The question of whether to use a SATA versus an M.2 SSD is an interesting example of an area where benchmarks can be accurate and yet fail to convey the experience of using a product. The practical differences between day-to-day use of an M.2 versus a SATA drive tend to be unnoticeable. If your daily use patterns involve a lot of heavy data copying, you’ll probably benefit from an M.2, but if they don’t, you can sometimes save some money and maximize available capacity by opting for a SATA drive. A 2.5″ enclosure offers a lot more room for NAND ICs than an M.2 stick.

We’ve rounded up reviews from PCMag, PCWorld, and Hot Hardware to see what folks have to say. Everyone across the board has praise for this new family of drives. The 870 EVO is based on Samsung’s triple-bit (TLC) V-NAND and is launching at capacities of 250GB ($49), 500GB ($80), 1TB ($139), 2TB ($269), and 4TB ($529). Price per GB ranges from 20 cents on the 250GB drive, down to 13 cents on the 4TB drive. All of these drives carry a five-year warranty.

One reason to buy a SATA SSD as opposed to an M.2 drive is the difference in price. Looking back at previous drives, Samsung’s 1TB 860 EVO 2.5″ SSD is $109 at Newegg, while its M.2 counterpart — which also uses SATA 6G signaling, even if it fits into an M.2 slot — is $149. While M.2 drives will outperform their SATA counterparts, the difference in commercial software may not be large. (Artificial tests on sequential read/write performance will always favor M.2 drives).

According to PCMag, “[T]he Samsung SSD 870 EVO proved itself not only as a leader among SATA drives, but also a regular competitor with both PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0-based NVMe M.2 drives. While both of those standards are great for what they do (hitting all-time sequential throughput records), their added bandwidth doesn’t always translate to better 4K random read and write scores, which is what a large percentage of SSD buyers in this category tend to care about most.”

The performance figures they refer to can be seen below:

Separately, PCWorld notes that while the 870 EVO and 870 QVO offer similar performance in many respects, the 870 EVO can keep its performance high even when writing huge single files. The 870 QVO is a QLC NAND drive that relies on an SLC cache in order to keep performance at acceptable levels. This is a common method of improving SSD performance when using QLC NAND, but once the SLC cache runs out, the performance of the drive drops substantially.

Image by PCWorld

The 870 EVO does not have this problem. Again, how often you’ll encounter it depends on how many huge file-writes you do on a regular basis, but these are the scenarios where an MLC or TLC drive proves itself over a QLC + SLC cache device.

In this case, the conclusions are straightforward. Hot Hardware writes: “If you’re in need of a high-capacity, top-performing SATA SSD and want something from a well-respected brand with a long track record in the space, the Samsung SSD 870 EVO series should be on the top of your short list.” PCWorld says: “The Samsung 870 EVO is easily the best performer in its class, and a top performer in any class across all usage scenarios.” PCMag writes that the 870 EVO “should be at the top of anyone’s list who wants the best combination of performance, product quality, and price in a 2.5-incher.”

If you’re trying to figure out whether to buy a SATA SSD or an M.2 SSD, here’s ExtremeTech’s advice: If you’re happy with the I/O performance of your current SATA SSD, don’t be afraid to save a few bucks by opting for SATA, especially if you need to trim costs or if you want to put the money towards a better CPU or GPU. If you want to maximize capacity and you’re happy with current performance, don’t be afraid to opt for a larger SATA drive over a smaller M.2. If you’re still sitting on an old-fashioned hard drive and you’ve held off upgrading because SATA is old and your motherboard doesn’t support M.2, forget about that and buy yourself a SATA SSD. Switching from an HDD to an SSD is one of the few guaranteed ways to improve the performance of even an old machine.

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January 19th 2021, 4:55 pm

NASA’s SLS Rocket Fails Major Engine Test

ExtremeTech

NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011 and embarked on two projects that would eventually restore its access to space. There’s the Commercial Crew Program, which recently led to the SpaceX Dragon successfully transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Space Launch System (SLS), which is NASA’s upcoming heavy-lift rocket, has been slower to take shape. In its first major engine test over the weekend, the SLS had to shut down after just one minute of a planned eight-minute test. NASA doesn’t want to call it a failure, but plenty of others are. 

The SLS is a heavy-lift rocket similar to the Saturn V or SpaceX Falcon Heavy. In the last decade, NASA has spent over $17 billion on the SLS. When complete, it will have enough power to send humans to the moon again and launch large payloads to the outer solar system. The vessel will have a pair of solid rocket boosters, the design of which has already been tested, but there’s less that can go wrong with solid boosters. The test over the weekend focused on the core stage’s four RS-25 engines (above), the same model used on the Space Shuttle. 

In the hot test, the core stage was docked to a test rig on the ground to keep it from flying off. NASA intended to fire the engines for eight minutes, just like a real launch. However, the flight control center called an “MCF” on engine four after one minute — that stands for major component failure, which sounds pretty bad. The test ended after 67 seconds. Outgoing NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said of the test, “It’s not everything we hoped it would be.”

We don’t know exactly what happened yet, but the timing of the failure could offer some clues. At one minute in the SLS launch protocol, the engines are supposed to throttle down from 109 percent nominal thrust to 95 percent while also adjusting their axis of thrust, known as gimbaling. Engineers spotted a small flash on the thermal protection sheath surrounding engine four, followed by the error that led to the shutdown. If there’s a problem with engine four, NASA can swap it with a spare RS-25 that it has left over from the Shuttle program, but that won’t do the trick if there’s a problem with the way the engines are integrated with the rocket itself. 

NASA, Boeing (the primary SLS contractor), and Aerojet Rocketdyne (builder of the RS-25 engines) are investigating the problem. If the solution is as simple as swapping the engine, that could happen in as little as a week or 10 days. However, NASA’s plan to launch the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission in 2024 is looking increasingly unworkable.

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January 19th 2021, 1:39 pm

TSMC Will Spend an Extra $10B on Chip Production in 2021

ExtremeTech

TSMC has announced that it will divert significantly more money than expected into its capital budget this year, with most of the investment geared towards boosting advanced processor technology deployment and development. The company expects to spend $25B – $28B, up from $17.2B in 2020. That’s a 1.54x increase if you take $26.5B as a midpoint estimate, and it comes on the heels of the largest demand surge the semiconductor industry has absorbed in decades, if ever.

We can’t say for certain that TSMC’s announcement is directly tied to whatever plans Intel is making for its own future, but a huge increase in capital spending is what we’d expect to see if Intel wanted to purchase a significant amount of capacity from TSMC by 2023. Trendforce has recently claimed that this shift is happening even quicker, with the Core i3 supposedly moving to TSMC’s 5nm node in the second half of 2021, while midrange and high-end chips would supposedly debut on TSMC’s 3nm node in 2022.

TSMC has previously said it will ramp 3nm in the back half of 2022, but it has historically led off on new nodes with mobile SoCs, not high-end desktop, laptop, or server chips. There’ve also been recent rumors of bottlenecks in TSMC’s 3nm R&D. That doesn’t mean the node will automatically be delayed, but it wouldn’t surprise us to see it slip into 2023 if the rumors are true.

Part of what makes TSMC’s investment increase interesting is that the company isn’t predicting dramatically increased revenue. TSMC’s anticipated revenue growth for 2021 over 2020 is in the mid-teens — very healthy — but the company’s budget increase will likely eat more than half its total revenue.

TSMC has also transformed its business to focus more on leading-edge revenue. Only 38 percent of its revenue is based on 28nm or older nodes. While that’s still quite a bit of money in absolute terms, the revenue split between advanced nodes and trailing nodes used to be much closer to 50/50. In this past quarter, 5nm shipments accounted for 20 percent of TSMC’s revenue, while 7nm held 29 percent and 16nm grabbed 13 percent.

Some of TSMC’s new capital outlay will be used to break ground on a new fab the company is building in Arizona, but that plant isn’t expected to be online until 2024. It’ll be interesting to see if any other foundries announce similar plans to keep pace with TSMC — Samsung would be the most obvious choice, but Intel could conceivably announce a massive new R&D effort as part of putting the company back on track, and there are second-source foundries like GlobalFoundries and UMC that might announce their own efforts to improve older / specialized nodes as well.

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January 19th 2021, 10:09 am

Intel Kills Its Consumer-Facing Optane Products

ExtremeTech

Intel has announced it will discontinue all of its Optane drives in the consumer space, even the top-end enthusiast-oriented products. This isn’t entirely surprising given how the storage market has performed these past few years, but we’re hoping it’s a tactical retreat, not a complete pullback.

According to new Product Discontinuation Notices, Intel has discontinued the M10, 800P, 900P, and 905P SSDs. That’s the entirety of the Optane desktop family, and the company does not plan to provide an immediate replacement. The discontinuation notice for the 905P family states: “Intel will not provide a new large capacity Optane Memory SSD as a transition product for the client market segment. Intel will focus on the new Optane Memory H20 with Solid State Storage for the client market segment.”

Intel has shared a few details about the Optane H20. The new drive still pairs Optane with slower QLC NAND. The Optane may be “upgraded” in some fashion, but our contact at Intel specifically confirmed it as first-generation Optane:

There may be some performance-enhancing tweaks in the H20 family, but it’s going to be modestly faster than the H10, not a fundamentally different product. It’s unfortunate to see Intel taking this path, but it isn’t too surprising, given trends in the NAND market these past few years. NAND prices have been completely in the tank.

The graph above runs through the end of 2019, but things didn’t substantially improve in 2020. NAND prices have remained low. DRAM and NAND were two of the only things you could get a reasonable price on, as far as hardware upgrades, during the last holiday season.

This has undoubtedly hurt the adoption of Optane, which has remained far more expensive than NAND. This is scarcely unusual for emerging memory technology, but it hit Optane doubly hard. The performance arguments in favor of Optane are modest outside of certain server and enterprise workloads, but they exist. Had both technologies remained more competitive, Intel would have had more luck driving adoption. With NAND prices down so dramatically, there was less market for Optane as an SSD replacement or even an Optane cache drive.

Intel’s third-generation Optane — which won’t appear for a few years — is supposed to bring some genuine performance improvements, so we may have to wait a few years to see if Intel can scale 3DXPoint to the point that it leads NAND flash in all cases. If it can, we’ll probably see the technology reappear in consumer products. For now, however, Optane will be an enterprise-only option.

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January 19th 2021, 8:53 am

NASA Gives Up on InSight’s Burrowing Mars Heat Probe

ExtremeTech

NASA’s InSight lander has been studying the red planet for more than two years now. During that time, InSight has beamed back data on the planet’s seismic activity, weather, and even the sound of blowing wind. It was also supposed to relay data on the planet’s internal temperature, but NASA has announced that it’s giving up on that endeavor after being unable to get the heat probe to burrow into the fine Martian soil. 

InSight made history when it arrived on Mars, deploying the first-ever seismic sensor (known as SEIS) on another planet. The team didn’t want to risk any mishaps, so they build a scale model of the landing zone to carefully plan out where they would deploy instruments. The SEIS package worked like a charm, but the heat Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) never worked as intended. 

The HP3, sometimes called the “mole,” is a self-hammering nail that was supposed to drag a cable of temperature sensors with it as it bored several meters into the planet’s crust. Early on, NASA found that the mole couldn’t get enough traction to burrow below the surface — it kept popping out (see above). The team tried several techniques to get the mole digging, like using the lander’s robotic arm to tamp down the soil around the hole and even pushing the probe directly. As recently as late 2020, NASA saw some progress — the HP3 was, for the first time, completely underground. Its luck didn’t hold, though. 

The InSight lander on Mars.

NASA now says the soil at the Elysium Planitia landing site was too different than what NASA has encountered in the past. Each time the mole attempted to drive itself deeper, the slippery Martian soil would collapse inward and fill in the hole. As a result, even after using the arm to nudge the probe deeper, there was no way for it to continue its downward journey. 

It’s not all bad news. The mission has returned invaluable data from its other instruments, and mission scientists have learned how variable Martian soil can be. The team has gained a great deal of experience using the lander’s robotic arm, too. NASA has just extended InSight’s mission by at least two years, so the team will be able to put that experience to good use. The next order of business is to bury the cable connecting the SEIS package to the lander. The added insulation should reduce cracking and popping sounds that currently pollute the seismic data.

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January 19th 2021, 7:51 am

ET Deals: Save Up To $800 When You Pre-Order Samsung’s New Galaxy S21 5G Smartphone

ExtremeTech

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is Samsung’s official new flagship smartphone with performance that rivals the best phones money can buy. This phone still won’t launch for a couple more weeks but you can pre-order it now and save up to $800. Depending on the offer you take, you may even be able to receive up to a $200 gift card as well.

Just like the Galaxy S20, Samsung will offer three versions of the Galaxy S21 that mostly differ in size and a small number of features. All three phones are the same at heart relying on the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC to drive performance to rival Apple’s iPhone 12. The base model Galaxy S21 5G ships with a plastic back, a 6.2-inch 1080p Dynamic AMOLED display and a 4,000mAh battery. The Galaxy S21+ 5G improves on these features slightly by moving to a larger 6.7-inch 1080p display and switching to a glass back, but it’s otherwise quite similar to the base model.

The high-end Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G outstrips the others by a fair bit by featuring better cameras, a larger battery, a higher resolution screen and several other improvements too numerous to list here. If you’re looking to get one of these phones, for the lowest price, you’re best option is to trade-in your existing phone, which could neat you up to $800 towards your new device from AT&T. Verizon and Samsung aren’t offering quite as much cash towards your new phone with the trade-in, but they are Samsung gift cards that can be used towards future purchases to help sweeten the pot.

Samsung will officially release all three models of the Galaxy S21 5G on January 29, so pre-order now and you can be among the first to try out one of these powerful new phones.

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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January 15th 2021, 6:20 pm

These Chromebooks, MacBooks, and iMacs Are Available Now For Up To 61 Percent Off

ExtremeTech

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, we’re all continuing to spend more time staying safer at home. And whether we’re working from home, helping our kids with their online schooling or simply just in need of a computer to order groceries on, now is the perfect time to invest in a laptop or desktop upgrade.

From MacBook Airs to Chromebooks, find the perfect refurbished or renewed computer solution for your needs among these stellar options, some up to an astounding 61 percent off their usual price.

Chromebooks

Chromebooks have gained more popularity than ever during the pandemic, thanks largely in part to their more affordable prices. They’re a great investment for parents in need of a laptop for their children, and a great option for those hoping to not break the bank while snagging an easy way to work from their bed or couch.

And for those hoping to snag a coveted Chromebook, there’s good news. If you purchase a certified refurbished or renewed Chromebook you can get all the perks of these handy laptops at an even better price. Here are some great options at up to 50 percent off the MSRP.

MacBooks

Whether you’re in the market for a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro, there are great refurbished or renewed options available. Get all the bells and whistles of a great Apple laptop without the hefty price tag, snagging one of these at a killer price. Check out these refurbished and renewed Mac laptops, available at up to 46 percent off the MSRP.

iMacs

In need of a desktop solution? If you’ve invested in a home office for these crazy times, you might be in search of a powerful desktop computer. iMacs come packed with all the awesome elements of Apple computers, in a sleep design. Refurbished iMacs allow you to harness the power of these expensive gadgets for a lot less than the usual sticker price, at up to 61 percent off.

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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January 15th 2021, 5:51 pm

Intel May Postpone Manufacturing Decision, Emphasizes Beating Apple

ExtremeTech

Intel’s new CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has wasted no time. While he won’t take over from Bob Swan until February, he’s already addressed Intel’s workforce in an all-hands meeting.

According to The Oregonian, Intel told assembled employees that it might wait to announce any change to its manufacturing plans until Gelsinger is onboard. This is an interesting wrinkle to the overarching manufacturing situation, and it implies that Intel wants a CEO with an engineering background to examine the situation and possibly make the decision. Then again, the Oregonian reports Intel “may” postpone a decision, not that it would, so the issue may still be under discussion.

Intel has pledged to decide the future of its manufacturing plans for next-generation chips before those CPUs would need to be in production by 2023. That’s the approximate date by which we’d expect 7nm CPUs to be in-market.

Currently, Intel is focused on Alder Lake and Rocket Lake. The former is Intel’s upcoming hybrid platform that will offer up to 16 cores with as many as eight full-sized CPU cores and eight low-power cores. There are rumors that we may see Intel hit some unusual thread counts here by supporting Hyper-Threading on the large cores but not the small ones.

Rocket Lake is Intel’s upcoming desktop platform that’s still built on 14nm but uses an updated microarchitecture based on last year’s Ice Lake mobile processors. Chipzilla has indicated Rocket Lake should deliver up to a 1.19x IPC improvement over and above Comet Lake.

Intel hasn’t officially revealed its 7nm product line, but the rumor mill believes it’s called Meteor Lake. At CES this week, Intel showed Alder Lake running in a laptop, implying it’ll be a mobile-first architecture. Alder Lake presumably comes to desktops in 2022, which clears the way for Meteor Lake in 2023. If Intel is building this chip in its own fabs, we can expect it to debut on 7nm. If it uses TSMC or licenses a TSMC process in its own factories, it might opt for 5nm or possibly 3nm depending on TSMC’s own technology ramp and node progress.

Intel can postpone that decision for a month or two, but it takes time to either implement another foundry’s process node or to design a chip specifically at TSMC. Whatever Intel is going to do, it has to start doing it soon.

Intel vs. ‘A Lifestyle Company’

Intel is taking the threat of Apple’s M1 very seriously. Gelsinger is said to have told employees, “We have to deliver better products to the PC ecosystem than any possible thing that a lifestyle company in Cupertino. We have to be that good, in the future.”

It’s good to see Intel taking the M1 seriously. Apple’s M1 chip hit the market like a bomb. While we’re happy to acknowledge that there are still a lot of questions about how Apple’s CPUs will compare with x86 across the width and breadth of the software market, the SoC is very good at what it does. Calling Apple a “lifestyle company” under these circumstances is a definite shot across the bow. Alder Lake should be the appropriate point of comparison for whatever higher-performance Mx CPU Apple debuts, so we’ll find out with that chip if Intel’s bravado is justified or not.

It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of mobile power consumption benefits Intel can extract from Alder Lake’s hybrid computing architecture, and we do expect Intel to continue improving x86 performance. Gelsinger’s attitude, however, is the right one. Both Intel and AMD need to respond to ARM’s encroachment with everything they’ve got, or risk x86’s long-term prominence in the desktop and laptop market. AMD has its own Ryzen 5000 mobile chips coming this year, with the expected 1.19x IPC uplift we’ve already seen on desktop chips. For now, Apple is the only company with an SoC that will realistically compete with either x86 company, but that could change in the future, depending on how the two manufacturers respond.

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January 15th 2021, 4:04 pm

Russia Might Issue Fines for Using SpaceX Starlink Internet Service

ExtremeTech

SpaceX is busy ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station these days, but that’s not all Elon Musk’s aerospace firm is doing. It’s also gearing up for a Mars colonization effort and deploying a satellite internet constellation called Starlink. You can get Starlink internet in a few places, but Russia doesn’t want any of its citizens going through the SpaceX system as it expands. In fact, the country has floated the idea of fining people for using Starlink or other foreign satellite internet services. 

Starlink relies on the same basic premise as traditional satellite internet — the subscriber on the ground has an antenna which they point upward to communicate with the space-based network. Services like Hughes and ViaSat have been around for years, offering mediocre speeds for an exorbitant amount of money. You can’t blame them too much — launching satellites is expensive unless you’re SpaceX. 

The company is constantly launching batches of 60 Starlink satellites aboard its Falcon 9 rockets, which are much easier and cheaper to launch thanks to SpaceX’s reusable design. There are currently almost 1,000 nodes in the Starlink network, but the company is approved for 12,000 total satellites to provide faster speeds and cable-like latency. As it approaches that number, Starlink should be available globally, but Russian citizens might find their government discourages using Starlink. 

Russia is strongly invested in monitoring and controlling internet traffic among its people. In the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, a report claims the government is looking at fines for anyone who uses Starlink or a similar “western” satellite internet service. The fines could range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($135-$405) for individuals who use Starlink. Businesses could see fines of 500,000 to 1 million rubles ($6,750 to $13,500).

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

Any traffic going through a satellite internet service will bypass any controls or monitoring programs active within Russia. Russia’s spaceflight chief, Dmitry Rogozin has also criticized the US government’s support of SpaceX, which he considers “predatory” and geared toward projecting American power across the globe. However, satellite internet might be inevitable as even those in rural areas have started expecting reliable connectivity. A recent survey found that more than half of Americans were at least willing to consider switching to Starlink when it’s available in their area — that’s how much we all hate our ISPs. 

Russia has started making plans for a national satellite internet platform called Sphere that could begin launching as soon as 2024. However, the cost of deploying such a system with Russia’s current launch assets could be prohibitively high.

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January 15th 2021, 1:49 pm

Why You Can’t Future-Proof Your Gaming PC

ExtremeTech

UE4 Elemental demo, powered by DX12

Talk to anyone about building a new PC, and the question of longevity is going to pop up sooner rather than later. Any time someone is dropping serious cash for a hardware upgrade they’re going to have questions about how long it will last them, especially if they’ve been burned before. But how much additional value is it actually possible to squeeze out of the market by doing so — and does it actually benefit the end-user?

Before I dive in on this, let me establish a few ground rules. I’m drawing a line between buying a little more hardware than you need today because you know you’ll have a use for it in the future and attempting to choose components for specific capabilities that you hope will become useful in the future. Let me give an example:

If you buy a GPU suitable for 4K gaming because you intend to upgrade your 1080p monitor to 4K within the next three months, that’s not future-proofing. If you bought a Pascal GPU over a Maxwell card in 2016 (or an AMD card over an NV GPU) specifically because you expected DirectX 12 to be the Next Big Thing and were attempting to position yourself as ideally as possible, that’s future-proofing. In the first case, you made a decision based on the already-known performance of the GPU at various resolutions and your own self-determined buying plans. In the second, you bet that an API with largely unknown performance characteristics would deliver a decisive advantage without having much evidence as to whether or not this would be true.

Note: While this article makes frequent reference to Nvidia GPUs, this is not to imply Nvidia is responsible for the failure of future-proofing as a strategy. GPUs have advanced more rapidly than CPUs over the past decade, with a much higher number of introduced features for improving graphics fidelity or game performance. Nvidia has been responsible for more of these introductions, in absolute terms, than AMD has.

Let’s whack some sacred cows:

DirectX 12

In the beginning, there were hopes that Maxwell would eventually perform well with DX12, or that Pascal would prove to use it effectively, or that games would adopt it overwhelmingly and quickly. None of these has come to pass. Pascal runs fine with DX12, but gains in the API are few and far between. AMD still sometimes picks up more than NV does, but DX12 hasn’t won wide enough adoption to change the overall landscape. If you bought into AMD hardware in 2013 because you thought the one-two punch of Mantle and console wins were going to open up an unbeatable Team Red advantage (and this line of argument was commonly expressed), it didn’t happen. If you bought Pascal because you thought it would be the architecture to show off DX12 (as opposed to Maxwell), that didn’t happen either.

Now to be fair, Nvidia’s marketing didn’t push DX12 as a reason to buy the card. In fact, Nvidia ignored inquiries about their support for async compute to the maximum extent allowable by law. But that doesn’t change the fact that DX12’s lackluster adoption to-date and limited performance uplift scenarios (low-latency APIs improve weak CPU performance more than GPUs, in many cases) aren’t a great reason to have upgraded back in 2016.

DirectX 11

Remember when tessellation was the Next Big Thing that would transform gaming? Instead, it alternated between having a subtle impact on game visuals (with a mild performance hit) or as a way to make AMD GPUs look really bad by stuffing unnecessary tessellated detail into flat surfaces. If you bought an Nvidia GPU because you thought its enormous synthetic tessellation performance was going to yield actual performance improvements in shipping titles that hadn’t been skewed by insane triangle counts, you didn’t get what you paid for.

DirectX 10

Everybody remember how awesome DX10 performance was?
Anybody remember how awesome DX10 performance was?

Anybody?

If you snapped up a GTX 8xxx GPU because you thought it was going to deliver great DX10 performance, you ended up disappointed. The only reason we can’t say the same of AMD is because everyone who bought an HD 2000 series GPU ended up disappointed. When the first generation of DX10-capable GPUs often proved incapable of using the API in practice, consumers who’d tried to future-proof by buying into a generation of very fast DX9 cards that promised future compatibility instead found themselves with hardware that would never deliver acceptable frame rates in what had been a headline feature.

This is where the meme “Can it play Crysis?” came from. Image by CrysisWiki.

This list doesn’t just apply to APIs, though APIs are an easy example. If you bought into first-generation VR because you expected your hardware would carry you into a new era of amazing gaming, well, that hasn’t happened yet. By the time it does, if it does, you’ll have upgraded your VR sets and the graphics cards that power them at least once. If you grabbed a new Nvidia GPU because you thought PhysX was going to be the wave of the future for gaming experiences, sure, you got some use out of the feature — just not nearly the experience the hype train promised, way back when. I liked PhysX — still do — but it wound up being a mild improvement, not a major must-have.

This issue is not confined to GPUs. If you purchased an AMD APU because you thought HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) was going to introduce a new paradigm of CPU – GPU problem solving and combined processing, five years later, you’re still waiting. Capabilities like Intel’s TSX (Transaction Synchronization Extensions) were billed as eventually offering performance improvements in commercial software, though this was expected to take time to evolve. Five years later, however, it’s like the feature vanished into thin air. I can find just one recent mention of TSX being used in a consumer product. It turns out, TSX is incredibly useful for boosting the performance of the PS3 emulator RPCS3. Great! But not a reason to buy it for most people. Intel also added support for raster order views years ago, but if a game ever took advantage of them I’m not aware of it (game optimizations for Intel GPUs aren’t exactly a huge topic of discussion, generally speaking).

You might think this is an artifact of the general slowdown in new architectural improvements, but if anything the opposite is true. Back in the days when Nvidia was launching a new GPU architecture every 12 months, the chances of squeezing support into a brand-new GPU for a just-demonstrated feature was even worse. GPU performance often nearly doubled every year, which made buying a GPU in 2003 for a game that wouldn’t ship until 2004 a really stupid move. In fact, Nvidia ran into exactly this problem with Half-Life 2. When Gabe Newell stood on stage and demonstrated HL2 back in 2003, the GeForce FX crumpled like a beer can.

I’d wager this graph sold more ATI GPUs than most ad campaigns. The FX 5900 Ultra was NV’s top GPU. The Radeon 9600 was a midrange card.

Newell lied, told everyone the game would ship in the next few months, and people rushed out to buy ATI cards. Turns out the game didn’t actually ship for a year and by the time it did, Nvidia’s GeForce 6xxx family offered far more competitive performance. An entire new generation of ATI cards had also shipped, with support for PCI Express. In this case, everyone who tried to future-proof got screwed.

There’s one arguable exception to this trend that I’ll address directly: DirectX 12 and asynchronous compute. If you bought an AMD Hawaii GPU in 2012 – 2013, the advent of async compute and DX12 did deliver some performance uplift to these solutions. In this case, you could argue that the relative value of the older GPUs increased as a result.

But as refutations go, this is a weak one. First, the gains were limited to only those titles that implemented both DX12 and async compute. Second, they weren’t uniformly distributed across AMD’s entire GPU stack, and higher-end cards tended to pick up more performance than lower-end models. Third, part of the reason this happened is that AMD’s DX11 driver wasn’t multi-threaded. And fourth, the modest uptick in performance that some 28nm AMD GPUs enjoyed was neither enough to move the needle on those GPUs’ collective performance across the game industry nor sufficient to argue for their continued deployment overall relative to newer cards build on 14/16nm. (The question of how quickly a component ages, relative to the market, is related-but-distinct from whether you can future-proof a system in general).

Now, is it a great thing that AMD’s 28nm GPU customers got some love from DirectX 12 and Vulkan? Absolutely. But we can acknowledge some welcome improvements in specific titles while simultaneously recognizing the fact that only a relative handful of games have shipped with DirectX 12 or Vulkan support in the past three years. These APIs could still become the dominant method of playing games, but it won’t happen within the high-end lifespan of a 2016 GPU.

Optimizing Purchases

If you want to maximize your extracted value per dollar, don’t focus on trying to predict how performance will evolve over the next 24-48 months. Instead, focus on available performance today, in shipping software. When it comes to features and capabilities, prioritize what you’re using today over what you’ll hope to use tomorrow. Software roadmaps get delayed. Features are pushed out. Because we never know how much impact a feature will have or how much it’ll actually improve performance, base your buying decision solely on what you can test and evaluate at the moment. If you aren’t happy with the amount of performance you’ll get from an update today, don’t buy the product until you are.

Second, understand how companies price and which features are the expensive ones. This obviously varies from company to company and market to market, but there’s no substitute for it. In the low-end and midrange GPU space, both AMD and Nvidia tend to increase pricing linearly alongside performance. A GPU that offers 10 percent more performance is typically 10 percent more expensive. At the high end, this changes, and a 10 percent performance improvement might cost 20 percent more money. As new generations appear and the next generation’s premium performance becomes the current generation’s midrange, the cost of that performance drops. The GTX 1060 and GTX 980 are an excellent example of how a midrange GPU can hit the performance target of the previous high-end card for significantly less money less than two years later.

Third, watch product cycles and time your purchasing accordingly. Sometimes, the newly inexpensive last generation product is the best deal in town. Sometimes, it’s worth stepping up to the newer hardware at the same or slightly higher price. Even the two-step upgrade process I explicitly declared wasn’t future-proofing can run into trouble if you don’t pay close attention to market trends. Anybody who paid $1,700 for a Core i7-6950X in February 2017 probably wasn’t thrilled when the Core i9-7900X dropped with higher performance and the same 10 cores a few months later for just $999, to say nothing of the hole Threadripper blew in Intel’s HEDT product family by offering 16 cores instead of 10 at the same price.

Finally, remember this fact: It is the literal job of a company’s marketing department to convince you that new features are both overwhelmingly awesome and incredibly important for you to own right now. In real life, these things are messier and they tend to take longer. Given the relatively slow pace of hardware replacement these days, it’s not unusual for it to take 3-5 years before new capabilities are widespread enough for developers to treat them as the default option. You can avoid that disappointment by buying the performance and features you need and can get today, not what you want and hope for tomorrow.

Update (1/14/2021):

It’s now been over two years since we first wrote this piece, although we’ve updated it in the interim, and since it’s an article about future-proofing, it makes thematic sense to return to our own conclusions and survey whether things have changed.

They have not.

Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series, which launched in the fall of 2020, dramatically improved ray tracing performance and performance per dollar compared with Nvidia’s previous generation of Turing cards. When Nvidia launched its Turing architecture, it argued that buying into the GPU family now would unlock a gorgeous future of ray-traced games. In reality, only a modest handful of games shipped with ray tracing support during Turing’s life, and Ampere’s strongest gains over Turing are often in ray-traced games.

There is nothing wrong with buying an expensive GPU because you want the best card. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to buy in at the top of a market because you want the best performance possible and are willing to sacrifice performance per dollar to reach a given performance target. Anyone who bought an RTX 2080 Ti to make certain they’d be able to play ray-traced titles as long as possible would have done better to hold on to a Pascal-era GPU in 2018 and then buy Ampere in 2020-2021 (assuming you could find one).

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January 15th 2021, 10:03 am

New Beagle Board Offers Dual-Core RISC-V, Targets AI Applications

ExtremeTech

We’ve been tracking the rise of RISC-V since the ISA debuted nearly a decade ago. While the highest-performing RISC-V CPUs are still far behind their x86 or ARM equivalents, the absolute level of performance you can get from a RISC-V core is increasing rapidly. Even better, especially for those who like experimenting with new architectures, the cost is coming down.

It’s been possible to buy a RISC-V board before this, but the options have been limited, particularly for the money you’d spend. We discussed an expensive SiFive option last year — a quad-core chip, in that case — but there’s now a much cheaper Beagle board option.

The CPU is a dual-core U74 built by “StarFive” — you can see the label below — but the U74 is a SiFive CPU core. StarFive and SiFive use the same logo, implying a relationship between the two. The company may do business under both names or have spun off part of its chip development team. Regardless, the U74 core is common to both this $119 BeagleV and the more-expensive Hive Unmatched platform we covered back in 2020. Features include:

The board costs $149 with 8GB. H.264 and H.265 decode are both supported, as is 1080p @ 30Hz refresh rate output over HDMI. There are 4x USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and 802.11b/g/n wireless. There’s also a 40-pin GPIO header, as you can see:

There are two versions on the way. The first, shipping soon to enthusiast backers, lacks dedicated video hardware and only ships with 8GB of RAM. The second will supposedly feature a GPU by PowerVR along with open source drivers. It’ll ship in two flavors — a $119 4GB variant and an 8GB variant, at $149. These later boards are expected to swap to a new SoC, trading out the VIC-7100 for the VIC-7110. This will be a quad-core SoC, with the aforementioned dedicated video hardware.

It’s nice to see RISC-V prices coming down and we’ll be curious to see if the open ISA starts picking up fans in the consumer space. Raspberry Pi is obviously the 800-pound, $35 gorilla in the room, but a fair number of companies have launched similar DIY products with higher price tags than the RBP and correspondingly larger feature sets.

The U74 is said to have performance similar to a Cortex-A55, so don’t expect miracles from the diminutive chip, but top-end performance on RISC-V is improving nicely, year to year. If any ISA is going to establish itself as a high-performance (broadly construed) alternative to ARM or x86, it looks like it’ll be RISC-V.

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January 15th 2021, 8:34 am

ET Deals: Insignia 70-Inch 4K Fire TV for $549, Samsung Galaxy Buds for $49

ExtremeTech

Today you can pick up a large format 70-inch Insignia 4K TV for just $549, and there is also an excellent deal on Samsung’s Galaxy Buds that drops their price from $129.99 to a mere $49.00.

Insignia NS-70DF710NA21 70-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition Smart TV ($549.99)

This large format TV measures 70-inches diagonal, which gives you a large amount of screen space to enjoy your favorite videos on. The TV also features a 4K resolution as well as Voice controls and HDR support. It’s also relatively inexpensive at the moment marked down from $649.99 to just $549.99.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Wireless Earbuds ($49.00)

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds were made to compete with Apple’s Airpods headphones and they have many similar features, including a fully wireless design and Bluetooth support. The Galaxy Buds also features up to 6 hours of battery life on a single charge and they can charge enough to play for an entire hour in just 15 minutes. Right now you can buy these high-end earbuds from Amazon marked down from $129.99 to just $49.00.

Dell Vostro 5000 Intel Core i7-10700 Desktop w/ 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD and 2TB HDD ($1,007.09)

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 and 16GB of RAM, which gives the system 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 $2,041.43 to $1,007.09 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Remo+ RemoBell S 1536×1536 WiFi Video Doorbell ($79.00)

Remo+’s RemoBell S is a compact solution that works as a doorbell and 1080p camera. It also has built in audio hardware for talking to whomever is at your door wirelessly. Due to its rich features and price, this device was also given an Editors’ Choice award by PCMag. You can currently get one from Amazon marked down from $99.00 to $79.00.

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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January 14th 2021, 6:21 pm

Give Your WiFi Some Support With This Asus Router On Sale For Just $80

ExtremeTech

As we all continue to stay safer at home, our poor old router might be in need of some help. If you’re working from home and the kids are distance learning and your WiFi seems strained, it might be time to invest in a new router.

Tired of yelling at the kids to stop playing video games because they’re taking up too much bandwidth? Sick of your WiFi going out during an important Zoom meeting? Powerful routers can help with these pesky problems. The Asus AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit WiFi Router (New, Open Box) is an award-winning router that’s ready to keep up with your household’s WiFi demands. And it’s available now for $79.99, 38 percent off the usual price of $129.

The Asus AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit WiFi Router is rated Amazon’s Choice at 4.5 out of 5 stars, and it’s ready to help your poor overworked WiFi. It comes equipped with speed, range and security that you need, while providing the best value for your dollar and delivering a great mix of performance and features for your home.

It can support dual-band data rates of up to 1900Mbps, which is three times faster than the standard 802.11n routers. And with this speed, you’ll not only enjoy faster internet, but you’ll also be able to use your device in more places around your home! Join in on the Zoom happy hour from the backyard! Work from your patio! It opens up possibilities at your home as we all continue to stay safer inside.

Aside from helping your speed and connectivity, this router includes AI Protection that gives you advanced parental controls and an intuitive ASUS router app lets you control your network anywhere, without you needing to boot up a PC.

Get the Asus AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit WiFi Router brand new (though not in the original box) for just $79.99 today.

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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January 14th 2021, 5:21 pm

Tesla Ordered to Recall 150K+ Vehicles to Repair Memory Failures

ExtremeTech

Tesla has been ordered to recall roughly 159,000 vehicles to fix a problem in the Media Control Unit. News broke several months ago that over 12,000 Tesla vehicles had suffered a significant NAND flash failure that killed the vehicle’s touch screen. Many vehicle controls in a Tesla are accessed via touch screen, and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) began an investigation after over 500 complaints were filed about the issue.

There are several interlocking reasons for the problem. Tesla’s onboard MCU initially contained just 8GB of NAND Flash. Tesla writes extensively to the NAND flash for data logging (problem #1), which winds up depleting the 3,000 program/erase cycles the onboard NAND flash is capable of. Once its onboard NAND fails, the touch screen stops working, freezing the end-user out of climate controls and from using the rear backup camera. It also is said to impact “audible chimes related to ADAS, Autopilot, and turn signals.”

Image by InsideEVs. The affected eMMC chip is indicated by the red arrow.

Tesla shipped this iteration of its MCU in ~159,000 vehicles, including 2012-2018 versions of the Model S and 2016-2018 versions of the Model X. The current failure rate at the time of the initial investigation was as high as 30 percent in certain build months, and failure rates accelerate after 3-4 years in service. In the summer of 2020, Tesla introduced an MCU with a 64GB eMMC chip instead of 8GB, which should alleviate the problem. The issue with older vehicles, however, remains unresolved. Typically, the NHTSA doesn’t formally demand a recall, because a manufacturer voluntarily provides one. Tesla has already acknowledged that 100 percent of vehicles with this issue will eventually fail and the NHTSA report, discussed by Reuters, indicates that nine other automakers have previously performed voluntary recalls to resolve issues like this.

The NHTSA report states: “Tesla has implemented several over-the-air updates in an attempt to mitigate some of the issues … but tentatively believes these updates are procedurally and substantively insufficient.” It noted that under the law, “vehicle manufacturers are required to conduct recalls to remedy safety-related defects.”

One of the major complaints about how Tesla is handling this situation is that the company is forcing end-users to pay for a problem it should have resolved years ago. Tesla fired its entire PR office last year, so there’s no one we can contact to get an opinion on the topic. As of this writing, no comments have been made via Twitter on how the company plans to respond to the recall “request,” but if Tesla wants to fight it, it’ll have to provide its full reasoning and justification for why the failure doesn’t constitute a safety risk to the vehicle or driver.

Tesla appears to be the only company currently suffering from this exact logging problem, which probably speaks to the wisdom of logging such exhaustive amounts of information to consumer eMMC in the first place with no long-term plan for what to do when the NAND flash failed. There’s no excuse for selling a vehicle knowing its NAND flash will begin to fail in 3-4 years with no plan for how to deal with that beyond, “Charge the customer for a replacement if it happens out of warranty.”

This issue only affects earlier Tesla models. If you bought one in the last year or two, you may not be affected. Vehicles equipped with Intel hardware don’t seem to have the same problem as earlier Tegra 3-based designs, though again — the issue here is the small amount of NAND, not the fact that the entertainment system was made by Intel or Nvidia.

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January 14th 2021, 3:38 pm

Samsung Reveals Galaxy S21 Family With Snapdragon 888, $200 Price Cut

ExtremeTech

Samsung’s annual Unpacked event is taking place a bit earlier than usual this year, but the company’s new flagship Galaxy S phones are official all the same. As expected, there are three devices in the S21 family. All three devices have the latest Snapdragon 888 ARM chip, lower price tags, and no included charger. 

The Basics

Samsung caught substantial flack last year for the exorbitant pricing of the S20 series, and this year it’s doing something about it. The S21 family is still not cheap, but all three models are getting a $200 price cut compared with last year. That means the S21 will start at just $800. Granted, Samsung has moved to a plastic back and 1080p display (6.2-inch, 120Hz) for the smallest S21 phone, but this is still a very competitive price when you consider the specs. 

The S21+ gets a slightly larger 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz screen, and the S21 Ultra is just a hair larger at 6.8 inches, but it’s higher resolution. The S21+ will cost $1,000, and the S21 Ultra is $1,200. Both of these phones have a glass back panel. 

Below the surface, these three devices are very similar. They all have the new Snapdragon 888 chip, Wi-Fi 6, universal 5G (mmWave and sub-6), 25W charging, wireless charging, IP68, and an improved in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The S21 and S21+ have 8GB of RAM and 128-256GB of storage, but the S21 Ultra has 12-16GB and up to 512GB of storage. That’s just one of several notable upgrades for Samsung’s new premium flagship, but there’s a downgrade, too: no more microSD card slots. 

Battery capacity ranges from 4000mAh in the baby S21 to 5000mAh in the S21 Ultra. Samsung has stuck with a 25W max charging speed even as companies like OnePlus have pushed past 60W. There’s no wall plug in the box, but any Samsung charger from the last year will hit 25W just fine. There are also higher-quality USB Power Delivery chargers available from third-parties that will hit 25W on the S21 while also supporting faster speeds on other devices. You also get Samsung’s 10W fast wireless charging, but of course, you won’t get that charger in the box, either. 

All three phones will have the same software loadout with Samsung’s One UI 3.1 on top of Android 11. That means you’ll get all the latest APIs and Google features, plus Samsung extras like a secure folder and enhanced Windows integration. 

Cameras

The camera modules all have a similar style — a distinctive design element this year — wherein the camera hump merges smoothly into the metal frame around the edge of the phone. The S21 and S21+ have straightforward triple-camera modules consisting of a 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, and 64MP “telephoto.” It doesn’t technically have optical zoom, though. The sensor is high enough resolution that it can crop the sensor to provide a passable digital zoom. 

The S21 Ultra goes all-out in the camera department. The primary camera is once again 108MP, but there’s a laser autofocus module to address the inconsistencies that made the S20 Ultra camera so frustrating. You also get a 12MP ultrawide and two optical zoom lenses. There’s a new 10MP 10x periscope zoom camera, plus a 10MP 3x zoom camera. This gives you more focal lengths to work with so you can avoid using digital zoom as often. The Ultra can also capture 4K60 video and 12-bit HDR photos. 

These phones will all leverage the power of the SD888 to make all those camera sensors a bit more useful. There’s a new feature called Live Thumbnails (Director Mode when shooting video) that pipes in live feeds from three different camera modules. This lets you see what each different lens can do in a given situation, allowing you to choose the one you like best. 

Ultra goodies

Samsung is attempting to sweeten the deal when it comes to the S21 Ultra — it’s not just a larger version of the other phones. In addition to the distinct camera setup, this phone has a few more premium features that you won’t get on the cheaper S21 phones. While the screen is only a little larger than the Plus, the resolution is 1440p versus just 1080p on the Plus. That’s a downgrade for the baby and Plus variants of Samsung’s new flagships. The S21 Ultra also has a dynamic refresh that can operate anywhere between 120 and 10Hz for improved battery life. 

While all versions of the S21 have Wi-Fi 6, the Ultra has Wi-Fi 6E as well. It’s one of the first consumer devices to support this standard, which expands Wi-Fi into the 6GHz spectrum. If you have a ton of devices on 2.4 and 5GHz, the expanded spectrum for Wi-Fi 6E could speed up your phone’s connectivity. 

Most notably, the S21 Ultra will add support for the S Pen stylus, which was previously only compatible with the Note and Tab families of devices. The stylus won’t come with the phone, but you can purchase one separately. Samsung will even have cases that add a slot for the pen. However, they look pretty awkward. There will also be a better version of the S Pen for the S21 Ultra that launches later this year. 

Ultra goodies

Samsung has opened pre-orders today, and most carriers will follow suit. If you’re planning to pick up the S21, the launch deals are probably the best chance you’ll have until the phone gets its inevitable mid-life price cut. Between trade-ins and monthly bill credits, you can get the new S21 phones for hundreds less than MSRP.

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January 14th 2021, 1:18 pm

Intel Tosses CEO Bob Swan, Appoints Pat Gelsinger to Top Job

ExtremeTech

The Robert N. Boyce Building in Santa Clara, California, is the world headquarters for Intel Corporation. This photo is from Jan. 23, 2019. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel’s CEO Bob Swan is out the door in a surprise move by the CPU giant, one that raises some interesting questions about what may happen on the upcoming Q1 conference call. Going forward, Intel will be led by its onetime chief technology officer Pat Gelsinger.

Gelsinger left Intel in 2009 and worked at EMC until 2012. From 2012-2020 he served as the CEO of VMWare. Gelsinger is a longtime Intel veteran, having served as the lead architect for the 80486 and served as the company’s first CTO. Bringing Gelsinger back to the company sends a message about Intel’s overall seriousness about returning to its engineering roots. It may also imply unhappiness with whatever new manufacturing strategy Swan will announce for Intel on its upcoming conference call.

This last, to be clear, is pure speculation on my part, but it would make some sense. Intel promoted Bob Swan to the job after it fired Brian Krzanich for a consensual relationship with an Intel employee that violated company policy. During his short tenure, Swan has presided over the most momentous business decision Intel has made in decades — namely, whether Intel should begin outsourcing some leading-edge work to rival foundries or forge ahead with attempting to fix its own nodes.

This slide was published before Intel delayed 7nm into 2022. It shows the pre-delay expected cadence. Intel’s 10nm plans appear to be on track now. We’ll find out more about 7nm on January 21.

Swan gave interviews as recently at this week in which he discussed Intel’s manufacturing strategy going forward in broad terms. While he gave a little more detail on the types of solutions Intel has considered, he didn’t say anything inconsistent with what he’s said before. According to Swan, Intel has decided to put every option on the table in terms of considering where it will build which chips. In the future, Intel may license process nodes from other foundries, or pay other companies to build its CPUs, GPUs, and other products.

While Intel has used foundries like TSMC for years, Swan’s comments this summer — made when he announced further delays to Intel’s 7nm — broadened the scope and nature of the foundry deals Intel was willing to consider. Intel’s 10nm node has steadily improved and appears to be yielding much better than 12-18 months ago, but the company has already said 7nm wouldn’t be ready until 2022, best-case.

It’s possible that Intel is replacing Swan because it’s unhappy with his recent tenure or wants someone to hold accountable for its ongoing problems, even though those issues pre-date Swan’s tenure as CEO by several years. It’s also possible that Intel wants to signal that it’s turned a page on its own troubles by bringing in a trusted executive to right the ship.

Multiple sources have pointed out the letter Intel got from an activist investment firm last month as a potential motive for this move. While it’s possible the letter had an impact, we think it unlikely to be the principal reason. There have been rumors that Swan might be replaced for some months now, and the optics of Intel considering TSMC or Samsung for leading-edge manufacturing is a significant enough blow to the company’s historic position that it’s not surprising to see the CEO replaced.

Intel reports its Q4 2020 and full-year results on January 21, 2021. The tone and nature of the company’s disclosures and plans for future manufacturing will tell us more about why Swan was replaced and what direction Intel will be taking in the future.

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January 14th 2021, 11:33 am

CDPR Apologizes for Cyberpunk 2077 Launch, but Explains Very Little

ExtremeTech

Late on Wednesday, CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwinski posted a video in which he apologized for Cyberpunk 2077’s abysmal console launch. Iwinski took responsibility for the decision to launch the title and its subsequent unacceptably poor performance on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

The video covers three broad topics. First, there’s the apology. Second, Iwinski offers some comments on “how the situation looked from the inside.” Third, he gives some detail on what players can expect in the future as far as updates and improvements. As far as the apology is concerned, Iwinski’s comments are clear and concise. There’s no real dodging, as far as responsibility.

His explanation for how the console version got so screwed up, however, leaves something to be desired. According to Iwinksi, the reason the Xbox One and PS4 look so bad is that the company put almost all its effort into prepping the launch on PC. It assumed, according to Iwinksi, that it could simply turn detail levels back down and have an acceptable product to work with.

This is in direct contradiction to multiple statements CDPR made over the course of Cyberpunk 2077’s development. The company told gamers that the game was constantly evaluated on all platforms. It told gamers that they could expect a good visual experience relative to what the console systems were capable of. During its October investor call, CDPR told investors that there were no problems with the console versions other than minor, normal bug fixing.

It’s nice to know that the console versions weren’t being evaluated, but there’s no explanation of why employees, executives, and board members of the company misrepresented the state of game development over a sustained period of time.

Iwinski does give us a hint at what isn’t working well on last-gen systems. According to him, getting data to stream in properly in Cyberpunk 2077 when running on the base consoles was more difficult than the company assumed due to the need to constantly improve the streaming engine. He also claimed that “our testing did not show a big part of the issues you experienced while playing the game.”

The only way CDPR didn’t experience the issues of its players is if CDPR didn’t playtest the game or didn’t listen to its playtesters. The console versions are instantly bad. The PC version, while vastly better on high-end hardware, was still very buggy at launch. Supposedly, the company believed that it could genuinely bring the Xbox and PS4 versions of the game fully up to snuff by launch date.

I flatly don’t believe this. Or, rather — I believe it, in the sense that some executives may have been willing to throw the console version of the game under a bus to hit their sales targets, to the point that they convinced themselves a game as catastrophically broken as CP2077 on Xbox One / PS4 could be fixed in a few short weeks. Maybe some people arrogantly believed there was no need for serious playtesting or bug-fixing cycles, but if so, that was highly motivated and suspect reasoning.

I cannot claim to have worked in game development, but I’ve worked on a multi-team modding project that sank several thousand hours of collective effort into a product we released for public download, and I’ve worked on my DS9 remastering project for most of a year. In both cases, I absolutely had a sense of when I might or might not be able to write a new story or release an update / new version. When you’re as deep in bug-fixing hell as CP2077 clearly was, right up until the moment it released, there’s no way you’re going to magically clear those problems and launch an acceptable game.

Either someone at the company knew about this, and that person got silenced, or the company is so poorly organized, necessary information about the state of its product failed to reach the people who most needed to hear it.

The developers actually assigned to fix the console version would have known the game wasn’t going to be ready for December 10. Marcin Iwinski says that “we” believed the game would be ready to launch. He doesn’t clarify if that refers to other people in corporate leadership, or if that was the opinion of the programmers who were actually working on the game. I wouldn’t bet on the latter.

Finally, we’ve got some news on what’s happening next. The January update will drop within 10 days, but the update coming in February was only described as arriving “in the following weeks.” After this round of work is done, the company will get started on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 enhancements, which will now likely be delayed into 2021.

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January 14th 2021, 11:03 am

Asus Announces Two New Dual-Display Laptops

ExtremeTech

An extra monitor attached to a desktop workstation can make you more efficient, but laptops need to be portable. Designers have tried to shoehorn a second display into laptops for years, but Asus might have gotten closer than ever to making dual-screen laptops practical with the new ZenBook Duo series. These laptops will start at $1,000 when they begin shipping later this month. 

Asus has made a few devices in the ZenBook Duo line, which feature a secondary display above the keyboard and abutting the bottom of the primary display. The 2021 Asus ZenBook Duo lineup features 14 and 15-inch (technically 15.6-inch) models, both of which include the redesigned “ScreenPad Plus” hardware — that’s what Asus calls the secondary display. 

The ZenBook Pro Duo 15 has a 15.6-inch 4K (3840 x 2160) OLED panel, and the ZenBook Duo 14 has a 14-inch 1080p LCD. Both devices will support Intel’s 10th or 11th Gen processors, and the 14 will have the latest Iris Xe integrated graphics by default. A version with a GeForce MX450 will also be available. The Pro Duo 15 will have support for up to a Core i9 CPU (10th gen) and GeForce 3070 GPU. 

These laptops are more than just a spec bump, though. The new ScreenPad Plus occupies the same place on the computer between the keyboard and screen, but the ScreenPad is no longer flat on the keyboard deck. It tilts up to sit at a more comfortable angle and align with the bottom of the primary screen. Asus had to create custom software for the ScreenPad, which was a sore point for the last-gen Duos. Asus says it has improved the “Screen Xpert” suite that manages content on the secondary display. For example, there’s a new window flick feature that lets you quickly move windows between the two displays, and there are customizable touch controls for apps like Photoshop. 

The main drawback to this design isn’t solved by the new screen design — your keyboard is still displaced toward the front of the laptop. With no wrist rests, it’s not going to be pleasant to type on this device for long periods of time, but that’s the price you pay for adding a second display to a laptop form factor. 

The ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED will launch in April, but pricing is unknown. The ZenBook Duo 14 will be available for pre-order on January 14th and will ship on January 22nd. The base $1,000 model has a Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and Intel integrated graphics.

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January 14th 2021, 9:47 am

Astronomers Find Oldest Supermassive Black Hole in the Universe

ExtremeTech

Astronomers have discovered about 750,000 quasars, which are among the brightest and most energetic objects in the universe. Despite its uninspiring designation, J0313-1806 is distinct from other quasars. This recently spotted object is the oldest known quasar in the universe, with a supermassive black hole more than 13 billion years old. In fact, it’s so old and huge that scientists don’t know exactly how it could have formed. 

The first quasars were discovered in the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until several decades later that we began to understand what these objects were. A quasar is an active galactic nucleus in which the supermassive black hole that anchors the galaxy pulls in matter to form a gaseous accretion disk. All this matter colliding as it spirals into the black hole releases a torrent of electromagnetic energy that serves as the hallmark of these objects. J0313-1806, for example, shines 1,000 times brighter than our entire galaxy. 

J0313-1806 is far away — 13.03 billion light-years to be exact. That means we’re seeing this object as it was just 670 million years after the Big Bang, and it’s still huge. Astronomers estimate J0313-1806 to have about 1.6 billion solar masses as its observed age. That’s not out-of-line for a supermassive black hole elsewhere in the universe, but they’ve had longer to vacuum up matter and grow larger. J0313-1806 shouldn’t have had time in the early universe to grow so large. 

The team used ground-based instruments like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) to spot J0313-1806 last year. It unseated the previous record-holder for oldest quasar, which is about 20 million years younger. Current models of black hold formation assume a star collapses to form a singularity, but the “seed mass” for J0313-1806 would have had to be at least 10,000 solar masses to reach 1.6 billion so quickly. 

The M87 supermassive black hole imaged in 2019.

The study puts forward a hypothesis to explain the existence of this bizarre quasar, known as the direct collapse scenario. In this model, it wasn’t a star collapsing that formed the supermassive black hole. Instead, an enormous cloud of cold hydrogen gas collapsed inward to form a much larger black hole than any stellar source could produce. This could explain why astronomers see so many gigantic black holes in the early universe. 

Unfortunately, J0313-1806 is so distant that we can’t gather much more detail with current technology. The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope could, however, be sufficiently precise to image objects like J0313-1806. After many years of delays, NASA plans to launch the Webb telescope in late 2021.

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January 14th 2021, 7:46 am

ET Deals: Dell G5 Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU Gaming Desktop for $1,601, Logitech MX Maste

ExtremeTech

If you’re looking for a PC to run the latest games on then you should consider Dell’s new G5 gaming desktop. This system has a 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor along with an Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU that gives it the power it needs to run some games at 4K resolutions under the right conditions.

Dell G5 Intel Core i7-10700F Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($1,601.59)

Dell built this gaming desktop with an Intel Core i7-10700F and a GeForce RTX 3070 graphics processor. Together, this hardware can run games exceedingly well. Even gaming at 4K resolutions is possible with this card under the right conditions. The system also has a unique front panel that looks cool and edgy, and with promo code SAVE12 you can get it now marked down from $1,874.98 to just $1,601.59 from Dell.

Logitech MX Master 3 Wireless Mouse ($89.99)

Logitech’s MX Master 3 mouse can last for up to 70 days on a single charge and has a high-performance optical sensor that can work on essentially any surface including glass. This mouse also features a total of seven buttons and two scroll wheels to make using your system easier, and it can be programmed with multiple profiles for easier use in different software applications. Right now you can get it from Amazon marked down from $99.99 to $89.99.

Amazon Echo Show 5 + Blink Mini Indoor Security Camera ($54.99)

Amazon’s Echo Show 5 features a 5.5-inch display and is compatible with a wide range of Amazon- and Alexa-enabled services. It can work as a display for home security devices, which is why this particular model is bundled with a Blink Mini security camera. The Blink Mini can record 1080p video and features built-in motion detection. Typically these devices sell separately for a combined total of $124.98, but you can get them together for just $54.99 from Amazon.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G 128GB Unlocked Smartphone ($1,099.99)

Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G smartphone features several advancements over its predecessor, including a high-end 108MP camera with powerful 100x zoom. Add to that 5G network support and a luxurious 3,200×1,440 AMOLED display and the advantages of the Galaxy S20 are made clear. You can now pick up one of these phones with a $300 discount that drops its price from $1,399.99 to $1,099.99, which is incredible for a phone that launched just a couple of months ago.

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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January 13th 2021, 6:25 pm

Set Up Your Own Private Cloud VPN Server With UTunnel

ExtremeTech

As we continue to stay safer at home, it seems like we’ll be continuing to spend more and more time online in 2021. The pandemic continues to rage on, so most of us are working, learning and shopping for groceries from our computers and phones. And since we’re using the internet more than ever, it’s time to think about online security.

VPNs are great, but a private VPN server provides the ultimate control. If you’re looking for a private VPN server that isn’t shared with the public, the UTunnel VPN Basic License + Cloud Server: 1-Yr Subscription is the perfect solution. There are no technical skills required and you can keep you and your family’s online activity safe for just $99.99, 16 percent off the usual price of $120.

UTunnel VPN lets you set up your very own private Cloud VPN server in a snap, as everything is automated so you don’t need to have a background in tech to get things set up. All it takes is a few clicks to get everything up and running, and the cloud VPN server is easily set up with one of UTunnel’s partner cloud providers wherever you’d like.

It’s the perfect solution for everything from small and medium-sized businesses to your family home, since you can also set up easy and secure remote access for any employees. Once it’s up and running you’ll enjoy all the benefits of VPNs, making sure your online activities stay private and protecting your important data from nefarious hackers that want to take advantage. Military-grade 256-bit encryption standards protects your data, there’s a clean dedicated IP address for better security and a 2-factor authentication for improved safety.

You’ll get access to one user license with this one year subscription, which you can utilize on up to 5 devices simultaneously connected to your VPN and a Cloud VPN server. And there’s a strict no logging policy, so your business remains your own.

See for yourself why UTunnel VPN won Great User Experience Award 2020 by FinancesOnline and Quality Choice Top Ranked Solution 2020 by Crozdesk. Get it for $99.99 today.

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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January 13th 2021, 6:06 pm

Qualcomm to Acquire Nuvia, Head Back Into Custom CPU Development

ExtremeTech

Qualcomm has announced that it will acquire Nuvia, one of several ARM-based startups we’ve had our eye on for some time. Qualcomm’s purchase of Nuvia caps a several-year saga in which the company has been both all-in on its custom CPU designs and conclusively out of that market.

Back in 2017, Qualcomm’s Centriq was supposed to challenge Intel’s server dominance with more cores, lower TDPs, and highly efficient performance per watt. That never happened — after developing, showing, and even shipping the parts, Qualcomm got cold feet and backed out of the market. This may have been partly due to the general immaturity of the ARM server market at the time — AMD ultimately shelved K12 and focused on x86 for similar reasons — but it’s been three years now, and the ARM server space has continued to evolve.

Qualcomm will buy the company for $1.4B and argues that bringing the company aboard will bolster development efforts around future Snapdragon processors. What this looks like is an effort to acquire a custom CPU development team, similar to how Apple bought PA Semi all those years ago. The company states that it expects to integrate Nuvia products in all aspects of its portfolio, including flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops, digital cockpits, and ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) solutions. Gerard Williams, Manu Gulati, and John Bruno will all be joining the company.

This would be Qualcomm’s second foray into designing its own ARM CPU core. While Qualcomm has previously built its own ARM CPUs, and actually outperformed what ARM had in-market at the same time, it’s been using CPUs that hew much closer to ARM’s standard Cortex A-series chips these past few years. While modern Snapdragon chips are still closely derived from the Cortex family, Nuvia’s chips promised to be something altogether different.

Will Nuvia’s CPUs Still Show Up in Servers?

One telling omission from Qualcomm’s PR is any statement regarding future plans for the ARM server market. Qualcomm makes no remarks on that topic, raising the possibility that while the Nuvia purchase may be intended to revitalize the company’s custom CPU design efforts and bring new silicon to market.

Nuvia’s projected performance per watt suggested it could seriously challenge x86 and even Apple. Qualcomm must have seen something they liked.

One of the arguments we’ve made at ET for why Apple’s M1 could be such a threat to x86 is because of what it might encourage other company’s to attempt, if Intel’s throne were truly vulnerable. I’m not suggesting that either this purchase or Microsoft’s declaration that it would design its own chips are solely due to the M1’s arrival — that’s both overly simplistic and too monocausal — but I would suggest that Qualcomm snapping up Nuvia, Microsoft’s own efforts, and the M1 itself are all examples of how x86’s monopoly is cracking around the edges.

The length of CPU design cycles means we’ll have to wait for a few more launches to see how things are truly shaping up. At the very least, we’re looking at the most interesting CPU market we’ve had in years, as AMD, Intel, and new ARM chips slug it out. Whether x86 ultimately emerges triumphant or not, the increased competition in the market will benefit everyone.

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January 13th 2021, 6:06 pm

Report: Intel Will Build DG2 at TSMC on ‘Enhanced’ 7nm Node

ExtremeTech

One of the biggest questions facing Intel as we move into 2021 is the degree to which the company will rely on third-party foundries for its leading-edge products. Over the past year or so, Intel has announced that it would tap foundry partners for a wider range of products, but left open which companies had won which business.

According to Reuters, Intel intends to manufacture DG2 — its upcoming consumer graphics card — at TSMC, on an enhanced 7nm node that hasn’t even been named yet. TSMC has sold 7nm in three flavors — N7, N7P, and N7+. N7P was the original N7 node with additional performance enhancements, while N7+ introduced EUV lithography. The introduction of EUV was a major step all on its own. TSMC may have built a new 7nm node for its own purposes; the company occasionally introduces new variants of mature nodes. 7nm is still close enough to the leading edge to plausibly be refined in some fashion.

Alternately, Intel might have paid TSMC to implement a specific version of the node that suits its own goals. Reuters claims the node will be more advanced than Samsung’s 8N, which Nvidia tapped for Ampere.

Intel CEO Bob Swan gave interviews ahead of CES 2021, in which he appears to be charting a middle ground between Intel yanking all of its current third-party semiconductor manufacturing back into its own fabs and going purely fabless. According to Swan, Intel’s goal is to maintain maximum flexibility in its approaches:

[W]e may outsource more; it means we may use more available third-party IP, it means we may make stuff for others, not just, i.e., be a foundry ourselves. And is there a scenario where we could be using somebody else’s process technology in our fabs? That’s possible. The key is, as the industry evolves, how do we leverage the innovation? Not just within our four walls, but the innovation happening in the industry as a whole, and be very flexible and adaptable to take advantage of those [innovations] along the way.

Intel’s DG1 GPU, offered in the Xe Max product line.

These comments aren’t too different from what Swan has said in the past, and they imply that Intel will announce a mixed strategy in which it retains its own foundries, but clarifies which products will be built at other companies on January 21. It doesn’t really matter if Intel builds DG2 at TSMC, just like it doesn’t really matter that Mobileye continues to use TSMC for its own products. When people think about Intel, they don’t think about GPUs or automotive computing. What’s really going to drive headlines and opinions about whatever strategy Intel announces on January 21 isn’t where the company builds its GPUs, IoT, automotive, or storage products. The perceived impact will turn on where future CPUs will be built and what foundry customers (if any) win which products.

According to 2020 data from IC Insights, TSMC was the second-largest foundry, with the equivalent of 2.5 million 200mm-equivalent wafer starts per month. Intel was measured at 817K wafer starts per month. While this leaves TSMC obviously dwarfing Intel, not all of TSMC’s foundries are even capable of building the kind of hardware Intel needs. Any attempt by Intel to shift its business to TSMC wholesale would also require a dramatic capacity expansion on TSMC’s part.

Look for more details on Intel’s future chip strategy to arrive on January 21.

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January 13th 2021, 11:35 am

AMD Is Bringing Threadripper Pro, 8-Channel Motherboards to Market

ExtremeTech

AMD will bring its eight-channel Threadripper Pro systems to the retail market, opening up the segment. Previously, the eight-channel Threadripper Pro variant was only available to OEMs (we’ve got a review coming on one of these Lenovo systems, with comparison against the 3990X).

AMD’s Threadripper and Threadripper Pro platforms are both designed for professionals who need more horsepower than a typical desktop platform can provide. Where AMD’s top-end Ryzen 9 5950X offers 16 cores, a TR or TR Pro system can pack as many as 64. Additionally, Threadripper Pro uses the WRX80 chipset, which packs up to eight memory channels (regular TR tops out at four):

Multiple motherboard manufacturers are bringing boards to market to support the new CPU. The Supermicro M12SWA-TF is an E-ATX motherboard with no fewer than six full-sized PCIe 4.0 slots, four PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots, and a pair of U.2 slots. The M.2 slots support RAID 0, 1, and 5, while the U.2 support RAID 0 and 1. There’s also an ASpeed AST2600 BMC controller for IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) access.

The Supermicro M12SWA-TF, also shown above.

The board is capable of supporting either three dual-slot or two triple-slot GPUs. The back panel shows an array of USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 1, dual ethernet, and an ALC4050 HD sound solution from Realtek, alongside an ALC1220. The ethernet ports are driven by an Aquantia AQC113C (10GbE) and an Intel I120-AT (2.5GbE).

There are also boards coming from Asus and Gigabyte, but since we don’t have any information on those but leaks, so we’ll refrain from commentary for now. AMD has not yet announced any Threadripper CPUs powered by the Ryzen 5000 series, but such CPUs will likely arrive later in the year when Milan is ready. Historically, AMD tends to refresh its server platform before it launches new Threadripper chips. We don’t expect higher core counts this year, but we’ll get the full benefit of Zen 3’s 1.19x IPC improvement when they do. Meantime, if you’ve got a workload you know can benefit from more memory channels than a standard Threadripper offers, Threadripper Pro will be available in the retail channel later this year.

We don’t talk about the workstation market as separate from desktop, because it’s harder to get numbers broken out specifically in this area. The fact that Intel cut its Cascade Lake Xeon prices back in 2019 after several years of standing firm in the face of Threadripper’s upping of the ante suggested that the chip giant had become more concerned about its competitive standing. Overall desktop sales dropped sharply in 2020 as shipments both boomed and shifted towards laptops, so it’s not clear how this has impacted the overall workstation space.

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January 13th 2021, 9:18 am

Lenovo’s New Legion Gaming Laptops Sport Latest AMD, Nvidia Hardware

ExtremeTech

There’s no in-person CES this year, but companies are still rolling out new products for the virtual event. Among them is Lenovo, which has unveiled a complete revamp of its Legion gaming laptops. The new machines combine AMD’s latest CPUs with Nvidia’s new mobile GPUs. The price tags won’t be in the budget range, but they’re much lower than some competing gaming laptops. 

The Lenovo Legion 7 (above) is at the top of Lenovo’s new lineup. This computer has a 16-inch display with a less-common 16:10 ratio. That gives you a little more vertical space compared with 16:9 displays. The IPS panel is 2560 x 1600 with a 165Hz refresh rate, 3ms response time, 500 nits of brightness, HDR 400 with Dolby Vision, and Nvidia G-Sync. 

The display alone puts it in the upper echelon of gaming laptops, but the Legion 7 doesn’t stop there. It will also have the latest 5000-series AMD Ryzen mobile processors. On the GPU side, the laptop will have RTX 3000 cards, but Lenovo hasn’t specified which models. The Legion 7 comes with up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of NVMe storage. Lenovo expects to launch the Legion 7 in June with a starting price of $1,699.99. That’s an expensive laptop, but we regularly see gaming laptops that cost much more. 

If you’re looking to keep your mobile gaming machine a little more mobile, there’s the Legion Slim 7. This laptop will weigh just 4.2 pounds, making it the thinnest and lightest Legion laptop ever. This laptop will have both 4K and 1080p display options, but the 165Hz refresh rate is only available on the 1080p model. Again, this laptop will have the latest AMD and Nvidia parts. However, we don’t have a price or release date yet. 

The Legion 5 Pro.

The next step down is the Legion 5, which comes in three variants: A 16-inch Legion 5 Pro, a 17-inch Legion 5, and a 16-inch Legion 5. The Legion 5 Pro will start at just $1,000 with a 16-inch 165Hz LCD at 2560 x 1600 (another 16:10 ratio). This computer will max out with a Ryzen 7 CPU (instead of Ryzen 9 in the Legion 7) and 16GB of RAM, but it’ll still have an RTX 3000 GPU. 

The non-pro versions of the Legion 5 will start at just $770, but the cost will depend on which of numerous screen and CPU configs you choose. The displays are stuck at 1080p, but you can get a super-fast refresh rate. All these devices will have next-gen Ryzen CPUs and Nvidia 3000-series GPUs as well. That could make even the base model an appealing gaming machine.

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January 13th 2021, 8:20 am

AMD Launches Ryzen 5000 Mobile APUs, Previews 3rd Gen Epyc

ExtremeTech

AMD’s CEO Lisa Su delivered the virtual CES 2021 keynote this year. The company made several announcements during the event, including the launch of its Ryzen 5000 mobile processors and a preview of what we can expect when third-generation Epyc, codenamed Milan, debuts later this year.

The Ryzen 5000 mobile family will introduce some targeted improvements to specific SKUs, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag, depending on which segments you’re interested in. Customers looking for higher power, higher performance laptop chips in the 35-45W range may be happier than those in the thin-and-light markets.

A Bifurcated Refresh

There’s a range of new chips in the 35W-45W TDP segment, branded as the “HX”, “HS”, and “H” families. The new HX CPUs are for overclocking and allow for a higher TDP than typical — these are listed as “45W+” chips.

HS CPUs now have the same turbo clock as H-family CPUs, but a lower base clock and a lower TDP overall. These chips are rated for 35W instead of 45W. All of these CPUs are based on the Zen 3 architecture, which means they should deliver the 1.19x IPC improvement AMD demonstrated with the Ryzen 5000 series on the desktop, as well as features like the expanded L3 cache.

The “U” family, however, contains more rebadged Ryzen 4000 parts than it does Ryzen 5000 series chips. You can tell which is which because the Zen 2 chips have less than half the cache.

Only the Ryzen 7 5800U and Ryzen 5 5600U are based on Zen 3; the 5700U, 5500U, and 5300U are all Zen 2-based CPUs. According to AMD’s slides, the 5600U is faster in single-threaded code than the 5700U but modestly slower in multi-threaded code.

There doesn’t appear to be a refresh on the integrated GPU side of things, though AMD may have tweaked clocks or efficiency in a manner that improves performance. The company’s performance claims show small uplifts for even the Zen 2-based parts in CPU workloads, likely due to process node tweaks and other low-level optimizations. All of AMD’s disclosures focused on the CPU side of the equation, which implies the GPU isn’t changing much.

This doesn’t mean the Ryzen Mobile 5000 family won’t increase battery life and overall system efficiency — AMD claims up to 17.5 hours general usage and up to 21 hours of movie playback for the Ryzen 7 5800U — but it suggests those improvements will come on the CPU side of the equation.

And a Bit About Epyc

AMD also briefly demoed its upcoming third-generation Epyc CPUs, codenamed Milan. We don’t expect any dramatic core count expansions this cycle, and the new chips should drop in as replacements for the previous generation, as far as platform support is concerned. The company didn’t have much to show — just the results of a single benchmark claiming a dual-socket Epyc equipped with two Milan 32-core CPUs was 46 percent faster than an equivalent system outfitted with Xeon Gold 6258R 28-core chips. In single-socket performance, AMD claimed a 68 percent difference with the same Xeon system when running in a single socket.

AMD’s Milan and Intel’s Ice Lake Xeons will slug it out against each other later this year, but without more details, we can’t say much about AMD’s claims. Overall, it’s good to see Zen 3 come to mobile, but the clear focus this year is on increasing AMD’s ability to compete for higher-end gaming notebooks in the 35-45W+ TDP range, as opposed to focusing on the ultra-low-power market. Hopefully, we’ll see a more complete refresh of the entire platform next year, with the presumed arrival of Zen 4.

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January 13th 2021, 8:20 am

ET Deals: Dell XPS 15 7590 4K OLED Laptop for $899, $60 Off Apple MacBook Pro M1 Chip

ExtremeTech

Today you can pickup a Dell XPS laptop with a 4K OLED display and a Core i5 processor for just $899.99.

Dell XPS 15 7590 Intel Core i5-9300H 4K OLED 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($899.99)

This high-end laptop comes equipped with a 4K 15.6-inch OLED display that has excellent color accuracy. This type of screen would work well for professionally editing images and videos, but it’s also highly enjoyable to have for watching videos. This system also is equipped with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM that should give it solid performance as well. Currently you can get it marked down from $1,358.99 to just $899.99 with promo code LTXPS151.

Apple MacBook Pro M1 Chip 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($1,239.99)

Apple’s latest MacBook Pro comes equipped with Apple’s new M1 SoC, which contains an 8-core processor that’s reportedly 3.5 times faster than the hardware inside of the preceding model. Apple said the system can also last for up to 20 hours on a single charge, giving you all the power you need to work from sunrise to sunset. Now for a limited time you can get one of these systems from Amazon marked down from $1,299.00 to just $1,239.00. Final price and discount will be shown at checkout.

Oculus Rift S VR Gaming Headset ($299.00)

Oculus’s Rift S VR headset was designed from the ground up to provide you with an enjoyable gaming experience. It comes with a pair of wireless touch controllers and has everything you need to run VR games — except a PC that is. You will need a capable computer to get the most out of this hardware with Oculus suggesting an Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card or better. Currently you can get one of these HMDs from Amazon marked down from $399.00 to just $299.00

Dell OptiPlex 3080 Micro Intel Core i5-10500T Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 128GB NVMe SSD ($599.00)

This compact desktop features solid performance thanks to a six-core Intel Core i5-10500T processor that can hit clock speeds of 3.8GHz. It’s also easy to hide out of the way to leave your work area looking clean and organized. Today you can get this system from Dell marked down from $1,070.00 to $599.00 with promo code SAVE50.

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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January 12th 2021, 6:15 pm

Master The AWS Cloud With BitDegree Academy

ExtremeTech

2020 was a tough year for all of us. If you’re among the many people who lost their job during this tumultuous year, you might be contemplating a major career change. The world of AWS Cloud is a new frontier and careers in this field are booming and potentially very lucrative. And if this area sounds daunting, don’t worry.

Mastering AWS Cloud doesn’t mean you have to go back to a pricey college. The BitDegree Academy AWS Online Courses and Practice Exams can help you learn the ropes and get you started on a brand new career path. And though they typically cost $199, they’re available now for 59 percent off at just $79.99.

A brand new career as an AWS Cloud expert is closer than you think and easier than ever to access for beginners. You can watch over 8 hours of video instruction from the comfort of your couch, at whatever time is most convenient to you. These practice-oriented courses help you master the world’s most prominent cloud platform and improve your career chances in this constantly expanding field.

Within these 191 lectures, you’ll be introduced to the concept behind clouds, like architecture design principles, AWS value proposition, and cloud economics aspects. There’s also the added bonus of learning about AWS’s shared responsibility, access management, concepts of security and compliance. It’s perfect for beginners, no prior IT knowledge needed.

10 practice exams will track your learning on cloud concepts, security and technology. And you can rest assured you’re in good hands with the instructor, BitDegree Foundation. They have a 4.1 out of 5 star rating and featured in-house course creators that help you learn in a fun and engaging way.

See why Truspilot gave this bundle a whopping 4.6 out of 5 stars. Snag this information and change your life today for just $79.99.

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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January 12th 2021, 5:30 pm

Nvidia Announces RTX 3060 Graphics Card, Launching in February for $329

ExtremeTech

Nvidia’s new RTX 3000 graphics cards represent a significant improvement over the last-gen RTX GPUs, but finding the latest and greatest can be a challenge. Supply might loosen up a little next month with the launch of Nvidia’s latest GPU, the RTX 3060. It will retail for just $329, so it might be affordable even after the inevitable reseller markup! What a time to be alive. 

The RTX 3060 will occupy the mid-range in Nvidia’s lineup. As part of the RTX series, it supports advanced features like DLSS and ray tracing. DLSS uses AI to analyze images and upscale resolution to make game rendering more efficient. Ray tracing, meanwhile, creates more realistic lighting by tracing light paths live during game rendering. Those features will make it a solid upgrade over the RTX 2060 and GTX 1060 that it replaces, at least in theory. 

The RTX 3060 is distinct from the 3060 Ti, which Nvidia unveiled last month. The 3060 has the GA106 GPU with 3584 CUDA cores, 112 TMUs, and 12GB of RAM. The Founder’s Edition card will have a TDP of 170W, but OEMs will no doubt create custom versions that boost a spec here or there that might require a little more juice. Interestingly, the 3060 starts at 12GB of RAM, whereas the 3060 Ti has just 8GB. That card does have more than 1,000 extra CUDA cores, though. 

Nvidia hasn’t offered specific performance numbers, but a chart it shared (above) shows the 3060 handily beating the last-gen 2060 in games like The Division 2, Cyberpunk 2077, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider by small but noticeable margins. The difference between the 3060 and the 1060, however, is massive. Nvidia shows a 100 percent boost in some games, while others that are unplayable (>10fps) on the 1060 can manage over 60fps on the 3060. That’s with ray tracing and DLSS enabled. 

With the lower starting price, Nvidia is promoting the RTX 3060 as “Ampre for every gamer.” Cards on the Ampere architecture like the RTX 3080 and 3070 have been almost impossible to purchase lately. Even if you found one in stock at a reputable retailer, the asking price was between $500 and $700. With the shortage, the only units available much of the time are marked up by resellers to $1,000 or more. 

Initially, Nvidia will be the only source for the stock RTX 3060. More OEMs will launch versions of the product on Amazon, Best Buy, and other sites soon after the February launch.

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January 12th 2021, 3:30 pm

NASA Extends Jupiter and Mars Missions

ExtremeTech

NASA builds its hardware to last. Missions like Curiosity, Hubble, and New Horizons have survived long past their initial design life. This allows NASA to wring out every bit of science from its most successful missions, and now you can add Juno and InSight to the list. NASA has given both robotic explorers a new lease on life, and Juno will expand its focus to include Jupiter’s moons. 

The InSight mission launched in May 2018 and landed on the red planet later that year. It set down in Elysium Planitia, deploying the first-ever seismometer on another planet. It also has a tunneling temperature probe that has been a pain to get underground. NASA has only started reporting success there. 

A NASA senior review panel decided that both InSight and Juno were likely to deliver substantial scientific benefits if they are funded to operate longer. InSight’s next phase is straightforward. This is a stationary lander, so NASA can’t decide to send it someplace else. NASA will, however, continue to use InSight to collect data from Elysium Planitia through December 2022. 

The situation with Juno is somewhat different. This orbiter has been making long, swooping passes of the planet Jupiter since its arrival in 2016. It has since completed 30 passes of the planet, returning data on its magnetic field, clouds, and gravity. According to project scientists, Juno is still in good shape and should be able to explore the Jovian system more extensively by pushing the number of orbits to 76. This follows a previous three-year extension in 2018.

The InSight lander on Mars.

During its extended mission, Juno will be able to visit three of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, the largest and arguably most interesting of the planet’s 79 total satellites. According to NASA’s preliminary research plan, Juno will fly within 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) of Ganymede this coming summer. That’s the largest of the solar system’s moons. In 2022, Juno will skim Europa at an altitude of just 320 kilometers (about 198 miles). Europa, of course, is famous for its global ice sheet that most likely conceals a liquid ocean. Finally, in 2024, Juno will spring past the volcanically active moon Io at a distance of 1,500 kilometers (about 932 miles). 

Juno will be able to study the topography of these moons in unprecedented detail, and scientists will be able to compare the Juno data to Voyager data from decades ago. It may even be able to map the thickness of Europa’s ice sheet, which will come in handy if any of the proposed sub-surface exploration programs ever come to fruition. It could also give a boost to the upcoming Europa Clipper mission that will explore the moon in detail early in the next decade.

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January 12th 2021, 10:57 am

The Semiconductor Shortage Has Come for the Auto Industry

ExtremeTech

The ongoing semiconductor shortage isn’t just hitting big-name tech companies like AMD, Intel, and Nvidia. According to multiple automotive manufacturers, the general manufacturing problems hitting the industry are now meaningfully slowing vehicle production.

“This is absolutely an industry issue,” Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin told the AP. “We are evaluating the supply constraint of semiconductors and developing countermeasures to minimize the impact to production.”

This is separate from the COVID-related issues that caused car manufacturers to idle facilities throughout 2020, and it’s creating constraints on companies as they attempt to bring factories back online. Toyota has slowed production on the Tundra, Ford pulled in some planned downtime for its Louisville facility, Fiat Chrysler has temporarily closed some factories, and Volkswagen has announced it’s facing component shortages and may slow production for this reason. Nissan hasn’t seen problems in the US, but its Japanese production has been slowed.

The problem appears to be timing. As demand dropped off from the auto industry, foundries pivoted to assign newly freed-up capacity to other companies. Now, with car sales picking up more quickly than anticipated, manufacturers want to start building more product again — and the semiconductor industry is still running red-hot. In some cases, the automakers are slowing production of slower-selling vehicles and diverting more chips to higher-end vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs. This implies the epidemic may accelerate the ongoing US shift towards SUVs and away from passenger sedans.

One major question out of all this is how the semiconductor industry may change following 2020. Modern factories and foundries have spent decades emphasizing lean, just-in-time manufacturing, and the result has been a supply chain that’s not particularly well-suited to absorbing sudden surges in demand. Part of the problem with building resiliency into the semiconductor manufacturing chain is that foundries typically have high fixed costs, due to the need to keep the plant in peak operating condition whether you’re actually manufacturing anything in the facility or not. There have been reports that the production delays hitting most high-end consumer equipment are being caused by a shortage in ABF (Ajinmoto Build-up Film), a resin used in producing microprocessors. The situation in 2020 is the macro-scale, industry-wide version of what happened to the hard drive industry during the Thailand floods nearly a decade ago. Back then, multiple companies were unable to ship HDDs because ball bearings suddenly became very difficult to source.

Part of the reason why the COVID-19 shortages are kicking everyone in the teeth is that the market for 200mm hardware was under pressure, even before the pandemic. A significant percentage of IoT, automotive, 5G, and self-driving silicon is built on older 200mm wafers, older process nodes, or both. Instead of drying up as was originally expected, 200mm demand has actually increased in recent years. COVID-19 put additional pressure on those production lines at the same time it put pressure on everyone else’s production facilities as well.

It’s going to be well into 2021 before we see these shortages settle down, and honestly, it might take until 2022. One of the problems with the semiconductor industry is that it cannot pivot to address short-term market shocks. Even if GlobalFoundries had empty 7nm lines, there’s no way to quickly port products from TSMC or Samsung to use them. Even if TSMC had broken ground on a massive new foundry the day the pandemic was found in China, it’d be another few years before the factory was ready to ship hardware. In other contexts, we might argue that the pandemic had highlighted the problem of relying on just 1-2 foundries, but the truth is, companies have been driven away from the IDM model because of inexorably rising manufacturing costs, while foundries have been pushed off the leading edge for the exact same reason. Having reserve capacity at Foundry B does no good if it takes 6-12 months to port a design to the different production method.

The 200mm market is going to remain tight for months, if not the next several years, and while the automotive market will probably recover as the computing market cools off, it won’t be surprising if shortages last beyond March – April 2021.

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January 12th 2021, 9:09 am

NASA Will Launch Europa Clipper on Commercial Rocket

ExtremeTech

Many planetary scientists believe that Europa might be our best bet to find evidence of alien life in our own backyard. Although, it’s a big backyard, and the planned Europa Clipper mission needs a powerful rocket to reach the Jovian moon. Congress previously required that this mission launch on the massively delayed Space Launch System (SLS), but the most recent NASA budget has untied the agency’s hands

Europa Clipper is an ambitious long-term robotic mission that aims to study Europa up close by way of multiple orbital flybys. NASA hopes to launch the spacecraft in 2024, sending it on a six-year journey to Jupiter. Once there, the spacecraft will spend at least four years swinging past Europa to scan its entire surface. The probe will also have tools to characterize the suspected sub-surface ocean below the cracked ice sheet. 

The ongoing issues getting the SLS rocket complete has added uncertainty to the Europa Clipper timeline, and NASA wasn’t allowed to explore alternatives. This restriction is thanks to congressional vote trading — a former US representative from Texas pushed funding for the Clipper mission, and he got Senate support from Republican Richard Shelby by including the SLS mandate. Shelby’s home state of Alabama has a large number of aerospace contractors that stood to benefit from the SLS. 

NASA has urged Congress to reconsider that mandate, and it looks like the message finally got through. In the recently passed budget, the NASA section includes a modification to the SLS mandate — it’s not gone, but NASA has much more latitude to explore alternative ways to get the Europa Clipper into space. While NASA will still have to use the SLS if it’s ready in 2024, the agency can instead use something like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy if the SLS is still running behind. 

The Space Launch System was pushed by Congress as an alternative to the Constellation program that the Obama administration canceled in 2009. In return, the administration got the Commercial Crew Program, which recently succeeded in sending astronauts into space. The SLS is slated to be the most powerful rocket in the world when complete, but it’s an expensive single-use vehicle with a projected launch cost of more than $2 billion. A Falcon Heavy launch would save NASA about $1.5 billion. Although, the SLS does have enough power for a direct flight to Jupiter, whereas the Falcon Heavy launch would involve some planetary slingshot maneuvers. 

It’s unclear which direction NASA will go — the SLS is currently expected to have its first test flight in 2021 with a crewed mission in 2023. If that holds, NASA could still use the SLS for Europa Clipper. Thankfully, the agency won’t be hamstrung in the event of more delays.

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January 12th 2021, 7:39 am

Intel at CES 2021: 8-Core Tiger Lake, 35W 11th Gen Mobile CPUs, Rocket Lake

ExtremeTech

This year, at the first-ever digital CES, Intel is announcing a slate of new processors across multiple product families. There are new updates coming for the budget Pentium Silver and Celeron families, new 11th Generation vPro and Evo vPro systems, upcoming eight-core Tiger Lake CPUs, new higher-end Tiger Lake quad-cores intended for gaming, and new data on upcoming products like Rocket Lake. Here, we’ll focus mostly on the new CPU announcements.

Intel is putting a lot of emphasis on the Chromebook market, with the first 11th Gen CPUs launching in that space later this quarter. When Chromebooks first appeared, they were typically powered by ARM CPUs, but we’ve seen a number of x86 devices launch over the past few years. Chromebooks have been particularly popular in the age of COVID-19; PC market reports for Q3 2019 showed a 1.9x growth in shipments in just a single year. AMD has also been quite interested in this market of late, so we’ll see how things evolve this year. We might see a low-end grudge match between the two companies in this space if the Chromebook market stays red-hot.

Tiger Lake Goes High Power

As far as Tiger Lake is concerned, Intel has unveiled a new Tiger Lake gaming platform (H35), and teased upcoming Tiger Lake eight-core CPUs. There are three new TGL quad-core chips — the Core i7-11375H “Special Edition,” the Core i7-11370H, and the Core i5-11300H. All of these are 35W chips:

Note: Intel has stopped providing base frequencies for its processors at the 15W TDPs it has previously reported. Instead, it now reports the CPU’s minimum frequency if run in cTDP Down mode (28W) and cTDP Up mode (35W). This is a consumer-unfriendly change that obfuscates basic information about the minimum operating frequencies that customers should expect. Without knowing whether a laptop is designed to operate in one TDP range or the other, the consumer has no way to compare expected performance. The end-user deserves to be aware of the expected minimum CPU clock in all cases.

One of the problems with mobile phones is the degree to which they obfuscate information about their own actual clock speeds, and often market chips based solely on boost clocks. This is not a trend the PC industry should copy.

With that said, these CPUs offer the advantages you’d expect from a higher TDP — higher boost clocks and likely more sustained turbos, delivering higher overall frequencies. They won’t make a tremendous difference, but they’ll probably deliver better experiences under load.

Meanwhile, Intel still isn’t ready to talk about its eight-core Tiger Lake CPU by name, but it’s willing to confirm the existence of the chip. This CPU will offer up to eight cores of Willow Cove performance, with full support for PCIe 4.0 and 20 lanes of support. Since GPUs don’t currently benefit from an x16 PCIe 4.0 connection — PCIe 3.0 can feed any modern card — it’ll be interesting to see if we see any companies using some of those lanes to enable multiple x4 linkages for M.2 storage arrays in mobile as opposed to using them solely for GPUs. Sadly, we’ll probably see a lot more GPU-focused usage of lanes rather than M.2, but one can hope.

Presumably, the eight-core TGL CPU will drop into a TDP range between 35W – 65W. Intel’s 10th Gen Core i9-10980HK has a base frequency of 2.43GHz but a TDP range of 45W – 65W, so the upcoming TGL CPU might come in anywhere in this space. With top-end frequencies of up to 5GHz, we’re guessing this isn’t a low-power chip.

This eight-core CPU will represent the most-advanced, highest-power variant of an Intel architecture you can buy in 2021, even though it may not be the fastest in absolute terms. Rocket Lake, which we’ll discuss below, is based on Cypress Cove, aka Sunny Cove, aka the CPU inside of Ice Lake — not Tiger Lake.

Rocket Lake Arrives

Finally, we have the imminent arrival of Rocket Lake, which Intel has also confirmed as arriving in Q1 2021. The Core i9-11900K is capable of 5.3GHz turbo and a 4.8GHz all-core turbo, and it will ship with support for DDR4-3200, up from DDR4-2933. It is typically possible to operate Intel CPUs at higher RAM frequencies than this, but Intel chips don’t benefit from higher RAM clocks to the same degree that AMD chips do.

Rocket Lake will be backward compatible with the Intel 400 series, and Comet Lake-S CPUs will be compatible with 500 series motherboards, except Celeron CPUs with just 2MB of cache. Those specific 10th Gen CPUs will not be compatible. This shouldn’t affect many people, since anyone with a bottom-end Celeron on a 10th Gen motherboard should have plenty of upgrade room within the Comet Lake family to make a new chip worthwhile without needing to swap motherboard platforms.

Intel is forecasting a 1.19x IPC improvement for Rocket Lake, which would be in line with our own expectations and indicates the full benefit of Ice Lake’s Sunny Cove backported successfully to Rocket Lake’s 14nm process. There will be some new features to improve chipset bandwidth, add AV1 decode, and improved integrated graphics performance compared with previous generation CPUs. Intel also believes it can tie or exceed AMD’s game performance with this next chip:

The 5900X should be a fair comparison for the 11900K in gaming — the 5000 series doesn’t show the same gap in high-end CPU gaming perf than the 3000 series does. Image by Intel, all benchmarks recommended with salt.

It’s possible the company can indeed pull this off. AMD’s Zen 3 architecture is faster than Intel’s current 14nm CPUs across the board, with the possible exception of some well-tuned AVX-512 workloads, but gaming is probably the place where AMD’s leadership position is weakest. Intel may not be able to slug it out with 12-16 core CPUs in absolute performance, but strong single-threaded perf could let the company reclaim gaming. We’ll see in a few months how accurate the benchmarks above, provided by Intel, are compared to independently verified results.

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January 11th 2021, 5:45 pm

ET Deals: Nearly $800 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7, LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen OLED Qualcomm S

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with over $800 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 ($979.00)

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 $979.00.

LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen Qualcomm SnapDragon 855 Dual-Sim 128GB OLED Smartphone ($299.99)

The Lg G8X ThinQ Dual Screen comes with a special case that has a second screen, effectively making this a dual-screen smartphone. Both screens use OLED technology and have an FHD+ display resolution, which gives you a big advantage while multitasking on your phone. The smartphone also comes equipped with a Qualcomm SnapDragon 855 SoC and 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM that gives it excellent performance. Add to that 128GB of storage space, an SD card slot, high-quality cameras, and a huge discount, and this phone is almost too good to pass up. Currently, you can get one from B&HPhotoVideo marked down from $499.99 to just $299.99, and it even comes with a free Samsung wall charger.

Logitech C930e 1080p USB Camera ($115.89)

This USB camera can capture images at 1080p resolutions with a 90-degree field of view. If your PC doesn’t have a webcam and you need one for work or school then this is a high-quality option that’s excellent for video calls. You can get one now from Amazon marked down from $129.99 to just $115.89.

Samsung Evo Select 256GB MicroSDXC ($27.99)

In addition to its large 256GB capacity, this microSDXC card is also fairly fast and able to transfer data at up to 100MB/s. Currently, you can get it from Amazon marked down from $49.99 to $27.99.

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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January 11th 2021, 4:46 pm

Save Over 35 Percent On Zoho Creator’s Easy To Use App Builder

ExtremeTech

If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that we’re more dependent on our phones than ever. We’re working, learning, playing and even ordering groceries from home, and we’re doing a lot of it via apps. With the pandemic raging on, it seems there’s no end in sight to this digital dependence.

Businesses of all sizes need to pivot and be able to go with the digital flow in 2021. No matter what type of business you run, we bet you could benefit from making an app. And thanks to Zoho Creator Low Code App Builder, you can do that entirely on your own. Yep, you don’t need to hire someone to build an app thanks to this award-winning and highly reviewed platform. A one year subscription is available now for $149.99, 37 percent off the usual price of $240.

Zoho Creator is a low-code platform that lets you build applications visually. Its intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes building web and mobile applications that satisfy all of your unique needs a breeze. You can automate your business workflows, collect data and analyze that data in reports. There’s also the ability to collaborate with other users and integrate with other external applications.

Unsure whether you should be targeting iPhones or Androids? Applications that are built on Zoho Creator come with a native app for iOS and Android that allow users to access real-time data from anywhere, any time. Control who sees what information in your business, and even allow it to integrate with your already existing software and migrate from existing spreadsheets or databases in minutes.

Aside from all these perks, you can rest assure that Zoho Creator comes very highly rated. It has an impressive 4.2 out of 5 stars on the App Store, Google Play Store and Capterra, while Finances Online gave it 8.7 out of 10 stars.

Get a one year subscription to Zoho Creator today for just $149.99.

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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January 11th 2021, 4:46 pm

PC Sales Up 26 Percent in Q4, 13 Percent Year-on-Year

ExtremeTech

Analytics firms like IDC and Canalys have released their sales projections for the PC market for both Q4 2020 and the full year. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has driven a huge increase in PC sales over the past 12 months. While these impacts were initially expected to be limited to Q1 – Q2, the ongoing nature of the pandemic has kept sales elevated throughout the entire year.

PC sales rose ~26 percent in Q4 2020 and were up roughly 13.1 percent in the entire year, according to IDC (Canalys reports 11 percent). This is easily the largest growth the PC market has shown in the past decade. Once the iPad shipped, the PC market began to consistently contract — the global market grew 2.7 percent in 2019 compared with 2018. In 2020, the PC market grew ~13 percent, with Q4 2020 sales up roughly 26 percent compared with 2019. The image below only runs through 2018, but it gives perspective on how the market has behaved:

Total shipments in 2020 are estimated at 302.65M units, which puts sales midway between 2014 and 2015. The boom of 2020, however, wasn’t evenly distributed. Canalys’ data shows that laptop market share has boomed, while desktop market share has taken a heavy hit.

It would be interesting to know if sales of desktops declined in every segment, or if there was an uplift in the high-end market as gamers and professional users refreshed, built, and bought new systems in response to the pandemic. It wouldn’t surprise me if low-end desktop sales dropped due to strong preferences for laptops more generally, but there might have been more signs of life in the upper market where the demand for horsepower generally outweighs mobile form factors.

IDC reports that Apple has been the big winner this year, with market share growth of 29.1 percent. The surge in sales is such that every vendor increased its absolute number of units sold, even as some of them still lost relative market share. IDC shows that Apple and Acer are the only two companies that increased both their actual unit shipments and their market share, and that Apple was the largest beneficiary of both trends.

There is no specific evidence that the M1 drove the huge boost in Apple’s Q4 sales, though it certainly can’t have hurt anything. While Apple enjoyed a large boost in unit shipments in Q4 2020 compared with Q4 2019 (up 1.49x in Q4, versus 1.29x year-on-year), Dell and Lenovo show a similar pattern distribution. Dell’s Q4 2020 sales were up 26.8 percent, but full-year growth was just 8.1 percent. Lenovo’s Q4 2020 sales were up 29 percent, but its full-year growth was just 12 percent. Apple’s Q4 2020 sales grew by 49.2 percent, and its full-year growth was 29 percent. The huge amount of interest around the M1 suggests that these systems likely sold well, but Apple’s Mac sales were good before it launched and they clearly remained strong through the quarter.

IDC doesn’t offer any predictions for how much of this growth will continue into 2021, beyond saying that they don’t expect the trend to weaken immediately. There’s currently a lot of uncertainty in tech about what to project for the back half of the year, due to questions regarding vaccination schedules and the future progress of the pandemic. Late spring / early summer are the current estimates for when life might start getting back to normal, but how this will impact computer and video console sales is unknown. We might see a sharp drop-off as people return to other activities, or sustained higher demand for PCs over the long term if usage patterns change in a more enduring way.

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January 11th 2021, 3:46 pm

The Day I Learned What Data Science Is

ExtremeTech

What is data science? What does a data scientist do? How do I become a data scientist? These are commonly asked questions on data science social media sites and often debated in academic circles. These can be difficult questions to answer because data science is so new and rapidly evolving. Further, the answers are heavily dependent on the backgrounds of those doing the answering. For example, a computer scientist might answer in terms of machine learning and optimization while a statistician might speak to measurement error and inference. Applied mathematicians might have yet a different take focusing on the importance of linear algebra and calculus. All are correct, which is what makes data science such a rich and interesting discipline.

My own academic training is grounded in a specific biological application domain but with formal training in artificial intelligence (AI), complex adaptive systems, and statistics. I didn’t know it at the time, but my cross-disciplinary training prepared me very well for a career in data science. I owe much of my training to my Ph.D. mentor, who was well ahead of time in insisting his graduate students receive formal degrees in statistics while earning a Ph.D. in a biomedical science. As a result, I have spent my career doing research at the interface of computer science, statistics, and the biomedical sciences. This what we today call data science.

When I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation my advisor used to talk about gaining a maturing in statistics. At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. After my fourth or fifth graduate-level statistics course it clicked. I found myself thinking through problems like a statistician. I understood the logic of how statistics worked and could for the first start to see a path forward for any problem I encountered. This, along with my computational coursework and research in AI and other areas like nonlinear dynamics, gave me the skills and confidence to become the data scientist I am today.

I had a similar epiphany about data science about 15 years ago while attending an AI workshop. Someone was presenting their work on AI and machine learning algorithms for making investment decisions. This person was not an academic and worked with a small group who invested their own money. His work involved setting up 50 different prediction algorithms on Friday to analyze historic financial data over the weekend. He would then choose the best performers and use them to make investments. The results he showed demonstrated superior performance a type of AI algorithm that is not backed by the depth of theory that popular methods such as neural networks are.

What struck me about his work is that he did not care which algorithm came out on top. He was only concerned with investment profits. It was at that moment that data science clicked for me. He was solving a problem in a truly discipline-agnostic way. At the end of the day, the value of an analytic approach is not citations or awards. The value of an analytic approach is whether you are willing to invest your own money with it.

Data science is not about theory. It is not about the decades of tradition in disciplines such as applied mathematics, computer science, and statistics. It is not even about the scientific method we champion in academia. Data science, at its heart, is about solving a problem with whatever tools you have at your disposal. My investor colleague did not care about theory or what academic scientists thought of him. He only cared about the end result. I see this as a practical approach, and we have plenty of practical problems with solutions that would help society. This of course doesn’t mean that data science does not benefit from the knowledge arising from the scientific method. What it means is that it is necessary sometimes to be creative and break disciplinary rules to achieve a particular outcome.

Data science will continue to evolve and, as with all disciplines, will likely develop its own traditions and scientific rigor. My hope is that it does not lose sight of its origins — to solve hard problems by bringing tools and methods together to achieve a practical and useful outcome. For now, it is an exciting time to be a data scientist.

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January 11th 2021, 1:00 pm

Microsoft Denies Cutting Secret Deal With Duracell Over Xbox Controllers

ExtremeTech

Last week, a report surfaced claiming that Microsoft and Duracell have a secret agreement between them in which Microsoft agrees to keep AA batteries as the default power standard for its Xbox controllers. Microsoft denied the rumors, which began when Duracell UK’s marketing manager, Luke Anderson, referred to a deal between the two companies:

There’s always been this partnership with Duracell and Xbox… It’s a constant agreement that Duracell and Microsoft have in place… [The deal is] for OEM to supply the battery product for the Xbox consoles and also the controllers’ battery.

This has been broadly read across the internet to mean that Microsoft and Duracell have some kind of agreement in which Microsoft agrees to keep traditional AA batteries as the default solution for its controllers so that Duracell will… cut it a good deal on a couple of AA batteries + some console parts?

This objectively makes no sense, and Microsoft is far from the only company to ship Duracell batteries in its hardware. Since Microsoft doesn’t manufacture batteries, it needs to partner with a company if it wants to ship hardware with prepacked AAs. The company doesn’t send purchasing agents to Wal-Mart to grab whatever AA’s are the cheapest; it has a pre-existing agreement with Duracell to provide those products.

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller and Controller Series 2 have built-in batteries.

When contacted, a Microsoft spokesperson released the following statement:

We intentionally offer consumers choice in their battery solutions for our standard Xbox Wireless Controllers. This includes the use of AA batteries from any brand, the Xbox Rechargeable Battery, charging solutions from our partners, or a USB-C cable, which can power the controller when plugged in to the console or PC.

Companies competing in the same market often use design choices to differentiate themselves. Microsoft emphasizes the flexibility of offering AA support. Sony’s DualShock 4 copy notes that you can charge its internal battery while playing. We’ve seen this kind of behavior in the PC market as well. When Nvidia emphasized 3-D gaming, AMD focused on its own Eyefinity displays. A few years later, when AMD was talking up DirectX 12, Nvidia was putting a much heavier emphasis on VR. In this case, Microsoft and Sony maintain a slight feature difference in what they offer and how they offer it.

As far as Microsoft’s controller is concerned, I can testify that the battery life from regular AAs isn’t great, and it gets a lot worse if you have rumble enabled in a rumble-heavy title. If you don’t play much, regular AAs are fine, but if you intend to game on a regular basis you’ll want to invest in some rechargeable batteries for the Xbox controller. They’ll pay for themselves in fairly short order.

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January 11th 2021, 9:57 am

Scientists Devise New Way to Treat World’s Most Potent Toxin

ExtremeTech

Credit: Sicai Zhang/Dong Lab, Boston Children's Hospital

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum produces the world’s most potent poison, which can cause paralysis, labored breathing, and death — it’s called botulism. The same toxin also smooths wrinkles in the skin at low concentrations because nature is weird like that. There’s an approved treatment for botulism, but it’s not perfect. Two different teams have devised a new way to treat botulism that could more effectively clear the dangerous toxin from cells and tissues, and it relies on a modified version of the toxin itself. It won’t do anything for your crow’s feet, though. 

The botulinum toxin is so deadly because it’s adept at slipping into nerve cells where it blocks the release of a vital neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The most common way to contract botulism is by eating improperly stored food that has allowed the Clostridium bacteria to proliferate. While relatively few people get botulism in the US — there are about 200 cases each year — it’s more common in the developing world, and the early symptoms are often misdiagnosed. There’s also the potential that Clostridium botulinum could be used as a bioweapon.

Current treatments can clear botulism toxin from the bloodstream, but it can’t do anything about the toxins that have already infiltrated cells. That’s where the work from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Czech Republic’s National Institute of Mental Health could make a difference. Both studies adopted similar approaches of linking an antibody to modified botulinum molecules, essentially using botulinum as a transport mechanism for the antibodies. 

In the immune system, antibodies are produced to help the body tell the difference between “self” and “something else that ought not to be there.” If an antibody sticks to something foreign, it tags it for removal by the immune system. Some antibodies can also neutralize molecules and other proteins simply by sticking them to block their functions. The teams engineered antibodies that can neutralize botulinum and stuck them to modified versions of the toxin that don’t cause disease but can still enter cells. 

The teams tested their treatments in several animal models including mice and macaques. They report that animals receiving the treatment survived exposure to dangerous levels of botulinum toxin, and the controls did not. The antibody-linked botulinum didn’t contribute to any additional toxic effects, either. Although, at high concentrations, the neutered toxin can still cause paralysis. 

Because most cases of human botulism involve a reservoir of toxin in the gut (i.e. food poisoning), the standard treatment will probably still be necessary. However, the addition of botulism-linked antibodies could help pull critically ill patients back from the brink by neutralizing the toxins already in their cells. This work is still preliminary, though. It will take years of additional work before the FDA will allow these to be used in humans.

Top image credit: Sicai Zhang/Dong Lab, Boston Children’s Hospital

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January 11th 2021, 8:12 am

AMD’s Retail Market Share Surges Based on European Reseller Data

ExtremeTech

We’ve covered the periodic data dumps from Mindfactory.de for several years now, as a way of cataloging how AMD and Intel’s fortunes have shifted in the retail channel market. As always, treat this data cautiously — while Mindfactory.de has been releasing these reports for years, it’s just one company. Product adoption rates can vary by nation for a variety of reasons, and in AMD’s case, it historically enjoyed strong support in Germany after it built multiple fabs in Dresden (back when AMD owned fabs).

In other words, don’t assume that these figures can be strictly applied to Newegg or Amazon. We would expect to see somewhat different distribution patterns on those sites, and while the broad thrust of the numbers looks comparable, there will inevitably be subtleties missed by this type of global comparison.

Closing a Momentous 2020

You can see the impact of COVID-19 in the graph below — the atypical seasonal surge in April shows Mindfactory.de shipping more total CPUs in that month than it had in December 2019.

Image via Ingebor, via Imgur

In percentile terms, Mindfactory.de’s reports of AMD at 85 percent and 83 percent revenue aren’t particularly higher than what we’ve seen in previous months — AMD seized 91 percent of sales in April 2020 — but it’s a clear record in terms of total number of CPUs shipped. The 5600X and 5800X were much easier to find than the 5900X or 5950X.

Image by Ingebor, via Imgur.

There’s a subtlety in the revenue figures I want to call your attention to. If you compare the top graph (number of CPUs) with the bottom (total revenue), you’ll notice that for most of the graphed time period, Intel CPUs contribute more revenue than their market share would seem to imply. This is the result of Intel’s historically higher average selling prices (ASPs). If you sell 10 Intel chips for $500 and 20 AMD chips for $200, you earn more revenue from Intel than AMD, even though you shipped more AMD than Intel. This has been the case for the past 15 years, give or take. It changed, however, in November and December 2020. In these months, Intel chips contributed less to revenue than their sales figures suggest should be the case. The chart below shows why:

Image by Ingebor, via Imgur

Intel’s average selling prices dropped below AMDs at the same time that the market for Ryzen CPUs exploded, likely driven by the recent refresh of the Ryzen 5000 family. You can also see the impact of chip shortages at the end of the year, with AMD SKU prices rising in many cases, even if you ignore the fat overall trend line that shows the average ASP. The Ryzen 9 3900X, 3800X, 3700X, and Ryzen 5 3600 all show price increases through the end of Q4 2020. That didn’t stop them from selling like hotcakes, though.

If we assume that the Intel average for April 2020 comes out to ~340€, Intel’s December 2020 average of 249.53€ is… not good.

Image by Ingebor, via Imgur

This shows the revenue breakdown of AMD and Intel CPUs as recorded by Mindfactory.de. It’s not hard to see why AMD’s star has soared while Intel has taken a heavy blow.

Intel’s best chance to recover in the DIY retail space will be later this year when Rocket Lake drops. The new CPU family is widely expected to deliver the full measure of Intel’s IPC gains with Sunny Cove over Coffee Lake (about 1.18x), but to keep the higher frequencies Intel originally gave up with ICL on mobile. In short, we should see Intel CPU performance increase between 1.1x and 1.25x, depending on the workload. This is also part of why Intel likely decided to drop back to eight cores for its new CPUs. It may have made more sense to focus on building maximum single-threaded performance in a smaller number of cores as opposed to keeping the 10-core chips Comet Lake debuted.

The retail market is a distinct minority of all computers — desktop sales, in general, took a real pounding during the pandemic — but in this space, and as far as Mindfactory.de is specifically concerned, Advanced Micro Devices is tearing up the sales charts.

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January 8th 2021, 7:15 pm

Elon Musk, Now World’s Richest Man, Reaffirms His Intention to Live on Mars

ExtremeTech

For the last few years, Jeff Bezos has been the richest person in the world — even after losing a large chunk of his fortune in a divorce. That changed this week when a Tesla stock surge made Elon Musk the world’s richest man. In celebration, he’s not going to Disneyland. Nope, Elon Musk is apparently very serious about living on Mars, and he wants to bring a million people along for the ride. 

After Musk officially became the world’s most successful capitalist on Thursday, he pinned a 2018 tweet to his Twitter page announcing his intention to use his wealth to start a colony on Mars. According to a recent interview, that’s also why he’s selling all his property, including a home that once belonged to Gene Wilder. Oh, it might have a little something with Musk moving to Texas for tax reasons, but he’ll tell you it’s about Mars. 

Founding a colony on the red planet won’t be easy or cheap, but Elon Musk does have $188 billion. That includes stock and assets he probably cannot sell, but he’s not hurting for cash, either. SpaceX and the in-development Starship rocket are key to Musk’s plans. By 2050, Musk has said he hopes to have a fleet of 1,000 Starships with three vessels launching every day. 

The Starship is still a long way from carrying passengers, but Musk believed we’re only years away from setting foot on Mars.

Musk has talked about the cost of a trip to Mars, most recently pegging the cost around $500,000. For well-to-do Americans, that’s in reach if you sell everything you have on Earth as Musk claims to be doing. For everyone else, Musk says there will be loans. However, I am still unconvinced of the wisdom of going into debt to travel to a billionaire’s private planet where there are no laws. I have read this sci-fi novel, and it doesn’t end well. 

This all feels much more real today — the richest single person on Earth wants to go to Mars. He can probably make that happen thanks to the unfathomable wealth at his disposal. Whether or not it’s a good idea is another story. NASA has spoken generally about its plans for Mars, which could include a crewed mission in the 2030s. NASA is more cautious because, for one, it doesn’t have billions of dollars burning a hole in its proverbial pocket. There are also a lot of unknowns about living on Mars. The low gravity and high radiation could make long-term colonization dangerous or impossible until technology advanced considerably. And yet, Elon Musk seems dead-set on going to Mars sooner rather than later.

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January 8th 2021, 7:15 pm

Make Your Work Space Work For You With This Innovative Desk Pad

ExtremeTech

Working from home took on a whole new meaning in 2020. Whether you were working, distance learning or spending your birthday on a Zoom call, we all spent a lot more time on our computers. And it became clear that the home office was a necessity in today’s crazy world.

Even if you don’t have enough space to create a separate room, there are certain gadgets that can give you the semblance of an organized office area. For instance, all you need is a desk to upgrade your workspace with this full desk blotter.

Make working from home in 2021 a little more bearable. Let the KeySmart TaskPad Wireless Charging Desk Pad bring some style, wireless power and anti-scratch protection to your workspace. Though it usually costs $119, it’s available for 25 percent off at just $89.99.

This KeySmart TaskPad is made from premium PE leather. Not only is it stylish, it’s water-resistant, stain-resistant, scratch-free and very easy to clean in the event of an annoying spill. It’s also equipped with a 10W output power bank, so you can power up your phone fast while you get your work done. It’s also available in a black shade that’s perfect to go with any style desk.

There’s a comfortable cushioned material that provides a perfect and comfy place to rest your wrist and forearm, so hours of work or school will feel a little less painful. The micro-textured flat mouse pad lets you flawlessly track your mouse’s movements. And the smooth, flat surface creates the ideal station to work. Just set it up on a desk and your work station will be organized and elevated.

Since we’ll likely be staying safer at home for a while in 2021, upgrade your space with this KeySmart TaskPad Wireless Charging Desk Pad. It’s available now in $89.99, 25 percent off the usual price of $119.

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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January 8th 2021, 7:15 pm

ET Deals: Save 15 Percent on Dell Alienware, XPS, and G5 PCs

ExtremeTech

Gaming is at an all time high in terms of popularity right now. Today you can save 15 percent on select Dell PCs including some of the company’s Alienware, XPS and G5 systems that come with capable gaming hardware.

Dell Alienware M15 R3 Intel Core i7-10750H 15.6-Inch 1080p 300Hz Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB M.2 PCI-E SSD ($1,742.49)

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 2070 GPU, and a high-quality 1080p that can operate at an incredibly fast 300Hz. The system also has a 1TB NVMe SSD, which gives you plenty of space for everyday use and faster transfer speeds. You can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,223.98 to $1,742.49 with promo code SAVE15.

Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i7-10510U 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,104.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-10510U quad-core processor and a 4K display touchscreen. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 19 hours on a single charge. Right now you can one from Dell marked down from $1,508.99 to $1,104.99 with promo code SAVE15.

Dell XPS 8940 SE Intel Core i7-10700 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD and 1TB HDD ($1,725.49)

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 3070 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 $2,089.98 to just $1,725.49 with promo code SAVE15.

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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January 8th 2021, 7:15 pm

Nvidia’s Purchase of ARM Is Being Investigated by UK Watchdog

ExtremeTech

Nvidia’s purchase of ARM in 2020 kicked up a lot of controversy over whether ARM could be owned by one of its most prominent licensees. Now, the UK government has announced an investigation into the deal and the likely outcomes if Nvidia is allowed to buy ARM.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has stated it will examine how Nvidia’s deal with ARM treats other current licensees of the company’s designs, and investigate whether the deal gives ARM “an incentive to withdraw, raise prices or reduce the quality” of the chips it builds. The organization also said it would examine the deal in cooperation with other authorities around the world, to ensure it does not harm consumers or raise prices.

Nvidia has previously promised that it would retain ARM’s licensing model and its pledge of neutrality regarding how it treats its customers. How serious it is about this promise has been a topic of some debate. Nvidia, historically, has put more effort into creating its own walled garden of technology. PhysX, CUDA, G-Sync, and other technologies introduced over the years, were created by Nvidia, for Nvidia. This has, at times, been controversial, but it’s also been consistent.

ARM has recently seen a small decline in its royalty revenue but an increase in licensing revenue. Excluding royalties, ARM earned about 25.2 percent of licensing revenue in 2019.

There’s fear that allowing an ARM customer to own the company will create an incentive for said firm to abuse its position, and there’s additional concern about such a prominent company in the UK being effectively ‘moved’ to the US. When SoftBank bought ARM, it signed several agreements to keep ARM in the UK. Nvidia has pledged to do the same, and to open a new AI computing center, and that it won’t complete the deal until 2022.

As to whether Nvidia can be trusted to keep its word regarding how it treats ARM — that’s a complex issue. While it’s true that Nvidia has never fallen over itself to give away its own developed technology, there’s a huge difference between owning the CPU designs that allow for the existence of the entire ARM ecosystem, with all its various licensees, and restricting the use of internally developed technology. If Nvidia started trying to jack up the prices of ARM cores or change the license model to abuse its own customers, it would be inviting the wrath of a huge chunk of the tech industry. Long-term, attempting to strong-arm the market could drive more companies to adopt the open-source RISC-V ISA.

The reason I don’t think Nvidia is likely to wreck ARM’s licensing model is that the above licensing model is what’s responsible for ARM’s success in the first place. There is nothing stopping Nvidia from building its own custom ARM core with crazy extensions and capabilities now, and while owning ARM itself undoubtedly dovetails with some of the GPU manufacturer’s long-term plans, it gains nothing by driving its own customers away. Nvidia can already build a custom ARM CPU if it wants one. It isn’t buying ARM to do that. Attacking ARM’s business model by jacking up licensing fees or changing agreements around core IP would only make ARM less popular, damaging the reason Nvidia bought the brand in the first place.

This particular deal was always going to face close scrutiny, so it’s not surprising to see the UK giving it a careful once-over. We’ll find out over the course of this year what regulators in various nations think of the underlying terms of the deal.

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January 8th 2021, 11:43 am

Earth Is Spinning Faster After Decades of Slowing Down

ExtremeTech

We all know that a day on planet Earth is 24 hours long — except it isn’t. It’s actually a few fractions of a second longer, which is why we have February 29th every four years. Still, Earth isn’t a clock, and the actual length of a day can vary slightly. Scientists now say that the days have started trending shorter because the Earth is spinning faster, which could require additional, potentially confusing adjustments. 

Before you get stressed about yet another existential threat to the future of the planet, scientists don’t believe the increased rate of spin is a danger. The mechanisms for this effect are well-understood. Factors like lunar gravity, snowfall levels, and mountain erosion can affect the speed at which the globe rotates. The effect is that days can be a few milliseconds shorter or longer than the 84,400 number we use to keep track of time. 

Over the past several decades, the availability of precise atomic clocks has allowed humanity to make more accurate adjustments to our measurement of time. For example, on several occasions, we’ve added a “leap second” to keep clocks aligned outside of the traditional leap year adjustment. Since we began measuring time like this, the length of days has been trending longer, usually by a fraction of a millisecond. However, that trend has now reversed. 

The moon’s gravity is one of several things that can change the Earth’s rotation speed.

Scientists note that days in the last year have been on the shorter side by the same small margins. However, July 19 was a notably shorter day, clocking in at 1.4602 milliseconds below the standard. The earlier record for the shortest day was set in 2005, but it’s been beaten 28 times in 2020.

Should this trend continue, we may very well need a negative leap second in the next few years to keep our clocks synchronized with “real time.’ That would be a first as all previous adjustments have added time. While it’s impossible to say for certain that this speed-up will continue, most scientists believe that it will. Regardless, the quicker rotation is itself not a problem — the causes might be, though. Some have started to wonder aloud if large-scale changes from global warming have started to have a noticeable impact on the spin. Shaving a few milliseconds off the day won’t hurt anyone, but it’s not exactly a good sign.

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January 8th 2021, 10:13 am

New Study Suggests Dark Matter Doesn’t Exist

ExtremeTech

Stephan’s Quintet: These four galaxies were imaged in 2009 using the WFC3. This compact group of galaxies is distorted because of their gravitational effects on each other.

Time and time again, the predictions made by scientific luminaries like Einstein and Newton have been confirmed through experimentation. One place where the greats seem to fall a bit short is gravity — what we see doesn’t quite match the models. Most scientists currently believe the iron grip of gravity is augmented by dark matter, an invisible material that makes up about 85 percent of the universe. A new study makes the case for an alternative model, one in which dark matter doesn’t exist, and gravity works a little differently than we thought. 

Interest in dark matter can be traced back to the 1930s when Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky was unable to explain the faster-than-expected rotation of galaxy clusters. Based on what we understand of the underpinnings of gravity, the force should be proportional to mass. Since dark matter only interacts with normal matter via gravity, it plugs the hole in the model quite ably. But what if there is no dark matter out there?

The leading alternative to dark matter is known as Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), and it’s getting a boost from the new study. At its most basic level, MOND claims we are missing an important aspect of gravity. Instead of gravity depending only on the mass of an object, it might also depend on the gravitational pull of other massive objects in the universe. This interaction, known as the External Field Effect (EFE), means that gravity at low accelerations is stronger than Newton or Einstein predicted. 

The study went looking for evidence for modified gravity in 153 galaxies by calculating the field effects under MOND. Some galaxies should have greater apparent gravity as a result of EFE based on the mass of other nearby objects. The team reports that the galaxies predicted to have strong external fields slowed more frequently than those with weaker external fields, which is what you’d expect if MOND is right. The researchers claim no other theory has anticipated this behavior. 

This result doesn’t spell the end for dark matter — most scientists are expressing understandable skepticism at the result. It will be tested in more detail by other scientists, and eventually, someone will figure it out; they’ll prove or disprove it. That’s how science works. In the meantime, those who believe dark matter is the best explanation for the observable universe will keep looking for the unseen mechanism.

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January 8th 2021, 8:27 am

ET Deals: Save Over $500 On Dell XPS 8940 Intel Core i5 Nvidia RTX 2060 Gaming Desktop, Nintendo Rin

ExtremeTech

Today you can save over $500 on a gaming desktop from Dell that comes equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card.

Dell XPS 8940 Intel Core i5-10400 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD and 1TB HDD ($799.99)

Dell’s new XPS 8940 SE features an updated design and it comes loaded with strong processing hardware that’s able to tackle just about any task you throw at it. The mid-range Intel Core i5-10400 with its six CPU cores is well suited for running numerous applications at the same time. As the system also has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, the system’s is able to run games with high settings fairly well, making it a fitting machine for gaming and work. Currently you can get one of these systems from Dell marked down from $1,189.98 to just $699.99 with promo code DTXPSAFF015.

Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure ($69.99)

The Ring Fit Adventure is Nintendo’s newest entry in its long-running series of games that promote physical activity and exercise. In addition to the game itself, this kit also comes with a leg strap and a Ring-Con that is essential to playing and enjoying the game. After being sold out for weeks, you can now order the Ring Fit Adventure from Amazon marked down from $79.99 to $69.88.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Smartwatch ($179.99)

The affordable Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 smartwatch has a built-in heart rate monitor and a fitness tracker, which make it an excellent accessory to have while exercising. The watch also features exceptional battery life that can last for over five days on a single charge. Right now you can get one from Amazon marked down from $249.99 to just $179.99.

Eufy RoboVac 15C Max Robot Vacuum ($174.99)

The Robovac 15C Max was designed with powerful suction that’s rated at 2,000Pa, giving it enough power to clean medium-pile carpets as well as hard floors. This vacuum is also able to clean for up to 100 minutes on a single charge, and Eufy said it is relatively quiet and emits noise no louder than a microwave when working. For a limited time you can get one of these vacuums from Amazon marked down from $279.99 to just $174.99 with a clickable coupon.

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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January 7th 2021, 5:21 pm

Ditch Telemarketers in 2021 With This Spam Call and Text Blocking App

ExtremeTech

There are a lot of things we want to leave behind in 2020. One of them? Those obnoxious phone scams and telemarketers that have been terrorizing our phones this year. They’ve even infiltrated our text messages! Fortunately, you can go into 2021 armed with a solution to fight them off.

RoboKiller Spam Call & Text Blocker ensures that 99 percent of your unwanted calls and text messages are blocked. And right now a two year subscription to this app is available for 37 percent off the usual price. Protect your phone (and your sanity!) for the next two years for just $49.99 (reg. $79).

Let RoboKiller be your very own knight in shining armor, guarding your phone from those pesky calls and tests. It automatically blocks over 1.1 million spam numbers, making sure the calls you get are people you actually know. Answer bots even answer all the spam calls, confusing the telemarketers in the process so that you get the last laugh.

Have you noticed an influx of calls with your similar area code? Robokiller also helps with neighbor spoofing, letting you know the difference between spammers and your family and friends once and for all.

There are also personalized block and allow lists, which give you the ultimate control over your receive calls and texts. And SMS spam protection makes sure scam text messages don’t get through from those notorious spammers.

This handy app has been seen on NBC, Engadget, Wires, Ars Technica and News Tonight. And it has already been a hit with users, as it has scored an impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars on Apple Store and 4 out of 5 stars on Google Play.

Leave annoying spam calls and texts in 2020. Make sure you’re safe from spammers and telemarketers with Robokiller. Snag a two year subscription for $49.99 here today.

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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January 7th 2021, 5:21 pm

Report: Packaging Issues, PS5 Demand May Be Hurting TSMC Production

ExtremeTech

Credit: Laura Ockel/ Unsplash, PCMag

Over the past 4-5 months, we’ve discussed repeated product shortages affecting just about every piece of high-end PC or gaming hardware currently on the market. One of the more interesting aspects of the situation has been the way it has hit everyone: Samsung-built Nvidia GPUs are hard to find, but so are TSMC-built AMD GPUs. AMD CPU prices and availability has been all over the map. The PS5 and Xbox Series S|X have been in and out of stock.

Since AMD doesn’t build its own hardware, a lot of eyeballs have focused on TSMC during this period, but it hasn’t been clear if that’s where the actual problem lies. One explanation is that huge demand + ramping up new designs have created bottlenecks in the market. Another — one we haven’t dug into much, due to not knowing where the problem might be coming from — is that there’s an upstream issue with a different company in the chip production supply chain that’s feeding this issue.

Reports from fall, 2020 suggested that TSMC was working through a shortage of ABF substrate. ABF (Ajinomoto Build-up Film) is a resin that insulates modern ICs and resists expansion and contraction based on changes in temperature. Connections bridging the gap between the nanoscale (IC) and millimeter-scale (packaging) are made through an ABF layer, as shown below:

Image by Ajinomoto

ABF is incredibly important to the chip-packaging process, and an ongoing shortage is hitting pretty much everyone who employs advanced packaging standards. This could fit our criteria for an important piece of the overall explanation of what’s going on, because this isn’t an issue that would impact just Nvidia, AMD, Intel, or any other single company. If TSMC can’t buy enough of it, the impact could ripple out across the market, hitting a number of companies. Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung all use ABF as well. DigiTimes reported on a shortage at least as early as June 2020 and claimed it could widen and worsen in 2021. That prediction seems to have borne fruit.

Low yields on GDDR6 have also been blamed for GPU shortages, though again, it’s not clear exactly which component shortages are driving which problems. But it’s clear this goes beyond yield problems, which makes sense — we have heard rumors of low 8N yields at Samsung, but nothing about any equivalents at TSMC. We also know that AMD has been shipping 7nm silicon out of TSMC since mid-2019, implying that the node should be pretty mature by now, even for high-power desktop chips and GPUs. The fact that we’re seeing global problems does suggest there might be additional variables in play.

Also, the crypto market is exploding again, which is going to help exactly no one and nothing when it comes to finding a solution to ongoing shortages. A report from HardwareTimes claims that Sony and Microsoft have reserved up to 80 percent of AMD’s 7nm production for consoles. Presumably, this is a reference to 80 percent of the allocation AMD purchases from TSMC, as opposed to an implication that either firm bought 7nm fab space “from” AMD (AMD is a chip designer, not a manufacturer). A situation in which AMD allocated 80 percent of its production to consoles isn’t as crazy as it sounds if you assume the agreement was almost certainly a short-lived one, intended to cover only the initial launch volumes. Of course, the chronic shortages and ongoing demand have guaranteed the consoles would remain hot-ticket items for longer. Since this has been the case with every other high-end product, we’re basically stuck in the high-tech equivalent of sixteen people trying to go through a doorway at the exact same time. Winners? Nobody. Losers? Anyone trying to buy hardware without selling a kidney and/or making a Faustian bargain over delivery time frames.

TSMC’s major suppliers for ABF are all rumored to be experiencing ongoing shortages. There are rumors that AMD can’t currently meet demand for notebooks because of the ABF problem and that the issue could worsen in Q3 2021 when Zen 3 notebooks come to market. Up until now, we’ve heard a lot of rumors that the shortages would ease in March-April 2021, but if the ABF angle is true, it could take longer.

Feature image credit: Laura Ockel/Unsplash, PCMag

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January 7th 2021, 4:21 pm

Mercedes-Benz Unveils 56-Inch ‘Hyperscreen’ Dashboard Panel

ExtremeTech

Mercedes-EQ. MBUX Hyperscreen

Ahead of the now-virtual CES 2021, Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart has unveiled the MBUX Hyperscreen, a 56-inch-wide, curved cinematic display that stretches across the entire dashboard, even over the left and right air vents. The company said the AI software powering the display is capable of learning the driver and passenger’s preferences and then adapting its suggestions for infotainment, comfort, electric drive settings, and other vehicle functions.

Mercedes-Benz MBUX Hyperscreen. Credit: Mercedes-Benz

The MBUX Hyperscreen consists of several displays connected together seamlessly, with OLED panels in the center and on the right. It uses a light sensor and a three-layer design; the “zero layer,” or top level, is designed so that it only displays the current relevant controls in a situational and contextual way. The idea is that you don’t have to scroll through submenus or even use voice commands to get to the function you want.

The screen works with MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), the latest infotainment and vehicle OS the automaker first unveiled in 2018; the second generation of it just debuted a few months ago on the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S Class. The passenger can select from one of seven profiles to account for individual preferences.

The company said that the MBUX Hyperscreen’s lowest layer contains the ambient lighting, which makes the display appear to float relative to the instrument panel. Eight CPU cores power the display, and it accesses 24GB of memory through 46.4GB-per-second bandwidth. Twelve actuators provide haptic feedback on the screen, which also includes anti-glare and scratch-resistant coatings.

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS. Credit: Mercedes-Benz

The first model to get the MBUX Hyperscreen will be the upcoming 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS all-electric sedan, which the company claims will be the fastest EV sedan available. It’s expected to compete directly with the Tesla Model S, although all bets are that the Mercedes model will start near $100,000–in line with higher trims of the Model S but far above the latter’s sub-$70,000 base price for 2021.

Years ago, Mercedes-Benz unveiled concept cars with gesture-based, augmented-reality UIs built into not just the dashboard but the windshield as well. As you drove, it would highlight actual stores, other points of interest, street signs, and so on through the windshield and overlay GPS directions onto the real road in front of you. The MBUX Hyperscreen doesn’t go that far, but we’ll bet it’s still quite impressive in person.

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January 7th 2021, 12:35 pm

Intel Rocket Lake Desktop CPUs Will Launch in March, Gigabyte Confirms

ExtremeTech

Gigabyte has confirmed that Intel will launch its Rocket Lake CPU refresh in March, as part of an announcement touting its own PCIe 4.0 support. Gigabyte announced today that if you own a Z490 motherboard, you’ll be getting a UEFI update to support Rocket Lake CPUs with full PCIe 4.0 support.

The rest of the PR goes into detail on how Gigabyte engineered their motherboards to handle the higher heat output of PCIe 4.0, and the fact that addressable BAR support is coming to the company’s motherboards as well. Addressable BAR is the same feature AMD debuted as Smart Access Memory earlier this year.

The March 2021 date confirms what we’ve heard previously — late March is more likely than early March. It’s going to be genuinely interesting to see how Cypress Cove performs against AMD’s Zen 3. Generally speaking, based on leaked benchmarks and early data, we’re looking at impressive gains for Intel in single-thread performance. Multi-thread performance estimates for the Core i9-11900K have varied. In some cases, the 11900K is almost a match for the 10-core Core i9-10900K. In a few leaked results, it’s actually been faster on eight cores than Comet Lake was on 10.

The debut of Rocket Lake will, at the very least, pry Intel off of Skylake. Skylake bears the strange ignominy of being Intel’s most-successful core (in terms of the total number of chips shipped over the past five years that use the microarchitecture), while simultaneously representing a CPU all of us will be glad to see the last of. Skylake, Kaby, Coffee, and Comet all share an excellent underlying architecture — if it had been anything less than that, Intel could never have relied on it for five years running in the first place. At this point, however, everyone is ready to see what Willow Cove brings to the table. Right now it looks like the CPU will combine 14nm Comet Lake clocks with a more advanced 10nm microarchitecture.

As for the chip’s competitive standing against AMD, we can make a few safe guesses there. The consistent emphasis on high single-thread performance suggests Intel will try to take back the space in gaming that AMD recently carved out for itself. I’m not going to try to predict exactly how an eight-core Core i7 will stack up against a Ryzen 7 core, but Intel’s historic practice has been to price its chips more expensively than their AMD counterparts. If Intel parks the Core i9-11900K at $450 – $550, AMD will almost certainly retain a price/performance advantage on its own eight-core chips. If Intel prices aggressively against AMD’s eight-core CPUs, AMD will still have the option to cut its own top-end prices and attack Intel with higher core counts, as it’s done consistently since 2017.

Rocket Lake is an important launch for Intel, if only because it’s become critical that the company demonstrate some forward momentum for itself outside of mobile. Rocket Lake is a stopgap — Alder Lake, which likely drops in 2022, will usher in Intel’s hybrid CPU technology and a new LGA1700 socket — but it could be a highly competitive stopgap for Intel in the $200 – $400 range, depending on how the company prices it.

Of course, all of this theorizing assumes you’ll be able to buy a CPU in the first place. Whether that’s a good bet or not remains to be seen. Supposedly we’ll see better availability on a lot of hardware by the end of Q1, but given how bad things have been for months, I’m not going to blame anyone who looks at that with skepticism.

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January 7th 2021, 11:05 am

NASA SPHEREx Space Telescope Will Probe Secrets of the Big Bang

ExtremeTech

The chronically delayed James Webb Space Telescope might get most of the attention, but NASA has other space telescope projects active and in the planning phases. The latest one is known as SPHEREx, and it just reached an important development milestone. When launched, this device could help us explore the earliest moments of the universe and unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Big Bang. Or it will when NASA builds it — it’ll take a while. 

According to NASA, SPHEREx has now reached Phase C, which means the agency has approved the preliminary design. So, we know what the telescope will look like (roughly) and what it will be able to do. Next up, NASA has to finalize the design and begin lining up the personnel and materials needed to assemble this 1.2-ton telescope. 

You won’t be seeing any Hubble-style photos of distant astronomical objects from SPHEREx. It will operate in the infrared range, which is the best way to observe the most distant, and therefore oldest, parts of the universe. One of the telescope’s primary goals will be to probe the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang for evidence of a process called inflation. Scientists theorize that inflation, if it was indeed part of the birth of the universe, would affect the way galaxies are distributed. With its camera system, SPHEREx will create a 3D map of galaxies, allowing scientists to search for these patterns. 

NASA also hopes to use SPHEREx to study the way galaxies form. The camera will be sensitive enough to analyze the glow from all the galaxies in the universe. The glow varies across the sky because galaxies are distributed in clumps (which might tell us about inflation). By determining when and how the light was produced, scientists will be able to make determinations about galaxy formation. 

The last goal of the project is to search for evidence of water ice and frozen organic molecules around young stars in our galaxy. The infrared cameras on SPHEREx will be ideal for peering through the clouds of dust that surround such stars. Ice and organics driving through the clouds could eventually seed planets to make them habitable, and that could go a long way to improving our understanding of planetary formation and the potential distribution of life. 

NASA has allotted 29 months to complete the design and initial manufacturing of the components. After that, NASA will assemble the spacecraft and prepare it for launch. There’s no firm launch timeline right now.

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January 7th 2021, 7:47 am

Get A 2 Pack Of Comfortable Refurbished Sony Headphones For Under $30

ExtremeTech

Looking for a pair of headphones that are packed with awesome features, but don’t want to shell out too much money? Since the holidays drained most of our bank accounts, it might be time to look into refurbished options that give you all the bells and whistles of expensive headphones without the steep price tag.

If you want to keep the tunes coming in 2021, wired headphones are the way to do it. Instead of their wireless counterparts, there’s no time limit to how long you can use them without taking a break to power them back up. And with this two-pack of Sony MDR-ZX110AP Extra Bass Wired Headphones with Microphone, Smartphone Headset for iPhone and Android with In-Line Remote and Microphone, 30mm Drivers, Black (refurbished), you’ll be able to share the love and listen to your favorite podcasts and playlists all year and beyond. They’re available now for the low cost of $29.82 (reg. $61).

These refurbished Sony headphones come equipped with lightweight 1.38 neodymium drivers that give you clear and precise audio across the spectrum, with a wide frequency range that delivers bass, midrange, and highs flawlessly.

Keep jamming in comfort thanks to cushioned earpads, and then take the show on the road thanks to the swivel folding design that makes transporting them easy. An inline remote and built-in microphone on the headphone cord lets you take calls hands-free and allows you to switch between songs and calls without removing them at all.

And finally, an enfolding and closed-back design helps to seal in the sound, making sure the distractions of daily life stay away while you can tune in and zone out.

Get this two-pack of Sony MDR-ZX110AP Extra Bass Wired Headphones with Microphone, Smartphone Headset for iPhone and Android with In-Line Remote and Microphone, 30mm Drivers, Black (refurbished) are available now for $29.82.

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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January 6th 2021, 4:36 pm

Cyberpunk 2077’s PC Player Base Has Shrunk 79 Percent Since Launch

ExtremeTech

Cyberpunk 2077’s launch may have been a dumpster fire, but it was undeniably a successful dumpster fire; the company reported 13 million copies sold after taking refund requests into account. The game ran far better on PC than on consoles from launch, but new data suggests PC gamers are quitting in higher-than-expected numbers.

A report from GitHyp, a website that bills itself as a front-end for various gamer statistics, notes that while the game launched at over a million players, its total number of players of late has been much lower.

Even this graph actually understates things — yesterday’s maximum daily player count was only 155,000. GitHyp notes that while this isn’t necessarily unusual for a single-player game, open-world titles tend to be much stickier and to engage players for a longer period of time. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t following this same trend line. GitHyp notes that the Witcher 3, while putting up much lower numbers in an absolute sense, held on to a larger percentage of its player base. It took The Witcher 3 three months to lose as much of its player base as CP2077 has lost in one.

Is this a long term problem for the company? I suspect not. First, with 13M overall sales, CDPR is going to be well-funded for quite some time. The company claimed it recouped development costs on preorders alone, and the 5M+ additional sales, plus what’s sold since it released that statement, is going to put them solidly in the black.

Second, I suspect a lot of players are waiting until the game is in better condition. If you were planning to play the game on a reasonably high-end PC, the issues swirling around the PS4/Xbox One mostly don’t apply to you. But the game is still buggy, even on PCs. CD Projekt Red has announced that it will put out a major patch in January, followed by a patch in February. If I was a PC player unhappy with the current state of the game, and I knew two large patches were coming, I’d probably just wait until they dropped and see how much the game improved. Visit forums talking about the game, and even a lot of people who are unhappy with the title today expect CDPR to fix it in the future. Given the long-term evolution of The Witcher 3, that’s not a crazy assessment.

A lot of the criticism of Cyberpunk 2077 that isn’t based on bugs or the console problems has pointed out that the plot, setting, and quests often feel incomplete or loosely stitched together. Combat and overall difficulty have also been criticized. These are issues that CDPR can address to some degree, either with patches or DLC. There’s a lot more precedent for believing the company will fix the game, based on how titles like No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy XIV, Battlefront II, Destiny, and The Division 2 evolved after launch. One of the relatively new trends in gaming has been the emergence of titles that are not allowed to fail, and publishers willing to pour money into them until they’ve been rescued from the bottom of the bin.

Cyberpunk 2077’s launch will go down in history as a cautionary tale of how unscrupulous actors will mislead investors, the public, and reviewers about the state of a game. It may also evolve into a beloved title, especially if patches, DLC, and the eventual addition of multiplayer are seen as redeeming the game.

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January 6th 2021, 4:36 pm

ET Deals: $39 Off Apple Watch SE 44mm Smartwatch, Dell Vostro 3000 Intel Core i5 Desktop for $449

ExtremeTech

Apple’s new Watch SE comes with many of the same features as Apple’s more expensive Watch Series 6, but with a significantly lower price tag. Now you can get the 44mm version of this smartwatch discounted with a $39 discount, which makes it that much more affordable and an excellent deal.

Apple Watch SE 44mm GPS Smartwatch ($269.98)

Apple’s Watch SE is a more affordable alternative to the new Watch Series 6. It’s more than twice as fast as the old Apple Watch Series 3 and comes loaded with useful features to track your fitness activity. By default this watch is priced over $100 lower than Apple’s Watch Series 6, but now you can get one from Amazon marked down from $309.00 to just $269.98.

Dell Vostro 3000 Intel Core i5-10400 Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD ($449.00)

This desktop comes equipped with a six-core processor that operates at up to 4.3GHz 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 $449.99 from Dell with promo code VOSTRO449.

Remo+ RemoBell S 1536×1536 WiFi Video Doorbell ($79.00)

Remo+’s RemoBell S is a compact solution that works as a doorbell and 1080p camera. It also has built in audio hardware for talking to whomever is at your door wirelessly. Due to its rich features and price, this device was also given an Editors’ Choice award by PCMag. You can currently get one from Amazon marked down from $99.00 to $79.00.

Roborock S5 Max Robotic Vacuum ($439.00)

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 $549.00 to $439.00 with a clickable coupon.

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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January 6th 2021, 4:36 pm

OpenAI’s ‘DALL-E’ Generates Images From Text Descriptions

ExtremeTech

Artificial intelligence has gotten very good at some things — it’s even approaching the capability of people when it comes to recognizing objects and generating text. What about art? OpenAI has devised a new neural network called DALL-E (it’s like Dali with a nod to beloved Pixar robot WALL-E). All you need to do is give DALL-E some instructions, and it can draw an image for you. Sometimes the renderings are little better than fingerpainting, but other times they’re startlingly accurate portrayals.

OpenAI has made news lately for its GPT neural networks, which are sometimes referred to as “fake news generators” because of how well they can make up lies to support the input text. GPT3 showed that large neural networks can complete complex linguistic tasks. The team wanted to see how well such an AI could move between text and images. Like GPT3, DALL-E supports “zero-shot reasoning,” allowing it to generate an answer from a description and cue without any additional training. Unlike GPT, DALL-E is a transformer language model that can accept both text and images as input. DALL-E doesn’t need precise values and instructions like a 3D rendering engine; its past training allows it to fill in the blanks to add details that aren’t stated in the request.

Case in point: See below for some baby penguins wearing Christmas sweaters and playing the guitar. You don’t need to say the penguin has a Santa hat — DALL-E just comes up with that detail on its own in several renderings. 

DALL-E also has a better understanding of objects in context compared with other AI artists. For example, you can ask DALL-E for a picture of a phone or vacuum cleaner from a specified period of time, and it understands how those objects have changed. Well, at least generally. Some of the images will have buttons in the wrong place or a bizarre shape. But these are all rendered from scratch in the AI. 

That whimsical streak helps DALL-E combine multiple concepts in fascinating ways. When asked to merge a snail and a harp, it comes up with some clever variations on the theme. With more straightforward instructions such as “draw an emoji of a lovestruck avocado,” you get some artful and rather adorable options that Unicode should look at adding to the official emoji list. 

The team also showed that DALL-E can combine text instructions and a visual prompt. You can feed it an image and ask for a modification of that same image. For instance, you could show DALL-E a cat and ask for a sketch of the cat. You can also have DALL-E add sunglasses to the cat or make it a different color. 

OpenAI has a page where you can play around with some of the more interesting input values. The model is still fairly limited, but this is just the start. OpenAI plans to study how DALL-E could impact the economy (add illustrators to the list of jobs threatened by AI) and the possibility for bias in the outputs.

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January 6th 2021, 1:51 pm

Intel Announces End-of-Life for Its 300 Series Chipsets

ExtremeTech

Intel has discontinued its 300 series chipsets, which supported the company’s Coffee Lake microprocessors. The motherboard family first debuted in 2017 and supported Intel’s 8th Generation and 9th Generation processors. At launch, boards based on the Z370 and H370 chipsets were some of the fastest consumer silicon you could buy — the Core i7-8700K was a fabulous chip — and CPUs like the Core i9-9900K kept the platform competitive with AMD hardware until the launch of the Zen 2 / Ryzen 3000 family of processors in mid-2019.

The retirement of the 300 series is happening a few months before Intel is expected to launch Rocket Lake CPUs. Intel will presumably launch a 500 series alongside the new CPUs — the company has no reason not to — but any advances over and above the 400 series are likely to be small. Intel has already disclosed that Rocket Lake will work in 400 series motherboards, and rumors suggest that Comet Lake CPUs will similarly work in 500 series motherboards.

If you’ve already upgraded to Comet Lake, you’ll have a path forward. Those who haven’t, however, probably won’t get more than one generation of support out of the 400 or 500 series. Both of these use the LGA1200 socket, while Alder Lake (12th Gen) will use LGA1700. Some rumors have implied Alder Lake could launch on desktop as quickly as late 2021, but this seems unlikely — Intel doesn’t typically refresh a desktop platform more than once per year.

Ever since Skylake debuted in 2015, Intel has been maintaining desktop socket compatibility over two generations. While AMD is historically known for longer CPU upgrade paths than Intel, the two are running pretty even at the moment. If you bought a Zen 1 CPU (1800X) and an X370 when AMD launched Ryzen, you got two upgrade cycles worth of improvements. If you bought a Zen+ CPU (2700X) and an X470 motherboard in 2018, you’ve gotten two CPU generations worth of improvements — or at least, you’ll get them once X470 boards are updated with Zen 3 (5800X) support. X570 motherboards and Zen 2 CPUs (3800X) haven’t been out long enough to receive more than one CPU upgrade.

But looking at the situation strictly in terms of years isn’t necessarily the best way to do it. Examined in terms of overall performance gains, the X370 went from eight cores to 16, with two IPC improvements along the way. The performance gain from a Ryzen 7 1800X to a Ryzen 7 3800X is significantly larger than the jump from a Core i7-8700K to the Core i9-9900K.

Intel’s Rocket Lake is expected to be a strong chip, but the generational upgrade potential of Intel CPUs has been low because the company’s IPC gains have also been low. The Core i7-8700K — Core i9-9900K upgrade path doesn’t get you nearly as much additional performance as moving from a Ryzen 7 1800X to a Ryzen 9 3950X, for example. If Intel continues its current pattern, it will maintain cross-compatibility between Alder Lake and whatever 13th Gen CPU follows it.

If you need 300 series hardware, or CPUs to plug into it, you ought to acquire them sooner rather than later — prices on older Intel motherboards sometimes run high as residual stockpiles are depleted.

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January 6th 2021, 11:04 am

GPU, Motherboard Prices Will Jump Thanks to US-China Trade War

ExtremeTech

Up until now, the United States’ ongoing trade war with China hasn’t made much of an impact on tech enthusiasts’ wallets. That’s going to change from this point forward until the US and China settle their disputes or GPUs are specifically granted an exemption from the increased tariffs. Neither of these seems to be particularly likely at the moment.

Up until now, graphics cards and a number of other products have been shielded from the impact of tariffs by US-granted exemptions that shielded them from the price increases. Those laws, however, expired on December 31, 2020. Now that we’re into the new year, companies like Asus are notifying consumers they can expect some unwelcome changes. Juan Jose Guerrero III, Asus’ Technical Marketing Manager, has released a statement on the company’s MSRP pricing expectations for 2021. This applies to both GPUs and motherboards:

We have an announcement in regards to MSRP price changes that are effective in early 2021 for our award-winning series of graphic cards and motherboards. Our new MSRP reflects increases in cost for components. operating costs, and logistical activities plus a continuation of import tariffs. We worked closely with our supply and logistic partners to minimize price increases. ASUS greatly appreciates your continued business and support as we navigate through this time of unprecedented market change.

Asus also notes that more than just GPUs and motherboards may be affected. Price increases are going to vary by GPU value, but the tariffs on Chinese goods ranged from 7.5 percent to 25 percent. This the very last thing PC enthusiasts will want to hear because it’s going to additionally raise the price on GPUs at a time when the graphics cards market is running hot already.

Asus won’t be the only company dealing with this problem.

We’ve already seen speculation that these price increases may not be strictly tied to the tariffs and that Asus could be trying to sneak some other cost increases into the space. That’s possible, but it’s going to be difficult for people to tease apart which cost increases are necessary and which aren’t. COVID-19 has increased the price of shipping. Employee labor costs have undoubtedly risen due to the need for various quarantine procedures. While the PC market is doing well at the moment, motherboard and GPU manufacturers may not be able to eat the entire cost of US tariffs, especially if they fall towards the higher end of the scale.

It’s likely to be several months before the incoming Biden Administration makes any major changes to the United States’ trade policy with China. Multiple experts CNBC interviewed in late December stated they do not expect Biden to return to the pre-Trump Administration status quo, but that it’s more likely to apply a collaborative approach with our allies and in partnership with private business. Biden’s administration may also focus on a more targeted set of technologies than President Trump’s broad trade war. Whether any of this will benefit gamers is unknown, and the tariff impact is going to send prices on already difficult-to-source cards even higher.

If you want to see the federal register order, you can do so here. GPUs are specifically covered in Annex A, item (25).

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January 6th 2021, 8:50 am

One Developer Is Fixing SNES Game Lag After 30 Years

ExtremeTech

The Super Nintendo is an iconic part of early 90s gaming with classic titles like Super Mario World, Star Fox, and Chrono Trigger. However, the machine itself was woefully underpowered compared with the competition. Nintendo used a series of enhancement chips to compensate, but not all games had them. Now, one dedicated developer is releasing patches to emulate one of those chips in games that never had them, eliminating the annoying slowdowns that have plagued gamers for almost 30 years. 

The SNES was a huge leap for Nintendo, which had become a household name with the NES launch. It stepped up to a Ricoh 5A22 CPU with a whopping 3.58 MHz of processing power from the 1.79 MHz Ricoh 2A03 used in the NES. However, by that point, Sega had launched the Genesis with a more impressive Motorola 68000 chip clocked at 7.6 MHz. That was a big performance gap in those days, so Nintendo used chips like the Super FX and SA1 in game cartridges to back up the internal CPU. 

Nintendo used the SA1 in 34 SNES games like  Super Mario RPG and Kirby’s Dreamland, without which the games would have rendered at a snail’s pace on the console. The SA1 had a 10.74 Mhz CPU, 2KB of faster RAM, and multiple programmable timers. Many SNES games didn’t have any co-processors, though, and they could have used one. Games like Contra III and Super R-Type ran well enough most of the time, but levels with too many sprites and effects would slow down noticeably. That’s still true in emulation to this day. 

Brazilan developer Vitor Vilela has started addressing this shortcoming by patching in support for the SA1, a project known as FastROM. So far, he has released FastROM patches for Gradius III, Contra III, Super Mario World, and most recently, Super Castlevania IV. This makes the games running in emulation behave as if they had that extra processing capacity originally. Arguably, the patched games play better than they ever have in the last three decades. 

According to Vilela, adding FastROM to a game can make it up to 33.58 percent faster. The real-world gains depend on how often the game accesses the ROM chip, but we’re talking about at least 10 percent better performance. That could make all the difference in games like R-Type that will occasionally fill the screen with more sprites that the SNES could handle. However, the SA1 was a more general chip than something like the Super FX developed for Star Fox. Vilela says patching a sluggish 3D game like Race Drivin’ would require a complete code overhaul. Still, there are plenty of games that could benefit from FastROM. Currently, Vilela hopes to create patches for Axelay and U.N. Squadron.

You can download the patches from Vilela’s Git Hub, but you’ll have to get the game ROMs elsewhere. As we know from recent events, Nintendo is still very opposed to people hosting ROMs of its classic games.

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January 6th 2021, 8:17 am

ET Deals: Dell G5 Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU Gaming Desktop for $1,599, Dell XPS 8940 Cor

ExtremeTech

If you’re looking for a PC to run the latest games on then you should consider Dell’s new G5 gaming desktop. This system has a 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor along with an Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU that gives it the power it needs to run some games at 4K resolutions under the right conditions.

Dell G5 Intel Core i7-10700F Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($1,599.99)

Dell built this gaming desktop with an Intel Core i7-10700F and a GeForce RTX 3070 graphics processor. Together, this hardware can run games exceedingly well. Even gaming at 4K resolutions is possible with this card under the right conditions. The system also has a unique front panel that looks cool and edgy, and with promo code EXTRA150 you can get it now marked down from $1,874.98 to just $1,599.99 from Dell.

Dell XPS 8940 Intel Core i5-10400 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD and 1TB HDD ($699.99)

Dell’s new XPS 8940 SE features an updated design and it comes loaded with strong processing hardware that’s able to tackle just about any task you throw at it. The mid-range Intel Core i5-10400 with its six CPU cores is well suited for running numerous applications at the same time. As the system also has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, the system’s is able to run games with high settings fairly well, making it a fitting machine for gaming and work. Currently you can get one of these systems from Dell marked down from $1,189.98 to just $699.99 with promo code DTXPSAFF015.

Neato Robotics Botvac D7 Robot Vacuum ($451.33)

Neato’s Botvac D7 is a versatile robot vacuum that can effectively clean hardwood, tiles and carpet with powerful suction and a spiral combo brush design. The vacuum can also last for up to 120 minutes on a single charge and it has programable virtual no-go lines to easily mark off areas you don’t want the vacuum to go. Currently you can get one from Amazon marked down from $599.99 to just $451.33.

Apple AirPods w/ Charging Case ($128.98)

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 Amazon marked down from $159.00 to $128.98.

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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January 5th 2021, 5:52 pm

Build Your Own Websites In 2021 With This User-Friendly Software

ExtremeTech

We’ve all learned the importance of side hustles in 2020. They’re a great way to help you pass the time and earn money. If starting a new one in 2021 is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you’ll likely need your very own website.

For those that aren’t HTML whizzes, website building can be an intimidating process. And contracting someone to build your site can be costly. So if you’re been hoping to create your own website in 2021, WYSIWYG Web Builder v16 might be the perfect solution. This all-in-one software solution can help you create complete web sites. And though it usually costs $59, it’s on sale now for 49 percent at just $29.99.

WYSIWYG Web Builder is the ultimate toolbox for those needing to create websites easily. There’s a simple to use drag and drop interface perfect for both beginner and professional developers, and elements of the page will be displayed in the exact same places as in the designer. There won’t be any tricky layouts where positions depend on the size of the objects surrounding them.

Get full control over your content and layout, and the ability to build yourself the websites of your dreams. This software score 4.1 out of 5 stars on Softpedia, who claimed it’s “software suited for all users” and that “the output meets modern standards.” Just drag and drop HTML objects like text, lines, images, marquees and tables, and use the customizable menus, toolbars, keyboard accelerators, dockable windows, tabs and autohide windows. You can also password protect your pages with the Login Tools/User Management.

Make the perfect websites for all your needs in 2021, self sufficiently with this awesome user-friendly software. Get WYSIWYG Web Builder v16 for just $29.99 today, 49 percent off the usual price of $59.

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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January 5th 2021, 5:52 pm

There Are Still 100 Million PCs Running Windows 7

ExtremeTech

Windows 7 was a much-needed breath of fresh air when it launched in 2009. Ten years later, it’s a millstone around Microsoft’s neck. The company officially ended update support for Windows 7 last year, but millions of PCs are still running this software of yesteryear. According to long-time Microsoft reporter Ed Bott, that number is probably north of 100 million a year after the end of support

Microsoft doesn’t provide precise usage numbers for old versions of Windows, but Bott pulled data from US government digital analytics and commercial services like StatCounter to arrive at a rough estimate of 200 million in January 2020. A year later, that same method shows about half that many Windows 7 users. That’s good, but not that good — we’re still talking about 100 million PCs running software that is now more than a decade old and doesn’t receive security patches. 

Bott notes that visitors to government websites were 18.9 percent Windows 7 as of last year when the OS got its final patch. Now, that number has dropped to 8.5 percent. The numbers from commercial services show similar 10-point drops. According to NetMarketShare, Windows 7 usage went from 31.2 to 21.7 percent, and NetmarketShare dropped to 10 points to finish at 17.7 percent. 

While Microsoft has seen plenty of progress shedding Windows 7 installations, the rate of decline will probably slow. The warnings over the past years have probably encouraged average users to replace or upgrade their computers, but the remaining Windows 7 user base will be more stubborn. We’re talking about computers that are sitting in closets or enterprise setups. Businesses might not consider it feasible to update Win7 boxes until the hardware breaks down or the system they’re a part of is replaced. 

So, suffice it to say that Windows 7 will be with us for a long time. While Microsoft is no longer releasing regular patches for Windows 7, the number of people still using it could force the company to revisit its aging OS from time to time. After all, even Windows XP has gotten a few critical patches in the years since Microsoft ended support. 

Some of those 100 million PCs are probably still protected via Microsoft’s custom support program. Companies and governments that pay for that could continue using Windows 7 through 2023, but Microsoft considers this a “last resort option.” It’s also much more expensive than a new Windows 10 license.

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January 5th 2021, 3:24 pm

Linus Tovalds Blames Intel for Killing ECC RAM in Consumer Systems

ExtremeTech

Linus Torvalds isn’t happy with the way Intel has treated support for Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory, and he blames the silicon giant for essentially killing the technology outside of servers. ECC memory is used to catch and correct single-bit errors in memory. It can’t correct multi-bit errors, but just fixing single-bit can make a significant difference to system stability.

There was a time when you could buy ECC support on mainstream chipsets, but Intel phased out that capability on non-Xeon platforms a number of years ago. The 975X may have been the last consumer Intel platform to support it, and that family launched 15 years ago. The Xeon 3450 chipset was cross-compatible with certain high-end CPUs in the Nehalem family, but that’s still a Xeon chipset — not a mainstream part.

As a result, support for ECC in consumer products — and the availability of ECC RAM for consumer products — both fell off a cliff. Linus summarizes his case in a rather lengthy post, arguing that the continued persistence of Rowhammer and the fact that single-bit errors have never gone away to declare Intel’s ECC policies “bad and misguided.” He actually takes on the entire DRAM industry, writing:

The memory manufacturers claim it’s because of economics and lower power. And they are lying bastards – let me once again point to row-hammer about how those problems have existed for several generations already, but these f*ckers happily sold broken hardware to consumers and claimed it was an “attack”, when it always was “we’re cutting corners.

Torvalds also refers to numerous incidents of kernel “oopsies” that he feels may be better explained by a hardware error. While objective data on this kind of thing is hard to come by, a 2009 Google report on memory errors provides some evidence he’s right, though obviously a 2009 paper may have limited applicability to DDR4 RAM in 2020.

Image by Wikimedia Commons, by Kjerish. CC BY-SA 4.0

Google’s conclusion from 2009 was straightforward: “We found the incidence of memory errors and the range of error rates across different DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) to be much higher than previously reported… Memory errors are not rare events.” The team detected error rates that it describes as “orders of magnitude higher than previously reported.”

They conclude: “error correcting codes are crucial for reducing the large number of memory errors to a manageable number of uncorrectable errors.”

AMD’s Current Support of Limited Value

On paper, AMD’s Ryzen family supports ECC unofficially (Threadripper has official ECC support). As Ian Cutress points out later in the thread, however, just because a motherboard claims ECC support doesn’t mean that support is actually enabled. We don’t run into this situation very often, but CPUs and motherboards report their various feature sets via registers, which applications like CPUID then check to determine and report which features a chip supports. An application claiming to check to make sure a given feature is supported (SSE, AVX, ECC, etc), can only report what the CPU or motherboard claims about its own operation via register flags. It can’t actually check to see that support exists, unless the application actually contains a feature test — like, say, a small benchmark that literally can’t run unless AVX support is functional.

Because AMD’s support is unofficial, it means no one is standing over OEMs with a whip to make sure they properly implement the feature, and they aren’t testing to make sure the feature actually works. Because it’s possible to set the bit for “Supports ECC” in a motherboard register without actually implementing functional ECC, there are motherboards out there that claim to support the standard and appear to do so if you scan them with a utility, but don’t actually implement ECC at all. The only way to guarantee that ECC compatibility works on an AMD Ryzen motherboard is to run a utility that forces an ECC error.

As for whether we’ll see the feature make a return to Intel desktops or officially debut for Ryzen, that’s unclear. It would require buy-in from memory manufacturers, and it’s not clear very many people in the PC market would spring for it. Most people buy on price, and since you never know about the PC crashes you don’t have, it’s hard to sell people on the benefit. Then again, we’re going to see the x86 CPU manufacturers facing much stiffer challenges from ARM over the next 2-5 years than we’ve ever seen before. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Intel and/or AMD “rediscover” some features, especially if those features allow them to claim increased stability compared to previous products.

Feature image shows registered DDR4-2133 DIMMs. Registered DIMMs often also support ECC, but it’s possible to find unbuffered ECC RAM as well. 

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January 5th 2021, 2:24 pm

AMD Files Patent for Its Own GPU Chiplet Implementation

ExtremeTech

AMD has filed for a patent on a chiplet-based approach to GPU design. One of the key goals of this approach is to create larger GPU configurations than are possible with a single, monolithic die.

AMD is the third company to share a little information on how it might approach this problem, though that’s probably stretching the definition of “sharing” a bit. You can find the patent here — we’ll briefly look at what Intel and Nvidia have proposed before we talk about AMD’s patent filing.

Intel has previously stated that its Ponte Vecchio data center GPU would use a new memory architecture (Xe-MF), with EMIB and Foveros. EMIB is a technique for connecting different chips on the same package, while Foveros uses large through-silicon vias to connect off-die hardware blocks at effectively on-die connectivity. This approach relies specifically on packaging and interconnect technology Intel has designed for its own use.

Nvidia proposed what it called a Multi-Chip Module GPU, or MC-GPU, that resolved problems intrinsic to distributing workloads across multiple GPUs by using NUMA, with additional features intended to reduce on-package bandwidth usage like an L1.5 cache, though it acknowledged unavoidable latency penalties when hopping across the various interconnected GPUs.

AMD’s method envisions a GPU chiplet organized somewhat differently from what we’ve seen from the 7nm CPUs it has launched to date. Organizing a GPU into an effective chiplet design can be difficult due to restrictions on inter-chiplet bandwidth. This is less of a problem with CPUs, where cores don’t necessarily communicate all that much, and there aren’t nearly as many of them. A GPU has thousands of cores, while even the largest x86 CPUs have just 64.

One of the problems Nvidia highlighted in its 2017 paper was the need to take pressure off the limited bandwidth available for MC-GPU to MC-GPU communication. The proposed L1.5 cache architecture that the company proposes is meant to alleviate this problem.

The implementation AMD describes above is different from what Nvidia envisions. AMD ties both work group processors (shader cores) and GFX (fixed-function units) directly to the L1 cache. The L1 cache is itself connected to a Graphics Data Fabric (GDF), which also connects the L1 and the L2. L2 cache is coherent within any single chiplet, and any WGP or GFX block can read data from any part of the L2.

In order to wire multiple GPU chiplets into a cohesive GPU processor, AMD first connects the L2 cache banks to the HPX passive crosslink above, using a scalable data fabric (SDF). That crosslink is what handles the job of inter-chiplet communication. The SDF on each chiplet is wired together through the HPX passive crosslink — that’s the single, long arrow connecting two chiplets above. This crosslink also attaches to the L3 cache banks on each chiplet. In this implementation, the GDDR lanes are wired to the L3 cache.

AMD’s patent assumes that only one GPU chiplet connects with the CPU, with the passive interconnect tying the rest together via a large, shared L3 cache. Nvidia’s MC-GPU doesn’t use an L3 in this fashion.

Theoretically, this is all very interesting, and we’ve already seen AMD ship a GPU with a big honkin’ L3 on it, courtesy of RDNA2’s Infinity Cache. Whether AMD will actually ship a part using GPU chiplets is a very different question from whether it wants patents on various ideas it might want to use.

Decoupling the CPU and GPU essentially reverses the work that went into combining them in the first place. One of the basic challenges the GPU chiplet approach must overcome is the intrinsically higher latencies created by moving these components away from each other.

Multi-chip GPUs are a topic that AMD and Nvidia have both been discussing for years. This patent doesn’t confirm that any products will hit the market in the near term, or even that AMD will ever approach this tech at all.

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January 5th 2021, 9:18 am

Harvard Astronomer Still Believes Interstellar Object Was Alien Technology

ExtremeTech

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System.

An eminent Harvard astronomer is still spending a lot of his time thinking about our first alien encounter in 2017. That’s when a mysterious object known as ‘Oumuamua passed through the solar system. Scientists have classified ‘Oumuamua variously as an asteroid or a comet, but Loeb believes it was really alien — a piece of alien technology we mistook for a naturally occurring space rock. 

Astronomers detected ‘Oumuamua in late 2017 as it glided through the solar system. Its speed and trajectory showed incontrovertibly that it came from outside the solar system, but what was it? It didn’t have a coma or “tail” like a comet, but scientists eventually detected a small force nudging ‘Oumuamua away from the sun. We chalked this up to the release of gas from what was probably a very old comet. But was it? According to Loeb, who works as chair of astronomy at Harvard, ‘Oumuamua had too many bizarre properties to be natural. Be believes ‘Oumuamua is truly alien, and we need to take this possibility seriously if we’re going to get a proper look at the next one. 

Loeb is set to release a book called Extraterrestrial in the coming weeks that lays out his hypothesis, which does include some compelling arguments. ‘Oumuamua remained undetected until it was already on its way out of the solar system. So, there was no way to intercept or capture high-resolution photographs of the object. However, we know it’s not a typical space rock. Our best estimates say ‘Oumuamua is cigar-shaped and about 100 meters long. As Loeb points out, we’ve never seen a natural object that looks like that. ‘Oumuamua is also highly reflective — about 10 times more so than typical asteroids or comets. That could mean its surface is composed of shiny metal. 

‘Oumuamua’s path through the solar system in 2017.

What Loeb finds most convincing is the aforementioned force pushing ‘Oumuamua away from the sun. He contends that the out-gassing theory doesn’t sufficiently explain the facts; any jet of evaporating material powerful enough to move ‘Oumuamua should have been visible from Earth. Because we didn’t see ‘Oumuamua until so late in its transit of the solar system, it’s possible we could be wrong about the shape, too. Loeb theorizes ‘Oumuamua could be a disk less than a millimeter thick. Loeb thinks it’s possible ‘Oumuamua was, in fact, some sort of solar sail device that accelerated because of its proximity to the sun. 

It’s a fascinating idea, but we’ll probably never know if Loeb is right. ‘Oumuamua is already on its way out of the solar system, and we have no way to catch up. Instead, Loeb wants to encourage scientists to take the possibility seriously and keep an eye out for similar objects so we can gather more data. Astronomers spotted one more alien object after ‘Oumuamua, a comet known as 2I/Borisov. There’s no uncertainty about Borisov’s natural origins, which makes ‘Oumuamua seem that much weirder.

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January 5th 2021, 7:36 am

Samsung Will Reveal S21 Family at Unpacked on January 14

ExtremeTech

Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event in February 2020 (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Samsung is wasting no time in 2021, announcing its next Unpacked event for January 14th. We expect to see the latest of the Galaxy S family at the event, which is coming earlier in the year than usual. Among the new devices will be the Galaxy S21 Ultra with its new S Pen support, but we don’t have to wait to see how that will work. There’s a leak that reveals the new S Pen and the clunky cases to go with it. 

The event will begin at 10 AM Eastern on January 14, streamed live on YouTube. We’re expecting three phones: the Galaxy S21 (6.3-inch), S21+ (6.7-inch), and S21 Ultra (6.8-inch). Several notable details and renderings have leaked already, so we know the S21 Ultra will include an upgraded camera array compared with the base and plus models. All three phones should have the latest Snapdragon 888 ARM chip, though. 

The S21 Ultra will allegedly have a new 10x zoom periscope camera, along with a separate 3x telephoto module. There will also be 108MP primary and ultra-wide cameras, which gives the S21 Ultra a wider variety of focal lengths than other phones. The smaller S21s will have triple camera setups similar to last year’s phones. 

Samsung’s top-of-the-line model will also add support for the S Pen stylus for the first time. The S Pen was previously only compatible with Note-series smartphones — this isn’t a simple capacitive stylus, so the phone needs a digitizer. Samsung apparently saw fit to add that in the S21 Ultra, but it won’t include the S Pen with the phone. Leaks have pointed to a $40-50 price for the pen. 

The S Pen docks inside the spine of the S View flip case.

A new round of leaks also show the redesigned S Pen, which is much larger than the one that docks inside Note phones. That should make it more comfortable to hold, but it doesn’t slot inside the S21. Instead, Samsung will make a series of cases that have compartments for the optional S Pen. Although, that will make this already giant phone even wider and harder to hold. 

While this Unpacked is coming earlier than expected, Samsung likes to have pre-orders for its new phones live just a week or two after the event. Last year’s S20 family was criticized for being too expensive, with the S20 Ultra clocking in at $1,400. The S21 Ultra could end up being even more expensive.

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January 4th 2021, 5:27 pm

Save Almost 50 Percent On This Refurbished 12-Inch MacBook

ExtremeTech

If you didn’t get that MacBook on your Christmas list this year, don’t worry. A fancy MacBook packed with awesome features doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. As most of us aren’t really rolling in the dough after the holiday season depleted our bank accounts, refurbished options make a perfect choice.

You can get all the great benefits of a MacBook without the expensive price tag. Right now the Apple MacBook 12″ Core M 1.1GHz 8RAM 256GB SSD (Refurbished) is available for just $749.99, a massive 49 percent off the usual price of $1,499.

Make working a little less painful in 2021 with this power-packed MacBook. Equipped with a Core M processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB hard drive, and even more inside its sleek aluminum frame,, this MacBook is ready to serve al your web surfing, work or online schooling needs. Its even engineered with Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology for efficient energy use and plenty of ports for connecting all of your important devices.

This MacBook runs on a 39.7Wh Li-Poly battery and provides you with up to 10 hours of operation. It has a stunning 12″ retina display, a brand new Apple-designed keyboard, and that signature Apple thin and light design that allows it to weigh in at just 2 pounds and measure only 13.1mm thin. It also includes a versatile USB-C port and the all-new force touch trackpad that lets you click anywhere with a uniform feel.

Armed with a grade B rating, the Apple MacBook 12″ Core M 1.1GHz 8RAM 256GB SSD (Refurbished) may have light scuffing on the bevel or case or light scratches or dents on the body, but its ready to use and as good as new. Get it today for 49 percent off the usual $1,499 price tag at just $749.99.

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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January 4th 2021, 4:44 pm

ET Deals: Dell Vostro 13 5301 11th Gen Intel Core i5 Laptop for $649, Netgear Nighthawk R6700 for $7

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a 13.3-inch Dell Vostro laptop with one of Intel’s new Core i5-1135G7 processors with over $500 knocked off the retail price. You can also get a Netgear Nighthawk R6700 802.11ac Wi-Fi router for just $77.49.

Dell Vostro 13 5301 Intel Core i5-1135G7 13.3-inch 108p Laptop w/ Intel Iris Xe Graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($649.00)

This aluminum-clad 13.3-inch notebook comes equipped with one of Intel’s recently released Core i5-1135G7 processors. The CPU portion of this chip is fairly average with four Hyper-Threaded cores, but the processor also has a relatively powerful integrated graphics solution that can play games with low settings and even handle some games with medium graphics settings enabled. There’s 8GB DDR4 RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. Currently, you can get this laptop from Dell marked down from $1,255.71 to just $649.00 with promo code SAVE50.

Netgear Nighthawk R6700 802.11ac AC1750 Smart WiFi Router ($77.49)

The Nighthawk R6700 is one of the most popular Wi-Fi routers on the market. It offers reliable performance with speeds of up to 1,750Mbps across two bands. It also has built-in USB ports for adding network resources. Right now it’s marked down from Newegg from $99.99 to $77.49.

Apple Watch Series 3 38mm w/GPS & Cellular ($169.00)

Apple’s Series 3 smartwatch is powered by a dual-core S3 processor and it features a built-in GPS as well as a cellular connection. It can also keep count of your steps and display information from your smartphone. This watch originally sold for $379.00, but you can get it today from Amazon for $169.00.

Nintendo Super Mario 3D All-Stars — Nintendo Switch ($49.94)

Nintendo’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars includes enhanced versions of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. These games have been updated with higher resolution graphics to give you an enjoyable experience while you play through these classic games. The game is now available for $49.94 but the clock is ticking. This is a limited edition game with only a limited number of physical copies planned to be released. The game is also set to exit the market on March 31, 2021, which means you will only have a limited time to get your hands on a copy of this game before it’s gone forever.

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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January 4th 2021, 4:44 pm

Microsoft Has Asked AMD to Boost Xbox Series S, Series X Production

ExtremeTech

The ongoing shortage of Xbox and PlayStation consoles has been a story since these platforms launched in November. The shortage isn’t unique to console gaming — there are problems with hardware availability across both PCs and consoles as recently launched GPUs from Nvidia and AMD remain difficult to find, as do AMD’s Ryzen 5000 CPUs.

According to Xbox head Phil Spencer, the company has been fielding questions related to Xbox production for weeks.

“I get some people [asking], ‘why didn’t you build more? Why didn’t you start earlier? Why didn’t you ship them earlier?’ All of those things,” Spencer said on a Major Nelson podcast, as spotted by VGC.

“It’s really just down to physics and engineering. We’re not holding them back: we’re building them as fast as we can. We have all the assembly lines going. I was on the phone last week with Lisa Su at AMD [asking], ‘how do we get more?’ So it’s something that we’re constantly working on.”

I don’t want to say that there’s nothing AMD can do to improve the situation for Microsoft, but the company’s ability to change the situation are probably limited. AMD’s involvement with the chip is limited to designing it — the actual job of manufacturing and shipping it in sufficient volume is done by TSMC.

There may indeed be some knobs and dials that AMD has some indirect control over, or it might be able to work with TSMC to enhance yields if a certain number of Xbox Series X|S SoCs are just barely missing spec. Small tweaks to improve yield and performance are common. From the mid-aughts to the mid-2010s, it wasn’t unusual to see AMD or Intel introduce a newer variant of an older chip, but with a lower TDP compared with what they’d shipped right out the door. These improvements reflected low-end optimizations.

But, while AMD might be able to boost Xbox production by reducing orders in other 7nm product families, the company will be limited by how much 7nm capacity TSMC has. Last fall, multiple reports suggested TSMC would be able to build 140,000 7nm wafers a month by the end of 2020. In the first half of 2020, TSMC’s WPM (wafers per month) was estimated at 110K. This implies the company increased its 7nm capacity by 1.27x throughout the year.

Clearly, it hasn’t been enough, and Nvidia’s decision to build with Samsung on 8N instead of tapping TSMC’s 7nm hasn’t been enough to save Ampere’s availability, either. Nvidia is currently expected to move to TSMC 7nm for additional Ampere production in 2021, which may put even more pressure on the situation.

Relief might come in the form of drawdowns on 7nm mobile demand as companies transition to 5nm. Currently, a number of companies have told consumers to expect better product availability after the March – April 2021 timeframe, which could reflect anything from new capacity coming online, to improved yields, to decreased 7nm utilization as companies transition to 5nm. It could even be that companies are forecasting decreased shutdown levels by that point, which might lead to a slackening of demand, especially in the short term. Once people can leave the house safely again, we’ll probably see spending flow out of video games and home entertainment and back towards other types of leisure, even if the pandemic creates a long-term uptick in the number of people buying consoles, subscribing to streaming services, or working from home.

Image by VGChartz

The best data we have on the two console manufacturers’ relative performance comes from VGChartz. They’ve compiled their estimates for sales over the first six weeks since launch (the Switch data is aligned to its launch, not present-day sales). The results are not particularly great for Microsoft, though we’d caution that only a very limited amount of data can be drawn from the first six weeks, especially at a time when console sales continue to be supply limited. All indications suggest that Microsoft and Sony continue to sell every console they can make.

US sales, VGChartz

US sales are a better story for Microsoft. While the Xbox Series S|X are still lower than PlayStation 5, they’re off by roughly 30 percent, not nearly 50 percent. This is also the one region where Xbox is actually beating Switch in terms of worldwide sales. Everywhere else, Switch leads, including Japan.

For now, evidence indicates the PlayStation 5 is strongly outselling the Xbox Series (both flavors) globally, with a tighter (but still Sony-favoring) competition in the US. Whether AMD can do anything to put more console SoCs in the hands of its partners is unknown. Also, wasn’t it the PlayStation 5 that was supposed to be facing the severe supply constraints?

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January 4th 2021, 3:45 pm

Report: Microsoft Plans ‘Sweeping Visual Rejuvenation’ of Windows 10

ExtremeTech

A recent (and now edited) job ad published by Microsoft implies that the company is planning a major UI overhaul this year. The now-altered job listing originally stated:

On this team, you’ll work with our key platform, Surface, and OEM partners to orchestrate and deliver a sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows experiences to signal to our customers that Windows is BACK and ensure that Windows is considered the best user OS experience for customers.”

The new text backs off these claims, but notes that one of the job’s assignments is: “working directly with our customers to understand their needs and deliver magical software that exceeds their expectations!” Hope you’ve got a copy of “Conjuring With XAML” handy.

How Can I Miss You, If You Won’t Go Away?

It’s just as well that Microsoft replaced the text in the original ad because the previous framing leaves us with nothing but questions. Among them:

When did Windows leave?

Where did it go? Was this a “Windows is BACK” in the sense of a drunk yell-slurring an announcement as they stumble through the door at 2 AM, or is this meant to come off like the second diner scene in Superman II? If the latter, who exactly is the abusive trucker in this scenario? Google? Apple? IBM’s OS/2? (It’s probably not OS/2.)

Aforementioned scene included above, as it’s rude to reference 38-year-old superhero movies without a bit of footage.

Microsoft wants to “ensure that Windows is considered the best user OS experience for customers.” That’s a great goal. But again — who is the competition, here? The only two possibilities are Chromebooks and Apple’s macOS. There’s definitely an argument that Windows could use a stronger position against those competitors, but it’s not going to come from a UI overhaul.

As far as practical UI changes that I’d like to see:

It would be nice if Microsoft could migrate back to having one Control Panel / Settings panel, but not if it requires dumbing down the existing Control Panel, or burying settings under a lot more clicks. The current system of “Sometimes you adjust things in Control Panel, sometimes in Settings,” has been garbage since it debuted nine years ago with Windows 8.

An overhaul to media playback. The small vertical rectangle for adjusting the volume up and down is nice; the giant carve-out that refreshes itself if you inadvertently mouse over it on your way to something else, isn’t. An option to kill this behavior would be nice.

Here are another two UI changes I’d like: Allow me to organize installed applications by the date they were installed. Bring back the use of color gradients in menus to make it easier to distinguish from various options.

Finally, while it’s not a UI request, maybe fix the whole “We don’t scale above 64 threads without using processor groups” problem. Not a huge issue now, but probably going to be bigger in the future, given how core counts tend to waterfall into lower product markets over time.

Chances are, the improvements Microsoft actually has in mind will be things like icon updates, along with tweaks to the File Explorer, Action Center, and Start Menu. It’s important to have an important and clearly communicated visual language, so I’m not dismissing any effort to improve them. At the same time, I’m not sure any such overhaul will meaningfully change the Windows experience unless Microsoft launches a new set of dark patterns to hide the method of creating a local Windows account, or to trick you into believing it isn’t possible.

The number one reason to use Windows is that the software you want to use runs well on Windows. That’s the exact same reason to use macOS or a Chromebook. If Microsoft has come up with a way to improve battery life or performance by overhauling its OS, that’d be very interesting. A standard UI overhaul will probably contain a few cleaned-up bits that we’ve wanted, but not much that will change the underlying experience, “magical” software notwithstanding.

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January 4th 2021, 3:15 pm

Is the Turing Test Obsolete?

ExtremeTech

Credit: Getty Images. 3D Abstract HUD brain and nervous system wireframe hologram simulation node with lighting on blue background. Nanotechnology and futuristics science concept. Medical and Healthcare. Intelligence and knowledge brain structure

(Credit: Getty Images)
Since its conception by the British computer scientist Alan Turing, the so-called Turing Test has served as an unofficial benchmark for artificial intelligence. The test is conceptually simple. Imagine a judge who is asked to evaluate the natural language responses of two individuals, neither of which he can see. The judge is limited to evaluating the written responses submitted by each candidate — he cannot see, hear, or speak to the test-takers.

Image by Wikipedia

If one of the participants is a computer and one is human, and the judge cannot tell which of them is which, a computer is said to have passed the Turing test. The test has served as a pole star and long-term goal for AI researchers across the decades. Now, Rohit Prassad, VP and head scientist of Alexa, argues that the Turing test has us barking up the wrong set of trees. He writes in Fast Company:

I believe the goal put forth by Turing is not a useful one for AI scientists like myself to work toward. The Turing Test is fraught with limitations, some of which Turing himself debated in his seminal paper. With AI now ubiquitously integrated into our phones, cars, and homes, it’s become increasingly obvious that people care much more that their interactions with machines be useful, seamless and transparent—and that the concept of machines being indistinguishable from a human is out of touch.

Prassad is absolutely right that the Turing Test has acknowledged limitations. It tests whether a computer behaves like a human being, not whether a computer demonstrates something we might call “intelligence.” It puts constraints on the scenario that might require a computer to misrepresent the amount of time it took to complete a complex math equation, for example, in order to avoid being given away by its own performance. It’s also theoretically possible for a sufficiently advanced language processor to pass the Turing Test without possessing any of the characteristics people tend to think of when they imagine a machine that could pass the Turing Test.

Prassad argues that the question of “When will Alexa pass the Turing test?” doesn’t capture the actual value of Alexa very well. He points out that when Alan Turing wrote his seminal paper in 1950, the first commercial computer hadn’t even been sold yet, and that the Turing Test was never intended to serve as the ultimate test of artificial intelligence. He argues instead that we should build AIs that augment human intelligence and improve human lives “in a way that is both equitable and inclusive.”

He argues in favor of building devices and systems that align with the approach Amazon has taken with Alexa. Instead of attempting to pretend to be human, AI systems should focus on completing everyday tasks efficiently. Ultimately, such systems should combine human-like attributes with machine efficiency. This isn’t exactly a surprising opinion for a person in his position to hold. While I agree there’s no reason to regard the Turing Test as the method by which artificial intelligence should be evaluated, I’m less quick to dismiss it altogether. The Turing Test, as originally envisioned, requires that the computer being tested be capable of fooling a judge on any requested topic. In envisioning the kind of questions a computer might be expected to answer, Turing didn’t emphasize engineering or math questions. One example from the paper reads:

Interrogator: In the first line of your sonnet which reads, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” would not “a spring day” do as well or better?

Witness: It wouldn’t scan.

Interrogator: How about “a winter’s day.” That would scan all right.

Witness: Yes, but nobody wants to be compared to a winter’s day.

Turing doesn’t just imagine a computer that understands scansion. He imagined a computer that can correctly answer that being compared to a winter day is not a compliment when asked about the reasons why it chose its words. The Turing Test isn’t just a test of a computer’s ability to answer factual questions. It’s a test of a computer’s ability to provide human-equivalent answers to questions concerning its aesthetic sensibilities.

Even if the Turing Test is obsolete in certain respects, it touches on capabilities that have more in common with advancing Alexa and similar systems than Prassad gives it credit for. It may not be worth focusing an enormous amount of energy on specifically designing computers that can pass for human, but Turing’s thought experiment explicitly incorporates the idea of a computer that understands how to communicate nuance and can answer follow-up questions by coherently referencing its own sense of beauty.

Is that marketable the way an AI that can manage your calendar and email while screening your calls and playing media on-demand? Probably not. But it’s not worthless, either. Not even 70 years on.

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January 4th 2021, 9:25 am

SpaceX Plans to ‘Catch’ Super Heavy Rockets With Launch Tower

ExtremeTech

Up until now, SpaceX rockets have always landed by deploying legs around the rocket as it returned to earth. If new remarks from Elon Musk are accurate, the company wants to get rid of that method to save weight. Future spacecraft may not sport legs at all.

The Super Heavy launch vehicle is the first-stage launcher for the second-stage craft known as Starship. Super Heavy will still use its engines to control its descent, similar to the current Falcon 9, but it will use its grid fins to control orientation in flight.

According to Musk, SpaceX believes it doesn’t need legs to land the rocket safely. After a reader asked Elon if a user-created video captured the Super Heavy descent profile accurately, the founder of SpaceX dropped this announcement:

“We’re going to try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm, using the grid fins to take the load” doesn’t sound like the kind of statement that gets people hot and bothered, but context is everything, and an awful lot of SpaceX fans are excited about the idea. An equally large group of them, including the author, are a bit puzzled by it. It isn’t clear what it means to have the launch tower “catch” the Super Heavy. Launch towers don’t exactly fall down if you breathe on them, but I’ve never heard of using one directly to catch a rocket (even a depleted, first-stage rocket).

The implication seems to be that the rocket bears its own weight directly on the grid fins and that the “catch” is more about lining up the rocket with the launch arm in a way that allows them to interlink again, as opposed to using the launch arm to somehow brake or control the Super Heavy as it descends.

According to Elon, the goal is to enable the reuse of the same rocket in under an hour. This is rocket re-usability of the sort envisioned by sci-fi writers who predicted Earth-Moon or Earth-Mars shuttles leaving every hour on the other, with little more than a refueling required before the next journey.

It’ll be a long time before we reach anything like that speed, if ever. The first Super Heavy boosters to land successfully will be carefully analyzed before being allowed to launch again. Currently, the world-record holder for the most-reused rocket is B1049, a SpaceX booster that has launched and been recovered successfully six times.

But Super Heavy doesn’t need to refly in under an hour to revolutionize space travel. NASA’s best record for putting the same Shuttle into orbit is 55 days, and most of the refreshes took considerably longer.

A reusable rocket that could launch once per month would be a dramatic leap ahead of anything NASA achieved with the Shuttle (and with the benefit of a few more decades of R&D in computing and material engineering). A reusable rocket that could launch every week would revolutionize the cost of space transport. It goes without saying that “under an hour,” if it were possible, would shake things up a bit.

Feature image is the Starship, the Super Heavy’s second stage. 

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January 4th 2021, 8:07 am

Protect Yourself Online For Less Than $20 With This Highly-Rated VPN

ExtremeTech

Did you know Google recently discovered an exploit that allows your iPhone data to be stolen over WiFi? Since we’re all continuing to stay safer at home, and will likely be spending plenty of time on the internet in 2021, it’s time to start thinking about your online security.

As we all go into the new year continuing to work, play, learn and shop from home, it’s the perfect time to invest in a VPN. VPNs are easy ways to protect your important data online. And you can snag a lifetime subscription to Yodata VPN for the low price of just $17.99, at a massive 69 percent discount than the usual MSRP $59.

Aside from making sure your browsing activity and data stays safe, Yodata also guarantees superior browsing at super fast speeds, and the added bonus of seamless server switching to make sure there’s no impact on your device. Yodata includes industry-leading encryption that’s actually military-grade on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Smart TV and your router.

It operates with 99.9 percent uptime and also gives you access to 2,500 high-speed servers all over the world. This means you can bypass annoying geographic restrictions on content, which is ideal for when you’re traveling or you’re seeking out content from another country.

Yodata snagged 4.5 out of 5 stars from PCMag Editors’ Choice, and allows for unlimited traffic and bandwidth. A string no logging police means your online activities won’t be monitored, tracked or stored, and a kill switch gives you an easy way to cut all connections to your device.

With dedicated 24/7 support, there’s no reason not to give Yodata a try. Get a lifetime subscription to this handy VPN service for just $17.99 (reg. $59) today and go into 2021 with peace of mind about your internet safety.

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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January 1st 2021, 8:43 am

These Sound Solutions From Motorola Are 20 Percent Off Ahead Of The New Year

ExtremeTech

Listen to your favorite tunes without wires in 2021! We’re all not quite sure what the new year will bring, but you can make sure it’s filled with your favorite playlists and podcasts with the right sound solution for the job.

And fortunately, as we’re all still a little tapped out from so much gifting, there’s a 20 percent off sitewide sale ready to help you ring in the new year. From Bluetooth-ready speakers to wire-free in-ear headphones, there are all kinds of options available on sale right now. Snag them now for 20 percent off with promo code HOLIDAY20 for a limited time.

Motorola Sonic Sub 530 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Don’t stop the music, wherever you go. This Motorola Sonic Sub 530 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker gives you 9 hours of powerful stereo sound quality thanks to the 5-watts speaker. It answers to voice commands like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, and it can also tag along to your next pool party or beach hang since its IPX5 certified waterproof.

Get the Motorola Sonic Sub 530 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker for $39.86 (reg. $59) with promo code HOLIDAY20.

Motorola Tech4 Smart True Wireless Earbuds

Looking for earbuds that do more? These 3-in-1 earbuds let you listen to up to 11 hours of quality audio via sports loop, audio plug-in, or completely wireless. The handy plug-in option means you can have unlimited playtime and you never need to worry about how strenuous your workout is thanks to their water-resistant status. There’s even a feature to help you find them if you misplace them, making these an ideal pick for those that hate searching around for their earbuds.

Get the Motorola Tech4 Smart True Wireless Earbuds for $67.96 (reg. 99) with promo code HOLIDAY20. 

VerveBuds 100 True Wireless Earbuds

Ditch the wires and take your music to go anytime with the VerveBuds 100 True Wireless Earbuds. They deliver 5 hours of playtime and 9 hours with the case, all providing superior sound quality. They offer hands-free calling, an ergonomic design that ensures a comfy fit, IPX5 waterproof status and the ability to use voice command like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant when needed, all with an impressive 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

Get the VerveBuds 100 True Wireless Earbuds for $33.56 (reg. $49) with promo code HOLIDAY20. 

Moto Buds Charge True Wireless In-Ear Headphones

Don’t miss a beat with 10 hours of battery life thanks to The Moto Buds Charge True Wireless In-Ear Headphones. These wireless earbuds provide superior sound quality for music and calls. Charge them on the go using the integrated Mobile-charge cable and then relax with these ergonomic, water and sweat resistant sound solutions. And if you are partial to a specific power option, they also include a USB-C cable and USB-C charging port to suit your needs.

Get the Moto Buds Charge True Wireless In-Ear Headphones for $47.96 (reg. $69) with promo code HOLIDAY20.

Motorola Sonic Sub 500 Wireless Fast Charging Speaker

If you’re in need of a Bluetooth speaker that does more, the Motorola Sonic Sub 500 Wireless Fast Charging Speaker is up to the task. Equipped with a powerful 5W RMS speaker unit with built-in subwoofer, you’re guaranteed to receive outstanding powerful sound, and the slim size makes it perfect to bring along anywhere. Aside from playing music, you can also take calls and use it to charge up your phone or headphones that to its 10W wireless turbo charging pad.

Get the Motorola Sonic Sub 500 Wireless Fast Charging Speaker for $42.36 (reg. $59) with promo code HOLIDAY20. 

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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December 31st 2020, 8:34 am

ET Deals: $549 off Dell XPS 13 7390 13.3-Inch Intel Core i7 4K Laptop, iRobot Roomba i6+ 6550 Self E

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a compact 13.3-inch Dell laptop with a Core i7 processor, a 4K display and an aluminum chassis all for just $999.99. You can also save $250 on a new iRobot Roomba i6+ robot vacuum that has an automatic dirt disposal base station.

Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i7-10510U 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 16GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($999.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-10510U quad-core processor and a 4K display touchscreen. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 19 hours on a single charge. Right now you can one from Dell marked down from $1,549.99 to $999.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

iRobot Roomba i6+ 6550 Robot Vacuum w/ Self Emptying Bin ($549.99)

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 $549.99.

Oculus Rift S VR Gaming Headset ($299.00)

Oculus’s Rift S VR headset was designed from the ground up to provide you with an enjoyable gaming experience. It comes with a pair of wireless touch controllers and has everything you need to run VR games — except a PC that is. You will need a capable computer to get the most out of this hardware with Oculus suggesting an Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card or better. Currently you can get one of these HMDs from Amazon marked down from $399.00 to just $299.00.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones w/ Alexa Voice Control ($278.00)

With powerful noise-cancelling technology, these headphones provide a superior music-listening experience by eliminating ambient noise. They can last for up to 30 hours on a single charge, and for a limited time you can get a set of these headphones from Amazon marked down from $349.99 to just $278.00.

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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December 30th 2020, 5:45 pm

Keep Your PS5 Cool And Your Controllers Charged With This Dock

ExtremeTech

Are you a PS5 lover? It turns out there’s reason to be, as the PS5 recently outperformed the Xbox Series X in tests. And if you’re a big fan of the gaming platform, you know it can be a pain to always keep your PS5 controllers powered up and keep your PS5 system cool. Thankfully, there’s now a gadget for that.

The PS5 Charging Dock provides some handy services for either yourself of the PS5 lover in your life. And right now it’s available for 20 percent with promo code HOLIDAY20, making it cost an amazing $32.76 (reg. $89).

As this crazy year comes to an end, we could all use more distractions and fun in our lives. Let the PS5 Charging Dock make gaming a little easier for you in 2021. This vertical stand serves as both a cooling and a charging system. There are 2 cooler fans that keep your Playstation 5 cool and calm while it charges, and a dual charging station that lets you store and charge your controllers simultaneously without needing to connect the PS5 system.

The PS5 Charging Dock includes a 2 USB hub and 1 USB port for data transferring and charging. The controllers will be held steadily in place thanks to the vertical nature of the stand. And you will know when your controllers are charged up and ready to go thanks to the handy LED indicators that tell you if they’re still powering up or are fully charged. Red means they still need more juice, and blue means it’s game time and they’re all powered up.

Keep the games coming well into the new year with the PS5 Charging Dock. Keep your controllers organized, neat, steady and safe and make sure your Playstation 5 stays cool simultaneously with these smart solution. It’s available now for $32.76 with promo code HOLIDAY20.

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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December 30th 2020, 5:45 pm

Star Citizen Developer Unveils New Roadmap, Cancels Squadron 42 Beta

ExtremeTech

Earlier this year, Cloud Imperium Games, makers of Star Citizen, declared that it would publish a new roadmap, laying out both recently completed work and showcasing new goals to be completed over the coming year. In his discussion of the new roadmap, CIG founder and CEO Chris Roberts gave readers some specific guidelines for how much they should rely on the roadmap for accuracy:

Our desire is to show you four quarters of releases, but one critical takeaway is that only the immediate quarter in front of us has a chance to have a release view that will be hardened, as the deliverables that appear on the card for the quarter in front of us will have passed Go/No Go gates or be close enough to completion that we can predict their delivery with a high degree of confidence. You could say at that point that we have a ~90% degree of confidence that this deliverable will make its indicated release quarter. Once you go past the quarter in front of us though, that predictability and confidence for delivery will begin to degrade.

The roadmap, as displayed, is still only a partial document — CIG is showing the work of 20 of its development teams, out of 50 total — but it does establish a basis for concrete improvements that can be used to judge the game’s progression. One thing it shows is that a number of key systems are still quite a while from being ready to deploy, including:

In other words, CIG is still working to integrate what we typically view as core gameplay mechanics. While bounty hunting isn’t a core gameplay mechanic, the features it depends on probably are.

According to the roadmap, the work to “Designing, implementing, and iterating on Chapter 01 of Squadron 42’s single-player campaign” will begin in January 2021. It is unclear if development on the listed chapters of Squadron 42’s single-player campaign began prior to the publication of this roadmap. The roadmap lists 13 chapters out of 27 mentioned in the document, implying that these are either the chapters left to be finished or the first chapters to be implemented over the course of 2021. Roberts only promises a single-year roadmap and no item on this section of the roadmap extends additionally into 2022.

The long-awaited Squadron 42 beta, which was expected to drop this month, has been delayed into the indeterminate future. According to Roberts, “it is too early to discuss release or finish dates on Squadron 42.”

Roberts Pledges Not to Act Like CD Projekt Red Before Acting an Awful Lot Like CD Projekt Red

Most of Roberts’ lengthy update is devoted to laying out the particulars of how the roadmap works, how the company will update the document in the future, and how seriously readers should take the roadmap’s claims. When he gets to the Squadron 42 section, Roberts makes two arguments:

1). The game will be released when it is done, not to make a launch date. Roberts says the game will only be released ” when all the technology and content is finished, the game is polished, and it plays great.” He notes that over the past few years, he’s seen a number of games released before they were ready, and notes that the current holiday season is “no exception” to this problem. He pledges that the game will not be released in the name of making quarterly numbers or the holiday shopping season.

So far, so good.

2). CIG will not be showing any gameplay, locations, or assets related to Squadron 42 until we are much closer to the release window. Since there is currently no given release window, this is CIG’s way of saying it will not be releasing any additional material showcasing the game for the indefinite future.

Roberts goes so far as to say:

It is better to treat Squadron 42 like a beautifully wrapped present under the tree that you are excited to open on Christmas Day, not knowing exactly what is inside, other than that it’s going to be great.

This is spectacularly tone-deaf, given recent events concerning Cyberpunk 2077. The central problem with Cyberpunk 2077 was that the company expected and encouraged gamers to treat the game in the manner Roberts is recommending — namely, as one that’s so big, so fundamentally different, so advanced, it would break or redefine core genre concepts and impact the development of every FPS that comes after it. A game so big, we could all be certain it was going to be great.

Millions of PS4 and Xbox owners got an unplayable garbage game on launch day precisely because the company hid all the warts and problems before putting it on sale. Roberts claims that it is impossible to generate enough assets to show off a narratively-driven game before said title is 6-12 months from launch. This would be a good time to note that there are hundreds, if not thousands of videos currently posted to the Star Citizen YouTube account, most of which serve up small slices of content and explorations of gameplay mechanics.

I counted 720 released over the past four years. There are more — I just quit counting at that point. While I respect that Roberts’ doesn’t want to give away critical plot details, canceling the Squadron 42 beta and telling people they should expect the game to arrive like a beautiful Christmas present is asking a lot. Telling them it’s impossible to market the game because it might set unrealistic expectations when you’ve been aggressively marketing the multiplayer side on YouTube for over four years completely undercuts this argument. If it was acceptable to so thoroughly show Star Citizen, there has to be some Squadron 42 content that falls into the same category.

According to Chris Roberts, development on Star Citizen started in 2010, though it kicked into higher gear after a highly successful Kickstarter. What started as a single-player title with a fixed goal (and a 2016 release date) has since morphed into a “do everything” game, where most of the “do everything” is still under development. Squadron 42 may be released independently from Star Citizen, but it’s built from the same engine and at least some of the same underlying systems.

Roberts and CIG can truthfully point to the ongoing alpha releases as proof that Star Citizen is evolving, but the decision to cancel the Squadron 42 beta, combined with the declaration that the company will not be releasing gameplay videos, trailers, or asset demonstrations until some unknown future date “closer to release” does not inspire confidence in the final product.

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December 30th 2020, 5:45 pm

Boston Dynamics Says Goodbye to 2020 With a Robot Dance Party

ExtremeTech

One day, robots may be dancing on our graves, and they’re going to be surprisingly good at it! Boston Dynamics, the robotics firm once owned by Google and now a part of Hyundai, has posted another fascinating and mildly disconcerting video showing off the smooth movement and agility of its robots. This time, the company put together a little dance routine set to the 1962 hit track “Do You Love Me” by The Contours. 

The song, which peaked at number 3 on the Billboard charts, is less than three minutes long, but it’s jam-packed with robots. The video starts with Atlas, a 6-foot humanoid robot that has previously leaped on top of boxes and done a flip, getting down with its bad self. The clever thing about the video is how it ramps up. You start with the single robot, and just as you’re about to get bored, boom, there’s another Atlas dancing in lock-step with the first. They’ve got great rhythm — digital, I assume. 

Again, you don’t have time to truly come to terms with the lifelike movement of the humanoid robots, because here comes Spot just a minute later. This quadrupedal robot is the only product Boston Dynamics sells to the public — you can get your own for a mere $75,000. Although, I imagine it’s not easy to program it to dance like this. Still, this shows how limber Boston Dynamics’ robots can be with a skilled operator, similar to the “Uptown Funk” dance from 2018. Even the clunky-looking Handle box-lifting robot joins the fun, rolling around like Big Bird on wheels. 

Boston Dynamics says in the video description that the demo features its “whole crew,” but there’s no sign of the classic BigDog robot that was the company’s first online hit. Presumably, it means just the bots it’s still actively developing. BigDog probably wasn’t agile enough to get its dance on anyway. 

Hyundai recently acquired 80 percent of Boston Dynamics from SoftBank for $880 million. SoftBank kept a 20 percent stake in the company via an affiliate but won’t have any say on how the company is run. Hyundai hasn’t announced any plans for Boston Dynamics, but at least the new management hasn’t put a stop to Boston Dynamics’ cheeky YouTube videos. The videos will have to do until we can all have robotic servants that definitely won’t rise up and destroy humanity while dancing to “Do You Love Me.” To answer that question: We kind of do, but only so we don’t have to be afraid.

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December 30th 2020, 3:56 pm

Activist Firm Urges Intel to ‘Explore Alternatives’ to Manufacturing Its Own Chips

ExtremeTech

The Robert N. Boyce Building in Santa Clara, California, is the world headquarters for Intel Corporation. This photo is from Jan. 23, 2019. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

The investment firm Third Point LLC is pushing for Intel to consider splitting its foundry business from its chip design company. This seems to be a standard tactic for the firm, which has a long history of pushing various companies to engage in spinoffs, mergers, and acquisitions. In this case, Third Point believes Intel should consider spinning off its manufacturing arm. It anchors these arguments in the problems we’ve seen Intel struggling with over the past few years — the repeated delays to 10nm and the more recent delay at 7nm.

Some of Third Point’s… points are hard to disagree with. It’s true that Intel has struggled to execute in recent years. It’s been long enough, frankly, that “recent years” doesn’t really capture the scope of the problem. Intel’s 14nm was the first node to be delayed due to manufacturing issues, which means you can argue that the company has been struggling with node transitions for the past six years. That’s not trivial.

But there are a few specific reasons to think Third Point is stirring the pot. First, Intel has already stated that it’s considering tapping third parties for cutting-edge CPU production. The company is going to have to talk about these issues in its investor presentations in 2021 — there’s no way to avoid it.

Intel enjoys some of the best profit margins in the industry, and owning its own factories has always been key to that equation. At the same time, it was only by delivering higher-performing products more reliably than any other firm that Intel was able to justify the high cost of maintaining its own dedicated facilities. So long as the high costs appeared justified by high performance, Intel could argue in favor of retaining its own manufacturing. If Intel is unable to compete with the likes of TSMC and Samsung, how can it possibly justify owning its own manufacturing facilities, as opposed to agreeing to build hardware at a pure-play foundry?

It’s a fair question, but it oversimplifies the practical difficulty of Intel moving its silicon volume to any other manufacturer. First, neither TSMC nor Samsung has enough spare capacity to absorb Intel’s manufacturing demand. Intel could undoubtedly partner with TSMC on leading-edge nodes, in much the same fashion that Apple does today, but that’s going to require TSMC to build out larger leading-edge facilities. That kind of buildout can take 12-18 months, while a new facility may require 3-5 years of construction time.

Second, it’s not clear that splitting Intel’s foundries from the design aspect of the company makes sense for either. Intel’s manufacturing rules are specifically designed for Intel microprocessors. Intel does not always use the same design rules for a given node that TSMC did, and it emphasizes high-performance silicon rather than ultra-low-power chips. The company had trouble finding customers for its client foundry business because Intel’s design rules are restrictive.

A hypothetical spinoff (Intel Foundry) could continue to build chips for a chip designer (Intel Engineering, let’s call it), but Intel Foundry would have to overhaul its own fabs to appeal to other customers. That, again, is going to take time. Literally nothing about the AMD / GlobalFoundries spinoff suggests we should assume this will go well. It might be the right move, but it’s likely to be a costly one.

This slide was published before Intel delayed 7nm into 2022. It shows the pre-delay expected cadence.

Intel’s biggest problem is that confidence in its manufacturing prowess has waned to the point that conversations like this are happening at all. Semiconductors require long investment cycles that pair poorly with the quarterly focus of the market. Before it delayed its 7nm node, Intel had announced it would regain process leadership with its own 5nm node in 2023. Presumably, the best-case date for that now is 2024. If 5nm were to shift outwards again, Intel might need until a hypothetical 3nm to regain superiority, with an extremely theoretical launch date of somewhere between 2026 and 2028.

All of these facts are already weighing on Intel based on comments made by Bob Swan when he announced the 7nm delay. The case Third Point makes for a spinoff isn’t as cut and dry as the company would like to make it sound, but whatever decision Intel makes on these issues will have a profound impact on the company in years to come, for good or ill. We’ll almost certainly hear more about these issues during the company’s quarterly conference call in January 2021.

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December 30th 2020, 9:55 am

190,000 Ceiling Fans Recalled After Blades Fly Off, Hitting People

ExtremeTech

Most of the appliance stories we publish on ExtremeTech are about various IoT devices. We don’t tend to cover the more prosaic side of the industry, if only because you’ll look long and hard to find a “dumb” appliance manufacturer coating their washer in an interface specifically intended to resemble human skin. Grab a basic toilet at Home Depot, and it probably won’t come with an integrated butthole scanner. Shoes you have to tie yourself might not be very cool, but you also don’t run the risk of bricking your footwear.

But — in this case — we’re going to make an exception.

The Hampton Bay 54-inch Mara Indoor/Outdoor fan sold through Home Depot and manufactured by King of Fans has been recalled. Due to a manufacturing defect, fan blades may not remain connected to the body of the fan while in use. According to the company, this may pose “an injury hazard.”

This is a very mild way of saying “Our ceiling fan may attack you at any moment.” One wonders if the company couldn’t have made more money by selling a “Mara 54-inch Indoor/Outdoor Random Attack Fan.” A ceiling fan that hurls pieces of itself across the room at random intervals is very 2020.

To treat the topic with a very slightly more serious mien, Gizmodo reports that there have been about 88,000 of these fans sold in the United States. Not all Mara 54-inch fans are affected. There’s a manufacturing defect in some fans that left their fan blades attached by just one screw instead of two. The only way to tell if you have an affected fan is to manually examine it:

There have been 47 reports of detaching fan blades, with four reports of property damage and two reports of people actually being struck by the fan blades. While the defect rate appears disappointingly low, the fan appears to strike humans at a satisfactory rate — if, of course, your goal is to create a fan that doubles as a pet threatener/low-key assassination device.

If your goal isn’t to develop an assassination device, well, then, the product recall probably makes sense. The instructions above will show you how to fix the problem, but if you don’t feel comfortable performing the steps or lack the proper tools, you have the option of contacting the company and returning the fan.

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December 30th 2020, 8:25 am

This Ergonomic Mouse Fights Carpal Tunnel For Less Than $20

ExtremeTech

Working from home is tough. Aside from the struggles of dealing with kids and significant others and too many distractions, most of us don’t have ideal desk setups either. If you’re getting tired of dealing with hand pain and numbness, it might be time to upgrade your mouse. The Sinji Ergonomic Mouse can help with this, and it’s currently on sale for a limited time for the holidays. Give yourself the gift of comfortable scrolling and snag it today for $18.36 (reg. $33) with promo code HOLIDAY20.

The Sinji Ergonomic Mouse has a patented shape that supports your right hand and helps relax your arm in the process. Awkward working postures can lead to the dreaded condition of carpal tunnel, and this mouse is working hard to make sure you don’t fall victim to this annoying numbness and tingling.

The mouse helps support the hand, which prevents pain and damage while you work at your computer for long hours. And there’s a light-emitting edge the helps you work in low light on those rough days when you’re burning the candle at both ends.

With the Sinji Ergonomic Mouse, aside from benefitting from the positioning of your arm, you’ll also gain the ability or adjusting the speed of the cursor. This handy device works with both Windows and Mac computers, so it’s great for all users. And by adding it to your home office setup, whether you’re using it while working or playing, it will help keep your arm feeling healthy and comfortable as we go into 2021.

Get the Sinji Ergonomic Mouse for just $18.36 today with promo code HOLIDAY20.

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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December 29th 2020, 5:15 pm

ET Deals: $60 Off Apple Watch Series 6, Dell Inspiron 15 5000 AMD Ryzen 5 4500U Laptop for $499

ExtremeTech

Today you can pick up a new Apple Watch Series 6 smartwatch with a $60 discount. There’s also a highly affordable Dell laptop on sale that comes equipped with a versatile AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor.

Apple Watch Series 6 40mm GPS Smartwatch ($339.99)

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 $339.99.

Dell Inspiron 15 5000 AMD Ryzen 5 4500U 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($499.99)

Dell designed this modern laptop with an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor, which has six CPU cores and a relatively powerful integrated graphics accelerator. This enables the CPU to perform most tasks relatively quickly and even gives it enough power to run some games with low to medium graphics settings. The notebook also features an LED-backlit keyboard, which makes the system look cool as well as being useful while typing in the dark. Currently, you can get this system from Dell marked down from $629.99 to $499.99 with promo code EXTRA50.

Eufy Anker RoboVac 11S Robot Vacuum($149.99)

Eufy designed this slim Robovac with a vacuum capable of 1,300Pa of suction. This gives it the power it needs to help keep your home clean, and it can also last for up to 100 minutes on a single charge. Right now you can get one from Amazon marked down from $229.99 to just $149.99.

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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December 29th 2020, 5:15 pm

Comparison of Apple M1, A14 Shows Differences in SoC Design

ExtremeTech

Apple's new M1 SoC

Ever since Apple launched the M1, there have been questions about how the new SoC would differ from the A14. While the two SoCs are based on a common CPU microarchitecture, the M1 incorporates additional on-die functionality that the A14 does not, along with more CPU cores in-total and a larger overall die size.

TechInsights has published a comparative shot of both SoC dies:

Apple A14 SoC. Image by TechInsights. CPU 1 = FireStorm, CPU 2 = IceStorm.

Apple M1 SoC. Image by TechInsights. CPU 1 = FireStorm, CPU 2 = IceStorm.

Compared with the A14, the M1 has 2x as many DDR interfaces, double the number of high-performance CPU cores, double the number of GPU cores, and the L2 cache backing up Apple’s Firestorm cores is 1.5x larger than the A14 equivalent. The smaller IceStorm cores use the same-sized L2 in both A14 and M1. The NPU is also identical between both chips.

The M1 has 25 percent less overall system cache than the A14, according to TechInsights, and its overall die size is 1.37x larger. The increased die size is mostly driven by two factors. First, the M1 increases the number of CPU and GPU cores, the L2 cache, and the number of DDR interfaces. Second, the M1 integrates silicon that the A14 doesn’t, like the Apple T2 security processor, as well as support for standards like PCIe.

According to TechInsights, Apple used about 2.1x more silicon to implement 2x the CPU and GPU cores found in the M1. The slight disparity could be evidence that Apple used transistor libraries optimized for performance rather than power consumption with the M1, but there’s no evidence as of yet to support this argument, and the M1’s clocks are only modestly higher than the A14’s.

There has been a great deal of talk about the deployment of specialized accelerator blocks inside the M1, but relatively little discussion of what they are. We know there’s an image signal processor and Apple’s own Thunderbolt 4 controller, and there will be the usual storage and I/O controllers any chip of this sort requires. It is possible that Apple even implemented certain software functions directly into hardware to make them faster and more power-efficient. This method of using so-called “dark” silicon is something we discussed back in 2013 as one way SoC designers might improve transistor utilization without blowing up power budgets.

It is not clear if Apple took the concept as far as mapping specific applications into circuitry, or what functions the company has mapped to the still-unlabeled hardware blocks. Rosetta 2 is not believed to map to any specific hardware functions on the chip, and there’s no indication that the M1 is somehow cheating at various benchmarks by utilizing some kind of secret hardware acceleration beyond that which PC CPUs possess. The fact that the M1 continues to perform strongly under Windows 10 when compared against Surface Pro X also pushes back against the idea that the M1’s performance is being driven by specialized hardware blocks.

Additional analysis work will probably shine a light on these resources long-term, but it’s interesting to see the curtain pulled back on Apple’s first homegrown laptop SoC, one bit at a time.

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December 29th 2020, 4:45 pm

Stadia Could Have a Huge 2021 If Google Can Just Focus for Once

ExtremeTech

Google launched Stadia just over a year ago to a distinct lack of cheers, and for good reason. There weren’t many games, the controller bundle was expensive, and the service was unreliable. Stadia has not been completely rehabilitated in the past year and change, but circumstances have given Google a boost. With more people than ever looking for a way to pass the time thanks to quarantine, Stadia has emerged as a surprisingly reliable and economical way to play the latest games. Maybe this cloud gaming thing isn’t so crazy after all. In fact, 2021 might be a huge year for Stadia, if Google can overcome its tendency to lose focus. 

Signs of Improvement

Stadia began life as a premium-only service, but Google opened it up to everyone as the pandemic lockdowns bloomed across the world. Reliability improved markedly over the course of the year — I’d say I have no issues about 90 percent of the time. That other 10 percent is usually thanks to the app on my phone needing a restart or (rarely) a problem with my network requiring a router reboot. Regardless, the latency and sharpness are both within spitting distance of game consoles. 

At several points, Stadia’s performance seemed to tank for days at a time. I can’t rule out something with my network, but the timing was suspiciously similar to Google’s Stadia bundle giveaways in late 2020. Google was throwing controllers at anyone who had subscriptions to services like YouTube Premium and YouTube TV. The spike in new users may well have contributed to my issues, but I still think this shows Stadia is working. A large user base is necessary for Stadia’s survival, and people are using those free controllers based on what I’ve seen around the web. 

Speaking of the controller, it’s even better than it was at launch. Initially, it only worked wirelessly with the Chromecast. Now, you can connect it to the Stadia cloud via Wi-Fi for smartphone gaming. The process is sometimes a little clunky in the app, but you get improved latency compared with a Bluetooth connection, which is how you play with other services like GeForce Now. 

The convenience of Stadia is starting to show as this never-ending year drags on. I can pick up the Stadia controller and be playing AAA games on my phone or TV in a minute. There’s no installation, no worrying about drivers, no hunting for sold-out game consoles or GPUs, and Stadia’s game catalog is getting competitive. 

Google launched Stdia with a few Pro freebies, but that program has expanded dramatically. Now, there are five or six free games every month, and there are some real gems in there. Google has also been running Steam-style holiday sales with prices on new-ish titles slashed by as much as 80 percent. You can even buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia, and it runs flawlessly. That’s more than you can say for the current-gen Xbox and PlayStation. On the PC, it takes a $1,000 GPU to get the game even close to playable

Getting It Together

Stadia might be in a better place than I expected it to be, but there’s still a long way to go. Some of the remaining issues are all Google’s fault, but some are beyond even its control. 

There’s no way around the bandwidth requirements — even if your internet connection is far above the 10Mbps requirement, you might find your game pixelates or stops working as local network conditions impact your available bandwidth. Unlike regular streaming video, there’s nothing to buffer in a game that’s being rendered live. Google can’t just wave its magic wand and fix the sorry state of internet connectivity in the US. 

Stadia’s game catalog is an issue, too. Yes, it’s getting better with games like Cyberpunk 2077 launching alongside other platforms. However, the back catalog is very weak. Awesome games from just a few years ago like The Witcher 3, GTA V, and Fallout 4 don’t exist on Stadia, and developers can’t just flip a switch to add games as they can with GeForce Now (which is essentially a virtual desktop). It takes time to optimize for Stadia’s custom platform, and that might mean some of these last-gen games fall by the wayside. 

Ctrl+f is not an acceptable substitute for search, Google.

One thing Google can (and should) address is the Stadia app. Both the web app and the Android client are annoyingly barebones. Google, which is a search company, still doesn’t have a search function in the Stadia store. You can look at various categories or just see a full alphabetical list of games, which is not very helpful as the number of games has expanded to over 100. Some basic features, like pairing a controller, are also needlessly clunky. And heaven help you if you want to manage your screen captures. You can’t even zoom on screenshots. 

Google is not alone in trying to make cloud gaming workable; Microsoft, Nvidia, and Amazon are also in the mix. Google has a bit of a headstart, but now is not the time to rest on its laurels. Amazon’s upcoming Luna service could be particularly vexing for Google. Amazon has its AWS backbone that will no doubt help with Luna performance, and the service will be fully integrated with Twitch. Meanwhile, Google has barely talked about the supposedly revolutionary features of Stadia like Stream Connect.

Possibly the smartest thing Google could do is to keep giving away those controllers in 2021. Unfortunately, it keeps ending the giveaways too soon. The recent Cyberpunk pre-order deal ended ahead of schedule after just a few days, but it should be doing the opposite. It should look for excuses to give long-time customers Stadia bundles rather than ending the deal when some arbitrary number of units are claimed. Google One? Free Stadia bundle. Bought a Pixel? Free Stadia bundle. Play Pass subscriber? Yes, free Stadia bundle. That’s a lot cheaper than handing out free Xboxes.

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December 29th 2020, 2:26 pm

Report: Nvidia Ada Lovelace GPU Could Pack 18,432 CUDA Cores, 64TFLOPS

ExtremeTech

Fresh leaks suggest that Nvidia’s next-generation GPU will be named after computing pioneer Ada Lovelace with an enormous jump in maximum GPU core counts relative to current parts. The leaks, written by @kopite7kimi, suggest the chip could pack 12 GPU processing clusters, 72 texture processing clusters, and a total of 144 streaming multiprocessors. Assume the company sticks with 128 GPU cores per streaming multiprocessor group, that brings Lovelace up to 18,432 cores.

3dcenter.de believes the GPU will clock at around 1.75GHz (the 1.8GHz prediction above got trimmed back a bit). This would imply clocks roughly comparable to current chips like the RTX 3090, though that card can boost higher than Nvidia’s official clocks. Ada might or might not follow the same behavior.

The interesting thing about that prediction is that it doesn’t square with what’s been conventionally predicted for 5nm GPUs. According to TSMC, 5nm is only expected to introduce modest performance and power consumption improvements of ~15 percent and ~20 percent, respectively. The big winner on 5nm is supposed to be density, with up to a 45 percent gain over 7nm, though these improvements tend to depend on exactly what kind of chip you are trying to build in the first place. Larger, more power-hungry structures intended for high-speed operation tend to draw more power than a more modest implementation.

Nvidia’s huge core count expansion would make sense given predicted density improvements, but power consumption is a major unknown. The RTX 3090 significantly outperforms Turing, but Nvidia had to expand the GPU’s power consumption to do it, up to 350W from 280W. It’s not clear how much additional headroom exists to keep pushing GPU power consumption. I won’t claim to know exactly where the cutoff would be, but it’s difficult to imagine Nvidia shipping 450W-500W cards for consumer systems. At some point, Nvidia is going to have to limit its own growth. Intel and AMD will allow their respective CPUs to draw over 200W of power in short boosts, but they don’t sit at those TDPs long-term by default.

Remarks on the increase in L2 cache don’t mean much, at this point. If you scaled up Ampere from RTX 3090 to the 18,432 cores contemplated by this design, you’d wind up with more total L2 on-die no matter what. It’s an unknown whether Nvidia will adopt any of the features we’ve seen AMD deploy on its own RDNA2 architecture, like a large, on-die central cache (AMD refers to this as its “Infinity” cache).

Lovelace is currently expected in 2022. It’s not known if Nvidia will launch a true Ampere refresh cycle in 2021, or if the company will instead opt to launch high-VRAM variants of cards. There are rumors of an RTX 3080 Ti (20GB) and an RTX 3060 Ti with 12GB of RAM — an RTX 3070 Ti with 16GB of RAM would fit neatly in the stack. Nvidia could potentially pair these VRAM jumps with higher clocks or slightly more GPU cores across the new hardware for any 2021 refresh cycle.

We haven’t heard anything yet about additional features Ada might introduce, or where Nvidia will choose to build the chip. Nvidia began building its Ampere cores at Samsung on that firm’s 8N node, but there have been rumors that poor yields with Samsung pushed Nvidia to swap back to TSMC for future product launches coming in 2021.

Feature image is Nvidia’s Ampere. No images or mock-ups of Lovelace have been released. 

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December 29th 2020, 11:40 am

Geekbench 5 Results Show Core i7-11700K Beating Ryzen 7 5800X

ExtremeTech

Leaked results from Intel’s upcoming Rocket Lake CPU have suggested that the new core could be more competitive with AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series than what we saw with the 10th Gen family. New Geekbench 5 leaks, taken with the usual spoonful of sodium chloride, continue to point in this direction.

The new results show Intel’s Core i7-11700K outperforming the Ryzen 7 5800X by about 9 percent in both single-threaded and multi-threaded code. This is not necessarily unexpected. While Rocket Lake is still a 14nm CPU, it represents the first new desktop CPU architecture for Intel since 2015. It’s based on the Cypress Cove CPU core, which is itself a backport of the 10nm Sunny Cove CPU core that Intel introduced back in 2019.

A quick primer: Whiskey Lake is Intel’s previous 14nm mobile platform. Comet Lake is Intel’s previous desktop platform, with support for up to 10 CPU cores. Rocket Lake has trimmed the core count back to eight again and (reportedly) lowers the core clock slightly, as we’ll discuss.

The claimed clock speeds for the CPU imply that Intel has backported all of its IPC gains and only sacrificed a modest amount of clock to do it. WCCFTech reports that based on GeekBench 5 results, the Core i7-11700K is 1.34x faster in ST and 1.26x faster in MT compared with the Core i7-10700K. This is a little surprising relative to what we saw happen in mobile a few years back.

Image by WCCFTech

When Intel transitioned from Whiskey Lake (14nm mobile) to Ice Lake (10nm mobile), the CPU performance story was generally a wash. While Ice Lake / Sunny Cove CPUs were faster than the older Skylake CPU family in certain tests, the gains weren’t uniform. Intel only predicted a net gain of ~3.5 percent. GeekBench, however, tends to show larger gaps.

According to the GB5 database, GeekBench 5 ST can run 1.09x faster on Ice Lake compared with Whiskey Lake. Multi-threaded performance is as much as 1.19x higher.

The implication here is that GeekBench 5 may exaggerate the performance difference between CPUs like the Core i7-8665U and the Core i7-1065G7 — and could therefore also exaggerate the degree of actual improvement between the Core i7-10700K and the Core i7-11700K.

Higher clocks could account for some of the improvement, but as we noted at the beginning of this story, Rocket Lake CPUs officially clock slightly lower than their Comet Lake counterparts: The Core i7-10700K is an 8C/16T, 3.8GHz / 5.1GHz CPU, while the Core i7-11700K is (rumored) to be an 8C/16T, 3.6GHz / 5.0GHz CPU. It’s possible that Rocket Lake holds turbo for a longer period of time than Comet Lake does — and if that’s true, it would explain some of the performance difference between the two CPU families.

As for the 9 percent gain over AMD in both ST and MT, it’s not entirely unexpected and it may not be a good predictor of real-world performance based on the way GB5 appears to respond to Sunny Cove. The fact that GB5 might run particularly well on a given architecture is why we run multiple tests in the first place.

If we take the performance improvement at face value, it would give Intel some room to sell the Core i7-11700K at a higher price relative to the 5800X. Historically, this is Intel’s preferred move, but the company could opt to shake things up this time around.

A 9 percent performance improvement is enough to declare clear victory over AMD at the eight-core level, but it won’t insulate 11th Gen Core CPUs from AMD’s ability to bring more cores to bear per-socket. The Core i7-11700K scores 1,810 and 11,304 compared to 1,697 / 13,963 for the Ryzen 9 5900X. Intel wins ST by about 1.06x against the 5900X and loses multi-threading by 1.23x.

Intel will, of course, launch a Core i9-11900K, and we can expect that chip to modestly increase its ST lead while reducing its MT loss, but an additional 4-8 percent performance isn’t going to dramatically change the equation. Of course, this does assume that an application scales effectively to 12 cores in the first place.

The big question mark will be whether Intel can retake the lead in gaming performance. That’s a critical consumer market that AMD arguably snagged away from Intel for the first time in over a decade, and Intel will be very interested in reclaiming it. Again, as always, treat leaked or early results with caution.

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December 29th 2020, 8:53 am
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