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Charter Lies to FCC, Claims Customers Love Data Caps

ExtremeTech

Credit: Dwight Burdette/CC BY SA 3.0

Corporations lie. Sometimes they lie to Congress. Sometimes they lie to end-users. Sometimes they lie to themselves. And sometimes they lie to the governmental agencies in charge of regulating the internet with the express goal of squeezing more money out of their customer bases.

Currently, Charter is not allowed to impose data caps on customers. This restriction was a requirement of its 2016 merger with Time Warner and the protection is set to expire on May 18, 2023. Charter has petitioned to end the protection two years early, in May 2021. Charter’s argument for dissolving the agreement is straightforward: Charter should be allowed to put data caps in place because Netflix and other video-on-demand services are popular and growing rapidly. Its competitors are allowed to use data caps, so Chartered should be allowed to deploy them as well. Here’s the company’s argument:

Contrary to Stop The Cap’s assertion that consumers “hate” data caps, the marketplace currently shows that broadband service plans incorporating data caps or other usage-based pricing mechanisms are often popular when the limits are sufficiently high to satisfy the vast majority of users.

As a current Charter customer who is protected from a data cap: Charter is lying through its teeth. No human being I’ve ever met has liked data caps. Furthermore, most Americans have either one or two ISPs available to choose from in their local markets. If both your local ISPs deploy data caps, that doesn’t make data caps popular. It just means ISPs have engaged in abusive, rent-seeking behavior. Earlier this summer, Cox acknowledged throttling entire neighborhoods if a single person in the neighborhood used more bandwidth than Cox thought an unlimited service should provide.

Did this image improve your day? Any warm fuzzies? Do you feel *seen*? (Original image by Engadget)

Customers do not love data caps. Customers accept data caps because they have no choice but to do so. The company literally tries to claim that not being allowed to put data caps on a plan is harmful because it is prevented from “keeping pace with its competitors and offering consumers the kinds of plans they are looking for.”

The idea that customers are somehow being shortchanged because Charter isn’t allowed to squeeze them for overage fees is a lie. It’s the same lie that drives online advertising, website data collection policies, and a vast number of supposedly user-friendly services. In every case, the company in question will float a handful of examples of how their service can be useful, while ignoring just how rare those examples are.

Charter, for example, brings up the fact that some customers who use very little data per month might want a plan that only bills for data used, while others might like a prepaid internet plan they can renew through an app. To the best of my knowledge, there are no ISPs that actually charge a reasonable rate-per-bit for internet time. Typically, any home internet plan that offers just a few GB of monthly bandwidth also come with steep overage fees should you exceed it. The tools ISPs deploy to track home network usage are often inaccurate.

The best way to regulate network usage isn’t to slap people with bandwidth limits for the purposes of enriching ISPs. The best way to ensure everyone in a neighborhood receives the service they pay for is to regulate network performance. Capacity regulations are a secondary tactic at best, and the ISPs themselves are well aware of this.

Speaking as a Charter customer, I do not want a data cap placed on my service, particularly given the hundreds of gigabytes of data I can burn through while downloading games for a review. While it’s not something I do every day, I’ve definitely downloaded more than 1TB of data in a month before. I’ll grant that many of the company’s customers do not exceed their data caps on a regular basis and therefore do not think about the issue, but not being aware of something is not the same as liking it. Being forced to buy internet plans with bandwidth caps because no other plans are available is not the same as preferring these plans. Charter is misrepresenting the opinions and positions of its customers in public.

Feature Image: Dwight Burdette/CC BY SA 3.0

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August 12th 2020, 10:23 am

Xbox Series X Launches in November, Halo Infinite Delayed

ExtremeTech

Mixed news today out of Microsoft. First, the company has confirmed that the Xbox Series X is formally launching in November, with support for thousands of games. The reason Microsoft can make this kind of claim is due to backward-compatibility with previous generations of consoles. For the PC space, this kind of announcement would be met with puzzled stares — imagine Intel, AMD, or Nvidia declaring that a new CPU or GPU would simply be incompatible with previous hardware — but in the console space, it’s a revolutionary play.

Second, Halo Infinite has been delayed and will now ship sometime in 2021. According to 343 Industries, the delays were driven by the realities of COVID-19’s impact on the video game industry, as well as a need to safeguard the team’s health and well-being. Given the tremendous damage repeated crunch cycles in game development can cause, and the relatively recent push against the practice, it’s good to see a studio refusing to ship, especially with as high-profile a game as Halo Infinite.

According to Microsoft, there are more than 50 games developed across generational families launching before the end of the year. These will support Smart Delivery, meaning you only have to buy them once across both console generations. This list includes Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Dirt 5, Gears Tactics, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Watch Dogs: Legion. Other titles have yet to be announced.

The number of games actually developed for Xbox Series X and launching with Xbox Game Pass Support is small, with only three exclusives listed: The Medium, Scorn, and Tetris Effect: Connected. Tetris Effect: Connected is a multiplayer expansion of the original Tetris Effect title that came out back in 2018.

Finally, Microsoft is noting that there are 40 more titles “newly optimized” to take advantage of Xbox Series X, including Destiny 2, Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Madden NFL 21. This shift in which games will be offered for the new platform is effectively a different launch strategy than what we’ve seen Microsoft use in the past. COVID-19 may be responsible in part — game development, like everything else, has been affected — but again, I see parallels with the PC industry.

When Nvidia or AMD launches new hardware, they’ll often discuss how future games that support upcoming features will perform, but a substantial component of the launch will be how the GPU performs in cutting-edge games of the day. Personally, I weight my recommendations heavily towards the games you can buy on launch day, not any promises of future support. But if you follow the console market at all, you’re probably aware that launch-day games — with some noted exceptions throughout the years — typically aren’t the titles that go on to make a platform legendary. As the industry has moved more towards a games-as-a-service model, there’s greater reason to create unified playerbases and ecosystems across titles and across console generations.

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August 12th 2020, 8:41 am

NASA: Dwarf Planet Ceres Is an Ocean World

ExtremeTech

Scientists considered Pluto to be a planet when it was discovered, but it later became the first dwarf planet. It’s not the closest one to Earth, though. Ceres is a dwarf planet and the largest object in the Great Asteroid Belt, and it has a new distinction today: ocean world. The latest data from NASA’s Dawn mission proves the almost-planet has a vast repository of salty water hiding below its surface. That makes it a possible home for life in the solar system. 

NASA’s ion engine-powered Dawn spacecraft visited Ceres in 2018, getting as close as 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the surface. Images from Dawn’s approach stirred interest when they showed several bright spots in the 57-mile (92 kilometers) Occator Crater. The entire planetoid is only 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, so this crater is quite prominent. 

Researchers working on the Dawn mission used geomorphology and topographical data to nail down the origin of the spots once and for all. We now know that the bright spots are a result of salt crystallization on the surface, and these deposits are young — from within the last few million years. The high-salt brine would evaporate in a few hundred years, but the crater itself is about 22 million years old. Scientists know the salt deposits are younger because Ceres is frequently hit by smaller asteroids that would darken the reflective surfaces over time. 

This false-color image from Dawn highlights the recently deposited salt.

The team identified two sources of salt deposits on Ceres. The first was a slushy pool of brine just below the surface. Ceres doesn’t have any internal geological heating, but the impact that formed Occator Crater liquified the water. That puddle cooled after a few million years, but the impact also produced fractures that extend deep into the surface. The fractures intersect a larger, long-lived reservoir of brine further down. Over time, that allowed more brine to seep up to the surface where it evaporated and left behind more salt. 

So, Ceres is an ocean world, at least to some degree. All we can say right now is that its reservoir of salty water is regional, but it might be more expansive. This raises the question of whether life could survive on Ceres. The high salt content might not be pleasant for most organisms, but there are hearty microorganisms on Earth that don’t mind extremely high salt environments. Maybe there’s something like that living in the oceans of Ceres, too. 

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August 12th 2020, 7:41 am

ET Deals: Acer Aspire 5 AMD Ryzen 1080p Laptop $349, WD Black SN750 500GB NVMe SSD $62, Inspiron 367

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a laptop with a Ryzen 3 3000-series processor and a 1080p display for the low price of just $349. The system is also well built with a sturdy aluminum top making it highly durable and great for travel.

Acer Aspire 5 AMD Ryzen 5 3200U 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ AMD Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4 RAM and 128GB SSD ($349.99)

Acer’s highly affordable Aspire 5 gives you performance you need for day-to-day tasks such as web browsing and word processing all for the low price of just $349.99. The system also features a 1080p display that’s easy on the eyes along with a backlit keyboard for typing in the dark and a battery that can last up to 7.5 hours.

Western Digital Black SN750 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($62.99)

This WD M.2 SSD has a capacity of 500GB and it can transfer data at a rate of up to 3,430MB/s. This makes it significantly faster than a 2.5-inch SSD, and it’s also fairly inexpensive, marked down at Newegg  from $129.99 to $62.99.

Dell Inspiron 3671 Intel Core i5-9400 Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($549.99)

This computer was designed to be a well-rounded home PC with a fast Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. It’s perfect for web browsing and other tasks such as editing photos. Dell also tossed in a 512GB NVMe SSD, which gives you plenty of storage space and fast loading times. You can get it now from Dell reduced from $629.99 to $549.99.

Roborock S4 Robot Vacuum ($299.99)

This robot vacuum comes with 2000Pa of suction power giving it the strength it needs to lift all the dirt from your floor. This model also sports a large 5,200mAh battery that can last over 150 minutes of nonstop cleaning. Currently, you can get it from Amazon marked down from $399.99 to $299.99 with promo code ROBOROCKS45.

Dell Vostro 15 3590 Intel Core i7-10510U 1080p 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ AMD Radeon 610 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256 M.2 NVMe SSD ($659.00)

Dell upgraded this laptop with Intel’s new 10th generation Core i5-10210U processor that has four CPU cores clocked at 1.6GHz. The system also comes with a fast NVMe SSD storage device, a 1080p display, and an AMD Radeon 610 graphics processor for running low-end games. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,212.86 to just $659.00.

Apple AirPods w/Charging Case ($134.95)

What better way to celebrate your independence than with a pair of high-quality earbuds to help block out bothersome external noises and enjoy your music? You can get Apple’s AirPods today from Walmart marked down from $159.00 to $134.95.

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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August 11th 2020, 6:20 pm

Get Over 60 Hours Of Elite Coding Training For Just $40

ExtremeTech

While the uncertainty and unemployment surge of the past few months is in no way pleasant, the precarious state of your professional life right now can also serve as a real opportunity for those bold enough to face the challenge.

In fact, if you’re skilled in areas of major need, you could actually do very well in the current climate. Even with recent world changes, web developers continue to be a prized commodity on the job market, still forecasted as one of the top in-demand jobs over the next five years.

You can take a confident step into that future now with the training in The 2020 Ultimate Web Developer and Design Bootcamp Bundle, now on sale for just $39.99, a savings of over 90 percent off the regular price.

This package features 11 courses with nearly 70 hours of comprehensive training that can get even non-coders up to speed on all the basics of web creation, the foundation you need to be a working web development pro.

This coursework is centered on training in core disciplines and building blocks, like the bedrock essentials HTML and CSS.

Over four courses, including Modern Web Design Complete HTML & CSS, The Complete 2020 HTML5 CSS3 Course with Flexbox, Grid & SASS, The Ultimate HTML Developer, and Build Responsive Real-World Websites with CSS3 v2.0, learners come to understand how HTML serves as the backbone for all web pages and apps, while CSS outlines the style and functionality of web creations.

That core training will be enough to get students to their first major skills test, the Create an 8-Bit Website course, where users create a hobby or even resume/portfolio site in the style of old-school Nintendo era video games.

JavaScript and its role in web creation gets its full due in JavaScript Essentials, exploring how critical tools like Node.js, Vue.js, React.js, and more factor into web projects big and small. From there, training escalates with the Web Design JavaScript Front-End Code Course, and finally the JavaScript for Beginners: Learn with 6 Main Projects training, which brings a host of challenging assignments forward to make sure a coder’s JavaScript skills are on point.

There are also courses here for helping users learn how data is used in Understanding APIs & RESTful APIs Crash Course, while Git Essentials: The Step-by-Step Guide to Git & GitHub Mastery outline best practices for getting a web project finished the right way. Finally, there’s even background in using Python in the Python for Everybody: The Ultimate Python 3 Bootcamp.

This giant collection is valued at nearly $2,200, but it’s all on sale now for just $39.99.

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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August 11th 2020, 5:36 pm

Mozilla Fires 250 Employees, 25 Percent of Existing Workforce

ExtremeTech

Mozilla, the non-profit organization behind the development of the Firefox web browser, has announced it is firing 250 people or roughly one-quarter of its workforce. The company’s blog post announcing these changes reads like some kind of utopian fan fiction. It declares “Changing World, Changing Mozilla” before opening with: “This is a time of change for the internet and for Mozilla. From combatting a lethal virus and battling systemic racism to protecting individual privacy — one thing is clear: an open and accessible internet is essential to the fight.”

“Hell yeah!” you might be thinking. “Mozilla is going to ramp up its efforts to win market share, so that the entire internet isn’t dominated by Chrome, with a small carve-out for Safari!” CEO Mitchell Baker continues with:

Today we announced a significant restructuring of Mozilla Corporation. This will strengthen our ability to build and invest in products and services that will give people alternatives to conventional Big Tech. Sadly, the changes also include a significant reduction in our workforce by approximately 250 people. These are individuals of exceptional professional and personal caliber who have made outstanding contributions to who we are today.

Just, you know… not enough to keep them around.

Firefox still uses its own Gecko rendering engine but holds less than five percent market share. It isn’t untoward for the organization to be working to increase those figures and it isn’t a bad idea to jettison projects that won’t be helpful towards the end goal, but Mozilla’s public-facing letter doesn’t communicate any meaningful detail on its plans for the future.

Internet browser share, 2020. Image by Statista

We are told that “Mozilla must be a world-class, modern, multi-product internet organization,” that upholding its values is important, and that the company’s mindset needs to change from defending and protecting the internet as a platform to one that is “proactive, curious, and engaged.” The company will supposedly look for more opportunities to partner with other companies and to work with them on what they’re attempting to accomplish — which doesn’t necessarily square with the idea that it’s going to also double down on upholding its values, particularly when Point #5 of the letter is: “New focus on economics.” Here, Mozilla acknowledges that giving everything away for free hasn’t been a sustainable business model — something any journalist writing today would typically agree with — while then declaring that Mozilla must find new methods of monetization that honor and protect people.

The internally facing memo sent to staff has a little more meat on it. All operations in Taipei are being closed. In addition to the 250 job losses, some 60 people will be reassigned. It’s making investments in Pocket, Hubs, VPN, Web Assembly, and various security and privacy products. Two new teams, focused on design and UX (user experience) will be created, and a new ML feature team will be assembled to add machine learning to Firefox. The future of projects such as Rust wasn’t discussed in either letter, but since Rust is now baked into Firefox and has been a fairly successful project, the organization will presumably continue to devote resources to its development.

Firefox’s survival is important to the long-term future of the internet, given the complete lack of any real competition for Chrome in the PC arena. Apple provides Safari as an alternative for Mac users, but the company hasn’t built a PC version of the browser for a long time and the chances that we’ll see one in the future once Apple goes ARM are nil. Historically, it’s never been good for the browser market to be dominated by a single company and Google has already shown a distinct willingness to push changes that benefit itself rather than the online community at large.

Feature image freely available via Pixabay

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August 11th 2020, 5:20 pm

Boeing Still Used Floppy Disks to Update the Software in Its 747s

ExtremeTech

Those of us who’ve been around and using technology for a while remember the era of floppy disks. You know, they look like “save” icons, but they were real pieces of plastic with magnetic media inside that stored a trivially small amount of data. You might not use floppies anymore, but some industries are stuck with the technology of yesteryear—for example, airlines. British Airways recently retired its fleet of 747s, giving us a chance to see how its floppy-based software update system works. It’s a real blast from the past. 

The Boeing 747-400 aircraft first entered service in the late 1980s when 3.5-inch floppy disks were still cutting edge with a whopping 1.44 MB of formatted storage space. These planes cost millions of dollars, but upgrading systems is a tricky business in aircraft. The original avionics computer still works, so British Airways never bothered to replace them in its planes.

The 747 has been a major part of British Airway’s fleet over the years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced the demand for air travel — retiring these older planes made sense. Security firm Pen Test Partners had a chance to poke around one of the still-functional aircraft. As part of the virtual DEF CON 28 event, you can take a tour of a recently retired 747-400. The entire 10-minute walkthrough is worth a watch, but you can skip right to the floppy disk bit at about 7:45 if you wish. 

The avionics loader is in the cockpit under a protective panel. According to Pen Test, the software needed an update every 28 days so the plane would know the current status of all airports, flight paths, runways, and so on. Since floppy disks store so little data, a typical update package would be spread over eight disks. An engineer had to visit each plane on a monthly basis to load all those disks. British Airways isn’t done with floppies, either. The airline still has many 737 planes with a similar diskette-based avionics system. 

Modern aircraft have remotely configurable avionics systems that are much less tedious to update. However, they also require enhanced security, particularly in planes that have networked infotainment devices in every seat. Researchers have long probed such systems for vulnerabilities that would provide access to important aircraft systems, but no one has managed to do more than break their own in-seat system. Maybe a few corrupted floppy disks would do the trick?

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August 11th 2020, 2:34 pm

AMD Patents Suggest Company Is Investigating Hybrid ‘big.Little’ Design

ExtremeTech

GlobalFoundries wafer

AMD is looking to patent new techniques for switching between two different CPU architectures on-the-fly in a similar manner to the “big.Little” design ARM uses for its own processors. Given that we’ve already heard rumors that Intel’s Alder Lake will deploy a comparable configuration, it’s beginning to look like this could be a common feature between major CPU vendors going forward. Also, while we’ve referred to “big.Little,” that’s technically an ARM-specific invention. The more generic term would likely be hybrid computing or heterogeneous computing. While the latter term has typically been used for CPU + GPU compute models, two CPUs with two different levels of ISA support on the same silicon would also qualify as a heterogeneous compute model.

One of the implications of this shift is that there’s an advantage to using dedicated CPU cores for specific functions. When Intel first announced it would enter the smartphone industry, the company claimed its DVFS approach would be as effective as big.Little. Intel wound up leaving the smartphone market, at least in part due to Qualcomm’s own antitrust abuses, and we never really saw a full range of solutions from either company that could be compared effectively.

The patent, available here, was first picked up by @Underfox3, who notes it is still in the adjustment process. It describes a method of using ISA features rather than voltage or frequency to move between the CPU cores. Linus Torvalds recently complained about AVX-512, partly because support for the ISA is so fragmented across Intel’s product lines. AMD’s idea for how to switch between ISA’s isn’t necessarily tied to AVX-512 or any other SIMD instruction set, but the idea of using a difference like this as a method of waking CPU cores is a clever one.

This is a patent, not a roadmap, and I want to stress that AMD has not articulated any actual plan to build this kind of chip. Companies regularly file for patents on technologies they do not bring to market and they maintain patent war chests to protect themselves against predatory behavior by patent trolls.

AMD would have three options for a new low-power core. It could build a low-power Ryzen cluster tuned for high efficiency and low clocks with much smaller caches, it could design a new high-efficiency core from scratch, or it could go back and improve Jaguar. AMD’s Jaguar is outdated now, but back in 2013 the CPU core won accolades compared with Intel’s Atom for offering substantially better CPU and GPU performance. A modernized Jaguar core would be substantially smaller and more power-efficient.

Making desktop CPUs more efficient by leveraging different types of onboard CPUs might help improve efficiency in several ways. It might allow for faster overall performance by distributing little cores in a different slice of silicon, allowing them to cooperate with big cores on some multi-threaded workloads without contributing to hot spot formation on the big-core chiplet. It could allow Intel and AMD to create new CPUs with a better balance between efficiency and performance. Intel’s Lakefield is a good example of what this kind of effort might look like. Finally, it might be possible to further optimize the silicon and design rules used for both options by building them on physically separate chiplets.

While I have no idea if AMD will actually build a hybrid processor, these are the sort of concepts companies are exploring to continue improving performance. As lithography nodes offer fewer improvements with every generation, the industry has turned its attention to packaging and interconnect performance. There’s an increased emphasis on developing the right tool for the right job rather than relying on the improvements of historical Moore’s law scaling to do the heavy lifting. These trends shift so gradually it can be difficult to see happening in the moment, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see CPU designs from both Intel and AMD reflect these focus shifts over the next few years.

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August 11th 2020, 11:00 am

Huawei’s Upcoming 24-Core Kunpeng CPU Faster Than Intel Core i9-9900K

ExtremeTech

Huawei is trying to position itself as being minimally affected by the technology bans levied against it by the United States government. The company’s 24-core ARM-based Kunpeng 920 CPUs are apparently almost ready for launch in desktop systems.

The Kunpeng 920 family extends up to 64 cores and is built on 7nm technology. It uses the TaiShan v110 microarchitecture, which is a custom ARM core according to WikiChip. The CPU has a 128KB L1 cache split into 64KB blocks for instructions and data. There’s a 512KB private L2 cache for each CPU core and the CPU family supports up to 64MB of cache on a 64-core configuration. According to THG, this specific system will use the Kunpeng 920 3211K, which offers 24 cores, a maximum clock of 2.6GHz, 8GB of SO-DIMM memory, a 512GB Samsung SSD, and an AMD Radeon RX 520 GPU.

Image by WikiChip

Of course, as my colleague Ryan Whitwam recently wrote, the ongoing US embargo against Huawei is having a serious impact on the company’s ARM chip production, to the point that production of its Kirin family of CPUs is expected to cease by September 15. There would seem to be no way the firm will be able to ship its Kunpeng 920 CPUs either, given the geopolitical situation.

Image by ITHome

The performance claims for the CPU are interesting. A 24-core CPU clocked at a static 2.6GHz brings about 62.4GHz of processing power to the table. A Core i9-9900K is probably around ~42GHz of effective processing power assuming a 4.5GHz turbo clock * 8 cores, followed by an additional 1.2x boost to account for Hyper-Threading’s typical performance uplift. Call it ~37GHz on the low end (8*4.2*1.1) and 46.8GHz at the high-end (8*4.5*1.3). Hyper-Threading rarely offers Intel CPUs more than a 1.3x performance improvement and its typically good for at least 1.1x in non-gaming, multi-threaded workloads, so that should bracket its comparative frequencies reasonably well.

Of course, we have no idea which benchmarks Huawei would even be using for the Core i9-9900K, so the fact that the Kunpeng 920 in these desktops can match it in multi-threading performance while supporting 1.5x more threads and 3x more cores is scarcely surprising. There’s some disagreement on the CPU core — THG reports that it’s derived from the ARM Neoverse N1, which is a 4-way decode, 8-way issue core. WikiChip reports that the Huawei CPU cores are only 4-issue and that they are a custom architecture derived from the Cortex-A72. The Neoverse N1 is derived from the Cortex-A76. Mistranslations could also play a part here, so overall comparative performance for the CPU is a bit uncertain.

The reason there’s no single-thread performance mentioned is simple: It’s unlikely to be particularly competitive. Beyond questions of compiler and OS optimization, the low 2.6GHz clock speed is going to guarantee that a Core i9-9900K — a CPU that’s capable of hitting 5GHz — is going to beat the snot out of the Huawei CPU. The Kunpeng 920’s 48-core flavor is said to be a 150W TDP CPU at the same clock speed, but TDP is unlikely to be perfectly linear. The 920 might be more power-efficient than an Intel CPU, but this wouldn’t be surprising. A wide array of slower cores is often more power-efficient than a smaller array of fast ones. Sometimes, the difference can be large enough for the CPU that takes longer to still draw less power in absolute terms.

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August 11th 2020, 8:45 am

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Reveals What’s Inside the Red Planet

ExtremeTech

Scientists believe Mars was much more similar to Earth in the distant past, not the dried-up ball of dust it is today. Understanding Mars could help us better understand how planets form, and the NASA InSight mission has the tools to get us there. Using the seismometer on the lander, researchers from Rice University have peeled back the layers below the surface of the red planet like a giant, dusty onion

The seismometer attached to InSight works the same as similar instruments on Earth — the vibrations emanating through the planet during “marsquakes” reveal aspects of the planet’s internal structure. On Earth, we have much more powerful seismic activity as a consequence of the active tectonic plates, and there are seismic sensors spread across the globe. On Mars, the rumbling is much more subtle, and there’s just one seismometer on the entire planet. Still, study co-authors Sizhuang Deng and Alan Levander identified three distinct transitions inside Mars. 

The first transition zone starts a mere 22 miles (35 kilometers) beneath the lander, dividing the crust from the mantle. That’s surprisingly close to Earth’s crust transition, which is an average of 25 miles (40 kilometers) below your feet. The second zone is a transition between the upper mantle and lower mantle, which happens at a depth of 690-727 miles (1,110-1,170 kilometers). Above this cutoff, magnesium iron silicates form olivine. Below the transition, they are further compressed into a mineral called wadsleyite. Gathering data on the olivine-wadsleyite boundary is key to developing accurate thermal models of Mars. 

InSight’s SEIS seismic instrument (above) is the first seismometer ever deployed on another planet.

The final boundary within Mars separates the lower mantle from the iron-rich core of the planet. It’s about 945-994 miles (1,520-1,600 kilometers) underground. Here, scientists are interested in what this boundary can tell us about the earliest phases of planetary formation. Mars is an ideal target to study planetary formation for several reasons, not least of which it’s relatively Earth-like and easy to explore. Venus, by comparison, will chew up anything we send into its super-dense corrosive atmosphere.

The upshot of the low tectonic activity is that Mars hasn’t changed much in the last few billion years. With its early history largely preserved, scientists are hopeful they can learn a great deal more about planetary formation and structure than they ever could on Earth.

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August 11th 2020, 7:59 am

ET Deals: Dell Vostro 15 7590 Intel Core i7 Laptop $849, Amazon New Fire HD 8 Tablet for $59, $150 O

ExtremeTech

Today you can take advantage of a nearly 50 percent discount to get a Dell Vostro Core i7 laptop for just $849.00. In addition to being great for office work and travel, this system also comes equipped with a mid-level GPU giving it sufficient power to run modern games.

Dell Vostro 15 7590 Intel Core i7-9750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Notebook w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM, and 256GB NVMe SSD ($849.00)

Dell’s Vostro laptops are typically targeted as home and business solutions. But this system, with its powerful Core i7-9750H processor and mid-range GTX 1050 graphics chip, is able to run modern games as well. Dell also built this system with a brushed aluminum exterior that makes it durable and relatively lightweight. Right now you can get it from Dell marked down from $1,641.42 to $849.00.

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 Alienware Aurora Intel Core i5-9400 Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($999.99)

Dell’s new Alienware Aurora gaming desktops utilize a new case design with RGB LED lighting and high-end hardware, which is capable of running the latest games with next-gen effects including ray tracing. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,149.99 to $999.99.

Ring Solar Floodlight Security Kit ($71.99)

Help keep your home safe with Ring’s Solar Floodlight security kit. Included in this deal are a motion-activated floodlight and a solar panel that can be used to charge a battery and power the lights. The kit also comes with a bridge device that can be used to enable smart features such as getting mobile notifications when the lights illuminate. Currently, it’s marked down from $139.98 to $71.99 on Amazon.

Acer ET322QK WMIIPX 32-Inch 4K FreeSync Monitor ($319.99)

Acer designed this monitor with a 32-inch 4K display panel that gives you a large amount of screen space and desktop real estate. The monitor covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it a practical solution for editing images and video, and it also has a pair of 2W speakers built-in. Newegg is currently selling this display with a substantial discount that drops the price from $499.99 to just $319.99.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($24.99)

As its name suggests, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K is capable of streaming 4K content to your smart TV from a wide range of sources. It also comes with a remote that features Alexa, which is able to hear and obey voice commands. Right now select customers can get it marked down from $49.99 to $24.99 with promo code 4KFIRETV.

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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August 10th 2020, 5:38 pm

Learn How To Build Your Own Strategy Based Video Game With These Online Classes

ExtremeTech

The global gaming market could be worth over $159 billion by the end of this year, bigger than the movie and music industries combined. And unlike the devastating financial hits suffered by both film and music companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, video games use is only getting bigger during social distancing and quarantine rules. Game sales reached over $977 million in May, a more than 50 percent rise over 2019.

Gaming could well be the dominant media of the future — so for those interested in taking a proactive step toward joining the industry or just creating something really cool, the training in The Build a Strategy Game Development Bundle can jump start that charge. Regularly $1,990, it’s available now for only $39.99.

The package collects 10 courses that can help even first-time game creators understand what it takes to create their own gaming world and get familiar with the most popular tools for crafting those games used by today’s top developers.

Packed with 12 gaming projects to challenge learners at each stage of their development, this collection lays down the basics of building your own game, no matter whether it’s turn-based, requires real-time strategy moves, or even hinges on multiplayer gaming.

The training begins with a full introduction to using Unity, one of the most powerful game creation engines in the world. Once students acclimate to the Unity environment, the instruction centers around those projects, offering real hands-on experience that not only embeds the training, but makes that training well, including important lessons for their own game building adventures.

Users amass skills while actually crafting games, exploring the mechanics of building a strategy game by guiding students through making their own 3D, turn-based game centered on creating and leading a Mars colony.

Training advances to encompass even trickier game development tasks, showing users how to move 3D models around the game world at will, how 3D model trees can control unit spawning, and action-based methods for creating game opponents that truly react to the gameplay through artificial intelligence tactics.

Finally, the courses lead students to their biggest challenge yet as they’re tasked with building a multiplayer strategy game that partially springs from the popular framework tool Photon.

Each step in this 10-course package retails for $199, but with this offer, the whole package is on sale for less than $4 per course, only $39.99.

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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August 10th 2020, 5:08 pm

Microsoft’s Cheaper Next-Gen Xbox Series S Console Confirmed

ExtremeTech

To date, all of Microsoft’s communications regarding upcoming consoles have focused on one product — the Xbox Series X. Normally, a “Series” contains more than one product, but Microsoft has continually communicated that the XSX is what there is. We now know that’s wrong — courtesy of Microsoft’s own packaging.

Twitter user Zak S found a white Xbox controller for sale on OfferUp and bought it. The typical Xbox Series controller is black — this has already been illustrated — and the box for this new controller clearly states that it’s compatible with both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.

It’s hard to see the writing on the box, so I ran the photo through Topaz Gigapixel AI and then cropped it down:

The way the label is written leaves no doubt that the Xbox Series X and S are both considered part of one family, while the Xbox One is listed separately. It’s not clear why Microsoft insists on calling both sets of hardware family a “series,” since we have no word on any future hardware upgrades. It’s like having two separate product “families” with just one product each.

One reason Microsoft may have held its silence on the Xbox Series S is that it’s trying to figure out how best to position the console against Sony. We know Sony initially had concerns about pricing before it decided to increase production. We know that the Xbox Series X, on paper, looks significantly faster than the PS5. This should translate into an advantage over that platform, but I don’t want to speculate on how large it’ll be — too many moving parts, and we literally have no data on game scaling between the two. The one price tag we know is the Xbox One S, already on the market at $300 and apparently retained into the next generation of hardware.

Imagine a world where Microsoft sets the price of the Xbox Series X at $600, drops the Xbox Series S in at $400, and cuts the Xbox One S down to $200-$250. Sony is launching two PS5’s, but the only known difference is the lack of a Blu-ray drive, so let’s assume a fairly narrow price split of no more than $100 between them.

Xbox One S: $200 – $250
Xbox Series S: $400
PS5 Digital: $500
PS5 Standard: $600
Xbox Series X: $600 – $700.

Microsoft is well-positioned in this stack. The XBone and the XSS are both cheaper than the PS5, but the performance jump from XO to Xbox Series S is going to be substantial — possibly even linear with respect to price. The PS5’s are more powerful than the XSS but also cost more, and the Xbox Series X crowns the stack, in halo positioning. Here’s what Microsoft doesn’t want to happen:

Xbox One: $200 – $250
PS5 Digital: $500
Xbox Series S: $500
PS5 Standard: $600
Xbox Series X: $600 – $700

In this model, the Xbox One is still anchoring the bottom of the product stack in a unique position, but the Xbox Series S is going head-to-head with the more powerful PS5. Sony decisively won the current console generation, likely leaving Microsoft no doubt what will happen in a hypothetical rematch. The point of developing two distinctly different console SKUs is to bracket the competition. In the first stack, gamers can get vastly better than Xbox One or PS4 perf for less money than the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro cost when new. In the second stack, the PS5 offers more performance at the same price point.

There’s no sign that the Xbox One X impacted which consoles people were more interested in buying. Sony buyers seem to have stuck with that ecosystem, while Xbox gamers bought the XOX. Owning the top of the stack at launch may help win gamers at launch, but clearly taking over that position midway through the last cycle wasn’t enough to meaningfully change the ratio of Xbox versus PS4 sales. Microsoft appears to have designed an SoC that has a fair chance of giving them performance dominance, but figuring out how to bring the midrange option to market is trickier. This may be part of why it’s getting so close to launch and we still don’t have any price information. Sony and Microsoft may be playing a game of chicken, each hoping the other will announce first.

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August 10th 2020, 5:08 pm

US Sanctions Forcing Huawei to End ARM Chip Production

ExtremeTech

Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

It’s a “good news, bad news” situation for Huawei. The Chinese electronics giant just surpassed Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone maker, but it might be running out of steam. Huawei CEO Richard Yu has told investors that the company will have to stop making its custom Kirin ARM chips because of ongoing sanctions from the United States. That could lead to a reversal in Huawei’s upward trajectory. 

Huawei’s troubles started in 2018 when it attempted to launch the Mate 10 Pro on US carriers. The government allegedly pressured AT&T and Verizon to back out of the deal, citing Huawei’s connections to the Chinese government and efforts to undermine US intellectual property. Regulators and intelligence agencies were particularly concerned about Huawei building 5G network infrastructure that might contain backdoors for the Chinese government. 

Huawei pulled back from the US market following the Mate 10 debacle, but the US raised the stakes in May 2019 when it added Huawei to the Commerce Department’s “entity list,” which blocks most US firms from doing business with the company. That led to Google severing its relationship with Huawei, which is why the company’s phones no longer have Google’s apps. Despite that, Huawei has a great deal of inertia in Asia and Europe. The sanctions are catching up to it, though. 

The chip drought is a result of the Commerce Department’s expanded order from May 2020. This change blocked shipments of semiconductors to Huawei, even from companies based outside the US. If a silicon manufacturer uses US software or technology, they have to abide by the new rules. TSMC halted chip orders for Huawei’s HiSilicon subsidiary, which makes the Kirin ARM chips. According to Yu, he expects Kirin production to end on September 15th, possibly forever. 

The upcoming Mate 40 smartphone will be the last device to launch with a Kirin chip. Without its custom ARM chips, Huawei will have to scrounge up off-the-shelf components, which will make its devices less competitive and increase costs. That is, of course, the goal of the ban.

Huawei has denied all the claims, but this is one of the few issues on which everyone in the US government seems to agree. Even a new Democratic administration likely would not reverse the sanctions. So, Huawei is in for a rough ride, and market inertia won’t save it.

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August 10th 2020, 2:39 pm

Chinese Hackers Infiltrate Taiwanese Semiconductor Companies

ExtremeTech

A presentation at the Black Hat (virtual) Security Conference this week revealed details of a number of hacking operations aimed at the Taiwanese semiconductor industry. The Taiwanese security firm CyCraft presented details of its investigation at the conference. At least seven Taiwanese companies were penetrated in an attack CyCraft refers to as “Operation Skeleton Key,” due to the use of a “skeleton key” injector technique. While CyCraft has nicknamed the group Chimera, there’s evidence of ties to mainland China and possibly to government-sponsored hacking groups.

“This is very much a state-based attack trying to manipulate Taiwan’s standing and power,” Chad Duffy, one of the CyCraft researchers who worked on the company’s long-running investigation, told Wired. The sort of wholesale theft of intellectual property CyCraft observed “fundamentally damages a corporation’s entire ability to do business,” adds Chung-Kuan Chen, another CyCraft researcher who will present the company’s research at Black Hat today. “It’s a strategic attack on the entire industry.”

Last year, we covered a major malware problem involving Asus. The company’s software had been hijacked by malicious code inserted into Asus’ own software and pushed out by the company’s servers. What made these attacks interesting was that the software in question was clearly targeted at specific individuals. Once the malware was loaded on to a system, it checked the MAC address against a list of ~600 specific addresses before downloading additional payloads from a command and control server. This kind of sophisticated attack takes exactly the opposite approach of your typical zombie botnet, which seek to infect as many systems as possible. The Asus attack wasn’t a one-off and CyCraft has been tracking the digital fingerprints of the groups behind these assaults for several years.

CyCraft hasn’t disclosed the names of the companies who were hit by the attacks, but the intrusions show common fingerprints. The hackers gained access through compromising virtual private networks (VPNs), though it isn’t clear which methods they used to gain access. Once inside, they used a custom version of the pentest tool Cobalt Strike to upload malware posing as a Google Chrome update file. The teams went to great lengths to hide their work, never distributing malware that might tip security staff to their own existence in the network. According to Wired, the most distinctive tactic the hackers employed was to manipulate the penetrated domain controllers into creating a new password for every user in the system, thereby effectively injecting a skeleton key for themselves in the process.

Why Does CyCraft Believe It’s Tracking Mainland Chinese Hackers?

At one point, the Wired article explains, CyCraft white hats managed to intercept an authentication token for the malware command and control server. On the server was a “cheat sheet” that described how the group typically exfiltrated data from their victims. The document was written in Simplified Chinese using characters used on the mainland but not in Taiwan. The group also appeared to follow a traditional Chinese work schedule known as 9-9-6 (9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week) and they took holidays according to mainland China’s schedule — not Taiwan’s. This wouldn’t be enough to secure convictions in a court of law, but it passes the “If it waddles like a duck” test.

You can’t prove it wasn’t.

The ramifications of this kind of IP theft could be considerable — and they aren’t all to China’s benefit. Semiconductors aren’t just built from silicon. In the client foundry model, they’re also built on trust. Every single TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries customer has given the client foundry access to critical intellectual property. Nvidia has to be able to trust that TSMC isn’t going to sell information about its products to a rival firm.

Imagine a hypothetical situation in which AMD works with TSMC to implement a modified 5nm node for future Ryzen CPUs that improve their clock speeds by 200-300MHz compared with TSMC’s standard 5nm. At the same time, Intel expresses interest in building chips at TSMC on 5nm. Like any customer, Intel has target clock speeds and power consumption figures it wants to achieve. The IP AMD developed with TSMC for its own private use would dramatically improve the cost structure of the TSMC/Intel deal — but TSMC’s deal with AMD precludes sharing it with a rival. If AMD can’t trust TSMC not to use its work, AMD is going to find a different foundry partner.

The situation with China is higher-stakes than that. Here, it’s not just a question of competitive CPU standing, but the ability to find hardware flaws baked into silicon before a CPU is even released. While we don’t talk about it as a topic very often, hardware-level bugs are a problem that’s only getting worse as CPU transistor counts continue to climb.

“This is a way to cripple a part of Taiwan’s economy, to hurt their long-term viability,” Duffy says. “If you look at the scope of this attack, pretty much the entire industry, up and down the supply chain, it seems like it’s about trying to shift the power relationship there. If all the intellectual property is in China’s hands, they have a lot more power.”

There’s far more reporting today on IP and trade secret theft by China than there was a few years ago. It’s going to be interesting to see if Western countries remain as eager to work in China in the future as they have been over the last few decades.

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August 10th 2020, 7:50 am

President Trump Signs Ban on TikTok, WeChat as Government Declares Hostility Towards Chinese Digital

ExtremeTech

President Trump has signed an executive order declaring that both TikTok and WeChat will be banned in the United States within 45 days. At the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has released a comprehensive roadmap for denying Chinese companies access to United States infrastructure. The text of both executive orders reads, in part:

Specifically, the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.

In order to safeguard US citizens and interests, both TikTok and WeChat must be banned. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo has released a five-point Clean Network program that is intended to make certain that Chinese carriers are not connected to US telecom networks, that “untrusted applications” are removed from mobile app stores, that US companies are not making their applications available on the storefronts of untrusted partners, that US data is not being stored on servers owned by Alibaba, Baidu, or Tencent, and that undersea cables are not being subverted by foreign operatives for spying.

The text of these orders raise significant questions about the ability of the President to make unilateral policy via executive order and the degree to which US government policies should exert market control over corporate behavior.

A Complex Kettle of Fish

Over the past year, I’ve written multiple stories about how US companies have been willing to give in to Chinese demands to control the speech of private citizens in the US, even going so far as to get a low-level hotel social media employee fired for the crime of liking a tweet that shared an article featuring her employer. There have been a number of troubling instances where US companies like Google actively partnered with the Chinese government to spy on its own citizens more effectively. China has also imprisoned the Uighur ethnic minority in camps and treated them as a slave labor force. Any concrete action that addresses these concerns is going to have a governmental as well as a corporate component and I generally agree with the Trump Administration’s decision to have a conversation on this topic in a way that has been lacking in both Democrat and Republican administrations dating back at least to the late 1990s, though the effort won’t help US companies whose IP has already been stolen. At the same time, however, the paper trail on TikTok and WeChat does not match what we know about companies like Huawei.

Where Huawei is concerned, the government has articulated fears that the firm could build backdoors into its products and that its position as a 5G hardware provider could allow it to build backdoors into its products that are impossible to close. It is unclear what fundamental threat TikTok or WeChat pose to either American infrastructure or American citizens, and the broad language of Secretary of State Pompeo’s declaration gives some cause for concern. The “Cloud” section of the article above declares that the US will act “To prevent U.S. citizens’ most sensitive personal information and our businesses’ most valuable intellectual property, including COVID-19 vaccine research, from being stored and processed on cloud-based systems accessible to our foreign adversaries through companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.”

What constitutes “most sensitive personal information?” The document does not say. This is not a trivial question. If “most sensitive personal information” is defined as “Private medical records and financial histories,” people would be unlikely to argue. If “most sensitive personal information” includes credit card numbers, you’ve just made a case for outlawing League of Legends based on the fact that Riot Games processes credit card data. Tencent, after all, owns Riot. It owns a hefty share in Epic Games, too.

“My Heart and Swole, Always for Demacia!” Image by Riot, which is owned by Tencent.

I cannot recall another time when the US government declared that a foreign company had 45 days to sell itself to a US firm (Microsoft, in TikTok’s case) or face a complete operating ban. I also do not recall any previous time when the President of the United States declared that the US government expected a bribe — pardon me, “key money” — in return for facilitating the purchase. One imagines the author of this Bloomberg article writing it with a drink in one hand and several empties already on the table. Regardless of one’s political leanings, interjections of this sort do not make evaluating the national security implications of global political changes any easier. Similarly, what exactly is contemplated by the criticism of US companies selling applications in app markets overseas? Previous technology export restrictions, lifted decades ago, did not contemplate banning a TikTok-like application (if such had existed). If anything, the popularity of a US application in the Chinese market would have been more likely to be viewed as a demonstration of soft power.

While the national security implications of closer ties with China have deservedly been criticized, there have been only general data privacy concerns raised about products like TikTok and WeChat. Many, though not all, of those concerns apply to US companies as well and the manner in which they secure (or, rather, don’t secure) the data of US citizens. If the Trump Administration wants to articulate a set of policies by which current and future Chinese software and hardware will be evaluated on national security grounds, that may well be within the scope of its purview, but the standards should be transparent and fairly applied. If a company violates them, Americans who used the applications deserve to know exactly why they are being banned — with specifics, not vague hand-waved gestures towards potential risk.

It is imperative that we not declare the data mining practices of foreign firms illegal solely because they are foreign firms. Daily, it seems, we learn more about how various companies have invented various means of tracking people. Many of these methods are based on incredibly intrusive practices — one federal contractor just acknowledged embedding tracking spyware into dozens of APIs that were incorporated into third-party products with zero oversight, with the intent of using this information for law enforcement purposes. No, this isn’t the same as throwing members of an ethnic minority into forced labor camps. That doesn’t make it good. Many of the same companies caught engaging in unethical actions in China, like Google, built the US ecosystem that’s now systemically used to strip-mine our privacy for profit. Pretending the problem is solely an overseas issue allows US companies to skirt blame for their own egregious actions.

Matt Stoller also makes an excellent argument here, pointing out that the entire reason TikTok is an American fad to begin with is because Facebook actively used its market clout to kill Vine, Twitter’s version of TikTok, while giving TikTok huge amounts of advertising. In other words, we now have a Chinese competitor sitting in an American market because an American company was allowed to abuse its monopolistic power. Facebook launched Reels this week, as a direct competitor to TikTok at a time when the federal government is proposing to ban the company. While I am not accusing the Trump Administration from acting in deliberate concert with Facebook, President Trump’s declaration that the US government should get a cut of the still-theoretical sale of TikTok’s US business to Microsoft, combined with Facebook’s decision to launch a new TikTok competitor now, looks like the federal government “picking winners and losers” (to borrow an old phrase) far more overtly than any decision to award grant money to a bad pick in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

These issues are complex because there are few actions the federal government takes that don’t have implications for someone in a “win/lose” context at some point. NASA’s decision to tap SpaceX for launches literally saved the company by funding its development. Was the government “picking winners and losers,” or was it “Providing funding for the long-term development of US national interests in space by collaborating with a corporate partner?” How you answer that question depends on how important you think space travel is, how good a partner you think SpaceX has been, and who you think should be paying for it. Real-world politics never condenses into sound bites as easily as some wish it did.

For an additional perspective on this issue I recommend The Verge’s writeup, which focuses on an issue the author nicknames information-nationalism. Information-nationalism, as described, is the idea that discussing problems at home or confronting, say, historic inequalities in how America treats people weakens our ability, as a nation, to call out these problems abroad. It views containment of this type of discussion as essential to the capability to project power in other respects because acknowledging fault is seen as equivalent to acknowledging weakness.

Such arguments are dangerous because they can easily become justification for internal censorship. The President’s repeatedly-stated belief that testing more people for COVID-19 is literally the reason that America’s disease figures are terrible is an easy example of how this kind of thinking can lead directly to a justification for suppressing information: If acknowledging the truth of the pandemic makes America look weak, the solution is not to improve the quality of America’s pandemic response, but to stop testing people. As The Verge notes, that’s basically the same argument the Chinese government uses as a justification for suppressing conversation around events like the Tienanmen Square Massacre.

There are good reasons to be suspicious of China, but the question of inappropriate surveillance is not unique to China. US citizens do not deserve to have their lives strip-mined for corporate profits regardless of whether the miners are domestic or foreign and any effort to create new rules on these issues should center data privacy and security for American citizens first and foremost. The idea that these practices are deployed purely in benign ways in this country and that the only real abuses occur elsewhere is a set of cultural blinders we do not have the luxury of wearing.

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August 7th 2020, 6:18 pm

Adobe Apps Can Be Rough Without A Roadmap. Thankfully, Your Guide Is Here

ExtremeTech

The Adobe Creative Cloud is exciting, comprehensive and intimidating all at the same time. With nearly two dozen apps aimed at servicing all manner of creative projects, there’s undoubtedly a way to accomplish any content creation task you’ve got on your mind.

But glazing at that sweeping array of icons, each harboring its own untold powers and hidden depths, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything in front of you.

But as the saying goes, the only way to eat the whole elephant is one bite at a time. So check out the deals on these five different Adobe CC training packages, each expert-driven collection focusing on a particular app or subset of apps in the Adobe CC galaxy. And right now, they’re all available at big discounts off their regular price.

The Essential 2020 Adobe CC Mastery Bundle – $39.99; originally $396

For a little taste of the biggest apps in the Adobe CC constellation of stars, this package has you covered. The collection features four courses with more than 25 hours of instruction in three of the absolute biggest apps, including image editing powerhouse Photoshop, vector graphics favorite Illustrator and layout king InDesign. Plus, you also get training in one of the newest — and buzziest — Adobe app, Adobe Spark, which features lots of cutting edge templates to create social media posts, images and videos that look professional grade in record time.

The Essential Adobe Web Design Bundle – $19.99; originally $396

Creating for the web, including everything from websites and apps to graphics and animations, comes with its own set of rules — all of which are spotlighted in this four-course, seven-hour bundle. From the prototyping framework you’ll find in Adobe XD to all the construction ability of perennial favorite website builder Dreamweaver, you’ll be ready to tackle any digital building project. Plus, you’ll also get Adobe Spark training as well as down-and-dirty video editing with Premiere Rush.

The Essential 2020 Adobe Photography Training Bundle – $29.99; originally $297

Taking quality pictures, then presenting those images in their best possible light is a skill set all its own — and this trio of courses explains exactly how Adobe CC can help. Over these eight-plus hours, the Digital Photography Introduction course explains all the basics of shooting digital images the right way, then introductions to Photoshop and sister image editing aid Lightroom can each help you tweak your shots into gorgeous gallery quality prints.

The Complete Adobe Hollywood Filmmaker Bundle – $39.99; originally $495

Everybody is shooting video these days, so this five-course collection with over 24 hours of intensive training breaks down the tricks to proper video editing. Anchored by Adobe Premiere Pro, the app that many Hollywood editors and other creative talent use daily, you’ll fully understand the art of assembling a complete video project. You’ll also get training in Premiere Pro’s slimmed-down companion Premiere Rush, special effects wizard After Effects and full-service audio editor Audition.

The Adobe XD Professional Certification Bundle – $29.99; originally $995

User experience is key in any design project — which is where Adobe XD can be a godsend, helping designers create and share interactive app and web prototypes across all devices and platforms. This package of five courses includes everything to get familiar and working with XD, from building responsive websites to engaging app designs to even creating digital animation that will take all of your projects to the next level.

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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August 7th 2020, 5:18 pm

ET Weekend Deals: Pre-Order Samsung Galaxy Note 20 5G Smartphone w/ Up To $1,000 Trade-In Bonus

ExtremeTech

Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 20 smartphone will be one of the fastest and most feature rich smartphones on the market upon it’s launch. If you’re eager to get your hands on this new devices you can pre-order it now and receive up to a $1,000 credit when you trade-in your old phone.

Coming equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+ SoC, the Galaxy Note 20 should be exceptionally fast with performance on par to today’s latest flagship phones. The phone also utilizes a Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display with a 120Hz refresh rate that measures 6.7-inches diagonally. It also has 128GB of storage along with 8GB of RAM and a 4,300mAh battery.

The phone is listed for sale for $999.99 from various retailers and set to be released on August 21, 2020. By using trade-on bonuses, however, you can get up to a $1,000 credit towards your purchase. AT&T is the only one offering such a lofty bonus, but you can get up to $700 for your trade-in from Verizon or up to $650 from Samsung. If don’t have a device to trade-in or would prefer to buy the phone outright, you can also get order it straight from Amazon for the full price of $999.99.

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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August 7th 2020, 5:18 pm

Apple Won’t Allow Cloud Gaming like xCloud and Stadia on iOS

ExtremeTech

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

Complaints about the Apple App Store are as old as the App Store itself, but that doesn’t make the latest development any more aggravating for gamers. Despite extensive beta testing, it looks like Microsoft will be unable to launch its xCloud gaming service on iOS, and that means the prospects for Google’s Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now aren’t any better. 

Cloud gaming has seemed to be just around the corner for the last decade, but we might actually be on the way now. Internet access is fast enough that you can render games on a remote server and stream the video to phones, TVs, laptops, and other devices without too much lag. I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing Google Stadia, and it works surprisingly well — unless you have an iPhone. None of these services have launched on iOS, and now we know why. 

Apple has issued a statement about xCloud, but we can assume other cloud gaming options are facing similar issues. According to Apple, it has no objections to cloud gaming in principle. However, it will only allow the likes of xCloud if the company agrees to compete on a “level playing field” with native app developers. That means each individual game needs to be submitted for review, and they need to appear separately in the App Store charts and search. 

Obviously, these are near-impossibilities for a cloud gaming service. There’s little chance a full PC or Xbox game would pass Apple’s review process, and it would take ages to get approval for the dozens of titles these services currently offer. Listing all those games outside of the streaming client would also be a confusing mess for users. 

xCloud streaming Forza to an Android device in an MS demo.

Apple seems to be making a distinction between cloud games and local streaming services like Steam Link. Apple did initially block Steam Link when it launched last year, but Valve appealed and was able to get its app approved on the basis that it was essentially a remote desktop client. xCloud, Stadia, and the rest seem to be in a much tighter spot. 

At the same time, cloud gaming doesn’t look to be going away this time. The only thing likely to move Apple is its own user base. If a lack of cloud gaming makes the iPhone look less competitive, the company might suddenly reconsider. For that to happen, gamers would have to view cloud gaming as an important enough feature to drive smartphone purchases — and it’s not clear if that will ever actually happen. 

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August 7th 2020, 3:48 pm

How to install Windows 10 in a virtual machine

ExtremeTech

This is you, chasing driver compatibility

There are a lot of practical reasons to set up an OS like Windows 10 in a VM rather than using it as a native installation. If you have to deal with files you can’t trust, need to test multiple OS installations on the same system, or need access to the operating system without wanting to use it as a daily driver, using it a VM offers access to its features and capabilities without worrying about needing to keep the OS installation around long-term. Luckily, setting up Windows 10 in a VM isn’t particularly difficult.

VirtualBox installation

1. Download the Windows 10 ISO

First off, head over to the Windows 10 download page. If you are a Windows user, MS will prompt you to download the Media Creation Tool before allowing you to download an OS image. You can use this tool to create an ISO file locally, or you can follow these additional instructions if you want to download the ISO manually without being forced to grab the tool first.

2. Create a new virtual machine

Go to the VirtualBox website, and download the latest version of Oracle’s free, open source software. Go through the installation process, and then launch the application. Press the “New” button, and name your virtual machine. Make sure your “Type” is set to “Microsoft Windows,” and your “Version” is set to “Windows 10.” Just make sure you match the x64 version with a 64-bit VM, and the x86 version with a 32-bit VM.

3. Allocate RAM

Now, you need to decide how much RAM you want to allocate for this VM. For the x86 version, you’ll need at least 1GB of RAM. For the x64 version, you’ll need 2GB. I have 16GB of RAM in my desktop, so I decided that 4GB was right for my configuration. Whatever you decide, just make sure you stay in the green. If you allocate too much RAM, you’ll end up with serious performance issues.

4. Create a virtual drive

Next, you need to create a virtual drive. Microsoft says that 16GB is the minimum space needed for the 32-bit version, but 20GB is required for the 64-bit version. I decided on a 50GB virtual drive on my desktop, but feel free to make it as large as you need. Just be sure that you have enough space on your actual hard drive to handle the size of your virtual drive. Depending on what you intend to do with the OS, you may want to allocate more or less storage. Applications installed to a VM should be assumed to require the same amount of “real” storage that their standard installations would.

5. Locate the Windows 10 ISO

Now, go into the settings for this virtual machine, and navigate to the “Storage” tab. Click the disc icon with a green plus next to “Controller: SATA.” Click “Choose disk,” and then locate the Windows 10 ISO you downloaded earlier.

6. Configure video settings

Before you jump in and start installing Windows 10, move over to the “Display” tab. You can configure how much video memory you’re willing to allocate to the virtual machine, but make sure you stay in the green. You can also toggle on 3D acceleration if you like.

7. Launch the installer

With all of that setup finished, press the “Start” button in VirtualBox, and begin the Windows 10 installation process. Follow the instructions on the screen, and you’re well on your way.

8. Install VirtualBox guest additions

Once you’re at the Windows 10 desktop, you’ll need to install all of the proper drivers for VirtualBox. In the VirtualBox UI, go to “Devices,” and then select “Insert Guest Additions CD image.” Navigate to that disc image in Windows Explorer, and run the installer. Once you’ve gone through the entire process, you’ll need to reboot the VM.

9. You’re ready to rock

Back at the desktop, you can finally use full-screen mode at the proper resolution. In the VirtualBox menu, go to “View,” and select “Switch to Fullscreen.” For the most part, this is now the same experience you’d have running it natively. Enjoy yourself, and feel free to poke around all the new features.

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August 7th 2020, 3:02 pm

Scientists Rename Genes So Excel Won’t Reformat Them as Dates

ExtremeTech

Microsoft Excel is an incredibly powerful program that’s just as essential in a laboratory as it is in the average office. However, scientists have had just about enough of Excel renaming genes as if they were dates. It didn’t seem likely anyone would convince Microsoft to change the way Excel works, so scientists got together recently and renamed the genes

Anyone who has spent time tinkering with data in Excel knows the pain of entering data by hand only to find out that Excel has formatted it in a way that makes it less useful. Scientists regularly use Excel to track work and do basic analysis on data before exporting it to more sophisticated tools. There’s no “DNA” formatting option, though, and that’s caused frustration among researchers. 

Genes are simply sequences of nucleic acid (DNA in humans) that code for a protein. For example, the GTPases protein known as Spetin-1 is coded by a gene called SEPT1. You can probably see where this is going. If you enter “SEPT1” in Excel, it will immediately change the cell to read “1-Sept” because it thinks you’re trying to enter a date. To make matters worse, there is no way to disable this automatic reformatting. You have to change the cell formatting in each spreadsheet manually. Failing to do so can lead to corrupted data and wasted time. Not everyone is an expert in Excel, so mistakes were common. (Note: Hitting ‘ in front of a data field in Excel will tell the cell to format as text, but there is no way to set this as default). 

The scientific body that controls gene naming has now stepped in to set things right. The HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC) has thus far renamed 27 genes to ensure Excel doesn’t butcher their names. For example, the gene MARCH1 codes for a protein called Membrane Associated Ring-CH-Type Finger 1. HGNC has renamed that gene to MARCHF1 to avoid confusion. SEPT1 is now SEPTIN1. The HGNC will keep a record of the changes so there’s no confusion in the future when researchers read materials with the old names. 

The HGNC has even published guidelines to help scientists name (and rename) genes, which makes things more efficient but also a bit less fun — there probably won’t be any new “sonic hedgehog” genes. The guidelines cover more than Excel screw-ups. They also recommend names that avoid pejoratives (eg. DOPEY1 renamed to DOPIA) and those based on disease names. CASC4 was named as a CAncer Susceptibility Candidate 4, and now it’s GOLM2 (golgi membrane protein 2).

Even if gene names will be less of a creative outlet, most scientists have expressed relief that there is more clarity. No word yet on whether the “sonic hedgehog” gene (SHH) or “Pikachurin” (named for the eponymous Pokemon) are also being renamed. 

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August 7th 2020, 2:29 pm

Exconfidential Lake: 20GB of Intel IP Dumped on Internet in Major Data Leak

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)

A whole bunch of people’s weeks got a whole lot more interesting on Thursday, when Swiss software engineer Tillie Kottmann dropped 20GB of Intel’s confidential intellectual property online with claims of more to come.

Intel has responded to press inquiries about the leak with a statement, writing: “We are investigating this situation. The information appears to come from the Intel Resource and Design Center, which hosts information for use by our customers, partners and other external parties who have registered for access. We believe an individual with access downloaded and shared this data.”

The Intel Resource and Design Center is a repository of data provided to Intel’s various partners who work with the company on various projects. If you build motherboards for Intel CPUs, for example, you’ll need instructions on how to initialize them at the lowest level.

Most of what I’ve seen from the leaked data does look as though it came from the IRDC. According to Kottmann, the data repository includes:

– Intel ME Bringup guides + (flash) tooling + samples for various platforms
– Kabylake (Purley Platform) BIOS Reference Code and Sample Code + Initialization code (some of it as exported git repos with full history)
– Intel CEFDK (Consumer Electronics Firmware Development Kit (Bootloader stuff)) SOURCES
– Silicon / FSP source code packages for various platforms
– Various Intel Development and Debugging Tools
– Simics Simulation for Rocket Lake S and potentially other platforms
– Various roadmaps and other documents
– Binaries for Camera drivers Intel made for SpaceX
– Schematics, Docs, Tools + Firmware for the unreleased Tiger Lake platform
– (very horrible) Kabylake FDK training videos
– Intel Trace Hub + decoder files for various Intel ME versions
– Elkhart Lake Silicon Reference and Platform Sample Code
– Some Verilog stuff for various Xeon Platforms, unsure what it is exactly.
– Debug BIOS/TXE builds for various Platforms
– Bootguard SDK (encrypted zip)
– Intel Snowridge / Snowfish Process Simulator ADK
– Various schematics
– Intel Marketing Material Templates (InDesign)
– Lots of other things

Now, don’t mistake me — it could be that there’s some killer data lurking in this repository, with major implications for Intel security, or IP, or what have you. I haven’t exactly scanned it. But while a Simics simulation for an unreleased platform is interesting, Simics is a commercial platform you can buy. It’s a full-system simulator used for software development. There could be security flaws lurking in some of the software, and the leaker has encouraged people to look for backdoor mentions in the dump — which is a whole lot different than a leak in which you say “Hey everybody, here’s the 8MB of documents showing where Intel hid the x86 hardware backdoor… no, not IME. The other backdoor.”

Note: The degree to which closed-source processors that run invisible code (from the OS’ perspective) should be considered “backdoors” is hotly contested between a subset of security researchers and open-source computing advocates on the one hand, and Intel and AMD on the other. The former group believes that security processors and “trusted computing” zones should either not exist or, if they do exist, should be based on open, transparent projects. AMD and Intel disagree. The remark above should be considered tongue-in-cheek, particularly if you’re the kind of person who requires a paragraph-long explanation to be mollified by anything.

In any event, it’s not clear how much of this is juicy details and how much of it is dull. Some of it covers chips that were under NDA as recently as May, but the presentations we get on a regular basis are under NDA as well, and trust me, Intel doesn’t give us the keys to the kingdom, so much as information it doesn’t want leaked until it’s ready to announce it. According to Ars Technica, the details were fond on an unsecured server hosted by Akamai.

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August 7th 2020, 11:16 am

Canon R5 / R6 Cameras Overheat More Quickly Than Shutterbugs May Like

ExtremeTech

Cameras are not my usual coverage — I tend to leave the topic to my colleague and professional photographer David Cardinal — but recent news from Canon camera testing caught my eye. It seems the recently released Canon EOS R5 and R6 both have a tendency to overheat when used in their highest-fidelity modes. The impact of this problem differs between the R5 and R6, but it hits both in a meaningful fashion.

According to DPreview, the problem isn’t that Canon failed to communicate the limitations of either camera. Press materials distributed for the launch directly discuss the limited amount of shooting time the R5 and R6 offer and stress that neither camera is intended for commercial use. The following table was published by Canon a few days after reviews of both cameras went up:

The problem, as DPReview writes, is: “[T]here is an important caveat that Canon’s figures don’t address: although the cameras can repeatedly deliver the amount of video promised, they may not always do so in real-world usage.” (Emphasis original)

DPReview’s tests found that any usage of the camera before you intend to start shooting, including time spent warming up a shot, setting the white balance, setting focus, shooting stills, or just waiting on a subject to get ready all cut into your total recording time. The longer you spend carrying out these activities, the less time you’ll have to shoot.

The difference between how the two units perform under testing can be summarized as follows: The R5 will only give you (most) of its full recording time if you start with a cold camera. Any other use of the device for any purpose will cut into your total. Leaving it on will cut into the total. When shooting with the R5 in 4K/30 HQ mode, you can expect ~25 minutes before an overheat warning, and no more than 30 minutes of footage at a time in that mode, tops. Leave the R5 to cool for 30 minutes, and you’ll recover most of this — between 22 – 25 minutes.

In the R6’s case, the initial film time is larger, with the device not giving overheat warnings until the 38 minute mark, and not overheating until nearly 40 minutes had passed. What’s different, in this case, is what happens when you give the device 30 minutes to cool. The R5 recovered virtually all of its performance, offering 22-25 minutes (down from 29+), while the R6 only managed 19-22 minutes of footage after the same 30-minute period. Whatever it is that gives the R6 additional recording time on the front end, it doesn’t help the device recover once it hits the thermal trip point.

The R5’s thermal problems can create trouble if you intend to shoot video after taking a bunch of still photos, one DPReview editor noted that after he took the camera out and shot 164 images in just under two hours, the amount of time it could provide 4K HQ footage capture was just four minutes, despite having plenty of storage capacity. You also can’t leave the camera in the sun while you’re cooling it off (or allow it to sit in the sun before you shoot) — allowing any additional heat to build up in the unit will cause a reduction in shooting time. Trying to charge the camera will also reduce its photography time.

Unfortunately, DPReview is not a PC hardware tech website, and I can find no discussion of their efforts to swap internal cooling components, bolt on a fan, or re-grease the internals. This is probably all to the good, as I’m deeply uncertain as to whether or not you can upgrade a camera with liquid metal thermal paste. Nonetheless, the takeaway from DPReview is less that Canon is struggling with problems other companies have solved, and more that the company has done a poor job explaining to its users what the real-world experience of buying the camera is like or what modifications they may need to make to how they approach a shoot. Recording 4K and above at high frame rates is still incredibly difficult for most cameras in terms of dealing with the related heat and energy requirements, and this definitely isn’t a solved problem in the consumer market yet.

Caveat emptor.

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August 7th 2020, 8:45 am

ET Deals: Dell U4320Q UltraSharp 43-Inch 4K Monitor for $755, Eufy Robovac 12 $159, Dell XPS 13 7390

ExtremeTech

Today you can get your hands on  a 4K 43-inch Dell monitor that is available with hundreds cut off its retail price.

Dell Ultrasharp U4320Q 43-Inch 4K USB-C Monitor ($755.99)

Dell engineered this model to be a large display with tons of desktop real estate. This makes it easier to multitask on multiple windows at the same time. The display also has a high 4K resolution and a USB-C port that doubles as both a video connection and a charging port for compatible notebooks. Right now you can get this display from Dell marked down from $1,049.99 to just $755.99 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Eufy Anker Boost IQ RoboVac 12 ($159.99)

Eufy designed this slim robovac with a vacuum capable of 1,500Pa 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 Newegg marked down from $239.99 to just $159.99 with promo code AKEUFYAUG.

Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i5-10210U 13.3-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($899.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i5-10210U quad-core processor and a 1920×1080 display. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last up to 19 hours on a single charge. Right now you can one from Dell marked down from $1,058.99 to just $899.99.

Netgear Nighthawk RAX50 AX500 WiFi 6 Tri-Band Router ($239.99)

Netgear built this router to support the newest Wi-Fi networking standards. It’s capable of transmitting on three bands at the same time with a max bandwidth of 5.4Gbps, making it an exceptionally high performance piece of networking hardware. For a limited time you can get one from Amazon marked down from $299.99 to just $239.99.

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.

Western Digital Easystore 8TB External USB 3.0 HDD ($129.99)

This external hard drive gives you a large amount of storage space at an affordable price. The drive utilizes USB 3.0 to enable a 5Gbps data connection and today you can get these drives from Best Buy marked down from $199.99 to $129.99.

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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August 6th 2020, 5:06 pm

Why you should (or shouldn’t) root your Android device

ExtremeTech

Underneath all the UI layers, Android is still Linux. So, right from the start, tinkerers and power users were interested in gaining root access to make changes and graft on new features. In the first few years of Android’s existence, this was a fairly simple procedure on most devices. There were several apps and tools that could root almost any Android phone or tablet, and you’d be ready to truly master your device in mere minutes. As Android became more capable, the allure of rooting has diminished somewhat — it’s also much harder and comes with more drawbacks.

The advantages of rooting

Gaining root access on Android is akin to running Windows as an administrator. You have full access to the system directory and can make changes to the way the OS operates. As part of rooting, you install a management client like Magisk — SuperSU used to be the top option but has fallen into disrepair. These tools are basically the gatekeeper of root access on your phone. When an app requests root, you have to approve it using the root manager.

In the case of Magisk, you can also use the client to make other changes to the phone via numerous community-developed modules. Let’s say you don’t like the system theme on your phone. With root, you can change that. You can also manually back up app data so you never lose it again. Want to change the way your device’s CPU behaves or CPU characteristics? That’s also possible with root.

If you’ve ever looked at your phone and thought, “I wish I could do [some very specific thing],” rooting might make it happen. Modern tools like Magisk are also “systemless” root managers. That means the changes are stored in the boot partition rather than modifying the system. That makes it easier to go back to an unrooted system (or make apps think you’re unrooted) than it used to be.

The Risks of Rooting

Rooting your phone or tablet gives you complete control over the system, and that power can be misused if you’re not careful. Android is designed in such a way that it’s hard to break things with a limited user profile. A superuser, however, can really trash things by installing the wrong app or making changes to system files. The security model of Android is also compromised when you have root. Some malware specifically looks for root access, which allows it to really run amok.

For this reason, most Android phones are not designed to be rooted. There’s even an API called SafetyNet that apps can call on to make sure a device has not been tampered with or compromised by hackers. Banking apps, Google Pay, and others that handle sensitive data will do this check and refuse to run on rooted devices. Magisk supports hiding root, but that won’t always work. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse with Google. If losing access to high-security apps is a big deal, you might not want to mess around with rooting.

Root methods are sometimes messy and dangerous in their own right. You might brick your device simply trying to root it, and you’ve probably (technically) voided your warranty doing so. Rooting also makes it harder (or impossible) to install official updates, and ROMs like Lineage can be difficult to install. If having root access is really important to you, you might be left waiting on older buggy software while you beg for a new root method or a modded OS update.

Should You Do It?

If you’ve been using Android for a while, you’ve probably noticed gaining root access on most devices is much harder than it once was. There were exploits years back that could root almost any Android device in a few minutes, but that’s much less common now. The last essentially universal exploit was Towelroot in mid-2014, but Google patched that rather quickly. Google patches these flaws quickly these days because having active exploits in the system is a very bad thing for most users. These are security holes that can be utilized by malware to take over a device and steal data. There are monthly security updates to patch these holes, but on a rooted phone, you are responsible for security. If you’re going to root, you have to accept that your device will require more frequent attention, and you need to be careful what you install. The security safety net offered by Google and the device maker won’t be there to save you.

If you’re not familiar with Android’s tools and how to fix issues with a command line, you probably shouldn’t dive into rooting your phone. Root can be a lot of fun to play around with, but it can also lead to plenty of frustration as you try to fix errors caused by overzealous modding. If you bought your phone with the intention of tinkering, by all means, go nuts.

When something does go wrong (and it will at some point), it’s all on you to fix it. You might be left scouring old forum posts and begging for help in chatrooms to fix your phone. You have to be willing to tackle some vexing issues if you’re going to live the rooted lifestyle. You also have to look at what you’re getting; Android in its unmodified state is much better than it used to be. A decade ago, people rooted phones to get features like overclocking, managing permissions, and taking screenshots. Unmodified Android can to all of that now. Most people just don’t have a good reason to root phones anymore.

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August 6th 2020, 5:06 pm

In Its Third Decade, Java Is Still Going Strong. This Bundle Can Add It’s Power To Your Skill Set

ExtremeTech

When developers created Java over 25 years ago to help make interactive TV possible, it’s hard to imagine them dreaming at the time that their brainchild would still be in such heavy use today. Right now, all the apps on your Android phone were written in Java. The world’s most sophisticated banking technologies are all created in Java. Even blockbuster games like Minecraft wouldn’t be possible without Java.

For anyone eyeing a career in programming, Java is essential learning. Even if you just want to tinker with coding as a hobby, it’s hard to get far without at least a familiarity with everything that Java brings to the table. With the training in The 2020 Java Bootcamp Bundle ($35.99, over 90 percent off), this key web discipline won’t be quite so mysterious anymore.

Across 10 courses, this training explains everything young coders need to know about learning, then using this foundational web development language.

For first-timers, courses like Java Introduction and Java Basics ease users in slowly, carefully explaining how to handle fundamental Java operations like setting up a Java environment and learning how to write a Java program.

After those opening introductions, the training expands into closer looks at some of the key operational components of building in Java. In Java Objects, users explore applying object-oriented concepts and creating working applications using that principle. With Arrays, students work with sequences of values that make up an array, an integral piece of Java programming. And in Comparisons and Control Structures, users work with structures like conditional expressions, if statements and loop control in this practical, hands-on training.

As students continue, their skill sets keep growing as well, with courses spotlight more ways these different components can be connected to create new Java programs. Inheritance is an important part of object-oriented programming, so Inheritance 101 explores examples so you can use it in your creations. With Collections 101, users get experience storing and manipulating objects, while Exceptions Classes Explained does just that, delving into the Java error situation and how to handle them.

Finally, Intro to Java Interfaces and Inner Classes shows students how to effectively group Java pieces together logically to boost the speed and efficiency of their coding.

Each of these 10 courses is a $99 training package on its own, but by picking up this entire collection now, the whole bundle is on sale for just $35.99, a savings of over 90 percent off the regular price.

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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August 6th 2020, 5:06 pm

Bethesda Pledges Next-Gen Versions of Doom Eternal, Elder Scrolls Online Will be Free to All PS4, Xb

ExtremeTech

There have been a lot of questions raised about compatibility as Microsoft and Sony lay out their respective plans for the transition from the current console generation to the next-gen hardware currently prepping for release. Various software developers and publishers are clarifying their own plans, including Bethesda. Happily, if you’re a current Bethesda gamer, you can look forward to picking up some titles on your future console purchase free of charge. Bethesda writes:

Players who own or purchase either title on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 will be able to upgrade for free to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions, respectively, when those versions are available. Additionally, our teams are working hard to ensure both titles will support backwards compatibility when the new consoles launch.

The mention of backwards compatibility seems to imply that current players won’t just get to play the new versions on new consoles for free, but that some of the features being developed for the new hardware may also make their way back to older equipment. This makes sense if Microsoft intends to keep the Xbox One around as its base gaming platform (I almost typed “base playing station,” in an unintentionally amusing neural misfire). We may get more details this week, since virtual QuakeCon kicks off tomorrow.

Bethesda hasn’t announced anything about its other major titles, but it confirmed that both Xbox and PS4 owners would receive free upgrades to any updates made to any games, which most likely includes (say it with me), Skyrim. If you asked me which game was more likely to get an update for PS5/XSX, Fallout or Skyrim, I’d say Skyrim, hands down. It really says something about either the state of FO76 or the enduring love various fans feel towards the Nord / Imperial civil war that it’s not clear which title Bethesda will choose to bring to future consoles. (Obviously they could just port both, but if they had to pick just one, I’m guessing it’d be Skyrim).

How Will This Impact the PC Ecosystem?

There’s an interesting question in all this talk of backwards and forwards compatibility: How is it going to impact PCs? On the PC, backwards compatibility is assumed outside of unusual exceptions, but major overhauls to titles are typically pushed out as priced updates. If you want to mod the original 2011 Skyrim, including mods that could arguably make it look better than the updated version Bethesda formally shipped, you are entirely welcome to do so — but you can’t download the Enhanced Edition of Skyrim for free just because you own the original.

The proposition of free graphics updates and improvements for console players that PC players are expected to purchase is likely to be a non-starter, but no publisher that I can find has given an update on whether they intend to make any updates to current titles available on PC as well. Since most multiplayer games still don’t support cross-play between consoles and PCs, technically it’s likely possible to update the console flavors but leave PC gamers holding the bag.

As consoles gain the advantages of PCs, like upgradeable mid-cycle hardware and assumed backwards compatibility, PC gamers deserve to benefit from the features that previously defined the platform and made it unique. Rolling upgrades out as guarantees for one player base without addressing the other is a problem that companies need to address — hopefully by clarifying that any improvements made to console versions of titles and provided free of charge will be equally free to PC players. Bethesda’s blog post doesn’t mention this group of gamers at all. Hopefully that’s just an unintentional oversight.

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August 6th 2020, 3:24 pm

Google Discontinues Pixel 4 and 4 XL After Just 10 Months

ExtremeTech

The Pixel 4 hasn't been selling well, and Google has been discounting it aggressively as a result.

Google announced the Pixel 4 and 4 XL late last year with much fanfare, but reviews of the devices were mediocre. Google never talked about sales, but we can safely assume they were equally disappointing because the Pixel 4 is no more. Just 10 months after release, Google has discontinued its 2019 Pixel phones. It’s full-steam ahead with the Pixel 4a and upcoming 5G phones. 

The devices recently went out of stock on the Google Store, a condition which doesn’t last long when Google intends to continue selling a product. Several publications reached out for comment, and now Google has released a statement: “Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL.” 

As 2019 flagship phones, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL have a Snapdragon 855 ARM chip, but they have just 6GB of RAM. That’s a bit on the low side for a high-end device, and these phones did cost $900-1,000. Likewise, the base storage was a measly 64GB, and the battery capacity lagged behind even cheaper phones. Google took flak for those decisions, but it did focus on several areas to great effect. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL were the first Pixel phones to have an optical zoom sensor, which boosted the Pixel line’s already amazing photography. The UI smoothness and design are also a cut above other Android devices. 

Still, the bad seems to have outweighed the good — after all, Google wouldn’t stop selling the Pixel 4 and 4 XL so early if people were buying them. Usually, Google keeps its last-gen Pixels around for a few months after the new version launches, selling off excess stock at a lower price. The early disappearance from the Google Store suggests Google scaled back production months ago, probably due to lackluster sales. 

The Pixel 4a is the only Pixel on sale at the Google Store right now.

If you still want the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, Google says some third-party sellers still have units — you can still get the devices on Amazon, for example. That won’t last long, though. 

Even though the Pixel 4 is no more, Google says it has not changed its update plans. The Pixel 4 is still guaranteed over two more years of system updates, which is longer than most Android phones. While there are no flagship Pixels available from Google right now, there’s the excellent budget Pixel 4a for $350. Google should also be launching the more capable Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G in the coming months.

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August 6th 2020, 2:21 pm

TSMC, Foxconn Reportedly Possibly Interested in ARM Acquisition

ExtremeTech

Ever since rumors of a potential ARM sale popped up, Nvidia has been floated as the most likely (and most-interested) buyer. That may have changed. Reportedly both TSMC and Foxconn are also interested in ARM.

Both companies are identified as “Key Apple suppliers” in a story at the Nikkei Asian Review, a likely-intentional reference to the company viewed as being behind their newfound interest. Apple doesn’t seem to be making a play for ARM itself, but it might not mind of one of its core strategic partners did. Apparently SoftBank has reached out to both Apple and Qualcomm in addition to Nvidia, TSMC, and Foxconn, but so far Nvidia is the only company we’ve heard much about. Apparently some of the companies (TSMC, Foxconn, Nvidia) have received limited financial data and future projections from ARM to help them better evaluate the company.

Apple reportedly stepped away from the idea, Foxconn and TSMC are still evaluating, and Nvidia is in more advanced talks but would prefer to buy the company outright rather than acquire a stake in it. Samsung has stated it has no interest in acquiring a stake in ARM. Several Chinese firms have also expressed interest, but the chance of this occurring given the current climate between the US and mainland China is more-or-less nil.

“Many tech industry bosses are being approached,” another person familiar with the matter told Nikkei Asian Review. “SoftBank is eager to find new investors as they have their own financial issues and they want to do it as soon as possible. They of course don’t want to face another write-down.”

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.

ARM is locked in a bizarre battle with its own China unit, which SoftBank gave up control of in 2018. ARM China took over all of ARM’s operations and clients in China, but as Asian Nikkei says, “is now openly feuding with its UK parent over management issues.” It’s actually a good deal stranger than that. ARM China’s CEO has refused to leave his position after being fired for a conflict of interest. Allen Wu, then-CEO of ARM China, started a Chinese technology investment fund named Alphatecture that offered its clients discounts on ARM chip designs if they agreed to invest with his fund. Post-firing, Wu has attempted to rally China ARM employees to his side and has refused ARM UK employees accesss to the premises. Just the sort of circus a bright company eager for acquisition wants to be dealing with in front of potential clients.

The sale of ARM to a different company is a major event in semiconductors — akin to Intel granting a new x86 license to a major potential competitor. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few months and who ultimately winds up owning the UK-based company.

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August 6th 2020, 11:34 am

Intel’s Alder Lake May Ship in a Wide Range of Confusing Configurations

ExtremeTech

The reports that Intel’s Alder Lake will be a big.Little (or a big.Bigger CPU, if you use Intel’s parlance) got a boost with a list of coreboot patches that show the various configurations Intel is contemplating. Just because a part appears on this list doesn’t mean Intel will launch a SKU corresponding to it, mind you — these are just the configurations that are being contemplated.

There are 12 possible configurations for Alder Lake-S chips, helpfully summarized in the chart below by THG:

Image by THG

There’s also a 2-0-1 configuration I clipped off the above. This configuration of hardware is dramatically different from anything we’ve ever seen ARM ship. There’s an 8+8 configuration, which makes sense, but there’s no way to determine why Intel would ship a 6+8 core, or what the benefits of 8+2 versus 8+4 are. Keep in mind, these are all desktop chips — we’re not seeing mobile and desktop mixed together.

The fact that there’s an 8+8 configuration at the top of the stack implies that this is the fastest part. The 8,4,2,0 fallback makes sense, then — except it also implies that having no small cores on the CPU is a significant enough loss of performance to create a meaningful gap between parts. Does this mean we’ll see more of an emphasis on core count and less on clock speed with these chips, compared to previous launches? Which is faster — an 8+0 CPU or a 6+4? What about 8+2 versus 6+6?

THG also discusses a second set of results for Alder Lake-P, an apparently lower-power Atom CPU, but I’ll let you read about it over there if you have a mind to. The simplest explanation for this list of parts is that someone enumerated all the options Intel thought it might launch for simplicity’s sake, without bothering to select only the SKUs the company plans to launch ~12 months from now. Another is that small cores add very little to overall performance and we should assume that an 8+0 core is faster than a 6+8 core. This, however, would raise the question of why Intel is bothering to build an 8C small-core cluster at all.

A third option is that while the small cores are expected to be useful, they may not be useful to all groups of users. Maybe when it comes to gaming, the OS is instructed to run all workloads solely on the high-end cores, to ensure that maximum performance is always available. This would explain why an 8+0 CPU might rank higher than a 6+8, even if the 6+8 offered better scaling in some multi-threaded tests. Gaming is the area where Intel CPUs are performing the best these days, and the company may have aligned its SKUs accordingly.

Lots of questions but not a lot of answers yet. According to Intel’s statements regarding 10nm, Cannon Lake shipped on 10nm, while Ice Lake is 10nm+. Alder Lake is expected to debut on Intel’s 10nm++ process, which should have better characteristics for desktop performance and offer higher clocks than what we saw with Ice Lake. But this core configuration question is interesting — it’s obvious that Intel wants to hit higher core counts and boost efficiency, but how they’ll use this new configuration to do it is a very open question we don’t know much about yet.

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August 6th 2020, 8:16 am

ET Deals: $700 Off Dell Alienware M15 R2 Intel Core i7 Gaming Laptop, Acer 32-Inch 4K Monitor $319,

ExtremeTech

Not only can you save $700 on a powerful Dell Alienware gaming laptop today, but you can take advantage of current sales to save $100 on a high-end Android 4K TV with quantum dot and HDR technology.

Dell Alienware M15 R2 Intel Core i7-9750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 PCI-E SSD ($1,599.99)

If you want a fast notebook with plenty of performance for running the latest games, you may want to consider Dell’s Alienware M15. This system was literally built for gaming and it features a fast six-core processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070. You can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,379.99 to $1,599.99.

Acer ET322QK WMIIPX 32-Inch 4K FreeSync Monitor ($319.99)

Acer designed this monitor with a 32-inch 4K display panel that gives you a large amount of screen space and desktop real estate. The monitor covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut making it a practical solution for editing images and video, and it also has a pair of 2W speakers built-in. Newegg is currently selling this display with a substantial discount that drops the price from $499.99 to just $319.99.

Google Nest 208.11AC AC2200 Mesh Wi-Fi Router ($239.00)

Working together these two small devices are able to create a high-performance Wi-Fi network with speeds of up to 2,200Mbps. If placed carefully they can also extend coverage over an enormous area covering up to 4,400 square feet. Amazon is currently selling this kit marked down from $299.00 to just $239.00.

Dell Inspiron 15 5593 Intel Core i7-1065G7 15.6-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($629.99)

Dell designed this modern laptop with one of Intel’s new Core i7-1065G7 processors and a fast 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD. This processor offers strong performance for daily tasks like schoolwork and office work. It also has a capable integrated graphics processor, which can run some games with low settings reasonably well. The notebook 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 $799.99 to $629.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Apple MacBook Air Intel Core i3 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($899.99)

Apple’s MacBook Air was designed to be exceptionally lightweight at 2.8 pounds. It also has a high-quality 2560×1600 display, and Apple built the system out of durable 6000 series aluminum. If you would like to buy one of these systems, you can get it marked down today from $999.00 to $899.99 at Amazon.

Samsung Evo Select 256GB MicroSDXC ($34.99)

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 $34.99.

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

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August 5th 2020, 5:29 pm

Samsung Reveals Galaxy Note20, Tab S7, and More in Unpacked Live Stream

ExtremeTech

Samsung’s second major Unpacked event of 2020 has a different tone than the first one. Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 series in early 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic exploded across the globe. The latest edition featured a pre-recorded rundown of the company’s Note20 family, Tab S7 tablets, and more. Samsung even backed off slightly on prices but probably not enough to avoid criticism. These are all still very spendy electronics. 

The Note20 and Note20 Ultra are the latest Snapdragon 865 flagship phones from Samsung. The smaller Note20 has a 6.7-inch 1080p OLED, which is limited to 60Hz. The Note20 Ultra is 6.9 inches 1440p with a 120Hz refresh rate. Both phones have 5G support and an upgraded S Pen stylus that supports more navigation gestures. The S Pen, which is what sets the Note apart from the Galaxy S family, also has much lower latency in this iteration. 

The Ultra also sports the same 108MP primary camera as the S20 Ultra, paired with a 12MP ultra-wide and 12MP 5x telephoto lens. The regular Note20 has a 12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, and a 64MP zoom lens. However, the zoom is all digital (sensor crop) rather than optical. The high-end Note20 Ultra will cost $1,300, which is $100 less than the S20 Ultra. Samsung usually charges more for Note phones, but this is still a lot of money. The smaller phone is $1,000, which again, is quite expensive. 

If you’re in the market for a tablet, Samsung has a pair of those coming, too. The Galaxy Tab S7 has an 11-inch 2560 x 1600 LCD, and the S7+ has a 2800 x 1752 120Hz OLED. Both devices have the Snapdragon 865+ inside with support for 45W fast charging. They come with the S Pen, too. These are the only premium Android tablets of note, and Samsung is going with a very… premium price. The Galaxy Tab S7 is $650 and the Tab S7+ is $850. That’s before add-ons like the keyboard cover. 

You can even get the best of phones and tablets in one device with the Galaxy Z Fold 2. This follow-up to the Galaxy Fold was teased at the event, so we don’t have a price yet. It’s sure to be expensive with a larger display on the exterior and a higher-quality 120Hz flexible 7.6-inch display on the inside. 

There are also new wearables coming to Samsung’s product offerings. The Galaxy Watch3 will start at an eye-watering $400, and that’s without LTE. The watch runs Samsung’s Tizen OS with a plethora of sensors for heart rate, ECG, and more. However, Samsung only has approval for the ECG in South Korea at this time. The Galaxy Buds Live are the company’s first noise-canceling true-wireless buds. These bean-shaped earbuds will run you just $170. 

The Note20, Watch3, and Buds Live will be available for purchase on August 6, but the Tab S7 and Z Fold 2 will come later. The Note20 will ship from Samsung and carriers by August 21. 

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August 5th 2020, 5:29 pm

Goose VPN Keeps You Protected Everywhere You Go On The Web For Under $20

ExtremeTech

The internet is a rough and tumble world. No matter where you go or what you do, everyone from governmental watchdogs to curious snoopers to straight-up cybercriminals are constantly eyeing you and ready to pounce on your private information if you drop your guard for a moment.

Vitals like your credit card details, passwords, emails, texts and personal photos can all be fair game without enough protection, especially if you ignore danger and find yourself using treacherously unprotected public WiFi networks.

A solid VPN is your first line of coverage against those shadowy web threats, and VPN options don’t come with more security and accolades than Goose VPN ($19.99 for a 2-year subscription, over 90 percent off).

Goose VPN gets high marks from some of the most discerning of VPN critics, including reviewers with high respected CNET, who said Goose VPN’s robust features and low yearly price left them thinking that “Goose VPN is something to honk about.”

Everywhere you go with Goose VPN protection, your web traffic is shielded in their heavily reinforced 256-bit encryption secure connection. With that level of coverage, no will be able to identify your IP address, where you’re from, or what you’re doing while you’re online. With a tight network of servers in 25 countries, you’ll be able to log on to the web and appear to be a resident of virtually any corner of the globe.

GooseVPN also adheres to a strict no logging policy, meaning they keep no record of your web activity so there’s no way for access to your data to ever fall into the wrong hands.

Under their cloak, you can enjoy complete web access with no speed throttling, including circumventing geo-restrictions on streaming platforms and other sites that normally screen out traffic from outside their given region.

Perhaps Goose VPN’s greatest selling point is the range of their protection, offering security on an unlimited number of devices. While most services cover up to three, five or 10 different devices, you and literally your entire family can enjoy Goose VPN secure connections on all of your smartphones, tablets, laptops and more.

Regularly a $349 value, you can now get two years of Goose VPN service for less than $1 a month, just $19.99 with the current offer.

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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August 5th 2020, 5:15 pm

AMD’s Market Share Hits Highest Overall Level Since 2012

ExtremeTech

AMD’s market share has been on a steady upward trend since Ryzen debuted in 2017 and the most recent market share estimates from Mercury Research bear out this continued improvement.

According to Mercury, AMD’s overall x86 share is 18.3 percent, an increase of 3.5 share points quarter-over-quarter and 1.2 share points year-on-year. The implication of this is that Intel’s market share had been higher in Q1 2020 than it was in Q2 2019, showing that there’s moderate fluctuations between the two companies on an ongoing basis.

AMD’s share of the desktop market, excluding IoT, hit 19.2 percent, an increase of 0.6 percent quarter-on-quarter and 2.1 percent year-on-year. Notebook share was 19.9 percent, an increase of 2.9 percent QoQ and 5.8 percent YoY. AMD has grown notebook share for the previous twelve consecutive quarters and broke its previous record for notebook share (19.4 percent, achieved in Q4 2006).

Overall client (consumer) market share is 19.7 percent, an increase of 2.2 share points QoQ and 4.7 share points YoY. This represents AMD’s highest overall share of the market since Q1 2012.

Why Haven’t Server Sales Skyrocketed?

AMD says it’ll report its server share details later in the year when IDC reports, but the question of AMD’s relatively slow ramp in servers comes up practically every conference call, and I’m sure it’ll come up again when they eventually publish. What everyone remembers is this graph:

What this graph shows is that somewhere between January 2005 and June of 2006, AMD’s server market share went from ~5-7 percent to ~22 percent in just 18 months. There are several reasons why AMD isn’t repeating that ramp this time around.

First, the chart’s starting position is incorrect. AMD didn’t begin trying to break into server markets with Opteron, it started with K7 and Athlon MP. The surge at the end of 2005 was the result of over four years of work and careful generational improvement. The market was so wary of adopting AMD parts, even the launch of Opteron only won the company a small bump. The reason it’s important to include those first two years is because it establishes that even the leap from Athlon MP to Opteron wasn’t a game-changer for AMD’s server roadmap.

Two things changed from 2003 – 2005. First, AMD’s success with 64-bit Opteron forced Intel to completely tear up its Itanium roadmap and to pivot back towards building a 64-bit x86 CPU. The PR win for AMD on this issue was enormous and it helped to favorably position Opteron as the server CPU of the future. Companies were starting to think about 64-bit support at this point in time, and AMD looked like the vendor with the better overall roadmap. AMD also had a specific and particular lead in s0-called “glueless” architectures that Intel couldn’t match (at the time), and this helped it win space in the small-but-profitable 4S server space during this era.

Second, the dual-core Opterons typically destroyed the Xeons Intel was fielding, by fairly large gaps. Intel still dominated overall server shipments, but AMD had enough dramatic wins to make it the server of choice for certain vendors and applications.

AMD has claimed a wide number of wins relative to Intel in recent benchmarks, but many of these have been in systems where AMD can leverage high core counts. Back in 2005, AMD was decisively beating Intel at the dual-core and quad-core system level, at a time when upgrading to new server motherboards for the purpose of improving rack density was also very popular. AMD took a leadership position in server at a time when the benefits of adopting new hardware with higher CPU core counts was very clear, and its market share benefited tremendously.

What we see happening with Epyc is more of a conservative ramp-up as companies like what they see and deploy more AMD hardware. Intel’s competitive positioning is stronger lower in the product stack than at the top, where AMD’s core counts can outstrip Intel’s absolute performance in all but the most AVX-512 optimized tests. Markets like AI and ML are both hot topics right now, and AMD’s presence in those spaces is weak compared to the amount of work Intel has poured into them on the hardware and software side.

None of this says anything bad about Epyc or AMD’s server business. The difference in their growth rates, in my opinion, have more to do with relative positioning between AMD and Intel and the difference in the types of products that are selling the best. Even Intel has said that it expects AMD to be a more robust competitor, and we’re definitely seeing that.

I would expect to see a more aggressive shift towards AMD in the server space if Intel continues to struggle with node ramps and is forced to delay future server products. So long as the company continues to deliver on its yearly cadences and can keep Xeon competitive through IPC improvements, price cuts, and increased core counts over the long term, Intel can limit the damage AMD does. That’ll translate into a slower, consistent quarter-on-quarter market share improvement, but less chance of a huge leap over 12-18 months.

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August 5th 2020, 3:30 pm

SpaceX Starship Prototype Completed ‘Hop’ Test Flight

ExtremeTech

The SpaceX Starship took another big step toward spaceworthiness today with a 500-foot “hop.” This is one of those times when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was definitely not overpromising. It took just a few days after the recent static fire test for SpaceX to prep the vessel for its test flight, which went off without a hitch. 

The SN5 is just the latest prototype of the company’s next-generation Starship rocket. SpaceX has burned (literally) through several versions of the Starship, as well as a smaller test vehicle called the Starhopper. Before now, Starhopper was the only vehicle to fly with the new Raptor engine. On August 4th, the Starship SN5 ignited its single Raptor engine, and slowly rose to 500 feet (150 meters), hovered, and gently landed on a nearby launchpad. 

The current version of the Starship is less visually impressive than the early renders SpaceX has been showing off. Admittedly, there’s still a long way to go before the rocket is ready for real flights. Currently, it looks like a giant silver soda can with a rocket engine on the bottom. Eventually, the stainless steel craft will look like a sci-fi rocketship from the 1950s, and it will do some very science-fictional things. 

SpaceX sees the Starship as an eventual replacement for the Falcon 9, which has been the core of SpaceX’s operations for the last several years. The Falcon 9 regularly sends cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and it’s even certified to carry astronauts in the Dragon capsule after the recent Demo-2 mission. The Starship, along with its Super Heavy booster stage, will be able to send large payloads deep into the outer solar system. It’s also the key to Musk’s plans to send humans to Mars. He’s even floated the idea of using the Starship for ultra-fast travel around Earth. 

Musk has said there will be several short hops, but the next major milestone will be a high-altitude hop. The current prototype will get at least a little more airtime, but its replacements are already in the works. SpaceX has started assembling two more versions of the Starship, known as SN6 and SN8. SN7 was a small-scale test tank that failed in a June 2020 test. SN6 and SN8 are believed to be larger rockets that build on the success of SN5. SN8 might be the first one that actually looks like a rocket with a nose cone fairing, control surfaces, and three Raptor engines. We might see this rocket as soon as late 2020.

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August 5th 2020, 2:30 pm

Sony’s PS5-Optimized TVs are Still Lacking Important Features

ExtremeTech

Sony is gearing up for its big PlayStation 5 launch later this year, and part of the plan is apparently to market some of its TVs a “Ready for PlayStation 5.” Just a few days after Sony made that proclamation, we’re learning that the TVs aren’t actually ready for the PS5, and that just muddies the waters that much more. 

The upcoming console generation will implement several powerful features under the HDMI 2.1 specification to enhance the experience. For example, the PS5 will support 4K resolution with up to 120 fps (4K120), provided you have a TV that plays nice with the console. That requires HDMI 2.1, which can include myriad other features. Sony’s “Ready for PlayStation 5” label certainly suggests the X900H ($1,000) and the 8K Z8H ($6,000) televisions have those technologies, but Sony is getting a bit ahead of itself. 

Both the X900H and the Z8H support 4K120 content, at least in theory. The cheaper X900H (below) doesn’t support any HDMI 2.1 features at this time, but it will get an update later that adds support. That update should also enable auto low-latency mode (ALLM), variable refresh rate (VRR), and eARC (an improved audio return channel). 

The obscenely expensive Z8H does come with 4K120 and eARC right now, but it doesn’t have VRR or ALLM. This TV also can only do 4K120 on one of its four HDMI ports. Anyone who was hoping to keep both next-gen consoles hooked up will have to look elsewhere to get the best experience. 

In a statement to The Verge, Sony said the 4K120 support (and 8K in the case of the Z8H) makes these TV’s ready for the PS5. Although, X900H isn’t even “ready” by that standard — it needs an update. That says nothing of other HDMI 2.1 features. 

The realm of high-end TV features is a minefield of acronyms and conflicting standards, and Sony’s attempt to label some of its TVs as “ready” for the PS5 just confuses matters further. Just because at TV has HDMI 2.1 does not mean it will support all the features Sony intends to use in the PS5. You would think that Sony could make sure its own TVs support those features before promoting them for the PS5, but here we are. The company can’t even promise that the aforementioned update will come to its TVs in time for the PS5 launch. “Ready for PlayStation 5” appears to mean something more along the lines of “Recommended for PS5 Based on Theoretical Future Performance You Can’t Buy Yet.” Doesn’t have the same ring to it. 

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August 5th 2020, 10:30 am

Blocking MS Telemetry in HOSTS File Now Triggers Windows Defender Virus Warning

ExtremeTech

A recent change to Microsoft Windows’ built-in anti-virus scanner, Windows Defender, has left the OS throwing false positives related to the HOSTS file. The hosts file can be used to translate URL names like “www.google.com” to a specific IP address and originated in the very early internet, at a time when maintaining an individually-curated list of valid host addresses wasn’t difficult to do on a per-node basis.

The hosts file can be used to block malware and spyware sites but it does so globally and it makes no attempt to meaningfully assess if a web address is actually serving malware or unwanted content. It’s a go / no go filter, and websites on the “no go” side of things aren’t getting accessed.

I’ve used hosts file blocking before as part of my own AV protections and I can confirm that while you can download any number of modified hosts files from the internet, you typically have to customize it further to avoid blocking content that you want to see. Blocking certain sites will prevent auto-play videos from activating, but it will also prevent you from seeing video you genuinely want to watch delivered over the same services. Although the hosts file is not a common malware target, it has been used as part of malware attacks in the past, typically to deny the end user the ability to visit security sites. While there are no recent examples of hosts files being abused in this fashion of which I’m aware, it has happened in the past.

Multiple online sources state Microsoft has modified Windows Defender so that it specifically checks to see if a hosts file has been updated to block Microsoft’s telemetry servers. What’s a little strange about this is that the OS has apparently performed some level of checking for quite some time, as evidenced by this Windows 8 story recommending that users exclude the hosts file from virus scans if they are going to modify it. The problem appears to have gotten worse or resurfaced only recently, but it was a known issue from four years ago.

According to BleepingComputer, they edited their own hosts file in multiple ways without provoking an outcry from Windows Defender before attempting to block MS’ telemetry servers. When they did, the hosts file actually refused to save, claiming they were infected with SettingsModifier:Win32/HostsFileHijack:

File by BleepingComputer. Hosts files are .TXT files and cannot contain a virus as these are traditionally defined.

While you can exclude the hosts file from being scanned, this would seem to confirm that Microsoft now specifically checks to see if you’re trying to block its telemetry servers — even though it also bypasses the hosts file and communicates directly with IP addresses for telemetry purposes. The fact that Windows data collection doesn’t depend exclusively on the telemetry servers you can block in the hosts file means that MS might have tuned Windows Defender in an attempt to prevent malware from infecting a system in this manner as opposed to deliberately attempting to prevent end-users from manually blocking telemetry collection.

Unfortunately, telling a system simply not to scan the hosts file isn’t a foolproof solution, either. In this instance, you can stop MS from yelling at you — but in exchange, you won’t know if another application has modified your hosts file, either. Ideally, the OS would note that the hosts file had changed and ask the end-user if the change was intentional rather than force the end-user to choose between protecting themselves from malware in this fashion or not.

The reason I’m not sure this is a move intended to boost Microsoft’s data collection is simple: Microsoft’s telemetry collection isn’t blocked by hosts file alterations, so it’s not clear they’d modify how they treat the hosts file to make data collection easier. Most antivirus / antimalware guides don’t specifically recommend a hosts-file based approach, because endless lists of websites are a poor way to try to block malware and because it’s downright common to end up customizing your list to avoid blocking sites you want to be able to access.

Either way, you should be aware that you may see malware detections in days ahead that don’t actually signify a malware infection. If you have manually modified your hosts file on-purpose, you should check to make certain the data hasn’t changed. If it has, tell Windows Defender to exclude scanning the hosts file in the future. Instructions on blocking telemetry collection entirely can be found here. It requires more than just modifying the hosts file.

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August 5th 2020, 8:31 am

ET Deals: $400 Off Alienware Aurora AMD Ryzen 7 Gaming Desktop, Linksys WHW030 Velop Mesh Wi-Fi Rout

ExtremeTech

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

Dell Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 1TB NVMe SSD ($1,619.99)

This Alienware desktop features an edgy, rounded design and powerful gaming hardware capable of running most current AAA titles with maxed out graphics settings. In addition to looking cool, this system was also designed to provide improved airflow over the older Aurora desktops, which means the hardware inside will also run cooler as well. For a limited time you can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,029.99 to $1,619.99.

Linksys WHW0303 Velop Mesh Router 3-Pack ($279.99)

Linksys engineered these wireless network devices to work together to extend a Wi-Fi signal to cover an area of up to 6,000 square feet.  The system can also broadcast on three bands simultaneously to reduce latency and improve performance. Right now you can get this system from Amazon marked down from $499.97 to $279.99.

Apple AirPods Pro ($219.99)

Apple’s AirPods Pro utilizes a new design that’s different from the company’s older AirPod earphones. The key new feature that these earphones have is active noise cancellation. Each earphone also uses a custom driver and a high dynamic range amplifier to improve sound quality. You can snag them with a $30 discount from Verizon that drops the price from $249.00 to $219.99, which is the lowest price we’ve seen on them to date.

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X w/Wraith Prism LED Cooler + Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ($279.99)

AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X comes with eight SMT enabled CPU cores with a max clock speed of 4.4GHz. This gives you exceptional performance for multitasking and running power-hungry applications. Currently, you can get it from Newegg marked down from $329.99 to $279.99, and it also comes with a free copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for PC.

SanDisk Extreme Portable 500GB External SSD ($87.99)

Sandisk built this external SSD with a large 500GB capacity and a rugged water-resistant exterior. The drive can transfer data at speeds of up to 550MB/s over USB 3.1, which will far outstrip your typical USB flash drive and external HDD. You can currently buy this SSD marked down from its original retail price of $169.99 to $87.99.

Dell Vostro 3670 Intel Core i7-9700 Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB HDD ($669.00)

This desktop comes equipped with an eight-core Intel Core i7-9700 processor that can operate at speeds as high as 4.7GHz. This gives the processor strong performance for multitasking on work projects, web pages, and various other tasks. This model also has 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. Right now it’s marked down from $1,212.86 to $669.00.

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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August 4th 2020, 5:23 pm

Add Up To Two Additional Monitors To Your Laptop With The Help Of Mobile Pixels

ExtremeTech

When you’re working from home, productivity takes on an even greater importance than ever before. With some many potential added distractions, your time spent in front of your personal laptop, banging away on a work project, absolutely needs to be time well spent.

Of course, certain deficiencies can easily detract from that focus, including the state of your monitor situation. A second monitor to expand your desktop has been shown to increase productivity by up to 50 percent — and while your office computer likely spotted that extra feature, it’s very likely your laptop isn’t so equipped.

You can change that with a Mobile Pixels Trio Portable Screen Laptop Monitor, transforming your humble home laptop into a dual-screened, or even triple-screened productivity colossus.

The Trio is the latest iteration of Mobile Pixels’ popular Duex monitor, which attaches easily with magnetics to the back of your laptop.

The Trio is like the Duex on steroids, the lightweight screen or screens connecting to your laptop with a dual purpose USB connector transferring power and data. Just slide out the monitors and you’re ready to expand your work surface to a dual screen or even a truly epic three-screen experience. Each 1080p high definition monitor also features 270 degrees of rotation, so they can be positioned in any configuration that suits your needs, including turning a screen (or two) around completely to serve as a presentation screen to deliver a proposal or just let other viewers in on your favorite videos or movies.

Mobile Pixel designed the Trio to integrate with any popular operating system from Windows and iOS to mobile OSs like Chrome, Android and more.

While a typical standalone monitor screen is traditionally anything but mobile, the Trio is a true road warrior, weighing in at under 2 pounds each so that even if you want to take a three-screen array out and about, it won’t feel like toting a brick with you.

Right now, you can get a Mobile Pixel Trio to fit your laptop screen size, from a 13 or 14-inch model ($214.99; originally $259 for a single screen; $419.99; originally $500 for two screens); or the larger Trio Max edition for 15 and 15.6-inch screens ($269.99; originally $319 for one; $499.99; originally $600 for two).

You also have the option of trying out the model that started it all, the Mobile Pixels Duex for just $179.35 when you purchase and use the code SAVEDUEXPRO.

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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August 4th 2020, 4:22 pm

ARM Co-Founder: Sale to Nvidia Would Be a Disaster

ExtremeTech

Over the past week or so, I’ve written several articles exploring the idea of an ARM sale to Nvidia and the long-term effects on the computer industry, as well as how Nvidia might ameliorate some of those concerns. According to one of ARM’x co-founders, Hermann Hauser, allowing Nvidia to buy ARM would be a disaster, as it would compromise the neutrality and ability ARM has to address the needs of multiple disparate companies and vendors.

I should note that there are new reports suggesting Nvidia might take a stake in ARM, with SoftBank still retaining a share as well. It’s not clear if these reports reflect the ongoing negotiations more accurately or if they are a response to concerns about Nvidia’s potential full ownership, but the idea of joint ownership between two or more entities has also been floated.

“It’s one of the fundamental assumptions of the ARM business model that it can sell to everybody,” Dr. Hauser told the BBC.

“The one saving grace about Softbank was that it wasn’t a chip company, and retained ARM’s neutrality. If it becomes part of Nvidia, most of the licensees are competitors of Nvidia, and will of course then look for an alternative to ARM.”

Dr. Hauser opposed the sale of ARM to SoftBank in 2016 and noted he does not believe Nvidia would keep R&D focused in Cambridge if it bought the company. He argues that the UK government should help raise funds to bring ARM back to native ownership within the UK.

The first issue over competitive licensing is more relevant to our discussions than whether or not the UK should re-assert ownership over ARM for strategic or national prestige, so we’ll focus there. It’s true that Nvidia owning ARM could create tension with potential licensees. It’s also true that historically, Nvidia has preferred to develop and extend its own technology in-house rather than offering it up under broad and favorable licensing terms. But Nvidia has never attempted to buy a company like ARM, either, and regulators worldwide would undoubtedly require the company to agree to certain conditions as a requirement for buying the company in the first place.

While Dr. Hauser is concerned that Nvidia’s purchase would send rivals streaming to other archictures, it’s not clear what other architecture they could reasonably adopt. Android used to formally support MIPS, but the last builds linked on MIPS.com are for JellyBean (4.2.1). x86 CPUs haven’t been supported on Android since Intel withdrew from the market and AMD shows no signs of planning to enter it. RISC-V wouldn’t be problematic to support with four-year-old Android based on Dalvik, but multiple software authors online have attested to the difficulty of porting ART for a different ISA. The Android Runtime (ART) translates application bytecode into native instructions for runtime environment execution and would have to be rewritten for RISC-V instead of ARM. This is a substantial practical barrier to shifting the Android ecosystem to a different CPU family.

What all of this suggests is that any attempt by Nvidia to buy ARM is going to come with enough package to safeguard the rights of companies and the entire mobile ecosystem that depends on the CPU family. The degree to which this becomes a good thing or a bad one, in turn, depends on Nvidia’s willingness to commit to a licensing and business model that protects the global infrastructure that depends on ARM in the first place. While it’s true that Nvidia is going to be a competitor of some of the ARM licensees that emerge, at the moment, the CPUs and SoCs that NV is building are intended for the self-driving vehicle market and other fairly niche AI/ML tasks. Without more clarity on where and how Nvidia intends to compete if it buys ARM, it’s difficult to assess the risk to other firms. Right now, not much that Nvidia is building directly threatens the work Samsung, Qualcomm, or MediaTek are doing in mobile.

Feature image by Apollo439 via Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 4.0

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August 4th 2020, 3:23 pm

Google Will Begin Shutting Down Play Music Next Month

ExtremeTech

Google Play Music, which debuted in 2011, has been on the chopping block ever since Google decided to refocus its music streaming efforts on the YouTube brand. Now, Google is bringing the blade down. YouTube Music will take over completely from Play Music, with the latter shutting down forever in the next 60 days. Google encourages anyone still using Play Music to transfer their content before it’s too late. 

YouTube Music focuses on streaming content, as well as remixes and live renditions that are only available on YouTube. Google pushed Play Music almost a decade ago by promising to store users’ uploaded music and stream it for free. Initially, Play Music supported 50,000 tracks, but that later expanded to 100,000. Naturally, many customers took Google up on the offer, and that has made it difficult to move away from Play Music. 

Earlier this year, Google released a transfer tool that migrates purchased and uploaded music from Play Music to YouTube Music. However, the process could take several hours, and the way older Play Music content is integrated with the YouTube Music app is confusing. It’s also harder to stream that music from various devices — you basically have to give in and pay for a YouTube Music subscription for Assistant-powered speaker support. 

Regardless of the inconvenience, Google is moving ahead with retiring Play Music. The first phase of the shutdown will come in September when users from New Zealand and South Africa will lose access to Play Music. Those are the guinea pigs — if there are no major issues, Google will shut the service down in all other regions. The Music Manager application will also stop accepting new uploads or downloads later this month. 

The easiest way to save your Play Music content is to transfer it to YouTube Music. If YouTube Music isn’t to your liking, Google also supports downloading all your personal music via its Takeout tool. Whatever you choose, make sure to get it done by the end of 2020. Google says that it will completely shutter Play Music in December, removing any remaining data from its servers. 

If you’ve been putting off the migration, it’s time to get on that. For those who primarily stream subscription tunes, the change to YouTube Music won’t be too painful. However, anyone who relied on Google to stream thousands of uploaded tracks is in for some pain, though.

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August 4th 2020, 2:52 pm

How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Speed by Choosing the Right Channel

ExtremeTech

Wireless networks have come a long way in the past couple of decades. And yet, sustained Wi-Fi speeds are still a vexing problem in a lot of situations. A number of things can come into play, such as the way your router is set up, whether there’s nearby interference, whether you live in an apartment building or a separate house, where your microwave sits in relation to the rest of your network (yes, really), and how far apart your devices are from the router. Fortunately, there’s always a way to fix slow transfer speeds.

If you’ve ever messed around with your Wi-Fi router’s settings, you’ve probably seen the word “channel.” Most routers have the channel set to Auto. But many of us have looked through that list of a dozen or so channels and wondered what they are, and more importantly, which of the channels are faster than the others. Well, some channels are indeed much faster — but that doesn’t mean you should go ahead and change them just yet. Read on to find out more about 802.11 channels, interference, and the difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi.

The fastest version of Wi-Fi currently available is branded as “Wi-Fi 6,” aka 802.11ax. If you’re wondering why we moved to branded naming as opposed to the standard number + a signifying letter combination, it’s because there are a lot more low-level updates and specification changes to 802.11 than their used to be. After 802.11ac in 2013, we’ve had .ad, .af, 802.11-2016, .ah, .ai, .aj, and .aq. Rather than asking people to continue playing “Guess the relevant Wi-Fi standard,” somebody decided it would be easier to just call the current major consumer version “Wi-Fi 6.” There’s an even newer standard, Wi-Fi 6E, which supports signals in the 5-6GHz band, but there’s no Wi-Fi 6E hardware to speak of in-market yet.

Channels 1, 6, and 11

First of all, let’s talk about 2.4GHz, because even in 2020, the majority of Wi-Fi installations still use the 2.4GHz band in some way. 802.11ac, which debuted in 2013, is driving adoption of 5GHz, helped along by adoption of 2020’s 802.11ax / Wi-Fi 6 — but thanks to backwards compatibility, dual-radio routers and devices, and lower-cost peripherals with less expensive chipsets, 2.4GHz will continue to reign for a while.

All versions of Wi-Fi up to and including 802.11n (a, b, g, n) operate between the frequencies of 2400 and 2500MHz. These 100MHz are separated into 14 channels of 20MHz each. As you’ve probably worked out, 14 lots of 20MHz is a lot more than 100MHz — and as a result, every 2.4GHz channel overlaps with at least two, if not four, other channels (see diagram above). And as you can probably imagine, using overlapping channels is bad — in fact, it’s the primary reason for poor throughput on your wireless network.

Fortunately, channels 1, 6, and 11 are spaced far enough apart that they don’t overlap. On a non-MIMO setup (i.e. 802.11 a, b, or g) you should always try to use channel 1, 6, or 11. If you use 802.11n with 20MHz channels, stick to channels 1, 6, and 11 — if you want to use 40MHz channels, be aware that the airwaves might be congested, unless you live in a detached house in the middle of nowhere.

What channel should you use in a crowded area?

If you want maximum throughput and minimal interference, channels 1, 6, and 11 are your best choices. But depending on other wireless networks in your vicinity, one of those channels might be a better option than the others.

For example, if you’re using channel 1, but someone next door is annoyingly using channel 2, then your throughput will plummet. In that situation, you would have to change to channel 11 to completely avoid the interference (though 6 would be pretty good as well). It might be tempting to use a channel other than 1, 6, or 11 — but remember that you will then be the cause of interference (and everyone on 1, 6, and 11 will stomp on your throughput, anyway).

In an ideal world, you would talk to your neighbors and get every router to use channels 1, 6, or 11. Bear in mind that interior walls do a pretty good job of attenuating (weakening) a signal. If there’s a brick wall between you and a neighbor, you could probably both use channel 1 without interfering with each other. But if it’s a thin wall (or there’s lots of windows), you should use different channels.

There are tools that can help you find the clearest channel, such as Vistumbler. But it’s probably faster to just switch between channels 1, 6, and 11 until you find one that works well. (If you have two laptops, you can copy a file between them to test the throughput of each channel.)

But what about 5GHz?

Get ready for lots of antennas.

The great thing about 5GHz (802.11n, 802.11ac, and Wi-Fi 6) is that because there’s much more free space at the higher frequencies, it offers 23 non-overlapping 20MHz channels. 6GHz should continue this trend, with even more frequency space (although with slightly worse propagation characteristics).

Starting with 802.11n and continuing with 802.11ac, wireless technology in general became much more advanced than the prehistoric days of 802.11b and g. If you own at least a decent 802.11n or 802.11ac router (i.e. if you bought a router in the last several years), it likely has some hardware inside that chooses the right channel automatically and modifies the output power to maximize throughput and minimize interference.

If you’re using the 5GHz band, and your walls aren’t paper-thin, then attenuation and the general lack of 5GHz devices should mean there’s little interference in your apartment — possibly even allowing you to use the fatter 40, 80, and 160MHz channels if you feel like it.

Eventually, as everyone upgrades to newer hardware and moves towards 5GHz, picking the right channel will mostly become a thing of the past. There may still be some cases where it makes sense to fine-tune your router’s channel selection. But when you’re dealing with MIMO setups (up to eight in 802.11ac), it’s generally a better idea to let your router do its own thing. Eventually, of course, 5GHz will fill up as well — but hopefully by then, we’ll have worked out how to use even higher frequencies (60GHz WiGig) or entirely new antenna designs (pCells, infinite capacity vortex beams) to cope with our wireless networking demands.

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Sebastian Anthony wrote the original version of this article. It has since been updated with new information.

August 4th 2020, 2:09 pm

Reseller RMA Data Shows Fascinating Pattern Between AMD, Nvidia GPUs

ExtremeTech

Good reliability data is both highly prized in computing and frustratingly difficult to come by. Occasionally, a third party firm like SquareTrade will publish its own figures but these reports are few and far between. It’s effectively impossible to track how a manufacturer evolves from year to year without a set of consistent criteria and multi-year tracking. European reseller Mindfactory recently chose to share its GPU RMA data for AMD versus Nvidia products and the results are quite interesting.

I’ve written about Mindfactory’s data before and I’m willing to use them as a source for this article, but I want to note an important caveat that I don’t have an explanation for. According to this data set, Mindfactory sold very few RTX 2070s and 2080s, and only ever shipped a handful of SKUs. I suspect what this implies is that the data only covers the previous 12 months. That’s relevant if we’re going to draw any conclusions about the relative age of the process nodes these GPUs were built on. The report covers 44,100 AMD GPUs and 76,280 Nvidia GPUs, and is likely a statistically significant sample of all retail channel cards sold by either company in Europe for the relevant time period.

All of the usual caveats apply. Mindfactory is one European retailer. It isn’t a US company and its data is a snapshot of the total market, nothing else. These results should not be taken as determinative, they should be read with a grain of salt, contest not valid in Alaska or Hawaii, no participation necessary, see store for details, etc, etc. Moving on.

Here are the high-level takeaways from the chart, in no particular order:

Some years ago, a report came out showing failure rates between different types of RAM. If anyone can recall it, shoot me a link — I’ve not had any luck finding the article. What it showed was that it was more common for high-end enthusiast DRAM to fail than low-end basic parts from the likes of Kingston or Crucial. Failure rates didn’t correlate perfectly with clock, but as clock speed climbed, so did the RMA rate. The article I’m recalling wasn’t the Google 2009 study, or the 2012 follow-up, and I don’t think it was the Microsoft 2012 study, either. It was based on consumer hardware, not enterprise or server tech. The point was, enthusiast hardware running close to the margin of what’s possible has a higher failure rate than bog-standard parts that are well within clock and voltage margins.

Data by Mindfactory.de

We see evidence of a very similar trend here. If we assume that this data covers July 2019 – July 2020, it means that Nvidia was still having real problems with the RTX 2080 Ti when the GPU was nearly a year old, long after the company began shipping the card. Conversely, if the data set is from Turing’s launch, it would mean all it does is capture the already-known high launch failure rate for the RTX 2080 Ti.

I wish we had more data on the RTX 2070 and 2080, because the limited data we do have suggests some high rates of return on Gainward cards for the RTX 2080 and KFA2 cards for the RTX 2070. The RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super return rates are excellent. Are they excellent because Nvidia had months to refine Turing, or were they excellent from the beginning? The answer to that question would meaningfully impact how we interpret AMD’s higher RMA rates given that the 5700 XT and 5700 launched on a brand-new 7nm process.

The fact that we see a trend towards lower failure rates on simpler, smaller GPUs from both companies is very likely relevant. The RTX 2080 Ti’s higher failure rate fits with this — the chip was a reticle-buster that pushed engineering to its limit. As for the different manufacturer failure rates, we’ve got nothing but questions. Why did MSI’s Gaming Z Trio RTX 2080 Ti have a 1 percent failure rate with 2 returns (~200 GPUs sold), while the MSI Lightning Z had an 11 percent failure rate with 14 returns (~130 GPUs sold)?

Drastic variation in GPU failure rates could implicate the manufacturer’s cooling practices or reflect the fact that a company introduced new models of GPU over the course of a year and these later cards failed less often. Higher failure rates on AMD cards could reflect the fact that AMD pushes its GPUs closer to the edge of stability or that AMD’s OEM partners are willing to ride the ragged edge a little closer on AMD cards than on Nvidia because Nvidia has more authority and opportunity to play hardball (and to demand that its GPUs are properly supported). One of the reasons why AMD motherboards were historically less reliable than Intel boards was that AMD could neither force VIA to fix its bugs (like the infamous KT133A southbridge problem) or require motherboard vendors to devote an equal amount of time debugging and improving AMD motherboard BIOSes as they were willing to invest in Intel boards. Could a similar dynamic be at work here? It could be. The point is, we don’t know. No Sapphire GPU has more than a 2 percent failure rate, and 2 percent matches any Nvidia card. So is this an AMD problem or a PowerColor problem — but if we say it’s a PowerColor problem, was the 2080 Ti a multi-manufacturer issue or something specific to Nvidia?

This is why manufacturers don’t like releasing quality data. Questions beget questions beget questions. Even if we knew the relevant time period, we wouldn’t know when the GPUs Mindfactory sold were actually made. Maybe the retailer got a big batch of initial GPUs of every sort that failed and all failure rates today are basically equal (1-2 percent) between all cards and manufacturers. Maybe the failure rates have spiked recently because COVID-19 killed quality control and companies are just pumping out whatever they can sell. Without more information, we can’t know — and it’s that “more information” that companies don’t want to hand over in the first place.

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August 4th 2020, 10:51 am

Sony’s PS4 DualShock Controllers Will Not Be Compatible With PlayStation 5

ExtremeTech

Sony PS5 DualSense. The console it goes with is still a mystery.

Microsoft and Sony are clearly taking two different approaches to their next-generation console ecosystems, and Microsoft, thus far, is winning the battle for player-friendly features. While the Xbox Series X will support the same controllers MS used for the Xbox One, the PlayStation 5 will not. Instead, support for PS4 controllers on the PS5 will be limited and arbitrary.

Specialty peripherals, “such as officially licensed racing wheels, arcade sticks, and flight sticks, will work with PS5 games and supported PS4 games.” Platinum and Gold headsets as well as third-party headsets that connect via USB port or audio jack will work, as well the DualShock 4 wireless controller or officially licensed third-party game pads — provided you are playing “supported PS4 games.” The PS Move and VR Aim controllers will also work with the PS5, provided you are playing a supported VR title (this last is not particularly surprising, since these are VR-specific controllers).

Sony follows this already-confusing statement up by saying: “Please note, not all PlayStation officially licensed or third-party peripherals/accessories may work on PS5,” which more-or-less obviates the guarantee it had previously offered. Officially licensed third-party gamepads will work, except for the ones that don’t work. Which ones are those? Check with your manufacturer.

Microsoft Gets It. Sony Doesn’t

During the PS4 / Xbox One launch cycle, it was Sony delivering knockout after knockout. Microsoft got up on stage and talked about TV shows and Steven Spielberg. Sony told us that the console played games and cost $400. Microsoft wanted its fans to be enthused about killing physical game distribution. Sony emphasized continuity and how things weren’t changing.

Microsoft clearly took that ball and ran with it this generation. The Xbox Series X plays your Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox games. It supports your older controllers. It supports limited-mobility controllers like the Xbox Adaptive controller. It supports streaming Xbox games to your PC. Sony’s backwards compatibility extends to the PS4 and that’s all. Microsoft has gone public with its plans to help gamers by only requiring them to buy one version of the game that will be playable on either version of the console. At least some multiplayer games are going free-to-play next generation on Xbox, while Sony will (apparently) continue to charge for PlayStation Plus to play online in non-F2P games.

Price on both consoles is still unknown. Microsoft may have ditched its online fees to reduce overall sticker shock.

To be clear: I do not own an Xbox or a PlayStation and I have no plans to purchase either current or next-generation hardware. But I find it striking how much Microsoft is explicitly evolving the Xbox Series X to resemble a PC. Nobody would build a new PC and expect a peripheral to stop working and there’s no excuse for Sony disabling controller features; buttons can be remapped and gamers who want to use older hardware can learn that certain buttons act differently on modern hardware. Sony’s huge sales advantage over the Xbox One may make the company more confident in forcing customers to pay for the same controllers and games, or it may have some discounting plans of its own, but so far this is a category where Microsoft has shown significant leadership.

Sony may find that its “It plays games” slogan sticks a little less well in 2020 than it did in 2013. The Xbox Series X is leveraging the PC to look more appealing all the time.

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August 4th 2020, 9:38 am

ET Deals: $1,000 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7 & Nvidia GTX Laptop, Google Pixel 4A Pre-Order

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with $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 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB NVMe SSD ($1,199.00)

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 $2,212.86 to just $1,199.00.

Google Pixel 4A Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 Smartphone w/ 6GB RAM and 128GB Storage ($349.00)

Google’s new Pixel 4A smartphone was designed to last for up to 24 hours on a single charge. The phone also has a 5.8-inch OLED display, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage space and a capable Snapdragon processor. The phone isn’t set to be released on August 20, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon for $349.00.

Apple AirPods w/Wireless Charging Case ($139.98)

This set of Apple’s AirPods comes with a wireless charging case. Simply set the earbuds into the case whenever you are finished using them and they will automatically start charging. They also have support for Siri to quickly access your iPhone, and they can last for over 24 hours while listening to music. Amazon is offering these AirPods currently marked down from $199.00 to $139.98.

Dell Vostro 15 3590 Intel Core i7-10510U 1080p 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256 M.2 NVMe SSD ($659.00)

Dell upgraded this laptop with Intel’s new 10th generation Core i5-10210U processor that has four CPU cores clocked at 1.6GHz. The system also comes with a fast NVMe SSD storage device, a 1080p display, and an AMD Radeon 610 graphics processor for running low-end games. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,212.86 to just $659.00.

Western Digital Black SN750 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($67.99)

This WD M.2 SSD has a capacity of 500GB and it can transfer data at a rate of up to 3,430MB/s. This makes it significantly faster than a 2.5-inch SSD, and it’s also fairly inexpensive, marked down at Newegg from $129.99 to $67.99 with promo code 93XPN73.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Processor w/ Wraith Stealth Cooler ($159.99)

AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 has six SMT-enabled CPU cores that can operate at a speed of up to 4.2GHz. This processor also has access to 35MB of cache and it comes with one of AMD’s Wraith Stealth coolers, which saves you the cost of having to buy one. You can buy this processor from Newegg currently for just $159.99, which is down from its regular retail price of $199.00.

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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August 3rd 2020, 5:47 pm

NASA Astronauts Are Back on Earth After Historic SpaceX Mission

ExtremeTech

A SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) over the weekend, returning astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to Earth. The vessel descended into the atmosphere and parachuted down to the ocean without incident. Thus ended the first crewed mission with a commercial US spacecraft in years. With this success, big things are coming for both NASA and SpaceX in the next few years. 

Hurley and Behnken rode the Dragon capsule into space on May 31 of this year, kicking off the Demo-2 mission. This was the first time NASA sent astronauts into space aboard a privately developed spacecraft after years of development under the Commercial Crew Program. This program was NASA’s solution to the retirement of the Space Shuttle almost a decade ago. The agency filled the gap between the Shuttle and Commercial Crew with seats on Russian Soyuz launches, but those seats were extremely expensive and had to be purchased well in advance. NASA was almost out of Soyuz seats, too, so the success of Demo-2 is all the more important. 

The Dragon capsule remained docked at the ISS for almost 64 days, allowing Hurley and Behnken to spend the summer working on the station. The pair boarded the capsule and undocked from the ISS at 23:35 UTC on August 1st. The vessel splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on August 2nd at 18:48 UTC, which was the first water landing for a crewed US mission in almost 50 years. The last splashdown was Apollo 17 in 1972. 

After all these decades, NASA apparently forgot some of the logistical necessities of a water landing. Shortly after the capsule splashed down, private boats moved in to get a closer look. NASA had to ask the vessels to leave the area, fearing nitrogen tetroxide from the Dragon’s engines could be hazardous to those aboard. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency will have to do a better job warning people away in the future. 

Astronauts usually spend longer than two months on the station, but Hurley and Behnken were there primarily to validate the Dragon and Falcon 9 launch platform. Demo-2 was the final test for SpaceX, so NASA can now contract the company for regular launch operations. Boeing is also working on a spacecraft for the Commercial Crew Program, but it fell behind SpaceX after several problems with its CST-100 Starliner. That spacecraft will have an uncrewed demo flight later this year, followed by its own crewed test flight similar to Demo-2.

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August 3rd 2020, 3:29 pm

Google Finally Reveals Pixel 4a, Teases Pixel 5 and 4a 5G

ExtremeTech

After months of leaks and speculation, Google has finally revealed the Pixel 4a. This phone was originally slated to make its debut this spring at Google I/O, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of that event. The 4a might be launching late, but it’s still shaping up to be an excellent phone at just $349. If that’s not your speed, Google also has a pair of 5G-enabled phones on the way. 

The Pixel 4a is Google’s followup to last year’s widely praised Pixel 3a. Despite being a budget phone, the Pixel 4a looks much more modern than the 3a did. For one, it has almost no bezel surrounding the 5.8-inch OLED screen. There’s also a small hole-punch in the display for the front-facing camera. It’s still a plastic phone like the Pixel 3a was, but the body has a soft-touch texture that makes it extra grippy. However, it also shows fingerprints extremely well. 

Inside, the Pixel 4a has a Snapdragon 730G ARM chip, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. It’s a nice step up from the 3a, making the 4a a surprisingly competitive phone even for people who care about specs. There’s a single camera on the back, but Google’s incredible photo processing produces some of the best results you can get on a smartphone regardless of price. 

As with all Pixel phones, Google promises at least three years of security and system updates. That means the Pixel 4a, which ships with Android 10, will get Android 11, 12, and 13. That’s certainly not bad for a $349 phone. You can pre-order the Pixel 4a today, and it’ll ship in a few weeks. The $349 price point implies that the Pixel 4a may be intended to undercut Apple’s iPhone SE, which starts at $399.

Or, you can wait a bit longer and buy one of Google’s first 5G phones. Google took the unusual step of pre-announcing the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. We don’t know anything else about these phones officially, but they should round out Google’s modified 2020 lineup. There will only be one size of the Pixel 5, and it’ll be smaller than the Pixel 4a 5G. The Pixel 5 will most likely have a Snapdragon 765 chip instead of the flagship 865, but that should mean a much lower price and better battery life. 

Google’s decision to steal the 4a’s thunder is a bit strange, but admittedly, carriers only care about marketing 5G phones right now. The Pixel 4a is only available from Google (unlocked) and Verizon. AT&T and T-Mobile don’t appear interested in selling it, even though both carriers sold 2019 Pixel phones. 

In previous years, Google launched Pixel phones in October, and it does promise the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G in “the coming months.” The pandemic could end up forcing delays in that timeline, though.

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August 3rd 2020, 1:56 pm

Google Details Its Plans for Windows Apps on Chrome OS

ExtremeTech

Google announced earlier this year that it plans to enable Chromebook users to run Windows apps thanks to a partnership with Parallels. Now, we have more information on how this will work. A new interview lays out the options Google considered before arriving at virtualization and what it hopes to do with Parallels in the future. 

When it launched, Chrome OS was little more than a browser. Google expected people to do everything they needed to do with web apps, but nine years later, people still want local software. That’s especially true for business users, and Google is pushing to get more companies to switch to Chromebooks. According to Google reps, IT administrators will be able to enable access to Parallels on Chromebooks they manage under with Chrome Enterprise Upgrade. 

Google considered adding dual-boot functionality to Chromebooks, which would have allowed businesses to install Windows directly on the hardware. However, Google decided that doing so could compromise the security of the BIOS, firmware, and boot, and security is one of the primary selling points of Chrome OS. Virtualizing Windows inside Parallels Chrome OS allows Google to keep any security threats sandboxed from the system. 

Initially, Parallels Desktop on Chrome OS will boot a full copy of Windows 10. So, you’ll be able to manage programs and files just like you would on a real Windows computer. Chrome OS will even redirect some Windows-specific file types to the virtual OS to make the process smoother. However, running a full desktop inside Parallels is a clunky experience at the end of the day. Eventually, Google hopes to have Windows apps act like part of the Chrome OS interface, so you can just launch a Windows app without going to a different desktop. 

You will probably need a more powerful Chromebook to run Windows, though. Many cheap Chromebooks come with entry-level Celeron CPUs and a few measly gigs of RAM. That’s fine for a few Chrome tabs, but not for virtualizing Windows. Google isn’t getting specific, but it confirms Parallels will target “power usage” machines. 

Obviously, Google would prefer people move away from Windows and live in a Chrome-based world. But Windows has built up a huge software library that many people cannot do without. Google and Parallels will charge for this functionality, but they aren’t talking pricing yet. There’s an interest page live today where Chrome Enterprise users can sign up to get more information as Google inches toward availability.

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August 3rd 2020, 10:13 am

Halo Infinite Multiplayer is Free-to-Play, Supports 120 FPS

ExtremeTech

Developer 343 Studios has confirmed that the upcoming Xbox Series X launch title, Halo Infinite, will support multiplayer for free and will support 120fps play.

This news comes on the heels of some criticism of Halo Infinite’s graphics by some gamers who didn’t feel they looked particularly next-gen. A detailed Digital Foundry analysis broke down how the new dynamic lighting system in Halo Infinite functions compared to the static lighting model used in earlier games if you want to dig into that particular topic, and the developer has responded as well.

To make a long story short: The game demo as shown used assets and models that were several weeks old and have, in some cases, already been meaningfully improved. The demo was also broadcast at fairly low quality for many people, and the scene itself may not have been ideal.

343 Studios acknowledges that some of the problems, like texture pop-in, were not the result of any of these factors. They write: “[T]he team is working as quickly as possible on plans to address some of the feedback around detail, clarity, and overall fidelity. The team is committed and focused on making sure we have a beautiful world for players to explore when we launch.”

The idea that the Xbox Series X supports 120fps playback in Halo Infinite is interesting given that Digital Foundry believes the lighting model used for the game is much more GPU intensive than the static, prebaked models previous Halo titles used.

Microsoft will have to have a method of supporting the vast majority of players with 60Hz televisions, so it’s possible the game integrates several quality modes, including a 60fps variant with higher quality visuals and a 120fps version with the graphics toned down a bit.

As for the free multiplayer, it sounds as if the rumors of Xbox Live Gold’s demise may be true. If Halo Infinite is free-to-play, then multiplayer is likely going to be free on the Xbox Series X platform. This is a significant improvement over being forced to buy a yearly subscription to a platform in order to access online features and it reduces the lifetime cost of the Xbox Series X.

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August 3rd 2020, 9:43 am

Florida Teenager Arrested for Leading Massive ‘Bit-Con’ Twitter Hack

ExtremeTech

A 17 year-old Florida teenager has been arrested for the massive Twitter hack that targeted celebrities and cryptocurrency-related businesses earlier in July. Federal law enforcement arrested student Graham Ivan Clark in Tampa on Friday after an investigation led by the FBI and DOJ.

A press release from the Office of the State Attorney, Andrew Warren, states that 30 felony charges have been filed against Clark, who they accuse of stealing more than $100,000 with the scam. While initial reports suggested that the Bit-Con hack might have been carried out with the assistance of Twitter employees, additional investigating has found a different avenue of attack: Targeted phishing.

According to Ars Technica, Clark and the hackers he worked with scraped data from LinkedIn to identify Twitter employees who were likely to have access to the backend tools that could be used to send Tweets from various high-profile celebrity accounts. The attackers then used tools from LinkedIn to gain access to cell phone numbers for the engineers in question.

The next step was to contact the employees and direct them to log into a phishing page that mimicked an internal Twitter VPN. The hackers stole enough work history data to fool the employees they spoke with, and the current work from home restrictions also snarled communication lines. Once employees attempted to log into the fake Twitter VPN, Clark and his compatriots stole their actual account credentials and used them to access the real site. Two-factor authentication was bypassed by having data relayed from the fake VPN to the hackers in real-time, allowing them to sign into genuine Twitter seconds after the 2FA authentication keys were generated. From there, it was relatively easy to go romping through the flowerbeds.

Clark is charged with one count of organized fraud, 11 counts of fraudulent use of personal information, 17 counts of communications fraud, and one count of accessing a computer without permission. He’s being prosecuted in Florida because he can be legally tried as an adult for financial crimes under Florida law. Two other individuals have also been charged: Mason Sheppherd (19, UK) and Nima Fazeli (22, Orlando).

If Clark and his co-conspirators had hacked Twitter simply to demonstrate they could do it, the entire situation would look very different. By targeting so many high-profile brands and businesses, they made it clear that this wasn’t an attempt to embarrass Twitter or expose poor security practices. It was a deliberate financial fraud perpetrated at a time of great financial anxiety when frightened people might find this kind of rumor at least a little easier to believe than they otherwise would.

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August 3rd 2020, 7:52 am

Nobody’s Applying For Big Cybersecurity Jobs. This CompTIA Certification Training Can Get You In The

ExtremeTech

With U.S. unemployment still over 11 percent, there are literally millions of Americans looking for work. Of course, that number is considerably smaller when you look at the pool of trained cybersecurity professionals.

And the key there is finding trained professionals. Because while cybersecurity hiring is booming, with new employment up over 7 percent in May, companies are still having an extremely tough time finding qualified candidates. In fact, 86 percent of cybersecurity job openings attracted under 10 applicants each, just because workers don’t have the right skill set.

So the conclusion is clear — if you want to work as a cybersecurity expert, get trained now. Instruction like The CompTIA Security Infrastructure Expert Bundle ($39.99, over 90 percent off) is a perfect means of landing the skills needed to get working fast in this rapidly expanding field.

As added incentive, this package includes training compiled by CompTIA, the world’s most recognized IT certification body. Once you’ve completed these four courses, you’ll be ready to sit for four of CompTIA’s most important exams and earn certifications that earn you instant credibility with hiring managers.

The CompTIA CySA+ (CS0-001) kicks things off, helping new users understand the basics of spotting, fighting and ultimately preventing cybersecurity threats with the use of all the latest security analytics and tools. Students will learn how to configure and use threat detection tools, perform data analysis, and interpret those results to spot vulnerabilities and threats to their organization.

With the CompTIA Security+ (SY0-501) course, students delve deeper into IT security knowledge and skills, including how to provide the correct levels of protection to system information, apps and infrastructure, while also maintaining critical system access guidelines for each individual user.

While much of IT security training is geared toward system management, the CompTIA CASP+ (CAS-003) course centers on what practitioners need, not managers, to implement key cybersecurity policies and frameworks.

Finally, the CompTIA PenTest+ (PT0-001) course truly tests a student’s learning, requiring hands-on demonstration of the abilities and knowledge needed to identify and defend against penetration attacks across all environments, from traditional desktops and servers to mobile devices and even the cloud.

Earn for prime CompTIA certifications with this four-course collection, a $1,180 training package now on sale for just $39.99 while this offer lasts.

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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July 31st 2020, 4:56 pm

Musk: SpaceX Starship Prototype Could Fly ‘Soon’

ExtremeTech

SpaceX has a good thing going with the Falcon 9. It has almost perfected landings, allowing it to reuse the boosters, and NASA has certified the Falcon 9 to carry its most important cargo and even astronauts. The company is already looking toward its next launch platform, though. After blowing up a few Starship prototypes, the latest SN5 test vehicle just completed a full-duration static fire. CEO Elon Musk says that sets the stage for a “hop” in the near future. 

The Starship, previously known as the BFR, is SpaceX’s upcoming all-purpose rocket. With the Super Heavy launch platform, Starship will be a heavy-lift system capable of sending large payloads into the outer solar system. Musk has also floated the Starship to colonize Mars in the next few years. Of course, Musk does tend to over-promise — he thought the Starship would be flying by spring. Instead, SpaceX is just now starting to plan the vessel’s maiden flight. 

Last year, we watched as SpaceX flew the first rocket with a Raptor engine, the so-called “Starhopper.” It was essentially a stub of the eventual Starship capable of lifting off with a single engine, hovering 150 meters in the air, and then landing. The goal is to make the Starship fully reusable like the Falcon 9. Musk has claimed that a Starship launch might cost as little as $2 million once it’s in full production, which is significantly less than other rockets. The ESA’s Ariane 5 costs $165 million per launch, and the Atlas V is $110 million. 

A rendering of what the Starship could look like in space.

The SN5 prototype is the latest version of the rocket, but it’s not a final configuration — you can think of it as the mid-point between the Starhopper and a real Starship. Assuming tragedy does not befall this rocket, it could complete the proposed 150-meter flight in the next week or two. Even if something does go wrong and the SN5 is lost, SpaceX has two more prototypes in production — the SN6 and SN8. The SN7 was a small-scale test tank that the company discarded after it sprung a leak during testing in June 2020.

SpaceX also hopes the SN5 will be the first version of the Starship to complete a high-altitude test flight to around 12 miles (20 kilometers). The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will continue handling all of SpaceX’s launch operations for the time being, but Starship development is progressing at a surprising pace.

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July 31st 2020, 4:56 pm

Nvidia in Advanced Talks to Buy ARM, Upend Silicon Industry

ExtremeTech

Those rumors about Nvidia being in talks with SoftBank about purchasing ARM have been upgraded to “advanced talks.” (Does that make these “advanced rumors?”)

Even if SoftBank can come to an agreement with Nvidia over selling ARM, which it bought for $32B, the regulatory scrutiny from various nations would be enormous, as Bloomberg reports. Apple, Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel all have architecture licenses from ARM, allowing them to design their own CPUs that are compatible with ARM’s instruction sets but that otherwise contain custom IP. Dozens more companies depend on ARM’s extensive hard-IP licenses for various CPU solutions. Given ARM’s ubiquitous position in smartphones, and its burgeoning presence in HPC and servers, everyone from Ampere to MediaTek is going to be concerned about ARM being owned by any single silicon company.

What’s the Advantage of Ownership?

In my previous story, I stated that buying ARM would give Nvidia an easy path to return to desktop and laptop computing with an integrated ARM/Nvidia SoC. What I should’ve addressed then — and didn’t — is how this would be different from Nvidia taking out an architectural license (which it already has), in the first place. After all, Nvidia already builds chips like Project Denver and its successor, Carmel, on an ARM architecture. Owning ARM doesn’t change that.

What owning ARM would do is give Nvidia control over how the entire ARM IP stack evolves in the future. If it wanted to pour development into ARM’s Neoverse server concept and develop new SIMD extensions that would speed its own HPC workloads, it could do so. Instead of being limited to an Nvidia-specific implementation, ARM could design said extensions directly into the standard.

Running multiple Docker container-based demos on Nvidia Jetson Xavier NX.

There are other potential advantages for Nvidia as well. The company could design a low-level GPU as a replacement for ARM’s own efforts, then extend the IP across its core families as well, giving the GeForce brand significant reach across the mobile ecosystem.

Regulatory issues, however, could still scuttle the deal. Historically, Nvidia has always preferred a very closed development model. The company doesn’t license CUDA to anyone and it typically prefers to develop its own value-added software and hardware capabilities as opposed to creating cross-vendor ecosystems. So long as Nvidia is just one ARM licensee among many, this presents no problem. If Nvidia were to buy ARM itself, however, the numerous firms that rely on ARM licenses would demand guarantees that their access to future products or licenses wouldn’t be impeded by anti-competitive measures. If the deal gets to this point, Nvidia will undoubtedly make a number of concessions and guarantees to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

What Nvidia would be buying, with ARM, isn’t just the ability to take out an architectural license. It has one already. What it would be buying, ultimately, is the ability to influence how ARM SoCs evolve in the future at multiple price points and markets. If Nvidia thought it would be useful to their own position to implement CUDA for mobile GPUs, they’d be able to do so. If they wanted to introduce a high-end hard-IP GPU core under the GeForce brand and position the SoC as a gaming solution, they could do that as well.

Just How Shelved Is AMD K12?

One thing I’d love to know is just how far AMD got with K12 before they shelved it and whether the chip might ever see the light of day. According to AMD contacts I spoke to when the company decided to pivot towards Ryzen, the K12 design wasn’t scrapped — AMD just decided that the ecosystem wasn’t mature enough to justify bringing the product to market. The scuttlebutt around K12 always suggested it was similar to Ryzen, with a number of shared design elements between the cores. While ARM and x86 are two different CPU architectures, it would be much easier to cross-leverage IP between ARM and x86 then between, say, x86 and Itanium. There’s no evidence that AMD finished the design or continued to evolve it in the background, but they wouldn’t have thrown the chip away, either. If ARM starts chewing into x86’s market share, I expect AMD might dust off K12, update it for the modern era, and bring it to market.

AMD’s K12 slide. This is most of what we know about the one-time product. AMD has never said how much of the work it completed before shelving the CPU.

Right now, the CPU market is more dynamic than it’s been in decades. A new ARM owner could send major ripples through the company’s long-term trajectory. Intel is struggling with manufacturing issues. AMD is gaining market share. Heck, even open-source efforts like RISC-V continue to drive engagement and interest. Any Nvidia effort to buy ARM can likely be read as an intention to push into x86’s turf in one market or another.

Feature image is Nvidia’s Orin, a self-driving car module with onboard ARM cores and an Ampere-based GPU.

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July 31st 2020, 4:10 pm

HMD’s Nokia 8.3 5G Will Come to the US This Year

ExtremeTech

This is the year of 5G whether you want it or not, and you can thank Qualcomm for making the new network technology mandatory in its latest ARM chips. That has led to some extremely big, expensive smartphones in 2020, but HMD plans to launch a more affordable 5G Android phone in the US this year. The Nokia 8.3 5G falls between flagships and budget phones, but we don’t know when it’ll launch or exactly how much it will cost in the US. 

The Nokia 8.3 5G is not technically a new phone, but it’ll be new for the US. HMD announced the 8.5 5G back in March alongside the 5.3 and 1.3. The Snapdragon 765G inside this phone has an integrated 5G modem unlike the 865, which needs a separate modem. There are only two high-power processing cores and six low-power — the 865 has a 4×4 setup. The 765 doesn’t crush benchmarks like the 865 does, but it has better battery life, and the real-world performance is almost as good. 

Odds are this 5G phone will only support sub-6 frequencies. The cost associated with millimeter wave, which is only common in the US, has thus far limited ultra-fast 5G to flagship devices. That’s not a huge loss, though. Millimeter wave only has a range of a few hundred feet and doesn’t pass through walls. 

HMD equipped the Nokia 8.3 with a giant 6.8-inch 1080p display, but it’s an LCD rather than OLED. That means a bit more bezel at the bottom of the phone, but HMD has helpfully slapped the Nokia logo in there in case you forget what phone you’re using. Happens all the time, right? The 8.3 also sports a 64MP main camera sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide, a 2MP macro, and a 2MP depth sensor. 

In March, there were precious few phones running the Snapdragon 765 system-on-a-chip (SoC), but this part of the market has since filled in with devices like the LG Velvet, Motorola Edge, and OnePlus Nord. That might make the Nokia 8.3 a tougher sell. HMD hasn’t mentioned US pricing just yet, but the international 8.3 5G runs €600, which is about $648. The Nord, which is available internationally and will come to the US in some form, is currently €200 less. The Velvet is slightly cheaper, and the Edge is just a bit more. So, it’s a much more crowded field in late 2020 than early 2020.

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July 31st 2020, 10:22 am

How to Download and Install Windows 8.1 for Free (Updated)

ExtremeTech

Windows 8.1's new All Apps view -- an olive branch to Windows 7 users who miss their Start menu

Update 7/31/2020:  Windows 8.1 is long outdated, but technically supported through 2023. If you need to download an ISO to reinstall the full version of the operating system, you can download one from Microsoft here.

If you are still using Microsoft Windows 8.1, we recommend you at least begin considering what OS you will use in the future. It’s mid-2020 and Win 8.1 will shuffle off the mortal coil in January 2023. You can still qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 10 if you own a valid Windows 8.1 license, despite the fact that Microsoft formally ended its upgrade program five years ago. Additionally, Windows 10 has the same system requirements as Windows 8.1, so if you can run the latter, you can also run the former.

If you are somehow still stuck on Windows 8.0 and do not want to go to the hassle of a full OS swap, we recommend running Windows Update immediately and downloading all available patches for your system, including the Windows 8.1 update, which will likely be offered to you by default. If you want to download just the Windows 8.1 update files, you can do so here.

Original story below, from 2013:

Windows 8.1 has been released. If you’re using Windows 8, upgrading to Windows 8.1 is both easy and free. If you’re using another operating system (Windows 7, Windows XP, OS X), you can either buy a boxed version ($120 for normal, $200 for Windows 8.1 Pro), or opt for one of the free methods listed below. To download and install Windows 8.1 for free, follow the guide below.

How to download Windows 8.1 for free

If you don’t want to wait for October 17 or 18, there are two options for downloading Windows 8.1: You can obtain a copy (and a license key) from a friend/colleague with an MSDN, TechNet, or DreamSpark (student) subscription, or you can download a Windows 8.1 RTM ISO from your favorite file-sharing website (The Pirate Bay, Mega, etc.)

While we’re not going to write a guide on how to obtain Windows 8.1 RTM from non-official sources, we will at least tell you to check the SHA-1 hash of the ISO that you download to make sure that it’s legitimate. If you hit up the MSDN Subscriber Downloads page, and then click Details under the version that you’ve obtained from elsewhere, you’ll find the SHA-1 hash. If you then use File Checksum Integrity Verifier (FCIV) on the ISO, the hash should match. If it doesn’t, assume the ISO has been compromised and download another. (But do make sure that you’re checking the right SHA-1 hash on the MSDN website; your ISO might be mislabeled).

The other easier, and completely legal, option is to download the Windows 8.1 Preview from Microsoft. It’s not as snappy as the final (RTM/GA) build, though, and has quite a few bugs/missing features. Bear in mind that if you go down this road, upgrading to a real version of Windows 8.1 will require a few more steps (discussed in the next section).

How to install Windows 8.1 for free

Once you have the Windows 8.1 ISO on your hard drive, the installation process is painless. Before you begin, you should consider backing up your important files and documents, but it’s not really necessary. You should also ensure that you have plenty of free hard drive space (20GB+).

If you’re already running Windows 8 and you downloaded the RTM ISO from somewhere other than the Windows Store, you can install Windows 8.1 by mounting the downloaded ISO in Explorer by double-clicking it, and then running the installer. If you’re on Windows 7, XP, or (bless your soul) Vista, you’ll need to burn the ISO to a USB thumb drive or DVD, or mount the ISO using a third-party virtual drive tool, like Magic ISO.

If you already have Windows 8, and you waited for the official release date, installing Windows 8.1 is as simple as visiting the Windows Store and downloading the free update.

In both these cases, the upgrade process should be very smooth, with your apps and settings fully preserved. If you upgrade from Windows 8.1 Preview, however, you will lose your installed apps, unless you first run a cversion.ini removal utility.

Once you’ve installed Windows 8.1, you should check out our extensive collection of Windows 8.1 tips and tricks, and be sure to check our Windows 8.1 review and hands-on impressions to ensure that you’re making the most of all the new features.

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Sebastian Anthony wrote the original version of this article. It has since been updated with new information.

July 31st 2020, 9:37 am

Star Citizen Developer Publishes a Roadmap…for a Roadmap

ExtremeTech

Let’s get two things out of the way upfront: I love space combat sims, and I love Chris Roberts’ work, specifically. The original Wing Commander games are some of my all-time favorites. With that said, development on Star Citizen’s Squadron 42 — that’s the single-player component of the title — is, to all appearances, a train wreck.

Fans and backers of the game have been requesting an update on where Squadron 42 stood for months. Cloud Imperium Games, the developer behind Star Citizen, publishes regular monthly diaries that offer some insight into the single-player game’s development, but offer virtually nothing in terms of an over-arching roadmap.

Cloud Imperium wants its users to know that it has heard their issues loud and clear. That’s why the company is promising to publish a roadmap for its roadmap.

No, really. That’s what they’ve promised. CIG intends to deliver the following:

1. Give an explanation of the goals of our new Roadmap and what to expect from it
2. Show a rough mockup of the proposed new Roadmap
3. Share a work in progress version of the Roadmap for at least one of our core teams
4. Transition to this new Roadmap

This entire issue arose in March, when CIG admitted in a forum post that its existing roadmap doesn’t properly show the progress it has made on its own game. As a result, it wants to overhaul how it communicates its progress to players. Nothing wrong with additional transparency — provided, of course, that it’s eventually delivered. So far, all that’s been released is a literal roadmap for the development of a roadmap. The four bullet points above apparently took five months to write.

While the various monthly updates contain a fair amount of information, the information isn’t presented in a context that allows the reader to draw conclusions about how much work is left to do in the game or when the title might actually ship.

Is Doing Everything the Best Idea?

Whenever we discuss Star Citizen’s delays and development time, certain fans are quick to leap to its defense with the argument that no game has ever done anything like it and therefore the entire situation is reasonable and fine. In reality, it’s been a decade since Star Citizen began development, eight years since its Kickstarter, and five years since Squadron 42’s original release date. It’s not unfair to be asking if Chris Roberts can ever deliver the project he promised.

Star Citizen famously wants to be a game with unparalleled depth and scale, but at a certain point, it’s worth asking if smaller, more targeted projects would yield better results. One of the biggest reasons for Duke Nukem Forever’s endless delays was a combination of feature creep and aging engines. As the delays stretched out, 3D Realms had to port the game to new engines more than once, delaying the product even more.

Many of the milestones listed in the CIG development diaries suggest core systems of the game are being overhauled for exactly this reason. There are multiple references to the ongoing work being done to add Vulkan support, for example. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with supporting Vulkan, but the API is only four years old. If Star Citizen had hit its initial launch dates, Vulkan support would’ve been an aftermarket addition. Instead, the company is developing a Vulkan renderer, dubbed Gen12, now to keep its own product current. Except, that effort actually launched in 2017, so why isn’t the renderer done yet?

“We will publish the full roadmap to Squadron 42’s release in December.”

That quote is from CIG, but it’s dated December 2018. Needless to say, the “full roadmap” the company promised never materialized. If Star Citizen cannot figure out how to communicate its development schedule in a simplified form to its backers, how is it going to handle the incredibly complex task of integrating all of the features for the game?

Waiting five months to tell fans you’ve written a roadmap for a roadmap is a bad move on CIG’s part. Best-case, it paints CIG as incapable of effective project management. Worst-case, it raises questions of whether the various teams are in effective communication with each other.

If you can’t build a game in a decade when handed $306M, perhaps you shouldn’t be making a game in the first place. Not, at least, until you’ve got a better idea and an actual plan to deliver the product.

Squadron 42, like Star Citizen, has no release date. Perhaps when CIG is finished with the roadmap for the roadmap, they could give us a timeline for the timeline. I love Chris Roberts’ single-player storytelling, but I don’t have much faith in his ability to bring Star Citizen’s disparate parts together in the cohesive whole he’s promised his fans. I’d have sooner had a smaller Squadron 42 with several mission packs or full-blown sequels out of that $306M than one single uber-simulator that may never function as intended due to the sheer complexity of its own design. You don’t have to think Chris Roberts is a scam artist to believe the project has gone badly off the rails, and he wouldn’t be the first game developer to get stuck in the weeds this way.

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July 31st 2020, 7:52 am

ET Deals: Dell 2020 XPS 15 9500 Intel Core i7 & Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti Laptop $1,349, Intel Core i7-1070

ExtremeTech

Today you can save $450 on your purchase of one of Dell’s newest XPS 15 laptops. This notebook features a 16:10 aspect ratio display along with a Core i7-10750H processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics chip. Displays using this aspect ratio were popular a decade ago before being overtaken by the more common 16:9 aspect ratio, but they are still prized by many for offering a better view in addition to providing slightly more physical screen space.

Dell 2020 XPS 15 9500 Intel Core i7-10750H 1920×1200 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,349.99)

Dell’s newest XPS 15 laptop features a 1920×1200 resolution display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The system also has stylish, carbon-fiber palm rests, and it comes equipped with a capable Core i7 hexa-core processor that can hit clock speeds as high as 5GHz. The system’s also fit to run games with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. The new XPS 15 retails for $1,799.99, but with promo code STAND4SMALL you can currently get it from Dell marked down to just $1,349.99.

Intel Core i7-10700 8-Core 4.8GHz Processor ($309.99)

The Core i7-10700 is one of Intel’s newest processors with eight CPU cores able to hit a top speed of 4.8GHz. The chip also supports Hyper-Threading, and it’s now available on sale from Newegg. Regularly priced at $369.99, you can now get this chip for just $309.99.

Apple MacBook Air Intel Core i3 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD ($899.99)

Apple’s MacBook Air was designed to be exceptionally lightweight at 2.8 pounds. It also has a high-quality 2560×1600 display, and Apple built the system out of durable 6000 series aluminum. If you would like to buy one of these systems, you can get it marked down today from $999.00 to $899.99 at Amazon.

Dell OptiPlex 3070 Micro Intel Core i5-9500T Desktop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($566.10)

This compact desktop features solid performance thanks to a six-core Intel Core i5-9500T processor that can hit clock speeds of 3.7GHz. 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 $1,055.71 to $566.09 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Samsung 860 QVO 1TB 2.5-Inch SATA-III SSD ($109.99)

Large 2.5-inch SSDs like this one are slowly heading off the market as they are being replaced by smaller and faster M.2 NVMe drives. They are still excellent options if you are upgrading from an HDD, however, and they typically offer more storage space for the price than their faster M.2 counterparts. For a limited time, you can get this particular drive that has a 1TB capacity from Amazon marked down from $129.99 to just $109.99.

Lenovo Yoga C740 Intel Core i5-10210U 15.6-Inch 1080p Touchscreen Laptop w/ 12GB RAM and 256GB PCI-E SSD ($599.99)

Lenovo’s versatile Yoga C740 notebook features a 1080p touchscreen display that can be rotated around to put the system into tablet mode. The Yoga C740 also features a sleek aluminum body and a fast Intel Core i5 processor. Right now you can get it from Best Buy marked down from $849.99 to just $599.99.

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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July 30th 2020, 5:42 pm

4K vs. UHD: What’s the Difference?

ExtremeTech

Now that 4K televisions and monitors have gone completely mainstream at multiple price points and feature levels, let’s look at two terms that have become increasingly conflated with one another: 4K and UHD, or Ultra HD. TV makers, broadcasters, and tech blogs are using them interchangeably, but they didn’t start as the same thing, and technically still aren’t. From a viewer standpoint, there isn’t a huge difference, and the short answer is that 4K is sticking, and UHD isn’t — though high-quality Blu-ray drives are sometimes marketed as 4K Ultra HD. But there’s a little more to the story.

4K vs. UHD

The simplest way of defining the difference between 4K and UHD is this: 4K is a professional production and cinema standard, while UHD is a consumer display and broadcast standard. To discover how they became so confused, let’s look at the history of the two terms.

The term “4K” originally derives from the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), a consortium of motion picture studios that standardized a spec for the production and digital projection of 4K content. In this case, 4K is 4,096 by 2,160, and is exactly four times the previous standard for digital editing and projection (2K, or 2,048 by 1,080). 4K refers to the fact that the horizontal pixel count (4,096) is roughly four thousand. The 4K standard is not just a resolution, either: It also defines how 4K content is encoded. A DCI 4K stream is compressed using JPEG2000, can have a bitrate of up to 250Mbps, and employs 12-bit 4:4:4 color depth. (See: How digital technology is reinventing cinema.)

Ultra High Definition, or UHD for short, is the next step up from what’s called full HD, the official name for the display resolution of 1,920 by 1,080. UHD quadruples that resolution to 3,840 by 2,160. It’s not the same as the 4K resolution made above — and yet almost every TV or monitor you see advertised as 4K is actually UHD. Sure, there are some panels out there that are 4,096 by 2,160, which adds up to an aspect ratio of 1.9:1. But the vast majority are 3,840 by 2,160, for a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

A diagram illustrating the relative image size of 4K vs. 1080p — except that 4K should be labelled UHD, or 2160p.

Why Not 2160p?

Now, it’s not as if TV manufacturers aren’t aware of the differences between 4K and UHD. But presumably for marketing reasons, they seem to be sticking with 4K. So as to not conflict with the DCI’s actual 4K standard, some TV makers seem to be using the phrase “4K UHD,” though some are just using “4K.”

To make matters more confusing, UHD is actually split in two — there’s 3,840 by 2,160, and then there’s a big step up, to 7,680 by 4,320, which is also called UHD. It’s reasonable to refer to these two UHD variants as 4K UHD and 8K UHD — but, to be more precise, the 8K UHD spec should probably be renamed QUHD (Quad Ultra HD). (Read: 8K UHDTV: How do you send a 48Gbps TV signal over terrestrial airwaves?)

The real solution would have been to abandon the 4K moniker entirely and instead use the designation 2160p. Display and broadcast resolutions have always referred to resolution in terms of horizontal lines, with the letters “i” and “p” referring to interlacing, which skips every other line, and progressive scan, which doesn’t: 576i (PAL), 480i (NTSC), 576p (DVD), 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and so on. So why didn’t we do that?

Because the number didn’t match the size of the resolution increase. “2160p” implies that the resolution is double that of 1080p HD, while the actual increase is a factor of 4. The gap between 720p and 1080p is significantly smaller than the gap between 4K and 1080p, though how much you notice the upgrade will depend on the quality of your TV and where you sit. Further complicating matters, there’s the fact that just because a display has a 2160p vertical resolution doesn’t mean it supports a 3,840 or 4,096-pixel horizontal width. You’re only likely to see 2160p listed as a monitor resolution, if at all. Newegg lists two displays as supporting 4K explicitly as opposed to UHD (4096×2160), but they’ll cost you. Clearly these sorts of displays are aimed at the professional set.

Now that there are 4K TVs everywhere, it would take a concerted effort from at least one big TV manufacturer to right the ship and abandon the use of 4K in favor of UHD. In all honesty, though, it’s too late. The branding ship has sailed. Also, should you find yourself unhappy with the quality of the 4K content you receive via streaming service, remember that UHD Blu-ray delivers a vastly better picture and can meaningfully improve your experience with certain kinds of content.

Sebastian Anthony wrote the original version of this article. It has since been updated several times with new information.

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July 30th 2020, 5:13 pm

This Python Masterclass Collection Can Be Just The Ticket To A New Data Science Career

ExtremeTech

In case you missed any of the memos over the past decade, it’s now confirmed — Python is very, very important to getting hired in the high paying field of data science.

In a worldwide survey of almost 20,000 data professionals, Python was used by 87 percent of those surveyed, more than double the no. 2 programming language, the database driver SQL. And that represented an increase from the previous year, proving Python is not only overwhelmingly popular, but it’s actually growing in usage too.

Even if you’re learning coding for the first time, the training in The Python 3 Complete Masterclass Certification Bundle ($29.99, over 90 percent off) is a huge first step to both learning a foundational web skill and also working as a real web development or data science pro.

Over seven courses, more than 30 hours of instruction and loads of practical exercises, projects and other teaching tools, students get a complete overview of Python from the basics through to the advanced uses that can elevate you to the standing of a true Python master.

Starting with Python begins with the four-part Python 3 Masterclass course, a gradual system for moving from novice to expert at a student’s own pace.

The building blocks are forged in Python 3 Complete Masterclass: Part 1, as new Python learners explore concepts like strings and string methods, handling syntax errors and exceptions and more with the use of examples and exercises based on real world situations.

In Python 3 Complete Masterclass: Part 2, Python’s many abilities are brought to bear on other apps, explaining how Python can be used to automate Excel sheets, build database tables and get several devices all working together.

The training continues in Python 3 Complete Masterclass: Part 3, this time getting students up to speed on the intricacies of data analysis and data visualizations. Here, students train in using PostgreSQL databases to automate tasks, reformat and process data in a variety of file formats, and use Boken to create eye-opening visualizations of your results.

Finally, the opening salvo is complete with  Python 3 Complete Masterclass: Part 4, including extensive practical training in performing several key Python functions, from basic script testing to web content extraction. Students also learn 10 effective steps for turning your Python skills into a paycheck and even building a responsive portfolio that will help you land that job.

Meanwhile, the ins and outs of networking also gets some extensive coverage with the Python 3 Network Programming – Build 5 Network Applications and Python 3 Network Programming (Sequel): Build 5 More Apps courses. Aimed at experienced Python engineers and admins, this course has students put together 10 different networking apps that stretch their understanding of Python’s uses.

The training closes with the Python Regular Expressions: From Beginner to Intermediate Level, a deeper exploration of expression building in Python, including metacharacters, special sequences, extension notations and more.

Each course in this Python learning package is a $199 value, but with this collection, it’s all available for a fraction of that price, 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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July 30th 2020, 5:13 pm

Microsoft Flight Simulator Will Get Support for Virtual Reality

ExtremeTech

Virtual reality headset, illustration.

Virtual reality hasn’t exploded in popularity as many expected it would when Oculus revived the dead medium, but it is still growing. Most VR games are designed from the ground up for VR, but a few mainstream titles that are suited to that gameplay style have also added support. Soon, you’ll be able to add Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to the list

The new Microsoft Flight Simulator will be the first edition of the series since 2006’s Flight Simulator X, but it’s part of a lineage that stretches all the way back to 1982’s Flight Simulator 1.0. The graphics were rudimentary, but the quality improved with each iteration. According to Microsoft, the latest game will simulate the entire surface of the Earth using textures and topographical from Bing. Microsoft will also create 3D representations of buildings and trees using Asure technology. It’s going to be a huge game, but Microsoft is still making it available on physical media with a set of 10 DVDs. 

Microsoft now says it will roll out an update to the game in the coming months that adds support for virtual reality, placing you inside the cockpit. However, it won’t work on all headsets at launch. Microsoft has partnered with HP on its Reverb G2 headset, which should launch later in 2020. This device will work with Windows Mixed Reality and Steam VR content. 

HP contends that its $600 Reverb G2 will provide a better experience than competing headsets thanks to its lighter weight and higher resolution LCDs. Although, HP is notoriously fickle when it comes to products that aren’t part of its core business. You might find support difficult to obtain down the road. 

Following the G2 launch, Microsoft will add support for other headsets like those from Oculus and HTC. Microsoft didn’t say exactly when that will happen, Microsoft’s head of Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann suggested it would be “a few more months” after the G2. With a compatible headset, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the simulator and look around the exquisitely accurate cockpits. Of course, that only applies to wired headsets — standalone VR devices don’t have enough power to run the new Flight Simulator. 

Microsoft will launch Flight Simulator on August 18 on PC. It’s also included in the Xbox Game Pass for PC, which costs $4.99 per month during the beta.

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July 30th 2020, 3:58 pm

The Power of Perseverance: NASA’s Latest Rover Headed for Mars

ExtremeTech

NASA announced a successful liftoff for its latest Mars rover, Perseverance (also known as the Mars 2020 Rover) on Thursday. If all goes well, the vehicle will reach the Red Planet in February.

At first glance, Perseverance looks like a repeat of Curiosity. The two spacecraft are built on a similar platform, but Perseverance has larger, more robust wheels with a larger diameter. These are intended to avoid the damage Curiosity has sustained during its time on Mars. Perseverance also carries MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment), which will attempt to produce a small amount of oxygen using the existing atmosphere on Mars.

The MOXIE unit aboard Perseverance is a 1 percent scale model of a full-sized production plant. If the experiment is successful, it may mean astronauts traveling to the planet could use Mars’ atmosphere to create both breathable air and their own supply of propellant for the return trip. This would represent a substantial weight savings — most of the weight of a spacecraft is fuel, and any journey to another planet has to either carry the fuel for the return trip or make it at the destination. If MOXIE works, NASA could land an automated facility to begin creating oxygen before astronauts even arrive on Mars, ensuring a ready supply of available air from the moment they touchdown.

The Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA

Perseverance also carries Ingenuity, a small (1.8kg / 4lb) helicopter intended to demonstrate the practicality of flight on Mars. Ingenuity doesn’t carry any scientific instruments, but it’s intended to scout potential routes for the rover and to demonstrate that flight on Mars is something we can accomplish remotely in the first place. Perseverance will also carry spacesuit samples to Mars to determine how they hold up to the rigors of the environment. Power is provided via an multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) containing enough plutonium to provide ~110W of power. The rover also carries two lithium-ion batteries to provide additional energy during peak requirements.

Both Perseverance and Curiosity use the same CPU, a RAD750 built by BAE. The RAD750 is based on the PowerPC 750, which debuted in 1997 as the CPU inside the original iMac. Once Perseverance arrives on Mars, PowerPC will dominate CPU deployments, with 60 percent of the total Mars rover market and 100 percent of the functional Mars rovers. Is this the spacecraft equivalent of being big in Japan?

Jezero Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

In all seriousness, the reason NASA continues to send such underpowered hardware into space is due to radiation hardening. Newer CMOS processes tend to be more vulnerable than old ones, and for a rover on another planet, reliability is the top concern. We can afford to wait for Perserverance to spend a while crunching data. We can’t afford for its CPUs to be scrambled by incoming cosmic rays. Perseverance appears identical to Curiosity, with 256MB of onboard RAM, a backup BAE750 CPU in case the first fails, 2GB of onboard flash memory, 256MB of RAM, and a 256K EPROM. Clock speeds between the two rovers are identical, at 200MHz.

The night before the Perseverance launch. Credit: NASA

One major difference between the two rovers is that Perseverance has the ability to drill into Martian rocks and extract core samples. These samples can then be analyzed and stored for future retrieval in an as-yet unplanned mission. The SuperCam unit is also a significant upgrade from the ChemCam aboard Curiosity and should be capable of assessing biosignatures and making a more thorough search of the environment for signs that Mars once supported life. It’s headed for Jezero Crater, which shows all the signs of having held a substantial body of water for a long period of time, making it one of the better places to search for life.

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July 30th 2020, 1:58 pm

PlayStation 5 May Let You Leap Directly into Games

ExtremeTech

Sony and Microsoft have made it very clear that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are focused on eliminating load times. To date, most of the discussion has focused on getting rid of long in-game transition scenes. Game developers have long used transitions like long hallways or elevator rides to hide data loads. With the Xbox Series X and PS5, such moments are supposed to belong to the past.

But the PS5, at least, will apparently support another feature — the ability to leap directly into gameplay, bypassing any kind of loading screens at all. A yanked article by Gamereactor, preserved by Gematsu, stated that World Rally Championship 9 (WRC9) would have a deeplink feature allowing you to jump straight into races from the PS5 main menu. This is apparently part of the unrevealed “Activities” feature that Sony is keeping a lid on.

Is the Idea of Launching a Game Itself Obsolete?

For as long as we’ve had games, we’ve had game launchers. The idea of selecting game modes and changing options from inside a dedicated launcher screen is common to both PC and console games. Even multi-title arcade cabinets had game launchers from their earliest incarnations. The only real difference is whether the launcher runs before you start the game, or whether it runs from within the game itself.

I’m not saying logging into a game directly via launcher isn’t useful for a lot of things, mind you. If you want a central location for tweaking visual settings, changing keybindings, or using a different set of default servers, game launchers are great. But most of us only do those things when setting up the title for the first time.

This PS5 feature sounds like a kissing cousin to the Xbox capability to resume multiple games seamlessly after pausing them, though the actual mechanics would likely differ, with the Xbox possibly restoring saved states while the PlayStation 5 may just remember what tracks or levels you’ve previously unlocked and allow you to jump right back to them.

When Nintendo launched its NES and SNES Classic systems, one feature it copied from PC emulators was the ability to save state and restore a given game to exactly where it was the last time you hit the “Save State” button. This mechanic allows games that don’t support saved games to support them and gives players the ability to save right before a difficult boss fight rather than having to replay an entire level. But why should this apply only to old titles like Super Mario Bros.? What if you had the option to load your save game directly from the console dashboard (or the PC desktop), leaping directly back into the title with a double-click?

Of course, thanks to all those storage-side optimizations, the PS5 and Xbox Series X shouldn’t really have loading speed issues in the first place. But this kind of time-saving isn’t really about the handful of seconds you save in any given launch, but the time you save over the 4-6 years you might own the console. It’s interesting to contemplate how gaming might look different if level loads and save game resumes were essentially atomized in this fashion, however. Most of us only watch introduction movies a handful of times at most, and mods that stop them from playing are always popular PC-side. Giving people the option to leap directly back into the game as an expected feature could be a notable advance we see rolling out on consoles this generation.

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July 30th 2020, 11:09 am

Konami Entering Gaming PC Market With Spendy Arespear Lineup

ExtremeTech

Konami has been making games for decades, but now it’s making gaming PCs. Konami Amusement, a subsidiary of Konami Holdings, is now accepting orders for its new line of Arespear gaming PCs. The company expects to begin shipments for the Japanese market in September, and they are decidedly not cheap. 

The Arespear computers come in three different versions, all of which have the same custom “wiffleball” cases, measuring a compact 575.3 x 501.5 x 230mm. They also have a dedicated Asus Xonar XE sound card. The C300 is the base model, while the C700 and C700+ offer better specs. The C700+ is also the only one of the three with a transparent side panel. 

The C300 will have respectable internals with an Intel Core i5-9400F CPU (air-cooled), 8GB of DDR4 memory, a 512GB M.2 SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650. With that GPU, you’re limited to a single DisplayPort 1.4, one HDMI 2.0b, and a DVI-D port. You’re probably thinking that sounds alright for a modest gaming PC, but the price is anything but modest. The C300 will cost 184,800 yen, which works out to $1,760. 

The C300 without a window or RGB but still priced at nearly $2,000.

If you step up to the C700 Arespear, you get a water-cooled i7-9700 CPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512 M.2 SSD, a 1TB hard drive, and an Nvidia RTX 2070 Super. You’ve got many more display options with these computers in the form of three DisplayPort 1.4 ports and an HDMI 2.0b on the video card. There is also an additional DisplayPort and HDMI on the motherboard. The C700 costs 316,800 yen ($3,016), and the C700+ is 338,800 yen ($3,226). 

The only difference between the two 700-series is the window and RGB lighting on the C700+. That distinction really drives home the wild pricing. Are people going to pay $200 more just for some RGB? Probably, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. We don’t know when or if Konami Amusement, which also makes arcade games, will launch the computers in other markets.

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July 30th 2020, 10:23 am

Rumor: TSMC Won’t Build New Capacity for Intel, Views Orders as Temporary

ExtremeTech

Intel’s decision to tap pure-play foundries like TSMC for potentially any future project has sent shockwaves through the industry. One of the biggest questions raised in the wake of the announcement is just how temporary it truly is. Intel is definitely positioning the delay as a pragmatic matter of getting its house in order, and for now, TSMC seems to agree.

According to DigiTimes, TSMC has no plans to expand its fab capacity for Intel, viewing it as a temporary customer rather than a long-term win. If you’re a fan of Intel manufacturing (or would like to be again), this is a very good sign. While Intel isn’t one of the five largest semiconductor manufacturers any longer, all of which are capable of over 1,000,000 wafer starts per month, it’s still one of the largest at an estimated 817,000 wafer starts per month. And unlike TSMC, Samsung, or GlobalFoundries, Intel uses its own capacity almost entirely for its own products.

Image by IC Insights

Further complicating the issue is the fact that Intel manufacturers the majority of its products on its leading-edge nodes, while pure-play foundry wafer starts will be spread across all of the nodes the foundry manufacturers, not concentrated in 1-2 processes. In short, the capacity gap between Intel and any foundry Intel wanted to tap to handle its manufacturing is likely to be large. TSMC is said to currently view itself as Intel’s “rescuer,” not its long-term manufacturing partner.

Intel Could Be Snared by the Same Trap That Once Caught AMD

Before AMD and Intel settled their antitrust lawsuit, AMD was under a much more restrictive x86 license than it currently holds today. One of those restrictions was the requirement to own its own fabs. AMD was not allowed to pay TSMC, UMC, or any other pure-play foundry to manufacture x86 CPUs. It had to use its own facilities. Intel, of course, is under no such restriction, but there’s a variation of this problem haunting the semiconductor stage nonetheless.

Intel’s foundries are explicitly optimized to build Intel x86 CPUs, and its CPU designs are intended for fabrication at its own foundries. This hand-in-glove engineering is the advantage of being an integrated device manufacturer (IDM), and it’s one of the reasons Intel used to give to explain its industry-leading performance. So long as Intel is building and filling its own fabs, this model works well. Shifting business to a different foundry, however, creates problems.

The fact that Intel’s fabs are so specialized means they principally have value to Intel. Every dollar that Intel invests in paying TSMC to implement a specialized product line is a dollar it isn’t investing in fixing its own fabrication technology. Every facility that TSMC brings online for Intel to use is a facility it’ll probably need to use for something else as soon as Intel can return to its own fabs.

What happens if Intel can’t return to its own fabs? This doesn’t actually fix anything in the near term. TSMC doesn’t have the capacity to absorb Intel’s entire business because 1). Intel’s business is huge, 2). Fabs take 3-5 years to build. Even if Intel wanted to dump all of its own manufacturing today and TSMC actively wanted to take over as Intel’s manufacturer, it would take years to bring up new factories or modify existing Intel fabs to meet TSMC’s new guidelines.

I wrote the other day that Intel had given itself a 24-36 month deadline to fix its manufacturing, but upon further reflection, I’m not sure that was the most accurate way to summarize the problem. Intel can’t afford to wait 24-36 months to begin making plans to move its manufacturing to TSMC or Samsung. Given the difficulty and complexity of such transitions, Intel would need to be making an announcement more like this:

“We intend to deploy our own Xnm node and will transition to TSMC for Ynm beginning in 2022 / 2023.”

It seems unlikely anything less would suffice. Intel’s foundry partner would want the assurance of a publicly announced roadmap and would need the lead time to either build or allocate capacity. Intel, in turn, would have an obligation to inform its investors and to develop plans for how it would dispose of its foundry business. Building on n-nanometer at Intel and n+1 at TSMC would also smooth the roadmap rather than forcing Intel into further delays.

Given these facts, I’d modify my own earlier statement. The fact that Intel is still committing to a late 2022 – early 2023 timeline for its 7nm CPUs shortens the window the company has to pull the trigger on a production change. Should it decide to shift to TSMC or Samsung, it would need to make that announcement within the next 12-18 months to avoid the likelihood of even larger delays. The bring-up time on new fabs is long enough that Intel would almost certainly need to either license a process node, pay TSMC directly to build a fab, or operate its fabs in tandem with TSMC to avoid severe production shortages.

I still think it’s more likely that Intel deploys its own 7nm node and moves ahead with its efforts to overtake the pure-play foundries and re-establish process leadership than that the company pulls the plug on its own IDM status. The timeline for making that decision just may be a little shorter than I initially implied.

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July 30th 2020, 9:25 am

MIT: ‘Snowball Earth’ Came From Huge Drop in Sunlight

ExtremeTech

ice sheet. Credit: Stephen Hudson / CC BY 2.5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctic_Plateau#/media/File:AntarcticaDomeCSnow.jpg

The last ice age on Earth ended about 11,000 years ago, but that was just a few flurries compared to so-called Snowball Earth scenarios. Scientists believe Earth experienced several of these periods when the entire surface was covered by ice and snow. New research from MIT points to a potential mechanism for Snowball Earth events, and that could help explain the development of complex life. It may also impact the search for exoplanets around other stars. 

An ice age is simply a period during which global temperature drops sufficiently for polar ice caps and alpine glaciers to expand. A Snowball Earth is on a completely different level, and that’s made it difficult to identify causes. Researchers have long assumed that it has something to do with a reduction in incoming sunlight or drop in retained global heat, but the MIT team points specifically to “rate-induced glaciations” as the primary cause. 

The findings suggest that all you need for a Snowball Earth is a sufficiently large drop in solar radiation reaching the planet’s surface. Interestingly, the modeling done by graduate student Constantin Arnscheidt and geophysics professor Daniel Rothman show that solar radiation doesn’t have to drop to any particular threshold to trigger a Snowball Earth. Rather, it just needs to drop quickly over a geologically short period of time. 

When ice cover increases, the planet reflects more light and the glaciation becomes a “runaway” effect. That’s how you get to a Snowball scenario, but luckily for us, these periods are temporary. The planet’s carbon cycle is interrupted when ice and snow cover the entire surface, and that causes a build-up of carbon dioxide. Eventually, this leads to a warming trend that breaks Earth out of a snowball period. 

The research suggests a few ways solar radiation could decrease fast enough to trigger global glaciation. For example, volcanic activity could deposit particles in the atmosphere that reflect sunlight before it reaches the surface. It’s also possible that biological processes could alter the atmosphere, producing more cloud cover to block the sun. 

The two suspected snowball Earth periods most likely happened around 700 million years ago, which is a notable time in the planet’s history. That’s also when multicellular life exploded in the oceans. So perhaps, Snowball Earth cleared the way for the development of complex life. It might be the same on other planets, too. We may eventually spot exoplanets around distant stars in the “habitable zone” covered in ice. That doesn’t mean they’ll be icy forever, and big things could be coming as they thaw.

Top image credit: Stephen Hudson/CC BY 2.5

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July 30th 2020, 8:39 am

ET Deals: Intel Core i9-9900K $449, Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i7 Laptop $999, WD Black SN750 500GB

ExtremeTech

You can now get Intel’s powerful Core i9-9900K eight-core processor for just $419. To make things even better, it comes with a free bundle of games including Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, Total War: Three Kingdoms & Eight Princes, and The Circle.

Intel Core i9-9900K 8-Core 5GHz Processor ($419.99)

The Core i9-9900K is one of Intel’s most powerful processors with eight CPU cores that can hit speeds as high as 5GHz. The processor is also unlocked, giving you the ability to overclock it in an attempt to extract extra performance from the chip. Currently, you can get it from Newegg along with a few free games marked down from $499.00 to just $419.99.

Dell XPS 13 7390 Intel Core i7-10510U 13.3-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB 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 1920×1080 display. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last up to 19 hours on a single charge. Right now you can one from Dell marked down from $1,149.99 to $999.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Ring Alarm 8-Piece Kit + Amazon Echo Show 5 ($224.99)

This eight-piece Ring Alarm kit comes with two motion sensors and three contact sensors to detect people walking around and opening doors in your home. The system also comes with a speaker that works as an alarm, a keypad for arming and deactivating the system, and a range extender to keep the various components connected. The bundle also comes with an Amazon Echo Show 5 that can be used to control the security system with voice commands. You can get it from Amazon right now marked down from $389.98 to $224.99.

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

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

Dell Vostro 15 5490 Intel Core i5-10210U 1080p 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ Nvidia MX250 GPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256 M.2 NVMe SSD ($629.09)

Dell upgraded this laptop with one of Intel’s new 10th generation Core i5-10210U processors that has four CPU cores clocked at 1.6GHz. The system also comes with a fast NVMe SSD storage device and a 1080p display, which makes it well suited for just about any type of work or any non-gaming activity. That said, the system does have an Nvidia Geforce MX250 graphics chip, which can run some games with low settings, but it’s far from an ideal solution. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,284.29 to just $629.09 with promo code STAND4SMALL and SAVE35.

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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July 29th 2020, 5:05 pm

Soundsnap Offers A Massive Hollywood-ready Audio Sound Library At A DIY Price

ExtremeTech

From amateurs armed with the tools to make their own studio-quality movies to business promotional clips to smartphone users recording video by the truckloads for Facebook and YouTube, video editing might as well be a new high school elective course. Virtually everyone is doing it.

However, all these new filmmakers are now running into some of the same problems the professionals often face. What if you shot your video in a subway station…but it didn’t sound like a subway station? What if a door slam just didn’t come through in your recording? Or what if you decide to insert a sound effect like a cartoon whoosh or a steam engine or a squeak toy?

Trying to replicate just the sound you want is likely a lot harder than you might think. And if you steal someone else’s sounds without permission, you could be on the receiving end of a lawsuit. With a one-year subscription to Soundsnap Stock Audio and Sounds ($149.99, 25 percent off), you’ll have access to a world class, fully stocked sound library, chock full of royalty-free audio you can use in any project.

Soundsnap instantly puts you in the big leagues…because Soundsnap itself is big leagues. Their library has been used and trusted by giant companies like Disney, HBO, CBS and Pixar and crafted by sound designers and recordists on movies like “Black Swan,” “Baby Driver,” “The Dark Knight” and more.

A quick spin through the Soundsnap archive instantly proves what a massive treasure trove they’ve accumulated. Twice as big as most other audio platforms, Soundsnap currently houses over 280,000 different sounds, all categorized into easy-to-find areas. If you want some sound of wind, there are literally almost 1,400 different varieties of professional wind recordings to choose from.

With more clips added weekly, the trick won’t be finding the sound you want — the trick will be determining which one. There are also over 40,000 different musical stingers, beats and loops to help give your video just the flavor you’re looking for.

Everything on Soundsnap is entirely royalty-free with your subscription and can be downloaded and used as often as you like in both personal and commercial projects with no extra fees ever.

A year of Soundsnap Stock Audio and Sounds access is usually $199, but with this offer, you can save $50 off that price and get everything for just $149.

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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July 29th 2020, 4:05 pm

AMD Confirms RDNA2, PS5, XSX, Zen 3 Are All on Schedule

ExtremeTech

Credit: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine / CC0 1.0

One of the best outcomes of Lisa Su’s tenure as CEO of AMD has been the company’s roadmap execution. Under her predecessors, AMD’s roadmaps were often more like a guidelines than an actual rule (to steal a phrase). According to AMD’s quarterly earnings call this week, however, the company is firing on all thrusters and will deliver its entire roadmap of upcoming products on-time despite the impact of COVID-19.

“We are on track to deliver strong growth in the second half of the year,” Su said, “Driven by our current product portfolio and initial shipments of our next generation ZEN 3 CPUs and RDNA to GPUs that are on track to launch in late 2020.”

A few other tidbits from the call that I didn’t mention yet include the fact that AMD has paid off its line of credit while ending the quarter with $1.8B in cash on hand. That’s a far cry from the pre-Ryzen era, when AMD struggled to maintain $750M in cash from quarter to quarter. Free cash flow was $152M and AMD’s free cash flow has been positive for the entire year-to-date. The company expects Q3 revenue of $2.55B for the year, up 1.42x year-over-year and 1.36x sequentially. This will mostly be the impact of the PS5 and Xbox Series X launches, though Epyc’s continuing ramp and mobile Ryzen production will add some sales as well.

AMD expects full-year revenue of to be 1.32x higher than 2019, with a gross margin of ~45 percent. While still substantially below Intel’s margins, AMD has improved its own pre-Ryzen margins by 10-15 percentage points depending on the quarters you choose to compare. This shift is directly tied to the company’s newfound profitability and is also why AMD isn’t going to go on a mad price-cutting trip any time soon.

AMD no longer expects the PC market to shrink in the back half of the year, though it isn’t completely clear if the company expects the market to grow in absolute terms or it feels it’ll pick up more share and thereby ship more processors, even if total PC sales are lower. AMD has stated that it expects its console margins to lower its overall gross margin, but this is nothing new. Console margins have always been lower than PC chip sales. No word yet on how AMD has structured its future revenue from the Xbox Series X / PlayStation 5. In 2013, AMD announced that it had front-loaded revenue to ensure it received the largest benefits at the beginning of the business cycle when it needed the money the most.

Su also noted that the Ryzen Mobile 4000 family has outperformed expectations and that its server ramps continue to slowly but steadily gather momentum. Multiple analysts asked if AMD thought it would surge in servers with explicit reference to its gains in 2004 – 2006, but Lisa refused to be pinned down to any specific figures, beyond saying that AMD had met its goal of establishing double-digit market share and that data center products drove more than 20 percent of AMD’s Q2 revenue. This has long been a major goal for the company because data centers tend to be less susceptible to recession and can serve as a financial bulwark in the face of collapsing consumer demand. The current Great Cessation presents its own unique economic challenges, but data center revenue is a key metric for overall Epyc success.

7nm availability continues to be tight, with Su declaring that AMD works closely with TSMC to manage overall supply/demand issues. This may tie into reports that Intel will be “battling” AMD for 7nm chips, though uncertain timelines make it unclear what parts Intel will build at the client foundry. Su declined to comment on whether AMD would take a different approach to any aspect of the market given Intel’s problems competing of late, preferring instead to emphasize ongoing consistent roadmap execution.

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July 29th 2020, 4:05 pm

Nvidia Crushes New MLPerf Tests, but Google’s Future Looks Promising

ExtremeTech

So far, there haven’t been any upsets in the MLPerf AI benchmarks. Nvidia not only wins everything, but they are still the only company that even competes in every category. Today’s MLPerf Training 0.7 announcement of results isn’t much different. Nvidia started shipping its A100 GPUs in time to submit results in the Released category for commercially available products, where it put in a top-of-the-charts performance across the board. However, there were some interesting results from Google in the Research category.

MLPerf Training 0.7 Adds Three Important New Benchmarks

To help reflect the growing variety of uses for machine learning in production settings, MLPerf had added two new and one upgraded training benchmarks. The first, Deep Learning Recommendation Model (DLRM), involves training a recommendation engine, which is particularly important in eCommerce applications among other large categories. As a hint to its use, it’s trained on a massive trove of Click-Through-Rate data.

The second addition is the training time for BERT, a widely-respected natural language processing (NLP) model. While BERT itself has been built on to create bigger and more complex versions, benchmarking the training time on the original is a good proxy for NLP deployments because BERT is one of a class of Transformer models that are widely used for that purpose.

Finally, with Reinforcement Learning (RL) becoming increasingly important in areas such as robotics, the MiniGo benchmark has been upgraded to MiniGo Full (on a 19 x 19 board), which makes a great deal of sense.

MLPerf Training added three important new benchmarks to its suite with the new release

Results

For the most part, commercially available alternatives to Nvidia either didn’t participate at all in some of the categories, or couldn’t even out-perform Nvidia’s last-generation V100 on a per-processor basis. One exception is Google’s TPU v3 beating out the V100 by 20 percent on ResNet-50, and only coming in behind the A100 by another 20 percent. It was also interesting to see Huawei compete with a respectable entry for ResNet-50, using its Ascend processor. While the company is still far behind Nvidia and Google in AI, it’s continuing to make it a major focus.

As you can see from the chart below, the A100 is 1.5x to 2.5x the performance of the V100 depending on the benchmark:

As usual, Nvidia was mostly competing against itself. This slide show per processor speedup over the V100

If you have the budget, Nvidia’s solution also scales to well beyond anything else submitted. Running on the company’s SELENE SuperPOD that includes 2,048 A100s, models that used to take days can now be trained in minutes:

As expected, Nvidia’s Ampere-based SuperPOD broke all the records for training times. Note that the Google submission only used 16 TPUs, while the SuperPOD used a thousand or more, so for head-to-head chip evaluation it’s better to use the prior chart with per-processor numbers.

Nvidia’s Architecture Is Particularly Suited for Reinforcement Learning

While many types of specialized hardware have been designed specifically for machine learning, most of them excel at either training or inferencing. Reinforcement Learning (RL) requires an interleaving of both. Nvidia’s GPGPU-based hardware is ideal for the task. And, because data is generated and consumed during the training process, Nvidia’s high-speed interlinks are also helpful for RL. Finally, because training robots in the real world is expensive and potentially dangerous, Nvidia’s GPU-accelerated simulation tools are useful when doing RL training in the lab.

Google Tips Its Hand With Impressive TPU v4 Results

Google Research put in an impressive showing with its future TPU v4 chip

Perhaps the most surprising piece of news from the new benchmarks is how well Google’s TPU v4 did. While v4 of the TPU is in the Research category — meaning it won’t be commercially available for at least 6 months — its near-Ampere-level performance for many training tasks is quite impressive. It was also interesting to see Intel weigh in with a decent performer in reinforcement learning with a soon-to-be-released CPU. That should help it deliver in future robotics applications that may not require a discrete GPU. Full results are available from MLPerf.

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July 29th 2020, 1:44 pm

A Version of the OnePlus Nord Will Come to the US

ExtremeTech

OnePlus made its name with cheap phones, but its most recent OnePlus 8 series has reached the stratospheric heights of other flagship devices. However, the company isn’t done with budget phones. The OnePlus Nord was unveiled recently, offering almost-flagship specs for a low price. Initially, OnePlus only confirmed availability in Europe and India, but now we know a version of the Nord will come to the US. Don’t expect it to be the same Nord, though. 

The OnePlus Nord gives you a lot for £379 including a 5G-enabled Snapdragon 765G, 8GB of RAM, a 6.4-inch 90Hz OLED, 30W fast charging, and more. You might want to buy one in the US, but the cellular bands will make that a poor experience. The good news is that OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has said that a “Nord” phone will launch in the US. The Nord has so far received positive reviews, citing the performance, build quality, and overall good value. Complaints include the lack of a telephoto zoom camera (also a problem on the OnePlus 8) and no water-resistance certification. 

Pei did not go into detail about the phone, except to say that it will launch in 2020. We’re now over halfway through the year, and no mysterious unnamed OnePlus phones have appeared online. That suggests this US-destined Nord is not completely distinct from the international Nord. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to design an entirely new smartphone when the cellular bands are the only thing keeping the Nord from working properly in the US. 

It is, however, possible OnePlus will change the specs in some way to position the phone for the US market. That might mean changes to the storage, RAM, or battery, all of which are relatively easy alterations to make. OnePlus’ carrier partners in the US might also pose a problem. Verizon is still focusing all its 5G efforts on millimeter wave, which the Nord does not support. OnePlus created a custom version of the OnePlus 8 (which also lacked mmWave) for Verizon. We might be looking at a similar situation with the Nord. 

The price might also be different when the Nord arrives — don’t expect a direct conversion from the international pricing. That would be about $490.

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July 29th 2020, 10:59 am

Windows 10 Is Five Years Old Today

ExtremeTech

Five years ago today, Microsoft launched Windows 10 for PCs. The first devices to ship Windows 10 Mobile would drop a few months later, in November 2015. At the time, Microsoft positioned Windows 10 as a radical response to changing market conditions and pledged that this would be both Microsoft’s last version of Windows and an eternally updated, ever-improving version of Windows. Features like DirectX 12 would leave old APIs in the past. Windows Mobile would enable an effectively unified experience across devices and operating systems.

Your OS would be kept seamlessly updated, with less need for reboots and better overall stability. Feature updates and security updates would be delivered simultaneously, and while the OS retained some of the fingerprints left on it by the ill-fated Windows 8, it would also represent a fundamental pivot back towards desktops and away from tablets. The OS would be free if you were upgrading from an existing Windows license, but Microsoft would now gather telemetry on its users on an ongoing basis with no method of opting out and you would no longer be able to avoid feature and security updates, either.

Five years later, there’ve been quite a few under-the-hood changes to the OS and its features, most of which I found myself genuinely unable to remember without pulling up lists of what changed between versions of the operating system. Sitting down to write this article, I find myself wondering if that’s Microsoft’s desired end-goal. From the way the company often talks about itself and its own importance in PR blasts, you could be forgiven for thinking Microsoft believes OS choice and feature sets are a critical topic of discussion at the office water cooler (back when those existed):

Microsoft often seems to struggle with this idea.

Here’s my hangup. Objectively speaking, Windows 10 is a better OS than it was in 2015. It includes features like virtual desktops, which I quite like. Granted, the only thing I use them for is pushing badly behaved applications to another desktop so I can kill them in Task Manager, but this is useful enough to count as a feature. Windows 10 has added dark modes and (inaccurate) GPU usage tracking. There’s less Cortana integration and the OS doesn’t try to lie to you anymore about whether you can install with a local account if you’re also connected to the internet during the installation process. It also collects less telemetry about its end-users than it did in 2015, and there are features like DirectX 12 and Xbox integration that appeal to gamers.

End users have more control over when and how updates are installed. Phone integration is better. Emoji integration is better. The Windows Subsystem for Linux has been updated with a full kernel in the last WSL2 update. Features like Timeline keep your application history and Windows will restore the applications you had open after a reboot. There’s even a history for the clipboard if you turn it on. Hell, Microsoft even patched Notepad. This isn’t the full list of improvements by any stretch, it’s just the ones I can recall off the top of my head. There’s no arguing that the OS is dramatically better.

Does it feel better? That’s trickier. I’m still angry that Windows 10 rebooted in the middle of a three-day GPU upscale test last week, requiring me to restart the nearly complete run from scratch. Most of my interaction with Windows 10 is professional, but reviewers are really weird customers for an operating system, because most OS’s aren’t built around the idea that they’re under review. Restarting previous desktop applications after reboot is great for regular users but sucks for people who were trying to achieve a pristine environment for further testing. Updating drivers automatically might be good for people who want to stay current, but isn’t great if you’re trying to make certain 4-5 different pieces of equipment all get tested with the same software and a new driver hits Windows Update partway through your testing process. I spend a lot more time fighting with Windows 10 on an ongoing basis, but that’s not really a fair assumption to make about everybody else.

A lot of the places where Windows 10 has improved the most are also places where Windows 10 created a lot of self-inflicted wounds. Is it better that the OS picks its update times more intelligently now? Yes. Did that stop it from rebooting out from under me with no warning last week? Nope. Did I have this problem on any previous version of Windows? Nope. So is that improvement evidence that a bad decision still sucks, or evidence that a good decision is getting better but still has a ways to go? I’m not sure. I sometimes wonder about whether the constant drumbeat of problems that follows new versions of Microsoft Windows around is better or worse than the surge of sustained reporting that used to follow the launch of each Service Pack. Maybe the real joke is the idea that anyone is paying attention in the first place. Maybe Microsoft appreciates bad press more than no press at all.

Mostly, though, it feels like we’re all complicit in a game of make-believe with companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google in which they agree to trot out new OS editions from the stage and we agree to pretend they’re actually meaningful when, in the vast majority of cases, they aren’t. Take gaming. If the advantage of Windows 10 is being able to run DX12, you’d expect DX12 games to offer meaningful advantages over DX11, which, five years after the API debuted, they don’t. Titles like Death Stranding, the upcoming PC port of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Cyberpunk 2077 will be DX12-only titles, which means we may finally see some signs of forward movement, but that future isn’t here yet. One feature I’d genuinely love to see — support for more than 64 threads per processor group — has no timeline for introduction.

The one thing I do know is that I don’t trust Windows 10. I don’t trust it not to reboot on me without warning. I don’t trust it not to replace driver versions I’ve installed with driver versions it likes better. I don’t trust it not to change my user preferences or my defaults. I don’t trust it to make the right decision about which software I am and am not allowed to run. After AMD’s Radeon black-screen bugs earlier this year, it’s clear you cannot trust Microsoft to screen drivers to see if they are good, and while it is 100 percent not Microsoft’s fault that AMD distributed some poor-quality drivers, Microsoft still delivered those drivers into PCs where they caused problems.

In short, I no longer trust Windows to get out of my way and allow me to do what I want. I approach each new feature drop warily and I wait to see what breaks before I adopt it. The only difference between this and the old Service Pack model is that I used to go through this process 1-2x per OS version, whereas now it’s more like an annual event. Has this constant stream of updates made Windows 10 a better OS than ever before? Microsoft swears it has. Does it feel like a better OS than ever before? Not to me. Last year, data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index Household Appliance and Electronics Report suggested that Microsoft’s update problems had caused a decline in satisfaction in the PC segment. The 2020 report isn’t available yet, and the decline in 2019 wasn’t all that large, so it’s difficult to say how consumer satisfaction will shape up this year. I daresay Windows 10 hasn’t been top-of-mind for a lot of people.

There are a lot of things I like about Windows 10. It boots quickly, it supports a huge range of legacy hardware, and it’s far more robust if you switch motherboards, CPUs, or GPU manufacturers than OS’s used to be in the Bad Old Days of custom AHCI drivers and instant BSODs if you attempted to switch horses midstream. I appreciate the way Microsoft is tying the Xbox and PC together as essentially equal gaming partners. I’m glad it supports a wide range of legacy hardware and I have always approved of mandatory security updates (drivers and features, no, but mandatory security updates, yes).

One can even argue that Windows 10 would be a much bigger deal if stuff was still broken the way it used to be. The reason Plug and Play (eventually) became a beloved feature is that manually configuring IRQs, DMAs, and interrupts for every piece of hardware in a Windows 95 system sucked. It would be absurd to hold Microsoft’s ability to solve long-term problems out as evidence that the OS has stopped improving, but the low-hanging fruit has long since been plucked off the Desktop OS Improvement Tree. What we’re left with, definitionally, is smaller, more niche improvements. This may not be an exciting thing, but it’s not a bad thing, either.

Windows 10. Five years after launch, it’s still a desktop OS you can buy. Five years after launch, Microsoft is still breaking things with each update. Five years after launch, it’s better in some regards, even if some of those improvements are in areas where it damaged itself in the first place.

I feel like I’m trying to write ad copy for a sequel to The Invention of Lying at this point, so I’ll try to close on something a bit more positive. Five years after Windows 10 debuted, we’re fairly certain it continues to exist, almost positive that it can’t be blamed for the state of the world in 2020, and are 100 percent sure that it’s improved in at least some ways that may or may not be relevant to you depending on your personal usage requirements.

Happy birthday.

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July 29th 2020, 8:44 am

AMD Reports Q2 2020 Results: Strong Results, Record Sales

ExtremeTech

AMD’s Q2 2020 results were excellent this week, showcasing how the company continues to perform well even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Revenue was up 8 percent quarter-on-quarter and 26 percent year-on-year, with gross margins of 44 percent. That’s slightly less than Q1 (46 percent) but above Q2 2019 (41 percent). The company recorded $173M in operating income and an operating margin of 9 percent.

While discussion of Intel’s quarterly results has focused heavily on delays to the 7nm ramp and what it means for the company’s 10nm more than its short-term excellent financials, AMD’s coverage is likely to go the opposite direction. According to the company, it has begun ramping up production for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launches to occur later this year. We should see a revenue kick for AMD in Q3 as Sony and Microsoft take delivery ahead of launches, with an even stronger Q4 as the consoles start shipping.

Revenue in the Compute and Graphics segment was $1.37B, the highest value AMD has recorded in 12 years, driven by record shipments of mobile APUs and revenue. 4 percent lower revenue in EESC year-on-year was the result of lower semi-custom sales, though it was partially offset by stronger sales of AMD’s Epyc products.

There’s no bad news in AMD’s report. You can argue that the slight decline in C&G from Q1 to Q2 may point to a weakening in the coronavirus pandemic-related sales, but that was always expected to be a temporary boost as companies bought equipment to allow employees to work from home. With the PS5 and Xbox Series X launches approaching, AMD should be in a very strong position to deliver results through the end of the year, provided that the pandemic doesn’t literally ruin everything.

There are two “gauntlets” AMD has to pass through: First, the launch of Rocket Lake on Intel’s 14nm process and second, the debut of Ampere. While we do not know specifics for either comparison, scuttlebutt suggests the company is well-aligned for both. AMD has targeted ~1.1 – 1.2x for generational uplifts on Ryzen year-on-year and will presumably do so again this year, while there are consistent rumors that RDNA2 could be as much as 1.95x – 2.25x faster than existing RDNA. While we recommend taking those rumors with a huge grain of salt, we’ve heard them several places. AMD still has a power-efficiency gap to close with Nvidia, so it’s possible the company might end the year in a better position vis-a-vis Intel than Team Green, but either way, the firm appears ready to take both companies on.

I’m used to having a little more to say about AMD’s quarterly results because there’s historically been more to talk about, whether it was concerning the company’s efforts to compete with Intel, Nvidia, or just to stave off its own end long enough to kick Ryzen out the door. AMD is a fraction of the size of Intel with a fraction of its financial resources, but it’s also the semiconductor company pushing desktop and mobile x86 CPUs ahead, quarter after quarter, while Intel struggles with its own process technology woes.

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July 29th 2020, 8:26 am

ET Deals: 1TB Samsung 970 EVO SSD $179, Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum & Mop $459, Inspiron 3671 Desktop f

ExtremeTech

If you’re ready to do away with hard drives and switch to an all-SSD solution for your storage needs, you may want to pick up one of Samsung’s 970 Evo 1TB SSDs. Not only does this drive offer a large storage capacity, but it also features a fast data transfer rate and a $70 discount.

Samsung 970 Evo 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD ($179.99)

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

Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum and Mop ($459.99)

This high-powered robot vacuum has 2,000Pa of suction power and it has a built-in mop function, which makes it a versatile cleaning tool for your home. The Roborock S6 was also built to be fairly quiet with an average cleaning volume of just 56dB. Currently, these robot vacs are selling on Amazon with promo code ROBOROCKS6, which drops the price from $649.99 to just $459.99.

Dell Inspiron 3671 Intel Core i7-9700 Desktop w/ 12GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($679.99)

This computer was designed to be a well-rounded home PC with a fast Intel Core i7 processor and 12GB of RAM. It’s perfect for web browsing and other tasks such as editing photos. You can get it now from Dell reduced from $809.99 to $679.99.

Motorola Edge Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 6.7-Inch OLED FHD+ Smartphone w/ 6GB RAM and 256GB Storage ($499.99)

The soon to be released Motorola Edge smartphone is built with a premium feature set, including an FHD+ 90Hz OLED 6.7-inch display, 6GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage space. The phone also has high-end cameras with a 64MP main camera, and it should be quite fast with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 SoC to drive apps. The phone will officially be released on July 31, but for a limited time, you can pre-order it now from Amazon marked down from $699.99 to just $499.99.

Dell Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 1TB NVMe SSD ($1,749.99)

This Alienware desktop features an edgy, rounded design and powerful gaming hardware capable of running most current AAA titles with high graphics settings. In addition to looking cool, this system was also designed to provide improved airflow over the older Aurora desktops, which means the hardware inside will also run cooler as well. For a limited time with promo code 50OFF699, you can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,029.99 to $1,749.99.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Processor w/ Wraith Stealth Cooler ($159.99)

AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 has six SMT-enabled CPU cores that can operate at a speed of up to 4.2GHz. This processor also has access to 35MB of cache and it comes with one of AMD’s Wraith Stealth coolers, which saves you the cost of having to buy one. You can buy this processor from Newegg currently for just $159.99, which is down from its regular retail price of $199.00.

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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July 28th 2020, 5:55 pm

Intel Core i9-10850K: A Little Less Clock, but (Maybe) a Lot More Traction

ExtremeTech

In April 2020, Intel announces new desktop processors as part of the 10th Gen Intel Core processor family, including Intel’s flagship Core i9-10900K processor, the world’s fastest gaming processor. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Intel quietly launched the Core i9-10850K, a new CPU that’s almost a Core i9-10900K in every single particular save one — it’s 100MHz slower, and a little bit cheaper. What’s interesting about the Core i9-10850K is that it exists in the first place. Intel doesn’t typically insert a SKU directly between its highest and next-highest CPUs like this.

The Core i9-10900K is a 10C/20T CPU with 3.7GHz base frequency and up to a 5.3GHz clock if thermal circumstances permit. The CPU has a nominal TDP of 125W, though this only refers to its thermal dissipation over time — at peak, the CPU draws well over 200W before throttling itself backward. List price? $488.

The Core i9-10850K is a 10C/20C CPU with a 3.6GHz base frequency and up to a 5.2GHz clock if thermal circumstances permit. Same nominal TDP, same notes about the nominality of said TDP, and same expectations for short-term power draw. Normally, Intel leaves the gap between its best and second-best CPU a little larger — the Core i9-10900 is a nominal 65W TDP CPU and has a base clock of 2.8GHz, not 3.6GHz. List price? $453.

Intel’s launch SKUs. The Core i9-10850K fits between the 10900KF and the Core i9-10900.

Objectively, this is not a bad deal if you are already set on an Intel system. The Core i9-10850K ought to be a good chip — not quite as fast as the Core i9-10900K but not quite as expensive, either, with the same set of features that Intel enthusiasts would be buying for in any case. But the likely reason Intel brought the CPU out sort-of undercuts the reason K-class CPUs exist at all: Overclocking.

CPU manufacturers don’t build “4GHz” CPUs or “4.5GHz” CPUs. After wafers complete processing, the chips are tested and binned according to their speed and power characteristics. One CPU might hit 4GHz at 1.0v, while another CPU needs 1.05v to hit that target. Intel and AMD set specific bins that they expect their various chips to hit, and then subdivide categories accordingly. What both companies want, in theory, is for every CPU to qualify as a top-notch part. You’d rather be selling people better chips than they think they own than having to constantly work to ship people the best silicon you can barely manufacture.

Chip yield curves are not linear. It’s entirely possible for a company to be seeing almost the same yield at 4.5GHz that it saw at 4.0GHz, but for only a handful of CPUs be capable of 4.8GHz. This may be exactly what we’re seeing play out with the Core i9-10850K. That 5.2GHz boost clock — which Intel restricts pretty tightly — may just be an easier reach than the 5.3GHz clock that the Core i9-10900K ships with.

Intel appears to still be having trouble keeping the Core i9 family in stock. The Core i9-10900K is listed as Out of Stock on Newegg and the Core i9-10900 is selling for $587, despite a list price of $439. We noticed Intel was having trouble stocking the HEDT variants of the 10th Gen family earlier in July, and it looks as though those problems are still causing the company headaches. Hopefully relaxing its clock speeds will allow the chip giant to actually push the Core i9-10850K into retail at volume, thereby gaining some traction in-market for its new chips in the process.

*Headline with apologies to Toby Keith

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July 28th 2020, 5:11 pm

NASA Clears Perseverance Mars Rover for Thursday Launch

ExtremeTech

NASA has confirmed that the Perseverance rover will launch on Thursday (July 30th) this week after years of development and testing. The robotic explorer, which is already bundled up in the nose section of an Atlas V rocket, will study the history of Mars with a specific focus on the search for signs of life on the dusty rock. First, it has to get there. 

Currently, NASA plans to launch the mission at 7:50 AM (eastern time) on Thursday from Cape Canaveral. This is always a dangerous phase of any mission, but the Atlas V has an excellent success rate for heavy-lift rockets. NASA has checked and rechecked everything and is confident in the hardware, both for the rocket and the rover it carries. “The launch readiness review is complete, and we are indeed go for launch,” administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Monday afternoon.

Getting into space is just the first hurdle for Perseverance to clear before it can do some science. It will take seven months for the Centaur second stage to carry the payload to Mars. NASA has already chosen a landing date: February 18, 2021. NASA will wait to begin the landing even if Perseverance arrives before that date, which allows flight engineers to plan for specific lighting and surface conditions. 

The rover sealed inside the launch fairing.

Because Mars is several light minutes away from Earth, there’s no way for the team back home to control the descent in real-time. So, everything will be automated, just like Curiosity. That means a new “seven minutes of terror” as we wait to find out if the rover landed successfully. Perseverance is a delicate piece of scientific equipment that weighs as much as a small SUV, and Mars’ thin atmosphere means parachutes are of limited usefulness. NASA’s solution is the same as it was eight years ago. Perseverance will use a parachute to slow its descent, but it will jettison that far above the surface. A rocket-powered sky crane will bring the lander to a stop just above the surface, deposit Perseverance, and then blast itself off into the distance to crash-land. 

Jezero Crater, the landing site for Perseverance.

If all goes as planned, Perseverance’s all-clear signal from Jezero Crater will reach Earth seven minutes after the landing began. While on Mars, Perseverance will deploy a helicopter drone, collect samples for a possible return to Earth, and conduct astrobiology research. NASA designed the rover to operate for at least several years, but it’s based on Curiosity’s highly successful design — and that robot is still climbing Mount Sharp eight years after its landing. Perseverance could be exploring the red planet for many years to come.

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July 28th 2020, 1:53 pm

Perseverance Rover Will Take a Tiny Piece of Mars Home to the Red Planet

ExtremeTech

The Perseverance rover will set the stage by collecting samples from Mars.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to lift off this week to begin its journey toward the red planet. The robot carries a plethora of instruments, a helicopter, and sample containers that might one day conduct pieces of Mars back to Earth. However, Perseverance will also repatriate a tiny fragment of Mars back to its homeworld. The rover’s calibration target will include a piece of a meteorite that left Mars behind thousands of years ago. 

Perseverance, previously known only as Mars 2020, is the successor of Curiosity. NASA has been overwhelmingly pleased with Curiosity’s performance since its 2012 landing on Mars. Perseverance makes a few structural changes, like more durable wheels that won’t get roughed up by the pointy Martian rocks. The latest Mars explorer also has a collection of new instruments including SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which takes the place of MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) on Curiosity. 

Just like MAHLI, SHERLOC lives at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. To take reliable readings, NASA needs to recalibrate these sensitive instruments after landing. That’s why both Curiosity and Perseverance have calibration targets mounted on the chassis, and that’s where you’ll find a little piece of Mars that’s going home. 

The fragment comes from a meteorite called SaU 008, which was discovered in Oman in 1999. It has been in the collection of the Natural History Museum in London since 2000. Gas pockets inside the rock confirm it formed on Mars, and now it’s headed back there. Scientists confirmed the rock came from Mars roughly 600,000-700,000 years ago when an asteroid or comet impacted the planet. The cataclysm launched bits of Mars into space, and eventually, some of it rained down on Earth. 

The calibration target for the SHERLOC Instrument before being mounted to the rover.

The Perseverance team says that a piece of Mars is an ideal way to calibrate the SHERLOC tool after landing. The Perseverance calibration target also contains several materials being considered for future Mars spacesuits. In addition to calibrating the rover’s instruments, NASA will be able to use the target to monitor how these materials age while exposed to the Martian atmosphere. 

Perseverance is already packaged up inside the Atlas V rocket that will send it into space later this week. Assuming the launch goes well, the next time we hear about Perseverance, it will be preparing for its landing in February 2021.

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July 28th 2020, 8:18 am

It’s Now Possible to Play Doom Literally Inside of Minecraft

ExtremeTech

Porting Doom to various devices has become an art over the years. From calculators to printers, the first level of “Knee Deep in the Dead” tends to show up in a lot of places. This is the first time, at least that I’m aware of, that a modder has figured out how to actually play Doom inside of Minecraft itself.

The mod works via VirtualBox (as-in, the software) and an associated Minecraft mod. Essentially, the mod allows you to order a computer from a satellite that passes overhead 5x per day. Once you’ve ordered it, you can configure the box for the type of machine you want to virtually emulate, then install an emulated operating system. You can probably guess where this is going:

I played DOOM in Minecraft with VMComputers mod. from Minecraft

While running Doom in Minecraft via VirtualBox is new, it turns out that running Doom inside of other applications isn’t as novel as I thought it was. It’s actually possible to run Doom inside of GZDoom already, thanks to a tool called Action Code Script, which raises a question of its own: Is it possible to run GZDoom in Minecraft, and then to run Doom inside of GZDoom?

Because if you did, you’d be running Doom inside of Doom, inside of a virtual machine, inside of Minecraft, which itself is just one application running on a PC. When I was a kid, one of the things we did for fun was call people who had threeway calling, then get them to call someone, and so on. We once built up a long enough chain of people (reports varied on how many) that we were all simultaneously disconnected and the phone system fired off an “all circuits are busy” when we tried to call each other back.

Running Doom inside of Doom inside of Minecraft reminds me of something similar. It’s also an amusing way to waste modern CPU performance by finding the point at which a computer can no longer effectively play Doom because the weight of every other simulation/game running behind Doom has left the machine inoperable.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Take your fun where you can find it.

PCGamer has a pretty great list of other “computers” you can play Doom on. Doom has also been ported to the Commodore 64, an ATM, and (my personal favorite), a piano. The ultimate trick would be if playing the music from “Knee Deep in the Dead” on the piano also successfully maneuvered Doomguy through the level and let him exit successfully.

Feature image by VMComputers, Minecraft mod

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July 27th 2020, 5:00 pm

ET Deals: Dell G7 4K OLED Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 2080 Gaming Laptop for $1,679, Intel Core i7-

ExtremeTech

Dell’s G7 15 is a top-notch gaming laptop with a Core i7 processor, and Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card, and a 4K OLED display. Best of all, you can get this system today with $1,100 knocked off the price, making it an astounding deal.

Dell G7 15 Intel Core i7-9750H 4K OLED 15.6-Inch Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($1,679.99)

Dell’s G7 15 gaming laptop has an Intel Core i7-9750H processor paired with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics card that together allow it to run modern games with ease. Dell designed the system with a dual-fan thermal solution that uses four heatpipes to keep the CPU and GPU cool. The system comes with a fast 512GB NVMe SSD pre-installed, and Dell also equipped this system with a 4K OLED display. You can get this system as configured from Dell marked down from $2,779.99 to just $1,679.99.

Intel Core i7-10700 8-Core 4.8GHz Processor ($309.99)

The Core i7-10700 is one of Intel’s newest processors with eight CPU cores able to hit a top speed of 4.8GHz. The chip also supports Hyper-Threading, and it’s now available on sale from Newegg. Regularly priced at $369.99, you can now get this chip for just $309.99.

Dell UltraSharp U2720Q 27 4K USB-C Monitor ($485.99)

Working on a 4K monitor has some major advantages, including fitting more on-screen at any given time. This display from Dell utilizes a 27-inch 4K panel that also supports 1.07 billion colors, making it well-suited for image editing. Right now you can get one from Dell marked down from $719.99 to $485.99 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Echo Show 5 + Blink XT2 Outdoor/Indoor Smart Security Camera — 5 Camera Kit ($294.99)

In this kit, you get an Amazon Echo Show 5 along with a five Blink’s XT2 cameras that were built to work both indoors and outdoors in all weather conditions. The cameras also feature exceptional battery life and can last for up to two years on a single charge. The Echo Show 5 can control these cameras and display video from them, and it has numerous other additional features. Right now you can get this set from Amazon marked down from $469.98 to $294.99.

Seagate Expansion 16TB External HDD ($299.99)

External HDDs like this one are excellent for backing up your files to help avoid their loss in the event of a hard drive failure. This drive can also hold an enormous amount of data with a total capacity of 16TB. Today, Amazon is offering this drive marked down from $389.99 to just $294.99.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($24.99)

As its name suggests, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K is capable of streaming 4K content to your smart TV from a wide range of sources. It also comes with a remote that features Alexa, which is able to hear and obey voice commands. Right now select customers can get it marked down from $49.99 to $24.99 with promo code 4KFIRETV.

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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July 27th 2020, 4:15 pm

Intel, AMD Reportedly Fighting for Capacity at TSMC

ExtremeTech

There’s a new report out of China claiming that Intel and AMD are now fighting over TSMC’s 7nm capacity that implies a slugging match between the three companies that may actually be more of a happy mutual coincidence.

Note: The Google Translate version of the text refers to “Supermicro” at several points. This may confuse English readers who are familiar with SuperMicro, the motherboard company. According to the native Mandarin speaker we consulted, the naive translation “Supermicro” is actually a reference to AMD. This also makes the most sense contextually within the article.

According to the story, Intel will specifically license the 6nm variant of TSMC’s 7nm technology that the company announced last year. 6nm is expected to deliver a density improvement over 7nm/7nm+, though TSMC has not disclosed improvements on power or performance compared with the other node. AMD, meanwhile, is expected to become TSMC’s largest customer next year on the 7nm node, likely in part because Apple is moving to 5nm and below.

The reason this may be less of a problem and more of a happy coincidence is because of the Trump Administration’s ban on TSMC doing business with Huawei. This opened an obvious hole in TSMC’s capacity utilization that Intel, apparently, will be happy to fill. TSMC announced their 6nm process last year, it typically takes about 12 months to ramp up for volume manufacturing, and that means the node could be ready for production soon.

In a recent story, I pointed out that Ponte Vecchio’s position on Intel’s roadmap had shifted. While the card is still coming to market, Intel no longer refers to it as the leading 7nm part. Instead, according to Swan, “We now expect to see initial production shipments of our first Intel-based 7-nanometer product, a client CPU in late 2022 or early 2023.” As for Ponte Vecchio:

Yes. On Ponte Vecchio, originally the architecture of Ponte Vecchio includes an IO based die, connectivity, a GPU and some memory tiles, all kind of package together… From the beginning, we would do some of those tiles inside and some of those tiles outside, and again leverage the packaging technology as a proof point of how do we mix and match different designs into one package. So, that was the design from the beginning.

This is a beautiful example of a statement that is probably literally true, yet simultaneously leaves the reader with the wrong impression. What Swan is trying to imply is that Intel is tapping TSMC for some minor additional work. The fact that PV is no longer positioned as the leading candidate for 7nm, however, means that the GPU itself has left the metaphorical and literal building. It’s true that Intel was always going to fab some of PV at an external foundry, because Ponte Vecchio uses HBM, and Intel doesn’t manufacture it.

TSMC’s 6nm process is reportedly density-optimized and intended for high-performance computing, making it a great fit for Intel’s data center GPU. There’s also the fact that launching a GPU on TSMC rather than a CPU has less impact on Intel’s overall reputation. People expect Intel to lead in CPU development. They don’t necessarily care if Intel leads in GPU, where the company has no established reputation.

How much of an impact this has on Ponte Vecchio’s launch will depend on when Intel initiated this process. It takes about a year, best-case, to port a design from one foundry to another. Ponte Vecchio was supposed to launch in 2021, so if Intel kicked off the transition quickly enough, it might still get the card out in that timeframe. The China Times story says that TSMC will begin to convert 7nm to 6nm in the second half “of the year” and bring the node online for volume manufacturing at the end of the year, but doesn’t specify if this applies to 2020 or 2021. If 2021, it means Ponte Vecchio could slip to 2022 or 2023. If it’s a reference to 2020, it means Intel has a shot at getting the card out in 2021 – 2022.

Reportedly AMD will contract for 200,000 wafers over the whole of next year, making it TSMC’s largest customer on 7nm. The wafer order numbers are speculations by the China Times, not factual reports of order size from TSMC. And while the article says the two companies are fighting, it also emphasizes that the cancellation of Huawei’s orders left a giant hole in TSMC’s capacity the company very much wants to fill.

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July 27th 2020, 4:00 pm

Call Control Cracks Down On The 60 Billion Robocalls People Get Every Year

ExtremeTech

Early this century, Americans actually caught a break from the federal government with the institution of the National Do Not Call Registry. Phone owners frustrated by endless solicitation calls could add their number to the list…and the annoying phone calls would stop. And they did, with more than 3 out of 4 Americans reporting a large difference in the number of telemarketing calls that they received in 2007.

But telemarketers got wise. That’s when robocalls, which unfortunately aren’t governed by the Do Not Call list, started to skyrocket. Now, we were subjected to nearly 60 billion robocalls last year. And you probably feel like you’ve answered most of them.

You don’t have time for that. Or the patience. That’s why 12 million users have signed on with Call Control, an artificial intelligence-based app tool that can keep all those robo-nuisances away from your number. Right now, a one-year subscription to Call Control Premium service is available at $19.99, a $10 savings off the regular price.

Call Control uses community reports and various Do Not Call complaints to assemble their own roster of bad callers, blocking thousands of spam and other unwanted calls and texts from ever reaching your phone. Scammers and phishers won’t know what hit ‘em.

And Call Control works whether it’s a robocall, an annoying telemarketer, a scam, a bully or just any person you don’t want to talk to. You can also maintain your own personal blacklist of blocked numbers and texts to add to your quarantine zone. Call Control has already blocked 1 billion callers for its users, so you can rest assured it’ll have you covered when you need it.

Meanwhile, Call Control is also chock full with other useful features to keep calls you don’t want from wasting your time, including automatic Caller ID, a reverse phone number lookup to reveal unknown numbers as well as quiet hour settings to keep your phone from ringing at night or during an important meeting.

And those 12 million users are highly satisfied with Call Control, with a solid 4 out of 5 star rating from nearly 100,000 Apple App Store and Google Play reviews.

A year of access to all of Call Control’s premium service features is a $29 value, but right now, you can get that same 12 months of smartphone protection for only $19.99.

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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July 27th 2020, 3:45 pm

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 5 Charges Your Phone 50 Percent in 5 Minutes

ExtremeTech

We rely on our phones more than ever before, but battery capacity has been slow to improve. The speed at which those batteries charge, however, has increased by leaps and bounds. Qualcomm has announced the latest increase in charging speed with Quick Charge 5. This standards-based charging technology will start showing up in smartphones soon with support for 100W of power or more. That’s enough to charge most phones from 0 to 50 percent in five minutes or less. 

Qualcomm says Quick Charge 5 is the first charging system in the world that supports over 100W charging for smartphones. Oppo recently unveiled Flash Charge, which supports 125W, but the company has no hardware that supports the proprietary technology at this time. Quick Charge 5, on the other hand, is supported by the current-gen Snapdragon 865, and Qualcomm has new power control chips that OEMs can use to enable super-fast charging. So, it’s first with an asterisk. 

Like Quick Charge 4 and 4+, the latest QC5 uses the USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) charge negotiation protocol. That means any device that supports USB-PD can fast-charge on a Quick Charge 5 cable. The phone and adapter will simply find the highest safe wattage, and you’re off to the races. For upcoming phones that have the right hardware, Quick Charge 5 will leverage a specific part of the Power Delivery standard called PPS (Programmable Power Supply) to ramp up voltage as high as 20V. With support for 5A of current (or more), you have a 100W+ power supply that’s safe to use in a phone. 

This is a huge jump for Qualcomm’s charging hardware. In 2013, Qualcomm announced Quick Charge, which boosted USB charging speeds from 5W to 10W. Quick Charge 3 and 4 moved the needle a bit, but QC5 is now ten times faster than the original Quick Charge. A phone with a 4,500 mAh battery can charge completely (from 0 to 100) in about 15 minutes with QC5. The first 50 percent goes faster (in just 5 minutes) because the wattage necessarily drops as a battery approaches its maximum capacity. At the same time, QC5 is supposed to be 70 percent more efficient than QC4+. Your battery should also stay about 10 degrees Celsius cooler with the new standard. 

Just because your phone has a Snapdragon 865 or 865+ doesn’t mean you suddenly have 100W charging. Device makers need to include the hardware to support those speeds, but now they have the option to do that. It’s unlikely you’ll see any devices with Quick Charge 5 support until the rumored Snapdragon 875 begins popping up in early 2021.

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July 27th 2020, 2:30 pm

We’ve Never Seen Intel Struggle Like This

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)

Last week, Intel announced that it would delay its 7nm process node at least six months. According to company CEO Bob Swan, the node is at least 12 months behind Intel’s internal roadmaps. In the short term, that means product delays and probably some refreshed 10nm hardware in place of new 7nm equipment. In the long term, the potential outcomes range from “Intel regains process leadership” to “Intel becomes a fabless company.” Not much pressure there.

Intel’s current situation is historically unprecedented for the giant CPU manufacturer. While Intel shipped 10nm commercial laptop silicon in volume beginning ~12 months ago, the company has yet to transition its desktops or servers to the new node. Production volumes of Ice Lake servers are expected to start shipping at the end of 2020, with the first desktop 10nm CPUs scheduled for H2 2021. It took Intel about five years to move from 14nm Broadwell to Ice Lake (mobile), 5-5.5 years for Xeon depending on which models launch first, and six years for desktop. Rocket Lake may deliver a new architecture on 14nm, but Alder Lake will be the first new node.

While Intel’s 14nm transition woes have occupied a majority of column inches, they aren’t the only headwinds the company is currently facing. Two years ago, I wrote a story titled “Intel is at a Crossroads,” discussing both the company’s manufacturing problems and the bets it was making in fields like AI and 5G. Two years later, some of those bets have either failed or have yet to pay off.

Intel’s 5G business became much narrower after the company sold its modem IP to Apple. Intel’s upcoming Movidius platform, Keem Bay, which reportedly offers much higher efficiencies than competing parts from Nvidia, allegedly integrates a Cortex-A53 CPU rather than an Intel x86 part. In January, Intel announced it was ending its investment into Nervana and moving its product plans to IP created by rival Habana Labs.

Ponte Vecchio, which was supposed to be Intel’s first 7nm chip and set to debut in early 2021, has been pushed to late 2021/early 2022. Immediately after notifying investors that Ponte Vecchio had slipped, CEO Bob Swan stated: “We now expect to see initial production shipments of our first Intel-based 7-nanometer product, a client CPU in late 2022 or early 2023.” The implication here is that Ponte Vecchio is either no longer being built on 7nm, or that the GPU core is no longer being built at Intel. During Intel’s conference call, multiple investors picked up on the fact that the company referred to 7nm as being 12 months behind internally but facing only six months’ worth of delay, and sources we spoke to with some knowledge of Intel’s roadmaps echoed those uncertainties. There is not a great deal of confidence in the industry about Intel’s ability to hit these new dates — not given the tremendous problems the company has encountered to-date.

Intel’s PSG (Programmable Solutions Group), which contains its Altera FPGA business, continues to bump along at ~$500M per quarter — not chump change, but well behind Xilinx. The entire concept of CPU + FPGA on the same piece of silicon seems to have taken a backseat to other advances. Intel launched a Xeon with an integrated FPGA with the Xeon Gold 6138P back in 2018 but has not updated the SKU since.

Optane may have long-term potential as a memory technology and 2nd generation should be faster than first, but existing software often has to be rewritten to take advantage of Optane’s characteristics and it’s still at a disadvantage to NAND in terms of cost. Foveros and Intel’s Omni-Directional Interconnect could be foundational breakthroughs for future technologies, but even the best interconnect needs solid components to attach to. Jim Keller’s decision to leave for “personal reasons” doesn’t really pass the sniff test.

What Intel Risks

Intel has a remarkable habit of making tons of money when it’s in trouble, technologically speaking. Prescott was both the worst CPU Intel ever shipped and a revenue record-breaker when it was new, and Intel’s overall data center and CPU sales have been doing very well the past few quarters. Part of that boost is from COVID-19, but the company was enjoying robust demand even before the pandemic hit. Those of you hoping that 2023 will dawn on a broken Intel, begging for financial relief from the likes of AMD or TSMC had best temper those expectations. Intel will continue to do well for a number of reasons, including continued excellence in specific markets/workloads, familiarity, inertia, multi-year purchase agreements, and being the platform of choice for a lot of software in circumstances where customers buy what their applications officially support, Intel is going to continue to hold on to large segments of workstation, desktop, and server markets.

If this was 2012, the article might end right there. With no ARM or x86 competitors on the horizon, Intel could ride out the next 3-5 years, fix its process nodes and its CPUs, and get back in the saddle without ever facing a serious competitor. But this isn’t 2012, and Intel is facing threats across the spectrum. Its rival x86 manufacturer, AMD, is making a serious play for overall market leadership. At the same time, Intel faces not just one ARM-based competitor, but a number of them: Qualcomm and Apple in laptops and Amazon, Ampere, Nuvia, and all other Neoverse-based products in servers. All we need at this point is for Western Digital to announce a new RISC V-based high-performance processor.

It’s not the near-term risks in 2021 – 2022 that should be keeping Intel investors up at night. It’s the question of how this situation evolves in 2024, 2025, and beyond. At this point, there is little reason to believe that Intel is going to have 7nm ready to ship six months after its original target. Backporting 10nm features into Rocket Lake’s 14nm will buy Intel some time, but the company obviously can’t keep designing chips for the same node forever.

All of these delays are virtually certain to pile into each other, because there are some critical technology introduction windows that have to happen at node transition boundaries. EUV has to go in. Once installed, continuing to scale downwards will require either high-NA EUV devices or the adoption of multi-patterning. Either way, these aren’t fire-and-forget technologies for Intel — they’re technologies that have to be installed and then scale downwards while improving yield as well.

It’d be stupid to count Intel out altogether, given the company’s history and long track record of proven performance — but it’d be just as stupid to pretend everything is going well at the silicon giant. I stand by my estimates from last week — Intel has 2-3 years to demonstrate a fundamental turnaround, or investors are going to start raising serious questions about its future as an IDM.

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July 27th 2020, 9:44 am

Starlink Satellites Ruin NEOWISE Comet Photo

ExtremeTech

Earlier this year, NASA discovered a new comet with its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope. The object, casually known as NEOWISE, has been closer to Earth this month than at any point in the last 6,000 years. Astronomers and photographers have been looking skyward to observe the comet, but one astrophotographer got a nasty surprise when Starlink satellites photobombed an otherwise excellent time-lapse photo. 

NEOWISE is what’s known as a long period comet — it has a highly eccentric orbit that takes it deep into the outer solar system over thousands of years before it swings back toward the sun (and Earth). Astronomers believe the nucleus of NEOWISE is roughly three miles (5 kilometers) in diameter. For most of July, the comet has been less than 200 million miles from Earth, which is close enough to see with the naked eye in isolated areas. In urban settings, you need binoculars or a telescope to spot the comet. 

Astrophotographer Daniel Lopez recently set up his equipment in Teide National Park on the Canary Islands to snap a time-lapse image of NEOWISE. The final image, which features 17 separate frames captured over 30 seconds is marred by streaks of light from SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites. 

VisorSat is supposed to stop exactly this sort of thing from happening. If it works.

Elon Musk dreams of providing satellite internet access around the world with this mega-constellation of satellites. There are already more than 500 of them in orbit, but the company’s plans call for thousands. To avoid the horrendous lag endemic in previous satellite internet systems, Starlink satellites remain in lower orbits. That also makes them more visible. For example, Starlink satellites ruined observations of the Magellanic Clouds at the CTIO observatory in Chile. 

SpaceX has promised to address the high reflectivity of its satellite network with a system called VisorSat—essentially, fins that shield the shiny surface of the satellites from sunlight. SpaceX began testing VisorSat on satellites launched in April, but it’s unclear how well they work, and regardless, SpaceX is launching new satellites every few weeks. If VisorSat isn’t perfect, there could be a lot more ruined photos in the future. Musk claims that Starlink won’t have a substantial impact on astronomy even when there are thousands of satellites. Although, he does have a tendency to overpromise.

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July 27th 2020, 7:56 am

Amazon Sells Customer 16TB External HDD With an 8TB Drive Installed

ExtremeTech

When you purchase a pre-owned or refurbished item from a company, you’re essentially trading on trust. Because these products often have short warranty periods (or no warranty periods) and similarly limited support options, customers are often wary of being taken advantage of. Knowing this, companies will often offer various guarantees of inspection or support like “7 Day Return Period, “Pre-Owned Certified,” or “Definitely Not Full of Wasps.”

(If you haven’t seen that last one, it’s because you shop in boring stores).

Amazon sells a selection of used merchandise via its Amazon Warehouse division, including refurbs, pre-owned, and open-box products. All such products come with the “Amazon Renewed Guarantee,” which guarantees you a no-hassle return within 90 days. As warranties go, that’s not much. But it does at least give you a window to test the product.

As one customer discovered, Amazon’s claims to inspect the products it ships out may not be worth a lot. Visual effects artist Ashuri: Fujoshi-hime (@BlissWallpaper) bought a new 16TB drive advertised on Amazon Warehouse Deals. Said drive arrived with a prominent “Inspected” sticker… and turned out not to be.

Inside the package was a 16TB external drive casing with a highly tell-tale mark on the outer edge.

Image by Ashuri. No spudger? Kyle Wiens will be so hurt.

After CrystalDiskInfo confirmed the drive is just 8TB, Ashuri reached out to Amazon, which will presumably honor its own policies. That’s not the problem. The problem here is companies selling products with giant “Inspected” stickers on them that are nothing of the sort.

A few years ago, I bought a 50-inch television refurbished on Newegg, where company policies indicate that refurb goods are always individually inspected. The display was intended for a friend with limited mobility, and while I didn’t have a lot of money to throw at the problem, I wanted to be certain of a quality refurb. I’d purchased from Newegg’s refurbished department before, though it’d been years.

Imagine my surprise when the “refurbished” TV showed up a week later on my friend’s doorstep with a badly damaged screen. Imagine my further surprise when I checked Newegg and realized one of the reviews for the TV that had rated it poorly had the same damage as the one I’d bought.

Exactly the same damage as the one I’d bought. In the same place.

When I called Newegg and asked about this problem, I was told that the company didn’t actually inspect all of its large refurbed products and had instead just shipped the TV out again without ever looking in the box. As in Ashuri’s case, Newegg dealt with the problem, but these stickers are all too often a lie. Either hardware is not being inspected, or it’s not being inspected by people who know what counterfeited goods look like, making the inspection worthless.

If anyone had bothered to boot the hard drive to test it, they’d have seen it was an 8TB unit. If they’d inspected it, they’d have seen it had been cracked open. The implication here is that the reason Amazon doesn’t deal with these problems is that it’s cheaper to take stuff back within a 90-day window than it is to pay someone to inspect it in the first place. Hat tip to our sister site PCMag for spotting this one.

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July 24th 2020, 5:31 pm

ET Deals: Dell 2020 XPS 15 9500 Intel Core i7 & Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti Laptop $1,439, $90 Off 16TB Seaga

ExtremeTech

Today you can save nearly $400 on your purchase of one of Dell’s newest XPS 15 laptops. This notebook features a 16:10 aspect ratio display along with a Core i7-10750H processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics chip. Displays using this aspect ratio were popular a decade ago before being overtaken by the more common 16:9 aspect ratio, but they are still prized by many for offering a better view in addition to providing slightly more physical screen space.

Dell 2020 XPS 15 9500 Intel Core i7-10750H 1920×1200 15.6-Inch Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,439.99)

Dell’s newest XPS 15 laptop features a 1920×1200 resolution display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The system also has stylish, carbon-fiber palm rests, and it comes equipped with a capable Core i7 hexa-core processor that can hit clock speeds as high as 5GHz. The system’s also fit to run games with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. The new XPS 15 retails for $1,799.99, but with promo code STAND4SMALL you can currently get it from Dell marked down to just $1,439.99.

Seagate Expansion 16TB External HDD ($299.99)

External HDDs like this one are excellent for backing up your files to help avoid their loss in the event of a hard drive failure. This drive can also hold an enormous amount of data with a total capacity of 16TB. Today, Newegg is offering this drive marked down from $389.99 to just $299.99 with promo code 7WKDSLCS36.

Arlo Pro 2 1080p 2-Camera Wire-Free Camera System ($199.89)

Arlo’s Pro 2 security system includes two wireless 1080p cameras. This makes it possible to strategically monitor the entrances to your home and keep watch for intruders and any other suspicious activity. Currently, you can get this set from Verizon marked down from $399.99 to $199.89.

Dell Alienware AW2720HF 240Hz 1080p 27-Inch IPS Gaming Monitor ($429.99)

Enjoy your games to the fullest with a blazing 240Hz monitor! In addition to its extreme refresh rate, this display features support for AMD’s FreeSync technology and a fast 1ms response time giving you a highly responsive gaming experience. Right now you can get this display from Dell marked down from $609.99 to $429.99.

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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July 24th 2020, 4:28 pm

Garmin Online Services Reportedly Hit With Ransomware Attack

ExtremeTech

You might not have thought much about Garmin since smartphones took over from standalone GPS units, but the company still has a large and passionate base of fitness-tracking users. Those passionate users are understandably agitated as the company’s services have been down for the last day, thanks to a malware attack that may include a so-called ransomware element. 

If you head to Garmin.com, at least at the time of this writing, you’ll see a message that mentions an “outage,” but that’s underselling it a bit. According to multiple reports, Garmin’s network has been the target of a cyberattack with ransomware elements. In the aftermath, Garmin’s website, the online Garmin Connect service, and the company’s call centers have been left unavailable. The outage began yesterday, and a leaked memo suggests the unexpected “maintenance” could last until tomorrow. 

The shutdown prevents owners of Garmin’s fitness products, such as the popular Fenix smartwatches, from syncing their activities and checking stats. That’s sure to upset people, but the outage also extends to the company’s aviation databases and some production capacity in Asia. 

Ransomware attacks have occurred with increasing regularity in the last several years. These schemes leverage the encryption technologies that underlie file security and communication for nefarious purposes. After gaining access to a computer system through a vulnerability or social engineering, the attacker uses ransomware to encrypt important files. Then, they demand payment (usually in Bitcoin) to provide the decryption key. Some ransomware campaigns do actually live up to their end of the bargain if paid, but others are just a scam to milk victims for as much money as possible. 

While individuals are sometimes hit for a few hundred dollars in ransom, businesses can be asked to pay much more to regain access to their data. Some internet ne’er-do-wells also threaten to leak confidential information if their demands are not met. Garmin holds vast amounts of sensitive health data that customers would certainly not want exposed. If there is any good news here, it’s that the ransomware strain cited in reports, known as WastedLocker, does not have data theft functionality. Imagine that, ransomware with principles. 

Currently, Garmin has not confirmed any of this via official channels — the longer it waits, the worse things look. In the meantime, dedicated Garmin fans are becoming increasingly frustrated that their expensive tracking hardware doesn’t work.

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July 24th 2020, 3:30 pm

Cloud Storage Is Essential. So Get A Whopping 5TB Of Cloud Space Now For 90 Percent Off

ExtremeTech

There’s no more sinking feeling than the moment you realize an important file is lost and gone forever. Whether you lost a drive, suffered a mechanical or electrical hit, or just plain made a mistake, the recriminations start immediately. Why didn’t I take better care of it? And, more importantly, why don’t I back up my stuff like I’m supposed to?

A sound, reliable system for backing up all the files, images, videos and other data on your computer or mobile device should be a top priority for any user these days. And with the world heading toward half of all information being saved in the cloud, now’s the time to jump when you find that great cloud storage deal.

Which may look a lot like this enticing offer for 5TBs of premium cloud storage space with a lifetime subscription to Polar Cloud Backup. Right now, it’s available for a one-time $79.99 price, a savings of over 90 percent off the regular price.

At its most basic level, customers are looking for the most space possible at the lowest possible price. And on a straight cost benefit ratio, Polar Cloud runs circles around some of the big boys.

By comparison, Microsoft OneDrive service costs $150 annually for only 1,000GB of storage, while Google Drive charges $100 a year for 2TB of space. With Polar you get well more than double or even five times the space of those larger providers at a cheaper price than their annual fees. And you keep your Polar Cloud space forever.

Of course, your Polar Cloud storage has to perform as well. Utilizing state-of-the-art Amazon Web Services (AWS) technology and GDPR-compliance, you not only get full military-grade 256-Bit AES encryption for your data, it also offers faster service times and backups with technology such as deduplication and block-level uploads.

With a click, you can create full backups of your entire computer or mobile device hard drive, save it to the cloud, and keep it all under lock and key until you need it again. You can set up regular updates to smoothly store and back up important files automatically.

The intuitive, user-friendly interface makes it easy to maintain full control of your data at all times while enjoying a massive amount of storage space that can house the complete contents of most devices several times over.

Regularly $990, you can get that 5TBs of Polar Cloud Backup storage for life now for only $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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July 24th 2020, 3:30 pm

US, UK Accuse Russia of Testing Space-Based Anti-Satellite Weapon

ExtremeTech

Both the US and the UK claim to have evidence that Russia has tested an anti-satellite weapon on July 15. The weapon test has been classified as “non-destructive,” meaning it didn’t target any other satellites. That doesn’t mean it can’t, just that the Russians may have wanted to test their new weapon without tipping their hand on what they had.

An extensive report from Time details what we know about the situation thus far. On November 26, 2019, a Soyuz rocket launched a Russian satellite. Eleven days later, that single satellite split into two, becoming Cosmos 2543 and Cosmos 2542. Later, both satellites were detected shadowing a US KH-11 satellite.

KH-11 satellites are US reconnaissance satellites thought to resemble the Hubble Space Telescope and first deployed in 1976. The original NASA justification for using a 2.4m lens for Hubble rather than the originally planned 3.0m lens was to “lessen fabrication costs by using manufacturing technologies developed for military spy satellites.”

There have been five “Blocks” of KH-11 satellites deployed from 1976 to the present day. Block II added infrared, Block III had much faster download rates, and so on. KH-11-class satellites continue to be used today; President Trump declassified a photo of an Iranian test site following a failed launch that’s believed to have been taken by USA-224, a KH-11 satellite.

Image declassified by President Trump

Once the US notified Russia it had detected the satellite pair, they zoomed away from USA-224. On July 15, Cosmos 2543 fired a projectile into outer space at a speed of over 400mph. According to General John “Jay” Raymond, “Russia is developing on-orbit capabilities that seek to exploit our reliance on space-based systems.” This isn’t the first time Russia has used a satellite to launch a projectile; the country conducted a similar test in 2017.

The frailty of the United States satellite systems makes this a genuine threat. Satellites today do not carry defenses and are not capable of deploying protective measures against a potential kill vehicle. Huge amounts of US infrastructure depend on reliable satellite communications and the entire GPS coordinate system is based on satellites. From weather forecasts to monitoring potential adversary troop movements, America’s satellite network performs a host of functions we rarely have to think about on a day-to-day basis. Satellites, to borrow a phrase, “just work.”

Time leads with this as part of a deep-dive into the Space Force and whether its raison d’être even makes sense. The question in that regard is less whether the US needs to be paying attention to space and its military satellites and more about whether we need a new branch of the Armed Forces to handle the task.

There is evidence that both the Russians and Chinese are upping their ability to jam GPS. The report discusses a new Russian laser system designed to jam spy satellites and how Scandinavians now report GPS disruption when Russian military exercises are conducted nearby. China is reportedly developing frequency jammers and has demonstrated its own antisatellite weapon capability. The Navy is once again training its navigators to rely on the stars and the Army is funding miniaturized inertial navigation systems that can strap to a soldier’s boots.

The United States’ reliance on satellites represents a weak link in our infrastructure that an enemy could take advantage of, but it’s also a fast ticket to a terrible situation for every nation that wants to use space-based hardware. We already have a space junk problem now; blowing multiple satellites apart in-orbit would make it orders of magnitude worse. A thick enough “junk belt” around the planet would make certain orbits too dangerous to use for years or even decades until the garbage fell out of orbit.

You’ll have to click the image above to read it, but it shows typical orbital altitudes and gives examples of some of the objects currently occupying them. Image by Rrakinishu (not to be confused with Rakinishu). CC BY-SA 4.0

The best-case outcome of a new space-based arms race between the US and Russia (or a three-way race between the US, Russia, and China) would seem to be analogous to the Cold War, where the reality of mutually assured destruction ensured that no one wanted to launch. If everyone knows that deploying satellite killers will result in the complete loss of their own satellites, nobody may want to launch in the first place. Unfortunately, a government might decide that it possessed sufficient first-mover advantage to take out another country’s satellites before effective countermeasures could be launched.

If a widespread attack occurred, it would take years to restore equivalent capabilities. There are satellite launches every single year, but it’s one thing to replace aging hardware while launching a few new projects and something else altogether to undertake the complete replacement of most of the satellites we use for everything without being able to use them for things like weather forecasting when planning launch windows.

In short, this is yet another way our respective civilizations could blow the crap out of each other without killing many people, but in ways that would definitely make everybody’s life miserable for years to come. Hurrah.

Feature image is the Aeolus weather satellite, launched by the ESA, not a Russian anti-satellite weapon. Image by the ESA.

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July 24th 2020, 2:30 pm

Ubisoft: No Price Increases For AAA Games (This Year), Better Conduct

ExtremeTech

Ubisoft has pledged to keep the price of its upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X games aligned with the current $59.99 structure we’ve had since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched back in 2005 and 2006. The company’s promise stands in contrast to 2K, which recently announced higher prices for next-generation games and now offers the ability to buy a title for both Xbox One and Xbox Series X in a two-package deal for $99.99.

“For the Christmas games, we plan to come [out] with the same price as the previous generation of consoles,” Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said on a conference call. “That’s what we’re focused on at the moment.”

When attendees asked for additional information, like whether this would also apply to the upcoming Far Cry 6, or if the deal would hold through 2021, Guillemot demurred. “For the $60 price, we are concentrating on the Christmas releases. Those games will launch at $60.”

Meanwhile…

Normally I don’t fuse disparate story topics together, but there’s no way to currently discuss Ubisoft without also discussing the torrent of allegations currently unleashed against the company. In the same call in which he discussed game pricing, Guillemot also declared the company was “committed to implementing profound changes across the company to improve and strengthen our workplace culture.”

A number of former and current UbiSoft employees came forward in late June alleging consistent abusive behavior as well as sexual misconduct. On Wednesday, Ubisoft fired its PR director, Stone Chin, for failure “to uphold the company’s code of conduct over the course of my career at the company.” Ubisoft co-founder Maxime Béland was fired for allegedly choking a female employee at a work party. Another powerful Ubisoft employee, Tommy François, has been placed on disciplinary leave pending an investigation into his alleged misconduct.

Kotaku has more details on the allegations and investigations if you’re curious, but they’re directly pertinent to Ubisoft’s long-term future and the short-term launch schedule for its various titles. A number of the individuals implicated in the allegations sit at the top of the company. Ubisoft, it should be noted, doesn’t have the best track record with women or female representation in general. The company pushed back against the idea of having a woman star in an Assassin’s Creed game on a number of occasions. Back in 2014, Ubisoft developers claimed doing so would have doubled the amount of work and that the issue wasn’t relevant. Now we know that multiple high-ranking executives pushed back against the idea of a female lead because “Women don’t sell.

Sarah Kerrigan, Bayonetta, Lara Croft, and Ellie, from the Last of Us 2. LoU2 is one of the fastest-selling, highest-earning PlayStation 4 games of all time. So…who wants to tell him?

In any event, Ubisoft may have decided it didn’t need to take fire for both its toxic culture and its decision to raise prices simultaneously, or the company may simply be acting cautiously in the COVID-19 pandemic and not wanting to rock the boat by raising prices. This move implies we’ll have some companies offering $69.99 price points, some at $59.99, and some using their own bundles like 2K. We don’t normally get this much experimentation in the gaming market with pricing strategies, so this should actually be rather interesting.

Feature image from Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. While Eivor is canonically female with a gender-swapped option for players, much of the art thus far has featured the male version of the character. If Guillemot is serious about changing the culture at Ubisoft, I can think of a few really basic ways to start. 

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July 24th 2020, 10:39 am

Intel Announces 7nm Delays, May Use External Foundries For Future CPUs

ExtremeTech

“Building semiconductors is like playing Russian roulette. You put a gun to your head, pull the trigger, and find out four years later if you blew your brains out.”

— Former Digital CEO Robert Palmer

During its Q2 conference call last night, Intel dropped several bombshells in quick succession. First, the company’s 7nm process node — the same node the company was projecting such confidence about in March — is apparently a full 12 months behind where Intel intended it to be at this point in its development cycle. As a result, the company’s 7nm launches will be delayed at least six months.

The company did not describe the defect in detail, only noting that it had performed a root cause analysis and believes there are no “fundamental roadblocks” to fixing the problem and commercializing the node. In discussing the problem, Swan noted that Intel had developed “contingency plans” to deal with this issue.

If 7nm is delayed, what’s Intel bringing up to replace it? The company had a few words to share on that topic as well. Tiger Lake (mobile) and Ice Lake (Xeon) will both debut this year, as previously announced. Next year, we’ll see Alder Lake, Intel’s first 10nm desktop platform, and a new 10nm server CPU, Sapphire Rapids. Rocket Lake — the supposed 10nm backport built on 14nm and expected late this year — wasn’t mentioned. There’s plenty of evidence that Rocket Lake exists, but it may not have been where Intel wanted to focus attention.

Intel Commits to Using Third-Party Foundries

Ever since Broadwell and 14nm, investors have periodically asked if Intel would tap third-party foundries or consider going fabless. Intel’s response to these questions has generally been that it does tap third-party foundries for some products (which it does), and to state that its nearly unique status as a semiconductor IDM (Integrated Device Manufacturer) gave it an advantage other foundries can’t match. If you want to read the argument, I actually wrote about it back in 2014. Looking back at those articles, I wince. It’s not that I think they were inaccurate when written — it’s that the system they describe went from ticking like a well-tuned clock to knocking like an engine about to throw a rod.

This time, Intel’s entire approach to the topic was different. Instead of reassuring investors that the products built at third-party foundries would be low-cost hardware, Intel openly acknowledged that it would use whatever technology stack was required to deliver performance leadership, be that fully internal manufacturing, fully external, or a combination of the two. CEO Bob Swan emphasized that this plan is part of Intel’s commitment to flexibility and argued that its willingness to develop what he called contingency plans is a sign that the company is determined to deliver maximum value to both investors and customers.

I don’t disagree. At this point, given the challenges Intel has faced with its own manufacturing, the company would be foolish and potentially negligent if it failed to explore every option. That doesn’t change the fact that six years ago, Intel declared its process node leadership would continue on 14nm and into the future, while in 2020, the company CEO spoke of protecting the company’s roadmaps and products from its own process node problems. “We have learned from the challenges in our 10-nanometer transition,” Bob Swan said, “And have a milestone-driven approach to ensure our product competitiveness is not impacted by our process technology roadmap.”

That’s a stark, dramatic shift. Intel talked up a good game last night, with a discussion of “disaggregation” (chiplets) and its plans to take advantage of advanced packaging technology like Foveros in future products. The company isn’t lying when it says that advanced packaging techniques are critical to continuing to advance silicon scaling and improve performance. Ideas like wafer-scale processing are being evaluated again precisely because there’s a need for new packaging techniques to keep the industry moving forward.

CEO Bob Swan declared Intel would be “pretty pragmatic” about deciding where to build parts based entirely on what kind of hardware it needed to bring to market, and did not discuss the difficulty of ramping designs at multiple foundries simultaneously. Intel’s own fabs are known for deploying Intel-specific technology and manufacturing processes intended to maximize the speed of their own parts, not reduce cost for mass customer manufacturing.

Swan is right that this is the most pragmatic thing Intel could do, given its own manufacturing problems, but a lot of investors will be watching the company’s “contingency plans” carefully. It’s fine to tap a third-party foundry for chipsets or Atom. It’s no problem to farm out low-end manufacturing to make more profitable use of existing manufacturing assets. The instant Intel has to activate one of those contingency plans to handle leading-edge “big core” manufacturing because its own fabs can’t handle the job, those massive factories go from a strength to a weakness on the balance sheet.

It’s believable that Intel might bring an improved 10nm process to desktop, because its original 2017 slides always implied that 10nm++ would, in fact, be slightly superior to 14nm for performance and power consumption in desktop power envelops. But again — the company admitted just six months ago that 10nm wouldn’t be the success that its investors have come to expect. Today, Intel sang the praises of 10nm. Three months ago, the company was half-ready to bury it. It is absolutely possible that COVID-19 caused some of this delay, but Intel did not identify coronavirus as a principal reason behind its roadmap slip.

Once upon a time, in 2017… You can imagine a 10nm++ on the left-hand side squeezing a bit above the 14nm++ point.

I think what Intel did today was put a very smooth face on a radical corporate realignment. If I might be permitted a bit of poetic license and a Deus Ex: Human Revolution quote: “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.”

Based on Swan’s own remarks and timelines, Chipzilla has 24-36 months to demonstrate why it should still own its own fabs. By late 2022 / early 2023, TSMC should be shipping 3nm. Even if we assume that Intel’s 7nm is good enough to compare directly to TSMC’s 5nm, that still puts the Taiwanese company a full node ahead.

Is this the end of Intel? Not by half. Intel’s financials are great, the company is tremendously profitable, its data center business continues to grow, and its cash flow is healthy. AMD was in far more trouble after Bulldozer bombed in 2011 than Intel is now, even facing further delays and the question of whether it will remain an IDM over the long term. The company’s process engineers may be struggling, but its CPU design teams are still excellent.

But having a great CPU design team is a necessary but insufficient component of holding the leadership position in CPUs that Intel has long commanded. The company is capable of mounting aggressive comebacks, but if Intel wants investors to see its foundry facilities as a necessary part of the business rather than a drag on its profits, it’s time to pull out all the stops and fix its factories. No, Bob Swan didn’t say that explicitly, today.

He didn’t have to.

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July 24th 2020, 8:39 am

New Corning Gorilla Glass Victus Can Survive a 6-Foot Drop

ExtremeTech

Ever since Steve Jobs trotted out on stage and declared the wondrous benefits of simian-themed amorphous solids, pretty much every smartphone worth buying has used one iteration or another of Corning’s Gorilla Glass. Kyocera does offer a handful of smartphones with sapphire displays, but potassium-processed Simian Silicon remains the go-to solution for every manufacturer.

Corning has announced Gorilla Glass Victus, a new type of Gorilla Glass the company claims has improved shatter and scratch resistance, after several years of little-to-no improvement in the latter category. In the past, there’s always been a trade-off between these two traits. In fact, Corning’s previous explanation for why it had held scratch resistance steady while focusing on drop resistance was that of the two, people wanted more shatter resistance. Altogether, Victus is supposed to have twice the scratch resistance of Gorilla Glass 6 and 4x the resistance of competing aluminosilicate.

Shatter resistance has also been improved. With GG 6, Corning claimed devices could survive up to a 5.25-foot drop (1.6m). With Gorilla Glass Victus, devices can theoretically survive up to a 6.5-foot (two-meter) drop. While scratch resistance and shatter resistance have typically been two opposite points on the metaphorical iron triangle of smartphone displays (thickness is likely the third), that doesn’t mean one doesn’t impact the other. Because smartphone displays are so thin, it’s easier for scratches to weaken the glass. Making it harder to scratch the device could therefore indirectly improve its chances of surviving a fall.

There are some caveats to these numbers, though the caveats are not Corning’s fault. One point Corning brought up to The Verge is that manufacturers have often reacted to the company’s glass improvements by making their devices thinner. This made sense when smartphones could fairly be called chunky. But devices have now become so thin, companies are winning accolades for making them slightly thicker.

We’re hoping this recent trend towards sanity is strong enough that companies like Apple and Samsung won’t promptly slice away the improvements Corning makes by making their devices thinner again. If I have to put a screen protector over the gorgeous panel to protect it, I’m no longer seeing the actual panel and the “advantage” of your thinner glass is wasted. It’d be infinitely better to just build a thick-enough display in the first place. According to Corning, Victus survives 20 1-meter drops on average, while Gorilla Glass 6 survived an average of 15 drops at that height.

Unfortunately, according to Corning, manufacturers are already moving to make their glass thinner rather than capitalizing on durability, which means the actual benefits of Victus may be small to nonexistent, depending on the manufacturer. The new screens are expected to start shipping in a few months, with Samsung likely leading the charge.

I’d genuinely love to see new phones with more robust displays. But from the sound of it, manufacturers are more interested in selling repair kits than durable products. If I sound dubious of genuine improvement, it’s because I am. Not because Corning build bad products, but because the companies it sells to refuse to use those products in a manner that would actually improve the end-user experience.

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July 24th 2020, 7:55 am

ET Deals: $1,000 Off Dell 2020 Vostro 15 7500 Core i7 & Nvidia GTX Laptop, Asrock Radeon RX 5700 XT

ExtremeTech

Today you can get a highly versatile laptop from Dell with $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 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 $1,998.57 to just $1,099.00.

Asrock Radeon RX 5700 XT Taichi X 8G OC+ 8GB GDDR6 Graphics Card w/ Asrock X10 WI-FI Router and Godfall ($409.99)

Asrock equipped this Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card with a large triple-fan thermal solution to keep the card cool and aid in overclocking. The card also has a stylish metal backplate to help cool the back side of the card and add structural support. Currently, this card is on sale from Newegg marked down from $479.99 to $409.99 with a $20 MIR, but the deal gets even better than that. It also includes a free game and it comes with Asrock’s X10 AC1300 Wi-Fi router as a free gift.

Intel Core i9-9900K 8-Core 5GHz Processor ($429.99)

The Core i9-9900K is one of Intel’s most powerful processors with eight CPU cores that can hit speeds as high as 5GHz. The processor is also unlocked, giving you the ability to overclock it in an attempt to extract extra performance from the chip. Currently, you can get it from Newegg marked down from $499.00 to just $429.99.

HP 24-dp0160 Ryzen 5 4500U 23.8-Inch 1080p AIO Windows 10 Touchscreen Computer w/ AMD Radeon Graphics, 12GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($799.99)

HP built this AIO as a well-rounded desktop that should work well for anything from school work to a bit of light gaming. The built-in AMD Ryzen processor has six CPU cores that can operate at speeds of up to 4GHz, and it also has an integrated graphics chip that can run some games with low graphics settings. Add to that 12GB of DDR4 RAM, a half-terabyte NVMe SSD, and a bundled keyboard and mouse, and this system offers excellent value for its price. Newegg is selling these systems right now with a slight discount that drops the price from $819.99 to $799.99.

Motorola Edge Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 6.7-Inch OLED FHD+ Smartphone w/ 6GB RAM and 256GB Storage ($499.99)

The soon to be released Motorola Edge smartphone is built with a premium feature set including an FHD+ 90Hz OLED 6.7-inch display, 6GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage space. The phone also has high-end cameras with a 64MP main camera, and the phone should be quite fast with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 SoC to drive apps. The phone will officially be released on July 31, but for a limited time, you can pre-order it now from Amazon marked down from $699.99 to just $499.99.

Intel 660p 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD ($62.99)

Intel built this SSD with 3D QLC NAND that can hold lots of data, giving this device a capacity of 512GB. It also is considerably faster than conventional SATA-III devices with read/write speeds of around 1,500MB/s. Currently, you can get one of these drives from Newegg marked down from $72.99 to just $62.99.

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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July 23rd 2020, 6:02 pm

Microsoft Duo Smartphone Hits FCC Ahead of Release

ExtremeTech

Microsoft hasn’t made a phone in several years, ever since it abandoned the mobile version of Windows 10. Now, Microsoft is all-in with Android and plans to release its dual-screen Surface Duo later this year. The launch might be coming sooner than you think, though. Microsoft has submitted the Duo to the FCC, indicating work on the hardware has wrapped up. 

Microsoft announced the Duo alongside the Windows-powered Neo in late 2019. While the Neo may not launch when Microsoft originally envisioned, the Duo might show up a bit early. Manufacturers have to submit final hardware to the FCC for testing to ensure it meets key regulatory metrics. So, while the FCC won’t tell us what the phone is like to use, it can verify cellular bands, model numbers, and more. In the case of the Duo, it has model number 1930 and the usual assortment of LTE frequencies. There’s no 5G, though. 

Windows Central believes that the Duo could launch somewhat earlier than the vague “holiday 2020” timeframe Microsoft has announced. The FCC docs also support that assessment. It’s common for device makers to request confidentiality when they submit devices for testing. That means the FCC won’t make images or device manuals available for a period of time. For the Duo, the confidentiality agreement only runs through October 29. Sources claim the Duo might even launch before October. 

Microsoft’s Panos Panay announced the Duo alongside the Neo dual-screen laptop. Credit: Microsoft/livestream

 The Duo will launch at a difficult time for smartphone makers. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic disruption has caused consumers to hold off buying new phones — some reports claim smartphone sales have dropped as much as 25 percent this year. And yet, display panels are among the most expensive components in modern smartphones, and the Duo will have two of them. Microsoft also risks looking behind the times as some manufacturers have started launching devices with foldable displays. 

Microsoft hasn’t announced pricing or specs for the Duo, but leaks have pointed to a Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and up to 256 GB of storage. The OLED displays will be 5.6-inches each with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The Duo will be going up against new, established phones like the Galaxy Note and iPhone.

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July 23rd 2020, 5:01 pm

Knowing C Programming Can Jumpstart Your Career As A Game Builder

ExtremeTech

The C programming language has been around since the early 1970s, which is roughly about a thousand years ago in technology time. So why is C still such a vibrant, well-used programming tactic today? Because it’s massively versatile, highly portable and works especially well on enterprise apps — like game creation.

In fact, handfuls of the best games ever developed were created in C and C++, including classics like Doom, Quake, Quake II, World of Warcraft and more.

You can get well on your way to a career in programming or game development with the training found in The Complete C Programming Certification Bundle ($39, over 90 percent off).

With six courses and an accompanying ebook, this collection featuring over 70 hours of C, C++, C#, Java and other affiliated training can introduce you to everything C has to offer and, better still, a perfect venue for you to offer everything you have to the world.

You can get started with C Programming Language for Beginners on Linux, where you’ll explore the basics of this elemental language, including loops, pointer addresses, structures and the other essentials of programming with C.

C Programming Complete Guide: Beginner to Advanced elevates your training, including methods for writing your own programs and even facing interview questions about C with confidence. And Sorting Algorithms Using Java and C delves into understanding comparison-based sorting algorithms, which can be used to make your builds faster and more efficient.

Next, you’ll get some quality time with C++ as the Modern C++ Programming Cookbook ebook outlines over 100 recipes to help demystify C++ and teach you tactics for using it effectively. Then, C++ Programming Step-by-Step: Beginner to Advanced moves that practice to familiarize yourself with procedural and object-oriented programming at the heart of game creation.

Finally, C# 7 and .NET Core 2.0 Recipes tackles approaches to building powerful cross-platform apps, while Unity C# Scripting: Complete C# Essentials For Unity Game Development uncovers who to script in Unity, one of the world’s most popular and powerful game engine systems.

All together, this package is a nearly $1,200 collection of valuable C training, but with the current offer, it’s all available now for only $39 while this deal lasts.

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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July 23rd 2020, 5:01 pm

First Multi-Planet System Around a Sun-Like Star Imaged

ExtremeTech

This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows the star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets. This is the first time astronomers have directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The image was captured by blocking the light from the young, Sun-like star (on the top left corner) using a coronagraph, which allows for the fainter planets to be detected. The bright and dark rings we see on the star’s image are optical artefacts. The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the centre and bottom right of the frame.

The universe is teeming with exoplanets, but we’ve only been able to detect a small fraction of them. We’ve directly imaged just a handful, but you can add two more to the tally today. The European Southern Observatory has captured a pair of exoplanets with the Very Large Telescope array (VLT), marking the first time scientists have gotten a picture of a multi-planet system around a sun-like star

Astronomers usually spot exoplanets using two different methods. There’s the radial velocity approach, which checks stars for small “wobbles” caused by orbiting planets. Most newer instruments rely on the transit method, which monitors stars for small dips in luminance that indicate a planet has passed in front of them. We can learn some basic details about exoplanets from these techniques, but actually seeing an alien world? That’s very rare because planets are so dim compared with the stars they orbit. In this case, scientists were specifically scanning nearby sun-like stars to see if any of them had visible exoplanets. 

The VLT is one of the few observatories capable of imaging exoplanets, and even it can only do so under very specific circumstances. The star known as TYC 8998-760-1 is about 300 light-years away, which is practically in our own backyard (on a galactic scale). The two gas giant planets visible in the frame are also easy to spot compared with most exoplanets. The inner planet is 12 times more massive than Jupiter and 160 times farther from TYC 8998-760-1 than Earth is from our sun. The outer planet is 320 times farther out than Earth and has a mass about six times that of Jupiter. 

The SPHERE instrument on the VLT.

Being so large and far away from the star made these worlds easier to spot, but they’re still extremely faint. The ESO was only able to image them with the help of its Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) instrument. That’s the same tool that revealed the beginnings of a planetary system earlier this year. SPHERE blocks light from the star using a device called a coronagraph, allowing the telescope to focus on the nearby planets. 

This star is a very young version of our own sun, a mere 17 million years old. Understanding how this solar system is forming could shed light on our own little corner of the universe. Further observations with the VLT and the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope will help astronomers determine if these planets formed where they are or if they migrated out. There may also be lower-mass planets in this solar system we cannot currently detect — maybe even some primordial Earth-like planets.

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July 23rd 2020, 4:01 pm

PubMed Leaps Into Pseudoscience, Links 5G, Coronavirus

ExtremeTech

PubMed is a free life science and biomedical database anyone can search to find papers published on various topics. It’s been free to the public since 1997, and it’s often referenced by people looking for recent medical studies on a given topic. Because it’s a search engine used by both the general public and medical professionals alike, the decisions PubMed makes about which content to surface in response to a query are incredibly important. Generally, the site has been viewed as a reliable way to find genuine medical information rather than pseudoscientific claptrap.

Unfortunately, that’s not as true as it used to be, as evidenced by the recent appearance of this gem: “5G Technology and Induction of Coronavirus in Skin Cells.” The paper is currently online in preprint and awaiting publication.

It makes pretty much exactly the argument you think it does.

It’s not this exact theory, but it’s exactly this stupid.

Rabbit, Meet Hole

We’re going to be talking about credentials a lot in this story, so let’s start with mine. I’m a 19-year veteran of technology reporting who graduated with a political science degree from DePauw University. Jessica Hall, who has written for ET before and has degrees in both biology and mathematics, was gracious enough to help me evaluate both this paper and several others by the various authors we’ll be discussing.

This raises the obvious question: Is an undergrad-level journalist capable of evaluating the deep and sophisticated science of a group of COVID-19 researchers? No. Fortunately, I’m not being asked to. All I have to do is illustrate how an organization that’s given up on safeguarding its own reputation can be used to carry water for conspiracy theorists and the lunatic fringe.

So let’s get started. Here’s the first sentence of the abstract: “In this research, we show that 5G millimeter waves could be absorbed by dermatologic cells acting like antennas, transferred to other cells and play the main role in producing Coronaviruses in biological cells.” (Emphasis added)

If 5G actually played the main role in producing coronavirus, you’d expect the countries with the highest 5G deployments to have the highest cases of COVID-19. The United States is the undisputed world leader in the latter category, yet our 5G mmWave coverage (and that’s the type these authors identify as harmful) is so bad, Verizon just got in trouble for claiming its 5G network is “nationwide” and was forced to change its advertising.

If 5G causes coronavirus, the worst outbreaks of coronavirus should directly correlate to the places where 5G networks exist. They don’t. They generally correlate to cities (with a few exceptions, such as rural Italy) because urban areas have always been at greater risk during pandemics due to population density and, historically speaking, the difficulties of dealing with sewage treatment, disease, and corpse disposal anywhere humans lived in large numbers.

For examples, see: The Antonine Plague, the Plague of Justinian, and the historical spread of the Black Death following its arrival in Constantinople.

Regarding 5G frequencies, the “scientists” claim: “Its[sic] frequencies are above 24 GHz, reaching up to 72 GHz, which is above the extremely high frequency band’s lower boundary.”

This is the kind of fearful wording intended to imply that the reader is in some sort of danger based on “extremely high frequency.” What it actually indicates is that scientists are really bad at naming things. Allow me to introduce you to the glories of the electromagnetic spectrum, as defined by science:

Low Frequency
Medium Frequency
High Frequency
Very High Frequency
Ultra High Frequency
Super High Frequency
Extremely High Frequency
Visible Spectrum.
Ultraviolet
X-ray
Gamma Ray

Remember that time you turned on an infrared lamp in your bathroom and it gave you cancer? No? Huh. Must be all the cell phones rotting your brain. The fact that all of the damaging energy known to harm humans is sitting above visible light while everything known not to be harmful is sitting below it, including 5G signals, is surely some mistake.

But this team of sciency folks isn’t just using scary language — they’re blatantly misrepresenting the actual bands that mmWave 5G deployments use. Here they are:

24GHz to 72GHz, you say? Mind pointing out where? Unless COVID-19 can literally travel through time and infect us from the era when 72GHz 5G exists, how can it possibly matter that 5G signals might one day use that frequency band?

This Is What Bad Scientists Think Science Looks Like

This article isn’t so much a scientific paper as a representation of what a moron thinks a scientific paper is. Allow me to quote directly from the authors and/or the semi-sentient Markov chain that stole their identities:

It has been shown that 5G mobile networking technology will affect not only the skin and eyes, but will have adverse systemic effects as well.

In another study, it was argued that 5G technologies cause great harm to human health. Cancer is only one of the many problems. 5G causes 720! (factorial) different diseases in human beings, and can kill everything that lives except some forms of microorganisms (12).

This last was so amazing, I had to check the citation. Here’s the opening sentence from that modest proposal:

The intent of this article is to show that wireless technology is, without remedy other than termination, one of the most devastating environmental and health threats and threats to personal liberty ever created.

Pro Tip: When a scientist declares that the intent of their article is to prove that the only way to safeguard all of humanity, as well as the very principle of liberty, is to destroy all mobile communications technology because there is literally no alternative, that person may have what is sometimes referred to as an “agenda.” (Or a disorder).

Back to the original trainwreck:

The question is whether millimeter waves in 5G technology could contribute in constructing some viruses like COVID-19 within a cell. To reply to this question, we should consider the electronic structure of a DNA and its emitted waves.

With respect — and this bit, I explicitly ran past Ms. Hall — that is not the question. The question is whether any radio wave or signal has been shown to help any type of virus colonize the human body. The answer, up until the torrent of stupidity that is the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theory, was no. And since the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theory is literally ascientific bullshit, the answer remains no. Viruses turn human cells into factories to replicate more of themselves. This is literally how viruses work. A virus that requires a radio signal as a vital intermediary (which is what the authors’ claim, given that they identify 5G as “play(ing) the main role”) is a shit virus.

Imagine a bacteria that could only kill you if you like Nickelback. There are not enough Nickelback fans for that to be an effective evolutionary strategy, yet there are somehow far more Nickelback fans in the United States than people living in range of effective 5G service.

It disgusts me, too, but there we are.

Let’s Talk About the Credentials of the Author… and the Publisher

Professor M. Fioranelli: Listed as lead author on the paper, Fioranelli is the EiC of the International Journal of Inflammation, Cancer and Integrative Therapy, which is owned by Omics. Omics has been heavily criticized and the validity of its publications challenged in the United States based on its poor peer review practices, its pay-to-publish fee structure, and its use of scientist’s names in marketing materials without their knowledge and consent. The US NIH demanded in 2013 that OMICS stop claiming to be affiliated with the US government or its employees.

The university he teaches at, Marconi University, has the dubious distinction of being accredited by the ACICS, a US accreditation agency so corrupt, its authority was revoked until Betsy DeVos reinstated it. Since that decision, a USA Today investigation has found that Reagan University, an ACICS-accredited school, has no students, no buildings, no faculty, and no alumni.

Other papers Professor Fioranelli has collaborated on include “A Mathematical Model for the Signal of Death and Emergence of Mind Out of Brain in Izhikevich Neuron Model,” which claims to present evidence that Cartesian duality — namely, that the mind and brain are entirely separate constructs — is scientifically valid. He’s also a credited author in the page-turner coming to a budget TV network near you: “Formation of Neural Circuits in an Expanded Version of Darwin’s Theory: Effects of DNAs in Extra Dimensions and within the Earth’s Core on Neural Networks.

Sepehri A: Sepehri is also a co-author on the “We’ve proven minds exist after death” paper and the “Extradimensional DNA from the Earth’s Core is making AI want to kill us” paper. Mossimo and Sepehri also collaborated in a horror pitch: “Recovery of Brain in Chick Embryos by Growing Second Heart and Brain,” which is either up for an Ig Nobel or an option for Wes Craven.

Roccia MG: Surprise surprise. This individual also contributed to the “I stink, therefore I still am” deep dive into Descartian dementia.

M Jafferany: First, the good news. M. Jafferany isn’t mentioned on any of the papers above. Now the bad news:

Awareness of Psychodermatology in Indian Dermatologist.”
Psychodermatology in Iran: A Survey on Knowledge…

Clinics in Dermatology notes, of psychodermatology: “Although many data have been published, it appears that not enough good statistical evidence exists to support them.”

The idea that stress can contribute to skin problems is not controversial. But psychodermatology typically goes farther from painting stress as a factor and identifies it as something more akin to a primary agent. This latter idea is not well-supported in the scientific literature. (Have you noticed that most of these people seem to be dermatologists yet?)

O Y Olisova: Olisova was lead author on a paper claiming COVID-19 could be treated effectively with Apremilast, a psoriasis medication. Her proof for this? A single asymptomatic patient on Apremilast who didn’t display symptoms of COVID-19. Under this theory of medicine the fact that my grandfather lived to be 90 while smoking like a chimney means cigarettes are safe for everyone. Lung candy, basically. Tasty, tasty, lung candy.

Lomonosov KM: I can’t speak to Lomonsov’s general work with vitiligo patients, though my fiancée thought it sounded like ‘borderline pseudoscience’ and noted that he typically publishes exclusively in Russian and is self-evidently involved in authorial work with those we could charitably describe as on the fringes of the scientific community.

T Lotti: Lotti appears to have also done a reasonable amount of serious work, but she’s signed on to this 5G-coronavirus conspiracy merry-go-round nevertheless. Strangely, she’s also contributed to articles specifically addressing how COVID-19 would impact dermatological clinics and is part of a group of scientists advocating for safe practices and policies that safeguard patients.

None of these authors has the standing or authority to speak to the causes of COVID-19, and the fact that this paper has appeared in the PubMed database or been linked by the NIH is evidence of serious methodological flaws in the approval process. This isn’t science. It’s what people who don’t actually practice the scientific method appear to think it looks like.

Some of this can be excused by the overwhelming nature of the COVID-19 epidemic and the need for all scientific nooks and crannies to be explored, but even a cursory investigation into the history of the organizations and individuals publishing this work demonstrates how profoundly counter-factual it is. If you want serious scientific advice, don’t get it from people who speak and refer to grand, sweeping assumptions as though they were proven scientific fact. And if you run into any AIs near the Earth’s core, make sure to check that they remain in the usual four dimensions.

If you run into any dermatologists pretending they have the qualifications to moonlight as signal engineers and infectious disease experts outside the explicit realm of dermatology, kindly do us all a favor and tell them to shut the fuck up.

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July 23rd 2020, 11:01 am

Nvidia Could Bring Ampere to Gamers for Just $5 a Month

ExtremeTech

As we approach the launch of a new GPU cycle, the usual chatter about GPU prices has begun to tip up, with various rumors about how AMD and Nvidia will approach their own launches. There are signs that Nvidia may leverage its new Ampere GPUs in its GeForce Now service, potentially making the benefits of these cards available to gamers without requiring them to pay for an upgrade.

Cloud gaming/streaming services have existed for years now, but we haven’t seen upgraded hardware pushed as a major selling point, mostly because these services haven’t existed long enough to really need it. Nvidia, however, is well aware of the idea and is contemplating how it can use the idea to its own best advantage. In this regard, the fact that the company builds its own GPUs is a tremendous strength.

“We want GeForce Now to be an opportunity for gamers to experience the latest gaming technology from Nvidia.” Andrew Fear, Sr. product manager, GeForce Now, told PCGamer. “Therefore, you can expect to see Ampere on GeForce Now in time.”

Nvidia’s A1000 Ampere GPU. Consumer cards are expected soon.

Nvidia transitioned gamers from Pascal to Turing already, but I suspect that was likely to be a less impactful transition for two reasons. First, GeForce Now was itself much smaller than it is today and still in beta, with a limited number of ray tracing titles in the first place. With Ampere and AMD’s RDNA2 both debuting this year, we can expect to start seeing wider ray tracing uptake.

The advantage of potentially testing RTX Ampere via a service like GeForce Now for gamers who are still back on older GPUs is significant, especially with a new feature like ray tracing still in early deployment. The cost of GeForce Now is low, at $5 a month, and offers enthusiasts a chance to preview the upgrades they’d get by upgrading cards rather than paying top dollar to find out or trying to estimate improvements based on YouTube video or screenshots. There’s nothing stopping AMD from trying something similar, but Stadia seems an unlikely partner for the attempt given everything wrong with Google’s streaming service.

The big question, of course, is latency and whether your PC can connect smoothly to Nvidia’s servers to make good use of GeForce Now in the first place. But that’s going to be true whether NV upgrades to Ampere or not. For those who live in areas with good internet service, $5 per month to test drive Ampere as opposed to dropping hundreds of dollars on a new card could be a prudent way to try out the improvements of the next generation without committing to actually buying them. Pascal owners who skipped Turing are more likely to be in the market for an upgrade this fall. If your home internet can handle the latency, GeForce Now might be a good way to preview the upgrade in the future.

Nvidia’s comments do suggest they’ll prioritize channel deployments first, but that makes sense as well. Cloud gaming is still a very new idea and gamers are likely to be sensitive to being shoved off on to an online-only service. $60 per year instead of an $800-$1,200 purchase is a pretty solid deal given that most people don’t keep GPUs a decade, but the optics could still be bad. I’ll be curious to see if we start seeing more gamers subscribe to cloud gaming services even temporarily as a way of eyeballing new improvements before they pull the trigger on new cards. Even if you fully intended to stay a local gamer, using the cloud as a try-before-you-buy option is scarcely a bad idea.

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July 23rd 2020, 10:14 am

x86 Beware: Nvidia May Be Eyeing an ARM Takeover From Soft Bank

ExtremeTech

SoftBank is reportedly exploring the sale of ARM and Nvidia is one of the companies that might be interested. This is a remarkably interesting idea that could have enormous consequences for the mobile and desktop markets.

First, let’s talk about the obvious. Once upon a time (by which I mean roughly years ago), there were three companies building x86 chipsets: Nvidia, AMD, and Intel. Nvidia was, by this time, largely on the sidelines of the market with some enthusiast segment wins and SLI-centric motherboard adoption, but AMD and Intel were taking most of the business for their respective platforms. I remember when it was common for people to argue that Nvidia’s lack of an integrated GPU would be the reason why it died altogether as Intel and AMD ramped up their offerings, and one of the reasons for why Nvidia chose to explore Tegra in the first place was to find new markets for its products and IP as a result of the motherboard chipset market shrinking (or so we were told at the time).

Given that Windows now exists in ARM flavors, an Nvidia purchase of the company would allow the firm to launch itself back into the PC market with an array of systems leveraging ARM cores with integrated Nvidia cores. That’s to say nothing of the hardware the company could build for the HTPC or smartphone and tablet spaces. It’s not hard to imagine Nvidia using its own GPU technology to replace Mali as a low-cost embedded solution for some customers while building higher-end SoCs capable of challenging either Apple or Intel/AMD. Even devices like the Nvidia Shield could benefit from this kind of tight integration.

Nvidia would undoubtedly face regulatory scrutiny over the deal, and it should — as the primary SoC platform for the entire smartphone industry, any chance that Nvidia would cease licensing ARM chips to their current customers would be a serious risk. This, however, is also why any deal Nvidia made to acquire the company would almost certainly include legal language guaranteeing that access to ARM designs would continue. SoftBank did not attempt to take ARM private and reserve its CPUs for a handful of companies when it bought the company years ago, and Nvidia would be unlikely to do so here. The company could effectively continue to develop and release ARM’s mixtures of hard IP cores and architecture licenses. Nvidia, of course, might choose to ignore the PC market altogether in favor of AI, ML, and HPC markets.

ARM already has plans to compete in markets of core interest to Nvidia.

I’ve said already that Apple’s decision to pivot towards ARM could have an impact on the long-term future of x86 PCs if Intel and AMD can’t collectively meet the challenge. If Apple is primarily a CPU challenge for Intel and AMD, Nvidia’s re-entry into the market could be just as impactful on the GPU side.

Assuming, of course, that Nvidia is 1). Interested and 2). Won whatever bidding competition eventually develops. It’s entirely possible that a different firm might buy ARM, since highly successful CPU architectures are rare birds and tend to pick up a lot of interest.

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July 23rd 2020, 8:45 am

Venus May Be Geologically Active After All

ExtremeTech

Venus is sometimes called Earth’s “sister planet,” a distinction that came about before we knew how profoundly unpleasant it was. The crushing atmospheric pressure and clouds of acid make it an unappealing vacation spot, but scientists may have made a discovery that makes it just a little more Earth-like. Research from the University of Maryland suggests Venus may be volcanically active like Earth

In recent years, planetary scientists have started to suspect Venus may be hiding a volcanic secret under all those clouds. Its surface appears to be much younger than Mars or Mercury, both of which have cool interiors. Short of cracking a planet open, the best way to find out if it’s still active inside it to monitor the surface for volcanic activity. In the case of Venus, the planet has structures called coronae dotting its surface.

These ring-shaped features come from plumes of hot material pushing up to the surface. Coronae come in all shapes and sizes; some have radial cracks, and others have cracks around the perimeter. Some have domes in the middle while others have ridges. They can vary in size from dozens to thousands of miles in diameter, too. The one above is about 96 miles across. Despite the complex collection of features, scientists used to think coronae were all ancient structures on Venus. That wisdom has been questioned with increasing frequency in the last few years, and now we have evidence the coronae may be changing. 

Researchers started by creating a model based on “thermo-mechanic activity” in the planet’s crust. From this, they generated 3D simulations of coronae on Venus so we would be able to identify a “fresh” coronae. The team showed that the myriad coronae shapes are not always a product of the conditions in the planet’s crust. Some are also a product of age.

Next, the researchers looked at the real planet to try and match those simulated features to real coronae. They found coronae at various stages of development that match the model, indicating they are or have been recently active. This isn’t just one or two hot spots, either. There were 37 separate coronae that showed signs of geological activity. 

Scientists are excited by these early results because it could help solve a mystery surrounding Venus. Its surface is overall very young — no more than 500-700 million years. If the planet is geologically active now, it may have been much more so in the past. Eruption events might have resurfaced the planet in the past, giving it a fresh face despite much less going on today.

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July 23rd 2020, 7:45 am

ET Deals: Dell 27-Inch 4K Monitor $485, Dell Alienware M15 R2 Intel Core i7 Gaming Laptop $1,499, 1T

ExtremeTech

If you’re looking for a feature-rich display for your office, Dell’s UltraSharp U2720Q may be your perfect option. This monitor has a 4K resolution and excellent color accuracy that makes it well-suited for professional work projects. Best of all, it’s available now with hundreds knocked off the retail price.

Dell UltraSharp U2720Q 27 4K USB-C Monitor ($485.99)

Working on a 4K monitor has some major advantages, including fitting more on-screen at any given time. This display from Dell utilizes a 27-inch 4K panel that also supports 1.07 billion colors, making it well-suited for image editing. Right now you can get one from Dell marked down from $719.99 to $485.99 with promo code STAND4SMALL.

Dell Alienware M15 R2 Intel Core i7-9750H 15.6-Inch 1080p Gaming Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB M.2 PCI-E SSD ($1,499.99)

If you want a fast notebook with plenty of performance for running the latest games, you may want to consider Dell’s Alienware M15. This system was literally built for gaming and it features a fast six-core processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070. You can get this system from Dell marked down from $2,199.99 to $1,499.99.

Samsung 970 Evo 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD ($179.99)

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

Dell Vostro 13 5390 Intel Core i5-10210U 1080p 13.3-Inch Laptop w/ 8GB LPDDR3 RAM and 512 M.2 NVMe SSD ($669.00)

Dell equipped this notebook with an Intel Core i5-10210U processor with four CPU cores that can hit speeds as high as 4.2GHz. The system is also exceedingly light at 2.59 pounds and it features a fast NVMe SSD. You can get it now from Dell marked down from $1,355.71 to $669.00.

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X w/Wraith Prism LED Cooler + Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ($279.99)

AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X comes with eight SMT enabled CPU cores with a max clock speed of 4.4GHz. This gives you exceptional performance for multitasking and running power-hungry applications. Currently, you can get it from Newegg marked down from $329.99 to $259.99, and it also comes with a free copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for PC.

Netgear Nighthawk R6700 802.11ac AC1750 Smart WiFi Router ($86.09)

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 $86.09.

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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July 22nd 2020, 4:24 pm
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