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Microsoft Access Can Find Data Insights You May Have Missed. Learn To Use It For $30


You probably know Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint, but there’s a decent chance that Microsoft Access is just another Office app that sits on your desktop unopened.

That’s a mistake — because the industry-leading information management tool can be a massive untapped resource, going well beyond Excel spreadsheets to better gather and connect information, increase productivity and provide deeper data insights.

The Ultimate Microsoft Access Mastery Bundle ($29.99, over 90 percent off) pulls together all the best recent Access 2019, 2016 and 2013 training, offering up a fully-rounded view of how to get the most out of this sneaky powerful software.

With 224 lectures covering over 50 hours of training, this training filled with exercises and testing delves into everything you need to know, from creating and maintaining Access databases; to using Access tables, relationships and keys; leveraging task automation and customization, and producing advanced reports that dig deep into your data.

After each course, you’ll also earn a certificate of completion as proof of your Access skills.

Usually priced at $594, this coursework can make you an advanced Access user for just $29.99.

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January 21st 2020, 1:03 am

Frostbite Tech: Good Winter Tires Work Best With Smaller Wheels


Mazda MX-5 - Mazda Ice Academy February 2016 Crested Butte Colorado

Winter may seem one-third done by the calendar. Yet thanks to the variabilities in weather in many parts of the country, we’ve only just begun. Here’s a quick primer on how tire technology has changed and what you can do to get through cold, snowy weather — and also how to survive the winter without losing yet another bleeping $400 alloy wheel to potholes.

The trick is to get a second tire-and-wheel set with winter tires where the road wheel is one, two, or even three inches smaller in diameter. You compensate by getting a tire with a taller sidewall so the overall height is the same. The bonus is that rubber sidewalls are a lot more flexible and pothole-resistant than aluminum alloy, or steel, wheels.

Both the 16-inch winter tire from Michelin (X-Ice 2) and the factory-installed 19-inch all-season tire from Toyo (A36) have the same size as far as the car is concerned: a diameter of about 28.5 inches and 735 revolutions per mile. This “minus-3” winter design (left) has more rubber sidewall to absorb pothole shocks, and less metal wheel to be damaged by potholes.

Do You Need Winter Tires?

If you have a performance car with summer tires, they’re unsafe below 40 degrees because the soft tread compound gets hard–too hard for road grip, once it’s close to freezing. You won’t immediately slide off the road below 32 degrees, but braking and cornering abilities are compromised. At the least, you need to replace them for the colder half of the year with all-season tires. You can search the tire brand and model online; that tells you if they’re summer.

Most new cars come with all-season tires and they’re okay in a couple of inches of snow if you don’t have a steep driveway or street. In really lousy weather, you also have the right to say, “I’m staying in.” And should.

Winter tires – what used to be called snow tires – have a compound that remains soft and pliable well below freezing. But they’re somewhat louder on dry highway pavement and wear faster than all-season tires. They improve traction on snow, ice, and slush. The rubber looks the same – black – as on a winter tire of the early 2000s, but the chemistry and compounding are more advanced.

Studded winter tires are less popular than a generation ago because of the rapid advances made by unstudded winter tires, because of state bans or limits on when studded tires can be used, and because they’re noisy on dry pavement. Studded tires also damage pavement over time. But for stopping and starting on ice, they’re good. In the snow, not much difference.

How Many to Get? 4 Is Always the Right Answer

The first two winter tires have to go on the back of the car. Even if you have front-wheel-drive. Why? Snow tires grip better than all-season, far better than summer tires. Brake hard in a front-wheel-drive car and the rear end with less grip will – might – slide around. If you want the car to steer well in snow, you need winter tires in front, and if you want to not spin the car while braking or suddenly coming off the throttle, you need winter tires in back.

Just remember: No matter what vehicle, what drivetrain, the first two winter tires always go on the back. It’s nice to go. It’s vital to stop.

Does an All-Wheel-Drive Car Need Winter Tires?

All-wheel-drive vehicles have better traction in snow, but AWD and four-wheel-drive (what pickups and big SUVs have) confer no braking advantages over rear-wheel-drive.

In terms of traction, nothing beats all-wheel-drive with four winter tires, followed by front-wheel-drive with four winter tires, followed by rear-wheel-drive with four winter tires. Is rear-drive with winter tires better than AWD with all-season tires? It depends on the situation and road conditions. Anyway, that’s a hypothetical question: Either you have a rear-drive car or an AWD car, and you’re deciding whether to add winter tires, not whether to dump a rear-driver that needs snows and get an AWD car that might or might not need them.

Minus-1 2 3: Smaller Rim, Bigger Sidewall

Over my driving years, about a half-million miles driven, I’ve lost about six wheels or tires and wheels to road damage. Three were in the past three years, all because of potholes. When we moved to a hilly, twisty road 25 miles outside Manhattan (such roads exist) and got an all-wheel-drive SUV, we got by for a year with all-season tires, then decided we wanted even more traction and braking up and down the hills and around the curves the half-dozen times a year we get snow. That after a pothole bent but didn’t break one of the wheels (a $200 repair).

I researched the plus-size, minus-size concept. It’s possible to get a tire-and-wheel package where the road wheel is an inch bigger, say 20 instead of 19 inches, but the aspect ratio (how tall a tire sidewall is compared with the tire’s width, shown as a number such as 50, 60 or 70) adjusts so the sidewall is smaller, and the tire’s overall diameter, top to bottom, is about the same. You can go plus-one, plus-two, sometimes plus-three, meaning 18-inch wheels beget 21-inch wheels. You can also go minus-one, minus-two, or minus-three with winter tires, so a 19-inch summer or all-season tire/wheel package becomes 18, 17 or 16 inches with winter tires. It’s harder to go down in size, 19 to 18 to 17 to 16, because the wheel basket has to be able to fit over the brake components and the basket of a 16-inch wheel is sometimes too small.

Because of the bad experience with the damaged alloy, I didn’t want big, shiny rims in winter months. I decided to see if I could swap out our compact SUV’s 19-inch wheels and 55-series and tires down to 17-, maybe 16-inch rims and tires. 18-inch winter tires were easily found, 17s too, but only a handful of 16s. One that worked for my car, a Mazda CX-5, was the Michelin X-Ice 2 winter tire, sized 225/70R16. It is a close match to the tire diameter of the original-equipment 225/55R19 tires. I chose steel wheels, stronger than aluminum alloy, a little heavier. I first checked via spec sheets to ensure the tires and wheels would for sure fit, and they did. Tire dealers, local or direct, have fitment charts showing which larger or smaller wheels fit without scraping a component or requiring fender flares.

So now we have those minus-threes on our main car. For three years we’ve had Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 winter tires on an old rear-drive sport sedan. The old sedan came with 225/55R16 tires and wheels; I got 225/60R16 winter tires and affordable alloy wheels, again about a $1,000 buy-in by the time they were mounted and bolted to the car.

If the plus/minus concept is confusing, just ask the dealer: Can I get different size wheels with matching-fit tires that wind up having the same outside dimension (diameter) from top to bottom?

How Much?

As a rule of thumb, and as I did above, figure about $1,000 to put four decent winter tires and wheels on your small or midsize car. It’s going to be more if you want high-speed-rated winter tires, or go with fancy alloy wheels. These things add or subtract from what you pay:

Don’t try to uninstall the summer tires, put winter tires on the same wheels, then reinstall winter tires next fall. Each trip to the garage runs $100-$200, so the second set of wheels becomes cheaper after two years.

Bottom line: That second set of winter tires and wheels may seem costly. At the same time, it’s about the same as the cost of your insurance deductible if you’re in a winter accident plus the higher insurance payments for a couple of years.

Beyond the cost, you’re reducing the chances of an accident, you feel safer driving in snow, and you’re more likely to take that weekend trip you’ve been looking forward to even if the weather’s threatening.

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January 18th 2020, 9:30 am

ET Deals: H&R Block Deluxe + State only $20, $969 off Dell XPS 13 w/ 4K Display and 2TB SSD, $40 off


Tax season is right around the corner, but get a headstart on your taxes with a $25 discount on H&R Block’s tax software. Also, get a high-end Dell XPS laptop with a 4K display with a huge $969 discount.

H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2019 w/ 4 Percent Refund Bonus ($19.99)

File your taxes with H&R Block’s Tax Software this year and you can get a 4 percent bonus added to your refund as part of a special offer. Currently, you can also get the Deluxe + State tax software for 2019 with a 56 percent discount from Amazon that drops its price from $44.99 to $19.99.

Dell XPS 13 9380 Intel Core i7-8565U 13.3-Inch 4K Touchscreen Laptop w/ 16GB LPDDR3 RAM and 2TB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,399.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-8565U quad-core processor and a 4K touchscreen display along with an enormous 2TB SSD. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 21 hours on a single charge. Right now you can get it from Dell marked down from $2,368.99 to $1,399.99 with promo code LTXPS123AFF.

Jabra Elite Active 65T Earbuds ($109.99)

These high-end wireless earbuds feature batteries that can last up to 5 hours on a single charge. The headphones are also rated IP56, which means they are resistant against dust and sweat, making them perfect for exercise. Currently you can get these headphones from Amazon marked down from $149.99 to $109.99. The final price with discount will be shown at checkout.

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January 17th 2020, 5:27 pm

Intel Struggles With Whether Comet Lake Is Faster Than Ice Lake


When Intel introduced its 10th Generation CPUs, it made the decision to mix 10nm and 14nm chips together in the same product matrix. Intel’s 14nm Comet Lake CPUs pack 2-6 CPU cores and hit high frequencies; the 10510U (4C/8T) has a top frequency of 4.9GHz; while the 10710U (6C/12T) tops out at 4.7GHz. Ice Lake CPUs have better IPC than Comet Lake (~1.18x) but also have lower CPU frequencies. The fastest 10nm Core i7, the 1065G7, has a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.9GHz.

At CES last week, Intel showed performance data on its fastest mobile platforms as part of an argument for its significant superiority over AMD solutions. There’s genuine truth to this, in that the top-end Surface Laptop from Microsoft is available in both AMD and Intel flavors, and the Intel flavors win that competition. AMD’s recently announced Ryzen Mobile 4000 parts will give Team Red a new chance to tackle Intel’s mobile business when it launches. In addition to this discussion, Intel also showed a pair of slides that inadvertently illustrate how much trouble Intel is having when it comes to positioning the Comet Lake and Ice Lake CPUs against each other. Anandtech did a deep dive on the results that were shown for the 10710U and 1065G7.

First, here’s data on Intel’s Comet Lake, as compared with the Ryzen 7 3700U. Yes, all vendor benchmarks should be taken with a lot of salt, but we’re interested in Intel versus Intel more than Intel versus AMD.

Next up, here’s Ice Lake. Keep in mind that these tests solely discuss CPU performance. Ice Lake’s graphics are significantly faster than anything Comet Lake fields and there’s no real competition between them as far as graphics are concerned.

The Overall, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Edge tests are all from PCMark 10, while WebXPRT is developed by a consulting firm Intel works with for benchmark authoring and whitepaper work. Comet Lake wins four of these tests and ties in the 5th, 1.24x versus 1.25x.

Ice Lake ekes out a win in WebXPRT, but it falls well behind in the “Convert to PDF” and PowerPoint export tests. It wins the Windows Mail Merge Error Check and the “PowerPoint Export to 1080p Video” tests as well and ties in the Photoshop Element CC Colorize test. The other two Topaz Labs AI tests both run on the GPU, which is why it’s not surprising to see Ice Lake win those tests by such a wide margin.

Of the 13 results, the Core i7-10710U wins six, loses five, and ties two. Remove the GPU results, and Comet Lake’s record is 6-3-2, not 6-5-2. Now granted, this is something we might reasonably expect in a laptop where one CPU is a six-core and the other is just a quad — but it also means Intel has trouble positioning its top-end Ice Lake 10nm CPU against the performance of its top-end Comet Lake CPU. Intel has been arguing against using synthetic tests and scenarios in favor of additional “real-world” benchmarks, but the test scenarios that Ice Lake does best in are ones that make use of Intel’s AI and GPU acceleration in specific and particular tasks. That’s partly because these capabilities are all pretty new — software always lags hardware when it comes to broad adoption — but it sits in tension with Intel’s broad claim to want to focus on the workloads people practically run most. In the most common Office workloads, we’ve got the 10710U taking an overall leadership position.

One thing I want to note is that other Comet Lake/Ice Lake comparisons won’t look like this. The 10710U is unique in having two more cores than any Ice Lake, and while quad-core Comet CPUs still have much higher boost clocks, the performance split between the parts will be different because of this.

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January 17th 2020, 5:27 pm

Elon Musk: Starship Will Fly for 20-30 Years, Aiming for Fleet of 1,000


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made waves a while back with an ambitious plan to begin ferrying people to Mars within the next several years. He was understandably vague on details, but now he’s got a bit more to share. It still sounds like we’re a long way from colonizing Mars, even by Musk’s standards, but we have a better idea of what SpaceX needs to supply and sustain a human population on the red planet. 

Musk kicked off another of his impromptu Twitter Q-and-A sessions on Thursday evening by tweeting a new photo of the Starship SN1 prototype under construction at the company’s Boca Chica manufacturing and testing facility. Naturally, everyone wanted to know when they could get off this rock. Musk didn’t offer any specifics on that count, but he did have some new information about where SpaceX intends to go with the Mars initiative. 

The goal, according to the tweets is to have a fleet of about 1,000 Starships in service. Musk believes the company will eventually be able to produce 100 vessels per year, and each hull should be good for 20-30 years of service. With that many ships, SpaceX would be able to transport up to 100 megatons of cargo to Mars every year. That’s the equivalent of 100,000 passengers. 

SpaceX wouldn’t make runs to Mars every year, though. The Starship fleet would leave all at once every 26 months when Earth and Mars are in the right orbits to shorten the trip. It should only take about 30 days per trip at that time. While the vessels will need to refuel in Earth orbit before leaving for Mars, they will be able to pick up all the fuel they need on Mars for the return trip. That’s thanks to Mars’ comparatively thin atmosphere. 

Musk says that SpaceX hopes to have 1 million people on Mars by 2050, and he hopes to make it cheap enough that anyone can go. Musk has floated $500,000 per seat with a guaranteed return ticket if you change your mind, but this is the first time he suggested the idea of loans who couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, though. He also says there will be plenty of jobs on Mars. Although, it’s not clear what would happen if you didn’t repay the loan. Do they waste fuel hauling you back to Earth?

Before any of these problems can be solved, SpaceX has to finish building the Starship. The new prototype under construction will be ready for orbital testing late this year. After that, SpaceX will begin building versions suitable for deep space travel, including a vessel that will carry a Japanese billionaire around the moon and back.

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January 17th 2020, 3:12 pm

Google Is Working on Steam Support in Chrome OS


Google’s Chrome OS started out as little more than a browser, but Google has slowly added more application support with Android and Linux modules. Chrome OS might be getting a lot more fun, too. According to a new report, Google is looking to make gaming on Chromebooks happen by adding support for Steam. 

The report comes from Android Police, which recently talked with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Chrome OS. Liu was vague on some of the details — for example, he implied that Valve was involved in the development process but wouldn’t come out and say it. Although, that would make sense as Valve is experiencing more competition than ever on Windows with the launch of the Epic Games store. Being first on Chrome OS could give it access to many millions of devices. Liu was, however, confident Google could make this work considering the increasingly cross-platform nature of games and universal computing APIs like Vulkan. 

Valve already has a Linux Steam client, and that’s probably Google’s starting point. Chrome OS has support for Linux via its “Crostini” module. That’s currently a beta feature that you need to enable in the settings, but it works surprisingly well. Steam has a selection of games that support Linux, or at least they should on x86-based systems. You might not get all the latest AAA games on Linux, but that’s not going to be a problem here. After all, we’re talking about Chromebooks. 

Google designed Chrome OS to be streamlined and efficient, so Chromebooks have never needed powerful graphics processing. Some newer devices with the latest-gen Intel chips have passable integrated graphics, but there are no Chromebooks with discrete GPUs. If Steam-based gaming becomes available, Liu suggests we’ll see more powerful AMD GPUs in Chromebooks. He wouldn’t comment on Nvidia or Qualcomm’s involvement, though. 

The recently unveiled Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is one of the few Chrome OS devices with enough power to tackle newer 3D games.

Even without a new generation of gaming-oriented Chromebooks, Steam support would vastly expand the game catalog on the platform. While it’s true there are plenty of Android games on Chrome OS, most of them were designed for a small touchscreen. A game designed for PCs would work better on a Chromebook, and there are numerous indie games and 2D experiences that should work even on modest systems. 

Assuming Google follows through and makes Steam functional on Chrome OS, there’s no guarantee OEMs will start making more powerful Chromebooks. Gaming on Linux has always been a tough sell, but perhaps Google’s market power can drive these projects forward.

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January 17th 2020, 12:59 pm

Blackview BV9800 Pro Field-Test: Budget Rugged Phone With Thermal Camera


While most smartphones are getting wider and thinner, ruggedized phones are an exception. So if you’re looking for a phone that’ll slip into your hip pocket, Blackview’s new BV9800 Pro ($549.99, with street prices ranging from $470 to $520) isn’t for you. But if you need an Android phone that is about as close to indestructible as you can find, packed full of features that make it great for commercial use and for outdoor recreation alike, it delivers, and for a much lower price than similarly featured competitors (like the CAT S61 smartphone for $999).

Blackview’s BV9800 Pro by the Numbers

For starters, according to Blackview, the phone is IP68 compliant (you can swim with it), as well as IP69K (it can withstand steam cleaning, although I’m really not sure that’s the best idea) and MIL-STD-810G. You can theoretically drop it from about shoulder height without harm. It uses a midrange Helio P70 octa-core CPU and comes with a reasonably beefy 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, plus a card slot. The massive 6580 mAh battery means you won’t have to scramble for a charger mid-project. The large battery and rugged casing contribute to the phone’s hefty weight of 322 grams.

It runs three positioning systems — GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU — so you should be in good shape anywhere in the world. There is also a barometer that is used by the phone’s included Altimeter application. A nicely positioned fingerprint reader sits just below the power button, and the phone’s generous size also allows for a headphone jack. The BV9800 Pro can charge wirelessly at up to 10 watts, or via USB-C, and is dual-SIM capable. The phone runs on Android 9.0, which isn’t too surprising, but also not the latest.

The Blackview 9800 Pro promises impressive battery life.

The 2340 x 1080 6.3-inch display is bright and easy to read. The unit I’ve been testing is all black, but there is also an easier-to-see orange color available. The phone supports NFC, and it has a custom function button on the left side that can be used for push-to-talk or re-programmed to one of a number of shortcuts.

Its High-Resolution and Thermal Cameras Are Where the BV9800 Pro Stands Out

View from Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, shot with the FLIR camera on a BlackView 9800 Pro

We’re used to seeing 48MP sensors in flagship phones, but having one in a value-priced rugged phone is a great addition to its feature set. The phone’s native camera app comes with a decent Night Shot mode. It also has Beauty and FaceCute, although I’m not sure how much use those will get on a job site. Of even more interest is a built-in FLIR thermal camera. It is lower-resolution (80 x 60) than the one in a dedicated FLIR ONE, but of course, it’s easier to use since it is built-in, and a lot less expensive since you don’t have to purchase an expensive add-on. There is also a 5MP RGB camera to provide the edges and enhance the resolution of the FLIR Lepton thermal sensor.

Badwater Basin (-282 feet) in Death Valley, shot with the FLIR on a Blackview 9800 Pro.

The same scene shot with the 48MP RGB camera. Note also the wider FOV. (Click-through to get 1920 px version resized for the web). You can just about make out the “Sea Level” sign partway up the mountains.

I found the FLIR images competent, although I’m certainly spoiled by my FLIR ONE Pro. In addition to the Blackview having lower resolution, it seems like the edge registration isn’t as accurate as I’m used to with a dedicated FLIR. However, it is still an excellent way to find hot spots, or individuals or animals in the dark. I look forward to trying it out on safari in Africa later this year, as the FLIR ONE has proven useful on night drives. One cautionary note for serious photographers is that I’ve been unable to find a way to capture RAW images with the phone, even using apps like Lightroom. The image processing on the Blackview also isn’t on a par with top-rated smartphone cameras, but images are certainly usable.

Rugged Phone Toolbox Included

As you’d expect for a phone intended for those working outdoors, there is an included Toolbox folder containing useful tools. Most of these duplicate ones you could hunt down yourself, but it’s nice to have them pre-installed and verified to work with the device’s sensors. In particular, it was nice to have easy access to a sound meter app and a decent compass (using the device’s built-in compass). The flashlight is also impressively bright for a smartphone. And of course, a barometer app that also provides altitude is a nice touch given the phone’s built-in air pressure sensor.

Living with the Blackview 9800 Pro

Once you get past the fact that the phone is large and relatively heavy, it fits comfortably in a medium-to-large-size hand and has good balance. I hold phones in my right hand, which places the power button and fingerprint sensor within easy reach of my thumb (I much prefer the fingerprint sensor on the back or side, and not in the display, personally).

I didn’t find the native launcher particularly intuitive, but you can always load your own (I tried Nova Launcher and it worked fine). My biggest disappointment was with the quality of the main (RGB) camera, especially given the 48MP sensor. Blackview makes a big deal out of Night Mode, for example, but it is not as good as either Google’s or Huawei’s. The captured JPEGs also aren’t quite as good as they could be given the high-resolution sensor. Blackview could do a lot to address that by supporting RAW capture, at least in third-party camera apps, but says it has no plans to do so. Then again, it is a $500 phone with a ton of other features, so it isn’t entirely fair to compare image quality to a typical $700+ flagship model. Plus, if you need thermal imaging, the only other smartphone-based solutions will cost you twice as much.

[Image Credit: David Cardinal]

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January 17th 2020, 11:11 am

Reference to New ‘Pro Mode’ Found in Latest macOS Beta


One of the most common complaints about Apple’s laptops and desktops in the past few years has been that the company took its eye off the professional market in favor of designing garbage cans and broken keyboards. Now that Jony Ive and Apple have performed their conscious uncoupling, we’ve already seen the company moving back towards sanity, introducing cutting-edge features like “thicker laptops with better cooling” and “the old keyboard that worked.” Now, Apple may be preparing to add a genuinely new feature to its latest MacBook Pro lineup — a new “Pro” performance mode that would offer faster CPU clocks than stock operation.

Mention of the new feature was picked up by beta testers working with macOS Catalina 10.15.3. There are indications that this mode basically involves cranking up fan speeds and letting the laptop run hotter than usual. Strings like: “Apps may run faster, but battery life may decrease and fan noise may increase,” and “Fan speed limit overridden” apparently appear when Pro mode is engaged.

Image by 9to5 Mac

9to5 Mac suggests that this feature may be intended only for MacBooks that use the new thermal cooling system built into the MacBook Pro 16-inch. There’s some indication that Apple could be prepping a 13-inch MacBook Pro refresh, which might also use the capability. Apple could be holding back on announcing the new feature until it’s ready to launch the 13-inch system as well.

This is more-or-less the opposite result that we discussed yesterday regarding Turbo Boost / Turbo Mode. It’s the kind of mode you’d probably want to use more on AC power than when running on battery. How well it all works will depend in part on how aggressive Apple has been about its fan noise profile in the first place. If the company prioritizes ultra-low noise now but is willing to let the machine run much louder for a sustained period of time, the gains could be noticeable. It’ll all depend on how much cooling headroom Apple laptops actually have at the higher fan speeds.

Personally, I think letting users turn off Turbo Boost to save battery life is a good idea, and I think letting them run the laptop harder to save time is also a good idea, provided you know which modes you are activating and when to use them.

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January 17th 2020, 9:26 am

Scientists May Have Discovered Universal Memory, DRAM Replacement


For decades, researchers have searched for a memory architecture that could match or exceed DRAM’s performance without requiring constant refreshing. There’ve been a number of proposed technologies, including MRAM (in some cases), FeRAM, and phase change memories like Intel’s Optane. We’ve seen both NAND flash and Optane used as system memory in some specific cases, but typically only for workloads where providing a great deal of slower memory is more useful than a smaller pool of RAM with better access latencies and read/write speeds. What scientists want is a type of RAM that can accomplish both of these goals, offering DRAM-like speed and NAND or Optane-level non-volatility.

A group of UK scientists is basically claiming to have found one. UK III-V (named for the elements of the periodic table used in its construction), would supposedly use ~1 percent the power of current DRAM. It could serve as a replacement for both current non-volatile storage and DRAM itself, though the authors suggest it would currently be better utilized as a DRAM replacement, due to density considerations. NAND flash density is increasing rapidly courtesy of 3D stacking, and UK III-V hasn’t been implemented in a 3D stacked configuration.

Image by the University of Lancaster

According to the team, they could implement a DRAM replacement by using a NOR flash configuration. Unlike NAND flash, NOR flash is bit-addressable. In DRAM, the memory read process is destructive and removes the charge on an entire row when data is accessed. This doesn’t happen with UK III-V; the device can be written or erased without disturbing the data held in surrounding devices. This design, they predict, would perform at least equivalently to DRAM at a fraction the power

What the authors claim, in aggregate, is that they’ve developed a model for a III-V non-volatile RAM that operates at lower voltages than NAND, with better endurance and retention results. At the same time, these III-V semiconductors are capable of operating “virtually disturb-free at 10ns pulse durations, a similar speed to the volatile alternative, DRAM.” The three major features of the technology? It’s low-power, offers nondestructive reads, and is nonvolatile.

Right, But Will You Ever Be Able to Buy It?

Honest answer: I have no idea. The actual device hasn’t been fabricated yet, only simulated. The next step, presumably, would be demonstrating that the device works in practice as well as it does on paper. Even then, there’s no guarantee of any path to commercialization. I’ve been writing about advances in phase change memory, FeRAM, MRAM, and ReRAM for nearly eight years. It’s easy to look at this kind of timeline and dismiss the idea that we’ll ever bring a DRAM-replacement technology to market. The evolutionary cadence of product advances can obscure the fact that it often takes 15-20 years to take a new idea from first paper to commercial volume. OLEDs, EUV lithography, and FinFETs are all good examples of this trend. And new memory technologies absolutely have come to market in the recent past, including both NAND and Optane. Granted, Optane hasn’t completely proven itself in-market the way NAND has, but it’s also not nearly as old.

There are similarities between the difficulty of replacing DRAM and the trouble with finding new battery chemistries. In order to serve as a DRAM replacement, a new technology has to be able to hit better targets in terms of density, power consumption, cost, and performance than a highly optimized technology we’ve used for decades. We already have alternatives for every single individual characteristic of DRAM. SRAM is faster, Optane is higher density, MRAM uses less power, and NAND costs far less per gigabyte.

Similarly, we need battery technologies that hold more energy than Li-ion, are rechargeable, sustain original capacity over more charge cycles, charge more quickly, remain stable in a wide range of temperatures and operating conditions, and don’t explosively combine when breached in ways that make a Li-ion fire look like a Bic lighter. There’s a long road between theory and product. I will say that this team appears to think it’s solved more of the issues preventing a non-volatile DRAM replacement — but that, in turn, requires that it be easy to manufacture and cheap enough to interest the industry.

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January 17th 2020, 8:23 am

OnePlus Demos 120Hz Screen for the OnePlus 8


OnePlus was one of the first smartphone makers to offer phones with higher display refresh rates than the standard 60Hz. It has been followed by the likes of Asus and Google, and Samsung is expected to implement a high refresh rate display in the Galaxy S20. OnePlus has now confirmed its next smartphone will have an even smoother screen than the current OnePlus 7 generation. The OnePlus 8 will support a 120Hz refresh rate, and Co-founder Pete Lau posted a video demonstrating the advantage of such a display. 

Resolution used to be the high-spec battleground for smartphones, but that’s increasingly unimportant as even budget phones now ship with 1080p displays. High refresh rates may be the most important display improvement we see in 2020. Most of the screens you stare at all day refresh at 60Hz, meaning 60 frame updates per second. The few exceptions include some PC gaming monitors, the iPad Pro, and phones like the Pixel 4 and OnePlus 7T. A high refresh rate makes movement look more fluid and realistic, but not most content doesn’t have support for high refresh rates. For example, most mobile games are locked at 60 frames per second. 

OnePlus uses scrolling as an example of where you will see the advantages of 120Hz. The video on Twitter can’t fully recreate the experience of using a 120Hz display — after all, you’re probably looking at it on a screen with a much lower refresh rate. However, you can get a sense of how it will operate thanks to some slow-motion renders. 

The video shows how scrolling through an app causes slight stuttering on a device with a 60Hz display — it doesn’t matter how powerful that device is if the screen can only refresh 60 times per second, a problem PC gamers will find familiar. That’s why high-refresh technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync have proliferated throughout the high-end monitor market. 

OnePlus always uses the latest-generation Qualcomm processors in its devices, so the OnePlus 8 will most likely have the new Snapdragon 865 when it launches in the coming months. That chip has a more powerful GPU that should have no trouble outputting 120 fps. It will also have the 5G modem that Qualcomm requires for all 865-based devices. OnePlus will probably announce the OnePlus 8 in the next month or two for a spring release.

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January 17th 2020, 8:12 am

Become A One-Person, One-Stop Full-Stack Developer With This $13 Training Course


If you want to get hired and stick as a web developer, it definitely helps if you can play on both sides of the ball. And just like that football-based example, generalists who are just as comfortable on front-end, user-facing programming like CSS and HTML as they are on back-end, server and database work are the all-in-one answer many companies seek.

You can get that experience working on building all sides of a thriving web environment with the training in The Complete Full-Stack JavaScript Course, now $13 (over 90 percent off).

Your guide through more than 20 hours of in-depth instruction is Joseph Delgadillo, a top-rated technology teacher with strong reviews (4.3 out of 5) from his nearly 85,000 students.

Over more than 85 lectures, Delgadillo will turn students with a basic understanding of page building into true full-stack wizards. The training focuses on three specific coding projects as your work building a functioning calculator, a weblog and a chat app get you familiar with the most popular tools of a JavaScript professional.

As you use ReactJS, NodeJS, Redux, Material-UI and more, you’ll build an understanding for all the steps in creating a working web package, skills you can use to help jump in and solve any company’s web development needs.

Average full-stack developer salaries approach six figures, so this course can easily justify its $13 investment if you’re motivated enough to take advantage.

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January 17th 2020, 8:12 am

ET Deals: Snag a 27-Inch 1080p IPS Dell Display w/ 75Hz FreeSync Support for $129


Looking for an excellent deal on a new display for work and a little light gaming? Then check out Dell’s SE2717HR! This 27-inch 1080p IPS display features a 75Hz refresh rate and it has FreeSync support, which makes it an excellent solution for gaming on a budget. Best of all, you can get it now from PCMag’s Shop marked down from $189.99 to $129.99.

Before we dive into this display’s specs further, I should mention that I actually own two of these displays that I use daily in a multi-monitor setup for work. Dell designed the SE2717HR with a 6-bit 1080p IPS panel with FRC technology to simulate 8-bit color support. Although the color accuracy is inadequate for professionally editing images, images on screen look clear and vibrant.

Although the SE2717HR was primarily designed for office use, it can also be used as a budget gaming display. The display supports a 75Hz refresh rate, which makes movement look slightly more fluid when compared to the standard 60Hz displays that dominate the market. Dell also added support for AMD’s FreeSync technology to smooth out image refresh rate, which helps to prevent image tearing and ghosting. It can’t compete with a true gaming display, these features still make for an enjoyable gaming experience.

Right now you can get these displays from PCMag with a substantial discount that drops the price from $189.99 to $129.99. The displays also come with free shipping. Priced this low, they could sell out at any moment, and this deal is only valid until January 19, so order now!

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

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January 17th 2020, 6:11 am

Understand AI and Machine Learning With This $40 Training Bundle


You don’t have to look far. Every day, there’s another news story about the impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning on our daily lives.

Like how AI researchers are using something as mundane as insurance claim data to more accurately diagnose cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) well before conventional methods.

Computer thinking is opening up a brave new world for those with the skills to implement that magic, a skill you can develop with The Essential AI and Machine Learning Certification Training Bundle, now $39.99 (over 90 percent off).

The four-course package unfurls basic machine learning concepts in the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Foundation Course. Students will not only understand big ideas like convolutional and neural networks and other Deep Architectures, but they’ll get started using that technology through practice modules and real-time projects.

The Computer Vision Training Course explains how machines can mine usable information from digital images and video; while the Natural Language Processing Training Course digs into ways artificial intelligence can interpret and understand human language in everything from emails to advertisements to websites.

There’s also the Data Visualization with Python and Matplotlib Training Course, which reveals methods for displaying data visually for a deeper understanding of what that data actually means.

Valued at $656, each of those courses actually cost less than $10 each while this deal lasts.

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January 17th 2020, 1:52 am

This Sci-Fi-Inspired Device Could Replace Bulky, Expensive X-Ray Machines


We’re still a long way from Star Trek-style tricorders that can instantly diagnose disease, but medical startup Nanox is hoping to bring a little of the 24th century to a hospital near you. The company has unveiled a new low-cost X-ray scanner called the Nanox.Arc. It hopes to deploy 15,000 units in the coming years, with the aim of making medical scans more available and affordable. 

Nanox was founded in 2016 by Japanese venture capitalist Hitoshi Masuya in partnership with Sony. The consumer electronics giant later bowed out, but Masuya joined forces with current CEO Ran Poliakine to split the company’s operations between Israel and Japan. Nanox has now raised a total of $55 million to fund the development of Nanox.Arc, which supposedly offers the same capabilities of traditional X-ray machines with a much smaller footprint and lower operating costs. 

Current X-ray machinery is bulky, requiring arrays of rotating tubes with superheated filaments that produce electron clouds. When moved near a metal anode, the filament produces the X-rays needed for imaging. These giant analog contraptions require heavy shielding to keep patients safe, and they use a lot of power. There’s also a substantial upfront cost that can run $2-3 million. The Nanox.Arc, on the other hand, uses silicon micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs) in the form of more than 100 million molybdenum nano-cones that generate electrons. 

The Nanox.Arc promises to save space and money.

Nanox says its field emission X-ray technology is the product of 15 years of research, and no other company on Earth has done something similar. The upshot of all this is that the Nanox.Arc takes up very little space and uses less power than traditional machines. The company also has a plan to address the low global availability of X-ray machines. Instead of selling the Nanox.Arc for millions of dollars, it will lease the devices to hospitals and medical centers and charge per scan. 

Nanox plans to launch a cloud-based AI platform to process and analyze images from the machines, which it will then route to doctors for review. By charging for each scan, more facilities can afford to have the machines. Nanox, meanwhile, has a stream of guaranteed income. Importantly, the Nanox.Arc has not received regulatory approval, and it might be several years more before that happens. Until then, it might as well be a tricorder.

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January 16th 2020, 5:02 pm

2020 Hyundai Venue Subcompact SUV Review: Good Car, Inexpensive


The Hyundai Venue may be the simplest-to-describe new car of 2020. It is a two-row SUV with impeccable fit and finish, an engine and acceleration that help you avoid traffic tickets, virtually all the driver assists you want, and a price that lets you buy new rather than used. There are not many cars available for less than $20,000 with an 8-inch color LCD standard and Android Auto / Apple CarPlay built-in. But sorry, no CD player — in case, say, the parents visit and want to mellow out to their Air Supply disc.

Hyundai describes the buyer as a young “urban adventurer” because that’s so much nicer than saying “mixed FICO score.” The only downsides are no adaptive cruise control available and snug shoulder room sitting three abreast in back. It is impossible to pay more than $25,000 including sales tax and the computer and the paperwork fees dealers find so necessary. You don’t pay extra for roof rails or for the two-tone paint on the Denim edition (photo below), and you don’t pay extra for leather or all-wheel-drive because they’re not offered.

The Hyundai Venue is 5 inches shorter than the Hyundai Kona and still has acceptable backseat legroom.

On the road, the Venue felt fine cruising southern Florida. The length, three inches less than a Honda Fit, made it effortless to navigate the crowded capital city of South America (Miami), the noise insulation made the ride pleasant on highways, and the air conditioning made it bearable for visiting Northerners admiring the humid Florida Keys — at least until we opened the doors to admire, but not sample, a Route 1 microbrewery and distillery on Islamorada. The interior is nicely done for the money. Still, window sill armrests are hard plastic with no padding, and there’s one seatback pocket, not two.

The cockpit layout and controls are well done.

Enough Engine to Move You Down the Road

The engine is okay for everything other than passing on two-lane country roads; 0-60 times are around 10 seconds. Pro tip: Merging onto a crowded expressway at a short on-ramp, tromp the throttle and remember that 18-wheelers make it all the time. The engine delivers 121 hp (113 pound-feet of torque) through the continuously variable transmission available on all three trim lines; there’s a six-speed manual on the entry SE line and the $1,200 savings is how the base model costs just over $18,000. That and 15-inch steel wheels.

The rear suspension is a torsion beam, which is simple, elegant, workable, and takes up less space than a multi-link independent rear suspension. A console dial lets you adjust throttle response via Normal, Eco and Snow settings; the Snow position keeps one wheel on ice from spinning and taking traction away from the wheel on snow or dryish pavement. The modes have no effect on steering effort.

Hyundai is proud of the wide ratio of its CVT (IVT, or “intelligent variable transmission”), about 7:1, and notes it’s less complex than Toyota’s CVT that uses a mechanical first gear before handing off to the CVT. Toyota makes a good counterpoint that quickstarts are where most owners notice slippage of slow response from the CVT’s drive belt. Hyundai says it has a metal chain not a metal belt in the CVT and believes it has resolved any rubber-banding issue. It also helps that a 121-hp engine doesn’t make heavy demands on the transmission. It’s rated at 30 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, 32 mpg combined (27/35/30 for the manual). In a day of driving mostly highway miles, we got 36 mpg.

The Venue is a handsome car. Also light at 2,557-2,738 pounds. This is the Denim trim line.

Hyundai Venue Models

You could think of the Venue as a Hyundai Kona Lite since both are subcompact SUV/crossover vehicles. It’s a little more complicated: They’re built on different platforms. The Venue is more a replacement of sorts for the Hyundai Accent hatchback that went away in 2018 when the Gen 5 Accent arrived. The Kona is a premium-feel low-cost SUV and the entry model goes for $2,750 more than the base Venue SE. Add a turbo, all-wheel-drive, leather upholstery, and a head-up display and you hit $30K.

The Venue does give every buyer a very good standard safety package built around a forward-facing camera:

The trunk is spacious given how small the Venue is: 18.7 cubic feet.

Where the Kona has five trim lines, the Venue makes do with three:

Venue SE, $18,470 manual / $19,670 CVT, including a healthy $1,12 freight charge. How is it so affordable? You get 15-inch steel wheels riding on tall-sidewall 185/65R15 tires, and that is not a bad thing when so many roads have potholes. Rear brakes are drum, not disc; there are no roof rails; there’s one, not two USB jacks; there are just four speakers, and you have to hold the electric window winder button down to slide it all the way closed. Those go away on the other trim lines. Other than paint color and transmission, there are no options. But it does have HD radio (not satellite), a 3.5-inch LCD in the instrument cluster, the 8-inch center stack display, an engine with continuously variable valve timing (CVVT), and high-strength steel in places where needed.

Venue SEL, $20,370. The $700 upcharge makes the SEL the right choice unless you really want the stick shift. You get rear disc brakes, roof rails, automatic HVAC temperature controls, six speakers, and the two charging ports, both in the center stack upfront.

There are two SEL-only packages:

Venue Denim, $23,170. The Denim has blue paint and a white roof, blue denim-like upholstery, and the SEL Convenience/Premium features except for the sunroof. There are zero options or paint colors to choose from.

Backseat space is okay, about the same as Kona, and fantastic for a car two feet shorter than a compact SUV. Note only one seatback has a storage pocket.

Should You Buy?

Hyundai is on a roll: The Sonata sedan is the ExtremeTech Car of the Year. The Sonata and Palisade SUV were finalists for the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) Award. Hyundai hasn’t brought out a bad car in years.

If you want a sub-subcompact SUV that is affordable, and if you want new, the 2020 Hyundai Venue is your best choice. The competition includes the Nissan Kicks and Ford EcoSport as primary competitors, plus the Chevrolet Trax, Honda Fit or HR-V, Kia Soul, Toyota C-HR, and Jeep Renegade. You should definitely cross-shop the Kicks, which also is front-drive only and has been out since the 2018 model year. Several others are closer to 170 inches long, with higher prices than the Venue.

The Venue and Kona are within a half-inch on most interior dimensions. The Venue’s rear-seat legroom of 34.3 inches is reasonable for such a small car. Total interior volume is pretty good at 110.6 cubic feet (Kona has 113.3 cubic feet), really good for something just over 13 feet long.

We’d recommend the Venue SEL with at least the Convenience package to get blind-spot detection. That’s a $21,520 car or a $330 lease payment (36 months, 12,000 miles per year, $2,000 down, 700 FICO score).

At the same time, you can find a year-old Kona SEL, all-wheel-drive with about 12,000 miles and a CPO warranty for $19,000-$20,000, less with no CPO or more miles. Hyundais have a 5-year/60,000 mile warranty (10/100 on the powertrain) so it still has more warranty left than most 3/36 new cars.

Our bottom line on the 2020 Hyundai Venue: This is the best car if you want an urban-small, $20,000 more-or-less SUV with reasonable space inside (great space for 159 inches in length), excellent core safety features, and a large standard center stack LCD that connects to Apple or Android phones. If you believe you need all-wheel-drive, you’ll probably do just as well with winter tires and wheels ($750-$1,000). If you need adaptive cruise control, you want the Kona. Nonetheless, Hyundai did an amazing job putting that much tech into a $20,000 car.

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January 16th 2020, 5:02 pm

ET Deals: Lowest Price on 55-Inch Vizio M-Series 4K TV, $350 off XPS 15 w/ 4K OLED Display, Roborock


Today you can get Vizio’s 55-inch M556-G4 4K Quantum TV for the lowest price we’ve ever seen.

Vizio M556-G4 4K HDR 55-Inch Smart TV ($358.00)

Vizio’s M556-G4 TV utilizes quantum LED and HDR technology to provide superior color and image quality. This model also comes with a built-in Chromecast that makes it easy to stream content from your phone or other devices. Currently, you can get one from Walmart marked down from $498.00 to $358.00, which is the lowest price we’ve seen to date on this model.

Dell XPS 15 7590 Intel Core i7-9750H 15.6-Inch 4K OLED Laptop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,549.99)

This version of Dell’s XPS 15 notebook features a high-quality edge-to-edge 4K OLED display with 100 percent support for the DCI-P3 color gamut. This makes it well suited for editing digital images. The system also offers excellent specs and should perform well while gaming. Currently, you can get it from Dell marked down from $1,899.99 to $1,549.99.

Roborock S5 Wi-Fi Robotic Vacuum ($399.99)

This high-powered robot vacuum has 2,000Pa of suction power and a large 5,200mAh battery that enables it to run for up to 150 minutes on a single charge. The Roborock S5 also supports Wi-Fi and can be controlled using a smartphone app and Alexa voice commands. Right now you can get it from Amazon marked down from $599.99 to $399.99.

Featured Deals

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January 16th 2020, 5:02 pm

Intel Discontinues Some Cascade Lake CPUs to Fight Off AMD’s Epyc


When Intel launched Cascade Lake, it heavily segmented the CPU family depending on its various features. This isn’t a new strategy for Intel; the company has long broken its various enterprise capabilities into price bands where certain features cost substantially more money. Today, Intel announced that it’s making several changes to the Cascade Lake Xeon family, likely to better compete against AMD’s Epyc.

Under the old Xeon lineup, Intel sold Cascade Lake Xeons in three buckets depending on memory capacity. Standard models support 1TB of RAM, M-series chips offered support for 2TB, and the L-series processors offered 4.5TB of RAM. These capabilities came with a significant cost adder; the M-series cost an extra $3,003 and the L-series was an additional $7,897. Using 4.5TB of memory on a Cascade Lake Xeon required the use of Optane DIMMs in conjunction with standard DRAM. According to Tom’s Hardware, the M-series has now been entirely canceled, and the L-series now offers 4.5TB of RAM at the M-series original pricing.

Image by Tom’s Hardware

The net effect of these changes is to make high-memory Xeons far more affordable relative to AMD’s Epyc processors, all of which offer 4TB of memory support. It also increases the chances that more customers will adopt Optane. Previously, if you wanted to hit the maximum capacity (4.5TB) on an L-class chip, you had to pay several premiums — the base $7,897 premium for the CPU, followed by the price of the Optane DIMMs themselves.

According to Intel’s list prices, released in April, 128GB of Optane in a DRAM form factor should cost $577, 256GB should cost $2,125, and 512GB should cost $6,751. You need 512GB DIMMs to fill a 4.5TB Xeon server to capacity. 512GB of registered server memory (4x128GB, DDR4-2933) currently sells for ~$4,500 on Newegg, but you have to use four RAM slots to hit the same capacity. The problem is, I can’t actually find any stores selling Optane DIMMs at Intel prices. Of the listed sources with Optane to sell back in April, Compsource’s pricing is, well…. quite a bit different.

I had no problem finding plenty of Optane drives in other form factors at reasonable prices. Given that Intel’s listed CPU prices only apply to retail, I have no problem believing that OEMs are paying prices that are a fraction of what’s actually listed for-sale at retail. Assuming the actual costs are closer to Intel’s list prices, it’s clear that knocking nearly $5,000 off the CPU price could free up a little cash for Optane spending, especially since Intel is actively trying to promote the memory.

As for why Intel is taking this step, it’s because of AMD’s Epyc. Rome may have only built volume slowly from 2017 – 2019, but now that AMD has demonstrated the ability to execute multiple product generations we’re going to see more vendor interest. Intel’s price trimming here reflects AMD’s increased competitiveness. Intel has focused hard on driving data center revenue over the past five years and they aren’t going to want to give up any of that market to AMD (or ARM, for that matter) without a fight.

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January 16th 2020, 5:02 pm

Astronomers Detect Second Planet Orbiting Nearest Star


Scientists used to wonder how common planets were throughout the universe, and now we know — they’re everywhere. Even with our relatively rudimentary methods of detecting exoplanets, we’ve identified thousands of alien worlds, including some in our own backyard. In 2016, astronomers discovered an exoplanet around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun. Now, it looks like there might be a second “super-Earth” exoplanet orbiting that star. 

Proxima Centauri sits a mere 4.2 light-years away from Earth. It’s part of a triple star group along with the nearby Alpha Centauri AB binary system. Proxima Centauri is smaller and cooler than those stars — it’s what’s known as a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy. 

While Proxima Centauri is very close in cosmic terms, its planetary plane doesn’t align with Earth. That means the common transit method of exoplanet detection doesn’t work. Instruments like Kepler and the new TESS satellite use the transit method to detect small dips in light output as planets pass in front of their home stars. Since that doesn’t work with Proxima Centauri, astronomers used the star’s radial velocity (also called Doppler spectroscopy) to spot Proxima b in 2016. An international team of astronomers used the same “solar wobbles” to detect the new Proxima c exoplanet candidate. 

Image by Wikipedia. Alpha Centauri AB is on the left, Beta Centauri on the right, and Proxima Centauri is at the center of the red circle.

Proxima c is a relatively low-mass exoplanet, believed to be about six times more massive than Earth. Whereas Proxima b orbits the star once every 11 Earth days, Proxima c has an orbital period of five years. It’s 50 percent farther from Proxima Centauri than Earth is from the sun, and Proxima Centauri is a much cooler star. As a result, scientists predict Proxima c is far outside the star’s habitable zone with temperatures as low as -388 degrees Fahrenheit. Proxima b is inside the habitable zone, but radiation from the red dwarf might render it inhospitable. 

The team analyzed 17 years of data from the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) and the UVES (Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph) instruments to identify Proxima c. The study reports that the new exoplanet best explains Proxima Centauri’s peculiar gravitational wobble. Now, it’s up to other teams to study the star and confirm the findings. Even if there’s no chance for life on Proxima c, it could be a real boon to the study of exoplanets to have a system with two of them right on our cosmic doorstep.

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January 16th 2020, 1:26 pm

Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism, Where One Company Buys Another and Your Stuff Stops Working


Once upon a time, there was a company named Wyze that made cheap security cameras and other various IoT products. As of today, Wyze cameras won’t detect people anymore. People detection, to be clear, is a major feature of Wyze cameras. The Wyze Cam is advertised as offering “custom zone detection and sensitivity settings,” and you automatically get a clip of what the camera captures while the full recording is saved in the cloud.

Yesterday, Apple bought the AI company In and of itself, that’s not particularly interesting, except for the impact it had on Wyze users. But firmware is now rolling out to Wyze devices that removes their ability to detect people. To be fair to Wyze, the company did warn users that the removal was happening back in November, via forum post and email, though some people will still be unpleasantly surprised.

Wyze has promised that the removal is temporary and that they will roll out a replacement this year. The company claims to have assembled its own AI engineering group, and promises that the functionality will remain free, even if it moves to cloud processing rather than using AI. It may even be possible to avoid losing the capability by refusing to update your firmware (some Wyze users speculated about this in the original comment thread). The company needs to deliver on what it’s promising, but it seems to be making the right moves.

But nothing Wyze is doing — nothing Wyze can do — changes the intrinsic absurdity of the situation. Users who purchased a camera for the purpose of person detection will no longer have access to this capability because Apple bought an AI company. It will be gone for the indefinite future. If you update your firmware (voluntarily or no), you may lose the very reason you bought the product in the first place.

An Extremely Abbreviated History of Property

The idea that all people have intrinsic property rights is pretty new compared with the scope of human history. You can date the beginnings of the idea to the Renaissance, but the debate really kicks off in 17th century England. No less a figure than Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan that ordinary men had no right to withhold property from their sovereign and that a ruler could seize the belongings of anyone he ruled over without consent. Property ownership in ancient societies was often restricted to particular classes or groups. Jews, for example, were often forbidden from owning property, as were African-Americans prior to the Civil War. Women were still considered the legal property of their husbands in both England and the United States until the mid-to-late 19th century.

My still-living grandmother has told me about how she was unable to get a credit card without a male co-signer before the 1970s. Clearly, we’re still ironing out the bugs, even as both the concept of ownership and the idea that products and services should prioritize human beings over corporations have both come under attack.

The “concept of ownership” argument is one you’ve probably heard a thousand times before. In brief: The rise of digital products and services, combined with an always-available internet has made it much easier for companies to create subscription models that deliver access to content on-demand but never actually allow you to own anything. It’s a complex topic that touches on everything from consumer freedom of choice to whether subscription models provide better economic value than purchasing physical products, which itself depends on how the product is used. It’s a discussion worth having, but it’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Modern IP Agreements, Contracts Aren’t Written for Humans

The disagreements between cable companies and content providers are a perfect example of how good customer outcomes are increasingly ignored. When the two sides fight, customers lose access to the shows in question, but are still generally expected to pay full price for a product they literally aren’t receiving. Last year, DirecTV and Comcast were both caught charging customers a Regional Sports Network fee despite not carrying content from a major RSN, Altitude Sports. Both companies had dropped Altitude two months earlier. Comcast had at least been offering refunds. DirecTV just kept on charging people. Can you break your contract with your cable company when you discover you’ve been charged for a product that was not provided? Generally speaking, no. ISPs, however, are allowed to charge you for an entire month’s service, even if you cancel halfway through the month. In other contexts, charging someone for services you then knowingly don’t provide is called fraud.

The smart home market is another area where this issue runs rampant. A number of companies have launched with hardware that’s fully capable of interoperation with other systems, only to deliberately junk their own equipment as part of going out of business. Planned obsolescence is itself obsolete, replaced by programmed obsolescence. Spectrum is the latest company to win this badge of honor for refusing to allow its Zigbee security cameras to communicate with Zigbee devices made by other companies. If anything keeps the smart home concept from taking off, it’ll be the way the industry is repeatedly burning its own early adopters.

One of the hallmarks of programmed obsolescence is that when it happens, humans often have no recourse. When Rockstar lost its license to the music in GTA IV, the company summarily yanked the affected songs right out of the game. There was no option to purchase them for your own personal use, even if you wanted to. Apparently, it wasn’t worth it to Rockstar to renegotiate the rights or the company was unable to do so. Neither explanation does anything for the people who bought the game and want the soundtrack it shipped with.

Imagine, for a moment, if this standard applied to movies. What if Hollywood studios or streaming services were required to pay royalties for every song in a movie for a given period? What would happen when those agreements inevitably expired? If that sounds crazy, I’d like to remind you that Hollywood literally patched an in-theater movie for the first time in history last December. Anybody want to hear the replacement tracks for Star Wars when the license with John Williams expires because Disney and his estate can’t come to an agreement circa 2050?

Similarly, did any human on Earth choose to continue doing business with Equifax after their 2017 data breach? Were we allowed to have a voice in whether this company was allowed to continue to exist? That’s not an unreasonable request given that we’re forced to do business with it.

What’s striking about many of these outcomes is how there’s no one to actually blame. Apple bought, so Apple is well within its rights to terminate previous license agreements. Wyze can’t expect to continue to benefit from technology it hasn’t licensed. And finally: End users shouldn’t expect to retain permanent access to a technology Wyze provides, even if Wyze didn’t explicitly communicate to said users that they were only renting a feature they thought they were purchasing. If you accept the precepts, the conclusion is inevitable: Regular users get screwed to one degree or another and nobody cares.

We didn’t used to accept these precepts. Again, I’m not trying to bash Wyze here — the company is reacting to the facts as they exist on the ground today, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this specific situation is relatively small potatoes. The problem is, it’s not just one event or company. It’s everywhere.

If Intel or AMD were founded today, they’d be named Chiply. You’d sign up for a service that shipped you a CPU of your choice with a corresponding monthly fee and a hardwired 30-day validation requirement. Need to save money? No problem! Just agree to run a performance analyzer and to share your personal web traffic 24/7 so Chiply can gather useful data to improve future products. You can’t see what data the profiler collects and you aren’t allowed to know what Chiply does with it, and you’re certainly not going to get any information about which “trusted partners” Chiply sells it to shares it with, and you wouldn’t ever be told that those trusted partners are under no obligation to protect your data, and Chiply would never voluntarily admit that it actually ran the profiling application on everyone’s computer, whether you paid a monthly fee or not.

But hey. Free CPU.

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January 16th 2020, 9:53 am

Disabling Intel Turbo Boost Has a Huge Impact on Battery Life


The Turbo Boost modes designed by Intel and AMD are a way of delivering high performance in burst workloads without running the CPU at a constant high clock. What’s less known is that this feature comes with a massive hit to battery life, at least on Intel systems. I’m not trying to imply that AMD laptops don’t have a similar issue — I just haven’t tested the impact of disabling Turbo Mode on an AMD notebook.

Developer Marco Ament has written a blog post on the impact of disabling TurboBoost on his 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the difference is significant:

This graph addresses temperature, power, and performance (we’ll get to battery life). As you can see, power consumption falls 62 percent, temperatures are lower, and overall performance takes a hefty whack. The trade-off is nearly linear in the case of xcodebuild, while Geekbench 5’s performance declines by less than the overall power reduction.

The tradeoff, however, is significantly increased battery life. Marco didn’t do a formal test due to the intrinsic difficulty of creating real-world benchmarks, but he estimates his 16-inch MacBook gets 30-50 percent better battery life with Turbo Boost disabled. The other major advantage? Virtually no fan noise, even under full load.

Here’s where I want to pivot and talk about my own experience with this trick. I have an Alienware R13 from 2016. When new, it got roughly two hours of battery life in normal use. Video playback was a bit better, but the laptop has a GTX 1060 in it, and GPU-equipped machines always use more power. I figured two hours was all you could expect to get out of a gaming laptop, but since I wanted more battery for long flights, I decided to test the impact of changing the Turbo Boost parameters to see what would happen. I used Intel’s XTU utility for this, but there are other ways to disable Turbo Boost, including programs like Throttlestop.

The advantage of using Intel’s XTU was that I got more granularity to play with the actual Turbo Boost settings, though this utility isn’t supported on every Intel laptop. Some laptops may also offer UEFI options for adjusting Turbo Boost timing and parameters, though laptop UEFI is typically more locked-down than desktop parts. You can check the list of supported CPUs for XTU here, but not every chip is listed — the 7700HQ itself, for example, isn’t.

XTU running on a 7700HQ.

Assuming you have access to XTU and you’re willing to muck around with your laptop’s power configuration (completely at your own risk), you can actually achieve some astonishing improvements at the cost of making a system incredibly slow. When I travel, I’ll often tighten various amperage and power settings until the laptop is locked at 800MHz. I’m not even going to pretend that the user experience is good in this configuration, as the machine is slow enough to visibly lag. I can write stories or alt-tab between a document and a PDF to make slides and I can still play movies and TV shows flawlessly, but it’s not particularly useful for anything else.

Why do I bother? Because it virtually triples the runtime I get out of the laptop when watching video or doing basic desktop work, and the amount of time I gain is orders of magnitude larger than the time I spend waiting on the PC (the lag is detectable, but it’s well under a second). I wish I had a formal benchmark to show — like Marco, I don’t — but I have timed the actual run-time I got on an airplane while watching movies, and clocked it as just short of six hours, compared to a little over two for the standard configuration.

I want to be very clear here: I’m not just disabling Turbo Boost to get that kind of improvement. To hit that target, I’m throttling the CPU to within an inch of its life by using XTU to lower the 7700HQ’s default voltage and IccMax. The reason I’m bringing it up is to demonstrate that the 30-50 percent battery life improvement that Marco Ament is talking about isn’t a crazy claim. If I can nearly triple a machine’s battery life by aggressive throttling and voltage changes, I can easily believe a 30-50 percent improvement just from disabling Turbo Boost.

The Clockspeed Caveat

There is, however, one reason why low-power laptop users might want to avoid this kind of trick. The 9980HK in Marco’s laptop has a base clock of 2.4GHz and a boost clock of 5GHz. If you turn off Turbo Mode, your CPU will run at a maximum of 2.4GHz on all eight cores. An eight-core Intel Core i9 does pretty well at just 2.4GHz, and Marco reports being pretty satisfied with performance.

If you turn off Turbo Boost on, say, the new Intel Surface Laptop 3 with a Core i7-1065G7, you’re going to wind up at a much lower base clock. I tested the Surface Laptop 3 in Cinebench R20 with Turbo Boost enabled and disabled. With Turbo Mode enabled, the CPU turned in a score of 1689 for multi-core and 434 for single-core. That’s mostly in line with expectations, though the single-core performance was a bit low. With Turbo on, the CPU bursts up to 3.5GHz before settling back down to 2.7 – 2.8GHz. Single core boosts up to 3.67GHz in our test run.

Without Turbo Boost, the laptop sits at 1.3GHz no matter what, whether it’s running single-core or all-core. Multi-core performance falls from 1689 to 743, a drop of 43 percent. The relatively low base clock speed on Ice Lake 15W CPUs means you don’t have nearly as much performance to work with once Turbo Boost is off, while the smaller number of CPU cores means you can’t lean as heavily on parallelism to keep performance up. Single-core performance drops from 434 to 158, a drop of 64 percent.

I like using Throttlestop or XTU for this kind of manipulation, but there are other methods. There’s no magic to the idea of down-clocking your CPU to save battery, but the benefits are larger than people might expect. If you find yourself on a long flight with a need to conserve charge, I’d recommend it. Keep in mind that the impact of hauling a 45W CPU with a base clock of 2.8GHz down to 800MHz via XTU will be larger than the improvement from disabling Turbo Boost on a 15W chip.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Turbo Boost. It functions as designed, and it improves laptop performance while using less battery (and making less noise) than running the chip at full clock all day long. Tweaks like this allow you to throw the lever all the way towards saving power, over and above what Windows makes available by default, but there’s nothing broken about Intel’s implementation of Turbo Boost or AMD’s Turbo Mode.

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January 16th 2020, 9:09 am

Google Promises to Kill Tracking Cookies in Chrome


With browsers like Firefox and the new Edge clamping down on the excesses of Cookies, Google has been under increasing pressure to do the same with Chrome. The company has always held that restricting cookies too much would only lead websites to use more surreptitious means of tracking people. However, Google has relented and says that Chrome will block third-party cookies within two years

Cookies are simply files deposited in your browser when you visit a website. They can retain state information like form entries, login status, and more. However, cookies have also become the most common means by which websites follow you around the web for advertising purposes. Those cookies can tell companies with which you’ve never directly interacted what sites you visit and what you do while you’re there. 

Usually, first-party cookies are the ones you want — they have something to do with a website’s functionality. Third-party cookies are almost always about advertising or tracking, and you have little to no control over what companies do with that data. Google is an advertising company first and foremost, so it has been hesitant to restrict cookies. Google’s rationale for keeping cookies around — that they’re probably better than the alternative — is not necessarily wrong. However, its motivations for making that argument are suspect. 

Google will begin making changes in February 2020 when it will begin forcing third-party cookies to operate over HTTPS. That will bring us a step closer to eliminating insecure cross-site tracking. Eventually, all third-party cookies will stop working in Chrome as part of the company’s “Privacy Sandbox” initiative. Google is also working on new tools to detect and block “browser fingerprinting” where a site uses information about your system like the installed fonts and plug-ins to create an online tracking profile. 

While Google has relented on the issue of tracking cookies, it notes that the current web model is based on targeted ads. Simply blocking all tracking cookies puts that model at risk, according to Google. So, the company says that it will work with various stakeholders to ensure there are still viable ways to advertise while also giving users control over their data. There are a lot of vague promises and plans here, but Google does have two years to figure it out.

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January 16th 2020, 9:09 am

Microsoft’s Chromium-Based Edge Browser Is Available Today


Today is the big day — after a year of work, Microsoft has launched its revamped Edge browser with a Chromium base. This version of the browser will roll out with an upcoming Windows 10 update, but you don’t have to wait any longer. Just pop over the Microsoft’s website, and you can download Chromium Edge for various versions of Windows and macOS. 

Microsoft launched Windows 10 with Edge built-in, and it spent years begging people to use it. Despite some annoying and sometimes misleading Windows pop-ups, Edge never made a dent in Chrome’s market share. Microsoft decided to throw in the towel just over a year ago when it pledged to make a new version of Edge without the custom EdgeHTML engine. Instead, it would start with Google’s open-source Chromium code and integrate Microsoft services. 

That’s just what Microsoft has done over the past year. The first pre-release developer builds appeared in early 2019, and more stable beta versions began rolling out late last year. Now, you can download the stable version of Chromium Edge, and it’ll look very familiar to anyone who’s spent time in Chrome. 

If you install on Windows 10, the new Edge can automatically grab your Windows account. It also offers to import content from your current browser. If that browser is Chrome, Edge can import a surprising amount of your data. Not only can it grab bookmarks, but it does so without mangling the formatting. It’ll also move your form auto-fill content, settings, and even your saved passwords. However, your existing Chrome extensions won’t transfer over. 

The new Edge can import a lot of data from Chrome thanks to the Chromium codebase.

Edge promises the quick browsing experience users have come to expect from Chrome without as much tracking. You can opt-out of Microsoft’s ad-targeting during setup, and Edge defaults to a “Balanced” privacy setting that blocks trackers from sites you haven’t visited. You can crank that up to “Strict” to block almost all trackers at the expense of breaking some sites and features. 

Microsoft won’t drop the new Edge on everyone right away, but the first users will get it in an upcoming Windows update. The full rollout should be completed around the middle of the year. If you choose to install Edge now, it will continue getting periodic updates outside of Microsoft’s clunky Windows Update mechanisms.

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January 15th 2020, 4:28 pm

ET Deals: Dell XPS 13 w/ 2TB SSD and 4K Display just $139, $200 off Apple iPad 9.7-Inch, Amazon 6-In


If you’ve been on the lookout for an excellent deal on a new laptop, look no further. Today you can get Dell’s XPS 13 9380 with an Intel Core i7 processor, a 4K touchscreen display, and a 2TB SSD all for a phenomenal price.

Dell XPS 13 9380 Intel Core i7-8565U 13.3-Inch 4K Touchscreen Laptop w/ 16GB LPDDR3 RAM and 2TB M.2 NVMe SSD ($1,399.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-8565U quad-core processor and a 4K touchscreen display along with an enormous 2TB SSD. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 21 hours on a single charge. Right now you can get it from Dell marked down from $2,368.99 to $1,399.99 with promo code LTXPS123AFF.

Apple iPad 6th Gen 128GB Wi-Fi + Cellular Tablet ($349.00)

Measuring just 9.7-inches diagonally with an LED-backlit IPS display, this is one of Apple’s smallest tablets currently on the market. It also features a fast A10 64-bit processor and can last up to 10 hours on a single charge. You can get it now from Walmart marked down from $559.00 to $349.00.

Amazon Kindle 6-Inch eReader + 3-Months Kindle Unlimited ($59.99)

Amazon’s newest version of its Kindle eReader features a 6-inch screen and a battery designed to last fore weeks with daily half-hour reading sessions. For a limited time, you can also get a free 3-month subscription to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service for free when you buy one of these devices at its full price of $59.99.

Featured Deals


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January 15th 2020, 4:28 pm

Businesses Want Database Experts. Learn SQL For Only $12.99


The lifespan of most tech innovations can often be measured in months, not years. But in some rare instances, what works can hang around for a long, long time. Case in point, the primary interface language of databases SQL is coming up on its 50th birthday.  SQL is still with us a half-century later because it works. You could even say that since the ability to store and organize raw data has never more relevant, it’s never been a more in-demand tech skill.

Even if you’ve never dealt with programming before, the MySQL and SQL for Beginners course (now just $12.99, over 90 percent off) will help you grasp its importance as one of the top tech skills of 2019.

SQL is all about collecting and analyzing data, so this 18-hour package of instruction outlines how to build and organize databases to gather information, crunch figures, funnel data and generally know what to look for to mine the most insightful analytical nuggets.

The course is taught by private software trainer and top Udemy instructor John Purcell, who has taught 1.7 million students and garnered a sterling 4.3 out of 5 star rating from nearly 140,000 reviews.

New users will get a crash course in everything from basic SQL to more complex queries, transactions and stored procedures. Meanwhile, you’ll also get familiar by using MySQL, among the world’s most popular database types.

For anyone looking to get in on the business world’s growing need for database experts, this training can put you right in line for one of those positions. Usually a $200 value, this course is available now at just $12.99 while this offer lasts.

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January 15th 2020, 3:41 pm

GameStop Continues Its March Towards Oblivion


GameStop released its holiday earnings report this week, rather than waiting to roll holiday results into its next quarterly report. The company reported that store sales were down 27.5 percent for the Christmas holiday compared with 2018. Of course, GameStop has closed a number of stores recently, so same-store sales are a better metric for overall performance. Unfortunately, same-store sales also fell 24.7 percent.

GameStop CEO George Sherman attempted to put a positive spin on this by referencing the new console launches of 2020. It’s true that new platform launches will probably drive GameStop’s revenue in a positive direction, but the company always made significantly more off game sales (both new and used) than it did off just hardware. The only bright spot in the company’s performance was apparently the Switch, but GameStop didn’t give any numbers on what sales figures were.

GameStop is now predicting that its fiscal year 2019 (FY2019) will come in below previous guidance and it expects the challenging environment to continue into 2020. It’s important to note that not all of GameStop’s problems came from collapsing software shipments — hardware sales fell 46 percent while software dropped 33 percent. These are larger declines than we saw last generation, where the drop was in the mid-30s during the last year of the previous console generation.

GameStop’s stock price over the last five years.

The problem is, it’s not clear that GameStop’s business is ever coming back. The company generated tremendous ill will with gamers by artificially inflating used game prices to its own benefit. I have no sympathy for video game publishers who hate the used game market — the first sale doctrine exists for a reason, and digital media on physical discs doesn’t get an exception to it — but GameStop scarcely positioned itself as a defender of the common gamer. The company would keep high prices on popular titles long after the games had stopped being current as a means of inflating its own profits. The switch to digital media and the inability to resell games in that format has hit the retailer hard. Companies often fail to understand the difference between loyal customers that actively want to give you money and captive customers that give you money because you’ve cornered the market. Loyal customers will stick with you. Captives depart at the first opportunity.

GameStop’s Four Pillars

GameStop claims to have a plan for returning to profitability. It rests on four pillars: improved operational efficiency, transform GameStop stores into social and cultural hubs, create a “frictionless digital ecosystem,” and “transform our vendor and partner relationships for the future of gaming.”

The company has already taken a number of steps to support the first pillar, including closing stores, cutting costs, and reducing its debt and inventory levels. GameStop has evidently begun stocking PC accessories in an effort to appeal to that market. As a PC gamer who used to love going into physical game stores and looking through the boxes, I haven’t forgotten the fact that most if not all GameStop locations quit stocking PC games a decade or more ago. The chain’s abandonment of the market helped shift PC titles almost entirely to digital and I’m not keen to revisit it for anything PC-related.

As for turning GameStop into a cultural or social hub for gaming, I’d love to see GameStop transform itself into a place where people could go to play games together. I’d really love to see how the company could possibly pull off transforming itself into a social hub given that most GameStop stores can only comfortably hold a handful of people. Every GameStop store I’ve ever seen dedicates the vast majority of its floor space to products and giving up room for local gatherings would mean reducing visible store inventory.

GameStop claims to be pleased with its early efforts to make e-sports a profit center and with early store renovation efforts, so we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out or if it proves a sustainable profit center. The company shared relatively little about its fourth pillar in the Q3 2019 conference call and described various improvements in its online store performance metrics. All told, the company’s efforts to pump its own recovery story sound like what we heard from Blockbuster or RIM before their respective failure and collapse. GameStop is attempting to reinvent itself after teaching its customers to treat it like a location of last resort.

Not all of GameStop’s problems are driven by collapsing game sales. The company reported a net loss from continuing operations of $83.2 million in Q3 2019. It spent $115M on stock buybacks in the same quarter.

The irony in all of this is that I think gaming and gamers will be genuinely worse off once GameStop is gone. The benefits of being able to drive to a store and pick up a physical copy of a game as opposed to ordering it are real, but as fewer and fewer gamers buy physical games, GameStop’s ability to generate continuing profits will be increasingly imperiled. If the physical market for games dies — as it seems likely to do during the next console generation — how will GameStop reinvent itself as a gaming hub and e-sports location, and what’s the value of the stores themselves if purchases are moving online?

Top image credit: Ser_Amantio_di_Nicolao/CC BY-SA 3.0

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January 15th 2020, 3:41 pm

NASA Data Confirms the Last Decade Was the Hottest on Record


Earth has been on a clear warming trend for decades now, and 2019 did nothing to change that. New data released by NASA and NOAA illustrate the accelerating pace of climate change. 2019 was the second hottest on record, but more troubling, it also made the last decade the hottest period since record-keeping began

The new data released this week confirm that the past five years have all been among the five hottest since record-keeping began in the late 19th century — 2016 remains the hottest ever. Furthermore, 19 of the 20 warmest have all occurred in the last two decades. Even going back further with the aid of clues from sediment and ice, it is clear this rate of change is not part of any natural cycle

The data shows that no country on Earth set a record cold temperature in 2019, but 36 of them set new records for the hottest. 2019 led to record high temperatures in places like Mexico, the southeastern US, Australia, Central Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. NASA and NOAA predict that 2020 has a 95 percent chance of being one of the five hottest years on record. Global temperature is now one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial average, and some places have consistently doubled that.

Researcher Kate Marvel from NASA and Columbia University points to an obvious correlation between global temperature increases and the industrial revolution. That’s when people began pumping massive volumes of carbon into the atmosphere via fossil fuels, and we know that carbon-containing compounds are potent greenhouse gasses. 

Governments around the world have pledged to work to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as part of the Paris Climate Agreement. However, carbon levels are still rising, and few countries are making the necessary investments in renewable energy necessary to stave off disaster. In fact, the current US administration has announced its intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The US has already enacted policy changes that are in opposition to that framework. 

We can argue over the precise causes and potential remedies for global climate change, but the data is incontrovertible — Earth is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate. The planet is already stressed supporting billions of people, and we can’t afford the widespread disruption global climate change will bring. The researchers agree that it’s up to us how the coming decades unfold, but things aren’t looking good.

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January 15th 2020, 12:56 pm

The Real Reason Microsoft Blew the Xbox One’s Unveil


I’ve always been fascinated by the Xbox Kinect. When Microsoft debuted the platform, then known as Project Natal, the company promised it would enable an entirely new type of gaming, one in which your entire body would serve as the controller. Consumers clearly loved the idea — the first generation Kinect sold more than 10 million units by 2011, which is an excellent attach rate for a console peripheral. Microsoft took note of that success and doubled down on it, declaring that every next-generation Xbox would ship with a Kinect included.

Polygon has published a truly excellent deep dive into the design and development of Kinect, from conception to the Xbox One. The story they tell is fascinating. Microsoft’s goal with Kinect wasn’t to match Nintendo or create a gimmicky camera product. Having seen how the Wii could get people off the couch and drive sales to families that had never bought a console before, Microsoft hoped to bring an even more radical product to market. Making the player’s entire body the camera would (in theory) be a radical leap forward for games, unlocking immersive experiences that controller-based play simply couldn’t duplicate.

Much of this is no surprise to anyone who remembers Project Natal’s marketing. What I didn’t realize until now is how many different teams at Microsoft were involved in building the product.

The Kinect is no longer just an Xbox project — it is a Microsoft project. Nongaming divisions of the company, such as Microsoft Research and Windows, are brought on board to help out. The Bing team plays a significant role in bringing the Kinect’s speech recognition and natural language processing online.

Polygon’s story makes it clear that Microsoft was really, genuinely excited about the possibilities of the project. When it became clear that even Kinect 1.0’s strong sales weren’t going to be high enough to stimulate much developer interest, Microsoft decided to double down and make the peripheral central to the entire Xbox One. Here’s Richard Irving, group product manager on Kinect:

“From Microsoft’s perspective, it wasn’t just about video games. Right? It was about the future of computing,” Irving says. “Which, if Microsoft is really going to bet its resources on something like Kinect — gaming is a great business, but Microsoft is so much bigger than gaming. When you look at what Microsoft cared about [with] Kinect, they really cared about the future of computing.”

I think this quote explains Microsoft’s confused initial approach to the Xbox One. The XB1 unveil, if you recall, was virtually devoid of games. It focused on things like multimedia capabilities, a Steven Spielberg-directed Halo TV show, sports, and screen sharing. To be blunt, it didn’t make much sense. Why was Microsoft trying to push a camera nobody wanted — a camera everyone knew made the console more expensive? Why were they focusing on streaming capabilities at the expense of, you know, the games people actually wanted to play? Why was the company offering a much-desired feature (library sharing) but chaining it to an onerous digital authentication system and telling people to buy an Xbox 360 if they didn’t like it? Why did these features require radical changes to the physical game distribution model?

Remember Xbox Smart Glass?

Microsoft didn’t have great answers to these questions. The company’s entire vision for the future of the Xbox One was out of sync with what gamers wanted. Sony capitalized on player unhappiness by emphasizing that the PS4 wouldn’t change anything relative to how the gaming market worked at the time. The Polygon article doesn’t really dive into why gamers didn’t want a Kinect bundled with an Xbox One other than price, but I’d argue that the company was hurt by the then-ongoing Snowden disclosures and the discovery of Microsoft patents related to using Kinect to count how many people were in a room in order to enable per-person movie rental fees. Microsoft may have had brilliant ideas about transforming the future of gaming but it had less luck articulating that future to the public.

The Polygon story makes it clear that there were people at Microsoft who were deeply passionate about Kinect and its possibilities, including folks who wanted to push the boundaries of how games could work. Thinking back to the Xbox One unveil and initial events, it’s startling how little of that collective passion actually came through in the early public events. Kinect itself has been used for a number of pioneering computer vision projects. It just never found a home in gaming, partly because of the economics of game development. Polygon goes into more detail on this and I don’t want to steal their thunder.

I want to make it clear that my theories about how Kinect’s design goals impacted the entire positioning of the Xbox One are mine and mine alone. Polygon’s story doesn’t address that issue specifically.

It’s possible Microsoft thought it had an opportunity to move the entire gaming industry in a new direction. It decided the best way to accomplish it was to introduce all of the new features simultaneously rather than through incremental product evolution. I’m not a Kinect apologist — I think part of the reason Microsoft failed is because Kinect wasn’t what people were looking for — but I also think the company may have had no idea how to talk about its concepts for the future. Emphasizing that the machine could do everything only left people wondering why they were supposed to want one, at a time when fears about surveillance were on the rise. Sony offered an improvement on the status quo and the promise that things wouldn’t change.

Ultimately, though, I’m glad Microsoft developed Kinect, just like I’m glad for the PS Move, Wii motion controllers, and PS VR. We need game developers and hardware designers to be willing to take risks on hardware. The only way to find out what will work is to try things that might not.

Top image credit: IGN

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January 15th 2020, 12:27 pm

Annual PC Shipments Rise for the First Time Since 2011


Credit: Ruben de Rijcke / CC by 3.0

The PC market finally grew again in 2019, after a full seven years of contraction. According to IDC, global PC shipments grew 4.8 percent in Q4 to 71.8M shipments, the highest single-quarter volume since Q4 2015. Overall, worldwide PC shipments were up 2.7 percent compared with 2018. That’s the first increase since the PC market grew 1.7 percent in 2011.

“This past year was a wild one in the PC world, which resulted in impressive market growth that ultimately ended seven consecutive years of market contraction,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “The market will still have its challenges ahead, but this year was a clear sign that PC demand is still there despite the continued insurgence of emerging form factors and the demand for mobile computing.”

It’s not clear, however, if this is a true return to growth or more of a one-time pause. In the very next sentence, IDC refers to the fact that PC shipments grew because businesses bought new hardware to address Windows 7’s retirement. Some of that momentum will carry over into 2020, but once the replacement cycle ends, it’s not clear if we’ll see a sustained return to growth. Shipments in certain PC categories like gaming and mobile have grown, but not enough to offset the general decline from 2012 – 2018. Gartner also reported that the PC market grew in 2019, though it recorded a lower level of growth, at 0.6 percent.

Gartner, at least, thinks the business upgrade push will last through the full year. Interestingly, that analyst company believes growth would have been even higher if Intel hadn’t been suffering a CPU shortage but makes no mention of AMD. IDC notes that stronger AMD product adoption offset some of Intel’s CPU shortages, while easing trade tensions between the US and China may have also goosed sales a bit.

The top vendors on the market today, according to IDC, are Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, Acer, and “everybody else.” Tablets and servers don’t count in this estimate. Gartner explicitly notes that it doesn’t count Chromebooks in its tallies but includes Asus as a top worldwide vendor, below Acer.

2019 continued the long trend of consolidation between the various major hardware vendors. As PC sales have fallen, it’s been the white box and small builders who were hit the hardest. The major vendors now control 65 percent of the worldwide PC market. Both Gartner and IDC tracked declines in this segment, with the major vendors eating up the difference.

Top image credit: Credit: Ruben de Rijcke/CC by 3.0

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January 15th 2020, 11:08 am

HP Might Start Making Cheaper Ink Cartridges and More Expensive Printers


Everyone knows the feeling of dread when a printer starts begging for more ink. While the machines themselves are often a bargain, the ink can bleed you dry. That might change soon as HP, the largest maker of consumer printers is considering a change that would mean cheaper ink. The downside is the printers themselves might be more spendy. 

The printer business is an example of the tried-and-true “razor blade model.” That term comes from razor manufacturers which sell the handles cheap but charge high prices for the blades to go with them. Over time, the company can make many times more on the blades than they could ever make on a high-priced handle. Printers are the same with inexpensive hardware and expensive ink cartridges. However, hair just keeps growing, but our need for printing continues to drop. 

An analyst report from Morgan Stanley claims that HP is internally planning to give up on the razor blade model. It’s not doing it to make you happy, though. It’s about money — HP isn’t making as much of it on printer ink because people print less often. The investor note says that about 20 percent of HP’s printer customers aren’t buying enough ink to be profitable. 

Being stuck on the razor blade business model has probably contributed to the sorry state of today’s printers. Virtually every part of the computing experience is better than it was at the turn of the last century, but printers are almost unchanged. Sure, they have Wi-Fi and fancy little LCD screens, but print and hardware quality have stagnated. If HP works on selling the printers instead of the ink, we could end up with better devices. Imagine, an inkjet printer that doesn’t start choking on paper or spitting out distorted pages after 18 months. 

We might finally see HP release some innovative printers if this plan comes to fruition, but it’ll come with a price. Specifically, a higher price for printers. Instead of counting on ink sales to turn a profit, HP would have to make money selling you a better printer. That means a higher upfront cost, but maybe that’s worth it to escape this nightmarish cycle of expensive ink and failure-prone hardware. If HP can make this work, other manufacturers could get on board and change printers for the better.

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January 15th 2020, 9:20 am

Scientists Find Material in Meteorite Older Than the Solar System Itself


When we talk about extremely “old” things on Earth, that usually means a few billion years old. After all, Earth itself is only about four and a half billion years old. Scientists now say they’ve found something much much older on Earth. However, it didn’t come from Earth. Studying the remains of a meteorite have yielded the oldest known material ever studied up close. 

A team of researchers from the US and Switzerland collaborated to analyze the Murchison meteorite (see above), which fell to Earth in the 1960s. This is a carbonaceous chondrite, a very common but ancient type of asteroid. These objects are of interest because they contain the primordial material that coalesced to form the planets in our solar system. Like some sort of cosmic cereal box, this one had prizes inside. 

The researchers took samples from a fragment of the Murchison meteorite, crushed them, and dissolved the remains in acid. They were able to harvest tiny grains of material a few micrometers across. They have various compositions and ages, so categorizing them was a challenge. 

To figure out how old these hearty little flecks were, scientists had to turn to the cosmos itself. Space rocks drifting through the void are constantly bombarded by cosmic rays. These collisions leave subtle isotopic signatures, which can point to the age of the object. This process is known as surface exposure dating. In this analysis, the team found the long-lived Neon-21 isotope particularly useful in determining the age of the grains. 

One of the pre-solar grains, about 8 micrometers across.

While most of the material harvested from the Murchison meteorite was no more than a few hundred million years old, some of it was much, much older. Roughly 8 percent of the sample was around 7.5 billion years old, which is 3 billion years older than the solar system itself. 

Scientists are interested in carbonaceous chondrites because they are pristine samples of the material that formed the planets billions of years ago. By studying them, we can learn a great deal about how solar systems come together. There may be even more to learn from these space rocks, though. The realization that there are even older materials in them could help unravel mysteries on a galactic scale. For example, the team believes the composition of the pre-solar samples in the Murchison meteorite supports the idea that the galaxy went through a period of increased star formation seven billion years ago.

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January 15th 2020, 8:20 am

ET Deals: TCL 55-Inch 4K Roku TV For $467, Save 50% On H&R Block Deluxe + State, PNY Turbo 128GB USB


Enjoy 2020 in style with a new high-quality 4K TCL TV that’s marked down a whopping $182.50.

TCL 55R625 55-Inch 4K QLED HDR Roku Smart TV ($467.49)

TCL’s 55R625 smart TV utilizes Quantum LED and HDR technology to create high-quality images with excellent color on-screen. With a clickable coupon, you can get this display marked down from $649.99 to $467.49 from Amazon.

H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2019 w/ 4 Percent Refund Bonus ($22.49)

File your taxes with H&R Block’s Tax Software this year and you can get a 4 percent bonus added to your refund as part of a special offer. Currently, you can also get the Deluxe + State tax software for 2019 with a 50 percent discount from Amazon that drops its price from $44.99 to $22.49.

PNY Turbo 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive ($14.99)

PNY’s Turbo flash drives are designed to offer high-speed data transfer rates over the USB 3.0 interface. This model also has 128GB of storage space, and it’s on sale marked down from $24.99 to $14.99 from Amazon.

Featured Deals

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January 14th 2020, 5:43 pm

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra May Pack More RAM Than Typical PCs


According to rumor, Samsung’s next-generation phone won’t be the Galaxy S11. It’ll be the Galaxy S20, presumably because it’s 2020 and Samsung wants a bigger number than Apple. The new device will ship in different flavors, as has been typical for the past few years, but the specs on the supposed top-end model are truly something to behold.

Yesterday, Samsung confirmed the Galaxy S20 name of the device family and the overall design, as covered by my colleague Ryan Whitwam. Today, Max Weinbach of XDA Developers leaked the specs on the hardware. The S20 family will ship as the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra, with the S20 and S20+ offering LTE and the S20 Ultra as a 5G product. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 SoCs are only available when paired with the X55 5G modem, which means the S20 and S20 Ultra might use Samsung’s own custom CPU cores and its LTE modem technology. Historically, Samsung has used its own CPU cores for some Korean and international versions of Galaxy S-class products, but bought from Qualcomm for the US variant. Here are the rumored specs on the upcoming phones:

With integrated storage up to 512GB, support for a 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is packing PC-like specs in several regards. Of course, the actual experience of using an Android device is nothing like a PC, and thus far we’ve seen only limited attempts to give Android devices an actual PC-like experience or UI. An article earlier this year at Android Police argued that Chrome OS has stalled out precisely because Android apps are not designed for Chrome OS and the experience of using them in that manner is subpar. Samsung has its DeX software, but software development isn’t exactly Samsung’s thing, if you take my meaning.

The statement that the S20 Ultra will “keep” the SD slot may imply that the lower-end devices in the tier are dropping it entirely — it’s hard to parse. The 16GB of RAM is an enormous amount that’s clearly meant to impress more on paper than to offer any kind of practical use. Large amounts of RAM doesn’t guarantee that applications are left open in the background, for example. We’ve seen bugs on various devices where phones were closing apps too aggressively, leading to annoying lag times when switching from application to application.

The RAM loadout on smartphones has begun to remind me of the low-end graphics card market. Historically, OEMs would often load more RAM on a low-end GPU than it could ever possibly make use of. If “High” detail requires 4GB of RAM and your GPU can only run things at “Low,” which requires 2GB, then putting 4GB of RAM on the card is useless. OEMs did it because they could sell the 4GB flavor for an extra $15 – $25, which was less than the cost of putting the RAM chips on in the first place. It’ll be interesting to see if Samsung can articulate a use-case for stuffing a desktop’s worth of RAM into a smartphone.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth on how much the shift to 5G will hit power consumption on these devices. I’m not willing to take a guess until we see actual power consumption figures. I’ve never been a fan of pushing more RAM into smartphones than they can practically use; higher density RAM configurations typically require more chips, and more chips typically consume more power. Granted, yes, the difference in power consumption between an 8GB and a 16GB device is going to be very small — but in a product where every milliwatt counts, I’d sooner have less RAM if it isn’t actually being used for something useful.

The 5000 mAh battery and 74-minute charge time should both be welcome, but there’s no mention of battery life. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of balance Samsung has struck between temperature, performance, and longevity. It certainly looks like the company has gone for broke on the spec sheet side of the equation.

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January 14th 2020, 3:58 pm

Fisker Ocean: Can This Electric SUV Really Come in Cheaper Than Tesla Model 3?


News about the Fisker Ocean continues to build. The performance specs are yet to come, while financing numbers all sound good. Really good on the cost part: $37,499 before tax credits, $29,999 after the $7,500 federal tax credit, or $379 for a lease. That’s less than a Tesla Model 3. But the Model 3 is shipping. At this point, Fisker is talking about 2021 production and delivery of first cars in 2022.

Fisker took a prototype to CES 2020 to show off. It has a solar roof to help charge the Ocean. A California mode lowers all windows, including the rear, at the touch of a single button, and gives the car a convertible-like feeling — except that there’s still a steel roof (with a big sunroof, true) overhead.

The solar-panel sunroof increases range. A bit.

The specifications Fisker has published so far are competitive. The battery is rated at 80 kilowatt-hours, with a target range between 250 and 300 miles. Fisker touts a solar panel sunroof to help recharge the car but … it appears to be less than 5 miles a day on a sunny day. We don’t know if an Ocean parked at the airport for a week would lose that much just parked. Add Fisker to the companies using Electrify America for recharging.

Fisker has not yet published performance specs, whether 0-60 takes 4 seconds, 6, or 8. Although really it should be fast enough. Every electric-motor car has exceptional torque – power – starting up from standstill. It’s how electric motors are.

California Mode: Press a button and all the windows roll down together, including the back window.

Fisker also says the Ocean will be the world’s most sustainable car. They note the solar roof, vegan leather interior, eco-suede trim, and carpeting from recycled material. Without explaining further, Fisker says it will use “discarded rubber waste [from] tire manufacturing.”

Interior of the Fisker Ocean with vegan and recycled materials.

So, how much? The base model will sell for $37,499 before the US tax credit of up to $7,500. But that price is for “a limited time,” the company says. Alternatively, the lease for the base model (the only one lacking Calfornia mode) is $379 per month, $2,999 (roughly 10 percent) due at signing. That undercuts Model 3 by about $150 a month (Fisker’s down payment is more than twice Tesla’s, though).

Now, get this: Fisker says, “[Customers] can return the vehicle in one month, eight months, 22 months or several years …. no long-term contracts …. with 30,000 miles per year included.” Fisker will also sell insurance. Maintenance will be through Fisker. Hand-raisers can hold the Ocean for $250 down via the company website.  Fisker also says there’ll be two other designs using the same Ocean platform.

The name Fisker, as in founder Henrik Fisker, has been used in several previous car startups of the last decade. Initially, there was Fisker Automotive, founded 2007, with about 2,000 cars built, total, and about $1.4 billion in private venture money and US-backed loans, according to Reuters. That Fisker went bankrupt, bought by a Chinese auto parts maker, and renamed Karma Automotive, resulting in a plug-in hybrid, the Karma Revero.

This is a new company called Fisker Inc. with a battery adjunct called Fisker Nanotech. We wish them luck. Or karma.

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January 14th 2020, 3:12 pm

Spectrum Shuts Down Home Security Service, Will Brick Customer Equipment


The enormous gap between what homeowners want from smart homes and what companies actually provide has come starkly into view. Spectrum, which formerly operated a home security service, has decided it doesn’t want to continue to do so. All current Spectrum security equipment will brick on February 5. Existing customers will be offered discounts on Ring and Abode systems, but will not receive refunds.

In theory, Spectrum’s security products should be compatible with other hardware, given that they use the common Zigbee protocol. Unfortunately, Spectrum has firmware-locked its own security products. They can’t “see” other Zigbee devices nearby, and other Zigbee devices can’t see them, either. Spectrum’s customers are understandably upset and have been calling on the company to release an open firmware before shutting down the service.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a high-end tech company pull a move like this. The problem, I think, is the fundamental mismatch in how customers think about these services versus how companies think about them. According to this site, the average urban homeowner moves every 9.7 to 12.5 years, depending on location. When you put in an appliance, you expect it to last a while. Humans being what they are, I’m certain somebody out there upgrades their washer every year, but most of us take an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.

Despite being run by ostensible humans, many tech companies haven’t figured out that longevity and consistency are features customers prize when they are installing products into their homes. The problem isn’t that Spectrum is shutting off its service — it’s that thousands of perfectly useful sensors and cameras are going to get dumped into landfills because Spectrum didn’t want to enable a feature.

This is a colossal waste, and it’s burning the very group of people a nascent market depends on in order to thrive: early adopters. At least one unhappy user spent $1,200 outfitting his home with sensors and equipment. Another reported that Charter / Spectrum had been pushing customers to pay for the entire service up-front when they signed up for service.

Legally, Spectrum is absolutely within its right to terminate services and throw the hardware away. This is a fine example of how something can be both outrageously stupid and completely legal. But this kind of capricious treatment runs the risk of souring people on the idea of smart homes in the first place. The hard truth is, there aren’t a lot of vendors you can trust. Some shutter, like Spectrum, while the successful ones break their word to the very adopters that helped them succeed in the first place.

If smart home companies continue to throw their own users away like garbage, they’ll quickly find themselves without a product to market. Homeowners expect these sorts of products to work and interoperate over a decade or more, not 1-3 years. Homeowners aren’t going to be willing to keep shucking out top dollar for incompatible systems. Hopefully, Spectrum will do the right thing and unlock its hardware before it goes dark.

But don’t hold your breath.

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January 14th 2020, 2:54 pm

NSA Reports Major Windows 10 Flaw to Microsoft, Patch Coming Today


It’s “Patch Tuesday” for Microsoft, and this is an important one. Not only is this the end of the road for Windows 7, but Microsoft is releasing a major fix for Windows 10 thanks to the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA reportedly uncovered a serious flaw in Windows 10, and it took the unusual but welcome step of telling Microsoft about it. 

Despite its name, the NSA is not aimed at improving security for the general public. Its goal of gathering intelligence and monitoring national communication networks is not served by patching vulnerabilities when it can weaponize them instead. That’s why, traditionally, the NSA keeps these security holes a secret so it can use them against targets. 

The vulnerability affects the way Windows 10 verifies digital signatures. That could allow a malicious software package to masquerade as a legitimate installer without tripping any alarms. Thus, someone could leverage the bug to remotely install malware and give it access to the entire system. From the NSA’s perspective, that’s a useful tool for cyberespionage, provided your target is using Windows 10. There’s a reasonable chance they will be, considering Windows 10 is the most popular desktop operating system in the world

The new Windows 10 flaw is similar to EternalBlue, which fueled the WannaCry ransomware.

People briefed on the matter liken this vulnerability to EternalBlue, a flaw that affected most versions of Windows until 2017. The NSA used EternalBlue to break into computers for five years, but then the tool found its way into the hands of other organizations. As a result, EternalBlue fueled major malware campaigns like the WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware outbreaks. While the new vulnerability isn’t as severe as EternalBlue (it only affects Windows 10), it could allow for similar attacks if it ever got out. Perhaps that’s why the NSA opted to alert Microsoft instead of trying to weaponize the flaw. 

Microsoft should release the patch today for all Windows 10 users. We also expect a statement on the vulnerability, urging everyone to update as soon as possible. While it’s better than the NSA disclosed the flaw to Microsoft, it could still serve as the basis for online attacks if users don’t update their systems. The NSA claims there are no currently active exploits online that use this vulnerability, but that could change in an instant.

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January 14th 2020, 1:09 pm

Microsoft Will Push Chromium Edge Out on Wednesday


On Wednesday, all Windows 10 machines currently running Microsoft Edge will be updated to use Chromium-based Edge. It’s the end of Microsoft’s last attempt to create an alternative to Chrome, and I’m somewhat sorry to see it go.

It’s not that I ever particularly liked Edge. It’s never worked all that well and it seems to struggle rendering ordinary websites that neither Chrome nor Firefox have issues with. From the launch of Windows 10 up until now, Edge has used the EdgeHTML proprietary rendering engine, which was intended to be fully compatible with WebKit-based products (Safari, Chrome, various others).

As for Microsoft, the company made the decision to go Chromium for a variety of reasons, including market share, reach, and developer interest. Edge didn’t build market share or receive updates quickly enough to keep up with Chrome, according to an extensive interview with The Verge. Personally, I’d argue that one reason Edge failed to gain much traction with techies is because of how aggressively Microsoft shoved it at you. Resetting favorites to Microsoft defaults and telling users that other browsers are unsafe aren’t tactics that build trust with techies and power users. Microsoft used both.

When EdgeHTML failed to catch on, Microsoft made the decision to retool its browser around Chromium, the same open-source standard that Google uses for Chrome. On the surface, this is a good thing — it guarantees greater compatibility and interoperability among software products.

Image by Wikipedia

The problem is, Google now controls an even larger share of the market than it did before. Firefox is the only independent browser company left standing, and it’s down to a slim share of the market. Historically, allowing a single company to dominate an industry doesn’t produce optimal results for users. Inevitably, changes and improvements begin to be suggested that ultimately favor the incumbent rather than benefiting the end-user. Whether Google has already reached that point is a matter of personal opinion, but the company has taken considerable fire in various controversies in the past few years. Firefox has been making a major push to brand itself as the only browser developer that actually takes privacy seriously. Whether that will boost the company’s user base isn’t clear yet.

End-users are supposed to barely notice any change from the switchover, so we’ll just see how that goes.

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January 14th 2020, 8:39 am

SpaceX Prepares to Sacrifice Falcon 9 in ‘Dragon Fire’ for Launch Abort Test


SpaceX is busily preparing for its final uncrewed flight test with the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule before it sends the first astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). In many of SpaceX’s launches, the company does all it can to recover the Falcon 9 first stage for reuse, but it’s going to sacrifice the rocket this time, SpaceX CEO and consummate showman Elon Musk described it as being “destroyed in dragon fire.”

In recent days, SpaceX has delivered its latest Crew-capable Dragon spacecraft to Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39. The goal of the final test will be to demonstrate that the Dragon capsule’s SuperDraco engines will function as an in-flight abort system. The company has already shown the SuperDraco engines can wrench the Dragon spacecraft away from the Falcon 9 on the ground, but the in-flight abort will be the ultimate test of its capabilities. NASA doesn’t mandate this test as part of the Commercial Crew Program, but SpaceX has good reasons for doing it. 

Most rockets with in-flight abort systems rely on solid rocket boosters to do the job. These motors (like the side boosters on the Space Shuttle and upcoming SLS) fire at maximum thrust until they expend their fuel and are then discarded. SpaceX has plans for propulsive landings with the Dragon capsule in the future, so it designed the SuperDraco engines to be liquid-fueled (hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide). This decision cost SpaceX dearly when a Dragon capsule exploded last year during ground testing. An investigation found that a leaky valve supplying the engine had allowed nitrogen tetroxide to accumulate in the helium pressurization system. This caused the titanium check valve to fail, resulting in an explosion

SpaceX is currently aiming for a January 18th launch. The Dragon spacecraft won’t reach orbit, though. This test is intended to show that the SuperDraco engines can successfully pull the Dragon away from the Falcon 9 during the most challenging part of the ascent, known as Max Q. This is the point at which velocity and air pressure combine to create the highest drag on the rocket’s windward-facing parts. If the SuperDraco engines can blast the Dragon clear at this moment, it can do so at any time during launch. 

The Falcon 9 core for this launch carries the designation B1046 — it was the very first Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 to fly. Musk says the company’s engineers attempted to design a way to save the booster, but there was just no way. It completed three flights in 2018, landing after each one, but this mission will be its last. SpaceX expects the booster to be badly damaged by the launch abort system. Despite losing B1046, this test should pave the way for SpaceX’s first crewed launch in the coming months.

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January 14th 2020, 8:09 am

ET Deals: CyberPower 815W UPS For $99, WD Elements 4TB External HDD Just $79, Lowest Price on Apple


Today only you can save $35 on one of CyberPower’s UPS systems that has sufficient power to keep your computer running for a short time in the event of a power outage.

CyberPower CP1350AVRLCD Intelligent LCD 1350VA/815W UPS System ($99.95)

CyberPower built this UPS with a capacity of 815W and 1350VA of battery power. This is sufficient to power most computers, and in the event of a power outage, it will give you the crucial time that you need to save your work and shut down your PC without damaging your system. Typically this model retails for $134.95, but you can get it today for $99.95 from Amazon.

Western Digital 4TB Elements USB 3.0 External HDD ($79.99)

This drives lets you carry around 4TB of data in a compact package that transfers data relatively quickly over USB 3.0. Right now it’s marked down from $129.45 to $79.99 on Amazon.

Apple AirPods w/Charging Case ($129.99)

What better way to celebrate your independence than with a pair of high-quality earbuds to help block out bothersome external noises and enjoy your music? You can get Apple’s AirPods today from Amazon marked down from $159.00 to $129.99.

Featured Deals

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January 13th 2020, 5:35 pm

Leaked Photos Confirm Samsung Galaxy S20 Name and Design


Samsung is no stranger to skipping numbers. Remember the Galaxy Note 6? No, you don’t because it didn’t exist after Samsung jumped right from the Note 5 to the explosive Note 7. Now, Samsung is skipping a lot more numbers. The company’s next flagship phone won’t be the Galaxy S11; it’ll be the Galaxy S20. There are also images of the upcoming smartphone for the first time. 

The unexpected name jump has been rumored in the past, ad we’ve seen some alleged renders of the phone. The name and design are all but confirmed now that there are real photos of the phone available. XDA Developers has posted three snapshots of the phone, which you can see above. They’re a good match for the leaked renders, but the boot screen is also notable — it confirms the Galaxy S20 naming scheme. 

The phone has narrow bezels all the way around the screen. The bottom bezel is still slightly larger than the others, but the difference is less noticeable than the Galaxy S10. There’s a single front-facing camera module, which peeks through a hold in the top center of the display just like the Note 10. This is the 20+ variant of the phone, so Samsung has decided to drop the secondary front-facing depth sensor it used last year. The display is also reportedly less curved than the Galaxy S10, which should make the phone easier to hold without accidental touches. 

The new photos are a very good match for the recent renders.

Around back, the Galaxy S20 has a much larger camera module than other recent Samsung phones. There are four sensors along with a flash and possibly a microphone. The cameras should include an improved 12MP main sensor along with wide-angle and telephoto cameras. The remaining lens might be a depth sensor or a time-of-flight camera. 

The same source tells XDA that the phone will come in S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra variants. There should be 4G versions of the S20 and S20+, but the Ultra will be 5G only. We know that Qualcomm will only sell the Snapdragon 865 for 5G phones. So, the 4G S20 and S20+ might only be available with Samsung Exynos chips, and that means they may not launch in the US. All versions of the phone are expected to have 12GB of RAM (up to 16GB in the Ultra!) and at least 128GB of storage. 

Samsung will make the Galaxy S20 official in just a few weeks on February 11th. If this is anything like the past few Samsung flagship launches, it will hit all major carriers and retailers about a month later.

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January 13th 2020, 4:35 pm

OpenVR Benchmark Shows Unknown AMD Radeon GPU Beating RTX 2080 Ti by 17 Percent


AMD had a great start to 2020, but one product gamers had hoped to see — so-called “Big” Navi — was only briefly mentioned by CEO Dr. Lisa Su. We know that Big Navi is absolutely in the works, but not much more than that. Here’s Lisa Su on the topic:

I know those on Reddit want a high end Navi! You should expect that we will have a high-end Navi, and that it is important to have it. The discrete graphics market, especially at the high end, is very important to us. So you should expect that we will have a high-end Navi, although I don’t usually comment on unannounced products.

Now we’ve got benchmarks tipping up showing an unknown Radeon beating the RTX 2080 Ti in OpenVR’s benchmark at a resolution of 1512×1680. AMD’s unknown Radeon comes in second place, with a score of 103.32, while the fastest RTX 2080 Ti checks in at 88.1. Result? AMD wins by roughly 17 percent.

Image Credit: AMD Subreddit

What does this fundamentally mean for AMD’s upcoming “Big Navi?” Nothing. We don’t know how optimized the drivers are, or whether the unknown Radeon actually rendered all of the scenes correctly. We don’t know the clock or memory configuration on the GPU. Recent rumors have suggested that Big Navi is twice the size of Navi, with up to 80 CUs and 5120 cores. The problem with these kinds of leaks, however, is that they only represent performance in a single moment of time (and with a GPU that may not be anywhere near production-ready).

But there’s a separate issue here, common to any situation where one benchmark is used to claim dominance. In the slideshow below, I’ve clipped off most of the graphs and focused solely on the RTX 2070 versus the 5700 XT. Watch how the performance narrative changes depending on which game I test:

I picked these graphs because they demonstrate how much comparative performance can change from title to title. Winning the OpenVR benchmark by 17 percent over the 2080 Ti is good, inasmuch as it demonstrates AMD is building a competitive GPU. But — as the slideshow above illustrates — GPUs can be fabulous in some workloads and struggle with others. RDNA has proven to have chops as a rendering and compute GPU and I expect Big Navi will deliver in that regard.

If I had to guess, based on the information publicly available, I’d guess that Big Navi will be solidly faster than Turing. I don’t know how it will compare against Ampere. Nvidia has historically had good luck with node shifts. There are claims that Ampere could be up to 50 percent faster than Turing. Those claims should be taken with a large grain of salt, but we do expect Big Navi to face real competition from Nvidia’s first 7nm GPUs in 2020.

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January 13th 2020, 3:51 pm

Asus Chakram Gaming Mouse Sports a Programmable Joystick


Most high-end gaming mice have the same basic features like RGB lighting, high DPI, and lots and lots of buttons. The upcoming Asus ROG Chakram has all that, but it aims to set itself apart with a feature other mice don’t have: a joystick. It’s programmable and completely removable if you decide you don’t want it under your thumb. 

Asus quietly revealed the ROG Chakram late last year, but it didn’t let anyone get their hands on it until CES last week. It also confirmed shipping for later this month. The ROG Chakram is a right-handed gaming mouse that supports Bluetooth, wired connections, and a 2.4GHz wireless dongle. The optical sensor operates between 300 and 16,000 DPI, although the DPI switcher button is on the underside of the mouse. There are banks of RGB LEDs flanking the left and right buttons as well as the inner surface of the scroll wheel — it wouldn’t be gaming without RGB. 

This device supports wireless Qi charging, which is a universal standard unlike the wireless charging systems available for Logitech and Razer mice. So, you can use the same wireless charging pad for your mouse that you use for your phone. It also has a USB Type-C port for wired connectivity and fast charging. Again, that might be the same charger you use for your phone. Asus says the ROG Chakram can power-up enough in 15 minutes to support 12 hours of gameplay. A full charge lasts about 79 hours, or six and a half days of gameplay. 

Asus’ claim to fame here is the joystick, positioned for the thumb on the edge of the mouse. It’s fully programmable and operates in either analog or digital modes. So, you could use it as a d-pad with four buttons to cycle weapons or peek around corners in a shooter. In analog mode, you can use it to look around in a flight sim or racing game. 

While it doesn’t get as much attention as the joystick, Asus’ custom switch housing might be even more useful. You can pop off the left and right button covers to reveal the Omron switches underneath. The switches can be removed and replaced with new ones should anything go wrong with them. That could keep this spendy mouse working for a long time to come. Asus expects to ship the ROG Chakram later this month at $150. 

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January 13th 2020, 2:02 pm

The Hyundai-Uber Electric Flying-Car Taxi: Hey, Why Not?


CES 2020 Las Vegas

Hyundai is taking Uber into the third dimension with flying taxis. Sorry, electric flying taxis. Okay, one more time: electric-power Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs). They’re part of a Hyundai Urban Air Mobility (UAM) initiative, which also includes hubs where the air vehicles can set down and connect with local people-movers, or Purpose Built Vehicles (PBVs).

Hyundai says the project “aims to free future cities and people from constraints of time and space and allow them to create more value in their lives.” This would be the people in megacities who currently can afford helicopters to get around Manhattan, London, and the like. Hyundai says the eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft would have a range of 100 km / 60 miles and recharge in 5-7 minutes. Hyundai showed a full-size concept plane with (gently) spinning rotors at CES.

The Hyundai eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) PAV (Personal Air Vehicle).

The flying-car part, the Personal Air Vehicle,  carries five people, Hyundai says. There are two tilting rotors on the tail and 10 more on the main wing, also tilting. The plane takes off vertically, which it has to if it’s going to start the journey downtown and not at the airport. The propellors transition to forward flight with a cruise speed of 290 km/h / 180 mph and a range of 100 km / 60 miles. Once back on the ground, the fast recharge time means the craft can be on its way again quickly.

Hyundai says using many small electric motors makes the aircraft quieter than even the quietest combustion-engine helicopters. Hyundai has named the first concept PAV the S-A1. The five people on board are a pilot and four passengers. Hyundai adds, “The PAV will be operated initially by a pilot during the early stages of commercialization and enable autonomous operation once the relevant technologies are developed.”

Hyundai’s planned smart mobility hub.

The Hub is where the various acronyms come to meet. The UAM PAV flies in over the Hub, transitions the props to hover, and sets down on the Skyport atop the Hub. There the passengers alight and meet up with ground transportation, whether Uber or Lyft taxis, or the PBVs.

Hyundai concept PBV, or Purpose Built Vehicle.

From Hub to final destination, Hyundai sees travelers using the Purpose Built Vehicle, “a ground-based eco-friendly mobility solution that provides customized spaces and services for passengers in transit.” The Hyundai PBV would offer “customized services in transit (ie, coffee shop, medical clinic).” Okay, we can see a flu shot or blood pressure check. But there’s a host of other medical services we’d just as soon not take part in with other passengers looking on. Or it may be that a PBV is a roving medical clinic, not a people transporter.

Hyundai showcased a full-size personal air vehicle at CES 2020, suspended from the ceiling of the Las Vegas Convention Center North Hall that is home to most of the automakers and suppliers. According to Euisun Chung, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group:

For our smart mobility solutions, we considered what truly matters in cities and in people’s lives. UAM, PBV, and Hub will revitalize cities by removing urban boundaries, giving people time to pursue their goals, and creating a diverse community. Our goal is to help build dynamic human-centered future cities and continue our legacy of progress for humanity. CES 2020 is just the start and we will continue to realize this vision.

Where does Uber fit in? The ride-hail service has talked grandly about new ways to transport people and as far back as 2016 talked about “Uber Elevate” in a white paper. Uber wants to start test flights in 2020 – yes, this year – and launch an initial air taxi program starting in Dallas and Los Angeles. We suspect that during the early years, Uber Elevate may be Uber Helicopter, and in fact, Uber more recently said it will shuttle people from lower Manhattan to JFK Airport, something others have done for decades before Uber existed.

Flying car cover, Popular Mechanics, February 1951.

It’s also been decades that people have talked about flying cars. Popular Mechanics has been big on the idea since just after World War II. So far, much talk, little action. Maybe Uber and Hyundai will fix that.

Hyundai is a company that can provide the design and manufacturing experience Uber lacks. But Uber is not monogamous in partnering. Over the past two years, it has dealt with other aerospace companies to potentially provide short-haul air transit:  Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell, Embraer, Karem Aircraft, Joby, Jaunt, and Pipistrel.

It’d be great to see this happen. A lot must happen in the meantime, starting with finding the right vehicles and finding land.

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January 13th 2020, 10:44 am

Ask the Grumpy PC Technician: GPU Temps, Windows 1909, Engine Repair


Howdy folks. Back in November, I asked you to submit hardware issues, questions, and problems, to see whether or not I might be able to help. It took a lot longer than I wanted to come back to this topic. I had multiple members of my family sick in December, including me.

One of the challenges of solving hardware puzzles using this format is that it helps to find out if a solution actually worked. The Holy Trinity of advice columnists — Abby, Prudence, and Car Talk, as far as I’m concerned — only tend to revisit older letters on occasion, if someone sends an update. I want to be able to present at least some of the diagnosis and eventual solutions, but I figure we’ll try some things and see what works.

One thing I want to add: If you have a general PC or hardware question, or even a historical question about the PC business, you can feel free to ask it. I might even try to rope in a co-worker for additional perspectives. (Psst. Ask Atari questions!)

RTX 2080 Ti Running Hotter Than Expected

From Ty Worsham, a question on operating temperatures on GTX 1080 Ti GPUs versus the RTX 2080 Ti series:

I’ve been building PCs for about 20 years now and this is the first real issue I’ve seen that I just can’t quite figure out, so I need some help. I upgraded from a 1080 Ti to a 2080 Ti. With the 1080 Ti, I was getting around 50-60 degrees Celsius (depending on game and time of year). With the 2080 Ti, I’m getting 60-70. Ambient temp is 22-26c. [The GPU is an ASUS Geforce RTX 2080 Ti 11 GB Strix Video Card]

Do these cards just run warmer? Am I being paranoid? I considered I may not have enough positive static air, so I disconnected 2 exhaust fans to see if maybe that would help, but I haven’t noticed much change.

Grumpy PCT: I’m going to answer your question with a question of my own. Which BIOS mode are you currently running in?

According to TechPowerUp, there’s a BIOS switch on the card that sets to a “Quiet BIOS” mode with lower fan noise. It’s *possible* that you are running in that mode, and you may see somewhat better temps if you change your GPU to the other setting.

But as for the temperatures you are seeing? Honestly, yes, modern GPUs do just run hotter. And so far as anyone can tell, it’s safe to run them at those temperatures. AMD has a tendency to push the envelope a bit more in this regard than Nvidia does, but both AMD and Nvidia now regularly field GPUs that allow for sustained temperatures of 75C+. Both GPU manufacturers deploy sophisticated mechanisms that control the GPU’s clocks based on a variety of factors, including temperature. 60-70C appears to be normal for a 2080 Ti.

You say you’ve been building PCs for 20 years, which means you probably remember the era of K6-2’s and Pentium II’s, when a CPU temperature of 50C was high and 70-90C would have meant you had a chip literally melting to the socket. Part of the reason why temps run hotter now is that we’re much better at measuring them — sensor placement and sampling have both improved. Part of it is because chips are now designed to handle higher temperatures than they used to be.

I won’t lie to you. I enjoy high temperatures about as much as I enjoy the taste of Cool Ranch Doritos and cold black coffee. But they’re not a sign of fundamental hardware failure, and the 60-70C range you specified seems to be within the target for your card. Since you specifically identify as a PC builder, I’ll go ahead and ask — have you tried repasting the GPU to see if you can improve the temperatures that way?

Ty: This was immensely helpful sir. I think it comes in the quiet mode BIOS by default. I set up my own fan curve and put a fairly aggressive fan speed vs temp on it as soon as I got it installed. And then I did a BIOS update and I didn’t check it after….I’m pretty sure that was my failing. I reapplied my fan curve and it’s running fine now. It does run in the 60s but you’re right, they just run warmer. I do remember the old days…I ended up pulling the side panel and putting a box fan next to it to get better temps…lol It was redneck, but it worked.

Grumpy PCT: It still works now. If your desktop is unstable under load, check your temperatures and dust level. If the only thing you have on hand to improve your cooling situation is a box fan, try using it.

Should You Install Windows 10 1909?

From Phenom_x8: It is worth it to download and install Win 10 Nov 19 update? I usually update my win 10 only when a major update has been released.

Grumpy PCT: “Worth it” is always a tricky question to evaluate. The Windows 10 1909 update was supposedly so small, enabling it is really just a matter of telling Windows to reboot and turn it on. It’s true that some users have reported issues with 1909, but some percentage of users hit problems with every software release. Verify that you’ll be able to roll back from 1909 if it gives you problems and then try enabling it, would be my advice. You can also check to see what other users are reporting as far as specific bugs with Windows 10 1909 — a straightforward “Windows 10 1909 bugs” produces some useful results.

The thing to keep in mind is that just because a bug is real and deserves to be written up doesn’t mean it actually impacts a lot of people. I’m not trying to let Microsoft off the hook with this — a small bug that hits people with catastrophic file deletion issues is a big deal under any circumstance. I’ve installed 1909 fresh on several systems without any trouble, but if you want to be sure, Google “Windows 10 1909 bugs” and take a look at what people are reporting. If you run into issues after the update, uninstall it.

Do We Take Car Repair Requests?

Chris asks: Hi, I understand you know how to drive a car and what an engine is, would you mind doing a service on mine, please? Oh, and it makes this weird noise sometimes so it would be great if you could fix it for free.

Grumpy PCT: I am unqualified to service your car and spectacularly unwilling to “service” your car, but here we both are. Let’s start with a few base assumptions. Since the only thing you’ve given me to work with is “weird noise” and I don’t know how to fix cars, let’s see what we can do:

First, you’ll want to check the power steering pump. You might hear a weird noise when you put the wheel over if you’re low on power steering fluid. If the noise is both loud and rough (I think of it as blatty, but YMMV), you may have an exhaust system leak. If your car has suddenly begun vibrating in an unusual fashion, there are several possibilities, including 1). It’s broken 2). It’s currently the home of approximately 5,000 bees, or 3). The person you ran over while you were checking for bees is jammed in the wheel well.

Try to get a sense of what you feel the weird noise might mean. Old cars make many strange noises, but there are a few rules of thumbs you can apply:

If your car suddenly grows a new part where one didn’t exist before, it is not budding, sprouting, or launching new DLC. It is broken. You should feel bad.

Here’s another handy tip about cars: If something underneath the engine block catches on fire in a 1991 LeBaron, the smoke may fill the backseat first. Tell your family immediately if this happens, rather than waiting to see if anybody else notices. Keep a handy water bottle in the car. Do not taunt your sibling about his initial failure to listen to you.

Happy driving.

Got a question, topic, issue, or idea you want me to talk about? Hit me up at You can also leave questions in the forum thread below.

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January 13th 2020, 10:12 am

Cherry Hopes to Replace Membrane Keyboards With New Viola Mechanical Switch


Germany-based Cherry effectively consumed the entire market for mechanical keyboard switches in the 80s and 90s, but its patents expired almost a decade ago. Faced with competition from numerous inexpensive Cherry clones, the company has now debuted its new Viola switch design at CES 2020. The company hopes this budget-oriented switch will give rise to a new generation of mechanical keyboards that could replace dirt-cheap membrane boards. 

Cherry’s classic mechanical switch design was patented in 1984, giving rise to iconic switches like the Cherry MX Black, MX Brown, and MX Blue. With that patent now long since expired, companies like Gateron and Kailh have borrowed from Cherry’s designs to create less expensive and more varied “Cherry-style” switches. That’s a big part of why the mechanical keyboard world has become so innovative in recent years. 

Cherry switches still command a premium price, but the new Viola switch was designed from the ground up to be less expensive to produce. The switch housing is less intricate than standard Cherry switches — it’s made of POM plastic, which is a “self-lubricating” material. The inner surface holds a new larger stem in place, allowing it to glide up and down. The outer surface holds the switch securely in the keyboard plate. While the stem looks much different than a conventional MX switch, it has the same standard cross-point connection for keycaps. However, the wall around it means some thicker high-quality caps might not fit. 

The Viola switch has several features aimed at modern keyboards. For example, the stem is transparent. That means boards with SMD LEDs on the circuit board will be able to shine upward unimpeded. There’s also a new V-shaped contact that meets up with two contacts on the board. Other switches have pins that go through the board and need to be connected either with additional “hot swap” sockets or more commonly with soldering. Viola switches will make hot swapping much less expensive to implement. However, they won’t be compatible with boards designed for MX switches. 

The only version of Viola on display at CES was a light (45g) tactile switch similar to the MX Brown. Cherry expects partners will begin making keyboards with Viola that cost between $50 and $100. That’s cheap for Cherry switches, but there are already boards with cheaper switches in that price range. Viola could still be a good option if it can outperform those Cherry clones.

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January 13th 2020, 8:29 am

The Best Cars, Car Tech, and Trends of CES 2020


LAS VEGAS – CES 2020 cemented its role as the most important show for automotive technology, with a handful of new car introductions (and re-introductions) plus lots of standalone technologies this week. Most US auto shows other than perhaps LA don’t generate a critical mass of tech-oriented auto company people, analysts, and journalists. CES certainly did.

Some might snicker when Byton CEO Daniel Kircher called the M-Byte EV “the first smart device on wheels,” but not the people attending this show. Of the vehicle introductions and concept cars, all were electrified – EVs or plug-in hybrids – with no gas-engine-only vehicles introduced.

Here are some highlights from the car and car tech part of CES 2020.

Nissan Ariya EV: Bigger than the Leaf, more range, and an SUV, not a sedan.

Best Debut: Nissan Turns Over a New Leaf

The biggest car debut – of a real car, or one that will be a real car – of CES was the Nissan Ariya. It’s a crossover / SUV intended to replace or (more likely) supplant the 10-year-old Nissan Leaf. The Ariya is bigger than the Leaf, offers two motors where the Leaf has one, and gets up to 300 miles on a charge versus 225 for the Leaf. With even more of the market headed toward SUVs, that’s how the Ariya is styled. The Leaf is a four-door sedan.

All this came down at the same time showgoers got news of how former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn made good his, ah, departure from Japan, in a shipping box punched full of air holes, on a private jet, and heard Ghosn rail against the accused-is-presumed-guilty system of justice, as he described it. (He also dissed Nissan, his former employer.) The two events had nothing to do with each other, beyond the company being Nissan in both cases.

The Jeep Wrangler gets a PHEV variant. Not many chargers in the Moab Desert, but the e-motor still provides torque for rock-crawling.

Jeep Gets 3 Electrified Vehicles

Fiat Centoventi concept.

FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobile) plans to electrify its entire iconic Jeep line by 2022. That doesn’t mean EV-only vehicles but plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models with up to 30 miles of battery-power driving before the gas engine kicks in. They’ll have vehicle badges marked “4xe” and include the traditional (Jeep-looking) Wrangler, the tiny Renegade, and Compass SUV. In Europe, Jeep said the vehicles will have an electric motor and 1.3-liter turbo-four engine producing 240 hp. “Electrification … will modernize the Jeep brand as it strives to become the leader in green eco-friendly premium technology,” the company says.

FCA also showed the Fiat Centoventi, a 145-inch, four-seater with suicide doors, and room for one to four batteries (they slide in), allowing 100-500 km of range, or 62-311 miles. An upscale model would get a 20-inch display in addition to the standard 10-incher. The late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said Fiat was losing $10,000 a car making the Fiat 500e; hopefully, this has better margins.

Sony Vision-S concept with a wall of LCDs across the dashboard.

Front Seat Displays Get Bigger

The Byton M-Byte is the winner with a 48-inch LCD (one single panel) that includes SPF-30 in the glove box. The display in the Sony Vision-S concept car was only slightly smaller. The tiny Fiat Centoventi concept EV can be had with an optional 20-inch panel. Byton even has an LCD panel in the steering wheel. Pimp-my-ride tuners did that years ago. The difference is Byton’s is legal because the airbag is still there in the lower third of the wheel hub. For Byton, it was a re-introduction of the M-Byte as a production-ready vehicle (first cars, late 2020, US 2021) after a CES 2018 unveiling.

Sony shocked CES  – that is, advance word didn’t leak out – with its Vision-S concept car that also had a width of the cockpit array of LCDs, including side mirror / blind spot LCDs on the left and right edges. Not that Sony will build an EV and compete with Tesla; this was a car to remind the automakers that Sony, too, makes a lot of car electronics beyond in-dash radios.

Displays are getting bigger in general. A 7-inch display doesn’t cut it anymore except on the very cheapest cars where navigation is your phone, not a $500-$1,000 navigation package. More instrument panels are now 12 inches and some higher-end vendors pair it with a second 12-inch in the center stack. Mercedes made the small seam between the two fall in with your line of vision and the steering wheel, so it appears as a single panel to the driver. Midsize and bigger cars will need 10-inch center stack displays to remain competitive. The Mustang Mach-E EV gets a 15-inch portrait display.

At the same time, the perceived image size of head-up displays is increasing. This allows for augmented reality HUDs, in this case meaning the car tracks the position of your eyes relative to the HUD, and overlays where-to-turn arrows in your line of sight so it appears to be floating over the actual turn. For this who say “too distracting, too dangerous,” it helps to drive a head-up-display car to see how HUDs reduce distraction.

BMW i Interaction Ease seats: recycled materials, embedded touch surfaces, embedded LED lighting.

BMW Car Seats Become Lounge Chairs

As cars become self-driven cars and the driving controls go away, automakers are imagining big, spacious, amorphous-shape seats for the passengers. BMW fleshed out the concept with not just one but three variants. All three are currently unobtainable; two because they’re concepts, and the third because it will be on the BMW X7 SUV and others in a couple of years and only to those comfortable with a $1,500 lease payment.

The most far-out is the BMW i Interaction Ease concept interior that BMW’s head of development Klaus Froelich described as a “supreme luxury experience …  The merger of advanced technology and design creates an almost human bond with the car.” The two seats are joined together (no room for cupholders! Oh, the humanity!), with integrated leg rests. They embed touch surfaces for selecting, say, infotainment, and in this concept, areas light up in order to confirm a selection or provide ambiance. The concepts also provide immense legroom. BMW says the abstract interior of the i Interation Ease interior “underscores the potential of intuitive, almost human-like interaction between passenger and vehicle.”

Got that? In the real world, we wonder if the extra length that adds to the car is compatible with the desire for shorter vehicles in urban areas. But if they’re self-driving, they can just go somewhere else after you dismiss the car for the evening, and parking is not your problem.

ZeroG Lounger in BMW X7.

The ZeroG Lounger is close to production. Fitted in three BMW X7s for CES, the seat tips back 60 degrees, including the seat pan. An entertainment screen drops down from the sunshade location. An integrated seat belt and cocoon airbag protect a reclined passenger. Most cars with recliners today warn you not to use the feature while driving. (Right.) BMW says the “ZeroG Lounger … will be ready for series production vehicles in just a few years in a similar form.” We can hardly wait. (Seriously, for once.) This is the kind of feature that makes a long trip comfortable for the passenger. It would be nice if BMW could fit one in an X5, a more attainable BMW.

Lastly, the BMW i3 Urban Suite: BMW ripped out the interior of the outgoing i3 carbon-fiber EV and turned the right rear passenger space into a sloped back lounging seat (if you want to sit upright, the driver’s seat is off the stock vehicle). The right front seat is a sliding footrest. The left rear seat is a wood table with a securely fastened lamp. It’s cool, it’s impractical, and it keeps our attention while waiting for the 2021 BMW i4 EV with, we hear, a 530-hp motor, 300 miles of range, and the ability to go head to head with the Tesla Model 3.

The Visteon domain controller (lower left) encapsulates dozens of microprocessors; variants scale for more displays or processing power.

Fewer Control Modules Do More Work

This is geeky, so feel free to skip down to the snow-in-Detroit photo. [But isn’t this ExtremeTech? -Ed] As cars do more things electronically, the number of microprocessors is up around 100. Tier 1 suppliers, the big boys such as Visteon, Continental, Bosch, Magna, and Aptiv, are integrating lots of small modules into a couple of uber-modules, or domain controllers: one for safety, one for infotainment, one for the engine room. That reduces the amount of wiring in the car. There are still connections, but only sharing as much data as necessary, between say infotainment and the safety modules. The telematics modem has to provide in-car Wi-Fi and also has to call for help in an accident, which are separate domains.

Visteon advanced tech director Upton Bowden says a supplier can scale up the microprocessor within a domain controller for more or less performance. or to drive additional displays, all as needed. That means the unit doesn’t have to be certified and tested multiple times for slightly different applications. And the Tier 1 supplier takes responsibility for vetting all the parts inside, giving the automaker, in quaint parlance, just one throat to choke if there’s a development issue.

Detroit’s North American Auto Show. It snows there in January. NAIAS never had a chance against CES on the tech front. Or the weather front. The LA show moved to November and also stole Detroit’s thunder. Detroit reboots as a spring/summer show this June.

CES Did Not Kill the Detroit Auto Show

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) gave up its January slot for one in June. Some believe CES blew Detroit out of the water. Actually, the shows are different. Every major auto show (LA, New York, Detroit, Chicago, DC) is more about 10 days of showing cars to customers; the press/analysts days tacked on for 2-3 days beforehand are just a way to get the automakers to build fancy booths and then turn them over to the local dealer associations. Meanwhile, the high-end European automakers realized their market share in Michigan rounded off to zero percent and bailed.

And the LA Auto Show, which had been in January a week away from NAIAS, moved to late November, where it has cemented its role as the show for green vehicles (it is in California) with its press days branded AutoMobility LA. Plus, LA has a goodly number of new car intros, and the Audi-BMW-Jaguar-Infiniti-Lexus-Mercedes-Porsche companies know SoCal is fertile hunting ground. NAIAS took a half-hearted stab at being a tech show with something called Automobili-D, but it was too little, too late, and stuck it down in the basement of Cobo Hall (now called TCF Center).

Anyway, CES is way bigger than Detroit or any other US auto show for media and industry participation. The SEMA show in Las Vegas in early November is more of a tuner/parts show. Comdex, the computer show, could have been an auto tech show but it didn’t survive much past Y2K. And Detroit gets to reinvent itself as an auto show / outdoor festival in June. All that’s left of the January show is the freestanding North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) at TCF Center Monday. Beyond Detroit, auto shows face an uncertain future as automakers question how much money to invest. Mercedes-Benz also pulled out of the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) for 2020 even though it’s the company’s most lucrative sales turf. That is a bad sign for auto shows.

Consumer Technology Association president Gary Shapiro, left, interviews Counselor to the President Ivanka Trump Tuesday. (Photo: CES)

Ivanka Trump Speaks, World Did Not End

Much was made of the Consumer Technology Association (the CES organizer) inviting first daughter and counselor to the President Ivanka Trump to do a one-on-one keynote interview with CTA President / CEO Gary Shapiro. There was concern Shapiro and CTA were trying to tip the scales Trumpward in an election year. (Maybe. But it’s a long way from election day, and enough Democratic officeholders show up at CES to speak most years.) Some resistance formed around the hashtag #BoycottCES, but it meant giving up paid-for $500-a-night rooms, so if there was a boycott, it was of the one-on-one chat.

For the most part, Ivanka Trump didn’t say anything outlandish in her 40 minutes; she mostly restated the company line. For the most part, there are other more women in tech who would have been better role models. The best criticism was “Ivanka Trump Keynoting At CES Is All That Is Wrong For Women In Tech” by Carolina Milanesi in Forbes.

Nobody booed. Many agreed with Trump that “our immigration system is totally flawed,” although some of her related comments about making visa slots available for skilled workers may go beyond what the administration is doing. Tech and car companies are desperate for highly skilled engineers and computer scientists.

The bottom line is: Many CTA member companies do manufacturing in China. They’d rather not see their products tariffed. If a high-profile, softball interview for Ivanka makes the White House like consumer tech companies and go easy on tariffs, it’s the price you pay to make commerce run smoothly.

The odor of burning leaves in Vegas concentrated on overpasses on the Strip.

Mini-Trends and Gossip From CES Week in Vegas

On the Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard, the smell of weed was almost everywhere. Especially on the overpasses necessary to get you safely over the six-to-eight lanes of roadway. A friend from a software-development firm said, “With all our bio-engineering skills, you’d think someone could weed [yes, a pun] out the smell.”

There were multiple EVs,  people-haulers, and transporters of the future — some nicely rounded (Toyota’s concept, top image), others small-and-tall minibusses for a half-dozen commuters. Toyota even envisioned a future Woven City community it will begin building at the base of Mount Fuji in 2021. Mercedes-Benz showed a far-out, doorless AVTR (Avatar) linked to the James Cameron movie. It senses the heartbeat and pulse of the occupant and responds with a welcoming thump on the seatback.

Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) continues to make strides winning converts, especially from the QNX OS. QNX initially took down Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive when it won over the Ford business to underpin Ford Sync back in 2014. Now it’s pretty much a fight among AGL, QNX, and Android. The AGL consortium announced a reference design to make it easier for automakers to port their cars over.

BMW said it would be the first automaker with 5G in-car telematics, working with telematics partner Samsung, in the 2021 BMW iNext EV. BMW has a long history with Samsung; its now-subsidiary Harman has produced BMW’s last four infotainment head units and BMW’s iDrive system is considered to be the most competent infotainment controller, nearly two decades after the first edition in 2001.

TriEye SWIR camera.

New kinds of sensors may improve driving and self-driving. TriEye showed SWIR, or short-wave infrared lidar, in a camera that improves visibility in dusty, snowy and rainy conditions, the company says. WaveSense talked up ground-penetrating radar for self-driving. Say what – you want to go forward, not down? CTO Byron Stanley says the soil composition, buried pipes, and cables create a unique fingerprint that, once mapped, lets the car know its location within a few inches. And it’s not affected by above-ground weather conditions.

If anything got people upset about CES, it wasn’t the monorail lines (better than in previous years), long waits in cab lines (Lyft and Uber solved that problem), or all the security checks (cursory; you could sneak in a cruise missile). It was paying $25-$50 a day for a “resort” fee. I came in early to see a college hockey tournament at the new T-Mobile Center on the strip when Vegas was still quiet in the days just after New Year’s Eve revelers departed. The first three nights, my $43 (with taxes) daily resort fee was more than the room. (By midweek, some rooms were offered by hoteliers at $2,000 a night.) The resort fee amounted to two bottles of water a day, use of the grandly named health center, and swimming pool access, which in the winter means you can walk out on the patio to admire the drained pool.

CES Las Vegas has always been an international show (and there are consumer electronics shows outside the US). There seemed to be more Asian participants this year, especially from high-level players, but ranging from parts-maker companies with two-person booths to larger companies from Korea (actually, South Korea; not much take coming out of the North), Japan, Taiwan, India, and especially China. Byton (China) had a huge press conference Sunday. Harman, a unit of Samsung (South Korea), took over most of the exhibit hall space at the Hard Rock Hotel (which was bought by Richard Branson and will be rebuilt for CES 2021 as the Virgin Hotel). Car tech, consumer tech, it’s a global business.

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January 11th 2020, 2:31 pm

CES 2020: Highlights in Photos


With a nearly unimaginable array of products and concepts on display spread across all of Las Vegas, it is hard to pick out a final few each year for our wrap-up. But here are those we found of particular interest.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 “Many-in-1” Foldable

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is the world’s first folding display tablet. (There are obviously several designs that have separate displays on each section, but not a single folding display.) I got to demo one this week and I’m really impressed with the design. The display is protected front and back by an integrated leather cover. That prevents a lot of the issues that arose with the original Samsung Fold. You can’t get under the screen — neither can your sandwich crumbs — and the back of the hinge is solidly protected. I saw no evidence of a crease when folding and unfolding it. Lenovo rates the display for 3-4 years of life, as tested by their industrious robots. For the full specs, you can read our coverage of the announcement here.

Given concerns over the plastic screen scratching, I asked Lenovo about that. They said it is actually harder to scratch, and have been testing it in pockets with keys and other sharp objects. With the keyboard tucked inside, there really isn’t any room for something to get in once it is folded, but without the keyboard, there is a tiny gap. I offered to trade them my Surface Pro for one on the spot, but Lenovo was not amused. It looks like a great ultra-portable if you can afford the $2,499+ price when it ships later this year. Not everyone wants a Windows tablet, but it worked quite nicely as a 13-inch display with the optional Bluetooth keyboard that you can fold into the tablet.

On the lighter folding side, Lenovo’s new Razr features a fully functional retro mode that works exactly the way the original Razr phone did.

ShiftCam Aims To Put Another Nail in Camera Company Coffins

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of clip-on lenses and filters for smartphones. But unless they are specced very tightly for a particular model phone, they are hard to align. The problem is worsened if you need to swap between them for different effects. ShiftCam has come up with an ingenious solution: The company puts a number of lens and filter modules into a phone case that has a sliding section. So you can simply slide the correct lens or filter over your phone’s camera. Right now it is understandably iPhone-only, as the bewildering variety of form factors for Android phones makes building something like this for them difficult.

Living Packets Sustainable e-Commerce

Our modern lives full of “1-click ordering” come with many costs. One is the huge amount of packaging required. Some, like cardboard boxes, are at least fairly easy to recycle. Others, like many foam peanuts or other petroleum-based packing materials, aren’t. Living Packets aims to totally up-end both the physical reality of product shipping and its economics. I can’t do the company’s aspirations justice in these few sentences, but they’ve constructed an easy-to-fold, reusable box that in the shipping version will be equipped with GPS, cellular connectivity, an inward-facing camera for inspecting package contents, an e-Ink display for addressing, and even temperature and humidity sensors for quality tracking.

Customers who get a product in one of the company’s boxes can use the box to return products, or donate or sell other items they own in a user-friendly way. Or they can return them to a participating retailer for a small credit. There is a lot more to the vision of Living Packets, but overall the team describes a utopian vision of how product shipments and returns almost certainly should work in a perfect world. So I’m happy to wish them every success, but making this vision a reality will be a long and challenging enterprise. The company has been doing testing with a French retailer, and is planning a broader European launch later this year. The US isn’t on their radar until next year.

The Massive Black Multi-Rotor Copters Are Now Friendlier-Looking

Last year, the Bell multi-rotor passenger helicopter prototype looked like it belonged in a dystopian science fiction movie: sheer black, accented with blue neon. Apparently the company got the message, as this year it was dolled up in much more reasonable garb. Hyundai also showed a massive prototype this year. The color is fine, but unlike the Bell that has shrouds around its props, the props on the Hyundai look like they could double as killing machines. Of course, they are quite high up, but the effect is still a little disconcerting.

Far From the Madding Crowds: Outside Las Vegas

It’s easy to forget that the neon and concrete of Las Vegas sits in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas anywhere. The immediate area is desert (the Mojave), but there are plenty of mountains. This is a view coming down from Sequoia National Forest past Lake Isabella on our drive to the show.

Finally: An Ultra-Short-Throw Projector for Consumers

Whether it is because you like the relative softness and easy-on-the-eye feel of a projected image, or because you can’t afford a zillion-dollar, super-big-screen TV, projectors are an obvious solution. Until now, though, they have required a large area and fancy mounting. Or, like the Sony ultra-short-throw on display a couple of years ago, cost as much as a low-end Tesla. Vava, better known for lower-end consumer electronics, has introduced a really impressive 4K (pixel-shifted using a TI DLP) UST that can project a 150-inch display. The model I demoed was projecting 100 inches onto a special UST-friendly ALR (Ambient Light Rejecting) screen. While it doesn’t have quite the color gamut of a similarly priced home cinema projector, it is a lot more convenient.

F1: The World’s Highest-Tech Sport

Top Formula 1 teams employ well over 1,000 people and spend as much as $400 million a year to field just two cars in about 20 races (21 last year, 22 this year). So, of course, F1 had an exhibit to hype the massive amount of data produced, transmitted, and consumed by the cars. Each race venue has to be fitted with about 60 km of fiber optic cables, for example. For show and tell, you could play F1 2019 in a really nice cockpit (review samples were unfortunately not available) and see Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 title-winning Red Bull car redecorated in the team’s 2019 livery.

GaN: The Secret to Fast Charging

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how EPC’s GaN semiconductor technology was the secret sauce to most high-speed lidar units. It turns out that GaN is also the secret to super-fast, high-power, compact USB-C chargers. If like me, you’d never heard of Navitas, you may still have used a charger powered by its chips. Well over a dozen brands use the company for its high-end USB-C chargers, including Aukey, Ravpower, Anker, and ASUS. The photo shows the size reduction possible by going from a traditional to GaN approach for a 300-watt power supply.

Jeep Combined VR With the Real World in This Ride

Finally, on the fun side, Jeep offered show-goers a turn in this hydraulically-lifted Jeep Rubicon as they traversed an off-road course in virtual reality — competing for the best time.

[Image Credit: David Cardinal]

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January 10th 2020, 6:46 pm

ET Deals: $380 Off Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Intel Laptop, Google Pixel 4 For $571, Netgear Nighthawk R6


Today you can take advantage of a promo code to get get a fantastic 15.6-inch 2-in-1 Dell notebook for the low price of just $499.99.

Dell Inspiron 15 7586 Intel Core i5-8265U 2-in-1 Laptop w/ 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 PCI-E SSD ($499.99)

Dell built this 2-in-1 laptop with a 1080p touchscreen display with active pen support. This makes the system highly versatile and easy to use for hand writing notes and hand drawing images on screen. You can also get this system at a remarkably low price with promo code DBLTINSP157 that drops the price from $878.99 to $499.99.

Google Pixel 4 Qualcomm SnapDragon 855 5.7-Inch Smartphone w/ 6GB RAM and 64GB Storage ($571.49)

Google’s Pixel 4 comes equipped with Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 855 SoC and 6GB of RAM. This hardware gives it a healthy performance boost over the Pixel 3 and also makes it competitive with other flagship smartphones from Apple and Samsung. If you order one of these phones now from Amazon, you can get it discounted from $799.00 to $571.49.

Netgear Nighthawk R6700 802.11ac AC1750 Smart WiFi Router ($63.99)

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 Amazon from $89.49 to $63.99 with a clickable coupon.

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January 10th 2020, 6:16 pm

Boeing Employee: 737 Max Is ‘Designed by Clowns…Supervised by Monkeys’


Boeing 737-MAX9 Artwork K65780. Credit: Boeing

Ever since two Boeing 737 Max planes crashed, Boeing has been playing a frantic game of damage control. In our early reporting on this issue, we emphasized the need for deliberate analysis and evaluation rather than leaping to conclusions. Nearly a year after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 slammed into the ground, killing all aboard, it’s evident that the rot at Boeing went very deep indeed.

The company has turned over a tranche of internal email documents that emphasize just how ugly the situation got — and how much Boeing knew about it. I’ve personally read all 117 pages of Boeing emails and created a series of images to illustrate what, exactly, Boeing employees were talking about. In the documents, which cover a period ranging from 2013 – 2019, employees discussed various aspects of the situation. “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee wrote to another in a February 2018 message. The second employee agrees that they wouldn’t, either.

In another case, one employee remarked that it (the 737 MAX) is “such a shitshow.” A second employee agrees, saying they’d be shocked if the FAA passes the aircraft.

The FAA has also been upset about emails showing that employees were aware that the 737 Max simulator was in bad shape and worrying about how to clear that issue with regulators.

We’ve heard about problems with the 737 Max simulators before — in October, evidence surfaced that one of Boeing’s test pilots had raised serious concerns about the safety of the 737 Max and the simulator’s performance, before admitting he had inadvertently lied to the FAA. That didn’t stop the pilot, Mark Forkner, from requesting that the FAA allow Boeing to remove any mention of MCAS in the 737 Max pilot’s manual. The FAA, believing that MCAS only could activate remotely (and also believing that it functioned differently than it did), approved the request. Boeing employees referred to “Jedi mind tricking” regulators into believing they didn’t need to engage in an in-depth evaluation of the 737 Max.

Boeing Actively Discouraged Simulator Training, Declared It Would Strong Arm Regulators

This email, from 2015, illustrates who Boeing believed would control the regulation of the aircraft: Boeing. All of the emails shown as being from the 737 Chief Technical Pilot are from Forkner.

Forkner was critical to the effort to emphasize that the 737 Max and 737 NG had no differences between them save for “no OFF position on the gear handle.” I’m summarizing this bit, because Forkner wrote a number of these emails to various airlines, for example: “Boeing does not understand what is to be gained by a 3 hour simulator session, when the procedures are essentially the same.” When airlines specifically requested information on simulator time, Forkner pushed back on this option. In another email, he writes: “A simulator training requirement would be quite burdensome to your operation,” and “There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots to require a Max simulator.” These quotes are on pages 59 and 60 / 117 in the Scribd document. The phrase “Jedi mind trick” seems to be one that Forkner loves; you’ll see it used repeatedly in other internal emails identified as being from him.

I’m going to speed up at this point, because honestly, there are 117 pages of this sort of thing.

Boeing Employees Declare They Require Forgiveness From God

I’m not even being snarky.

Boeing Employees Would Rather Quit Than Lie to the FAA

Boeing Employees ‘Produced’ Emails to Make Regulators Feel Stupid About Requiring Training

Some Boeing Employees Were Aware of Problems and Tried to Raise the Alarm

Next, I’m going to include some snippets of different conversations here. These conversations were between two unnamed Boeing employees. It’s not clear if it’s always the same two employees talking or not. Each of these images should be read independently.

It’s not clear that this is in reference to canceling the entire 737 Max project or pausing the ramp to fix issues and bring the plane into a better position for eventual launch.

Boeing Employees Thought the Aircraft Was Designed By Clowns Being Supervised By Monkeys

Ethical Boeing Employees Didn’t Feel Like There Were Very Many of Them

This one builds on a screenshot I showed you before, but it gives a good deal of additional context around the email. Unfortunately, expanding context doesn’t make the situation any better. In fact, it makes it worse. This one is a two-parter. There’s a brief overlap where I clipped, to show that I captured the entire section.

The FAA Is Incompetent (or Possibly Bribed) and Boeing Is a Company of Liars

This request appears to be about the 777, not the 737, based on the subject line of the email, which reads,”- 777 ECL COC Update request”). But it still raises serious questions about how the FAA does its job and the degree of closeness between the FAA and Boeing. It would be very interesting to know why the email opens with a discussion of what a brown envelope can achieve. The implication of the statement as written is that Boeing straight-up bribed the FAA to overlook problems.

I asked a pilot friend of mine, who confirmed he didn’t know “brown envelope” as any kind of aviation slang or reference. That isn’t to say “brown envelope” doesn’t have a meaning. “Brown envelope journalism” is defined as “a practice whereby monetary inducement is given to journalists to make them write a positive story or kill a negative story. The name is derived from cash inducements hidden in brown envelopes and given to journalists during press briefings.” I’m not sure I’ve heard the term in the US, but it’s widely used in both the UK and Nigeria. And Boeing’s top-level employees clearly travel a great deal, as a number of emails in this tranche refer to various traveling schedules and trips around the world.

It’s possible that the author of the post was simply joking. I’ve made similar jokes before to people, about taking my AMD-funded limo to my Intel-funded jet so I can relax on my Nvidia-purchased private island. The problem is, it’s also possible to read the first paragraph as a series of statements: The 777 “isn’t anywhere near as good as it would appear to be.” Why not? Because the FAA “were neither thorough nor demanding and failed to write up many issues.” Why did they do this? “Amazing what a brown envelope can achieve.”

Could that be a joke? Absolutely. It could also be an admission that the FAA was bribed to look the other way and “miss” problems on the 777 by failing to document them in its report. It’s impossible to separate these questions from the fact that the FAA knew the 737 Max was dangerous after the first crash (but kept it flying) and then refused to immediately yank the aircraft after the second crash, doing so only after significant international pressure from other regulatory agencies. The fact that the FAA failed to act even after two crashes has been a topic of interest for investigators.  The 737 Max may not be the only aircraft impacted by lax or corrupt regulation.

 Everything Is Broken

This last one sorta wraps everything up, at least according to one unnamed Boeing employee. Based on the text color, it could be Forkner, but just because he uses that color in other emails doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be him using it here.

When the 737 Max jets went down in Ethiopia and Singapore, some people blamed pilot error. Some assumed the aircraft were in poor condition. A lot of people wanted to hand Boeing a pass, based on the company’s long, generally excellent track record.

It is clear beyond doubt now, if it was ever doubted before, just how far-ranging and deep the rot went in the 737 Max’s design. Boeing employees knew it — and lied. They lied, and used “Jedi mind tricks,” and sent messages to airlines and regulatory agencies fighting back, hard, against anyone performing training on a 737 Max. They may have bribed an FAA official, but, even assuming that didn’t happen, there’s no evidence of appropriate oversight. Boeing employees worry about what regulators will do in these 117 pages of email, but there’s no sign that they actually put an effort into building a quality plane. The 737 Max was conceived, from the beginning, as an aircraft that would be economical. Any attempt to raise safety concerns that could require additional simulation training was rejected.

Boeing has announced it will now require simulation training for all pilots who wish to fly the 737 Max.

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January 10th 2020, 3:57 pm

Malware Spotted on Government-Subsidized Android Phone


The chances of picking up malware on a mainstream Android phone with default settings are extremely low, but there are uncountable Android devices in the world. Not all those phones are entirely trustworthy, either. Some little-known phones have shown up with pre-installed malware thanks to unscrupulous suppliers or manufacturers. One such device has appeared in the US, and it’s being promoted as part of a government program. Oops. 

The smartphone in question is the Unimax (UMX) U686CL, which you’ve most likely never come across. It runs Android 8.1 Go Edition with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and a removable 2,000mAh battery. It’s an extremely inexpensive phone offered on Virgin Mobile’s Assurance Wireless program. That’s part of the US government’s Lifeline Assistance Program, which is aimed at helping low-income families afford mobile service. Qualifying customers can get the phone for as little as $35, but they’re also getting some potentially nasty malware. 

According to Malwarebytes, the Unimax U686CL comes with our old friend Adups pre-installed. You might remember Adups from the Amazon-exclusive Blu R1 HD, a phone that made waves for its ultra-low $50 price tag. Adups is a firmware OTA update service, but it also has extensive access to the device. The company feigned innocence when called out for the Blu phone, but here it is with more sketchy behavior on the U686CL. 

The Unimax U683CL listed on the Assurance Wireless site.

Adups has the ability to install applications on the phone remotely with no user interaction. That alone makes it dangerous, though not explicitly malware. However, it appears someone is using Adups to push specific malware applications to the phone. The worst part is you can’t uninstall Adups because it’s a system app. 

Malwarebytes has confirmed that, if left to its own devices, Adups will install a piece of malware called HiddenAds (Trojan.HiddenAds.WRACT). As the name implies, it exists to harass users with pop-up ads that earn money for the operators. Users can uninstall this app if they’ve savvy enough — Malwarebytes has instructions. However, there’s nothing to stop it from reappearing because the Adups software remains active. 

Unfortunately, Assurance Wireless has issued a completely tone-deaf response. It says it is in communication with Unimax to understand the root cause of the issue. However, it does not believe the applications in question qualify as malware. Anyone using this device should probably start looking for an alternative.

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January 10th 2020, 3:12 pm

Toyota Envisions Hydrogen-Powered ‘Woven City’ by Mt. Fuji


LAS VEGAS – Can you engineer a planned city that works over the long haul? Toyota wants to give it a try with Woven City, a 175-acre site at the base of Mount Fuji, 90 miles southwest of Toyota’s Tokyo headquarters. There will be hydrogen fuel cells and rooftop solar panels providing power, native vegetation, and hydroponic gardens. There will also be in-home robotics, primarily wood buildings with traditional Japanese wood joinery, and in-home sensors and robotics to help with daily living.

What’s missing from Woven City? Traditional passenger cars and SUVs, of which Toyota made some 8 million last year. There will be people movers (electric, self-driving) and plenty of pedestrian paths. Woven City construction will begin in 2021, Toyota says, with an initial population of 2,000 employees and families, retirees, retailers, visiting scientists and industry partners.

Courtyard scene in Toyota’s Woven City near Mt. Fuji.

Toyota’s e-Palette, autonomous EV.

For a company that builds more vehicles than any other, the obvious questions about Woven City are “Why?” and “Where do cars, and vehicles of any kind, fit in?” The why part is a combination of Toyota’s sense of corporate responsibility to envision a cleaner, better future for the world and the desire to have a live-in lab to figure things out. The second part, about where vehicles fit in, amounts to little or no place for traditional vehicles at the heart of this utopian community, and three tiers of space for people and vehicles moving about:

“These three street types,” Toyota says, “weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy.” The c0mpany adds:

To move residents through the city, only fully-autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares. In and throughout Woven City, autonomous Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transportation and deliveries, as well as for changeable mobile retail.

An envisioned smart home in Woven City, with incredible amounts of space for a home in Japan.

Homes or apartments in Woven City will have servants in the form of AI routines and robots. On this, Toyota is a bit vague, saying:

Residences will be equipped with the latest in human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. The homes will use sensor-based AI to check occupants’ health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively.

The model home (image above) seems spacious and uncluttered, as if the family shops ’til they drop, yet the jeans, boots, parkas, games, electronics, kitchen countertop cookers, cosmetics, earbuds, battery chargers, and backpacks all have closet space available. But then the utopia described in the 1870s novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler wasn’t quite utopia, and it’s also Nowhere spelled (almost) backward. Since there’s no dome covering the place, it should well turn out better than Biosphere 2 in Arizona.

Toyota notes the structures will be primarily wood. They’ll feature traditional Japanese joinery techniques but be assembled in robotic factories to contain cost.

Courtyard scene in Toyota’s Woven City near Mt. Fuji.

Toyota envisions the public spaces drawing people out of their living units and interacting together, in places that are clean and safe, with plenty of places to sit. We didn’t see soccer or basketball courts for children and younger adults but assume that’s part of the plan. According to Toyota:

Both neighborhood parks and a large central park for recreation, as well as a central plaza for social gatherings, are designed to bring the community together. Toyota believes that encouraging human connection will be an equally important aspect of this experience.

Japan has the world’s oldest population. We also assume that Woven City imagines helping Japan’s rapidly aging population: one-third above 60, one-quarter above 65, and one-eighth above 75. The in-home family image above shows three distinct generations under one, quite tall, sloping roof. Some seniors living alone have no interaction with others for weeks on end and others near family still feel isolated; Bloomberg (the news site, not the candidate) notes over-65s in Japan commit petty crimes and get themselves arrested because they find prison a better and more social place to be than outside, especially among women.

How big is the 175-acre Woven City site? It could be a medium-size US college campus, 75 football fields including end zones and sidelines but not the stadium, 30-40 New York City residential blocks, or one-quarter of a square mile.

All this is somewhat removed from building Corollas, RAV4s and Camrys. At the same time, it could be a great laboratory for rethinking how Toyota transforms into a future that relies more on electrification, multi-modal transportation, shared rides, and mass transit. Unlike Biosphere 2, there shouldn’t be algae in the ponds.

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January 10th 2020, 1:38 pm

Prep For Cisco’s New CCNA Exam w/ 86 Percent Off This Training Course


IT professionals need certifications that accredit their skills and knowledge, and Cisco is one of the most popular certification providers out there. Before you pursue a Cisco certification, you should make sure that the information you’re learning is up to date. Cisco’s current CCNA certification will be updated as of February 2020, so if you want to learn the most up-to-date skills in IT, then this $39 prep course is for you.

The Complete 2020 Cisco CCNA Certification Prep Course features over 30 hours of training content across 64 lectures. This updated guide will teach you the wireless and security fundamentals that you need to know to ace the CCNA 200-301 exam. Additionally, the course will cover new topics such as automation, programmability, and SDN, so you’ll be ready to apply these new skills once you land your next IT gig. Upon completing the course, you’ll know how to configure and manage wired and wireless connectivity with Cisco’s updated internet connection model.

If you want to take the next step in your IT career in 2020, then it pays well to brush up on your current knowledge and to adopt new skills that will be relevant in this new decade. The Complete 2020 Cisco CCNA Certification Prep Course is currently on sale for $39, down from $295.

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January 10th 2020, 12:39 pm

Samsung Dives Into the Uncanny Valley With Neon ‘Artificial Humans’


LAS VEGAS – There have been a lot of debates over how humanoid robots should be designed, and at what point their resemblance to humans becomes a problem. Samsung’s NEON subsidiary (part of the company’s STAR Labs) has taken a deep dive into the same territory by launching a family of 2-D “artificial humans.” The company has made some amazingly bold and possibly scary claims about its plans for the life-like avatars, which they began to reveal at CES this week.

NEON Wants to Make Max Headroom a Reality

For those who aren’t familiar, in the TV series of the same name, Max Headroom is the digital embodiment of his human alter ego, Edison Carter, in the computer realm. He is clever, snarky, a trickster, and a friend and guardian angel for Carter. For full disclosure, I think he is one of the most brilliant creations ever. Now Neon, a company backed by tech giant Samsung, claims that it can create digital beings, initially based on actual humans, that can be “friends, collaborators, and companions.”

Neon’s creations will be able to “understand, converse, and sympathize, just like a real human.” On the surface of it, these seem like pretty outlandish claims. But the company showed some impressively realistic video avatars doing everyday tasks like reading or chatting, on life-size displays at CES this week. So it is worth diving a bit deeper into their underlying technology.

In case you think we’re making this up, here is NEON’s own description of its NEONS.

CORE R3: Reality, Realtime, and Responsive

The lower level of the Neons’ software stack is driven by its Core R3 system that models the physical actions and responses of a human in real-time. That means the Neon bots can interact in a fairly natural manner physically. Even in explaining this, Neon waxes poetic: “[Core R3] is inspired by the rhythmic complexities of nature and extensively trained with how humans look, behave, and interact.”

Unfortunately, the demos I was able to see weren’t interactive, and also came with a caveat that they might actually just be based on humans. So while the bots were apparently performing everyday tasks in a lifelike manner, in the limited audience demos, interactions didn’t seem to go much beyond a typical Alexa interaction.

SPECTRA: Intelligence, Learning, Emotion, and Memory for bots

R3 is just a teaser for what Neon promises for the future. Layered on top will be Spectra — a technology that from the company’s description will let a bot not just ace the Turing test, but allow it to serve as a replacement for a companion or colleague. Specifically, Neon says its “Neons” will be able to “understand, converse and sympathize just like a real human.” I’m almost sure I’ve seen that movie, and it doesn’t always end well.

I’m not sure what normal perception is, but so far the NEONs haven’t fooled anyone. We’ll see.

Reality Check: What Neon Really Means

Personally, I think the company’s positioning of its bots is off-base. If they can actually create a “new species of artificial humans” that can be my “friend and companion,” and lead us to a world where “humans are humans” and “machines are humane,” I’m willing to see how it works out. But I’m speculating it’s a fantasy for the foreseeable future. What the company’s bots will almost certainly be able to do within a year or two is serve as a cool replacement for kiosks, digital signage, and other partially effective solutions to helping us live our lives and find our way around.

For example, I can easily see one greet me at an airport (privacy issues aside, maybe it recognizes my face), and point out where I should go to check in. It could then answer questions I might have about where to clear security, check baggage, or find a place to take a nap. Same for hotels, amusement parks, and insanely large trade shows like CES. One could easily be a more believable version of Alexa when I get home in the evening. But replace my human colleagues on ExtremeTech or the friends with whom I play tennis? I don’t think so.

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January 10th 2020, 12:39 pm

AMD’s Lisa Su Confirms Zen 3 Coming in 2020, Talks Challenges in Notebooks


At CES this week, Dr. Lisa Su sat down for a roundtable discussion with several tech publications. AMD came to CES this week with some major announcements about its Ryzen 4000 Mobile family of APUs, and Dr. Su confirmed and commented on several more points during the talk.

Anandtech has a transcript of the discussion, which is worth reading in full, but I want to touch on two specific issues that Dr. Su discussed. First, she confirmed that we will see Zen 3 in 2020, though she didn’t give a specific date or any performance information.

It’s generally expected that Zen 3 will be the last AM4/DDR4 refresh for AMD and that the company will move to new DDR5 platforms in 2021. There have been rumors that AMD targeted IPC for improvements with Zen 3 rather than attempting to lift clock speed and talk of a unified chiplet structure that would combine all eight cores around a centralized 32MB L3 cache, rather than dividing the L3 into two 16MB chunks. Optimizations like this would supposedly drive a 1.17x IPC improvement over the Ryzen 3000 family based on the Zen 2 architecture. None of these rumors are confirmed, so we’ll have to see what happens on this front.

AMD’s Mobile Strategy

Mobile has always been AMD’s weakest market, but the company appears to have a genuine opportunity with the Ryzen 4000 family. Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake family tops out at six cores, while AMD has squeezed eight into a suite of 15W Ryzen CPUs. Now, granted, we don’t know what frequencies these chips will hold under load, but AMD’s base frequency with 8 cores is 1.8GHz, 2GHz with the 8C/8T 4700U, and 2.1GHz on the 4600U (6C/12T). The 4500U (6T/6C) has a base clock of 2.3GHz, and the 4300U (4C/4T) rises to 2.7GHz.

AMD’s Ryzen 4000 15W CPUs.

Intel shows a rather different pattern. The 6C/12T i7-10100U has a base clock of just 1.1GHz. Dropping to the 105100U (4C/8T) immediately improves the base clock up to 1.8GHz. The Core i3-10110U (2C/4T) has a 2.1GHz base clock. We use base clock when discussing TDP, in all cases, because Intel derives its TDP figures from base clock. What we see here is that Intel is cutting base clock much harder than AMD when it adds cores. Moving from 4C/4T to 6C/12T triples Intel’s thread count, but cuts its base clock by 1.48x. AMD shifts from 4T – 16T — quadrupling its thread count — and only cuts base clock by about a third. We can compare against the current Ryzen 3000 Mobile family as well, though not perfectly — both the 3700U and the 3500U are 4C/8T parts, and AMD isn’t shipping one of those this time. It’s interesting, however, that the Ryzen 5 4500U maintains the same 2.3GHz base clock speed as the Ryzen 7 3700U, despite shipping a 6C/6T configuration as opposed to 4C/8T. All else equal, I’d expect a 6C/6T CPU to draw more power than a 4C/8T chip, so the fact that AMD is holding the same base clock while adding two cores is a positive sign.

This is strictly back of the envelope math, and AMD is absolutely the company making up ground in this comparison. Intel’s top-end 10nm CPUs are demonstrably more efficient in terms of battery life than AMD’s 12nm equivalents. Since TDP ratings aren’t actually measures of power consumption, we can’t draw firm conclusions about how the two companies will compare, but AMD is set to make some significant gains here.

When I covered Intel’s press conference at CES, I remarked that AMD and Intel were talking about their next-gen products in very different ways, with Intel talking up advanced partnerships in AI and showing off multiple foldable PCs, while AMD focused much more on their own APUs. The difference is more than skin deep. When asked at several points how AMD would respond to specific initiatives Intel has launched in mobile around features like Thunderbolt 3, 1W displays, and Integrated Connectivity (CNVi), Dr. Su gave a broadly similar answer: AMD has been building momentum with OEMs since before Ryzen launched, they’re seeing increased engagement and sales, and the Ryzen 4000 Mobile family should broaden the appeal of the company’s products and allow them to compete in more premium SKUs.

Intel’s massive market share and frequent use of Marketing Development Funds have given the company far more sway over the laptop designs its customers bring to market than AMD can ever hope to wield. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here, with AMD slowly building both mind share and a customer base. Customers have to associate AMD with premium laptops enough for OEMs to want to spend the time and money to create premium experiences around AMD products. Dr. Su reiterates that AMD is going after volume areas of the market rather than trying to target smaller niches. I’m interpreting this to mean we’ll see AMD trying to build into the true premium market over several years and that it’ll be a similar process to the way the company has won space in the server market over the last three years. A lot will come down to battery life, but the mobile clock speeds AMD has set imply the company has done good work on that front.

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January 10th 2020, 10:37 am

Chrome 80 Will Adopt Less Annoying Website Notification UI


Getting notifications is a good thing, but only if you want them. Too many notifications can make using a device profoundly annoying, and Google is trying to address that in a new build of Chrome. In Chrome v80, Google aims to make website notifications less distracting while still giving sites the option to push content to visitors. 

Currently, any website asking for notification permission in Chrome produces a rather large, obnoxious alert bubble. Google recognizes that many users like notifications, and website operators will, of course, want to continue using notifications to drive traffic to important stories and updates. The solution is apparently to hide many of those notification requests but still give users some visual indication something is looking to get their attention. 

In Chrome 80, some of those notification popups you’ve been seeing will instead become icons in the address bar that don’t cover up the page. A message will inform you that the notification permission is blocked — so, you can think of that as the new default setting. You can, of course, opt-in to get notifications from the site if you want. Just click the “bell” icon, and you’ll get the same notification content as always. 

The “quiet” notification mode is technically an optional setting, but Google will enable it automatically in one of two conditions. First, if you regularly block notification permissions, and second, if the site asking for permission has a very low opt-in rate for notifications. Everyone will encounter sites like that, so Chrome 80 will reduce the number of notification requests you see. 

The settings for desktop (left) and mobile (right) for manually enabling the new notification UI.

After the update, you can also activate the new notification UI manually. It will be under Settings > Site settings (under advanced) > Notifications, where you can make adjustments to “Sites can ask to send notifications.” Under that heading, you can choose the option to “Use quieter messaging.”

Chrome 80 is currently in testing in Chrome’s beta channel, but it does not have the new notification UI just yet. The stable channel is on v79, so we’d expect v80 to begin rolling out widely in a few weeks.

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January 10th 2020, 9:21 am

Doom, Doom II Patched for 60fps, Quick Saves, and Megawad Support


Bethesda released updated versions of its classic Doom and Doom II earlier this year. At the time, the new versions of the classic game mostly got noticed for the initial mandatory login in order to play Doom or Doom II. Bethesda has brought out a major game patch for the titles and is making the updated Doom and Doom II available to anyone who wants to buy them, via the launcher. The Steam version of the game has not been updated.

Features of the update include:

Add-On Support: This is Bethesda’s support for megawads and add-ons created for Doom and Doom II. Currently, John Romero’s SIGIL (a mod for Doom), TNT: Evilution, and The Plutonia Experiment are all available, as is No Rest for the Living, a map pack created by Nerve Software for the XBLA release. Gamers can load their own WAD files if they wish to do so, but the WADs will need to be compatible with vanilla Doom/Doom II. More detail on this is available in the FAQ.

60fps Support: Doom originally ran at 35fps, but this kicks it up to 60.

Aspect Ratio Options: Stretch the display vertically to match the old 4:3 aspect ratio Doom was originally played in.

Quick Save / Quick Load: You can save and load the game with a single button push, though Bethesda only lists the controller buttons. F5/F7 would be the typical PC keys for this, but Doom II is so old, it may have mapped other functions to those keys.

Level Select: You can now play any level in the game that you want to rather than fighting your way through the previous levels.

Other new features include a weapon carousel, a quick weapon select option, and the option to increase both the overall brightness and the level brightness. You can now turn off randomized sound pitches, the split-screen hub has been improved, and optimizations have been made to Doom’s software render to support higher resolutions and 60fps play on the Nintendo Switch. There’s also an array of bug fixes, all of which you can read about here.

Of course, many more quality of life improvements are available via the blizzard of various Doom engines and total conversions that have been created since the mid-1990s, and they’re often available for free if you already own the game via Steam. If you already own the game and are willing to dive into modding, there’s a lot to explore in freeware. If you don’t own it and want to play around with a curated version that offers what seems to be a pretty solid set of features, well, $5 isn’t a ton of money. The patch should now be available for all supported platforms, including Android and iOS.

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January 10th 2020, 8:37 am

Intel Shows Off Discrete Xe Graphics, Samples Now Shipping to ISVs


While Intel didn’t launch any hardware at CES this week, the company did show off its upcoming Tiger Lake CPUs and the DG1 discrete GPU in a brief gaming demo. What Intel didn’t show, however, was an independent graphics board. It turns out that the company does have GPUs ready to ship out for early software validation. Units are already shipping to ISVs.

The GPU above is the Intel DG1 “Software Development Vehicle.” According to Intel, Tiger Lake with Xe graphics will offer up to 2x additional GPU performance and double-digit CPU performance gains (so, 10 percent or more). The DG1 solution pictured above is based on the same dGPU that Intel demoed during the show. We don’t have any performance data on this part yet — Intel showed the GPU running Warfare but didn’t reveal any specs or settings for the game.

There’s no sign of a PCIe connector on this card, implying that the power draw is 75W or less. That would make sense for a chip that appears to be debuting as a mobile part. Intel may be planning to sell DG1 as an EMIB-attached solution alongside a Tiger Lake CPU, or it could be prepping a discrete mobile card for ISVs to include. Either way, Xe is going to ship in three specific families:

Xe LP is ultra-mobile PCs, entry-level graphics, and midrange graphics, with TDP’s expected to be in the 5W-20W range and the ability to scale up to 50W. Xe HP would cover the 75W – 250W segments, delivering (in theory) gaming performance that could compete with cards from Nvidia and AMD. Above 250W would be the Xe HPC, intended for HPC/exascale systems, deep learning and training, and cloud graphics.

It’s entirely possible that Intel would choose to commercialize its Xe HPC silicon for gaming as well, if the demand was there and if the characteristics of the GPU lent themselves to this kind of endeavor. Nvidia and AMD have both designed high-end GPUs for the workstation and server markets before bringing them over to the consumer space. The DG1 is expected to have 96 EUs and 768 shader units in total (8 threads per EU), but there are rumors of higher-specced DG2 cards, with 128, 256, and 512 EUs. That last, if true, would put Intel’s largest GPUs on approximate core parity with what AMD and Nvidia ship at the high end of the market — but we can’t really compare GPUs based on core count, because the amount of work done per core can vary significantly between different architectures.

One thing to keep in mind is that DG1 performance may improve over the GPU’s first few years of life. While Xe is based on previous GPU architectures, not all developers make games that target Intel IGPs in the first place. There’ll likely be a learning curve for both Intel and its software partners to negotiate.

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January 10th 2020, 8:37 am

In Google’s Android Search Auction in the EU, DuckDuckGo Is the Big Winner


Google is almost ready to release a new search provider selection screen in the EU, but it’s not doing so by choice. Last year, the EU ordered Google to offer placement to other search engines in Android, and Google is complying in the most Google way possible. It has conducted an auction for spots in the setup flow, and now the results are in. DuckDuckGo is a big winner, and Bing is almost entirely absent. 

The EU antitrust decision in 2018 hammered Google for its practice of integrating Google Search with Android. If users wanted to use a different search engine, they had to manually install it and change the defaults. That’s a fine setup in most countries, but the EU is much more aggressive about pursuing antitrust matters. In addition to ordering Google to change its practices, it imposed a record $5 billion fine. 

Google might end up recouping some of that loss when the new selection screen rolls out. The company opted to go with a “fourth-price” auction to choose the search providers. For each EU country, providers were invited to bid on one of the four spots. The three top bids get a place on the selection screen along with Google. However, they don’t pay the amount of their proposal. Each time a user selects a search engine, that company pays Google the amount of the fourth-highest bid. The selection screen controls which engine appears as the default in Chrome and the home screen search widget. The phone also downloads the search app from the Play Store automatically. 

The search selection screen will appear on all Android phones set up in the EU starting march 1st. Google has provided a full list of which search engines will appear in each EU country, and DuckDuckGo will be an option in every nation. That means the company put in competitive bids everywhere, but Microsoft seemed awfully uninterested for a company that routinely criticizes Google’s practices in the EU. Bing will only appear as an option in the UK, which is a more valuable market than most of Europe. will also be listed in all EU countries, and Yandex will appear in most of Eastern Europe. 

Some search providers expressed annoyance at Google’s auction setup, believing it was inappropriate for Google to profit from the EU decision. DuckDuckGo was among them, but it ended up participating in the auction nonetheless. Ecosia, which uses its profits to plant trees, called the process an abuse of Google’s market position and opted to boycott the auction.

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January 9th 2020, 4:20 pm

CES 2020: Nissan Ariya EV Runs 300 Miles, Arrives End of 2020


CES 2020 Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Nissan at CES 2020 took the wraps off a successor, or more likely big brother, to the best-selling, now recently slow-selling Nissan Leaf EV. It’s called the Nissan Ariya Concept. It gets up to 300 miles of range and is a crossover/hatchback where the Leaf is a sedan. Think of the Ariya (pronounced like the musical term) as being a more sculpted, more current Nissan Rogue, and electrified.

Nissan will use the second generation of its ProPilot Assist self-driving technology, which provides Level 3 hands-off driving for conditional automation. It’s roughly equivalent to Cadillac Super Cruise. We expect prices will start around $40,000 for the Ariya, assuming that’s its actual name. The car is far enough along that even with the “concept” suffix on the name, this is a good idea of what it should look like.

Side view of the Nissan Ariya concept. It’s about the size of the Nissan Rogue and more aerodynamic based on the image.

Nissan says the Ariya is four inches shorter than the Rogue (not Rogue Sport) and three inches wider, making it 181 inches long and 75 inches wide. That places it within the realm of compact rather than subcompact vehicles. The feds classify vehicles by interior volume. But generally, a compact SUV is considered to be 180-190 inches long, while a subcompact is 160-170 inches. The current Leaf is 176 inches long and 71 inches wide.

Nissan suggests range would be about 300 miles. The second-generation Nissan Leaf is rated at 226 miles. There should be three models, S, SV, and SL, with prices of about $40,000 to $45,000. Nissan suggests 0-60 mph acceleration could be under six seconds.

The dash and interior of the new Nissan Ariya, right-hand-drive version. Note the clean flow of the dashboard lines.

Where the Leaf drives the front wheels only, the Ariya will offer all-wheel drive, with motors both front and rear. Nissan calls technology e-4orce (pronounced “e-force”). It’s not clear if all Ariyas get e-Force or if it’s a step-up option. Since so many EVs are sold in California, AWD may not be necessary on all US vehicles. According to Takao Asami, Nissan’s senior vice president of research and advanced engineering:

The e-4ORCE twin-motor all-wheel control technology offers precise handling and stability, which gives drivers greater confidence and even more excitement than ever before. This technology enables excellent cornering performance and traction on slippery surfaces and comfortable ride for all passengers.

Nissan also says the modulated use of regenerative braking will minimize pitch and dive.

The cockpit of the Nissan Ariya cockpit.

Since the Ariya plays closer to the Tesla Model 3, with Tesla’s generally well-regarded AutoPilot system, ProPilot 2.0 should make the Nissan entry more competitive. ProPilot 2.0 is described as Level 3 autonomy, meaning: a) self-driving b) on some roads (typically interstates and other limited-access roads), but c) you have to keep your eyes on the road (they’ll be tracked by a monitor), and most importantly d) you’ll need to take over control when you, say, exit the highway but also if the car cannot cope with a complex driving situation. This is a challenge, and not just for Nissan. Being hands-off might invite inattention, but the handoff might come on short notice. It’s still a gray area of how much notice the car can give the driver where the driving situation changes suddenly.

ProPilot 2.0 features would include:

Other than Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling non-Tesla EV in the US. But sales are off 60 percent from their 2014 peak. The Ariya can’t come too soon.

Help Arrives for the Beleaguered Leaf

Among EVs, the Nissan Leaf is a best-seller, with about a half-million sales worldwide since arriving in late 2010 as a 2011 model. US sales peaked in 2014 at 30,200, fell for two years, recovered with the arrival of the second-generation Leaf in 2018, and then fell 16 percent in 2019. Over the Leaf’s nine-and-a-fraction years in the US, it has sold 141,907 vehicles, or about 16,000 a year.

Against the Leaf’s 12,365 calendar-year-2019 sales, Inside EVs estimated the Tesla Model 3 sold 47,275 units, about 4x what the Leaf sold, and much smaller numbers for the Model X SUV (5,500 estimated) and Model S (3,750). Thus Nissan’s need and desire for a somewhat bigger vehicle than the Leaf and one with that magic 300-mile range. No matter how much automakers say range anxiety is overrated, buyers say they want the range to be equivalent to what you get from a tank of gasoline, meaning 300 miles or more.

It’s not clear if the Ariya replaces the Leaf or slots one level above. The two are not really comparable in size or performance. But with Leaf sales down into the low teens, it’s unclear if the Leaf as of 2020 is running out of gas.

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January 9th 2020, 4:03 pm

ET Deals: Up To 40 Percent Off Eufy Robot Vacuums, Netgear Nighthawk AX4 for $99, $250 Off Dell XPS


If you are like me, then it can be difficult to find time to clean in your daily routine. Today only, Eufy’s Robovacs are on sale with up to a 40 percent discount, so pick up a bot and make keeping your home easier.

Eufy RoboVac 30C ($179.99)

Eufy’s RoboVac 30C is a nifty little device that can help save you time by keeping your floors clean so that you don’t have to. With a powerful 1,500Pa suction vacuum built-in, this device will roam your home removing any dust, hair, or misc. other dirt that gets tracked in. It is also able to connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, after which it can be controlled via your smartphone as well as by Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant voice-control services. Marked down from $299.99 to just $179.99 from Amazon, this vacuum is also an excellent deal.

Netgear Nighthawk AX4 AX3000 RAX35-100NAS Wi-Fi 6 Router ($99.00)

Netgear built this router to support four simultaneous streams that are able to transmit up to 600Mbps of data each. The router also supports the new 802.11ax networking standard to support next-gen networking devices. Right now you can get this router for just $99.00 from Walmart, which is down from its regular price of $199.00.

Dell XPS Special Edition Intel Core i5-9400 Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, 8GB DDR4 RAM, 1TB HDD and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($949.99)

Equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, this desktop has plenty of power for running games at 1080p resolution. Get one today from Dell marked down from $1,199.99 to $949.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

Featured Deals

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

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January 9th 2020, 3:50 pm

NASA May Allow Crewed Boeing Starliner Flight After Failed Test


Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft made its maiden voyage late last year, but the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) didn’t go as planned. The spacecraft was unable to reach the correct orbit and came back to Earth early. It looked like a major setback for Boeing at the time, but there’s still hope it will be able to proceed with the planned launch schedule. NASA and Boeing are evaluating the data from that first launch to decide if the capsule needs to do it again. 

The OFT mission launched on December 20, 2019. It was supposed to include a rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) and a demonstration of the capsule’s automated docking system. However, we now know the timer on the spacecraft was off by 11 hours, which caused the computer to think it was in the wrong phase of the mission after it separated from the first stage. As a result, the capsule attempted an orbital insertion burn, wasting 25 percent of its fuel. At that point, the capsule didn’t have enough fuel to reach the space station. 

Boeing brought the CST-100 back to Earth after 48 hours in orbit, far short of the eight days originally planned. The landing at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range did at least go off without a hitch. While the mission failed to demonstrate all the spacecraft’s capabilities, NASA is still considering allowing Boeing to proceed with a crewed launch. That seems unusually permissive for NASA, but there is a time crunch as the agency runs low on guaranteed seats on Russian Soyuz capsules. 

The CST-100 can carry up to seven passengers to and from the ISS.

According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, NASA and Boeing have formed a joint panel to analyze the data acquired during the abbreviated OFT flight. If NASA determines that the data validates the capsule’s various systems, Boing won’t have to perform a second OFT. Instead, Boeing would be allowed to proceed with a crewed demonstration flight to the ISS. That would be the first time the Starliner visited the ISS. 

Bridenstine says it will take several weeks for the panel to make its determination. In the meantime, SpaceX is preparing for its final uncrewed demo flight, which will test the capsule’s in-flight abort system. The SuperDraco engines used in the abort system were also associated with the explosion that destroyed the company’s Dragon II spacecraft during ground testing last year. SpaceX worked quickly to identify the cause and alter its design. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess which company will begin flying crewed missions first.

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January 9th 2020, 1:59 pm

Secure Your Home Wi-Fi Network With These Amazing Router Discounts


The internet can be a dangerous place, especially if you use unprotected networks. However, your very own home Wi-Fi network can be just as vulnerable to malicious threats. That’s why your home needs a secure router that will protect you while you’re surfing the web, so we’ve lined up four amazing deals on routers that can keep your devices safe.

NetGear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router (Refurbished)

The NetGear Nighthawk series offers some of the most popular routers on the market, and this AC1900 model in particular delivers up to 960Mbps speeds no matter how busy your network is. That’s enough for heavy internet usage like online gaming and 4K video streaming. Best of all, this refurbished model is in near-mint condition, so you’re basically getting a good-as-new router at a huge discount!

Anonabox PRO Tor & VPN Router

You can never be too safe when browsing the web, so we recommend using a VPN in tandem with your home network. Luckily, the Anonabox PRO lets you do both without having to download additional software. With the Anonabox PRO, you can shroud your browsing habits from your ISP using a VPN and browse the free web on the Tor network.

Gryphon: The Ultimate Secure Router & 18-mo Free Advance Network Protection

The modern home can support dozens of devices, so it’s hard to catch when a single device acts suspiciously. With a Gryphon home Wi-Fi setup, not only do you get ultra-fast AC3000 speeds, but you’ll also be able to track all of the devices on your network and cut access if any of them acts suspiciously. Gryphon also comes with a dangerous website blacklist, malware and ransomware protection, and 18 months of free Advance Network Protection.

Bearifi Edge Mesh Wi-Fi Extender Bundle: AP & Satellite

Routers can only offer so much coverage, no matter how powerful they are. If you have a particularly large home, then look no further than this Bearifi Wi-Fi Extender Bundle to maximize your coverage. It features an AC1200 access point and mesh satellite that are compatible with your current router and can extend your Wi-Fi range to eliminate dead zones throughout your home.

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

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January 9th 2020, 1:45 pm

For Self-Driving Cars, Lidar Amps Up at CES 2020


LAS VEGAS – If self-driving cars are failing to live up to their initial hype, it isn’t for lack of investment in lidar, which is broadly agreed to be a key sensor technology needed for their eventual success. With Bosch’s recent announcement that it’s making lidar sensors for autonomous cars, it seems like the list of auto-related companies not making lidars is shorter than the list of ones that are.

CES has become a major showcase for lidar innovation, and CES 2020 is no exception. Covering lidar here can seem a bit like Groundhog Day. Each year the vendors grandly announce that they have amazing new products that will revolutionize the automotive sensor industry. In reality, many of the new ideas have taken years to become products and promised high-volume price points have proven elusive. As result, it is hard to get to the bottom of exactly which products are production-ready, and what car companies are actually paying for them, but we can give you a sense of some of the key lidar products planned to roll out this year.

Robosense: Adding Smarts to a Solid-State Lidar

A relative newcomer in lidar, having been founded in 2014, Robosense has risen to prominence fairly quickly in part because of strong backing from the Chinese auto industry. For CES it announced the smallest and smartest version of its MEMS-based solid-state lidar family, the RS-Lidar-M1 ($1,898). The base version (dubbed “Simple”) features 125 905nm beams covering a 120-degree Field of View. The company claims that it can achieve 10% on the NIST target score out as far as 150 meters. The new model is significantly smaller than the previous version, at just 4.3 x 1.9 x 4.7 inches, and can run at 15 Hertz.

Robosense provide an interesting way to see where the lidar sensors are placed around a test car, and what they look like by themselves.

While those specs are impressive, there are plenty of other lidar companies promising similar devices. What makes the M1 family more interesting is the planned “Smart” version. It adds onboard analytics, which many view as an important step in reducing the processing that needs to happen on the vehicle’s main CPU/GPU complex. The device’s embedded AI capability is designed to transform the raw lidar 3D point cloud into semantic-level data that can be directly used by the vehicles’ behavior systems. Robosense has chosen a relatively low-cost silicon solution using Xilinx FPGAs. It’ll be interesting to see how that compares with some of the higher-end device-based AI solutions, like Cepton’s that includes an Nvidia Jetson Tx board.

DJI’s Livox

Robosense isn’t the only Chinese lidar company aiming to disrupt the market. Drone giant DJI has incubated a lidar startup, Livox, that is introducing a pair of new units at CES. What makes Livox’s approach novel is its non-repeating scanning pattern. Rather than the more traditional options of either a repeated rotation or repeated burst patter, the Livox units trace out new ground each time they traverse a region, creating a somewhat flower-like pattern as it goes. (Frankly, it reminds me of a Spirograph, but most patterns made with those repeated after a bit.)

Time-lapse comparison of Livox’s non-repetitive scanning pattern and a typical rotating lidar pattern.

One obvious advantage of this approach is that given enough time, the resolution far surpasses a traditional lidar. However, if a vehicle or its surroundings are moving, then that advantage is reduced. Also, given enough time, there aren’t any blind spots. Livox’s Horizon unit boasts a competitive range of 260 meters, covering a field of view of 81.7-degrees horizontally. That lets it cover four road lanes at 10 meters. Five of the units are enough for 360-degree usage. The company claims that one of the units is approximately equivalent to a 64-line scanning model. The higher-end model, the Tele-15, scans a full 360-degrees with a 15-degree vertical field of view and promises to work out to 500 meters. Livox claims lower part counts and therefore lower prices than competitors, but as usual for lidar announcements, there isn’t much provided in the way of facts to back that up.

Velodyne: The Leader Isn’t Standing Still

At last count, at least 20 companies send us press releases claiming that they are the leader in lidar. But if any company can legitimately make that claim, it is Velodyne. As a pioneer and “first mover,” the company seized the lion’s share of the market for its first decade and popularized the “KFC bucket” $70K radars that sat on top of first- and second-generation autonomous test vehicles. Since then, the market has spawned dozens of competitors, but Velodyne certainly isn’t standing still. I got a tour of their new products at CES this week, and while most of them aren’t revolutionary (except perhaps for the tiny $100 Velobits), they continue to move the ball forward. The low price point of the Velobits puts it within striking distance of being an alternative to radar in the increasingly common AEB systems now found in millions of vehicles.

The most exciting thing about the Velodyne booth tour at CES is that it includes the single best use of VR at a tradeshow I’ve ever experienced. Once you put on the headset, you can pick up any of their products (using an Oculus with touch controllers) and activate them. They’ll show you what they’d record in a virtual city. Did I mention there is an entire virtual city complete with virtual birds? So you can evaluate how each sensor records its surroundings. The one feature I’d like to see them add is an accurate representation of the actual number of channels on each sensor, rather than just painting the field of view. But that issue is quickly addressed by going “inside.”

Once you move inside a lidar, you can take a virtual drive through the city and see what it saw (this part is recorded, so you can’t randomly drive around). There are various ways to help people try to experience point clouds, but this is one of the more effective.

The experience was great, but of course, the big question is whether Velodyne can continue to hold off the myriad challengers to its throne. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with the company’s new CEO, Anand Gopalan, and get his perspective. Judging by the product announcements and hype, one of the biggest threats for Velodyne is the onslaught of vendors building various kinds of AI into their Lidar, especially pedestrian and vehicle detection.

Both Gopalan and executives I spoke with from several autonomous vehicle makers expressed some skepticism about whether that innovation will be ideal for L4/L5 vehicles, as it is important to have the data processed in a way that can provide a true fail-safe system. But Gopalan said that Velodyne is definitely looking at how much it can do in the lidar’s own hardware for other reasons. He explained that physics-based tasks like SLAM can be performed at a much lower cost in power if they are tightly integrated into the lidar instead of by a centralized computer in the car. He also said that such low-level systems could help be a potential fail-safe for autonomous vehicles, as a sort of “reptilian brain” if there are problems with the main control software.

Not Everyone Agrees Lidar Is Essential

While almost every Level 4 and above autonomous vehicle project includes one lidar, there are some exceptions. Most notably, Tesla, which claims its current array of radar and cameras is plenty to make your Tesla into a money machine as a self-driving taxi. Personally, I don’t think that will happen without additional hardware, but it might well not have to include lidar. For example, Ambarella has demonstrated impressive results with only an array of visible-light cameras, and FLIR does something very similar using thermal imaging alongside visible light. Intel’s Mobileye is running test vehicles with two parallel systems — one camera-based, and the other a combination of sensor technologies.

Mobileye is planning a fully autonomous fleet operating in Tel Aviv in 2020.

Some Other Lidar Highlights from CES

Lidar supplier Ouster also updated its product line, with new wide-field-of-view lidar (OS0, 32-128 channels, 95-degree FOV) and long-range traditional scanning lidar (OS2, 64-128 channels, 22.5-degree FOV). As a sign of progress in price reductions, the 32-channel versions of OS0 start at $16K, while you can get an impressive 128-channels for $24K — less than a third of what autonomous vehicle companies were paying for a unit with fewer channels (although in some cases a full 360-degree FOV) a few years ago. As mentioned earlier in the article, proven lidar vendor Cepton has added “AI at the Edge” to its products using an Nvidia GPU to run people- and vehicle-detection software. Intelligent lidar pioneer AEye is moving to the second generation of its product, which features a beam that can be aimed dynamically, with more important areas receiving more attention.

A far cry from driving a car, AEye shows off how its lidar is fast enough to predict whether a basketball will swish through the hoop.

One thing that is clear is that not all of the dozens of lidar vendors will survive long-term. Many have already been acquired by larger automotive partners, some have folded, and a few are living on borrowed time. Venture capital also isn’t flowing as freely into this market as it once did. Partially because of the reality that autonomous vehicles aren’t imminent, and partially because for consumer adoption component prices will have to be low enough that only a few, high-volume, suppliers will be able to make any money. We’ll be reporting more on this after Electronic Imaging 2020 later this month, where I’m moderating a panel on sensor technologies for autonomous vehicles that will include lidar, radar, and camera experts comparing and contrasting their technologies.

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January 9th 2020, 1:17 pm

CES 2020: A Breakthrough Year for Digital Health Wearables


Judging by the number of digital health wearables at CES this year, the industry expects all of us to flaunt at least one of them. Increasingly the question is becoming which, not whether. While social media companies compete for your attention, wearable vendors are competing for space on your wrist (or now, in your ear or on your finger). So far, there is no “One Ring (or watch or earbud) To Rule Them All.” The dozens of innovative products divide up based on what consumers want most out of their wearable devices. We’ve picked through the hundreds (yes, hundreds) on display at CES this year to give you our thoughts on some of the most unique and interesting.

Withings ScanWatch One-Ups Competition With Apnea Detection

One of the most advanced health wearables introduced at CES this year is the ScanWatch from established firm Withings. While not the first watch to incorporate an ECG and AFib detection capability, it adds both a VO2 Max feature and an ability to detect sleep apnea (based on the concentration of oxygen in your blood while you are sleeping). For the most part, getting VO2 Max requires specialized devices, and sleep apnea detection often requires a medical-grade test procedure (although forehead-mounted Beddr provides a similar capability). If Withings can get the ScanWatch finished and approved by regulators in time for its planned launch in Q2, it may be the first 24/7 wearable to offer this combination of features.

The price is right, too, with the watch priced at $249 for the 38mm size, and $299 for the 42mm size. Like other Withings wearables, the medical and fitness tracking technology is built around an analog watch design, so it isn’t a direct competitor to the typical smartwatch with a fully digital design and library of applications. But hewing to a more traditional approach gives the ScanWatch an estimated 30 days of battery life, far surpassing that of all-digital smartwatches and most trackers.

IEVA Time-C: Pioneering Environmental Health Wearable Becomes a Watch

French startup IEVA made some waves with its innovative Twin-C ($149 and up) wearable featuring an impressive array of environmental sensors. Now it is building on that with the Time-C smartwatch ($490 and up) that combines a full-on fitness and health tracker with the environmental sensors.

IEVA comes from a very different place than most wearable vendors. Their founders have been providing custom skin treatments based on environmental exposure for years. Their focus is on helping customers measure their environment (including noise, UV light, and pollution), estimate its effect on them, and actively take steps to improve things. In addition to the features you’d expect from a premium-priced fitness tracker like heart rate monitoring and exercise detection, the Time-C monitors ambient noise, temperature, solar radiation, and humidity, along with CO2 and VOCs levels through its sensors.

The Time-C also pulls pollution and environmental data from online sources. All of this data helps IEVA provide the wearer with personalized data about their health and the health of their environment — along with suggestions on ways to improve both. IEVA also has an element of citizen science about it. The founders are hoping that the data collected (and voluntarily shared) from their users about their surrounding environments will be helpful to scientists working to model the global climate.

Huami Amazfit: New Zenbuds Sleep-specialized Ear Buds

Chinese wearable giant Huami (around a hundred million devices sold) is mostly known through other names because it makes wearables like the Mi bands. However, it also has its own and growing brand called Amazfit. At CES this week, the company launched an array of new value-priced devices, including a $140 outdoor watch, the T-Rex. As far as digital health, though, the most interesting new products were the two models of earbuds announced (but not quite available yet).

The first, Powerbuds ($99.99 available in February), is designed to be a fashion-forward alternative to traditional earbuds, with the addition of heart rate monitoring — so that you can do fitness tracking without another wearable. For personal safety, the Powerbuds feature an ambient pass-through mode, along with all the other goodies we’ve come to expect from earbuds. The other new earbuds, Zenbuds (available later this year), are super-light (< 2 grams), feature a 12-hour battery, and are designed specifically created to improve the quality of your sleep. They offer sound blocking and soothing sound generation, while also monitoring your sleeping habits. Because they are in-ear, they can track your sleeping position in addition to heart rate and estimated sleep stages, so they potentially offer some new and interesting data for analysis.

Firstbeat: The Tech Behind the Devices

As you might expect given the dozens of companies now producing wearables related to digital health data and analysis, they don’t all do their own science. Many of them rely on Firstbeat for their underlying algorithms. That includes GPS-enabled sports watches, smartwatches, and cycling computers from industry giants Garmin, Huawei, Suunto, and Huami. Recently, they’ve added Xiaomi and Mio to their list of customers. The Firstbeat platform has support for the usual sensors, but also includes more sophisticated options like VO2max calculation, and can incorporate heat, humidity, and altitude in its analytics.

Firstbeat is also pushing into the sleep analysis field, using Heart Rate Variability as a primary determinant of sleep stages. For the curious, they’ve done an excellent job of explaining the technique in an online whitepaper. One of the biggest takeaways for me is that even human sleep experts only have about 80 percent agreement on which state sleep a person is in, even given the best data. So it makes sense that experiments like the one I did last year that involve using several different devices at the same time can yield dramatically different statistics. Forget a Wearable, Just Use a Camera

Medical researchers have known for a while how to estimate some vital signs using just a video of a person’s face. is making that a reality in the form of a smartphone app that can use the phone’s camera to record video (or even record a TV screen) and generate vital signs from it. The company says the app can measure not just heart rate and respiration (which has been done by quite a few research teams), but also heart rate variability (HRV), blood oxygen saturation, and mental stress. They also claim they will be able to measure blood pressure soon. The best part of getting a demo was the annotated video of Zuckerberg testifying before Congress, complete with his vital signs as the hearing went along. I’m planning to snag the app when it becomes available in March and leave it running aimed at my TV while I watch the news.

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January 9th 2020, 11:30 am

Reminder: Windows 7 Support Ends Tuesday, Jan. 14


No longer playing second fiddle to XP, Windows 7 is installed on over half of all PCs.

If there were ever a competition held for “Most Popular Version of Windows,” I suspect there’d be two candidates fighting it out for the top trophy: Windows 7 and Windows XP. If I had to bet on which of the two would win, I’d give the nod to Windows 7. While a lot of people liked XP, particularly compared with Vista, Windows 7 was seen by a lot of folks as a genuine upgrade over XP for a host of reasons, including DirectX 11 support, jump lists, better security, a new taskbar with pinnable applications, and better multi-core CPU support.

The bar, as some of you may recall, wasn’t exactly set very high.

All good things come to an end, however, and on January 14, 2020, Windows 7 will reach its own. After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for Windows 7. While it’s possible that the company will make a bare handful of limited exceptions to this policy, as it has for Windows XP, it will no longer be providing regular updates in any form. The OS won’t stop working, but it will stop getting patches. That probably won’t matter much on February 1, but it could matter quite a bit within a year or two. Folks still using Windows 7 today have a few different options:

Install Windows 10: While Microsoft’s free upgrade program technically ended in July 2016, the company never actually bothered to end it. You can still upgrade a Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 system to Windows 10 for free. Use Microsoft’s Media Installation Tool and choose to upgrade your existing OS installation.

Install Windows 8.1: If you hate Windows 10 but want to stay in the MS ecosystem, you could find a copy of Windows 8.1 and upgrade to that instead. There’s no free path to doing so, unless you’re actually running Windows 8.0 and reading this story for fun, but Windows 8.1 will be supported until January 10, 2023. Downsides of this approach include being stuck on Windows 8, no DX12 support, and having to find a new OS solution within three years.

Install Windows 10 and Run Windows 7 in a VM: This is one of those things that’s technically possible but I doubt anyone actually does. You have the option of using a VM client on Windows 10 to load a virtual machine with Windows 7 inside of it. VM performance typically lags behind native desktop and GPU acceleration options may be limited depending on the VM solution you use, but you could run Windows 7 this way.

Install Linux: I’ll be pecked to death by angry penguinistas if I don’t mention this as a valid option. There are a wide variety of Linux distros, but some of the most popular are Linux Mint, Debian, and Ubuntu. Manjaro, based on Arch Linux, is another reasonably popular variant.

Go Apple: If you hate Windows 10 and don’t want to use Linux, you’ve got the option to go Apple. The advantage to going Apple is that the company is genuinely good at cross-product compatibility. The disadvantage to going Apple is the price and, to a certain extent, the quality as of late. Apple may have switched out the keyboard on the new 16-inch MacBook, but its other systems are still using the third iteration of a fundamentally flawed design.

Go Back to Windows For Workgroups 3.11: It’s like WOPR always said: The only way to win is not to play. In this case, you’re refusing to play by rejecting any semblance of modern computing and returning to an operating system so ancient, you’d have to hunt up malware for it in old Usenet posts. You’re a rebel. You don’t need things like 64-bit support or a modern GPU. You remember when 640×480 was enough for everybody!

Why Windows for Workgroups 3.11? Because — astonishingly — this is actually possible with relatively modern hardware. Back in 2016, Yeo Kheng Meng installed Windows 3.11 on a 2009 IBM Thinkpad with an Intel T9400 (Core 2 Duo, 2.53GHz, dual-core). Granted, he also built his own sound card to have Windows 3.11 audio, so it’s possible he’s got a bit more passion for this kind of project than you do. This is actually a terrible idea. Don’t try to compute this way. You will not like it.

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January 9th 2020, 10:44 am

Don’t Buy an 8K TV


If you’ve paid any attention to CES hype this year, you’ve probably spotted some news on 8K TVs. Samsung debuted a bezel-less display that’s 99 percent screen, LG launched no fewer than eight 8K panels, and Sony showed its own 8K device.

In addition, there’s been a fight between LG and Samsung over which company offers “real” 8K. LG’s devices are certified by the Consumer Technology Association, while Samsung’s are certified by both the CTA and the 8K Association. The 8K Association’s definition of 8K only covers the required resolution, while the CTA standard also requires 8K TVs to hit a target for contrast modulation, or CM. The image below (from a Samsung website, no less) is intended to illustrate how different levels of contrast modulation impact text display at a constant resolution of 3840×2160:

From a 2016 Samsung document on why CM is a superior method of measuring image quality compared to resolution. The 8K Association does not use CM to evaluate image quality. The CTA does.

The fact that Samsung and LG are literally fighting over what the definition for 8K content is the first clue that the 8K ecosystem is nowhere near ready for prime time. Device manufacturers may be starting to bring 8K sets to market, but buying one of those sets today is a bad deal for virtually anyone.

Not only is there no unified 8K standard, but there’s also no current discussion of an 8K content market. The physical media market may have stretched up to include 4K with Ultra HD Blu-ray, but if you haven’t noticed, the UHD Blu-ray market is withering on the vine. Oppo and Samsung left the market last year. Most films are still finished at the 2K resolution (2048×1080). The reason that watching a 2K movie in the theater often looks better than watching a 4K stream is because of how compressed the 4K stream is, despite the lower resolution. The chance that we see an 8K Blu-ray standard is small to nonexistent. It took companies like Netflix years to roll out 4K support and getting 4K streaming to work on a computer used to involve jumping through a great many hoops, long after 4K was available as a desktop resolution.

Second, even if there was an 8K streaming service, a lot of US citizens wouldn’t be able to use it. Netflix specifies a 25Mbps stream requirement for 4K. Since there’s no H.266 standard to introduce alongside 8K to make the files smaller, we can count on that requirement quadrupling. You’ll need 100Mbps internet service to stream in 8K, and streaming at that rate will eat about 44GB of bandwidth an hour. Better not watch more than 20 hours of Netflix per month, or you could find yourself running over the 1TB/month limit some ISPs impose.

Third, the benefits of 8K to most consumers are tiny. Film and photography editors will like the resolution because it allows for greater zooming without loss of detail, but that doesn’t mean that ordinary content mastered in 8K will look dramatically different than 4K. In fact, if you talk to companies like AMD and Nvidia, they’ll openly say that we’ve hit the point of diminishing marginal returns already, as far as resolution is concerned. The jump from 1080p to 4K made a larger difference than the move from 4K to 8K will, even though both standards quadruple the pixel count of the previous.

Both AMD and Nvidia have turned to other methods of improving image quality. Nvidia has focused on ray tracing as a method of improving game image quality since late 2018, while AMD has talked up HDR tone-mapping improvements as a key FreeSync capability. This year, AMD will add ray tracing to its own products. While resolution obviously matters, neither company is leaning solely on resolution as a feature that distinguishes 4K gaming from traditional 1080p.

The benefits of higher resolution increase with larger televisions but decrease with viewing distance. Large screens can definitely benefit from 4K compared to 1080p, but it’s unlikely that many people own the 80-inch+ displays required to make 8K a true upgrade over its 4K predecessor.

Far too many people treat the idea that we’ve nearly reached the end of useful resolution scaling as equivalent to meaning we’ve run out of ways to improve display quality. It’s not true — TVs still don’t offer 100 percent of the Rec. 2020 color gamut, HDR isn’t yet a bog-standard feature, and the HDR standard(s) continue to evolve. Micro-LEDs and OLEDs have both continued to improve over time. Just because we’re approaching the effective limits of resolution improvement doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of room to continue improving displays.

Don’t believe the 8K claims Microsoft and Sony are making about their next-generation consoles. If you look back in time, Microsoft and Sony have always played fast and loose with vague claims about what their platforms were capable of, as opposed to what game designers actually delivered. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are going to target 4K for gaming, not 8K. Not even the RTX 2080 Ti is capable of delivering 60fps in 8K, and whatever GPU MS and Sony ship won’t be as powerful as an RTX 2080 Ti.

The earliest part of a rollout is always the worst time to buy. Buying into a standard before the standard has been finalized is a great way to find yourself locked out of an ecosystem. Whatever features and capabilities Samsung, LG, and Sony are offering at 8K in 2020 will be available in vastly improved and significantly cheaper flavors come 2025. That’s when IHS Markit expects an actual content ecosystem to be available.

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January 9th 2020, 8:54 am

In 60 Years, a Star Will Explode and Become Incredibly Bright in the Sky


In about 60 years, the people of Earth are in for a rather spectacular stellar show. As we near the end of the 21st century, astronomers predict a distant star called V Sagittae will flare up, becoming one of the brightest objects in the sky. It may even end up brighter than the planet Venus as seen from Earth. The effect will be temporary, but V Sagittae will get plenty of attention during that time. 

V Sagittae is actually a binary system sitting about 1,100 light-years away, but it’s not your run-of-the-mill binary like Sirius or Alpha Centauri A-B. This is what’s known as a cataclysmic variable, a class of binary systems where a white dwarf slowly siphons stellar material away from a red dwarf partner. Over time, material builds up in an accretion disk around the white dwarf until it collapses inward and releases a burst of energy. V Sagittae isn’t even your typical cataclysmic variable — it’s the only known system in which the companion star is more massive than the white dwarf, which is a stellar remnant from a dead star that has lost most of its mass. Because of this, the next V Sagittae event is going to be a real doozy. 

Astronomers announced the fate of V Sagittae this week at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu. Currently, V Sagittae is a dim object that you can only see with a moderately powerful telescope, but it used to be even dimmer. Astronomers recently analyzed old sky photos archived by the Harvard College Observatory. Comparing those to more recent observations, the team found that V Sagittae doubles in luminosity every 89 years. That means the companion star is spiraling in toward the white dwarf much faster than anyone expected, and the two will collide in 60 years, plus or minus 16. 

In the coming decades, V Sagittae will get progressively brighter as more material flows into the white dwarf. Eventually, the stars will merge and almost all the gas from the companion star will form a hydrogen-fusing layer around the white dwarf. Scientists expect V Sagittae will outshine the aforementioned Sirius, which is currently the brightest star in the sky and only 8.6 light-years away. Astronomers think V Sagittae will be almost as luminous as a supernova at its peak, but that will only last for about a month. You can bet every telescope in the world will be watching the show, though. 

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January 9th 2020, 8:12 am

Astronomers Spot New Stars That Signal Upcoming Galactic Collision


Scientists have long suspected that the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are on a collision course with our Milky Way galaxy, and it may be running ahead of schedule. While analyzing objects at the edge of the galaxy, astronomers noted an unexpected cluster of young stars. Upon closer examination, these celestial objects may be harbingers of an impending collision between the Milky Way and the Magellanic dwarf galaxies. 

According to Adrian Price-Whelan, a research fellow at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics, there are fewer than a thousand stars in the newly discovered cluster. Nevertheless, this discovery could have significant implications for astronomy. Stars at the edge of the Milky Way are among the oldest in the galaxy, so a group of young stars is notable. 

Until recently, astronomers didn’t have the data to locate and analyze groups of stars like this, but the ESA’s Gaia spacecraft has changed that. This mission has already mapped the positions of more than 1.7 billion stars. It was this data that allowed the team to identify the “Price-Whelan 1” cluster. The image below shows those stars, highlighted in blue. Most of them are around 117 million years old, which is nothing compared with the multi-billion-year-old stars that surround Price-Whelan 1.

The team immediately noted that Price-Whelan 1 sits near a river of gas known as the Magellanic Stream — the outer edge of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Astronomers believe the Magellanic Stream will eventually carry the dwarf galaxies into the Milky Way, but perhaps the Price-Whelan 1 cluster indicates that the process is already underway. David Nidever of Montana State University analyzed the metal content of the cluster, hoping to tie the stars to the Magellanic Stream. The results indicate that, just like the Magellanic Stream, these stars have very low metal content. 

The team speculates that gas from the Magellanic Stream began interacting with the Milky Way over 100 million years ago. The gravity and tidal forces at work in the Milky Way compressed the gas enough to trigger star formation. Those stars were eventually pulled into the galactic disk, where Gaia could measure their position and movement. Using this data, the team has estimated the current edge of the Magellanic Stream is 90,000 light-years from the Milky Way, half as far as previously believed. This data could help us estimate when the collision will occur and what will happen when it does. We may even be able to determine if the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds have passed through the Milky Way before.

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January 8th 2020, 6:00 pm

GE Launches New Kitchen Hub, a 27-Inch, Netflix-Equipped, Widescreen…Microwave


If you own a microwave and use Wi-Fi, you’re probably aware that these two things don’t mesh well (pun intended). The impact of running a microwave while using Wi-Fi tends to vary depending on how much EM your microwave leaks and which frequencies your Wi-Fi network is using. If you’re on a 5GHz network, you may not see much interference, but a 2.4GHz system may choke and die when you cook a burrito, depending on the position of your hardware and the layout of your house. Microwaves and Wi-Fi, in other words, are not two things you would ordinarily combine.

Appliance manufacturers have been trying to find use cases for IoT-enabled refrigerators, toasters, and laundry machines for years, leading to an endless series of jokes about trying to surf the internet on a refrigerator. After years of attempting to sell consumers on the idea of an automatic fridge that can monitor individual zones of temperature and re-order frozen yams after you hate-eat the last bag to avoid food waste, GE has opted for a more straightforward approach: Stick Netflix on it. Seriously: The new Kitchen Hub is a 27-inch, Wi-Fi-enabled microwave with Netflix.

Before we dive into this, I need to be clear about which GE product we’re discussing. GE has announced a new version of its Kitchen Hub. This version integrates a microwave and offers features like AI-assisted computer vision to check when a dish has finished cooking. This product will not be available until late 2020. It can also function as a hub for Z-Wave-enabled devices and for GE’s smart appliance products.

Right now, if you visit GE’s website, the product you’ll see is an earlier version of the Kitchen Hub that’s actually a hood vent, not a microwave. It lacks the internal camera and AI computer vision, for obvious reasons, and isn’t Z-Wave compatible. Apart from that, it appears to have the same set of features. The hood vent Kitchen Hub runs Android 8.0, but I haven’t found anything on what the microwave Kitchen Hub will use. The hood vent is $1,200, so it’s safe to assume the new microwave will sell at or above that price point.

The New Kitchen Hub includes the Flavorly recipe app powered by SideChef. This shouldn’t be confused with Flavourly, the craft beer delivery service cum curation app. It also shouldn’t be confused with, which bills itself as “an online food magazine chronicling culinary stories of interest to foodies of the Central New York area,” and hasn’t been updated since 2011. None of this has anything to do with the microwave, strictly speaking, but as a western New York resident, I’m not surprised that a blog dedicated to the culinary delights of Syracuse has been dead for the past nine years. No offense to the founder, who self-identified as a magazine journalism student. That particular career path is its own punishment these days.

Let’s get back to the 27-inch widescreen microwave. The hood vent’s aspect ratio is technically 1.80, not the 1.77 of 16:9. We have no details on the microwave. Imagine the exciting discussions we can all have in the future regarding new opportunities in microwave aspect ratios as they relate to film content! Here’s GE:

The next-gen Kitchen Hub from GE Appliances is a 27-inch smart touch screen, 1.9 cubic foot microwave and ventilation combo designed to easily fit in the space above the range. Consumers can use cameras to interact with friends and family, snap and share their culinary masterpieces, and even determine when their meals are done while viewing the inside of the oven from their couch. And if cooking isn’t entertaining enough, the Kitchen Hub Micro provides access to popular apps, such as Netflix and Spotify. The addition of the microwave into the next gen Kitchen Hub allows the user a full-service kitchen experience.

This quote is the only time in the entire document where GE refers to the “Kitchen Hub Micro.” It’s referred to as the “next gen Kitchen Hub” 12x in the same press release, including in a quote by the director of the SmartHome appliance division by GE. The name of the product may be “Kitchen Hub Micro.” Unless it isn’t. Also, GE’s PR department couldn’t be bothered to actually upload a photograph of what the new system looks like. They re-used the photo from the 2018 launch instead. The photo below is from Cnet:

This is also the first time I’ve heard the term “full-service kitchen experience” used to describe an appliance with Netflix, Spotify, integrated cameras, and photo sharing. I’ve clearly missed some back issues of Panopticon Quarterly, not to mention Bon Appétit.

There appears to be virtually zero technical information available on the current or next-gen Kitchen Hub as relates to their technical specifications or Android capabilities. One of the product reviews on GE’s website for the original Kitchen Hub notes that the unit doesn’t ship with any kind of user manual that covers these functions. Both Kitchen Hubs are touchscreen-enabled and have an integrated speaker, but there’s no mention of Bluetooth support. That’s a meaningful feature omission in a situation like this. If you’ve spent any time in a kitchen, particularly a “full-service kitchen experience” sort of kitchen, you’re aware that kitchens can be rather loud. Dishwashers, microwaves, certain types of food prep, and running water all make their own contributions to ambient noise. Bluetooth integration isn’t a ridiculous feature to want in a device intended to operate in what is likely the loudest room of the house when in full use.

I actually can see a use for an appliance like this; it’s just not a happy one. If your life keeps you trapped in a kitchen to the point that you can’t ever get a moment to watch a movie or TV show, having a TV in the kitchen might be nice. This hardware seems purpose-built for stressed homemakers of considerable means who never get to leave the kitchen and people who seek cooking validation via social media. I can’t even tell if those are overlapping niches or not.

We don’t have any information on what kind of Wi-Fi solution the new Kitchen Hub will use. There seem to be three options here: It’s a dual-band solution that switches to 5GHz mode to use Wi-Fi while the microwave is running, the unit is shielded well enough internally to prevent interference with a Wi-Fi chip installed in the same enclosure, or the microwave can’t stream while it’s also cooking food. GE hasn’t disclosed anything on the Wi-Fi at this time.

Finally, the “next gen Kitchen Hub Micro” is a 1.9-cubic-foot microwave. The least expensive 1.9-cubic-foot microwave available on is a $250 Samsung model. I’m not claiming that’s the cheapest 1.9-cubic-foot microwave around, but it gives you some frame of reference for what a microwave of that size costs if you take it off the shelf. Is Netflix and camera integration worth $950? Certainly not to me. But the fact that the hardware is getting a second generation implies that at least somebody bought the first one.

The feature image for this story is the older Kitchen Hub, not the new “next gen Kitchen Hub.” ET regrets the fact that GE PR deliberately provided an inaccurate picture of their own product without disclosing this fact.

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January 8th 2020, 4:15 pm

ET Deals: 16 Percent Off iPad 10.2-Inch, AMD Ryzen 5 2600 For $114.99, Samsung 860 EVO 1TB SSD For $


Christmas is over, but why not treat yourself to a new iPad? Apple’s 2019 iPad with 128GB of storage is available now from Amazon with a 16 percent discount.

Apple iPad 2019 10.2-Inch 128GB ($359.00)

The new 2019 iPad features the company’s A10 processor that first debuted in the iPhone 7 at the end of 2016. Although that makes this tablet’s hardware a few years old, you get get the performance of this former flagship with a large high-def screen and with 128GB of storage space. Right now you can get one from Amazon marked down from $429.00 to $359.99.

AMD Ryzen 5 2600 Processor w/ Wraith Stealth Cooler ($114.99)

AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600 has six SMT enabled CPU cores that can operate at a speed of up to 3.9GHz. This processor also has access to 19MB 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 Amazon currently for just $114.99, which is a huge 42 percent drop from its regular retail price of $199.00.

Samsung 860 Evo 1TB M.2 SATA-III SSD ($119.00)

Samsung’s 860 Evo SSDs utilize the SATA-III interface. This makes these drives slower than competing NVMe drives, but with data rates up to 550MB/s, this drive is still relatively fast and will run circles around any HDD. This model also has a large 1TB storage capacity. Currently, you can get one of these from Amazon marked down from $199.99 to $119.00.

Featured Deals

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January 8th 2020, 4:15 pm

Browse The Web Anonymously On Up To 10 Devices w/ VPN Unlimited


Whether you’re using public Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or your own home network, you can never be too safe from hackers and identity thieves. That’s why we recommend a VPN service to keep your browsing habits and data truly anonymous while online. If you want to protect your entire family’s devices from online threats, look no further than VPN Unlimited’s Infinity Plan, which offers coverage for 10 devices for $59.

VPN Unlimited by Keepsolid is a VPN service that uses AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data while browsing the web. Not only will you be able to mask your browsing habits from your ISP or from hackers, but you’ll also be able to access geographically restricted websites and streaming services from anywhere in the world. VPN Unlimited also touts a zero log policy, so you can rest assured that your data is safe.

With VPN Unlimited, you’re given unparalleled customization when choosing VPN protocols. You can choose between IKEv2, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec or KeepSolid Wise depending on the balance of protection and speed that you’re looking for. This plan can cover up to 10 devices, so you can protect your family’s laptops, phones, tablets, and desktop computers all in one service.

Countless hackers and shady organizations are vying for your private information, so browsing the web in 2020 with a VPN is an absolute must. You can get a VPN Unlimited Infinity Plan on sale today for $59, or 88 percent off.

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January 8th 2020, 3:28 pm

CES 2020 Limo for One: BMW Renders the i3 Into an Urban Suite


LAS VEGAS – Take a BMW i3 electric vehicle, reconfigure it so there’s room for just one passenger with NBA-length legs, and you’ve got the BMW i3 Urban Suite Concept. As in a suite in a hip, boutique city hotel. The car uses medium-blue fabrics, nicely grained woods without a hint of high-gloss varnish, a drop-down infotainment screen, and a sliding ottoman for the passenger’s legs. It works because there is no right front seat (gone) or left rear seat (replaced by a wood shelf with a mushroom lamp on top).

The BMW Urban Suite is a placeholder for i3-successor EVs coming in a year or so. Urban Suite also software that could help create a public or private ride-hailing service in the same fashion as Uber or Lyft. At the same time, BMW was showing, at CES 2020 this week, the kinds of ideas that go into future BMWs designed for use in and around cities. That includes the interior furnishings of future cars, and infotainment that will come from 4G and soon 5G in-car service. At a press conference Tuesday, BMW with infotainment partner Samsung vowed that it would be the first to deploy 5G in cars, by 2021.

BMW Urban Suite i3 crusing the Las Vegas Strip. The exterior is the same, along with the dashboard and driver’s suite. The rest is pure luxury-for-one.

From the outside, the Urban Suite i3 looks like a regular i3 with a slick multi-tone paint job, the words “Urban Suite,” and a car number. The i3 is BMW’s first mass-production EV and helped BMW pioneer carbon fiber production techniques. It has been available since 2014. BMW suggests the i3 is best in its pure EV form with a range of up to 153 miles (100 on early models). But about half of i3’s sold in the US had a range extender, a small gasoline engine with a small gas tank that doubled the range. An i3 you can buy is about $50,000, which means it costs more and has less range than the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

The Urban Suite has room for one passenger / any size, a sliding footrest, a table and lamp, and a traditional driver’s seat.

Table and lamp next to the passenger.

The i3 you cannot buy – the Urban Suite Concept – is a whole different vehicle. It has been reconfigured to bring to mind, BMW says, “the relaxed feel of a boutique hotel.”

The Urban Suite is done up with the environment in mind. Recycled materials go into the fabric – not leather – upholstery. The woods are from certified forests. What leathers there are, are olive-tanned. The “circular economy” floor mats also come from recycled materials that can be recycled again at end-of-life. Of course, BMW had circular-economy, recyclable mats a generation ago in the form of sisal mats (sisal is made from the agave plant) that lasted forever but shed like crazy.

The author stretched out for a late-night cruise on Las Vegas Boulevard.

BMW Urban Suite ride-hauling app.

BMW converted a couple dozen i3’s into Urban Concept cars and brought them to Las Vegas for demo rides and as a private Lyft / Uber-style ride-hailing service. The sole passenger has lots of space, legroom and headroom both, since the seatback is canted backward into a slight recline. (In the mainstream i3, the back seat is snug. The car is five inches shorter than a Honda Fit.) A largish LCD display pivots down to provide entertainment from your own device, or streamed via BMW Connect, its telematics and emergency assist cellular network.

It was nice to see an upscale car where the wood is not overly processed with multiple layers of varnish. One problem with high-gloss wood and high-tech chemistry is that in some cars, you just don’t know if that’s wood or plastic under the layers of gloss.

Were this a real – on-sale – vehicle, the market would be pretty clear-cut: an executive, rock star, maybe celebrity chef, who wants to be driven about town, solo, in an environmentally sound manner. The car’s 157-inch length makes it easy to carve through traffic and also easy for the driver to find a place to park and wait. This is not the car for clubbing because if you pick up a date, they’ll have to go in a separate car. Or ride on your lap, because the table lamp on the wood bench is fixed in place.

With no new cars to announce at CES this year, BMW used the show to talk about the future of luxury transportation and the concept of spacious seating in cars that might not have steering wheels or other controls. At the BMW stand, the company showed the BMW i Interaction Ease concept, meaning full-width seats with footrests that go from semi-inclined to more inclined, touch-sensitive areas for issuing or confirming commands, and LED lights that, ah, light up to provide relaxing colors, or confirm a command. A variant may well be announced within the year on an EV or electrified (plug-in hybrid) BMW.

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January 8th 2020, 3:11 pm

Astronomers Fretting as SpaceX Ramps Up Starlink Launches


A few years ago, SpaceX started landing Falcon 9 rocket boosters so frequently that it stopped being a major event. Now, the same is starting to happen with the company’s Starlink satellite launches. The launch of 60 new satellites this week has made SpaceX the single largest commercial satellite operator in the world, and it could soon have more satellites than all other operators combined. That has astronomers nervous.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk envisions a day when people all over the world will be able to get internet access via the company’s Starlink satellite network. Satellite internet already exists, but the bandwidth and latency are awful compared with any other modern connectivity method. Starlink is designed to avoid those shortcomings, but it’ll take a lot of satellites to get there. 

Starlink satellites are small and easy to produce en masse, and importantly, SpaceX can fit 60 of them in one of its Falcon 9 rockets. Having its own reusable rockets makes deployment much less expensive, giving it a sizeable advantage over other companies that want to launch mega-constellations. After the most recent launch, SpaceX has almost 180 Starlink satellites in orbit, and there are only about 2,100 total active satellites in space. In the space of a few months, SpaceX has become the largest satellite operator in the world, and it plans to send up more batches of satellites every few weeks. In total, it’s approved to launch 12,000, and it wants even more. 

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

Astronomers have expressed concern about having so many satellites in orbit, and we’re already seeing some negative impacts. Astronomer Clarae Martínez-Vázquez from the CTIO observatory in Chile recently shared a series of images that may become commonplace for other astronomers. During an observation of the Magellanic Clouds, a cluster of Starlink satellites zipped through the frame, leaving bright streaks that obscured the distant galaxies. The team estimates it lost 15-20 percent of the observational data. 

The bright lines crossing the image are the tracks left by Starlink satellites.

These satellites will eventually move into higher orbits where they are less visible, but SpaceX plans to launch more every few weeks. Astronomers worry that thousands of new objects in the sky will be a problem for everyone regardless of their orbits. “You’ll see the sky crawling,” according to Tony Tyson from the University of California Davis. 

SpaceX says it has taken measures to reduce the reflectivity of its satellites, but that may not be enough. The unfortunate truth is any measures SpaceX takes are entirely voluntary. There is no national or international law protecting optical astronomy, and that could spell trouble as the skies become ever more crowded.

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January 8th 2020, 1:28 pm

Intel Talks Foldable Laptops,5G, Xe, and Tiger Lake at CES 2020


There were several announcements at the tail end of Intel’s CES keynote that I want to round up. While the company didn’t give a great deal of information about any of them, the topics are worth rounding up collectively.

First up, Tiger Lake. This is the follow-up to Intel’s 10nm+ Ice Lake and it’s built on the 10nm++ process node. Intel didn’t provide any performance data for the CPU, but promised “double-digit” performance improvements compared with the previous generation. Unfortunately, it’s not clear which products he’s comparing against. The 10th Generation CPU family contains 14nm six-core CPUs clocked at 1.1GHz base – 4.7GHz boost as well 10nm quad-core CPUs with much higher IPC but reduced clock speed (1.3GHz base, 3.9GHz boost).

It’s not clear if Tiger Lake’s performance improvements will come from further IPC gains or higher clocks, but Intel’s later versions of a node have previously offered substantially higher clocks than the initial flavors. 14nm++ hit much higher clocks than Intel’s original 14nm, and it’s possible that 10nm++ will restore some of the frequency Intel gave up when it shifted from Coffee Lake (14nm++) to Ice Lake (10nm+).

Tiger Lake CPUs will use Intel’s Xe graphics, while some of the company’s notebooks are expected to ship with its first dGPU, the Intel DGX1. The company showed off a prototype foldable 17-inch laptop (Horseshoe Bend), alongside foldable designs from Dell and Lenovo. Intel claimed that Tiger Lake is “coming soon,” but didn’t provide a launch date.

Photo by PCMag

Project Athena designs are expected to grow dramatically, with more than 50 devices certified by the end of 2020, including certification for dual-screen devices. Chromebooks are also allowed to get in on the Project Athena action, and both Asus and Samsung showcased devices that comply with the standard. Project Athena laptops meet aggressive targets Intel has set for app launches, boot time, and system wake-up, along with optimized power/performance capabilities to maximize system responsiveness while sacrificing a minimal amount of battery life. One of Intel’s specific announcements involved 5G: While Intel is out of that market in terms of its own modem business, it’ll team up with MediaTek to launch 5G-equipped laptops before the end of the year rather than in 2021.

Intel and AMD took dramatically different approaches to their discussions of mobile products at CES this year. AMD’s keynote emphasized the various improvements the company had made to the silicon inside the Ryzen Mobile 4000 series, while Intel’s discussions of mobile emphasized partner relationships and product launches. This reflects the relative market strength of each company, at least to a certain extent. AMD has always been weakest in mobile, which is why winning a Surface Laptop design with Microsoft was such a big deal for the company. The biggest gains for Intel with Tiger Lake are likely to be on the GPU side, where a Xe-derived GPU with 96 EUs will offer significantly more performance than the 64 EUs of Gen 11 graphics inside Ice Lake.

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January 8th 2020, 10:09 am

Bluetooth Announces LE Audio to Fix Everything You Hate About Bluetooth


Bluetooth is getting a significant feature update with the new LE Audio standard announced by the Bluetooth SIG at CES this week. Bluetooth LE Audio is intended to fix a number of issues that make the feature less capable and flexible than it ought to be while simultaneously improving audio quality.

First up: improved audio quality. Up until now, Bluetooth has used the SBC codec, described as “designed to obtain a reasonably good audio quality at medium bit rates while keeping low computational complexity.” Translation: It’s not very good. The new LC3 codec substantially improves audio quality while keeping bitrate low. If I had to guess, I’d guess that the codec is now a bit more compute-intensive than the last — we saw H.265 make a similar trade vis-à-vis H.264. At 160Kbps, every listener preferred the newer codec, but LC3 commanded a majority even at 345Kbps encoding.

Bluetooth LE Audio will natively support multi-stream audio. Right now, when your phone sends a Bluetooth signal to a pair of earbuds, the signal only gets sent to one earbud, which is then responsible for relaying the signal to the other earbud. If you’ve ever noticed that one of your earbuds tends to drain before the other, this would be the reason why — one earbud is working as a transmitter and receiver, while the other is only receiving. With multi-stream audio support, that problem is gone. This may help with audio latency; LE Audio won’t need to use software tricks to make the audio in your ears synchronize properly.

Another added benefit of multi-stream support is that multiple people will be able to tune into the same broadcast you are. This feature is called Broadcast Audio and allows audio streams to be shared with multiple people. A Bluetooth SIG representative told The Verge that hearing aid owners who attend a movie theater would be able to synchronize their hearing aids with the film.

“Location-based Audio Sharing holds the potential to change the way we experience the world around us,” said Peter Liu of Bose Corporation and member of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors. “For example, people will be able to select the audio being broadcast by silent TVs in public venues, and places like theaters and lecture halls will be able to share audio to assist visitors with hearing loss as well as provide audio in multiple languages.”

Formal support for hearing aids is being added to the LE Audio standard and the Bluetooth SIG sees this as an opportunity to integrate Bluetooth support into more products like televisions. Some of these features are places where Qualcomm and Apple have introduced their own innovations (Qualcomm with its AptX codec, Apple with the W1 processor that creates a better pairing experience), but the SIG is making them formal components of the standard.

The downside to this flurry of activity is that it’ll likely mean new devices to be purchased, and support won’t come soon. The LE Audio standard is going to roll out across the first half of 2020, which means we probably won’t see supporting devices until the holidays this year (best-case) or, more likely, early 2021.

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January 8th 2020, 9:09 am

NASA’s TESS Satellite Spots Its First Potentially Habitable Earth-Like Exoplanet


NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has been scanning the sky for more than a year, and it’s spotted numerous potential exoplanets. The latest discovery might be the most exciting yet, though. NASA reports that TESS has identified a planet about 100 light-years away that appears to be Earth-sized and in its star’s habitable zone

The planet in question, TOI 700 d, is one of three that orbit the star TOI 700. This is a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the galaxy. It’s 40 percent smaller than our sun and only half as warm. All three of its planets orbit very close, but TOI 700 d is just barely far enough away to be in the habitable zone. That’s not a judgment of its actual surface conditions — we don’t know that yet. However, it could be capable of supporting liquid water on the surface. 

TESS is a followup to the Kepler Space Telescope, using the transit method to scan for possible exoplanets. It observes large patches of the sky for several weeks at a time, recording any momentary dip in luminance that could indicate a planet passed in front of the star. Through repeated observation, scientists can confirm the approximate size and orbit of a planet. 

The problem with TIO 700 was that astronomers initially had the star’s parameters wrong. We thought it was more like our sun. However, after correcting that error, the size and temperature of its planets dropped considerably. The TESS team now believes TOI 700 d only 20 larger than Earth. The innermost planet (TOI 700 b) is almost precisely the same size as Earth, but it’s blazing hot. The middle world is a gas giant between Earth and Neptune-size. All three planets are most likely tidally locked to the star, so the same face is always pointing sun-ward. 

NASA turned to the Spitzer Space Telescope to confirm the TESS readings on TOI 700 d. The follow-up observations with Spitzer showed the exact transits predicted by TESS, and the team then confirmed again with the ground-based Las Cumbres Observatory network. TOI 700 d completes an orbit of TOI 700 every 37 Earth days, and it gets about 86 percent as much sunlight as Earth because of the dimmer red dwarf. 

TOI 700 d is one of precious few Earth-sized exoplanets in habitable zones. Its nearness could make it an excellent target for future studies using ground-based telescopes. The upcoming (but chronically delayed) James Webb Space Telescope could also reveal important new details about this potentially Earth-like exoplanet.

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January 8th 2020, 8:23 am

CES 2020 Shocker: Sony’s Concept Car Showcases Sony (Of Course) Tech


LAS VEGAS – Nobody saw this coming. Sony, the company that used to define the old Consumer Electronics Show, this year at CES rolled out affordable 8K TVs, immersive audio, PS5 (logo only, gaming console to follow) … and an electric concept car. This is the Sony Vision-S.

Vision-S was created, quietly and with zero publicity, as a testbed for the various sensors and infotainment systems from Sony that can be used in passenger cars. Sony is looking for more sales, and more respect, for the automotive technology it has. Sony (and Bose and the rest of the car audio industry) has been brushed aside by the Samsung-Harman juggernaut that sells multiple suites of safety and advanced driver-assistance systems, infotainment systems, and flat panel displays.

The Sony Model S. Actually, Sony Vision-S. It looks like a Tesla from many angles.

The concept car, which is roadworthy, uses the now-common skateboard concept with the heavy batteries as a slice at the bottom of the vehicle, improving stability. The car has 33 sensors total embedded in the car, including CMOS and Time-of-Flight sensors, the latter to detect and recognize passengers in the cabin and their location relative to the nearest Sony screen. Other sensors track vehicles and pedestrians outside the car.

Nearly edge-to-edge Sony (of course) LCD display. That’s a side camera mirror just inside the passenger window.

The front seats gaze out on a Byton-like, width-of-the-cabin flat panel LCD screen in the dashboard. (It pretty much is the dashboard.) We assume Sony will deal with distracted-driver rules the same way Byton does: Not allow video to play when the car is in motion. Or it could use the Sharp-developed technology that orients alternating pixels on the screen in front of the passenger so either the driver view is blacked out when the car is under way, or the driver sees a non-video image.

Every seat gets its own set of speakers.

Sony says it builds a set of speakers into the headrest of each seating position (four in this vehicle). Sony calls it 360 Reality Audio that provides a “deep and immersive experience … to encapsulate passengers in sound.” It also means the driver could get navigation or safety prompts that only the driver hears.

Sony Vision S top cutaway.

Headrest speakers dating back a generation were installed in Recaro aftermarket sport seats. More recently, the Nissan Kicks subcompact SUV places Bose UltraNearfield speakers in the driver headrest so he or she gets different audio and audio shaping from the rest of the passengers, or the headrest speakers can be switched to be part of the entire cabin experience.

The car looks good. The skateboard design shows serious work by Sony and partners. For now, though, it appears to be more of a way for a handful of those road-worthy EVs to test and showcase Sony electronics, displays, sensors and head unit/speaker technology so Sony can regain traction as a technology supplier to the auto industry.

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January 7th 2020, 6:58 pm

ET Deals: Microsoft Surface Pro 7 w/ Type Cover for $769, Seagate FireCuda 2TB SSHD for $59, Dell XP


Today you can get Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 tablet with over $200 knocked off its retail price.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Intel Core i5 12.3-Inch Tablet w/ 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD and Type Cover ($769.98)

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 tablet features a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, which gives it excellent performance for a tablet. The tablet also comes with a type cover that lets you use the tablet as a PC, and the whole system weighs in at just 1.7 pounds. Amazon is currently selling the Surface Pro 7 marked down from $1,029.99 to just $769.98.

Seagate FireCuda 2.5-Inch 2TB SSHD ($59.99)

Seagate’s FireCuda SSHD offers a balanced compromise between an HDD and an SSD. It packs in a large 2TB capacity with an 8GB SSD NAND chip. Its read/write performance can’t compete with an SSD and lags behind at 210MB/s, but frequently accessed files get transferred to the SSD chip and will load significantly faster as a result. Right now you can get this drive from Amazon marked down from $94.99 to $59.99.

Dell XPS 13 9380 Intel Core i7-8565U 13.3-Inch 1080p Laptop w/ 8GB LPDDR3 RAM and 256 GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($849.99)

Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-8565U quad-core processor and a 1080p display. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 21 hours on a single charge. Right now you can get it from Dell marked down from $1,299.99 to $849.99 with promo code 50OFF699.


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January 7th 2020, 4:38 pm

AMD’s Ryzen 9 3990X 64-Core CPU to Cost Just $4,000, Launches Feb. 7


I don’t normally write “just” and “$4,000” in the same sentence. Most of the time, particularly in the CPU market, that kind of pricing is a contradiction in terms. At CES 2020, AMD announced that its upcoming 64-core CPU, the 3990X, will have a price tag of just $4,000.

To say that this undercuts Intel would be an understatement. The top-end Intel HEDT CPU you can purchase, the Core i9-10980XE, is $1,000 and packs 18 cores. A 2S Intel system built around the Xeon Platinum 8280 would offer 56 cores but has a sticker price of $20,000 just for the CPUs. AMD isn’t just undercutting Intel; they’re practically giving their top-end CPU away by comparison.

The 3990X has a 2.9GHz boost, a 4.3GHz max turbo, and an unknown all-core turbo (expected to be in the low-to-middling 3GHz territory). Scaling, at least in Cinebench, isn’t expected to be as good from the 32-core to 64-core mark, as shown below:

AMD’s claimed performance of ~25K is nearly 1.5x higher than the 3970X, but Cinebench has typically shown stronger scaling than this. Then again, we’ve never tested the application on this many cores, either. It’s possible that the poor scaling is just related to the application not addressing that many cores properly. There would be some historical precedent for this; Cinebench R10 scaled worse than R15, which was updated to provide better support for higher core count CPUs, among other things. It isn’t clear, in other words, if we should treat a 1.5x scaling gain as typical for the platform, and vendor benchmarks are always best taken with a grain of salt.

With just four RAM channels to feed 64 cores, the 3990X is more memory bandwidth constrained than the Ryzen 9 3950X is on AMD’s desktop platform, but the 3950X proved capable of running just fine with two memory channels.

Chips are set to ship on Feb. 7, which is earlier than I would have expected. AMD is recommending at least 64GB of RAM for these chips, but 128GB or 256GB might be more appropriate for relevant workloads, depending on how you intend to use it. The CPU will support DDR4-3200, but can technically be overclocked — though how the IMC will fare handling that much RAM is an open question. DDR4-3600 might be possible, though, and that would give the CPU an extra 1.13x memory bandwidth. If the CPU does suffer from bandwidth constraints, we should be able to test for it by checking performance against RAM clock relative to other CPUs in the Zen 2 family.

It’s not clear if there’s a Threadripper market for $4,000 CPUs outside of people who would just buy an Epyc to start with. But as a halo product, the 3990X offers a core count Intel can’t remotely match right now.

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January 7th 2020, 4:22 pm

Razer’s Tomahawk N1 Is a Compact Gaming PC Based On Intel’s Latest NUC


Credit: Zlata Ivleva/PCMag

A powerful gaming PCs used to require a massive tower enclosure, but small form factor PCs are now commonplace. Intel’s latest Next Unit of Computing (NUC) barebones platform could unlock a new era in tiny gaming computers, along with some help from Razer. The company’s new Tomahawk N1 pairs the NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element with a full-sized graphics card for a remarkably small but powerful system

The entire Tomahawk system has a volume of just 10 liters — it’s easy to confuse this device for an external GPU enclosure, but there’s a whole computer inside. Razer plans to offer various configuration options with up to a Core i9 processor, 64GB of DDR4 RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super. The CPU is a laptop part, but these are the most powerful 45W variants. The system also has an impressive array of I/O options including 6 USB 3.1 ports (USB-A), two Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C), dual ethernet ports, and all the display ports you’d usually find on an Nvidia GPU. 

Credit: Zlata Ivleva/PCMag

This system features a standard desktop graphics card on one side of the case. On the other side, you have the Intel NUC card. The GPU slides into the Tomahawk like any standard ATX case, so you’ll be able to swap cards whenever you want. The RAM, SSD, and NUC card are all upgradeable, too. 

The Tomahawk N1 has an all-aluminum case with tempered glass panels on both sides, allowing you to see the hardware packed inside. The GPU fills almost the entire window, driving home how compact this system is. This case and the bundled hardware are the selling point of Razer’s offering. Intel will begin selling the NUC 9 Extreme in March, but you’ll have to add your own memory, storage, OS, and GPU. Razer’s Tomahawk N1 comes with everything you need, and it fits larger GPUs. 

Credit: Zlata Ivleva/PCMag

2020 might be the first time NUCs are a viable option for gaming, lowering the barrier to entry and saving space at the same time. However, these boxes won’t be cheap. Intel’s hardware will start at $1,050 for a Core i5 variant. Razer will include more components, along with that slick custom case, so the price will be much higher. The company hasn’t settled on a price, but it’s apparently floating $2,300 starting. There’s no timeline for release, but that just means more time to save your pennies.

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January 7th 2020, 2:52 pm

Behind the Scenes Wtih Aptiv’s Self-Driving Car Nerve Center at CES 2020


As fun as it is to get a ride in a self-driving car (even if it does have a safety driver) there are only so many times that is exciting enough to write about. So, for a change, Aptiv, a leading automotive component supplier and innovator in self-driving technology, offered me a behind-the-scenes tour of their Las Vegas Technical Center instead of another test ride. Their LVTC is responsible for both the overall operation of the extensive fleet of autonomous vehicles it operates with Lyft in Las Vegas and working on the portions of the underlying technology.

To put this in context, for nearly two years Lyft customers have been able to opt-in to getting a self-driving car to ferry them around Las Vegas — in lieu of a more traditional vehicle. So it is a real, commercial service. It is limited to certain drop-offs and pick-up points (3,400 currently, with Aptiv announcing here at the show that it will begin testing the addition of the airport to that list), but is one of the largest and longest-running commercial deployments anywhere.

Starting my tour of the Aptiv Tech Center in Las Vegas.

Aptiv Garage: If Taxi Companies Invested This Much, We Might Not Have Uber

With room for 130 vehicles, the air-conditioned, spotless Aptiv garage is a testament to the level of investment autonomous vehicle companies are making in operations. It includes a full-calibration lab space, where vehicles are placed on a turntable and have their 20 or more lidar, radar, and camera sensors calibrated every 6 to 8 weeks or after the vehicle suffers damage or hits a large pothole. That’s something to think about before you get too far ahead of yourself wishing for a Level 4 car in your garage. Stalls all have drops for data feeds to pull the massive amount of information generated by each car into the site’s 5-petabyte data center and out through a 10Gbit data link to the company’s other R&D centers as needed. A row of car chargers stands ready for when the new hybrid Pacificas enter the fleet.

Aptiv’s Operation Center: High-tech Fleet Management

Backing up the fleet of 30 or more self-driving cars on the road — 2 shifts a day, 7 days a week — is a state-of-the-art operations center that monitors and can help position the cars. When I visited, there were about 10 people and about 30 computer and TV screens. I wasn’t allowed to photograph there, but the wall-size TVs showed current statistics, a map of locations of the current fleet, and from time to time a real-time video feed from the dashcam or dashboard readout of a specific car. Behind the operations center are extensive employee facilities, including a training center where safety drivers spend half of their first 6-8 weeks with the company learning the ropes (the other half is spent learning and training on the road).

Generations of Aptiv’s Autonomous Driving Research Vehicles

On display at the Tech Center are several generations of Aptiv’s test platforms. Each one is sleeker than the previous one. The Audi-based cars were the first to drive coast-to-coast nearly autonomously (Aptiv says 99 percent). They gave way to the BMW platform that demo riders are familiar with. Impressively, both vehicles look more-or-less normal, while hiding 9-10 lidar, 9-10 radar, and multiple cameras. By using multiple lidar, they can all be tucked nicely away inside the outline of the car. No KFC bucket on the roof. There’s even a cool hidden radar on the BMW that reveals itself in situations when cross-traffic is particularly important.

I was able to see, but not photograph, Aptiv’s next-generation Pacifica-based platform. Like many other AV efforts, Aptiv chose the Pacifica for a couple of solid reasons. One, seemingly-trivial, is that the doors are all automated. No need to dispatch a tech to close the door after a forgetful passenger. And the Pacifica offers redundant control systems, which Aptiv considers a safety essential. The Pacificas will be tested this year, but Aptiv didn’t have a date for when they might be picking up passengers.

Aptiv showcases its previous two generations of test vehicles, but didn’t allow me to photograph the upcoming Pacifica-based platform

Aptiv’s Autonomous Joint Venture With Hyundai

There is no lack of enthusiasm within Aptiv for self-driving research, so it might be surprising that the company is spinning off its entire Level 4 – Level 5 AV program into a half-owned joint venture with auto giant Hyundai. I was able to spend some time with the CEO of the new company, Aptiv Mobility, Karl Iagnemma, and ask him about the joint venture and its future. For starters, he explained why the two companies teamed up. While Aptiv has been working in the area for over a decade, each new generation of test vehicles has to be essentially hand-crafted. To get to scale they needed an automotive partner that could create the necessary autos around the world. Hyundai’s 7.5-million-vehicle-per-year global presence fits that need well. So does its checkbook, which brings $2 billion ($1.6 billion of it in cash) to the joint venture.

In exchange, Hyundai gets a huge leap forward in its future technology stack. But Iagnemma stressed that the joint venture is an independent company, without any exclusive relationships with its parent companies, and will be looking for partners and customers across the industry. As far as timeline — always a thorny question for the self-driving industry — he sees fleet deployments continuing to scale. Aptiv is planning to start testing truly driverless vehicles on city streets later this year, followed by larger fleets of ride-hailed vehicles, but he doesn’t expect the component cost of the needed sensors and compute to be practical for consumer vehicles until around 2030. I also asked about the state of the company’s Lyft partnership. They told me that while Lyft was opening up its effort that Aptiv still hoped they would be a customer in the future.

Along with the timeline, one of the other tricky questions for the industry is the choice of sensor technology. I asked Iagnemma how he saw the sensor array evolving over time. Currently, he sees the need for multi-modal sensing (in this case lidar, radar, and cameras) to continue in the foreseeable future. Both for redundancy, and for complementary features in a variety of driving conditions (lidars can’t see red lights, for example, but cameras can’t see things that aren’t lit, etc.) One additional sensor type that the Aptiv fleet uses (besides the obvious GPS) is a pair of sensors that can listen to the traffic lights at 120 Las Vegas intersections. They serve as a fail-safe for the camera that is used for red-light detection.

So Are Level 4 Fleets Really the Future for Urban Ride-Sharing?

Given the billions invested by each of at least a dozen companies — Cruise investors alone have poured over $5 billion in current and committed cash along with promised services into its test fleet — the industry clearly foresees a time when fleets of Level 4 vehicles roam the streets of cities worldwide. I did my best to tease out some statistics from my Lyft tour guide to see how well fleets are doing in the real world. He said that vehicle efficiency was similar to regular, driver vehicles, and anecdotally, that trips using their self-driving cars weren’t noticeably slower than those with drivers (which is one knock on Cruise in San Francisco, where avoiding certain intersections and routes can add a lot of time to non-driver trips).

So far, Aptiv’s Lyft fleet has completed just over 95,000 trips in Las Vegas (the number was prominently displayed in the operations center). One of the things they’ve learned is that passengers are very curious about the technology, and that one of the major jobs of the second safety driver is answering passenger questions. They also said that passengers have been uniformly positive about the experience, although of course, it isn’t really a true driverless experience since they’re in the car with two drivers. My overall impression is that Aptiv Mobility is a well-thought-out, well-positioned effort to create practical fleet-based vehicles suitable for finite areas that can be mapped and monitored. It also positions both Aptiv itself and Hyundai for the eventual day when Level 4 autonomous vehicles become practical for consumers.

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January 7th 2020, 2:08 pm

Samsung’s Latest AI Project Is an Imaginary Keyboard for Your Phone


The typing experience on smartphones has gotten vastly better over the years, but typing with your thumbs will never be as fast as using a real keyboard. Samsung thinks it’s onto something with its latest Android feature, which it calls SelfieType. At CES, the company is demoing this AI-powered system that lets you type on an imaginary keyboard

SelfieType comes from Samsung’s C-Lab program, a sort of internal incubator that develops quirky technologies that may eventually find their way into real products. Samsung’s decision to announce SelfieType suggests that it’s relatively confident in its capabilities. I say “relatively” because Samsung does have a history of rolling out products and features before they’re ready. The Galaxy Fold is just the latest example. 

When you fire up SelfieType (assuming you ever get the opportunity), the phone activates the front-facing camera and begins watching your hands. SelfieType doesn’t rely on depth sensors or IR dot projectors to follow your fingers — it uses AI to map where each finger moves, allowing you to “mime” typing on a keyboard that doesn’t exist. As you tap the tabletop, the phone translates those presses to the on-screen keyboard. And like magic, you get the text on your screen.

The whole idea harkens back to the laser projector keyboard accessories that were all the rage about a decade ago. You can still buy one for about $30, but you shouldn’t. They’re slower and less accurate than any modern touchscreen keyboard. Plus, that’s another accessory to tote around. SelfieType at least has the advantage of being built into the device. In the video below, Samsung shows SelfieType working on several devices including a regular phone, a Galaxy Fold, and a tablet. 

It’s possible SelfieType will work better than you’d expect — we’ve seen neural networks do some very impressive things That said, it seems like typing on an invisible keyboard would be difficult even with perfect AI mapping. You will likely have to keep your hands in place, tied to a virtual home row that you can’t see or feel. On a phone, you can see the keyboard as you type, and haptics can provide some semblance of tactility. 

For now, SelfieType is just a demo. Samsung has made any promises about including it in future devices. Although, it could probably do so with a software update if it decides it’s ready for prime time.

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January 7th 2020, 1:18 pm

Personal Flying Cars Could Finally Become Reality With Japan’s Aeronext


LAS VEGAS – For decades, the flying car has stood out as a vision for the ultimate in consumer technology among geeks (well, along with the Iron Man-style jet pack). Early versions never got very far, as they relied on large, finicky, expensive, hybrid car-plus-plane designs — inevitably inviting the problem of needing folding wings. With the advent of mass-market drone technology, and the decreasing cost and increasing capacity of batteries and electric motors, it was just a matter of time before a personal flying car — or at least a personal flying drone — would be possible. Japanese drone startup Aeronext is the latest to take aim at that vision, with its announcement of the Flying Gondola here at CES 2020.

Aeronext’s Flying Gondola

The person-sized device uses an array of small rotors, like most drones. But it also has the benefit of the company’s patented 4D Gravity technology. In a clever variant of the common approach of putting drone cameras on a gimbal on the company’s drones (its main business is producing stable drones for industrial and commercial applications), 4D Gravity puts the entire drone payload on an actively-gimballed system that makes it independent of the rotors and motors.

The company is only showing a model here at CES, but the model does have the gimbal. The founders demonstrated to me that if the drone motors are tilted (which is necessary in order for most drone designs to steer, change speed, or deal with windy conditions), the cockpit stays level. At the very high end, commercial designs like the one Bell is showing off can rely on tilting motors and other expensive control systems, but for a consumer-friendly product, Aeronext thinks its approach will be much more practical.

Your First Flight Will Need to Be In an Amusement Park

Of course, along with the technical challenge of building a person-carrying drone, there are plenty of safety and regulatory hurdles. Aeronext’s CMO told me she thought that it might be about 10 years before we saw Flying Gondolas out in the wild, but in the meantime, the company is going after controlled environments like theme parks. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun to zip around the air, even if it would only be an amusement park ride. And drone designs are certainly safer and much easier to fly than traditional ultralights, but to make money I assume they’ll have to have a number in the air at once. The trick will be providing the thrill of airplane racing without the hazard of possible bumper cars in the sky.

For now, the company is hoping to license its 4D Gravity technology to drone makers in Japan, the US, and elsewhere, and that they’ll pay up to 10 percent of the price of their drones for a smooth ride.

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January 7th 2020, 12:34 pm

In This ‘Avatar’-Themed Mercedes-Benz, Two Hearts Beat as One


Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR

LAS VEGAS – The Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR, as in Avatar the movie (and director James Cameron showed up on stage), made an earth-friendly debut Monday night at CES 2020. It is the automaker’s view of a battery electric vehicle / autonomous vehicle ready for a sustainable future. AVTR stands for Advanced Vehicle Transformation.

There is a lot of way-out stuff in the car, such as 33 moving scales on the back. (What’s not in the car are side doors.) The AVTR recognizes the driver from his or her heartbeat and breathing, and gives an affirmational pulse on the seatback, as passenger and vehicle become a single “symbiotic organism.”

There is also an important technical advance: The Vision AVTR batteries would use graphene-based materials free from rare earth metals and would be compostable at end of life, according to Mercedes.

The front seats are almost hammock-like. The driver interacts with the center console (no steering wheel), which resembles something of a human figure from the waist down. (That’s what we see.)

Mercedes says the AVTR is “inspired by the world of Pandora [from the movie] … a completely new interaction between human, machine, and nature.” While it’s easy to make fun of some of the show-car excesses, such as the road wheels with spokes that light up, as if they were sourced from the SEMA aftermarket parts show held last fall, Mercedes is looking into how the car and passengers might complement each other. The person in the left-front seat, the former driver, no longer has the stress of dealing with traffic and deciding which motorists to flip off. So the car could soothe, massage, entertain, even educate the kids in back.

The commander, if not driver, of the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR interacts via the center console.

Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR

The complete AVTR manifesto – sorry, informational release – runs 10,200 words or 21 pages as a PDF. (Boomers, that’s a 34-page double-spaced term paper.)  We especially appreciated the description, toward the end, about kids in the car:

The Vision AVTR automatically detects when a family is on board and adapts accordingly in its functions. For example, the front seats are connected to the rear seat via the Child Connect function. Monitors can be used to monitor the well-being of the children in the rear by the parents at the front. As a further connection between the front seats and the rear, the pulse of the front passengers on the back of their seats is visualized by light. This gives younger inmates [that’s what it said, “inmates” – Ed.] in particular a sense of connectedness and security in the rear seats.

Moving flaps, or scales, on the back of the Vision AVTR.

There are serious technologies. The AVTR can crab-walk / drive sideways or at an angle. Imagine fitting into the tiniest possible parking space. It uses vegan microfiber fabrics for the seats. Any woods in the car, it goes without saying, are sustainably grown. Then there’s the battery:

Organic battery technology made of recyclable materials: For the first time, the Vision concept vehicle is using a revolutionary battery technology based on graphene-based organic cell chemistry that is completely free of rare earths and metals. The materials of the battery are compostable and therefore completely recyclable. In this way, electric mobility becomes independent of fossil resources. As a result, Mercedes-Benz underlines the high relevance of a future circular economy in the raw materials sector.

The wheel spokes light up in the concept vehicle

To each, his or her own. What may be futuristic to some may be an unusual styling, even odd, styling exercise. The aroma of weed permeates the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) these days, especially the pedestrian overpasses, and there is a good place to ponder the design and meaning of the vehicle:

Which central motif stands for the design? The world in harmony and symbiosis with nature are our guiding principles. We designed the showcar as a holistic system. Everything can be changed, and at the same time has an impact on the whole organism – or the car. Even the outer shape reflects this. It is still clearly recognizable as an automobile, but with many references to natural beings. We wanted to design a car that could connect seamlessly with its passengers. The user experience as a central element is comparable to a symbiotic organism. Our design philosophy of sensual purity is always the guiding principle – our aesthetic soul, so to speak.

Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR are sort of hammock-like, just as in the village of Pandora.

The Vision AVTR vehicle won’t be sold to consumers. (Would you buy a Mercedes with no side doors?) But as a styling exercise, it’s fun. And we’ll certainly see some elements come to market. It’s high time premium automakers offered more interior fabrics that weren’t formerly the outside of a farm animal. And we certainly can use vehicles that insulate occupants from the outside world.

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January 7th 2020, 11:03 am

Asus Unveils New 4K ROG Swift Gaming Displays


At CES, Asus unveiled two new high-end 4K gaming displays that will join its ROG Swift product line later this year. The more impressive of these new specimens is the ROG Swift PG32UQX, which features a mini LED backlight to minimize light bleeding and produce high contrast images.

The ROG Swift PG32UQX’s 4K panel measures 32 inches diagonally. Thanks to the mini LED backlight, Asus was able to create 1,152 local dimming zones spread across the panel. This enables the monitor to control the panel’s lighting with exceptional accuracy. In addition to reducing light bleeding, this also improves contrast between colors on-screen. Added to that is support for HDR 1400 content and coverage of 90 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut.

With such a well-rounded list of image-enhancing features, the ROG Swift PG32UQX comes off sounding more like a business-oriented display, and it’s overall similar in many ways to Asus’s ProArt PA32UCX. Don’t let you fool you though, as the ROG Swift PG32UQX also comes loaded with excellent gaming features. The ROG Swift PG32UQX operates at 144Hz and comes equipped with Nvidia’s G-Sync Ultimate technology to smooth out the image refresh rate.

With its wide range of high-end features, the ROG Swift PG32UQX should have excellent performance and image quality, but until we get the chance to test one first-hand we can’t say so for sure.

Asus didn’t disclose how much this monitor would cost, but it will likely be fairly expensive. The company’s similarly specced ProArt PA32UCX retails for around $3,999. That’s not to say the ROG Swift PG32UQX will cost the same, but it will likely be one of the more expensive 32-inch gaming displays when it is released.

Asus also announced the ROG Swift PG43UQ display, which is essentially an incremental update to the company’s 2019 ROG Strix XG438Q. The PG43UQ is almost identical to the XG438Q in terms of features. Both utilize 4K panels with a 120Hz refresh rate. The most notable difference between the two displays is the addition of support for AMD’s Display Stream Compression (DSC) technology in the new PG43UQ monitor. This helps to improve performance and image quality when gaming at 4K with high frame rates.

In my review of the ROG Strix XG438Q, I found it to be a highly competitive gaming solution thanks to its large 43-inch display panel, fast refresh rate, and relatively low price tag. Other large-format gaming displays such as HP’s Omen X Emperium 65 that costs $4,999.99 compared poorly with the ROG Strix XG438Q, but this was mostly due to the rather large difference in price.

Asus didn’t disclose the price for the ROG Swift PG43UQ display, however, which makes it difficult to weigh against existing products on the market. If it launches with a similar price as the $1,099 ROG Strix XG438Q, then it should serve as an even more competitive alternative to other large-format displays. If Asus pushes the price up too much, however, then it would likely be best to avoid the ROG Swift PG43UQ in favor of the ROG Strix XG438Q, as the differences between them are relatively small.

The ROG Swift PG43UQ will reportedly be available sometime in Q2, but we will have to wait until later in the year to get an exact launch date.

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January 7th 2020, 10:18 am

8-Core AMD Ryzen 4000 Mobile APUs Launching in Q1 2020 With 15W, 45W Chips


Headed into CES 2020, AMD was in an interesting position. The company is coming off what’s arguably its best year in the past two decades, with strong CPU launches in desktop, server, and workstation, the announcement of new Ryzen-based consoles (the PS5 and Xbox Series X), a new GPU architecture that competes much more effectively with Nvidia’s Turing cards, and new partnerships with data center and server companies. AMD’s Lisa Su has pledged to make 2020 an even bigger year for the company than 2019, before announcing the long-awaited Ryzen 4000 Mobile APU family.

Up until now, AMD’s mobile CPUs have been quad-core and dual-core parts. That’s changing on 7nm, with 8C/16T CPUs debuting in both 15W and 45W TDP brackets. The GPU, meanwhile, has been slimmed down — the Ryzen 4000 family will feature 8 or fewer GPU clusters, compared with up to 11 on the 12nm Ryzen 3000 family. According to AMD, changes to the process node will allow 8 CUs to outperform 11. The GPU is still based on Vega rather than utilizing RDNA, but AMD says it has enhanced the architecture for higher clocks and better IPC.

These new CPUs don’t use a chiplet design or a 14nm I/O die — the CPU and GPU are fully integrated. We’re not surprised to see AMD take this step — the benefits of closely coupling the CPU and GPU likely outweigh the drawbacks of moving the I/O and DRAM controllers down to 7nm, especially when space is at a premium. Here’s the 15W CPU family:

At the low end of the stack there’s the Ryzen 3 4300U, a 4C/4T chip with a base frequency of 2.7GHz, boost frequency of 3.7GHz, 2MB of L2, and just 4MB of L3. Assuming AMD has stuck with 64 cores per CU, this chip has a 320:?:? configuration (we don’t know how TMUs or ROPs scale with the number of GPU cores yet). At the high end, the 8C/16T Ryzen 7 4800U is capable of a respectable 4.2GHz boost clock with 4MB of L2, 8MB of L3, and 8 CUs clocked at 1750MHz.

Integrated GPU performance is typically memory bandwidth bound, so any improvements AMD has made to Vega’s efficiency will pay dividends here. The Ryzen 4000 family uses the same CCX concept as the other Ryzen CPUs AMD has launched, but offers just 4MB of L3 cache per CCX rather than 8MB. These CPUs support up to 64GB of LPDDR4X memory and the IF clock runs independent from RAM clock to allow the CPU to hit lower idle power states. AMD claims to have improved latency when entering and exiting idle states by 80 percent, allowing more of the CPU to power down when in idle mode.

AMD is making several different power and efficiency claims, including up to 2x improved performance per watt, attributed to 30 percent efficiency gains from the CPU and 70 percent process node improvements. Overall SoC power is down 20 percent. AMD’s 15W CPUs will have configurable TDP envelopes up to 25W, while its 45W CPUs will turbo up to 54W for short intervals.

The 45W CPUs have fewer CUs than the 15W chips and much higher base clocks. AMD claims that the lower number of CUs is because both chips are being used with dGPUs, but it’s also possible the company plans to launch a Ryzen 9 with higher turbo and a full GPU. Anandtech reports that AMD has actually built a custom APU for Asus, the Ryzen 7 4800HS, which offers 45W worth of performance in a 35W form factor. AMD is also announcing features like Smart Shift, which allocates power between the CPU and dGPU to ensure maximum performance. It’s not clear, however, which laptops will support Smart Shift right now (AMD claims a 1.1x improvement in The Division 2 and a 1.12x improvement in Cinebench).

These chips are expected to ship in Q1 2020, with actual OEM availability in the March-May timeframe. AMD and Intel have been in a rather odd position of late. Intel took 10nm into mobile first, while AMD launched 7nm for desktop and server. The upshot of this is that both companies have been competing against a leading-edge node with their own last-gen products. A head-to-head comparison of the AMD Surface versus the Intel Surface showed the Intel machine well ahead in many tests, but that’s a 10nm CPU compared with AMD’s 12nm APU built on GlobalFoundries’ process technology. Once the Ryzen 4000 series debuts, we’ll be able to see which company’s leading-edge design is better.

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January 7th 2020, 9:32 am

Origin’s New ‘Big O’ Packs PS4 Pro or Xbox One S, PC Into the Same Chassis


Origin PC has a new method of solving the PC-versus-console question — it’ll sell you both in the same chassis. When the company debuted the “Big O” last year, it was a proof-of-concept system that had an Xbox One, PS4, Switch dock, and PC all in the same chassis. The version the company has actually commercialized is a bit more practical, in that you have to choose which platform you want to incorporate — either a PS4 Pro or an Xbox One S “All Digital” Edition.

Streamer’s Paradise

The Big O can be used in console mode, PC mode, or both simultaneously, with separate HDMI ports for the GPU versus the disassembled console. In theory, it’s a perfect console for anyone who wants to stream from console to PC and output the video. Origin will sell you a 4K60-capable capture card if you want one, for another $489.

All of the provided images have been of the Xbox One S configuration.

The system is available with any CPU up to an Intel Core i9-9900KS, Core i9-10940X (14-core), Ryzen 9 3950X, or a Threadripper 3970X (32-core). Up to 4TB of SSDs, 32GB of RAM, and GPUs up to and including the RTX 2080 Ti can also be installed. The ability to play the console and PC simultaneously is one of those features that will come in very handy if you have a very specific use-case in mind for the system, and it’ll require some planning to take full advantage of, since you presumably want a large-ish display dedicated to both the PC and the PS4 Pro.

The Big O starts at $2,500 for the most basic option (Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, 1TB mechanical HDD, Core i5-9600K, 16GB of RAM, liquid cooling, a GTX 1660 GPU, 240GB SSD, and a 450W PSU). Upgrading to a PS4 Pro from the Xbox One S costs $146. That’s actually fairly good as far as the console itself is concerned; an Xbox One S All Digital is a $250 console and the PS4 Pro still has a $400 official MSRP. There’s no doubt that you’re paying a pretty hefty premium for both the console and the boutique build. But being willing to sign off and warranty a system like this is part of why people buy from boutiques in the first place. I can even see why a professional game streamer with limited space might prefer a setup like this, since you can literally handle both PC and PS4 game streaming on the same set of equipment.

The Big O is available to order now, with ship dates expected in 14-16 days. We’ll be curious to see if this experiment catches on with the market.

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January 7th 2020, 8:32 am

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold Is the First Foldable Windows Tablet


Mobile technology has been edging closer and closer to foldable displays for years, but 2019 was the first time foldables became a reality with the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the upcoming Moto Razr. Lenovo isn’t wasting any time joining the folding revolution. The company has revealed its new ThinkPad X1 Fold at CES — it’s a foldable Windows 10 tablet that will launch in the coming months for $2,500. 

This is not the first time Lenovo has demoed a foldable tablet. However, the previous prototypes felt like that — unfinished. The X1 Fold, as demoed at CES, is very close to the final piece of hardware that will ship later this year. 

When fully unfolded, the X1 Fold looks like your standard tablet with a 13.3-inch touchscreen that measures just 0.45-inches (11.4 millimeters). That’s thin for a Windows slate with an Intel chip. While Lenovo hasn’t made any promises, we expect this device to have one of Intel’s new Lakefield chips. The X1 Fold will also have 8GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage. Lenovo will also offer optional 5G connectivity. 

To make the display foldable, Lenovo had to go with an OLED panel. It has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, the same as Apple’s midrange iPads. The display folds down the middle, and the PC maker says it’s been working on the folding mechanism for several years. While there’s a crease down the middle of the screen, it’s reportedly not too noticeable in person. However, the display is plastic, so it’ll be more vulnerable to scratches than a glass screen. 

The ThinkPad X1 Fold will run Windows 10 Pro — Microsoft’s dual-screen and foldable-optimized Windows 10X won’t launch until later in 2020. The company’s Surface Neo will probably be the first computer to run that. Lenovo says the ThinkPad X1 Fold will get an update to 10X at a later date, but in the meantime, it’s added a few optimizations to Windows 10 for the form factor. For example, a taskbar icon can switch between full-screen and a dual-screen mode for pinning apps to the two halves of the display. 

There’s only so much you can do with Windows 10, though. The OS has a notoriously lousy touch optimization, and Lenovo seems to think people will want to use the on-screen keyboard — the computer can dock that on one half of the folding screen if you wish. The ThinkPad X1 Fold will come with a Bluetooth keyboard that attaches magnetically to the display, but it has a tiny trackpad. 

Lenovo expects to ship the ThinkPad X1 Fold around the middle of the year. The $2,500 starting price is steep, but let’s not forget the Galaxy Fold was only $500 less.

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January 7th 2020, 7:45 am

Byton Pushes M-Byte EV as First Smart Device on Wheels


LAS VEGAS – Byton kicked off the automotive part of CES 2020 with a reintroduction of its M-Byte electric SUV, providing details on production and sales plans, news of a developer program (you know, like it’s a $50,000 phone), and the names of partners who will provide streaming video and minute-by-minute weather updates.

CEO Daniel Kirchert said Byton has already produced several dozen M-Byte pre-production models at its Nanjing, China, factory. The company is on track to go into mass production by the middle of this year, Kirchert said, with deliveries to China this year, the US in 2021, and then Europe. Previously, Byton had forecast mass production by late 2019. That’s a slippage of two, maybe three quarters, but barely a hiccup compared with the legendary delays in Tesla-land.

Byton used CES 2018 to first introduce the M-Byte. This is the vehicle known for its 48-inch LCD strip across the width of the dashboard – yes, it’s going to be on the production vehicles, not just the concept vehicles – and there’s the possibility of multiple infotainment screens including the back seat. Sunday at CES, Kirchert said prices will range from mid-forties into the seventies for the “first smart device on wheels.” A half-dozen Byton executives extolled Byton’s ability to entertain driver and passengers, including a content-sourcing agreement with ViacomCBS. There’s one little catch: The cornucopia of video entertainment won’t happen in the front seat unless the car is parked. Sorry.

Byton’s 48-inch wall-to-wall screen. Here showing partner ViacomCBS’s content. Which disappears the minute you put the car in Drive. (It’s still available in the back seat.)

Branded Content Providers, App Dev Program

Byton wants to make the in-car experience the automaker’s difference-maker. (Yes, they all say that, but Byton wants to be the company that walks the walk.) Byton believes the time spent in the car could be a richer experience for passengers now, for drivers in the next decade as fuller autonomy arrives circa 2030. Sunday, it announced seven partners.

The big name is ViacomCBS plus Twine Access (which handles distributing infotainment to the front and rear displays as well as in-car connected devices) for the in-car theater experience, as Byton says. Occupants will be able to view, over 4G or 5G connections, curated content from the entertainment giant. It was amusing to see video snippets of 55-year-old David Spade (SNL, Police Academy 4) and even-older Tom Brady, but the video no doubt went together before the New England Patriots were taken down by the Tennessee Titans Saturday.

There’s also AccuWeather with real-time weather updates, possibly minute-by-minute reports on conditions ahead. Aiqudo provides voice control of apps. CloudCar provides “a cloud-based infrastructure.” Road.Travel allows for online trip booking. Xperi provides digital HD radio.

According to Ray Hopkins, president of US networks distribution for ViacomCBS, “The future of in-vehicle infotainment is an exciting opportunity to strengthen and extend our connection to our audiences within today’s fragmented media environment.” It remains to be seen how much car owners want to pay for access to some entertainment but not all that’s available, unless it’s easier to find, and targets the demographics of the adults, teens, and children in the car. In other words, if the automaker gives you a high-speed connection (M-Byte will have 4G then 5G cellular data), what more do you need, beyond perhaps better voice search that works well in the car? Byton notes that CloudCar delivers a range of apps.

Byton wants even more developers writing apps for the car, or porting them over. Sunday, Byton said it has released UX (user experience) design documentation along with app-development guidelines for partners and developers. It’s looking for offerings in the areas of entertainment, health, productivity, and e-commerce.

Being in a Byton, the company says, “make[s] spending time between journeys every bit as engaging as time spent on the road.” That is, the car is a home entertainment room when it’s parked. The big display is a single 48-inch diagonal panel. Panels do exist that twist the visual orientation so the viewer to the left sees one image and the viewer on the right sees a different image. Sharp invented the technology and Mercedes-Benz has offered it on higher-end vehicles. It is more costly and each image has half the resolution, since one viewer sees pixel 1, 3, 5, 7, etcetera, while the passenger sees pixels 2, 4, 6, 8 and so forth. The other option is the old-fashioned one: The front passenger connects his or her iPad to the car’s internet connection.

The cellular data connection will provide infotainment over-the-air updates, which may consist of engine/drivetrain updates and possibly greater self-driving capabilities, at least those possible with smarter software applied to the onboard cameras, sonar, lidar and radar hardware that ships initially. Byton’s will be delivered with a minimum of Level 2 autonomy, meaning a combination of lane centering on highways and full-range adaptive cruise control.

Electrify America will provide coast-to-coast charging services in the US.

Charging Partner, Home Energy Storage

Tesla has a mega-advantage with its nationwide Supercharger network and the off-and-on free-charging campaigns. Byton has chosen to partner with Electrify America, the biggest DC Fast Charging network in the US. By the time the first Byton arrives in the US, there will be 800 charging stations and 3,500 chargers. EA will also provide access to other charge sites via a single billing arrangement. Some of the Byton charging will be comped, but buyers should expect to foot the bill for much of their away-from-home charging.

Separately, Byton plans to offer its car batteries as home backup power. The batteries lose total capacity (and range) over several years. When they reach, say two-thirds to half of their original capacity, the car owner may not want the battery, but a bank of them can be put into a home wall of power (as Tesla does with Powerwall) and provide a day or two of backup power – not as much as a home generator, but enough to get through most blackouts.

Team Byton, a truly multinational group, on stage at the end of Sunday’s press conference.

Lots of EVs at CES (Who’s Going to Buy Them?)

Byton is not alone in choosing CES 2020 to make a big splash. The Car/Electronics Show, or so it seems, is awash in electric vehicles. Their optimism of their makers is good news. But a big question remains for these CES showcase companies and vehicles …

… and the question is: When will the US public shift over from combustion-engine vehicles to pure EVs? Final 2019 EV sales numbers are still coming in but, in the US, in 2018, total sales of non-Tesla battery electric vehicles (pure EVs) were just 50,000 units. In the first three weeks of January, Ford’s F-Series pickups outsold a full year of everybody-but-Tesla EVs.

With its 48-inch display, a team of executives from the US, Europe, and Asia, and solid funding, Byton may well be one of the EV makers with staying power. But it’s an uphill climb for everyone.

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January 6th 2020, 4:52 pm

ET Deals: Inspiron 3671 Desktop for $649, $20 off TurboTax Deluxe, 70-Inch Element 4K Roku TV for $4


Start 2020 off right by buying a new computer for your family. Dell’s Inspiron 3671 features a fast Intel Core i7 processor and can be picked up with hundreds of dollars knocked off the retail price.

Dell Inspiron 3671 Intel Core i7-9700 Desktop w/ 12GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD ($649.99)

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 like editing photos. You can get it now from Dell reduced from $879.99 to $649.99 with promo code 50OFF699.

TurboTax Tax Software Deluxe + State 2019 ($39.86)

Tax season is right around the corner, but if you act now you can get TurboTax’s Deluxe tax software with a $20 discount to help you with filing your federal and states 2019 taxes.

Elements E4SW7019RKU 70-Inch 4K HDR10 Roku Smart TV ($499.99)

Elements designed this large 4K TV with a 69.5-inch display panel that supports HDR10 to create high-quality images.  The TV also has a pair of 10W speakers built-in and it supports Roku’s software interface to make streaming your favorites online content quick and easy. Right now you can get one of these TVs from Walmart marked down from $798.00 to $499.99.

Featured Deals

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January 6th 2020, 4:52 pm

Nvidia and Asus Reveal First 360Hz G-Sync Gaming Monitor


Nvidia says a new generation of ultra-high refresh displays are coming, and Asus is on hand at CES with the first demo. The G-Sync Esports Displays will support 360Hz refresh, a significant increase over the previous top-of-the-line 240Hz technology. As the name implies, Nvidia is targeting professional and enthusiast Esports gamers with these displays, which will no doubt be very spendy. 

Most computer monitors run at 60Hz, meaning they update 60 times per second. Any frames higher than that are wasted, regardless of how powerful your computer may be. Frame rates that don’t match your display refresh can also cause “tearing” due to the mismatched update frequency. Monitor technologies like AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync solve the problem by synchronizing a higher display refresh to your FPS — usually maxing out at 100, 144, or 240Hz. 

The new Asus ROG Swift 360Hz features a 24.5-inch panel, but it’s only 1080p resolution. Having more pixels isn’t the priority here — this monitor and the ones that follow are intended to hit extremely high frame rates, and that’s easier at lower resolutions. Nvidia says it worked closely with Asus to implement its new G-Sync processor in the display. That’s what allows the panel to effectively display 360 frames per second in concert with the GPU’s output. It can update a frame once every 2.8 milliseconds, which is about six times faster than a regular 60Hz monitor. 

All games look better at high frame rates, but 360Hz is probably overkill for most titles. In fact, you might not even be able to render that many frames with any current GPU in a game like Red Dead Redemption 2. Competitive games like CS:GO and Overwatch, however, could benefit from extremely high frame rates. Eliminating a few milliseconds of display lag could help a player pull off a shot that they might otherwise miss. Still, you will need a powerful Nvidia GPU to reach 360fps in any game at 1080p.

Nvidia says the first pro gamer 360Hz monitors will hit the market later this year, with Asus being first out of the gate. We don’t know how much the monitor will cost, but existing 240Hz G-Sync panels of this size are around $300-500. This one will no doubt be even more expensive, further widening the gap between G-Sync and AMD FreeSync monitors. If you’re not playing CS:GO at a competitive level, you can probably go with a less expensive setup.

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January 6th 2020, 4:36 pm

Intel at CES 2020: 10nm++ Tiger Lake, Comet Lake-H, and an Upgradeable NUC on Tap


It’s CES 2020 and Intel is busy talking about its product lines for this year and beyond. We’ve got some updates for you on a variety of products. First up — Comet Lake-H, the high-end version of Comet Lake with support for CPUs drawing up to 45W.

According to John Burek at our sister site PCMag, Intel will offer a larger selection of 8C/16T CPUs with Comet Lake-H. Currently, Intel offers one CPU that hits a 5GHz boost clock with 8 CPU cores — the Core i9-9980HK. PCMag reports that the Core i7 H series will be capable of boosting to 5GHz, while the i9 variants will boost even higher. This is a bit of a surprise, given that no Intel desktop chip has pushed above 5GHz for boost clocks yet.

Intel didn’t give any details on what the CPU boost frequencies would be for multiple cores or which GPU solution would ship with the 45W CPUs. While we don’t expect to see Ice Lake’s GPU shipping on 14nm silicon, it’s possible that Intel has equipped these chips with Iris Plus graphics rather than the typical UHD 630 solution it shipped with 9th Gen.

NUC’s Go Upgradeable

Intel’s NUC’s have evolved from lightweight systems akin to a Mac Mini towards something considerably more flexible and powerful. The joint AMD – Intel effort for Hades Canyon produced a unique product: Intel CPU, AMD GPU, and the only integrated graphics solution that could ever claim to offer low-to-midrange dGPU performance with a straight face. With its new NUC, Ghost Canyon, Intel has made NUCs upgradeable for the first time. Ghost Canyon can be equipped with a 45W CPU peaking over 5GHz (likely one of the Comet Lake H chips we just discussed), contains its own power supply rather than relying on a separate unit like previous NUCs, and comes in a larger, 5L chassis:

Image by PCMag

The case is only large enough for a small graphics card, but this might not be a significant problem. Short GPUs like the Radeon Nano have become more popular, and multiple manufacturers now offer smaller card variants. Without knowing precise dimensions we can’t check to see how tight the requirements are, but we’d expect something along the lines of at least a 1650 Super and possibly a 1660 Ti to fit inside a case like this. More powerful cards aren’t out of the question depending on just how much room Intel provides within the chassis. This NUC is expected to be the first to support Intel’s Compute Element concept, which is intended to provide support for easier CPU upgrades by putting the CPU, chipset, and memory on the same module, which can then be upgraded.

Early Details on Tiger Lake

Finally, there’s Tiger Lake, Intel’s upcoming CPU built on the 10nm++ process and expected later in 2020. Intel has talked about Tiger Lake as a successor to Ice Lake in mobile and the CPU is believed to use the Willow Cove architecture. Intel has confirmed that TGL will use Xe graphics for its integrated GPU and that the platform will offer 3 “AI engines” for superior performance. More details on Tiger Lake are expected at CES this week. It’s not clear when we’ll see 10nm CPUs for desktop; the Tiger Lake parts we’ve heard about thus far are supposed to be quad cores, but Intel may simply be launching on mobile first before bringing the architecture into other segments.

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January 6th 2020, 3:48 pm

New Research Suggests Venus Still Has Active Volcanoes


While exploring the solar system, we’ve found evidence of volcanic activity on numerous planets and moons. However, Earth remains the only place in the solar system we know for certain is geologically active. Scientists have wondered if Venus might be active as well, but it’s hard to know with its soupy, acidic atmosphere. A new simulation of Venus suggests that the planet does indeed have active volcanoes hiding under all those clouds

Venus is generally considered Earth’s “sister planet,” but that association is based only on its size and density. Both planets are inside the potentially habitable zone of the sun, but the surfaces couldn’t be more different. While Earth has a pleasant oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and liquid water, Venus has an ultra-dense carbon dioxide atmosphere with clouds of sulfuric acid. The few space probes that have landed on Venus only operated for a short time before succumbing to the extreme conditions. 

Most of what we know about Venus comes from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, which used radar to map the surface. A decade later, in the 2000s, the ESA continued that work with Venus Express. That mission measured infrared light coming from the night side of the planet to determine its composition. The new study from the USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) doesn’t have any new data, but it draws new conclusions based on what we already know from those missions. 

From the Venus exploration missions, scientists know the planet has features like volcanoes and lava flows. However, the radar and infrared data doesn’t tell us if those are active. The LPI team created a simulation of Venus’ atmosphere that focused on how lava flows would change over time, and how that changes the interpretation of Magellan and Venus Express data. 

The team found that lava flows on Mars would change rapidly after cooling. Olivine, which is a common basalt rock, would not remain exposed to the atmosphere for long. In a matter of weeks, magnetite and hematite deposits would completely cover the olivine. The change in mineralogy would be total in a matter of years, but that’s not what Venus Express saw on the surface. That suggests there are active volcanoes on Venus creating new lava flows free of magnetite and hematite

This study gives other scientists something to look for, but it doesn’t pinpoint where we might look for active volcanoes. The next missions that might be able to spot active geology on Venus are the Indian Shukrayaan-1 orbiter and Russia’s Venera-D spacecraft. They will launch in 2023 and 2026, respectively.

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January 6th 2020, 3:05 pm

Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook Has a 4K OLED Display and Premium Price Tag


Google’s Chrome OS started out as a platform for super-inexpensive laptops, which is why the original Chromebook Pixel was such a surprise. That premium Chromebook set the stage for better hardware like the Pixelbook and Samsung’s latest laptop, the Galaxy Chromebook. It has a super-thin chassis, plenty of power, and a 13.3-inch 4K OLED screen. It won’t come cheap, though. The Galaxy Chromebook will start at $1,000. 

The Galaxy Chromebook looks a lot like the Pixelbook — it’s fully convertible with bold but simple lines and a big trackpad. For all intents and purposes, this might as well be the Pixelbook 2. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two devices is that Samsung’s laptop comes in a striking red color. There’s also a slot with a stylus and a microSD card slot, neither of which were included in the Pixelbook. 

The 13.3-inch display has narrow 3.9mm bezels most of the way around, but the bottom edge is a bit larger. This is one of the very few OLED laptops Samsung has ever made, and the first one running Chrome OS. It should offer excellent colors and brightness compared with LCD laptops. Samsung also says there will be a version later in 2020 with HDR 400 compatibility. The impressive display means the rated battery life is a bit lower than other Chromebooks at about 10 hours. 

On the inside, the Galaxy Chromebook will have a 10th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. The microSD card slot can add more storage, and you’ve also got a pair of USB-C ports and a 3.5mm audio jack. 

Google clearly wants Chrome OS to move beyond the bulk-buy SKUs suitable for schools and offices, and devices like the Galaxy Chromebook could get it there. Google and Samsung have worked closely on the Galaxy Chromebook, and Google is even on hand at CES this week talking up the device. However, this is still running the same Chrome OS you can get on a $200 laptop. That means you’re limited to Chrome, web apps, Android apps, and (beta) Linux support. 

While Chrome OS has advanced considerably, A $1,000 Chromebook is still a tough sell. With maxed-out specs (up to 16GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage), the Galaxy Chromebook will cost much more. The device will launch in the first quarter of the year.

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January 6th 2020, 12:35 pm

On the Road to CES 2020, Testing a Night-Vision Display and 4K UHD Dash Camera


Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas for CES 2020 gave me a chance to spend a little time photographing in the desert, and it was also a great opportunity to road-test auto accessories. This year I brought two along for the ride: the Lanmodo Vast, a 1080p night-vision display ($499), and Vava’s 4K UHD Dash Cam ($199). The only downside to having them both rigged up was starting to run out of room for my radar detector.

In any case, I had plenty of opportunities to evaluate both of them. Let’s start with the Lanmodo.

Lanmodo Vast by the Numbers

The Lamodo Vast features an 8.2-inch 1080p display, which is a pretty good size choice. It’s large enough to be useful, and of a similar size to current-model, in-dash navigation systems, albeit with a wider aspect ratio. But it’s still compact enough that you can stick it on your dash or windshield without obstructing the view outside. The built-in Sony IMX377 sensor — found in a lot of action cameras — is equipped with a lens giving it a 36-degree wide-angle field of view.

Unlike a typical camera, the Lanmodo’s doesn’t cut off near-IR light. That gives it much better ability to collect light at night and in adverse conditions. The company claims visibility up to 300 meters, but unlike actively-illuminated security cameras it does depend on ambient light, so range is very dependent on the surrounding environment. Not filtering out the near-IR means that the color of the image on the display isn’t going to win any awards, but it is full color and accurate enough for driving. You can also get an optional 720p rearview camera, but I didn’t have an opportunity to test that.

The Lanmodo comes with a base you can set on your dashboard, and a suction cup alternative you can use on your windshield. I was pleasantly surprised at how stable the base was, propped up behind the entertainment screen in my 2019 Mazda CX-5, although I can certainly imagine it flying off given a large enough pothole or incautious passage over a speedbump. While the base is fixed, you can tilt the camera itself up, down, left, or right a bit. I found that tilting it up slightly helped with visibility when going downhill under braking, when the car tends to “aim” towards the roadbed.

Driving With Lanmodo’s Night Vision

Usually by the time I write a review I’ve decided what I think about a product. But I’m still a bit torn about Lanmodo’s night vision display. For starters, it does exactly what the company promises. It provides a much better view of what is happening on the road and roadsides in front of you than your eyes can at night. But, because the display isn’t overlaid on your windshield, you must glance at it deliberately to make use of it. That is an invitation to distraction.

The benefit of driving with the Lanmodo is most evident if your vehicle has poor headlights, or perhaps if you are off-roading without headlights). But even compared with the excellent, steering-enabled headlamps in my CX-5, the Lanmodo provided a better visual experience in low light and night conditions. It’d actually be pretty cool to bring one on our next photo safari to Africa and put it on the dashboard during a night drive (I’ve used my FLIR One that way before).

After a few hours of night driving with the Lanmodo, I enjoyed the bright display when I was in poorly-lit rural areas, like in the sample video below. In areas with a lot of headlights and other point light sources, the lens flare and high-contrast made it so the display didn’t really help me pick out hard-to-see details like signs. So I think I might turn it off when in a city.

I recorded this video using the Vava 4K UHD Dash Cam (which I’ll get to in a moment) in 1080p mode. It gives you some sense of the difference between a standard dashcam and a night-vision-specialized camera like the Lanmodo Vast. However, it isn’t a perfect rendering of what I actually saw. In the video, the night vision display highlights are more blown out than when I was looking at it, and the presence of the bright display in the dashcam FOV probably means it adjusted its exposure down, so the outside would normally be a little more visible in the dashcam video:

Vava’s 4K UHD Dash Cam

You may be asking why you would need a 4K dashcam when 1080p video is acceptable in court. In addition to the obvious one of creating higher-quality travelogue footage, the Vava also features an innovative mount and microphone setup, so it is just as at home recording the occupants of the car as it is the scenery. Now, I’m not much on selfies — in-car or otherwise — so I’m not sure how much use I’d make of in-car video, but when I tested the capability the quality was excellent and the audio surprisingly good.

The one issue I ran into is the high-dynamic-range in situations where the front row of the car was lit and the rear seats were shaded. For anyone thinking of doing carpool karaoke, you’ll want to experiment with dashcam placement, as front-row headrests often block the view of back seat passengers.

Vava 4K Dash Cam by the Numbers

As you can guess from the product name, you can record 4K video (at 30fps) or 1080p at 60fps, using its Sony IMX317 sensor, powered by an Ambarella H22 chipset and featuring a 155-degree field of view lens. The company says it is UHD, but don’t expect the equivalent of a true HDR capability. There is a small 320mHa battery to power it when in Parking Monitor mode. Otherwise, it charges from a simple 1A USB port. There is a “snapshot” button on the power cable for quick image captures. A decent app allows you to log travel, but given the large size of the videos, I wish there was a version of the app for my PC that I could use after uploading all of them. You can have the camera record automatically, in 1, 2, or 3-minute clips, that will overwrite when your microSD card fills up.

Unfortunately, there is no time-lapse mode the way there is with other dash cameras I’ve tested. So to chronicle my drive to Las Vegas, I bought a 256GB microSD card (the largest supported size), and I will have to manually process a huge number of videos to create a reasonable size and length time-lapse. I suggested the idea of a time-lapse capability, and the company seems very receptive, so perhaps this will be added in a future firmware update. I like the Parking Monitor feature, which will capture video whenever your car is jostled, even if it is off. However, remember that you’ll still only get video of the direction the camera is pointing, so if you’re rear-ended you’re out of luck.

Driving With the Vava Dash Cam

Setting up the Vava Dash Cam, at least on Android, is a little awkward. You need to connect to the camera’s Wi-Fi, which disconnects you from everything else. So creating an online account for use with it is tricky. The company uses Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth to allow higher-speed streaming, but I’m not sure that it’s the right tradeoff for a 4K camera. At 4K, its videos are around 250MB per minute, so you’d fill up a phone in no time if you actually chose to have them upload automatically. In any case, I wish I could have used Bluetooth to set it up, and given it a wireless network to connect with, with a direct connection just a fallback.

Once you have the Vava set up, it’s painless to use. Simply stick it someplace out of the way and forget about it. Keep the “clicker” on the power cord handy if you want to grab snapshots. The clever magnetic mount makes it easy to turn 180 degrees for in-car recording, or pop off for removing the microSD card. Frankly, one of the big attractions of the Vava is the price. Their cameras are less than $200, even for this 4K UHD model, while other brands like BlackVue that add some additional features can run over $500.

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January 6th 2020, 11:02 am

Google News Kills Digital Magazine Subscriptions, Refunds Customers


Google has announced the end of its print-replica subscription magazine service, which allowed end-users to download and read the print version of magazines in digital form. It’s the first Google service of the year to die after launching in 2012 as part of the Play Magazines app.

Android Police reported the cancellation after receiving an email from the company, as below:

Subject: To all current Magazine Paid Subscribers

Hi there,

This notification is to inform you that we’re discontinuing print-replica magazines in Google News.

This means you won’t be able to purchase new print-replica magazine issues or renew your subscription via Google News. However, you’ll continue to have access to all issues you previously subscribed to in the Google News app, in the Following or Favorites tab, depending on your app version. To continue to read the latest articles, we encourage you to search for that publication in Google News, or visit the publication’s website:
[list of subscriptions]

Your last payment for your subscription(s) will be refunded. Most refunds are completed within 30 business days. The time it takes for the refund to appear depends on how you paid. If your refund is taking longer than expected, you can check the refund status in your Google Payments account. If you have not received your refund after reviewing the respective timelines in the resources above, please contact us and we’ll look into this for you.

We apologize if this causes any inconvenience. Thank you for your support.

Google News team

The impact of this change is unknown. Google rarely discloses how many people use a product or capability. It’s a change that underscores how fragile our digital distribution chains can be. Android Police points out that not every magazine that allied with Google to sell content in this manner has an independent digital-only subscription service, meaning that a replacement capability may not be available. Cash-strapped publications have often relied on partnerships with distributors like Google, Apple, and Facebook. When these services make changes, it can have enormous impacts on how many readers see content.

One of the things that struck me as I read through various “Decade in review” pieces online is how much backlash formerly beloved Silicon Valley companies are getting for various activities. TNR’s Jason Linkis wrote a piece called “The Death of the Good Internet was an Inside Job” in which he dates the death of what he describes as the “good internet” to July 1, 2013 — the day Google killed Google Reader. I’ve wondered if Google ever regrets that decision, given that the company has now taken 6.5 years of anger from GR’s various users and seen its repeated habit of killing products used as evidence for why consumers shouldn’t trust or invest in products like Stadia.

Google has also been taking heat this week after its former head of international relations, Ross LaJeunesse, accused the company of sidelining him when he repeatedly attempted to raise ethical concerns about Project Dragonfly. In his blog post, LaJeunesse notes that Google has courted the business of the Saudi government and provides cloud hosting services for Absher, an application that allows male family members to track the movements of their female relatives and revoke their permission to travel if they are caught at an airport without permission.

Apple, to be fair, also distributes the Absher application, which can be used to apply for jobs and Hajj permits. But according to LaJeunesse, Google actually hosts the application in the cloud. According to LaJeunesse, he was sidelined by newer executives at Google as Sergey Brin and Larry Page disengaged from the day to day running of the company and turned more power over to subordinates.

What does all this have to do with the closure of Google News’ magazine app? On the surface, not all that much. Dig a little deeper, and there’s an arguable connection between the closure of services that provided a useful good to people, even if they weren’t used much, and the company’s decision to offer services to other countries that run directly counter to American values. According to LaJeunesse, Project Dragonfly was driven by one and only one concern: Money. “Don’t be evil,” once the guiding mandate of the company, became an impediment to those plans and was summarily dropped.

The cost to Google in terms of servers and manpower to keep a service like Google Reader or Google News’print magazine publishing feature functional is a rounding error compared with the company’s $136.22 billion in 2018 revenue. The cost of providing ethically disastrous services to dictators in order to enable the subjugation of 50 percent of the population, or helping the Chinese government spy on its own citizens, in complete contravention of its earlier stance, may not be directly measurable in dollars. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

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January 6th 2020, 9:43 am

Udemy Class Review: How to Build a Gaming PC


Want to learn how to build a gaming PC? Udemy’s “How To Build a Custom Gaming PC” course aims to teach you just that, but I headed into the course with some doubts. The last time we looked at a Udemy computer build course, it turned out to be pure garbage. It was realistically the worst guide you could hope for when building a PC. Today’s course is taught by a different instructor, however, and with any luck this course will prove to be worthwhile. Let’s dive in.

Course Overview

Before we get started, I should mention that this course was originally released in 2016 and the parts used while building the system are outdated by today’s standards. That doesn’t mean the information in the course can’t help you; the instructions on building the computer are essentially the same today as they were in 2016. The instructor also gives detailed information on what to consider while picking parts, which can also help you when selecting items today.

In the system design section of the course, we hit a small hiccup with the advice given. The instructor recommends you select parts for your system in the following order:

  1. CPU
  2. GPU
  3. PCI-E Cards
  4. Optical Drives
  5. HDDs
  6. Motherboard
  7. RAM
  8. Case
  9. PSU

The biggest issue here is the placement of the motherboard so far down on the list. I think most system builders would agree that you should select the processor you want first, but I would typically recommend selecting the motherboard second. The motherboard you choose will determine how many ports you have available for storage devices and add-on cards, and it also will determine how large the system you select will be. Following the order above could occasionally cause you to buy a GPU that’s too large for the system you build, or cause you to buy extra hardware you are unable to connect to your system, again due to size limitations or a shortage of ports. That said, the order used by the instructor could work and it’s not a major issue.

Otherwise, the information in the system builder section is solid and provides you with a good foundation with which to move forward with planning your PC build. In the next section that is devoted to PC cases, we hit another bump as the instructor mixes up his terminology. The instructor refers to mini-ITX cases and mini-ITX brackets as being HTPC cases and HTPC brackets. An HTPC ( a.k.a. Home Theater Personal Computer) is actually not a form factor and does not designate a system’s size. HTPC computers are typically quite small, but they can be any size and use motherboards of various sizes.

After this slip-up, the instructor gets back on track with an informative lecture on the importance of case air pressure. If you are looking to build a gaming computer, this is highly important for preventing heat damage to your system. The next section of the course discusses motherboards, but just lightly. The instructor leaves some information out, but he hits all the important points that you would need to know during the building process.

The course continues with the instructor discussing each component as the PC is assembled, and for the most part, the class is informative. Towards the end of the course, we again hit a small snag when the instructor talks about add-on cards. First, the instructor says that PCI-E x32 devices are becoming popular now, which is an interface that’s so rare and unused that I’ve never even heard of it before today, and I review motherboards for a living. Put simply, this just isn’t true. Next, the instructor says that while you can use small PCI-E devices like a PCI-E x1 or PCI-E x4 card in a PCI-E x16 slot, the same is not possible in reverse. This is again, inaccurate. Some motherboards purposefully use open-ended PCI-E x1 slots that can take PCI-E x16 cards, and you can also use riser cards to connect larger PCI-E devices to smaller slots. They won’t perform as well, but you should be aware this is possible.


Overall, Udemy’s “How To Build a Custom Gaming PC” course does a decent job of showing you how to build a PC. Most of the information in the course is solid and will help you understand more about the various components, but the instructor makes mistakes in places as mentioned above. You could go far worse when selecting a course to help you learn to build a system, however, and overall I’d recommend this as an solid course for beginners looking to build their first desktop computer.

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January 6th 2020, 8:43 am

Researchers Create Particle Accelerator on a Chip


You’ve no doubt heard of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the massive particle accelerator straddling the border between France and Switzerland. The large size of this instrument allows scientists to do cutting-edge research, but particle accelerators could be useful in many fields if they weren’t so huge. The age of room-sized (and larger) colliders may be coming to an end now that researchers from Stanford have developed a nano-scale particle accelerator that fits on a single silicon chip. 

Full-sized accelerators like the LHC push beams of particles to extremely high speeds, allowing scientists to study the minutiae of the universe when two particles collide. The longer the beamline, the higher the maximum speed. Keeping these beams confined requires extremely powerful magnets, as well. It all adds up to a bulky piece of equipment that isn’t practical for most applications. For example, cancer radiation treatments with a particle accelerator could be much safer and more effective than traditional methods. 

The team from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory didn’t set out to build something as powerful as an accelerator that takes up a whole room. The chip features a vacuum-sealed tunnel 30 micrometers long and thinner than a human hair. You can see one of the channels above — electrons travel from left to right, propelled by 100,000 infrared laser pulses per second, all of them carefully synchronized to create a continuous electron beam. 

The LHC does the same basic thing as this chip but on a much larger scale. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN

The chip is currently a proof-of-concept, but it’s not powerful enough for medical research applications at just 0.915 kilo-electronvolts (keV). The team estimates you’d need 1 million electron volts (1MeV) to make the system useful for medical research. That’s the equivalent of accelerating electrons to 94 percent the speed of light, and the prototype is 1,000-fold short of that. Still, the team is hopeful this design can scale up. The chip is a fully integrated circuit with all the necessary components built in — an increase in channel density should yield an increase in beam energy. 

The team’s current goal is to improve on the current design to add 1,000 stages of acceleration, up from the current single-stage design. That would mean 1,000 acceleration channels like the one seen above, which should fit on a chip about one inch across. That would give the resulting accelerator-on-a-chip enough power to be useful in medical research. This could happen as soon as late 2020.

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January 6th 2020, 7:59 am

At a Glance: HP Omen 17 Review


HP’s Omen 17 is one of the company’s most powerful gaming laptops. The Omen 17 combines a large 17.3-inch display with Nvidia’s powerful RTX graphics cards and an optional G-Sync display to create a highly competitive gaming notebook. But its secondary features may make it a less-than-ideal solution for some.

Design and Configuration

The entry level Omen 17 system comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-9750H processor and a GTX 1650 graphics card, giving it solid performance for 1080p gaming all for $1,049.00. Our sister site, PCMag, received a higher-tier model of the Omen 17 with the Intel Core i7-9750H processor and a faster RTX 2070 graphics card. This model also came with 16GB of RAM and a 144Hz 1080p G-Sync enabled display for $1,629.

The HP Omen 17 comes with an RGB LED-backlit keyboard. It lacks per-key lighting control, but instead, the lights are split into four zones that can be changed independently. The system is rather thick, measuring 1.6-inch thick at its widest point, and the notebook’s exterior is constructed out of a mixture of aluminum and plastic. The Omen 17 is also heavy at around 8.33 pounds, give or take a little depending on the configuration.

Benchmarks and Hardware Tests

PCMag tested the Omen 17 against several other similarly priced systems with various different hardware configurations. This is helpful as it gives you a solid idea of what you can get for your buck. Starting things off with a few processor tests, the HP Omen 17 doesn’t really stand out in the crowd.

The Razer Blade Pro 17 with its compact form factor is the slowest system in the lineup, but the systems all hang fairly close to each other as most use the same processor. It’s notable, however, that HP’s Omen 17 never manages to pull ahead in these tests, and the Acer Predator Helios 700 and Digital Storm Avon are persistently ahead by a small margin.

In graphics tests, the Omen 17 performs better and manages to pull ahead of the competition in some cases. The results are mixed, however, and the Omen doesn’t really pull a definitive win.

PCMag also tested the Omen 17’s battery and cooling. The battery managed to last for just over three hours in a video playback test, which actually isn’t terrible for a gaming system. It pulls far ahead of the competing Acer and MSI products but doesn’t come close to matching the Digital Storm Avon or Razer Blade Pro 17.

As for the thermal tests, the Omen 17 appears to have a rather capable thermal solution that was able to keep the exterior temps below 100 degrees as read by a FLIR One Pro thermal camera. The PCMag reviewer noted that the fans were on the loud side and never seemed to turn off, which may be bothersome to users.


In general, the HP Omen 17 appears to perform reasonably well with solid competitive performance, but it’s also a loud, heavy and large system that’s sure to be difficult to take with you. Although the same can be said about many gaming laptops, I always struggle to understand why you would buy such an enormous laptop that’s too large for you to easily travel with it. I’d recommend against the system in general, as I firmly believe it’s better to buy a desktop if you are getting a system that’s not for travel. There are also several gaming laptops that are easier to take with you when you travel for around the same price and offer similar performance.

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January 4th 2020, 8:44 am

At a Glance: Acer Predator X35 Review


Acer’s Predator X35 is without a doubt one of the most feature-rich gaming monitors that money can buy. At $2,499, however, it costs more than most enthusiast system builders spend on their entire PC including the display. Is Acer’s champion gaming display really worth its extraordinarily high price tag? Let’s find out.

Product Overview

Acer’s Predator X35 is essentially a clone of Acer’s 2015 Predator X34, but with a few upgrades. At this price, you probably expected a 4K display panel, but instead, the Predator X35 features the same 3,440×1,440 resolution as the Predator X34. The screen is slightly larger at 35 inches though. The display also has four RGB LED light strips built into the back.

Where this display really differs from its predecessor is in the panel itself. The display supports HDR 1000 and it has a fast 200Hz refresh rate to give you a responsive screen with exceptional clarity. The panel also has 512 light zones that can be dimmed independently, which further helps to improve the screen’s image quality. Acer built the screen with G-Sync support to smooth the image refresh rate all the way up to the 200Hz mark.

Our sister site PCMag tested one of these displays firsthand and collected some data on the monitor’s capabilities. The display comes with a pair of 4W speakers built-in, but PCMag said that the speakers were small and lacking in bass. This is usually the case with display speakers, but in this price range, I would have expected the speakers to be decent. PCMag also stumbled upon a strange glitch with the display. When the display went unused for a few days, it wouldn’t wake back up and work properly. This issue was resolved by pulling the power cable and plugging it back in, but it’s still disappointing to find issues of this nature in such a high-end product.


Overall, I can’t help but feel disappointed in Acer’s Predator X35. At $2,499, I would expect to be blown away by the high quality and performance of the display. This expensive display does perform really well and has a number of excellent features, but there are plenty of high-end displays including Asus’s ROG Strix XG438Q and ViewSonic’s VP3481 that cost less than half as much as the Predator X35 and also offer tons of features. Due to the high price tag, I wouldn’t recommend the Predator X35.

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January 3rd 2020, 5:44 pm

Analyst: Nvidia Ampere Will Boost Performance and Slash Power Consumption By 50 Percent


Ever since AMD launched its high-end Radeon 5700 and 5700 XT GPUs on 7nm, there have been questions about when Nvidia would make a similar move. Competitively, Nvidia was able to respond to the 5700 and 5700 XT by launching refreshes of its RTX 2080, 2070, and 2060 GPUs as “Super” variants of the original models, but kept using TSMC’s 12nm process for the new GPUs.

The Taipei Times has reported that the Yuanta Securities Investment Consulting Company has issued an investment note to its clients advising them to expect big things from Nvidia’s next-generation architecture, codenamed Ampere. The note states: ” Nvidia’s next-generation GPU based on the Ampere architecture is to adopt 7-nanometer technology, which would lead to a 50 percent increase in graphics performance while halving power consumption.”

That’s a pretty significant set of improvements, but one of them is a lot more likely than the other. [H]ardOCP has gone offline, but the site previously conducted an extensive investigation of Nvidia scaling over time. While the full articles are no longer archived online, the pages that were available show that the GTX 1080 is often much faster than the GTX 980, particularly when the two were compared in newer titles. Anandtech’s “Bench” results for the GTX 1080 versus the GTX 980 also show strong general uplift.

Data and graph by Anandtech. Blue is GTX 980, orange is GTX 1080.

In this case, the GTX 980 – GTX 1080 comparison may be more accurate than the 1080 – 2080 comparison, because Nvidia got the benefit of a node shrink when it went from 980 to 1080, while the RTX 2080 is built on an optimized version of TSMC’s 16nm, with a smaller level of improvements compared with the shift from 28nm planar silicon to 16nm FinFET. The GTX 1080 – RTX 2080 Super comparison looks a bit more like the GTX 980 – GTX 1080 figures do, but the RTX 2080 Super is far more expensive than the typical GTX 1080 was, outside of cryptocurrency-fueled GPU price hikes.

The idea that Nvidia would cut absolute power consumption by 50 percent, however, seems unlikely and ahistorical. GPUs tend to sell into TDP bands up to ~300-350W (AMD has historically been more willing to push TDP a bit harder than NV). If you compare power consumption figures for modern GPUs, they don’t tend to fluctuate by nearly this much, and there’s been a steady upward trend. Anandtech records full-system loaded power consumption in Shadow of the Tomb Raider as 205W with the GTX 980, 225W with the 1080, 314W with an RTX 2080, and 350W with an RTX 2080 Super. The RTX 2080 Super scores 127.5fps in SotTR according to Anandtech, compared with 52.3fps for the GTX 980, which means it’s definitely a more power-efficient GPU, with a calculated 2.44x increase in frame rate in exchange for a 1.7x increase in power consumption. But it still uses more power in absolute terms.

It’s also possible that Nvidia was speaking about a specific part, workload, or intended market segment with its 50 percent power consumption improvement. We’ve seen companies leverage these sorts of metrics when discussing power improvements as well.

It’s going to be a busy year in GPUs. We’ve heard repeated rumors that Ampere will launch in 2020 and AMD’s “Big Navi,” aka Navi 20, is expected this year as well. It’s not clear yet if Navi 20 will have the chops to challenge Ampere — the RX 5700 XT compares well against the RTX 2060S / RTX 2070, while the 5700 beats the RTX 2060. Slap an additional 1.5x performance on these cards and the situation changes significantly. On the other hand, AMD will have its own opportunity to introduce further improvements to RDNA and its 7nm process node with Navi 20, and the original Navi 10 GPU from last year was an impressive improvement in terms of power consumption and efficiency over GCN. The power-efficiency improvements, however, only put Navi 10 (built on 7nm) on approximately equal terms with Nvidia’s Turing (built on 12nm).  The question of how effectively Navi 20 can match Ampere will almost certainly come down to power efficiency improvements and how well AMD can scale its new silicon. It’ll also be interesting to see how Nvidia prices Ampere, given the hostile reception to its price increases with Turing, and how much it can improve ray tracing performance. All of these are likely to be significant factors in how the two GPUs compare with each other.

Thanks to Hot Hardware for spotting this news.

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January 3rd 2020, 4:44 pm
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