TOP NEWS
Apple releases specifications for third-party Watch bands
— 9:22 AM on May 5, 2015

Don't like the stock bands and straps included with the Apple Watch? Third parties may soon be able to design and sell officially licensed bands of their own. New documentation on Apple's developer portal suggests an upcoming "Made for Apple Watch" program will ensure that third-party straps conform to Apple's own standards for tolerances and durability.

Band makers seeking Apple's approval will need to consider a number of restrictions. Most notably, approved bands can't include magnetic chargers, obstruct the Watch's sensors, or prevent the bottom of the device from maintaining direct contact with the skin. Bands will also need to conform to regulations regarding hazardous or allergenic materials like nickel, latex, PFOAs, and pthalates. For bands that use lugs similar to Apple's Classic Buckle, manufacturers will need to get approved parts through a distributor of Apple's choosing.

This level of restrictiveness is typical of Apple, but it's understandable—the Watch is a luxury good, and Jony Ive probably doesn't want shoddy third-party bands spoiling the timepiece's clean lines. Unofficial bands will doubtless flood the market with time, but it's nice to know that ones carrying Apple's blessing will be built to a high standard of quality.

Here's what we made of those leaked AMD slides
— 9:10 AM on May 5, 2015

The number-one request ahead of last week's podcast live stream was some discussion of the possibly leaked slides from AMD. We took a crack at it, although we were careful about drawing too many conclusions from unconfirmed leaks. The discussion does set the table for the real info expected to be revealed tomorrow at AMD's Financial Analyst Day.

We'll be posting more video clips from the podcast on our YouTube channel going forward. Feel free to subscribe.

1 comment — First by chuckula at 9:15 AM on 05/05/15

Leaked roadmap charts desktop course for Broadwell, Skylake into 2016
— 6:00 AM on May 5, 2015

Add another roadmap to the pile of leaked documents detailing upcoming processors. This time around, the unconfirmed info lays out the launch schedule and model designations for socketed desktop chips based Broadwell and Skylake silicon. Chinese site PC Online published the slide, which made its way to our inbox thanks to frequent TR tipster SH SOTN.

The roadmap attaches specifics to Intel's stated plan to release a socketed version of Broadwell with Iris Pro graphics. Intel promised the 65W chips mid-year, and it looks like they'll arrive in two flavors in the second quarter. The Core i7-5775C and i5-5675C will both appear in Q2, according to the leak, and the ≥ sign associated with Q4 onward suggests a planned speed bump.

These Broadwell chips deliver on Intel's guaranteed upgrade path for 9-series motherboards, while Skylake brings a new CPU microarchitecture alongside an updated platform. The roadmap identifies the desktop incarnate as Skylake-S. It says we'll get a wave of standard and K-series variations in Q3, and the model numbers match specs that leaked out in April. As with Broadwell, the addition of a ≥ sign in Q1'16 points to a possible refresh.

If the leak is accurate, the X99 platform's Haswell-E processor will get a MHz boost in Q3, followed by new Broadwell-E silicon in the first quarter of 2016. There are no specifics on model numbers, but the Broadwell-E schedule matches a rumor from last year.

Like all unofficial documents, this latest one should be sprinkled with salt—but not too much. On a scale between undoubtedly bogus and practically confirmed, this one seems legit.

17 comments — Last by Anomymous Gerbil at 9:20 AM on 05/05/15

The curtain falls on Windows Media Center
— 5:12 PM on May 4, 2015

Windows Media Center, Microsoft's long-running effort to blend elements of DVRs, cable boxes, and DVD players into Windows, will be taking its final bow before the release of Windows 10. According to a tweet by Gabriel Aul, one of the managers of Microsoft's Windows Insider program, Windows Media Center will be discontinued in the new version of the operating system due to "decreased usage."

According to other tweets by Aul, people were primarily using Windows Media Center to watch DVDs at this stage in the product's life. Microsoft will provide Windows users with another way to watch DVDs in the future.

Though news of Media Center's certain demise may be sad for some, the application was already on life support in Windows 8 and 8.1. Media Center wasn't included in those operating systems by default. Instead, those running regular 8.1 had to pay $99.99 for the Pro Pack, which upgraded the OS to the Pro edition and returned Media Center functionality. Win8.1 Pro users had to pay $10 more to get Media Center. That extra cost and hassle might be related to the "infinitesimal" number of Windows users who still rely on Media Center, according to Microsoft telemetry data cited by ZDNet.

73 comments — Last by not_a_gerbil at 9:08 AM on 05/05/15

The PC Gaming Show provides a dedicated soapbox at E3
— 4:14 PM on May 4, 2015

E3 is perhaps the biggest annual event in gaming, but the PC is usually overshadowed by the presence of the big three console makers. That's changing this year, because AMD and PC Gamer Magazine have teamed up to hold a dedicated event for our favorite platform. The aptly named PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 from 5 P.M. to 8 P.M. at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. 

While we'll never argue against more exposure for PC gaming, it's interesting to note the rationale for this dedicated event. The event's sponsors say that "PC gaming is in a golden age, with more affordable hardware than ever before," and they also cite the rise of e-sports and the wide availability of PC games through digital distribution services like Steam. None of this is news to TR readers, but it's probably worth articulating for E3's primarily console-focused audience.

Other sponsors for the event include DayZ developer Bohemia Interactive, livestreaming video provider Twitch, Killing Floor developer Tripwire Interactive, and custom PC builder Digital Storm. Twitch will stream the event live for those unable to attend in person, and we plan to tune in.

11 comments — Last by Neutronbeam at 9:12 AM on 05/05/15

DX12 demo will make you squint to see what's better
— 3:28 PM on May 4, 2015

The advent of Microsoft's DirectX 12 API is probably one of the biggest developments in game programming this year, but the benefits of the new programming model aren't always 100% obvious when looking at the finished product on a screen.

At Microsoft's Build conference last week, Chinese developer Snail Games showed a demonstration of its Cryengine-based King of Wushu running on DX12. Despite presentation partner Nvidia's claims that jaws would drop and that the performance improvements were "stunning," there isn't much of a visible difference between the two APIs in the YouTube video. See for yourself:

Now, we don't want to imply that there's no difference—the game clearly picked up a couple FPS from the change, and it looks like the engine can maintain more character models on the screen at the same time, but it'd be hard to name the underlying API just looking at the demo footage.

The real benefits of DirectX 12 should come once game developers have had time to build entire games based on new fundamental assumptions made possible by a better API.

48 comments — Last by willmore at 9:15 AM on 05/05/15

Lenovo's lightweight LaVie Z ultrabooks start selling stateside
— 11:13 AM on May 4, 2015

The ultra-light LaVie Z ultrabooks Lenovo introduced at CES are now available in the U.S. Both machines have Broadwell-based Core i7 processors and 13.3" 2560x1440 displays. The standard version is a conventional clamshell, while its LaVie Z 360 sibling features a 360° hinge that lets the machine contort into tent and tablet configurations.


Source: Lenovo

Although Lenovo mentioned lower-end models when it first announced the systems, only the top-of-the-line variants are listed on the company's website. Both feature dual-core Core i7-5500U processors, 2560x1440 display resolutions, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage. The internal storage is fairly limited,  but you get a full-sized SD slot in addition to multiple USB 3.0 ports. HDMI output is also included alongside 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Despite all that goodness, the LaVie Z laptops are only 0.67" (17 mm) thick. The 360 weighs 2.04lbs (0.93kg), which is about the same as the new MacBook, while the standard unit is slightly lighter. Lenovo claims both units manage up to nine hours of battery life with video playback.

And now, for the damage: the LaVie Z 360 is listed at a whopping $1850 before an instant discount knocks the price down to $1700, while the standard model starts at $1700 before instant savings slash the price to $1499.  Even with the discounts, both machines are squarely in premium territory.

36 comments — Last by njoydesign at 8:34 AM on 05/05/15

MSI refreshes Socket FM2+ mobos for Godavari APUs
— 11:12 AM on May 4, 2015

AMD's latest APU family, code-named Godavari, is supposedly set to launch in a month or two, and MSI has released eight refreshed Socket FM2+ motherboards in preparation for their arrival. The new boards feature chipsets ranging from the entry-level A68H to the enthusiast A88X, and they'll be available in Mini-ITX, microATX, and ATX form factors.

Most interesting among the new products is the A88XM-E45 V2. This board's microATX form factor makes room for four DIMM slots, eight SATA 6Gbps ports, and four USB 3.0 ports, and it can overclock even the hottest 95W APUs. This board looks like a good candidate for penny-pinching builds with discrete graphics cards, like the Budget Box in our System Guide.

Here's a complete accounting of MSI's new lineup:

Pricing and availability weren't announced, but judging by the number of MSI Socket FM2+ boards that are out of stock on Newegg, it seems likely that these new boards will be making their way onto shelves soon. Socket FM2+ boards tend to play in the sub-$100 market, so these mobos should be pretty affordable, as well.

14 comments — Last by ronch at 8:14 AM on 05/05/15

Etc.
— 10:11 AM on May 4, 2015

Man, this past weekend was epic, as weekends go. Here in the KC area, we had 75° F weather, and everything was in bloom. For the sportsball enthusiast, the local baseball team was playing for first place, the NFL draft was going on, and the biggest fight of the decade happened. For the nerdier types, the new Avengers move hit theaters. For folks like me, well, it was the start of my son's T-ball season, with two games in one weekend.

Games were viewed, a ton of yard work was done, movies were watched, and so on. I could use about six more weekends like this past one, maybe in a row.

Happy to be back at work today, though. After being delayed by travel, I finally get to finish my write-up of the Damagebox 2015—while writing on that very system, which was forced into production by the necessities of Windows activation. It's ready, though. Boy, is it ever.

Some of my good cheer probably comes from the fact that I'm finally over my jet lag from the London thing. I'm happy to travel for work when needed, but when it comes to hopping across six time zones, I have this to say:

Anyhow, this week should be an interesting one, with real news in the PC hardware space and maybe some other surprises. I'm hoping to do a podcast live stream around some of it with a special guest, too. I'll reveal more soon.

14 comments — Last by MarkG509 at 8:21 PM on 05/04/15

HP press release names next-gen Radeons
— 9:53 AM on May 4, 2015

AMD's next-gen Radeons are perhaps the worst-kept secret in the tech industry. Rumors about the new parts have been circulating for months, and now, several of them have been mentioned by an official HP press release. The PC giant introduced a new batch of desktop and all-in-one PCs today, several of which can be configured with 300-series Radeons.

According to the press release, HP's Envy and Envy Phoenix desktop towers will be available with discrete graphics cards "up to" the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 380. There's no mention of the rumored 380X or the R9 390 series, though.

The other leaked product names appear in the discussion of the Pavilion all-in-one. That system offers integrated graphics as standard equipment, but it can also be specced with a discrete Radeon R7 A330 or A360. Those options likely come on notebook-style modules rather than full-sized expansion cards.

HP doesn't provide any details on the new Radeons apart from their names. However, the Envy towers are due June 10, while the Pavilion all-in-one is coming June 28. We'll presumably get the official skinny from AMD before then. For what it's worth, a 3DCenter report from February suggested the bulk of the 300-series Radeons will be rebranded versions of existing products. Only the R9 390 family is expected to feature new GPU silicon.

6 comments — Last by Leader952 at 8:31 AM on 05/05/15

Rise of Incarnates promises better fighting than Mayweather-Pacquiao
— 9:45 AM on May 4, 2015

Jr. Damage Gyromancer is back with a look at another intriguing PC game, Rise of Incarnates, a brawler from the folks at Bandai Namco. 

Check out Gyromancer's channel for more PC gaming videos.

6 comments — Last by ronch at 6:16 AM on 05/05/15

Hole in Realtek software imperils countless home routers
— 9:30 AM on May 4, 2015

A host of home Wi-Fi routers based on Realtek silicon may be vulnerable to a remote code execution attack thanks to a hole in Realtek's software development kit (SDK).

To support the universal plug-and-play (UPnP) standard, Realtek built a service/daemon into its SDK that listens for UPnP calls. Unfortunately, the developers didn't implement a proper input sanitization for NewInternalClient call. As a result, the bad guys may be able to cause a Realtek-based device execute malicious code.

Here are a few resources to help identify if you have a SOHO router based on the Realtek 81xx-series SoC that may be vulnerable to attack.

  1. Try searching for your model of router on the WikiDevi, DD-WRT Wiki, and OpenWRT Wiki. These wikis are great resources to find out what SoC is powering your router.
  2. You can also test your own equipment using Shodan.
  • First head to Test IPv6 and write down your public IPv4 address.
  • Then go over to Shodan and sign up for a free account.
  • Now that you're logged into Shodan, you'll have access to the search engine filters. Here's the string you'll need to submit.
realtek port:1900 net:[ip address]
  • Put the IPv4 address you got from Test IPv6 in after the net: value.
  • Look for the following line:
Server: OS 1.0 UPnP/1.0 Realtek/V1.3

If you find that your router is vulnerable, you can protect yourself by disabling UPnP in the management interface. You'll also want to check to see if your vendor has announced a pending update to correct this flaw. Notably, D-Link is already at work on updates.

14 comments — Last by qasdfdsaq at 7:19 AM on 05/05/15

Telecom industry seeks to stay the FCC's net neutrality rules
— 6:00 AM on May 4, 2015

Major Internet service providers and other telecom companies in the United States haven't been happy with the Federal Communications Commission since its decision to reclassify them as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. Computerworld reports that seven ISPs and telecom trade groups have already filed suit against the FCC regarding its decision, but according to an article by Ars Technica, industry groups want more immediate relief. Ars writes that several telecom industry groups have also requested stays from Title II reclassification from the FCC. Stays would nullify the rules while the courts work things out.

One such petition comes by way of the American Cable Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, while another joint action comes from broadband group USTelecom and wireless industry group CTIA. Despite the separate petitions, the complaints and relief sought by each group are quite similar.

All of the petitioners emphasize that they don't want to stop the FCC's "net neutrality" rules against paid prioritization, throttling, or blocking of sites for the time being (though the USTelecom petition expressly notes that the group's request only for a partial stay is not a concession that these rules are lawful). Rather, they claim that their classification as providers of "information services" under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 protects them from the imposition of Title II common carrier rules (which, according to the 1996 law, can only be applied to providers of "telecommunications services"), and that being forced to operate under Title II regulation is both unlawful and harmful to the businesses they represent—hence, the need for an immediate stay.

It seems likely the courts will be ruling on these petitions as well as the industry's lawsuits. Ars' article says that requests for stays from the FCC must be filed with the agency before they can be heard by the courts. If the FCC fails to act on these petitions or denies the requests, the industry groups could then seek relief from the judicial system.

36 comments — Last by JustAnEngineer at 5:18 AM on 05/05/15

The TR Podcast 175: the Zen of chipmaking and ARM's Cortex-A72 revealed
— 1:53 PM on May 2, 2015

The video of last night's TR Podcast live stream is now available on YouTube. We talked about the AMD Zen rumors, Rys joined us to discuss his excellent article on Semiconductors from idea to product, and we dug into ARM's new Cortex-A72 CPU architecture, among other things.

As usual, the audio version of the podcast will be made available when Jordan has it edited. In the meantime, you can enjoy the raw video version above. Thanks to everybody who watched live. We appreciate your questions and participation.

If you'd like to be notified when we're recording, follow us on Twitch or simply follow Scott on Twitter. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive notices when we post videos there.

4 comments — Last by Ninjitsu at 2:25 AM on 05/03/15

Elon Musk lays out vision for a battery-powered future
— 6:28 PM on May 1, 2015

Tesla may be best known for its electric cars, but founder Elon Musk has broader ambitions for the company's battery packs. Last night, the would-be battery baron unveiled his vision. Operating under the umbrella of Tesla Energy, Musk wants to use Tesla's battery technology to help improve the viability of solar power and other renewable energy generation methods.

One of the major problems of solar energy and other renewables is the inherently cyclical nature of the generation methods. Wind doesn't always blow, and the sun doesn't always shine. Tesla Energy wants to provide the missing piece: a way to store this energy in compact, high-capacity batteries.

The most consumer-focused product of this initiative is called the Tesla Powerwall, a sleek, 10kWh battery that can be mounted on a garage wall or on the outside of a home. Musk says the Powerwall can provide defense against power outages and even allow a home to go off the grid entirely by storing energy from roof-mounted solar panels. Each Powerwall will cost $3,500, and as many as nine Powerwalls can be linked together depending on a home or business' energy needs.

For sites where Powerwalls aren't enough, Tesla Energy will also be making a product called the Powerpack, a 100kWh battery that Musk says is "designed to scale infinitely." A gigawatt-hour-sized installation of 10,000 units could power a city like Boulder, Colorado, according to Musk.

Musk wants to see the technology behind the Powerpack and Powerwall used by other companies to further this vision. Tesla Energy will be open-sourcing the patents behind its batteries and factories so that other companies can produce similar products of their own. Ultimately, he hopes that through adoption of this technology, the world will be able to more effectively transition energy generation to solar and other renewable methods, reducing carbon emissions and lessening the impact of climate change on future generations. It's a grand vision, and it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

127 comments — Last by Leader952 at 9:02 AM on 05/05/15

Asus' 144Hz MG279Q monitor may top out at 90Hz with FreeSync
— 12:38 PM on May 1, 2015

We've been eagerly awaiting the release of Asus' MG279Q, a FreeSync display with an IPS panel and a fast 144Hz peak refresh rate. It appears that the MG279Q may not be able to refresh at top speed in FreeSync mode, however. A poster on the SweClockers forums received their MG279Q a couple days back, and they discovered that the display will only enter FreeSync mode with the system set to refresh rates between 35Hz and 90Hz.

Forum posts might not be the most credible source, but there's official confirmation of this limitation, too. The 35Hz-90Hz range is repeated in Asus' own FreeSync FAQ, which uses the MG279Q as an example of the technology. The page simply says that "FreeSync only can be activated within 35Hz ~ 90Hz."

A lower peak refresh rate for FreeSync probably isn't the end of the world for the MG279Q, but it's a little disappointing given the display's unqualified 144Hz billing thus far. We've requested comment from Asus, and we'll update this post if we receive one.

62 comments — Last by Kevsteele at 7:16 AM on 05/05/15

Deal of the week: A Bay Trail netbook for $161, free case fans, and more
— 11:24 AM on May 1, 2015

The only thing more difficult than coming up with a fresh intro for our weekly deals posts is doing it the morning after a podcast recording session. So, without further ado, here are the deals I spotted while combing the web this morning.

  • Netbooks are great for basic portable computing, especially when they're this cheap. The Microsoft Store is selling Asus' 11.6" EeeBook X205 for only $179 all in. Students and teachers also qualify for a 10% education discount that drops the price to only $161, which is a steal given the machine's quad-core Bay Trail processor, full-fat Windows install, and 12-hour claimed battery life. The rest of the specs are fairly tame, but you still get multiple USB ports, expandable storage, Micro HDMI output, and the usual wireless flavors.
  • DDR4 memory remains pricer than its predecessor, but Newegg is helping to mitigate the damage by discounting Corsair's Vengeance LPX DDR4-2400 kit. The 4 x 4GB combo is only $149.99 after promo code EMCASAK65, making it notably cheaper than comparable options. I've been using similar Vengeance LPX modules in my Haswell-E test rig, and I particularly like how the standard-height heat spreaders leave plenty of room for oversized CPU coolers.
  • Case fans aren't that exciting, but these ones are free. Tiger Direct is offering Power Up! 120-mm fans for $9.99 alongside a $10 mail-in rebate that reduces the effective price to zero. These four-pin spinners are fairly basic, but they have loads of positive user reviews, and it's hard to argue with the price. This deal ends today, though, and it's limited to three fans (and rebates) per person.
  • Although deep discounts on high-end Radeons are few and far between these days, Newegg has Sapphire's Tri-X OC R9 290X on sale for $269.99 after promo code EMCASAK23 and a $20 mail-in rebate. The hot-clocked card sits behind a massive custom cooler with three fans, and Sapphire helpfully throws an HDMI cable into the box. Not bad given the alternatives.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is easily one of my favorite games of the past several years. The gameplay is engaging, the graphics are gorgeous, and the combat is a symphony of beautifully brutal violence. So, I'm happy to report that Bundle Stars has packaged the Steam version with a bunch of DLC for just $29.99. A lot of the DLC is fluff, to be honest, but the core game is so good that it's worth 30 bucks even on its own.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to add any good discounts you see to the comments below.

18 comments — Last by DarkMikaru at 12:03 PM on 05/03/15

DirectX 12 Multiadapter shares work between discrete, integrated GPUs
— 9:14 AM on May 1, 2015

During its Build conference yesterday, Microsoft revealed that its next-gen graphics API offers enhanced support for accelerating performance with multiple GPUs. Dubbed DirectX 12 Multiadapter, this capability gives developers explicit control over GPU resources. It works with not only traditional CrossFire and SLI setups, which team multiple discrete graphics cards, but also with hybrid configurations that combine discrete and integrated GPUs.

According to Direct3D development lead Max McMullen, who presented a Build session on graphics performance, DX12's Multiadapter mojo lets developers generate and execute commands in parallel on multiple GPUs, complete with independent memory management for each one. Those GPUs can collaborate on rendering the same frame or do different kinds of work in parallel.

McMullen showcased the benefits for a hybrid configuration using the Unreal Engine 4 Elemental demo. Splitting the workload between unnamed Nvidia discrete and Intel integrated GPUs raised the frame rate from 35.9 FPS to 39.7 FPS versus only targeting the Nvidia chip. In that example, the integrated GPU was relegated to handling some of the post-processing effects.

A more impressive Multiadapter demo aired during yesterday's Build keynote. This one used a custom Square Enix Witch Chapter 0 [cry] scene designed to push DX12 to its limits, and the footage has already made its way to YouTube. Behold:

Um, wow.

Four GeForce GTX Titan X graphics cards were required to run the demo in real time, which means we probably won't see graphics that good in games anytime soon. DirectX 12's ability to share workloads across different multi-GPU configurations looks very promising, though, especially since it doesn't require a high-end setup with multiple cards.

106 comments — Last by ronch at 8:19 AM on 05/05/15

Gigabyte's 9-series motherboards are Broadwell-ready
— 6:00 AM on May 1, 2015

The desktop versions of Intel's Broadwell CPU aren't available yet, but motherboard manufacturers are making sure their products are ready well before the new chips arrive. Gigabyte has announced that all of its H97 and Z97 boards are Broadwell-compatible with firmware updates available from the company's website.

Intel told us to expect a mid-year release for Broadwell back at GDC, so we may not have to wait much longer for the new chips. If the rumor mill is correct, we could be getting a pair of CPUs with unlocked multipliers. We're looking forward to strapping the new silicon into overclocking-capable boards like those in Gigabyte's Z97 lineup. Owners of Asus boards will be able to join in the fun, too—the company announced Broadwell-ready firmware for its 9-series boards back in March.

46 comments — Last by epicmadness at 7:51 PM on 05/03/15

The TR Podcast will be live on Twitch shortly!
— 7:51 PM on April 30, 2015

We'll be starting up the TR Podcast live stream at 9:30PM ET/6:30PM PT over on our Twitch channel. Come join the chat, ask questions, and see what's up.

I've just confirmed that Rys will be joining us to talk about Semiconductors from idea to product, which should be amazing. We'll also kick around those leaked AMD slides about Zen and give you an exclusive preview of my write-up on ARM's Cortex-A72 architecture. Don't miss out!

3 comments — Last by TwoEars at 6:12 AM on 05/02/15