|Notes from TR's next-gen storage testing||45|
|The TR Podcast 167.5 bonus edition: You guys ask us stuff!||5|
|Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones reviewed||198|
Gift-wrapping season may be over, but consumerism knows no respite—and there are plenty of ways to indulge in that today. Let's start with the non-storage deals:
Newegg also has a nice selection of SSDs and mechanical hard drives on sale today:
That's about all I could find, but I'm sure I missed a few. Feel free to point out other discounts in the comments below. And don't forget to check out the latest Steam deals.Steam sale serves up Shadow of Mordor, Thief, CS:GO
The 2014 Steam Holiday Sale is still on, and there are some big names among today's Featured Deals.
For starters, the still-fairly-new Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is 40% off at $29.99. You can also find Thief for $7.49, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for the same price, and Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons for just $1.49. I'm a big fan of CS:GO, so I can definitely vouch for that one. Brothers looks like a safe pick, too, on account of the overwhelmingly positive Metacritic reviews. I may grab it myself.
If you catch this post early, you'll be able to get your fill of the latest 12-hour deals. Those include FTL: Faster Than Light, which is down to $2.49 (and highly rated), and Turbo Dismount, another popular pick that's only $3.39.
Oh, and there are some new Community's Choice picks up for grabs. Dust: An Elysian Tail is on that list for $3.74, 75% off the usual price. I've heard good things about it, but I can't overlook the furry/anime art style enough to give it a shot. Maybe you'll be braver than I am.Don't hold your breath for GPU process shrinks, report suggests
The folks over at WCCFtech have posted an interesting story about the latest AMD and Nvidia graphics roadmaps. Quoting an apparently reliable source, the site roughly maps out the next year or two of GPU process shrinks—and the news isn't good.
AMD, it says, has delayed its first 20-nm GPUs by "about two months" from a February-March release time frame to an April-May one. WCCFtech blames the delay on Qualcomm and Apple, which are "gobbling up the limited early 20nm capacity."
Nvidia, meanwhile, is rumored to have skipped the 20-nm node altogether. If I'm reading this right, WCCFtech says the company will only move away from 28 nm in 2016 with the launch of its first 16-nm GPU. That launch may not happen early in the year, either, given "TSMC's own projected 16nm wafer revenue."
Good thing there's some life left in the 28-nm node still. WCCFtech says AMD will unveil new versions of Tonga and Hawaii early next year, while a GM200 chip is expected from Nvidia some time in 2015. There's no word on the GM200's specs, but previous reports suggest the chip could have higher performance per watt than the GK210, the "Big Kepler" GPU inside the new Tesla K80.Report: Jumbo Chromebooks are coming next year
Since their inception, Chromebooks have remained thin, light, and compact—more like ultrabooks than desktop replacements. That may change next year. DigiTimes says it's learned from supply-chain sources that both Acer and Dell have 15.6" Chromebooks in the pipeline.
These jumbo Chromebooks are expected to cost less than $300 and to feature Broadwell-U processors, the ultrabook-bound siblings of the Core M. The Acer system will be out in March 2015, DigiTimes says, while the Dell model has a looser "first half of 2015" release time frame.
The site adds that Google itself has set the $300 ceiling for 15.6" Chromebooks. Systems "with the processor of Core i3 performance" can be priced as high as $299, which DigiTimes notes is still $50 cheaper than comparable Windows machines.
14" Chromebooks have been around for some time, so 15.6" technically isn't a huge step up. It does seems awfully big for a Chromebook, though, given the limitations of Google's browser-centric operating system—and the fact that Chromebooks can beam video content to HDTVs via Chromecast, which probably removes part of the impetus for large screen sizes.
Also, if they're going to cost less than $300, you just know these things will have 1080p panels. Ugh.Boxing Day Shortbread
Eight is Enough
Read more... Christmas Day Shortbread
Eight is Enough
Read more... Merry Christmas, everybody!
Here's hoping all of you have a most excellent Christmas holiday. We'll be celebrating ourselves, so news may be slow over the next few days.
Thanks again for making 2014 a great year for TR. We're happy to be able to serve you guys with our work. Merry Christmas!Study shows tablet screens mess up your sleep
Hoping to get a good night's rest? Then you may want to stay away from tablet screens before bedtime. A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers shows that using an iPad before bed suppresses the body's production of melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone, making it harder to fall asleep and reducing sleep quality.
During the two-week inpatient study, twelve participants read digital books on an iPad for four hours before bedtime each night for five consecutive nights. This was repeated with printed books. The order was randomized with some reading on the iPad first and others reading the printed book first. Participants reading on the iPad took longer to fall asleep, were less sleepy in the evening and spent less time in REM sleep. They had reduced secretion of melatonin, a hormone that normally rises in the evening and plays a role in inducing sleepiness. Additionally, iPad readers had a delayed circadian rhythm, indicated by melatonin levels, of more than an hour. Participants who read on the iPad were less sleepy before bedtime but were sleepier and less alert the following morning after eight hours of sleep. Although iPads were used in this study, researchers also measured other devices that emit blue light, including eReaders, laptops, cell phones and LED monitors.
You can check out the full study here. Apparently, subjects had to spend four hours reading (on either iPads or paper books) from 6 PM to 10 PM. Designated sleep hours were 10 PM to 6 AM.
Other studies have shown that, in the evening, cooler (6500K) light is a greater impediment to melatonin production than warmer (3000K) light. Tablet displays tend to be calibrated for a color temperature of around 6500K, which could explain the results of the Harvard Medical School study.
The solution may be to go back to paper books and board games during evening hours. Or it could be something like f.lux, which automatically lowers the screen's color temperature after sunset. Too bad f.lux doesn't work on non-jailbroken iPads.Gigabyte's wireless scissor-switch keyboard still has gaming chops
When a company like Gigabyte introduces a new gaming keyboard these days, chances are the thing has mechanical key switches. Not so with Gigabyte's Force K7, which combines laptop-style scissor switches with wireless connectivity—yet still manages not to skimp too much on gamer-friendly extras.
The Force K7 doesn't have full n-key rollover, but it does have partial ghosting prevention. Gigabyte says you can press the Q, W, A, S, and D keys along with left shift and space "without conflict." The keyboard also features a special lock key that disables the Windows key, so you don't get bumped out of games accidentally.
Other features of note include a couple of wheels, which control audio volume and (for some reason) zoom levels; a Fn key that enables secondary F-key shortcuts (like media controls and, apparently, Facebook and Twitter shortcuts); plus an extended palm rest to make typing and gaming more comfortable.
Gigabyte's news release doesn't quote a price for the Force K7, but the scissor switches make me think it won't break the bank. Too bad about that L-shaped enter key and the correspondingly tiny backspace key, though. I, uh, prefer my backspaces full-sized.Origin has a holiday sale going on, too
Valve isn't the only one discounting games left and right this week. For the next three days or so, EA's Origin store also has a cornucopia of PC titles on sale. Some of the highlights include:
...and probably more that I overlooked.
The discount on Dragon Age: Inquisition is surprising, since the game is barely a month old and should still be selling for $59.99. Maybe those mixed user reviews on Metacritic have something to do with it. The game has earned accolades from professional reviewers, though, so it can't be that bad.
Right?Christmas Eve Shortbread
Eight is Enough
Read more... Grab Game of Thrones, BioShock Infinite in today's Steam deals
You know the drill: Steam is serving up a rolling selection of deals until January 2, and we're keeping track.
Today's 48-hour Holiday Sale bargains are pretty generous. They include the Game of Thrones series from Telltale Games, which only just came out and is already 15% off at $22.49. You can also nab BioShock Infinite for $7.49, the ever-enjoyable Just Cause 2 for $2.99, and even Goat Simulator for $4.99, if Just Cause 2's insane sandbox action isn't insane enough for you.
Among the latest 12-hour deals are Darksiders II for $4.49, Murdered: Soul Suspect for $7.49, and the original Dead Island for $4.99. A friend of mine has been bugging me to try Soul Suspect for a while. I don't know if I can get over the cheesy title, but the game is apparently quite good.
Last, but not least, a new batch of Community Deals is up. Orion: Prelude got the most votes and is down to just $0.49. I haven't heard of this game before, but it looks like dinosaurs are involved. Meanwhile, flight sim buffs will enjoy IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, which is down to $35.99.The new Star Citizen trailer looks amazing
Okay, so there are plenty of Star Citizen videos out there already—but man, I can't get enough of them. The latest clip from Roberts Space Industries shows three minutes of in-game footage accompanied with what looks like a spiel for the full game, and it looks frickin' amazing:
That's actually pretty enough to make me overlook the dubstep that kicks in half-way through. Seriously.
The trailer shows some of the existing content along with the upcoming FPS and Planetside modules—and what could be chunks of the Squadron 42 single-player mode. The unofficial schedule on the Star Citizen Wiki says the FPS module should be out later this year (although time's running out), while the Planetside and Squadron 42 modules should follow in 2015. The completed game with the Persistent Universe module is expected in late 2016.Xbox dev explains why 30 FPS isn't enough
As PC gamers, we know that frame rates over 30 FPS make animated content look more true-to-life (which, when CG imagery is involved, can sometimes conjure up the dreaded uncanny valley, as with the Hobbit films). But what makes our eyes and our brains so sensitive to frame-rate differences?
Simon Cooke, a developer from Microsoft's Xbox Advanced Technology Group, thinks he's cracked it. Writing on his personal blog, Cooke attributes the effect to the way our eyes constantly jitter to capture extra information. These ocular microtremors, he says, happen at "roughly 83.68Hz (on average, for most people)." Cooke goes on to explain:
[I]f we accept that an oscillation of 83.68Hz allows us to perceive double the resolution, what happens if you show someone pictures that vary (like a movie, or a videogame) at less than half the rate of the oscillation?
We're no longer receiving a signal that changes fast enough to allow the super-sampling operation to happen. So we're throwing away a lot of perceived-motion data, and a lot of detail as well.
If it's updating higher than half the rate of oscillation? As the eye wobbles around, it'll sample more details, and can use that information to build up a better picture of the world. Even better if we've got a bit of film-grain noise in there (preferably via temporal anti-aliasing) to fill in the gaps.
It just so happens that half of 83.68Hz is about 41Hz. So if you're going to have high-resolution pulled properly out of an image, that image needs to be noisy (like film-grain) and update at > 41Hz. Like, say, The Hobbit. Or any twitch-shooter.
Less than that? Say, 24fps? Or 30fps for a game? You're below the limit. Your eye will sample the same image twice, and won't be able to pull out any extra spatial information from the oscillation. Everything will appear a little dreamier, and lower resolution. (Or at least, you'll be limited to the resolution of the media that is displaying the image, rather than some theoretical stochastic limit).
The full blog post goes into much more detail—some of which is, frankly, a little over my head. Cooke's hypothesis is definitely an interesting one, though. In his conclusion, Cooke recommends that game developers aim for a frame rate of at least 43 FPS or so, with "temporal antialiasing, jitter or noise/film grain to mask over things and allow for more detail extraction."IHS: 2014 was a good year for the semiconductor industry
In 2014, the semiconductor market enjoyed its "best industry performance since 2010," according to the latest report from market research firm IHS. IHS projects that semiconductor revenue will total $353.2 billion in 2014, an increase of 9.4% from last year's $322.8 billion. Dale Ford, the research firm's VP and Chief Analyst, comments:
This is the healthiest the semiconductor business has been in many years, not only in light of the overall growth, but also because of the broad-based nature of the market expansion. . . . While the upswing in 2013 was almost entirely driven by growth in a few specific memory segments, the rise in 2014 is built on a widespread increase in demand for a variety of different types of chips. Because of this, nearly all semiconductor suppliers can enjoy good cheer as they enter the 2014 holiday season.”
IHS's report also includes a breakdown of the top 20 semiconductor makers and their predicted performance for 2014:
Intel is still at the top of the chart, though its 6.3% revenue growth is the lowest of the top five. AMD's revenue growth was a couple of points lower than Intel's, at 4.6%, while Nvidia's growth was three points higher, equaling the 9.4% industry average.
Of the top 20, IHS says Avago and MediaTek saw the strongest growth overall—107.9% and 57.5%, respectively. Avago was helped by its purchase of LSI and PLX, while MediaTek got a boost from its acquisition of MStar.Today's Steam deals include Saints Row IV, The Walking Dead
The Steam Holiday Sale page has just been updated with a new collection of discounts. Today's Featured Deals include Saints Row IV and The Walking Dead: Season 2, which are 75% off at $4.99 and $6.24, respectively. Other picks include Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and GTA IV, which are both $4.99.
Steam has also freshened up the 12-hour deals and Community's Choice sections. Among the items there are Papers, Please ($2.49) and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines ($4.99). The latter came out in 2004 and was, I believe, the first commercial game to use Valve's Source engine—before even Half-Life 2 was released. I had a good time playing it back then, but I can't vouch for how well it's aged.
Oh, and the latest Community's Choice picks include 3DMark Advanced Edition, too, for some reason. The Advanced Edition unlocks access to all eight benchmark tests, plus custom configuration settings and a few other bells and whistles. I guess this one will please overclockers and tweakers who feel limited by 3DMark's free release. Or something.Etc.
I felt like I had a few moments to spare this weekend, for the first time in quite a while, so I decided to address a long-standing and scary problem with my main desktop PC.
Understand that I'm still running the same basic build I outlined in my Damagebox 2011 write-up. I've added an SSD, more RAM, and a newer graphics card, but that's about it. So it's old-ish. I'm surrounded by amazing computers, but I don't like to tinker with my primary system. Downtime on it kills productivity. Plus, I usually game on one of my GPU test rigs.
Anyhow, the ol' Damagebox developed a problem at some point in the past few months. Actually, it's never been great about keeping itself cool. I talked about the problems with cooling the ICH chip in my initial build article. More recently, though, I'd noticed CPU temperatures above what one would like, even at idle. When I'd tried to do strenuous things, like transcoding video in Handbrake, the system had even rebooted a few times. A quick check several weeks ago confirmed the problem: the CPU reached temperatures approaching 90C in a load test using Prime95. So I knew this box needed some attention, but I just kept putting it off since I was busy.
This weekend, I finally pulled the system out from next to my desk and took a look. I was kind of hoping that reapplying thermal paste to the CPU cooler would solve the problem. When I pulled off the cooler and inspected the contact plate, though, the thermal paste situation was textbook. Nothing had dried up or flaked off. Hmm.
For science, I went ahead and reapplied paste. Then I booted up the system and ran another Prime95 test under close observation. Within seconds of starting it up, my CPU temperatures shot up to ~88C and kept climbing. Yikes. When I turned off Prime95, temperatures only dropped slowly. The cooler was totally ineffective, in a scary way.
My best guess is that this Corsair H60 either 1) lost all of its coolant over time or 2) quietly had a pump failure. I swear I could hear the pump going after booting up, though. I need to pull apart the plumbing on it and see if anything comes out. Betcha it's dry.
Realize this is the system that I've used to host four to five incoming video feeds, produce a composite image in XSplit, and them stream to Twitch for the TR Podcast's video version. All of that was happening on a box with pretty much no CPU cooling to speak of.
Anyhow, I ripped out the H60 and installed an old X58-compatible tower cooler from Thermalright with a 120-mm fan. That was shockingly more effective. CPU temps at idle were suddenly in the high 30s, rather than 50-60C, and under load, temps peaked at about 67C. Good grief.
After I'd reassembled everything and plugged it all back in next to my desk, though, I realized the repaired system was much too loud. The problem, turns out, was that the Thermalright cooler's fan was a three-pin DC type. My lousy motherboard wouldn't control its speed at all, so it was at a constant 1576 RPM. I pulled out the system again, swapped in a four-pin PWM fan, and soon achieved fine-grained linear fan control with similar temperatures and minimal noise.
So yeah, my really old computer now works perfectly again. I'm still shaking my head thinking about how broken it was and for how long. Thank goodness for Intel's CPU thermal throttling, I suppose.
I'm thinking I should upgrade, although honestly, I dunno. This thing has six Westmere cores and 12 threads at up to 3.6GHz with triple channels of DDR3, 12GB of RAM, a GTX 680, and a 256GB boot SSD. And I'm apparently not pushing it too hard, or it would have gone into nuclear meltdown by now. Maybe I'll just—finally—build those new GPU rigs instead.S.T.A.L.K.E.R studio re-opens, plans new project
Three years after shutting down, GSC Game World, the studio behind the excellent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, is back in action. The guys at GamesIndustry.biz have scored an interview with GSC's Valentine Yeltyshev, who helped shed light on what happened three years ago—and on what GSC is up to now.
Speaking about the canceled S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 project, Yeltyshev told GamesIndustry.biz, "Actually, STALKER 2 was in the middle of development, but we started to realise that we weren't ready to complete the game at the level of quality that we thought it should be. That was connected to a lack of specific people in the team."
By that point, some of the GSC folks had already left for 4A Games, which released the acclaimed Metro 2033 in 2010. Following GSC's demise, other team members went on to form West Games and Vostok Games, the latter of which is now developing a post-apocalyptic MMOFPS called Survivarium.
Yeltyshev says GSC still has a "solid team" and doesn't plan to hire any of those people back, at least for now. Also, while GSC still has the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 assets on hand, it's apparently got its sights set on another project:
[GamesIndustry.biz:] You've got a new, unannounced game in the works. The market is very different to what it was four years ago, have you been tempted to change with it and try free-to-play or mobile development?
[Yeltyshev:] "We're pretty sure about our fans. The market we're in is quite old fashioned, they're not 16 year olds, they're 25-40 years old. We don't think free-to-play is the right model for the game we want to make. So we're making an old-fashioned, full price game, we think our audience will be happy about that. We're expecting a lot of our old audience!"
Sounds nice. Too bad we don't know more. GSC has a new website up, so I expect details about the new project will start to trickle out there eventually. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled.New HP Chromebook combines Tegra K1, 1080p touch screen
Another Chromebook has entered the fray. Say hello to the HP Chromebook 14 Touch, whose $439.99 asking price gives you front-row seats to the unlikely marriage of a 14" 1080p touch-screen display and an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor.
The official spec sheet doesn't say which Tegra K1 variant HP went with—the 32-bit Cortex-A15 model or the 64-bit Denver-based one. I'd expect the former, though. The first Tegra K1-based Chromebook, the Acer Chromebook 13, launched in August and features the 32-bit version of the K1 (along with 4GB of RAM, deceptively enough).
The HP Chromebook 14 Touch has the same 4GB memory capacity. It's also got 32GB of eMMC storage and a pretty generous assortment of connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, SuperSpeed USB, and HDMI. The system is 0.7" thick, weighs in at 3.77 lbs, and sports a 37Wh battery with an 8.25-hour rating.
That run time pales in comparison to the 13-hour rating of Acer's Chromebook 13. The Acer machine does have smaller, non-touch-enabled 13" display, though. I guess HP chose to prioritize the larger touch screen here. That's perhaps a fair compromise, since 8.25 hours is still pretty respectable by Chromebook standards.Friday night topic: what are you giving for Christmas?
So here's the question: what are you getting your "significant other" (wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever) for Christmas this year? Anything good? Any, you know, last-minute ideas that others of us could copy?
|Merry Christmas, everybody!||60|
|Deal of the week: An Asus monitor for $125, a 240GB SSD for $80, and more||17|
|Steam sale serves up Shadow of Mordor, Thief, CS:GO||18|
|Don't hold your breath for GPU process shrinks, report suggests||55|
|Report: Jumbo Chromebooks are coming next year||25|
|Boxing Day Shortbread||9|
|Christmas Day Shortbread||21|
|Study shows tablet screens mess up your sleep||78|
|Gigabyte's wireless scissor-switch keyboard still has gaming chops||7|