TOP NEWS
PC Perspective pokes and prods the Radeon Pro Duo
— 5:59 PM on April 29, 2016

Last year or so, AMD showed off a prototype of an upcoming dual-Fiji card. The two-headed cat eventually came out of the bag, and it was shown to the world as the Radeon Pro Duo. While AMD initially hinted at the Pro Duo being a new breed of gaming monster, the company is now billing the card as a simple, easy-to-install solution for VR developers and other professional users. There's a burning question, though: "how well does it game?" Well, PC Perspective got a hold of one of these babies and put it through its paces.

The Radeon Pro Duo has two full-sized Fiji GPUs and 8GB of HBM RAM. That sounds oddly close to a couple of R9 Nanos, and if you think "Nanos-on-a-stick," you're close enough for most purposes. Since the Pro Duo is a high-powered card, PC Perspective ran its testing at 2560x1440 and 3840x2160 with all the pretties turned up. The main comparison points we'll be looking at are a pair of Radeon R9 Nanos and a similar set of GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards. Let's see how things shook out.

The Radeon Pro Duo showed off its grunt in Fallout 4. Average FPS was quite high even while playing at 4K, often staying around or above 60 FPS. As we repeatedly drill into everyone's heads, though, average FPS numbers by themselves are meaningless if those frames aren't being delivered steadily—or, in other words, if the game you're playing stutters or doesn't otherwise feel completely smooth. Similar-looking FPS averages can turn out to be very different stories in practice.

When it comes to frame times in Fallout 4 at 2560x1440, PC Perspective found that the Radeon Pro Duo and R9 Nano put in a respectable showing, with relatively small frame variation. The set of 980 Ti cards was better overall, but the difference looks to be nothing to write home about. The story is roughly the same at 4K resolution.

The PC version of GTA V is a very pretty game, and great graphics beget great horsepower. The Radeon Pro Duo ought to be at home here, and the initial FPS average measurements seem to indicate it is. That feeling probably only lasted until PC Perspective actually played the game, though. Put simply, the frame time variation displayed by the Radeon Pro Duo and the pair of Nanos is through the roof.

The line graphs look like something Cthulhu would use to comb his barbels, with spikes over the 50-ms range. Meanwhile, the pair of 980 Tis is wondering what all the fuss is about. PC Perspective's results seem to indicate that CrossFire support could use some work.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is the latest installment in the now decades-long series, and one would have to be blind to say it's not a gorgeous game. At 2560x1440, the Radeon Pro Duo and Nanos put up a decent enough showing, with the usual caveat of less-than-optimal smoothness due to frame time variation. At 4K, however, things take a turn for the worse, and something happens to the Radeon cards.

The initial part of the benchmark is peppered by extreme variation in frame times. We can only guess at what happens, but the cards in the red team behave fine for the rest of the benchmark. The problem is exclusive to CrossFire, however—the single Fury X in PC Perspective's results doesn't exhibit this strange behavior. Neither does the pair of GTX 980 Tis.

Witcher 3 is the most gorgeous PC game out there (there, I said it), and it tends to runs pretty well despite its graphical flourishes. Unless you're using a pair of Radeon GPUs, that is. This is sounding like a skipping CD, but something is up with CrossFire. The Radeon Pro Duo, the set of Nanos, and the Radeon R9 295 X2 all exhibit the same wild variations in the initial stages of benchmarking, akin to what happened with Rise of the Tomb Raider at 4K.

The thing is, it happens with Witcher 3 at both 2560x1400 and 4K resolutions. And yes, we're writing the same thing over and over again: the 980 Ti set takes things in stride even at the highest resolution, with small and steady variation in frame times.

The Radeon Pro Duo isn't being positioned as a solution for gamers, with some good reasons. The card's raw performance is akin to a pair of R9 Nanos. However, a pair of Nanos will currently set you back around $1000, while a Radeon Pro Duo goes for $1500. When comparing power consumption figures, the pair of Nanos and the Pro Duo come up evenly matched, too. However, two R9 Nanos will require two PCIe slots. They're dual-height cards, too, and you'll ideally keep some distance between them, so space is a concern when it comes to setting them up. Having this much horsepower in a single card may be quite appealing to some.

29 comments — Last by Mr Bill at 4:06 PM on 04/30/16

Microsoft finalizes closing of Lionhead Studios
— 3:32 PM on April 29, 2016

Back in March, we reported on Microsoft’s plan to stop development of the free-to-play MMO version of Fable, named Fable Legends. Fable Legends was being produced by Lionhead Studios, and when the cancellation announcement was made there was some uncertainty about its future. Today, in a statement to Polygon.com, Microsoft has announced the closing of the studio.

Fable Legends was one of the first titles to make use of DirectX 12, and even back in September of last year, a pre-release version was complete enough for us to use it in an early benchmark of the API. The title was in closed beta, with an open beta expected to launch this spring, according to Polygon. It's a bit unusual to see a game cancelled at this late of a development stage, and it remains to be seen if Microsoft has any further plans for the franchise.

Along with the Fable series, the studio was known for its popular Black and White titles. The company's founder Peter Molyneux is known for his work in highly ambitious games, dating back to Populous in 1989. Lionhead was purchased by Microsoft in 2006, at which point it began to focus on the Fable series. Molyneux left the studio in 2012 to found a new independent studio called 22Cans.

As part of the announcement to Polygon, Microsoft has stated that the reason for the delay between the cancellation of Fable and the announcement of Lionhead’s closing was to help its employees find new work.

15 comments — Last by LoneWolf15 at 2:16 PM on 04/30/16

AMD completes spin-off of its assembly and test operations
— 2:00 PM on April 29, 2016

A few months ago, AMD announced that it was spinning off its chip assembly, test, mark, and pack (ATMP) operations into a joint venture with Nantong Fujitsu Microelectronics (NFME). The companies jointly announced the successful closure of that deal today. AMD will receive $371 million from NFME as part of the bargain. In exchange, NFME will get an 85% share of AMD's ATMP operations in Penang, Malaysia and Suzhou, China. AMD will retain a 15% stake in those businesses.


A worker tests chips at AMD's Suzhou facility

AMD CEO Lisa Su says the deal "marks another step in building a more focused AMD as we complete our transition to a fabless business model, enhance our supply chain operations, and further strengthen our financial position." After taxes and other expenses, the company will get a $320 million shot of cold, hard capital. It also expects the move will "significantly reduce" capital expenditures. AMD will continue to use the joint venture's ATMP services going forward.

19 comments — Last by JumpingJack at 10:25 AM on 04/30/16

Here are the winners of our Macrium Data Disasters contest
— 11:44 AM on April 29, 2016

You guys are terrible. Every time we run a contest here at TR, we're reminded that our gerbil collective is skilled at... everything, really. Whether it's sculpting antropomorphic art with hardware, drawing computing-related cartoons, or writing up mock diary entries in the life of a PC, it's pretty much settled that gerbils can do anything, perhaps up to and including ruling the world. Hmm—there's an idea for later.

Since you're all so good at these things, contest entries tend to be very difficult to judge. We have to say, though, that the entries in our Macrium Data Disasters contest are nothing short of amazing. Your work this time around made our task particularly difficult. A lot of high-caliber system administrators in the gerbil pack came out of the woodwork to regale us with tales of flying bits, while others weaved funny stories about simpler—but no less tricky (and sometimes funny)—situations. We were spoiled with variety as well as quality.

Difficult as our task may be, judgement has to be passed. Here are our lucky winners (or losers, if they ended up losing their data). We'll soon be in touch with you all with information about how to claim your prize—a Macrium Reflect v6 Workstation license for home use.

  • thorz is a winner, and in more ways than one. His tale is a particularly long one—so much so that it's still going on to this  day. You'll have to read the story yourself to understand, but let's just say that not only he got the data back, he also got the best reward in the world for his efforts.
     
  • With the passage of time, it's inevitable that a systems administrator becomes a jaded, grumpy person that trusts no hardware, and most importantly, trusts no user. But we were all young and innocent once... and so was chubbyhorse. Read this gerbil's story and witness how humans are often the downfall of data.
     
  • ludi is a wise and venerable gerbil who's certainly amassed his share of computing stories. He spun an eloquent and loquacious tale about Windows 95 self-destruction. Any computing story that starts with "a long time ago" is worth a good read, and his will enthrall you to the very end.
     
  • Some people hack code. Others hack hardware. There are those that excel at both, and can lay hack on top of hack... then hack some more. Hackception, if you will. BurntMyBacon may not know how to cook, but he sure knows his computing. His story begins with a flooded basement, goes through multiple stages of electronics wrangling, and ends with beautiful ZFS-fu.
     
  • Altough the modern personal computer is a well-known quantity, there were times that "PC" could have a multitude of meanings. "Atari ST" is a name that takes us back in time to when disks were floppy and "hard drive" most often meant going to your folks' place for Christmas. Kevsteele wove a tale worthy of a Zak Snyder adaptation—a race against time, recovering data at a breakneck pace. If there's ever a new Speed movie, the script is right here.

We only have five copies of Macrium Reflect to give away, but we wish we had many more for our runner-ups. mac_h8r1 offered a story about a smart-butt lawyer getting busted by the IT department. zgirl, TR's Mother of Ribs and Queen of the Barbeque, dealt with magnetic fields strong enough to burn hard drives. Arvald literally gave his body and soul to the gods of data. Waco dealt with a disaster of biblical proportions. MetricT offered a new definition for "obscure problem." And Brainsan made us laught out loud with "the CD backups have sprouted legs."

That's all for this contest. We'd like to thank everyone who participated. Don't forget to check out Macrium Software and its Macrium Reflect disk imaging software, used by a good portion of the TR staff and a number of gerbils. Our thanks to Macrium for our prizes and for being long-time TR supporters. Congratulations again to all of our winners.

But wait, there's more! If you become a TR subscriber, you get access to discount coupons to use on the Macrium store. You can pay any amount to become a Silver subscriber for a full year, along with a 20%-off coupon for the Macrium store. Beat the average contribution (currently about $33), and you become a Gold subscriber. Gold members have access to a 40%-off Macrium coupon and number of exclusive TR features. Thanks for supporting us.

8 comments — Last by Firestarter at 3:08 PM on 04/30/16

Deals of the week: Asus' MG278Q display for $400 and more
— 10:41 AM on April 29, 2016

It's deals-of-the-week day, gerbils. Today we have a System-and-Peripherals-Guide themed list for you. If you were hedging on a new rig based on one of our System Guide recommendations, we have some price drops courtesy of Newegg to sweeten the deal:

  • Starting from our recent Peripherals Guide, Newegg has Asus' MG278Q display up for $400. This 27" display has a 144-Hz, 2560x1440 panel with FreeSync support. Today's price tag represents a precipitous drop from the $570 it was selling for when we wrote our Guide, and it's the lowest price we've seen for this display.
     
  • Mushkin's Reactor 1TB SSD is a popular showing for our Friday deals, and it's also the first item that just so happens to be in our System Guide. This drive has a good reputation as a value performer, and Newegg has pushed the price down to $206 till the end of the day with promo code ESCETGM63, making a sweet SSD even sweeter.
     
  • While we're talking about System Guide staples, G.Skill’s Ripjaws V 32GB DDR4-2133 memory kit has dropped down to $90 with promo code PAXMEM10 on the Egg. This is a fantastic price on a kit we felt good about recommending at $120. 
     
  • We also gave a nod to the Zotac GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB graphics card in our most recent System Guide, and Newegg is helping out by offering it for $95, a $10 drop from the price featured in the Guide. This is the most budget-friendly graphics card we recommend, and it's good to see it get just a little more friendly.
     
  • If you're looking for something a bit more extreme, Newegg has Intel's Core i7-5930K CPU for about $25 off today with promo code EMCETGM22. While $25 off of a $550 processor might not sound like a lot, savings on high-end processors like these are fairly rare. This CPU is an easy recommendation for a high-end system, and $25 buys a lot of cheeseburgers.
     
  • Fractal Design’s Node 804 chassis is a compact, dual-chamber microATX enclosure that can take up to 8 3.5" drives. Newegg is offering it for $70 right now, which is the lowest price we have seen.
     
  • If you're in the market for a new Windows Phone device, Microsoft is offering an unusual flagship-plus-one deal. Its 32GB, 5.7", Snapdragon 810-driven Lumia 950 XL comes with a free 32GB, 5.2", Snapdragon 808-driven Lumia 950 for free. At a total of $650 for two unlocked phones, this could make for a great whole-household mobile OS conversion kit.

That's all for this week, folks. If we missed a great deal somewhere else, be sure to share it with other TR readers in the comments.

21 comments — Last by travbrad at 11:55 AM on 04/30/16

Phanteks wraps its Enthoo Evolv ATX case in sheets of glass
— 9:09 AM on April 29, 2016

Phanteks is giving builders a a more expansive view of the systems they build inside its Enthoo Evolv ATX case today. The company's Tempered Glass Edition case swaps the Evolv's standard side panels for two full sheets of tempered glass. This version of the case also adds 10-color RGB LED accent lighting around the power button and on the front panel. Those lights can be configured to run in solid, "breathing," or "color cycle" modes.

Glass panels and blinkenlights aside, the Evolv ATX retains the solid-looking foundation of its more traditional forebear. The case has room for three 120-mm fans or a 360-mm radiator on its front and top panels. It can also accommodate two 140-mm fans or a 280-mm radiator in those locations, as well. The case comes pre-loaded with two 140-mm fans on its front panel and one 140-mm exhaust fan.

The Evolv ATX also comes with five 3.5" drive bay sleds and two dedicated 2.5" storage mounting points. It can swallow CPU coolers as tall as 7.6" (194 mm) and graphics cards as long as 11.8" (300 mm) if the 3.5" drive sleds are installed. Phanteks didn't disclose pricing info, but we'd expect this case to carry a premium over the regular Evolv ATX's $180 retail price right now.

15 comments — Last by curtisb at 10:59 AM on 04/30/16

AOC Agon AG271QX is the first in a new line of gaming displays
— 7:39 AM on April 29, 2016

Chinese display manufacturer AOC recently announced that it planned to release a new line of gaming monitors under the brand name Agon. Today it's released details for the first display in the series, the AG271QX

The AG271QX is a 27”, 2560 x 1440 display. Its TN panel has a 1ms response time and a 144Hz refresh rate. The display supports FreeSync through a wide 30-100Hz refresh rate range. On the more nuts-and-bolts side, the display’s stand allows for height, tilt, and swivel adjustment.

We have seen most of these features from AOC’s displays before, though. The thing that sets this display apart from the company’s normal fare, and apparently earns it the Agon brand, is the display’s bold red-and-black styling. This design language is a pretty major departure from the AOC’s normally understated matte-black bezels.

AOC hasn't specified what connectivity options are available for this display yet. The company expects the AG271QX to show up at retailers in June. AOC suggests a starting price of €599, which works out to $685 at today's exchange rates. We don't know whether that European price tag includes VAT, which could affect the final figure.

25 comments — Last by rems at 10:15 PM on 04/29/16

HP's Chromebook 13 is dressed for success at $499
— 1:23 PM on April 28, 2016

HP's new Chromebook 13 G1 could compete with Apple's MacBook at half the price. The Chromebook 13 G1 offers an aesthetically pleasing, brushed-aluminum body that may be the best-looking Chromebook since the Pixel (even if it doesn't come in pink). This the first Chromebook we know of with Intel's Skylake Core M processors. That class of CPU might let HP's Chromebook strike the right balance between performance and battery life for this platform.

HP includes two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and a single USB 3.1 Type-A port on the left of the Chromebook 13. The company hasn't said how much storage it'll include with this machine, but a microSD card reader should let users move files around or expand the internal flash. Chrome OS should look pretty on this machine's standard 13" 1080p display or an optional 3200x1800 panel. The Chromebook squeezes all of those bits into a 13-mm-tall chassis, besting the MacBook by a hair's width. For on-the-go users, the purported 11.5-hour battery life could make long car rides and flights more bearable. Business users who need enterprise-grade remote desktop and virtual private network support will find that the Chromebook 13 is ready for VDI and VPN from vendors like Citrix, VMWare, and Cisco, too.

HP caters to the business crowd with the $149 HP Elite USB-C Docking Station. If it's not obvious from the name, the dock connects to the laptop using a USB-C cable. The dock can drive up to two 1080p displays connected using DisplayPort or HDMI. It also adds an Ethernet port for wired networking and a five-port USB hub for charging phones and connecting peripheral devices.

Several configuration options exist for the Chromebook 13, according to a detailed HP spec sheet leak. The entry-level laptop will include 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and a choice of Intel Pentium 4405Y, Core m3-6Y30, or Core m5-6Y57 CPUs. The mid-level unit will include 8GB of RAM and Intel Core m5-6Y57 or Core m7-6Y75 CPUs. The high-end model comes with a whopping 16GB of RAM and an Intel Core m7-6Y75 chip. The last option choice is between the 1080p and 3200x1800 screens, neither of which support touch. The Chromebook 13 should be available this month for $499.

25 comments — Last by tsk at 7:05 AM on 04/30/16

Apple and Samsung lead tablet shipments in a struggling market
— 12:23 PM on April 28, 2016

Market research firm IDC has published its report on the state of the tablet market for the first quarter of 2016, and it's not a glowing one. Consumers remain disinterested in tablets as a category, and worldwide shipments of these devices—including both slates and convertibles—dropped 14.7% compared to this time last year. That drop continues a year-and-a-half-long slide in tablet sales, which IDC blames on "first quarter seasonality and an overall disinterested customer base."

Apple and Samsung bore the worst of the slump. That's not surprising, since Apple has the biggest share of the market at 25.9%, while Samsung holds the runner-up spot with 15.2% piece of the pie. Those marketshare numbers are down versus last quarter too, from 27.2% and 18%. Amazon's third-place slice of 5.7%, Lenovo's fourth-place 5.5% share, and Huawei's 5.2% take round out the top five players. The "Others" category, which accounts for 42.6% of shipments, demonstrates just how many players are in this game, though.

Included in that "Others" category is one of the highest-profile players in the tablet market: Microsoft. While Surface sales have been consistently "good", it seems they aren't quite good enough to break into the leaderboard. Many vendors are offering Windows 2-in-1 devices these days, so the Redmond company faces tough competition even in its home court. 

30 comments — Last by NeelyCam at 9:20 PM on 04/29/16

MSI debuts entry-level and enthusiast C232 motherboards
— 10:31 AM on April 28, 2016

MSI has announced a round of new C232-chipset motherboards today: the E3 Krait Gaming V5 and the E3M Workstation V5. These boards are designed to work with Intel’s Xeon E3-1200 v5 processors. Both models support ECC DDR4 RAM, possibly the biggest selling point of these professional boards versus more consumer-oriented products.

We're used to seeing some wild color schemes from motherboard manufacturers, even in this workstation-lite space. MSI’s choice to make the E3 Krait Gaming V5 a stark black-and-white board is a nice change of pace. The Krait Gaming V5 includes an M.2 2280 slot for storage devices and an M.2 2230 slot for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth cards, along with a USB Type-C connector. MSI also includes its DDR4 Boost feature on the board, which allows RAM faster than the DDR4-2133 standard to work without a hitch.

The E3M Workstation V5 is a microATX board with a more traditional set of workstation features. It drops the M.2 slots, trims two DIMM slots, and leaves behind the black-and-white theme. It retains MSI’s DDR4 Boost features, which might be a weird pairing for builders looking for a stable ECC-powered build. It includes Intel's standard workstation RAID, Rapid Start, and Smart Connect features. MSI didn't indicate when these boards will be available, or what premium the professional platform will demand.

 

12 comments — Last by Krogoth at 5:37 AM on 04/29/16

Z410 SSDs bring a 480GB tier to SanDisk's entry-level drives
— 9:05 AM on April 28, 2016

As the cost of flash storage continues to drop, buyers are demanding larger SSD capacities for their money. With its new Z410 line, SanDisk is adding a 480GB capacity tier to its most affordable series of drives. On top of that, the new lineup offers a modest performance boost over the company's current Z400s budget SSDs.

The Z410 SSDs come in three capacities: 120GB, 240GB, and the aforementioned 480GB version. They're all SATA 6Gbps drives in a 2.5" form factor. With claimed sequential read speeds up to 535 MB/s, these drives offer similar performance to the Z400s drives. Sequential write speeds, though, improved from up to 342 MB/s in the Z400s line to up to 445 MB/s in the Z410 line. Both products have very similar random performance. The Z410 SSDs offer random reads up to 37K IOPS and random writes up to 68K IOPS. SanDisk also says that the Z410 drives include an SLC cache that purportedly improves burst write performance during typical use.

With the introduction of the Z410 lineup, SanDisk now has three lines of solid-state drives on the market using TLC flash. The X400 line offers the highest performance of the bunch, at least going by SanDisk's numbers. Distinguishing the Z400s and Z410 lines isn't quite so simple. The largest capacity in the Z400s line is 256GB, but you can get 480GB with the Z410 line. Some Z400s drives come in the M.2 form factor and offer a five-year warranty, though, while the Z410 drives are all 2.5" drives covered by a three-year warranty. 

11 comments — Last by Waco at 11:25 AM on 04/29/16

Galaxy S7 phones help Samsung deliver a strong first quarter
— 7:48 AM on April 28, 2016

Samsung Electronics has reported its first-quarter financial results. The company made an operating profit of 6.7 trillion Korean won ($5.9 billion) on revenue of 49.8 trillion won ($43.7 billion). Operating profit was up 12% over the same time a year ago, and revenue increased 5.7%. The company slightly beat its own guidance of 49 trillion KRW in revenue and 6.6 trillion KRW in profit.

The company said its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones led its earnings growth, thanks to an early launch and strong sales of those products. Samsung also said its IT and Mobile Communications Division improved its cost efficiency by simplifying its lower-end smartphone product lineup.

Samsung claimed that its semiconductor business made up for a soft seasonal demand for memory products by moving more "high value-added products" and lowering costs by migrating to new technologies for its production of DRAM and NAND chips.

The company's display panel business saw a drop in earnings, thanks to what Samsung describes as "a sharp decline in LCD panel earnings." The success of the Galaxy S7 smartphones helped the company move more OLED panels, though. Samsung says its LCD production experienced "temporary yield issues while adopting new process technology," and its earnings also weren't helped by a reported TV panel price decline.

Samsung says it expects a rosy second quarter spearheaded by continued strength in its mobile device and semiconductor businesses, along with improvements in the results of its consumer electronics and display panel businesses.

8 comments — Last by End User at 11:58 PM on 04/28/16

Minecraft: Gear VR Edition is available now for $6.99
— 4:30 PM on April 27, 2016

If you own a Samsung Gear VR and often have a jonesing for a dose of VR Minecraft on the go, Oculus has a fix for you today. The company announced that Minecraft: Gear VR Edition is now available on the Oculus Store for $6.99. Game development legend John Carmack says "my strongest memories of being inside VR are from the time I’ve spent exploring Minecraft on Gear VR." 'Nuff said.

Oculus says this version of Minecraft supports the same gameplay features as Minecraft Pocket Edition, like Creative and Survival modes, skins, and multiplayer environments. As you can see in the trailer above, the Gear VR lets players enjoy the game in a kind of "theater mode" that displays the game on a blocky virtual screen, or in a first-person mode that's purportedly more "intense and immersive." Aside from a compatible Samsung smartphone and a Gear VR headset, Minecraft: Gear VR Edition requires a controller like SteelSeries' Stratus XL to work. Regular Minecraft is coming to the Oculus Rift at some point, but the Gear VR version might be more accessible to the general public for now.

7 comments — Last by Krogoth at 5:33 AM on 04/28/16

Seagate begins shipping its 10TB helium-filled hard drives
— 4:05 PM on April 27, 2016

We first learned about Seagate's 10TB Enterprise Capacity hard drive back in January, and now the company reports that it's shipping these monster drives "in volume." In particular, the company says its partners at Supermicro and Ciara are incorporating these 10TB spinners into their mass-storage products for the data center, like Supermicro's four-rack-unit, 90-bay JBOD chassis for 3.5" drives. Fill that baby up with 10TB Enterprise Capacity drives, and you'd have nearly a petabyte of unformatted storage to work with.

If you're not up on all the details of the 10TB Enterprise Capacity drive yet, it uses a sealed, helium-filled interior to shelter its seven platters and 14 heads. Unlike many monster hard drives on the market right now, this 10TB drive uses traditional perpendicular magnetic recording to store bits. Other high-capacity drives use shingled magnetic recording to reach their dizzying amounts of storage space, and that recording tech can have negative effects on random I/O performance. Seagate still isn't listing the 10TB drive on its website, but this announcement might hint at expanded availability for the rest of us soon.

36 comments — Last by just brew it! at 6:15 AM on 04/29/16

Onkyo's DP-X1 makes high-end audio portable
— 11:33 AM on April 27, 2016

Luxury audio hardware aficionados, rejoice. Onkyo is releasing its DP-X1 portable digital audio player. No longer do you have to suffer through the noise and distortion of your smartphone's woefully inadequate output hardware when you're on the go. The DP-X1 features dual ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DACs and Sabre 9601K amplifiers. That hardware lets the DP-X1 generate a balanced output signal.

Aside from the fancy audio output hardware and its physical controls, the DP-X1 is essentially an Android iPod Touch. The device runs Android 5.1.1, and that operating system gets a window on the world with a 4.7-inch, 720p touchscreen. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are included, naturally. Thanks to the 'smart' nature of the device, essentially every audio codec and format under the sun are supported, even the new MQA format. It also plays videos and does near anything else we expect of an Android device, as Onkyo has made no effort to restrict the DP-X1's smart functionality.

Onkyo's new portable includes a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack, a micro-USB port, and a 2.5mm TRRS jack for balanced-output mode. The device has physical reverse, pause, and play buttons, as well as an oversized volume knob. The DP-X1 only comes with 32GB of storage, but it has a pair of MicroSD slots supporting up to 200GB per card. If you're tired of poor-quality portable audio, Amazon has the DP-X1 for $799 right now, or $100 off its suggested price.

26 comments — Last by internetsandman at 2:56 AM on 04/29/16

Chromium OS now runs on the Raspberry Pi
— 11:03 AM on April 27, 2016

The ChromeOS-inspired Chromium OS has been ported to a couple Raspberry Pi models. The ChromiumRPI releases are only at version 0.5 right now, and they're missing some yummy features like support for Wi-Fi, Netflix, and HTML5 video—but they do run. While this latest release only supports the Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3 devices, the future is bright for other single-board computers (SBCs). SBC donations to the Chromium OS project from several companies suggest that it should become available on more boards than just the Raspberry Pi at some point. The range of donated boards include Hummingboard Edge, Orange Pi, Lemaker, Nano Pis, and more.

The project isn't just looking for testing hardware. It's recently recruited Kevn McAleer to implement Chromium OS for the Pine64 board, showing its dedication to targeting these new boards, too. Based on the donated board names, it seems there's a focus on Raspberry Pi compatiblity, so I'm not sure if there's any future plans to expand to higher-end SBCs like HardKernel Odroids or other low-power boards like as BeagleBoard Bones. Still, if you enjoy tinkering with these things, Chromium OS is another arrow in the quiver alongside Microsoft's versions of Windows 10 for these devices.

4 comments — Last by TheMonkeyKing at 12:14 PM on 04/28/16

Intel lays out its vision for the future of USB Type-C
— 8:16 AM on April 27, 2016

Intel discussed its vision for the USB Type-C connector during its IDF16 presentation. The biggest changes the company wants to make center on the USB Power Delivery specification, but two new alternate mode specifications with interesting implications for future peripherals were discussed, too: USB Authentication and USB Bridging. Another interesting tidbit involves USB Type-C Digital Audio, a feature that might motivate headphone makers to put a USB Type-C plug on the ends of their cans.

The USB Power Delivery 2.0 specification, refered to as USB PD, is difficult to digest even in presentation slide format, so it might not be a surprise that early manufacturers of USB Type-C cables made errors in their interpretation of the standard. As a result, some companies may have created what I'll deem BadPower legacy USB cables, similar to those Google engineer Benson Leung found on Amazon. Thankfully, Intel has now provided some clarifications in the specification and modified its compatibility testing guidelines. Those changes should improve OEM comprehension, and they could remedy future compatibility problems.

It appears as though Intel is looking to make USB power delivery more consumer-friendly, too. A feature called "Fast Role Swap" lets users unplug a power delivery device (like a wall plug) without necessarily disrupting power to USB devices connected to a hub, for example. Instead, another connected device like a laptop with an alternate power source can step in and supply power to the connected peripherals. USB Type-C may be smart enough to become an international charging standard, too. The International Electrotechnical Commission is dedicating a working group, PT63002, to reviewing and commenting on the USB PD specification.

With the new USB Authentication specification, free USB power stations at airports might go the way of the dodo. USB Authentication performs X.509 PKI path-validation of point-to-point devices over the USB PD configuration channel (CC) or USB data channel. With authenticated USB devices, it becomes possible for hosts to reject devices, or devices to reject hosts. At the airport, that feature might mean getting billed for charging your phone, or outright denied power when you plug in. More consumer-friendly uses for the technology might be a standardized way for secure USB Flash drives to validate a host before they unlock, or a method for hosts to prevent employees from compromising their corporate networks by plugging in unauthorized flash drives.

While USB Authentication is exciting from a device security perspective, it doesn't work with devices like USB hubs yet. That's where the USB Bridging specification plays a role. Instead of a hub performing USB Authentication of an attached device on its own, USB Bridging lets the hub pass information about the device directly to the host so that it can perform USB Authentication. In this way, the host is not required to trust any external peripherals—a desirable security feature.

USB Digital Audio also played a major part in the IDF presentation. Intel is trying to let the device industry migrate away from analog headphone and microphone jacks with the USB Digital Audio specification. The most likely real-world features we'll see from USB Digital Audio appear to be allowing manufacturers to add support for smart audio gear with distinct power states and content-protection algorithms to prevent audio tampering from host to audio output.

49 comments — Last by travbrad at 3:13 PM on 04/30/16

iPhone sales decline year-on-year in Apple's fiscal Q2
— 4:10 PM on April 26, 2016

Apple has released its financial results for its fiscal second quarter, and the champagne is staying in the bottle today. The company made $10.5 billion in net income on $50.6 billion in revenue. Those numbers are down from the $13.6 billion in net income and $58 billion in revenue the company took in during the same quarter a year ago. Gross margin fell a bit to 39.4%, down from 40.8% a year ago.

They say all good things must come to an end, and Apple's long record of skyrocketing iPhone sales appears to have reached its peak. The company sold 51.2 million iPhones this quarter, down 16% from the year-ago quarter. Phone sales generated $32.8 billion in revenue, down 18% from this time last year.

The iPad didn't take up any of that slack. Apple sold 10.2 million iPads last quarter, down 36% sequentially and 19% year-over-year. The product line took in "just" $4.4 billion. Mac sales also experienced declines. Apple moved 4 million Macs last quarter, down 12% from a year ago. Macs generated $5.1 billion in revenue, a decline of 9% year-on-year.

The two bright spots in Apple's report are its services revenue and "Other Products" revenue, where the Apple Watch presumably records its results. The company's services generated $5.9 billion in revenue, up 20% from a year ago, while the $2.2 billion generated by "Other Products" is up 30%.

For the third quarter of its fiscal 2016, Apple expects revenue between $41 billion and $43 billion and a gross margin between 37.5% and 38%.

115 comments — Last by Wonders at 10:42 AM on 04/30/16

Fallout 4 gets official mod support and in-game Creation Kit
— 3:44 PM on April 26, 2016

Rejoice, Fallout 4 fans! Bethesda has an announcement for you today, and it's a doozy. The game is finally getting official support for mods, which players can create themselves using the in-game Creation Kit.

To get started with modding, players need to create a Bethesda.net account and download the Creation Kit, which the company says is very similar to the tools the game developers themselves used. Development is hardly ever done without documentation, so Bethesda has put up a Creation Kit Wiki that would-be designers and coders can and should read. The created mods should be available to console players soon, too—in May for the Xbox One, and June for the PlayStation 4.

Of course, you might just be interested in having mods in your game without having to make trips to the Nexus. Bethesda has made that particular task a lot easier now—the new beta version of Fallout 4 comes with an in-game mod browser which lets players install, rate, and bookmark their favorite modifications. PC players can check out the new update by going into their Steam Library, right-clicking on Fallout 4, clicking Properties, and selecting "beta - 1.5 update" under the Betas tab.

Bethesda didn't say anything about if and how it would validate a mod's technical execution. Incompatibility, load order, and plain ol' instability are concerns that every player adding mods to a game has to contend with, and the company didn't specify what steps it would take to ensure that their games remain stable despite the modifications.

In related news, a new version of the Unofficial Fallout 4 Patch was recently released. If you just want fixes for the base game itself, be sure to check it out. Gentlemen, start your Pip-Boys.

12 comments — Last by brucethemoose at 9:14 PM on 04/28/16

Falcon Northwest creates a pair of Oculus Ready PCs
— 2:00 PM on April 26, 2016

TR readers jumping into VR are likely consulting our System Guide already, but some folks just want the convenience of a prebuilt, VR-ready PC. Oculus is catering to those buyers with its Oculus Ready program. That program already features PCs from Asus, Alienware, and Dell. Now, Falcon Northwest is joining the party. The company is introducing two PCs to the Oculus Ready lineup today: the diminutive Tiki mini-tower and the beefier Talon mid-tower.

While Falcon Northwest is probably best known for its infinitely tweakable custom systems, the two prebuilt systems it's introducing today keep things pretty simple. The Oculus Ready Tiki comes with a liquid-cooled Core i7-6700K CPU, a GeForce GTX 980 graphics card, 16GB of DDR4-2400 memory, and a 1TB SSD from Micron. That setup will run buyers $2699.

The Talon mid-tower keeps the Core i7-6700K CPU, but ups the graphics stakes to a GeForce GTX 980 Ti. It also comes with 32GB of DDR4-2400 RAM, a 512GB PCIe SSD, and four terabytes of mechanical storage. That box goes for $3099. Both systems come with a year of overnight service and a three-year parts-and-labor warranty.

19 comments — Last by DPete27 at 8:53 AM on 04/27/16