|Biostar's Hi-Fi Z97WE motherboard reviewed||31|
|The TR Podcast 157: BBQ fever and the Pentium overclocking prodigy||9|
|TR's July 2014 System Guide||82|
Asus dabbles in a surprising number of product categories nowadays—including routers. This week, the company has expanded its router lineup with the RT-AC87, a new 802.11ac specimen that's supposed to hit speeds of up to 1.73Gps—or just over 221MB/s.
According to Asus, the RT-AC87 is the "world's first" wave-two 802.11ac router and the "fastest" 5GHz offering. I'm not sure about that, but at $269.99, the RT-AC87 is definitely priced like a premium product. It features a Quantenna QSR1000 chipset, four antennas with universal beamforming, and multi-user MIMO, which prevents bottlenecks from cropping up on multi-device networks:
With MU-MIMO1, the RT-AC87 can form groups of multiple devices that can be served at the same time, simultaneously. Previous 802.11n and 802.11ac routers can stream to only one device at a time. MU-MIMO greatly increases the efficiency of the Wi-Fi network, mitigating potential bottlenecks as more devices are connected to the access point. Furthermore, the RT-AC87’s multiple antennas, coupled with its advanced beamforming, reduce the transmission’s signal-to-noise ratio and improve the reliability of the Wi-Fi signal, providing a better overall wireless experience.
Along with the impressive specs, the RT-AC87 ships with AiCloud 2.0 software, which transforms the router into a "powerful personal cloud server." Network and USB storage hooked up to the router can be accessed remotely using the AiCloud web interface and the dedicated AiCloud apps for iOS and Android. Pretty nifty.
Asus says the RT-AC87 will be available in North America "shortly."Early Unreal Tournament concept art reminds us how far we've come
The image below has been making the rounds online as an example of how the recently announced Unreal Tournament sequel looks, and compared to the visuals in UT3, it's pretty darned impressive.
Turns out, though, that this image is just a bit of concept art, a mock-up made by one of the designers at Epic intended to establish the visual style of the next UT title, which is still in its infancy. You can see more of this concept level, taken from directly inside the Unreal Editor 4 application, in the video below from Epic Games. The images are being generated in real time.
The designer explains that this, erm, Portal-inspired look is intended to be clean and industrial-feeling, with just a splash of color, so that it's visually interesting while still allowing characters to stand-out from the background. That makes sense to me. I'm just ready for a modernized UT game that looks like this and plays like an updated version of UT2004.Report: Intel targeting larger, pricier Android tablets
Android tablets are dominated by ARM-based hardware, but Intel is slowly making inroads. Its Atom CPUs have already infiltrated smaller, budget slates. Now, Fudzilla is reporting that reference designs for larger Android tablets are making the rounds. The systems are targeted at the $299-499 price range, the site says, and they include screen sizes from 9.6-12.5". A detachable keyboard seems to be a part of the package, as well.
Intel appears to have established some baseline specifications for pricier tablets based on its chips. Fudzilla claims those requirements include a minimum of eight hours of battery life and a display resolution of at least 1920x1080. Designs must be thinner than 10 mm, according to the site, but there's no mention of a maximum weight or whether the detachable keyboard is a must-have accessory.
These more upscale Android tablets are reportedly based on Atom hardware, and they might have company. In a separate article, Fudzilla suggests Intel is prepping an even more upscale design based on its next-gen Broadwell CPU. That machine is supposed to have a 2560x1440 display, a 10.6-13.3" screen, and pricing in the $499-799 range.
The reports are unconfirmed, of course, so add your own salt. Also, remember that reference designs don't always translate into actual products.AMD's Mullins APU appears in $250 HP netbook
AMD's low-power Mullins APU has scored a major design win. HP has adopted the Jaguar-based chip for its Pavilion 10z netbook. The Windows 8.1 machine starts at just $249.99, putting it firmly in Chromebook territory. And it doesn't look half bad, either:
There are, however, a few caveats. The E1 Micro-6200T APU is the runt of the Mullins family, with only two cores clocked up to 1.4GHz. Full-fat implementations sport quad cores, and the top model scales up to 2.2GHz. Higher-end Mullins variants also have faster GPU and memory clocks.
HP combines the SoC with 2GB of low-power DDR3 memory and 500GB of 5,400-RPM mechanical storage. Meh. The 10.1" touchscreen has a 1366x768 resolution and LED backlighting, but the panel is likely based on TN technology. There's no mention of wide viewing angles or color depth. Other features include USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, a 100Mbps Ethernet jack, an SD card reader, and a "Miracast compatible" wireless implementation—probably 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Although the underlying APU has a 4W thermal envelope, don't expect marathon run times. HP says the 24Wh battery is good for "up to 4 hours" of video playback. The Pavilion isn't particularly svelte, either; it's 0.89" (22.6 mm) thick and 2.5 lbs.
Compromises are inescapable for PCs in this price range, but it's important to remember that this is basically a tiny Windows PC for only 250 bucks. You get a keyboard and a touchpad and everything, and that's pretty neat. Thanks to VR Zone's Chinese site for the tip.Steam controller gets an analog stick
The Steam controller has gotten a not-so-little design tweak. According to this tweet by the Steam Database folks (who are, I should point out, not affiliated with Valve), the latest version of the gamepad now sports a good old-fashioned analog stick:
Valve has changed their Steam controller once again, here's an image showing the latest revision pic.twitter.com/kFVhMQ0XrC— Steam Database (@SteamDB) July 23, 2014
Yep, that's definitely an analog stick. Compare that to the original design, which had a big touchscreen in the middle, and the circa-GDC revision, which replaced the touchscreen with four buttons and a d-pad.
The analog stick takes care of my biggest beef with the Steam controller, which is that its fancy dual touchpads have a pretty steep learning curve—and, since this a unique design, nobody has prior experience with these things. A Valve guy I spoke to at GDC said that, because of the touchpads, familiarizing himself with the controller took eight hours. I was personally hopeless with it after a 10-minute session.
Early adopters will hopefully face less frustration with the new design. Not that anybody's going to be adopting this thing all that early, mind you. Last we heard, Valve had delayed both the Steam controller and the Steam machines until 2015.Delays strike Battlefield: Hardline, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Battlefield fans will have to make do without a new chapter this year. Hardline, the cops 'n criminals take on the franchise, has been delayed until "early 2015."
According to DICE VP Karl Magnus Troedsson, the delay was in part inspired by feedback from the recent Hardline multiplayer beta. Some of the features suggested by the community will be incorporated into the game. There are also plans to add depth to the single-player campaign and to improve overall stability. Sounds like the initial beta might not have been the smoothest experience for players. A second one is planned before the final release.
Battlefield: Hardline isn't the only Frostbite-powered title that will arrive later than expected. Dragon Age: Inquisition was supposed to be available in early October, but it's been pushed to November 18. Executive Producer Mark Darrah says the additional time will be used to polish the game and strengthen "the emotional impact of the Hero's choices," whatever that means.
The delays were announced before publisher Electronic Arts posted its quarterly financial results. EA raked in $1.2 billion over the past three months and turned a $335 million profit. PC gaming revenue fell 1% compared to the same quarter last year, but revenue from console games increased 67%, and mobile revenue rose 18%.
The outlook isn't as bright for the coming quarter, during which EA expects to lose $37 million on revenue of $965 million. However, the publisher still expects to turn a $581 million profit for its full fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to March 31. Revenues are expected to total $4.3 billion for that period.It's official: Microsoft will consolidate Windows development
On the heels of its quarterly results announcement yesterday, Microsoft announced a plan to unify the creation of disparate Windows versions for phones, tablets, and consoles.
According to Seeking Alpha's transcript of the quarterly earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella specifically talked about a plan to "consolidate overlapping efforts"—meaning "one operating system that covers all screen sizes and consolidated dual use productivity services that cross life and work."
Nadella added, "We will streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system for screens of all sizes. We will unify our stores, commerce and developer platforms to drive a more coherent user experience and a broader developer opportunity."
During the Q&A portion of the call, Nadella elaborated further, noting that Microsoft will continue to offer multiple flavors, or SKUs, of Windows while despite unifying things at the "engineering" level:
Yes. My statement Heather was more to do with just even the engineering approach. The reality is that we actually did not have one Windows; we had multiple Windows operating systems inside of Microsoft. We had one for phone, one for tablets and PCs, one for Xbox, one for even embedded. So we had many, many of these efforts. So now we have one team with the layered architecture that enables us to in fact . . . bring that collective opportunity with one store, one commerce system, one discoverability mechanism. It also allows us to scale the UI across all screen sizes; it allows us to create this notion of universal Windows apps and being coherent there.
So that’s what more I was referencing and our SKU strategy will remain by segment, we will have multiple SKUs for enterprises, we will have for OEM, we will have for end-users. And so we will – be disclosing and talking about our SKUs as we get further along, but this my statement was more to do with how we are bringing teams together to approach Windows as one ecosystem very differently than we ourselves have done in the past.
Microsoft had already announced universal Windows apps at its Build conference in April. As the company said at the time, developers will be able to write applications that can run on all of Microsoft's current consumer operating systems—Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1, and the Xbox One—with a different user interface for each one.
In November 2013, Microsoft's Julie Larson-Green also dropped some not-so-subtle hints about Windows consolidation. The Devices and Studios head said, "We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We're not going to have three." However, her statement seemed to point to a future with two Windows versions—for mobile and desktop—rather than just a single one.Microsoft's 2014 revenue up 11.5%, but income stagnates
Microsoft has posted financial results for its fourth fiscal quarter and the year as a whole. (Instead of conforming to the calendar, Microsoft's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.) The Windows giant took in $86.8 billion over the last 12 months, an 11.5% increase over its 2013 fiscal year. Net income was up, too, though by only 1%. Here are the relevant yearly numbers:
|Revenue||$86.8 billion||$77.8 billion||11.5%|
|Net income||$22.1 billion||$21.9 billion||1.0%|
|Gross margin||$59.9 billion||$57.6 billion||4.0%|
The Devices and Consumer Licensing division suffered a 1.1% revenue decline slightly over the year. That decrease was offset by 49% growth in Computer and Gaming Hardware revenue likely driven by the Xbox One. Commercial revenue also rose for both licensing and the nebulous "other" category. And, according to CEO Satya Nadella, revenue from commercial cloud products "doubled again."
Microsoft's purchase of Nokia closed during the last quarter. The acquisition contributed $2 billion in revenue, so keep that in mind as you peruse the quarterly numbers:
|Q4 2014||Q4 2013||Change|
|Revenue||$23.4 billion||$19.9 billion||17.5%|
|Net income||$4.6 billion||$5.0 billion||-7.1%|
|Gross margin||$15.8 billion||$14.3 billion||10.4%|
Although net income fell 7.1% from the same quarter in 2013, Microsoft still turned a tidy profit. Year-over-year revenue increased substantially, and gross margin ticked up over 10%. Windows volume licensing also climbed 11%, likely due to corporate upgrades inspired by the end of extended support for Windows XP. The old OS was cut off on April 8, just after the beginning of the quarter.
Looking ahead, Microsoft expects to take up to a $1.6-billion hit associated with the sweeping job cuts announced last week. The company believes most of that charge will manifest itself in the first half of fiscal 2015—over the next six months, in other words.Tuesday Night Shortbread
Eight is Enough
Read more... New Humble Bundle includes Thief, Deus Ex, Anachronox, Hitman
Still hungry for game discounts after last month's completely insane Steam sale? Well, you're in luck. A new Humble Bundle full of Square Enix classics is now up for grabs.
The pay-what-you-want package includes Thief Gold, Daikatana, Anachronox, and the first two Hitman games. Folks who pay more than the average (just over $6 as I write this) also get Hitman: Absolution, Deus Ex: The Fall, Deus Ex: Invisible War, and a couple of other titles I've never heard of.
If you don't mind coughing up $15, then you'll also receive all of the above plus the original Deus Ex, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Just Cause 2, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
Yeah, not a bad deal for 15 bucks. And as always, the Humble Bundle guys still let you choose how much of your contribution goes to charity.
I could wax poetic about many of the games above, but I have particularly fond memories of Anachronox, a product of the ill-fated Ion Storm Dallas venture. While John Romero was busy destroying his career in another part of the studio, Tom Hall was spearheading this masterpiece of humor-laden sci-fi RPG goodness. I'm still broken up over the fact that Hall never got to tell the end of the story. Still, the game is worth playing for sure.Nvidia Shield Tablet is packed with ports, possibilities
Just under a year since the release of the Shield Portable, Nvidia has announced a second member of the Shield family. As expected, it's the Shield Tablet, an Android slate with an emphasis on gaming. Like the Shield Portable before it, the Shield Tablet will sell direct from Nvidia, not from a partner company. The Shield Tablet extends Nvidia's Android gaming focus to a new form factor, making it one of the first tablets anywhere with a fairly pure gaming mission.
In keeping with the Shield theme, the tablet can run Android games locally on its Tegra K1 SoC, and it can also stream games from a host system, such as a GeForce-equipped home PC or a Nvidia GRID server in the cloud.
As the details in the cutaway diagram above suggest, the Shield Tablet is a premium Android slate with an 8" IPS display that sports a 1920x1200 resolution and a rich feature set. The Tegra K1 SoC that drives it features quad ARM Cortex-A15 CPU cores. (Sadly, it's not the "Denver" version with support for 64-bit software.) The K1's graphics processor is based on a single Kepler-derived SMX unit with 192 shader processors. An angel loses its wings every time Nvidia says the K1 has "192 cores," but still, that single SMX should grant the new Tegra with some of the most capable mobile graphics anywhere, compliant with every API that the GeForce Titan can support, plus the latest mobile variants.
The Shield Tablet has front- and rear-facing five-megapixel cameras. As rumored, it can accept microSD cards up to 128GB in capacity, which is a trend we can get behind. Connectivity includes 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi with a 2x2 MIMO antenna config and optional LTE. The other ports and slots include a 3.5-mm headphone/mic jack, a micro-USB 2.0 port, and a Mini HDMI 1.4 output.
The device weighs in at 13.7 ounces, or 390 grams, and its chassis is 9.2 millimeters thick. Lurking beneath its skin is a 19.75-watt-hour battery that Nvidia estimates will sustain 10 hours of HD video playback and 4-6 hours of 3D gaming, with substantially longer run times for simple fare like Angry Birds.
Also included is a stylus, stylishly named DirectStylus 2, that Nvidia claims is "twice as accurate" as its prior attempts, presumably in the Tegra Note. The image above was created in a new Nvidia painting studio app called Dabbler, which supports the stylus. The Shield slate will do handwriting recognition, as well, and it ships with Evernote installed.
Like the Shield Portable, the Tablet will have an Nvidia-supported version of Android with fairly minimal skinning. Nvidia has been quick to provide OTA updates when new Android versions have dropped, so I'd say this arrangement adds to the product's premium credentials, provided Nvidia keeps it up.
Here are some arbitrary benchmarks from Nvidia that compare the Shield Tablet's graphical prowess to some popular competitors. Make of them what you will.
Sounds good so far, yes? Happily, the price of entry is quite reasonable. The base Shield Tablet with 16GB of internal flash storage and Wi-Fi networking lists for $299 and will be available in the U.S. and Canada starting one week from now, on July 29. A couple of weeks later, in mid-August, it will arrive in Europe.
The 32GB version of the tablet adds LTE support and is expected to arrive in North America about a month and a half after the base model for $399. Nvidia tells us the Shield Tablet will go on sale in other parts of the world this fall.
All of the above may sound like a pretty decent deal on a premium 8" tablet, but we haven't yet talked about gaming on the thing. The possibilities there go well beyond Kingdom Rush. On the back of the tablet is a three-position kickstand that props it up into an upright position, as seen above. Add in the $59 companion Shield game controller, and you have a portable, console-like gaming arrangement.
The Shield external controller looks very much inspired by the excellent gamepad built into the Shield Portable, which in turn maps directly to the Xbox 360 controllers' button layout. Interestingly, although the tablet supports Bluetooth, this controller connects via Wi-Fi Direct instead. In fact, the Shield Tablet can sustain up to four connected controllers at once, and those connections are bi-directional, since the gamepad has an audio jack that supports headsets with integrated mics for in-game chat.
In addition to on-the-go gaming, the Shield Tablet looks to be a very capable living-room hub. It can connect to a television via HDMI and switch into game console mode, where native Android or streamed PC games appear on the big screen. That's where the ability to talk to four controllers probably makes the most sense. I've used the Shield Portable for in-home game streaming from a desktop PC to my living room, and it's fast enough to provide a compelling experience even in action games like Arkham Origins and Tomb Raider.
Thanks to its Tegra K1, the Shield Tablet can drive 4K display resolutions and decode 4K video on the fly, and it can stream 1080p video from Netflix, as well. One can control Android apps via any connected gamepad simply by using an analog stick to direct an on-screen mouse pointer. This arrangement works well enough on the Shield Portable that I'd say the Shield Tablet could be a viable alternative to the Apple TV and the Amazon Fire TV, simply for media playback duties.
The possibilities don't stop there, though.
The Shield Portable recently gained the ability to stream games from a home PC to anywhere outside of the home via the Internet. The Shield Tablet builds on that foundation by adding support for streaming over LTE, as well. Provided you have enough upstream bandwidth on your home Internet connection, it can work. I was able to use the Shield Portable with my phone's Wi-Fi hotspot feature to achieve reasonably good streaming quality, believe it or not, over our 5Mbps upstream connection. The 32GB Shield Tablet will have its own integrated LTE reception, which should be even lower latency.
For an entirely different brand of streaming, Nvidia has added real-time Twitch.tv support to the Shield Tablet, so folks can stream video from their gaming sessions at 720p straight from the device to the world. The front-facing camera can even show the user's mug in the live stream as a picture-in-picture overlay. Twitch streaming works with headsets attached to the controller to enable audio narration from the player, too.
Nvidia is working to nudge Android game developers in a direction that's friendly to hard-core gaming systems like its Shield lineup. In some cases, that means adding gamepad support, and in others, it goes beyond that, to full-on ports of Half-Life 2 and Portal to the Shield Portable, for instance. The firm expects to see 11 games specifically optimized for the Tegra K1 soon, some of which will be available when the Shield Tablet arrives next week. One of those games, the excellent co-op puzzle platformer Trine 2, will ship installed on the device and act as a showcase for its graphical and multiplayer prowess. Along the same lines, the TegraZone app from the Shield Portable is getting a new name, Shield Hub, that pulls it closer under the umbrella of Nvidia's own consumer brand.
The Shield Portable has had something of a checkered existence so far, with persistent rumors of slow sales fed by a series of price cuts. I like playing with mine, but the screen feels too small for extended gaming. The Shield Tablet, though, could find a much larger market for itself, whether it's simply acting as a step up from a Nexus 7 or taking over the role of a streaming "Steam box" type device in the living room. Could this Shield finally be the hit Nvidia was hoping for?
On the surface, Intel's new Pro 2500 Series looks like a relatively dull update to the firm's family of business-oriented client SSDs. The latest entry is based on the same old SandForce controller and 6Gbps SATA interface as the the Pro 1500. The performance specifications haven't changed, though there are some new low-power states designed specifically for Intel's upcoming Broadwell platform. Those states are meant for notebooks, so they shouldn't affect the 2.5" version of the Pro 2500 destined for e-tail channels.
The NAND seems fairly conventional, too. It's built on a 20-nm process, and it's doled out in 64Gb (8GB) chunks that should ensure decent performance for lower capacities. But the flash doesn't come from Intel's joint fabrication venture with Micron. Instead, it rolls out of SK Hynix's fabs. Increased demand drove the decision to source NAND from a third-party manufacturer.
Unlike some other SSD makers, Intel isn't sneaking the NAND in through the back door. The company is frank about using Hynix chips in the 2.5" versions of the Pro 2500. Notebook makers are evaluating M.2 variants with the same NAND, too, though it sounds like homebrewed flash may be an option for those units. In any case, the M.2 drives won't be sold separately through consumer channels. Any products with Hynix NAND will have identifiable product numbers.
James Slattery, marketing manager for Intel's non-volatile memory group, describes the outsourced flash as "fully vetted." Intel performs the same component-level validation as it does with its own NAND, and finished drives are subjected to the same battery of tests as other Pro-level parts. In fact, quality and reliability director Venkat Vasudevan told us the Pro 2500 underwent to even more initial validation testing than usual, just because it was Intel's first implementation of Hynix NAND.
Vasudevan expects the Pro 2500 to be just as reliable as its forebear, which has an excellent track record according to Intel's field reliability data:
Although failure rates were a smidgen higher in the first few months of availability, the Pro 1500 has leveled off at about 0.1%—the lowest we've seen quoted for any SSD. Even the return rates have been well below Intel's failure target. If the Pro 2500 follows suit, it will be very reliable indeed.
Intel is confident enough to cover the Pro 2500 with a five-year warranty. That's pretty standard for business-grade products, and so is the 256-bit AES encryption support. Compliance with the latest IEEE and TCG Opal specs is included, and the drive is validated to work with security software from the biggest names in the business. Encryption can also be managed remotely with Intel's vPro utility.
The Pro 2500 is scheduled to start selling today at $95 for 120GB, $130 for 180GB, $160 for 240GB, and $305 for 480GB. Plenty of consumer-grade drives are available at lower prices, but they can't match the Pro's longer warranty and additional validation testing. For this type of product, Intel argues that the total cost of ownership is more important than the initial asking price. The firm even has TCO calculator software to help IT professionals justify SSD upgrades to corporate bean counters.
Yep, this SSD is bland enough that I mentioned the accompanying accounting software. In my defense, even Slattery admits that the Pro 2500 "is not cutting-edge technology." The big story here is the NAND—specifically, the addition of third-party sourcing to Intel's strategy. Slattery told us the firm is actively considering outsourced NAND for other SSDs. Perhaps one of those will combine foreign flash with more intriguing tech.Windows Threshold shots show Start menu, windowed Modern UI
Judging by the latest rumors, the Start menu won't make its comeback until the release of Windows Threshold—which means we may not get it until next year. Some people are already running pre-release builds of Threshold, though, and the guys at Myce have posted a couple of alleged screenshots of the pre-release operating system.
The shots show the Start menu, which has the same blend of old-school design and shrunken Modern UI tiles as the prototype Microsoft showed at Build earlier this year. Here, the menu's right pane includes both live tiles and File Explorer shortcuts to This PC, Documents, and Pictures.
More notably, Myce's screenshots show a Modern UI app, the Windows Store, running in windowed mode inside the desktop interface. This is another one of the rumored Threshold features: apparently, Modern UI apps will only work inside windows on desktop PCs. No more full-screen nonsense.
While the screenshot shows a plain title bar for the Windows Store app, Myce says the final build of Threshold will have a special title bar design for Modern UI windows. That design is simply "quite jerky in some of the current builds." Myce seems to be alluding to a recent Neowin story, which says Modern UI apps in desktop mode will be "flat with no titlebar but minimizing and easy close access is still present." That design will apparently mirror the current Windows 8.1 look, where full-screen Modern UI apps have black title bars that auto-hide.Kingston's V310 value SSD rated for 2.7PB of writes
Kingston's latest SSD is a little unusual. The SSDNow V310 is based on Phison's 3108 controller, which is fairly uncommon. And, instead of being available in a range of capacities, it's limited to 960GB. Then there's the kicker: despite being billed as a value-oriented consumer drive, the V310 is rated to withstand 2.7 petabytes of total writes. That's the sort of endurance we'd expect from an enterprise-grade SSD.
The spec isn't a typo, either. Kingston claims the V310 is good for 2.65 full drive writes per day, which works out to 2.7PB over the length of the three-year warranty. Also, it recently introduced a HyperX Fury SSD with a similarly impressive rating. That drive maxes out with a 240GB model supposedly good for 641TB of writes. Four times the endurance doesn't seem unreasonable for an SSD with four times the flash.
Our ongoing SSD Endurance Experiment leaves plenty of room for optimism, too. We successfully wrote more than 700TB to six 240-256GB SSDs before our subjects started burning out.
Unfortunately, the V310's performance specifications aren't nearly as compelling. This thing is supposed to hit 500/440MB/s with sequential reads/writes and 40k/20k IOps with random I/O, which is a little sluggish compared to other terabyte-class contenders.
Expect the V310 to be available soon as a bare drive and in retail kits targeting desktop and notebook upgrades. There's no word on pricing, but we've asked Kingston for details. We'll update this post when we hear back.Rumor: Windows 8.1 Update 2 coming August 12—sans Start menu
The next big update to Windows 8.1 may be just a few weeks away—but don't get too excited.
According to WinBeta, evidence posted by Russian site PC Portal suggests Windows 8.1 Update 2 is on track for an August 12 release. However, WinBeta adds that the update will mostly comprise small tweaks and bug fixes. The feature we've all been waiting for, the resurrected Start menu, has apparently been postponed:
Update 2 was originally going to include the new Start Menu, but Microsoft decided to pull the feature and save it for Threshold. Update 2 will include no new features, and will most likely be preparing for Threshold when it launches in 2015.
Oh well. At least the rumored August 12 date seems fairly plausible. It corresponds to Patch Tuesday, and it jibes with a ZDnet report from back in April. In that report, Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley said her sources pointed to a possible August time frame for Windows 8.1 Update 2.
Microsoft demoed the new Start menu at its Build conference earlier this year, promising to unleash it as part of a future update. Unofficial evidence suggests that Windows Threshold, the next major Windows release, will go as far as to disable Modern UI entirely on desktop PCs. On the flip side, the desktop will reportedly be off-limits to small tablets.WD Red grows to 6TB, adds faster Pro family
WD has expanded its lineup of NAS-specific hard drives on two fronts. The Red family now includes higher-capacity 5TB and 6TB models, and there's a new batch of Red Pro units with higher spindle speeds.
Full specifications haven't been posted online just yet. However, AnandTech indicates that the 6TB monster is a five-platter design. The drive reportedly uses traditional magnetic recording technology, and I don't see any mention of Helium-filled internals or other exotic attributes. Like the other Reds, it and the 5TB variant have ~5,400-RPM "IntelliPower" rotational speeds and three-year warranties.
They also have company. The standard Reds have been joined by a Red Pro family that cranks the spindle speed up to 7,200-RPM and the warranty up to five years. The Pros top out at 4TB, but thanks to robust vibration compensation, they're good for systems with up to 16 bays. The standard drives are only meant for machines with up to eight bays, and then only with the latest NASware 3.0 firmware. Five bays was the official maximum for the old Red firmware.
Here's how the new models stack up against WD's existing NAS drives:
|Red 1TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$69.99||$0.07|
|Red 2TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$99.99||$0.05|
|Red 3TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$121.99||$0.04|
|Red 4TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$174.99||$0.04|
|Red 5TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$249.99||$0.05|
|Red 6TB||5,400 RPM||3 years||$299.99||$0.05|
|Red Pro 2TB||7,200 RPM||5 years||$159.99||$0.08|
|Red Pro 3TB||7,200 RPM||5 years||$199.99||$0.07|
|Red Pro 4TB||7,200 RPM||5 years||$259.99||$0.06|
Along with the older drives, the NAS 6TB and NAS Pro 4TB are both in stock at Newegg right now. The other additions are listed as out of stock with no ETA.
WD also plans to introduce 5TB and 6TB versions of its Green drives, which are similar to the Reds but lack NAS- and RAID-specific features. I don't see the new Greens selling online, but they should appear soon and will also be found in some of WD's external storage products.TR BBQ XI: We're getting the hang of this
After 11 years of TR BBQs, DrFish and the rest of us have refined most of the key elements of the event beyond any reasonable expectation. TR head forum admin Just Brew It explained, "We're nerds; we take things to the extreme logical conclusion." At the time, he was—ahem—sterilizing hoses for connection to a couple of kegs of his own home-brewed beer. I knew his statement was truer than ever at about 10AM on the day of the BBQ, when a truck pulled up to unload an entire friggin' bouncy house for the kids:
This new addition was a surprise courtesy of DrFish and his lovely wife, and it was a huge hit with its target audience (also with some of the adults, but the less said about that the better.) zgirl's BBQ ribs were at least as outstanding as ever, and the fireworks show in the evening was outlandishly good.
As always, the top-notch food and entertainment were made possible and enjoyed by a fantastic group of people, and the true highlight of the day was just getting to hang out and talk with one another. We had more kids and families than ever before, I think. The addition of some new blood helped make up for the fact that some regulars like Dposcorp and eitje couldn't make it this year.
Here are a few images from the day's events:
I drove for about 11 hours yesterday in order to get home and am not entirely coherent, but I want to say thanks to everybody who came out and helped make the latest TR BBQ one of the best yet. Thanks again to MSI and Gigabyte for providing the prizes. Most of all, I can't say enough about DrFish's graciousness as a host, especially given some of the things he's been dealing with in the background.
DrFish made sure we had lots of bandwidth available on site, along with a couple of live-stream cameras capable of taking still shots via remote control, so there are tons more pictures in the BBQ thread starting on this page. The TR BBQ has become one of the highlights of the year for many of us, and if you browse through that thread, I think it will be easy to see why.
Chrome OS might be in for a visual overhaul. Late last week, Google's François Beaufort posted the first public screenshot of Athena, which he describes as "a brand new project the Chromium OS team is experimenting with in order to bring a new kind of user experience." The screenshot, according to Beaufort, shows some "simple window management" in action.
As Ars Technica points out, the Athena UI depicted in the screenshot doesn't look all that different from the new multitasking interface in Android L, the next major Android release Google announced a month ago. The browser "cards" are arranged in the same way, and even the network and battery indicators are in the same spot. The only notable difference is the dock-looking thing at the bottom.
Given the similarities with Android, Ars speculates that Athena could take Chrome OS in a more touch-friendly direction—at least compared to the current interface, which is very Windows-y in the old-school desktop sense. The vast majority of today's Chromebooks aren't equipped with touch screens, but a couple of exceptions do exist. (Among them: Google's own outrageously expensive Chromebook Pixel.) Perhaps we'll see more of them in the future.
In any event, Beaufort says you can follow Athena's development by grabbing the Chromium source code and "compiling the convenient 'athena_main' target with ninja -C out/Release athena_main."Report: Shield tablet coming July 29 for $299
Rumors of an Nvidia Shield tablet have been swirling for months, and the device may be imminent. Convincing-looking slides posted by Videocardz indicate that the 8" tablet will be available starting July 29. According to those slides, the device will have a 1920x1200 IPS display, 2GB of RAM, and a Tegra K1 SoC with quad cores clocked up to 2.2GHz. The base 16GB configuration will reportedly sell for $299. That variant will be limited to Wi-Fi, but the 32GB version apparently has built-in LTE connectivity. Asking price: $399.
Although the stickers are a little steep, the tablets seem pretty loaded. The leaked specs list an included stylus, a Micro SD slot that supports cards up to 128GB, and a Micro USB port that can operate in host and device mode. Other notable features include dual 5MP cameras, a Mini HDMI 1.4a output, and a 19.75-Wh battery rated for 10 hours of video playback. The body is reportedly 0.36" (9.2 mm) thick and 0.86 lbs (390 g).
Like the first Shield device, the tablet should be capable of streaming PC games from GeForce-equipped hosts. The touchscreen won't be ideal for those games, but Nvidia has apparently whipped up a wireless controller to complement the slate. The gamepad depicted in the leaked slides has dual analog sticks and triggers, a directional pad, and a boatload of buttons. It reportedly connects via Wi-Fi Direct and can be charged via Micro USB.
If the slides are legit, the controller will sell for $59. The presentation also shows a $39 Shield cover that can be used to prop up the tablet.
Although the aforementioned details are unconfirmed, Nvidia definitely has something up its sleeve. This countdown page says "the ultimate is coming" on July 22, the day Videocardz claims the Shield tablet will be introduced.Monday Shortbread
Eight is Enough
|Early Unreal Tournament concept art reminds us how far we've come||19|
|New Asus 802.11ac router can top 1.7Gbps||0|
|Report: Intel targeting larger, pricier Android tablets||21|
|AMD's Mullins APU appears in $250 HP netbook||79|
|Core i7-4790K 'Devil's Canyon' overclocking revisited||42|
|Steam controller gets an analog stick||53|
|Delays strike Battlefield: Hardline, Dragon Age: Inquisition||20|
|It's official: Microsoft will consolidate Windows development||76|
|Microsoft's 2014 revenue up 11.5%, but income stagnates||28|
|The new new name for the UI is called Retro.||+37|