crookedvulture writes: Intel's candy-bar-sized Compute Stick was mentioned on Slashdot last year, and the first reviews are finally out. This diminutive device is barely bigger than a Chromecast, yet it packs a honest-to-goodness PC inside. A quad-core Atom CPU provides processing power, there's 32GB of expandable flash storage onboard, and you even get conveniences like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. The Compute Stick plugs directly into an HDMI port, and it's fast enough for video streaming, web browsing, and basic productivity. Video output is capped at 1080p resolution, though, and the hardware obviously isn't suitable for heavy lifting. But the Windows version is only $150, and an Ubuntu-based variant with less RAM and storage is due in June for just $110. Not bad for commodity-grade computing.
crookedvulture writes: Slashdot has covered a bunch of new PCI Express SSDs over the past month, and for good reason. The latest crop offers much higher sequential and random I/O rates than predecessors based on old-school Serial ATA interfaces. They're also compatible with new protocols, like NVM Express, which reduce overhead and improve scaling under demanding loads. As one might expect, these new PCIe drives destroy the competition in targeted benchmarks, hitting top speeds several times faster than even the best SATA SSDs can muster. The thing is, PCIe SSDs don't load games or common application data any faster than current incumbents—or even consumer-grade SSDs from five years ago. That's very different from the initial transition from mechanical to solid-state storage, where load times improved noticeably for just about everything. Servers and workstations can no doubt take advantage of the extra oomph that PCIe SSDs provide, but desktop users may struggle to find scenarios where PCIe SSDs offer palpable performance improvements over even budget-oriented SATA drives.
crookedvulture writes: Slashdot has previously covered The Tech Report's SSD Endurance Experiment, and the final chapter in that series has now been published. The site spent the last 18 months writing data to six consumer-grade SSDs to see how much it would take to burn their flash. All the drives absorbed hundreds of terabytes without issue, far exceeding the needs of typical PC users. The first one failed after 700TB, while the last survived an astounding 2.4 petabytes. Performance was reasonably consistent throughout the experiment, but failure behavior wasn't. Four of the six provided warning messages before their eventual deaths, but two expired unexpectedly. A couple also suffered uncorrectable errors that could compromise data integrity. They all ended up in a bricked, lifeless state. While the sample size isn't large enough to draw definitive conclusions about specific makes or models, the results suggest the NAND in modern SSDs has more than enough endurance for consumers. They also demonstrate that very ordinary drives can be capable of writing mind-boggling amounts of data.
crookedvulture writes: The SSD Endurance Experiment previously covered on Slashdot has reached another big milestone: two freaking petabytes of writes. That's an astounding total for consumer-grade drives rated to survive no more than a few hundred terabytes. Only two of the initial six subjects made it to 2PB. The Kingston HyperX 3K, Intel 335 Series, and Samsung 840 Series expired on the road to 1PB, while the Corsair Neutron GTX faltered at 1.2PB. The Samsung 840 Pro continues despite logging thousands of reallocated sectors. It has remained completely error-free throughout the experiment, unlike a second HyperX, which has suffered a couple of uncorrectable errors. The second HyperX is mostly intact otherwise, though its built-in compression tech has reduced the 2PB of host writes to just 1.4PB of flash writes. Even accounting for compression, the flash in the second HyperX has proven to be far more robust than in the first. That difference highlights the impact normal manufacturing variances can have on flash wear. It also illustrates why the experiment's sample size is too small to draw definitive conclusions about the durability of specific models. However, the fact that all the drives far exceeded their endurance specifications bodes well for the endurance of consumer-grade SSDs in general.
crookedvulture writes: Intel has updated its high-end desktop platform with a new CPU-and-chipset combo. The Haswell-E processor has up to eight cores, 20MB of cache, and 40 lanes of PCI Express 3.0. It also sports a quad-channel memory controller primed for next-gen DDR4 modules. The companion X99 chipset adds a boatload of I/O, including 10 SATA ports, native USB 3.0 support, and provisions for M.2 and SATA Express storage devices. Thanks to the extra CPU cores, performance is much improved in multithreaded applications. These legacy comparisons, which include dozens of CPUs dating back to 2011, provide some interesting context for just how fast the new Core i7-5960X really is. Intel had to dial back the chip's clock speeds to accommodate the extra cores, though, and that concession can translate to slower gaming performance than Haswell CPUs with fewer, faster cores. Haswell-E looks like a clear win for applications that can exploit its prodigious CPU horsepower and I/O bandwidth, but it's clearly not the best CPU for everything.
crookedvulture writes: Intel's next-gen Broadwell processor has entered production, and we now know a lot more about what it entails. The chip is built using 14-nm process technology, enabling it to squeeze into half the power envelope and half the physical footprint of last year's Haswell processors. Even the thickness of the CPU package has been reduced to better fit inside slim tablets. There are new power-saving measures, too, including a duty cycle control mechanism that shuts down sections of the chip during some clock cycles. The onboard GPU has also been upgraded with more functional units and hardware-assisted H.265 decoding for 4K video. Intel expects the initial Broadwell variant, otherwise known as the Core M, to slip into tablets as thin as the iPad Air. We can expect to see the first systems on shelves in time for the holidays.
crookedvulture writes: Last year, we kicked off an SSD endurance experiment to see how much data could be written to six consumer drives. One petabyte later, half of them are still going. Their performance hasn't really suffered, either. The casualties slowed down a little toward the very end, and they died in different ways. The Intel 335 Series and Kingston HyperX 3K provided plenty of warning of their imminent demise, though both still ended up completely unresponsive at the very end. The Samsung 840 Series, which uses more fragile TLC NAND, perished unexpectedly. It also suffered a rash of cell failures and multiple bouts of uncorrectable errors during its life. While the sample size is far too small to draw any definitive conclusions, all six SSDs exceeded their rated lifespans by hundreds of terabytes. The fact that all of them wrote over 700TB is a testament to the endurance of modern SSDs.
crookedvulture writes: In an article published by Forbes earlier this week, AMD lashed out at Nvidia's GameWorks program, which includes Watch Dogs and other popular titles, such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed IV, and Batman: Arkham Origins. Technical communications lead for PC graphics Robert Hallock alleged that GameWorks deliberately cripples performance on AMD hardware. He also claimed that developers are prevented from working with AMD on game optimizations. The Forbes piece was fairly damning, but it didn't include any commentary from the other side of the fence. Nvidia has now responded to the allegations, and as one might expect, it denies them outright. Director of engineering for developer technology Cem Cebenoyan says Nvidia has never barred developers from working with AMD. In fact, he claims that AMD's own developer relations efforts have prevented Nvidia from getting its hands on early builds of some games. AMD has said in the past that it makes no effort to prevent developers from working with Nvidia. So, we have another round of he said, she said, with gamers caught in the middle and performance in newer titles hanging in the balance.
crookedvulture writes: Microsoft unveiled its Surface Pro 3 tablet at a press event in New York this morning. The device has a larger 12" screen with a 2160x1440 display resolution and a novel 3:2 aspect ratio. Intel Core processors provide the horsepower, starting with the Core i3 in the base model and extending all the way up to Core i7 in pricier variants. The tablet is just 9.1 mm thick, which Microsoft claims is the thinnest ever for a Core-based device. Microsoft developed a new radial fan that's suppose to distribute airflow evenly inside the chassis without generating audible noise. The tablet weights 800 g, shaving 100 g off the Surface Pro 2, and it's supposed to have longer battery life, as well. Microsoft has also rolled out new keyboard accessories, a pressure-sensitive stylus, and a docking station that supports 4K video output. The Surface Pro 3 is scheduled to be available tomorrow with prices starting at $799.
crookedvulture writes: AMD just revealed that it has two all-new CPU cores in the works. One will be compatible with the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set, while the other is meant as an x86 replacement for the Bulldozer architecture and its descendants. Both cores have been designed from the ground up by a team led by Jim Keller, the lead architect behind AMD's K8 architecture. Keller worked at Apple on the A4 and A4 before returning to AMD in 2012. The first chips based on the new AMD cores are due in 2016.
crookedvulture writes: Microsoft formally introduced its DirectX 12 API at the Game Developers Conference this morning. This next-gen programming interface will extend across multiple platforms, from PCs to consoles to mobile devices. Like AMD's Mantle API, it promises reduced CPU overhead and lower-level access to graphics hardware. But DirectX 12 won't be limited to one vendor's hardware. Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm have all pledged to support the API, which will apparently work on a lot of existing systems. Intel's Haswell CPUs are compatible with DirectX 12, as are multiple generations of existing AMD and Nvidia GPUs. A DirectX 12 update is also coming to the Xbox One. The first games to support the API won't arrive until the holiday season of 2015, though. A preview release is scheduled for this year.
crookedvulture writes: Most of Intel's recent desktop SSDs have followed a familiar formula. Combine off-the-shelf controller with next-gen NAND and firmware tweaks. Rinse. Repeat. The new 730 Series is different, though. It's based on Intel's latest datacenter SSD, which combines a proprietary controller with high-endurance NAND. In the 730 Series, these chips are clocked much higher than their usual speeds. The drive is fully validated to run at the boosted frequencies, and it's rated to endure at least 70GB of writes per day over five years. As one might expect, though, this hot-clocked server SSD is rather pricey for a desktop model. It's slated to sell for around $1/GB, which is close to double the cost of more affordable options. And the 730 Series isn't always faster than its cheaper competition. Although the drive boasts exceptional throughput with random I/O, its sequential transfer rates are nothing special.
crookedvulture writes: AMD's next-generation Kaveri APU is now available for sale, and the first reviews have hit the web. The chip combines updated Steamroller CPU cores with integrated graphics based on the latest Radeon graphics cards. It's also infused with a dedicated TrueAudio DSP, a faster memory interface, and several features that fall under AMD's Heterogeneous System Architecture for mixed-mode computing. As expected, the APU's graphics performance is excellent; even the entry level, $119 A8-6700 is capable of playing Battlefield 4 at 1080p with medium detail settings. But the powerful GPU doesn't always translate to superior performance in OpenCL-accelerated applications, where comparable Intel chips are very competitive. Intel still has an advantage in power efficiency and raw CPU performance, too. Kaveri's CPU cores are certainly an improvement over the previous generation of Richland chips, but they can't match the per-thread throughput of Intel's rival Haswell CPU. In the end, Kaveri's appeal largely rests on whether the integrated graphics are fast enough for your needs. Serious gamers are better off with discrete GPUs, but more casual players can benefit from the extra Radeon horsepower. Eventually, HSA-enabled applications may benefit, as well.
crookedvulture writes: AMD's recently introduced Radeon R9 290X is one of the fastest graphics cards around. However, the cards sent to reviewers differ somewhat from the retail units available for purchase. The press samples run at higher clock speeds and deliver better performance as a result. There's some variance in clock speeds between different press and retail cards, too. Part of the problem appears to be AMD's PowerTune mechanism, which dynamically adjusts GPU frequencies in response to temperature and power limits. AMD doesn't guarantee a base clock speed, saying only that the 290X runs at "up to 1GHz." Real-world clock speeds are a fair bit lower than that, and the retail cards suffer more than the press samples. Cooling seems to be a contributing factor. AMD issued a driver update that raises fan speeds, and that helps the performance of some retail cards. Retail units remain slower than the cards seeded to the press, though. Flashing retail cards with the press firmware raises clock speeds slightly, but it doesn't entirely close the gap, either. AMD hasn't explained why the retail cards are slower than expected, and it's possible the company cherry-picked the samples sent to the press. At the very least, it's clear that the 290X exhibits more card-to-card variance than we're used to seeing in a PC graphics product.
crookedvulture writes: This season's recent string of graphics card launches continues with the Radeon R9 270. AMD's latest mid-range contender has a $179 asking price, and it comes with a free copy of Battlefield 4. It's also fast enough to play the game at 1080p resolution with ultra details. Like the bulk of AMD's new Radeons, the 270 isn't based on a new chip; it's just another spin on the Pitcairn GPU behind last year's Radeon HD 7870, this time with a tighter power envelope. But the new Radeon still delivers a smoother gaming experience than equivalent the GeForce, with lower frame latencies and higher FPS averages. And, unlike AMD's latest Hawaii-based Radeon R9 290 and 290X, the R9 270 is no louder than the competition. Speaking of rivals, the similarly priced GeForce GTX 660 has been around for more than a year. Nvidia may counter with an update of its own, just like it did with the GeForce GTX 780 Ti. The back and forth battle between the two graphics giants continues to deliver great value for gamers. As the next-gen consoles approach, it feels increasingly like PC gamers have it better than ever.