MrSeb writes: For more than 30 years, the realm of computing has been intrinsically linked to the humble hard drive. It has been a complex and sometimes torturous relationship, but there’s no denying the huge role that hard drives have played in the growth and popularization of PCs, and more recently in the rapid expansion of online and cloud storage. Given our exceedingly heavy reliance on hard drives, it’s very, very weird that one piece of vital information still eludes us: How long does a hard drive last? According to some new data, gathered from 25,000 hard drives that have been spinning for four years, it turns out that hard drives actually have a surprisingly low failure rate.
MrSeb writes: Yesterday, Verizon announced that it’s building its own cloud computing platform to compete with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Rather than designing its own hardware, or using readymade big iron setups from someone like IBM, Verizon instead opted for high-density SeaMicro servers. AMD, which acquired SeaMicro last year, has been touting this as a huge victory over Intel and its dominance in the server market. ExtremeTech can exclusively reveal, however, that more than three quarters of the SeaMicro servers purchased by Verizon are actually powered by the Intel Xeon E3, not AMD’s own Opteron chip. AMD has, rather ironically, become an Intel OEM.
MrSeb writes: "Researchers at Cardiff University in the UK have found algae-like fossils in meteorite fragments that landed in Sri Lanka last year. This is the strongest evidence yet of cometary panspermia — that life on Earth began when a meteorite containing simple organisms landed here, billions of years ago — and, perhaps more importantly, that there’s life elsewhere in the universe. These findings aren’t a slam dunk, though. There’s a possibility that the fossils aren’t actually biological in nature — they simply look biological. There’s also the fact that the research was published in the Journal of Cosmology, a peer-reviewed journal that has come under critical scrutiny numerous times since it was established in 2009. The journal faced a lot of controversy when it published a paper by NASA engineer Richard Hoover claiming to have found fossils “similar to cyanobacteria” in meteorites. One thing’s for certain, though: For this to actually become science — for Chandra Wickramasinghe’s dream of panspermia to become a reality — this work will need to be replicated by many other groups around the world. It would be very, very exciting indeed if biological fossils have been found on an extraterrestrial meteorite. It would be proof that there’s life on other planets — and essentially a guarantee that the universe is full of life. But, as always, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
MrSeb writes: "Online storage service Bitcasa opened its doors this week, promising an end to external storage or pesky online capacity limits. The company’s pitch is simple: You give them $99 per year, they give you infinite storage space online. The deal is currently being offered for $69, which comes out to $5.75 a month. That’s it. No capacity limits. No additional charge for certain file types or for web/smartphones. File version history? Infinite. Want backup and mirroring of existing data? You can get that, too. Bitcasa promises an online drive that seamlessly integrated with Windows Explorer, giving you all the benefits of local storage for substantially less money. That was enough to pique ExtremeTech's curiosity, and to take the service for a spin. What it found was a genuinely interesting and valuable service, but there are a lot of bugs that need to be ironed out before you should recommend it to your friends and family."
MrSeb writes: "Mike Shropp, the self-titled Total Geek who brought us the monstrous-yet-beautiful three-motherboard PC made out of Lego last year, has gone one better and created a wind tunnel for his new PC. The PC itself is a beast: An Intel Core i7-3770K clocked at 4.5GHz, with twin Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards. Like Schropp’s Lego workstation, the wind tunnel-cooled computer is used for grid computing — in specific, IBM’s World Community Grid, which researches possible cures for cancer and AIDS. But enough about the specs: What we really care about is that Schropp built a damn wind tunnel to cool his PC. Building the wind tunnel seems like it was fairly easy: Schropp built the basic shape out of MDF edged with aluminium, with a couple of pieces of polycarbonate forming the see-through window around the PC itself. Schropp then painted the whole thing, added some awesome buttons to the front of the case, put a standard box fan at the entrance to the tunnel (recessed a little, to reduce its noise output), and finally mounted his PC in the middle. The end result is a fantastic-looking case — and, almost as an added bonus, it’s also quite effective as a cooling solution."
MrSeb writes: "Researchers at MIT have discovered a new state of matter with a new kind of magnetism. This new state, called a quantum spin liquid (QSL), could lead to significant advances in data storage, superconductors, and long-range quantum entanglement communications. Generally, when we talk about magnetism’s role in the realm of technology, there are just two types: Ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism. Ferromagnetism has been known about for centuries, and is the underlying force behind your compass’s spinning needle or the permanent bar magnets you played with at school. In ferromagnets, the spin (i.e. charge) of every electron is aligned in the same direction, causing two distinct poles. In antiferromagnets, neighboring electrons point in the opposite direction, causing the object to have zero net magnetism. In combination with ferromagnets, antiferromagnets are used to create spin valves: the magnetic sensors used in hard drive heads. In the case of this new state of matter, quantum spin liquids, the material is a solid crystal — but the internal magnetic state is constantly in flux. The magnetic orientations of the electrons (their magnetic moment) fluctuate as they interact with other nearby electrons. “But there is a strong interaction between them, and due to quantum effects, they don’t lock in place,” says Young Lee, senior author of the research. It is these strong interactions that apparently allow for long-range quantum entanglement."
MrSeb writes: "One of the ways — if not the best way — to track the progress of LEDs over the past few years has been through the metric of lumens-per-watt. As you can gather from the name this is an efficiency rating that is based on the amount of visible light emitted relative to the amount of power consumed. A lumens-per-watt (lpw) rating is especially interesting because it works regardless of the light source — the lpw rating for an incandescent bulb is a lowly 15 (or so) while newer LED bulbs are in the range of 75. While 75 lpw is plenty efficient, it’s no where near what manufacturers like Cree are working on. In fact, the company has just put out a 200 lpw LED known as the XLamp MK-R."
MrSeb writes: "If you’ve not been tracking the thorium hype, you might be interested to learn that the benefits liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) have over light water uranium reactors (LWRs) are compelling. Alvin Weinberg, who invented both, favored the LFTR for civilian power since its failures (when they happened) were considerably less dramatic — a catastrophic depressurization of radioactive steam, like occurred at Chernobyl in 1986, simply wouldn’t be possible. Since the technical hurdles to building LFTRs and handling their byproducts are in theory no more challenging, one might ask — where are they? It turns out that a bunch of US startups are investigating the modern-day viability of thorium power, and countries like India and China have serious, governmental efforts to use LFTRs. Is thorium power finally ready for prime time?"
MrSeb writes: "When Microsoft built Windows 8, it bet that it could create a Windows Store experience that would rival competitors like Apple and Google. The company was confident enough of its abilities in this sphere that it decided to lock Windows RT devices to purchases made within the Windows Store, and made WS-exclusive distribution a requirement for any Metro x86 products as well. ExtremeTech has been keeping an eye on the Windows Store since the OS launched — with the Christmas holidays upon us, and the two-month anniversary approaching, we’re circling back to investigate the status of the Store. The blunt truth is that two months after launch, the Windows Store is still in rough shape. Some of this is due to a relatively small app selection, but that’s an inevitable problem for any company that launches a service like this. While it’s true that Microsoft can’t wave its hand and create apps from companies like Twitter and Facebook, there are steps the company could take to improve the Windows Store and help customers navigate the often-confusing application situation."
MrSeb writes: "DARPA has begun development of a wireless communications link that is capable of 100 gigabits per second over a range of 200 kilometers (124mi). Officially dubbed “100 Gb/s RF Backbone” (or 100G for short), the program will provide the US military with networks that are around 50 times faster than its current wireless links. In essence, DARPA wants to give deployed soldiers the same kind of connectivity as a high-bandwidth, low-latency fiber-optic network. In the case of Afghanistan, for example, the US might have a high-speed fiber link to Turkey — but the remaining 1,000 miles to Afghanistan most likely consists of low-bandwidth, high-latency links. It’s difficult (and potentially insecure) to control UAVs or send/receive intelligence over these networks, and so the US military instead builds its own wireless network using Common Data Link. CDL maxes out at around 250Mbps, so 100Gbps would be quite a speed boost. DARPA clearly states that the 100G program is for US military use — but it’s hard to ignore the repercussions it might have on commercial networks, too. 100Gbps wireless backhaul links between cell towers, rather than costly and cumbersome fiber links, would make it much easier and cheaper to roll out additional mobile coverage. Likewise, 100Gbps wireless links might be the ideal way to provide backhaul links to rural communities that are still stuck with dial-up internet access. Who knows, we might even one day have 100Gbps wireless links to our ISP."
MrSeb writes: "The humble pixel — the 2D picture element that has formed the foundation of just about every kind of digital media for the last 50 years — may soon meet its maker. Believe it or not, if a team of British are to be believed, the pixel, within five short years, will be replaced with vectors. If you know about computer graphics, or if you’ve ever edited or drawn an image on your computer, you know that there are two primary ways of storing image data: As a bitmap, or as vectors. A bitmap is quite simply a giant grid of pixels, with the arrangement and color of the pixels dictating what the image looks like. Vectors are an entirely different beast: In vector graphics, the image is described as a series of mathematical equations. To draw a bitmap shape you just color in a block of pixels; with vector graphics, you would describe the shape in terms of height, width, radius, and so on. At the moment, bitmaps are used almost exclusively in the realm of digital media — but that isn't to say they don't have their flaws. As display (and camera and cinema) resolution increases, so does the number of pixels. The obvious problem with this is that larger bitmaps are computationally more expensive to process, resulting in a slower (or more expensive) workflow. Pixel bitmaps don’t scale very gracefully; reduction is okay, but enlargement is a no-no. There is always the issue of a master format, too: With pixel bitmaps, conversions from one format to another, or changing frame rates, is messy, lossy business. Which finally leads us back to the innovation at hand: Philip Willis and John Patterson of the University of Bath in England have devised a video codec that replaces pixel bitmaps with vectors."
MrSeb writes: "If you’ve gone shopping for a power supply any time over the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the explosive proliferation of various 80 Plus ratings. As initially conceived, an 80 Plus certification was a way for PSU manufacturers to validate that their power supply units were at least 80% efficient at 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of full load. In the pre-80 Plus days, PSU prices normally clustered around a given wattage output. The advent of the various 80 Plus levels has created a second variable that can have a significant impact on unit price. This leads us to three important questions: How much power can you save by moving to a higher-efficiency supply, what’s the premium of doing so, and how long does it take to make back your initial investment? ExtremeTech investigates."
MrSeb writes: "General Electric has unveiled what seems to be the thinnest, high-performance cooler for the next-generation of ultra-thin tablets and laptops. While this cooler obviously allows for slimmer designs (or more space for other components), it also uses just half the power of a comparable fan, granting a significant boost to battery life. Oh, it’s almost silent, too. The technology behind GE’s cooler is called DCJ — Dual Piezoelectric Cooling Jets. DCJ basically acts as a miniature pair of bellows: Expanding to suck in cool air, and then contracting to expel hot air. GE originally invented DCJ to help cool commercial jet engines, but two years ago it seems someone had the clever idea of miniaturizing the tech for use in computers — and so here we are. GE’s cooler is roughly the size and thickness of a credit card, and the complete cooling solution (presumably including a heat sink/pipe) is 50% thinner than existing fan-based solutions. Perhaps most importantly, though, according to GE VP Chris Giovanniello, “DCJ can be made so quiet that users won’t even know it’s running.”"