Will AMD’s Ryzen finally bring SHA extensions to Intel’s CPUs?

If you have any skin invested in the high-performance computing game, you’ve almost certainly heard of the likes of MMX and SSE, the original “extensions” to the x86 assembly instruction set that provided task-specific performance-optimized instructions that let developers take advantage of specific hardware extensions to quickly perform tasks that previously required extra steps in software to compute. If you haven’t, here’s a quick briefer.

The “basic” instructions supported by PCs are known as the “x86 assembly language” and is the lowest level of code available for writing software that runs on a “regular PC,” originally developed by Intel and adopted by other players in the CPU game (including AMD and the now-defunct Via CPUs). All PCs from the original Intel 8086 way back in 1978 to modern, multi-core behemoths support this language, and code written in or compiled for x86 can (in theory) run on any machine from 1978 onwards.

Continue reading

Full range of Lenovo T570 options revealed

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T570, the much-awaited, supposed MacBook killer that was first announced at CES in January, is now available for pre-order via Lenovo Hong Kong – meaning users can finally see what specs are available and (roughly) how much it’s going to cost them.

Let’s get this out of the way: disappointingly, once again, Lenovo doesn’t seem to have made available configuration options that feature Intel’s fastest mobile chips; the most powerful option available is the Kaby Lake-powered i7-7600U. This is almost certainly a conscious and thought-out decision, as 7600U is the highest you can go without a massive jump in TDP – the higher-spec’d 7700HQ and above all weigh in at 45W TDP, compared to the 7600U’s thrifty 25W TDP. Dell’s Precision (and possibly XPS15?) and HP’s ZBook lineups will likely be the only way to get more raw processing power for your next purchase – at the cost of greatly-reduced battery life, no doubt.

Continue reading

Apple’s newest, best MacBook Pro still has only 16GB of RAM

macbook-pro-magic-toolbarApple is famous for making awesome hardware. Or at least, they were. Today, it seems that Apple is officially trying to become famous for making hardware you can’t change, in configurations you don’t want, with year(s)-old tech you don’t need. Case in point: the newest, latest, and “greatest” MacBook Pro, available now for pre-order online.

Unlike previous generations where users had some semblance of control over what parts their customized Macs shipped with, the new MBPs don’t really give the users much choice. The top-of-the-line 15″ MBP has only two CPU options available, the 2.7GHz Intel i7 6820HQ and the 2.9GHz i7 6920HQ. Despite being CPUs that were released almost a year-and-a-half ago, they are still much-needed upgrades from the previous, decrepit processors that were powering the MacBook Pros available for sale yesterday.

Continue reading

Crunching the numbers – When is the 2016 Skylake Retina MacBook Pro coming out?


It’s a story of two Apples: an Apple that makes consumer products and Apple that makes enterprise products. Devices under or around the $1000 mark like the iPhone, the MacBook Air, and more recently, the iPad Air are eagerly snapped-up by both Apple’s consumer and enterprise marketbases with equal voracity. But Apple’s more “serious” line of hardware where prosumers and enterprises regularly pay anywhere from $2,500 to $8,500 and beyond on a single device for a single employee is another story. A $2500 laptop or a $6000 workstation isn’t a spur-of-the-moment purchase that can be bundled into your wireless bill; it’s a (non-insignificant) portion of any company (or independent professional)’s hardware budget.1

It’s obvious why Apple loves to hold its cards close and keep as tight a lid as possible on news about its product releases, upcoming features, and new designs and then stun, awe, and wow the world which turns into a mesmerized unison of ooooohs and aaaaaahs as Steve Jobs or whomever is mimicking the world’s most famous, talented, and now several years dearly-departed salesman pulls out the newest iteration of an iDevice from a black top hat with a poof, lots of purple smoke, and a “one more thing” declaration.

But what’s not so obvious is why Apple refuses to play ball with its enterprise consumers that are looking for “boring,” run-of-the-mill updates on existing product lines, information on when certain features would become available or when hardware limitations would be lifted so that they can make their next purchase, be it a new $5000 workstation (monitor not included) for an indie developer or an order of fifty or a hundred $4000 laptops at your favorite tech company. While some of these are backed by VCs and are playing the startup game, competing to see who can burn through the most money in the littlest time with the least ROI and still con, err, convince more investors into another multi-million dollar round of investments, some of these are serious companies genuinely watching their bottom line and carefully weighing purchase dates and product update cycles.

Continue reading

  1. Adjusting for quantity, that is. 

CHS, LBA, and 4k advanced format drives

Modern hard drives are shipping with newer features, some of them more confusing than others. One such feature that’s causing a lot of head-scratching and confusion amongst the ranks is the new, so-called “advanced format” hard disks that are now shipping. Generally, these are newer SSDs as well as traditional “spinning rust” hard drives larger than 4TiB in capacity. What’s 4k all about and why do we need it? To understand this, we’re going to have to take a trip back in time and find out exactly how disks work, how an operating system talks to a disk in order to read/write from/to the disk, and see why the old way was broken and needed to be replaced with something newer and better.

Continue reading

Apple finally locks down the USB port in iOS 7

One of the basic principles of computer security is that if someone has physical access to a machine, compromising it is simply a matter of time (yes, even technologies like whole-disk encryption via GPG/PGP, BitLocker, or TrueCrypt are often still susceptible to “Evil Maid” attacks). But while all devices are vulnerable to hands-on attacks, some devices are more vulnerable than others.

Innocuous-looking USB accessories for both PCs and smartphones have long been a preferred for attacks aiming to gain unauthorized access to a machine. Devices that look like USB sticks can easily direct a computer they’re plugged into to dump data to an external device or online file storage by mimicking a keyboard/mouse, an attack no antivirus or antimalware software can prevent. Smartphones have been susceptible to similar attacks, even from something as seemingly-innocent as a regular phone charger. These hardware-based attacks have been well-documented, and while a passcode on the device can mitigate such attempts, it’s no cure-all.

Continue reading

A most-miserable Apple TV unboxing experience

Yesterday, while at the Apple Store for a free replacement clamshell/LCD for my 15″ MacBook Pro Retina (sudden-onset ghosting issues, to use a medical term), I caved-in and got an Apple TV. It’s something I’d given plenty of thought to in the past, but was never really sold on. In the end, the $99 price tag and my growing frustration at streaming Netflix shows and movies from my desktop to my plasma HDTV won me over.

The initial experience was pretty much par for the course: beautifully packaged, incredible attention to detail, sexy product, and gorgeous cabling. I made sure to tuck the box away somewhere safe, because Apple boxes are too beautiful to throw away.

But that was where the bliss ended and the agony began. Because of the sheer tinyness of the Apple TV compared to all my other media products, and because lag is not a primary concern as it would be with a gaming device, this was the first time that I decided to connect one of my media products via wifi instead of over ethernet (XBox, HDTV, printers, and more – all connected to a gigabit router).

Continue reading

HP Running the ATi QA Show?

ATi's RubyFrom the day I built my PC a few years ago until just last week, it’s been impossible for me to play a game (pretty much *any* full-screen DirectX/OpenGL game) without the ATi drivers crashing. (For reference, stock ATi HD3870 on an ASUS RoG Maximus Formula II motherboard). I’ve tracked down each and every possible lead, and solved a number of crash-inducing issues in the process, but haven’t been able to completely prevent the display driver crashes from the days Vista or now on Windows 7.

There were issues pertaining to dual-displays in a mixed VGA/DVI environment (one display DVI, the second VGA) which were never resolved by ATi (to the best of my knowledge) and were worked around by initially downgrading the DVI to a VGA connection and later replacing the older monitor with a new DVI-based display. There were issues related to the refresh rate. There were issues related to the resolution. There were issues related to the games. There were issues related to the OS. Basically, wherever you look, there were problems caused by poor development practices and crappy QA all around.

There were issues that Microsoft/Windows’ new WDM model caught, triggering a restart of the graphics subsystem without causing a BSoD. And there were (unfortunately the majority) of the ATi display driver crashes that caused BSoDs left, right, and center.

Today, my Windows 7 PC surprised me with an interesting question:

Send info to HP?

Continue reading

The ARM, the PPC, the x86, and the iPad…

Hot on the heels of the iPad release comes news that Apple has just (very likely) purchased another processor design firm (via EDN).  Intrinsity, the chip design company in question, is a designer of RISC-based CPUs and is rumored to have had something to do with the design of Apple’s new A4 processor. The A4 is Apple’s key ingredient for a smooth user experience in the much-hyped iPad.

Those keeping track of Apple’s purchases will remember that, almost exactly 2 years ago to the day, Apple bought California-based CPU designer PA Semiconductors. However, PA Semi specializes in PowerPC-based designs – a platform that Apple abandoned almost 5 years ago now. But Apple’s most recent acquisition is directly applicable to its current needs in the hardware market, and in particular, its forays into the ARM market. In the official iPad video, Apple engineers and executives discuss their need for a custom CPU in order to let them dictate where the ooomph and power will go, and to what purposes the transistors will be biased.

With all these buyouts and different chipsets in question, it’s easy to get confused. So what is the difference between the ARM, the PPC, and the x86, and where does it matter?

Continue reading

Mini DisplayPort to Get Some HDMI Competition

Back in 2008, Apple introduced the new Mini DisplayPort standard as the only video output method on the new MacBooks and LCDs. Mini DisplayPort is a freely-licensed VESA standard [1] and has now been adopted by a number of other display manufacturers, and is a miniaturized version of the original DisplayPort interface.

This week, the fourth revision of the HDMI high-definition video output connector was revealed in the form of HDMI D, weighing in at a mere fraction of the original HDMI connector size and intended for use with mobile and embedded high-definition video devices [2]. The new HDMI connector is expected to ship later this year, and is in direct competition with VESA’s Mini DisplayPort interface.

VESA is the international governing body for computer graphics standards, and has been designing video output standards since its conception in the late 80’s [3]. HDMI is a private group formed in 2002, and licenses its interfaces out to manufacturers at four cents a device + a $10,000 yearly fee.

Continue reading