Can MediaTek Bring The Cortex-A72 To Market?

March 31, 2015 by admin  
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MediaTek became the first chipmaker to publicly demo a SoC based on ARM’s latest Cortex-A72 CPU core, but the company’s upcoming chip still relies on the old 28nm manufacturing process.

We had a chance to see the upcoming MT8173 in action at the Mobile World Congress a couple of weeks ago.

The next step is to bring the new Cortex-A72 core to a new node and into mobiles. This is what MediaTek is planning to do by the end of the year.

Cortex-A72 smartphone parts coming in Q4

It should be noted that MediaTek’s 8000-series parts are designed for tablets, and the MT8173 is no exception. However, the new core will make its way to smartphone SoCs later this year, as part of the MT679x series.

According to Digitimes Research, MediaTek’s upcoming MT679x chips will utilize a combination of Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 cores. It is unclear whether MediaTek will use the planar 20nm node or 16nm FinFET for the new part.

By the looks of it, this chip will replace 32-bit MT6595, which is MediaTek’s most successful high performance part yet, with a few relatively big design wins, including Alcatel, Meizu, Lenovo and Zopo. The new chip will also supplement, and possibly replace the recently introduced MT6795, a 64-bit Cortex-A53/Cortex-A72 part used in the HTC Desire 826.

More questions than answers

Digitimes also claims the MT679x Cortex-A72 parts may be the first MediaTek products to benefit from AMD technology, but details are scarce. We can’t say whether or not the part will use AMD GPU technology, or some HSA voodoo magic. Earlier this month we learned that MediaTek is working with AMD and the latest report appears to confirm our scoop.

The other big question is the node. The chip should launch toward the end of the year, so we probably won’t see any devices prior to Q1 2016. While 28nm is still alive and kicking, by 2016 it will be off the table, at least in this market segment. Previous MediaTek roadmap leaks suggested that the company would transition to 20nm on select parts by the end of the year.

However, we are not entirely sure 20nm will cut it for high-end parts in 2016. Huawei has already moved to 16nm with its latest Kirin 930 SoC, Samsung stunned the world with the 14nm Exynos 7420, and Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 820 will be a FinFET part as well.

It is obvious that TSMC’s and Samsung’s 20nm nodes will not be used on most, if not all, high-end SoCs next year. With that in mind, it would be logical to expect MediaTek to use a FinFET node as well. On the other hand, depending on the cost, 20nm could still make sense for MediaTek – provided it ends up significantly cheaper than FinFET. While a 20nm chip wouldn’t deliver the same level of power efficiency and performance, with the right price it could find its way to more affordable mid-range devices, or flagships designed by smaller, value-oriented brands (especially those focusing on Chinese and Indian markets).

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Can Linux Succeed On The Desktop?

March 25, 2015 by admin  
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Every three years I install Linux and see if it is ready for prime time yet, and every three years I am disappointed. What is so disappointing is not so much that the operating system is bad, it has never been, it is just that who ever designs it refuses to think of the user.

To be clear I will lay out the same rider I have for my other three reviews. I am a Windows user, but that is not out of choice. One of the reasons I keep checking out Linux is the hope that it will have fixed the basic problems in the intervening years. Fortunately for Microsoft it never has.

This time my main computer had a serious outage caused by a dodgy Corsair (which is now a c word) power supply and I have been out of action for the last two weeks. In the mean time I had to run everything on a clapped out Fujitsu notebook which took 20 minutes to download a webpage.

One Ubuntu Linux install later it was behaving like a normal computer. This is where Linux has always been far better than Windows – making rubbish computers behave. I could settle down to work right? Well not really.

This is where Linux has consistently disqualified itself from prime-time every time I have used it. Going back through my reviews, I have been saying the same sort of stuff for years.

Coming from Windows 7, where a user with no learning curve can install and start work it is impossible. Ubuntu can’t. There is a ton of stuff you have to upload before you can get anything that passes for an ordinary service. This uploading is far too tricky for anyone who is used to Windows.

It is not helped by the Ubuntu Software Centre which is supposed to make like easier for you. Say that you need to download a flash player. Adobe has a flash player you can download for Ubuntu. Click on it and Ubuntu asks you if you want to open this file with the Ubuntu Software Center to install it. You would think you would want this right? Thing is is that pressing yes opens the software center but does not download Adobe flash player. The center then says it can’t find the software on your machine.

Here is the problem which I wrote about nearly nine years ago – you can’t download Flash or anything proprietary because that would mean contaminating your machine with something that is not Open Sauce.

Sure Ubuntu will download all those proprietary drivers, but you have to know to ask – an issue which has been around now for so long it is silly. The issue of proprietary drives is only a problem for those who are hard core open saucers and there are not enough numbers of them to keep an operating system in the dark ages for a decade. However, they have managed it.

I downloaded LibreOffice and all those other things needed to get a basic “windows experience” and discovered that all those typefaces you know and love are unavailable. They should have been in the proprietary pack but Ubuntu has a problem installing them. This means that I can’t share documents in any meaningful way with Windows users, because all my formatting is screwed.

LibreOffice is not bad, but it really is not Microsoft Word and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.

I download and configure Thunderbird for mail and for a few good days it actually worked. However yesterday it disappeared from the side bar and I can’t find it anywhere. I am restricted to webmail and I am really hating Microsoft’s outlook experience.

The only thing that is different between this review and the one I wrote three years ago is that there are now games which actually work thanks to Steam. I have not tried this out yet because I am too stressed with the work backlog caused by having to work on Linux without regular software, but there is an element feeling that Linux is at last moving to a point where it can be a little bit useful.

So what are the main problems that Linux refuses to address? Usability, interface and compatibility.

I know Ubuntu is famous for its shit interface, and Gnome is supposed to be better, but both look and feel dated. I also hate Windows 8′s interface which requires you to use all your computing power to navigate through a touch screen tablet screen when you have neither. It should have been an opportunity for Open saucers to trump Windows with a nice interface – it wasn’t.

You would think that all the brains in the Linux community could come up with a simple easy to use interface which lets you have access to all the files you need without much trouble. The problem here is that Linux fans like to tinker they don’t want usability and they don’t have problems with command screens. Ordinary users, particularly more recent generations will not go near a command screen.

Compatibly issues for games has been pretty much resolved, but other key software is missing and Linux operators do not seem keen to get them on board.

I do a lot of layout and graphics work. When you complain about not being able to use Photoshop, Linux fanboys proudly point to GIMP and say that does the same things. You want to grab them down the throat and stuff their heads down the loo and flush. GIMP does less than a tenth of what Photoshop can do and it does it very badly. There is nothing that can do what CS or any real desktop publishers can do available on Linux.

Proprietary software designed for real people using a desktop tends to trump anything open saucy, even if it is producing a technology marvel.

So in all these years, Linux has not attempted to fix any of the problems which have effectively crippled it as a desktop product.

I will look forward to next week when the new PC arrives and I will not need another Ubuntu desktop experience. Who knows maybe they will have sorted it in three years time again.

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SUSE Goes OpenStack Cloud 5

March 23, 2015 by admin  
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SUSE has released OpenStack Cloud 5, the latest version of the its infrastructure-as-a-service private cloud distro.

Version 5 adds the OpenStack brand front and centre, and its credentials are based on the latest Juno build of the OpenStack open source platform.

This version includes enhanced networking flexibility, with additional plug-ins available and the addition of distributed virtual routing. This enables individual computer nodes to handle routing tasks together, or if needs be, clustering together.

Increased operational efficiency comes in the form of a new seamless integration with existing servers running outside the cloud. In addition, log collection is centralized into a single view.

As you would expect, SUSE OpenStack 5 is designed to fit perfectly alongside the company’s other products, including the recently launched Suse Enterprise Storage and Suse Linux Enterprise Server 12 as well as nodes from earlier versions.

Deployment has also been simplified as part of a move to standardise “as-a-service” models.

Also included is the company’s new Sahara data processing project designed to run Hadoop and Spark on top of OpenStack without degradation. MapR has released support for its own service by way of a co-branded plug-in.

“Furthering the growth of OpenStack enterprise deployments, Suse OpenStack Cloud makes it easier for customers to realise the benefits of a private cloud, saving them money and time they can use to better serve their own customers and business,” said Brian Green, managing director, UK and Ireland, at Suse.

“Automation and high availability features translate to simplicity and efficiency in enterprise data centers.”

Suse OpenStack Cloud 5 becomes generally available from today.

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AMD Goes Virtual With Liquid VR

March 17, 2015 by admin  
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AMD Liquid VR is not a retail product – it is an initiative to develop and deliver the best Virtual Reality (VR) experience in the industry.

AMD Liquid VR was announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and the company describes it is a “set of innovative technologies focused on enabling exceptional VR content development” for hardware based on AMD silicon.

Developers will soon get access to the LiquidVR SDK, which will help them address numerous issues associated with VR development.

Platform and software rather than hardware

If you were expecting to see a sexy AMD VR headset with a killer spec, the announcement may be disappointing. However, if you are a “what’s under the bonnet” kind of geek, there are a few interesting highlights.

AMD has put a lot of effort into minimising motion-to-photon latency, which should not only help improve the experience, but also keep you from experiencing motion sickness, or hurling over that new carpet that really ties the room together.

Headline features of LiquidVR SDK 1.0 include:

Async Shaders for smooth head-tracking enabling Hardware-Accelerated Time Warp, a technology that uses updated information on a user’s head position after a frame has been rendered and then warps the image to reflect the new viewpoint just before sending it to a VR headset, effectively minimizing latency between when a user turns their head and what appears on screen.

Affinity Multi-GPU for scalable rendering, a technology that allows multiple GPUs to work together to improve frame rates in VR applications by allowing them to assign work to run on specific GPUs. Each GPU renders the viewpoint from one eye, and then composites the outputs into a single stereo 3D image. With this technology, multi-GPU configurations become ideal for high performance VR rendering, delivering high frame rates for a smoother experience.

Latest data latch for smooth head-tracking, a programming mechanism that helps get head tracking data from the head-mounted display to the GPU as quickly as possible by binding data as close to real-time as possible, practically eliminating any API overhead and removing latency.

Direct-to-display for intuitively attaching VR headsets, to deliver a seamless plug-and-play virtual reality experience from an AMD Radeon™ graphics card to a connected VR headset, while enabling features such as booting directly to the display or using extended display features within Windows.

You can grab the full AMD LiquidVR presentation here. (pdf)

What’s next for LiquidVR?

It all depends on what you were expecting, and what the rest of the industry does. AMD hopes LiquidVR will be compatible with a broad range of VR devices. LiquidVR will allow hardware makers to implement AMD technology in their products with relative ease, enabling 100Hz refresh rates, the use of individual GPUs per each eye and so on.

To a certain extent, you can think of LiquidVR as FreeSync for VR kit.

Oculus CEO Brendan Irbe said achieving presence in a virtual world is one of the most important elements needed to deliver a good user experience.

He explained where AMD comes in:

“We’re excited to have AMD working with us on their part of the latency equation, introducing support for new features like asynchronous timewarp and late latching, and compatibility improvements that ensure that Oculus’ users have a great experience on AMD hardware.”

Raja Koduri, corporate vice president, Visual Computing, AMD, said content, comfort and compatibility are the cornerstones of AMD’s focus on VR.

AMD’s resident graphics guru said:

“With LiquidVR we’re collaborating with the ecosystem to unlock solutions to some of the toughest challenges in VR and giving the keys to developers of VR content so that they can bring exceptional new experiences to life.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s 3300 frames of AMD’s virtual reality vision.

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Can MediaTek Take On Qualcomm?

March 11, 2015 by admin  
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While Qualcomm’s 20nm Snapdragon 810 SoC might be the star of upcoming flagship smartphones, it appears that MediaTek has its own horse for the race, the octa-core MT6795.

Spotted by GforGames site, in a GeekBench test results and running inside an unknown smartphone, MediaTek’s MT6795 managed to score 886 points in the single-core test and 4536 points in the multi-core test. These results were enough to put it neck to neck with the mighty Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC tested in the LG G Flex 2, which scored 1144 points in the single-core and 4345 in the multi-core test. While it did outrun the MT6795 in the single-core test, the multi-core test was clearly not kind on the Snapdragon 810.

The unknown device was running on Android Lollipop OS and packed 3GB of RAM, which might gave the MT6795 an edge over the LG G Flex 2.

MediaTek’s octa-core MT6795 was announced last year and while we are yet to see some of the first design wins, recent rumors suggested that it could be powering Meizu’s MX5, HTC’s Desire A55 and some other high-end smartphones. The MediaTek MT6795 is a 64-bit octa-core SoC clocked at up to 2.2GHz, with four Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. It packs PowerVR G6200 graphics, supports LPDDR3 memory and can handle 2K displays at up to 120Hz.

As we are just a few days from Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 which will kick off in Barcelona on March 2nd, we are quite sure that we will see more info as well as more benchmarks as a single benchmark running on an unknown smartphone might not be the best representation of performance, it does show that MediaTek certainly has a good chip and can compete with Qualcomm and Samsung.

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Microsoft Cuts The Darkside

March 4, 2015 by admin  
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The security of the employees of Phantom Dust developer Darkside Game Studios is in doubt, after Microsoft decided to sever all professional ties to the studio.

Phantom Dust is a remake of an Xbox game from 2004, which was designed by Yukio Futatsugi, the creator of Panzer Dragoon. Darkside’s project was unveiled at E3 last year as an exclusive title for the Xbox One, but whatever agreement existed between the studio and Microsoft has been terminated.

Here’s the official line: “Microsoft partnered with Darkside Game Studios in the development of Phantom Dust, but our working relationship has now ended. We have great respect for their studio and their work in the industry.

“While we do not have anything new to share on Phantom Dust at this time, we can confirm that development of the title continues. We look forward to sharing more details on the game as we get closer to release.”

Darkside, which is based in Florida, has contributed to the development of a host of major releases, including a couple of Xbox exclusives: Sunset Overdrive, Gears of War: Judgment, the Borderlands franchise, the Bioshock franchise; it’s a solid track record, albeit entirely composed of contract work, and Phantom Dust was to be its first solo project.

However, the “respect” Microsoft has for that track record is now the subject of suspicion, with several sources from within Darkside claiming that the company has been forced to layoff its entire staff – around 50 people.

“The executives who saw it were impressed and as late as this morning gave our team every indication that the project was on solid ground,” one of the sources said to Kotaku. “Yet we got the phone call today that someone up on high who in all likelihood wasn’t even aware of the game in detail shut it down.”

The notion that the alleged termination of Darkside’s working relationship with Microsoft was sudden is reinforced by the studio’s recruitment page, which advertised six open positions as recently as the start of January. Among the perks listed there, one stands out: “Working with major publishers.”

Microsoft offered no comment on the situation at Darkside, but we are pursuing the studio’s management for clarification.

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Intel Gives Exascale A Boost

March 3, 2015 by admin  
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Intel’s exascale computing efforts have received a boost with the extension of the company’s research collaboration with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

Begun in 2011 and now extended to September 2017, the Intel-BSC work is currently looking at scalability issues with parallel applications.

Karl Solchenbach, Intel’s director, Innovation Pathfinding Architecture Group in Europe said it was important to improve scalability of threaded applications on many core nodes through the OmpSs programming model.

The collaboration has developed a methodology to measure these effects separately. “An automatic tool not only provides a detailed analysis of performance inhibitors, but also it allows a projection to a higher number of nodes,” says Solchenbach.

BSC has been making HPC tools and given Intel an instrumentation package (Extrae), a performance data browser (Paraver), and a simulator (Dimemas) to play with.

Charlie Wuischpard, VP & GM High Performance Computing at Intel said that the Barcelona work is pretty big scale for Chipzilla.

“A major part of what we’re proposing going forward is work on many core architecture. Our roadmap is to continue to add more and more cores all the time.”

“Our Knights Landing product that is coming out will have 60 or more cores running at a slightly slower clock speed but give you vastly better performance,” he said.

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MediaTek Shows Off New IoT Platform

February 16, 2015 by admin  
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MediaTek had announced a new development platform, as part of its MediaTek Labs initiative.

The LinkIt Connect MT7681 platform is based on the MT7681 SoC, designed for simple and affordable WiFi-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The company also released a software development kit (SDK) and hardware development kit (HDK) for the new platform.

The HDK includes the LinkIt Connect 7681 development board, which features the MT7681 chipset, micro-USB port and pins for various I/O interfaces. The chipset can be used in WiFi station or access point modes.

In station mode, the chip connects to a wireless access point and communicates with web services or cloud servers, which means it could be used to control smart thermostats. However, in access point mode, the chipset can communicate with devices directly, for example to control smart plugs or light bulbs using a smartphone.

“The world is rapidly moving towards connecting every imaginable device in the home, yet developers often have to spend too much effort on making their products Wi-Fi enabled,” said Marc Naddell, VP, MediaTek Labs. “The MediaTek LinkIt Connect 7681 platform simplifies and accelerates this process so that developers can focus on making innovative home IoT products, whatever their skill level.”

MediaTek Labs was launched in September 2014 and its goal is to promote a range of innovative MediaTek platforms, namely frugal devices such as wearables, IoT and home automation hardware.

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Dell Debuts Ubuntu Based Mobile Workstation

February 12, 2015 by admin  
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Dell has unleashed a mobile workstation aimed at developers, designed to be the “beast” to the already available XPS 13 ultra-mobile system “beauty”.

The Precision M3800 was previously available only with Microsoft Windows 8.1, but the new Precision M3800 Developer Edition will ship with the Ubuntu 14.04 Long Term Support Linux distro.

The developer version was unveiled by Barton George, Dell’s director of developer programmes, who talked about the company’s “beauty and the beast” strategy for Linux-powered PCs to produce an ultra-portable laptop as the XPS 13 and then a more capable machine.

Work on making the Precision M3800 a more Ubuntu-friendly machine started soon after the XPS 13 release thanks to developer Jared Dominguez, who improved the code in his personal time and put together instructions on how to run the OS on the machine.

After listening to “tremendously positive” feedback, George said that Dell has now officially added a Ubuntu 14.04 LTS customisation option to the company’s official online shop.

The Precision M3800 Developer Edition weighs 1.88kg, and is less than 18mm thick. It runs a 4th-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU coupled with an Nvidia Quadro K1100M GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 4K Ultra HD screen option.

Dominguez explained that there are still problems with Ubuntu support for the Precision M3800 hardware as the distro shipped with the first M3800 units doesn’t include support for Thunderbolt ports.

The updated kernel of Ubuntu 14.04.2 will add “some” Thunderbolt support, however, thanks to the hardware-enablement stack in Ubuntu, the developer said.

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Microsoft Unveils Hologram Visor

February 4, 2015 by admin  
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Microsoft Corp surprised the tech world with the unveiling of a prototype hologram visor that can bring the Minecraft video game, Skype calls and even the landscape of Mars to three-dimensional life.

The veteran tech pioneer, which long ago lost the mantle of the world’s most inventive company, is making a bold play to regain that title in the face of stiff competition from Google Inc and Apple Inc.

Virtual or enhanced reality is the next frontier in computing interaction, with Facebook Inc focusing on its Oculus virtual reality headset and Google working on its Glass project.

Microsoft said its wire-free Microsoft HoloLens device will be available around the same time as Windows 10 this autumn. Industry analysts were broadly excited at the prospect, but skeptical that it could produce a working model at a mass-market price that soon.

“That was kind of a ‘Oh wow!’ moment,” said Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner who tried out the prototype on Wednesday. “You would expect to see a relatively high-priced model this year or next year, then maybe it’ll take another couple of years to bring it down to a more affordable level.”

Microsoft does not have a stellar record of bringing ground-breaking technology to life. Its Kinect motion-sensing game device caused an initial stir but never gripped the popular imagination.

The company showed off a crude test version of the visor – essentially jerry-rigged wires and cameras pulled over the head – to reporters and industry analysts at a gathering at its headquarters near Seattle.

It did not allow any photographs or video of the experience, but put some images on its website.

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