Did Intel Deliberately Slow PC Sales?

October 7, 2015 by  
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Intel might have caused slow PC sales at the beginning of the year to boost the price of its Skylake chips later.

A recent study shows that the slump in PC sales in the first half was deliberately made to help Skylake sell better since August. Initially analysts believed that sales of the Skylake are hindered by existing stocks of previous Haswells, but it turns out this was untrue.

Tech Trader Daily has found that Intel significantly reduced shipments of its central processing units in the first half of the year, to leave PC maker inventories drained and empty.

This is normal practice since Intel needed to have all its PC makers and retailers with empty enough stocks in order to fill them up quickly with new Skylake models in August. But this year the plan worked too well. The Skylake stocks quickly evaporated and the first supply aps appeared between the months of August and September, with Intel quickly assuring its customers that new Skylake batches will return in stores as fast as possible.

Normally Chipzilla has a cycle of unit buildups in the first half of a financial year and then a controlled drain of units in the second half. This helps PC makers and retailers build systems in the first half and then sell them bundled without being compromised by stand-alone units selling alongside them at a higher pace in the second.

This time Intel launched the Skylake in the second half of the year, August onwards, so the cycle was stuffed up. Now it seems that this will mean a low supply of Skylakes in the first half of 2016. If you can find them, you might need to stock up now.

Intel is making piles from this. PC makers mainly build their systems on Skylakes and since the supply is low the price is high. Intel does not have to discount to shift the technology, the suppliers have to buy it at any price. Particularly as Intel’s only real x86 market, AMD, is having a bit of a snooze.

A full transition to Skylake will probably happen in winter, but the ongoing process at the moment gives Intel the much-needed money to financially buffer a slowdown in sales next spring.  All this gives a warning about what will happen if AMD goes under and Intel takes total control.


Dropbox Beefs Up Security

August 25, 2015 by  
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Two-factor authentication is widely regarded as a best practice for security in the online world, but Dropbox has announced a new feature that’s designed to make it even more secure.

Whereas two-step verification most commonly involves the user’s phone for the second authentication method, Dropbox’s new U2F support adds a new means of authenticating the user via Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security keys instead.

What that means is that users can now use a USB key as an additional means to prove who they are.

“This is a very good advancement and adds extra security over mobile notifications for two-factor authentication,” said Rich Mogull, Securosis CEO.

“Basically, you can’t trick a user into typing in credentials,” Mogull explained. “The attacker has to compromise the exact machine the user is on.”

For most users, phone-based, two-factor authentication is “totally fine,” he said. “But this is a better option in high-security environments and is a good example of where the FIDO standard is headed.”

Security keys provide stronger defense against credential-theft attacks like phishing, Dropbox said.

“Even if you’re using two-step verification with your phone, some sophisticated attackers can still use fake Dropbox websites to lure you into entering your password and verification code,” the company explained in a blog post. “They can then use this information to access your account.”

Security keys, on the other hand, use cryptographic communication and will only work when the user is signing in to the legitimate Dropbox website.

Dropbox users who want to use the new feature will need a security key that follows the FIDO Alliance’s Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) standard. That U2F key can then be set up with the user’s Dropbox account along with any other U2F-enabled services, such as Google.


Did Microsoft Intentionally Delay The Surface Pro 4?

August 14, 2015 by  
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The latest rumors suggest that Microsoft was waiting to jack the latest Intel Skylake processor under its bonnet.

Redmond seemingly wants the new Surface Pro to be state of the art and be a tablet which is useful. Skylake will give it better battery life and performance with current industry standards like Bluetooth 4.1, Cat6 LTE, WiDi 6.0, and A4WP wireless charging weaved into it.

Intel will support the tablets through compatibility with 3D cameras and audio processing software plus better stylus interaction.

There is no sign of confirmation of the rumors. Microsoft has been quiet so far about the Surface Pro 4. We had been expecting it to highlight some of the better features of Windows 10.

However if the rumors are true it will be a hell of a lot better than the MacBook Air 2015 because it will feature innovation, rather than just being thin.

Latest news about its release date suggests a 2016 launch.


PC Sales Continue The Downward Trend

July 20, 2015 by  
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Gartner is reporting the biggest slump in PC sales for almost two years. The second quarter report saw 68.4 million units shifted in the three-month period, a year-on-year reduction of 9.4 percent, and the steepest drop in seven quarters.

What’s more, the prediction is that the next quarter will see a further reduction of 4.4 percent.

It seems that the dislike of Windows 8, coupled with the impending arrival of Windows 10, has battered the sales of new PCs.

The fact that most PC users will be entitled to a free upgrade, coupled with the fact that chip and RAM technology haven’t moved on at a spectacular pace this year, has created a perfect storm among consumers who are waiting it out for their machines to be born again on 29 July (or 30, or 31, or possibly 1 August).

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘It’s just a dying market’ you’re not wrong, but you have only to look at today’s IDC figures to see that this really is made of Microsoft.

IDC is even more pessimistic than Gartner, quoting 66.1 million units, down 11.8 percent year on year.

But more importantly, when drilled down to the OEMs, you can see where the real problem lies. Apple is the only company in the top five not rooted in the Windows ecosystem.

It is also the only manufacturer to see a rise in its market share, and is now the fourth biggest vendor in the world, up 16.1 percent. Acer at number five has seen its share plummet by 25.9 percent.

Things were a bit rosier this time last year, because businesses were migrating away from Windows XP (not all of them, mind). This year, there’s no ballast and a lot of hesitation to see exactly how Windows 10 does before big orders start being deployed in enterprises.

“The price hike of PCs became more apparent in some regions due to a sharp appreciation of the US dollar against local currencies,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

“The worldwide PC market experienced unusually positive desk-based growth last year due to the end of Windows XP support. After the XP impact was phased out, there have not been any major growth drivers to stimulate a PC refresh.”

IDC’s Loren Loverde, VP of worldwide PC trackers and forecasting, said: “We’re expecting the Windows 10 launch to go relatively well, though many users will opt for a free OS upgrade rather than buying a new PC.

“Competition from 2-in-1 devices and phones remains an issue, but the economic environment has had a larger impact lately, and that should stabilize or improve going forward.”

Meanwhile, Apple, despite having a tiny market share for its OS X operating system at just 7.5 percent, according to this month’s Netmarketshare figures, has managed to avoid being the winner or loser OEM by being the referee, which is a nice trick if you can do it.

Both analyst firms see the top three remaining as Lenovo, HP and Dell. Nothing to see there.


Will Cortana Impact Windows 10 Battery Life?

July 15, 2015 by  
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It is just over a month until Microsoft introduces Windows 10, and as you should know by now, Cortana is one of the key elements of the new OS.

Cortana always listens in order to hear its name and be a smart digital assistant. This is Microsoft answer to Siri and Google Now that is making its way to Windows 10.

Unfortunately, this will affect your notebook battery life. We have spoken with a few industry sources and we can definitely confirm that Windows 10 with enabled Cortana will have an impact on the battery life. We are testing this as we speak to check how big the impact is.

We don’t know how significant the battery life decrease will be, but the good thing is that you will be able to switch Cortana off in case you don’t need it. We heard that many new Toshiba notebooks will come with a dedicated Cortana button, as this is the easiest way to save battery life. Cortana on Toshiba won’t listen until you press the button.

It would be smart if Microsoft would come up with Cortana enable / disable keyboard shortcut. Win + Q will enable Cortana news while Win + S will bring you directly to the Cortana search engine.

Windows 10 seems to be a logical upgrade for anyone who has Windows 8.1 on their notebooks and misses the options from Windows 7, and some familiar UI elements. We use Windows 8.1 on some devices, while most of our computers still have Windows 7 and nothing more. Microsoft DirectX 12 will force us to Windows 10 but from what awe can tell from Preview release, the upgrade to Windows 10 from with 7 seems like quite seamless and logical step.

Just make sure to be aware that your notebook battery life might suffer because of Cortana. Have in mind that this “talk to your PC and expect a smart answer” option can be disabled.


Is Intel Supporting Open-Source?

June 19, 2015 by  
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Intel has suddenly made some interesting hardware less interesting to open sourcers by insisting that its i915 DRM kernel graphics driver for upcoming Skylake and Broxton hardware demands some binary-only firmware blobs.

According to Phoronix these first i915 DRM firmware blobs are for Skylake and Broxton for the GuC and DMC.
DMC is the Display Microcontroller used by Skylake (Gen9) within the display engine to save and restore its state when entering into low-power states and then resuming. It saves and restores display registers across low-power states separate of the kernel.

Intel said that the firmware blobs are required by the DRM driver rather than being an optional add-on.

The license of these firmware blobs also indicate that redistribution is only allowed in binary form without modification. Beyond that, “no reverse engineering, decompilation, or dis-assembly of this software is permitted.”

Basically this will kill off any desire for Open Source enthusiasts to touch Skylake, although we doubt Intel will be too worried – they are a very nice couple. In any event AMD apparently uses something similar to protect bits of its operation.

Still Intel is shipping these firmware files early so everyone knows they are there.


Intel Talks More About Skylake

May 18, 2015 by  
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A new Intel roadmap suggests the first Broadwell LGA parts will launch in Q2, while Skylake-S parts will come in Q3.

The roadmap was published by PC Online and points to two Broadwell LGA launches this quarter – the Core i7-5775C and Core i5-5675C. These two parts will be joined by a total of four Skylake-S products in Q3, the Core i7-6700K, Core i7-6700, Core i5-6600K, Core i5-6600 and the Core i5-6500.

Both Skylake-S and Broadwell LGA will replace the current crop of Haswell parts, including Devil’s Canyon products. However, Broadwell LGA sits one tier above Skylake-S and Haswell-based products.

Starting in Q4, we should see more Broadwell LGA parts, but we don’t have any names yet. In the first quarter of 2016, we can also expect new Skylake-S parts.

Speaking of 2016, Intel plans to unleash the Broadwell-E in the first quarter of 2016. Little is known about Broadwell-E, but the new 14nm flagship is expected to sport eight cores. Clocks remain unknown, although the 14nm node promises substantial gains.


LinkedIn Acquires Startup Refresh

April 16, 2015 by  
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In a move that could produce even more automated suggestions and tips for LinkedIn users, the professional network has purchased California startup Refresh, the maker of an app that gathers news and insights about participants in meetings.

Launched three years ago, Refresh is designed to be a “digital briefing book” that can call up online information related to people that users are scheduled to meet. The information can be anything from blog posts, news articles or Facebook posts to personal notes or favorite sports teams.

The Refresh mobile and desktop app is aimed at helping people relate to one another more quickly, but it can also be used to refresh one’s memory when running into acquaintances unexpectedly.

The details of the deal were not disclosed. Refresh has stopped taking on new users and its app will shut down April 15.

“Refresh has surfaced insights associated with hundreds of millions of meetings, and has been central to countless connections and closed deals,” co-founder Bhavin Shah wrote on the Refresh blog in announcing the deal.

LinkedIn already has an app called Connected that was somewhat of a rival to Refresh. It can log the people users have met and offer updates and information about interests shared with “connections,” which are acquaintances in the LinkedIn lingo. It’s unclear whether Refresh features will be added to Connected or the LinkedIn website itself.

“Our team will focus its efforts on providing LinkedIn members with more insights to help them better do their jobs,” Shah wrote.


Intel Sends Braswell SoC To Partners

April 14, 2015 by  
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Intel announced that it is now shipping the Bay Trail system on a chip (SoC) successor codenamed Braswell to OEM partners.

Announced almost exactly a year ago at Intel’s Developer Forum in Beijing, Braswell is a more powerful version of Bay Trail running on the 14nm fab process, designed to power low-cost devices like Chromebooks and budget PCs.

The chip maker said that devices will hit the market sometime in late summer or autumn.

“We expect Braswell-based systems to be available in the market for the back to school 2015 selling season,” an Intel representative told The INQUIRER. “Specific dates and options will be announced by our OEM partners.”

That’s all Intel will give us for now, but we were told that full details regarding the upcoming chip will be revealed at IDF in Shenzhen next week.

Braswell was expected to arrive at the end of 2014 when it was originally unveiled last year.

Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel’s PC Client group, said that it will replace Bay Trail as part of the Atom line, and will feature in over 20 Chromebook designs.

“Last year, we had only four designs on Chrome. Today I can announce that we will have over 20 designs on Chrome,” said Skaugen at the time.

Intel recently announced another 14nm chip, the Atom x range, previously codenamed Cherry Trail, although this will be focused on tablets rather than the value PC market segment and Chromebooks like Braswell.

In terms of power, Braswell is likely to fit snuggly above the Atom x5 and x7 Cherry Trail SoCs and beneath the firm’s recently announced 5th-generation Core products, previously codenamed Broadwell.

Unveiled at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, Intel’s Atom x5 and x7 chips, previously codenamed Cherry Trail, are also updates to the previous Bay Trail Atom line-up, being the first Intel Atom SoCs on 14nm.

These higher-powered SoCs are designed to bring improved 3D performance to mainstream premium handheld devices running full versions of Windows and Android, such as 7in to 10.1in tablets and 2-in-1 hybrid laptops priced at around $119 to $499.

For example, Microsoft quietly announced on Tuesday that the upcoming Surface 3 tablet-laptop hybrid will be powered by an Intel Atom x7. The device is priced at $500.


Intel Debuts The N3000 Series SoC

April 13, 2015 by  
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Intel has launched Intel N3000 series systems on a chip (SoCs), which will kill off Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D SoCs on the desktop and mobile PCs.

CPU World also has spotted some other chips which have been revealed to the world.

Intel has also launched desktop and mobile Core i3 and Pentium microprocessors. New mobile models are Pentium 3825U, Core i3-5015U and i3-5020U. These ones are based on Broadwell 14nm.

Core i3-5015U and i3-5020U are dual-cores with Hyper-Threading technology, HD 5500 graphics and ultra low 15 Watt TDP. The processors run at 2.1 GHz and 2.2 GHz. This is 100 MHz higher than the i3-5005U and i3-5010U models, that were launched three months ago.

The i3-5015U and i3-5020U chips offer a 50 MHz higher graphics boost. Official prices of these SKUs are $275 and $281.
The Pentium 3825U incorporates a couple of enhancements on the older Pentium 3805U. It supports Hyper-Threading that allows it to process twice as many threads. It also has base and maximum graphics frequencies increased to 300 MHz and 850 MHz.

The 3805U and 3825U operate at 1.9 GHz and have 2 MB L2 cache. The 3825U processor is rated at 15 Watt TDP, and priced at $161.