OCC TECH NEWS
February 24, 2015
After the recent news that Samsung was acquiring LoopPay in an effort to better compete with Apple Pay, Google is revealing its own plans to compete with its rival. Google plans to integrate the Google Wallet payment service into phones from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile by the end of the year. Users currently need to install the software on their own, while Apple Pay comes pre-installed on new iPhones. Google is further planning to improve the service through the acquisition of mobile payment technology and patents from Softcard.
It is hard to say how many lenses you may have encountered in your life, but I know some I have come across have been quite large and thick. That may change in the future though, as many are looking to nanotechnology and metamaterials to create flat lenses. Now researchers at Harvard University have developed the first flat lens that can work with multiple frequencies of light at the same time.
Flat lenses have been built before, but they normally only focus one color of light, while others are diffracted at different angles. The Harvard researchers' new device however uses silicon antennas on a glass substrate to bend multiple colors of light at the same angle. Other designs would bend different frequencies at different angles, but this one compensates for that. So far the researchers have built two prototype achromatic metasurfaces, as they are calling the lenses, which are able to work with three different colors. One of the lenses deflects the three colors at the same angle, while the second instead focuses all three to the same point. Simulations suggest the design could be adapted to work with many more wavelengths than just three.
Flat lenses like these could be used in a variety of optical devices, including microscopes, telescopes, and even computers. Anywhere that the bulk of traditional lenses can pose a problem, this research could be applied.
Source: Harvard University
A little over a month ago, Rockstar announced a small delay for Grand Theft Auto V on the PC, with its release date bumped from January 27 to March 24. At the time it said more polishing was needed, and most of us were probably expecting at least some kind of a delay. Now, it looks like Rockstar needs even more polishing, as Grand Theft Auto V for the PC is arriving on April 14. The developer says that extra time is needed to not only ensure GTA V is the best possible on PC, but that both Online Heists and GTA Online can launch without issue on day one. It is nice to have Rockstar devote that extra time to try and guarantee the PC version of GTA V is the best yet, but hopefully this is the last time the game is delayed. As a small peace offering, any pre-orders of GTA V will receive an additional $200,000 for GTA Online.
Grand Theft Auto V for the PC launches on April 14, but don't be too awfully surprised if we hear of another delay before then. Online Heists are coming to the PS4 and Xbox One on March 10, so those gamers will get to experience the new mode nearly a full month before PC. You can check out screenshots from these heists below.
Source: Rockstar News Wire
A new day is here, with some new items for you to check out and explore. We have a review of the Cougar 500K gaming keyboard, which offers similar features to the company's top-of-the-line keyboard, but uses mebrane keys instead of mechanical. There is also a look at the Xiaomi Mi4 64GB smartphone to see how this Snapdragon 801-powered device stacks up to the competition. Finishing off for the day is a review of the Griffin Twenty Digital Audio Amplifier, which provides 20 watts of power per channel and a Bluetooth connection.
Cougar 500K Gaming Keyboard @ Benchmark Reviews
Xiaomi Mi4 64GB @ Madshrimps
Griffin Twenty Digital Audio Amplifier @ ThinkComputers
There are many applications for 3D printing, and not least among them are medical uses such as specialized scaffolds that direct and promote cell growth. Researchers at the University of Sheffield have recently printed a nerve guidance conduit (NGC) which is able to guide nerve ends to repair naturally. This could have an enormous impact on future treatments for various traumatic injuries.
Normally repairing nerve damage involves surgery that sutures or grafts endings together, which tends to produce imperfect results. The use of an NGC however can improve results, as its framework of tubes guide nerve ends to toward each other for natural repairs. Some are already used in surgery, but they are limited in design and materials, which naturally restricts the injuries they can be used to treat. By using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and a form of 3D printing (laser direct writing) the Sheffield researchers are able to craft NGCs for any kind of nerve damage, and even tailor designs for specific patients.
The researchers have tested their NGCs using a novel mouse model and shown that they were able demonstrate a repair over an injury gap of 3 mm in just three weeks. With more work the printed NGCs could be made to repair larger injuries, and be made from biodegradable materials.
Source: University of Sheffield
PNY has just released its latest flash drive offering, the HP x778w. This flash drive offers a unique design approach to mobile storage as the product resembles partially melted ice cream that is layered with sprinkles. Despite its fun and cute styling, the HP x778w is made up of durable rubber and manages to offer decent read and write speeds of 90MB/sec and 30MB/sec, respectively, thanks to USB 3.0 support. Users can even utilize the built-in strap hole design that the HP x778w offers, allowing the portable flash drive to be attached to a wallet, purse, backpack, and more.
The HP x778w is available in sizes ranging from 8GB to 64GB, is compatible with virtually all desktops and laptops, and comes with a 2-year warranty from the data of purchase.
ASUSTOR, a leading innovator and provider of network storage solutions, has just released Surveillance Center 2.2. The latest version of Surveillance Center, which is the first surveillance NAS application in the world to support HDMI local output, includes a variety of improvements such as interactive electronic maps, support for the ONVIF Profile S standard protocol, and support for the latest version of Safari for Mac. Surveillance Center 2.2 provides Mac users with a 30 percent increase in system display performance. ASUSTOR has also expanded the compatibility for cameras in this latest release, with Surveillance Center now supporting close to 500 different camera models from brands such as AXIS, AVTECH, Samsung, TRENDnet, and Zavio.
Version 2.2 of Surveillance Center is immediately available on all ASUSTOR NAS devices and can be downloaded from ASUSTOR’s App Central.
Source: Press Release
February 23, 2015
Lenovo was the subject of heavy criticism last week over the Superfish software that was pre-loaded on some of its computers. Lenovo released a tool to remove the software, but the damage appears to have been done. A class-action lawsuit was filed in California late last week by Jessica Bennett after her laptop was "damaged as a result of Superfish, which was called “spyware” in court documents." The lawsuit accuses Lenovo and Superfish of "fraudulent business practices and of making Lenovo PCs vulnerable to malware and malicious attacks by pre-loading the adware."
Source: PC World
According to a report from Jon Peddie Research, NVIDIA has expanded its lead over AMD in GPU market share over the past year. From the fourth quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014 NVIDIA went from 64.9% to 76% while AMD dropped from 35% to 24%. The increase in market share is a bright spot for NVIDIA and its Maxwell GPUs, which have recently been hit with some bad press related to memory issues on the GTX 970 cards. It will be interesting to see if AMD is able to turn it around or if NVIDIA will further increase its market dominance in the coming year.
Source: PC Perspective
In one way or another, chances are that we all rely on wireless communications like cellular connections or Wi-Fi. These various technologies have been serving us well for years now, but like all technologies, we want them to improve and that is going to require pushing limits and entering new territories. In this case, those new territories are higher frequencies and to help us get there, NIST is developing tools to measure signals at these higher frequencies.
Most wireless communications today operate below 3 GHz, but thanks to silicon-germanium radio chips we are reaching into the millimeter wavelengths, which are above 10 GHz. The NIST researchers are aiming for 100 GHz, and greater. One of the issues with frequencies this high is that the high speed circuits needed to generate them can also distort them. Even small errors can pose a problem. Also mm waves have a harder time going around corners than lower frequencies, which will make modeling the wireless channels more difficult. One way to solve that problem is to use complex arrays of antennas that allow beams to be steered directly to devices.
So far the researchers have built test receivers and channel sounders and demonstrated a calibrated signal source capable of generating 44 GHz and 94 GHz signals. The source uses commercial parts, so companies should be able to build their own systems for testing.
Samsung SDI, a global leader in energy solutions and electronic materials, has announced that it has agreed to acquire the battery pack portion of Magna International, a leading global automotive supplier. The acquisition, which is pending regulatory approvals and is expected to be completed during the first half of this year, will allow Samsung to enhance its capabilities in battery production for electric cars. Under the agreement, the 264 employees, production and development sites, and existing contracts held by Magna Steyr, an Austria-based operating unit of Magna International, will be acquired by Samsung. According to Namseong Cho, the President and CEO of Samsung SDI, "The acquisition is a key strategic step for Samsung SDI to strengthen the competitiveness of our automotive battery business."
Financial details surrounding the acquisition have not been released by either company.
The final week of February is here, with plenty of items to get it started right. We have a review of the Corsair H110i GT liquid CPU cooler, which is an all-in-one design using a 280mm radiator. There is also a look at the Toshiba TransMemory-EX II USB 3.0 flash drive that says to offer fast performance, even on large file sizes. For something a little different, we have the Intel NUC5i5RYK SFF system, which runs on the 14nm Broadwell processor and comes in a size smaller than past NUCs. Dell's XPS 13 laptop gets put to the test to see how this tiny, yet powerful laptop performs. Wrapping things up is a preview of USB 3.1 performance using the ASUS X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard and an add-in card.
Corsair H110i GT @ ThinkComputers
Toshiba TransMemory-EX II USB 3.0 Flash Drive @ Madshrimps
Small Form Factor
Intel NUC5i5RYK @ PC Perspective
Dell XPS 13 @ TechSpot
ASUS Previews USB 3.1 Performance - Motherboards and Add-in Card Incoming @ PC Perspective
Always in science, a failure is something to learn from, and sometimes a failure is just an unexpected success. Such was the case for some MIT researchers who accidentally discovered a way to produce a pure silicon core in a fiber. This discovery could potentially lead to many new technologies, if more complex electronics structures can be built inside the fibers.
Originally the researchers were trying to find ways to incorporate metal wires inside of fibers, so they were working with common silica and silver, copper, and aluminum. They would start by arranging the materials inside what is called a preform, which is a larger block or cylinder, and then heat and draw it out, resulting in a thin fiber with the same composition as the preform. At least that is what they expected, but when the fiber with aluminum was pulled out, instead of a shiny metallic core, the core was a darker material. Initially the sample was going to be discarded as a failure, but the researchers instead decided to examine it more closely and found that the black core was actually pure silicon. What happened was actually a well-known chemical reaction, which converted the silica and aluminum into pure silicon and aluminum oxide.
With a pure silicon core, these fibers could be used to build advanced electronics, like transistors or solar cells, if other materials could be integrated as well. The best part though might be that the process starts with inexpensive silica and gives you pure silicon in the end, instead of requiring the more expensive material at the beginning.
According to the LinkedIn page for AMD, the semiconductor company is actively seeking an individual to fill a CPU performance engineer role located at Boxborough, MA or Sunnyvale, CA. The role will include responsibilities such as analyzing CPU bound benchmarks and games to identify a variety of CPU bottlenecks in drivers, optimizing the drivers, and providing optimization actions to ISVs. Whoever happens to fill the position of CPU performance engineer will allow AMD to make its graphics drivers more efficient in regards to CPU utilization, something that developers have been critical of for some time. Although AMD recently launched Mantle, which is essentially a CPU-optimization exercise marketed as a new technology, the company is looking to provide its users with graphics drivers that are more efficient when dealing with industry standard APIs.
Due to overwhelming demand by parents who want to see a safer YouTube environment for children, a special edition of the online video library has just been launched. The new version, known as YouTube Kids, is the byproduct of input from in-house engineers that have children as well as third-party testers from various organizations such as Common Sense Media. YouTube Kids offers an incredibly simplified user interface, allowing young viewers to tap on eight large tiles that feature popular children shows and five small icons that lead them to additional content. The newly launched application also includes a parental control feature, in which parents can set a limit to the amount of time that their child or children can utilize the application before it closes automatically.
YouTube Kids is scheduled to be available for immediate download today, and is currently only being developed for Android devices.
February 21, 2015
It seems things are not quite their best right now, as NVIDIA has been hit with a class action lawsuit concerning the GeForce GTX 970 and its memory. Specifically the lawsuit alleges NVIDIA misled its customers over the performance of the GTX 970 and the extent of the video memory. The video card shows to have 4GB of GDDR5 RAM, yet only 3.5GB is usable with the stated performance. That final 0.5GB lacks an L2 cache, which can cause a slight performance drop when all 4GB is used. The lawsuit says that final 0.5GB runs 80% slower than the rest of the VRAM and negatively affects frame rate and gameplay. NVIDIA did recently announce the exact specifications of the GTX 970, but says the performance drop of the 0.5GB is neglible. The company also said a PR mishap was to blame for the inaccurate specs when the card launched late last year.
Both NVIDIA and Gigabyte are named as defendants in the class-action, which was filed with the U.S. District Court of Northern California. The lawsuit, filed for anyone who purchased a GTX 970, wants a jury trial and payment of whatever damages are necessary under California law. Details on who can claim and when should be forthcoming, if the lawsuit goes through.
Sources: Scribd via PCWorld
February 20, 2015
If you are not convinced that quantum mechanics is weird, keep reading and check out the source too. For the physics we live with every day, time runs in one direction, and the past influences the future, but not the other way around. As researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered though, in the quantum world the future and the past can influence the state of a system, instead of just the past.
In our normal world, if you follow a system up to some event, you can predict what happens with the information you collected. In quantum mechanics though, the odds of guessing right are about 50-50, even if you know everything about a quantum particle leading up to the event. To confirm this, the researchers put a superconducting circuit into a superposition, creating a qubit, and placed it in a microwave box. When some microwave photons are put in the box, they will interact with the qubit and gain some information about it, without collapsing the superposition. The researchers then took a strong measurement of the qubit, which would cause it to collapse, but they hid the result and continued using the photons to make weak measurements.
When the researchers predicted what the strong measurement would be using just the information leading up to it, they were correct half of the time. However, when they ran the equations backwards with the weak measurements following the hard measurement, creating hindsight predictions or "retrodictions," they were right 90% of the time. This indicates that the state of the qubit incorporates information not only from what led up to the strong measurement, but also from what followed it. This results returns time symmetry to quantum mechanics and could have some interesting applications, such as making more robust chemical reactions and improving quantum computing.
Source: Washington University in St. Louis
The end of the week is here, with a couple of items for you to check out before the weekend hits. We have a review of the SilverStone Sugo SG13 Mini-ITX case, which may look small, but is capable of holding plenty of gear inside its body. Our other item may appeal to those always on the go, as it's the Antec Mobile Products Lifecard Portable Battery Charger. It can not only keep your smartphone charged when you're on the go, but also acts as a card holder and money clip to help eliminate clutter in your pocket or purse.
SilverStone Sugo SG13 Mini-ITX @ TechSpot
Antec Mobile Products Lifecard Portable Battery Charger @ ThinkComputers
When you look up into the night sky, you can think about how remote much of the Universe is, but some of it was once closer than you may think. Researchers at the University of Rochester and institutions across the world, have recently determined that a star likely passed within a light year of the Sun about 70,000 year ago.
Called Scholz's star for its discoverer, the star is a dim red dwarf, about 8% the Sun's mass, and is part of a binary system that includes a brown dwarf, that weighs in at 6% of the Sun's mass. Currently it is about 20 light years away but it has some unusual characteristics. The main thing is that it has little tangential motion, which means it is moving almost directly away from the Solar System, unlike most stars at that distance. This indicates it either passed by us in the past, or will in the future. Radial velocity measurements showed that it is moving away, so it must have gone by us before. To determine when it did and what its influence may have been, the researchers modelled its orbit 10,000 times, and of those 98% showed it passed through the outer Oort cloud, at a distance of just 0.8 light years away.
While it may have passed through the outer Oort cloud, which is at the edge of the Solar System and holds trillions comets, it likely did not perturb it much. It may have been visible to humans 70,000 years ago, because even though it is too dim to see with the naked eye, it could have flared and become visible for minutes or hours at a time.
Source: University of Rochester
In an effort to satisfy the ears of audiophiles around the world, Sony has announced a new microSD card that apparently offers premium sound when compared to similar storage solutions available to consumers. According to Sony, the latest microSD card from the company, model number SR-64HXA, creates little to no electrical noise when data is read from it, something that other memory storage devices cannot say. While the card is fortunately a standard Class 10 microSD card that features 64GB of storage, its price is skewed quite high due to the market of audiophiles that it targets. The storage solution is set to feature an MSRP of $160 and will initially launch in Japan on March 5, 2015. Consumers will have to decide if the claim of premium sound is worth it, since a regular Class 10 64GB microSD card can be purchased for roughly $30.
Due to the latest NVIDIA drivers released just over a week ago, users of the GTX 900M series have been unable to overclock their mobile graphics cards. After many complaints to the company, NVIDIA has decided to reintroduce overclocking capabilities for the GTX 900M series. Although NVIDIA originally stated that overclocking a GeForce card found within a notebook simply carried too much risk, due to thermal limitations of laptops, the outcry of users seems to have brought back the feature. Overclocking capabilities will be included in the next version of NVIDIA drivers, which are slated to be released sometime next month. For users requiring overclocking to make certain games playable before the next driver release, NVIDIA is recommending that users downgrade to version 344.75 of the GeForce drivers.
February 19, 2015
Epic Games, the studio behind Unreal Tournament and the next-gen Unreal Engine 4, will be funding a a $5 million program to "support studios working in the latest version of the engine." The company will give grants that range in value from $5,000 to $50,000 to anyone working on games, animation, or other visualizations created using Unreal Engine 4. Epic will place no obligations on the money and will allow grant recipients to keep their intellectual property. Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney described the motivation behind the program stating, "While development can be fueled by creativity and determination alone, finishing and releasing a commercial project often requires money. A small budget can make all the difference in shipping a project with the content, marketing materials, and promotional expenses necessary for it to gain traction."
Source: Game Informer
Lenovo has announced that it will release a tool to automatically remove all Superfish software by Friday. The Superfish software comes pre-installed on some Lenovo machines and had the potential to expose "users to hacking attacks and unauthorized activity monitoring." Director of activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Rainey Reitman described the software stating, "The Superfish software undermines Internet security for the rather ridiculous purpose of serving advertisements. It’s a severe security issue, and frankly a betrayal by Lenovo of all of its affected customers." Lenovo Chief Technology Officer Peter Hortensius described the situation saying, "We messed up badly here. We made a mistake. Our guys missed it. We’re not trying to hide from the issue -- we’re owning it."
When we have work to do, we like keeping what we need nearby, to speed up the process. The processing cores in our computers also like keeping their work nearby, but finding the best placement is anything but easy. However, researchers at MIT have developed a new optimization algorithm that is significantly faster than others, and could significantly speed up processors.
The problem has to do with the placement of data and keeping the related computations nearby. This is similar to the 'place and route' problem of minimizing the distance between logic circuits, which is NP-hard, meaning it is computationally impossible to find the optimal solution to. However, algorithms that approximate the optimal solution can be run over the course of several hours. The new MIT algorithm however completes in just 25 milliseconds and is better than 99% efficient, compared to those other algorithms. It works by roughly placing the data across the memory banks, to keep it all spread out and not clumped into the same area. It then places the computational threads near the data, and refines the placement of the data, based on the placement of the threads. While this process could be repeated, it only provides a 1% increase, which is not exactly worth it. When the researchers applied the algorithm to a simulated 64-core chip, it improved computational speeds by 64% and reduced power consumption by 36%.
If built into real chips, the dedicated circuitry would take up about 1% of the chip's area. The researchers believe chipmakers will consider this a fair loss, considering the performance improvements this algorithm could provide by constantly monitoring a processor.
A new day is here, with plenty of items to help get you through it. There is a review of the Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4 32GB 2400MHz kit, which brings plenty of speed and capacity to the Intel X99 platform. We also have the ROCCAT RYOS TKL Pro Gaming Keyboard, a tenkeyless model with per-key backlighting, choice of four Cherry MX switches, and three programmable thumbster keys. There is also a look at the CM Storm Mizar mouse, which has a classic shape that is packed full of gaming features. The new Sunless Sea game gets reviewed to see what it is all about. Dell's Venue 8 7000 tablet gets put to the test to see how the blend of Intel and Android works out. Wrapping things up is an article discussing the benefits of geting your data out of the cloud before disaster strikes.
Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4 32GB 2400MHz @ Bjorn3D
ROCCAT RYOS TKL Pro Gaming Keyboard @ ThinkComputers
CM Storm Mizar Gaming Mouse @ LanOC Reviews
Sunless Sea @ Bjorn3D
Dell Venue 8 7000 @ PC Perspective
Getting Data Out of the Cloud Before Disaster @ Benchmark Reviews
Battery technology is quickly approaching a limit that can only be avoided with new materials, as graphite electrodes can only hold so many ions. Other materials are being investigated, but they present their own challenges, like silicon's significant expansion as it absorbs ions. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found a way around that problem though, and another, with nanofibers.
In theory, lithium-ion batteries that use silicon electrodes could store ten times more energy, because silicon can hold that many much more charge for its weight. The problem is that as the silicon absorbs ions, it expands so much that it can fracture and degrade performance or destroy the battery. The Riverside researchers however are working with silicon nanofibers in a sponge-like structure that can get around that expansion issue. They make the fibers using electrospinning, which applies 20,000 to 40,000 volts to a rotating drum and nozzle as it emits a solution of tetraethyl orthosilicate. This materials used in the semiconductor industry, and by exposing it to a magnesium vapor, the sponge-like structure is produced.
While the ability of the silicon to survive hundreds of charge/discharge cycles is significant on its own, the production method offers another benefit. In the lab the researchers were able to create several grams of the material, while other potential graphite replacements, like carbon nanotubes and silicon nanowires, are only produced micrograms at a time.
Source: University of California, Riverside
Microsoft has just begun rolling out the latest Xbox One update to preview testers, providing them with additional functionality that Xbox One users have requested for quite some time. One of the new features found within the latest Xbox One update is the ability for users to take screenshots of in-game moments by simply double-tapping the Xbox button, or by saying "Xbox take a screenshot." The taken screenshot is accessible through the upload application and can be shared with friends or set as a background. Another feature that the latest Xbox One update ushers in is the ability to report spam received through Xbox Live. This feature allows gamers to mark certain types of messages as spam, thereby reporting them to Microsoft and keeping others from receiving the same message. Xbox One users in Australia will also benefit from this update, as it provides support for the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner.
The latest Xbox One update, which is available to preview members immediately, will roll out to all consoles sometime next month.
TRENDnet, a leading global networking hardware brand, has officially announced the availability of its Powerline 1200 AV2 Adapter Kit, model TPL-420E2K. This latest powerline adapter kit from TRENDnet creates a network by utilizing an existing electrical system, allowing homeowners to easily and quickly expand their home network. The Powerline 1200 offers a Gigabit port and is capable of providing a high-performance network in homes up to 5,000 square feet. TRENDnet has included a power savings mode with the Powerline 1200, reducing electricity consumption by up to 80 percent when idle, and has also ensured that the device is compatible with Powerline 600, 500, and 200 solutions.
The Powerline 1200 Adapter Kit includes two TPL-420E adapters, comes with a 3-year limited warranty, and features an MSRP of $129.99.
Source: Press Release
February 18, 2015
Samsung has acquired mobile payment company LoopPay, likely in a bid to challenge the Apple Pay and Google Wallet systems. LoopPay doesn't use Near Field Communication (NFC) as Apple Pay and Google Wallet do, but rather uses a phone case that replicates the functionality of traditional credit cards. This gives LoopPay the advantage of requiring no additional hardware to accept payments. Currently LoopPay requires the purchase of a $16 case or $10 keychain module, but there is some speculation that the acquisition by Samsung could lower or remove the price tag. It is also possible that future Samsung phones will have the technology built in as the LoopPay hardware can support that.
XIGMATEK, a manufacturer of computer peripherals and thermal solutions, has just announced its latest CPU cooler known as the Dark Knight II. This cooler, which is available in frosty-white and matte-black, features a copper base, three direct contact 8mm heatpipes, and an aluminum fin stack. XIGMATEK has placed a thin ceramic coating on the heat pipes and the fins, which improves heat dissipation thanks to increased surface area. The Dark Knight II measures in at 159mm tall also comes with a 140mm XIGMATEK XAF LED fan that offers air-flow of 90.3CFM and a maximum noise output of 18dBA.
Pricing and availability of the Dark Knight II SD1483 CPU cooler has not yet been released by XIGMATEK.