OCC TECH NEWS
December 2, 2014
Microsoft has announced that it has officially acquired Acompli, a provider of innovative mobile email applications for Android and iOS. The main mobile application developed by Acompli, which was created by veterans of VMware and Zimbra, focuses on allowing users to fully interact with their emails on their smartphones and tablets. According to Microsoft, the acquisition of Acompli represents the company-wide effort to help people accomplish more with their mobile devices. Microsoft expects to integrate aspects of the primary Acompli mobile application with projects that are being actively developed by the Outlook team.
Although Microsoft did not reveal financial details of the acquisition of Acompli, Re/code reported that the technology giant paid more than $200 million for the provider of innovative mobile email applications.
Source: Microsoft Blog and Re/code
With as much as 15% of energy in the United States going toward air conditioning, technologies that can keep things cool efficiently are always of interest. Researchers at Stanford University have devised a novel approach that reflects and radiates heat into space with a passive and advanced mirror.
The mirror is a multilayered material just 1.8 microns thick, making it thinner than aluminum foil. It contains seven layers of silicon dioxide and hafnium oxide atop a layer of silver that have had their thicknesses tuned to best radiate infrared light into space, while also reflecting Sunlight. Radiating infrared light is one of the ways a warm body can give off heat, and at the frequency this light will be at, it will not warm the air it passes through. When the researchers tested their photonic radiative cooling mirror, as they are calling it, the mirror was almost 9 ºF cooler than the air surrounding it as it prevented some 97% of Sunlight from actually reaching the building.
Before we can see these mirrors deployed to reduce cooling costs, two issues must be addressed. Naturally, one is how to mass produce the mirrors, but the other is the daunting task of finding ways to effectively shuttle heat from inside a building to the radiator, so it can be sent to space.
Source: Stanford University
An Intel roadmap that has recently been made available to the public shows that Intel is expecting technology innovation to continue in regards to shrinking its processors. Desktop processors that make use of 14nm technology are expected to be available sometime next year, while 10nm processors are likely coming late next year or early 2016. In order to make 10nm processors a reality, the semiconductor industry will have to go through the process of upgrading to extreme ultraviolet lithography, or EUVL, technology. Intel is also planning on offering 7nm processors sometime in 2017, which is amazing considering that, in 2007, the chip manufacturer was offering 45nm processors to consumers.
The Lizard Squad, an infamous hacking group that has successfully brought down gaming servers for a variety of games and services during the past few months and even issued a bomb threat recently, was able to take down Xbox Live late Monday night. The group likely used a DDOS attack to make Xbox Live unavailable to gamers, and the group even went back to posting on a Twitter page about the attack, despite Twitter suspending the group’s account a few weeks ago. Lizard Squad noted that the attack on Xbox Live was simply an early Christmas gift for Microsoft, and that the unavailability of Xbox Live is the first of more things to come in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Source: Attack of the Fanboy
December 1, 2014
Futuremark has released software updates for its popular 3DMark and PCMark 8 benchmark software that fixes some bugs while keeping scores mostly unchanged. 3DMark has received improved hardware detection and a reduction in hardware monitoring overhead. A memory issue was also fixed that had the potential to cause a crash while stress testing. One of the fixes for PCMark 8 can influence scores in the Storage Consistency and Storage Adaptivity tests found in the Professional Edition. PCMark 8 also has an update to improve hardware compatibility and was issued a fix that could cause the Adobe After Effects test to fail.
Source: Press Release
The Razer Nabu, winner of the Best of CES award this past year, will be available for purchase from the RazerStore and participating retailers. The Nabu joins a number of "wearable" devices from manufacturers such as Samsung and LG and "delivers discreet notifications from smartphones, is a highly accurate fitness tracker, and stands as the world’s first social wearable by way of a unique band-to-band communication capability." The device has gone through extensive testing since the reveal at CES including a Beta program and a Developer Program that gave app developers an early shot at the device. The Nabu will carry an MSRP of $99.99 and was summed up by CEO Min-Liang Tan who called it "a device that has something cool in-store for everyone."
Source: Press Release
The AMD Radeon R9 390X is expected to be one of the first cards to use High Bandwidth Memory, HBM, and has the potential to provide memory bandwidth up to 640GB/s over a 4096-bit memory bus. The first generation of HBM is made by SK Hynix and is capable of bandwidth of 128GB/s per die, with up to four die able to be grouped. The second generation of HBM will be even faster, reaching bandwidth up to 256GB/s per die, giving it the ability to provide 1.28TB/s bandwidth per four core group. For comparison, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 has 224GB/s memory bandwidth. The massive increase in memory bandwidth will help to provide for better performance, especially as higher resolution displays gain popularity.
On the surface of the Earth we are not exposed to much radiation, but surrounding the planet are belts of very high energy radiation, such as electrons traveling at nearly the speed of light. For years now we have observed at these ultrarelativistic electrons do not come to close to the Earth, but have not understood why. Using data from NASA's Van Allen Probes, researchers at MIT have devised an explanation that could be of great use for future satellites.
These ultrarelativistic electrons move so fast that they can complete an orbit of the Earth in just five minutes. With so much energy, they pose a serious risk to satellites and astronauts, but for conveniently they do not come within 11,000 Km of the Earth's surface. To explain this limit, the researchers looked at a few possibilities, including the Earth's magnetic field and ground-based radios. The magnetic field could not be the answer, because the limit is not affected by weak spots in it, and terrestrial radio waves would not affect the high energy electrons. What the researchers eventually determined was that the solution has to do with the plasmapheric hiss. This is a phenomenon of very low frequency electromagnetic waves in the Earth's upper atmosphere. The researchers determined that when the electrons encounter it, they are made to move parallel to the Earth's magnetic field, which causes them to collide with neutral gas atoms, which absorb them.
This explanations means there is a very firm barrier that will prevent any of these ultrarelativistic electrons from coming below 11,000 Km. Such information will be very important to future satellites, as it effectively gives them a safe zone where they will be free of this ionizing radiation, allowing for much longer lifespans.
A leaked set of screenshots reportedly show the performance of the upcoming AMD Radeon R9 300 series of GPUs, also known as Fiji XT. The results come from Chinese website Chiphell, which has leaked accurate benchmarks in the past, and shows the average performance and power consumption compared to current generation cards. The card was tested on several current generation games at a resolution of 2560x1440 with all graphics settings maxed out. The average results for the R9 300 were about 16% higher than a factory overclocked GeForce GTX 980 and 31% better than the AMD R9 290X series. The full specifications for the R9 300 remains unknown at this time, but it will be interesting to see if the card will put AMD back on top of the GPU hill.
Source: Kit Guru
According to StatCounter, Windows 8.1 has officially overtaken Windows XP usage. Windows XP is now used by 10.69 percent of the total desktop market, dropping from 11.95 percent in October, while Windows 8.1 is now utilized by 10.95 percent of all users, up from 9.31 percent in October. The growth of Windows 8.1 is likely due to the recent back-to-school season, along with the surge of holiday shopping. Additionally, more users may be moving to Windows 8.1 due to the free upgrade that Microsoft has continued to offer Windows 8 users.
Despite the growing amount of people now using Windows 8.1, Windows 7 continues to represent the majority of the total market, with the five-year-old operating system now accounting for 50.34 percent of the total market.
Steam sales are a great time to stock up on games, like the one going on now and the one likely to start later this month. These games can be purchased for yourself, or purchased and placed in your inventory, to be gifted or traded away later. In the case of trading games, it will be later than it had been as Valve now blocks game trades for 30 days after the purchase. Games can still be gifted at any time as the change is only to the trading system.
The reason for this change is that some people were apparently exploiting the time it can take to process a transaction. A game would enter their inventory, allowing them to trade it for something, only to have the game they traded away revoked from the new owner. The person exploiting the system would still have whatever they traded for.
Source: Steam Trading Cards Group
According to recent rumors, Microsoft will push an update in January for the Xbox One that will integrate the Windows 10 dashboard with its popular gaming console. The new dashboard is expected to usher in support for new features, such as the ability to use a mouse as well as support for installing and playing Windows PC games. While the integration of the Windows 10 dashboard and its accompanying features is still a rumor at this point, with official word from Microsoft expected to come at an event it is holding in January, the thought of having a gaming console with PC features is highly interesting.
Although Intel missed the majority of the smartphone boom, with its competitor ARM powering the majority of the smartphones currently available, the chip manufacturing company is still highly interested in getting acquainted with the mobile market. According to sources familiar with the matter, the next version of Google Glass will feature Intel hardware inside, an effort that represents the business strategy Intel currently has in regards to the mobile sector. Intel plans to market the next version of Google Glass to work environments, focusing specifically on hospitals and manufacturing plants.
Neither Google nor Intel has offered any confirmation or denial of the report.
One of the reasons so many materials are made from petrochemicals is because oil contains long chains of hydrocarbons. Synthesizing similar hydrocarbon chains has traditionally been all but impossible, but that has been changing of late. Now researchers at KU Leuven have found a way to convert cellulose into these materials, and with one more step, into gasoline.
Cellulose is a very common chemical on Earth because of its role in plant life, and it is already made of long chains of hydrocarbons. The catch is that it also has a lot of oxygen bonded to it, which has to be removed before being converted into petrochemicals. The researchers found a way to remove the oxygen though, such that waste materials like sawdust could be thrown into a chemical reactor with a catalyst, and at the right temperature and pressure, the desired hydrocarbons will be produced half a day later.
While using this method to produce gasoline is one application, it could also be used to create ethylene, propylene, and benzene, which can become rubber, plastic, nylon, insulating foam, and more.
Source: KU Leuven
November 30, 2014
Multiple upcoming additions to the 3DMark benchmarking suite were shown on a series of slides at the recent AMD Future of Compute event. The key test is currently code named Farandole and will pit the DirectX 12 and Mantle APIs against each other. As part of the Farandole development, a test known as Dandia will be available in 2015-2016 and will be the first to support DirectX 12. An additional test, 3DMark Sky Diver, was confirmed by Futuremark in the article comments and will be a lighting test. Also confirmed by Futuremark is the fact that the tests are being developed with help from AMD, Intel, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and other members of the Benchmark Development Program.
Source: WCCF Tech
Adobe has released an urgent update for its Flash Player software to patch a critical exploit still around after a previous "inadequate patch." The updated patch addresses exploit CVE-2014-8439, first patched over a month ago, that "allows arbitrary code execution thanks to a bug in how a de-referenced pointer to memory is handled." The exploit can take advantage of Flash Player on Windows, Mac, and Linux Operating Systems. Microsoft and Google have announced that Internet Explorer and Chrome will auto update with the new patch, but other users should be sure to obtain the patch on their own.
Source: IT News Australia
November 28, 2014
Everybody likely knows about the state of Assassin's Creed Unity at launch, including Ubisoft. They have been working on patches to fix many of the game's problems, but because of the many there were and many there still are, the company has decided to give all customers the Dead Kings DLC free. For those who purchased the Season Pass, that included the DLC, they will be offered a choice of one of Ubisoft's other titles, for free. These titles are:
- The Crew
- Far Cry 4
- Watch Dogs
- Assassin's Creed Black Flag
- Rayman Legends
- Just Dance 2015
As the process for selecting and receiving a free game does not exist currently, the company is working on setting up.
The sales of the Season Pass have also been discontinued and Ubisoft makes no mention of when or if it will be offered again in the future.
Some scientific discoveries are the results of weird confluence of concepts, and this would likely be an example of such. For some time researchers have known that adding a pattern to the surface of a solar cell can improve its efficiency. Those at Northwestern University though, have found that the data-storage patterns on Blu-Ray discs, any disc, are nearly optimal at improving efficiency.
The reason patterns improve efficiency is because they more effectively scatter light into the cell. As it turns out, the nanoscale patterns that store data on Blu-Ray discs are nearly the ideal texture, and it does not matter what the data is. Why the data did not matter puzzled the researchers, but then one of their wives, who is also a database engineer at IBM, suggested that data compression could be involved, and this turned out to be correct. The data compression methods used on Blu-Ray discs ensure the pattern reduced is a quasi-random sequence of pits and island and that there are no longer strings of consecutive pits or islands, for error tolerance.
The resulting quasi-random patterns have feature sizes between 150 nm and 525 nm, which actually works well for trapping light across the solar spectrum. So far the researchers have tested it on polymer solar cells, but it should have applications with other kinds of solar cells as well.
Source: Northwestern University
November 26, 2014
Ubisoft has announced patches for its latest two games, Far Cry 4 and Assassin's Creed: Unity, that address a number of gameplay issues. The update for Assassin's Creed: Unity will address "more than 90 crashes, dozens of bugs and some specific frame rate drops in the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC game." The game has been plagued by numerous issues since it was launched and this is already the third patch to address those issues. Some of the areas that the patch will address include frame rates, gameplay, matchmaking, and AI. Far Cry 4 patch 1.4.0 is mild in comparison and will address the "problem causing users to encounter a black screen upon attempting to launch the game, as well as providing a remedy to those who saw a grey screen when reaching the end of an Outpost Master Mission."
Source: Polygon and Ubisoft
Data storage is a big deal as all computers require it and in the case of RAM, it can also be one of the significant power sinks. This is because RAM has to continually refresh the information stored within it. High speed, nonvolatile memory would address this issue as it would not need the constant rewriting, and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have recently found a way to improve a potential replacement for RAM.
Ferroelectric tunnel junctions contain a very thin ferroelectric layer between two electrodes. The layer is thin enough that electrons can tunnel through it, but only if its polarization allows. This polarization can be changed by applying a voltage. What the Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have done is created such a junction using graphene electrodes and ammonia. Graphene is an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms that is highly conductive. The ammonia is placed between the graphene and the ferroelectric layer, and the key here was how the graphene interacted with the ammonia. The combination resulted in a greater difference between the on and off states of the junction, making it clearer which state it was in.
A larger gap between states will make it easier to quickly read the stored data. The researchers also found indications that the graphene-ammonia combination may increase the stability of the ferroelectric layer, which will tend to relax over time, losing its polarization.
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
There are just a couple of items for you to check out today before the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., with both offering something unique. The NZXT Kraken X31 liquid CPU cooler gets put to the test to see how it performs and if it can stand up to the demands of a hard-working system. Our other item for the day is the Corsair Gaming H1500 Dolby 7.1 gaming headset, which offers 50mm drivers, a noise-canceling microphone, and that Dolby 7.1 audio for some truly grand gaming experiences.
NZXT Kraken X31 Liquid CPU Cooler @ ThinkComputers
Corsair Gaming H1500 Dolby 7.1 Gaming Headset @ Benchmark Reviews
According to a recently released report by DisplaySearch, a leading provider of reliable information, highly insightful analysis, and industry events specifically focused on the display supply chain and display-related industries, shipments of 4K televisions have increased more than 500 percent last quarter. The increase brings the total shipments of 4K televisions to 6.4 million for 2014, with more than 3 million shipments occurring last quarter alone. The report by DisplaySearch notes that Samsung currently holds 36 percent of the global market for 4K televisions, while LG Electronics makes up 15 percent and Sony makes up 9 percent. As manufacturers continue to produce more 4K televisions, prices are expected to drop and drive consumer demand over the holidays, with fourth quarter shipments likely to surpass those of last quarter.
Anyone following the latest gaming news has likely seen a number of pieces about troubles with Ubisoft titles, especially Assassin's Creed Unity. In just under a week, The Crew, an MMO CaRPG, is going to be released, but this week Ubisoft put out a blog post concerning the upcoming reviews.
The post states that the media will not be given copies to review prior to the game's launch, and that no embargo will be in place. It may seem odd or a bad omen for the game that reviewers will not have early access to the finished product, but that is actually the point Ubisoft attempts to make. Being an MMO with a focus on social gaming, the post explains that the optimal experience is had when playing with "thousands and thousands and thousands" of players, and not just the press and the developers. Some features, like Faction Wars rely on having large numbers of players, but also the game was built to be a "living playground full of driving fans." Further it points out that the developers used the four closed betas the game, and the current open beta on xBox One and PS4, to gather feedback to improve the experience, so the beta experience also may not reflect the game's release form.
Now I would like to do a little editorializing here, as someone with review and pre-release game experience. I have played games and game content prior to release and have seen major features changed and removed very shortly before release. If indeed The Crew is undergoing significant changes leading up to its release, then it would be an easy argument to make that it is irresponsible to review a pre-release version. Some games also see significant changes after release, which is one of the reasons I do the Years-Later Reviews. It may not be the case that twelfth-hour changes to The Crew are that significant, but they might be. Only a comparison between pre-release and the release versions would reveal this, just as only a released MMO can have the number of players in it as a released MMO. The people at Ubisoft always want their games seen and played at their best, and have certainly made these decisions with that motivation. One may disagree with these decisions, but one should still appreciate the motives and reasons behind them, which is no doubt why the blog post was made.
SPEEDLINK, one of the leading brands in computer and video game accessories in Europe, has officially announced the KUDOS Z-9 gaming mouse. The latest gaming mouse by SPEEDLINK is tailored towards professional gamers, as it includes a precise laser sensor with configurable sensitivity levels from 50 to 8,200dpi, nine programmable buttons, and 64 colors for the profile illuminated indicator strip. The mouse is also fully customizable with the included KUDOS Z-9 configurator application, which allows gamers to easily change driver settings without having to open the actual driver software menu. The SPEEDLINK KUDOS Z-9 comes with flexible, sheathed 1.8m USB cable, a red illuminated scroll wheel, and a scroll wheel with 4-way support.
Electricity and magnetism are two fairly different phenomena and at times, technologies based on them compete with each other, as they both have advantages and disadvantages. Many are working to develop technologies that employ both though, to tap the advantages of both, without the disadvantages. Researchers at MIT have recently made a discovery that could enable just that in computer memory and likely more.
The researchers were working with a device that looks similar to a capacitor, in that it has two conductive layers separated by an insulating layer. In this device though, both conducting layers are magnetic, but one has a fixed magnetic orientation while the other can be switched between orientations. When the two layers have the same orientation, more electricity can get through the insulating layer than if the orientations were different. The switching is achieved by applying a voltage. What the researchers discovered is that if the insulating material is an oxide, the voltage is 100 times more powerful at altering the magnetic properties. This is because the oxygen ions in the insulating layer would move in response to the voltage.
This discovery could one day be used to create a nonvolatile magnetic memory system and already the researchers have achieved a switching rate of a megahertz. Of course it will have to be faster than that to compete with modern, electrical memory, but this discovery could also open doors to controlling other properties, such as reflectivity and thermal conductance.
When Sony initially launched the PlayStation Vita in the United States during February 2012, many consumers became early adopters of the handheld gaming device. Before the launch of the PlayStation Vita, and even afterwards, Sony pushed advertisements that promoted game changing features, such as cross platform gaming, multi-player gaming through a 3G network, and remote play. These features failed to work properly for most owners of the PlayStation Vita, and the Federal Trade Commission has taken notice. After the FTC filed charges against Sony for deceiving consumers with false advertising claims surrounding the game changing features of the PlayStation Vita, Sony has officially agreed to settle the dispute. Sony will provide either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher for select video games, and/or services, to customers who purchased the PlayStation Vita before June 1, 2012. Additionally, the company is barred from producing similar advertisements in the future that mislead consumers.
According to the settlement, Sony will email eligible PlayStation Vita owners about their refund opportunity after the settlement is finalized by the FTC.
November 25, 2014
Parrot has announced the final version of its latest remote controlled aircraft, the Bebop Drone. The Bebop is a quadricopter designed for consumers "interested in the sole pleasure of flying, capturing amazing images of landscapes or filming sport performances." An included 14 megapixel full HD camera allows for capturing high quality images in a 180° field of vision. Users can pilot the Bebop over Wi-Fi using a smartphone or tablet and the Parrot Skycontroller can be used with a Wi-Fi extender to provide greater flight range.
Source: Press Release
Some visions of the future have included complex devices that are implanted into human bodies, to treat illnesses and repair damaged cells. Scientists actually are working toward such devices, and while they will be complex, they may not be implants, in the traditional sense. Many have been developing biological circuits that use cells to perform operations, and now researchers at MIT have developed a device that could greatly advance the field.
For any circuit to be useful, it must be reliable so that the proper inputs result in the correct output. For electronics connected by solid wires, that is not too hard to achieve, but organelles within cells transmit information by chemical reactions, as they float around. This makes it much more likely that some part of a biological circuit will make a mistake, by interacting with a chemical it should not have, for the operation to succeed. To address this problem, the MIT researchers have developed a load driver, which behaves similar to those in electronic circuits, by acting as a buffer between the signals and the output, preventing delays in outputs.
With such a tool, many complex biological circuits may become possible, thanks to the increased reliability. Potential applications include circuits that will detect and destroy cancerous cells, but not healthy ones, and circuits that monitor glucose in a diabetic, and trigger insulin releases as needed.
In order to gain additional revenue, after its streaming video service failed to appeal to customers shortly after its launch, Redbox has announced that it is raising its prices for various rental media. Starting on December 2, Redbox DVD rentals will be 25 cents more expensive per day, and starting on the same day, Blu-ray disc rentals will also raise in price, costing customers an extra 50 cents per day. Video game rentals will increase in price too, costing customers $1 more per day. Luckily for gamers who rely on Redbox to play the newest titles, the price increase for video games will not go into effect until January.
It is worth noting that the price increases that Redbox will implement in the comings months represent the first time that the company has raised costs for its customers since 2011.