Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

Introduction


AMD has a serious image problem with their drivers which stems from buggy, unrefined updates, and a slow release schedule. Even though this perception began many years ago, it’s still impacting on the company’s sales and explains why their market share is so small. The Q4 2015 results from Jon Peddie Research suggests AMD reached a market share of 21.1% while NVIDIA reigned supreme with 78.8%. Although, the Q4 data is more promising because AMD accounted for a mere 18.8% during the last quarter. On the other hand, respected industry journal DigiTimes reports that AMD is likely to reach its lowest ever market position for Q1 2016. Thankfully, the financial results will emerge on April 21st so we should know the full picture relatively soon. Of course, the situation should improve once Polaris and Zen reach retail channels. Most importantly, AMD’s share price has declined by more than 67% in five years from $9 to under $3 as of March 28, 2016. The question is why?

Is the Hardware Competitive?


The current situation is rather baffling considering AMD’s extremely competitive product line-up in the graphics segment. For example, the R9 390 is a superb alternative to NVIDIA’s GTX 970 and features 8GB VRAM which provides extra headroom when using virtual reality equipment. The company’s strategy appears to revolves around minor differences in performance between the R9 390 and 390X. This also applied to the R9 290 and 290X due to both products utilizing the Hawaii core. NVIDIA employs a similar tactic with the GTX 970 and GTX 980 but there’s a marked price increase compared to their rivals.

NVIDIA’s ability to cater towards the lower tier demographic has been quite poor because competing GPUs including the 7850 and R9 380X provided a much better price to performance ratio. Not only that, NVIDIA’s decision to deploy ridiculously low video memory amounts on cards like the GTX 960 has the potential to cause headaches in the future. It’s important to remember that the GTX 960 can be acquired with either 2GB or 4GB of video memory. Honestly, they should have simplified the process and produced the higher memory model in a similar fashion to the R9 380X. Once again, AMD continues to offer a very generous amount of VRAM across various product tiers.

Part of the problem revolves around AMD’s sluggish release cycle and reliance on the Graphics Core Next (GCN) 1.1 architecture. This was first introduced way back in 2013 with the Radeon HD 7790. Despite its age, AMD deployed the GCN 1.1 architecture on their revised 390 series and didn’t do themselves any favours when denying accusations about the new line-up being a basic re-branding exercise. Of course, this proved to be the case and some users managed to flash their 290/290X to a 390/390X with a BIOS update. There’s nothing inherently wrong with product rebrands if they can remain competitive in the current market. It’s not exclusive to AMD, and NVIDIA have used similar business strategies on numerous occasions. However, I feel it’s up to AMD to push graphics technology forward and encourage their nearest rival to launch more powerful options.

Another criticism regarding AMD hardware which seems to plague everything they release is the perception that every GPU runs extremely hot. You only have to look on certain websites, social media and various forums to see this is the main source of people’s frustration. Some individuals are even known to produce images showing AMD graphics cards setting ablaze. So is there any truth to these suggestions? Unfortunately, the answer is yes and a pertinent example comes from the R9 290 range. The 290/290X reference models utilized one of the most inefficient cooler designs I’ve ever seen and struggled to keep the GPU core running below 95C under load.

Unbelievably, the core was designed to run at these high thermals and AMD created a more progressive RPM curve to reduce noise. As a result, the GPU could take 10-15 minutes to reach idle temperature levels. The Hawaii temperatures really impacted on the company’s reputation and forged a viewpoint among consumers which I highly doubt will ever disappear. It’s a shame because the upcoming Polaris architecture built on the 14nm FinFET process should exhibit significant efficiency gains and end the concept of high thermals on AMD products. There’s also the idea that AMD GPUs have a noticeably higher TDP than their NVIDIA counterparts. For instance, the R9 390 has a TDP of 275 watts while the GTX 970 only consumes 145 watts. On the other hand, the Fury X utilizes 250 watts compared to the GTX 980Ti’s rating of 275 watts.

Eventually, AMD released a brand new range of graphics cards utilizing the first iteration of high bandwidth memory. Prior to its release, expectations were high and many people expected the Fury X to dethrone NVIDIA’s flagship graphics card. Unfortunately, this didn’t come to fruition and the Fury X fell behind in various benchmarks, although it fared better at high resolutions. The GPU also encountered supply problems and emitted a large whine from the pump on early samples. Asetek even threatened to sue Cooler Master who created the AIO design which could force all Fury X products to be removed from sale.

The rankings alter rather dramatically when the DirectX 12 render is used which suggests AMD products have a clear advantage. Asynchronous Compute is the hot topic right now which in theory allows for greater GPU utilization in supported games. Ashes of the Singularity has implemented this for some time and makes for some very interesting findings. Currently, we’re working on a performance analysis for the game, but I can reveal that there is a huge boost for AMD cards when moving from DirectX11 to DirectX12. Furthermore, there are reports indicating that Pascal might not be able to use asynchronous shaders which makes Polaris and Fiji products more appealing.

Do AMD GPUs Lack Essential Hardware Features?


When selecting graphics hardware, it’s not always about pure performance and some consumers take into account exclusive technologies including TressFX hair before purchasing. At this time, AMD incorporates with their latest products LiquidVR, FreeSync, Vulkan support, HD3D, Frame rate target control, TrueAudio, Virtual Super resolution and more! This is a great selection of hardware features to create a thoroughly enjoyable user-experience. NVIDIA adopts a more secretive attitude towards their own creations and often uses proprietary solutions. The Maxwell architecture has support for Voxel Global Illumination, (VGXI), Multi Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA), Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR), VR Direct and G-Sync. There’s a huge debate about the benefits of G-Sync compared to FreeSync especially when you take into account the pricing difference when opting for a new monitor. Overall, I’d argue that the NVIDIA package is better but there’s nothing really lacking from AMD in this department.

Have The Drivers Improved?


Historically, AMD drivers haven’t been anywhere close to NVIDIA in terms of stability and providing a pleasant user-interface. Back in the old days, AMD or even ATI if we’re going way back, had the potential to cause system lock-ups, software errors and more. A few years ago, I had the misfortune of updating a 7850 to the latest driver and after rebooting, the system’s boot order was corrupt. To be fair, this could be coincidental and have nothing to do with that particular update. On another note, the 290 series was plagued with hardware bugs causing black screens and blue screens of death whilst watching flash videos. To resolve this, you had to disable hardware acceleration and hope that the issues subsided.

The Catalyst Control Center always felt a bit primitive for my tastes although it did implement some neat features such as graphics card overclocking. While it’s easy enough to download a third-party program like MSI Afterburner, some users might prefer to install fewer programs and use the official driver instead.

Not so long ago, AMD appeared to have stalled in releasing drivers for the latest games to properly optimize graphics hardware. On the 9th December 2014, AMD unveiled the Catalyst 14.12 Omega WHQL driver and made it ready for download. In a move which still astounds me, the company decided not to release another WHQL driver for 6 months! Granted, they were working on a huge driver redesign and still produced the odd Beta update. I honestly believe this was very damaging and prevented high-end users from considering the 295×2 or a Crossfire configuration. It’s so important to have a consistent, solid software framework behind the hardware to allow for constant improvements. This is especially the case when using multiple cards which require profiles to achieve proficient GPU scaling.

Crimson’s release was a major turning point for AMD due to the modernized interface and enhanced stability. According to AMD, the software package involves 25 percent more manual test cases and 100 percent more automated test cases compared to AMD Catalyst Omega. Also, the most requested bugs were resolved and they’re using community feedback to quickly apply new fixes. The company hired a dedicated team to reproduce errors which is the first step to providing a more stable experience. Crimson apparently loads ten times faster than its predecessor and includes a new game manager to optimize settings to suit your hardware. It’s possible to set custom resolutions including the refresh rate, which is handy when overclocking your monitor. The clean uninstall utility proactively works to remove any remaining elements of a previous installation such as registry entries, audio files and much more. Honestly, this is such a revolutionary move forward and AMD deserves credit for tackling their weakest elements head on. If you’d like to learn more about Crimson’s functionality, please visit this page.

However, it’s far from perfect and some users initially experienced worse performance with this update. Of course, there’s going to be teething problems whenever a new release occurs but it’s essential for AMD to do everything they can to forge a new reputation about their drivers. Some of you might remember, the furore surrounding the Crimson fan bug which limited the GPU’s fans to 20 percent. Some users even reported that this caused their GPU to overheat and fail. Thankfully, AMD released a fix for this issue but it shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Once again, it’s hurting their reputation and ability to move on from old preconceptions.

Is GeForce Experience Significantly Better?


In recent times, NVIDIA drivers have been the source of some negative publicity. More specifically, users were advised to ignore the 364.47 WHQL driver and instructed to download the 364.51 beta instead. One user said:

“Driver crashed my windows and going into safe mode I was not able to uninstall and rolling back windows would not work either. I ended up wiping my system to a fresh install of windows. Not very happy here.”

NVIDIA’s Sean Pelletier released a statement at the time which reads:

“An installation issue was found within the 364.47 WHQL driver we posted Monday. That issue was resolved with a new driver (364.51) launched Tuesday. Since we were not able to get WHQL-certification right away, we posted the driver as a Beta.

GeForce Experience has an option to either show WHQL-only drivers or to show all drivers (including Beta). Since 364.51 is currently a Beta, gamers who have GeForce Experience configured to only show WHQL Game Ready drivers will not currently see 364.51

We are expecting the WHQL-certified package for the 364.51 Game Ready driver within the next 24hrs and will replace the Beta version with the WHQL version accordingly. As expected, the WHQL-certified version of 364.51 will show up for all gamers with GeForce Experience.”

As you can see, NVIDIA isn’t immune to driver delivery issues and this was a fairly embarrassing situation. Despite this, it didn’t appear to have a serious effect on people’s confidence in the company or make them re-consider their views of AMD. While there are some disgruntled NVIDIA customers, they’re fairly loyal and distrustful of AMD’s ability to offer better drivers. The GeForce Experience software contains a wide range of fantastic inclusions such as ShadowPlay, GameStream, Game Optimization and more. After a driver update, the software can feel a bit unresponsive and takes some time to close. Furthermore, some people dislike the notion of GameReady drivers being locked in the GeForce Experience Software.  If a report from PC World is correct, consumers might have to supply an e-mail address just to update their drivers through the application.

Before coming to a conclusion, I want to reiterate that my allegiances don’t lie with either company and the intention was to create a balanced viewpoint. I believe AMD’s previous failures are impacting on the company’s current product range and it’s extremely difficult to shift people’s perceptions about the company’s drivers. While Crimson is much better than CCC, it’s been the main cause of a horrendous fan bug resulting in a PR disaster for AMD.

On balance, it’s clear AMD’s decision to separate the Radeon group and CPU line was the right thing to do. Also, with Polaris around the corner and more games utilizing DirectX 12, AMD could improve their market share by an exponential amount. Although, from my experience, many users are prepared to deal with slightly worse performance just to invest in an NVIDIA product. Therefore, AMD has to encourage long-term NVIDIA fans to switch with reliable driver updates on a consistent basis. AMD products are not lacking in features or power, it’s all about drivers! NVIDIA will always counteract AMD releases with products exhibiting similar performance numbers. In my personal opinion, AMD drivers are now on par with NVIDIA and it’s a shame that they appear to be receiving unwarranted criticism. Don’t get me wrong, the fan bug is simply inexcusable and going to haunt AMD for some time. I predict that despite the company’s best efforts, the stereotypical view of AMD drivers will not subside. This is a crying shame because they are trying to improve things and release updates on a significantly lower budget than their rivals.

Apple Will Start Phasing Out Plastic Bags This Month

Buying an Apple product is almost as symbolic as the illuminated apple located on the back of your device, with the whole experience of walking out the store reminding you of that new gadget feel before you’ve even opened the box. Part of this experience is the bag you get the new product in, a plastic bag emblazoned with the Apple logo. This part of your experience may be changing with Apple looking to phase out plastic bags later this month.

Revealed by 9to5Mac, a note sent to employees reveals plans for the bags to be replaced by paper bags. The new paper bags will be made with 80 percent recycled materials, a move intended to further Apple’s goal of leaving the world “better than we found it”.

The change will start on the 15th April, with stores looking to use up their plastic bags as soon as they can. Much like when you go shopping customers are now also going to be asked if they want a bag and being given the choice between medium and large sizes, both of these actions look to help reduce the number of bags used and the amount of material given away in the form of bags.

If this wasn’t enough, people who are looking to recycle their iOS devices will get a new “Apple Renew” card, a gift card made out of recycled paper.

With Apple already running their facilities on renewable energy and now using recyclable materials for their stores, leaving the world better than we found it is a step closer to being a reality.

Kingston Releases Micro-SD Card Designed for Action Cameras

There are plenty of memory cards on the market, but it aren’t all of them that are equally suited for all tasks – much in the same way as it is with any other kind of storage product. Kingston just released a new micro SD Card specifically designed for use with action cameras and that comes with UHS-I U3 Speed Class 3 ratings. The new Kingston SDCAC microSD Action Camera UHS-I U3 memory card comes in various sizes from 16GB and up to 64GB.

The new Kingston SDCAC microSD Action Camera UHS-I U3 memory card comes in various sizes from 16GB and up to 64GB. Its rugged performance and form factor make this micro SD card ideal for most action cameras including GoPro and drones.

The cards feature speeds of up to 90MB/s when reading and up to 45MB/s when writing. While that doesn’t sound like much when we compare it to SSD performance, it is quite nice for a card of this size. And we also have to keep in mind that these are minimum speed ratings and not possible maximum speeds.

The sustained performance allows outdoor enthusiasts to shoot in 4K resolutions without missing a single frame and even shoot up to 240 frames per second on normal Full-HD recordings. With a capacity availability from 16GB to 64GB, there should be a right card for everyone. The 16GB and 32GB capacities are shipping this month while the larger 64GB ships next month.

The cards can perform in any environment as they are waterproof, shockproof, X-ray proof, and temperature proof. Pretty much just proofed. The card is available in two version, with and without an SD card adapter that lets users quickly and easily view footage on a PC, notebook, or media reader.

Kingston’s microSD Action Camera UHS-I U3 is backed by a lifetime warranty, free technical support, and legendary Kingston reliability. No word on pricing yet.

Features and Specifications:

  • Designed for action cameras and drones: shoot video at up to 30 frames per second in 4K or capture HD footage at 240 frames per second on your GoPro, action camera or drone to preserve every second of your latest adventure.
  • Rugged for every adventure: waterproof, shockproof, X-ray proof, and temperature proof to perform even in harsh environments.
  • Enough space for your trip: whether shooting in 4K or at 240 frames per second, the card has room to keep you going.
  • Guaranteed: Lifetime warranty, legendary reliability, free technical support.
  • Capacities1: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB (shipping later)
  • Performance7: 90MB/s read and 45MB/s write, UHS-I Speed Class 3 (U3)
  • microSD Dimensions: 11mm x 15mm x 1mm
  • SD Adapter Dimensions: 24mm x 32mm x 2.1mm
  • Format: FAT32 (microSDHC 16GB-32GB); exFAT (microSDXC 64GB)
  • Operating Temperature: -25°C to 85°C
  • Storage Temperature: -40°C to 85°C
  • Voltage: 3.3V
  • Warranty: Lifetime

SilverStone ES01 PCI-E Remote PC Switch Kit

Introduction


There are many forms of being lazy, or maybe we should rather call it an extra comfort feature that expands your abilities. Today I’m taking a closer look at SilverStone’s ES01 expansion card which allows you turn your PC on and off as well as reset it remotely. This can either be used as an extra security feature or as a simple addition to the already existing methods. The ES01 is available as both a PCI and a PCI-Express card, so you can make it work in almost any system. I’ll be taking a closer look at the PCI-Express x1 version today.

SilverStone’s ES01 is a convenient remote switch kit designed to wirelessly turn your computer on or off as well as reset it. It uses the existing 2.4GHz standard with RF wireless technology which is known to work great and offer a great range. The ES01 remote kit is rated for a range of up to 20 meters which is quite cool and allows you to work the magic from afar.

The adapter comes with an included Y-cable which ensures that your computer case’s own power and reset buttons can be used concurrently with the ES01. You normally wouldn’t want to rely purely on a remote for such a crucial function, and you don’t need to. However, at the same time the ES01 it can be used without connecting the Y-cable to the chassis buttons in order to add another level of security besides BIOS passwords and software solutions to which the ES01 can be a good alternative. It will mostly be users with computers located in hard to reach areas or systems with special usage scenarios that will find the ES01 remote switch kit to be very handy, but it is up to you how you’d like to use it.

The expansion card in itself is a low profile card and it isn’t very long either. It will easily fit into even the smallest chassis and comes with an included low-profile bracket too. All it takes is two screws to switch from the normal to the low-profile bracket, so that’s a job quickly done if needed.

The remote control uses a common CR2025 Lithium manganese button battery with a 3V voltage. It has a maximum measured EIRP of 3.76dBm and naturally operates on the 2.4GHz band. It is about the size that you would know from your car key with remote functionality, but weighs far less. It also comes with a convenient ring for attachment to key rings, backpacks, purses, and more.

Feature Highlights

  • Control your computer from anywhere in the room using 2.4GHz RF remote
  • 2.4GHz receiver PCI or PCI-E card included
  • Works as far away as twenty meter
  • Includes power / reset switch Y cable
  • Includes optional low profile expansion slot cover

Specifications

Package and Accessories

The SilverStone ES01 comes in a fairly simple package which is fitting for a simple device. The front teases the remote capabilities which doesn’t leave much left to the imaginations. You instantly know what it’s for.

The rear of the box contains the specifications and functionality in several languages. Everything extra that you might want to know before you make the purchase.

Inside the box, we find the add-in card with y-cable attached, a low-profile expansion slot bracket for use in SFF chassis, the remote control and battery for it as well as a small manual.

Lexar Announces New 200GB High-Performance microSDXC Card

Lexar released a new memory card for those that need a lot of speed and a lot of storage at the same time as they announced the release of their new 200GB microSDXC card that comes with a 633x speed rating and an SD Class U1 rating.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a 200GB card in this size, but it is the first time that it goes mainstream and becomes an available card for normal people that want that extra capacity in their smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices based on SD cards. The 633x speed rating (633 times 150KB/s) equals to about 95MB/s which is the read speed that this card can perform – far higher than the official U1 rating. The 200GB capacity is enough to store up to 17 hours of 4K and Full HD video, 33,000 photos, or 28,000 of your favourite songs – if you even got a library that size at all.

“Professional and everyday photographers are now more passionate about shooting high-quality video, on everything from digital SLRs to sports and aerial cameras,” said Steffi Ho, product marketing manager, Lexar. “With the Lexar 200GB microSDXC UHS-I card, photographers can continue to capture and store large amounts of content on the go, without having to worry about running out of space.

Lexar also included a USB 3.0 card reader for high-speed card-to-computer transfer of all your captured moments. The card reader is naturally backward compatible with USB 2.0, so a connection to legacy systems won’t be an issue either. The 200GB Lexar High-Performance 633x microSDXC UHS-I card comes with a limited lifetime warranty while the card reader itself has a 1-year limited warranty.

Should your interest be tickled by this news, then the good part is that it’s already available and it isn’t even as expensive as you might think. The new card is currently available for purchase with an MSRP of £109.99.

Android Pay Is Coming To The UK

These days your phone can replace a lot of things, from your contact list to your camera, they do it all. With thanks to Android, you may get to tick another thing off your list with several major banks in the UK starting to accept Android Pay.

Currently, the financial institutes that support Android Pay are the following:

  • Bank of Scotland
  • First Direct
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds Bank
  • M&S Bank
  • MBNA
  • Nationwide

It won’t stop there with Android’s blog posting that the list will grow thanks to “new banks being added all the time”. Android pay will be accepted anywhere in the UK that supports contactless payments, meaning your weekly shopping trip or even your lunch treat could soon be provided by your mobile phone.

If that wasn’t enough the feature will also be supported in several apps, such as Kickstarter, JD Sports and Deliveroo while other the API that lets developers add the feature has been adjusted to make it easier to include the feature in any app’s that want you to pay for with your phone.

With 1.5 million registrations happening in the US each month for Android Pay, the success of the system could only grow by adding it to other countries and it looks like Apple Pay and other contactless systems may have a fight on their hands for which phone you use to pay your lunch bill.

Far Cry Primal Graphics Card Performance Analysis

Introduction


The Far Cry franchise gained notoriety for its impeccable graphical fidelity and enthralling open world environment. As a result, each release is incredibly useful to gauge the current state of graphics hardware and performance across various resolutions. Although, Ubisoft’s reputation has suffered in recent years due to poor optimization on major titles such as Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Watch Dogs. This means it’s essential to analyze the PC version in a technical manner and see if it’s really worth supporting with your hard-earned cash!

Far Cry Primal utilizes the Dunia Engine 2 which was deployed on Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4. Therefore, I’m not expecting anything revolutionary compared to the previous games. This isn’t necessarily a negative concept though because the amount of detail is staggering and worthy of recognition. Saying that, Far Cry 4 was plagued by intermittent hitching and I really hope this has been resolved. Unlike Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, the latest entry has a retail price of $60. According to Ubisoft, this is warranted due to the lengthy campaign and amount on content on offer. Given Ubisoft’s turbulent history with recent releases, it will be fascinating to see how each GPU this generation fares and which brand the game favours at numerous resolutions.

“Far Cry Primal is an action-adventure video game developed and published by Ubisoft. It was released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on February 23, 2016, and it was also released for Microsoft Windows on March 1, 2016. The game is set in the Stone Age, and revolves around the story of Takkar, who starts off as an unarmed hunter and rises to become the leader of a tribe.” From Wikipedia.

Google Allowing Twitter Like Posts Straight From Businesses

Google is not one to shy away from experimenting with new features and thanks to someone’s keen eyes they’ve even spotted that you could see twitter like posts in your google searches.

Similar to their mobile “cards”, you could soon see the adverts appear when you search for certain things, letting you swipe to another related piece of news or “card”, tapping it would, in turn, reveal more information and possibly a link to its source. The twitter-like feed was spotted by search expert Mike Blumenthal, who was in the process of searching for engagement ring stores in Buffalo, New York when he noticed a stream of jewelers posts. Tapping on one of the cards opened a full-screen web page, with text and photos galore.

With a similar project, Google Posts, letting the presidential campaign in the US share their latest news and policy announcements, it may not be long before Google adopt this new tool on their search engine permanently.

The full page feature reminds me of Facebook’s latest version of Notes. Could it be that google is looking to integrate more social networking-like features into their search engine? With the ability to “like” links or prioritise links from certain sources, you could customise what you see when you do everyday searches.

Does Your Business Card Have An ECG Built In?

So you find someone who wants to do business, how would you go about advertising your company way after you’ve even met? Some people will give you an email address or phone number while the most prepared will have a nice and shiny business card waiting for your hand before you’ve even broken eye contact. You can get all kinds of business cards, plastic or card and some are even USB memory sticks in disguise. What if you are in a specialist career like a cardiologist? Why not have an ECG card?

Designed by a company titled MobilECG, the latest card has two sensors that can measure your readings just like an actual medical ECG machine. By placing your two thumbs on the provided finger pads, you will get an ECG reading just like those shown on TV. While it isn’t designed to be a diagnostic tool, as clearly stated on the card, the concept is a novel one.

Currently costing $29 per card, the current design is there to merely gauge interest in the product and you can even find the code available for free on the open source repository site GitHub. If that isn’t enough you can even find the schematics for the card here.

AMD Teases Possible External GPU Standard

Gaming is a lot of fun and small computer systems are a joy because they are easier to carry around, but what if you want the graphics performance to be optional? For that to be an option we need some proper external graphics card support and it looks like AMD is working on just that, again.

We have seen multiple external graphics card solution over time such as Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier or MSI’s Gaming Dock that solve the problem with lack of graphics power in portable systems without increasing the size and weight of the ultrabook or laptop itself, but they’ve been limited to specific devices and that can be an issue that holds the adoption rate back.

AMD’s Robert Hallock teased us with something new via Facebook that indicates that AMD could be working on just such a solution. This isn’t the first time that AMD’s graphics department wants to do something like that, although they still were called ATI at the time. Some might remember the ATI XGP (eXternal Graphics Platform) from 7-years ago that already attempted this, but it never gained the large traction due to its natural limitations.

Ultrathin notebooks are awesome for their portability, but nobody in their right mind would use them as a gaming notebook. Those are some heavy items that while still portable, weigh as much as a stationary mITX system. This is where external graphics solutions come into play and we’re able to get the same graphics performance from a small portable system when needed while keeping it light enough to take everywhere for normal usage.

“External GPUs are the answer. External GPUs with standardized connectors, cables, drivers, plug’n’play, OS support, etc.”

AMD is a big believer in open and free standards and the way everything is worded points in the same direction rather than a single locked down product with an AMD branding. Standardization could make a huge difference here as long as the manufacturers adopt it and bring it to the market. Oh and just to clarify, none of the shown examples of external graphics solutions here is the new deal. Robert himself teased with a Razer Core graphics enclosure equipped with an AMD Radeon Nano card.

The teaser ends with the words “More info very soon”, maybe GDC? Only time will tell, but we’ll stay on the ball and keep you informed.

Contactless Payment Use Surged In 2015

Remember the days when you handed over coins and pieces of paper to buy everything from sweets to a new car. These days it’s all done via virtual currencies like bitcoins and small pieces of plastic that we keep in our wallets, or even our phones. You will soon be able to pay for your taxi without even handing over a single coin, so is it any surprise that the UK saw a boom in contactless payments in 2015?

According to UK Cards Associated, the UK conducted over one billion transactions using contactless technologies, with the total amount spent using this method totaling more than the past seven years combined!

With one in 13 payments being made using contactless, and the limit being increased to £30 from £20 per contactless payment it comes as no surprise that this technologies use has boomed since its adoption a few years ago. With contactless transactions totaling over £7.75 billion, you may see more and more people choosing to use this technology with Apple being one of many companies adding it to their phones.

Do you have contactless payment on your card or phone? If so do you prefer using it or are you one for the good old-fashioned cash and coin?

NVIDIA Pascal GPUs Spotted in India’s Trade Database

NVIDIA’s upcoming architecture codenamed ‘Pascal’ is based on the TSMC 16nm manufacturing process and utilizes the latest iteration of high bandwidth memory. HBM2 will feature bandwidth exceeding 1 Terabyte per second and ship in larger forms compared to HBM1. Some of you might remember, HBM1 was a major talking point on AMD’s Fiji XT line-up but the memory has a limitation of 4GB. Thankfully, HBM2 resolves this and could potentially allow for GPUs sporting a whopping 32GB. While this isn’t confirmed, rumours suggest that NVIDIA could launch a flagship with a huge amount of video memory. However, I personally think a 32GB graphics card will target professionals requiring huge compete power.

It’s important to remember that HBM is up to 9 times faster than the current GDDR5 standard and a huge revolution in memory technology. Pascal will also be the first architecture to utilize NV-Link. This is an energy-efficient, high-bandwidth communications channel that uses up to three times less energy to move data on the node at speeds 5-12 times conventional PCIe Gen3 x16. In theory, this enables faster communication between the CPU and GPU as well as multiple graphics cards. This is only a very brief insight into the potential of Pascal and it could be the biggest step forward in graphics technology we’ve seen in a long time.

Recent information from Zauba.com shows a shipment of Pascal graphics cards which suggests the launch date isn’t too far off. However, according to the Tech Times, Pascal might not launch until June at the earliest! The general consensus is the launch will occur sometime in Q2 this year. With AMD and NVIDIA preparing new architectures, it’s a very exciting time and I cannot wait to see the kind of performance gains compared to the previous generation. Hopefully, the new range offers superb performance at reasonable prices, and AMD keeps NVIDIA in check to drive costs down.

D-Link DXE-820T Dual Port 10Gbase NIC Adapter Review

Introduction


Among our recent upgrade to 10 Gbit networking here in the eTeknix review section wasn’t just the awesome 12-port smart switch that we saw a little while ago, D-Link also supplied me with a DXE-820T dual-port 10 Gbit Ethernet Network card to be able to connect with the switch in full speed. After all, what good does a 10 Gbps switch do when my test rig doesn’t have the same kind of performance.

The D-Link DXE-820T is a dual-port 10 GBASE-T RJ-45 PCI Express high-performance adapter designed for the high-speed PCI Express bus architecture. This adapter offers the increased bandwidth needed in modern environments as well as being a reliable and functional PCI network card. It has been specifically designed to allow throughput at rates up to 40 Gbps, thus eliminating the bottleneck that exists with current 32 and 64-bit PCI bus architectures.

The DXE-820T requires a PCI-E v2 x8 or x16 slot for enough bandwidth, but you don’t need to provide any extra power connectors or other things besides your network cables, naturally. The card is capable of a transmitting distance of up to 100m with Cat 6A or higher in 10 GBASE-T mode and up to 100m with Cat 5 type cables in Gigabit mode. This makes the placement of the switch a lot easier.

The DXE-820T features TCP, UDP, and IP checksum offloading functionality, which transfers the checksum processing tasks from the computer’s own CPU and onto the network card itself. The DXE-820T’s ability to handle the checksum processing means that the CPU’s processing power can be used for other tasks while still achieving 20 Gbps network speeds. It also means that the network card needs some extra cooling in the form of an active fan as well as a passive heatsink.

The adapter also features an onboard screening of 802.1Q VLAN tagged Ethernet frames, allowing you to assign multiple subnets to each server and isolate devices within each VLAN from the rest of the network for better traffic control and security. With support for advanced features such as 802.3x flow control, jumbo frames, and SNMP for network management, the DXE-820T can easily interoperate with your current networking equipment.

With two ports at your disposal, you can increase the network throughput even further than the 10 Gbit per second on each port. With Smart Load BalancingTM, the DXE-820T can configure multiple adapters to work as a team, sharing traffic and ensuring data reliability. This both creates a faster network and provides fault tolerance resulting in a stable and efficient network.

The low profile design allows the deployment in space restricted areas and D-Link also included a low-profile slot cover right away. The card itself is powered by Broadcom’s BCM57810 chip.

The card naturally supports Jumbo Frames for optimized setups and it allows for values up to 9K. The DXE-820T is compatible with all major operating systems with drivers available for both user systems and server systems such as Windows Server 2012 or Solaris 11.

Feature Highlights

  • High-Speed data transmission at rates up to 40Gbps allow for seamless data transfer.
  • 10GBASE-T technology supports distances to 100m over CAT6A or better copper cable.
  • Advanced Features: 802.3x flow control for traffic management, 802.1Q VLAN tagging for increased security, and checksum offloading to reduce CPU processing burden.
  • Bandwidth Management: NIC partitioning enables administrators to manage bandwidth for greater network efficiency.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The DXE-820T NIC card comes in a very neutral box that only really reveals that we have a D-Link product inside. But it’s a network card and it isn’t like you would put the box in the display after installing the card anyway, so simply is good.

We do find a little sticker on the rear of the box that reveals what is inside, the model number along with serial, mac address, and hardware version.

There is both a driver disk and a quick installation manual inside the box, and D-Link also included a low-profile bracket for use in small-form-factor systems. Everything you need to get going with that extra speed.

SilverStone Releases ES01 Remote PC Switch Kit

Have you ever wished to turn your computer on and off from afar, much in the same way that you do when you unlock your car with your remote key? Well you can’t have been the only one as SilverStone just released the ES01 that is just that. The SilverStone ES01 is a remote switch for your PC that allows you to turn it on and off from a distance of up to 20 meters.

The SilverStone ES01 is a 2.4GHz wireless computer power and reset remote switch and that in itself says most. The receiver is in the form of a PCI-Express card and SilverStone included both a normal and a low-profile expansion cover. While the PCI-Express bus is the normal connector these days, in the past it was the previous PCI slot that dominated the machines. SilverStone also released a normal PCI version, so make sure you get the right one for your system. This in return means that you should be able to use this card and remote control for pretty much any system you wish, new or old and small or big.

The included Y-cable for the power and reset buttons make sure that you don’t have to rely solely on this remote control and can continue to use your normal case buttons as you did before you installed this card.

As previously mentioned, the SilverSTone ES01 has a range of up to 20 meters and the interference should be minimal on this band, but objects that are in the way will effect the range. The ES01 has an Effective Isotropic Radiated Power (EIRP) of 2.76 dBm and the remote runs on a nomral CR2025 button battery.

The new SilverStone ES01 (SST-ES01-PCIe / SST-ES01-PCI) will be available around the world during this week and can be yours for a suggested end-user price of $14.96 USD

Silicon Power Introduces the Complete Lineup of Apple Storage Solutions

Apple devices are highly popular, but they do in most cases come with one flaw and that is the upgradability. Luckily there are ways to increase this for the most part and Silicon Power has now introduced a new complete line of Apple storage devices for all sorts of different devices. With USB flash drives, expansion cards, portable hard drives and external SSD, the SP Apple Series is about to satisfy all kinds of memory expansion needs.

The need for extra storage on apple devices is great, especially considering the markups you pay for the models with more storage and the number one complaint from Apple users is “not enough storage available”.

Among the new products is the SP xDrive Z30 Lightning USB drive that features a dual-interface design with both USB 3.0 and Lightning for easy connection to iOS handsets as well as desktop systems. Not every device has a lightning connector and that is where the second new flash drive comes into play, the SP Mobile C80 dual USB drive that features a USB 3.0 and a Type-C USB connector.

The storage issue isn’t limited to portable iOS devices, Mac computers have the same issue. For this, SP introduced the xDrive Series expansion cards L12 and L13 as well as the rugged external Armor hard disk drives. The xDrivev expansion cards are tailored to fit seamless with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models while the A65M and A85M external hard disks offer a shockproof and waterproof design for users on the go.

The final category is for those who need that extra speed and where every second counts. We’re naturally talking about external SSDs for Mac systems. SP’s Thunder T11 external SSD offers a two-channel Thunderbolt interface with a data transmission of up to 10GB/s throughput in each direction. Sadly that doesn’t result in the blazing fast speeds one could hope for with a rating of just 340MB/s reading and 280MB/s writing, but it should improve the latency and access times over the slower USB 3.0 interface.

GCHQ Releases Christmas Card Brainteaser

GCHQ is the UK’s intelligence monitoring agency which collects data in the interests of national security. In recent times, the organization has come under a great deal of scrutiny for abusing their powers via the Tempora computer system. This system was used to buffer internet communication extracted for fibre-optic cables. As as result, the system can access individual’s data without any trace being left or making service providers suspicious. The UK’s obsession with surveillance is a worrying trend and some critics argue GCHQ isn’t acting in a democratic manner.

In the run up to festive season, GCHQ has decided to release a Christmas card designed to test people’s cryptography skills:

From the offset, you can see how baffling this brainteaser is and GCHQ has set a very difficult challenge. For those of you struggling, (most of us), here’s some advice from the organization:

“In this type of grid-shading puzzle, each square is either black or white. Some of the black squares have already been filled in for you.”

“Each row or column is labelled with a string of numbers. The numbers indicate the length of all consecutive runs of black squares, and are displayed in the order that the runs appear in that line. For example, a label “2 1 6” indicates sets of two, one and six black squares, each of which will have at least one white square separating them.”

This is certainly an interesting way to gauge the reasoning skills of the general population and I wouldn’t be surprised if a member of the public managed to solve the entirety of GCHQ’s challenges. Perhaps, this is seen as a recruitment drive, and successful entries could be offered a role at the organization.

Have you managed to work out the first puzzle yet?

Sapphire Nitro R9 380X 4GB Graphics Card Review with Back Plate!

Introduction


If you’ve been reading up on the latest R9 380X range, you may have seen stories and possibly even reviews that the performance wasn’t as high as many expected. I one of those who was very disappointed with the performance when compared to the R9 380 and R9 390 graphics cards by being around 10% faster than the R9 380. I really shouldn’t be complaining, at a sub £200 price point, the R9 380X is poised as a great 1440p graphics card; albeit with some settings lowered to medium or high from ultra.

Today in the test bench we have the Sapphire Nitro R9 380X. Fitting in nicely to the current Nitro range from Sapphire at just £199.99, this card features an identical cooling design as the R9 380 but with one huge visual improvement, which I will disclose later. The card features 16K capacitors for ultra long life and an increased core and memory clock to 1040MHz and 6000MHz respectively, so we should expect improved performance over what we have been witnessing so far.

Before anyone starts chanting “rebrand”, stop! As much as I agree that this is technically a rebrand, I’m now actually re-wording that to remanufacturing. A rebrand would be taking the R9 285, put a new cooling design on there and calling it an R9 380 with no other changes. However, the R9 380 and R9 380X are remanufactured with a much more precise manufacturing procedure to squeeze as much performance as possible from the Antigua GPU Core.

Packaging and Accessories

The Nitro box has changed for this card compared to the rest of the R9 Nitro range. We now have a simple portrait style box without a window to show off the contents.

I really think Sapphire want everyone to know that this card has a back plate fitted.

Accessories are simple, general paper based material, driver disk, case sticker and DVI to VGA adapter.

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X2 Could Launch Next Month!

It looks like AMD are cooking up a big product launch for December, one that could knock Nvidia into the stone age! The as yet un-named graphics card from the red team is currently not officially named, but let’s call this powerhouse the Fury X2 for conversations sake. We’ve already known about this card for a little while now, as Lisa Su was keen to show off a PCB that had not one, but two Fiji GPUs on board. The only problem is when, where and how much it will be, are still unknown.

AMD are to hold a special event in December, where it is believed the Fury X2 will be released. With no rumours pointing to a similar dual-GPU monster from the Nvidia camp, a dual Fiji and HBM equipped card could quickly put AMD back at the top of the GPU power food chain.

The first new teaser comes courtesy of Johan Andersson of DICE, always a reliable source for leaks as he previously teased the 295X2 and the R9 290X. Unfortunately for Johan and no doubt AMD, it seems his “pre-release GPU” had some leaks of its own.

Expect more information to follow quite quickly, as is often the case with leaks, there’s always more than one.

London Cabs Set To Allow Contact-less Payments By 2017

So there you are, having been busy rushing around London doing your shopping and decide you want to quickly grab a taxi back home, only to find you won’t be able to because you don’t have any cash on your person. It happens and normally the alternative for people these days is either to walk it or use alternative transport such as Uber. With the app based service looking to only grow and grow, not taking in mobile and card payments has limited London’s cabs. This could be set to change though as soon as mid-2017.

Transport for London (TFL) and Mayor Boris Johnson have agreed to move proposals for the scheme that would see all taxi’s requiring the capability to accept card payments, including contactless. This chance could be seen as soon as October 2016, just in time for next year’s Christmas rush, a welcome change I bet for the 86% of the people who responded to a consultation saying that they wanted cards accepted.

TFL have agreed to bring down the cost of transactions charges from 10% to around 3%, this meaning that you won’t be charged extra (after the additional 20p increase that’s set to come in earlier in the year).

With services like Uber and other forms of public transport already taking card and contactless payments, is it about time that Taxi’s joined the fold?

XFX DD R9 380X 4GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction


We’ve been reporting pretty close on the new AMD R9 300 series since launch and with multiple reviews, we know a thing or two about them such as the huge performance difference between the R9 380 and R9 390 graphics cards. Today we take a look at the brand new R9 380X provided by XFX. Based on the Antigua XT GPU with GCN 1.2, this is the newest architecture to come from AMD apart from Fiji which is featured on the R9 Fury range.

When we tested the R9 380, it just didn’t have the grunt to push acceptable frame rates at 1440p, but the R9 390 was too expensive to justify those few extra FPS. This is where the R9 380X comes in, priced at just under £190 ($240), this is almost slap bang in the middle of the two. As with most of the R9 300 series, this card has DirectX 12 support, FreeSync Technology, Virtual Super Resolution (VSR) and Frame Rate Target Control which effectively caps your total FPS to save power in non-demanding games such as Tomb Raider.

Generally at this point we would take a look at the packaging and accessories, however, this was a press sample which came in a boring brown box and we don’t want any pictures of that, do you?

NVIDIA GTX 950 SLI Graphics Card Review

Introduction


Here at eTeknix, we strive to give the consumer the best possible advice in every aspect of technology. Today is no different as we bring you the SLI review of the latest budget pleaser from NVIDIA, the GeFoce GTX 950.

The NVIDIA GTX 950 is the newest card to be released based on the Maxwell architecture and aimed to bring solid 1080p performance for under £150. Sub vendors went completely nuts with this card and produced some simply great options that have put the squeeze on AMD in the budget gaming segment.

Now we don’t really ever consider low-end options for SLI for cost effectiveness reasons, but some consumers may only have £150 now and £150 next month and want to play straight away.

Because I had the choice of three different cards, the smart move would be to test the two most powerful options, the Inno3D iChill GTX 950 and MSI Gaming GTX 950. These both can be purchased for under £140 each through a wide range of retailers and work extremely well together. However, a matching set would give the best possible performance as the computer wouldn’t need to throttle one card to match the others performance.

That’s enough of an introduction, let’s find out how well this compact duo performs in the real world.

PNY GTX 950 2GB Graphics Card Update Review

Introduction


Following on from our GTX 950 round-up article, PNY has sent a model which looks extremely promising. We have already seen that the GTX 950 range performs extremely well and the price is extremely attractive for a cheap gaming build.

The PNY GTX 950 is the cheapest GTX 950 that PNY offers and features a single fan design. This is a step away from the usual dual fan designs that PNY produce and personally I really like the subtle design on this.

This card is essentially an unmodified NVIDIA version with an improved cooling design as it features the same base and boost clock speeds as the reference model or 1024MHz base and 1188MHz boost.These speeds don’t sound that impressive, but the overclocking capability of Maxwell and the GTX 950 range, in particular, will see this overclock well into the 1400MHz range.

Packaging and accessories

The outer box is simple and follows the design that everyone can relate too from graphics cards manufacturers by donning a ‘mascot’.

It’s refreshing not to be bombarded with information when you flip the box over. Instead, a few key features are outlined and a quick link to visit if you need more information.

Accessories are simple, with a quick installation guide, driver disc and DVI to VGA adapter.

Malware In Hilton Hotels Results in Card Details Being Stolen

How often do you use your card? When you pop down to the shop and breaking that ten-pound note will result in too many coins to carry back? How about when you’re buying things online? Finally, how many have used their cards to book hotels? If you’ve stayed at a Hilton hotel recently and used your card to pay at one of their Point of Sale (POS) terminals, you may want to double check your cards not got anything suspicious on it.

Hilton Hotels has stated they are investigating the possible security breach reported by Brian Krebs, an investigative journalist, who traced a collection of misused cards and found a common source in the till’s that are located in one of the many restaurants and gift shops located in Hilton Hotels  located in the US.

Sadly this is not the end of the story, the security alert that Visa released for this flaw was made in August, with the malware apparently being active between April and July this year. Given the number of hotels, and the ease at which people can pay for things using their cards, the number of potential cards that have been affected by this issue is surely only going to rise as more and more people become aware of it.

As with all cards, credit or debit alike, you should always keep an eye on it and raise any concerns regarding payments that you don’t recall making, or seem to be to companies you’ve never heard of, to your bank/building society.

Thank you the Register for the information.

Image courtesy of ITP.

Nvidia’s Next-Gen GP100 Silicon Enters Testing Phase

It’s no secret that Nvidia are working their next-generation graphics hardware, even with their flagship 980Ti and Titan series of cards doing well, there’s always going to be something better on the horizon. The next Nvidia hardware will be powered by the new GP100 silicon, which has reportedly entered its testing phase, putting it through its paces to judge its viability for future consumer hardware.

This means that Nvidia now has a few completed chips which may one day make it into their next-gen graphics cards. GP100 is based on the Pascal architecture, which is set to feature more than 17 billion transistors, made possible by TSMC’s 16nm FinFET+ node construction. Of course, the excitement doesn’t end there, as the new hardware an HBM2 memory interface, which leaves room for up to 32GB of extremely fast memory, although it’s more likely this next-generation will not go above 16GB.

Early predictions, which are usually quite accurate, expect that Pascal GP100 hardware, with HBM2 memory could outperform the current Titan-X hardware but 60-90%, and I honestly don’t doubt that fact.

With AMD and Nvidia cooking up HBM2 cards, the next generation of the GPU wars is going to be a lot of fun!

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information.

Transcend Newest UHS-II Class 3 SD Card Performs 285MB/S

If you need a memory card that performs better than most, then you should take a closer look at the UHS-II Class 3 SD Card that Transcend just announced. The Transcend SD2U3 memory card is UHS-II U3 compliant and featuring a maximum read speed of up to 285 MB/s along with a write speed of up to 180 MB/s thanks to being built with embedded MLC flash.

The memory card will be perfect for professional photographers shooting in RAW or JPEG images and videographers filming in Full HD, 4K or 3D videos. With a performance like that, you’re assured uninterrupted consecutive shooting and smooth playback. Transcend released two different capacities of the card, a 32GB and a 64GB model.

You will, of course, need a compatible device to achieve these high speeds that the new UHS-II bus standards with a UHS Speed Class rating of 3. Transcend’s RDF9 card reader would be one option here, at least on the PC side of things. Your camera also needs to support the fast memory card.

Transcend’s SD2U3 memory card is waterproof, static proof, X-ray proof, and shockproof, and it will work in temperatures ranging from -25°C to 85°C. It also comes with built-in Error Correcting Code (ECC) and the free Transcend RecoveRx software to recover lost files on the card. The cards are also backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

Palit Super JetStream GTX 980Ti 6GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction


The graphics card world experienced a shake-up when NVIDIA announced the Titan X, a 12GB VRAM monster, then did it again just a few weeks after with the launch of the GTX 980Ti. With this, it brought extreme performance to a much more affordable level and at just $600, it was around half the price of the Titan X and a in some tests just 5% slower than the Titan X.

Today on the test bench we have the Palit Super JetStream GTX; the Super JetStream branding is reserved solely for the top end air-cooled Palit graphics cards. Poised at just £539, this is only £10 more expensive than the reference design and boasts figures that only some of the higher priced models can achieve. The card features twin 10cm turbo fan blades with are designed to disperse heat as much as possible and also are translucent to project the built-in LED lighting even further.

We know that the GTX 980Ti is the current top mainstream graphics card and when it’s given to a sub-vendor it only gets better; so let’s find out how it performs in today’s review!

The outer skin is plain, displaying only key information with the trademark black and gold theme.

The back of the box is filled with information in many different languages. The key information revolves around the display features, gaming features and new ways to game, such as VR.

This box has a front door with all of the information you could want to know about the graphics card itself. Not only does it give you a graphic rendering of the card, there is a window into the box so you can see the GPU design directly.

Inside the box, you have a HDMI to DVI adapter, manual, driver disk, JetStream sticker and PCIe power adapter.

PowerColor ‘DEVIL’ R9 390X 8GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction and Packaging


The launch of the R9 300 series has been a very bumpy road. Not only was it released as a rebranded R9 200 series, it was then nailed by AMD itself by releasing the R9 Fury range. In themselves, they are a great progression from the original R9 200 releases, adding anywhere from 10-30% performance increase and the cost was more favourable than the NVIDIA counterparts. The market for the R9 300 series is small, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers designing some great additions to the range.

On the test bench today is the PowerColor DEVIL R9 390X, although it isn’t a DEVIL as we know it. From previous releases, the DEVIL graphics cards have been extremely big and completely bonkers. Just look back to the DEVIL 13 (290x x2), that was not only one of the biggest graphics cards ever made, but it came with its own tool kit, case support bar and even a RAZER mouse. If we all remember back to Computex 2015, PowerColor had sneakily left a prototype on display; initial reports flooded in that it was the first ever R9 Fury X pictured which was believable thanks to the AIO cooling solution. That rumour bubble was quickly popped though and it was confirmed that the card was, in fact, an R9 390X model. We already know how the R9 390X performs, so let’s see if PowerColor are able to unleash hell with this new graphics card.

The outer box skin is very plain, no specs or details to what’s inside apart from the logo’s. The actual “Devil” logo could be interpreted as the flames of hell being quenched by water, or an AMD CPU being cooled by water if you want to be more literal.

The back of the box is where a great deal of the visual information is. I feel it’s slightly too cluttered; maybe the card specifications should have been printed on the side panel along with power and system requirements to leave more room for the diagrams.

If you were expecting a tool-kit, GPU holder and mouse with this; you are going to be disappointed. The accessories include a premium hard covered gaming surface, PCIe power adapter, installation instructions and driver disk.