Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Apple Working on Tablet PC – Rumour

Apple, a leading maker of various digital gadgets, may be working on its own tablet personal computer, according to a news-story that cites current manufacturer of Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro products. The new type of mobile computer, if the information is correct, will allow Apple to target niche market segments with its products, however, it is unlikely that the product will be among best-sellers.

Representatives from Asustek Computer, the current producer of Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks, said anonymously to Crave.Cnet.co.uk web-site that the Taiwan-based manufacturer was “helping” Apple to build tablet Macintosh computer. No details or technical specifications were given. Moreover, it is unclear when the device is scheduled to hit the market.

Apple has always targeted consumers with its products, but tablet PCs are usually used in niche markets by commercial customers. Therefore, the fact that Apple wants to enter those markets may indicate that the company is considering a shift in its strategy, a significant change for Apple.

The market of Tablet PCs is relatively small, however, profit margins on the niche markets are considerably higher compared to mainstream notebooks. Given that the popularity of Apple’s notebooks rises, it has to compete against products from companies like Asus, Sony and others, therefore, its profits may suffer. As a result, it is logical to offer a high-margin product to stop erosion of gross margins.

Neither Asustek Computer, nor Apple, commented on the news-story, which is natural.

Nvidia Proposes “Enthusiast System Architecture”

Nvidia Corp. on Monday announced what it calls Enthusiast System Architecture (ESA), a special protocol that will allow to monitor and control numerous characteristics of a personal computer. Nvidia says that the new capability will allow end-users to change on-the-fly their PCs’ acoustic, electrical, thermal and performance settings.

Nowadays computer enthusiasts have to install software developed by makers of their mainboards or third-parties to control their performance and acoustic settings. However, such software either comes with pretty expensive platforms, or has certain limitations. Nvidia decided to create its own utility compatible with non-Nvidia hardware that would allow to remove the limitations and enable the aforementioned feature-set on a wide range of hardware.

The Enthusiast System Architecture (ESA) specifies an information protocol that system components can use to “communicate” with each other to adjust operating parameters, and relay important system information back to the user. By implementing ESA, PC manufacturers and do-it-yourself enthusiasts can now build finely-tuned and higher performance PCs than they could have with existing proprietary solutions.

The new ESA standard is built around the current USB HID class specification and is designed to support new monitoring and control capabilities for PC devices such as chassis, power supplies, and water and air cooling peripherals. Until the introduction of ESA, there was no standard communication protocol allowing such components to report information back to users, Nvidia stated. Essential data, such as temperature, thermal, voltage, and air flow attributes are made available in real-time and are critical to obtaining maximum PC performance and overclocking.

With ESA, component manufacturers can now embed a wide variety of digital and analog sensors into their devices which can communicate real-time data for use in analyzing and optimizing overall PC operating conditions. In addition, ESA’s logging functionality offers PC manufacturers and system builders an inexpensive and easy way to help identify PC operating abnormalities, and enable them to quickly identify and resolve customer support issues.

Nvidia indicated that such companies as Alienware, Asustek Computer, Cooler Master, CoolIT Systems, Dell, EVGA, Falcon Northwest, Gigabyte Technology, HP, Maingear, MicroStar International, PC Power & Cooling, Silverstone, Tagan, Ultra and XFX.

Even though Nvidia is well known for proposing certain standards and specifications, usually its efforts remain only inside Nvidia’s world and are not accepter by the industry. For example, back in mid-2006 the graphics chip designer proposed Enhanced Performance Profiles (EPP) technology to enable higher-speed memory modules. Even though several memory module makers released their EPP-enabled products, the technology did not turn popular.

Google Unveils Operating System for Mobile Devices, Forms Industry Alliance

As the industry expected Google to release its own mobile device for calling using Google Talk, receiving email using Gmail and browsing the web with the help of Google search system, the Internet giant released an open-source operating system (OS) called Android and formed Open Handset Alliance with several handset makers. The initiative will move Google into cell phones and will broaden its market share and influence eventually.

“Despite all of the very interesting speculation over the last few months, we’re not announcing a Gphone. However, we think what we are announcing – the Open Handset Alliance and Android – is more significant and ambitious than a single phone. In fact, through the joint efforts of the members of the Open Handset Alliance, we hope Android will be the foundation for many new phones and will create an entirely new mobile experience for users, with new applications and new capabilities we can’t imagine today,” said Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms.

With nearly 3 billion users worldwide, the mobile phone has become the most personal and ubiquitous communications device. However, the lack of a collaborative effort has made it a challenge for developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers to respond as quickly as possible to the ever-changing needs of savvy mobile consumers. Through Android, developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers will be better positioned to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost. The end result is predicted to be a mobile platform that will enable wireless operators and manufacturers to give their customers better, more personal and more flexible mobile experiences.

The search giant describes its Android platform as a fully integrated mobile “software stack” that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications.

Google did not unveil actual functionality of its Android operating system for mobile devices, but it is logical to expect the new OS to integrate functionality that Google currently offers with its GTalk, GMail, Google Earth, Google Video and other services.

Google, T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and others have collaborated on the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders. In total, the new alliance is supported by 34 companies.

The Android platform will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products. Next week the Alliance will release an early access software development kit to provide developers with the tools necessary to create innovative and compelling applications for the platform.

Consumers should expect the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008.

Sony Denies Usage of 65nm Chips in Latest PlayStation 3 Model

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. said it does not utilize chips made using 65nm process technology in the latest Sony PlayStation 3 game console that is sold for $399 or €399. The console, however, still uses more energy efficient electronics components, which is why the new PS3 model consumes considerably less electricity compared to PlayStation 3 60GB and 80GB models.

Last week it was reported that SCEI installed 65nm versions of the Cell microprocessor as well as RSX graphics chip into the new version of PS3 with 40GB hard drive, which is incompatible with games developed for PlayStation 1 and 2. Additionally, Sony reportedly started to use a new I/O controller (CXD2984GB), a new mainboard revision (SEM-001), different XDR memory chips from Elpida as well as a new cooling system. The new PlayStation 3 uses only 120W – 140W of power, whereas the previous flavours consume from 180W to 200W.

“The new 40GB model still uses 90nm processors. Only in the coming months 65nm chips will be utilized. The enormous energy savings is a result of usage of other electronics components,” a Sony spokesperson is reported to have said in an interview with Heise Online web-site.

Due to the fact that Sony’s PlayStation 3 40GB still uses 90nm central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU), it is unlikely that the new 40GB is considerably less expensive to build than the fully-fledged versions with larger hard disk drives and backwards compatibility. Still, it does not mean that Sony did manage to cut production costs at all.

Sony PlayStation 3 console is based on the Cell processor developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the RSX graphics chip by Nvidia Corp., wireless network and Bluetooth connectivity and is equipped with Blu-ray optical disk drive. There are several versions of the consoles available around the world with 60GB or 80GB hard disk drives and variable compatibility with PlayStation 1/2 games as well as 40GB version that cannot play old games at all. The official price of Sony PlayStation 3 40GB and 80GB in the USA is $399 and $499, respectively.

ATI Readies Ultra High-End "R680" Graphics Solution – Presentation Slide

If an image that resembles a slide from a presentation by Advanced Micro Devices’ graphics product group ATI that was found over a web-site is real, then the company has not given up to conquer the very high end of graphics card market and plans to sell its code-named ATI R680 graphics product for enthusiasts at $799 price-point.

There have been a lot of rumours regarding code-named ATI R680 graphics processor that contradicted each other in the last few months. Some sources indicated that the R680 had been cancelled and AMD will concentrate on popularizing its CrossFire multi-GPU solutions to attract customers who seek extreme performance to its products. Other sources claimed that ATI R680 is a dual-chip graphics card based on two ATI RV670 graphics processing units (GPUs).

Meanwhile, some said that ATI R680 is a single-chip high-end graphics card due to be out in Q1 2008.

According to the slide published at Tweaktown web-site, ATI R680 is indeed a high-end product for $799, but which is projected to be available already in Q4 2007. Technical details about the new graphics card are unclear, however, it is rumoured that the new high-end GPU from ATI/AMD will support DirectX 10.1, PCI Express 2.0, Avivo HD video engine with universal video decoder (UVD) as well as all the features currently available on ATI Radeon HD 2000-series GPUs.

AMD's graphics product group crucially needs to return to the market of expensive graphics accelerators with a competitive product as those customers, who buy high-end graphics boards usually influence decisions of others, who acquire something more affordable. Moreover, quite a lot of end-users buy performance-mainstream graphics cards after figuring out the leader in the high-end space and even do not pay attention to performance of the product they acutlly get. It should also be noted that high-end graphics cards have considerably higher profit margins compared to boards that are aimed at mainstream and performance-mainstream markets. High margins is just what the doctor ordered to the struggling graphics division that lost a substantial part of its market share after AMD executives got control over former ATI Technologies.

It should be noted that the slide published by Tweaktown web-site does not resemble typical slides from Advanced Micro Devices' roadmap and generally looks like a slide from one of the add-in card manufacturers. Moreover, the slide positions Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT below the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, whereas in reality the new model offers higher performance than the 8800 GTS 320MB.

Officials for AMD did not comment on the news-story.

Mass Production of Optimus Maximus Has Not Started, Driver Not Developed – Chief Exec

Artemy Lebedev, chief executive of Art Lebedev Design studio, said in an interview that mass production of the highly-anticipated Optimus Maximus keyboard with OLED screens inside every key has not yet started and currently there is no driver for the device. The claims may mean that development of the device is taking too long and its availability may be delayed.

“As the time goes [the price will decline]. We have not even started mass production yet,” said Artemy Lebedev in an interview with Webplaneta web-site when asked about possibilities of price-reductions after the mass production begins.

Earlier this year Art Lebedev promised to deliver the first 200 Optimus Maximus keyboards to customers as early as on the 1st of December. But while two hundred of units can hardly be called “mass production”, the design studio still has to finalize the device and produce it even in this volume. Moreover, the company also needs to develop the driver for the device, which is crucial for the keyboard’s functionality. Even during a live demo of Optimus Maximus in Moscow, Russia, Art Lebedev only managed to display a single picture on each of the keys due to the lack of the driver.

“There is no driver. [There is] physically no driver. This is an experimental sample,” said Mr. Lebedev.

It is unclear when the production of the device starts and when the driver is available.

Moreover, it is unclear whether Art Lebedev will be able to deliver working Optimus Maximus keyboards to those, who pre-ordered them for $1564 a piece back in May, 2007. In early October it transpired that the company may face shortages of certain components, which, in addition to some other factors, might cause delay of the product release.

Optimus Maximus is a full-sized 113-keys keyboard with colour OLED screens located inside each key. The screens are 10.1mm² large and have 48x48 pixels resolution, according to its developers. Specially designed software will be able to change images on the colour screens depending on the program running.

The company planned to ship the first batch, or 200 pieces, of Optimus Maximus starting the 30th of November. The company also promised that in December, 2007 and January, 2008 it will ship another 200 and 400 units, respectively.