Saturday, February 2, 2008

Intel Claims It Is Largest Purchaser of Green Power in the U.S

Intel Corp. said this week it will purchase more than 1.3 billion kilowatt hours a year of renewable energy certificates as part of a multi-faceted approach to reduce its impact on the environment, making Intel the single-largest corporate purchaser of green power in the USA, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Renewable energy certificates, or RECs, are the “currency” of the renewable energy market and are widely recognized as a having credible and tangible environmental benefits. The EPA estimates that Intel’s REC purchase has the equivalent environmental impact of taking more than 185 thousand passenger cars off the road each year, or avoiding the amount of electricity needed to power more than 130 thousand average American homes annually.

Intel’s REC purchase, which includes a portfolio of wind, solar, small hydro-electric and biomass sources, will be handled by Sterling Planet, a leading national supplier of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon solutions. The purchase will be certified by the non-profit Center for Resource Solutions’ Green-e program which certifies and verifies green power products.

The company said it hoped the record purchase would help stimulate the market for green power, which should lead to additional generating capacity and ultimately, lower costs.

The purchase placed Intel at the top of EPA’s latest Green Power Partners Top 25 list, and also at the No. 1 spot on EPA’s Fortune 500 Green Power Partners list. The EPA’s Green Power Partnership program encourages and recognizes voluntary green power purchases as a way to reduce the impact of conventional electricity use.

Motorola Targets RAZeR: Cell Phone Group Faces Sell Off

Following disappointing results throughout the whole year 2007, the lost marker share and the failure to recapture its positions with new handsets, Motorola announced plans to restructure its handset business and, perhaps, sell-off the whole division.

Motorola is now exploring the structural and strategic realignment of its businesses to better equip its mobile devices business to recapture global market leadership and to enhance shareholder value. The company’s alternatives may include the separation of mobile devices from its other businesses in order to permit each business to grow and better serve its customers.

“All of our businesses have exceptional people, products and intellectual property and the ability to achieve category leadership in their markets. We are exploring ways in which our mobile devices business can accelerate its recovery and retain and attract talent while enabling our shareholders to realize the value of this great franchise,” said Greg Brown, president and chief executive officer.

The company does not intend to discuss developments with respect to the exploration of strategic alternatives unless or until its board of directors has approved a definitive transaction or the process is otherwise complete. There can be no assurance that any transaction will occur or, if one is undertaken, its terms or timing.

Funai and JVC to Team Up on LCD TV Development, Manufacturing

As the world is in process of transition to HDTV (high-definition television), the demand towards high-quality screens, such as LCD (liquid crystal displays) or plasma, rises and in order to fulfill the demand on time and on cost manufacturers have to team up in order to deliver better and more affordable solutions.

JVC (Victor Company of Japan) and Funai Electric have reached and signed a basic agreement to implement a wide-ranging business alliance between the two companies centered on LCD equipment in the video equipment business sector.

Under this alliance, the two companies will operate cooperative business, including joint development, mutually contracted development, joint production and mutually contracted production in the display equipment and multifunction video equipment businesses. The partnership aims to effectively use and mutually complement the management resources of both companies, to capitalize on economies of scale through business cooperation, and to strengthen their management infrastructure in the video equipment business.

JVC and Funai Electric believe that this business alliance will contribute to strengthening the business infrastructure and competitiveness of their video equipment business as part of the larger framework of the capital and business alliance and management integration of JVC and Kenwood Corporation, which is already under way.

Late in 2007 several other Japan-based companies, including Canon, Hitachi and Matsushita Electric Industrial (the company primarily known for its Panasonic-branded devices) agreed to form the alliance that will heavily invest into development of advanced in-plane switching (IPS) panels for liquid crystal displays (LCDs).

Dell Supercharges Its Latest Gaming Notebook with New Graphics Sub-System

Dell, one of the leading producers of state-of-the-art systems for gamers, has updated its latest high-performance notebook with a new graphics sub-system that features Nvidia Corp.’s top-of-the-range mobile graphics chips. As a result, Dell is the first maker of mobile systems that actually managed to put two GeForce 8800M GTX into its machine.

Dell’s XPS M1730 is one of the most powerful notebook computers today, which is also available as a special “World of Warcraft” edition. The M1730 system comes with 17” screen with 1920x1200 resolution and is based on Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 (2.20GHz, 4MB cache, 800MHz processor system bus) or Intel Core 2 Duo X7900 (2.80GHz) and comes equipped with 2GB of dual-channel PC2-5300 (667MHz) memory, two Nvidia GeForce graphics processing units, Ageia PhysX 100M accelerator, 200GB hard disk drive with 7200rpm motors, 802.11a/g/n network controller, Bluetooth 2.0 module, embedded webcam and microphone.
Earlier the speedy system from Dell came with two Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT graphics cards in SLI mode, but this week Dell started to offer its machine with two Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTX graphics accelerators. The two of Nvidia’s most powerful mobile chips come inside a special package and cannot be installed as a single-chip graphics solution. The package costs $700 when bought with a new laptop; it is unclear how much should pay early adopters of Dell XPS M1830 for it.

The new Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTX and 8800M GTS graphics processing units (GPUs) are based on the cut-down versions of the code-named G92 graphics core made using 65nm process technology. The new GeForce 8800M-series products fully support DirectX 10, high-definition video playback as well as technologies that help to reduce power consumption.

Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTX has 96 stream processors enabled that work at 1250MHz, while all the other domains of the product are set to operate at 500MHz. The mobile graphics accelerator features 512MB of GDDR3 memory at 1600MHz.

It is interesting to note that Dell XPS M1730 is the first mobile computer in the world to utilize two GeForce 8800M GTX graphics chips in SLI multi-GPU mode. While its performance should be on-par with leading-edge desktops, the cost of such graphics accelerators may be too high even for mobile gaming enthusiast.

Benchmark Developer Set to Create Games

Normally creators of various video games build-in benchmarks into their titles in order to held determining necessary hardware to play their game. Hence, game creators become benchmark designers. But Futuremark Corp., a leading designer of benchmarks for personal computers, decided to reverse the trend, create its own game studio and develop video games in addition to benchmarks.

Futuremark this week announced the formation of a group named the Futuremark Games Studio. Although the new studio will demonstrate its ability to seamlessly integrate the latest technologies into its engines, its mission is to build world class games that bring new and entertaining game play to gamers, but not offer addendums for 3DMark suites. This includes games and their engines that deliver stellar performance even on modest platforms right up to the most enthusiastic levels of performance hardware.

For the past 10 years, Futuremark has been pushing the boundaries of PC 3D graphics performance with its 3DMark series, which has become by far the world’s most popular benchmarking software. The 3DMark series combines “stunning 3D art with world class engines from Direct3D 6 up to Direct3D 10,” said Futuremark, implying that the successor of the 3DMark06 that takes advantage of DirectX 10 is incoming and, possibly, shortly.

“Futuremark Games Studio is committed to developing original IP games with the highest quality game play combined with our established track record of creating blow-your-socks-off visuals. For years, our fans have been asking us when we start making games. Very soon they are going to get it – and then some,” said Tero Sarkkinen, CEO of Futuremark Corporation.

The first game by Futuremark Games Studio is already in development, the company indicated.

Sony Officially Adds Skype to PlayStation Portable

As promised, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. officially released a new firmware that lets owners of PlayStation Portable to communicate with each other using Skype voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) service. The move brings PSP a significant advantage over rival Nintendo DS, though, it is not certain that this advantage will make PlayStation Portable more popular in general.

Initially the new firmware version 3.90 will only be available from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and only for PlayStation Portable Slim and Lite versions. To use Skype on PSP, users simply need to upgrade to system software 3.90, register and talk, using a headset and remote control or Go! Cam. After updating the PSP system software, a Skype icon will be added to the Network category in the home menu.

With Skype loaded, Sony PlayStation Portable game console becomes one of the most sophisticated entertainment and communication devices available. Even though PSP owners will still have to carry a cellphone with them, they may not need to have an advanced and heavy handset.

Back in August 2007 the leading maker of game consoles teamed up with British Telecom to add VoIP functionality to PlayStation Portable device. The service by BT was based on its BT Softphone software and end-users had to pay for their calls. With Skype for PSP inside, gamers will only have to ensure their PSPs are connected to a wireless network and can make calls for free, or at a very low rate, if they phone to a landline or cell phone.

There are several obvious benefits of the decision to load Skype onto PSP: firstly, Sony introduces an advantage of PSP over Nintendo DS by packing communication capabilities into PlayStation Portable; secondly, the company now offers a powerful game platform that may compete against devices which primary functionality is making phone calls, e.g. smartphones or personal digital assistants; thirdly, PlayStation Portable now has features to compete against Nokia’s highly-discussed N-gage game service.

Nokia tried to penetrate the market of handheld game consoles with its N-gage-series of phones several years ago, but failed and now is about to introduce N-gage service to its Symbian-based smartphones, which would enable relatively high-quality gaming experience to the masses.

Given the popularity of Nokia phones as well as quality of titles and their affordability, the new N-gage has more chances to compete for gamers on the go.
Asustek Computer, a leading maker of personal computers and computer parts, announced on Wednesday a lineup of various devices that will be marketed under Eee trademark. The family will include a desktop, an HDTV and a monitor with build-in PC. The new products will allow Asus to enter the new markets, though, the success is hardly inevitable.

Eee Desktop

The first Eee product to be released this year is Asus E-DT (or Eee DT), an inexpensive desktop sold without a monitor. Initially the device will be based on an Intel Celeron microprocessor, but eventually its insides will be switched to code-named Shelton platform. It is projected that the computer will cost less than $300 with possibilities to reduce the pricing to sub-$200 level, the firm said at a news-conference.

Since conventional desktop computers seem to be get less and less popular, it the Eee desktop PC will hardly get popular, fairly due to the fact that systems from companies like Dell or HP, not talking about large local manufacturers, are more likely to find themselves in huge retail stores, to a degree because the system will be based on Linux and partly because the computer comes without a monitor.

Eee Monitor

Asus E-Monitor will be an all-in-one desktop system like Apple iMac, Dell XPS One or Gateway One based on Intel Shelton platform. The PC will have 19” or 21” screen and is projected to feature a TV-tuner. The company expects the system to be priced at sub-$500 level and make it available in September.

Given its low price level and untraditional form-factor, the Eee Monitor from Asus may find clients for itself. However, likely performance constraints and Linux operating system may leave the device on shelves stores rather than land them atop of end-users’ desks.

Eee HDTV

Perhaps, the most ambitious Asus Eee device so far is Asus E-TV: a 42” LCD HDTV with build-in Linux based PC that is due in September as well. Nothing is known about the device, there are more questions than answers, e.g., whether it will offer full-HD resolution (1920x1080 with progressive scan) along with high-quality high-definition video post-processing engine, what type of matrix is set to be used, etc.

This is not the first time when Asustek attempts to enter the market of consumer electronics: about four years ago the company unveiled its DigiMatrix device that was a barebone for building home theatre personal computers. At the time the product failed to become successful, but the company has not forgotten its intentions to find itself on the market with Samsung or Sony.

A potential problem that Asus may face with its E-TV is that neither “Asus” nor “Eee” are well-known outside the world of personal computers. While “Asus Eee PC” name may cause some kind of “innovative” attitude, given the fact that Eee is widely discussed in the press, it may also cause negative attitude, as many know that the Eee PC is an inexpensive and simplistic solution, not a high-end high-performance device.

Eee?

Not only large electronics conglomerates call their product lineups differently (e.g. Sony’s Vaio is PC and Bravia is a TV), but smaller consumer electronics makers try to follow too (Apple’s iPod is a portable digital media player, whereas Apple TV is a set-top-box). Therefore, calling everything from a notebook to a desktop to a TV with the same brand will inevitably ruin the value of this brand and will cause confusion among end-users.

Perhaps, Asustek just wants its Asus Eee PCs and devices to become Nintendo Wii of personal computers, but in that case it needs to invent something unique about it. For example, despite of low-performance graphics engine and microprocessor, Nintendo Wii has motion-sensitive game-controller, which is not available on other game machines. Meanwhile, all the Asus Eee PC has now is relatively low-performance hardware amid simplistic operating system and low-price. But Asus thinks it is enough.

“Traditional PCs are too powerful, no matter in the home or office; we are seeing quad-core rising with octo-core coming in the near future, and the more cores in a CPU, the more memory the system needs. Is all this really necessary? With the Eee PC we decided to go back to basics, to bring the focus to just functions and reasonable price levels,” said said Jonney Shih, chief executive of Asustek, in an interview last November.

Given the message that Asustek has been sending about Eee, it is unlikely that there are clear skies for the Eee products and the brand itself: hardly a lot of people would like to go back to basics from currently available crystal-clear photos, high-definition videos, high-quality games and some other quality features that exist as a result of performance improvements.

Asustek Computer has to aggressively penetrate new markets in order to keep its revenues growing, now that its contract manufacturing businesses act like independent units. However, it is unlikely that Eee family of different products will let Asus increase its earnings and profits.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Microsoft Remains Committed to HD DVD

Despite of the recent decisions by Time Warner-owned studios, Microsoft Corp., the world’s leading maker of software, remains committed to HD DVD format, but may still consider an add-on Blu-ray drive for its popular Microsoft Xbox 360 game console.

Recently Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, two major studios from Hollywood, announced that starting from mid-2008 they would only release high-definition movies on Blu-ray discs, a competing format for HD DVD. Given that Sony-led Blu-ray will have more major studios backing, many think that HD DVD, which was developed by Toshiba, will vanish into thin air. But Microsoft disagrees.

“We were disappointed with the announcement. It has a consequence. I will tell you that we are committed to HD-DVD and still have some great partners – Universal, Paramount, DreamWorks – these are great participants in the format. We have sold very well the HD-DVD accessory,” said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, said in an interview with 1up web-site.

Microsoft, a strong backer of HD DVD, developed HDi technology, which powers interactive capabilities many discs have, as well as VC-1 codec that is used on both Blu-ray discs as well as HD DVDs. In fact, the world’s largest software maker could have pushed HD DVD forward easily by distributing multimedia-oriented Windows Vista operating system on HD DVD media, forcing system builders to integrate HD DVD drives into their computers. But the move is not announced now and is generally unlikely to happen. Instead, Microsoft says that eventually a Blu-ray disc add-on for Xbox 360 may emerge.

“You never say never. I think we’d like to see how things evolve. Our commitment, however, to HD-DVD is profound and consistent, and we have done very, very well in term of our accessory sales. We have 400 HD-DVD movies from great studios available. It's a long time between now and June,” said Mr. Bell.

Via Technologies Unveils New Breed of Central Processing Units

Via Technologies, a struggling designer of chipsets, graphics chips and microprocessors, announced recently its new family of microprocessors that offer high clock-speeds, 64-bit capability, out-of-order execution along with promised tangible performance improvements. It remains to be seen whether single-core microprocessors will be able to compete against modern chips from AMD and Intel.

“Today is an exciting day for everyone at Centaur. With a team of less than one hundred first-class engineers, we have created from scratch the world’s most power-efficient x86 processor architecture with state of the art features, outstanding performance, and flexible scalability for the future,” said Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of Via Technologies that develops microprocessors.

Via Isaiah is the first x86 processor from Via Technologies that features 64-bit instruction set along with a superscalar and out of order execution engine, macro-fusion and micro-fusion functionality, advanced branch prediction mechanism, advanced floating point unit as well as support for virtualization technology and Via PadLock security engine.

Since Via Technologies has been concentrating primarily on low-power central processing units (CPUs) recently, the new chips that belong to the Isaiah family will also feature Adaptive PowerSaver Technology that further reduces power consumption and improve thermal management, including the unique TwinTurbo dual-PLL implementation, which permits smooth transitions between activity states within one clock cycle, ensuring always-on service and minimize latency, as well as new mechanisms for managing the die temperature.

The first Isaiah processors will support clock-speed up to 2.0GHz, will use 800MHz – 1333MHz processor system bus (PSB) and will be pin-to-pin compatible with Via C7 chips. The CPUs will have two 64KB L1 caches and 1MB exclusive L2 cache with 16-way associativity.

Processors implementing the Via Isaiah micro-achitecture are expected to start shipping in the first half of 2008 and will be manufactured using an advanced, low power 65nm process.

Sony Set to Introduces New PlayStation 3 Model for the USA

Sony Computer Entertainment America may have plans to introduce a new PlayStation 3 game console model shortly in the USA. The exact specifications of the new system is unclear, however, with 80GB machine gone and Sony’s present stance on compatibility with previous-gen games, there may be no PS3 machine with backwards compatibility at all as early as several days from now.

Several days ago an allegedly internal Best Buy memo was published at Joystiq/PS3 Fanboy web-sites claiming that no new shipments of Sony PlayStation 3 80GB are incoming, meaning that only the more affordable PlayStation 3 40GB is set to be available shortly. Nevertheless, Sony will reportedly continue with its two model approach and soon there will be a new version of the PS3 for the U.S. with enlarged storage and a new controller with vibration feature.

“Sony is, in fact, phasing out the 80GB PS3. Sony is going to stay with the two-SKU approach though, and the prices look to stay the same. The Spiderman 3 pack-in will disappear as well once the 80GB unit is gone. In order to maintain a similar value proposition to the 80GB/Spiderman 3 bundle, I expect to see a storage increase to 120 or 160GB at the same price point, plus the new Dual-Shock 3 controller,” an anonymous source told Ars Technica web-site.

It is interesting to note that Sony recently discontinued its PS3 20GB and 60GB models in Japan, meaning that there now only PlayStation 3 40GB model, which cannot play games for the original PlayStation or the PlayStation 2, on the domestic market. In Europe there are two models: with 60GB hard drive and software-based backwards compatibility and with 40GB hard drive that is no backawards compatible.

Sony Computer Entertainment claims that cutting-down backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 is not something completely negative, as growing library of games developed for the advanced new-generation game system should substitute the lack of previous titles. While this may be correct for so-called hardcore gamers, which play a great variety of games, casual customers who currently own a PlayStation 2 have no reason to transit to the new-gen console due to the lack of casual games for PS3. As a result, they may migrate to Nintendo Wii, which features unique motion sensitive controller as well as a relatively rich library of simplistic games.

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 prices of Sony PlayStation 3 40GB and 80GB in the USA are $399 and $499, respectively, European customers have to pay €399 ($590) and €499 ($738) for 40GB and 60GB models, respectively, whereas Japanese gamers can obtain PlayStation 3 40GB for ¥39 980 ($367 or €248).

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. did not comment on the news-story.

Microsoft Windows 7 Slips into 2010 – 2011

Microsoft Corp., the world’s leading maker of software, is rumoured to release its next-generation operating system (OS) much later than it was expected originally. The reasons for the possible setback are unclear, but normally Microsoft explains its delays with necessity to meet quality bars.

“We are currently in the planning stages for Windows 7 and expect it will take approximately 3 years to develop. The specific release date will be determined once the company meets its quality bar for release,” a statement by Microsoft published at WinVistaClub web-site reads.

Early in 2007 the company indicated that it would replace Windows Vista in two or two and a half years from them. However, already in mid-2007 the world’s largest software firm said that it would take it three years to create the new code-named Vienna operating system, which official name is projected to be Windows 7.

Historically Microsoft released a new desktop operating system every two to three years, at least, this was true for Windows 95, 98, ME and XP and was not particularly true for workstation OSes – there was a four-year gap between the NT4 and 2000. However, the latest operating system – Windows Vista – shipped over five years after the XP because the company had to reassign software developers to patch the latter and release service pack 2. Perhaps, Microsoft foresees necessity for additional patches for Vista, or, perhaps, it does not expect the demand for a new OS to be high two years after the launch of Windows Vista.

“Windows Vista is being adopted by businesses at a rate that is similar to past releases. In the business market there are early, mainstream and late adopters, with the majority of businesses falling into the category of mainstream. We’re seeing positive indicators that we’re already starting to move from the early adoption phase into the mainstream, and that more and more businesses are beginning their planning and deployment of Windows Vista,” the statement by Microsoft claims.

AMD Launches ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2: Dual-Chip Graphics Card for Enthusiasts

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, on Monday announced the its first graphics card in over a year that has suggested price of $449 and that is aimed at hardcore gamers. The new board carries two graphics processing units (GPU) and will compete with Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 Ultra while waiting for a more powerful rival: dual-chip Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2.

“PC gaming enthusiasts demand the ultimate in performance and scalability for their HD gaming experience and the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 sets the standard by which all should be compared in this segment. With this launch we reaffirm our commitment to enthusiast performance leadership and send a clear message that the ATI Radeon 3870 X2 is the new gold standard of the PC gaming world,” said Rick Bergman, senior vice president and general manager of graphics product group at AMD.

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card is based on two ATI RV670 graphics chips and features 640 stream processing engines operating at 825MHz and 1GB of GDDR3 1.80GHz memory in total. Since all multi-GPU technologies rely on drivers to boost their performance, not all gaming applications will get performance advantage out of two or four chips (when two Radeon HD 3870 X2 are installed into one system).

When combined with ATI PowerPlay technology, the ATI Radeon 3870 X2 delivers “exceptional” idle power efficiency with the ability to dynamically raise or lower GPU power depending on the usage scenario, AMD said.

Like all the latest ATI Radeon HD 3000-series graphics cards, ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 board supports DirectX 10.1 feature-set, PCI Express 2.0 as well as second generation UVD unified video decoding engine along with improved Avivo HD post-processing engine that now supports high-definition video upscaling to 2560x1440 resolution.

“We’re pleased to see our newest DirectX 10 technology brought to market so soon with the introduction of AMD’s latest enthusiast hardware. One of the greatest advantages of PC gaming is the rapid pace at which the experiences evolve and improve. ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 delivers on the promise of DirectX 10 gaming with significantly improved visuals and enhanced performance,” said Kevin Unangst, senior global director of Games for Windows at Microsoft.

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 launches with broad availability and ecosystem support from AMD’s add-in-board (AIB) and systems integrators (SI) partners. AIB partners building boards based on the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 include Asustek Computer, Ask, Club3D, Diamond Multimedia, HIS, ITC, Jetway, MicroStar International, Sapphire, Triplex, Tul and Visiontek. Systems integrators launching the new board include ABS, Alienware, Canada Computers, CyberPower, Falcon-Northwest, IBuyPower, Maingear, Systemax and Velocity Micro.

Gartner Believes Price Cuts Will Not Popularize HD DVD

Even though Toshiba and its partners have sold about a million of HD DVD players in the USA alone and attach rates of those players are quite high, an analyst from Gartner research firm said that HD DVD has less than a year left and Blu-ray disc (BD) have won the war of new-generation video disc formats.

“Gartner believes that Toshiba’s price-cutting may prolong HD DVD’s life a little, but the limited line-up of film titles will inflict fatal damage on the format. Gartner expects that, by the end of 2008, Blu-ray will be the winning format in the consumer market, and the war will be over,” wrote analyst Hiroyuki Shimizu in Gartner's Semiconductor DQ Monday Report.

Many observers agree with Mr. Shimizu after Time Warner’s owned studios decided to support Blu-ray disc format exclusively and cease to release movies on HD DVD media starting from mid-2008. Shortly after the announcement of Time Warner, Toshiba slashed prices on HD DVD players to make them more appealing for consumers.

But while Blu-ray can enjoy generally good positions on the market this time, a lot of analysts are sure that in future there will be hybrid players and drives that will be compatible with both BD and HD DVD along with natural support for CD and various DVD specifications. Back in the days not all DVD devices were compatible with various versions of the standard, such as DVD-, DVD+, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and so on, but nowadays all the specs are supported by popular drives. Given that there are still loads of HD DVD movies on the market and many already acquired by early adopters, later on such people will be primarily interested in unified devices, which means that manufacturers will have to follow them.

While both Blu-ray disc (BD) and HD DVD offer a lot of storage space for additional content, only HD DVD offered a comprehensible amount of additional interactive and non-interactive features until recent launch of Blu-ray disc players and movies featuring profile 1.1 spec that supports picture-in-picture function. The latter allows to watch a movie while simultaneously listen to director’s comments or the way the particular scene was filmed. Nevertheless, even with PiP Blu-ray could not offer the same functionality as some HD DVDs due to the lack of some other additional features.

The BD Live is projected to close the gap with HD DVD by offering Internet connectivity to allow downloading of additional content as well as Java-based games in addition to some other Java-based features that content providers may enable. Unfortunately for owners of first-generation the Blu-ray disc players, the vast majority of such devices may not be firmware upgradeable to Blu-ray profiles 1.1 and 2.0 due to lack of Internet connectivity as well as enough processing power, which means that early adopters of Blu-ray will have to get new players to take advantage of additional features that the forthcoming discs will have.

DisplayPort and HDMI to Replace DVI in Several Years

It took DVI over eight years to replace D-Sub display connector, but many video output devices still rely on rather outdated analogue display connector. However, analysts believe that it will take considerably less time for DVI to vanish as HDMI and DisplayPort gain popularity.

In-Stat market research firm recently said that DVI, facing strong competition from other technologies, including HDMI and the DisplayPort standard in the PC market, will begin a steep decline in 2008. DVI will decline from 112 million device shipments in 2007 to just 3 million device shipments in 2011, the high-tech market research firm indicated. Digital visual interface (DVI) and high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI), are related, high-bandwidth, unidirectional, uncompressed digital interface standards. 143 million HDMI-enabled devices will ship in 2007.

“HDMI’s success continues to be enormous, especially in the Consumer Electronics (CE) segment. Close to 90% of digital television (DTV) shipments in 2007 are expected to include HDMI. In addition, HDMI penetration of large markets such as set top boxes continues to increase,” said Brian O’Rourke, In-Stat analyst.

Several PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) released HDMI-enabled multimedia notebook PCs in 2007, including Toshiba, Sony and Hewlett-Packard. In addition, numerous computer displays also feature HDMI interconnector.

Monday, January 28, 2008

AMD’s First Fusion Microprocessors to Be Dual-Core Mobile Chips

Advanced Micro Devices revealed some more information about its Fusion microprocessors that combine general purpose processing cores as well as graphics processing engines. The information revealed by the world’s second largest maker of x86 chips is slightly different compared to the data revealed a month before, which may indicate that the company still has no specs of the product set on stone.

Apparently, the first AMD Fusion processors that are named Swift will feature two x86 cores along with a graphics core and will be aimed at mobile computers, it was revealed by Patrick Moorhead, vice president of advanced marketing at AMD, in an interview with InfoWorld web-site. Later on quad-core microprocessor with integrated memory controller is possible. Last month another high-ranking AMD executive said that the first Fusion chip will have two or three x86 processing engines.

“The dual-core notebook processors will be available in the second half of 2009,” said John Taylor, an AMD spokesman.

Back in December AMD said that graphics core of the first-generation Fusion chip will be based on the latest ATI Radeon architecture. However, this time the company indicated that the graphics engine of AMD Fusion will be powered by yet unreleased graphics processing unit.

“Fusion’s graphics processor will be based on a graphics card AMD plans to release in the near future,” Mr. Taylor is reported to have said.

Considering the fact that AMD has just unveiled the whole ATI Radeon HD 3000-series lineup and the fact that it is rumoured to release its code-named ATI RV770 and ATI R700 graphics cards in Q2, its Swift processor may end up with ATI R700-generation graphics core.

AMD’s Swift processor – the first-generation of Fusion family – will become available commercially in the second half of 2009. However, after the company had to reconsider Fusion’s schedule a number of times and still cannot discuss the final specs of the chip, the actual timetable of AMD’s Fusion may flexible.

AMD: No Compatibility Problems with PCI Express 2.0

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, said that its graphics cards do not and will not have compatibility issues with aging platforms. Unlike some of the latest Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics cards, ATI Radeon HD 3000-series works on old problems without issues.

Back in August ’07 X-bit labs reported citing Asustek Computer’s claims that some PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards may not function on mainboards that only support PCI Express 1.0a and 1.1 2.5GHz transfer rates. Many, but not all, Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT-based graphics cards, which support 2.0 transfer rate and are supposed to be backwards compatible with PCIe 1, could not function on Intel 925 chipset-based system at X-bit labs.

“There were potentially compatibility issues with PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards and certain PCIe 1.0/1.1 platforms. We asked Asustek to double check if there were any issues with ATI Radeon HD 3800-series as we believed there shouldn’t be. Asustek carried out that test and verified that, indeed, ATI Radeon HD3000-series cards do work with no compatibility issues,” said David Baumann, a technical marketing manager at AMD’s graphics product group.

The representative for AMD stressed that that ATI Radeon HD 3000-series “bootstraps” in PCIe 1.0 mode and brings up to higher modes once detected that they are available;
“This way ensures that there shouldn’t be any compatibility issues with pre-PCIe 2.0 platforms,” Mr. Baumann said.

X-bit labs’ testing team found no compatibility issues with ATI Radeon HD 2000 and HD 3000-series graphics cards with PCI Express 1.0a and 1.1 motherboards.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Foxconn Set to Produce Keyboards with Screens Inside Keys

Foxconn Electronics, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics devices, and United Keys, an engineering firm, announced a strategic partnership to produce a keyboard with keys that feature embedded screens. The keyboard will rival not only leading-edge devices from Logitech or Microsoft, but will pose competition to Art Lebedev design studio’s Optimus lineup.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information available about the keyboard developed by United Keys and produced by Foxconn Electronics, but what is known is that it will be positioned primarily for gamers and creative professionals and will have nine reprogrammable keys with embedded screens. The companies also have not revealed pricing or availability timeframe of the product, but indicated that the keyboard is due “soon”.

“Soon we’ll make available a display key PC keyboard, with a set of nine keys enabled. This is a real production unit built by Foxconn. But it will also be our first (‘pilot’) run. As such, it will probably need software improvement (which is where you come in!). If you are technically strong, and a true ‘first adopter’ by nature, we’d like you to bang around on it and then provide feedback. It’ll be priced accordingly, reflecting a considerable discount vs. future products,” a statement by United Keys reads.

Technical specifications of the screens as well as the keyboard itself were not available at press time.

United Keys, is an IP licensing, industrial design and engineering firm based in San Jose, California. The “original technology” of the company was developed in Sweden, and is patented or has patents pending “in major markets worldwide”. According to the company, its business model focuses on enabling customers to easily integrate display key technology into their own solutions by providing “the unified support needed for them”, including coordinating the supply of specialized components and having experienced partnerships in place that can scale quickly as customer needs expand.

Nvidia’s Hybrid SLI May Not Be Suitable for Business Users, Serious Gamers

Despite of hype, Nvidia Corp.’s Hybrid SLI technology that can reduce power consumption of high-end multi-GPU systems as well as improve 3D graphics performance on entry-level computers with integrated graphics core (IGP) has several serious drawbacks that are likely to prevent the current implementation from going into systems of serious gamers or professionals.

Nvidia’s new Hybrid SLI technology has two modes that target different applications and usage models. The HybridPower mode switches off discrete graphics core or cores and uses only integrated graphics engine when high performance is not needed, thus, cutting power. The GeForce Boost mode make integrated graphics processor (IGP) assist discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) and boost performance when it is required. In both cases computer monitor has to be plugged to video output of mainboard’s IGP.

Apparently, the first implementation of Hybrid SLI technology not only does not support multi-monitor output capability, but also does not support dual-link DVI output, which means that such a system cannot support 30” high-end displays with resolution of 2560x1600.

Multi-monitor support is crucial for business and professional customers, who utilize two or sometimes even more displays to simultaneously access necessary information with their eyes without necessity to switch windows. In fact, multi-GPU SLI technology itself, designed strictly to boost graphics performance for gaming also does not feature multi-monitor capability, but since not many gamers require it, this was hardly a substantial disadvantage.

Perhaps, a more important drawback in the current implementation of Hybrid SLI technology is the lack of support of dual-link DVI output. The latter is needed to transfer data to monitors that have resolution of higher than 1920x1200 at 60Hz, which means that owners of high-end 30” monitors are not able to use native 2560x1600 at 60Hz resolution in case they use Nvidia Hybrid SLI system. Given that many gamers who utilize high-end graphics cards or 2-way or 3-way multi-GPU SLI systems also have 30” screens, despite of promises, will not be able to reduce power consumption of their systems by using Hybrid SLI technology.

When asked for a comment on the matter, Drew Henry, general manager of media and communication processor business at Nvidia Corp. said that didn’t “see the first generation of this product as an all encompassing solution”, but saw it “as an ongoing development process”, reports Bit-tech web-site. Mr. Henry confirmed that there was still “a hell of a lot of development work to be done on Hybrid SLI” and implied that it might be 24 months before Nvidia is truly happy with this technology. Launching the Hybrid SLI now will allow Nvidia to get additional feedback from end-users and design future implementations without the drawbacks.

Nvidia did not unveil any technology-related reasons that prevented it from implementing multi-monitor support as well as dual-link DVI output.

Solid State Drives May Become Popular in Three-Four Years – Seagate’s Chief Executive

While there are a lot of talks about flash-based solid-state drives (SSDs) these days, not many actually use them due to price and relatively low capacity. Chief executive of Seagate Technology, the world’s largest maker of hard drives, said in an interview that it will take three or four years before SSDs take off and even this is not set on stone, as hybrid hard drives can challenge SSDs both in terms of performance and reliability.

Nowadays solid-state drives are used mainly in expensive notebooks that require high performance amid portability and reliability. However, nearly all of such notebooks optionally support traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) since they can store more data while being substantially more affordable. Given the current cost-per-gigabyte, chief executive of the world’s largest maker of hard disk drives believes that SSDs may find their place primarily in enterprise segments of the market and only in three or even four years time solid-state drives will make sense for other applications.

“We do think that [for] enterprises it [SSD] makes some sense where you can get the performance. They’re not big volumes yet but three or four years from now, depending on how the technology, the cost-per-gigabyte, and the reliability issues get resolved, there will be other places for it,” said William Watkins, chief executive officer of Seagate Technology, in an interview with Cnet News.com.

Many think that solid-state drives are considerably more reliable compared to hard drives due to the lack of moving parts and generally high reliability of flash. But Mr. Watkins doubts that SSDs truly have substantial reliability advantage over traditional HDDs and claims that the latter do not fail as often as other chips do.

“There is this argument that no moving parts is better, but if you look at the returns why PCs fail to come back, the hard drive is not the No. 1 or 2 issue. Chips generally have a higher failure rate in the systems than do hard drives, to be honest. I think you can make an argument that less moving parts is a good thing, but again, the reliability of hard drives is pretty good. I don't think you've got to pay a premium for that,” Mr. Watkins claimed.

Another advantage that flash-based drives have over traditional HDDs is performance: solid state drives are massively faster compared to conventional hard drives. But Mr. Watkins puts this under doubt as well: he thinks that hybrid hard drive (a hard disk drive with large flash cache) with a lot of flash can increase performance and cut power consumption so dramatically that hardly a lot of customers are interested in paying extra for fully flash-based storage devices.

“We think hybrids are nice solutions for notebooks. We think solid-state drives kind of play in the enterprise fairly well. The real opportunity in notebooks is power and boot-up time. The power in a notebook, the storage is less than 10% of the total power used… So you can’t make a lot of power savings with the solid state or hybrid, and in fact we can make within a minute or two with a hybrid the same power usage. We can cache the operating system to a hybrid, to a solid-state chip on the drive, and we can get the boot-up time fairly close to what you could get with a solid state,” the chief exec of Seagate indicated.

IBM Could Take Over Advanced Micro Devices: Rumours Resurrect

Advanced Micro Devices and IBM Corp.’s microelectronics division may establish “a more formal” chip relationship with merger possible going forward, some analysts say. But others completely disagree and are sure that this will not happen. Even though the deal makes sense in several ways, this will be absolutely against IBM’s strategy in the recent years. Or won’t?

The speculation about possible takeover of the world’s second largest supplier of x86 microprocessors by the world’s leading IT conglomerate resurrected in a Financial Times article provided by analysts from MergerMarket.com web-site. Despite of the fact that IBM has been withdrawing from any kind of manufacturing for years, the observers believe that it still makes sense for IBM to acquire Advanced Micro Devices, which has not reported profits for many quarters.

“An IBM Microelectronics/AMD deal would foster IBM’s continued move into technology services and away from hardware, while allowing it to retain hands-on management of a vital part of the computer industry, especially as chipmakers move to nanotechnology,” sources familiar with the matter are reported to have said.

Back in the days IBM used to make personal computers, hard disk drives, printers, monitors, x86 microprocessors used to develop operating systems. Nowadays all of the aforementioned was either sold to other companies, or transformed completely.

But it does not mean that IBM does not approach mass market with its products and technologies: all three new-generation game consoles – Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 – either have an IBM-designed PowerPC-derivative inside (Wii, Xbox 360), or sport IBM co-designed chip (PS3). Several years ago IBM also wanted to provide its PowerPC technology to consumer electronics makers, but not a lot of companies actually adopted it. In fact, in order to sell its IT services and server products IBM needs to ensure that there is a significant number of clients out there.

Advanced Micro Devices may not only enable IBM with comprehensive lineup of x86 central processing units for personal computers, but may also provide a product roadmap for both well-developed and developing markets. More importantly, after the acquisition of ATI Technologies the CPU maker gained access to graphics technologies as well as stream computing initiatives.

Modern graphics processors have hundreds of tiny computing engines and could challenge Intel’s “teraflop initiative” processor with 80 or more x86 cores, particularly in video game space.

While the potential deal between AMD and IBM has numerous pros and cons, it should be noted that in case IBM acquires AMD, it will need to compete directly with Intel Corp., Nvidia Corp., Sun Microsystems and, perhaps, all the companies who make servers based on AMD processors today and rival IBM’s machines, including HP and Dell.

Neither AMD, nor IBM commented on the news-story.