Saturday, March 22, 2008

Elitegroup Announces Intel Atom-Based Rival for Asustek’s Eee PC

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS), a major maker of mainboards, has announced its new ECS G10 mobile computers powered by Intel Atom central processing unit (CPU). The new device will be a competitor for Asustek Computer’s Asus Eee PC systems and it also emphasizes the importance of affordable personal computers (PCs).

ECS G10 mobile system is based on Intel Atom (Diamondville) microprocessor and Intel 945 GSE + ICH7M core-logic. Various models of ECS G10 can feature up to 2GB of memory, a hard disk drive or solid-state drive, 1.3MP webcam as well as 8.2” or 10.2” display. There will be different ECS G10 models available, according to the company, but the first device set to make it into the market is the model ECS G10IL.

ECS G10IL with 10.2” screen comes with built-in tri-band HSDPA and HSUPA connectivity, which allows downloads speeds of up to 7.2Mb/s for the HSDPA and 2Mb/s for the HSUPA. The ECS G10IL comes with three USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet networking, a 56Kb/s analog modem, WLAN and Bluetooth, and a 4-in-one card reader.
“In response to the demanding requirements of notebook offering advantages unattainable by others, Elitegroup Computer Systems today unveiled Simply Smart ECS G10IL notebooks where we made a giant stride possessing the power and features that is undoubtedly a winner in its class for today’s sophisticated customers,” a statement by ECS reads.

ECS G10IL mobile computer comes in white enclosure and with glossy LCD monitor. Elitegroup Computer Systems hopes that stylish design of the device will help the G10 to become popular among end-users.

Pricing of the device remains to be unclear.

AMD Readies New ATI Radeon HD Graphics Card for Mainstream Market

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, is rumoured to be preparing a new ATI Radeon HD 3800-series graphics card aimed at mainstream market. The novelty will inherit processing capabilities of ATI Radeon HD 3850 and 3870, but its memory bandwidth will be dramatically lower.

ATI Radeon HD 3830 graphics cards will come with fully-fledged ATI RV670 graphics processing unit (GPU) with 320 unified shader processors, 16 texture units (TUs), 16 render back ends (RBEs) as well as all the other capabilities, such as universal video decoder (UVD), enabled, reports HKEPC web-site. However, the new graphics cards will use only 128-bit memory bus, which substantially lowers the cost of print-circuit board, but dramatically reduces performance in high resolutions.

At the moment AMD is reconsidering pricing of ATI Radeon HD 3000-series graphics cards and exact manufacturer suggested retail price of the model HD 3830 is unclear. It is logical to expect ATI Radeon HD 3830 256MB graphics boards to cost $100 - $130 and fill the gap between Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS and 9600 GT.

AMD recently slashed the prices on its ATI Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 graphics cards when Nvidia unleashed its GeForce 9600 GT product. It is not clear whether sales of both ATI Radeon HD solutions started to increase after the price-cut, but what is obvious is that AMD presently has a gap between ATI Radeon HD 3650 GDDR3 ($99) and ATI Radeon HD 3850 ($169).
AMD did not comment on the news-story.

64-Core Desktop Processors to Emerge in 2012, But Software Makers Should Get Ready

The amount of cores inside central processing units (CPUs) is projected to skyrocket in the coming years, according to analysts, which will enable unprecedented performance potential. However, to take advantage of that potential software makers need to have skills that many do not own right now.

“Expect x86 servers with as many as 64 processor cores in 2009 and desktops with that many by 2012,” analysts from Forrester Research wrote in a paper last month.

While the era of multi-core computing is here, application development teams must embrace new programming approaches to reap the full performance and economic benefits of the new hardware. The new “multi-core programming” approach will combine multithreading and parallel/concurrent designs that allow simultaneous processing of threads and/or tasks by multiple cores. Concurrent computing is familiar to some app development professionals, but most have little or no experience with parallel computing, believe analysts of Forrester Research as well as specialists from Microsoft Corp.

“There is a worldwide shortage of people experienced in parallel computing experience, for sure.

One of the collateral reasons is to raise awareness in the academic community, because that’s where the next generation of developers will come from,” said Dan Reed, director of scalable and multi-core computing at Microsoft.

Earlier this week Intel Corp. and Microsoft kicked off a program under which they would help to create two Universal Parallel Computing Research Centers (UPCRC), aimed at accelerating developments in mainstream parallel computing, for consumers and businesses in desktop and mobile computing.

“Application development professionals will need a strategy for adopting these new approaches, frameworks, and tools as they emerge, adapting the patterns and methods they use today, and evolving their application portfolios to ride the performance curve promised by Moore’s Law in the multi-core era,” analysts from Forrester Research indicated.

Back in the days only server and workstation machines featured more than one processing engine, whereas desktops and notebooks were based on single-core CPUs. Therefore, performance of client machines was conditioned by clock-speed and micro-architecture of processors installed. Partly, this explains why there are not enough software developers experienced in parallel computing.

But this does not automatically mean that performance of next-generation microprocessors will rise exponentially along with the number of cores. Both Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp. announced that in several years time their CPUs will come wither integrated stream processors (AMD Fusion project) or other types of application targeted accelerators, which will bring new challenges to software developers, as then they will have to take advantage not only of homogeneous multi-core design, but of heterogeneous multi-core designs.

Best Buy Lets Customers to Get Rid of HD DVD or Receive $50 Gift Cards

Best Buy, a large retail chain in the U.S., this week announced trade-in plan under which customers who acquired HD DVD players from one of its stores can bring them back and receive a certain sum for them. While the company claims that the program is in customers’ best interests, in reality the end-users will lose much more than they are going to get. Additionally, Best Buy will provide $50 gift cards to all of its HD DVD customers.

Best Buy will give $50 gift cards to customers who purchased an HD DVD player or Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive from its U.S. stores before February 23, 2008. Customers will get a gift card for each HD DVD device that they purchased. Through this program, Best Buy will distribute more than $10 million in gift cards to customers across the country. Best Buy will proactively mail cards to all customers that the company can identify as having purchased an HD-DVD player. Some customers will have to present a receipt or other proof of HD DVD player’s purchase.

“The beauty of this offer is that it doesn’t require our customers to give up their HD-DVD player. We know that many people who purchased these players have HD-DVD movies that they would like to continue to watch. We’re telling our customers they can keep their players to play these movies as well as their older DVDs and use the $50 to treat themselves to anything else in our stores,” said Barry Judge, chief marketing officer for Best Buy.

Beginning on March 21, customers who do want to get rid of their HD DVD players can visit Best Buy’s Online Trade-In Center to receive instant estimates of the value of their HD DVD players and movies. Unfortunately, Best Buy is not going to buy HD DVD players and movies for a decent sum: the web-site offers just $195 for Toshiba XA2 ($799) in ideal condition with 11 – 20 movies and just $51 for Toshiba HD-A3 with 5 movies. Each movie on Blu-ray disc format costs about $20 in online stores, whereas Best Buy sells BD movies for about $30 a title. This service is open to HD-DVD owners regardless of where they bought their player.

Back in February Toshiba, the main backer of HD DVD format, said it would begin to reduce shipments of HD DVD players and recorders to retail channels, aiming for cessation of these businesses by the end of March 2008. Toshiba also plans to end volume production of HD DVD disc drives for PCs and video game consoles in the same timeframe, yet will continue to make efforts to meet customer requirements. Since then all the major Hollywood studios said that they would focus on releasing titles on competing Blu-ray disc format.

Several Blu-Ray Disc Players Now Can Playback DivX Content

In an attempt to popularize Blu-ray disc (BD) players among consumers, several makers of these devices have decided to enabled playback of content encoded using DivX codec on their BD equipment.DivX, the company behind DivX, has announced that it has granted DivX Certification to six new Blu-ray players from Panasonic, Philips, and Denon.

"The end of the format war creates more opportunity for Blu-ray products. In-Stat expects worldwide shipments of Blu-ray players to reach 23 million in 2011. DivX is well-positioned to become a standard feature on Blu-ray devices, just as it has shipped in millions of DVD players worldwide," said In-Stat principal analyst Michelle Abraham.

From technical point of view it is very easy to enable DivX playback on Blu-ray or HD DVD players: all the processing power required to decode DivX content is already installed and it is only a matter of software and/or firmware update to enable DivX support. Newly certified BD players include devices from Panasonic (Model: DMP-BD30EE), Philips (Model: BDP7200) and Denon (Models: DVD-2500BTC1B, DVD-3800BDC1B, DVD-3800BDSP and DVD-2500BTSP).

The growth of DivX technology in the emerging Blu-ray market demonstrates growing traction of the company’s licensing business into new product categories. DivX technology has already become a de facto standard on standard definition DVD devices, with an estimated 41% penetration in the global market as of the end of 2007.

The DivX and its brother XviD formats are used to distribute copyright protection-free movies typically by the Internet and usually without content producer approval. Both codecs are based on MPEG 4 ASP and offer balance between video quality and file size. Adding the DivX support to BD players will allow their owners to playback movies ripped from DVDs and available through the Internet, substantially improving usage model of their devices that can already playback Blu-ray discs and DVDs.

Blu-Ray Disc's BD+ Copyright Protection Technology Defeated Completely

Even though copyright protection technologies are meant to exclude possibilities of copying, they do so for a limited time only. Throughout the rest time of their lifespan such technologies usually annoy those customers who acquired their content fairly. Less than a year after finalization the BD+ copyright protection scheme has been completely defeated, claims a software firm.

Slysoft company, which specializes on various disc backup and copy tools, said that its AnyDVD HD software version 6.4.0.0 removes the BD+ protection from Blu-ray discs (BDs). Earlier the company already claimed that AnyDVD HD version 6.2.0.1 removes BD+ from titles available prior to the 20th of November, 2007. Now the software maker claims that the controversial copyright protection scheme, which requires players to have the latest firmware installed to playback a movie, has been cracked completely.

BD+ is one of the copyright protection layers for Blu-ray discs that compliments AACS, HDCP, BD-ROM Mark and so on. BD+ is a small program recorded on a Blu-ray disc that is executed by player and examines whether the players security keys were changed as well as decodes part of the content encrypted with BD+ keys. The BD+ technology was finalized in June, 2007, however, due to nature of the technology, the actual BD+ program may be altered for future BD movie releases, which will require Blu-ray players' firmware to be updated in order to playback those titles.

With BD+ protection removed completely end-users can now watch their BD+ titles using software players that may not support BD+ and even backup or rip their Blu-ray movies.

The reaction of Blu-ray disc association (BDA), movie studios and Macrovision, which sells BD+ licenses, is unclear. Potentially it is possible that a new copyright protection scheme will be introduced for Blu-ray movies in future.

S3 Graphics Begins to Sell Latest Graphics Cards in the USA

S3 Graphics, a fully owned subsidiary of Via Technologies, has started to sell its latest graphics cards in the U.S. The new S3 Chrome 430 GT graphics adapters cannot fight offerings of ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, or Nvidia in the mainstream market segment, hence, S3 concentrates exactly on entry-level market. But will it be successful?

The USA-based S3GStore started to sell own-branded S3 Graphics Chrome 430 GT graphics cards with 256MB of GDDR2 memory for the price of just $59. S3 claims that the new Chrome 4-series graphics chips support DirectX 10.1 feature-set in addition to decoding of high-definition video content encoded using H.264, MPEG2-HD, VC-1 or WMV-HD codecs. The company did not disclose whether the Chrome 4-series also support hardware post-processing of high-definition video.

The developer of the new graphics chips claims that Chrome 4-series can boast with relative energy efficiency thanks for design peculiarities as well as Fujitsu's 65nm fabrication process.

The new S3 Graphics Chrome 430/440 chips support DirectX 10.1, OpenGL 2.1 capabilities and feature Chromotion HD 2.0 video engine. The new family of graphics processors sports unified shader architecture, but it is unknown how many shader processors the Chrome 4-series chips have. The novelty has 64-bit memory controller, which means that it will hardly have decent performance in 3D video games. S3 Graphics' new Chrome 4 chips are compatible with PCI Express 2.0 bus and supports various display interfaces, including HDMI, dual-link DVI, DisplayPort, HDTV, and D-sub. The graphics card for $59 only sports dual-link DVI and D-Sub connectors.

S3 graphics claims that its Chrome 430 GT graphics solutions deliver "20% higher performance" in 3D video games compared to rivals in the same price-class, ATI Radeon HD 3450 and Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS, which are hardly intended for gaming.

Even despite of truly low performance, the offering by S3 Graphics could fight for a considerably larger share of the market if it was sold by several makers of graphics cards as well as retailers.

Unfortunately, S3 only sells Chrome 430 GT graphics cards with 256MB of GDDR2 memory itself and only via its online store. Nevetheless, the company seems to be relatively optimistic regarding its new product due to its low price.

"S3 Graphics has once again delivered an outstanding product, leveraging our graphics, video, and power savings core competencies. The feature-rich Chrome 430 GT challenges the current discrete graphics landscape, bringing new functionalities previously seen only on high end desktops, bringing new meaning to the terms 'affordable gaming' and 'home entertainment',"said Dr. Ken Weng, general manager for S3 Graphics.

Amazon Kindle Faces Unexpected Demand – Company

Despite of skeptical expectations around the industry, Amazon Kindle device that enables people to read electronic books and texts faces unexpected demand that Amazon cannot meet. As a result of such unprecedented demand, chief executive of the company had to apologize on the front page of the world’s largest online store.

“We had high hopes for Kindle before its launch, but we didn’t expect the demand that actually materialized. We sold out in the first 5.5 hours and have been scrambling to increase our manufacturing capacity ever since. We’ve been shipping on a first-come, first-served basis, but many customers have to wait as long as six weeks after ordering. We hope to be able to announce to you within the next few weeks that we’re back in stock and that when you order a Kindle, we’ll ship it to you that very same day,” Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive officer of Amazon said in his open letter to customers.

Many industry observers as well as high-ranking executives said that Amazon Kindle electronic book reader will not become successful due to various limitations. Moreover, Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple, the company most known for its portable digital players that playback music and videos as well as for iTunes media store, said that people do not read anymore at all.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.

40% of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore,” said Steve Jobs in and an interview without revealing the sources of his information regarding people’s unwillingness to read.

However, both observers and Mr. Jobs appeared to be wrong: Amazon Kindle is in demand, which means that numerous customers are still interested in reading.

Amazon Kindle is a portable device that measures by 7.5” x 5.3” x 0.7” (19.05cm x 13.4cm x 1.77; height x width x thickness), weighs 10.3 ounces (292 grams) and features black and white 6” screen with 600x800 resolution. The device features EV-DO connectivity to download the content everywhere in the USA, however, it is unclear whether users in Europe will get GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA technologies. The amount of memory inside Kindle is unknown, but the device also supports secure digital (SD) cards, which will allow to store considerable amount of content. Battery time is unknown, but considering usage of flash memory and electronic paper screen, it is highly likely that the device can work for a long time.

Kindle customers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download or receive new content – all without a PC, Wi-Fi hot spot, or syncing. However, it is impossible to browse the Internet using the device. More than 90 000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including best sellers and new releases, which are $9.99, unless marked otherwise. Kindle is available for $399 at Amazon.com.

HTC Develops “Dream” Phone Powered by Google’s Android

High Tech Computer (HTC), a well-known maker of smartphones, reportedly plans to release its first phone powered by Google’s Android operating system sometime in late 2008. The information may mean that other makers of handsets will unveil their Android-based products even later.

HTC “Dream” smartphone based on Google Android operating system will have a large touch-sensitive screen as well QWERTY keyboard. The device is reportedly 5” long and 3” wide.

Unfortunately, no more information about the HTC “Dream” is available: its battery time is not certain and it is also unclear whether the device can be used as portable digital media player.

The company officially remained tight-lipped on the handset.

“We cannot comment on this product,” said Maggie Cheng, an HTC representative, in an interview with IDG News Service.

Pricing of HTC’s “Dream” is also not known presently.

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 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.

Apple May Be Preparing iPod and iPhone Devices with Unlimited Music Downloads

Apple, a leading producer of portable digital media players, is reportedly in talks with music labels regarding a new business model under which buyers of certain iPod and iPhone devices will get music free-of-charge throughout the whole lifetime of their device. If Apple succeeds, third-party makers of media players as well as music stores will find it tremendously hard to compete against iPod and iTunes.Financial Times reports that Apple wants to sell its iPod media players and iPhone multimedia cellphones with unlimited access to iTunes music library at a higher price-point. Customers who acquire those devices and pay a premium to Apple will be able to download music from iTunes legally throughout the lifetime of the device without any limits. Another option for unlimited media access is subscription model - end-users have to pay for their downloads a fixed sum each month. The question is how much extra Apple and record companies will charge such music lovers.

The news-paper quotes executives familiar with negotiations as saying that they were they hinged on a dispute over the price the computer maker would be willing to pay for access to the labels' libraries. Last year Apple said that in average only about 22 tracks are purchased for each iPod ever sold, which is not a lot. Apple reportedly offered record labels $20 per device for unlimited subscription to music library, which is also not a lot, but which does reflect the average revenue music industry gets from each iPod owner. However, it is reported that one executive said that a research had shown that consumers would pay a premium of up to $100 for unlimited access to music for the lifetime of the device, or a monthly fee of $7-$8 for a subscription model.

Nokia, the world's largest maker of cellphones, is also working with record labels to provide lifetime subscription to music libraries with its mobile phones.

While subscription model is hardly new to the music industry, bundling music access with the device is a rather innovative approach that is not only comfortable for end-users, but is also dangerous for pirates and third-party online music stores, as customers with unlimited legal access to media files hardly need to download music from other sources. Moreover, the approach could redefine not only music, but also movie industry, as loads of customers are looking forward movie downloads these days.

Apple did not comment on the news-story.