Friday, August 1, 2008

HP, Intel and Yahoo! to Jointly Explore Cloud Computing

Hewlett-Packard, Intel Corp. and Yahoo! have announced the creation of a global, multi-data center, open source test bed for the advancement of cloud computing research and education. The goal of the initiative is to promote open collaboration among industry, academia and governments by removing the financial and logistical barriers to research in data-intensive, Internet-scale computing.

The HP, Intel and Yahoo! cloud computing test bed will provide a globally distributed, Internet-scale testing environment designed to encourage research on the software, data center management and hardware issues associated with cloud computing at a larger scale than ever before. The initiative will also support research of cloud applications and services.

HP, Intel and Yahoo! have partnered with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany to form the research initiative. The partnership with Illinois also includes the National Science Foundation.

The test bed will initially consist of six “centers of excellence” at IDA facilities, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Steinbuch Centre for Computing of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, HP Labs, Intel Research and Yahoo!. Each location will host a cloud computing infrastructure, largely based on HP hardware and Intel processors, and will have 1 to 4 thousand processor cores capable of supporting the data-intensive research associated with cloud computing. The test bed locations are expected to be fully operational and made accessible to researchers worldwide through a selection process later this year.

Researchers at HP Labs, the central research arm of HP, will use the test bed to conduct advanced research in the areas of intelligent infrastructure and dynamic cloud services. HP Labs recently sharpened its focus to help HP and its customers capitalize on the industry’s shift toward cloud computing, a driving force behind HP’s vision of Everything as a Service. With Everything as a Service, devices and services will interact seamlessly through the cloud, and businesses and individuals will use services that anticipate their needs based on location, preferences, calendar and communities.

The Cloud Computing Test Bed is the next step in expanding each company’s ongoing initiatives in cloud computing. In November 2007, Yahoo! announced the deployment of a supercomputing-class data center, called M45, for cloud computing research; Carnegie Mellon University was the first institution to take advantage of this supercomputer. Yahoo! also announced this year an agreement with Computational Research Laboratories (CRL) to jointly support cloud computing research and make one of the 10 fastest supercomputers in the world available to academic institutions in India. Earlier this year, Yahoo! hosted the first-ever Hadoop Summit and Data-Intensive Computing Symposium. Co-sponsored with the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), these meetings brought together leading experts from industry, academia and government to discuss the future directions of Hadoop and data-intensive computing.

Nvidia Set to Quit Chipset Business, Multi-GPU SLI Tech in Danger

The skies may not be blue for Nvidia, as the company is about to quit chipset business, which automatically means that the company’s much-hyped multi-GPU SLI technology is either in danger or re-considered. Moreover, several mainboard makers have already ceased making high-end Nvidia-based mainboards.

After months of uncertainties, Nvidia Corp has reportedly decided to quit core-logic business to concentrate on development of graphics processors and following failure to secure license to build and sell chipsets compatible with Intel Corp.’s microprocessors that use Quick-Path Interconnect (QPI) bus, reports DigiTimes web-site. Nvidia will be able to create chipsets compatible with microprocessors by Advanced Micro Devices, however, considering the fact that that AMD only commands about 20% of x86 chip market and pushes its own chipsets, it hardly makes a lot of sense for Nvidia to develop AMD-compatible core-logic sets. That said, Nvidia had decided to quit the chipset business, which brings hundreds of millions dollars in revenue to the company every quarter.

At present only Nvidia nForce chipsets enable the company’s SLI multi-GPU technology, thus, users, who plan to utilize two or more Nvidia GeForce-based graphics cards to speed up their video games, have to acquire nForce-based mainboards. Those, who use multi-GPU capable core-logic sets from AMD, Intel or other chipset vendors cannot use SLI technology, but may utilize competing ATI CrossFire array consisting of several ATI Radeon graphics cards by Advanced Micro Devices. However, with no chipsets from Nvidia, the latter will have either to open up SLI technology for third-party chipsets, or to dump SLI, which attracts a lot of attention to the company’s premium-class GeForce graphics cards and also ultimately brings tens of millions in revenue.

Recently Nvidia proposed to enable SLI by installing a special chip called nForce 200 bridge onto mainboards powered by Intel X58 chipset that supports Bloomfield processor which uses QPI bus. Motherboard manufacturers are hardly enthusiastic about the approach, as not only the nForce 200 costs additional money, it also requires them to redesign their mainboards and install an advanced cooling system in the bridge.

Separately, several large mainboard makers have dumped their high-end motherboards powered by Nvidia’s nForce chipsets, reports The Inquirer web-site. So far, DFI, Foxconn and Gigabyte has decided not to release the nForce 790i SLI chipset-based mainboards and removed the 780i SLI-based platforms from their web-sites. The web-site attributes the lack of Nvidia-based high-end mainboards to issues with weak packaging of the company’s other chips.

Nvidia chipsets are known for issues with data corruption as well as some other problems. Considering long-time troubles, packaging problems and the lack of QPI license, it is hardly a surprise that mainboard makers are not enthusiastic about Nvidia chipsets.

Nvidia did not comment on the news-story.

Lenovo May Be Planning to Launch Netbook Later This Year

Lenovo, one of the world’s largest makers of personal computers that is mostly known for its ThinkPad-branded business user-oriented premium-class laptops, is considering to enter the market of low-cost netbooks later this year, a representative for the company in Taiwan said on Wednesday.

Ken Wong, general manager of Lenovo Taiwan, said in an interview with DigiTimes web-site that the company was considering launching a netbook product designed with consideration for both consumer and enterprise markets. However, he did not reveal any details.

According to unofficial information, Lenovo will release its netbook by the end of September. It is quite a surprise that the company mostly known for high-end ThinkPad laptops for business users and IdeaPad notebooks for consumers has decided to enter the market of relatively low-cost machines, such as Asus Eee PC, MSI Wind and so on.

It is unknown which contract manufacturer is set to make Lenovo’s netbook. At this point, the likely candidates are Compal Electronics, Wistron and Pegatron Technology. Compal shipped around 1.1 million mainstream notebooks to Lenovo in Q2 2008, while Wistron supplied around 550 – 580 thousand Lenovo ThinkPad X-series ultra-portable notebooks and Pegatron made about 200 thousand IdeaPad laptops.

Actual specifications of Lenovo’s netbooks are not clear at the moment. Given that Lenovo wants to position its netbook or netbooks for both consumers and enterprise markets, the mobile systems should feature relatively high performance components so that to satisfy more or less demanding productivity applications. Moreover, Lenovo’s netbooks are unlikely to be truly affordable since they should feature Microsoft software to address business customers.

AMD to Sell Consumer Electronics DTV Business Unit to Broadcom – Analyst

Advanced Micro Devices plans to sell its consumer electronics TV business unit it got with the acquisition of ATI Technologies back in 2006 to Broadcom, an analyst said. Earlier this year AMD wrote down $880 million from its goodwill and intangible assets due to lowering revenues of its “non-core” businesses.

“Broadcom is a likely buyer for some of ATI's products. We believe that Broadcom is a likely candidate to acquire AMD’s consumer TV business for about $250-$375 million as it has a comfort level and history with integrating former ATI products and management,” said analyst Doug Freedman of American Technology Research in a note to customers, reports EETimes web-site.

After the management of AMD took over ATI Technologies’ businesses, revenues of the consumer electronics units, which includes chips used inside digital TV-sets as well as chips for mobile phones, dropped nearly 40% year-over-year. Recently AMD implied that it may sell off its “non-core” businesses.

“The business includes DTV chips that are sold into major name brand digital TVs. We believe Sony and Samsung as well has HiSense (China) are all ATI customers. We also view the handset-based product line as available for sale, however, we are unable to identify a potential buyer given the limited customer base,” said Mr. Friedman.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.

FireWire Interface to Get Speed Boost

Universal Serial Bus 3.0 is just around the cornet, but it does not mean that its brother IEEE 1394 standard (also known as FireWire and iLink) has ceased its development. In fact, this month the 1394 trade association said that it had ratified the 1394-2008 specification, which significantly improves bandwidth of the interconnect.

The 1394-2008 high performance serial bus standard updates and revises all prior 1394 standards dating back to the original 1394-1995 version, and including 1394a, 1394b, 1394c, enhanced UTP, and the 1394 beta plus PHY-Link interface. It also incorporates the complete specifications for S1600 version with 1.6Gb/s bandwidth) and for S3200 version, which provides 3.2Gb/s speed.

“The consolidated 1394-2008 specification effectively allows one single document to serve all. It provides one consistent document that provides everything a designer or developer needs in order to work with 1394 in any application. We assembled an experienced team of experts from consumer electronics, computer, and semiconductor companies who have worked diligently to complete this task on time,” said said Les Baxter, 1394 Trade Association leader and director of Baxter Enterprises, who supervised the process.

The team dealt with errata remaining from prior specifications, and harmonized all message types, including fields that had been used in related specifications such as the 1394.1 bridging specification, and IDB-1394, which was developed as the original automotive entertainment standard. Not incorporated is work currently underway within the 1394 Trade Association working groups, including 1394 over coax and the new 1394-Automotive specification due later this summer.

Members of the revision team who worked with Baxter include companies like Apple, Congruent Technologies, LSI, Oxford Semiconductor, Quantum Parametrics, Symwave and Texas Instruments.

The official date of issue for 1394-2008 is June 12; IEEE and 1394 Trade Association copy editors will review the document over the summer and finalize it by mid-October or sooner.

ATI Mobility Radeon Graphics Processors’ Packaging Is Solid, Says Company

ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, has issued a statement to its partners claiming that its ATI Mobility Radeon graphics processing units (GPUs) have no issues with packaging, unlike competing solutions from Nvidia Corp. Surprisingly, AMD has shred some light on the possible issue that affects the mobile GeForce graphics chips.

“In the past couple of weeks there has been considerable media attention regarding product reliability of certain notebook GPU die/packaging material failures. AMD is pleased to reassure our customers that our ATI Mobility Radeon GPUs are not experiencing any such abnormal field failures,” a statement from AMD seen by X-bit labs reads.

According to ATI, once the RoHS compliancy became compulsory several years ago, the company transited its ASIC packaging process from restricted solder bumping material (which is used to attach the ASIC die to the substrate) to the use of eutectic solder bumping. A “eutectic” or “eutectic mixture” is a mixture at such proportions that the melting point is as low as possible, and which all ingredients crystallize simultaneously at this temperature from melt liquid. ATI chose eutectic instead of the alternative high-lead bumps (also allowable by RoHS) because the latter, according to the statement, were known to be more fragile and subject to field failure issues if not implemented properly.

After initiating to use the eutectic bumping material, ATI started to specifically design with it and implemented a specialized power redistribution layer (RDL) to help ensure a reliable device.

“Package reliability is a matter of overall design and implementation. Factors such as the power distribution in the design of the ASIC, bumping process, bumping material and the techniques used to adhere bumps to the wafer all play an important role in the reliability of the packaged part. We would welcome the opportunity to review our packaging and quality processes with you if further information is required,” the statement by AMD claims.

Even though Nvidia Corp. has never issued official comments regarding the materials it uses to attach its chips to substrate, it is highly likely that the company has, at least in certain points in the past, utilized substances that were not as reliable as eutectic mixtures utilized by AMD’s ATI in conjunction with RDL.

Nvidia did not comment on the news-story.

Asustek Computer Readies Tens of Eee PC Models – Leaked Slides

Even though Asus Eee PCs are positioned as easy-to-use everyday devices, the actual product lineup is from being easily understandable for a typical end-user now that there are about ten Eee systems in the lineup. But believe it or not, based on leaked information Asustek Computer, the manufacturer plans to expand the Eee family to twenty three units.

Apparently, there are three “families” of Eee PC planned: “Slim”, “PRO Fashion” and “Smart Casual”, based on an image that resembles a slide from Asustek’s roadmap published by Engadget web-site. Each of the families are targeted at different types of end-users and have different features, however, their actual pricing does not seem to depend specifically on their target groups.

Actual specifications of the forthcoming Asus Eee PCs were not unveiled, however, it is highly likely that the systems will still be equipped with Intel Atom or Intel Celeron M microprocessors as well as solid state drives or, in rare cases, hard disk drives.

With 23 different Asus Eee PCs models on the market, customers seeking for ease-of-use will find it hard to pick up the right model. On the other hand, Asustek Computer will get a chance to more efficiently compete against its rivals due to wider product lineup.

Asustek Computer did not comment on the news-story.

Dell, HP Release New Firmware for Notebooks to Fix Issues with Nvidia Graphics Chips

Dell and HP, two of the world’s largest producers of personal computers, have released new firmware versions in order to try to fix the issues with potentially faulty Nvidia GeForce graphics processing units (GPUs) for mobile computers. While according to Dell and HP the new firmware should fix issues associated with overheating, end-user experience may actually be compromised.

The new BIOSes (basic input/output system) for various notebooks shipped by Dell or Hewlett Packard use more aggressive cooling algorithms, in particularly, it makes cooling fan spin at a higher speed prolonged amount of time that should ensure any lack of dangerous overheating of graphics processor and consecutive breakdown of GPU packaging, which causes mobile computers to stop working, showing image on display or show other symptoms of malfunctioning.

While improved cooling may help to avoid sudden failure of Nvidia GeForce graphics processors, it will cause notebooks to produce more heat and consume more energy, which means that the fix compromises end-user experience. Dell, however, insists that BIOS update should not significantly affect battery life of increase noise levels of the notebooks.

Both Dell and HP promise to solve all the issues with notebooks featuring potentially faulty Nvidia GeForce graphics processing units on case-by-case basis, thus, those who have already experienced problems with their computers should call technical support of their PC vendors.

Nvidia did not comment on the news-story.

Customers interested to find out whether their mobile computers are affected by the issue should visit appropriate pages at Dell’s and Hewlett-Packard’s web-sites.

Video Game Developers Expect Current-Generation Consoles to Last for Four to Ten Years from Now

The winner of the current-generation game consoles is still not clear, but Microsoft Corp., Nintendo Corp. and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. are already at work, developing next Xbox, PlayStation 4 and the successor of Wii. Meanwhile, game developers believe that even the current-gen consoles will have such a long lifespan that its end is even not on the horizon.

“One of the things I like about this generation is we are still very early and there’s still a lot of room for growth as we move down those price curves. Those engines have a lot of steam left in them. We think it could be seven or eight years before new machines start to roll out,” said Brian Farrell, chief executive of THQ in an interview withForbes.

The president of Epic Games, Mike Capps, also estimates that next-generation systems, which will succeed PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, will not hit shelves until somewhere between 2012 and 2018.

Perhaps, next-generation game consoles are not exactly around the corner, partly because both Microsoft and Sony invested massive amounts of money into Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and game developers yet have to take advantage of existing hardware. Nonetheless, it is almost clear that technology conglomerates are considering future steps based on perception of existing devices by the consumers as well as advantages and disadvantages their consoles have currently.

According to a news-story by Forbes, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are, in fact, talking to companies like ATI, graphics product group or Advanced Micro Devices, Intel Corp. and Nvidia over the next-generation graphics processing units to power their future game consoles.

“We are always preparing for the next hardware. We are under development. But the hardware is a kind of box that consumers reluctantly buy in order to play our games. […] Every hardware needs some revolutionary features. This time around, it happened to be we had a revolutionary user interface. Will it be the same for the next generation? I really can’t tell,” said Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo.

Nintendo Wii is the least powerful game system in this generation, but it has unique motion sensing game controller and easy-to-use interface, which made the system more successful among consumers compared to rivals PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

“It’s natural for the current customer to expect Nintendo is going to once again do something different. If the people are expecting so many different things from Nintendo, it’s going to be difficult for us to go beyond that expectation again,” Mr. Iwata added.

One of the things Nintendo could do differently is not to wait for Microsoft and Sony to unveil their next-gen consoles, but to release the successor for Wii earlier than competitors, but after the enthusiasm towards Wii slowdowns considerably, something, which is unlikely to happen soon. Moreover, since casual gamers are unlikely to like the idea of acquiring a new game system every few years, Nintendo Wii may indeed have a long life cycle.

Microsoft Corp. does not admit that the third Xbox game console is in development, whereas Sony Computer Entertainment America claims that the next-generation PlayStation will, exactly as the current generation, be aimed at certain specific group of gamers.

“As far as next generation is concerned, I think one of the distinct advantages that we have is we don’t have to go in a specific direction. I don’t think the fact that we have a high-end machine keeps us from doing byte-sized casual entertainment. I don’t think we’re relegated to PC shooters or youth-oriented casual games. We can span the gamut,” said Jack Tretton, president and chief exec of SCEA.

Intel’s Recent Price-Cut Drops Price of Quad-Core Chips to Below $200

Intel Corp., the world’s largest supplier of x86 computer chips, has reduced pricing of several microprocessors and for the first time lowered the pricing of desktop quad-core chips to the level below $200. Even though price reductions are not really significant, they are noteworthy.

As a result of 14% price-cut, quad-core Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor, which operates at 2.40GHz clock-speed and features 8MB of level-two cache, now costs $193, only $10 more compared to the new price of Intel’s top-of-the-range dual-core Core 2 Duo E8500 processors that works at 3.16GHz frequency and sports 6MB of cache.

As a result of the price-drop, Intel’s mainstream customers will now have to choose between the higher clocked chip with two processing engines or a central processing unit with four cores, but relatively low frequency.

Intel also cut prices of certain quad-core Xeon processors made using 65nm process technology, though, the decreases are in the range of 11% - 12%.