Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last-minute Conficker survival guide

Tomorrow -- April 1 -- is D-Day for Conficker, as whatever nasty payload it's packing is currently set to activate. What happens come midnight is a mystery: Will it turn the millions of infected computers into spam-sending zombie robots? Or will it start capturing everything you type -- passwords, credit card numbers, etc. -- and send that information back to its masters?

No one knows, but we'll probably find out soon.

Or not. As Slate notes, Conficker is scheduled to go "live" on April 1, but whoever's controlling it could choose not to wreak havoc but instead do absolutely nothing, waiting for a time when there's less heat. They can do this because the way Conficker is designed is extremely clever: Rather than containing a list of specific, static instructions, Conficker reaches out to the web to receive updated marching orders via a huge list of websites it creates. Conficker.C -- the latest bad boy -- will start checking 50,000 different semi-randomly-generated sites a day looking for instructions, so there's no way to shut down all of them. If just one of those sites goes live with legitimate instructions, Conficker keeps on trucking.

Conficker's a nasty little worm that takes serious efforts to bypass your security defenses, but you aren't without some tools in your arsenal to protect yourself.

Your first step should be the tools you already have: Windows Update, to make sure your computer is fully patched, and your current antivirus software, to make sure anything that slips through the cracks is caught.

But if Conficker's already on your machine, it may bypass certain subsystems and updating Windows and your antivirus at this point may not work. If you are worried about anything being amiss -- try booting into Safe Mode, which Conficker prevents, to check -- you should run a specialized tool to get rid of Conficker.

Microsoft offers a web-based scanner (note that some users have reported it crashed their machines; I had no trouble with it), so you might try one of these downloadable options instead: Symantec's Conficker (aka Downadup) tool, Trend Micro's Cleanup Engine, or Malwarebytes. Conficker may prevent your machine from accessing any of these websites, so you may have to download these tools from a known non-infected computer if you need them. Follow the instructions given on each site to run them successfully. (Also note: None of these tools should harm your computer if you don't have Conficker.)

As a final safety note, all users -- whether they're worried about an infection or know for sure they're clean -- are also wise to make a full data backup today.

What won't work? Turning your PC off tonight and back on on April 2 will not protect you from the worm (sorry to the dozens of people who wrote me asking if this would do the trick). Temporarily disconnecting your computer from the web won't help if the malware is already on your machine -- it will simply activate once you connect again. Changing the date on your PC will likely have no helpful effect, either. And yes, Macs are immune this time out. Follow the above instructions to detect and remove the worm.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nvidia Readies New Version of Dual-Chip Flagship Product

Nvidia Corp. is reportedly designing a new version of its dual-chip GeForce GTX 295 graphics card that features only one print circuit board (PCB). While redesigning a flagship offering with short life-cycle is a questionable tactics, the new PCB may be used not only for the current high-end offering but for future dual-chip products as well.

Currently Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 graphics card is based on two graphics processing units (GPUs) with 448-bit memory bus located on individual PCBs. This transforms into less complex print circuit boards, but the fact that there are two of them makes the solution rather expensive to make.

In order to make the GeForce GTX 295 less expensive, Nvidia is reportedly designing a new version of the product with two GPUs with 448-bit memory buses located on a single print circuit board. Potentially, such graphics card should be cheaper to manufacture, but the complexity of a PCB with two 448-bit buses and complex power supply circuitry should be much higher than that of ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics card that carries two chips with 256-bit memory buses.












According to a news-story from Expreview web-site, the new GeForce GTX 295 will retain its clock-speeds, 6-pin + 8-pin power connectors, 266.7mm length and so on.

In case the information that Nvidia is developing a new version of its premium-class graphics card is correct, then it may mean that the dual-chip flagship offering will have a rather long life. However, if the information is not accurate, then the new P658 PCB may be designed for future graphics processors by Nvidia are scheduled to emerge within several months from now and which will power Nvidia’s new dual-chip flagship graphics board.

Intel: We Do Not Prevent Nvidia from Developing x86 Microprocessor

Intel Corp. does not prohibit Nvidia Corp. to develop x86-compatible microprocessors, but as soon as the latter launches its product, the chip giant will definitely discuss whether such a chip infringes its patents and whether Nvidia has rights to sell it.

“We’re not going to react to anything until there’s a real product. [Nvidia has] a cross-license from us. It has certain exclusions in it. It has a certain period in terms of when it runs, when it’s valid. When and if they have a real product, we’ll have a discussion of whether it violates it or not. That’s a TBD situation,” said Paul Otellini, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., during a meeting with employees.

For a while Nvidia has been claiming that performance and capabilities of central processing units (CPUs) are losing their importance for end-users, whereas the significance of graphics processing units (GPUs) is on the rise. However, Nvidia fully understands that without microprocessors actual devices will not be able to run operating systems and productivity applications and recently the company went on saying that in several years time it may release an system-on-chip (SoC) featuring x86 processing core.

Nvidia has already developed its Tegra SoC that combines its DirectX 9-class graphics core as well as ARM8 microprocessor. The product has chances to become rather popular among handset and multimedia devices manufacturers thanks to rich feature-set as well as minimal power consumption, however, it lacks performance to become competitive on the market of mobile personal computers, where performance matters a lot. But Nvidia believes that in several years time it will be possible and will make sense to integrate x86 architecture-based microprocessor into SoCs like Tegra.

Early on March Intel signed a pact with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) under which the latter would be able to build SoCs featuring Intel Atom processors for its clients. Theoretically, Nvidia could work with Intel and TSMC to create an SoC featuring its GeForce 9400M core-logic with built-in graphics core and Intel Atom processing engine. Obviously, such SoC will be able to target only very cost-efficient applications these days, but it will not violate any of Intel’s patents.

Intel Rumoured to Have Aggressive Plans for Low-Cost Ultra-Thin Notebooks

Intel Corp., the world’s largest maker of microprocessors, seems to have rather serious intentions for the market of consumer-oriented thin-and-light notebooks and will provide massive discounts on low-voltage Core 2 mobile processors to large suppliers of personal computers.

Intel reportedly plans to launch its Core 2 mobile processors in 22mm x 22mm packaging and with around 10W thermal design power on the 19th of April, 2009. According to a news-story by DigiTimes web-site, low-end Core 2 mobile processors for thin-and-light notebooks will cost about $152 in 1000-unit quantities, whereas higher-performance models will cost $315 - $342.

Nevertheless, the world’s top three notebook makers – Acer, Dell, and HP – will get huge discounts on microprocessors and will get the low-voltage chips starting at $65, meanwhile smaller vendors – Asustek Computer and Microstar International – will be able to buy such chips for $75, according the media report.

Intel Corp. released its code-named Montevina SFF platform for ultra-portable notebooks, such as Dell Adamo, Lenovo ThinkPad X300/X301, Voodoo Envy 133, with reduced packaging area back in 2008. Intel used advanced packaging technologies for Montevina SFF chips, which reduced the package area of Intel Penryn SFF processor, Cantiga GS GMCH as well ICH9M SFF chips to 1415mm², down more than 100% from, 3342mm², the package area of Montevina. It is expected that consumer-oriented ultra low voltage (CULV) platform will also feature chips with smaller packaging.

Advanced Micro Devices early in 2009 launched its code-named Yukon platform that employs AMD Athlon Neo microprocessors in smaller packaging as well as supporting core-logic set. The Yukon also enables smaller and thinner notebooks, but, unlike Montevina SFF, AMD’s platform is aimed at consumers in budget, a more than strange positioning. Considering the current economic climate, Intel decided to respond AMD with its own initiative that enables small notebooks for consumers.

Traditionally ultra low-voltage processors were used for ultra-portable notebooks aimed at business users who need long battery life amid sufficient performance and functionality. Many of such ultra-portable computers are state-of-the-art pieces of engineering and employ the latest technologies to provide excellent reliability, stability, battery life, security and other qualities that have tremendous value for those on the road.

The vast majority of consumers value performance and portability and consumer-oriented low-voltage notebook platforms provide neither: they will not be able to match typical notebooks in terms of performance and they will be considerably larger than netbooks based on Intel Atom. Moreover, since consumer-oriented platforms have to be affordable, system makers will not implement their state-of-the-art technologies, such as active hard disk drive protection, powerful yet light batteries and so on, to keep the costs down, which will make the notebooks somewhat less attractive in general.

Still, both AMD and Intel believe in the success of ultra-portable notebooks on the consumer markets and are ready to fight for it.

Intel Releases Set of Tools to Help Game Developers to Optimize Titles for Integrated Graphics

Intel Corp. is the world’s largest provider of graphics adapters thanks to its chipsets with built-in graphics cores, however, a lot of gamers are complaining about poor graphics performance as well as image artifacts on Intel integrated platforms. However, Intel wants to change that and on Monday announced the release of Intel Graphics Performance Analyzers (GPA), a suite of software tools created in support of the Visual Adrenaline developer program.

“The Intel Graphics Performance Analyzers suite is the only software development toolkit that provides a holistic view of system performance for games running on Intel Integrated Graphics. Solving performance bottlenecks with GPA ensures developers are delivering the best gaming experience,” said Elliot Garbus, vice president and general manager of Intel's visual computing software division.

GPA provides in-depth application analysis and customization so developers can pinpoint performance bottlenecks and optimize games for Intel-based desktop PCs and laptops that use Intel's chipsets. GPA consists of three components:

* System Analyzer – delivers high-level views of overall software performance;
* Frame Analyzer – offers in-depth frame-by-frame performance analysis;
* Software Development Kit (SDK) – enables developers to customize the suite according to their needs.

Developers have the choice to run the tools locally or remotely through a network connection.

GPA offers the ability to analyze graphics performance on current Intel integrated graphics chipsets and processors, including the Intel Core i7 Processor. In the future, GPA will also support upcoming Intel graphics and many-core related products. GPA is available free of charge to Visual Adrenaline members and can be purchased by non-members for $299 through the Intel Business Exchange.

Visual Adrenaline is Intel's worldwide program for game and graphics developers. It is a one-stop shop for Intel offerings that help maximize visual computing software for better performance and faster time to market. To date, more than 800 independent software vendor members have joined, including Activision, SEGA and Ubisoft.

Microsoft’s Chief Executive: Nobody Wants to Pay $500 for Apple’s Logo These Days

Steve Ballmer, the head of Microsoft Corp., has made a rather radical prediction: sales of Apple computers were about to drop since the biggest thing Macintosh systems provide is the Apple logotype on them.

There is no secret that Mac computers cost considerably more compared to Microsoft Windows-based machines with similar hardware inside. Many believe that Macs provide fair amount of benefits for their price, but it is logical to assume that amid the global economic slump even more would consider whether those benefits actually exist and whether they are valuable.

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction. The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment – same piece of hardware – paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be,” said Steve Ballmer at the McGraw-Hill Companies’ 2009 Media Summit, reports TechFlash web-site.

Many argue that Apple Macintosh systems are more stylish compared to Windows-based systems, however, with the emergence of systems like Dell Adamo, Voodoo Envy 133 and so on, style ceased to be a prerogative of Apple. Just like Macs, modern desktops and laptops are based on microprocessors by Intel Corp. and, unlike into Macs, it is possible to install high-performance graphics cards (to enjoy modern video games) or Blu-ray disc drives (to watch high-definition movies) into Windows-based machines.

There are some natural advantages that Apple Macintosh systems may have over Windows-based personal computers: hardware is and software platforms should be better tailored together thanks to the fact that they come from the same manufacturer. Nevertheless, there are many system makers who provide premium class support to their clients who acquire personal computers with Windows operating system onboard.

Nvidia Expected to Release GeForce GTX 275 in Early April

Nvidia Corp., one of the two suppliers of discrete graphics processing units, plans to launch its new performance-mainstream GeForce graphics card model 275 on the 9th April, 2009. The new graphics card should compete against ATI Radeon HD 4890 from the graphics products group of Advanced Micro Devices.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 graphics card will feature fully-fledged G200b graphics processing unit (GPU) with 240 shader processors (SPs) operating at 1404MHz, 80 texture units (TUs), 30 render back ends (RBEs) working at 633MHz and 448-bit memory interface. The graphics card will be equipped with 896MB of GDDR3 functioning at 2328MHz, reports VR-Zone web-site.

The new GeForce GTX 275 graphics cards should substitute the GeForce GTX 260 core 216 in the $229 - $279 price-range.

Nvidia launches the new graphics cards right in time: sales of its products collapsed quarter-over-quarter recently and the firm needs new products to boost its revenues as well as return market share, which it lost to ATI, graphics products group of Advanced Micro Devices. Moreover, since the company will release the novelty in Q2, it will be able to take advantage of increasing sales in the second quarter.