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Archive for the ‘hardware’ Category

Corporations, not consumers, drive demand for HP’s new VR headset

March 19th, 2019
Corporations, not consumers, drive demand for HP’s new VR headset

Enlarge (credit: HP)

HP was one of the many companies that built a VR headset for the Windows Mixed Reality platform which launched back in 2017. Microsoft provided a SteamVR-compatible software platform, controller design, and inside-out, six-axis, positional-tracking technology; hardware companies like HP provided the rest, greatly reducing the price of PC-attached virtual reality.

Today, HP is launching the Reverb Virtual Reality Headset Professional Edition. As the name might imply, the audience for this isn't the consumer space; it's the commercial space. The headset will have a near-identical consumer version, but HP's focus is very much on the pro unit, because that's where the company has seen the most solid uptake of VR tech. The big VR win isn't gaming or any other consumer applications: it's visualization, for fields such as engineering, architecture, and education, and entertainment, combining VR headsets with motion-actuated seating to build virtual rides. The company has also found that novelty items such as its VR backpack have also found a role in the corporate space, with companies using them to allow free movement around virtual worlds and objects.

Accordingly, HP's second-gen headset is built for these enterprise customers in mind. Their demands were pretty uniform, and in many ways consistent with consumer demands too, with the big ones being more resolution and more comfort. To that end, it now has a resolution of 2160×2160 per eye, using an LCD with a 90Hz refresh rate. The optics have also been improved through the use of aspherical lenses, for a 114-degree (diagonal) field of view. AMOLED screens are common in this space, but HP said that it preferred LCD because LCD panels use full red, green, and blue subpixels, rather than the pentile arrangement that remains common for AMOLED.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, hardware, headset, HP, mixed reality, Tech, VR, wearables, Windows | Comments (0)

USB 3.2 is going to make the current USB branding even worse

February 26th, 2019
USB Type-C cable and port.

Enlarge / USB Type-C cable and port. (credit: USB-IF)

USB 3.2, which doubles the maximum speed of a USB connection to 20Gb/s, is likely to materialize in systems later this year. In preparation for this, the USB-IF—the industry group that together develops the various USB specifications—has announced the branding and naming that the new revision is going to use, and... it's awful.

USB 3.0 was straightforward enough. A USB 3.0 connection ran at 5Gb/s, and slower connections were USB 2 or even USB 1.1. The new 5Gb/s data rate was branded "SuperSpeed USB," following USB 2's 480Mb/s "High Speed" and USB 1.1's 12Mb/s "Full Speed."

But then USB 3.1 came along and muddied the waters. Its big new feature was doubling the data rate to 10Gb/s. The logical thing would have been to identify existing 5Gb/s devices as "USB 3.0" and new 10Gb/s devices as "USB 3.1." But that's not what the USB-IF did. For reasons that remain hard to understand, the decision was made to retroactively rebrand USB 3.0: 5Gb/s 3.0 connections became "USB 3.1 Gen 1," with the 10Gb/s connections being "USB 3.1 Gen 2." The consumer branding is "SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps."

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Posted in branding, hardware, superspeed, Tech, USB | Comments (0)

Retina resolution headset puts the “reality” into “virtual reality”

February 19th, 2019
Promotional image of virtual reality goggles.

Enlarge / The Varjo VR-1 headset. It looks unassuming from the outside. (credit: Varjo)

Current virtual reality headsets are pretty good at the "virtual" bit but tend to fall down on the "reality" side of things. It's all too obvious that you're looking at a screen, albeit a screen held very close to your face, and a lot of screens just aren't meant to be looked at that close. The "screen door" effect that breaks the display up into a grid of individual pixels is distracting, and resolutions are low enough that curved lines are noticeably jagged, and fine detail gets lost. Second-generation headsets like the Vive Pro certainly do better than their first-generation counterparts, but they haven't eliminated these shortcomings. Even with eyes as appalling as mine, the human optical systems are clearly higher quality than the VR headsets can satisfy.

But the Varjo VR-1, available to buy today, is the first headset I've used that convincingly provides an image that looks real. The VR-1 puts a 1920×1080 micro-OLED display with some 3,000 pixels per inch (or 60 pixels per degree) slap-bang in the middle of your field of view. It looks like nothing you've ever seen from a headset before: no pixel grid, no jagged lines (or anti-aliasing), no screen-door effect. The images it displays look every bit as detailed as real life. Varjo calls it the Bionic Display and claims its resolution is about that of the eye, giving it a level of fidelity like nothing else on the market.

Surrounding this screen is a conventional 1440×1600 AMOLED display providing an 87 degree field of view. This showed an image that's much like any other headset. I found the experience of using the VR-1 a little like that of using Microsoft's HoloLens. In the HoloLens, the display has a relatively narrow field of view, so you have to look straight forward to see the images. When looking around, you have to turn your whole head and keep your eyes looking more or less straight ahead if you want to look at something. Otherwise, as soon as you look off to the side, the 3D images disappear.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, hardware, headset, steamvr, Tech, virtual reality, wearables | Comments (0)

Microsoft teases next-gen HoloLens ahead of February 24 reveal

February 12th, 2019

New HoloLens teaser

Microsoft is expected to reveal a new version of its HoloLens headset at Mobile World Congress later this month. The company has an event scheduled for February 24, and that date is being promoted in the rather mysterious video published by HoloLens' creator Alex Kipman.

The planned 2019 release of the next-generation headset was leaked last year. Codenamed Sydney, the new model is expected to be lighter, more comfortable, and sport a better display. The sensors are updated (likely to something close to the Project Kinect for Azure standalone sensor), and Microsoft has confirmed that it will include an updated Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) with AI acceleration capabilities. The processor is believed to be a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850, replacing the Intel Atom of the first-generation unit.

This comes as Microsoft has sold out of original HoloLens units. Neither the developer kit nor the commercial version is available to buy.

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Posted in augmented reality, hardware, hololens, microsoft, MWC, Tech | Comments (0)

Lenovo takes on Microsoft’s Surface Studio with its own tilting all-in-one

January 9th, 2019

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet stimulated a range of copycat systems from PC OEMs, with all the major PC companies coming out with their own riff on the tablet with kickstand and detachable keyboard/cover. It's now Surface Studio's turn to inspire clones.

Lenovo's Yoga A940 copies the central Surface Studio concept: it's an all-in-one PC with a large touchscreen mounted on a hinge so that it can be laid relatively flat (an angle of 25 degrees). Lenovo's display isn't as eye-catching as Microsoft's: it's a 27-inch display with a conventional 16:9 aspect ratio and either a 2560×1440 or 3840×2160 resolution. It supports stylus input from an active stylus using Wacom's AES technology. Lenovo even has its own riff on Microsoft's Surface Dial peripheral; on the left-hand side of the screen is a rotary control named the "Precision Dial," which can control features of various Adobe applications. At the top of the display is a 1080p webcam with an infrared camera for Windows Hello facial recognition.

While the screen is smaller, the base unit, containing the integrated PC, is quite a bit bigger than Microsoft's. It includes a desktop (65W) 8th generation Core i7 processor, so it should outpace the mobile chip found in the Surface Studio. On the other hand, the discrete GPU is an AMD Radeon RX 560, which is quite a bit slower than the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 in the Surface Studio 2. The A940 has up to 32GB of RAM, up to 512GB of PCIe SSD, and 2TB of hard disk storage.

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Posted in CES, hardware, Lenovo, microsoft, surface studio, Tech | Comments (0)

Intel sets out its plans for 2019: Ice Lake, Lakefield, and Project Athena

January 8th, 2019
Complete Lakefield motherboard.

Enlarge / Complete Lakefield motherboard. (credit: Intel)

Intel had a big presentation at CES last year, which was strange, because the company didn't really have many things to announce. The delays to its 10nm manufacturing process meant that, instead of exciting new chips, the best we could really hope for was rehashed versions of its current chips, which duly arrived. This year's presentation was very different. The company's 10nm process is finally due to achieve volume production this year, and late last year the company told us that 10nm was bringing with it a new architecture named Sunny Cove, a new, much faster GPU, and new manufacturing techniques with 3D die stacking. All this meant that the presentation could actually introduce a range of new products that will ship in 2019.

10nm processors for the masses: Ice Lake-U

The most important product announced, as it will likely be the highest-volume part, is Ice Lake-U. This is a 10nm mobile processor with a Sunny Cove CPU and a Gen11 GPU. Since its 2015 introduction, Intel has produced a number of variations of its Skylake architecture. Performance improvements have come from increasing clock speeds and core counts, with the core design essentially unaltered. Sunny Cove, by contrast, is a meaningful update to and improvement of that architecture and will represent Intel's first improvement in instructions-per-cycle in four years. This means that it should offer across-the-board performance improvements, regardless of workload. The Ice Lake-U parts will retain the U-series 15W power rating and will offer a maximum of four cores and eight threads.

The Gen11 GPU is similarly slated to give a big performance boost. The standard configuration (named GT2 in Intel's parlance) will include 64 execution units as compared to the 24 execution units that are standard in Skylake/Kaby Lake/Coffee Lake processors. This will more than double the floating point performance of the GPU from about 420 gigaFLOPS to 1 teraFLOPS. This increased performance increases the memory bandwidth requirements of the GPU, and the chip will accordingly sport two channels of LPDDR4X memory.

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Posted in 10nm, CES, CPU, GPU, hardware, Intel, processors, Tech | Comments (0)

Lenovo’s Legion laptops are gaming machines you won’t be embarrassed to use

January 8th, 2019

Lenovo

A common theme of gamer-oriented hardware is that it's ostentatious and often ugly, with bright lights and logos and LEDs making it all feel rather distasteful. Lenovo's Legion gaming hardware consciously bucks that trend by producing machines that offer gaming specs (and all the colorful lighting that for some reason goes with those specs) while still looking respectable and grown-up once you turn all the colored lights off.

Lenovo says that this is a very deliberate decision; after consulting with a wide range of gamers, the company found that an overall more conservative appearance was popular with gamers of all ages. While configurable RGB lighting is popular, many would-be buyers of gaming systems want the ability to turn all that off and have a machine that doesn't look out of place in the office or classroom. The price of gaming systems often means that they'll be their owners' sole or primary system, which makes this kind of adaptability important. Systems with an ominous red glow, angular designs, and aggressive styling might appeal to some buyers but lack this kind of "acceptable anywhere" versatility.

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Posted in CES, CES 2019, gaming, Gaming & Culture, hardware, Laptops, Lenovo, Tech | Comments (0)

Mac mini review—a testament to Apple’s stubbornness

November 23rd, 2018
The 2018 Mac mini.

Enlarge / The 2018 Mac mini. (credit: Peter Bright)

This is probably not the byline you were expecting for a review of some Apple hardware. It comes as a bit of a shock to both of us, to be honest, but here we are: I have a Mac mini on my desk, along with a Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard. It's all hooked up to an LG 4K 21.5-inch display, all supplied by Apple.

To set your minds at ease; this isn't the first Mac I've used. I have owned a few MacBook Pros over the years, and there was a time a few years go where I was seriously considering giving up Windows and switching entirely to Mac OS X. For now, it suffices to know that if I were to get back into using macOS as my daily driver, the Mac mini is probably the machine I'd want to get.

With the newest Mac mini, gone is the two-core, four-thread 28W Haswell processor with up to 16GB soldered RAM. This machine boasts Coffee Lake processors, either a four-core, four-thread Core i3 base model or the six-core, 12-thread Core i7 chip as found in my review system. This processor is paired with up to 64GB socketed, user-serviceable RAM. Storage has also been shaken up. Instead of a range of hybrid and SSD options, the new Mac mini is all SSD, from 128GB to 2TB. There are four Thunderbolt 3 ports, one wired Ethernet port (usually gigabit, but optionally upgraded to 10 gigabit), an HDMI 2 port, two USB 3.1 generation 1 ports, and a 3.5mm headset jack.

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Posted in apple, Features, Gadgetology, hardware, Mac mini, review, Tech | Comments (0)

Surface Go with integrated LTE available for preorder now, from $679

November 12th, 2018
Surface Go.

Enlarge / Surface Go. (credit: Microsoft)

Last week Microsoft added an extra configuration to the Surface Go lineup. Today it's rounding out the range and filling the final gaps, adding systems with integrated LTE to the product mix.

LTE adds $130 to the system price. At $679 is the consumer SKU: 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD storage, Windows 10 Home, and integrated LTE. Business users have two configurations: 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD storage, Windows 10 Pro, for $729, or the same spec with 256GB SSD storage, for $829. The LTE option adds a fraction to the weight (0.02lb/10 grams) and equips the machine with a nano-SIM tray, GPS, and GLONASS positioning.

Microsoft estimates that the LTE model has marginally lower battery life than the Wi-Fi version, quoting 8.5 hours of video playback for the LTE model, in contrast to 9 hours for the Wi-Fi version. This is likely a small price to pay for the ability to get online anywhere and everywhere. Microsoft has positioned the Surface Go as an ideal system for frontline workers: people who may be out in the field on customer or other remote sites. Adding LTE means that these workers are always online and able to reach their corporate systems for inventory management, support tickets, or whatever else they need.

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Posted in always connected, hardware, LTE, microsoft, surface go, Tech, Windows | Comments (0)

Microsoft’s special Costco Surface Go is now available to all

November 7th, 2018
Promotional image of a tablet device.

Enlarge / Surface Go. (credit: Microsoft)

Surface Go is Microsoft's cheapest Surface 2-in-1 available: $399 gets you a Surface Go with 4GB RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. But the next step up in specs was a lot more expensive: it takes an extra $150 to double the RAM to 8GB and replace the 64GB eMMC with a 128GB SSD, a change that should provide a healthy boost in disk performance.

Strangely, there was no model that split the difference; a 4GB machine with 128GB SSD would be a lot more practical for many users. That is, unless you chose to buy your Surface Go at Costco, where a special 4GB/128GB system was sold. Now, however, that spec is available to all through the Microsoft Store, for $499.

While 4GB is a little miserly in the year 2018, it's not unprecedented at this price point. For a system used primarily for Web browsing, Microsoft Office, and media streaming, it's just about acceptable—and with the relatively weak processor in the machine, you likely wouldn't want to do much beyond those tasks anyway. The faster and larger SSD will ensure there's abundant space for music, photos, and videos without having to micromanage storage.

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Posted in hardware, microsoft, Surface, surface go, Tech | Comments (0)