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Oct 2, 2011

Quick Look: Battlefield 3 Multiplayer Beta (With Gameplay Video)

Battlefield 3 is probably one of the most anticipated games of the year, mainly because lots of shooter fans are interested to see whether or not it can trump the 800-pound gorilla which is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Now, in order to let actual people experience Battlefield 3 before its release around the end of October, Electronic Arts, its publisher, and DICE, its developer, have kicked off an open multiplayer beta stage for it, across the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms.

So, after all this hype and anticipation, is Battlefield 3 worthy of going head to head with Modern Warfare 3 or should the military shooter be dishonorably discharged? Let's have a quick look.

I tried out the beta on the PC, through EA's own Origin service, and the first thing you're greeted with when starting out the game is an actual web browser window, directing you to the Battlelog online service.

From here, you have an overview of your own progress, as well as notable news about your friends in Battlefield 3, and can start up the single-player, cooperative or multiplayer modes. For the demo, only the online multiplayer is available, so all you need to do is hit the quick match button, wait until a server is found, and then the actual Battlefield 3 game starts.

While this is a bit peculiar, especially after coming from more traditional shooters, Battlelog is no doubt going to be a make or break experience for PC players of the game.

Still, once the actual game starts, it's pretty certain that all players are going to be mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the experience. I only got a chance to go through the Operation Metro map, a pretty huge one set in above and below a subway station, with long corridors perfect for sniping and tighter, darker ones perfect for camping and waiting for your prey.

While the massive 64-player limit is quite impressive, it also means that maps are a bit too big for their own good, and you can easily get lost or at get killed by someone from half a map away. Once you start working as a team, however, things get a bit better, as you can rely on your combined force to spot and eliminate enemies.

The experience was smooth enough and pretty lag free, although there were some funky ragdoll effects on the dead bodies after you eliminate them. Weapons feel pretty good although and the detailed animations, like when you're jumping over a fence, are subtle yet quite impressive.

Battlefield 3, at least from the multiplayer beta, is looking extremely good, not just when you consider the great visuals of the Frostbite 2 engine, but also in terms of gameplay and design.

The Battlefield 3 beta is now available on the PC, through EA's Origin digital distribution service, on the PlayStation 3, via the PlayStation Store, and Xbox 360, throught he Xbox Live Marketplace.

You can check out a video of gameplay from the beta below.








Google Sends 450 Google+ Employees to Hawaii to Say 'Thank You'

Google has sent a bunch of its people, who work on Google+, to Hawaii. The excuse is that this is all work-related, but it seems that is more like a 'job well done (so far)' thank you from Google rather than anything else. 

The thing is not exactly public, but when so many people are flown half-way across the Pacific, things leak out. TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington got wind of the trip, but others have heard of it as well.

Of course, it's hard not to notice the stream of photos from Hawaii on Google+ from Google employees. 

Google has confirmed that it's sent part of the Google+ team to Hawaii, but hasn't said more. Apparently, it's not the first time it did this, after the initial, rather successful launch, part of the team went to Hawaii, on Google's dime, as well.

Perhaps now, the ones that didn't get to go the first time around got their chance as well.

Google has put a lot on Google+ and was adamant in getting it right. In fact, Google promised all employees, even those not working on Google+, a 25 percent hike to bonuses provided its social efforts were successful.

At the time, Google+ hadn't been announced and founder Larry Page was just getting started in his second stint as CEO. Of course, if Google's social ambitions failed to provide a successful product, all employees would have gotten 25 percent less in bonuses. It's probably safe to say this won't happen.

Google+ is growing nicely and should be getting close to 50 million users by now. Of course, the key number is how many of those actually visit the site on a regular basis. 

While the initial hype has died down, more mainstream users are only now starting to adopt the site. It's too early to tell though it they'll stick around for long.


Radeon HD 6900 and GeForce GTX 580 Successors to Arrive in 6 Months Time

Users waiting for AMD and Nvidia to release their next-generation graphics cards will have about six more months to wait until the replacements of the current Radeon HD 6900 and GeForce GTX 580 will arrive, states a report that recently hit the Web.

The information was provided by Taiwanese graphics card makers who told SweClockers they don't expect any new high-performance models to arrive in the near future from AMD or Nvidia.

Instead, it may take the two companies as much as six months to release their replacements for the current Radeon HD 6900 and GeForce GTX 580.

This report also seems to be confirmed by several other independent sources cited by the same publication, who believe that the two GPU makers will actually release their high-end solutions in spring or summer of 2012.

This however won't mean that the winter of 2011 will pass without any new GPUs being introduced, but these solutions will address the mainstream and notebook markets.

The main problem that need to be surpassed by the two GPU makers seems to be TSMC's inability to mass produce complex chips built using the 28nm fabrication node, as the yields achieved by the foundry are nowhere near the level they were expected to be.

Even though they use different design approaches, both AMD' Southern Islands and Nvidia's Kepler architectures were designed to increase the programmability of the graphics cards based on them.

The two companies took this route since they both feel that general purpose GPU computing could have a huge impact on next-generation machines as well as applications, and they want to prepare for when this moment will arrive.

In addition to the improved programmability, AMD's and Nvidia high-end GPUs should also deliver better gaming performance, as they will most probably include more shader units, thanks to the move to the new fabrication process.


Microsoft Security Essentials hates Google Chrome

In an development first reported by Ryan Naraine, the free antivirus and anti-malware program Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) has been deleting the popular Google Chrome browser claiming that it was a piece of malware from the Zeus family of trojans. The Chrome help forum logged over 289 comments  in less than 2 hours on this issue. Affected users all reported that MSE advised them that they had a malware attack, and asked if they wanted MSE to remove it. If the user said yes, (and who would not?) then the “malware” was removed by MSE. As part of the removal process the user was asked to restart the affected machine. Once rebooted, Chrome was gone.

The Zeus Trojan has been responsible for over $70 million USD in losses to banks and businesses, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation. There are reports that the Zeus source code has been recently released into the public domain, making it a serious risk for businesses. Also, as business IT departments look for more ways to save deployment costs, Chrome and MSE are being seen on more and more desktops in businesses, not just home computers.

Microsoft was quick to respond to the issue and has issued a fix for the problem. Apparently, MSE saw the Zeus Trojan file PWS:Win32/Zbot in the chrome.exe file. Microsoft asks that MSE (and Microsoft Forefront as well since it uses the same anti-malware engine) users do the following: 

Microsoft recommends that you download the latest definitions to get protected.
 Detection last updated:
 Definition: 1.113.631.0
 Released: Sep 30, 2011 

Microsoft also issued a press release that stated as follows:
"On September 30th, 2011, an incorrect detection for PWS:Win32/Zbot was identified and as a result, Google Chrome was inadvertently blocked and in some cases removed from customers' PCs. We have already fixed the issue -- we released an updated signature (1.113.672.0) at 9:57 a.m. PDT -- but approximately 3,000 customers were impacted. Affected customers should manually update Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) with the latest signatures. To do this, simply launch MSE, go to the update tab and click the Update button, and then reinstall Google Chrome. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused our customers."

Because the Microsoft Terms of use specifically preclude any user of MSE from suing or otherwise seeking compensation for any losses, such as the time those who do not back up their extensions and bookmarks will spend rebuilding their browser and installing it, this is all you can expect from Microsoft. But then again it’s free after all.

The take away for users is first be sure you set up syncing for your bookmarks in Google Chrome. Second, never assume your computer is smarter than you are, and always review what it is going to do to itself before you click that button.


Installing Windows 8 Build 8102 M3 Screenshot Gallery

While Microsoft has not made public any new statistics related to the number of Windows Developer Preview downloads, beyond the 500,000 that were grabbed by early adopters in the first day after Windows 8 Build 8102 Milestone (M3) went live, I have a feeling that millions have already jumped at the chance to play with the next version of the OS. 

Having tested Windows 8 Developer Preview myself for over two weeks now, I thought I’d share some of my experiences, and what better way to start than with the installation. 

Check out the set of screenshots included below, they’ll help you get a feeling of the steps needed to be taken in order to deploy this early development milestone of Windows 8. 

The process is extremely simple, and virtually everyone can install Windows 8. But there are a few things that need to be stressed so that even end users can avoid any potential issues. 

Clean install on a dedicated computer or virtual machine deployment

The software giant would tell you that the best way to go is with installing Windows 8 on a dedicated machine, since virtualization technology is bound to impact the overall user experience by offering reduced performance, UI responsiveness, inferior graphics, well, you get the idea. 

My take is that both clean installs and virtual deployments are fair game, and that early adopters should test Windows 8 Build 8102 M3 the way they want, not how Microsoft intends. 

Newer machines are the best choice for a clean install, in terms of dedicated machines. Testers will want Windows 8 to work just as Windows 7. Having deployed Windows 8 a number of times already and in a variety of scenarios, my two cents are that there’s a greater chance of coming across some sort of problem the older that the test machine is. 

Windows 8 might very well deliver extraordinary compatibility with and support for hardware and software solutions, but that’s yet to happen. It will most probably be true for the Release Candidate (RC) and RTM, but the Developer Preview is just an M3. Incompatibilities exist. Some drivers are not supported. Like as I said, use a recently released PC. 

Dedicated 

Since dedicated machines just for testing at not at the disposal of all users, the most common test scenario that I expect involves deploying Windows 8 on an existing Windows 7 PC in a dual boot configuration. 

It’s easy. No worries. Just make sure you have a free partition. At least 20GB if you’re going to test x64 (64-bit) Windows 8, or 16BG for the x86 (32-bit) version. This is really important as the installation process would fail unless these numbers are right. 

On an already portioned HDD, rightly click My Computer and select Manage – you need to have admin privileges. On the left hand side pane, select disk management. It might take a few moments for all the hard drive info to be displayed, Be patient. 

If you have a Basic disk than you can go ahead with the clean install. If the disk is dedicated, virtualization is the way to go for you. 

Let’s assume that your disk is Basic and that you have at least one partition which can be shrunk. Right click it and select Shrink Volume, and enter the equivalent of at least 20GB. I’d also do this even for x86 deployments, just to be safe. If you plan to use Windows 8 Build M3 extensively, then provide it with more disk space. 

When shrinking a volume, new, unallocated space results. Right click that and select to create a new simple volume, format it NTFS, a quick format will do just fine, allocate a drive letter to it, well, just follow the wizard, its guidance is pretty good. 

One you have created the new partition, you’re ready to go to the next stage. 

USB deployment, DVD install, and other options

The Windows 7 USB / DVD Download Tool is you’re best choice for creating DVD media, or a bootable USB device from one of the Windows 8 ISO images. 


The last two can be burned to a DVD. Use the Windows 7 USB / DVD Download Tool to do so, and trust the resource’s wizard, it couldn’t really be much simpler than it makes it to be. 

You’ll find it a tad more difficult to create a bootable DVD from the Windows Developer Preview with developer tools English, 64-bit (x64) ISO, since it weights no less than 4.8 GB. This is better tailored to the creation of a bootable USB. Use the same tool, but keep in mind that you need a flash drive with at least 12 GB of free space. 

One you have your Windows 8 bootable USB or DVD, restart the machine, check the screen for information on which key to press to select an alternative boot device to the HDD, point the PC to where you want it, and follow the installer’s instructions, making sure to select the new partition that you created. 

An alternative to booting

There are actually options to installing Windows 8 from a USB device or from a DVD. You can still create a bootable flash drive or media, or use a disk image emulator, such as Daemon Tools, to deploy Windows 8 right from your existing installation of Windows to the new partition. 

The trick here is to open the mounted ISO of Windows 8, or the bootable USB / DVD, nut not launch Setup. Instead dig into the sources folder and launch the Setup you find there. Again, follow the instructions of the installer.

Virtualization

If you plan on going virtual, then your options are a bit limited, meaning that you can use only Hyper-V in Windows 8 Developer Preview, Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2, VMware Workstation 8.0 for Windows and VirtualBox 4.1.2 for Windows to successfully deploy and Windows 8 Developer Preview Build 8102 M3, at this point in time. 

Looking at this list, the best choice is VirtualBox 4.1.2 for Windows, since it’s free. , VMware Workstation 8.0 for Windows will cost you a pretty penny, and Hyper-V in Windows 8 Developer Preview means that you’d already have Build 8102 deployed. Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2 is also a valid option, but I doubt that there are all that many users running Windows Server. 

If you want to perform a Windows 8 inception, namely clean install the Developer Preview and then deploy Build 8102 inside a Hyper-V VM running in Windows 8, then you need to know that the client hypervisor needs a processor with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) - Extended Page Tables (EPT) for Intel CPUs and Nested Page Tablets (NPT) for AMD chips. 

Certain Intel Core i7, Core i5, and Core i3 processors support SLAT, just AMD’s Barcelona CPUs. Use Sysinternals Coreinfo to check support. Download, unzip and place Coreinfo in your Windows installation partition, let say in C:\. Launch cmd with admin rights, type “cd c:\” hit Enter, and then coreinfo.exe –v and hit Enter again to dump virtualization info, including support for SLAT. 

Look for an asterix for Extended Page Tablets (EPT) for Intel processors and for Nested Page Tablets (NPT) on AMD chips. If it’s there, you’ll be able to enable Hyper-V in the Windows 8 client. If it’s not, then you won’t. Running Intel Core 2 Duo? Though luck! Just a quick mention, Windows Server 8 Hyper-V and Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V don’t require SLAT. 

But, as I’ve said, VirtualBox 4.1.2 for Windows is the way to go. Download and install it, and fire it up in order to create virtual machine. Again, follow the wizard’s instructions and everything will be fine. Give the Windows 8 VM at some 2 GB of RAM and at least 20 GB of storage space (or just allocate dynamic storage). 

One the virtual machine is created, launch it, under Devices, select CD/DVD Drive, and point the VM to the Windows 8 ISO. My advice is to use the x86 flavor of Windows 8 inn virtualization scenarios. 

Speed

I’ll say this. Deploying Windows 8, either in a virtual machine or performing a clean install right on the HDD / SDD feels faster than the same process for Windows 7 or any of its predecessors. 

I don’t have any performance benchmark data to share, this is just my perception over the installation of Windows 8, but I’m sure that additional early adopters will agree with me. As new testers all you have to do is grab the one of the free Windows 8 ISO images that Microsoft is offering and give it a try.


























Windows 8 Developer Preview Build 8102 Milestone 3 (M3) is available for download here.

Alpenfohn K2 CPU Cooler Ready to Freeze

Alpenfohn did say, a while ago, that it would launch a new high-end cooler, and the moment has arrived at long last, the K2 finally stepping forward to have its mettle tested.

Processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, at least those aimed at enthusiasts and gamers, now have a new cooler to lie under. 

The K2, as the newcomer is called, is compatible with not just Intel LGA 775, LGA 1155, LGA 1156 and LGA 1366 chips, but also AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+ and FMI units from AMD.

It is a fairly effective active air cooler, though 'fairly' may be something of a massive understatement at this point.

The fact that it weighs a massive 1,415 grams an measures 143 x 154 x 160 mm makes it obvious that the case of a PC will have to be big and spacious on the inside.

The rest of the specs are in order with what a high-end cooler is supposed to accomplish, from the twin-tower heatsink to the existence of two bundled fans instead of just one.

The Alpenfohn K2 , to be more specific, has two Wing Boost PWM fans, one of which has a diameter of 140 mm and a rotary speed of 300 to 1,100 RPM (rotations per minute) and another, a 120 mm model, which works at 500 to 1,500 RPM.

In that order, they produce maximum noise levels of 19.4 dBA and 24.8 dBA, respectively.

As for what the item is actually composed of, the copper base and eight nickel-plated, 6 mm copper heatpipes handle the part of CPU heat absorption and conduction.

Finally, the aluminum fin towers (two, also nickel-plated) spread the heat around, leaving it to the aforementioned fans to disperse it.

Caseking is already shipping this product, for the price of 74.90 Euro, which more or less equals $100.54, based on current exchange rates.


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