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Oct 14, 2011

Windows 8 DirectX Feature Evolution

Windows 8 will not bring to the table an evolution of the underlying graphics platform of the same magnitude as the move from DirectX 10 to DirectX 11, as in fact, the OS still features DirectX 11. 

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t improvements to speak of, because this is not the case. 

In fact, according to the software giant, the Windows 8 DirectX 11 feature enhancements will end up benefiting not only developers, but also end users and system manufacturers. 

The Redmond company published a whitepaper titled “Windows Display Driver Model Enhancements in Windows Developer Preview” on the Windows Dev Center, the hub set up especially for Windows 8, and launched with the release of Build 8102 Milestone 3 (M3). 

Microsoft stresses that even on lower-power hardware, applications designed to take advantage of DirectX will be able to deliver higher performance, pointing to configurations such as pixel formats (5551, 565, 4444) as an example. 

There are additional improvements that Microsoft highlighted for Windows 8 DirectX, including:
  • “High Level Shader model performance improvements that can enable developers to do more on the GPU without involving the CPU: Double-precision shader functionality 
  • Higher performance anti-aliasing path for D2D applications: Target-independent rasterization 
  • Higher performance for Direct3D11.1 applications on mobile platforms and power constraint devices that use tile-based renderers: No overwrite and discard
  • Added capabilities to enable shader debugging at all shader stages on DirectX 11.1 hardware: UAVs at every stage
  • Enabling Direct3D 11 applications to implement high-quality rendering algorithms without needing to allocate memory for large numbers of samples: Unordered access views with multi-sample anti-alias sample access
  • Improvements to deferred shading techniques: Logic ops
  • Efficient buffer management for game developers: Improved control of constant buffers.”

Early adopters can of course download the whitepaper dealing with WDDM 1.2, and get additional details about all Windows 8 DirectX enhancements. More importantly, they can also grab Windows 8 Developer Preview and test the release themselves, while remembering that this is still in pre-Beat stage and issues are inherent, including driver problems.

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

AMD Could Turn to TSMC for Upcoming Bulldozer CPUs

All the manufacturing issues that have affected Globalfoundries' 32 nm HKMG chip fabrication process seem to have made AMD to reconsider its feature strategy since the company is now rumored to be considering TSMC for the manufacturing of its upcoming Bulldozer processors.

This information comes from the Turkish Donanim Haber website, which states that it has found out from some unnamed sources that AMD is seeking to expand its ties with TSMC.

The chip maker is reportedly interested on turning to TSMC for manufacturing its upcoming processors based on the Bulldozer architecture, as it has come to be dissatisfied with the performance achieved by Globalfoundries with its 32nm HKMG fabrication process.

Right now, the Taiwanese foundry produces accelerated processing units from AMD's C- and E-Series, but this would be the first time that the chip maker would rely on TSMC for building a chip as complex as Bulldozer.

We first heard about AMD's troubles with the Globalfoundries at the end of September when Thomas Seifert, CFO and former interim CEO of AMD, said the outfit he works for is disappointed with the 32nm production performance achieved by foundry.

Since then, we have seen AMD having to adjust its projections for Q3 revenue in order to make up for the poor yields achieved in the production of the Llano APUs.

These yield issues also led AMD to revise its chip fabrication deal with Globalfoundries in April of this year in order to pay only for the good chips that are manufactured by GloFlo and not for the wafers coming out of production.

Considering the recent issues faced by the Globalfoundries it would make a lot of sense for AMD to search for another partner for the fabrication of its CPUs, but there are a few things that make TSMC an unlikely candidate.

The first one is that even if the foundry has managed to deploy the HKMG (high-K metal gate transistor) technology in production this is only in its infancy, and, even more importantly, TSMC doesn't have a 32nm bulk node, as this was scrapped in favor of 28nm.

Redesigning a chip for 28nm manufacturing is a price and lengthy process, so I doubt that AMD has the resources required for such a transition at this point in time.

iOS 5 - The Full Feature Set

Apple rolled out iOS 5 this week, the latest major update to its advanced mobile operating system powering iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch players.

While most of the details are out regarding iOS 5, we’re yet to post the full set of changes for those who decided to put their update on hold until Apple resolved any server issues or errors that early adopters have encountered.

It is all too well known that iOS 5 brings support for iCloud, Apple’s breakthrough cloud service that keeps all your stuff updated on all your devices and computers, and even your Windows PC.

iOS 5 also brings Siri, the amazing personal assistant with a voice that understands not only the words you speak, but also context. It allows you to get loads of tasks done only by speaking. In a nutshell, your word is its command, as Apple themselves put it.

The software also comes with: Notification Center, which totally changes the way you receive and interact with alerts; iMessage, which should mark the first real blow to paid SMS as we know it (at least for iPhone owners); Twitter integration; Photo and Mail improvements; a better Calendar app; a new organizer; new accessibility improvements, as well as more than 1,500 new APIs for developers.

iOS 5 also brings over-the-air (OTA) software updates, and this is just naming a few of the key additions. 

The full iOS 5 changelog wasn’t made available on Apple's Downloads section, but it does pop up on your computer’s display as soon as you update to OS X 10.7.2 and iTunes 10.5, and connect your iPhone.

Apple advertises iOS as the most advanced mobile OS out there, and the heart and soul of its iDevices

If you haven’t taken the plunge already, here’s what you’re missing (full release notes, courtesy of Apple):

iOS 5 Software Update

This update contains over 200 new features, including the following:

  • Notifications
    • Swipe from the top of any screen to view notifications in one place with Notification Center
    • New notifications appear briefly at the top of the screen
    • View notifications from lock screen
    • Slide the notification app icon to the right on the lock screen to go directly to the app
  • iMessage
    • Send and receive unlimited text, photo, and video messages with other iOS 5 users
    • Track messages with delivery and read receipts
    • Group messaging and secure encryption
    • Works over cellular network and Wi-Fi*
  • Newsstand
    • Automatically organizes magazine and newspaper subscriptions on Home Screen
    • Displays the cover of the latest issue
    • Background downloads of new issues 
    • Reminders for managing to do lists
    • Syncs with iCloud, iCal and Outlook
    • Location-based reminders when you leave or arrive at a location for iPhone 4S and iPhone 4
  • Built-in support for Twitter
    • Sign-in once in Settings and tweet directly from Camera, Photos, Maps, Safari and YouTube
    • Add location to any tweet
    • View twitter profile pictures and usernames in Contacts
  • Camera improvements for devices with cameras
    • Double click the home button when device is asleep to bring up a camera shortcut on iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and iPod touch (4th generation)
    • Volume Up button to take a picture
    • Optional grid lines to line up shots
    • Pinch to zoom in the preview screen
    • Swipe to camera roll from preview screen
    • Tap and hold to lock focus and exposure, iPad 2 and iPod touch (4th generation) only support exposure lock
  • Photo improvements for devices with cameras
    • Crop and rotate
    • Red eye removal
    • One tap enhance
    • Organize photos into albums
  • Mail improvements
    • Format text using bold, italic, or underlined fonts
    • Indentation control
    • Drag to rearrange names in address fields
    • Flag messages
    • Mass mark messages as flagged, read or unread
    • Customize mail alert sounds
    • S/MIME
  • Calendar improvements
    • Year view on iPad and new Week view for iPhone and iPod touch
    • Tap to create an event
    • View and add event attachments
  • Game Center improvements
    • Use personal photos for your Game Center account
    • Compare your overall achievement scores with your friends
    • Find new Game Center friends with friend recommendations and friends of friends
    • Discover new games with custom game recommendations
  • AirPlay Mirroring for iPad 2 and iPhone 4S
  • Multitasking Gestures for iPad
    • Use four or five fingers to pinch to the Home Screen
    • Swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar
    • Swipe left or right to switch between apps
  • On-device setup, activation and configuration with Setup Assistant
  • Software updates available over the air without tethering
  • iCloud support
    • iTunes in the Cloud
    • Photo Stream
    • Documents in the Cloud
    • Apps and Books automatic download and purchase history
    • Backup
    • Contacts, Calendar, and Mail
    • Find My iPhone
  • Redesigned Music app for iPad
  • Hourly weather forecast
  • Real-time stock quotes
  • Wireless sync to iTunes
  • Keyboard improvements
    • Split keyboard for iPad
    • Improved autocorrection accuracy
    • Improved Chinese and Japanese input
    • New Emoji keyboard
    • Personal dictionary for autocorrection
    • Optionally create keyboard short cuts for frequently used words
  • Accessibility improvements
    • Option to light LED flash on incoming calls and alerts for iPhone 4S and iPhone 4
    • Custom vibration patterns for incoming calls on iPhone
    • New interface for using iOS with mobility-impairment input devices
    • Option to speak a selection of text
    • Custom element labeling for VoiceOver
  • Exchange ActiveSync improvements
    • Wirelessly sync tasks
    • Mark messages as flagged, read or unread
    • Improved offline support
    • Save a new contact from a GAL service
  • More than 1,500 new developer APIs
  • Bug fixes

Products compatible with this software update:
  • iPhone 4S
  • iPhone 4
  • iPhone 3GS
  • iPad 2
  • iPad
  • iPod touch (4th generation)
  • iPod touch (3rd generation)

* Normal carrier data rates may apply. Messages will be sent as SMS when iMessage is unavailable, carrier messaging fees apply.

For information on the security content of this update, please visit this website: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1222

ASRock Motherboards Get Support for AMD FX-Series CPUs

ASRock has just released a new series of BIOS updates for the company's AM3 and AM3+ motherboards that enable these solutions to work with the recently released AMD FX-Series processors based on the Bulldozer architecture.

The updates cover no less than 19 board models built using various chipsets, ranging from the newly released 990FX controller to some models built using the Nvidia GeForce 7025 chipset.

ASRock hasn't mentioned if all of their motherboards are able to work with eight-core AMD Bulldozer CPUs, like the FX-8150 and FX-8120, but it's expected that entry level solutions will be limited at supporting 95W chips.

The top of line motherboards for Bulldozer released by ASRock is the Fatal1ty 990FX Professional, which carries support for two-way CrossFireX and SLI setups and provides its users with a wide range of overclocking options.

AMD launched its first FX-Series processors just two days ago, and the initial processor batch is comprised of four chips, including eight, six or four computing cores.

Prices range between $245 US (178 Euros) for the top of the line FX-8150, with eight CPU cores working at a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, to $115 for the quad-core FX-4100 which also works at the same 3.6GHz base frequency (about 84 Euros).

Both in Europe and in the US, the initial retail prices are a bit higher than those recommended by AMD, but these are expected to settle once demand and supply is stabilized.

Despite the huge hype surrounding the FX-Series and the Bulldozer architecture, reviewers seem to be skeptic of AMD's success as the high-end FX-8150 lags in many cases behind the cheaper Intel Core i5-2500K.

Nokia 700, 701, 500 and 101 Arrive in Philipinnes

Nokia has just announced the availability of four handset in Philippines, the Symbian Belle-based Nokia 700 and 701, Symbian Anna-powered Nokia 500 and the Nokia 101 feature-phone.

The phones are available for purchase starting this week at all Nokia stores across the country for prices ranging from P14,490 to P1,490.

The most expensive of the four is Nokia 701, which is priced at P15,990 ($370 or 270 EUR), while the next line is Nokia 700 valued at P14,490 (about $334 or 243 EUR).

Nokia 500 will be available for P9,290 ($214 or 156 EUR), whereas the cheapest is the Nokia 101, which will go for P1,490 ($34 or 25 EUR).

Nokia 701 and 701 are delivered with Symbian Belle on board, as well as NFC (Near Field Communication) support.

Each are equipped with a 1 GHz processor, but pack different cameras and touchscreen displays. 

Nokia 701 has a 3.5-inch LED-backlit IPS TFT, capacitive touchscreen with 360 x 640 pixels resolution, whereas Nokia 700 comes with a slightly smaller 3.2-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen.

However, both are protected by Gorilla Glass and are based on Nokia's ClearBlack display technology.

Nokia stands true to its commitment of connecting the next billion consumers with these four new features-packed, high-powered handsets. These new mobile phones each address specific consumer needs, promising to enhance user experience,” said Mike Smith, device portfolio manager of Nokia Philippines.

Nokia 500 is one of the affordable Symbian Anna smartphones recently launched by the Finnish company.

Except the 1GHz processor, the phone's specs are not impressive at all. It comes with a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen with 16 million colors support and 360 x 640 pixels resolution.

The smarpthone also offers 2GB of internal memory, 256 MB of RAM, 512 MB of ROM and microSD card slot for memory expansion (up to 32GB).

Last, but not least, the 101 is Nokia's cheapest dual-sim handset and comes with features such as flashlight, FM Radio and microSD card slot.

MSI Motherboard Owners Can Upgrade Their BIOS

Advanced Micro Devices just launched the FX series of CPUs, the first members of it anyway, and Micro-Star International wasted no time in directing its customers to the download links of the updated BIOS versions. 

It isn't uncommon for motherboards to, physically, be able to support processors that did not exist when they were launched. 

After all, if the socket fits, then logic dictates that there should be some way for the chip to work. 

Still, though the hardware might have nothing against an advanced chip, the software often doesn't have what it takes to keep up. 

The BIOS is the main element of the equation that has to be updated in such a situation, since operating systems can get everything they need from a driver (and often don't really need a new one).

In this case, AMD launched the FX-Series of central processing units, codenamed Bulldozer. 

Disappointing overall performance aside, owners of a motherboard from Micro-Star International will probably want the latest BIOS package. 

MSI actually set up a special web page just for the purpose of making it easy to get it, or them (if one happens to have more than one desktop, with different motherboards). 

Of course, the boards that MSI will sell from now on should support the chips out of the box (and have "Supports AM3+ CPU with New BIOS" written on the package somewhere). 

This announcement will serve people who bought a compatible platform prior to the availability of these updated boards. 

MSI even implemented support for the ClickBIOS II system optimization tool, which functions on all AMD 900 models. 

It provides mainboard-level support and exports OC profiles to USB drives, for practicality and convenience reasons. 

Go here to see a full list of supported (and soon-to-be supported) motherboards and the respective BIOS links.

Ex-AMD Engineer Blames Bulldozer's Low Performance on Lack of Fine Tuning

AMD recently launched FX-Series processors based on the Bulldozer architecture haven't managed to deliver the performance everybody expected them to, and an ex-AMD engineer has recently come out to share its vision regarding the Bulldozer performance issues. 

Cliff A. Maier has worked as a member of AMD's technical staff until a few years ago, when it left the company at about the same time as AMD has started to use automated design tools for its chips.

According to the engineer, the fact that Bulldozer arrived later than everybody expected it has little to do with its performance problems, as the main issue that affected the architecture was the chip makers adoption of automated design techniques.

Compared to the traditional design techniques that rely on hand-crafting performance-critical parts of the processor, automated tools speed up the design process, but cannot ensure maximum performance and efficiency.

"The management decided there should be such cross-engineering [between AMD and ATI teams within the company] ,which meant we had to stop hand-crafting our CPU designs and switch to an SoC design style,” said Maier in a forum post on Insideris.com.

“This results in giving up a lot of performance, chip area, and efficiency. The reason DEC Alphas were always much faster than anything else is they designed each transistor by hand. Intel and AMD had always done so at least for the critical parts of the chip. 

“That changed before I left - they started to rely on synthesis tools, automatic place and route tools, etc.," continued the engineer.

According to Maier, automatically-generated designs can be 20% bigger and slower that hand-crafted silicon, leading to an increased transistor count, increased die space and low energy-efficieny. 

"I had been in charge of our design flow in the years before I left, and I had tested these tools by asking the companies who sold them to design blocks (adders, multipliers, etc.) using their tools. I let them take as long as they wanted. 

“They always came back to me with designs that were 20% bigger, and 20% slower than our hand-crafted designs, and which suffered from electro-migration and other problems," the former AMD engineer said.

AMD's desktop version of Bulldozer has in total about 2 billion transistors, a particularly large number, which makes it nearly the size of a GPU chip and comes to support Maier's theory.

Each of the Bullodzer modules, containing two computing cores and 2MB of unified L2 cache, includes 213 million transistors and measures 30.9mm2 in size, which means that a quad-module chip should equal about 52 million of transistors and take 123.6mm2 of die space.

In AMD's design, these modules are accompanied by 8MB of Level 3 cache, which should come to include about 405 million transistors, meaning that about 800 million transistors are dedicated to the memory controller, I/O interfaces and various other logic.

This is a particularly large number no matter how you look at it, and is just shy of the 995 million transistors used by Intel in its Sandy Bridge processors that also come with an integrated graphics core and PCI Express controller.

Right now we don't know if this large number of transistors is actually necessary or if it's the result of the automated tools Maier blames for the performance of Bulldozer, but it definitely seems like something fishy is going on with Bulldozer. (via Xbit Labs)

iPhone 4S Teardown Confirms 512MB RAM, Upgraded Battery

The tinkerers at iFixit are at it again with their Pentalobe screwdriver and a keen sense of humor in their latest teardown of the latest Apple iPhone.

Joking all the way through the teardown in an imaginary dialog with Siri, the iOS 5 personal assistant, iFixit pried open the iPhone 4S to reveal pretty much what had already been confirmed, but with many more technical details.

For instance, they reveal that “Apple is again using Pentalobe screws to secure the rear panel and keep people out.”

Once the glass plates were off, the team got a clear view of the markings on the new battery: “…there it is: an extra .05 WHrs in the battery over the iPhone 4!”

iPhone 4 users won’ be able to upgrade their existing battery to the new one as “it appears that the connectors are [of] different shapes,” according to iFixit.

Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 4S offers continuous talk time of 8 hrs on 3G, up to 14 hrs on 2G, and up to 200 hrs on standby.

“Comparing these times to those of the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S offers an extra hour of talk time on the 3G network, the same amount of talk time on the 2G network, and 100 hours less standby time,” says iFixit. “Taking into account the upgrade in hardware that comes with the 4S, though, the power consumption seems rather efficient.”

After removing the EMI panels, the team got a closer look at the iPhone 4S logic board which “bears a close resemblance to its stateside CDMA counterpart.” Their initial findings included:

Apple A5 Dual-core Processor

Qualcomm RTR8605 Multi-band/mode RF Transceiver.

Skyworks 77464-20 Load-Insensitive Power Amplifier (LIPA®) module developed for WCDMA applications

Avago ACPM-7181 Power Amplifier

TriQuint TQM9M9030 Multi-Mode Quad-Band Power Amplifier Module.

TriQuint TQM66052 (possibly a PA-Duplexer Module)

Mysterious Apple chip with markings 338S0987 B0FL1129 SGP

A dissection of the Apple A5 chip confirmed the 512 MB of DDR2 RAM.

“How do we know it's 512 MB? Check out the marking, specifically E4E4, denoting two 2 Gb LPDDR2 die—for a total of 4 Gb—or 512 MB,” say the tinkerers who credit Anandtech for deciphering the amount of RAM.

The back side of the logic board showed the following:

Qualcomm MDM6610 chipset (an upgrade from the iPhone 4's MDM6600)

Apple 338S0973, which appears to be a power management IC, according to Chipworks.

Reading the covered chip at an angle reveals "PM8028," which is a Qualcomm power management IC.

Toshiba THGVX1G7D2GLA08 16 GB 24 nm MLC NAND flash memory.

The vibrator motor was also a noteworthy piece of hardware inside the new iPhone 4S. According to the technicians, Apple has decided to go with a linear oscillating vibrator, as opposed to a rotational electric motor with counterweight.

“This vibrator motor is quieter, softer, and all-around less annoying than its counter-weighted predecessor,” says iFixit.

The team gave the iPhone 4S a repairability score 6 out of 10, with 10 being the easiest to repair. “Very little has changed from the iPhone 4 in terms of repairability, they concluded.

BlackBerry Network Recovering on Day 4 - 10/13/2011

Three days after RIM's network experienced one of the worst outage in the company's history, it appears BlackBerry services are now being restored gradually.

BlackBerry users started to experience issues with BlackBerry services on Monday, but RIM was mum on the matter until the next day when it came forward with a short statement saying that the issues only affected users in EMEA and that they had been solved.

Unfortunately, the outage moved to Americas the second day, as users in Canada, the United States, South and Latin America started to report that they were unable to use any BlackBerry service.

On day three, BlackBerry users all over the world went crazy over the outage, as RIM was still trying to figure out what had really caused its systems to fail.

It took RIM almost four days to put its systems back up, but we are starting to receive reports from BlackBerry owners in different regions that services are now partially functional.

In its latest service update, RIM details the BlackBerry network status by region.

For Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA): email and BBM services are fully functional, BIS is still unavailable;

For Canada and Latin America: email and BBM services are functional; BIS service is online as well, except for three carrier networks in Latin America that are serviced by the EMEIA infrastructure (BIS temporarily unavailable); BBM delays reports are investigated.

For the USA: email, BBM and BIS are functional; BBM delay reports are investigated.

If you're still affected, let us know in the comments which BlackBerry services you cannot access and make sure you state your location.

UPDATE: 11:30PM UTC on 10/12/2011 - BlackBerry services, including BBM, are up for a portion of users in the UK 

UPDATE 2: 2:00AM UTC - services restored in the Netherlands

UPDATE 3: 4:00AM UTC - services fully restored on Orange Romania (Europe)

UPDATE 4: RIM's status update does not seem entirely consistent with the reports we're getting from users. It looks like there are regions in the USA where service hasn't been restored at all. The same applies to portions of Canada.

UPDATE 5: 8:00AM UTC - Germany sees restored email and BIS but BlackBerry Messenger still has delays of up to 1 hour.

UPDATE 6: 1:00PM UTC - BB services have been fully restored to most European countries. North American users still see downtime or delays.

UPDATE 7: 1:30PM UTC - on Orange Romania there's a 100% outage for emails, BBM and Internet apps. If any of you are affected by this second relapse, please state your location and operator.

UPDATE 8: 2:30PM UTC - A tweet from BlackBerry's UK account claims that any "remaining" issues should be cleared by a cold reboot of your BB device (battery pull).

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