- Nexus 4 and Nexus 10: A Closer Look
- AMD Will Build 64-bit ARM based Opteron CPUs for Servers, Production in 2014
- Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8X by HTC Preview
- Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 Event - Liveblog
- LG and Google Announce the Nexus 4, Starts at $299
- Intel SSD 335 (240GB) Review
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 08:03 PM PDT
If we'd never heard the name Sandy, we'd have featured two live blogs today, and had a few hours to spend with the latest members of the Nexus family. Sadly, Google's event was canceled and so we're left with press images and specifications. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to discuss, so let's get started.
The Nexus 4
The Nexus program has always had three components: a platform, an OEM and new software. The platform is the SoC and other internal hardware components that define the performance characteristics Google would like to see all manufacturers pursue. The OEM partner works with Google in design and features, and, of course, manufacturing and packaging. At times the platform and OEM have fit hand in glove, with the platform and design hewn from an existing product. We saw this in the Nexus One, which mirrored the hardware HTC was offering in the Droid Incredible and several other models. We saw this again with the Nexus S, which was strikingly similar to Samsung's Galaxy S, within and without. The Galaxy Nexus was a strange departure, owing its internals to a platform preferred by Motorola, but with a design that foretold Samsung's next iteration of the Galaxy S family. And now, there's the Nexus 4, which could have easily been called the Optimus Nexus or the Nexus G, were it not for Google finding a nomenclature they liked.
Gallery: Google Nexus 4 Press Shots
Looking at the LG Optimus G's spec sheet alongside that of the Nexus 4 could leave one a bit bemused at how little has really changed. The same SoC, RAM, display, connectivity and battery configuration are shared by both devices. The Nexus 4 adds wireless charging, and wireless display courtesy of the Miracast standard. The design is familiar, but distinct; taking the hard lines of the rather square Optimus and softening them to form the Nexus. But much of the distinction comes in two key areas: price and software.
In lieu of a drastic overhaul of Jelly Bean, this point advance refines various features we've already seen. Photo Sphere expands the panorama function to generate a composite that includes frames in multiple axes, resulting in an image similar to those you find in Google's Street View. A new text input option comes with Gesture Typing, which mimics Swype's mechanism of having the user glide their finger between target letters. Miracast is enabled with the update, which serves as an answer to Apple's AirPlay, though the ubiquity of Apple TV trumps that of Miracast-enabled displays. Quick Actions for Notifications and Google Now have been expanded and the Google Search results are now graced by their Knowledge Graph. LG will certainly work to have Android 4.2 ready for their Optimus G, before too long, but the Nexus 4's present exclusivity, and promise of future updates gives it an edge.
Then there's price. The Nexus One premiered with impressive specs for the time and was a shot across the bow by Google against the US carriers. By tying us to lengthy contracts, US carriers maintain all of the agency for device selection, pricing and software bloat. By offering a halo phone from their own store, and selling it unlocked, Google offered an alternative. There were a few problems, though, with the price chief among them. At $529 off-contract, the Nexus One was priced similarly to other off-contract devices, but was far in excess of what consumers typically spend on even high-end devices. So, the experiment was a bit of a failure, with most off-contract buyers being enthusiasts and technophiles.
The LG Optimus G is available through AT&T off-contract for an oddly familiar $549, while the Nexus 4 sheds $250 from the price along with 8 GB of NAND and the microSD slot. We'll refrain from making a to-do about the storage limitations, and focus on the unprecedented value that this device offers. And this makes it the shot across the bow for which the Nexus One was intended. But there's a different cost: LTE.
The GSM/HSPA networks that dominate internationally, and are featured here with AT&T and T-Mobile, offer interoperability across certain limited bands. The result is that a pentaband device can operate on nearly any GSM/HSPA network in the world. LTE interoperability is a rat's nest that may never be solved. Many more bands can be utilized and for those carrier's with legacy CDMA networks there remains a certification process that must be undergone by new hardware and software. The result is that no one device would operate on the panoply of networks in the US alone, and couldn't operate on several of them at all without direct involvement by the carriers. So, in order to maintain independence from the carrier taint, Google omits LTE and foregoes CDMA2000 networks like Verizon or Sprint.
Does lacking the most modern air interface make this a lame duck? That's for you to decide. This remains the highest bang for your buck we've seen in an off-contract phone. At least on paper. We'll see how things look for sure in the review.
The Nexus 10
Samsung's involvement in the second Nexus tablet comes at an interesting time in the Android tablet market. The iPad's success persists like a runaway freight train; updated hardware and a new form factor seem almost superfluous to the knowledge that the iPad will sell millions of units before the holidays. Despite previously flagging sales and market enthusiasm, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire demonstrated that there's life in the Android tablet market. So, with portability and affordability seemingly of paramount concern to tablet buyers, what's the place of a high-end, 10" tablet?
Gallery: Google Nexus 10 Press Shots
The Nexus 10 marries the highest resolution display found on any tablet, with the latest CPU and GPU from ARM's design works. The SoC is the long awaited Exynos 5 Dual, the first with ARM's Cortex-A15 cores, and Mali-T604 GPU. Anand's been chugging away at the review for the most recent Chromebook, the first device to feature the Exynos 5 Dual, and will dig deep into the performance of the hardware, so we'll save plenty for that. I will mention again, though, that one of the key features of the SoC is the enormous memory bandwidth.
When Apple introduced the Retina display on the iPad (early 2012) we explored the importance of memory bandwidth to be able to generate all those pixels at a high frame rate. For Apple the solution in the A5X was to develop a configuration of four 32-bit channels connected to LP-DDR2 memory with a 400 MHz clock. The resulting bandwidth was an impressive 12.8 GB/s. The Exynos 5 Dual matches that figure, but does so with half the channels at twice the clocks while utilizing low-voltage DDR3 memory (2x32bit @800 MHz).
Where the Nexus 10 matches the iPad for memory bandwidth, it exceeds it in resolution. There was a time not so long ago that resolutions of 2560x1600 (WQXGA) were the stuff of 27" and 30" monitors, intended for workstations and gaming enthusiasts. As of November 13th, though, you'll find it in a 10" tablet weighing in at under two-thirds of a kilogram. We're sticklers for waiting till we've dissected things before we sing their praises, but historically, Samsung's done good things with these PLS devices in their tablets.
Android 4.2 is on board, with a few tweaks for the tablet set. A new multi-user option will allow multiple people to share a tablet with each user given their own configuration and data. It will be interesting to see the way this is implemented, how resources and storage are shared amongst users, how apps common to multiple users are handled.
With so much performance and so many pixels on hand, the Nexus 10 is a clear grab for iPad sales. Whether it sees success similar to the Nexus 7 may depend in part on pricing. At $399 for the 16 GB model, and $499 for the 32 GB model, the Nexus 10 undercuts the iPad by $100 across the board. Does that price make the Nexus 10 a clear recommendation of the recently updated iPad? We'll have to wait and see.
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 01:48 PM PDT
Last year AMD officially became an ARM licensee, although the deal wasn't publicized at the time. Fast forward to June 2012 and we saw the first fruits of that deal: AMD announced it would integrate ARM's Cortex A5 core into its 2013 APUs to enable TrustZone support.
Today comes a much bigger announcement: AMD will be building Opteron processors based on a 64-bit ARM architecture. There are no product announcements today, but the 64-bit ARM Opterons will go into production in 2014. Today's announcement is about a processor license, not an ARM architecture license - in other words, AMD will integrate an ARM designed 64-bit core for this new Opteron.
The only other detail we know is that these ARM based Opterons will embed SeaMicro's Freedom Fabric, presumably on-die.
AMD offering ARM based Opterons is really to target the microserver market. As for why AMD isn't using Jaguar for these parts, it's likely that by going with ARM it can lower the development time and cost to get into this market. The danger here is the total microserver market is expected to be around 10% of the overall server market, but that includes x86 + ARM. With x86 as the default incumbent, it's going to be an uphill battle for AMD/ARM to carve out a significant portion of that market.
AMD was quick to mention that despite today's announcement, it will continue to build x86 CPUs and APUs for client and server markets.
Overall the move sounds a lot like AMD trying to move quickly to capitalize on a new market. It's unclear just how big the ARM based server market will be, but AMD seems to hope that it'll be on the forefront of that revolution - should it happen. Embracing ARM also further aligns AMD with one of Intel's most threatening sources of competition at this point. The question is whether or not AMD is doing itself more harm than good by working to devalue x86 in the server space. I suspect it'll be years before we know the real impact of AMD's move here.
The other major takeaway is that AMD is looking to find lower cost ways of bringing competitive platforms to market. I do think that a Jaguar based Opteron would likely be the best route for AMD, but it would also likely require a bit more effort than integrating an ARM core.
Obviously competition will be more prevalent in the ARM server space, but here is where AMD hopes its brand and position in the market will be able to give it an advantage. AMD will also be relying heavily on the SeaMicro Freedom Fabric for giving its ARM based Opterons a leg up on the competition. This is one time where I really wish AMD hadn't spun off its fabs.
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 11:10 AM PDT
For a long time Microsoft was in an enviable position in the smartphone space. It had almost all the pieces of the puzzle you’d expect for delivering a truly unique smartphone platform. It had the historical perspective, from the initial days of PocketPC, to Windows Mobile platforms, the software giant hasn’t exactly been uninvolved with the smartphone space. It is and remains first and foremost a software company, while other players come either the web or primarily hardware-focused perspectives. Lastly, it had the relationship with OEMs like HTC already, willing to commit to radically different platforms. It seemed like execution was just a matter of lining up all those assets and clicking go.
With Windows Phone 7, we saw Microsoft make a clean break from Windows Mobile and begin to morph the mobile experience from something tailored largely for users wanting a smartphone that emulated the Windows experience as much as possible on a smaller screen to a mobile-driven UI with a completely ground-up look at what needs to be part of a smartphone OS. WP7 was a radical re-imagining of Microsoft’s mobile story at a point in the smartphone explosion where it wasn’t very clear who would emerge victorious and who would fizzle out. I remember being at MIX10 two years ago and watching the elements of WP7 taking shape, and while that launch didn’t necessarily have every last feature needed to guarantee success, Windows Phone is still around and a few other big players notably aren’t. At that point Microsoft essentially started anew and since then has largely remained something of a number three in the smartphone OS space while iOS and Android have continued charging ahead. The question now is just how Windows Phone 8 will upset that balance.
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 09:58 AM PDT
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 09:39 AM PDT
This isn't how they wanted to do it, but LG and Google are going ahead with the announcement of the Nexus 4, and it's a steal. The lineage of the device is clear, with specs aping those of the LG Optimus G, but blessed with the latest update to Jelly Bean: Android 4.2. The Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro features four Krait cores clocked at 1.5GHz , the Adreno 320 GPU, and paired the requisite 2GB of RAM. The same 4.7" TrueHD IPS Plus display has a 1280x768 resolution, and the design is updated with a new back surface. Available in 8GB and 16GB configurations, the new Nexus will start at just $299, and top out at $349 unlocked and off-contract, through the Google Play Store on November 13th.
When Google's Galaxy Nexus was sold unlocked for $349 it was a stupendous bargain, despite somewhat dated hardware. With today's announcement, though, we have top of the line hardware being sold at prices that bend the price curve drastically against buying on-contract devices. We'll see how that all plays out over the coming months.
Update: And there it is! In addition to the Nexus 4, we'll also be seeing the Nexus stable expand with two new SKUs for the Nexus 7 and a brand new stablemate, the Nexus 10 from Samsung.
The first update to the Nexus 7 comes in a 32GB variant that takes the place of the original 16GB SKU at $249. The 16GB model now slots in at the $199 and both are joined by a new "mobile data" variant of the 32GB SKU that will be available unlocked for $299. The unlocked nature of the device indicates it may be 3G only, we'll dig in more in a second.
The Nexus 10 was first rumored just a few weeks ago, and piques our interest in a big way. Built in partnership with Samsung, the 10" tablet is powered by Samsung's Exynos 5 Dual (nee 5250) SoC, making it the first Android device powered by ARM Cortex-A15 cores. In this case, two Cortex-A15 cores, clocked as high as 1.7GHz, are mated to the Mali-T604 GPU and 2GB of RAM. On the front of the device you find a 2560x1600 10" display, making it the highest resolution Android tablet to date. The display is made possible by the Exynos memory subsystem that puts two-port DDR3-800 on the table for 12.8GB/s of bandwidth. The Nexus 10 will be priced at $399 (16GB) and $499 (32GB) and be available along with the rest of the line-up on November 13th on the Google Play Store. Interested shoppers can sign up for more information today through the store.
Posted: 29 Oct 2012 08:30 AM PDT
Back in February, Intel released its first SandForce based SSD: the Intel SSD 520. Since then Intel's SSD lineup has evolved. A couple of months after the 520's release, Intel released a more mainstream focused SSD 330. Architecturally the SSD 520 and 330 were the same as both used SandForce's SF-2281 controller and IMFT's MLC NAND. The only real differences were limited to NAND quality and firmware; the 520 used higher binned NAND with more P/E cycles and its firmware was also more finely tuned to provide better performance.
While SandForce has yet to release its 3rd generation SSD controller, there's still room to upgrade one major component of these drives: the NAND itself. IMFT (Intel's and Micron's NAND joint-venture) has been fairly open about its next generation NAND products, including the transition to 20nm MLC NAND. Moving to smaller process geometries decreases die area, which increases the number of NAND die that can be produced on a single wafer (or increases the capacity that can reliably be produced on a single die). The move to 20nm is a necessary part of continuing to drive SSD costs down, although as with all process transitions we won't see those cost savings initially (die savings are offset by higher costs of a new process at the start).
IMFT's 20nm announcement happened back in April 2011. At the time, we were told not to expect to see 64Gb 20nm MLC NAND devices in SSDs until the middle of 2012. Now, a year and a half later, production is finally at a stage where volume and yields are both high enough for an actual product release. The vehicle for introduction? Intel's SSD 335.
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