Thursday, January 10, 2013

AnandTech Article Channel

AnandTech Article Channel

Deepcool: Little Fish Don't Stay Little Forever

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:44 PM PST

I've typically been a big proponent of getting smaller vendors exposure if they have some great products on hand, and my brief meeting with Deepcool suggested to me that there's a lot of potential there. Deepcool is a startup based out of Beijing with a few solid-looking, well-priced heatsinks to their credit.

The coolers aren't super exciting, but many have direct-touch heatpipes and all have compelling prices; the 400 in the bottom right corner looks to be competitive with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 line with its $29 price tag, and Deepcool is slowly making inroads towards distribution in the United States with vendors like NewEgg. They're also working on opening an office in Los Angeles, California.

Deepcool also had on offer a line of fans, but interestingly their 140mm fan still uses standard 120mm mounts, making it an interesting upgrade opportunity for end users who want to get a little more cooling power in their system without having to run a fan at a higher speed.

Finally, Deepcool had this monster on offer. This is a heatsink with eight individual heatpipes (no direct touch cooling), and should provide pretty stellar cooling power when paired with the right 120mm fans.

As with many smaller companies it's a wait and see approach, but we'll be evaluating Deepcool products as they become available to let you know if you should be keeping an eye on them.


A Brief Overview of CES' Ultrabooks

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:43 PM PST

I dropped by the Intel booth to see what they had on display, and as expected that had a full lineup of Ultrabooks from various manufacturers. We’ve covered many of these in some form already, but I wanted to grab some pictures and give a unified list of all the touchscreen Ultrabooks being shown at the Intel booth. From there we’ll move on to a discussion of the larger Ultrabook market and what it really means.

Starting with the convertible tablets, in no particular order we have the Lenovo Twist, Dell XPS 12 Duo, a Gigabyte twist-style offering, Lenovo’s Yoga 13, Toshiba’s Slider, and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider. Note that the recently announced Lenovo Helix and MSI S20 aren’t present, and likely quite a few other Core series convertibles are also missing, but at least that covers most of the options. The good news is that the vast majority of these convertibles have decent screens—many are 1080p IPS displays, which is really what they all need to be, but the Gigabyte at least is clearly a TN panel. The colors are still clearly off, and for the price we should be getting displays pre-calibrated by the OEM (*cough* Apple *cough*), but let’s steer clear of that topic for a moment.

Moving over to the touchscreen Ultrabooks, again in no particular order we have the Dell XPS 13 Touch, Acer’s Aspire M, HP Envy TouchSmart, Lenovo U310 Touch, ASUS UX31A Touch, Samsung Series 7, and the Acer Aspire S7. (Note: I didn’t carefully note each of the laptop models, so I might have some of those wrong.) The overall quality and design of these Ultrabooks is hit or miss, with some having nice looking screens and others using cheap 1366x768 TN panels. All of them have touchscreens of course, but I can’t help but feel some of the OEMs are shooting their products in the foot before they even get out the door.

If you’ll pardon me while I go off on a short rant, making a thin touchscreen Ultrabook isn’t the holy grail of laptop computing. Some people will love touchscreen laptops and others won’t; some people love thin laptops and others don’t care all that much. That’s the way things are and the way they’ve always been: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. The problem is that where certain products are thin and have a good industrial design and sell well with high profit margins (I hate to keep saying this, but: Apple), it’s not just the thinness and the industrial design that makes them sell. It’s the entire ecosystem in the product, from the chassis and screen through the keyboard and touchpad; from the speakers and color quality to the battery life, solid state drive, and on to the operating system and apps.

Rare is the Ultrabook that actually gets all of these areas right—and in fact, I’d say that so far it doesn’t exist. There are good Ultrabooks with IPS panels, but they’re not factory calibrated to display accurate colors. There are Ultrabooks with touchscreens, but several that I’ve played with also have touchpads that just don’t work as well as they should. By requirement, all Ultrabooks need some form of solid state storage, but we have pure SSD solutions with good controllers, pure SSD solutions with at best adequate controllers, and hard drives with SSD caches that in many cases are too small to be beneficial. Not everyone is going to want or need every aspect of their next laptop/Ultrabook to be “perfect”, but when we start getting into the $1200+ price range, the number of cut corners and compromises needs to approach zero. To create a premium product worthy of a premium price, you need all of those things—and when you have products that cost half or even a third as much, it takes serious convincing to get people to invest in premium offerings, especially when those offerings are still flawed. But it’s more than just matching what Apple is doing, because even if you have the perfect Windows alternative to the MacBook Pro Retina, the fact is that you’re still not going to be able to charge Apple prices and move the same amount of units.

Out of all the Ultrabooks I saw at Intel’s booth (or elsewhere at CES), I think the current best candidates are on a short list, and all of them still have potential issues. Dell’s XPS 12 Duo is quite cool and works better than I expected, but it’s a bit thick for a tablet and the colors out-of-the-box are very much not correct—and in fact, none of the Ultrabooks I’ve seen look like they’re anywhere near having an out-of-the-box DeltaE of less than four with a color gamut that at least covers all of sRGB. (DeltaE of 10 with spikes up to 15-20 and a <55% color gamut? Yes, we have that!) Frankly, anything with a 1366x768 TN touchscreen never should have gotten past the prototype stage without getting a better display. Acer and ASUS have potential issues with their storage subsystems (SanDisk controllers and/or RAID 0 SSD arrays), and the touchpads on every Ultrabook I’ve used for more than a few minutes are still lacking. Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix is still high on my list, but the latching mechanism gives me pause. Samsung’s Series 7 touchscreen Ultrabook might be the best of the breed when we get right down to it, but I haven’t spent enough time with it to say for certain.

So after looking at more than a dozen different Ultrabooks, my short list has Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, and ASUS still hanging around—and most of the MSRPs are still several hundred dollars too high to warrant a strong recommendation. I’m sure all of Intel’s partners would love for Ultrabooks to become 50% or more of the global PC shipments, but until we deal with some of the above issues I just can’t see that happening. For the time being, Ultrabooks are here to stay and there are going to be plenty of people that like what the overall platform delivers, but there are even more people that will be disenfranchised by the high prices, missing features, or other issues and they will go looking at other alternatives. Perhaps they’ll end up with another budget laptop, or maybe they’ll make the switch to the growing tablet market. Whatever happens, the next few years should prove interesting.

Lian-Li: What Else Can We Do With Aluminum?

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:30 PM PST

Visiting Lian-Li's CES booth is usually at least an interesting experience. I often feel like the engineers and designers there just get an idea for an enclosure and "go for it," which results in a mad doctor's laboratory of experiments. Sometimes you get failed experiments (the PC-A55), sometimes you get great ones (the PC-90), but there's always something going on that's at least worth looking at. As I was telling Vivek the othe night, even if a unique product is bad, at least someone did it so nobody ever has to again. By the same token, though, if experimenting yields fruit, we all benefit.

Case designers often hesitate to produce an enclosure that's necessarily wider than the standard, so the V850 on display is an interesting choice. The side panels pop off in the same fashion as Corsair's Obsidian 600T, and the rear struts are replaced with casters. Inside is a wealth of fans directed squarely at the graphics card, CPU, and motherboard area; the case is designed for cooling performance first and foremost, with noise being a distant secondary consideration. I was keen to point out to the Lian-Li rep, though, that fan controllers were very common at this year's CES at almost any price point. Hopefully this will change in time for next year.

I was taken with the Q30, though I'm exceedingly skeptical about the cooling design. Thankfully this is a prototype, but it's certainly intriguing. It features a Mini-ITX mount, single half-height expansion slot, and two USB 3.0 ports in the front. The cooling is handled by a single 120mm fan that sits behind the motherboard, but that fan is actually an exhaust. I think the idea is to pull air in through the side vents, over the components, and out of the back of the case, but in practice I suspect that moving air will simply bypass the components entirely.

We're looking to get more and more Lian-Li enclosures in during 2013, and I'm looking forward to having some of these more exotic designs in for testing. Sometimes you get a PC-A55, but sometimes you get a PC-90, and I'm really anxious to see when that happens.

More Details on Allwinner's A31 Quad Core Cortex A7 SoC

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:28 PM PST

I stopped by Allwinner today to discuss their recently announced and now-shipping A31 SoC. The A31 is based around four ARM Cortex A7 CPUs and a Power VR SGX544MP2 GPU, all built on TSMC's 40nm G process. In addition there's a fifth power saver (likely A7) core on A31 which has a lower frequency, an arrangement curiously similar to NVIDIA's shadow core — this core is likely synthesized for better power efficiency. I asked for details about CPU and GPU clocks since these weren't readily available in the launch announcement, and was told that A31 was shipping with the A7s clocked at 1.0 GHz, although the platform could go higher to around 1.2 GHz if an OEM chooses. GPU clocks on the SGX544MP2 are around 350 MHz or higher as well. Allwinner also claims to have built its own video encode and decode blocks for the A31 which is what enables the platform to decode UHD (4K) content at 30 FPS. Allwinner says that the A31 is starting out with a price of around $20 but fully expects this to go down to half or even lower during its life cycle. A31 is targeted at tablets, smartphones, TVs, ARM based notebooks, and of course small Android-running media playback boxes. 

Allwinner also noted that it has an A20 SoC coming with dual core ARM Cortex A7s and Mali-400MP2 graphics which is pin compatible with A10 for easy design reuse. There's also obviously a Cortex A15-based Allwinner SoC in the works, but no word on how many cores that design will have.

Allwinner isn't as well known as some of the other SoC vendors in the US, but abroad in mainland China and other markets Allwinner has significant market share and penetration thanks to aggressive pricing. I've started to see Allwinner-based tablets emerge in the US on Amazon and other online retailers built by small one-off device manufacturers, in the future this will likely increase. There also has been an influx of Allwinner-based, Android-running media playback boxes I've noticed. 

Allwinner had two tablets with A31 inside that are already shipping, built by Chinese device maker Onda. The Onda V812 which is built around an 8-inch XGA display, includes 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 5 MP rear facing camera and 3 MP front facing camera. The Onda V812 is available from some online retailers for $180 USD which is very competitive, construction is aluminum and I was impressed by how well built it felt. 

In addition I played with the 9.7-inch V972 which I'm told includes the same display that Apple sources for its iPad 4 — 9.7 inch, 2048 x 1536 IPS, which looked brilliant. I felt like SGX544MP2 was a bit under powered to drive this, but the UI was performant. Curiously enough Onda also claims to have the iPhone 4 camera module for the 5.0 MP rear camera, and 2.0 MP front facing camera. Perhaps the most intriguing part is the $239 price point online. Imported into the US and running stock Android, I feel like price points such as these could easily disrupt some things. I ran sunspider on the two Allwinner tablets, scores are visible in the gallery. Allwinner was quick to remind me that even though A31 and devices are shipping that optimizations are ongoing.

I feel like we are going to see a lot more from Allwinner and a lot more devices with Allwinner inside in the future. 

Zalman Ramps Up Their Cooling Game

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:15 PM PST

Zalman's booth this year featured a single enclosure they're pushing, but the real news was in the CPU and GPU coolers they had on hand. Specifically, they had two very unique CPU coolers: a fanless air-cooler, and a custom closed-loop liquid cooler that can't (at least readily) trace its ancestry back to Asetek or CoolIT.

First out of the gate is the Zalman Cube. This is an enormous fanless air cooler designed to take advantage of the normal airflow in your enclosure, but due to its nature it's not meant for overclocking. You can remove a top panel and install a 120mm fan inside the cube to add active airflow, but this is basically a large passive cooler.

The other exciting cooler is the Zalman C1. I'm used to seeing Asetek and CoolIT liquid coolers, but the C1 is neither, featuring a custom waterblock and a custom radiator that employs circular heatpipes. Zalman talked up the performance (as one would expect), but it would be interesting to see if the radiator that looks awfully similar to a high end CPU heatsink can do a better job than the traditional radiator. Zalman has had highs and lows, but their coolers have never been terrible.

Much like the other case and cooling vendors, Zalman had a series of other air coolers, cases, and updated power supplies on hand, along with a healthy number of peripherals. They continue to offer excellent aftermarket VGA cooling, but they (like so many of us) lamented the lack of real standardization on video card construction. Hopefully mounting systems will get at least slightly easer in the future, but if the mountain of torx screws in the OEM NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 are any indication, I wouldn't hold my breath.

In-Win's New Cases Deviate Wildly From the Norm

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 09:48 PM PST

I felt like CES 2012's case designs were fairly predictable: companies that could be expected to produce great stuff produced more great stuff, while other companies that were a little more hit and miss continued to be hit and miss. Yet 2013 has seen some upset. While I personally like some of In-Win's older products for the value they provide, a lot of the aesthetics were caught up in the "gamer" mentality. In-Win still has a couple of ostentatious cases on hand, but they have some very original thinking going on as well.

The In-Win D-Frame is a limited edition and at a staggering $349 it isn't cheap, but it's definitely unique. Construction quality is very high; the piping isn't steel but aluminum, and the clear side panel is actually glass and not acrylic or plastic. Obviously this isn't for the garden variety enthusiast or anyone that owns a cat, but it's an eye-catcher and worth at least remarking on.

The H-Frame is another wild open air chassis, a series of aluminum fins that produce a simple, interesting shell. This is fundamentally an ATX enclosure, but check out the inside.

Ignoring the fact that I like blue, the interior of the enclosure is at least interesting to see. There are three 3.5" drive bays along with a 2.5" drive tray, and the "tray" at the far right is actually a fan mount. Again, the H-Frame may not be for everyone, but it's still slick to just look at.

Outside of these two interesting pieces, In-Win had a selection of more fairly basic enclosures similar to the GROne, although they did have some remarkable budget Micro-ATX cases that we hope to get in for review. Truthfully I'm surprised Micro-ATX has stagnated and is continuing to, as the ATX and larger form factors just offer less and less compelling reasons to employ them. Mini-ITX is perfectly adequate for a basic system now, while multi-GPU users or anyone who needs an expansion card can still be served perfectly fine by a Micro-ATX board.

iBuyPower Releases the Revolt Fully Custom Compact Gaming PC

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 06:39 PM PST

The past two years has seen system integrators start to really diversify amongst themselves, but iBuyPower and CyberPowerPC in particular have been making strong inroads into retail. This CES, iBuyPower made a tremendous step from being a successful system integrator and boutique to a full on PC vendor by firing a shot across Alienware's bow with the Revolt.

The Revolt is fully custom, top to bottom. While iBuyPower and NZXT have traditionally had close ties, the Revolt's chassis was designed completely in house by iBuyPower. A custom chassis is noteworthy in and of itself, but what sets the Revolt apart is the fact that literally everything is custom. The motherboard may be manufactured by ASRock, but it was designed by and is supported by iBuyPower, using a standard Z77 chipset but with no video outputs on the rear I/O cluster. It's essentially a custom mITX design, and from there they use a PCIe bridge to rotate the graphics card ninety degrees. The CPU is also cooled by a 140mm radiator, presumably the same Asetek radiator employed by NZXT for the Kraken.

Dimensions aren't super diminutive and it's not quite as small as the X51, but at 16"x16"x4", the Revolt is still a fairly slim machine and includes an internal 80 Plus Gold certified power supply. Base specs for all models include a single 2.5" bay, a 3.5" bay, and an mSATA slot, as well as a slot-loading DVD burner, media card reader, two DIMM slots, and built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth.

iBuyPower is being especially aggressive with the Revolt, angling to get it into retail with as wide availability as possible (already due to appear at Fry's, MicroCenter, and Best Buy Canada), but also with a remarkably low price tag.

Specifications are a little spare with the details for individual SKUs, but the base model starts at just $649. That gets you an Intel Core i3 processor, mechanical hard disk, and impressively for a retail gaming machine, a GeForce GTX 650. Try to remember that retail "gaming" systems, even those sold by iBuyPower and CyberPowerPC, still tend to shortchange the graphics card. The GTX 650 isn't spectacular, but it's a very strong starting point.

The next SKU up runs $899, and upgrades the CPU to an i5-3570K (overclocking ready) and the GPU to a GeForce GTX 660.

Finally, the full fat Revolt includes an overclockable i7-3770K, a GeForce GTX 680, and an SSD for $1,399. Those are essentially top-of-the-line specifications before you start getting into Sandy Bridge-E or multi-GPU gaming systems.

iBuyPower is taking pre-orders now, and will be shipping Revolts in February 2013.

Lenovo and EMC Stir SMB NAS Market with LenovoEMC Joint Venture

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 02:25 PM PST

News of the Lenovo - EMC joint venture, LenovoEMC crossed the wires last week. We met with Iomega yesterday at CES and discussed what this means for the storage market. The NAS space (in particular, the SMB market) is growing by leaps and bounds, and there are multiple players already established in the space. Iomega has had big success in the European and South American markets, and it is also trying to break into the North American market. Iomega's parent company, EMC, is a proven enterprise leader in the storage market with an international presence. On the other side, PC and server vendors have had steady sales in the enterprise space, and are looking to provide more value to their customers.

PC vendors have typically promoted third-party NAS solutions as shared, centralized storage for the computers and servers being sold. In this situation, it would make sense for them to bundle NAS units as well in order to increase profit margins and also provide consumers with a one-stop shop for support purposes. With this in mind, the LenovoEMC joint venture was created with Lenovo owning 51% stake and EMC owning 49% stake under Lenovo's Enterprise Products Group. While the px-series could contribute to Lenovo's enterprise server and storage initiative, the ix-series could end up being used with Lenovo PCs and workstations.

In terms of product offerings, LenovoEMC confirmed that all products announced in 2012 are now shipping as scheduled. Their current product lineup is presented in the picture above. We have LenovoEMC's ix4-300d in-house for review. Readers can look forward to a detailed review in early February.

Muskin's High Performance Ventura Ultra SF-2281 USB 3.0 Stick

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 01:40 PM PST

All of the memory makers seem to have embraced the selling of flash memory devices--be they USB sticks, SSDs, SD flash for cameras, etc. Typically, USB sticks have settled on lower performance controllers with an emphasis more on sustained sequential transfer rates rather than pure performance.

Mushkin appears to be the first company set to pursue true SSD-class performance with their upcoming USB stick that features a SF-2281 controller. The drive is capable of read/write speeds over 300MB/s (380/325MB/s), and Mushkin mentoned IOPS of around 15K if memory serves. Those speeds are quite a bit lower than native SATA solutions, but Mushkin is using a SATA to USB host chip and the overhead involved lowers maximum performance somewhat--though it should still be much higher than other solutions.

Generally speaking, random IO speeds aren't all that important for USB sticks, but for accessing lots of small files Mushkin's device should prove quite speedy. They're also billing it as an excellent platform for Windows To Go, and the SandForce controller and improved IOPS should certainly help with such uses.

The device we were shown at the Mushkin suites is currently a prototype, so the industrial design isn't complete, but we're told it's fully functional (or at least it was until they started taking it apart and letting technology enthusiasts handle it). The Ventura Ultra will be available in capacities of 60/120/240GB, though pricing and launch dates are not yet known.

In a somewhat unrelated post, I also grabbed some additional shots of the 480GB Atlas mSATA SSD. Here you can see the two boards that make up the device. It's apparently right at the limits of the mSATA specifications, but some laptops apparently have smaller mSATA chambers that aren't able to contain the Atlas.

Mushkin Unveils Enterprise ProSpec SSD Line

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 01:31 PM PST

Like many memory companies, Mushkin has also added a selection of flash memory and SSD products to their portfolio. Their current Chronos and Chronos Deluxe lines cater to the consumer and enthusiast sectors, respectively, but now Mushkin is going after the more lucrative enterprise sector with their ProSpec SSD line.

The ProSpec drives will all use the SandForce SF-2582 controller, with enterprise class MLC. The remaining features are common to other SandForce-based drives (128-bit AES hardware encryption, TRIM support, wear leveling, etc.), and the PrSpec drives come with a 3-year warranty. Mushkin specs the drives to deliver random read/write performance of 80K/42K IOPS with sustained transfer rates of 560MB/s, with capacities ranging from 100GB to 400GB.

Based on the capacities, that means Mushkin is increasing the amount of overprovisioning from the typical 14% (7% in cases with “zero” overprovisioning, e.g. certain ADATA models) that we see in consumer drives to a healthy 37%. As we've shown in our recent SSD testing, increased spare area and/or overprovisioning can have a dramatic impact on performance, so the ProSpec line should be competitive in terms of performance. Reliability and other aspects are of course often more important in the enterprise sector, but Mushkin does include a large capacitor to prevent data loss in the event of an unexpected power failure.

Mushkin’s press release did not specifically list an availability date or pricing information, but it appears the ProSpec drives should be available shortly. We’ll update if we can get more details.

TRENDnet Joins 802.11ac Bandwagon with AC1750 TEW-812DRU Router and TWE-805UB USB 3.0 Dongle

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 01:16 PM PST

We have covered CES announcements from Netgear and D-Link already and we now move on to TRENDnet. Despite being headquartered in Torrance in southern California, they seem to have had better success in Latin and South America than in the USA market. Apparently, things have been changing and they have steadily started increasing their market share in NA starting in 2007 - 2008. Given that we have been hearing about TRENDnet products for quite some time, we took the chance at CES to go and look at their offerings.

The star of the show was undoubtedly their dual spatial stream 802.11ac USB 3.0 dongle. Last year, we saw 802.11ac USB 2.0 dongles, but even a single spatial stream in 802.11ac can provide up to 433 Mbps. Therefore, many users were wary of purchasing these dongles. USB 3.0, on the other hand, provides enough bandwidth for multiple spatial streams. The TRENDnet TEW-805UB can connect to either a dual spatial stream 802.11ac network for 867 Mbps of theoretical throughput or a dual spatial stream 802.11n network for 300 Mbps of theoretical throughput. The TEW-805UB will ship in April 2013 with a MSRP of $70.

TRENDnet has been reliant on Qualcomm Atheros silicon for their routers so far. Due to this, they have been late in jumping on to the 802.11ac router scene since Broadcom has the only shipping radio solution. Similar to the 802.11ac routers launched by Buffalo and Netgear last year, the TRENDnet TEW-812DRU uses a Broadcom solution for both the radios and the processor.

The TEW-812DRU is scheduled to ship later this month with a MSR of $230 (with the street price expected to be similar to other 802.11ac routers at $180).

Some of the other products introduced by TRENDnet at CES include the TV-IP851WC and TV-IP851WIC pan / tilt / zoom cloud cameras (TRENDnet's name for IP surveillance devices with automatic monitoring over the Internet and local network using mobile apps or a web browser), TEW-717HRE and TEW-713HRE compact wireless 802.11n range extenders and the TPL-407E / TPL-407E2K compact powerline adapters with passthrough capabilities.

Samsung Announces Exynos 5 Octa SoC - 4 Cortex A7s, 4 Cortex A15s

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 12:58 PM PST

Earlier this morning Samsung announced a new eight core SoC and the spiritual successor to the Exynos 5250 "Exynos 5 Dual" called the Exynos 5 Octa (Exynos 5410?). This new SoC combines four ARM Cortex A15s and four ARM Cortex A7s, which is pretty much ARM's exact big.LITTLE reference design designed to enable either context hotplugging between the lower power, lower performance A7s and the higher power, higher performance A15s. GPU as far as I know remains a Mali T-6xx series, I'm not certain which one, however.

This entire SoC is being built on Samsung's new 28nm HK-MG process, as opposed to the 32nm HK-MG process for Exynos 5 Dual and Exynos 4 successors. This half node shrink should offer a die size and space savings, but obviously not nearly as much as a full node, likely on the order of 15% based on Samsung's own diagram. No word quite yet on clocks.

Hands on with Intel's Lexington Platform Z2420 Phone

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 12:35 PM PST

Yesterday I played around with Intel's Lexington platform FFRD smartphone. Lexington is an entry level cousin of the Medfield platform which is based around Intel's Z2420 SoC and an Intel XMM 6265 baseband. The device includes a 3.5-inch HVGA display, 5 MP rear facing camera, and 1.3 MP front facing camera. 


The Z2420 SoC inside Lexington is a lower clocked version of the Z2460 codename Penwell SoC, with CPU clocks down at 1.2 GHz instead of the Z2460's 1.6 GHz. I'm told that the SGX540 GPU clock remains 400 MHz, and memory bandwidth and interface remains the same as well. The Lexington was running Android 4.0.4 when I played with it. XMM6265 is an XMM6260 derivative that enables dual SIM operation, you can see in Android the two cell status bars and under about two sets of cell information. Lexington is aimed at emerging markets where dual SIM operation is a given, hence this architecture. There's also a removable 1500 mAh battery.

Performance on the Lexington was definitely a bit slower than the Medfield platform FFRDs I've played with (like the Lava Xolo X900 we reviewed or the Orange San Diego) but still pretty speedy. Stock browser performance and UI responsiveness subjectively seemed good to me. Construction is a bit thick, but one has to keep in mind this is an entry level device designed to go after the mass market and deliver performance that other lower end phones often based on ARM11 can't. I'm told cost will be extremely competitive — just like the Medfield FFRD Intel won't sell the Lexington FFRD shown here directly, but rather go after OEMs willing to take a nearly finished product to market. 

Intel Haswell GT3e GPU Performance Compared to NVIDIA's GeForce GT 650M

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 12:22 PM PST

Haswell isn't expected to launch until the beginning of June in desktops and quad-core notebooks, but Intel is beginning to talk performance. Intel used a mobile customer reference board in a desktop chassis featuring Haswell GT3 with embedded DRAM (the fastest Haswell GPU configuration that Intel will ship) and compared it to an ASUS UX15 with on-board NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M. 

Despite the chassis difference, Intel claims it will be able to deliver the same performance from the demo today in an identical UX15 chassis by the time Haswell ships.

The video below shows Dirt 3 running at 1080p on both systems, with identical detail settings (High Quality presets, no AA, vsync off). Intel wouldn't let us report performance numbers, but subjectively the two looked to deliver very similar performance. Note that I confirmed all settings myself and ran both games myself independently of the demo. You can be the judge using the video below:

Intel wouldn't let us confirm clock speeds on Haswell vs. the Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) system, but it claimed that the Haswell part was the immediate successor to its Ivy Bridge comparison point. 

As proof of Haswell's ability to fit in a notebook chassis, it did have another demo using older Haswell silicon running Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 in a notebook chassis. 

Haswell GT3e's performance looked great for processor graphics. I would assume that overall platform power would be reduced since you wouldn't have a discrete GPU inside, however there's also the question of the cost of the solution. I do expect that NVIDIA will continue to drive discrete GPU performance up, but as a solution for some of the thinner/space constrained form factors (think 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, maybe 11-inch Ultrabook/MacBook Air?) Haswell could be a revolutionary step forward.

Mushkin Announces 960GB 2.5" Chronos SSD

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 11:00 AM PST

Continuing our CES coverage, Mushkin has announced a 960GB model of their popular Chronos SSD. Details are very scarce at this point but I was able to find out that it's made out of two 480GB SSD that run in RAID 0 mode, similar to OWC Mercury Electra 3G MAX that we reviewed a few months ago. Assuming that the 960GB version retains the same main components as other Chronos models, we are looking at two SF-2281 based SSDs with asynchronous NAND. Unlike OWC's 960GB Mercury, Mushkin's press release claims that the Chronos is a SATA 6Gbps drive, although actual performance figures haven't been released yet. Pricing and availability are also to be announced. 

It looks like 128Gb NAND dies are still at least months away from widespread availability, which is why manufacturers have to rely on using more creative methods to increase the maximum capacities. Once 128Gb dies become available, we should see more ~1TB SSD since existing designs can be used provided that the firmware supports the new NAND (16KB page size and other minor tweaks). 

Qualcomm and DTS Team-up For Mobile Surround Solution

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:39 AM PST

Qualcomm’s already made waves here at CEs with their announcement of the new Snapdragon line-up, and to emphasize the point that Snapdragon 800 is more than just Krait 400, they’ve got several demonstrations set-up at their booth. We got a chance to step into their Snapdragon Theater to see what the new SoC brings to media playback. 
We ran through several demos, but the key message was this: Snapdragon 800 is prepared for future technologies. Previewing 1080p content with 7.1 Surround Sound output over HDMI was smooth and compelling. Playback of 4k content, was equally impressive. But the real surprise was a collaboration with DTS, for something they’re calling Headphone:X. An audio demonstration is played out of each speaker in the 7.1 set-up. We then slipped on headphones and the same demonstration was played through them. The effect was entirely convincing. Slipping the headphones off mid-demo revealed that their was no mistake, the speakers were silent. All the audio was coming through the phones. 
At present, Headphone:X is implemented on the CPU, though they have other test devices where it is run through their updated Hexagon DSP. Their new video decode hardware is capable of up to 4k footage at 30 fps, and that is only a fraction of all the updates they’re leveraging in Snapdragon 800. All of their demos show off the potential of their new silicon, not just to us, but also to hardware partners who decide whether to implement all the features they have to offer. We can’t wait to see who does, and to explore the limits of these new SoCs. 

Tactus Gives Touchscreen Users Something To Touch

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 10:09 AM PST


One of the hardest leaps to make in entering this modern era of mobile phones was the idea of using a touchscreen keyboard. Losing our beloved keys was anathema to Blackberry and Treo users. But what if you could get a little of that back? Tactus has been exploring that idea almost since the iPhone’s first announcement. By combining a small pump and an array of microfluidic channels and chambers on a plastic panel, they can bring topology to otherwise flat touch screens. The keys raise on demand when the keyboard is called, and will disappear when the keyboard is no longer needed. The technology is still very much a work in progress. The demo device they showed off has a single portrait keyboard configuration, and while raising takes a quick second, evacuating the chambers takes considerably longer. Dr. Craig Ciesla, founder and CEO of Tactus , says reliability concerns have largely been dealt with and they’re well on their way to bringing the technology to phone sized devices, as well as refining their larger offerings. The technology is still in its earliest days, but we’re excited to see where it gets. 

HGST/G-Technology Touro, G|Drive, and G|RAID

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 07:42 AM PST

We met with HGST at their hotel suite and were interested to hear their plans now that they’ve been acquired by WD. Western Digital bought HGST (who had previously purchased G-Technology), and with two hard drive companies now merged we wanted to find out what the plan was going forward. Since Western Digital has been primarily focused on the consumer side of the storage market, their acquisition of Hitachi/HGST makes sense as HGST has focused more on the enterprise side lately. Ultimately, the decision was made to keep HGST as a standalone business. Case in point is the G-Technology lineup from HGST, which is our focus here.

HGST has a very strong position in the enterprise and mobile space. The industrial design is one element where all of the G-Technology offerings are substantially higher quality than what we typically see in the consumer market. The enclosures are all durable and have a solidity and weight to them that you just wouldn’t get from a plastic enclosure. The casings are all aluminum, of varying thickness, with higher end products offering multiple inputs, multiple drives, and improved cooling. The G-Technology product line has always been targeted at the creative professionals—the original version came out early in the Final Cut Pro days in 2004, and the need to edit HD video was a major impetus—consider that one hour of raw 4K video will suck down around 860GB of storage space, which is why most video editing continues to rely on conventional storage.

G-Technology products are used a lot by independents doing shorts, commercials, etc. and that eventually caught the attention of Apple. With their success in that market, they’ve begun targeting premium consumers. Similarly, with tablets becoming a major thing, HGST looked at how that would affect the G-Technology line and found that it continued to be complementary.

Digital video and digital workflow is growing and they have creative professionals that are wanting to take their initial video off flash drives, make two copies—one to send out for post-production/editing/etc. and one as a backup—and they need a lot of storage. HGST mentioned a couple of shows that use their products, including SNL and Gold Rush. The total quantity of video for the latter is typically 180+ hours of raw footage for every one hour episode, so you can quickly see how a twelve episode season needs massive amounts of storage. Basically, they’re able to deliver high capacity with good streaming performance for digital video workflows. The single drive solutions can deliver up to 150MB/s, dual drives are pushing peak data rates of over 300MB/s, and the quad-drive solutions are able to deliver up to 500MB/s. Random access performance is obviously not a strong point for hard drives compared to SSDs, but as capacity goes up on SSDs we’re also seeing a drop in number of program-erase cycles, and raw capacity is still much lower. The basic summary then is that for now, G-Technology continues to focus on conventional storage.

Starting at the lower end, HGST’s Touro brand is a consumer oriented (“mainstream”) brand that consists primarily of single-drive 5400RPM offerings (though they’re now moving to 7200RPM as well). The lineup consists of external devices with 2.5” and 3.5” hard drives. Over the past couple of years with USB 3.0 now displacing USB 2.0, the need for faster drives is coming and there’s a reason to go beyond 5400 RPM—keep in mind that USB 2.0 maxed out at around 38MB/s, so even 5400RPM drives are easily able to saturate that bus. The drives start at 500GB models, with the largest 3.5” option being a 4TB, 5 platter design. In the 2.5” enclosure, the largest drive is a 1TB 7200RPM. HGST is proud of the fact that this is currently the only 9.5mm 7200RPM 1TB drive shipping, with 32MB cache—other companies have 1TB models with 11.5mm drives. The Touro brand (Desk Pro and Mobile Pro) is pre-formatted for Windows and comes with a 3GB cloud backup free.

Stepping up to the G|Drive lineup, all of the drives are 7200RPM models and the size and cooling capabilities of the enclosures are all clearly improved. Where the Touro products all used USB 3.0 connections, G|Drive adds Firewire 800, eSATA, and on some models Thunderbolt (though of the enclosures shown, only one of the G|RAID offerings had Thunderbolt ports). Again, capacities range from 500GB up to 4TB. The industrial design of the G|Drive and G|RAID products is basically the same, with the difference being the support for multiple drives in the G|RAID enclosures. The 2-drive models come pre-configured for RAID 0, with RAID 1 also supported, while the 4-drive enclosures also support RAID 5 (though in some cases that requires a separate PCIe card in the host PC).

One of the topics we also discussed with HGST was the potential for benchmarking this sort of device. Obviously, our SSD testing procedures are not oriented towards editing raw HD video, and with random access testing any hard drive will fall well short of even mediocre flash storage. If there’s interest in increasing our testing of this sort of products, or if you have suggestions on workflows that you’d like to see us test, please let us know in the comments.

T-Mobile Announces AMR-WB (HD Voice) Calls Active on its Network

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 06:40 AM PST

Last night at CES 2013, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray announced that AMR-WB (Adaptive Multi Rate Wideband) was enabled on the operator's network, instantly allowing capable phones to place higher quality voice calls over the cellular network between T-Mobile customers. This announcement makes T-Mobile the first GSM/UMTS based network in the US to enable AMR-WB, but not the first operator in the US to deploy "HD Voice," as Sprint has been rolling out 1x-Advanced's EVRC-NW (EVRC-Narrowband Wideband) wherever their network modernization and LTE upgrades are.

HD Voice enables calls with a much wider dynamic range. AMR-WB is a direct successor to AMR-NB (narrowband) and offers higher frequency bandwidth of up to about 8 kHz (16 kHz sampling) as opposed to AMR-NB's 4 kHz. I'm unclear what bitrate or coding mode T-Mobile US is using, however I'd be willing to suspect that T-Mobile has probably gone for enabling the full AMR-WB range of bitrates. I have to say I'm impressed with T-Mobile US' constant leadership over AT&T with UMTS upgrades in the US. AT&T currently runs AMR-NB at 5.9 kbps for comparison, not even the full allocation AMR-NB bitrate. Update: It's possible that T-Mobile is using the 12.65 kbps AMR-WB bitrate. 

This upgrade was made active last night, and all mobile-originated and mobile-terminated calls on T-Mobile between phones that support AMR-WB should now use the mode, subject to other factors that normally affect multirate codecs such as coverage profile and network load. T-Mobile has called out the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and HTC One S as being examples of two such phones that definitively already include AMR-WB support, although any phone that exposes the capability on network attach should work just fine.

I placed a number of calls between T-Mobile users last night to try and gauge any perceptible difference. I've previously heard AMR-WB demos and run loopback calls on the Anritsu base station emulator, and there is a perceptible difference. I originated a call on a Nexus 4 and terminated it on a Nexus 4 with both on T-Mobile, which sounded excellent, and then between an iPhone 5 (attached to PCS WCDMA here in Las Vegas) and a Nexus 4, which also sounded very different than an AT&T AMR-NB originated and terminated call. I need to do more testing back home, but T-Mobile's claims that this is live right now and working seem credible, calls sounded crisp and much more intelligible than some of the AMR-NB calls I've been on.

Source: T-Mobile

DigitalStorm Carves Their Own Path with Aventum II and Bolt

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 12:48 AM PST

I reviewed the DigitalStorm Bolt not too long ago and found it to be a mostly good product in concept, but flawed in execution in two major ways: price and acoustics. When I met with DigitalStorm, I had the opportunity to see the current generation Bolt firsthand. I don't want to be so arrogant as to assume that the changes made to it are the result of my review, but I can tell you they've fixed most of my major complaints, and I'll be getting another one in to see these changes firsthand.

While I didn't get a chance to see if the internal cable spaghetti is improved, I can say they've done a bang-up job fixing the glossy paint job on the shell. They now offer the Bolt in a white version, they're using a different paint for the black one, and they're offering custom airbrush art which, I'm sorry, I think is totally sweet. My second issue was the acoustics; they've since figured out that the power supply was basically running much hotter than it needed to, so they installed a higher quality power supply and ventilated the panel to install a blower fan to keep the PSU cool. The result was a Bolt that was audibly They also brought the prices down a touch while offering system SSDs standard instead of the caching solution they originally had on their high end. DigitalStorm may be sending an updated Bolt in the near future, if they do I'll run a quick test and report back.

The other system they had on display was their Aventum II. We were originally scheduled to receive and review the first generation Aventum, but the second version was so close to completion that they skipped it. The Aventum II is about as custom as it gets, with a completely custom designed chassis, their own custom thermal monitoring and fan control solution, and an extremely aggressive watercooling solution with three 360mm radiators and copper-nickel tubing. This is a sports car kind of custom rig, starting at roughly five grand and only going up from there. DigitalStorm is also looking at adapting it into a custom workstation design since the capability is certainly there.

Ultimately what I saw from DigitalStorm was a lot of progress towards differentiating themselves as a boutique, which is part of the larger theme I observed even from last year's CES: boutiques in general are moving in their own directions and starting to offer things their competitors can't and even many do-it-yourself builders can't. The plan is to review the Aventum II when it's fully formed and finalized, so keep your eyes open.

DyleTV at CES: Mobile TV Coming One Step At A Time

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 12:06 AM PST

Mobile digital TV has been a popular technology in parts of Asia for some time, with incredible adoption by mobile customers eagerly devouring hours and hours of video without ever pegging their data plans. The standard for mobile digital television in the US hasn’t been nearly as well adopted. The ATSC standard adopted for today’s HDTV broadcasts is ill suited to mobile applications as it was designed with specialized fixed location antenna in mind. The alternative standard (ATSC M/H) was developed to exist in a subset of the ATSC capacity, with transmission technology that is capable of being received by mobile handsets, even in motion. 

yleTV on the MetroPCS Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G

DyleTV is the marketing arm of the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) group that was organized to help establish support and adoption for this technology. Over the last year we’ve seen iOS accessories released that support the standard from Elgato and Escort and even a handset, MetroPCS’s Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G. This hardware support has been slow coming due to several factors. First, there’s the matter of that antenna. The current implementation of the standard doesn’t really allow for the sort of tiny embedded antennas used by cell phones. Instead the roughly 8 inch antenna protrudes from their dongles and phones, making it an inelegant solution to say the least. There’s also the matter of the additional hardware necessary to receive and decode the transmissions, something sure to add bulk and battery drain to more svelte devices. 
The transmissions themselves take up just under 1 Mbps of the total ~19Mbps of the ATSC standard, giving them limited capability with just stereo audio and standard definition video. For the broadcaster the technology requires little investment, and the only content limitations are for NFL broadcasts; their licensing agreements force MCV partners to swap in alternate content for the duration of an NFL broadcast.

The ideal that MCV is pursuing is to not just feature broadcast content, but to also serve as delivery for encrypted premium content. The model would be similar to apps on Xbox 360 or Google TV, like the HBO Go app. An app on your phone or tablet would authenticate your subscription to the service, and then be enabled to decode the encrypted stream. As with the broadcast component, the end user benefits from not having to devour valuable data plans, but doesn’t benefit from the time shifting benefits of video-on-demand solutions. 
There are so many players in the US media market. Service providers, hardware manufacturers, software distributors and content providers all have a stake in how media is delivered to end users; and no solution will satisfy all the players involved. So, what hope is their of bringing mobile TV to the masses? We’re not sure, but here at CES, there’s plenty of excitement. 

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