Sunday, January 13, 2013

AnandTech Article Channel

AnandTech Article Channel

CES 2013 LTE Throughput Face-Off - AT&T versus Verizon Wireless

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 11:34 PM PST

Last year I ran a series of speedtests on both AT&T and Verizon Wireless LTE during CES, the results of which were pretty interesting. My friends continue to poke fun at how obsessive I am with running speed tests, and this year I decided to do the same experiment during CES 2013 by carrying around an iPhone 5 on AT&T LTE and HTC Droid DNA on Verizon Wireless LTE and running speedtests at the same time and place periodically on the two handsets side by side. 

The places I tested are pretty much indicative of your average tech journalist's in Las Vegas for CES — I ran a few in my hotel (LVH), inside and throughout the LVCC North and South halls' show floors and concourses, the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Palms, and a smattering of the Las Vegas Strip itself. Most of the major hotels have DASes inside them (Distributed Antenna System or sometimes Digital Antenna System). I know for a fact that at least the Palms and Venetian have DASes, as does the strip itself. Inside the LVCC there are multiple DASes, with at least three different systems visible that I managed to spy.

Spotting these indoor systems is almost always a challenge, as they're camouflaged intentionally to both dissuade vandalism or theft, and also for aesthetic reasons. Even if you know what you're looking for they're at best difficult to spot or out of sight and sometimes completely camouflaged. That said, I snapped photos of the ones I was pretty confident were in fact DAS antennas and put them in a gallery.

An example set of DAS antennas in LVCC North Hall

So how did AT&T and Verizon fare at CES 2013? First, I should note that both Verizon and AT&T were best I can tell only using their 700 MHz spectrum assets, that means band 13 for VZW and band 17 on AT&T with 10 MHz of bandwidth. I didn't see Band 4 on the iPhone 5, and the DNA (and all new HTC devices) lacked Field Test or similar engineering menus that would enable me to check, but it lacks band 4 anyways. 

I ran 100 speedtests on both devices at the same places during my day (and night) at and around the show. Both were to the Switch Communications server in Las Vegas, for consistency of host. I then used my same script to create some histograms of the results, and stats.


AT&T LTE Results
Downstream Stats (Mbps)
Avg: 16.677; Max: 44.928; Min: 0.632, StDev: 11.323
Upstream Stats (Mbps)
Avg: 4.370; Max: 16.015; Min: 0.081, StDev: 3.696
Latency Stats (ms)
Avg: 174.95; Max: 256; Min: 144, StDev: 24.2187
Number of Tests Run: 100
Verizon Wireless LTE Results
Downstream Stats (Mbps)
Avg: 10.585; Max: 39.65; Min: 0.702, StDev: 7.854
Upstream Stats (Mbps)
Avg: 4.680; Max: 11.402; Min: 0.041, StDev: 3.165
Latency Stats (ms)
Avg: 130.13; Max: 192; Min: 99, StDev: 17.153
Number of Tests Run: 100

When it comes to downstream throughput, it seems as though AT&T edged out Verizon Wireless for CES 2013, with AT&T bringing in an average of 16.7 Mbps compared to Verizon's 10.6 Mbps. On upstream, AT&T hits 4.4 Mbps, Verizon hit a slightly higher 4.7 Mbps. Latency is a bit more interesting, with Verizon having lower average latency at 130.1 ms, and AT&T coming in at 175 ms, but I suspect this is more a story about the different routing that each takes both through the ePC (Evolved Packet Core) and onto the internet and then test server. Both operators did pretty well during the show, all things considered. Upstream took a huge beating and varied wildly depending on how close you were to a base station and how many people there were around you, but tweeting, checking emails, and downloading the latest schedule at least worked. 

I will say that although AT&T had better downstream throughput at the end of the day, on the whole Verizon's coverage profile continues to be much better. In the Mandalay Bay I lost AT&T connectivity quite a bit and suspect the building either doesn't have a DAS or AT&T isn't hooked into it, whereas Verizon was solid. Inside the LVCC both operators understandably had great coverage. 

I have to hand it to both major operators for keeping their LTE networks up at the show floor. I remember before Verizon or AT&T deployed LTE having limited to no connectivity in Las Vegas, much less inside LVCC during CES, and this seems to now largely be a thing of the past. 

USB-IF Announces USB 3.0 10 Gbps Development, Demos Power Delivery and Display Driving

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 06:37 PM PST

I stopped by the USB Implementers Forum booth, where they had both an interesting non-final demonstration of the new USB Power Delivery specification and some news about the new 10 Gbps USB 3.0 development specification. First, the 10 Gbps USB 3.0 development announcement stipulates continued use of the same cables and connectors for higher throughput, and although there will be a 10 Gbps certification program for cables the USB-IF expects almost all but the lowest end cables to pass without any reworking. I'm told that the newer revision enables 10 Gbps by using more efficient coding and also enables improved power efficiency. 

The standard is in development presently and should be completed by the middle of the year. It will then take the normal development cycle for silicon and controllers to make it onto the market. The USB 3.0 specification stipulates a meter long cable that's entirely passive, as opposed to other active solutions on the market presently. Longer lengths will require active componentry. 

I also wasn't aware but earlier this year the USB-IF finished the SSIC (SuperSpeed Inter Chip) specification which is essentially the USB 3.0 analog of HSIC (HighSpeed Inter Chip - USB 2.0). This is hugely important for smartphones and tablets where the limits of HSIC are already being encroached upon or actively hit with certain 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n combos, and will be a problem with 802.11ac combos. In addition I fully expect to see future SoCs implement SSIC for use with both these 802.11ac combos and faster 3GPP Release 10 or Category 4 basebands where there is a lot of attention as throughput continues to increase. 

Next up was a demonstration of the USB Power Delivery (PD1.0) specification working in conjunction with display driving. The USB-IF modified a Lenovo X300 notebook to accept power through USB 3.0 and the PD specification, and used a power delivery mechanism on the middle display to both power it, and the notebook with 65W. At the end of the daisy chain was a thumb drive plugged into the last monitor's hub which was available to read on the notebook. 

The X300 was running Vista oddly enough, which took a while to enumerate and connect to the other two displays, but did indeed simultaneously drive both a 1080p and 2048x1156 display through a daisy chain with good fluidity for a non-final demo. This combination of specifications is clearly USB-IF's response to Thunderbolt, and looks like a possibly even more impressive solution thanks to the ability to simultaneously drive the displays and charge the notebook over one cable.

Source: USB-IF (Power Delivery) (USB 3.0 10 Gbps)

A Look at Samsung's Curved Smartphone Concept and 4.99-Inch 1080p AMOLED Display

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:17 PM PST

I got a chance to look at some of Samsung Displays' new and upcoming products, probably one of the highlights of my CES 2013 experience. There's a bit to go through, but first up are their buzzworthy curved displays and a concept phone or two. I spent three years in my undergrad optical and electrical engineering education working on curving a CCD for use matching focal planes, and thus curved displays are instantly near and dear to me as interesting next steps.

Samsung was showing off a single-axis curve in their demo room. First is a larger size display with a relatively small bend radius. It's a hemicylindrical display designed for signage.

Next are two smartphone concepts. I've been wondering for some time what curved (not necessarily flexible) displays would enable or look like for a smartphone, and Samsung's concepts are actually pretty innovative looking. The two concepts have a bend on the horizontal or vertical axis — a bend on the right side, or bottom. Then a flip cover covers the planar section of the display while leaving the curved section exposed. This ostensibly allows glanceable information, notifications, and messages to be displayed without requiring a user to flip open the whole phone, and with AMOLED this section can be lit up without having to light up the entire display for saving some power. 

The bend radius on these two isn't very extreme but looks like it could be a compelling example use case for a smartphone design. I don't expect either of these designs to come to market immediately, but it's clearly something on Samsung's mind for future products. The entire touch layer and display glass is curved with the display underneath.

I'm burying the lead a bit, but I also caught a glimpse of what might possibly be the display headed to the next generation Samsung Galaxy smartphone. On display was an example roadmap of Samsung AMOLED displays, and at the far right slated for Q1 2013 launch is a Full HD 1080P display 4.99-inches diagonal with 440 PPI. I didn't get close enough to be able to see what the subpixel geometry or stripe was, but 440PPI underneath and the fact that it's the successor to the 5.55" display (from the Note 2) makes me think this is likely RGB. 

Samsung is also claiming a 25 percent power saving using a new material on new AMOLED revisions, and also has a low power mode that I don't know much about with 47 percent power savings. Again, I strongly suspect this display will find its way into whatever Galaxy S 4 ends up being. 

Imagination Demonstrates PowerVR Series6 Rogue on LG's H13 SoC

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 04:26 PM PST

I stopped by Imagination Technologies at CES 2013 and talked about their upcoming GPU IP blocks and a few recently announced SoCs, and one demo caught my eye running on one such SoC. This is the year we finally get to see some PowerVR Series6 Rogue in silicon shipping and in the flesh, and the SoC in this case is LG's home entertainment oriented H13 (hence the H) SoC that was announced at the show. 

Imagination was showing off the H13 running through a variety of their own custom-built demos showing off OpenGL ES 3.0 features like multiple render targets, occlusion queries, expanded MSAA support, new texture formats, and such that we've gone over already. We don't know too much about LG's H13 SoC at this point beyond that it likely isn't an ARM Cortex A15 based design, but does include a two-cluster Series 6 GPU (G6200?) at unspecified clocks. Alongside that live demo on real production silicon was a four-cluster Series6 GPU being simulated on an FPGA inside a PC running much slower (obviously) thanks to very constrained memory bandwidth and clocks. 

I'm told that LG's H13 isn't necessarily the first production silicon with Rogue inside, but the first that's been shown and demoed in the wild. For this it's particularly exciting. I expect to see some more Rogue designs emerge later this year. 

The second part is some news about a subset of OpenGL ES 3.0 features that will be enabled retroactively on all PowerVR Series5XT hardware. The entire lineup apparently has the hardware to enable these OpenGL ES 3.0 features as an optional extension inside OpenGL ES 2.0. Features include multiple render targets; occlusion queries; seamless cube maps; sampler access from vertex shaders; floating point textures; GLSL full-precision floating point; R and RG textures; min/max blends; and multisample render buffers. 

Imagination demoed some of the same demos they had running on Series6 Rogue on an OMAP5430 development board with an SGX544MP2 GPU. I have no doubt that Imagination has enabled some of these ES 3.0 features retroactively so that some major customers of theirs can seamlessly transition to OpenGL ES 3.0 without leaving OpenGL ES 2.0 devices behind. 

New from Buffalo Technology - Updated AC1750 802.11ac router, MiniStation Thunderbolt with SSD, and Thunderbolt Duo

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 03:57 PM PST

Ganesh and I dropped by Buffalo Technology at CES 2013 to get a look at their upcoming products. I'll leave most of the MiniStation NAS news to him as that's his area of expertise, but I saw three other things that sort of fit under my umbrella. First is an update to Buffalo's 802.11ac router lineup. If you'll recall, Buffalo was first to market with an 802.11ac router based around Broadcom's introductory 802.11ac reference design with a BCM4706 SoC at the core. Buffalo announced a refresh to those devices with a three-stream and two-stream version based around their new BCM4708x SoC which we've talked about before. The new routers are called the AC1750 and AC1166, respectively, for three-stream and two-stream ac. The two-stream version will go on sale for $149, the three-stream version will cost around $179 early 2013.

These also add support for 802.11ac beamforming which the previous generation lacked, the faster SoC, USB 3.0 support (and faster NAS throughput), improved QoS that uses all the Broadcom accelerators, and most thankfully a fully revamped UI. The new UI includes a mobile-optimized version which looked very nicely polished, and a desktop version with simple toggles and very clean visual appearance. I think this might be the best part of the new routers, as the previous generation 802.11ac Buffalo routers had an extremely difficult to navigate web interface.

This new faster SoC now enables 802.11ac routers to fully saturate the 1300 Mbps PHY, routers based on the previous generation were actually gated by that previous generation's SoC performance, as Ganesh and I discovered.

Buffalo also announced a two-stream 802.11ac USB 2.0 dongle called the AC866 (pictured above) which will be priced at $69. I'm still wishing and hoping for a USB 3.0 three-stream 802.11ac dongle to appear somewhere.

The next news is an update to the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt which I reviewed a while back. This will now come in an SSD-enabled flavor in addition to the two current SKUs that include HDDs. I'm told that the design will include a Toshiba SSD, though I don't know exactly which Toshiba SSD is inside, nor was there any information on pricing or storage size (I believe 240 GB was shown). An SSD version is already shipping in Europe but with a lower-end drive inside. Buffalo was showing around 180 MB/s writes and 380.3 MB/s reads on the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD in a daisy chained setup at their booth. 

The device daisy chained with the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD is a new product that doesn't quite have an official name yet. This is a dual drive version of the MiniStation Thunderbolt running a RAID-0 with two of the same Toshiba SSDs used for the Thunderbolt SSD. There's also the higher end Thunderbolt controller inside to support daisy chained setup. The two-drive version isn't designed to allow users to change the drive inside, just like the current single drive MiniStation Thunderbolt, and is Thunderbolt-only (there's no USB 3.0 on the back). Buffalo was showing sequential write speeds around 600 MB/s and reads of around 700 MB/s. The Thunderbolt duo drive will be announced in the April or May timeframe. 

Source: Buffalo

Hands On with the Parrot Asteroid Smart - a Double DIN Android Head Unit

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 02:59 PM PST

At my first CES, one of the devices that caught my attention immediately was a slick looking single-DIN head unit running Android called the Parrot Asteroid. One of the things about Android is just how versatile the platform is and all the different places that forked versions of the OS have made their way into. It doesn't take much imagination to see how Android could be potentially disruptive in a car either as an infotainment or navigation system - media compatibility, maps, and a huge application ecosystem pretty much sell the thing. 

Though it's already been announced, one of the products I was most excited to play with at CES 2013 was the original Parrot Asteroid's successor and bigger brother, the double DIN Parrot Asteroid Smart. This is a head unit with 6.2-inch capacitive touch screen running a heavily-skinned and car-tailored version of Android 2.3.7 atop an unnamed TI OMAP(3, maybe 4?) SoC. For connectivity there's 802.11n (no word on 2.4 or 5 GHz) WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0 onboard, likely from some TI Wilink series combo. On the back are three USB 2.0 ports and a fourth for iPods, iPhones, and iPads with 2A charging support. The head unit has audio outs for left, right, and sub, with 4 55 watt outputs. Of course there's compatibility with GPS and steering wheel controls. The rest of the specs are on Parrot's site for the Asteroid Smart. 

I spent a lot of time playing around with the Asteroid Smart since this the kind of convergence device for the car that I've been wanting for some time to replace my own aging head unit. The aftermarket head unit space seems full of strange one-off OSes and platforms and could benefit strongly from a coherent platform message. 

The Asteroid Smart hasn't yet passed Google CTS (Compatibility Test Suite) and thus doesn't yet have GMS (Google Mobile Services) approval to use Google Apps or the Play Store, although I'm told that Parrot is working to make this happen if at all possible. In the meantime, they've created an application marketplace of their own called the Asteroid Market to showcase and sell applications designed to be used with the Asteroid lineup and the decidedly different UI requirements for a car versus a phone. The news out of Parrot about Asteroid for this CES is the unveiling of a developer portal and SDK for building apps and getting them on the Asteroid Market. 

I played with the Asteroid Smart a lot and came away pretty impressed with the device, though there are some caveats. All controls are exposed through the UI on the Asteroid Smart, there are no physical volume buttons or toggles, other than a power on button and faceplate eject button. There's no CD input, though I've lived without a CD player in my car with my current head unit for long enough to know that isn't impossible — instead media will come from an attached USB storage device, on an SD card, or from attached smartphone. I suppose the lack of physical buttons is mitigated by the compatibility with steering wheel buttons, but I could imagine the two-tap volume change UX to be a possible problem. Although it runs 2.3.7, the UI felt smooth and performant basically everywhere, swiping through menus, changing media, and in the custom launcher. Oddly enough Parrot has crafted a UI that looks suspiciously like 4.x atop it — I just wish it was Android 4.x to begin with instead of 2.3.7, but thankfully there's still enough application compatibility that this shouldn't be a huge problem. There's also the normal Android launcher buried inside if you look for it, along with browser and a maps application that uses Google's map tiles.

Again, Parrot can't bundle the Google Maps application until they've obtained a GMS license, but for now they're getting around that by bundling a stripped down version that just uses the APIs in Android. There's also a microUSB port on the back for sideloading applications, which I'd imagine is something users would do who actually want Google Apps regardless of GMS approval. Parrot is targeting a price around 599USD for the Asteroid Smart with availability early 2013. 

If nothing else, this is the kind of convergence device that really interests me and seems to be a major theme of CES. We have connected cameras now, why not connected cars and head units?

Quick Look: Pantech's Discover Android Smartphone

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 10:37 AM PST

My weirdest meeting was probably with Pantech, who I met with in the Convention Center main concourse and seemed to not have an official presence at CES. Pantech’s main announcement was the Discover, a 4.8” 720p Snapdragon S4 LTE device offered by AT&T for $49 on contract. 

This is Pantech’s first shot at making a really decent Android handset, a device they are hoping will rehabilitate Pantech’s image and relevance in the smartphone age. And really, the Discover isn’t a bad start. It’s based around Qualcomm’s now-ubiquitous MSM8960 chipset with dual-core Krait at 1.5GHz and Adreno 225 graphics, along with an integrated LTE module. The display is a decent 4.8” 720p unit, though not one that will blow you away with colours or viewing angle. Audio and photo performance were emphasized in the design, with stereo speakers that promise to be louder and better than most smartphones. OmniVision’s 12.6MP OV12825 CMOS is the image sensor of choice, capable of 4224x3000 stills, HDR, and 1080p video. Other features include NFC, full VPN and Exchange Active Sync support, a micro-SIM slot, and a removable 8.0 Wh battery. It’s running a lightly skinned Android 4.0, with an update to Jelly Bean promised “soon”.

Build quality is actually quite solid, with a pleasing (if dull) industrial design that feels pretty good in hand. The battery cover is a nicely covered piece made with a textured rubber finish and feels more solid than many battery covers I’ve dealt with recently (Galaxy S III and Optimus 4X HD, take a bow). In fact, I’d say the Discover feels better in hand than the SGS3 does, though that isn’t really any worthy distinction since I don’t much care for the SGS3 hardware design. 

The point here is that the Discover is a pretty decent budget mid-range handset. It won’t win any design awards or set any benchmarks on fire, but it hits all the right spec boxes and has a generally pleasant look and feel. The biggest problem that I can see with it is that the HTC One X is currently selling in the same range, and offers a better display, better hardware design, and Android 4.1. Basically, it’s a former top of the line handset selling with internals that are still upper-midrange at a near-budget price. But even so, the Discover is still a good step for Pantech to prove that it can actually compete in the lower regions of the Android world.

Hands on with Samsung's 2013 Notebook Lineup

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 10:25 AM PST

A few days before the big show, Samsung announced updates to their notebook line, including a new Series 7 ultrabook and a redesigned Series 7 Chronos. As someone who uses a current-generation Series 7 Chronos in day-to-day life, I was naturally very interested in getting some hands on time with the new notebooks. Advance apologies for the unevenly lit images - Samsung always seems to have a lighting setup designed for the specific purpose of making my life difficult. 

After debuting the Series 5 Ultra at CES last year, Samsung has given it a makeover for 2013, now with a slimmer aluminum chassis and a touchscreen. This is a pretty big improvement from the first Series 5 Ultra, which felt a bit plasticky and had some definite build quality issues. This is a much cleaner design that should be much higher quality - the single piece aluminum interior panel is a great start, with less flex and a more premium feel that’s better matched to the excellent Series 7 and Series 9 notebooks. The keyboard is now backlit, and the S5U continues to be very well equipped in terms of port selection - three USBs (only one of which is USB 3.0), Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, and an optical drive (still tray loading, unfortunately). 

The S5U occupies the midrange segment, with two SKUs at the $749 (i3 ULV/4GB) and $899 (i5 ULV/8GB) price points. In the US, the S5U will be offered with a touchscreen and integrated graphics only, while overseas, a matte-screened non-touch model will be available along with an optional Radeon HD 8750M dGPU. Sadly, resolution is limited to 1366x768. There’s also a range of colours on offer in the US: Ebony Black, Garnett Red, and Pebble Blue, all of which should be familiar from the Galaxy S III. 

The most interesting product at Samsung’s booth for me was the Series 7 Ultra, which is very high on my list for next-notebook-purchase. Why is that? It’s got a 13.3” 1080p PLS touchscreen, Radeon HD 8570M, i5 and i7 ULV processors, SSD-only storage, a full aluminum chassis, a claimed 9 hour battery, and a total weight of 3.25lbs. I’m sold. This is literally exactly what I want in a notebook, it’s like Samsung built a notebook specifically for me. There’s no optical drive, but other than that, the port selection is identical to the S5U. This means, unfortunately, only one USB 3.0 port (disappointing, especially for 2013) - the lone quibble I have with the hardware on paper. As with the previous S7 models, build quality seems to be quite good. The 13” Ultra is meant to take over for the previous 14” Series 7 Chronos in the Samsung notebook lineup, and pricing is expected to be similar or slightly below where the 14” was. 

The updated Series 7 Chronos, too, was something I was pretty interested in looking at. I had my Series 7 on me when I went to the Samsung booth, so I got a pretty good feel for the hardware differences side by side. (It also had a confused Samsung engineer asking where I got the older Series 7 from, since there shouldn’t have been one anywhere on the show floor.) The biggest change here is the 1080p PLS touchscreen panel, and a slight amount of added thickness to go with that. There’s also a matte non-touch display, but that’s only TN and 1366x768 and will likely not be offered in the US. (The previous Series 7 Chronos has a matte TN 1600x900 panel.) 

The excellent backlit keyboard is still there, now in silver instead of black. Graphics have been bumped from the Nvidia GT 640M to the AMD Radeon HD 8870M with a gig of VRAM, and there’s still a 45W IVB i7 quad here, so performance should be pretty solid. The claimed 11 hours of battery seems...unrealistic, but if it’s true, it’ll be absolutely fantastic. There’s 4 USB ports (two USB 3.0), HDMI, VGA, SD, and Ethernet. I’d expect pricing to go up from before, due to the much more expensive panel. 

The Series 9 was also back on the show floor, this time in a couple of new colours - a very MacBook Air-esque silver as well as an impossibly gorgeous pearl white one that I want with every fibre of my being. Having a matte 1080p PLS display (non-touch) also counts as a distinct win in my book. Other than the new display, the Series 9 is exactly as before. The new colours are unfortunately just concepts, but could make it to production if the public response is adequate. 

It seemed like Samsung was keeping most of its mobile announcements for MWC and beyond, so the only new device on hand was the Verizon LTE-enabled Galaxy Note 10.1” tablet. It’s basically identical to the WiFi Galaxy Note 10.1”, except with an MDM9615 baseband and Android 4.1.2. The Jelly Bean update will likely hit the WiFi Note 10.1” soon. The only other Android products on the show floor were the Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II, and Galaxy Camera, all of which we’ve seen before. 

Availability for all of the new Samsung notebooks is expected to be around March, similar to what we saw last year, while the Note 10.1” should hit Verizon shelves sometime later this month. 

ECS A85F2-A Golden Review: All That Glitters

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 07:30 AM PST

All the major motherboard manufacturers run different nomenclature when grouping their channel and high end products.  ROG, Fatal1ty and Big Bang are to name a few, and each have an associated meaning with the name.  Thus when products come along with a suffix such as ‘Golden’, we expect the best of the best, something that is number one.  Gold is for winners, and we will not accept anything less, otherwise it would be Silver, Bronze, or a wooden spoon.  The ECS Golden range covers graphics cards and motherboards, the latest of which is the motherboard we are testing today in the FM2/A85X Trinity line up – the ECS A85F2-A Golden.

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