Archive for 2013

Good job, Intel and Nvidia! Now show us Haswell and Kepler in mobile devices

If you keep an eye on mobile chip scene, the way I do, you will know that in the last few days Intel and Nvidia made big splash.

Intel announced it would have a Haswell chip with a SDP – a fancy replacement for more traditional and accurate TDP – of 4.5W ready by the year end. The 4.5W is the big deal here because it will allow the chip to go into a tablet.

Haswell in a tablet is a geek’s wet dream. It is a Core processor and is likely to be significantly superior to any chip ARM or its partners currently offer or are likely to come up by the end of this year.

Nvidia, meanwhile, formally announced Logan. The big news with Logan is that Nvidia is finely bringing its PC graphics technology to its mobile chip. Logan is supposed to come inside devices by the second half of next year.

Nvidia claims that it terms of theoretical power (read gflops) the graphics core in Logan will be as powerful as GTX 8800! Even though there is no chance that Logan will have memory bandwidth to push GTX 8800 class performance, this is a big deal.

Both are nice announcements. And both have generated a lot of good PR for Intel and Nvidia, which are struggling to come out of the PC industry where they dominate and adapt their business to the mobile market.

I am not convinced.

The reason: Execution. Or the lack of it.  

Despite superior technology, especially in chip manufacturing, Intel has so far failed to match ARM and its partners like Qualcomm in offering competitive mobile processors. We all know that Silvermont is coming by the end of this year and it may make Intel competitive in the mobile industry but unless we get devices powered by these chips, it is dangerous to hazard a guess.

Keeping this fact in line, I am not too sure that Haswell will really appear in tablets. And even if it appears, it will live up to the hype. Even Intel acknowledges that Haswell in tablet is more like an experiment. It talks of limited availability of tablet-ready Haswell chips.

Nvidia too is struggling in the mobile despite being one of the top semi-conductor firms. Tegra 1, Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 have been passable at best and lame at worst. In February, the company showed Tegra 4 and claimed it would be the best mobile processor in the market. If I remember right, some benchmarks were used and the score posted by Tegra 4 were amazing. But since then we haven’t heard much about it.

In the market, it is difficult to find a Tegra 4 device. I think Toshiba has one tablet and HP has come out with one Hybrid.

In fact, there is a very valid question mark on the ability of Tegra 4 to fit into a smartphone form factor because the amount of power it is supposed to consume and the amount of heat it reportedly produces.

Given that Intel is yet make a really competitive processor despite several tries and Nvidia is struggling to get the Tegra right, I will like to see the tablet running on Haswell and a phone powered by Logan before I can believe the tall claims. 

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Next 3D Mark coming on Feb 4

Finally, we have a date! Futuremark has confirmed that its new 3D Mark benchmark is going to debut on February 4. And what a benchmark it is going to be. Here is how Futuremark describes it:
It is our most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today
But why am I excited about it? After all, as they say in forums, you can't play 3D Mark.

Two reasons.

1- Even though you can't play 3D Mark, the program is important because it shows what is theoretically possible with computers. And those pretty pictures that 3D Mark renders do look amazing.

2- This version of 3D Mark is especially significant because it is going to be the first proper graphics benchmark that will allow comparison between devices on separate platforms. The new 3D Mark will help compare the hardware in iPhone with the hardware in an Android device. This is something that is going to make the job of people like me, who write about these gadgets, easier. At the same time, it may force companies making smartphone and tablet hardware to support common standards and be more open to reveal details of their products.

Now, the bad news. For now, the benchmark is going to be available only for Windows computers. There is still no ETA on when it will come to iOS, Android and Windows Phone. But let's hope it will be soon.

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Next-gen consoles and why PC games suck

It’s silly season. The season when rumours fly thick and fast ahead of a major technology product launch. This time there are two launches – next-gen Xbox, codenamed Durango, and next-gen Playstation, codenamed Orbis. Given that the current consoles were launched in 2006, there is a lot of anticipation among geek crowd. 

I am not a console gamer but I do keep an eye on the technology for two reasons. One, I write about it. And two, I believe PC gamers have their fate intricately linked with console gamers. If console gamers get good hardware, we will see better games on PC. If they get poor hardware, PC gamers are likely to get ill-designed ports. 

Of late, there has been a lot of discussion around the possible hardware in next-gen consoles. For now, the consensus is that the hardware of Durango is going to suck. PS4 will fare much better but even its hardware may not match what current computers have. 

Timothy Lottes, the guy who created FXAA for Nvidia, has now weighed on the issue. While he largely agrees that next-gen Xbox may not fare very well in comparison to the current gaming computers, he says that PS4 has a chance to shine bright.



It is an interesting post. And a must read for computer hardware junkies. But other than the idea that PS4 can be a fantastic console, I have one more takeaway from it – Microsoft is single biggest reason for poor state of PC gaming. 

I have been saying it for quite some time that the current computers have unprecedented amount of horsepower. But lack of appropriate software holds them back. When it comes to gaming I am sure DirectX, Microsoft’s graphics API for Windows, shares some blame.

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