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Game Developers Conference 2014 (GDC 2014) – Wrap Up

Game Developers Conference 2014 (GDC 2014) – Wrap Up

Posted by on Mar 18, 2014 in Gaming, General, Hardware, Mobile, News, Software | 0 comments

GDC '14 - Bustling with activity at the Career Center.

GDC ’14 – Bustling with activity at the Career Center.

This past week, I had a chance to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, a huge annual conference for game producers & developers. As this was my first GDC, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet professionals in the gaming industry, attend seminars on game development, as well as seeing the latest games and technology on display. 

GDC '14 - GDC attendees getting an opportunity to try out Oculus Rift.

GDC ’14 – GDC attendees getting an opportunity to try out Oculus Rift.

GDC ' 14 - Unity promoting the Unity gaming engine to game developers.

GDC ‘ 14 – Unity promoting the Unity gaming engine to game developers.

While the first two days of GDC came and gone with little fanfare, things became a bit more interesting when the Career Center and the Expo Floor opened up on Wednesday. Companies like Oculus and Unity were in full force on the floor. Oculus, riding on the growing interest into virtual reality technology, were demonstrating the full capabilities of what the Oculus Rift VR headset had to offer for the next generation of games. As for Unity, they were heavily touting it’s capabilities as a versatile gaming engine that supports most (if not all) current gaming platforms, as well as high-profile games that were developed with Unity.

GDC '14 - The Sony PlayStation exhibit at GDC.

GDC ’14 – The Sony PlayStation exhibit at GDC.

GDC '14 - Valve's exhibit at the GDC.

GDC ’14 – Valve’s exhibit at the GDC.

GDC '14 - Valve's SteamBox, a PC running SteamOS.

GDC ’14 – Valve’s SteamBox, a PC running SteamOS.

GDC '14 - The controversial SteamOS controller.

GDC ’14 – The controversial SteamOS controller.

Some of the biggest announcements at GDC included Sony’s Project Morpheus, a VR headset similar to the Oculus’ Rift headset.  Another large announcement was Valve’s unveiling of the latest version of the SteamOS controller, considered to be controversial due to it’s unorthodox game controller layout. Along with the new controller, Valve was also demonstrating the SteamOS and the SteamBox PCs over at it’s booth.

GDC '14 - Intel at GDC, promoting it's Iris Pro GPU's abilities.

GDC ’14 – Intel at GDC, promoting it’s Iris Pro GPU’s abilities.

Hardware companies like Intel, AMD, and nVIDIA were also at GDC, demonstrating what their hardware can do for game developers. With Intel, they were promoting Iris Pro (Haswell’s integrated GPU) and it’s gaming performance. The message that they wanted to deliver was that the Iris Pro was capable of running the latest games (albeit at lower settings compared to nVIDIA & AMD’s GPU solutions).

GDC '14 - AMD demonstrating EyeInfinity with Battlefield 4.

GDC ’14 – AMD demonstrating EyeInfinity with Battlefield 4.

As for AMD, they were focused on promoting EyeInfinity, their triple monitor solution for gaming, as well as Mantle, an AMD API that allows developers greater access to AMD’s GPU capabilities on a lower level.

GDC '14 - nVIDIA's exhibit at GDC.

GDC ’14 – nVIDIA’s exhibit at GDC.

GDC '14 - nVIDIA's GRID rack server on display.

GDC ’14 – nVIDIA’s GRID rack server on display.

Over at nVIDIA’s booth, they were promoting their latest Tegra 4 SOC solution, as well as nVIDIA GRID, a cloud game streaming service that nVIDIA is currently promoting.

GDC '14 - A GDC attendee playing Crypt of the Necrodancer with a DDR mat.

GDC ’14 – A GDC attendee playing Crypt of the Necrodancer with a DDR mat.

GDC '14 - Bit Bros., a 2D fighting game that plays similarly to Nintendo's Smash Bros. series.

GDC ’14 – Bit Bros., a 2D fighting game that plays similarly to Nintendo’s Smash Bros. series.

de with the large game & hardware companies, part of the Expo Floor was dedicated to Independent Game Developers, where the latest and greatest indie games like “Papers, Please”, “Crypt of the Necrodancer”, “The Stanley Parable”, and many others were on display. GDC has always had a large focus on independent game developers, but this year, indie game developers were definitely in force, as many of the indie games on display were quite intuitive and most importantly, fun to play.

GDC '14 - The Videogame History Museum Exhibit at GDC.

GDC ’14 – The Videogame History Museum Exhibit at GDC.

Outside of the Expo Floor, I encountered an interesting exhibit, the Videogames History Museum. It was an exhibit dedicated to the history of arcade and console gaming, with classic consoles like the NES, SNES, Atari, N64, Genesis, GameCube, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, etc. on display. There were several stations where gamers could reminisce and play these classic consoles; I was able to get a chance to play E.T.: Phone Home (a game that was largely responsible for the 1983 video game crash), as well as a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Melee. The exhibit was definitely a trip down nostalgic road for me.

GDC '14 - Game Developer's Choice Awards

GDC ’14 – Game Developer’s Choice Awards

On Wednesday night, the Game Developer’s Choice Awards 2014 was held. It’s similar to the People’s Choice Awards, except that the winners here are games and their developers. A significant portion of the GDC Awards were dedicated to indie games, showcasing how far indie games have come in recent years. What I found surprising is that a large amount of the awards were given to the indie game “Papers, Please”, winning five awards for categories such as Best Narrative, Visual Art, etc. Another big winner was Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us”, a great game that rocked the gaming world last year.

With GDC ’14 concluded, I am still in awe over all the announcements, games/tech that were on display, and more importantly, the advice I received from game designers and professionals. As I have started the journey back into software development in the past year, I was initially overwhelmed, as I felt at times if I could ever get back to speed with what game companies are looking for in developers these days. However, I also gained insight and a better direction of where I should focus my software development skills on.

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Google Launches Android Wear

Posted by on Mar 18, 2014 in Hardware, Mobile, News | 0 comments

Today, Google has unveiled Android Wear, it’s take on the smartwatch concept. With Android Wear and like Google Glass, Google brings the Android infrastructure to the smartwatch form factor. Google is also making the Android Wear SDK available today to developers, making it possible to add Android Wear support to existing Android apps.

Source: http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/18/google-launches-android-wear-a-new-project-to-bring-android-to-wearables-like-smartwatches/

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AMD Unveils the Radeon R9/R7 Radeon Series

AMD Unveils the Radeon R9/R7 Radeon Series

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in Hardware, News | 0 comments

At the GPU 14 Tech Day Event in Hawaii, AMD officially unveiled the their next generation Radeon GPU series, the Radeon R9 2xx and R7 2xx series, codenamed “Volcanic Islands.” 

The new Radeon R9/R7 GPU family uses an enhanced GCN architecture (initially introduced in the Radeon HD 7000 series), is DirectX 11.2 compliant, and was produced on the 28 nm process. Some earlier speculations had suggested that the Volcanic Islands family would be on the 20 nm process, but it appears that AMD was able to yield more performance out of the 28 nm process, as the AMD wasn’t ready to transition to 20 nm just yet.

One of the most exciting news about the new Radeon R9/R7 GPU family is the top of the line GPU, the Radeon R9 290X. The Radeon R9 290X is a 512-bit single GPU card, with a transistor count of 6 billion, equipped with 4 GB GDDR5, capable of 5 teraflops, with a total bandwidth of 300 GB/s. These are beastly specs for a GPU, especially in the compute power, transistor count, and the memory bandwidth. Earlier benchmark leaks indicate that the R9 290X beats out the $1,000 GeForce GTX Titan. Even more interesting to hear is that AMD is hoping to price the R9 290X at $600.00 USD, which would seriously undercut nVIDIA’s high-end GTX GPUs.

Another interesting new feature about the Radeon R9/R7 GPU family is “TrueAudio”, a fully programmable audio engine. With TrueAudio, AMD hopes to revolutionize 3D audio engines found in games, as current 3D sound technologies seem to be quite lacking.

With the introduction of the Radeon R9/R7 GPU family, AMD is looking at an October 2013 ETA, with the aims of retaking the GPU market back from nVIDIA.

DailyTech – AMD Soft Launches “Volcanic Islands” GPUs With Programmable Audio in Hawaii
Radeon R9-290X: Hardware specs and benchmarks of AMD’s Titan killer
TechReport – AMD reveals Radeon R9 290X with TrueAudio, Battlefield 4 bundle
Read More

Fake Death of a Crucial M4 SSD

Posted by on Sep 19, 2013 in General, Hardware | 0 comments

While making some Hyper-V configuration changes on my home server, my Windows Server 2012-based server suddenly went BSOD and immediately restarted. On reboot, I found that the motherboard could no longer detect the boot drive (a Crucial M4 512 GB SSD) BIOS.

The M4 contained the OS partition for Server 2012, as well as several Hyper-V virtual disk files for several VMs that I was using for testing purposes. My primary data files were unaffected, as those files are stored on a 6-drive RAID 10 array configuration. As I maintained an OS daily snapshot image on an external 3 TB drive, I wasn’t too concerned about the loss of OS data. What was annoying was that I was facing the ordeal of having to send in the M4 back to Crucial for an RMA, wait for a replacement to arrive, and spending quite some time to restore the OS partition configuration on the replacement SSD drive.

As the sudden BSOD and non-detection of the M4 was very unusual, I did some research on what could cause this issue. Apparently, the problem was a bit more common than initially thought, as there were several other M4 owners that encountered the same issue. It seems that there is a rare intermittent power loss bug that affects M4s with firmware version 040H. I guess I was the lucky one, as my M4 was on firmware version 040H and encountered that “rare” bug.

To address the issue, Crucial released firmware 070H (latest firmware as of this post) earlier this year. However, I was still faced with the problem with reviving my M4, as the server could not detect the drive, let alone update the firmware on it. After speaking with Crucial tech support, they assured me that the data was highly likely to be fully intact and suggested that I power cycle my M4 a few times to revive the M4. Apparently, Crucial implemented a built-in fail-safe recovery mechanism in the M4 drives for such issues.

Power-cycling the M4 involves hooking it up to a PC or laptop with an available SATA power connector (with no SATA cable attached) and leaving it on for approximately 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, power down the PC/laptop and disconnect the M4 for approximately 30 seconds. After power-cycling my M4 a few times, my server was able to detect the M4 again and was able to boot into Windows Server 2012 without any issues.

I immediately performed a data integrity check on the M4 and surprisingly everything was intact. Running CrystalDiskInfo on the M4 512 GB SSD indicated it was in “Good” condition, running at 98% life. After running a few more drive integrity tests, I flashed the M4 to firmware 070H, as it fixes this power loss issue.

To summerize, if you suddenly find that your Crucial M4 is no longer being detected, make sure to power-cycle your drive a few times before shipping the SSD back to Crucial for an RMA; chances are that your M4 is not truly dead. Also, with issues like this and the 5200 hour bug, it is very important to keep your Crucial M4 SSD(s) updated on the latest available firmware. Either way, it’ll save you a lot of time, not to mention keeping your files. It certainly saved me quite the hassle. Read More

Gigabyte BRIX: A Miniscule Gaming PC

Posted by on Sep 13, 2013 in Hardware | 0 comments

The Engadget staff recently had the opportunity to check out one of Gigabyte’s newest product at the Intel Developer’s Conference, the BRIX, a mini-form factor PC.

Similar in size to the NUC units that Intel introduced last year, Gigabyte is introducing both AMD Kabini and Intel Haswell based solutions with BRIX, and marketing them as mini gaming PCs. While the integrated GPUs found in the BRIX units are hardly worthy of being able to provide a killer gaming experience, the small form factor of the units does offer the potential for simplicity and ease of mobility. What’s interesting is that the Haswell-based BRIX will be equipped with the Iris Pro graphics.

If priced decently, I can see BRIX being potentially useful in certain scenarios. Especially in home theater PC market, where a energy-efficient, mini-form factor PC with video hardware acceleration highly sought by many HTPC enthusiasts.

Source: Engadget – Gigabyte shows off tiny BRIX gaming PC with Haswell and Iris Pro graphics (hands-on) Read More

Storage Spaces on Windows Server 2012: Great in Theory, Terrible in Practice

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013 in Hardware | 0 comments

Recently, I had the opportunity to test out the new Storage Spaces feature on Windows Server 2012. With a bunch of spare hard drives and parts sitting around, I figure I’d put them to some use by testing out the functionality of Windows Server 2012.

Storage Spaces (also available on Windows 8) is a feature that bears a striking similarity to the Drive Extender feature found on the original Windows Home Server (which reached end-of-life status earlier this year). While the death of DE in WHS 2011 was lamented by many in the tech community, there was excitement when the DE-like Storage Space was introduced with Windows 8 & Server 2012. Like DE, Storage Spaces is a JBOD-like implementation at the OS-level in which you can combine several storage devices of different sizes and interfaces into a single storage pool.

While DE utilized a crude file duplication as a means to protect against data loss from failed hard drives, Storage Spaces offers a few different RAID-like options of protecting data at the OS-level. When setting up a storage pool with Storage Spaces, you are given a choice to select from two-way mirror (RAID 1-like implementation), three-way mirror (RAID 10-like implementation), and parity (RAID 5-like implementation). I set up a storage pool with the two-way mirror option with the following drives I had sitting around.

  • Hitachi 2 TB Deskstar 7K2000 7200 RPM HDD
  • Western Digital 2 TB Green 5400 RPM HDD
  • Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Black 7200 RPM HDD
  • Seagate Barracuda 1 TB 7200 RPM HDD
  • Western Digital 500 GB Caviar Blue 7200 RPM HDD
  • Western Digital 500 GB Caviar Blue 7200 RPM HDD
  • Samsung 500 GB Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 7200 RPM HDD
  • Hitachi 400 GB Deskstar 7200 RPM HDD
The two WD 2 TB HDDs and 1 TB HDDs were running off the onboard SATA connectors of a Socket AM2 ECS GeForce 7050M-M motherboard. The rest of the drives were running off a 4-port HighPoint RocketRAID 2304 PCIe RAID controller card in non-RAID mode. Granted, these aren’t the best performing parts to test out Server 2012, but I wanted to make use of what was sitting around.

Anyhow, after setting up the storage pool, the total storage size ended up being around 3.37 TB of usable space. With the pool setup, I created a single partition to make use of the entire pool. Curious about read and write speeds, I decided to copy 3 TB worth of data onto the test server. Throughout the data transfer process, the write speeds fluxuated quite a bit, varying from 70 MB/s to 15 MB/s. As the drives filled up, the write speeds diminished significantly, to about 15 MB/s to a paltry 1 MB/s. Read speeds were even worse, as I saw speeds varying from 10 MB/s to 250 KB/s (yep, you read that right). As the storage pool filled to capacity, it came to a point where the storage pool volume became nearly inaccessible, due to the massive I/O bottleneck going on.

While I didn’t expect optimal write and read speeds with the mix of random hard drives, I had at least expected speeds that were equivalent to the old DE, where read and write speeds were acceptable. With write and read speeds being dismal, along with several big limitations (brought up by this blogger), Storage Spaces is best to be avoided for now, especially when third-party DE-like solutions (DriveBender, DrivePool, FlexRAID) are available and offer more options and better performance than Storage Spaces at this point. Read More

Have a Crucial M4 SSD and Seeing the 0x000000F4 Bug? Update the Firmware!

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Hardware | 0 comments

Recently, one of my clients were reporting that they were suddenly getting frequent BSODs on one of their laptops, with the error code 0x000000F4.  The client’s laptop would run normally, but suddenly would BSOD and reboot after about an hour or so of use.
The notorious 0x000000F4 BSOD.

The notorious 0x000000F4 BSOD.

The laptop in question was upgraded with a Crucial M4 128 GB SSD over a year ago. Being an owner of a few Crucial M4 SSD drives, I remembered that year ago, Crucial released a firmware update for the M4 series that addressed a critical bug that would cause BSODs after 5200 hours of usage. As there were no other obvious issues with the laptop, I suspected that this was the case. Running CrystalDiskInfo, I confirmed my suspicions, as the Crucial M4 firmware version was 0001 (never updated) and had 5500 hours of usage, well past the 5200 hour mark.

Stats of a Crucial M4 128 GB SSD with over 5500 hours of usage.

Stats of a Crucial M4 128 GB SSD with over 5500 hours of usage.

I grabbed the latest firmware for the Crucial M4 (070H as of this post) and updated the firmware on the Crucial M4 without any data loss or other issues. After completing the firmware update, the client’s laptop has been running  smoothly, with no sign of any 0x000000F4 BSODs. If you are a owner of a Crucial M4, make sure that you are running at least firmware version 0309; the 5200 hour bug WILL occur on any Crucial M4 SSDs running on firmware versions prior to 0309. Read More

Apple WWDC 2013 Recap

Apple WWDC 2013 Recap

Posted by on Jun 11, 2013 in Hardware, Mobile, News, Software | 0 comments

For those that missed out on Apple’s WWDC 2013 Keynote in San Francisco yesterday, here are the major points:

  •  iOS7: The newest version of iOS introduces major graphic and UI changes. This was a change that was greatly needed, as the iOS UI was feeling increasingly stale and outdated, especially when compared to the Holo UI found in recent Android OS releases, 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and 4.1-4.2 (JellyBean). Interestingly, some of the visual changes seem to take a cue from the TouchWiz UX 2.0 interface found in Samsung’s Galaxy S3/S4/Note II phones.
  • MacOS X 10.9 Mavericks: The next version of the venerable OS X was also unveiled. Aside from updates to Safari, iCloud, etc., there were no significant UI changes in Mavericks. The most significant announcement for OS X Mavericks was that it was optimized to be more energy efficient.
  • MacBook Air Haswell Refresh: As expected, Apple refreshed their entire MacBook Air lineup, replacing Ivy Bridge with Haswell. As we’ve seen from the Haswell launch earlier this month, the refreshed MacBook Air models with Haswell will offer greater battery life than previous MacBook Air models. Apple claims that the 13″ model can last up to 12 hours on a single charge.
  • Mac Pro’s New Design: Apple also showcased the new Mac Pro workstation, which sports a significant chassis change from previous Mac Pros. The new Mac Pro is cylindrical and robotic-looking, resembling R2D2 from Star Wars. I’m not sure if I dig the new design, as it looks rather silly than modern/futuristic. Still, it would be interesting to see the thermal cooling aspects of the new chassis. Aside from the chassis, the specs are certainly impressive, boasting a 12-core, Ivy Bridge-based Intel Xeon E5 processor, along with multi-GPU support, PCI Express 3.0, Thunderbolt 2.0 and more.
  • iTunes Radio Streaming: As expected, Apple unveiled it’s new music streaming service, in response to Google’s Play Music streaming service that was released last month.
While it was nice to see that Apple unveiled the new iOS7 and refreshed the MacBook Air with Haswell, I can’t but help feel underwhelmed. With Apple’s mobile marketshare and sales taking a beating from Google’s Android devices, many were hoping to see some significant changes to the iPhone and iPad lineup, but such updates were surprisingly absent from the WWDC.

For those interested in watching the full Apple WWDC 2013 Keynote, you can find the video over at Apple’s website here: Apple Events – WWDC 2013 Keynote

AnandTech – WWDC 13 Keynote Blog Live
IGN – Apple WWDC 2013 Recap: iOS 7, iTunes Radio, and the Mac Pro Read More

It’s Haswell Day!

It’s Haswell Day!

Posted by on Jun 1, 2013 in Hardware, News | 0 comments

It’s the first day of June and the NDAs on Haswell have expired, meaning we finally get to see all the performance comparisons, benchmarks, and details on Intel’s fourth generation Core-i architecture! The usual suspects have their reviews up already:

AnandTech – The Haswell Review: Intel Core i7-4770K & i5-4670K Tested
Guru3D – Core i7 4770K processor review
TechReport – Haswell compared to… everything
[H]ard|OCP – Intel Haswell i7-4770K IPC and Overclocking Review
Tom’s Hardware – The Core i7-4770K Review: Haswell Is Faster; Desktop Enthusiasts Yawn

For those that have not been following Haswell, it is Intel’s 22nm ‘tock’ in the tick-tock schedule that Intel has been pursuing since 2005, meaning that Haswell is a brand new architecture. Like previous ‘tocks’ (Sandy Bridge, Nehalem, Conroe), Haswell brings about some major improvements, particularly with power consumption and integrated graphics performance. From the reviews I’ve gone through so far, Haswell seems to be 5-15% faster per clock than Ivy Bridge, depending on the application. In comparison to Sandy Bridge and Nehalem, the performance increase is up to 25% and 40% respectively.

Along with the performance increases, Intel has improved power use efficiency with Haswell, providing vendors more opportunities to produce laptops and tablets that have a much longer battery life than with previous Intel processsor generations. Haswell also introduces some new CPU instructions, such as AVX2, which gives Haswell the potential to perform almost twice as fast than Ivy Bridge if AVX2 is fully utilized in an application.

The only place where Haswell seems to fall short is overclocking. Overclocking enthusiasts are running into high temperature issues when cranking up the voltage and are seeing the overclocking range at 4.0 – 4.5 GHz on average. Intel seems to be using the exact same TIM that was used on Ivy Bridge (which also had similar thermal issues when overclocking). For those intent on extreme overclocking with Haswell, delidding the processor seems to be necessary to reach higher clocks.

All in all, the new Haswell family seems to be a great upgrade, especially for those that are using a Core 2 or Nehalem-based Core-i7 setup. Read More