Categories
Hardware Tech

Consumer Tech roundup

Its been an eventful announcement week. For those who can afford to spend.

AMD detailed the new Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300x. These are both quad core, 8 thread CPUs. Along with the long awaited B550 and A520 chipsets, this brings PCIe gen 4 to the mid and low end enthusiast market. Speak about spoiled for choice.

The total domination move would be to finally release the rumoured Ryzen 3 1200AF.

Canon announced their new high end mirrorless camera, the EOS R5. This time around it looks like Canon aren’t going to break our hearts by deliberately ham stringing their own product.

The EOS R5 will be capable of 8K RAW uncropped up to 30p. 4K uncropped up to 120p. Dual PIXEL AF across the board. 4:2:2 10bit Canon Log (H.265), 4:2:2 10bit HDR PQ (H.265). In body image stabilisation.

It also takes pictures. In case you cared. 12 fps mechanical shutter. 20 fps electronic shutter. I’m going to assume that it has DVI out, audio in and out and it doesn’t overheat. Because these are table stakes at the price Canon are likely to charge for this.

The new iPad Pro Magic Keyboard also arrived with reviewers. So the slew of Youtube reviews were hard to miss. There were plenty of breathless reviews about how wonderful it is.

But I think I’d land at the same point of view that Marques has.

Just as a counterbalance. There have also been a ton of Youtube videos aimed at the budget end of enthusiast / gaming PCs.

The highlight video was looking at the RX480 / 580. A pair of four to five year old GPUs that are still supported by AMD. Both punching well above their weight class in terms of value.

Categories
Hardware Tech

Potato Computer

The super budget computer made from second hand parts is always a great bang for buck option. Not to mention good for the soul in keeping used parts in service.

With computer hardware supply chains an issue currently. There is some scarcity and prices have gone up. This isn’t helped by a poor Australian exchange rate and the huge push to work from home.

Mid to high end components are available but at their usual punishing prices.

Purchasing carefully, a solid computer can be had for not a lot of money. The biggest costs of current computers are the CPU, GPU and memory. This is where the most savings can be made depending on how far back you go.

Monitors can be a sticking point depending on whats acceptable. New and used 720p and 1080p monitors can be had cheaply enough.

No surprises, the key requirement is to know what the use cases are. Even the cheapest new or second hand computers are well able to handle general computing.

Skylake and Haswell i3s can easily handle general use like web browsing and productivity. Add a GTX970 or RX570 for a solid gaming experience.

Just know that older hardware has its limitations. They can be a maze of hardware and software incompatibilities. Software support will get harder as time goes by as manufacturers stop bothering.

A perennial example is the used office desktop. These can be had cheaply but compatibility can be tricky. Especially for GPUs and wifi cards.

At the time of writing in Sydney, used GPU prices on Ebay and Gumtree were exceptionally high for later hardware. Demand has pushed Rx580s, GTX1070s and the like, into the pre pandemic low end new GPU ($200AU – $300AU) price bracket.

A new laptop might be the better option as its less temptation to fiddle and will arrive ready to go. Or the budget has blown out where new gear might be a better choice.

Gaming and streaming can have the highest requirements. If the aim is to just play older games at low resolutions then a low budget computer can be a great option.

However if the need is to play the latest games, especially multiplayer, and / or streaming. Then older hardware will start to show its limits.

This is where the price premium for current hardware wins out. Chiefly because it hasn’t reached its shelf life.

Check out any tech Youtubers build videos to see that they’re currently ending up with a lower end AMD Ryzen CPU and B450 motherboard. If they haven’t gone with an APU (like the Ryzen 3 3200G) then its either an RX580 or GTX1600 series GPU (for the streamers).

Typically this is the $600US ($900+AU) target they all seem to hit. Problem is that usually excludes the monitor, key board and mouse.

Using this as a base, a good range of upgrades is then possible. Switching to a newer CPU or GPU as budget permits.

Where this falls down at the moment is that even APUs are not that cheap.

A second hand build can be a great adventure in itself. But its not the only route available to potato.

Categories
Hardware Movies Software Tech VFX

Virtual Production of the Mandalorian

So a major proportion of the Mandalorian was shot on a virtual set. Whats different is the technological leap forward thats come from throwing together a stage surrounded by high resolution screens, a game engine and motion sensing attached to the movie camera.

Whats been achieved is essentially the holodeck. The secret sauce is the Unreal game engine. Virtually any place indoor or outdoor can be displayed. At any time of the day. That scene can also be dynamically adjusted or changed to suit whatever’s required.

The displayed background reacts to camera movement in real time based on the position sensing rig connected to it. This simulates the relative view as if the camera were actually on site.

This is being called “real pixels”. The actors can see and react to the final set rather than having to imagine it as they would with a green screen set.

Perhaps Terence Stamp could be persuaded to do a block buster now that actors’ don’t need to work with tennis balls on sticks.

Theres less work in getting the final takes because most all of it is shot in camera. The LCD screens are bright enough to light the set and the details reflect realistically. Something that needs heavy post production with green screens.

Whats more remarkable is that the screen resolution is enough to register bokeh and depth of field. Although at times, the technology wasn’t trusted enough to deliver true fidelity and they leaned on shallow depth of field to mask any perceived imperfections.

In essence, within the size of the set. Any scene can be shot in a controlled environment that can be reproduced. Crews no longer have to wait for golden hour. Golden hour is now twenty four by seven.

Back projected scenes are perfectly reproducible. The same on the first take and the last.

The trade off for this flexibility is that the scene designs need to be close to final. In order that they can be projected and shot with.

Production technology has slowly been building to this. Gravity used an early small scale version of this idea. Mainly focused on getting the required footage of actors responding to scenes.

This was dubbed the “light box”. A large enough LCD screen filled box that encompassed an actor and camera crew. Strong enough to light the scene and to simulate what was happening for the actors to respond to.

Gravity was heavily computer generated and composited to achieve the deep space visuals that Alfonso Cuaron wanted. It was so good it took the Oscar for best visual FX.

Large scale projection has been used in many movies to give scenes that extra visual impact. With new projectors they’re reaching a scale where they can fill huge sound stages.

In Oblivion, the Sky Tower is a floating base situated above the clouds.

Andrea Riseborough’s Victoria and Tom Cruise’s Jack have many discussions at all times of day on this base. Whats striking is the views from the floor to ceiling windows.

These wrap around views were achieved by projecting pre-shot visuals from a Hawaiian mountain top. This could have easily been achieved with green or blue screen but the colour spill would have required huge amounts of work to remove.

Similarly the recent Star Wars films made use of the same technique for the Millennium Falcon cockpit scenes. The Falcon cockpit set had a wrap around projected screen. This lit the set and allowed the actors to see what was actually happening.

Even Parasite, a modern day drama set in South Korean society has significant amounts of VFX.

Bong Joon Ho leans heavily on VFX to create the visual language in many of his movies. Where Snow Piercer relies on the back to front of a train to signify social status, in Parasite he uses height. Both in terms of camera movement and character perspective / points of view.

I was amazed to learn that both houses don’t actually exist. They’re sets designed to facilitate the visual metaphors the director wanted.

Parasite could be filmed without the effects and be just as affecting. Which is a tribute to the script.

The effects are over all more subtle. But effective nonetheless. Allowing the director more scope to express himself.

Even for John Wick which bills itself on Keanu Reeve’s extraordinary stunt work and physicality. Parabellum makes use of VFX to give us extraordinary action scenes.

Arguably theres more VFX in Parabellum than in the Matrix. But I can’t argue that it doesn’t have a place in making a great movie.

We get to have outlandish knife fight scenes where no one actually gets stabbed.

Visual effects are at this point an indispensable tool. It lets film makers achieve shots that otherwise wouldn’t be available. I don’t think we’d see anything as epic as Avengers Endgame if we didn’t.

Whats new is that visual effects are now reaching a point where it can be shot in camera. There’ll be much less need for “We’ll fix it in post”.

Categories
Hardware Software Tech

GPU wars 2020

Nvidia have had a firm grip on the GPU market for some time. Having not had any real competition. They’ve promoted and command huge mind share.

However AMD have been upping their game over the last almost two years. Enough to push Nvidia to fast track its GPU roadmap. Phasing out some of its initial RTX offerings and putting out tweaked “Super” versions of their cards as AMD were bringing out their initial NAVI GPUs.

Nvidia then filling out its low to mid range GPU offerings as AMD announced theirs. What was interesting was that Nvidia felt no shame as what they brought to market was upgraded GTX10 series cards.

Running counter to their own marketing that RTX was the future.

So Nvidia have been playing cat and mouse with AMD for many months. Countering AMD’s offerings just before they’re actually released. Basing their products on AMD’s announcements.

However with this latest round, Level1Tech’s posed an interesting question. “Did AMD purposefully blindside Nvidia through last minute software revisions and pricing to improve the 5600XT.”.

As they’ve said, the only issue is how many customers would actually apply a BIOS update to get that 10%+ performance boost.

Arguably all of this has been great for the consumer. Especially since the bad old days of cryptocurrency mining where GPUs were stupidly expensive. If there was any stock to be had.

On pure price / performance, AMD have a solid range. However Nvidia have done significant work differentiating their GPUs based on use. This does come at a premium though.

Nvidia keep and maintain strong relationships with software companies. Working with not just games but also utilities and productivity.

Everything from ray tracing Minecraft. CUDA technology incorporated into Adobe Creative suite and machine learning acceleration.

My only question would be, “Does the new crop of GPUs really justify the prices?”. Nvidia are arguably artificially keeping prices high as a holdover from the crypto mining days.

All said and done. The PC consumer is in a very good place at the start of this new decade. There hasn’t been this level of competition and choice in some time.

Categories
Hardware Tech

Mac Pro – Just how pro?

So Mac Pro day has come and gone. Its taken awhile to get my head around just what exactly the 2019 Mac Pro does and where it fits.

Workstation. HEDT. Theres a lot of categories and even more user expectations.

On the face of it. The Mac Pro, especially the base configuration, is an extraordinary bad value. The single core and multi core benchmarks are pretty average. Factor in the price of the base config in your country and, yeah. Its looks very hard to justify.

Apple have done themselves a disservice with the Pro name. Across the product range its applied to mean various things.

With iPads, its a nebulous range of additional features that don’t really distinguish the iPad Pro all that much from the more mundane models. There’s just the horrendous price.

Similarly, the Pro in the iPhone 11 range denoting the premium line. Again, the price to features being a little nebulous. Just expensive.

The Macbooks are a lot clearer. The Macbook Pros are the most capable. Especially the 2019 16 inch Macbook Pro. However they are priced as a mainstream device. The balance of processor, memory and storage for the relative price is bearable.

This diverges more with the iMacs. The iMac Pro is kitted out similarly to the Mac Pro with workstation grade internals. Running a Xeon processor and ECC memory. It offers a good value proposition in terms of processor, memory and storage, even for its steep base price.

Its biggest issue is that it requires an Apple technician to do upgrades.

As an aside, the elephant in the room for the iMac Pro is “Does it have a future?”. Theres been no update for some time.

Enter the Mac Pro. Its clearly a workstation and the price paid is for all the engineering thats gone into its design.

As Quinn’s video shows and iFixIt’s rating confirms. The Mac Pro is totally user serviceable. Initial testing is confirming that its capable of handling loads easily without sounding like a jet engine.

Viewed from this angle. As a purely commercial workstation. The Mac Pro makes sense.

The problem is that configurability is table stakes in the PC world. For general computing and hobbyists, its hard to justify. Its something thats a given with high end desktops.

Part of the overall problem is on Intel. The glacial pace of the Xeon roadmap and supporting chip set features. Its hard not to look at what AMD Ryzen and Threadripper bring to the table.

Performance is very much on par with the chip specs. Single core scores are tied to clock speed and multi-core scales out with the number of cores on tap.

There are still other trade offs. For example, Nvidia have done significant work to accelerate machine learning. However Apple have intentionally disallowing support for their GPUs.

The Mac Pro is competitive in key areas like video editing. Some features like the Afterburner card and custom dual GPUs are a clear advantage.

However its harder to say beyond that. There are as many options at any and all price points if macOS isn’t mandatory. All of which are flexible.

While Apple forces its customers to make sacrifices at all price points.

The Mac Pro comes at a huge premium for its flexibility. Hard to justify beyond the small market that can. Which is a shame as it still leaves a huge unfulfilled customer market.

Categories
Hardware Tech

We now return you to your regularly scheduled MacBook Pro

Finally.

Apple doesn’t like to admit that it’s wrong, but will be the first to let you know when it’s made an improvement.” – Jason Snell.

Apple having dialled the balance between form and function back some. They’ve continued the trend started with the iMac Pro.

Seemingly the same from the outside. The internals have been significantly changed. The MBP has now been allowed to grow slightly larger and heavier.

This is to accomodate:

  1. The largest allowable battery by the FAA.
  2. Redesigned thermals to handle the current Intel CPUs.
  3. Better speakers and microphone(s).
  4. New 16″ display.

The new default GPUs are the latest AMD 5000M series.

So the elephant in the room. The Magic Keyboard. The biggest talking point. Immediately obvious is the different layout and the return of the scissor switch.

The MacBook Pro has been my daily driver since its inception. Yes. I’m that old.

However this last generation of MacBooks have been difficult to live with. Even harder to recommend. Sure its a minor annoyance to deal with a soft escape key and a keyboard prone to jamming.

I’ve been grinning and bearing it rather then doing without my machine while its being repaired.

Laptops are inherently compromised. But the Macbook Pro’s combination of portability and power is just hard to beat. As much as I’ve researched alternatives. I keep coming back to it. Faults and all.

Its great to see Apple revisiting their usability decisions again. They’re actually taking on board customer feedback.

The biggest change is that I finally don’t feel like it’s constantly fighting me. Its design doesn’t feel spiteful.” – Marco Arment.

Then theres the pricing. Huge surprise. The 16″ replaces the 15″. Here in Australia, its only a small price premium over the outgoing models.

Guess I better go put an order in.

Categories
Hardware Tech

AMD delivers more kicking to Intel

Courtesy of Techpowerup. AMD are pretty much hitting every CPU bracket just in time for Christmas.

High end desktop – Ryzen 9 3950X. An AM4 socket CPU with 16 core / 32 threads. A clock-speed of 3.50 GHz base, with 4.70 GHz maximum boost frequency, at 105 W TDP. Priced at $749US.

Note the retail box package won’t come with a cooling solution. AMD recommends at least a 240 mm x 140 mm AIO liquid CPU cooler.

Available from November 25, 2019.

Budget desktop – Athlon 3000G is an unlocked 2 core / 4 thread CPU. Base clock is 3.5Ghz. Its running a Vega 3 integrated GPU. Not overly powerful but for $49US its a solid option for a NAS, HTPC or low end desktop.

Available from November 19, 2019.

High end work station / server – 3rd generation Threadripper. These are for the really good boys and girls. Requiring a new sTRX4 socket but compatible with existing TR4 coolers. That cooler will need to be a beefy one as AMD are rating these new CPUs at 280 watts TDP.

These will need the new TRX40 chipset motherboards. Supports quad channel DDR4 memory up to 2Tb. ECC if its really needed. It also brings PCIe4 support as well. Note TRX40 is not compatible with older Threadrippers.

3960X is a 16 core / 32 thread CPU for $1399US. Running at 3.80 GHz base with up to 4.50 GHz maximum boost.

3970X is a 32 core / 64 thread CPU for $1999US. Running at 3.70 GHz base, and 4.50 GHz maximum boost frequency.

Available November 25, 2019.

Neato bonus feature. Zen 2 ECO mode. This will be a configurable TDP control in the Ryzen Master software. Any processor higher than a Ryzen 5 3500 can be capped at 65 watts on the fly. A no brainer feature really. A little like cylinder deactivation in a car.

Categories
Hardware Software Tech

Surface Device rundown

A good overview of some of the new Surface hardware that was announced.

A little more on whats under the hood of the Surface Pro X, Surface Pro 7 and Laptop 3.

As handy as the Pro 7 looks. The Laptop 3 15″ looks more useful to me. The bigger screen and discrete GPU are big pluses. Along with a design allowing service. That goes a long way towards peace of mind in the future.

Categories
General Hardware Software Tech

Google, Me Too – annual edition

What was announced was all a little ho hum. Even the presenters seemed a little non plussed although it did get better. I did only watch the edited presentation though.

World’s worst kept secret. Google Pixel 4.

Pricing here in Australia is ok. Although for just a little more theres the iPhone 11.

Its an alright update. Apple seems to have jumped ahead in terms of lens but it’ll be interesting to see if the Pixel keeps its photo crown.

The jury is out on gesture controls. Its nice to not see a notch. Is it enough to make a mark even in the Android market? The 3a. I’m just saying.

Being where I am, we only got the revised Nest Mini and Nest Wifi. Good iterative updates. The Nest Wifi inheriting smart speaker functionality is a no brainer.

Unfortunately Australia doesn’t get the Pixelbook Go. This is positioned more as a regular device where last years ambitious tablet went down in flames.

I don’t know that Google weren’t wrong in what they wanted the tablet to be. Its just that it was half baked, going by the reviews. Microsoft are having a tilt at this with the Surface Pro X. The Pro X may go over better as Microsoft are pushing aggressively and it is running Windows.

Thats all folks.

Addendum. As of time of writing. Google and retailers are doing $150 redeemable vouchers on the Pixel 4.

Categories
Hardware Software Tech

Platform + Services = Jackpot!?

Platforms. Thats the clear takeaway for computing as a whole.

No doubt, its been there for some time. Microsoft pivoting so hard just makes it clear as day.

With their October 2nd event, they laid out their hand. Taking a bet in a couple of directions.

The key ones being the Surface Pro X, Surface Neo and Surface Duo. Each going different ways. The later two being a technology showcase as they aren’t planned for release until 2020 at the earliest.

No Data Available

The Surface Pro X is the rumoured ARM based 2 in 1 returned. It very much looks like a direct iPad Pro competitor and is priced similarly. Armed with LTE and good battery life (hopefully).

Interesting side note is that the storage can be user upgraded. Its using a new M.2 2230 SSD.

As with the original Windows RT, compatibility will be the big issue. Enough so that Microsoft put out some initial notes.

The Surface Neo has floated around Microsoft’s design studio for some time. This looks like Microsoft’s wildest bet. The demonstration was extremely hand wavy but showed the use cases.

Actual hardware details are scant. The promo video showing that it runs Intel so compatibility should be no problem. A customised OS to handle the 2 screens, Windows 10X. Apparently its pronounced, Windows ten ten?

The interesting part is the Windows UI customisation to the magnetic keyboard. The LCD panel switching to a track pad mode or a minimised screen / Touch Bar depending on where the keyboard sits.

Given the small size and internals, the battery life will be key. This looks pitched at a similar market to the Surface Go. The Go has been popular but one of the key knocks has been poor battery life.

Its an intriguing device nonetheless. Able to meet a wide variety of use cases while still being super portable.

The issue will be, will it find an audience. Where the Go neatly filled the low end, affordable portable niche. The Neo is likely going to fall between the Go and the regular Pro.

Again, price will be a major factor. Especially when the customer hears that the keyboard and Surface pen costs extra. (Pure conjecture but thats how the Surface Pro has rolled.)

Then for the almost “One more thing” moment. Don’t call it a comeback. Panos Panay jokingly had something left to announce.

It wasn’t presented as a phone.

Given how mature the smart phone market is. Microsoft having learnt a lesson from their first go round has partnered with Google. The special sauce being the work to allow Android to work with a dual screen UI.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much work was done. I’ve no doubt that Microsoft will have a uniform user experience within its own apps. But how soon does the UI fall apart as disparate Android apps are loaded.

The over arching issue here is development. Theres disparate versions of Windows on different architectures and then theres Android. I know Microsoft has been working hard on platform agnostic development tools.

Successfully so. At this point, they’ve managed to claw back a lot of developer mindshare. Delivering great open technology and tools. Even building Windows out as a developer OS. Can I get a high five for WSL!

However they’re all very different paradigms. Some like Windows 10X and the dual screen Android UI still in development.

To be successful, these products need to find an audience. Microsoft themselves have productivity covered. But a healthy App Store is needed. Even if its just to convert a sale.

Microsoft has always been a leader in development tools. So much so, that Windows always led in the desktop OS wars. Winning developer mindshare allowing it to dominate business and consumer markets with software alone.

However the computing landscape is very different today. The ubiquitous computing platform isn’t a desktop computer. <Billie Eilish>Duh</Billie Eilish>

At the core, each target platform has its own particulars and APIs / tool sets. Microsoft has clearly said they want developer input. The problem will be just how much work is involved in delivering to all these different devices and will it be worth it.

Users want a good selection of apps. Developers want a large paying user base to sell to. The issue is kick starting an App Store which has neither.

Third party developers will be faced with deciding on what to deliver to. Its a similar problem that Apple has been trying to address. Although from a very different angle.

Even Apple has struggled. When they have the advantage of a more uniform product set and significantly more control over those products. Along with one of the biggest App stores and largest paying user bases focused almost exclusively on the iPhone.

With Swift and unified APIs, Apple are hoping to make delivering macOS and iPadOS simpler and easier. Enough so as to entice iOS developers to broaden these smaller markets.

Microsoft has yet to address any of this in a significant way. Maybe the next Build ? If they can develop this into a platform then they can leverage those sweet sweet subscription services.