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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hardware Tech

AMD production analysis

Stellar analysis of AMD’s current state.

TLDR, demand for EPYC and the potential revenue is too hard to ignore. AMD having gained some advantages over Intel in this space. Enough that the high end market is switching.

So the bulk of AMD’s production targets are shifting that way. Desktop CPUs and GPUs then have to contend with the leftovers. This does put paid to the idea that AMD were having problems with yields.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it means AMD are in a stronger position and making use of it.

The down side is that for the consumer desktop, prices will remain high and CPU / GPU options short.

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Hardware Tech

Motherboard dark mode

Dark mode. Now coming to motherboards. Well, at least EVGAs anyway.

Its like saying, “Once upon a time. All food was organic.”.

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Hardware Tech

QLC NAND & more – the Intel roadmap

Intel just announced their roadmap for storage. Anandtech got the full scoop.

Their enterprise storage game is strong. Optane at the enterprise level is going to provide significant benefits in being able to quickly restart / recover and maintain persistent data readily.

The final measure, as with anything, will be the price. But for mission critical corporate and server applications it should be an easy sell.

On the consumer front, Intel’s QLC NAND has been extremely succesful. The 660P has been a winning combination of price and performance. Linus gave a good run down on it.

Theres clear benefits and problems with it. The key ones being sustained throughput drop off and life span.

However Linus does come around and I’d agree. For general consumer use, the price / performance is hard to beat.

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Hardware Tech

US tariff exemptions on some computer parts

Say, “Thank you Apple”. According to Reuters, Apple won some exemptions from the US trade regulators on certain computer parts.

Specifically around the new Mac Pro. Partially because they’ll continue to build the Mac Pro in Austin, Texas.

The knock on is that these exemptions look to be across the board as it benefits general PC makers and likely retail computer parts.