Surface Pro 3 firmware patch solves some glitches, but Wi-Fi problems persist

November 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Microsoft announced a firmware update for the Surface Pro 3 on Thursday. It’s the ninth firmware patch in the five months the Surface Pro 3 has been on the market. Initial reports on the Microsoft Answers forum are encouraging for some peripherals — Bluetooth seems to be getting better — but many people report the Wi-Fi problems are still there. Some say they’re getting worse.

Microsoft has yet to officially respond on the forums.

On the bright side, there are several reports that Bluetooth-connected devices are working properly after this latest update. Poster Dean Blakely, for example, says this patch finally allowed him to pair his Logitech K810 Bluetooth keyboard to his SP3.

Wi-Fi is another story altogether. The long-running “slow Wi-Fi” thread on the Answers forum has good news about better Wi-Fi connections — poster ScumdogMillionaire says “much better after today’s firmware update!!! FINALLY!” — and bad news as well. Randy31416 reports:

After today’s (November 19) update, wifi performance remains dreadful and it is even slower than after the late October firmware update. Transferring a folder with two files contaning rougly 1GB from desktop to Surface takes 42 minutes 53 seconds. (It was 37 minutes 16 seconds with the late October firmware.) A cheap Patriot dongle takes 1 minute 20 seconds. An old Dell laptop takes 2 minutes roughly. The Surface is now 26 times slower than the Patriot dongle.

Poster Wildsoldier tells a similar tale of woe in a different forum.

Microsoft MVP and forum moderator Barb Bowman has an excellent, technical review of possible tweaks on her blog. In the end, she surmises, “It’s up to Microsoft to fix.”

I’ve been covering Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi problems since the machine was first released in June. With each iteration, some Wi-Fi problems seem to get fixed while others get worse. Microsoft clearly hasn’t solved the problem — which points to the possibility that the Marvell Avastar Wireless AC Network Controller inside the Surface Pro 3 is having intractable problems.

If the Marvell Network Controller is the source of the problem, and if the problem can’t be solved with software, Microsoft’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Should all Surface Pro 3 machines be recalled to replace the faulty chip? Should a new version of the Surface Pro 3 be released with a network controller that works? Perhaps Microsoft will slipstream the change, without making a big deal of it? Or should Microsoft do the best it can with the cards it’s been dealt?


Shuttle Computer Group Announces New 4K DS87 Digital Player Has Increased Power, More Applications

November 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Shuttle Computer Group, Inc.’s new 4K DS87 digital player has improved processing power, increased data transfer efficiency, and is designed for a wide variety of applications. It drives up to three displays simultaneously and can easily connect to peripherals such as a receipt or label printer, bar code scanner, or others utilizing its serial ports or USB connections. Combined with Shuttle’s customization services, the new DS87 offers a wide range of features that can save integrators time and money.

“Our new DS87 with Intel’s HD4600 graphics produces stunning 4K images and can support up to three 1080P displays at once,” said Marty Lash, director, sales and marketing, Shuttle Computer Group, Inc.

Shuttle’s new DS87 1.3L slim PC is also equipped with the Intel® H87 chipset supporting the latest fourth-generation Intel Haswell and Haswell Refresh 65W processors for fast processing performance. With integrated Intel graphics, 4K/Ultra HD ads or video content is eye-popping and attention-grabbing.

To meet the diverse demands of industry applications, the robust DS87 provides multiple I/O and high-speed storage interfaces including six USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports that support up to 6 Gbps. The system features a body thickness of only 43mm and supports international VESA Mount standards designed for easy integration in places with limited space. With a built-in heat pipe cooling system and smart fan, the DS87 can operate nonstop and uses a mere 90W adapter to ensure high stability and long-term operation, even under the most demanding conditions.

A hallmark of Shuttle Computer Group is its ability to offer integrators imaging services and customized BIOS; these services are available to commercial clients considering the DS87. Shuttle assists its customers to define parameters and functions and automatically uploads specified BIOS in each unit to make installation and use fast and easy. This imaging offers integrators a way to quicken deployments and reduce costs while maintaining consistency.

The DS87 is currently shipping and is available through authorized Shuttle distributors, dealers, systems integrators and from Shuttle directly. It comes with a three-year limited warranty.


Add more ports to your Mac with the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock

November 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Apple makes some fantastic hardware, but one complaint I hear leveled at Macs, especially by professionals, is that there are never enough ports to go around. I know a lot of professional photographers and videographers who continually have to unplug devices to make room for something else, a hassle that wastes time and disrupts workflows.

Enter the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock.

You want ports? You got them! This single sleek dock is home to a vast array of ports:

2 x Thunderbolt 2
5 x USB 3.0 (including two high-power ports for fast-charging devices such as smartphones and tablets)
1 x FireWire 800
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x HDMI 1.4b with 4K display support
1 x 3.5mm audio input / mic
1 x 3.5mm audio output / headphone

To the Thunderbolt 2 Dock you can theoretically connect up to 78 devices – you can daisy chain 63 devices to the FireWire 800 port, and five devices plus a display to the Thunderbolt 2 ports – over a single Thunderbolt connection.

And the good news is that it works with any Thunderbolt-equipped Mac running OS X 10.9.4 or later.

This can be yours for the special pre-order price of $249. This represents excellent value, especially when you consider how much Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet and Thunderbolt-to-FireWire dongles cost.

This is an excellent accessory for any professional using the Mac platform, but it’s especially suited to those working with a Mac Pro or perhaps the new 5K iMac because it offers a cheap and easy way to simplify and streamline all the devices that connect to the computer.


Intel sees 2015 revenue up in mid single digits

November 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Intel Corp. projected more growth next year, as an improving personal computer market and newer bets pay off for the big chip maker.

The company, which reported 8% revenue growth in the third quarter, said revenue would grow in 2015 by percentages in the “mid single digits.”

Intel, which released several projections at an annual meeting with analysts here Thursday, predicted that its closely watched gross profit margin would contract somewhat. The company had projected the figure at about 64% in the fourth quarter; it put the figure Thursday for all of 2015 at 62%, plus or minus two percentage points.

The company put total spending for 2015 at about $20 billion, with spending as a percentage of revenue down. It put capital spending at $10.5 billion.

Intel also said it would boost its dividend by six cents a share on an annual basis, bringing the total payout to 96 cents a share.

The company’s stock jumped on the projection. Shares recently traded at $35.38, up 3%.

Intel’s projection was issued following presentations by executives including Andy Bryant, Intel’s chairman, and Brian Krzanich, its chief executive. Both vowed to reduce the steep operating losses recently posted by a unit that produces chips for mobile devices. In the fourth quarter, that group posted a loss of $1 billion on revenue of just $1 million.

Mr. Bryant said the red ink was viewed as a necessary outcome of Intel being late to providing chips for tablet computers. Mr. Krzanich has vowed to put Intel chips in more than 40 million tablets in 2014, a goal that forced the company to give costly subsidies to hardware makers.

“This is the price you pay for sitting on the sidelines for a number of years and then fighting your way back into a market,” Mr. Bryant said. “We will improve this. We will get back in.”


Numascale, Supermicro, and AMD Announce the World’s Largest Shared Memory System to Date

November 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Numascale today announced the successful installation of a large shared memory Numascale/Supermicro/AMD system at a customer datacenter facility in North America. The system is the first part of a large cloud computing facility for analytics and simulation of sensor data combined with historical data.

The recently installed Numascale system consists of 108 Supermicro 1U servers connected in a 3D torus with NumaConnect™. Each server has 48 cores in three AMD Opteron™ 6386 CPUs and 192 GBytes memory, providing a single system image and 20.7 TBytes to all 5184 cores. The system was designed to meet user demand for “very large memory” hardware solutions running a standard single image Linux OS on commodity x86 based servers.

“Supermicro’s 1U 4-way servers (AS-1042G-LTF) with HyperTransport (HTX) connectivity provide users with flexible computing resources, including capabilities for handling very large data sets” said Tau Leng, Vice President of HPC at Supermicro.

“AMD is proud to have been selected to participate in this exciting project,” said Suresh Gopalakrishnan, General Manager and Corporate Vice President, Server Business Unit, AMD. “This collaboration with Numascale and Supermicro brings together the right technologies to solve the challenging problem of large shared memory implementation.”

Einar Rustad, CTO of Numascale, agrees. “Using low cost x86 hardware, the single memory image cluster provides both shared memory — including threads and OpenMP — and MPI programming options,” he said. NumaConnect™ operates on AMD Opteron™-based servers and can provide up to 256 TBytes of system-wide shared memory using cache coherency logic. At any size system administration is identical to that of a single server because there are no separate node images to maintain and distribute.”


QWERTY Keyboard Software Sampler Updated

November 20th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Independent developer Marcel Blum has released Soundplant 42 for Windows and Mac, which he says is the first major update since 2010 of the popular computer keyboard sound triggering program following a yearlong beta. Soundplant turns the standard QWERTY keyboard into a playable instrument with ultra low latency, allowing the instant playback of any format sound files on 72 keyboard keys with no need for extra hardware. Here’s the full details in Marcel’s own words…

Soundplant’s cult following continues to expand the $50 software’s diversity of uses. Hollywood engineer Ed Novick used it in his 2011 Academy Award-winning sound mixing on Inception as well as in The Dark Knight Rises, Moneyball, and other films. Surf rock band Man or Astro-Man? played their sci-fi samples with Soundplant; metal band Nile used it for exotic percussion. When the foley artists of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion aren’t handmaking their sound effects, they turn to Soundplant for a digital assist. The NFL’s Tennessee Titans used it at LP Field stadium. Soundplant even made it to Carnegie Hall, with new music champion Paul Pinto performing on the software for the 2014 premier of composer Erin Rogers’ Mother Earth. Organizations like London’s Drake Music taught disabled children to create music through Soundplant’s intuitive simplicity, and artists, educators, and DIYers delighted kids and adults with Soundplant-powered installations like the 2013 New York Maker Faire Editor’s Choice Award-winning xylophone drum pad Nazca Beats.

Soundplant, now in its 15th year, turns an input device you’ve been practicing on for as long as you’ve been typing into a versatile multitrack playback tool, providing hours of audio at your fingertips while avoiding the need for expensive dedicated hardware. New version 42 maintains its beloved rock-solid stability, low cost, straightforward drag-and-drop sound file assignment, and powerful flexibility as standalone software, while bringing new features such as 32-bit floating point mixing and 96 kHz output for audiophile accuracy, 256 channel polyphony for rich sound design, several new lightweight realtime effects, direct output recording, and finer key press and release control. You can continue triggering sounds while using any other program with Soundplant hidden, and launch an unlimited number of Soundplant instances allowing outputting to multiple sound devices, multitrack recording, and more banks of sounds. Soundplant works identically on Windows or Mac and keymaps can be transferred across computers with ease.

Pricing and Availability:
Soundplant is offered as a free download which includes a 25-launch trial of the registered features. In unregistered mode it is free for non-commercial use with limitations on some professional features. The registered version (USD $50, or a $40 upgrade from v.39) allows expanded sound file format support, audio output device selection, higher quality output sample rates, recording, and background triggering.


Supercharge your PC’s storage with a RAID setup: Everything you need to know

November 20th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Ah, storage. Every PC needs it it, but your standard PC storage solutions suffer from two glaring frustrations.

First off, storage performance tends to be one of the main bottlenecks in a typical PC, although the situation has vastly improved with the advent of solid state drives. (Yes, it’s probably your hard drive holding back your high-end PC from even greater glory.) Second, drive failure can lead to the loss of valuable data, and no one wants that.

Thankfully, there’s a way to help mitigate both of these problems using a feature that’s supported on virtually every modern computer system: RAID.

RAID was originally an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, but that has since morphed into the more commonly accepted Redundant Array of Independent Disks. As its name implies, RAID is a way to pair multiple drives together to improve performance, redundancy, or both.

RAID used to require expensive hardware purchases and was sometimes difficult to configure. Now, though, all but the lowest-end desktop systems (and even some laptops) feature integrated drive controllers with RAID support built right in. Most operating systems–including Windows–also give users the ability to configure what’s known as software RAID. Expansion cards are available too, which can add RAID support to any system with an open PCI-E slot.

Setting up a RAID array is easy in most cases. Typically, the process requires little more than installing some drives, attaching them to a RAID or drive controller, and stepping through a simple wizard that’s either embedded in firmware or available within your operating system.

When to use RAID
Budget permitting, there are many good reasons to use RAID.

Today’s hard disks and solid state drives are far more reliable than their predecessors, which make them perfect candidates for RAID. As we’ve mentioned, RAID can increase storage performance or offer some level of redundancy–both things most PC users want.

Common RAID modes
Choosing the right RAID mode is paramount. Over the years, many RAID modes, or levels, have been defined. On most of today’s desktop systems, however, only a handful of modes are typically supported. Here are the ones you’ll see in the PC space.

RAID 0 — Striping:
RAID 0, or striping, distributes data among the drives used in the array. And because the workload is parallelized and spread across the drives, read and write throughput in many circumstances is improved. RAID 0 requires a minimum of two drives and the total capacity of the drives in the array are combined into a single volume, due to the way data is distributed. Two 1TB drives paired together in a striped RAID 0 configuration, for example, will be recognized as a single, 2TB volume. RAID 0 does not mirror or store any parity data though, so the loss of a single drive will take down the entire array.

Configuring SSDs in RAID 0 can result in some truly jaw-dropping transfer speeds. More on that at the end.

RAID 1 — Mirroring:
RAID 1, or mirroring, also requires a minimum of two drives. But instead of striping data, the data stored on the drives in the array is duplicated across all the hard drives. RAID 1 offers a level of data redundancy, and the array can be rebuilt in the event of a drive failure without any loss of data.

Performance can also be improved somewhat, at least when using hard disk drives, since any drive in the array can be accessed to read data, and one drive may offer lower seek or rotational latency due to the position of its drive heads. Write performance is usually lowered, however, because data is mirrored to all of the drives in the array. The total capacity of a RAID 1 volume will equal the capacity of a single drive on account of the redundancy: If two 1TB drives are used, the total capacity of the RAID 1 volume will still be 1TB.

RAID 5 — Striping with Parity:
RAID 5, which requires a minimum of three drives, improves performance by striping data like RAID 0, but it also offers a level of redundancy in RAID 1-like fashion by storing parity data across the drives in the array.

In a RAID 5 setup, a single drive in the array can fail without any loss of data, but performance will be degraded until the bad drive is replaced and the array rebuilt. Depending on the capacity of the drives used, rebuilding a RAID 5 array can take some time, so it’s usually recommended for smaller volumes. Also note that the total capacity of a RAID 5 setup will be the sum of all of the capacities of the drives used in the array, minus the capacity of one. Three 1TB drives used in RAID 5, for example, will offer a total capacity of 2TB.

JBOD — Just a Bunch Of Disks:
Technically, JBOD is not RAID, since it doesn’t offer any sort of redundancy, but it is a mode supported by most drive controllers. JBOD gives users the ability to link multiple drives together to create a single, larger-capacity volume. There is no performance improvement nor data protection though. JBOD is used to simply increase the capacity of a volume; when one drive in a JBOD array is filled, data spills over to the next drive, and so on.

Prepping for RAID
There are a few things to keep in mind before setting up RAID on an existing system. If you’re starting fresh with a new PC, there’s no preparation needed short of making sure you’ve got the drives connected to the right ports on your motherboard or RAID card/controller. But on an already-configured system, there are many, many considerations.

The first thing we’d recommend is backing up all of your data. Ensure that all of the data on your existing drives is backed up and that you’ve taken a fresh image of your OS installation. (This guide has nitty-gritty details on how to do just that.) If something goes wrong and you lose data, you’ll be happy to have a backup in place. And if setting up RAID somehow mangles your OS, having a fresh image on hand will help you recover in no time.

Note, however, that if you plan to migrate an existing OS installation that resides on a single drive to a new RAID volume, the configuration changes necessary to set up RAID may cause problems with the OS and render it non-bootable. It’s best to install a fresh OS onto a new RAID array whenever possible.

RAID hardware considerations
The vast majority of motherboards sold today have built-in support for RAID. The drive controllers integrated into Intel’s and AMD’s chipsets offer RAID (as do most other lesser-known chipsets) and many motherboard manufacturers often integrate additional RAID controllers, from companies like Marvell, onto their boards as well. It’s common for on-board RAID controllers to support RAID 0, 1, 5, and JBOD, though some also support RAID 10. Keep in mind though, that even on the off chance your motherboard doesn’t have built-in RAID support, software RAID is still most likely possibly, provided the board has a couple of open SATA ports to connect additional drives.

Though the RAID controllers integrated into most motherboards should be adequate for the vast majority of users, higher-end add-in solutions are also available. Typically, inexpensive add-in boards (think under $150) feature the same basic standalone controllers found on many motherboards, but some higher-end offerings like those from Areca, LSI, or 3COM offer true hardware RAID, with dedicated storage processors and cache memory.

Setting up hardware RAID
Configuring an array with a hardware RAID controller is fairly straightforward. If you’re using an add-in board, the first step is to actually install the card. Power down your system, insert that card into an available PCI-E slot, power up the system, and install whatever drivers are necessary for your OS. Installing a RAID controller card is really no different than any other add-in board.


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