Microsoft makes Surface Pro 3 even better with new update

March 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is already a legendary computer, offering wonderful performance in a versatile package. Even though the hybrid computer is overdue for a refresh, it still competes with, and outperforms, many newer machines. Even Apple’s comparably priced new MacBook is far less powerful.

Today, Microsoft releases an update that improves the Surface Pro 3. Not only does it fix existing issues, but it adds new functionality. If you own the computer, you should be excited.

“Surface Pro UEFI update (v3.11.760.0) provides added flexibility to configure UEFI in Surface Pro 3 devices. As more of commercial customers are deploying Surface Pro 3 for their end users every day, they have asked for more flexibility to configure the UEFI in these devices”, says Microsoft.

The coolest aspect of the update is not what it enables Surface pro 3 to do, but what it disables. Confused? Let me explain. For security reasons, it can be important to restrict certain hardware on a computer. For instance, if you do not want users to connect a flash drive or other hardware, it might be beneficial to disable the USB port. Now, you can do exactly that, plus more. The company lists the following hardware that can be disabled.

Side USB port
­Docking ports
­Front camera
­Rear camera
­On Board Audio
­MicroSD card
Companies will love the added ability to remotely manage the UEFI configuration settings.

In addition, Surface Pro 3 gets the ability to boot from USB or Ethernet without the need of holding down the volume key. Why is this useful? There may be situations where you want to boot a different OS as default using a USB flash drive or hard drive as default. This could be a great way to run Linux as the default OS from USB.

New features aside, there are fixes and improvements too. Microsoft shares the following.

Improves performance of EFI applications such as 3rd party disk encryption software that load before Windows.
­Improves the reliability of the ESC key functions in pre-OS environments, such as Bitlocker Recovery screen.
­Sometimes when the drivers would not load properly within Windows, the device would function well, but the driver would show a yellow mark in Device Manager. This would prevent the drivers from loading when trying to attach a cover or plug in a USB device. The update resolves this scenario.
While the update is hardly flashy or exciting for the average home user, it should definitely appeal to enthusiasts, and more importantly, the enterprise.


Blue Chip launches new RE2 single board computer at hi-tech conference

March 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Blue Chip have also agreed to be a lead sponsor of this year’s UK Device Developers Conference and will be exhibiting a range of hardware solutions for embedded system developments.

Blue Chip Technology’s single board computers are used in a wide range of applications, from transport control systems to medical devices and from intelligent test equipment to digital signage controllers.

“We are looking forward to the Conference, and the chance to introduce the new version RE2,” said Barry Husbands, Managing Director at Blue Chip Technology. “The original RE2 has been a hugely successful design for us, it has been designed into a lot of products across a wide range of markets.”

The UK Device Developers’ Conference is a one-day conference for engineers and computer scientists involved in the development of intelligent systems and devices. It is an event that explores the very latest tools and technologies available and includes a vendor exhibition, half-day technical workshops and a series of informative technical presentations.

“We are very pleased to have Blue Chip Technology exhibiting at this year’s Conference,” said Richard Blackburn, Conference Manager. “Their expertise in the field of embedded systems hardware design is most impressive and I know that they will be pleased to share their knowledge and experience with delegates.”

The UK Device Developers’ Conference is to take place in Reading, Cambridge, Warrington and Uphall (Scotland) on May 12th and 14th and June 2nd and 4th 2015 respectively. The Conference is free to engineers and technical project managers, but a small charge is made for places on the half-day technical workshops.

Available with Windows, Linux and shortly Android operating systems the RE2 helps to reduce development times and project risks. Designed and manufactured at Blue Chip Technology’s facility in the UK, it is available as a board, a kit with a range of LCDs, and also integrated into packaged solutions. Blue Chip Technology can also combine the core of the RE2 together with chosen peripherals to create a custom solution.

“As the designers and manufactures of our products we are well placed to minimise changes to our products which is something our customers value as change usually costs money,” said Barry Husbands. “However we thought that the ability to extend the RE2’s life until at least 2021 and also increase performance was a strong benefit and one that has been very well received by our customers.”

Blue Chip Technology claim that with unrivalled onboard functionality, LCD, DVI, Touch, LAN, DSP, RS232, RS422/485, Camera, GPIO, Wifi, Bluetooth, USBs and wide input voltage, the RE2 is the ideal platform for new designs.


Govt plans $10 billion investment in two semiconductor plants

March 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

In line with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s flagship ‘Make in India’ programme, the centre plans to spend billions of dollars to put in place an ecosystem for electronics manufacturing in the country.

The government plans to invest $10 billion in two computer chip manufacturing facilities that are due to come up, R.S. Sharma, secretary, department of electronics and information technology, said on Thursday at the first “Indian Electronics Expo” that was organized by the Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council. Sharma also said that India will invest $400 million to develop a microprocessor. Mint had reported in January that India was planning to develop its own microprocessor design unit to cater to the growing demand for electronic devices. “These are part of the initiatives that we are taking to create an ecosystem that lays the focus on high-ended innovation,” said Sharma. “We have created a dedicated fund known as the Electronics Development Fund to leverage the use of venture capital funds to promote more start-ups in the country.” India imports 65% of the electronic products sold in the country, mainly China-made. If the situation is left unchanged, the country’s electronics import bill may well surpass its oil import expenses by 2020. While the demand for electronics hardware in India is projected to increase to $400 billion by 2020, the estimated domestic production could rise to $104 billion only, creating a gap of $296 billion, which has to be met through imports, according to a 2014 report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd.

India has been considering setting up semiconductor manufacturing plants since 2007, but it was only in September 2013 that the government approved the setting up of two chip-making units, which are expected to draw Rs.63,000 crore investments. The two approved consortia are led by Jaiprakash Associates Ltd, which is teaming up with International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Israel-based TowerJazz, to set up a Rs.29,000 crore unit in Greater Noida, and Hindustan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., which is in a partnership with French-Italian electronics and semiconductor maker STMicroelectronics NV and Malaysia-based wafer manufacturer Silterra, to set up a Rs.34,000-crore fab facility in Prantij, near Gandhinagar.

“China is undoubtedly the major producer of electronic goods. Of late, many electronics giants are embarking on a China-plus strategy, mostly focusing on India,” said Sharma. “Coupled with the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ programmes initiated recently by the government, the renewed interest in electronics production in India can help the country achieve the target set for zero import of electronics into the country by 2020.”


6 best gaming PCs 2015: What’s the best gaming PC you can buy in the UK

March 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Best gaming PCs 2015 UK: buying advice

Consoles are great, but they simply can’t match the graphical power of a decent gaming PC. With the right processor and graphics card, you can achieve far higher-quality visuals and enjoy all the game modifications you desire. Of course, you also get high-performance for all your non-gaming needs and that graphics card will also offer a considerable performance boost to other applications, such as photo and video editing software.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Processor

Different games place different demands on your computer hardware, but choosing a gaming PC involves a balancing act between CPU and graphics performance.

For gaming PC’s we’re happy to allow overclocked processors, which will significantly increase your overall processing power without having to stump up for the most expensive chips. Several of the systems here use Intel’s quad-core Core i5-4690K processor, with another using the standard non-overclockable version of the same chip.

Nominally this chip runs at 3.5GHz, but with the right power and cooling this can be pushed much further – as far as 4.6GHz in the Case of Dino PC’s Spark GTX 960. The Core i5-4690K is a great starting point for a gaming PC and there’s not usually much to be gained from upgrading to a Core i7.

Overclocked processors place additional demands on the system’s power supply and also require better cooling, so expect to pay more for PCs with extreme overclocking.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Motherboard

There are several points to consider when choosing the right motherboard for your PC. If you’re not into technical details, you may be tempted to overlook the motherboard and concentrate on the processor and graphics, but the motherboard is equally important.

If you want to keep down costs, you can go for an Intel H81 Express chipset. These boards will cost significantly less than premium motherboards based on the enthusiast Z97 chipset, but come with reduced features. Crucially, the H81 Express chipset doesn’t officially support processor overclocking, but the feature has been independently enabled by many motherboard vendors and work just fine.

Opting for a lower-cost motherboard can also allow you to spend a little more on your graphics card, which can have a big impact on your final performance figures.

This option is now without risk. Although your warranty protects you from system failures due to overclocking, it’s theoretically possible for Intel to pull the plug and put pressure on vendors to remove the overclocking features in forthcoming BIOS updates. Similarly, Windows Update could also be used to install new processor microcode with the same effect.

The Z97 Express chipset brings many extra features, including more USB 3.0 and SATA ports, support for Intel Smart Response Technology, RAID and PCI-E M.2 SSDs.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Graphics card

It’s usually the graphics card that will determine the overall quality of your gaming experience. Once your processor is fast enough, it’s down to the graphics card to deliver the game to your screen.

To ensure smooth gameplay, you generally want to achieve a minimum of 60 frames per second (fps) in your game. This is the limiting speed of most PC displays, so you won’t really need to go faster than this unless you have a high-speed gaming monitor that allows for faster refresh rates.

Any extra performance will then allow you to increase the quality settings in your game, making characters sharper, textures more realistic and graphical effects more immersive. NVidia’s new GeForce GTX 960 offers an excellent balance of price and performance at this price range and features in four out of six of the PCs in this group test. Another great performer is AMD’s Radeon R9 285 DD Edition, which edged just ahead of the GTX 960 in most of our tests.

If you need more power, you may be able to fit a GeForce GTX 970 within a £1,000 budget, although you may have to make some cuts elsewhere. This would give you twice as much on-board memory for textures and multi-screen use, as well as a significant boost in performance at the higher quality settings.

Don’t worry too much about choosing between AMD and nVidia. As is usually the case, it’s down to which graphics card vendor has done a better job optimising any particular game for performance on its own cards. If you have an idea of which games you want to play, it can be worth investigating how well any given card performs with those particular games before you make your decision.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Cooling

Cooling is essential if any CPU is not to overheat, but especially one that’s been overclocked. The basic Intel CPU cooler vendors often fit will save you money, but it can be noisy and won’t keep your processor as cool, and will need careful attention paid to airflow through the case.

Expensive water cooling systems allow for extreme overclocking, but more modest budgets will generally allow for a smaller, sealed liquid-based coolers such as the Corsair Hxx range. Alternatively, you can go for a heat-pipe based cooler, which will give better cooling than a standard model while making less noise, thanks to larger, slower-moving fans.

Gamers like their systems to look the part, but the case needs to be practical. Internal cable management aids airflow, while fan controllers let you reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.

Graphics cards can also come with various cooling systems, the more advanced of which can allow for faster clock speeds on the GPU and less noise from the graphics subsystem when playing games.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Monitor

For more immersive gameplay, go for the largest display you can find and one with a good contrast ratio. A fast response time will ensure that fast, frenetic gameplay remains free of blur, although not all game players will notice any difference. TN-based monitors will cost less and provide most of these features, but IPS-based displays will give you better overall colour reproduction and wider viewing angles, although response times tend to be slower. For a more responsive display, go for a gaming monitor with a high refresh rate of 120- or 144Hz, although you’ll need powerful graphics to supply frames at this speed.

For the very smoothest gameplay from an nVidia graphics card, look for a monitor that supports nVidia G-Sync. With G-Sync, the monitor stays in step with the graphics card rather than the other way around. This means less blurring or image tearing even at lower framerates, and will be of great benefit to mid-range graphics cards such as the ones found in these PCs. AMD offers a competing technology called ‘FreeSync’, which will soon be available for displays connected to AMD graphics cards.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Peripherals

If you’re using your PC on a desk with a monitor, you’ll benefit from the improved responsiveness of wired rather than wireless devices. Look for high-resolution mice, and keyboards with programmable keys and backlighting.

High-grade mechanical switches in keyboards have a better ‘feel’ and provide longer life than cheap membrane switches. Some draw attention to the W, A, S and D keys with a different colour or texture. A gaming sound card can provide a more immersive experience by adding multiple sound effects, with improved audio fidelity. Also consider a gaming headset with a built-in mic.

However, if you’re planning on playing from the sofa, you’ll want wireless controllers. For keyboard input, we would recommend a wireless model that comes with an integrated pointing device, such as a trackball or trackpad.
Most of the PCs in this group test come without internal optical drives, and those built into the NZXT Source 340 system case lack the drive bays necessary to install them. In these cases, consider adding an external USB DVD or Blu-ray drive. This time, Vibox has included one in the price of the system.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Power consumption and noise

If you’re using the PC as a home entertainment hub, you may also want to consider idle power consumption and noise. The more you overclock your PC, the more power it will consume and the louder it will become.

Best gaming PCs 2015: Warranty

Warranty terms are crucial when it comes to gaming PCs and a key advantage of buying a pre-built overclocked PC is that all of the overclocking will be tested and covered by the vendor’s warranty. The longer the warranty the better, but also look for a collect-and-return rather than return-to-base option. Also pay attention to whether parts and labour are both covered and for how long.


9 security gadgets for mobile devices

March 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Keep your mobile devices safe
Nowadays, when it seems like every week brings news of a new security breach, it seems appropriate to modernize an old saw by saying: You can never be too rich, too thin — or too secure.

Most of these security breaches relate to stolen or illegally accessed databases, of course. But let’s not overlook a more local problem: The security of your mobile devices and data. Your smartphone, your tablet and even your wallet all contain oodles of critical information — business and personal alike — that could be hacked, scanned, stolen or otherwise compromised.

Gadgets to the rescue! A growing number of security helpers aim to lock down your mobile devices, protect your credit cards, even hide your tablet display from the nosy guy in the airplane seat next to yours. What follows are some of the products that leverage the latest encryption and protection technologies to keep the bad guys at bay.


Five free apps for dealing with hardware problems

March 26th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Although computer hardware has become something of a commodity item, there are still situations that require troubleshooting. Fortunately, a number of free utilities can help you with the process. This article discusses five good choices.

1: 3DP Chip
Sometimes hardware problems can be attributed to bad or missing device drivers. 3DP Chip (Figure A) can help you locate drivers for your computer. Upon installation, the software scans your computer and identifies your CPU, motherboard, video card, sound card, network card, etc. Knowing the exact make and model of each device helps you acquire the proper device drivers. One of the best features of this application is that it can back up and restore your driver set.

2: CrystalDiskInfo
CrystalDiskInfo (Figure B) helps you assess the state of your hard disk. It shows the drive’s health status, temperature, total writes, firmware version, and much more. In case you’re wondering, the software seems to work especially well with SSDs. CrystalDiskInfo also contains a charting function you can use to graph various disk statistics.

3: Unknown Device Identifier
Like CrystalDiskInfo, Unknown Device Identifier (Figure C) tries to help you locate missing device drivers. It displays much of the same information that appears in the Windows Device Manager. It can also back up your device drivers, but the Find Driver and Contact Vendor features are a bit lacking. The Find Driver function simply performs a Google search for the driver. The Contact Vendor function takes you to the vendor’s Web site.

4: Memtest86
I’ve used Memtest86 (Figure D) on a number of occasions. I’ve found that it does an exceptionally good job, helping me find bad memory numerous times. The software is typically burned to a bootable CD or DVD so that the computer in question can be tested without the operating system running. The interface is straightforward and easy to use.

5: Nero InfoTool
Nero InfoTool (Figure E) is primarily intended to help those who are considering upgrading to the latest version of Nero, to make sure that their system is up to the job. However, the software does much more than evaluate optical drives. It performs a full hardware and device driver inventory, and the data collection process is thorough. The tool has a clean interface to display the collected data and diagnostic information. Unlike the other tools on this list, Nero InfoTool requires the .NET Framework and Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable to be installed.


Computer Servers May Heat Homes One Day

March 26th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

An energy company is joining forces with a tech startup to harness computing power to heat homes in the Netherlands.
Eneco, a Dutch-based energy company with more than 2 million customers, said Tuesday it is installing “e-Radiators” — computer servers that generate heat while crunching numbers — in five homes across the Netherlands in a trial to see if their warmth could be a commercially viable alternative for traditional radiators.

The technology is the brainchild of the Dutch startup company Nerdalize, whose founders claim to have developed the idea after huddling near a laptop to keep warm after their home’s thermostat broke and jokingly suggesting buying 100 laptops.

“Ten minutes later, we thought: ‘That’s not such a crazy idea,’” said Boaz Leupe, one of Nerdalize’s founders.

Nerdalize says its e-Radiators offer companies or research institutes a cheaper alternative to housing servers in data Relevant Products/Services centers. And because Nerdalize foots the power bill for the radiators, Eneco customers get the warmth they generate for free.

The companies said the environment wins, too, because energy is effectively used twice in the new system — to power the servers and to heat rooms.

The servers used in the system can be connected by cloud Relevant Products/Services computing. Eneco said the computers will be used by institutions including the Leiden University Medical Center to run complex calculations in their research.

The trial will run at least through the end of the year. When it is completed, the companies will decide whether to make the system available to more customers.


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