Morning Tech Reading Mar 21

I’m perusing through my commonly-read sites again this morning and I thought it’d be nice to share a few of the tech articles of interest to me.

Microsoft Working on Mobile Gaming, According to Report

I think back earlier in the year when Microsoft spoke of a multimedia product to be released later this year, people were excited about a ‘PSP Killer’ or an ‘iPod Killer’. What came out of IDF and CeBIT was something just short of very disappointing for those people, the UMPC, or Origami as Microsoft would like to call it. Perhaps that wasn’t their intro into the mobile multimedia world. Who knows?

Intel, Micron Tech to Build New Plant

These are two big semiconductor companies which have paired off to create a flash memory alliance. Intel has been in the business of making CPUs and chipsets for a long while now and has been dabbling in NOR flash memory without too much success. With the recent change to put everything into flash memory (think iPod Nano, which is sucking up a huge amount of the world’s total flash memory capacity or higher resolution digital cameras) there’s definitely a lot of demand for solid state storage. To challenge the big players in the field, those being Samsung and Toshiba, Intel and Micron joined up late last year and announced a new manufacturing plant to pump out the devices even faster.

On the same note, Samsung, the world’s biggest supplier of flash memory has introduced a 32GB flash memory hard drive. Currently, it’s designed for mobile (laptop) use. The specs are quite impressive, but it’ll set you back a whole wad of moola. They showed a flash memory based laptop at CeBIT with, I’m guessing this exact model of flash drive.
Samsung intros solid state notebook drive

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The Big Disconnect

I’m a pretty diversified person. I love my technology, but I also follow the business world pretty closely and who doesn’t know it that technology is a big business? I do a lot of reading in both areas and I’ve noticed one big problem. There is a huge disconnect between the technology enthusiasts and the business analysts.

Let’s get one thing clear first. Those companies making all these cool gadgets and useful computers are in it to make money above all else. No one starts up a business to lose money. P I’ll take the hotly contested Intel versus AMD issue as an example.

Picture this. I’m on one of the several tech message boards that I frequent. One guy is preaching that AMD’s going to take over the world with fast as hell chips. Ok, this guy’s got a point about the fast as hell chips. AMD’s definitely got a technical advantage over Intel at this point. But to say they’re going to crush Intel? Give me a break. Technical superiority is a small drop in the bucket of influence. Think about the political, economics, social factors as well.

Then you’ve got these business analysts who have tech-reviewer aspirations or something. It’s 2006 and Intel is coming off a pretty bad financial quarter (relative, everything’s relative) and has warned for the coming quarter as well. Analysts start predicting the doom of the mighty blue machine. What’s the basis? Intel’s architecture is having thermal issues and way behind AMD’s. Hello and welcome to 2004 Mr. Analyst! Sure the Prescott (the Pentium4’s foray into the 90nm world) had severe issues, but to only realize that at this point is if anything, after the fact. Add onto that the fact that Intel’s next generation architecture is looking more promising than (just about) anything they’ve had in the past and you get a severely misinformed business analyst. And that’s the key. They are business analysts. Keep it that way. Sure you can trick the investors who know little or nothing about the technical side of the issue, but when people like me read stuff like that, it becomes a laughing matter.

The techies aren’t going to get off the hook that easily either. I recently read this article about Intel’s financial state. That is the writing of a technical enthusiast. I don’t go to him for stock recommendations. So while he makes a good point that Intel is far from succumbing to the pressure of AMD, what he didn’t mention is that stocks and businesses are based on potential. Just because the company is still making boatloads of money, if the trend is downwards, that’s never good.

On another occasion, a fellow member at a tech message board and I were having an argument about the near future of the processor landscape between Intel and AMD. As it stands, it would appear as though Intel’s next generation architecture will be quite successful, technically speaking of course. It was then stated that AMD could release several speed grade of processors to compete. The actual technical ability to do something is totally separate from economics and marketing, which, in the end, is what decides success or failure. That is also the basis of the AMD/Intel lawsuit. AMD’s got the technical upper hand, but to compete with a large corporation like Intel, who has the marketing capability to sell diet pills to a starving man, you need more than “my CPU is faster than theirs, why isn’t it selling more?”

There is a huge gap between the business world and the technical world. A company will sell just about anything, no matter how crappy it is and the developers tend to have little business sense. If somehow these two sides were brought a little closer, good things could come about. Perhaps that’s why I’m so interested in both.

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Microsoft Origami…?

Perhaps you’ve heard about this ‘mysterious’ project from Microsoft prior to its official launch at this Spring’s Intel Developer Forum. They tried to create the Apple-esque hubbub around the whole thing, shrouding it in a secretive flash animation. But they tried too hard and when Apple does it, they usually launch something (decently) cool. Microsoft can hardly claim the same thing in their Ultra Mobile PC launch with Intel, Samsung, Asus et al. The thing going to operate either like an enlarged PDA, which could never fit in any regular pocket or a mini tablet, without a keyboard.

That’s not to mention that these will be quite expensive ($1K or so at launch) and seem to provide little benefit over existing products. I mean, I can’t carry it in my pocket, so I’ll need some sort of bag for it anyways. I may as well go for a fully featured tablet in that case. Plus the design of the prototypes aren’t exactly amazing. The ASUS one almost looks pretty decent, but I always get the feeling that it looks more like a PMP than anything else. Overall, not impressed.

Totally unrelated to hardware, Microsoft also launched its Live Search to the world. This is actually somewhat more impressive than that UMPC and fits in with their whole, lets-put-everything-on-the-web idea. The idea of branding everything under the Live banner and integrating the products somewhat is pretty good. I’ve gone back to the live.com webpage as my homepage again, after using things like Protopage and Goowy for a while. They’ve made a lot of changes and done a lot of work to the site since I last visited it. I’m positively surprised.

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Santa Rosa

Three things:

  1. Bloody fast mobile dual core processor.
  2. 802.11n (yum)
  3. ‘Robson’ technology, otherwise known as solidstate-memory-speeds-things-up

I could definitely use something like that. (Oh this is Intel’s mobile platform for 2007 basically)

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Shock, Horror! No TWiT this week

Well, there you have it. There was no TWiT show for this past week. They haven’t missed one in who knows how long. But this blog must go on. I’ve compiled a list of interesting things in the tech world this past week.

Windows Vista Aero Glass too much for 50% of today’s computers

Probably not entirely unexpected, but the Aero Glass theme is predicted to bring around half of today’s existing PCs to their knees. Aero Glass is the new UI for the next generation Windows incorporating a lot of transparencies and animated effects. I’ve used the Vista December CTP and I was not impressed at all with its performance, even using the normal Aero theme which uses WinXP-Luna effects. And that machine, an Athlon64 3000+, 512MB RAM, integrated nVidia Geforce 6100 is supposed to be Vista compatible. It’s definitely better than the average machine most users are using nowadays. They’ll definitely have a hard time running Vista, and even more so with the Aero Glass theme. For most, one of the biggest aspects of new OSes is the ‘eye candy’. If they don’t get that with Vista, I doubt many of them will be upgrading to the new OS. To be honest, I didn’t even find that much of a difference between Vista with the Aero theme and a Windows XP machine. Sure menus are set up differently and stuff like the control panel are changed around a bit, but you can’t feel the difference really.

Will this mean a new wave of computer purchases for the average user? Perhaps, I definitely don’t think many will rush out to get video card upgrades to run Aero Glass that’s for sure. If they want to run Vista, they’ll probably just pick up a low end system that can barely run Aero Glass and restart the whole complaint they had with WinXP when it first came out; man this is slow.

Google Stock Continues Slide After ‘Dismal’ Earnings

It seemed like Google had set out to prove the common saying that what goes up must come down. For the longest time, the web giant looked to be unstoppable surpassing all expectations. Well, it seems like even Google is vulnerable to the greed of investors and analysts. After failing to meet analysts’ growth estimates in the 4th quarter, Google’s stock has been punished. Apparently an 86% year over year increase in revenues was not enough and neither was the 82% increase in earnings over the previous year. However one does have to keep in mind that the reason Google flew to such heights was because of the astronomical results analysts and investors were expecting. When a stock has been bid up in anticipation of 100%+ growth, 80 odd percent does seem like a letdown.

But even since then, Google has not been able to shrug off the negative sentiment towards its stock. Are people realizing that Google can indeed do wrong? Baron’s, an influential publication speculated that Google could potentially drop another 50% of its value. This is of course, based solely on valuations. A drop to the $180-190 range could be possible in that case. Let’s put this in perspective. At one point, Google actually became the second most valuable company only after Microsoft listed on the Nasdaq (it even surpassed Intel for like a day when Intel’s dismal earning brought that stock crashing down). At that point, it was worth right around $140 billion USD. Now, it’s hovering right around $100 billion. That’s quite a drop for such a large company in about a month. Now, it’s been once more eclipsed in value by Intel and Cisco at the Nasdaq. But keep in mind, Google stock is still up almost 100% for the year. An impressive track record no matter what has happened recently. So where does Google go to from here?

Many analysts are still sticking by their (in my opinion) astronomical and ridiculous price targets. At these levels, pure optimism and speculation cannot be the only foundations of a company. Google must deliver. While earnings have been growing at an amazing rate, they’re bound to slow. People and companies pockets are not bottomless. Additionally, companies like Yahoo and Microsoft are stepping up to the plate to bring heavier competition to Google. I can easily see Google’s stock trading pretty much sideways for quite a while as revenues and earnings catch up to the getaway train that is Google’s market capitalization.

When people catch on, companies change the rules

Netflix, an internet DVD rental company has changed the rules. The movie renting company has unlimited rental subscriptions for around $18USD per month. Some people were renting 18-22 DVDs a month, making it an extremely good deal. However, in January, Netflix’s new system started ‘throttling’ rentals to heavy users. So instead of the usual 18-22 movies that this one man used to get, he’s only getting around 13 a month. And he’s not alone. While it’s not a terrible deal by any means, even for 13 movies a month, it goes against the company’s advertised ‘unlimited’ movie rentals. And this has some people reamed. Seems like when people know how to play a system and get good at it, the companies change the rules. After all, they don’t want to be losing money. They’d much rather save those limited DVDs for limited users who have to pay much more per DVD rental than the unlimited subscribers.

Just can’t beat the system can you?

1 Billion iTunes Songs Countdown

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that Apple was holding its contest for its 500 millionth song? Well, soon, very soon, the Apple iTunes store will be reaching its 1 billionth downloaded song. Clearly iTunes has been an absolute runaway success for Apple, pulling in, well more than a billion dollars at least since its inception. While I now own 2 iPods, I have still yet to download my first song from iTunes, but I do know many people who have spent hundreds of dollars at the online music store. I have to admit, the system is very slick and efficient, even if you don’t get a physical CD to hold in your hand. Of course, CD quality is still better than the xxxkbps AACs you get off the iTunes store. Have you bought any songs from the iTunes music store?

Intel Core Duo USB battery drain issue demystified?

Tom’s Hardware Guide thought it recently discovered a puzzling ‘feature’ of the new Intel Core Duo based systems. With a USB2.0 device merely plugged in (not necessarily being used or anything), power was being drained at a much quicker rate than if no USB2.0 device was connected to the system. The issue was traced down to a Microsoft bug in its USB 2.0 driver for Windows XP. Essentially, a USB scheduling service was constantly running even if didn’t have to be, preventing the system from entering lower power states and thus wasting power. AnandTech however decided to look deeper into the problem and discovered that the problem isn’t merely limited to the new Core Duo systems but potentially every laptop with the Microsoft USB 2.0 driver (so… just about every laptop with USB 2.0 running WinXP). The Microsoft knowledgebase document is not actually supposed to be publicly available, but a user at Slashdot was nice enough to provide us that document.

Clearly the problem is not limited to the new Core Duo systems at all and affects all systems. The biggest tip would be to either apply this fix or try to plug in any USB 2.0 devices while your laptop is on the move. One problem that gets in the way here is the fact that some laptops come with built in webcams, which may run on the USB2.0 bus, meaning unplugging all your external peripherals won’t solve the problem. In that case, the only way to get your stolen battery life back if to apply the fix. Power increases are pretty dramatic, anywhere in the range of 25%. That’s an awful lot of battery power you could be getting if not for this issue. Hopefully Microsoft will release an updated driver in the near future addressing this issue. This is definitely something for all laptop users to look into.

Halo 2 for PC… but Vista Only!

If you liked the first Halo for the PC and look forward to the sequel, look no further. You’ll have to first upgrade your operating system to Windows Vista. One of the possible reasons for this is that Vista will come with the new Windows Graphic Foundation (or DX10 if you like), but there are no reports that Halo 2 will be improved at all in terms of visual quality from the Xbox to the PC. So clearly DX10 should not really be required. If you read the article linked here, you can see quotes of ‘clarity’, ‘focus’, ‘customers’. Clearly the thing to focus on here is the customers part. How’s running Halo 2 on a Vista machine going to automatically give a user more ‘clarity’ as they put it? It’s going to be a part of the huge marketing push for when Windows Vista launches. And from what I’ve seen so far of Vista, Microsoft’s really going to have to push the marketing spin on this new operating system to get it to sell.