Category: Products

AMD shakes up high-end GPU market

radeon-r9-290AMD has lifted the NDA veil off its new flagship Radeon card and the first reviews and products announcements are popping up on the interweb. The press loves the R9 290X. AMD went to great lengths to keep the launch price a secret until the last possible moment, which appears to have been a very good move.

Most observers were expecting the new card to launch with a $599 or even $699 price tag, but it ended up at $549. This sounds like a very good deal as it wipes the floor with Nvidia’s $649 GTX 780 and it can even take on Nvidia’s $999 Titan card in some tests. Clearly Nvidia will have to do something to counter AMD’s launch and it already has a new version of the GTX 780 in the works, but pricing will be a problem and the R9 290X will erode Nvidia’s margins on GK110 products.

As far as specs go, the R9 290X is the first card based on AMD’s new Hawaii GPU. It features GCN 2.0 architecture, 512-bit memory bus, 2,816 shaders and it’s the biggest GPU AMD has ever built. Reviews indicate that performance is not an issue, although the card tends to get hot and loud in AMD’s high performance “Uber” mode. The cooler is not that great, which leaves a lot of room for AIB partners to play around with custom designs.

Another question is the Pro version, or the R9 290. The NDA will reportedly be lifted in a week and there is still no word on the price. The XT-based R9 290X is shaping up to be quite a performer, but the Pro version will offer plenty of performance at a much more attractive price point. However, it is still unclear how AMD plans to price it. At $449 it would be a nice deal, but if AMD really chooses to stick it to Nvidia and sacrifice margin, it might end up at $399, which would be very disruptive.

Nvidia has already reduced the prices of its sub-$199 cards to counter AMD’s rebranded R7 and R9 series products. Now it remains to be seen how low it can go and it won’t be easy – Nvidia’s GK110 GPU has about a billion transistors more than AMD’s Hawaii, which makes it quite a bit more expensive to produce, yet it ends up slower in most versions.

See Also
AMD declares war on Nvidia

Dell Precision M3800 workstation raises the bar

Dell logoDell has rolled out a new Dell Precision mobile workstation and it’s a very interesting piece of kit. Dell claims the new M3800 is the world’s lightest and thinnest workstation, which is hard to dispute as it weighs in at just 4.15 pounds and it’s a mere 18mm thick.

But the really good stuff is under the bonnet. It features a 15.6-inch IPS display with a staggering 3200×1800 resolution, or 205 pixels per inch. Only the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus and Lenovo’s new Yoga 2 Pro offer such a resolution on a Windows machine. The screen is tucked away under a sheet of Gorilla Glass and it has five-finger multitouch support.

dell-m3800

It’s got the brains to back it up, too. It is powered by an Intel Core i74702HQ processor and Nvidia’s Quadro K1100M professional GPU. It can be configured with up to 16GB of DDR3 and there’s no shortage of storage options, as it has two standard 2.5-inch bays and a mini-card SSD option.

The M3800 goes on sale November 14 in the US, with prices starting at $1,799. Not exactly cheap, but similarly specced products from Lenovo and Samsung don’t come cheap, either.

Partners line up to give MS an 8.1 gong

windowscomputexWindows 8.1 goes on general release today as a free upgrade for people with Windows 8, and it will also be on new Wintel machines worldwide too.

As we reported from Computex earlier this year, Microsoft was essentially forced to re-institute the start button and to make other improvements following a more than lukewarm welcome from the channel and from end users at launch.

Microsoft has a partner blog, here, and according to The Final Step, to CCS Media and to Centrix software. James Hardy, at CCS Media says: “I genuinely believe that Windows 8 offers more in a touch device that can be found anywhere else on the market. Windows 8.1…. provides IT departments with the ability to customise devices to suit the needs of their business.”

We’d be interested to hear from other partners what they believe to be true about Windows 8.1 – we suspect that not all of them are going to be quite so gung ho about the upgrade as the three companies listed above.

Hitachi improves its cloud services

cloud 1Hitachi Data Services (HDS) said that it has introduced private cloud services and other improvements.

The private cloud services include consulting and transition services to companies and a cloud automation suite to its Unified Compute Platform, reference architectures with Cisco and data security capabilities for its Unified Storage.

The company said that the private cloud services use an open architecture with storage, compute and network layers; APIs; open interfaces; portals and global services.

It claims that using its private cloud services will bring customers savings, and is up 70 percent faster to deploy than traditional approaches.

HDS costs the materials by a pay-per-use model driven by service levels and including all hardware, software and services.

Salesforce integrates multiple IDs

Salesforce_Logo_2009Giant CRM company Salesforce said it has released a service connecting employees, customers and partners to any app on any device.

Called Salesforce Identity, the service is intended to make accessing data universally, wherever it is stored.

The company said that the service lets firms create a connected app and strategy, which can then be managed from a central location.

The service includes a single sign on, authorisation identities for mobile devices for Salesforce CRM and custom applications built using its Platform Mobile Services.

It also lets social collaboration be built into a system, including Facebook and Google. Pricing starts at $5 per user a month, including single sign on, mobile identity, cloud directory, multi-factor authentication and other services.

Argos takes on Tesco with tablet

Argos MyTabletRetail outlet and online firm Argos has launched the MyTablet for less than £100 – in a bid to challenge Tesco’s recent tablet introduction, the Hudl.

The seven inch unit comes with pre-loaded games and apps and also includes an Argos app so you can shop for items including, er, tablets.

The unit has a 1024×600 LCD, and 8GB of memory – but you can expand the memory to 32GB using a Micro SD card. The processor is a 1.6GHz dual core chip, while the OS is Google’s Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2.

Argos said the unit is aimed at teenagers and has built in parental controls. It comes in pink or silver colours. The unit has two megapix camera and a front facing camera. It supports wi fi and Bluetooth and apps pre-loaded include the BBC iPlayer, Angry Birds, an e-book reader, Facebook and Twitter.

The unit goes for sale tomorrow from argos.co.uk and argos.ie, as well as the 700 shops it has in the UK and Ireland.

Nermin Hadjarbegovic, our Bosnian reported:: “This is just a publicity stunt.”

Distribution is a balloon

MongolfierA maker of jewellery is showing a 90 percent picking improvements at its pan-European distribution centre using warehouse management software, it claims.

That’s according to BalloonOne, which integrated its warehouse management system with gem firm Pandora’s Microsoft Dynamics AX planning software.

BalloonOne says that 80 percent of orders Pandora received use pick and pass for a high volume of product lines in each pick.

Pandora is also using BalloonOne’s Accellos to automate its invoicing process.

Kristian Willumsen, VP of supply chain development at Pandora, says: “By comparing year on year performance, we are seeing picking improvements as high as 80 per cent.”

PC market continues to be weak

IDC graphIDC released figures estimating that worldwide PC shipments accounted for 81.6 million units in Q3 of 2013 – that’s a drop of 7.6 percent, compared to the previous year.

But IDC said it had expected a decline of 9.5 percent for the quarter.  It said that shipments were weak in the early part of the quarter but business buys and channel intake of Windows 8.1 based systems happened in September.

IDC said emerging markets continued to be weak, while the channel and vendors were stock heavy on Ivy Bridge systems and eroded by lower priced smartphones and tablets.

Upgrades from Windows XP boosted shipments in the enterprise desktop section.

Rajani Singh, senior research analyst at IDC, said that the US market hasn’t changed that much. There may be a small increase in the fourth quarter, he said. But that will be followed “by a challenging 2014”.

In EMEA the PC market continued to decline with weak consumer demand a shift to tablets.  The channel maintained lean inventories during the period.

The only bright light were “pockets of investments” despite companies still being reluctant to spend any money.

Lenovo is the top vendor and is expanding into the channel, while HP and Dell were numbers two and three.  Acer and Asus both were weakened by lack of spend by consumers. Asus doesn’t have a significant corporate user base.

Companies start taking their tablets

Keep taking the tabletsMore and more tablets are being used in companies with large numbers now being used to access corporate data and apps.

That’s according to a survey from Ovum, which points out that using tablets is changing the way people work.

The survey, conducted in the second quarter of this year, showed that 17.6 percent of people had been given tablets by their employers, compared to 12.5 percent in 2012.

And the number of personal tablet owners grew from 28.4 percent in 2012 to 44.5 percent in 2013, meaning that more personally owned tablets find their way into the workplace.

Richard Absalom, analyst at Ovum, said: “The primary route for tablets into the enterprise is through the consumer/employee channel. Over 66 percent of employees who personally own a tablet use them for work.”

Absalom said that employees use many different devices to get to corporate data and content – tablet or BYOD strategies should be put into that context. “Tablet deployments have the potential to change the way that businesses operate,” he said. “The primary challenge ofr the enterprise is to turn tablet usage into a genuinely transformative deployment.”

Bull flies red rag with fast data analytics

scotbullBull Information Systems has put together a new big data analytics tool called “bullion fast data analytics”, designed to look at data from the digital economy in real time.

It has been built using Pivotal based technologies in combination with Bull’s bullion servers.

Bull points out that this year there are roughly 3 Zettabytes of data floating around, or 400 Gigabytes for everyone on the planet, with this figure only set to increase to up to 40 Zettabytes by 2020. So for it’s very useful for organisations to be able to sift through this data and extract relevant information, whether that is managing crises, or building customer loyalty. Of course, we have all heard about “big data” this year.

Fast data analytics is, Bull asserts, the “first platform to integrate new data fabrics, modern programming frameworks, cloud portability and support for legacy systems”. The architecture has been designed on top of Pivotal Greenplum Database and Gemfire, and the company promises the end product makes analytics less complex, shifting the focus from software tinkering to applying the actual information.

The company says its technology is highly flexible and can “significantly” reduce Total Cost of Ownership, as well as having been validated with Pivotal and VMware at Bull’s R&D labs. It runs in a virtualised environement, promises lower latency, and cost savings.

VP of Bull’s enterprise service business, Jacqueline Moussa, said the company offers a “unified and robust platform”.

“Organisations can take advantage of lower implementation and operations costs and quick real-time analysis of the huge amounts of data being produced each hour,” Moussa said.

Microsoft has cunning plan to sell Surface tablets to businesses

surface-pro-2Microsoft’s Surface tablets failed to gain much traction in both the consumer and enterprise space, but now Redmond hopes to change a thing or two with the second generation, especially when it comes to businesses.

The original Surface RT filed to impress business users, while the Surface Pro which was supposed to do exactly that didn’t do much better, either. The new generation has vastly superior hardware, but that’s not enough in the consumer space. Windows RT is practically on life support and the Surface 2 is the only product based on Redmond’s tablet OS. The Surface Pro 2 is a bit better, with a snappy Haswell chip, backed by up to 8GB of RAM and 512GB of solid-state storage, it is pretty much the best Windows 8.1 tablet money can buy – and you will need quite a bit of money, since it doesn’t come cheap.

So what will be different this time around? Surface Commercial director Cyril Belikoff told CITEworld.com that the RT-based Surface 2 is actually getting more and more love from big corporate customers. Most companies have not deployed tablets on a large scale yet, hence they are willing to take a look at Microsoft’s offer. Those that already use iOS or Android tablets probably won’t make this leap of faith.

As for the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft is now marketing it as a laptop replacement. However, Microsoft is not offering any incentives to partners to sell Surface Pros rather than other Windows 8 laptops or tablets. Belikoff reckons business will realise the advantage of replacing some laptops and boxes with Surface tablets, as it combines the advantages of a proper PC with the portability of a tablet.

Asked why Microsoft didn’t make more of a push towards corporate with the first generation, Belikoff didn’t exactly have an answer. He merely said the first Surface RT was designed as a “personal device” and that it is getting business friendly only with RT 8.1.

That seems to be the whole point. The original Surface RT wasn’t designed with businesses in mind, but at the same time it flopped in the consumer market, prompting other vendors to drop Windows RT altogether. So what exactly was it designed for in the first place?

IBM buys into Irish Big Data

IBM logoAmerican behemoth IBM said it has bought Dublin based company the Now Factory but didn’t say how much it paid for it.

The privately held firm makes analytics software targeted at communication service providers (CSPs).

IBM said that the software complements its own range of products – IBM Mobile First. These products are intended to help organisations analyse mobile device usage.

The Now Factory’s stuff analyses large quantities of business data and networks data, and that provides better management of outages.

IBM claims that people create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day, whether its healthcare, social media, climactic information and the rest.

Big Blue wants to position itself as the leader in the Big Data field. The buy will be completed in the fourth quarter, and the company borged into  the IBM mother ship.

AMD Hawaii event has aggression written all over it

radeon-r9-290Huge GPU launches are back. An AMD  webcast dragged on for more than two and a half hours and the ailing chip firm went to great lengths to explain a few new technologies, showcase games and of course talk GPUs. In fact, the event was so big that many complained the presentations were too long and too elaborate.

Let’s take a quick look at what AMD graphics boss Matt Skynner announced last night. As expected, AMD has a new naming scheme, mid range products now come with an R7 prefix, while the R9 prefix is reserved for high-end and performance boards.

The line-up starts with the R7 250, with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. AMD says the card scores 2,000 in the Firestrike benchmark and it’s priced at $89, so AMD calls it the king of sub-$100 gaming. The R7 260X comes with 2GB of memory and hits 3,700 in Firestrike.

The R9 series starts at $199, with the R9 270X with 2GB of RAM and a Firestrike score of 5,500. The R9 280X is priced at $299 and scores 6,800 in Firestrike. AMD says it was designed for 1440p gaming.

The flagship R7 290X boasts 4GB of RAM and a 512-bit memory bus, with bandwidth of over 300GB/s. AMD did not reveal its price or the exact specs and clocks of any of the cards. Rumours point at a $599 price tag, but rumours can be wrong. The general consensus is that the R7 290X should outpace Nvidia’s GTX 780, perhaps even the pricey Titan.

All in all the new generation looks very competitive, at least on paper. We’ll have to wait for some proper reviews before jumping to conclusions. The cards are expected to hit retail in the second half of October, but this isn’t official, either.

AMD also used the opportunity to talk up TrueAudio, a new spatial audio technology incorporated in some of the new cards. The tech press had a chance to see it, or hear it in action at the event and the first impression is very positive.

Then there were games, loads and loads of games. AMD scored an exclusive bundle deal with EA and it will sell a limited bundle edition of the R9 290X with Battlefield 4. AMD also promised to deliver even better even better Never Settle bundles, which could help the new cards gain a bit more traction.

But in our opinion, the biggest news wasn’t a new card or a new game – it was the fact that AMD chose to stage such an event at all. AMD and Nvidia are now talking about a renaissance in PC gaming and analysts seem to agree. Sales of gaming gear are bucking the industry trend and they are still growing. This year the sector will net $18 billion, but by 2016 the figure should hit $21 billion.

AMD and Nvidia believe consoles are no longer directly competing with PC gaming, not to mention smartphone and tablet gaming.

Microsoft introduces second gen Surface tabs

surface-pro-2Although many in the industry have already written off Windows RT, Microsoft is giving it a shot in the arm with a second generation Surface tablet. Dubbed Surface 2, without the RT suffix, the new tablet is based on Nvidia’s Tegra 4 SoC and it boasts an 1080p display. The specs are hardly surprising, as the tablet was an open secret for months. 

The biggest difference, however, is not under the bonnet. The Surface 2 will go on sale at Microsoft retail store and select third-party retailers in 22 markets. The first generation Surface RT was hampered by slow introduction and it took months to roll out in some markets. Microsoft clearly cannot afford to lose momentum on the Surface 2, which could be its last chance in the ARM-based tablet market, and the last chance for Windows RT 8.1. The Surface 2 is available in 32GB and 64GB flavours, starting at £359.

The Surface Pro 2 is a different beast, as it’s based on a beefier x86 chip and it runs Windows 8.1 Pro. It leverages Intel’s new Haswell low-power Core i5 processor and it is said to increase performance and deliver up to 60 percent more battery life than the original Surface Pro. Starting at £719, it’s not very cheap, but the Surface Pro 2 will be offered in 64GB and 128GB configurations with 4 GB of RAM and 256GB and 512GB configurations with 8 GB of RAM. That’s quite a lot for a tablet.

Microsoft also launched six new accessories, including new Touch and Type covers. In addition, there’s a Power Cover as well, which includes a battery and can extend battery life by up to 50 percent, but it costs a rather painful £165. There’s a new car charger with USB, along with the Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition – although Windows 8.1 is designed with touch in mind, many legacy apps work a lot better with a proper mouse.

Both tablets are significant upgrades and go a long way towards addressing several shortcomings which plagued the first generation Surface tablets. The Surface Pro 2 in particular is a very impressive piece of kit, but it’s quite pricey. The Surface 2 on the other hand got a nice CPU bump along with a high-definition screen and on paper it looks a lot better than its predecessor. Sadly, Windows RT adoption remains relatively low and one tablet not enough to turn things around.

Tesco launches fresh Hudl tablet

tesco-hudl-tabletTesco has officially launched its first tablet, which is coincidentally probably the first tablet ever launched by a grocer. On a more serious note, the humble Hudl tablet doesn’t look bad at all. In fact, it is much better than we expected.

It features a 7-inch screen with a rather high resolution of 1440×900, which is marginally better than 1280×800 on the first generation Nexus 7 and Nvidia’s new Tegra Note. Tesco says it packs a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, but we suspect this is a Cortex A7 part due to the relatively low price of the device, which is just £119.99.

The tablet also features 16GB of storage and a microSD slot, along with dual-band Wi-Fi and Blinkbox support. Naturally, it can also be used for online shopping and it can access a wide range of other Tesco digital services. 

The tablet will be available in retail and online. There is a choice of four lively colour options and Tesco Clubcard holders will be able to buy it at a discount, which means many shoppers will pick it up for less than £100.

“Hudl is a colourful, accessible tablet for the whole family to enjoy. The first stage in our tablet offering, it’s convenient, integrated and easy to use with no compromise on spec. Customers are quite rightly very discerning about the technology they buy so we knew we had to be competitive on all fronts,” said Tesco Chief Executive, Philip Clarke.

Clarke does have a point – with a 1440×900 screen and a snappy processor, the cheap Hudl doesn’t seem to compromise on spec. Most white-box tablets in the £100 – £149 range ship with inferior screens and slower chips, not to mention that many of them cost a few pounds more than the Hudl.

The Hudl will be very disruptive in this segment.