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Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Manufacturer: Fractal Design
UK price (as reviewed):
£101.41 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $129.99 (ex Tax)

The Arc line of Fractal Design cases fall into its performance category. As such, having plenty of airflow is key, as is the ability to install lots of high-end components and water-cooling gear. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the latest cases in the range, the midi-tower Arc Midi R2 and the micro-ATX Arc Mini R2. With the Arc XL, Fractal has now also seen fit to make an Arc case suitable for those with larger motherboards and components, something it has also done previously with the low-noise Define range of cases.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The chassis certainly lives up to the XL in its name. At over 570mm tall it’s capable of housing both E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboards, and is of a similar size to the Corsair Obsidian 750D. As expected, it sports the classic Fractal black and white colour scheme, with white PCI brackets and fan blades. It’s also very much an Arc chassis, with the hefty mesh sections on the roof and front panel along with the large, tinted side panel window ensuring aesthetic uniformity throughout the range. Build quality is of the usual high standards – there’s a little bend to the side panels but that’s just a result of them being so large, and elsewhere the plastic and steel exterior is solid and sturdy.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The front mesh section clips on and off with ease thanks to a pair of push pins, and as usual it’s backed by dust filtering material too. Removing it reveals a duo of 140mm/120mm fan mounts, with a single 140mm Silent Series R2 fan mounted in the top one. The design allows you to install fans here without popping off the entire front panel, which is handy. However, above this section are the four covers for the optical drive bays, which do require front panel removal to access.

The I/O panel is located on the roof, and comprises four USB ports (two being USB 3), dual audio jacks, power and reset buttons and a fan control switch, which has 5V, 7V and 12V settings and can control up to three fans. The action of the power button is fine, but the reset one is too small to use your fingers with – this could become annoying in troubleshooting situations but it does mean you’ll never accidentally press it when fumbling for a USB port or the like.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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Practically the entire roof is formed from another mesh and dust filter combination. Unlike the front one this cannot be clipped in and out of place, but Fractal recommends simply cleaning it with a hoover while it’s still attached. Beneath it there is room for three 120mm or 140mm fans, with another 140mm Silent Series R2 fan included in the furthest back mount. This is complemented by the case’s third and final fan (the same model), which is fitted as a rear exhaust.

Moving to the bottom of the Arc XL, we find a set of feet that lift the case some way of the ground, and which are fitted with rubber rings to give it excellent grip on all surfaces. A slide out dust filter is fitted here, and it protects both the PSU and the last of the case’s fan mounts, a 140mm/120mm one on the case floor. Unlike many cases, the filter here is relatively easy to replace without having to tilt the case on its side.

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm) 232 x 552 x 572 (W x D x H)
  • Material Steel, plastic
  • Available colours Black
  • Weight 13.8kg
  • Front panel Power, reset, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, stereo, microphone, fan controller
  • Drive bays 4 x external 5.25in, 8 x internal 3.5in/2.5in, 2 x internal 2.5in
  • Form factor(s) E-ATX, XL-ATX, ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ITX
  • Cooling 2 x 140mm/120mm front fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm rear fan mount (140mm fan included), 3 x 140mm/120mm or 1 x 180mm and 1 x 140mm/120mm roof fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm bottom fan mount (fan not included)
  • CPU cooler clearance 180mm
  • Maximum graphics card length 330mm (480mm without HDD cage)
  • Extras Removable dust filters, triple speed fan controller

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Soulcalibur goes free-to-play with Lost Swords

Soulcalibur goes free-to-play with Lost Swords

Taki is one of the characters returning after an absence in Soulcalibur V. More characters are planned to be added over time.


The Soulcalibur series is dipping its toe into the free-to-play pond with Soulcalibur: Lost Swords which launches today.

Debuting on the Playstation 3, the game will take a slight departure from its previous entries in that it is a single player only title where players progress through a series of quests to gain items including new clothing or weaponry options.

A small element of multiplayer gameplay is included as players can upload their character for other players to use as an ally in their own games in exchange for ‘friend points’ which can be spent on more bonuses.

Extra bonus items are also available for players who log in to the game during its first four weeks after launch.

The Playstation Blog boasts that the game is putting some fan-favourite characters that were cut from the most recent entry to the series, Soulcalibur V, including Taki and Sophitia and that they will be adding more characters to the game over time.

Soulcalibur publisher Namco Bandai has already experimented with this sort of free-to-play formula with Tekken Revolution which it launched in June last year, also only for the Playstation 3.

The free-to-play model in arcade style beat-em-ups has also been demonstrated successfully in Killer Instinct, a remake of the 1994 cult classic and one of the Xbox One’s launch titles. The game was essentially a free demo with the ability to buy additional fighters individually.

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HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

The Banana Pi pictured, and HummingBoard SBCs offer pin-compatibility with Raspberry Pi accessories but significantly improved features and performance.


The success of the Raspberry Pi project has kick-started interest in low-cost Linux-powered single-board computers, but it has been surprisingly free of clone designs – until now.

Unlike rival development platforms such as the Olimex OLinuXino family or the popular Arduino microcontroller, the Raspberry Pi is not open hardware. Its design is locked-down and proprietary, and its principle components – namely the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip (SoC) processor – not available in small quantities or without signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. This may have contributed to a lack of compatible clones appearing on the market since its launch more than two years ago – until now, with two companies announcing Pi-compatible creations featuring considerably improved specifications: the HummingBoard and the Banana Pi.

First, the HummingBoard. Created by Solid-Run, the company behind the ultra-compact CuBox product line, the HummingBoard boasts the same features, design and layout as the Raspberry Pi – right down to the 26-pin general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header at the top-left of the board, which is pin-compatible with existing Pi accessories. Unlike the underpowered single-core 700MHz ARMv6 processor of the Pi, the HummingBoard boasts a quad-core 1GHz Freescale i.MX6 chip, 2GB of RAM – four times that of the Pi – and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Additional enhancements over the Pi include an upgrade to gigabit Ethernet, an on-board real-time clock module, and an infra-red receiver.

The Banana Pi goes a step further. Created by OSSUG Company, The Banana Pi again duplicates the layout and footprint of the Raspberry Pi and includes both the 26-pin GPIO header and the smaller P5 header of its established rival. Although its 1GB of RAM and dual-core AllWinner A20 processor can’t match the performance of the HummingBoard, the Banana Pi boasts an on-board SATA connector with 5V power output for mass storage. The board also includes gigabit Ethernet, an infra-red receiver, three on-board buttons and, interestingly, a microphone.

Thus far, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been slow to offer an upgraded version of its award-winning single-board computer. The initial Raspberry Pi Model B was succeeded by a Revision 2 design which added the P5 connector and doubled the memory to 512MB but retained the slow single-core ARMv6 processor, while the Model A is a cut-down version which drops to a single USB port and loses the Ethernet networking chip. Its most recent product, the Compute Module, still uses the outdated BCM2835 chip – leaving the market open for Pi-compatible devices like the Banana Pi and HummingBoard that can offer buyers higher performance and more features.

Pricing for the HummingBoard has yet to be confirmed, with the Banana Pi available on import from Chinese resellers for $59 (around £35, a mere £7 more than a Raspberry Pi Model B.)

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OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

The Heartbleed vulnerability has shone a light on the OpenSSL project, and OpenBSD developers have discovered enough flaws in its code to justify the creation of a fixed fork dubbed LibreSSL.


The OpenBSD project has announced the inevitible outcome of its recent deep-dive into the OpenSSL source code: a full fork of the project, dubbed LibreSSL, to feature a significantly improved codebase.

The OpenSSL cryptographic library made unfortunate headlines earlier this month due to the Heartbleed vulnerability, a nasty bug caused by incautious coding that allowed an attacker to steal memory contents – including, but not limited to, usernames, passwords, and even the entire private key – from any server using the software. With an estimated two-thirds of all webservers using OpenSSL for encryption, that’s a significant target base – and the attack, before it became known to the public, left no trace on the host machine.

OpenSSL is an open source project, meaning anyone can download, examine and modify the source code that drives it. In theory, fans of the open methodology claim, this leads to improved code quality and security – the ‘many-eyes’ theory. In practice, it appears, when an open source project reaches a certain size, individual contributors can become the sole controller of particular sub-sections – with the result that their code goes unchecked by their peers.

OpenBSD is, as the name suggests, an open-source port of the BSD operating system. Designed for maximum security, the project was hit by the Heartbleed bug and vowed to examine the OpenSSL source code more closely in the future. The result has been the exposure of numerous terrifying kludges and bugs in the code – which, it must be remembered, still drives two-thirds of the web – in what has been dubbed the OpenSSL Valhalla Rampage. Having found everything from ‘temporary’ compatibility code reaching back more than a decade to a kludge which uses the server’s private key as entropy for the random number generator – potentially exposing the entire private key to any plug-in RNG used on the system, a major security hole – the OpenBSD researchers have reached a conclusion: OpenSSL can’t be trusted.

The result: LibreSSL, a fork of OpenSSL which benefits from the changes made by the OpenBSD project. Announced on a particularly spartan website – ‘donate now to stop the Comic Sans and Blink Tags,‘ its creators exhort visitors – the LibreSSL project will become the default cryptographic library for the OpenBSD 5.6 release. Initially, that will be the only supported operating ssytem; once the codebase has been cleaned of extant bugs and rewritten to improve maintainability and a source of funding secured, LibreSSL will be extended to additional operating systems.

Whether LibreSSL will improve security overall or simply divert resources that could be better used improving the cross-platform OpenSSL directly remains to be seen.

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Cryorig announces ITX-compatible C1 cooler

Cryorig announces ITX-compatible C1 cooler

The Cryorig C1, unlike its twin-fan tower predecessor the R1, is designed for space-restricted ITX systems.


Cooling start-up Cryorig has announced its second product, the top-down Cryorig C1 CPU cooler for ITX and micro-ATX systems, has entered mass production ahead of a June launch.

Cryorig entered the cooling market late last year with the Cryorig R1 twin-fan tower cooler. Founded by former employees of well-known cooling brands including Phanteks, Prolimatech and Thermalright, the company is based in Taiwan and promises considerable engineering prowess – hidden, sadly, behind a cavalcade of buzzwords and registered trademarks, from the DirectCompress Soldering technique for attaching the heatpipes to the cooling fins to the Jet Fin Acceleration System that sees the gap between the fins narrow as the air travels through the heatsink.

The Cryorig C1 is, at first glance, more of the same: the Jet Fin Acceleration System is present and correct, while the nickel-plated baseplate features six copper heatpipes connected in what the company calls its Heatpipe Convex-Align technology – another trademark, naturally.

Where the C1 differs from the R1 is in its overall design. Rather than targeting larger cases with room for tower coolers, the C1 boasts a top-down design suitable for the cramped conditions of an ITX chassis. ‘With the increase of APUs and enthusiast-level ITX mainboards and components, ITX systems are no longer limited to under-powered components like they used to be,‘ claimed Alex Wang, Cryorig co-founder and chief manufacturing engineer, of his company’s second product. ‘ITX systems now are housing high-performance, high-TDP CPUs and GPUs. Cooling these crucial components is an even greater challenge in these tight spaces.

The C1 is a mere 74mm in height, with an overall size of 144.5mm x 140mm, and comes bundled with a 13mm-thick 140mm PWM-controlled fan. As with the R1, the gap between the fins differs from the top to the bottom: a 1.8mm gap near the fan narrows to 1.4mm closer to the baseplate, which Cryorig claims accelerates the removal of hot air. Full support is promised for all common Intel and AMD socket types, with the claimed ability to cool chips of up to a 140W thermal design profile (TDP) and a six-year warranty when registered via the company’s website.

Pricing for the Cryorig C1 has yet to be confirmed, with the company planning to release stock to UK retailers in June. More details are available on the official product page.

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NZXT announces the Phantom 240 chassis

NZXT announces the Phantom 240 chassis

NZXT has only announced the white Phantom 240, but more colours are expected.


NZXT has taken the wraps off of a new chassis, the Phantom 240, and it’s the least expensive of the Phantom range.

With a mid-tower ATX design, the Phantom 240 maintains the range’s signature asymmetrical shape that has divided opinion since launch and sports curved front and roof panels. The case also features a large side panel window and while NZXT has only officially announced the classic white version, it’s hinted that further colours will be coming, so it’s possible we’ll see black, grey and even red editions too.

It ships with two 120mm fans out of the box – a front intake and a rear exhaust. These are NZXT’s FN V2 models, which were recently redesigned to provide better cooling and produce less noise.

In total, the case can house six 120mm fans – two in the front, one in the rear, one in the bottom and two in the roof (where 140mm fans are also supported). Water-cooling support hasn’t been confirmed, but we’d be surprised if double radiator all-in-one coolers were not supported, given that NZXT itself produces a range of them.

Inside, there’s also room for three 5.25-inch drives and six internal 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives, and both optical drives and hard drives can be mounted tool-free, judging by the released photos. We also see that the case has a number of cable routing holes (without grommets), a large CPU cooler cutout on the motherboard tray and reusable PCI brackets. Other features include external USB 3 ports and dual audio jacks as well as a removable HDD cage.

The suggested retail price of the NZXT Phantom 240 is $69.99. We’ve enquired about UK pricing and will update if and when we receive and official response, but our estimates (based on a conversion with tax added) puts the case at or around £55.

Does the Phantom 240 look like it could take the budget case market by storm (trooper), or is it more likely to wind up in bargain bins? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Price: £34.99-£54.99 plus £8.99 monthly subscription
Developer: Zenimax Online
Publisher: Bethesda
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Version Reviewed: PC

Playing The Elder Scrolls Online is the most boring experience I’ve endured since I was seventeen years old, when a series of unfortunate events led to my family moving into my uncle’s two-bedroom house. Because there wasn’t an awful lot of room to do our own things, every night we’d end up playing Scrabble. Now, Scrabble isn’t necessarily a bad game, but after six months it certainly starts to feel like one.

The Elder Scrolls Online is like six months of Scrabble, only it manages to perfectly recreate that sensation of repetitive hopelessness within six hours. What Zenimax Online have attempted is to build a halfway house between the traditional The Elder Scrolls games and the familiar MMO mechanics of World of Warcraft. The result is a game that fails to satisfy in either category. Its formulaic quest structure is recycled over and over, unconvincingly disguised with a superficial smear of “story”. Players are corralled down the same pathways in a world that initially appears free and open, but quickly reveals itself to be anything but. Your interaction with the environments are necessarily limited by the fact that ESO is an exhibit built for thousands of players to witness, rather than a malleable world crafted for the individual.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Your character’s life begins in Coldharbour, a prison realm overseen by Molag Bal, the Daedric prince of domination (not that kind of domination). But Zounds! You escape! Thanks to the help of a blind old man thrillingly known as the Prophet. So begins a quest to reunite a band of ancient heroes and defend Tamriel against Bal’s plans to enslave the population.

At this point, the game drops you into Tamriel proper, the specific location depending on which of the three warring factions you’ve pledged allegiance to. Rather than retread my beta steps in Skyrim and Morrowind allied with the Ebonheart Pact, I joined forces with the Daggerfall covenant, an alliance between the Bretons, Orcs, and Redguard. Previously, the game introduced players using a series of starting islands, but this meant it took several hours before you even reached the mainland. Now though, your character begins his adventures on the central continent. Except, you still have to return to the starting islands and go through that before you can get very far. Instead of removing this tedious tumour, Zenimax have moved it from the leg into the brain.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

Regardless of whether you take a direct or delayed route through the introductory areas, it soon becomes clear that nearly all the PvE content, meaning every area in the game save for Cyrodiil, is directed specifically toward you. You’re special, you see. You’re special because you, er, don’t have a soul, which handily explains both why your character is so wilfully obliging when helping other people, and why in conversation you have all the personality of a Rich Tea biscuit. Every quest-giver you speak to, whether it’s through the main story, the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, or just people you encounter while wandering the landscape, specifically want your help. And that’s all well and good right up until you enter your first dungeon, where you and seventeen other unique world-saving heroes all run through the same corridors to kill the same goblin.

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Windows 8.2 rumoured for autumn launch

Windows 8.2 rumoured for autumn launch

Microsoft is rumoured to be planning Windows 8.2 for an autumn launch, to be followed by Windows 9 and a new product dubbed Windows Cloud.


Microsoft may have only just got its mandatory Windows 8.1 Update 1 release out of the door, but the company is claimed to be looking to launch Windows 8.2 as early as the autumn.

Part of the company’s rumoured shift to a rapid release cycle, similar to the six-monthly releases of Ubuntu Linux and Apple’s more recently adopted annual OS X release cycle, Windows 8.2 will take over from Windows 8.1 as the company’s primary operating system. A precursor to Windows 9, Windows 8.2 can be thought of as a Service Pack release for Windows 8.1 and will include features promised at the BUILD conference earlier this year but not found in Windows 8.1 Update 1 – such as the new Start Menu, which combines the icon-based menu of Windows 7 with a Windows Phone-inspired Live Tile bar.

At least, that’s the rumour. Microsoft, as is usual for the company, is refusing to discuss unannounced products; Russian pirate group WZOR has no such qualms, however, and claims to be in possession of critical information regarding Microsoft’s planned release schedule.

According to a message spotted and translated by Myce, Microsoft plans to launch Windows 8.2 as early as the autumn. The release is expected to be the last update to the Windows 8 family, with the next launch being Windows 9 and bringing with it even more serious changes to the divisive user interface first introduced in Windows 8.

Windows 8.2, like Windows 8.1 before it, will be released as a free upgrade for all Windows 8 family customers. The WZOR group has claimed that it has received conflicting reports that Windows 9 will also be a free upgrade for Windows 8.2 users, with Microsoft echoing the upgrade path of Apple’s recent OS X Mavericks; others speaking to the group have claimed that it will be a paid-for release, with heavy discounts available for early adopters upgrading from the Windows 8 family.

Other details claimed by the group include the impending release of Windows Cloud, a virtualised version of the company’s operating system designed to provide competition at the extreme low-end of the market for Google’s Chrome OS. Windows Cloud, it is claimed, would allow users to access core functionality for free and pay a subscription fee for more advanced applications.

Microsoft, as is usual for the company, has not commented on the rumours.

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Apple and Google fighting for mobile exclusivity deals

Apple and Google fighting for mobile exclusivity deals

Plants Vs Zombies 2 was given a prominent position in the Apple App Store in exchange for a two month exclusivity window on the platform.


Apple and Google are offering popular games premium placement in their app stores in order to win exclusivity for their platforms.

According to the Wall Street Journal, sources close to the matter say promotional boosts are being used to ensure that popular games are appearing on one mobile operating system before the other in an effort to win a larger user base.

Plants Vs Zombies 2 received one such deal, launching in August 2013 on iOS and featuring prominently in the Apple App Store. In exchange for this placement, EA withheld the game from Android devices until October. Cut the Rope 2 also had a similar deal in place which saw it available on iOS for three months before an Android version was released.

Whilst exclusivity deals are nothing new for console games, it is something that has been avoided with mobile games up until now. Historically, however, the pattern of a game appearing on iOS first and then Android later is less surprising as developers have previously found iOS to be a more lucrative platform.

Securing exclusivity on popular mobile games is considered to be a sign of the mobile device war stepping up. Amazon has also tried gaining exclusivity deals in the same manner for its Kindle devices which have access to a different Android app ecosystem.

‘When people love a game, and it’s not available on an alternate platform, they’ll change platforms,’ head of Kongregate Emily Greer told the Wall Street Journal. ‘The level of attachment a person has to a game can exceed almost anything.’

For mobile developers, a game gaining a featured spot in the App Store can mean the difference between financial success or failure. Apple has recently been experimenting with new ways of curating gaming content and last month unveiled the Indie Game Showcase section in an attempt to promote more titles.

What do you think of such exclusivity deals? Are they likely to sway you one way or another when it comes to choosing your mobile platform? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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AMD investors positive despite $20M quarterly loss

AMD investors positive despite $20M quarterly loss

AMD’s Q1 2014 financial report shows a drop back into the red with a $20M loss, although investors seem bullish on the company’s future.


AMD’s most recent earnings report has investors impressed, with the company’s stock price rising almost 12 per cent on news of $1.4 billion in sales – despite an overall loss of $20 million for the first quarter of its financial year.

AMD’s quarterly earnings call this week announced $1.4 billion in revenue for Q1 2014, an impressive rise of 28 per cent year-on-year at a time when the global PC market is continuing to shrink – albeit slower than previously. While the quarter-on-quarter shrinkage of 12 per cent might seem like bad news, that’s comparing heavier sales in the run-up to Christmas to the post-Christmas slump; a sequential dip at this time is always to be expected.

A gross profit margin of just 35 per cent, indicative of AMD’s push towards the lower end of the market in CPUs and strong competition from rival Nvidia in GPUs, led to overall operating income of $49 million for the quarter; not enough, sadly, to prevent a loss of $20 million overall. With AMD ending the last quarter on an $89 million profit, that’s a blow – although one significantly less strong than the whopping $146 million loss the company made in the same quarter last year.

AMD continued our momentum by building on the solid foundation we set in the second half of 2013, further transforming the company,‘ claimed AMD president and chief executive Rory Read during the call with press, investors and analysts. ‘Backed by our powerful x86 processor cores and hands-down best graphics experiences, we achieved 28 percent revenue growth from the year-ago quarter. We are well positioned to continue to grow profitably as we diversify our business and enable our customers to drive change and win.

The company’s results show that the PC market slump, while slowing, is continuing to have an impact: AMD’s Computing Solutions business unit’s revenue dropped eight per cent quarter-on-quarter and 12 per cent year-on-year, due to a drop in shipments. Its operating loss, however, was a mere $3 million; down from $7 million last quarter and a painful $39 million in the same quarter last year.

AMD’s Graphics and Visual Solutions business unit is the most interesting story, however: a 15 per cent drop in sequential shipments has been more than offset by an impressive 118 per cent increase year-on-year, attributed to the company’s deals to put semi-custom system-on-chip (SoC) processors in the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 consoles. Overall, the division made a $91 million profit for the year, down from $121 million last quarter when Microsoft and Sony purchased their console chips but up from just $16 million in the same quarter last year.

During the conference call, AMD’s Lisa Su, general manager of global business units, confirmed that the company is still in the design stages of a new semiconductor process node. ‘We are 28 [nanometre] this year, we have 20 nanometre in design, and then FinFET thereafter,‘ she claimed in response to an analyst query – suggesting that 20nm parts won’t be available in quantity until 2015 at the earliest, with the 3D FinFET transistor move – designed to compete with Intel’s Tri-Gate Transistor technology – likely to come the year after.

Su also had positive things to say about AMD’s foray into the low-power server market with Cambridge-based ARM’s IP. ‘There’s been a lot of customer interest around Seattle [chips], so certainly for the server guys, the hyper-scale guys and then even some adjacent markets, there’s good customer interest, claimed Su. ‘I’ll say the interest in the platform is quite high and it’s a major milestone for us to introduce our first 64-bit ARM chip into the market.

What we’re doing here is identifying this opportunity long before it has taken place,‘ added Read, ‘and we’re catching it just as the way it is forming. That’s the kind of innovation leadership that we really want to go after. This is going to be an important market over the next three, five years, and we have an opportunity to truly lead in this ARM server ecosystem, and take advantage of our ambidextrous capability. This is spot-on in the strategy.

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