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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 duplicatesthe 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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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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Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards

Non-reference graphics cards often have capacitors and VRM circuitry in different places to reference PCBs making it tricky to make universal waterblocks. Alphacool will be soon be able to tailor-make blocks for specific non-reference models.


Alphacool has announced that it will soon be able to 3D-scan graphics cards with non-reference PCBs in order to make custom waterblocks far more easily.

It has made use of a cutting-edge 3D scanner to accurately measure the PCB to allow it to quickly manufacture custom cooling plates that are compatible with a new range of waterblocks.

In addition, it’s offering a free waterblock set for your graphics card (see requirements below) in return for you loaning it to the company. This means it can scan your model and add it to its manufacturing database so others can potentially buy it too.

In the past, if you owned a graphics card with a non-reference PCB – that is one that’s maybe had additional power circuitry added to offer better overclocking or even just a few capacitors moved around, you were very often out of luck if you later wanted to water-cool it.

This is due to the simple reason that it wasn’t worth the time of waterblock manufacturers to go through their usual lengthy production process to create a new waterblock that far fewer people would buy compared to reference models.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
The dimensions will be used to create a custom base plate that cools the memory and VRMs, which attaches to a backplate and universal waterblock that cools the GPU core directly. As the waterblock is universal, you can re-fit it to future GPUs and just buy a new base plate and backplate for the new GPU.

The baseplate is made from aluminium (at no point does it come in contact with the coolant), and Alphacool claims the mosfets on the card will be cooled to the same level as they would be on an air cooled graphics card running its fan at full speed while the core and ram would see a temperature drop in the region of 30-40°C.

The new waterblock range and 3D-scanning service will cater for any Nvidia GeForce 7XX-series model and any AMD Radeon 2XX-series models only at the start, with both reference GeForce GTX 750 Ti and Titan Black waterblock kits available at launch.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
If you’re interested in sending your non reference GeForce 7XX-series or Radeon 2XX-series card to Alphacool, you can contact them directly at www.alphacool.com or via your local Alphacool etailer.

Alphacool will also be producing a unique ‘multi-bridge’ connection system for customers with more than one GPU. The bridge will effortlessly connect the waterblocks as well as letting the customer illuminate the Alphacool logo with 5mm LED’s.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
To support the modding community Alphacool will be publishing the dimensions of the ‘multi-bridge’ cover so you have the ability to make your own. Also if there is enough demand for a specific brand or logo Alphacool will be making custom covers available.

This could in theory be one way to create a proper water-cooling solution for AMD’s new R9 295X2 as well. Do you think Alphacool’s idea could be useful? Have you had to opt for reference models in the past as you needed to water-cool them? Let us know your thoughts in the forum.

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Intel pledges Skylake ramp in 2015

Intel pledges Skylake ramp in 2015

Intel has pledged to begin mass production of its 14nm Skylake family in the second half of 2015, despite the schedule slip suffered by predecessor Broadwell.


Intel has pledged to continue with plans to begin mass production of its next-generation Skylake chips in the second half of next year, despite the schedule slip that delayed predecessor Broadwell.

Broadwell, the successor to the current-generation Haswell microarchitecture, is based on a 14nm process node which has been giving Intel a spot of bother. Plans to begin mass production of Broadwell processors last year were postponed due to yield problems at the extremely small feature size required of the parts. Although since resolved, Broadwell is still hanging back with rumours claiming overstock of Haswell parts is staying Intel’s hand.

The delays that have beset Broadwell may have a knock-on effect for its successor, Skylake. Detailed in a slide leaked in July last year, Skylake follows the process shrink of Broadwell with an updated microarchitecture at the same 14nm process node. Skylake will, the slide claimed, support PCI Express 4.0, Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) 3.2 and DDR4 memory. Officially, Skylake has no formal launch date but those following Intel’s earlier release schedules have expected a release some time in late 2015 to early 2016.

Although Intel refuses to comment on rumours surrounding its launch schedule, the company’s chief executive Brian Krzanich has suggested that Skylake will be hitting the market within its originally-rumoured timeframe. ‘We had a lot going on,‘ Krzanich claimed, in response to an analyst’s query regarding Intel’s use of Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) for SoFIA chip production, in his company’s most recent earnings call. ‘The ramp of Broadwell, the ramp of Skylake in the second half of next year, plus bringing these products inside.

Krzanich also confirmed plans to transition its mobile parts, including the outsourced SoFIA heavily-integrated chip, to internal production on a 14nm process. These moves, Intel has claimed, will boost demand for its parts – but profitability for its loss-making Mobile and Communications Group is a long way distant. ‘I’d say for 2015, I would expect to see reduction in the loss [of the group],‘ chief financial officer Stacy Smith added. ‘Not profitability, but a reduction in the loss will feel pretty good when we get there and then we’ll keep driving towards the long-term profitability goal.

Sadly, Intel did not confirm any further details regarding Skylake – but if production ramp is planned for the second half of 2015, retail availability should not be far behind.

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Intel Q1 financials show data centre growth

Intel Q1 financials show data centre growth

Intel’s Q1 2014 results slightly exceeded analysts’ expectations, but the company’s mobile arm is suffering a significant drop in revenue.


Intel has released its financials for the first quarter of 2014, and things are looking good with better-than-expected results despite its continued struggles to break into the mobile arena and a still-shrinking desktop market.

The company’s official figures for the quarter show $12.8 billion in revenue, exactly matching analysts’ expectations, with a gross profit margin of 59.7 per cent for a total earnings per share of $0.38 – above the $0.37 average expected by analysts. $3.1 billion of this came from the Data Centre Group, responsible for server and high-performance computing (HPC) products, which enjoyed a bumper 11 per cent boost in revenue over the same period last year; the PC Client Group, which targets the still-shrinking PC market, brought in the lion’s share at $7.9 billion, a one per cent drop compared to Q1 2013.

In the first quarter we saw solid growth in the data centre, signs of improvement in the PC business, and we shipped five million tablet processors, making strong progress on our goal of 40 million tablets for 2014,‘ claimed Intel’s chief executive Brian Krzanich during the company’s earnings call. ‘Additionally, we demonstrated our further commitment to grow in the enterprise with a strategic technology and business collaboration with Cloudera, we introduced our second-generation LTE platform with CAT6 and other advanced features, and we shipped our first Quark products for the Internet of Things.

Other highlights include a 10 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop in revenue for the Internet of Things Group which ended the quarter with $482 million in revenue, still an 11 per cent improvement over the same period last year thanks largely to new low-power Atom and Quark processor products. The company’s Mobile and Communications Group, responsible for smartphone and tablet oriented chips, was by far the biggest loser: with just $156 million in revenue, its income was down 52 per cent quarter-on-quarter and a massive 61 per cent compared to Q1 2013.

Investors seem pleased with Intel’s performance in the quarter, with the company’s share price rising 1.08 per cent in pre-market trading to $27.06, still short of its recent April 2012 high of $28.38.

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LaCie customers hit by data breach

LaCie customers hit by data breach

Storage specialist LaCie has warned customers of a data breach which has resulted in ne’er-do-wells making off with usernames, passwords and credit card details.


Storage specialist LaCie has warned customers of a major data breach that may have compromised their personal data used for purchases between March 2013 and 2014.

The hole in the company’s servers is not, it has been quick to reassure customers, indicative of the security of its storage products in general; no customer data stored on the company’s cloud services or network-connected storage devices is thought to be involved in the breach. Rather, the attack targeted the company’s ecommerce system, making off with transaction information for purchases made in the last year.

On March 19, 2014, the FBI informed LaCie that it found indications that an unauthorised person used malware to gain access to information from customer transactions that were made through LaCie’s website,‘ the company explained to customers in a statement made nearly a month after it was alerted to the breach. ‘We believe that transactions made between March 27, 2013 and March 10, 2014 were affected. The information that may have been accessed by the unauthorised person may include customers’ names, addresses, email addresses, and payment card numbers and card expiration dates. Customers’ LaCie website user names and passwords could also have been accessed, which is why we required a reset of all passwords.

LaCie has not confirmed how the data was stored; while credit card information should be encrypted, password are better stored as salted one-way hashes which become much harder for an attacker to crack. Either way, those with LaCie accounts are advised to change their passwords, both on the LaCie service itself and anywhere else where the same or similar password was used, and to keep a close eye on their credit card statements for unauthorised activity.

As a precaution, we have temporarily disabled the ecommerce portion of the LaCie website while we transition to a provider that specialises in secure payment processing services,‘ the company added. ‘We will resume accepting online orders once we have completed the transition.

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Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google’s Project Ara, created by one-time subsidiary Motorola and based on Dave Hakkens’ Phonebloks concept, is scheduled to hit the market in January 2015.


Advertising giant Google has confirmed that it is forging ahead with the Project Ara modular smartphone concept, and plans to release the first commercially available parts in January 2015.

Originally developed by Motorola Mobility based on concept work carried out by Dave Hakkens under the name Phonebloks, Project Ara was acquired by Google when it picked up the Mobility division from Motorola. Although the company would go on to sell the bulk of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo it kept hold of Project Ara, announcing in February this year commercialisation plans for the technology.

Project Ara aims to offer the same level of customisation available in the PC world to the smartphone – and, eventually, tablet, markets. The Ara platform uses a central chassis dubbed an Endo, to which component modules are connected via magnets. These modules contain everything from the display to the processor, storage, camera and battery, and can be assembled in almost any combination or pattern. As well as ending the annual phone upgrade cycle – the Endo itself, Google claims, would be good for five to six years – by offering the chance of incremental upgrades, the system would also allow for complete customisation: one Endo may have a high-end processor and high-spec camera, while another opts for a slower processor, no camera and a bigger battery for longer runtime.

Google held its first Project Ara developers’ conference this week, and CNET reports that it offered a timeline to commercialisation: the first Project Ara Endo will be on sale, barring any major setbacks along the way, in January next year for just $50. It will be joined by a range of component modules, although the specification and pricing for these has not yet been confirmed.

Google also outlined fabrication hardware for the modules themselves, developed in conjunction with academic and business partners and taking the form of large-scale 3D printers capable of working with conductive materials. More details on these will be provided at the next conference in July.

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NSA denies prior knowledge of Heartbleed vuln

NSA denies prior knowledge of Heartbleed vuln

The US National Security Agency has denied any knowledge of the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability prior to it going public, stating it is biased towards responsible disclosure.


The US National Security Agency (NSA) has denied claims that it knew about the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL before it was made public, claiming that it is biased towards seeing such flaws fixed for the greater good than keeping its knowledge a secret to further its intelligence gathering programmes.

The NSA has been in the limelight of late thanks to revelations by former contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, the source of evidence showing the NSA has been overreaching its charter with massive surveillance programmes against both US and foreign nationals. Documents leaked by Snowden included claims that the NSA works closely with major companies to gain back-door access to code and data, and even works to weaken commercial security products by recommending known-weak ciphers and random number generators.

When news of the Heartbleed vulnerability in popular cryptography library OpenSSL broke last week, many wondered if the NSA was aware of the flaw. Present in the OpenSSL codebase since 2011 and in the wild since 2012, the Heartbleed vulnerability has been proven to leak private keys – allowing the decryption of encrypted traffic, something the NSA captures and stores for several years as part of its intelligence activities.

Many in the industry had wondered why the NSA captured and stored encrypted traffic with no known way to decrypt it, but the Heartbleed bug means that the NSA – or any other attacker – could easily retrieve the private keys required to unlock the encrypted traffic. Suddenly, the NSA’s trove of scrambled data made a lot of sense – leading many to claim on sites like Bloomberg that the NSA knew of Heartbleed and had been exploiting the vulnerability for years.

The NSA has, naturally, denied this. ‘Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,‘ the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has stated. The denial has been followed by claims made to The New York Times that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies follow a process ‘biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.

The same article, however, quotes officials as admitting that while President Barack Obama has instructed the NSA and other agencies to follow responsible disclosure practices when flaws are found, there exists a loophole which allows vulnerabilities to be withheld for future exploitation if there is a ‘clear national security or law enforcement need‘ – something critics claim could well have applied to knowledge of the Heartbleed vulnerability, given the NSA’s corpus of encrypted data.

The Heartbleed vulnerability is still being patched, with sites affected by the flaw having to upgrade to a newer release of OpenSSL and revoke and replace their certificates before users can safely change their passwords and, where available, enable two-factor authentication.

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Windows 8.1 Update 1 installation problems continue

Windows 8.1 Update 1 installation problems continue

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 Update 1, a mandatory patch for future security updates, is proving a pain for some users who are unable to install it on their systems despite recent patches.


Microsoft is continuing to address problems with Windows 8.1 Update 1, its first major update to the operating system formerly known as Windows Blue and a mandatory install for anyone who wants to continue to receive security updates in the future.

Released earlier this month, Windows 8.1 Update 1 introduces a number of tweaks and improvements to Microsoft’s flagship OS including user experience enhancements for those who eschew touch-screen interfaces in favour of the traditional keyboard and mouse. While the biggest of these improvements, the reintroduction of the Start Menu which was removed in Windows 7 after its introduction way back in Windows NT 4.0, has been held back for a future release the mandatory nature of Windows 8.1 Update 1 makes it quite literally a must-install for Windows 8.1 users.

Sadly, all is not well with the update. Last week Microsoft was forced to pull the update from WSUS following reports that it would prevent the installation of future updates for corporate users. Now, the company is working to patch additional issues with the update – some of which prevent its installation altogether.

One bug, which presents the error code 0x800f081f during installation, has already seen a patch released on Windows Update; a second patch has been provided for users who are finding that installing Windows 8.1 Update 1 prevents Internet Information Services (IIS), Microsoft’s web server package, from being uninstalled at any time.

Despite these patches, problems with the update still remain. Many users are taking to the Microsoft support forums to claim that, despite the updated patch being released to Windows Update, Windows 8.1 Update 1 still fails to install. A work-around suggested in the forums has been noted by some to improve matters, removing a damaged version of the package so a fresh copy can be downloaded, but others report that the process makes no difference to their systems.

With Microsoft planning on enforcing installation of Windows 8.1 Update 1 by refusing security updates to anyone still on plain old Windows 8.1 starting on the next Patch Tuesday in May, the race is on for the company to fix the flaws and get the update rolled out to all its customers.

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Microsoft details space-saving WIMBoot for Windows 8.1

Microsoft details space-saving WIMBoot for Windows 8.1

Microsoft’s WIMBoot functionality, added in Windows 8.1 Update 1, can dramatically cut down the storage space required of a Windows installation by using a compressed image file.


Microsoft has announced a previously hidden feature of the recently-released Windows 8.1 Update 1, which promises to boost available storage on lower-end tablet and hybrid devices: Windows Image Boot (WIMBoot).

Introduced into the Windows platform for the first time with Windows 8.1 Update 1, WIMBoot offers a secondary method of installing Windows on a storage device: instead of the traditional method of extracting the contents of the installation media into directories on the storage drive, WIMBoot sees an image being copied into a dedicated partition with symbolic links being created to offer the illusion that the files are in the expected folders within the main system partition.

The advantage of this method, Microsoft explains, is that the WIMBoot image can remain lightly compressed – not enough to harm overall performance, but enough to mean that the user is given a little more storage space with which to play. ‘Let’s assume the WIM file (INSTALL.WIM) is around 3GB and you are using a 16GB SSD,‘ explains Microsoft’s Ben Hunter of the feature. ‘In that configuration, you’ll still be left with over 12GB of free disk space (after subtracting out the size of the WIM and a little bit of additional “overhead”). And the same WIM file (which is read-only, never being changed in this process) can also be used as a recovery image, in case you want to reset the computer back to its original state.

‘How does that compare to a non-WIMBoot configuration? Well, on that same 16GB system there might be only 7GB free after installing Windows – and then only if you don’t set up a separate recovery image.’

Available storage capacity on Microsoft’s Windows-based Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets has long been a concern, despite the presence of an SD card slot for expansion. The discovery that the 32GB model of Surface RT offers only 16GB of usable space led to numerous complaints; WIMBoot offers the potential to dramatically reduce the ‘wasted’ space, while also offering Microsoft and its customers the option to build cheaper 16GB models – something the hefty storage demand of Windows 8 and Windows RT had previously precluded.

Instructions for performing a WIMBoot install yourself are available on the company’s Technet knowledgebase.

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