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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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Warhammer 40K themed mobile RPG in the works

Warhammer 40K themed mobile RPG in the works

Warhammer 40,000 has featured in turn-based and real-time strategy series and also third and first person shooters, but never a 2D side-scroller before.


Games Workshop’s grim science fiction miniatures property Warhammer 40,000 is heading to iOS in the form of a side-scrolling action RPG.

Warhammer 40,000 Carnage will pit players in the role of a space marine churning through a horde of green-skinned orks, giving them the option to unlock further equipment that will be familiar to fans of the series, including chainswords, bolt guns and thunder hammers.

’We’ve taken the best of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and built a game that will appeal to seasoned 40k fans and more casual gamers alike,’ said developer Roadhouse Interactive president Tarrnie Williams. ’The game is full of explosive, adrenaline-fueled action, in stunning environments that will be familiar to many.’

The plot revolves around investigating a planet which has been consumed by collective insanity and violence, a plot device that will also be ‘familiar to many’ who have encountered the Warhammer 40,000 series before.

Best known as a tabletop wargaming franchise, Warhammer 40,000 has found its way into several video games over recent years, including 2011′s Space Marine, developed by Relic Entertainment, which also featured space marines cutting their way through hordes of orks.

Relic Entertainment, under the guidance of publisher THQ, also had a long stewardship over the Warhammer 40,000 intellectual property through its Dawn of War real time strategy series, but following the dissolution of THQ the license was reported to have ended up at Slitherine, a smaller developer and publisher specialising in historical strategy games.

Another smaller studio, Zattikka, was also granted a Warhammer 40,000 license and planned to develop a 3D isometric free-to-play game using the setting, but the company went into administration in August last year before it could release anything.

Will you be checking out Warhammer 40,000 Carnage? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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Microsoft and Intel team up for Sharks Cove SBC

Microsoft and Intel team up for Sharks Cove SBC

Intel’s Sharks Cove board, teased in this low-resolution preview, has been developed to Microsoft’s exacting specifications, allowing developers a standardised platform for writing Windows drivers for SoC hardware.


Microsoft has pledged to help support Windows developers with an officially-certified line of development boards, starting later this year with Intel’s Sharks Cove platform.

Not to be confused with Intel’s open hardware projects Galileo and MinnowBoard, the latter in cooperation with BeagleBoard and BeagleBone creator CircuitCo, the new development boards are built to Microsoft’s specifications to create an off-the-shelf development environment for creating Windows software optimised for system-on-chip (SoC) platforms.

Hardware engineers have traditionally faced challenges in creating Windows drivers for SoC platforms,‘ admitted Microsoft in a statement regarding the upcoming programme. ‘Unlike PCs, which have PCI slots and USB ports, SoC systems like tablets and clamshells use low-power internal buses that lack standard connectors, Plug and Play support, and discovery mechanisms. Often these devices are protected by secure boot and cannot be used to develop or test third-party drivers. That will soon change. Hardware engineers will be able to buy off-the-shelf boards that are designed to work with specific SoC environments.

Intel’s Sharks Cove will be one of the first, the company confirmed. A single-board computer (SoC) design, the Sharks Cove board breaks out all the functionality of Intel’s Atom system-on-chip (SoC) platform; even portions which are rarely used, such as general-purpose input-output (GPIO) connectivity, will be readily accessible using expansion connectors. The aim, Microsoft claimed, is to make the development of Windows drivers for SoCs as easy as possible.

Sharks Cove won’t be the last board, either: Microsoft has promised that several boards will be available later this year, with a number of ARM-based boards – for Windows RT development – likely to launch alongside Intel’s offering. Pricing has not been confirmed, but these are not Raspberry Pi competitors; with a professional feature set and formal Microsoft certification, these engineering boards will be priced for corporate purchases only.

Intel has not yet confirmed the specifications of Sharks Cove, with more information expected later this year ahead of a planned 2H 2014 launch.

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Intel announces Braswell, Cherry Trail

Intel announces Braswell, Cherry Trail

Intel’s Bay Trail architecture is to be succeeded by a low-cost system-on-chip design dubbed Braswell and a higher-priced family known as Cherry Trail.


Intel has announced its planned successors for the Bay Trail architecture, 14nm designs dubbed Braswell and Cherry Trail and aimed at low-cost portables.

Unveiled at the company’s Intel Developer Forum China last night, little is known about the new designs beyond their overall aims and the company’s use of a 14nm process node – and, Kirk Skaugen told attendees, Intel’s hopes to use the chips to help Google grow its Chromebook and Chromebox businesses.

Braswell will focus on ultra-low cost devices, Intel claimed, and use a system-on-chip (SoC) design to reduce the size of the final product as well as the number of supporting chips required. The result, it is claimed, will be entry-level smartphones and tablets boasting a full 64-bit x86 implementation and with excellent power draw.

Braswell is to be joined by Cherry Trail, a more powerful design still based on a 14nm process. Unlike the smartphone-oriented Braswell, Cherry Trail will be aimed at tablets and will offer higher performance at the cost of size and power draw. No performance figures were provided for either design, however.

Intel also told attendees of changes it plans to make to its Bay Trail design, promising new models which will reduce the cost of the processors and their supporting components still further. The aim, it is claimed, is for the company’s customers to be able to launch tablets based on Bay Trail designs for under $100 (around £60 excluding taxes) – a price point currently the exclusive preserve of ARM-based systems from semiconductor companies like AllWinner.

The announcement of the new designs comes as Intel looks to partner with software companies to develop packages exclusive to Intel’s own chips, something its rival AMD has previously investigated with projects like the AMD AppZone.

Release dates and pricing for Braswell and Cherry Trail parts were, naturally, not part of Intel’s presentation.

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Microsoft Build 2014 keynote: the highlights

Microsoft Build 2014 keynote: the highlights

Microsoft’s Build keynote this year included plenty of surprises, from universal apps that can run on Windows devices as well as the Xbox One to the impending return of the Start Menu.


Attendees at Microsoft’s annual Build summit last night were treated to a three-hour keynote speech in which the company announced some dramatic diversions from the norm – including free copies of Windows for phones and tablets, the return of the Start Menu, and Windows apps on the Xbox One.

It’s usual for Microsoft to queue up announcements for the Build event, which is the biggest in its calendar; it’s not usual, however, for it to have quite so many announcements to make as during its keynote session at last night’s opening. Some of the changes, in particular the release of free copies of Windows for mobile devices, will likely have a heavy impact on the future of the company – and it’s not hard to see new chief executive Satya Nadella, a man who has already bemoaned the company’s delayed entry into the mobile market, as the driving force behind much of what occurred last night.

Windows 8.1 Update 1
Microsoft announced the impending launch of Windows 8.1 Update 1, the first major overhaul for what was previously known as Windows Blue. Much of the changes are user experience oriented, rather than under-the-hood overhauls, and many will be welcomed by users: the Desktop and Modern UIs are to be more closely linked, with Modern UI apps being accessible in windowed form from the Desktop interface – allowing a mixing of old and new which was previously verboten.

The new update will also include faster access to the Windows Store – more on which later – by pre-pinning it to the taskbar, and the ability to power off or restart your PC, perform searches and access settings are now available on the main Start Screen instead of hidden off to the side. The update, Microsoft has confirmed, will launch on the 8th of April – the same date, coincidentally, that Windows XP enters official end of life (EOL) status.

The biggest change, however, will have to wait for a future update: the reintroduction of the Start Menu, the absence of which is many users’ biggest bugbear surrounding Windows 8 and newer. Based heavily on the Windows 7 Start Menu, the new version will integrated selected functionality – like Live Tiles – from the Start Screen in an attempt to create a hybrid that will appeal to all. No formal date has been offered for its availability, however.

Mobile Push
A large portion of the keynote was dedicated to Microsoft’s increasingly heavy push to mobile users, where is software is in a distinct minority. As well as new Windows Phone 8.1 devices from Nokia and Samsung, the company confirmed that the new release – a free upgrade to all Nokia Windows Phone 8 handsets – will include an Action Centre which appears to riff on the similar functionality available in Google’s rival Android platform.

The company also announced Cortana, its answer to the popularity of voice-activated assistants Google Now and Siri. Based on the artificial intelligence from the Halo series – which, as a major plot point, went crazy, so that’s an interesting marketing angle to take – Cortana will be a standard feature of Windows Phone 8.1.

Finally, Microsoft made what could possibly be the only announcement that could give it real impetus in the fight against Google: Windows will now be licensable at zero cost on all smartphones and tablet devices with a screen size of less than nine inches. Although Google’s basic Android OS is also free – and, in fact, largely open-source – the company has charged for access to the Google Play app store and other Google-specific functionality, while Microsoft’s impressive portfolio of patents has been used to ‘encourage’ Android licensees – including big names like Samsung – to pay Microsoft a fee for every handset shipped.

To put it bluntly: Microsoft’s free Windows for mobiles is cheaper than Google’s free Android – no mean feat.

Universal Apps
The final surprise of the event was confirmation of a long-held rumour that Microsoft’s Xbox One console will be able to run Windows applications. Using a new cross-platform runtime environment, Microsoft explained, developers will be able to build apps that can run on Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone and Xbox One – and buyers can pay once to run the app on any of the aforementioned devices.

The move doesn’t exactly open up the Xbox ecosystem – apps available on the Xbox One will be even more heavily curated than those available on Windows Phone, with developers needing to seek Microsoft’s approval – but with promises that DirectX 12 will lead to similar cross-platform functionality for games, it’s hard to see it as bad news.

If the above summary isn’t enough for your appetite, the full keynote session featuring speakers David Treadwell, Joe Belfiore, Stephen Elop, Terry Myerson and new leader Satya Nadella is available for your three-hour viewing pleasure.

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Intel invests in China with Smart Devices venture

Intel invests in China with Smart Devices venture

Intel has announced the formation of a Smart Device Innovation Centre in Shenzen, back by a $100 million Intel Capital fund, alongside the release of an IoT gateway product line.


Intel is continuing its push into the it’ll-take-off-any-day-now-honest wearable computing market with a major investment in China, founding a Smart Device Innovation Centre backed by a $100 million fund from Intel Capital.

That Intel is focusing heavily on low-power embedded systems for wearable computing is no secret. Having been caught on the hop with the mobile computing boom, allowing Cambridge-based rival ARM to gain an overwhelming majority market share, the company is adamant it won’t make the same msitake twice. In September last year, Intel Capital invested in Recon Instruments, Intel proper recently picked up Basis Science, and the Quark processor and Edison computer-on-module are clearly designed for low-power ultra-compact computing.

Now, chief executive Brian Krzanich has announced a new plan to push its low-power and wearable computing efforts still further with a little help from Shenzen. Announced at the company’s Chinese Developer Forum today, a new deal will see the company establish the Intel Smart Device Centre in Shenzen and introduce a $100 million Intel Capital China Smart Device Innovation Fund to encourage the use of Intel products in future low-power devices.

The China technology ecosystem will be instrumental in the transformation of computing, claimed Krzanich in his speech. ‘To help drive global innovation, Intel will stay focused on delivering leadership products and technologies that not only allow our partners to rapidly innovate, but also deliver on the promise that “if it computes, it does it best with Intel” – from the edge device to the cloud, and everything in between.

Krzanich also announced the launch of the awkwardly-named Intel Gateway Solutions for the Internet of Things, a router based on Intel’s Quark and Atom chips for connecting low-power wearable and embedded sensors to a network, and demonstrated for the first time his company’s SoFIA integrated mobile system-on-chip design, an all-in-one chip for smartphones and tablets with which Intel hopes to challenge ARM’s dominance.

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Games Workshop’s Mordheim getting the digital treatment

Games Workshop’s Mordheim getting the digital treatment

Playable races include all of the basic races featured in the original Mordheim.


Games Workshop’s cult classic specialist game Mordheim is getting its own digital version with Mordheim: City of the Damned.

The game will be a turn-based strategy game where players lead small bands of warriors into skirmishes in a blend of RPG and tactical combat gameplay.

The miniatures-based war game Mordheim is based on Games Workshop’s highly successful Warhammer franchise. Instead of fielding large armies, players would build small gangs that would then level up and grow depending on their performance in battle.

Mordheim: City of the Damned sounds to be faithful to the game’s setting with warbands squabbling over Wyrdstone fragments in the ruins of the ruined city in the same way as the tabletop game.

The digital version will include playable gangs from the Skaven, the Empire, the Possessed and the Sisters of Sigmar with more factions to follow.

The game is being published by Focus Home Interactive, the independent French studio that was also behind the digital rendition of Games Workshop’s fantasy football game Blood Bowl. The company also has Cities XL, TrackMania and Farming Simulator in its portfolio.

Mordheim: City of the Damned is scheduled for a late 2014 release.

Several games in Games Workshop’s back-catalogue have made the transition to video games in recent years. Space Hulk, Warhammer Quest, Talisman and the aforementioned Blood Bowl have all seen a digital release on various platforms.

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Microsoft announces DirectX 12 at GDC 2014

Microsoft announces DirectX 12 at GDC 2014

Microsoft’s DirectX 12 has been formally announced, and rumours suggesting that it will offer CPU performance enhancements similar to AMD’s Mantle have proven true.


True to its word, Microsoft has used the Game Developers Conference to formally announce DirectX 12 with the promise of significant performance improvements thanks to an approach that allows programmers to get closer to the bare-metal hardware.

Introduced back in 1995 as the Windows Games SDK, DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to abstract themselves away from the hardware in a system. By far its most famous component is Direct3D, added to DirectX in 1996, which allows for high-performance 3D acceleration across any Direct3D-certified graphics processor – first introduced as a lightweight consumer-grade alternative to the Khronos Group’s OpenGL API, which was at the time focused on professional use on workstation-grade hardware.

Now, Microsoft’s Direct3D – and, by extension, the DirectX bundle – has grown into the dominant standard in the PC gaming industry, and even extends to consoles since the launch of the Xbox family. In its latest incarnation, Microsoft claims DirectX significantly reduces CPU overhead for gaming using techniques similar to AMD’s hardware-specific Mantle technology to allow programmers lower-level access to the graphics hardware.

First and foremost, [Direct3D 12] provides a lower level of hardware abstraction than ever before, allowing games to significantly improve multithread scaling and CPU utilisation,‘ claimed Microsoft’s Matt Sandy of the new release. ‘In addition, games will benefit from reduced GPU overhead via features such as descriptor tables and concise pipeline state objects. And that’s not all – Direct3D 12 also introduces a set of new rendering pipeline features that will dramatically improve the efficiency of algorithms such as order-independent transparency, collision detection, and geometry culling.

To back up his claims, Sandy offered a demonstration of 3DMark running on Direct3D 11 compared to Direct3D 12 which halved the CPU time required to render a scene while also helping to spread the load more evenly across multiple processor cores – something from which the eight-core Xbox One will draw considerable benefit.

Microsoft has promised that DirectX 12 will be supported by current-generation hardware, with AMD claiming that all Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPUs and Nvidia that all Fermi, Kepler and Maxwell GPUs will be updated in future drivers to include DirectX 12 support. What the company has so far been silent on, however, is operating system support: while Microsoft has promised that DirectX 12 will be launched across Windows desktops, laptops, tablets and mobiles as well as the Xbox One, the company hasn’t yet confirmed whether it will be available on anything but its latest Windows revisions.

Although Microsoft has shown off working Direct3D 12 implementations – including the application and driver layers – it has not yet suggested a launch date for the bundle. It has, however, posted some technical details over on the MSDN Blog.

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Google teases Android Wear for smartwatches

Google teases Android Wear for smartwatches

The Moto 360 is to be joined by the LG G Watch as launch devices for Google’s freshly-unveiled Android Wear smartwatch platform.


Google has officially thrown its hat into the smartwatch ring, announcing the impending launch of a new Android fork dubbed Android Wear and launch devices from partners Motorola and LG.

The concept of having a watch that does more than tell the time isn’t a new one. From the calculator watch craze of the 90s through to unsuccessful attempts by companies like Timex, Fossil, Palm and Microsoft to replace the personal digital assistant – now supplanted by the smartphone – with a wrist-borne equivalent, history is littered with failures. Recently, however, technology has progressed to the point where it’s just about possible to have a truly smart device on your wrist – as proven by the success of the Pebble Kickstarter project and renewed interest from companies like Sony and Samsung.

Now, Google has confirmed rumours that it too is looking to the smartwatch market with avarice, announcing a fork of its Linux-based Android operating system that will form the heart of a new generation of wearables. Dubbed Android Wear – for obvious reasons – the operating system is specifically tailored to bring a subset of Android functionality to the small screens required of a wristwatch. As well as the ability to tell the time, Android Wear devices will function as sports watches with full GPS-based tracking, timing and mapping, and can connect to Android smartphones and tablets to forward notifications from applications like email clients, social networking packages and the dialler.

Its biggest feature, however, comes from its integration with Google Now. Like the implementation in the latest Android 4.4 KitKat build, Google Now on Android Wear is voice-activated: simply say ‘OK, Google’ and the system will perform actions – like sending a text message, launching an app or setting a calendar entry – or web searches based on your vocal instructions, with the results relayed on the smartwatch’s display.

Google has promised devices from numerous partner companies including Fossil, which is clearly not put off by its previous failures to enter the smartwatch market in partnership with Palm and Microsoft, and launch devices from Motorola and LG dubbed the Moto 360 and G Watch respectively. Both devices are expected to launch in the second quarter of this year, but pricing and formal availability are not yet provided. Intel has also indicated that it is working with Google on Android Wear, suggesting that at least one of the impending devices is powered by the company’s latest Quark processor.

If you’re curious as to the platform’s capabilities in the meantime Google has released a teaser video based on the Moto G, reproduced below.

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Mobile March Madness tips for staying in the game

March Madness Live

The welcome screen for March Madness Live.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

You’ve got March Madness fever, and the only solution is more cowbell. Scratch that. The only solution is to harness the awesome power of mobile technology and turn your smartphone and tablet into your personal ball boy.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone who fills out your bracket based on which mascot is most likely to eat the other, you can rely on your mobile device to provide non-stop tournament coverage. You can also rely on it to be the most discrete way to watch games, check your bracket, and see what social media has to say while you’re stuck at work.

Make it official
Let’s start with the source, the one app to rule them all: the official NCAA March Madness Live. The free app is back, along with some updates over last year’s model. The tournament bracket has been redesigned with a handy pinch-to-zoom interface, there’s an integrated news section, and an even stronger focus on social-media updates.

All of the games are available as live streams through the app, but there are some restrictions. Any game due to broadcast over the air on CBS is open to anyone to watch. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.) Games that are scheduled for cable, however, require proof of a paid TV subscription. There is one way to skim around this (sort of). The app gives you a three-hour grace period to watch games before you have to log in, so choose wisely, grasshopper.


ESPN Tournament Challenge

Face off against celebrities with the ESPN app. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

Post-Selection Sunday
You survived the insanity of Selection Sunday; that means you’ve been dreaming in brackets and agonizing over your Final Four. You can’t stand to be away from your bracket for more than a few minutes, so be sure you have a bracket app on your mobile device. Naturally, March Madness Live has a bracket section, but it’s not your only option.

The free ESPN Tournament Challenge app for
Android or iOS looks pretty slick and lets you build a bracket group with your buddies, all pretty standard fare. To sweeten the pot, it also lets you compete against celebrity brackets. Last year’s celebrities included the likes of Will Smith, Takeo Spikes, and Common. It’s a bit like TMZ meets March Madness.

Only the thrillers
With 68 teams scheduled to play throughout the tournament, you’re going to have to make some decisions about which games to watch. You could pore over the schedule, or you could just sit back and let the Thuuz app tell you what’s worth watching. The free app gives out game ratings on a scale of 1-100. A score of 85 or up means it’s a great game. This is updated live, so you can get alerts of impending bracket busters or overtimes. The excitement alert is particularly handy. When a game hits a certain “excitement threshold,” you get a notification so you can get your eyes on it in time to catch the best action. It sure beats watching the video replay later.

Sneak March Madness at work
You don’t have to be James Bond to discreetly sneak March Madness past the watchful eyes at work. If you already have your phone cued up, it’s simple enough to steal a glance at a game or check the score under your desk. Are we encouraging this sort of behavior? No, but if you’re going to it anyway, you might as well get away with it. Here are a few ways to get a more complete experience without taking a sick day:

Grab an earful
Local radio stations usually carry the tournament games, so break out your earphones and download the TuneIn app to get access to 100,00 live radio stations. You’ll get the play-by-play in a format designed for listening, so there’s no awkwardness around holding a phone or
tablet on your lap that makes your co-workers wonder why you’re constantly looking down at your crotch.

Put up a privacy screen
If you prefer to leave your tablet or smartphone on your desk with impunity, then at least try to hide it with a privacy screen protector. These sheets fit over the display and make it so only people looking head-on can see what’s shaking on the device. Anybody looking at it from the side will just see a dark screen, which might raise questions about why you’re standing up and yelling at your blank
iPad. Just try to keep yourself under control.

Get creative
Last year, a clever college-basketball fan hacked a simple notepad, carving out a niche for his phone to sit. It looked like he was studiously taking notes, but he was actually watching the games stream live. This would work equally well in either a work or school environment.

Whatever method you choose to stay jacked into the tournament, just try not to let your productivity slump too much. You don’t want to give yourself away. Have a marvelous mobile March Madness, folks.

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