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GTC 2013: Nvidia unveils Volta, Parker and Faceworks tech

GTC 2013: Nvidia unveils Volta, Parker and Faceworks tech

Nvidia’s next-generation graphics board, the Volta, will include stacked DRAM connected to the GPU using through-silicon via interconnects for 1TB/s memory bandwidth.


Nvidia has opened its GPU Technology Conference (GTC) with a bang this week, announcing a revised roadmap for its desktop and mobile products along with a brand-new technology for more realistic facial rendering.

First, the roadmap updates. While Nvidia founder Jen-Hsun Huang wasn’t willing to share actual details, we at least have a few new codenames to enjoy: the successor to Maxwell, itself the successor to the current-generation Kepler GPU architecture, will be called Volta, while on the mobile side the upcoming Tegra 5 Logan chips will be succeeded by a product codenamed Parker, rather than the Stark moniker from earlier roadmap releases.

Thankfully, we do have something a little more than just names to go on. Huang was particularly keen to detail a design change for the Volta GPUs that promises to dramatically improve performance: stacked DRAM. Unlike the current GPU designs, which place DRAM chips elsewhere on the board, Volta will ship with DRAM chips located directly on top of the GPU itself and connected using through-silicon via (TSV) technology. This gives the GPU a direct line to the DRAM, providing low-latency and high-bandwidth connectivity – so high, in fact, that Huang claimed the system will support throughput of 1TB/s, equivalent to ‘all the data from a full Blu-ray disc [...] in 1/50th of a second.’

Potentially, the Volta design will allow for the entire memory of the graphics card to be accessed in this manner by stacking multiple layers of DRAM modules on top of the GPU – although this may be limited by the need to keep all the components cool, with the hot-running GPU having to fight through additional layers of silicon to reach its heatsink. Potentially, it will represent a massive leap in performance, with Nvidia’s current flagship Titan topping out at around 288GB/s throughput. Sadly, Volta won’t be appearing on the market until some time in 2016, after the more sedate Maxwell update due next year.

On the mobile side, Huang promised that Logan, the design that will launch as the Tegra 5, will pack Kepler-inspired GPU technology with full support for the company’s CUDA GPU offload language – potentially opening up a new world of accelerated computing on mobile devices. Parker, meanwhile, replaces the previously announced Stark chip – which is now nowhere to be found on the roadmap – as the likely Tegra 6 launch in 2016, which will be the first to include Nvidia’s custom-built 64-bit Denver ARM cores as well as GPU technology based on Maxwell. Performance figures, sadly, were not part of the presentation, beyond a vague promise that Parker would offer a hundred-fold increase on the performance of 2011′s Tegra 2 dual-core ARM Cortex-A9-based design.

Huang also unveiled Faceworks, a new system for rendering and animating human faces which promises to take games right up to the far edge of the uncanny valley. Designed, naturally, for use with Nvidia’s CUDA-compatible graphics cards, Faceworks renders human features in impressive detail – with individual pores, or something very like them, visible when zoomed in – while 30 stored expressions motion-captured from an emotive actor can be recalled at will and melded into one another for smooth transitions.

It’s a clever technology, to be sure, but one that comes at a considerable cost: to render a single human’s face in the Faceworks engine requires around two teraflops of processing power, which alone accounts for about half the compute performance of Nvidia’s Titan graphics board. Those who have slower graphics cards – which is to say, pretty much everyone who hasn’t splashed out on a Titan – will find the technology out of their reach.

Faceworks was also joined on stage by Waveworks, Nvidia’s attempt to create a realistic system for the simualtion of waves in games. Rather than using the traditional shortcut methods to produce simulated water that acts almost entirely unlike the real thing, Waveworks simulates the interaction between individual waves to create a realistic appearance with real-world physics attached.

Other announcements at the GTC included a target of Q2 for launching the Project Shield Android-based hand-held gaming console in the US, talk of Nvidia breaking with tradition and offering to license its GPU and ARM-based CPU technology to other companies, and an extension of the GeForce GRID cloud GPU platform for workstation users via a new Visual Computing Appliance that packs up to 16 GPUs with 64GB of GDDR5 memory and 384GB of system memory into a 4U box that can deliver Quadro-like performance to up to sixteen remote workstations.

If that interests you less than ultra-realistic facial animation, however, have a shufti at Nvidia’s Faceworks in action, running in real-time on a GeForce Titan board, below.

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GTC 2013: Nvidia unveils Volta, Parker and Faceworks tech

GTC 2013: Nvidia unveils Volta, Parker and Faceworks tech

Nvidia’s next-generation graphics board, the Volta, will include stacked DRAM connected to the GPU using through-silicon via interconnects for 1TB/s memory bandwidth.


Nvidia has opened its GPU Technology Conference (GTC) with a bang this week, announcing a revised roadmap for its desktop and mobile products along with a brand-new technology for more realistic facial rendering.

First, the roadmap updates. While Nvidia founder Jen-Hsun Huang wasn’t willing to share actual details, we at least have a few new codenames to enjoy: the successor to Maxwell, itself the successor to the current-generation Kepler GPU architecture, will be called Volta, while on the mobile side the upcoming Tegra 5 Logan chips will be succeeded by a product codenamed Parker, rather than the Stark moniker from earlier roadmap releases.

Thankfully, we do have something a little more than just names to go on. Huang was particularly keen to detail a design change for the Volta GPUs that promises to dramatically improve performance: stacked DRAM. Unlike the current GPU designs, which place DRAM chips elsewhere on the board, Volta will ship with DRAM chips located directly on top of the GPU itself and connected using through-silicon via (TSV) technology. This gives the GPU a direct line to the DRAM, providing low-latency and high-bandwidth connectivity – so high, in fact, that Huang claimed the system will support throughput of 1TB/s, equivalent to ‘all the data from a full Blu-ray disc [...] in 1/50th of a second.’

Potentially, the Volta design will allow for the entire memory of the graphics card to be accessed in this manner by stacking multiple layers of DRAM modules on top of the GPU – although this may be limited by the need to keep all the components cool, with the hot-running GPU having to fight through additional layers of silicon to reach its heatsink. Potentially, it will represent a massive leap in performance, with Nvidia’s current flagship Titan topping out at around 288GB/s throughput. Sadly, Volta won’t be appearing on the market until some time in 2016, after the more sedate Maxwell update due next year.

On the mobile side, Huang promised that Logan, the design that will launch as the Tegra 5, will pack Kepler-inspired GPU technology with full support for the company’s CUDA GPU offload language – potentially opening up a new world of accelerated computing on mobile devices. Parker, meanwhile, replaces the previously announced Stark chip – which is now nowhere to be found on the roadmap – as the likely Tegra 6 launch in 2016, which will be the first to include Nvidia’s custom-built 64-bit Denver ARM cores as well as GPU technology based on Maxwell. Performance figures, sadly, were not part of the presentation, beyond a vague promise that Parker would offer a hundred-fold increase on the performance of 2011′s Tegra 2 dual-core ARM Cortex-A9-based design.

Huang also unveiled Faceworks, a new system for rendering and animating human faces which promises to take games right up to the far edge of the uncanny valley. Designed, naturally, for use with Nvidia’s CUDA-compatible graphics cards, Faceworks renders human features in impressive detail – with individual pores, or something very like them, visible when zoomed in – while 30 stored expressions motion-captured from an emotive actor can be recalled at will and melded into one another for smooth transitions.

It’s a clever technology, to be sure, but one that comes at a considerable cost: to render a single human’s face in the Faceworks engine requires around two teraflops of processing power, which alone accounts for about half the compute performance of Nvidia’s Titan graphics board. Those who have slower graphics cards – which is to say, pretty much everyone who hasn’t splashed out on a Titan – will find the technology out of their reach.

Faceworks was also joined on stage by Waveworks, Nvidia’s attempt to create a realistic system for the simualtion of waves in games. Rather than using the traditional shortcut methods to produce simulated water that acts almost entirely unlike the real thing, Waveworks simulates the interaction between individual waves to create a realistic appearance with real-world physics attached.

Other announcements at the GTC included a target of Q2 for launching the Project Shield Android-based hand-held gaming console in the US, talk of Nvidia breaking with tradition and offering to license its GPU and ARM-based CPU technology to other companies, and an extension of the GeForce GRID cloud GPU platform for workstation users via a new Visual Computing Appliance that packs up to 16 GPUs with 64GB of GDDR5 memory and 384GB of system memory into a 4U box that can deliver Quadro-like performance to up to sixteen remote workstations.

If that interests you less than ultra-realistic facial animation, however, have a shufti at Nvidia’s Faceworks in action, running in real-time on a GeForce Titan board, below.

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Nvidia Tegra 4 ‘Wayne’ specs leak ahead of launch

December 20th, 2012 No comments

Nvidia Tegra 4 'Wayne' specs leak ahead of launch

Nvidia’s upcoming Cortex-A15-based Tegra 4 ‘Wayne’ SoC promises significant performance improvements over its Cortex-A9-based predecessor.


Specifications for Nvidia’s upcoming Tegra 4 chip, codenamed ‘Wayne’ in a continuation of the superhero-themed naming convention that brought us Tegra 3 ‘Kal-El,’ have leaked ahead of an expected formal launch in January or February next year.

Designed for high-end tablets and smartphones, Tegra 4 builds on Nvidia’s existing Tegra 3 chip and shares the basic design: four ARM-based processing cores are joined by a fifth low-power ‘companion’ core designed to keep the device ticking over when the screen is off without drawing excessive power. It’s an approach adopted by others in the industry, and one approved of by ARM itself with its own ‘big.LITTLE’ design ethos.

As befits a next-generation part, however, Wayne is somewhat beefier than Kal-El – something Batman and Superman fans can argue about in the comments should they so desire. According to a slide leaked by sources unknown and obtained by Chip Hell, while Wayne will be limited to the same four-plus-one-core layout as Kal-El, the graphics portion will enjoy a significant boost with a 72-core GeForce graphics processor providing a claimed 6x performance increase over Tegra 3 and a 20x increase over Tegra 2.

The processing portion of the system-on-chip design is believed to be based around ARM’s Cortex-A15, a next-generation replacement for the Cortex-A9 IP used in Tegra 3. Offering improved performance and some nice new features, including 48-bit memory addressing and hardware virtualisation extensions, Wayne should also boast improved performance for general-purpose compute, even if it launches at the same frequencies as its predecessor.

Other features promised by the slide include a dual-channel memory controller with support for DDR3L, LPDDR2 and LPDDR3 RAM, video hardware encode and decode at 2,650×1,440 resolution in VP8 and H.264 formats, and an eight-lane display serial interconnect (DSI) driver supporting up to 2,560×1,600 resolution displays, 1080p at 120Hz for 3D displays, or 4K resolution displays over HDMI. An imaging processor provides support for high-resolution cameras, and input-output capabilities include USB 3.0, SDIO, and SPI.

A shift to a 28nm lithographic process, combined with improvements in the Cortex-A15 architecture, will mean lower power draw compared to Tegra 3, although as yet Nvidia hasn’t provided any firm figures as to actual power draw or overall performance.

With Nvidia expected to unveil the first Tegra 4 ‘Wayne’-based devices at either the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January or Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February, fans of the company’s high-performance system-on-chip products shouldn’t have long to wait to see if the slide’s claims are accurate.

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Sony’s latest Walkman lineup sizzles


The chosen one for audiophiles? (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Sony)

Sony, as is typical for this time of year, has refreshed its Walkman lineup for the fall. Take a look at our breakdown of the new devices:

Sony F800 series
Android Walkman

At first glance, Sony’s F800 Walkman, due in the U.S. this August, looks uninspiring, but it actually packs a feature never before seen in a Walkman. We’ll discuss that later.

First, the basics. The Walkman F series features a 3.5-inch multitouch-capable LCD screen and a Tegra 2 (dual-core) processor running Android 4.0. In its press release, the company wastes no time mentioning Google Play and Music Unlimited support. Unfortunately, it appears Sony decided to play capacities conservatively with 16GB ($269) and 32GB ($299) options (Europe gets an additional 8GB model). The F’s aesthetics look typical for Sony’s current design mantra: minimalism across the board, thin profile, and a thoughtful throwback Walkman logo to please the reminiscent.

Just like the Walkman Z of yesteryear, the F contains the sonically stimulating S-Master Digital Amplifier (and the full bravado of other options that add color to sound), Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Additionally, the built-in speaker returns, and Sony tossed in a pair of MDR-EX0300E earbuds.

Surprisingly, in a Walkman first, Sony added FLAC codec support to the F series. While FLAC means little to the average person, the audiophile community might have a hard time ignoring this nice addition.

Of course, the F supports a slew of other audio and video codecs, including MP3, WMA, HE-AAC, PCM, MPEG4, AVC (H.264), and WMV. Sony’s artificial battery tests ping expected life at 20 hours (using 128Kbps MP3s) during audio playback, and 4.5 hours of video time. CNET contacted Sony for comment on several details about the F series (such as the dimensions) and will update this post accordingly.

Sony S770BT and E570/E470 series Walkman
Sony’s midrange and budget Walkman options also get an upgrade in the refresh.


The new S series Walkman, unavailable in the U.S. (for now). (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Sony)

The 8GB S770BT (officially unannounced in the U.S., but hits Europe now) packs a tried-but-true media player UI standard on Sony multimedia devices, with a 2-inch QVGA LCD screen and a familiar circular button interface below. The main selling point surely lies in the included MDR-NWBT10 Bluetooth wireless earbuds and 36 hours of battery life during audio playback. Those who like to watch videos on tiny 2-inch screens can also get six hours of eye-straining enjoyment. Codec support stands the same as the F series Android Walkman, minus FLAC support.

We also got word of a Walkman E470 series due in the U.S. this August, also referred to as “the slimmest Walkman player ever from Sony” at 7mm thin. Available in red and black, the E470 comes with a 2-inch screen and in 4GB ($79), 8GB ($89), and 16GB ($109) sizes. Aside from the usual sound-coloring options to enhance bass and clarity, it also offers lyric support and a Karaoke mode.


The Walkman E470 comes in many colors in other parts of the world, but the U.S. only gets red and black. Oh well. (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Sony)

The new 8GB and 16GB E570 series (officially unannounced in the U.S., hits Europe now) stands as the only device in this lineup that features noise cancelling. Sony includes a pair of MDR-NC033E noise cancelling ear buds in the package. Announced in Europe, the E570 comes in 8GB and 16GB varieties, with the same battery life and codec support as the newly announced S series.

In a Walkman first, the E series plays basic games like Tetris, Sudoku, Puyo Pop Fever, and Number Place. CNET reached out to Sony for more information on the game-playing capabilities of this device, and if that stretches to the S series as well.


The E570 missed a U.S. debut today, but we hope the noise-cancelling package comes here soon. (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Sony)

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Sprint could have Motorola Photon 4G successor

Sprint and Motorola looking to follow up last year’s Photon 4G.

(Credit:
Sprint)

Sprint is looking to follow last year’s Motorola Photon 4G with a 4G LTE variant, according to new rumors surfacing today. Called, for now, the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (what a mouthful!), the
Android smartphone isn’t dropping any spec hints, though history may offer clues.

At the time of its arrival last year, the Photon 4G was one of the top handsets on the market. Assuming Motorola and Sprint look to do the same with this model, I’d anticipate a display with 720p resolution and a high-end processor.

Remember also that the Photon 4G was Sprint’s first smartphone to feature Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual-core processor, so it stands to reason that the “Q” 4G LTE has a quad-core chipset. And if that’s the case, then we’re at least a few months away from seeing this one land in Sprint stores. Recent reports, after all, indicate that Nvidia won’t have Tegra 3 CPUs with LTE support ready until Q3 2012.

I’m hoping for at least Android 4.0, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, and an 8-megapixel camera. If we get anything less then I’d view the handset as a step backward.

I’d also look for docking connectivity, NFC/Google Wallet support and, if we’re really lucky, a 3,300mAh battery. Seriously, Verizon shouldn’t have all the fun.

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Ice Cream Sandwich flavoring Acer A100, A500 next week

Acers A100 and A500 tablets are due for a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich.

Acer’s A100 and A500 tablets are due for a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich.

(Credit:
CNET)

Owners of Acer’s Iconia Tab A100 and A500
tablets can look forward to a dollop of Ice Cream Sandwich in another week and a half.

An Acer support document confirmed that the two tablets are scheduled be on the receiving end of Android 4.0 in the U.S. on April 27. Other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Latin America, will also receive the update on or around the same time, but all updates should be out and about by the first week of May.

Released last summer with
Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the Acer A100 is a 7-inch tablet with a 1024×600-pixel display, a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and 1GB of RAM. Its larger cousin, the A500, sports a 10.1-inch screen with many of the same specs but ups the resolution to 1,280×800 pixels.

Owners of Acer’s A200 tablet have already received the latest version of Android. But those of you with an A501 are out luck for now, as the update has yet to be scheduled or even planned, according to Acer.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 hands-on

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 gets a slight performance downgrade and a decent price.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

SAN FRANCISCO–The announcement that Samsung’s follow-up to its Galaxy Tab 10.1 would be receiving some downgrades from the previous entry, filled with a mixture confusion and disappointment.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around why the sequel to one of the premiere
Android
tablets would launch with a less impressive spec list than its predecessor.

Today, Samsung revealed that the Tab 2 10.1 would be released on May 13th for $400. That’s $100 lower than the original Tab 10.1′s list price and it fills the logic hole I believe Samsung was falling into, I’m still not 100 percent on board.

I’ll get to that later though. First let’s address the details of my initial disappointment.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (photos)

So why the disappointment?
OK, let’s get the disappointment out of the way. The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 trades in its 2-megapixel front camera for a VGA one and while it retains its 3-megapixel rear camera, the LED support light has been exorcised.

Also, the tablet isn’t quite as thin as the first gen’s svelte body and in it’s slightly heavier. Also, there’s no 32GB config and only a 16GB storage version. Honestly, that’s pretty much it as disappointment goes. All the other changes are kind of plusses.

OK, what are the other differences?
The new device still houses a 1GHz dual-core CPU, although it’s likely not a Tegra 2 (Samsung didn’t confirm) and Samsung smartly adds microSD-supported memory expansion up to 32GB.

The speakers are larger and have been moved to the edge of the left and right side bezel (in landscape mode). The dock connector, volume rocker, power/sleep button, and headphone jack all seem to be located in about the same places.

The IR blaster found on the Tabs 7.7 and 7.0 Plus makes its way to the Tab 2 10.1 and in conjunction with Peel’s Smart Remote app, helps to turn your tablet into a remote control for your TV.

Oh and one more difference…
The Tab 2 10.1 will be Samsung’s first 10-inch tablet to ship with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3 to be precise) installed.

Samsung’s Touchwiz UX skin of course is included with custom Samsung apps and that handy Task Manager shortcut.

Performance, comfort, and extras
Accessing and scrolling through Web pages as well as navigating the OS all felt responsive enough but, kind of lagged on the hotel’s Wi-Fi we were connected to. No egregious performance issues, however.

The Samsung proprietary PLS-based screen sports a 1,280 by 800 resolution and during our brief time using the device, not surprisingly, delivered wide viewing angles and richer color than what we’re used to on IPS panels most tablets use.

The device is capable of full 1080p playback at 30fps, and of course includes support for GPS, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 3.0.

The tablet feels light, comfortable with rounded corners and sports a titanium silver finish on it its backside.

Final thoughts
So, what’s the rub here? Well there’s no “official rub”. $400 at 16GB isn’t a bad price for the Tab 2 10.1, but when you consider the fact that it’s pretty much the same as the Tab 10.1 give or take a few features; not to mention that the Tab 10.1 now be found for as low as $428, it’s difficult to not be a bit disappointed.

I would have loved to see a $330 price. Heck, I’d even be satifified with $350. Especially after Samsung announced a $250 price for its Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. Like I said, $400 is decent price, but with its own admitted tablet market difficulty, Samsung should have pushed lower.

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Toshiba Tegra 3 tablets offer extras we’ve seen before

The Excite 7.7′s AMOLED screen is, quite likely, the same fantastic screen used in the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7.

(Credit:
Donald Bell/CNET)

With its Excite 10 LE, Toshiba offered a well-designed
tablet with disappointing performance, and (in my opinion) too high a price tag for what was offered. With the company’s announcement of new 10-, 7.7-, and 13-inch tablets today, it doesn’t seem as if much has changed on the pricing front, but at least now it’s offering Tegra 3-based devices.

Excite 10
The Excite 10 is yet another 10-inch tablet from Toshiba. I believe this makes it three in about a year? Not that it matters really, but if anyone asked, I’m counting. Anyway, the Excite 10 takes closer design cues from the Excite 10 LE than the Thrive as it sports a thin 0.35-inch depth and weighs just 1.32 pounds. That’s 0.05 inches thicker and 0.18 pounds heavier than the 10 LE.

The 10.1-inch screen runs at a typcial 1280×800 resolution. Like the Excite 13 it houses 1GB of RAM and feature micro USB, micro HDMI, and a full-size SD card slot.

Rounding out features is a 2-megapixel front camera and a 5-megapixel back camera.

Excite 7.7
Extremely thin and incredibly light, the 7.7 boast a 0.3-inch thickness and weighs only 13.4 ounces. The tablet includes a micro USB port, no HDMI support, but does feature a Micro SD card slot and 1GB of RAM.

The 7.7 also becomes only the second tablet to boast an AMOLED screen after Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.7. Like its larger brother, the 7.7 features a 2-megapixel front camera and a 5-megapixel back camera.

So, how about these prices?
The Excite 10 tablet will be available in early May at $450 for 16GBs, $530 for 32GBs, and $650 for the 64GB model. The Excite 7.7 comes out in early June at $500 for 16GB and $580 for the 32GB model.

It’s encouraging that the Excite 10 at $450 with Tegra 3 is (on paper at least) a better deal than the Tegra 2-based Excite 10 LE at $530 for the same amount of storage. Also, the Excite 7.7 at $500 with an AMOLED screen is, again, on paper, a better deal that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 at its non-contract price of $700.

This of course, doesn’t take into account things like build quality, comfort, potential bugs, performance issues, and other extras.

Also, with Google’s rumored $200 Nexus Tablet supposed coming this summer and the $250 Asus Memo 370T still scheduled for release, getting consumers to pay these fairly reasonable prices will only get more and more difficult.

Still, I’ll have to wait and see before I can fairly judge each tablet’s true stregths and weaknesses. As such, look for full reviews over the next couple of months.

Toshiba Tegra 3 tablets come in different sizes, pretty much one shape (photos)

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Sony Chromebook coming sometime soon?


An image unearthed from the FCC Web site reveals Sony’s Chromebook.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

A recently declassified document on the FCC Web site reveals Sony’s first Chromebook.

The legend of the Sony Chromebook stretches back to March of 2011, when Sony Insider first leaked news of its existence with specifications. The rumored features included a 1.2GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 (T25) dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor; an 11.6-inch (1,366×768) LCD; 1GB of DDR2 RAM; 16GB of flash storage; eight-hour battery life; and more.


A section of the user manual for this laptop describes how to use Chrome OS. (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

A year later, new FCC documents for the Sony VCC111 laptop contain an assortment of photos, showing the device from multiple angles. You may notice the lack of a Windows button on the keyboard.

CNET also showed the images to a trusted source familiar with the matter, who confirmed the slim, ultraportable Sony laptop uses Google’s Chrome OS. The final nail in the rumor coffin lies in the actual user manual for the Sony laptop, which clearly discusses how to turn on and operate Chrome OS.

Furthermore, many of the specifications in the documents line up with those earlier rumors, and now we learn a little more. Wireless test pages in the FCC confirm 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 3G radio, and Bluetooth implementation. The pictures show several ports, such as a SD card reader, HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, and inputs for a headphone and microphone. We even spotted a separate color, meaning Sony may offer black and white color options.


Multi-angle perspective of Sony’s minimalist Chromebook. (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit:
Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET)

There’s no word yet regarding the price (or release date) of the Sony Chromebook, but alternatives by other companies range from $299 to $419. With the flurry of
tablet, ultrabook, and supersized phone releases, do you think the Chromebook still make sense?

(Via Laptop Review)

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Sony Tablet P: At what price dual screens?

Sony’s dual-screen
Android
tablet looks cool and can compact itself to fit into your pocket, but does its novel design preclude it from delivering a solid tablet experience?

Squiggly lines and dual screens always go great together!

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

“The Sony DS?”. That was my first choice for the headline of this piece, but I felt it was a bit too cute and somewhat misleading.

So, do dual screens improve or hinder the tablet experience?

Design
The first thing you’ll notice about the Sony Tablet P is the dual-screen, hinge-based design that allows the tablet to be compacted, like a clam shell.

The second thing is that, once folded, the tablet looks not unlike a large eyeglass case, that will likely fit into most large pockets.

Tablets with pointy corners are something of a pet peeve of mine. There’s nothing that ruins potential comfort like pointy plastic corners digging into your palms and that’s exactly what the Tablet P delivers. The pointy plastic things effect is lessened when the top screen is rotated 90 degrees, but you’d better have hobbit-sized hands if you hope to get any typing done in this position, not to mention navigation.

Top half continues to rotate back a full 180 degrees and each 5.5 inch screen aligns perfectly parallel to the other, creating a nearly-single square-shaped screen that spans 7 inches diagonally. I say “nearly” since there’s about a third of an inch of dead space between the screens, making full screen viewing of games, movies, and pretty much any app not optimized for dual-screen playback, a less than seamless experience.

On the right edge of the bottom section is the power button, power adapter jack, a micro-USB port, and the volume rocker. The power button is embedded into the tablet a bit too deeply and sometimes proves difficult to press.

On the front edge, in the right corner lies the headphone jack. On the you’ll find two black buttons, that when pressed simultaneously, unlock the bottom plate, revealing the removable battery and Micro SD slot.

Sony Tablet P looks great from all angles (photos)

Software features
While the Honeycomb OS is displayed over both screens, some apps like the Android Market will annoyingly, only display in the top screen. With other apps, like Marvel Comics, you’re either reading about Captain America’s latest adventure on a 5.5-inch screen or awkwardly stretched over both screens.

The same problem holds for Android games and most move players we tried, which look a lot less impressive stretched into a squared aspect ratio, with a disruptive black bar slicing the screen in two.

However, both the Sony-made movie player, music app, and photo app make good use of the dual screens by keeping controls and output separate and not allowing full screen playback.

The Tablet P includes limited
PlayStation Store support, with access to a scant few PS1 games. Games like Crash Bandicoot are well-implemented, placing most of the controls on the bottom screen with the actual game up top.

The tablet comes with Honeycomb 3.2.1 with no official word yet on when the Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade will arrive.

Hardware features
The Tablet P houses the usual Android tablet suspects, including Nvidia’s dual-core Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, but includes only 4GB of storge. Also, it has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a gyroscope, and GPS.

The single speaker, located on the left edge of the bottom half is pumped through a quarter inch long slit and the sound it delivers is as muffled and low as you’d expect, even at maximum volume. If you’re thinking of using the Tablet P as a dedicated music player, you may want to invest in some high-quality headphones.

Performance
The Tablet P’s dual 5.5-inch capacitive touch screens sport impressively high luminance ratings with low black levels. Each screen features a high gloss, high contrast look with wide viewing angles. Colors pop with a vibrancy that rivals some of the best tablet screen available. The glossy screen does prove quite reflective, however.

Web and app download speeds matched most other Android tablets when within 5 feet of our test router and even when up to 20 feet away retains much of its strength.

Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. The Tablet P offered performance typical of a Tegra 2-based tablet by delivering a consistent, playable frame rate that unfortunately can’t match the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’s smooth near-60-frames-per-second Exynos 4210-induced fluidity.

The Tablet P includes a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel back camera. Images and video recorded with the front camera looked washed-out and lacked detail. The back camera however uses the same back camera the Tablet S snapped such detailed pictures with. The Tablet P’s rear camera delivers detailed, high-contrast, and colorful photos that go step beyond typical tablet fare.

Playback of 720p video from external sources ran smoothly and looked sharp on the Tablet P’s top 1,024×480-pixel-resolution screen. Contrast was high and colors popped with a suitable vibrancy, without looking over-saturated or unnatural.

Incoming review
So far, I like being able to fold the Tablet P in two and fit it into my pocket, but its implementation of the dual screens with unoptimized apps leaves a lot to be desired. The dead space between the screens is, so far, its biggest Achilles’ heel and affects how games, movies and apps are used.

I’ll take some more time to use the tablet and get a more complete impression. Look for a full review later this week after I’ve had some time to dive a bit deeper into the Tablet P’s features and more fully experience its performance.

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