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The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

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

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

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

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

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

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

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

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

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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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Goat Simulator Review

Goat Simulator Review

Price: £6.99
Developer: Coffee Stain Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Games
Platform: PC

Goat Simulator Review

Well, here we have it. The defining moment in gaming. The pinnacle of the form. For the play it was Hamlet, for the novel Ulysses, and for film Citizen Kane. Each took its own medium and elevated it to unrepeatable heights. Now we have our own unrivalled masterpiece, a classic that will be remembered even when the last human on Earth hunches over the dying embers of the final flame. “I was there,” this crooked old man, bent by time and torment, shall whisper to the ether. “I was there when Goat Simulator was released.”

Goat Simulator Review

That’s not a very good joke, I know. But neither is Goat Simulator. As comedy games go, it is the equivalent of daytime TV covering a popular Youtube video. What works perfectly well as thirty seconds of amusement is stretched into half an hour of awkwardly searching to spin it into something more, and ultimately falling back on repeatedly pointing out how funny the original joke was.

Handing you control of one standard-issue Capra Aegagrus Hircus, Goat Simulator plonks you in a small open-world with the simple aim of causing as much destruction as possible. Now even the most nihilistic of goats would usually struggle to do more than churn a farmer’s field into mud before getting its horns hopelessly tangled in a wire-fence. Fortunately for your cloven-hoofed avatar, everything in Goat Simulator’s world appears to be made out of papier-mâché and springs.

Goat Simulator Review

Head-butting a person in Goat Simulator will send them flying across the map like a comet, while doing the same to one of the many stationary vehicles dotted around the environment will cause an explosion that catapults anything nearby into a geostationary orbit, including the twisting, flopping ragdoll of your own goat-y self. In addition, your goat can lick things to attach them to his sticky tongue, things like basketballs, chunks of broken fence, other goats, and the wheels of a fast-moving articulated lorry.

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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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Noctua NH-U12S Review

Noctua NH-U12S Review

Manufacturer: Noctua
UK price (as reviewed):
£47.99
US price (as reviewed): $69.99

When all-in-one coolers started hitting the cooling scene a few years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the end of the road for premium air coolers. Noctua is one of the most established and recognised brands out there in the enthusiast scene, but even we have to admit that value hasn’t always been one of the company’s strong points. In the face of a growing number of super-cheap and capable coolers such as Deepcool’s GAMMAXX S40, you might think paying more than £30 for a CPU cooler isn’t worth it considering how well the latter performs for just £20.

*Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review *Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review
At £47.99, the NH-U12S isn’t even a humongous air cooler and you get a much smaller bit of kit than it’s larger sibling, the NH-D14, which retails for just £10 more. However, the NH-U12S isn’t about raw cooling. With a maximum rated noise of just over 22db(A) and even less using the included low noise adaptor, this is a cooler for those where noise reduction is just as important as a chilly CPU.

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Part of the reason for the NF-F12′s high price is the NF-F12 PWM Focused Flow 120mm fan included in the box. This retails for £17 on its own – one of the most expensive fans on the market. There’s a whole raft of technical blurb in this fan’s specifications but the long and short of it boils down to Noctua claiming it produces a better quality noise by utilising many of these swanky features such as a focused flow frame, varying angular distance and vortec-control notches, plus better airflow and cooling.

The heatsink itself is up to Noctua’s usual standards, however, if you haven’t seen one of the Austria-designed cooler’s in person before, that’s essentially the same as saying build quality is epic. Crammed into this diminutive cooler, which measures just 158mm tall and 125mm wide, are five heatpipes built into a compact array of aluminium fins, plus a copper contact plate that sports a nickel plating.

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Even the packing is a labour of love, with everything packed into premium-feeling cardboard boxes that are all exactly the right size to take up precisely 100 per cent of the outer box. It’s not often we feel compelled to make this sort of comment but it’s totally justified here. As such, with everything labelled for each socket, despite the above average amount of mounting components, installation is fairly painless.

The fan clips are second only to SilverStone’s latest coolers such as the AR01 , in terms of ease of use – no spindly, awkward things here, which is just as well as you need to fit the single 120mm fan after you’ve mounted the cooler to the motherboard.

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Also included are all the fittings needed to mount a second fan, including the brown antivibration corner pads plus a low noise adaptor that can drop the maximum rpm from 1,500 to 1,200, slotting in between the 3-pin power feed and the standard PWM fan cable. Everything you need is included in the box, including an extra-long screwdriver to reach the mounting screws.

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Specifications

  • Compatibility Intel: LGA775 and LGA1366 (with optional NM-I3 kit) LGA115x, LGA2011; AMD: AM3(+), AM2(+), FM2(+), FM1
  • Size (with fan) (mm) 125 x 71 x 158 (W x D x H)
  • Fan(s) 1 x 120mm, 300-1,500RPM
  • Stated Noisemax 22.4dB(A)

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Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?

After a couple of years of mediocre progress, we’re seeing some genuine innovation with cases that are leaning ever more towards water cooling. Pretty much every medium to large case that’s released these days – even smaller mini-ITX ones on occasion – sports double, triple or even quadruple fan mounts, and though these of course boost air cooling potential too, they also allow for larger radiators to be installed.

Manufacturers such as Corsair and NZXT are now in the habit of listing radiator compatibility in their case instruction manuals too – they’re clearly taking it seriously and rightly so. Water cooling is one area of the PC industry that has certainly been growing over the last few years with all-in-one liquid coolers and full-on custom water cooling topping cooler graphs and featuring in many eye candy-filled systems – both modding projects and standard builds alike.

However, there is one small issue with many cases – specifically their radiator mounts. They’re usually designed only for half-height radiators, which lack surface area and thus cooling potential compared to their full-height siblings, and many cases also seem to be listing radiator and water cooling compatibility as little more than tick-box features.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
My point here is that when you try to install a water cooling system in one, there’s so little space that tube kinks become a real issue and there’s also little thought as to where to put pumps and reservoirs. One big factor here is that case manufacturers aren’t actually that concerned with custom water cooling loops (as in separate components connected together at home) and rather more with all-in-one systems such as a Corsair H80i.

It’s not just Corsair and NZXT, who incidentally make some of the best all-in-one liquid coolers out there, that are doing this. After all, you can forgive them for promoting a combination of their own case and cooler, but plenty of other manufacturers are doing it too.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
For instance, I’ve recently borrowed the Lian Li PC-V360 we looked at recently to see how well it can cope with a water cooling system, seeing as it has a dedicated dual 120mm-fan radiator mount in the side panel and is too slim to fit large air coolers.

In short, it wasn’t easy at all and I had to use anti-kinking springs on the tubing for everything to fit inside – and that’s using the skinniest radiator I could find. Also, this turned out to be only just capable of cooling my overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti with the fans on full blast, which for me half defeats the point of water cooling, which is noise reduction.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Even with an all-in-one liquid cooler things would be tricky, but as we speak I’m in the process of dismantling the system to go back to my trusted BitFenix Prodigy, which is much more water cooling friendly. Of course, that’s my point; some cases do work well with water cooling, the Prodigy being one of them. It’s also far from being a large case – the PC-V360 is taller and deeper but can’t quite decide whether to jump off the fence on the air cooling side or water cooling side.

A lot of the issues, then, revolve around radiator depth, and at the moment, many case manufacturers are content to leave their cases with the bare minimum. You probably can’t blame them to some extent as the vast majority of all-in-one liquid coolers use skinny radiators – one reason why a custom kit with a full-height double or triple 120mm-fan radiator will likely perform much better and quieter with an overclocked CPU.

So, what would I like to see? Better consideration for water cooling enthusiasts for one, but this could just as easily be brought about by all-in-one liquid cooler manufacturers beefing up their radiators too, especially where double fan radiators are concerned. That way, we don’t only get better cooling from their own coolers, but you won’t have to opt for enormous cases or go through the hassle of having to use multiple radiators too. It wouldn’t require massive changes either – a few small modifications to existing case designs could make a world of difference.

How do you think current cases could be improved for water cooling purposes? Let us know in the forum.

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Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review

Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review

Manufacturer: Synology
UK Price (as reviewed): £119.98 (inc VAT)
US Price as reviewed): $154.99 (ex Tax)

If you want an out-of-the-box solution for some enhanced network storage with a sprinkling of things such as cloud storage, file streaming and iTunes servers, then a NAS box is likely to appeal to you. There are other options, most notably HP’s Microserver and FreeNAS, both of which can be cheaper but have the downside of a relatively steep learning curve and not quite as much finesse as a high-end NAS box.

The downside for NAS boxes, then, is their price, at least as far as some of the better examples from QNAP and Synology are concerned. Basic models usually start at around £160 for the popular J-series Synology models, but the good thing is that while they were usually a bit slower than their professional-based siblings, they cost half the price and offered all the same software features.

Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review
These are extensive too, so we were more than a little surprised to hear from Synology who had seen our recent TRENDnet TN-200 review and said they had something that was much cheaper than their usual offerings but still offered the bulging feature set that most competitors, the TN-200 included, lack.

Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review
The DS214SE retails for just £120 – that’s cheaper than we’ve seen the DS213j in sales and a good £40 less than we normally expect to see one of the company’s budget models hit the shelves at. So what’s it lacking to come in at such a low price? It features a similar specification to the DS213j, with an 800MHz Marvell Armada 370 single-core CPU and 256MB DDR3 – both a step down from the DS213j, which has double the RAM and a slightly faster CPU.

Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review Synology DS214SE NAS Box Review
The rest of the specification is identical, though, with Synology’s trademark 92mm fan, two USB 2 ports (you still have to opt for one of the premium models to get USB 3), plus a fairly no-frills chassis with a slide-off case revealing the two 3.5in bays. The DS214SE also supports 5TB individual hard disks, bringing the total capacity to 10TB depending on your array configuration.

Specifications

  • Local connections Front: None, Rear: 2 x USB 2, LAN
  • Network connections 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • Storage Up to 2 x 5TB hard disk (not included)
  • Cables 1.5m Cat 5 Ethernet,
  • Cooling1 x 92mm fan
  • Features FTP server, webserver, photo server, music server, independent download (via HTTP, FTP and BitTorrent), iTunes and UPnP media sever, DLNA, print server, storage server for external USB hard disks, surveillance server
  • Dimensions (W x D x H) 100mm x 165mm x 225mm
  • Accessories None

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Wolfenstein’s Doom beta bonus a next-gen exclusive

Wolfenstein's Doom beta bonus a next-gen exclusive

Those buying Wolfenstein: The New Order for access to the secretive Doom beta are advised that it won’t be available on the Xbox 360 or PS3.


Bethesda has warned gamers that the upcoming beta version of wholly-owned subsidiary id Software’s Doom reboot will be exclusively available on next-generation platforms, including PC.

While id Software itself has so far kept a lid on exactly what the reboot of its seminal Doom franchise, considered by many to have truly kicked off the first-person shooter craze as the follow-up to Wolfenstein 3D, Bethesda had previously announced that access to a closed beta would be a benefit of pre-ordering Wolfenstein: The New Order. With the game launching on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows, that was considered to be an open offer to users of all platforms; sadly, Bethesda has now clarified that isn’t the case.

While Wolfenstein: The New Order will be available on previous- and latest-generation consoles as well as Windows, the Doom beta will be exclusively available on latest-generation hardware: Windows PCs, the PS4 and the Xbox One. Those pre-ordering Wolfenstein: The New Order specifically for access to the Doom beta, then, should be aware that while Xbox 360 and PS3 orders will still receive beta codes, these will only be redeemable on their respective replacements: Xbox 360 gamers will need an Xbox One to redeem the code, while PS3 gamers will need a PS4.

For gamers with both consoles and an adequately-specced PC, the news that the beta codes won’t be redeemable cross-platform – you can’t pre-order Wolfenstein: The New Order on PS3 and use the code to gain access to the Windows beta – may be a blow, but could suggest great things in store for the Doom reboot. Following the poor critical reception of 2005′s Doom 3, id Software has concentrated on other projects; if Doom proves, like its beta, to be exclusively available on the very latest console and PC hardware, it could represent a return to form with the potential for impressive visuals and ground-breaking technology.

For now, though, this is all conjecture: neither Bethesda nor its id Software subsidiary have spoken publicly on what form the new Doom will take, nor whether its beta programme will open on the 20th of May when Wolfenstein: The New Order launches.

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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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Antoine Leblond leaves Microsoft

Antoine Leblond leaves Microsoft

Microsoft veteran Antoine Leblond is to leave the company after almost 25 years, an apparent victim of recent executive shake-ups.


Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond has told colleagues he is leaving the company as of today, after almost 25 years in the company’s Office and Windows divisions.

Leblond started his career at Microsoft working on the company’s best-selling Office productivity suite alongside Steven Sinofsky. When Sinofsky shifted across to head the Windows division, Leblond followed and become heavily involved in the development of the cloud storage portion of the company’s Windows 8 operating system as well as speaking publicly regarding its exclusive DirectX features.

When Sinofsky left the company in November 2012 following the poor reception of Windows 8, the future looked unclear for Leblond. When no expanded role was provided as part of Ballmer’s July 2013 shake-up, Leblond’s days looked numbered; a fact seemingly confirmed when incoming chief executive Satya Nadella announced his own reorganisation earlier this month, again with no mention of Leblond.

After almost 25 years, I’ve decided it’s time for me to go out and see what the non-Microsoft world has to offer,‘ claimed Leblond, in an email to colleagues obtained by Re/code. ‘Every single day I have had here has been amazing in its own way, and I will never look back on all of these years with anything but fondness, pride in what we’ve accomplished together, and a real appreciation for having been lucky enough to be part of so many awesome things. I am sad to leave all of you, but also incredibly excited for what comes next.

Today marks Leblond’s last day at Microsoft; the company has yet to issue an official statement regarding his departure.

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