Saturday, April 27, 2013

ET deals: $816 for Dell XPS 8500 desktop with 23-inch IPS monitor

Our featured deal today has two things going for it that make it a great offer: it’s a bundle and the time of year. Manufacturers tend to offer better deals when you buy more at once, so a PC-plus-monitor bundle is a great way to save money on a new computer. The other factor working for this offer is the fact that we’re quickly approaching the next PC refresh cycle. Intel’s Ivy Bridge platform debuted in early 2012 and finally started shipping closer to the middle of 2012. The next refresh — Haswell — is coming soon and we’re seeing manufacturers offer more frequent and more aggressive discounts in order to move inventory.

The XPS 8500 is Dell’s bread and butter desktop, doing a little bit of everything at a great price. This mini tower model packs a Core i7-3770, with four cores that churn between 3.4GHz and 3.9GHz. 8GB of DDR3 RAM keeps the multi-tasking smooth and you’ve got a 1TB hard drive that will ensure plenty of storage space. It even had a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 7570 graphics card to handle multiple displays and HD video without a hiccup; it will probably even churn out a few gaming sessions for you too.
What really makes this bundle shine is the monitor: an UltraSharp U2312HM. The UltraSharps line of monitors share three common traits among all models that make them some of our favorites on the market: all use IPS LCD panels, fully adjustable stands, and offer a 3-year advance exchange warranty.
IPS LCD technology is the go-to tech for premium displays, giving the user extra-wide viewing angles and richer color. The U2312HM packs 1920×1080 pixels into its 23-inch IPS panel and will connect to nearly any video source via DVI, DisplayPort, and VGA inputs. Don’t worry if you wanted to hook your game console up to this beast, you can easily adapt DisplayPort or DVI to HDMI.
The desktop is backed up by Dell’s one year warranty that includes no-cost upgrades to on-site service and 24×7 premium tech support. With the UltraSharp, you still get the aforementioned 3 year advance exchange warranty. Should you ever have a problem, Dell ships you a replacement monitor straight away and you return your defective one on their dime. It even covers panel replacement should your monitor develop a bright pixel.
We’ve seen this bundle, with varying sized UltraSharp monitors, on sale numerous times before. Normally it runs around $850, marked down from $1100 to $1200. We saw a package with a smaller monitor for a few dollars less around Black Friday, but this bundle marked down to $816.99 with free shipping is the best offer we’ve seen in a while.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Laser pointers make super-fast 'optical Wi-Fi'

COMMONLY available laser pointers can zing data through the air across a room twice as fast as most USB cables or Wi-Fi routers. The new optical wireless promises to be cheap and easy to roll out in hospitals and other places where radio transmitters cannot be used.
Engineers at the National Taipei University of Technology in Taiwan picked red and green laser pointers because they are cheap and easy to get hold of. The hardware used in a demonstration cost only about $600, says Hai-Han Lu, who led the work. "Hobbyists could do this at home," he told New Scientist.
The team replaced the pointers' standard batteries with a power source that switched each laser off and on 500 million times a second, and aimed two pointers at a light-sensitive detector 10 metres away. After processing, the signals contained less than one error per billion bits, a sign of high-quality transmission. Combining the two signals yielded a billion bits per second, double the data rates of USB 2.0 or high-speed radio-based Wi-Fi (Optics Express, vol 20, p 9919).
Fog, rain and snow make long-distance laser links through air impractical, but they could work for indoor use. A system along these lines could one day be useful for high-speed connections between smartphones.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


On May 31 IBM obtained a permament injunction barring Neon from selling its zPrime product, software that enabled many general-purpose mainframe jobs to run on specialty engines. Once moved, these jobs let users dodge software charges based on the use of general purpose computing capacity. The technical tricks were, as IBM seems to have shown, a violation of IBM's policies and practices and a breach of IBM's mainframe software licensing agreement. Game over.

The injunction appears to permit users of the jPrime product to continue running the code under the terms of their contracts with Neon. Neon appears to be obliged to do everything it can to unwind these deals short of defaulting on its obligations.

The personnel behind jPrime are specifically prohibited from using their knowhow to outfox IBM. They are also enjoined from sharing or making public their understanding of the IBM software that attempts to govern and meter workloads on IBM mainframes. Basically, IBM found a legal solution to the problems posed by jPrime but from the looks of things Big Blue could not come up with a technical remedy for the bill-beating technology.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chips Hold the Key to Understanding the Human Brain

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2011) — Chips based on ARM processor technology will be linked together to simulate the highly-complex workings of the brain, whose functionality derives from networks of billions of interacting, highly-connected neurons.

The chips upon which this work critically depends were delivered last month, and have passed their functionality tests with flying colours.

They will form the system architecture for a massive computer, called SpiNNaker (Spiking Neural Network architecture), which aims to map out the brain's individual functions.

SpiNNaker could be a vital tool for neuroscientists, psychologists and doctors to help them understand complex brain injuries, diseases and conditions, and identify the most effective therapies.

The University of Manchester was selected to design the system architecture for the project, and received half of the £5m EPSRC grant which supported the work, while the universities of Southampton, Cambridge and Sheffield share the rest to work on other parts of the project.

Even though there will be up to one million ARM processors, -- technology used in most of the world's mobile phones- in the final SpiNNaker machine, computer scientists point out that this will enable them to recreate models of only up to 1% of the human brain.

The researchers, lead by Professor Steve Furber, believe the machine will be a vital tool for neuroscientists and psychologists to test hypotheses on individual brain characteristics.

The key challenge is developing and understanding the information processing of the brain and the extremely high connectivity of the brain cells. There are 100 billion neurons with 1,000 million connections in the human brain. In this system, the neurons emit spikes which are relayed as tiny electrical signals. Each impulse is modelled in SpiNNaker as a 'packet' of data, a very-much scaled down version of the way the internet carries information.

This packet is then sent to all connected neurons. Neurons are represented by small simple equations which are solved in real-time by software running on the ARM processors.

The electronic connections in SpiNNaker convey these spikes much quicker than the biological connections in the brain, hence SpiNNaker can transmit spikes as effectively and quickly with many fewer connections.

Test chips were brought out in 2009, but now the full chips, designed in Manchester and manufactured in Taiwan, have been delivered and will allow the scientists to develop much larger systems which can model the brain. Each chip contains 18 ARM processors.

The bespoke microchips are integrated in a single 19mm square package with a second microchip that provides substantial memory using 3D System-in-Package technology from Unisem Europe Ltd, who have packaging facilities in south Wales. This package delivers the computing power of a PC in a tiny space and for around one watt of electrical power.

Professor Furber, from the School of Computer Science, said: "We hope the machine will be able to model important functions of the human brain and help us gain key insights into their principles of operation.

"Developing and understanding the information processing in the brain is the key. We are actively engaging with neuroscientists and psychologists, both here at the University and elsewhere.

"This could ultimately be of great help for patients, for example, who have presented with reading problems caused by strokes or similar brain injuries. Psychologists have already developed neural networks on which they can reproduce the clinical pathologies.

"They then use these networks to test alternative therapies, to identify which is most effective in treating the patient's symptoms. At present they are limited in the fidelity they can achieve with these networks by the available computer power, but we hope that SpiNNaker will raise that bar a lot higher.

"We don't know how the brain works as an information-processing system, and we do need to find out. We hope that our machine will enable significant progress towards achieving this understanding."

ARM was approached in May 2005 to participate in the SpiNNaker project. A subsequent agreement paved the way to make ARM processor Intellectual Property (IP) available to the project, along with ARM cell library IP to aid design and manufacturing. The agreement allowed University of Manchester to manufacture chips for a system with 1 million ARM-based processors, as well as some smaller test systems.

"The ARM architecture is all about enabling the ARM partner ecosystem to produce smarter systems that are optimized for performance and power consumption," commented Mike Muller, Chief Technical Officer, ARM."SpiNNaker seeks to create a working model of the ultimate smart system, the human brain. Steve is part of the ARM family, so this project was a perfect way to partner with him and Manchester University, and for ARM to encourage leading research in the UK."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Video games sell more than DVDs and albums

The most popular item of entertainment last year was a video game, proving that adults are increasingly turning to games consoles as their main way of unwinding in the evening, rather than music or films.

For some years of the British video games industry has trumped the film industry in monetary terms, but that has been because the average video game costs in excess of £30, while most new DVDs cost less than £15 and a cinema ticket is usually less than £10.

However, statistics from the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) show that in 2010, two of the top three titles in volume terms were video games, beating all forms of music, both physical and digital and DVDs. The most popular title of the year was Call of Duty: Black Ops, a so-called "shooter" game, involving the player pretending to be a soldier behind enemy lines during the Cold War. It sold 3.27 million copies between its launch in November and the end of the year, beating Avatar, the futuristic film, which sold 3 million.

This was despite Call of Duty's hefty price of between £35 and £50.

The third most popular tile was Fifa 11, the football video game, which sold 2.39 million copies. The DVD of Toy Story 3, the animated film, was the fourth most popular title, with 2.08 million copies sold.

In the top ten there was just one music title, Progress by Take That, which sold 1.93 millon copies.

Steve Redmond, spokesman at the ERA, said: "We've long been used to the idea that in value terms the video games industry is bigger than film or music. But it is a significant moment when a game outsells all over forms of entertainment.

"It's also a sign that the biggest titles, be it for music, film or games, are getting bigger and bigger, while the mid-range titles are getting squeezed."

Sales of video games actually fell by 12 per cent last year, with 62.9 million in total sold, hindered by the lack of new consoles or hand-held devices being launched by the hardware manufacturers, and the recession.

Guy Cocker, at Gamespot, the games industry website, said: "Many people will be surprised by how popular video games have become, but they are a key part of many people's lives and a hugely profitable industry."

He pointed out that the statistics would not have captured the increasing number of games that are played by people on their mobile phones, via "apps" or software applications, the most famous of which is probably Angry Birds, which has been bought by at least 12 million worldwide.

Last week Nintendo launched its 3DS, a hand-held games console that allows players to play 3 dimension games without the need to wear glasses. Nintendo said it sold 113,000 units during the first two days of sales, making it a faster seller than its previous hit, the Wii.