The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 showdown: AMD’s Ryzen Picasso vs. Intel’s Ice Lake

AnandTech benchmarks the two nearly identical Surface Laptop 3s from Microsoft – one with AMD’s latest mobile processor and GPU, and the other one with Intel’s. They conclude:

There aren’t too many ways to sugar coat the results of this showdown though. AMD’s Picasso platform, featuring its Zen+ cores and coupled with a Vega iGPU, has been a tremendous improvement for AMD. But Intel’s Ice Lake platform runs circles around it. Sunny Cove cores coupled with the larger Gen 11 graphics have proven to be too much to handle.

That being said, much like the first desktop Ryzen processors being a huge leap forward for AMD without closing the gap with Intel at the time, the Picasso platform seems to repeat the feat in laptops.

It was fantastic to see AMD get a design win in a premium laptop this year, and the Surface Laptop 3 is going to turn a lot of heads over the next year. AMD has long needed a top-tier partner to really help its mobile efforts shine, and they now have that strong partner in Microsoft, with the two of them in a great place to make things even better for future designs. Overall AMD has made tremendous gains in their laptop chips with the Ryzen launch, but the company has been focusing more on the desktop and server space, especially with the Zen 2 launch earlier this year. For AMD, the move to Zen 2 in the laptop space can’t come soon enough, and will hopefully bring much closer power parity to Intel’s offerings as well.

I can’t wait to see what AMD can offer consumers in the laptop space over the coming years. If it’s going to be a repeat of the desktop space, we’re going to be in for some seriously good times.

Why NUKEMAP isn’t on Google Maps anymore

When I created the NUKEMAP in 2012, the Google Maps API was amazing.1 It was the best thing in town for creating Javascript mapping mash-ups, cost literally nothing, had an active developer community that added new features on a regular basis, and actually seemed like it was interested in people using their product to develop cool, useful tools.

Today, pretty much all of that is now untrue. The API codebase has stagnated in terms of actually useful features being added (many neat features have been removed or quietly deprecated; the new features being added are generally incremental and lame), which is really quite remarkable given that the Google Maps stand-alone website (the one you visit when you go to Google Maps to look up a map or location) has had a lot of neat features added to it (like its 3-D mode) that have not been ported to the API code (which is why NUKEMAP3D is effectively dead — Google deprecated the Google Earth Plugin and has never replaced it, and no other code base has filled the gap).

Stories like this often confuse me. Google’s behaviour seems designed specifically to harm the people most enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their products, pushing them away to use competitors’ products or other alternatives. While that won’t harm Google’s bottom line in the short term – and, in fact, might even improve it – in the long term, it strengthens alternatives and teaches people to untangle themselves from Google’s web of products.

What’s in it for Google here? Is this just clueless bean counters lead by bottom line-obsessed executives? Or is there some grander plan behind pushing people away?

Getting drivers for old hardware is harder than ever

You’ve never lived until you’ve had to download a driver from an archived forum post on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

You have no idea if it’s going to work, but it’s your only option. So you bite the bullet. I recently did this with a PCI-based SATA card I was attempting to flash to support a PowerPC-based Mac, and while it was a bit of a leap of faith, it actually ended up working. Score one for chance.

But this, increasingly, feels like it may be a way of life for people trying to keep old hardware alive—despite the fact that all the drivers generally have to do is simply sit on the internet, available when they’re necessary.

This problem is only going to get worse as time progresses. We’ll have to hope random people on the internet are kind enough to upload any drivers they’ve collected and held on to over the years, so users of classic hardware can keep them running.

The Mac “Pro”

Yesterday saw the release of the new Mac Pro, finally replacing the trash can and moving back to a tower-based design. It has had a somewhat mixed response, with many people taking issue with the high prices, ranging from $6000 to over $52000. There have been those seeking to defend the prices and write off the complaints, but I don’t believe these arguments take into account the larger picture.

[…]

All in all, the Mac Pro is a powerful machine. For certain workflows it is even worth the cost. But the problem is that Apple has priced out a huge swathe of the professional market by making its lower end Mac Pros prohibitively expensive for what is frankly underwhelming hardware.

The base model Mac Pro is, indeed, a terrible purchase, and some of the upgrade options are downright laughable – to get anything even remotely resembling a decent GPU, you’re asked to spend $2400, which is insane. Anybody who isn’t spending their boss’ money shouldn’t buy this machine.

That being said – the interior design and layout of the new Mac Pro is beautiful. I can’t believe that we’re still dealing with kilometers of fiddly cabling and ugly, gamery ATX motherboards that have become ever more cumbersome to deal with, while Apple can design and build such a neat, clean, and tidy system.

The ZedRipper

Meet the ZedRipper – a 16-core, 83 MHz Z80 powerhouse as portable as it is impractical.

If this introductory sentence doesn’t grab your attention because you’re dead inside, maybe this will:

In the course of my historical computing hobbies, I stumbled upon something that I thought was very fascinating – relatively early in its history, CP/M supported a ‘networked’ version called CP/NET. The idea behind it was was one that will still feel pretty familiar to most people – that an office might have one or two ‘real’ machines with large disk drives and printers that it shared with ‘thin-client’ style machines that we’re basically just terminals with CPUs and RAM attached. Each user could basically act as if they had their own private CP/M machine with access to large disks and printers.

This should give you enough hints as to where the creator and developer took this project. Amazing work.

A walk through the Magit interface

This article demonstrates some of Magit’s most essential features in order to give you an impression of how the interface works. It also hints at some of the design principals behind that interface.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Magit is a complete interface to Git, which does not limit itself to the “most essential features everyone needs”. I hope that this article succeeds in demonstrating how Magit’s focus on work-flows allows its users to become more effective Git users. Here we concentrate on some essential work-flows, but note that more advanced features and work-flows have been optimized with the same attention to detail.

If you would rather concentrate on the big picture, then read the article Magit the magical Git interface instead (or afterwards).

As a non-developer, I have no idea if this is a useful tool, but I do like the idea of it.

Junk or treasure: AnandTech tests Amazon’s cheapest Black Friday desktop PC

Some Black Friday deals are wild. A store might offer only a couple of units of a particular TV, discounted by 66%. There might be a few pieces of a flagship smartphone at your local electronics store at half price. These are designed to entice customers through the door, and if you’re brave enough, ensure the cold for up to 12 hours to get that bargain of the year. But one of the key observations about looking at Amazon’s Computing and Components section every Black Friday, particularly this year, is that most of the discounts are for complete trash. After the headline external storage discounts, it’s just page after page of USB cables and smartphone holders. But one thing did catch my eye: an entire PC, for only £57/$61! How can an entire x86 desktop PC be sold for so little? We did the only thing worth doing: we purchased it.

[…]

The listing on Amazon is for a refurbished Dell Optiplex 780 – an office form factor machine that is very typical of one you might see in an office that hasn’t been updated yet (this is probably where this unit came from). The listing for the machine promises a few things: a CPU at 2.6 GHz, 4 GB of DDR3, a 160 GB HDD, and 802.11abg Wi-Fi, as well as Windows 10. What we received was a 2.93 GHz processor (woohoo!), 2×2 GB of DDR3, a 250 Gb HDD (woohoo!), no Wi-Fi (boo), and a full copy of Windows 10. The fact that this comes will a full blown copy of Windows 10 Pro, which even at its cheapest is around $20, astounds me. Even if the whole unit is a refurb, that’s the one part that is most likely new: and given that the value of the contents are around $30, that only leaves $10 for the actual hardware.

Better these old office refurbs get sold on Amazon than dumped on a landfill or torn apart by children inhaling toxic fumes in India. These kinds of machines are great for alternative operating systems like Haiku, too.

The Nintendo Switch Switch

Yesterday I had the idea that it would be cool if I turned a Nintendo Switch (will be referred to as NX to avoid confusion as NX is the code name for the Nintendo Switch) console into an actual network switch. I thought about it a bit and realized that it would be doable in hardware at least, since the NX docking station has USB-A ports.

Dubious usefulness, indisputable awesomeness.

How I switched to Plan 9

Seriously, what do you do with your computer?

Over time 9front sanded off its rough edges. I can do just about everything I need to do from a bare metal install. Today, we even have vmx(1) for hosting OpenBSD or Linux virtual machines (just in case you need to interface with the U.S. government via the now-required modern web browser). A previous release of the 9front DASH1 manual was created entirely on a ThinkPad running 9front (and Gimp running inside OpenBSD running inside vmx(1)). 9front now even ships with a primitive Microsoft Paint clone, several native Sega and Nintendo emulators, and a full port of DOOM. I never would have dreamed anything like this was possible back in 2009. As time goes by, there is less and less reason to boot anything else.

For what I do, I’m perfectly happy with it.

Clearly not the most typical user, but that doesn’t make their experiences any less interesting.

Haiku almost-monthly activity report: October and November 2019

Another month two months have passed, so time for another monthly Haiku update. The biggest improvement this time around:

PulkoMandy revisited once again the intel_extreme driver to identify the remaining regressions introduced when adding sandy Bridge support. We believe all problems have been identified and solved, so, if you have an intel graphics card, please test a recent nightly and report on what happens.

There’s also a ton of non-x86 commits this time around.

Doug’s Demo Sequel: 1969

Not long after Doug Engelbart’s ground-breaking Mother of All Demos in December 1968, he and his team demonstrated their research at another conference in San Francisco – the 32nd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), in October 1969. This live demo presentation, titled “Augmentation Systems and Information Science,” showcased the novel work coming out of Doug’s Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), now SRI International.

Lucky for us, they filmed their 90-minute dress rehearsal in front a live audience. This footage is now available online, along with recently unearthed details and memorabilia.

An important piece of history, saved.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin step down, Sundar Pichai will be CEO of both Google and Alphabet

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!

This seems more like an administrative confirmation of a changeover that happened years ago.

The rise and fall of the PlayStation supercomputers

Dozens of PlayStation 3s sit in a refrigerated shipping container on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s campus, sucking up energy and investigating astrophysics. It’s a popular stop for tours trying to sell the school to prospective first-year students and their parents, and it’s one of the few living legacies of a weird science chapter in PlayStation’s history.

Those squat boxes, hulking on entertainment systems or dust-covered in the back of a closet, were once coveted by researchers who used the consoles to build supercomputers. With the racks of machines, the scientists were suddenly capable of contemplating the physics of black holes, processing drone footage, or winning cryptography contests. It only lasted a few years before tech moved on, becoming smaller and more efficient. But for that short moment, some of the most powerful computers in the world could be hacked together with code, wire, and gaming consoles.

The PlayStation 3 and its Linux compatibility were going to change everything. Back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed that on every thread about some small, alternative operating system, someone would demand PS3 support, since the PS3 was going to be the saviour of every small operating system project.

Good memories.

Apple’s Activation Lock will make it very difficult to refurbish Macs

Every month, thousands of perfectly good iPhones are shredded instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. Why? Two words: Activation Lock. And Macs are its next victim.

“We receive four to six thousand locked iPhones per month,” laments Peter Schindler, founder and owner of The Wireless Alliance, a Colorado-based electronics recycler and refurbisher. Those iPhones, which could easily be refurbished and put back into circulation, “have to get parted out or scrapped,” all because of this anti-theft feature.

With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that’s equipped with Apple’s new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock—meaning we’re about to see a lot of otherwise usable Macs heading to shredders, too.

While I understand the need for security features such as these – who doesn’t – it should definitely be possible to save these devices from the shredder. It’s such a waste of perfectly good hardware that could make a lot of less-privileged people around the world a whole lot happier.

The plain text project

Do you need big, feature-packed, and sometimes complex tool for your work, to stay organized, or keep track of your tasks?

Maybe not.

Maybe all you need is plain text. Yes, simple, old fashioned, unadorned, boring text. It sounds scary or alien, but it’s not.

I use plain text for my notes and keeping track of my work orders. Entering deadlines and related information in calendar applications is a fiddly, time-consuming nightmare, and I find it much easier to just jot down the date, time, and related information in plain text, ordered by date and time.

The Qt Marketplace has landed

Qt Marketplace is an innovation platform for our community. It brings together Qt developers and designers looking for new ways to enhance their Qt design and development workflow, and developers and companies who have already implemented extensions to Qt and want to make them available for everyone in the whole Qt ecosystem. Either for free or for a price.

In the initial release our theme is discoverability. To put this simple: We want the marketplace to become the #1 place for our community to find and share content for Qt.

An app store for Qt developers, basically.

64 bits ought to be enough for anybody!

How quickly can we use brute force to guess a 64-bit number? The short answer is, it all depends on what resources are available. So we’re going to examine this problem starting with the most naive approach and then expand to other techniques involving parallelization.

We’ll discuss parallelization at the CPU level with SIMD instructions, then via multiple cores, GPUs, and cloud computing. Along the way we’ll touch on a variety of topics about microprocessors and some interesting discoveries, e.g., adding more cores isn’t always an improvement, and not all cloud vCPUs are equivalent.

Web apps to finally feel more native on Windows 10

Microsoft Edge (Chromium) has been updated with a new flag called ‘Web Apps Identity Proxy’ to enable deeper integration between PWAs and Windows shell.

When this flag is enabled on Windows 10 20H1 machines, web apps will be treated as native apps and there are many advantages. For example, web apps would appear independently in Windows 10’s Task Manager, it will allow web apps to display notification badges, and it will also let you uninstall the apps from the Start menu or settings.

PWAs are a major boon for smaller and alternative platforms too, since it gives comparatively easy access to popular applications like Twitter, WhatsApp, and others.

SMS replacement is exposing users to text, call interception thanks to sloppy telecos

A standard used by phone carriers around the world can leave users open to all sorts of attacks, like text message and call interception, spoofed phone numbers, and leaking their coarse location, new research reveals.

The Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard is essentially the replacement for SMS. The news shows how even as carriers move onto more modern protocols for communication, phone network security continues to be an exposed area with multiple avenues for attack in some implementations of RCS.

Off to a great start for a technology nobody is waiting for. WhatsApp and WeChat have replaced SMS, and unencrypted, vulnerable nonsense like RCS is not going to change a single thing about that.