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FCC To Seeks To Halt ISP Privacy Rules It Passed In October

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The new chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission plans on  requesting a stay on privacy rules for broadband providers that the agency just passed in October.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will ask for either a full commission vote on the stay before parts of the rules take effect next Thursday or he will instruct FCC staff to delay part of the rules pending a commission vote, a spokesman said Friday.

The rules, passed when the FCC had a Democratic majority, require broadband providers to receive opt-in customer permission to share sensitive personal information, including web-browsing history, geolocation, and financial details, with third parties. Without the stay, the opt-in requirements were scheduled to take effect next week.

But critics have complained that the rules only apply to ISPs, and not to giant online companies, like Google and Facebook, that collect huge amounts of personal data. And the FCC rules hold ISPs to a higher privacy standard than the case-by-case privacy enforcement that the Federal Trade Commission uses when investigating other companies, critics say.

Supporters of the strong ISP privacy rules say broadband providers have huge opportunities to collect customers’ personal information. And U.S. law gives the FCC little authority to regulate the privacy practices of companies that aren’t network service providers.

“Chairman Pai believes that the best way to protect the online privacy of American consumers is through a comprehensive and uniform regulatory framework,” an FCC spokesman said by email.  “All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another.”

Republican Pai has promised to roll back many of the regulations passed while Democrat Tom Wheeler served as FCC chairman. This week, the FCC voted to roll back some net neutrality regulations that require broadband providers to inform customers about their network management practices.

Pai’s decision to stay the privacy rules goes against U.S. law requiring the agency to protect customers of telecom networks, said Matt Wood, policy director at digital rights group Free Press.

Pai’s decision, however, earned praise from former Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat who has criticized FCC regulations in recent years.

The stay is “a smart first step toward rolling back asymmetrical regulation that is at odds with consumers’ privacy expectations, deters innovation and causes marketplace distortion,” said Boucher, now honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a broadband advocacy group.

 

Self-driving Car Wars Heat Up In Waymo, Uber Lawsuit

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s  Waymo self-driving car unit filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto last Thursday over allegations of theft of its confidential and proprietary sensor technology.

Waymo accused Uber and Otto, acquired by the ride services company in August, with stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to help speed its own efforts in autonomous technology.

“Uber’s LiDAR technology is actually Waymo’s LiDAR technology,” said Waymo’s complaint in the Northern District of California.

Uber said it took “the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”

Lidar, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road, is a crucial component of autonomous driving systems. Previous systems have been prohibitively expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90 percent cheaper, making its Lidar technology among the company’s “most valuable assets,” Waymo said.

Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information.

Otto launched with much fanfare in May, due in part to the high profile of one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, who had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project. Uber acquired the company in August for what Waymo said in the lawsuit was $680 million.

Waymo said that before Levandowski’s resignation in January 2016 from Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo in December, he downloaded over 14,000 confidential files, including Lidar circuit board designs, thereby allowing Uber and Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology.

Waymo accused Levandowski of attempting to “erase any forensic fingerprints” via a reformat of his laptop.

“While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable LiDAR system in only nine months,” the complaint said.

Last month, Tesla Inc electric car company sued the former head of its Autopilot system. It said he tried to recruit Tesla engineers for his new venture with the former head of Google’s self-driving program while still working there, and said he stole proprietary data belonging to Tesla.

Waymo’s lawsuit said it learned of this use of trade secrets and patent infringement after it was inadvertently copied on an email from a component vendor that included a design of Uber’s Lidar circuit board, which bore a “striking resemblance” to Waymo’s design.

Waymo noted that Google devoted over seven years to self-driving cars and said Uber’s forays into the technology through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University had stalled by early 2016.

Are Amazon Tablets Taking Over?

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

While research groups like IDC and Gartner have shown an overall 15.6 decrease in worldwide tablet shipments in 2016, the market has not gone entirely belly-up, as Amazon continues to pull ahead with a phenomenal 99.4 percent increase in annual tablet growth during the same period.

According to a report by the folks at TrendForce, Amazon managed to ship 11 million Fire-series tablets over the course of 2016 even as global tablet shipments fell by 6.6 percent from the previous year. While the sales numbers were impressive, the company still fell behind Apple at 27 percent of the market and Samsung at 17.2 percent, yet managed to beat expectations as a result of strong year-end holiday sales.

Apple also pulled ahead with strong tablet sales last year and retained its top spot, selling 42 million devices to Samsung’s 27 million. A few weeks ago, we wrote that IDC may have regretted telling the media to rely on expectations that the fruit-themed device company would allegedly oversee the decline of traditional PC sales by 2015. While traditional PC sales dropped 5.7 percent to 260.2 million in 2016, they still remain an impressive part of the overall device market and have not fallen as quickly as tablets have over the past year.

TrendForce expects tablet sales to continue declining from 157.4 million units in 2016 to around 147.8 million units 2017. While Amazon nearly doubled its annual shipments and Apple enjoyed strong iPad sales over the holiday season, other brands such as Microsoft are expected to fall into 7th place as the company experiences panel shortages for its Surface Pro series.

For a limited time, Amazon will occasionally offer its 7-inch 8GB Fire Essentials bundle and its 16GB Fire Essentials Bundle at discounted prices. For instance, the former had been available for $33.33 in November and $49.99 until earlier this month, along with free Prime shipping. The company is expected to offer similar deals throughout the year in an effort to strengthen its sales base from loyal Prime customers.

Courtesy-Fud

Verizon Bringing 5G To 11 U.S. Cities

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Verizon Communications Inc has announced that it would begin offering its high-speed wireless 5G network to certain customers in 11 U.S. cities in the first half of 2017.

Verizon will begin pilot testing 5G “pre-commercial services” in cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The company had said last July that it laid out plans to conduct trials for its 5G network this year.

New 5G networks are expected to provide speeds at least 10 times and up to maybe 100 times faster than today’s 4G networks, with the potential to connect at least 100 billion devices with download speeds that can reach 10 gigabits per second.

AT&T Inc said in January that it planned to test its high-speed wireless 5G network for customers of its online streaming television service, DirecTv Now, in Austin, Texas.

Google’s Jigsaw Rolls Out Initiative To Combat Online Abuse

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google and subsidiary Jigsaw rolled out a new technology to aid news organizations and online platforms  in identifying abusive comments on their websites.

The technology, called Perspective, will review comments and score them based on how similar they are to comments people said were “toxic” or likely to make them leave a conversation.

It has been tested on the New York Times and the companies hope to extend it to other news organizations such as The Guardian and The Economist as well as websites.

“News organizations want to encourage engagement and discussion around their content, but find that sorting through millions of comments to find those that are trolling or abusive takes a lot of money, labor, and time. As a result, many sites have shut down comments altogether,” Jared Cohen, President of Jigsaw, which is part of Alphabet, wrote in a blog post.

“But they tell us that isn’t the solution they want. We think technology can help.”

Perspective examined hundreds of thousands of comments that had been labeled as offensive by human reviewers to learn how to spot potentially abusive language.

CJ Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager, said the company was open to rolling out the technology to all platforms, including larger ones such as Facebook and Twitter  where trolling can be a major headache.

The technology could in the future be expanded to trying to identify personal attacks or off-topic comments too, Cohen said.

Perspective will not decide what to do with comments it finds are potentially abusive; rather publishers will be able to flag them to their moderators or develop tools to help comment understand the impact of what they are writing.

Cohen said a significant portion of abusive comments came from people who were “just having a bad day”.

The initiative against trolls follows efforts by Google and Facebook to combat fake news stories in France, Germany and the United States after they came under fire during the U.S. presidential vote when it became clear they had inadvertently fanned false news reports.

The debate surrounding fake news has led to calls from politicians for social networks to be held more liable for the content posted on their platforms.

The Perspective technology is still in its early stages and “far from perfect”, Cohen said, adding he hoped it could be rolled out for languages other than English too.

New Qualcomm, Intel Modems Boasts LTE Speeds Greater Than 1Gbps

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

With every new generation of smartphone, LTE connections gain more speed. That’s because the devices have faster modems that can transfer data at previously unheard of download speeds.

The top modem providers are Intel and Qualcomm, whose cellular chips are used in the iPhone. Both have announced modems that will push LTE connections to speeds well over those of regular home internet connections.

Qualcomm unveiled the X20 LTE chipset, which can transfer data at speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. Intel announced the XMM 7560 LTE modem, which can download data at speeds of up to 1Gbps.

However, cellular networks aren’t yet designed to handle such fast speeds. One exception is Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company, which has launched a gigabit LTE service for commercial use in that country.

Gigabit LTE will slowly start appearing in mobile devices and networks this year, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“This is making 4G what it was intended to be — a true wireless broadband solution,” McGregor said.

These performance bumps are important as users handle more data,  McGregor said.

“We’ve seen this with microprocessors for years,” McGregor said.

Qualcomm said its Snapdragon X20 modem will become available next year, and McGregor estimated it will be in devices soon after. Intel said its XMM 7560 is ready, but couldn’t say when handsets would come out.

Most users may not need LTE speeds of 1.2Gbps, especially when using apps like Uber, Snapchat and WhatsApp. But more PCs are getting LTE connectivity, and could use the speed for high-end applications.

Qualcomm, a modem pioneer, is trying to stay a step ahead of Intel in the rat race to rev up LTE modems. Intel is speeding up modem development as wireless connectivity becomes an essential part of computing, said Aicha Evans, senior vice president and general manager of the Communication and Devices Group at Intel.

he new modems are also a stepping stone to 5G, the next-generation cellular network technology that Evans estimated could deliver speeds of more than 45Gbps. Beyond mobile devices, 5G will be used for machine-to-machine communications and will be a standard feature in a wide range of devices including PCs, robots, drones and internet of things devices.

The Snapdragon X20 LTE chipset is a CAT 18 modem and supports a wide range of cellular technologies that could make it work in most countries worldwide. The chip supports carrier aggregation and data transfers over multiple streams. It works with 40 cellular frequency bands and supports technologies like Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and LTE broadcast.

Intel’s XMM 7560 is a CAT 16 modem and supports carrier aggregation across multiple spectrums. The chip maker has already readied its first 5G modem, and the company now says it has silicon ready for that chip.

Facebook Pursuing Deal To Live Stream MLB Baseball Games

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is currently negotiating with Major League Baseball to live stream one game per week during the upcoming season, which could be a key win as the social media platform works to offer more live sports, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Facebook has pushed to sign deals with owners of sports rights to live stream their games, going after an audience that competitor Twitter Inc is also trying to capture, according to sports media consultants.

For social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, live streaming sports is key to attracting people since sports is one of the few types of content that people still watch live.

“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” said sports media consultant Lee Berke. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name brand properties like the MLB.”

The companies were in advanced talks, according to one source. It was unclear which games MLB would live stream on Facebook. A representative for Facebook and MLB declined to comment.

By partnering with Facebook, MLB would get access to a young audience at a massive scale, consultants said.

The size of Facebook’s reach was a big reason Univision Communications Inc decided to use Facebook Live to live stream Mexican soccer matches in English, said Tonia O’Connor, chief commercial officer and president of content distribution at Univision.

Under that deal, Facebook will live stream 46 matches by Mexican soccer league Liga MX in 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

Over the past few months, Facebook has live streamed global basketball and soccer matches and table tennis.

Yahoo Agrees To Verizon’s Discounted Acquisition Deal

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Verizon Communications Inc reconfirmed plans to acquire Yahoo Inc’s  core business for $4.48 billion, lowering its original offer by $350 million in the wake of two massive cyber attacks at the internet company.

The closing of the deal, which was first announced in July, had been delayed as the companies assessed the fallout from two data breaches that Yahoo disclosed last year. The No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier had been trying to persuade Yahoo to amend the terms of the agreement following the attacks.

Verizon and Yahoo signed the deal on Sunday evening after weeks of talks that included calls with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and a meeting between Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and Yahoo director Tom McInerney in New York earlier this month to agree on the amount of the price reduction, a person involved in the talks said.

The two sides had an agreement in principle about a week earlier that included a liability sharing agreement, something that Verizon decided early on that it needed to reach a deal.

Verizon conducted brand studies and found that Yahoo’s reputation was holding up after the hacks, the person said. The company decided to proceed in part because it continued to believe that the deal made strategic sense and that users were loyal and engaged.

The companies said on Tuesday they expect the deal to close in the second quarter. The data breach may delay some integration of Yahoo with Verizon after the closing, the person said.

The deal brings to Verizon Yahoo’s more than 1 billion users and a wealth of data it can use to offer more targeted advertising. Verizon will combine Yahoo’s advertising technology tools as well as its search, email and messenger assets with its AOL unit, purchased for $4.4 billion in 2015.

Verizon’s shares rose 0.3 percent to $49.33 in afternoon trading, while Yahoo’s shares were up 0.8 percent at $45.48.

Under the amended terms, Yahoo and Verizon will split cash liabilities related to some government investigations and third-party litigation related to the breaches.

Yahoo, however, will continue to be responsible for liabilities from shareholder lawsuits and SEC investigations.

Yahoo said in December that data from more than 1 billion user accounts was compromised in August 2013, making it the largest breach in history.

This followed the company’s disclosure in September that at least 500 million accounts were affected in another breach in 2014.

Toshiba Wants Nearly $9B For Memory Chip Business

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Japan’s Toshiba Corp wished to receive at least 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion) by selling most of its flash memory chip business, seeking to create a buffer for any fresh financial problems, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The beleaguered conglomerate was pressured to abandon an initial plan to sell just under 20 percent by its main creditor banks which are worried about potential writedowns that may come on top of $6.3 billion hit to its U.S. nuclear unit, financial sources also said.

Toshiba said last week it is now prepared to sell a majority stake or even all of its chip business, the world’s biggest NAND chip producer after Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, also rocked by the emergence of fresh problems at its Westinghouse unit that have delayed the release of earnings.

The company has not decided on the size of the stake to be sold, preferring to focus on the amount that can be raised but would like to retain a one-third holding as that would give it a degree of control over the business, the source with direct knowledge said.

Its willingness to relinquish so much of the unit underscores not only the depths of its financial woes but also resignation on the part of management to becoming a much smaller company.

The sale “is the best and the only way Toshiba can raise a large amount of funds and wipe out concerns about its credit risk,” said the source, adding that the sale should be completed by the end of March next year.

It wants to restart the sale process as soon as possible and may sell to multiple buyers rather than one bidder with interest already received from investment funds, other chipmakers and client companies, he also said.

A separate person with knowledge of the matter said Toshiba will outline terms of the sale by the end of February, conduct a first round of bids in March and aim to have chosen a preferred bidder or bidders by the end of May. The person also said Toshiba valued the chips business at around 1.5 trillion yen.

A Toshiba spokeswoman said the company cannot comment on the specifics of the sale process. Sources declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

EU Data Protection Advocates Still Unhappy With Windows 10 Privacy Settings

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

European Union data protection watchdogs are indicating they are still concerned about the privacy settings of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system despite the U.S. company announcing changes to the installation process.

The watchdogs, a group made up of the EU’s 28 authorities responsible for enforcing data protection law, wrote to Microsoft last year expressing concerns about the default installation settings of Windows 10 and users’ apparent lack of control over the company’s processing of their data.

The group – referred to as the Article 29 Working Party -asked for more explanation of Microsoft’s processing of personal data for various purposes, including advertising.

“In light of the above, which are separate to the results of ongoing inquiries at a national level, even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users’ personal data,” the group said in a statement which also acknowledged Microsoft’s willingness to cooperate.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

A number of national authorities have already begun enquiries into Windows 10, including France which in July ordered Microsoft to stop collecting excessive user data.

The EU privacy group said that despite a new installation screen presenting users with five options to limit or switch off Microsoft’s processing of their data, it was not clear to what extent users would be informed about the specific data being collected.

Microsoft uses data collected through Windows 10 for different purposes, including advertising, the group said in its statement said.

“Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid.”

Is Blackberry Taking Nokia To Court?

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

A patent war is being fought between two of the industry smartphone leaders of yesteryear – Nokia and Blackberry.

Blackberry filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Nokia Oyj, demanding royalties on the Finnish company’s mobile network products that use an industry wide technology standard.

Blackberry moaned that Nokia’s Flexi Multiradio base stations, radio network controllers and Liquid Radio software are using technology covered by as many as 11 patents owned by BlackBerry.

It added that Nokia was encouraging the use” of the standard- compliant products without a license from Blackberry.

Blackberry did not say how much it wanted Nokia to cough up, but it would appear to be part of Chief Executive Officer John Chen is working to find new ways to pull revenue out of Blackberry’s technology.

He’s used acquisitions to add a suite of software products and negotiated licensing agreements to take advantage of the company’s thick book of wireless technology patents.

Nokia is aware of the inventions because the company has cited some of the patents in some of its own patent applications, BlackBerry said.

Some of the patents were owned by Nortel and Nokia had at one point tried to buy them as part of a failed bid for Nortel’s business in 2009, according to Blackberry.

BlackBerry was part of a group called Rockstar Consortium that bought Nortel’s patents out of bankruptcy for $4.5 billion in 2011. The patents were split up between the members of the group, which included Apple and Microsoft.

Since Blackberry contends that patents cover essential elements of a mobile telecommunications standard known as 3GPP, it has pledged to license them on fair and reasonable terms.

Courtesy-Fud

Alibaba Goes Deeper Into Brick-and-mortar Retail

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced that it has  formed a strategic partnership with Bailian Group, the largest retailer by store numbers to join the e-commerce giant’s drive to use big data to improve and profit from brick-and-mortar sales.

The deal, which does not include any financial investment in Bailian, is the latest in Alibaba’s still nascent efforts to capture a bigger share of the retail market as online sales growth slows.

It has also spent $4.6 billion on a minority stake in appliances retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, is leading a $2.6 billion bid to take department store and shopping mall operator Intime Retail Group Co Ltd private and has bought a stake in grocery chain Sanjiang Shopping Club Co Ltd.

News of the agreement sent shares in Bailian Group firms surging but analysts cautioned it may take several years before returns from using big data can make a significant difference to earnings.

“There is a big push right now across brands to try and figure out how to mix physical and online shopping but gains so far have been limited,” said Shanghai-based retail analyst Ben Cavender at China Market Research Group.

The two firms will initially cooperate on supply chain technology using Alibaba’s big data capabilities and will integrate Alipay payments with Bailian Group’s existing membership program.

Bailian operates 4,700 outlets in 200 cities including supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies – more than double the stores owned by Suning, Intime and Sanjiang combined.

An Alibaba spokesman declined to comment on how many stores will be involved in the new partnership. A Bailian spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Alibaba, which has an active user base of around 500 million, has said it wants to tap China’s entire $4.8 trillion retail economy by developing data-driven management tools for retailers and brands.

China’s e-commerce market is expected to average around 18 percent annually until 2020, according to consultancy Bain & Company, compared with an average rate of 35 percent during the preceding four years.

And while e-commerce has seen phenomenal growth in China, brick-and-mortar sales still accounted for 84 percent of total retail sales in China last year, Bain said.

Among Bailian Group firms, shares in Shanghai Bailian Group Co Ltd were up by the 10 percent daily limit in afternoon trade. Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co Ltd rose 7 percent and Shanghai Material Trading Co Ltd climbed 5 percent.

Snapchat Wants In On Hardware Development Too

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Snap Inc hit the roads of London on Monday promoting its initial public offering with a daring proposition: that it can build hot-selling hardware gadgets and ad-friendly software features fast enough to stay one step ahead of Facebook.

No longer just a purveyor of a smartphone app for disappearing messages, Snap has hired hundreds of hardware engineers, built a secretive product development lab and scoured the landscape for acquisitions as it pursues its newly stated ambition to be “a camera company.”

These efforts, which are aimed at developing hardware and so-called augmented reality technologies, are central to the strategy of a company that is seeking a valuation of up to $22 billion in its early March IPO despite heavy losses and the specter of stiff competition for advertising dollars with a far-larger Facebook.

It is a big gamble and the odds against Snap are long.

There is little precedent for a company with its roots in software and social networking succeeding in the notoriously difficult consumer hardware business. Few U.S. firms aside from Apple have made big profits on hardware, and camera and wearable gadget makers have much lower valuations than Snap is seeking. Once-hot camera start-up GoPro  is a cautionary tale: its stock sits 61 percent below its 2014 IPO price.

More broadly, creating new products and features that have mass-market appeal and cannot be readily mimicked is a huge challenge, analysts say.

“It’s worrisome,” said Paul Meeks, chief investment officer at Sloy, Dahl & Holst, which manages more than $1 billion in assets. “Snapchat is going to have to continue to be really innovative and distinctive. It’s going to be very tough to trump Facebook.”

Snap declined to comment for this story.

Snap first signaled its new focus with the September reveal of Spectacles, funky sunglasses with an embedded video camera for posting to the Snapchat app. The company spent $184 million on research and development last year, nearly half its revenue.

 

PC Pricing Continue To Rise, Highest Increase Since 2011

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

PC prices are headed upward due to a shortage of a number of components, and the situation isn’t expected to change in the coming quarters.

A shortage of DRAM, SSDs, batteries, and LCDs have conspired to drive up PC prices, Gianfranco Lanci, corporate president and chief operating officer at Lenovo, said during an earnings call last Thursday. It’s difficult to pin a number on the price increase because of the number of PC configurations available.

The cost of purchasing these components is going up, which is triggering PC prices to also rise, said Lanci, a PC industry veteran. The shortage of components like memory will continue, Lanci said.

As component supplies shrink, PC prices will rise, said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. Moreover, PC makers are raising prices to squeeze more profits out of the shrinking PC market, Kitagawa said.

The PC buyer profile is also changing, with gamers and millennials willing to spend more money on PCs.

That’s changing the mix of laptops, desktops, and 2-in-1s being shipped by PC makers, who are focused on selling higher-priced products that can deliver better margins.

But low-cost PCs won’t go away, Kitagawa said. There will always be cheap laptops available, though those markets aren’t growing and not attractive to PC makers.

Basic configurations of PCs remain affordable, but some PC makers are limiting customization, forcing users to buy additional components in certain configurations.

 

A chart shown at an Intel investor conference last week showed PC selling prices reaching its highest since 2011, when a decline in PC shipments started.

Intel is also selling chips at higher prices, which is adding to PC costs. Intel PC chip prices went up by 7 percent in 2016, but the company also sold more Core i7 chips as sales of gaming and VR systems increased.

Analyst firm TrendForce predicted SSD prices would go up in the first quarter of this year, continuing a trend from the previous quarters. SSD adoption, as a replacement for hard drives, is growing, but the supply of NAND flash has tightened, which is driving up prices.

The price of DRAM is also going up because of shortages. Memory is a boom-or-bust market and extremely volatile with prices falling drastically when DRAM floods the market.

PC DRAM prices went up by 30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to the third quarter, TrendForce said in a statement this week.

TrendForce is predicting that DRAM prices may increase by up to 40 percent in the first quarter, due to undersupply. The news isn’t any better looking forward.

“Rising prices are expected for the second quarter as well,” said Avril Wu, research director of DRAMeXchange, which is a part of TrendForce and tracks component pricing.

Cosmic Rays Named As Possible Cause Of Computer Crashes

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

When your PC crashes or phone freezes, don’t be so quick to blame the manufacturer. Cosmic rays — or rather the electrically charged particles they generate — may be the real culprit.

While harmless to living organisms, a small number of these particles have enough energy to interfere with the operation of the microelectronic circuitry in our personal devices. It’s called a single-event upset or SEU.

During an SEU, particles alter an individual bit of data stored in a chip’s memory. Consequences can be as trivial as altering a single pixel in a photograph or as serious as bringing down a passenger jet.

An SEU was also blamed for an electronic voting error in Schaerbeekm, Belgium, back in 2003. A bit flip in the electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate. The issue was noticed only because the machine gave the candidate more votes than were possible.

“This is a really big problem, but it is mostly invisible to the public,” said Bharat Bhuva. Bhuva is a member of Vanderbilt University’s Radiation Effects Research Group, established in 1987 to study the effects of radiation on electronic systems. The group initially focused on military and space applications, but since 2001 has expanded to studying radiation’s effect on consumer electronics.

Bhuva, a professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt, gave a presentation on SEUs Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

Despite some serious examples, SEUs are still fairly rare events. But as the number of transistors being used in new electronic systems increases, so does the probability of an SEU failure on the device level.

Semiconductor manufacturers seem to have caught on to the trend and are working to diminish the interference of cosmic rays. For instance, in 2008, Fujitsu engineers climbed a Hawaiian volcano to better understand how comic rays cause computer errors.

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