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Intel Gives More Details About Optane

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

If you were hoping to get your paws onIntel’s delayed Optane non-volatile memory devices you might need to also invest in a Kaby Lake system.

While Intel first unveiled Optane in 2015, it told us that the tech would appear in 2016. The tech is a an implementation of 3D Xpoint technology and is designed to bridge the gap between fast-but-small volatile DRAM and the slower non-volatile mass storage which can store more.

Intel claimed Optane would offer performance similar to dynamic RAM (DRAM) but with the benefit of keeping its data when the system is powered off, like a traditional solid-state drive (SSD).

Intel was the first to promise a product range that would benefit not only the server market but also desktop users. At the time Intel said that a Optane-equipped desktop PC could run on a sixth-generation Skylake processor.

But according to Bit-Tech now Intel is getting closer to launching the devices, Skylake support appears to have been dropped.

It looks like Optane will require a seventh-generation Kaby Lake processor at minimum. So you will need a 200-series chipset motherboard with an M.2 type 2280-S1-B-M or 2242-S1-B-M storage connector linked to a PCH Remapped PCIe controller with two or four lanes and B-M keys meeting Non Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) v1.1 standards.

The motherboard will also need to have a BIOS supporting Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology (RST) driver version 15.5 or above.

Still we have no idea how much the technology will cost.


Is MediaTek’s Helio X30 Processor Going To Do Well In The Market?

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

MediaTek is planning a Helio X30 in 10nm later this year but news from Taiwan indicates that some key customers didn’t order the new flagship 10 core chip. 

One of the main reasons might be the increased competition in the Chinese market and companies cannot afford to have two designs of the same phone with Qualcomm or a MediaTek chip in. The rumor is that Xiaomi, MediaTek’s big customer, might be coming up with its own Pinecone SoC and this will put some additional pressure on MediaTek’s high-end. There might be two Pinecones SoCs targeted at the mainstream and high end market.

LeEco, another big MediaTek customer is  going through tough financial times, and was not interested in making big orders. Hope, which  is the number one smartphone vendor in China, is usually a big customer. Another big one that usualy goes with MediaTek is the current number 3 in China, Vivo. The number two, Huawei has its own Kirin SoC while the number Four, the fruity Apple has its own SoC.

Oppo is MediaTek’s big hope as is Vivo. Oppo and Vivo are expected to sell 120 million and 100 million smartphones respectively in 2017.

The upcoming Snapdragon 835 SoC is also going to give Mediatek bother.  It is shaping up to become one of the best, if not the best phone SoC of all times. MediaTek usually has a pricing advantage over most of its competitors so it might compete against it on price.

This is a TSMC manufactured chip based on the the long relationship that the company has with the biggest chip foundry which is across the street from MedaiTek’s headquarter in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The end result might be the massive cancellation of 10nm wafer orders at TSMC, as there wont be anyone who would want to buy. The timing could not be worse, as this is the first time MediaTek wanted to take the leap of faith and bet on the farm with the latest and greatest 10nm . Now it looks like it will have to cancel a lot of the 10nm orders. Still a few phones with Helio X30 deca core will hit the market.


Is The Intel C2000 Chip Flaw A Disaster In The Making?

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It is starting to look like Intel’s Atom C2000 chip fiasco has spread to another networking manufacturer.

The fatal clock timing flaw that causes switches, routers and security appliances die after about 18 months of service is apparently a feature of some Juniper products.

Cisco was the first vendor to post a notice about the problem earlier this month saying the notice covers some of the company’s most widely deployed products, such as certain models of its Series 4000 Integrated Services Routers, Nexus 9000 Series switches, ASA security devices and Meraki Cloud Managed Switches.

Juniper is telling its customers something similar:

“Although we believe the Juniper products with this component are performing normally as of February 13, 2017, the [listed] Juniper products could after the product has been in operation for at least 18 months begin to exhibit symptoms such as the inability to boot, or cease to operate. Recovery in the field is not possible. Juniper product with this supplier’s component were first placed into service on January 2016. Jupiter is working with the component supplier to implement a remediation. In addition, Juniper’s spare parts depots will be purged and updated with remediated products.”

The products in the warning comprise 13 Juniper switches, routers and other products including the MPC7E 10G, MPC7E (multi rate), MX2K-MPC8E, EX 920 Ethernet switches and PTX3000 integrated photonic line card.

So far neither Cisco nor Juniper have blamed Intel for the fault. However, Chipzilla did describe a flaw on its Atom C2000 chip which is under the bonnet of shedloads of net gear.

Intel said that problems with its Atom chip will hurt Intel’s 2016 Q4 earnings. CFO Robert Swan said that Intel was seeing a product quality issue in the fourth quarter with slightly higher expected failure rates under certain use and time constraints.

Swan said that it will be fixed with a minor design fix that Intel was working with its clients to resolve.

Intel had hoped it would see the back of its short-lived low-power Atom chips for servers. They were used in micro servers but also networking equipment from companies.

HPE and Dell are keeping quiet about the clock technology, though both are rumoured to use it. They might be hoping that Intel will come up with a fix so they can pretend it never happened.


AMD Confirm Capsaicin Show Scheduled Next Week

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

As rumored earlier, AMD has now confirmed that it will be hosting its “Capsaicin and Cream” event at the GDC 2017 show on February 28th.

Announced officially by AMD and to be held on February 28th at Ruby Skye in San Francisco, the new Capsaicin and Cream event promises “a feature-packed show highlighting the hottest new graphics and VR technologies propelling the games industry forward”.

Streamed live, the event will include the main Capsaicin & Cream part, which will hopefully include a bit more details on the actual lineup of graphics cards based on the new Vega GPU, as well as the Cream developer sessions which promise “inspiring talks focused on rendering ideas and new paths forward, driven by game industry gurus from multiple companies including Epic and Unity”.

The event will start at 10:00 AM PST, while the livestream is scheduled to start at 10:30 AM PST (20:00 CET).


Does Virtual Reality Need A Hit Game To Succeed?

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

For many, the success of Resident Evil 7 and its atmospheric campaign has offered a glimpse of what a “killer app” for virtual reality might look like; the game that shifts the common perception of VR from an intriguing glimpse of the future, to an essential part of contemporary entertainment. The term will be familiar to anyone who has seen the launch of a new console, but, as a panel of experts discussed today at Casual Connect Europe, VR defies such easy categorization.

The discussion was triggered by nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh, who was in the crowd to watch a panel that included representatives from Valve and Nvidia. When asked to pin down his definition of the term “Killer App,” O’Luanaigh said, “it’s less about revenue, more something that everybody talks about. A lot of people say that VR hasn’t had that killer game yet.

“If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario or your Sonic.’ But do you?”

“There’s lots of cool stuff out there, but nothing that really makes you feel, ‘Oh my god, this is so amazing, I have to go and buy a headset.’ We’re all saying that we want games like that to come, and as budgets go up hopefully that will happen. It’s really about where that game might come from.”

For Chet Faliszek, who has become the globe-trotting representative for Valve’s VR efforts, the very notion of a ‘Killer App’ seemed to belong more to traditional game hardware – the consoles made by Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft. “We have so few data points to extrapolate from to figure out what this is,” he said. “If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario, or your Sonic.’ But do you?”

Faliszek referred to a talk he gave the previous day, in which he suggested smartphones as a more appropriate comparison for VR technology. “What was the killer app for the App Store?” he asked the crowd the previous day. “I would argue it was flexibility; the ability to become different for each person. If you’d have asked me 20 years ago what feature do I most want on my phone, I probably would say something about making phone calls; now I rarely make a phone call.

Faliszek emphasized this point again, and suggested that some of the difficulty analysts have faced in grappling with the VR market relates to this kind of misunderstanding. “That’s why there’s slower growth in virtual reality than other people predicted – the analysts,” he continued. “Whereas I think people in the [VR] industry have the understanding that, if you demo ten individual things, out of those one person would say, ‘Why is this thing in there?’ And the next person would go, ‘That’s the best thing ever.’

“Today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream… If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail”

“You have these personal reactions… Everybody finds that thing in there that they want to have.”

It was telling that, when asked about the most impressive applications for virtual reality right now, Faliszek listed tools for creativity: Google’s Tilt Brush, and the VR development capabilities offered by engines from Unity and Epic. There is a desire for a fully formed consumer market for VR to hurry up and arrive already, but the truth may be that, even a year after the launch of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the space is still best defined by its creators and the broad range of use cases they are attempting to discover.

However, one basic truth was mentioned on several occasions, starting with O’Luanaigh’s original question about the importance of positional head-tracking and motion controls becoming standard in mobile VR. These are core features the current high-end of VR hardware – including, but not limited to, the HTC Vive – but Faliszek also believes this is the smartest target for any developer wanting to reach the largest possible audience.

“If you want to make the most money in VR, you should make [games] for the largest addressable market,” he said. “The largest addressable market right now may be headsets that are rotational only, but they will be museum piece in a couple of years. If you make something that has positionally tracked head and motion controls you can probably still be selling that game years from now – or some version of that. If you did rotational only? Someone has to pull a headset out of the closet to experience that. The shelf life of that product is going to be much shorter.”

Faliszek made a similar point the day before, advising Casual Connect’s attendees that, “today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream. If you really want to think about the largest addressable market, it’s not about the number of headsets out there for any one platform. It’s what will become the standard. If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail.”

Despite the probable advantage in the number of headset owners, then, mobile VR may have to reach a better technological standard to be a better commercial opportunity. No part of the VR market offers a huge installed base at present anyway, and, as Faliszek pointed out, “a game that works on 5 million [mobile] headsets this year isn’t necessarily going to work on 50 million headsets in a few years’ time.”

Will Ryzen Boost AMD’s Stock Price?

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It has been reported a few times that Zen and the desktop part Ryzen are a crucial part of AMD’s strategy in the future. The fact that our sources confirm that Ryzen will compete well against Core i7 Extreme edition will definitely help AMD’s stock.

AMD’s John Taylor, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Marketing at AMD showcased Zen running the CPU at Computex in June 1st 2016 and the stock market reacted favorably to it. Since early January last year, AMD stock grew tremendously from $1.90 USD roughly a year ago to $13.42 USD now. The stock price will definitely rise further.

It can be anticipated that Ryzen will be in high demand and that every single AMD fan will have a desire to get an AMD Zen based Ryzen machine. The reason is simple – people want AMD to succeed and the price will be much more competitive. We have readers in our community who never gave up hope that AMD would once return to its K7 glory Athlon days. Well, Ryzen is the closest to that goal.

AMD will quickly get some desktop CPU market share back, but we anticipate that demand will exceed supply. Wall Street likes what AMD has been doing and it will most likely react very favorably on Ryzen reviews and shipping.

Lisa Su, AMD’s CEO, has already confirmed that you can expect to see Ryzen shipping this quarter and the closest that we heard to a launch date is the first few days of March. It is happening rather soon and this is the single most important launch in the last decade for AMD. Intel is working on a response, but AMD fanboys will embrace the Zen, even if it ends up slightly slower compared to Intel. 

The positive financial impact will help AMD becoming more competitive in both CPU and GPU areas, which is great news for the market. Intel has been left almost alone, for long enough and it is about to taste its own medicine.


Will Intel Dump nVidia For AMD?

February 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Industry veteran journalist Kyle Bennet wrote back in December that Intel might launch a CPU powered by Radeon technology. This happens in the middle of the last quarter when Nvidia and Intel’s cross licensing GPU deal is about to expire. 

Just recently, Kyle said that there might be a CPU with Radeon coming this year but more important is that from April 1, Intel will not have a valid GPU license from Nvidia or AMD. None of the three companies spoke publicly about a possible GPU licensing deal and as far as Fudzilla is aware Nvidia hasn’t reached a deal with Intel to extend the licensing.

As part of the original deal and the terms and conditions of the patent cross license agreement, Intel agreed to pay Nvidia licensing fees which in the aggregate will amount to $1.5 billion, payable in annual installments, as follows: a $300 million payment on each of January 18, 2011, January 13, 2012 and January 15, 2013 and a $200 million payment on each of January 15, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The original document states that “Capture Period” shall mean any time on or prior to March 31, 2017 indicating that this is the last date where the license is still valid.

There are a few possible scenarios going forward and one very likely and that Fudzilla suggested a while ago, is that AMD will license its GPU technology to Intel and get some much-needed cash. Nvidia is always the more expensive choice. If you have been following Nvidia and AMD long enough you will recognize the pattern that both PlayStation and Xbox stayed away from Nvidia simply as AMD was the more affordable choice.  Good fellow Jen-Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia is all about making more money, something that resulted in a surge in the stock price.

AMD doesn’t want to talk about it. Fudzilla asked many contacts inside the company on and off the record, but no one seems to want to touch this touchy topic. Where there is smoke, there might be fire, one might imply.

The bottom line is that Intel needs a license or it faces a potential lawsuit. If it gets the GPU patent licensing from AMD, Nvidia would probably stay away from potential legal action.

Nvidia and AMD borrow GPU related ideas from each other left and right and center and we are quite sure that they don’t plan to sue each other for the GPU related patents anytime soon.

We would expect to see some announcements related to a potential AMD – Intel deal in the next few months. While many will argue that AMD is hardly going to benefit from it, making Intel a bigger competitor and losing the edge on the GPU performance lead, AMD would be making some additional cash, something that it desperately needs.


nVidia Beat The Streets

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

While an Nvidia graphics chip seems to be hanging the office laptop’s Outlook, the company has seen its quarterly revenue surge more than 50 percent for the second straight quarter and beat expectations.

Apparently it is seeing rising demand for its graphics chips and strength in rapidly growing areas such as self-driving systems and artificial intelligence.

The company also forecast revenue of $1.90 billion, plus or minus 2 percent, for the current quarter, marginally higher than the $1.88 billion the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predicted.

The Revenue in the company’s graphics processing unit businesses that contributes to more than three-quarters to its total revenue rose 57 percent to $1.85 billion in the fourth quarter.

Also, the Revenue from the company’s fast-growing data center business which counts Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Groups cloud business as its customers has more than tripled to $296 million in the quarter.

The business is also expected to grow sequentially, Nvidia Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said on a conference call.

Revenue in Nvidia’s automotive business, which produces the DRIVE PX 2 self-driving system used by Tesla Inc, reported a 37.6 percent rise to $128 million.

Analysts had expected revenue of $135.3 million from the business. Nvidia’s total revenue rose to $2.17 billion from $1.40 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $2.11 billion.

The company’s net income more than tripled to $655 million.


Is Intel Going AMD’s Ryzen With Kay Lake-X?

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

There have been quite a few rumors floating around that Intel is hard at work in preparing a response to AMD’s upcoming Zen-based Ryzen CPUs and it appears that these will not be Kaby Lake-S CPUs but rather the new Kaby Lake-X CPUs, the Core i7-7740K and the Core i5-7640K.

The original rumor started by the Canard PC site described two new CPUs, the Core i7-7740K and the Core i5-7640K, both having a 100W+ TDP as well as support for Hyper-Threading but, according to fresh information coming from, it now appears that these will not be the Kaby Lake-S chips but rather the new Kaby Lake-X.

Based on the new LGA2066 socket, both new Kaby Lake-X chips will be quad-core chips with 112W TDP, have up to 8MB of L3 cache and DDR4-2666 memory support.

The Core i7-7740K will have a base frequency of 4.3GHz, with 4.5GHz Turbo and 8MB of L3 cache. The Core i5-7640K will work at 4.0GHz base clock and have 6MB of L3 cache. It could also be the first Core i5 chip to end up with Hyper-Threading although this has not yet been confirmed.

As noted, these two chips will be based on Intel’s new LGA2066 socket and will be an update to Intel’s HEDT (High-End Desktop Platform), with new Intel X299 chipset motherboards.

Earlier rumors pointed out that both Kaby Lake-X and Skylake-X CPUs should be coming in the second half of this year, with a possible launch at Gamescom 2017 in late August.


Is AMD’s Ryzen On Track?

February 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD has announced its Q4 financial results reporting a revenue of US $1.11 billion and an operating loss of three million dollars, which is still way better than financial analysts expected and has once again confirmed that both Ryzen CPUs and Vega-based GPUs are on track.

While its revenue was at $1.11 billion, which is about £200 million lower than in the Q3 2016 and just under $200 million higher than the same quarter last year, as well as an operating loss of US $3 million and net loss of US $51 million, or 0.06 per share, the announced financial results were still better than what analysts expected.

In a statement, AMD president and CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, said that AMD expects to deliver the strongest set of high performance computing and graphics products in more than a decade. She also added that the company is returning to the high end market, a part of the market where the company has not been in years.

“We met our strategic objectives in 2016, successfully executing our product roadmaps, regaining share in key markets, strengthening our financial foundation, and delivering annual revenue growth,” said Dr. Lisa Su, AMD president and CEO. “As we enter 2017, we are well positioned and on-track to deliver our strongest set of high-performance computing and graphics products in more than a decade.”

During the Q4 earnings call, Dr. Lisa Su also confirmed that its Ryzen CPUs, based on Zen CPU architecture, as well as socket AM4 motherboards, are still on track, scheduled to launch in Q1 2017. This means that these should be ready before the end of April, but earlier rumors suggest that AMD could make an official launch at the GDC 2017 show, which starts on February 27th.

Dr. Su also noted that the first graphics cards based on Vega GPU architecture should ship in Q2 2017, which means anywhere between May and August, but some earlier rumors suggesting May or June. The Computex 2017 show starts on May 30th, so it could give AMD partners a chance to show off their shiny new Vega-based products, so anything is possible.

In any case, AMD will have an interesting year and hopefully, both Vega and Zen will live up to its expectations.


Is Ryzen Going Six Core?

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

According to the latest rumor, AMD’s upcoming Ryzen CPU lineup might lack 6-core version, due to the fact that AMD cen’t partially disable the four-core Zen module.

According to a rumor started by and spotted by, AMD will not be able to deactivate half of the four-core Zen module, which means the lineup will only launch in quad- and eight-core models, with and without SMT (Simultaneous MultiThreading).

This new rumor contradicts some previous rumors that AMD Ryzen series will include a full lineup, including a dual-core (with two cores disabled) and six-core versions.

The same source suggests that AMD will have several SKUs with a difference in the number of cores, SMT, frequency and TDP, so there will still be plenty of CPUs to choose from.

More details should be coming soon as the expected launch is scheduled for March.


Intel Finally Gets Optane Out The Door

February 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Intel has revealed that it has started shipping its said Optane memory DIMMs to partners for testing.

Intel lifted the kimono on its first market ready compact slot-format low capacity ‘cache SSDs’ at CES but in its earnings call Intel added it would be releasing Optane memory DIMMs to fit DDR4 slots in servers and PCs.

It is not clear what impact that 3D XPoint technology will have when used in place of RAM DIMMs. Intel has been talking about 3D XPoint memory for nearly two years.

Intel claims that Optane will “completely rewrite the rules “of the hot-warm-cold storage pyramid” which determines data server performance. It is supposed to be as fast as DRAM but with similar costs to SSD NAND storage.

Servers with Optane should be able to expand the high performance hot storage capacity available. If they are added with Optane SSDs they should improve ‘warm storage’ performance for those on a budget
In the earnings call, Intel claimed that Optane could change PC and server architectures. Lenovo, Dell, Intel and HP PCs and SuperO motherboards have been given Optane storage options.  Hexus has some pretty diagrams here to explain how it works.


Will Intel Go Flat This Year With Pressure From ZEN?

February 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Mega x86 chip outfit Intel is predicting a pretty flat 2017 after announcing mixed results for the last quarter of 2016.

Intel’s biggest cheese Brian Krzanich insisted that the last quarter for 2016 was a strong finish to a record year. But a lot of this was to do with Intel’s work in datacentres and clouds rather than its traditional PC base.

Next year AMD is expecting to be more competitive against Intel in 2017 with its new Zen processors for PCs, laptops, and servers. Microsoft is helping ARM based chip manufactures by issuing Windows 10 for them. This could mean that the days of x86 on the PC are ending.

Wall Street had expected Intel to report earnings per share of 75 cents on revenue of $15.8 billion for the fourth quarter. For the full year, they were expected earnings per share of $2.67 on revenue of $58.9 billion. Q4 earnings came in at $3.6 billion, or 73 a share, on revenue of $16.4 billion. A year ago, earnings per share were 74 cents, with revenue at $14.9 billion.

Net income for the year was $10.3 billion, while overall revenue for the year was $59.4 billion. A year ago, net income was $11.3 billion on revenue of $55.4 billion. Intel cut about 12,000 jobs during the year as it restructured to get behind the company’s focused priorities.

Krzanich said the company is taking a “conservative view of 2017 PC unit sales” than Wall Street. He said that there had been record demand for Intel PC chips in Q4, particularly on high end and gaming machines. However, he thinks that sales for 2017 could decline in the mid-single digit percentages, Krzanich said. To deal with that, Intel is positioning itself to lower its costs during the coming year.

Based on that it would appear that Intel is predicting that its chip sales will fall anyway during 2017 and then it will have to face a serious Zen and ARM challenge too.


Can Virtual Reality Help Dementia Suffers

January 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Here’s a truism for you: dementia is a god-awful thing. A savage and remorseless condition, it strips away a lifetime of accumulated experience and personality, eradicating memory and emotional attachment, sometimes seeming to erase a person entirely. It’s a heart-rending process to witness, watching somebody vanish by degrees in this way, seeing them become angry, depressed or violent, and losing all recognition for the people they’ve loved for their entire lives.

Sometimes, the decay can be kinder than others – sufferers may drift into a kind of happy reverie, a sort of peace descending as their ember fades. Often it does not. In many cases, someone who has begun to exhibit the early signs of dementia will be aware of what’s happening, the unavoidable degradation made all the more bitter by the diminishing moments of clarity which pass fleetingly across the lens of their consciousness. Agonisingly for those around them, it can be supremely difficult not to will on the acceleration of the process, or indeed the final embrace of death, in a desire to see the tragedy of this recognition extinguished for good. There is scant comfort in knowing that the final stages of erasure leave little room for self-reflection.

And yet, for every guilt-saturated second in which you may wish for the release of a friend or relative from this inexorable grasp, you can be stung a thousand times by the merest hint of recognition in their eyes – a tiny smile, a grateful squeeze of the hand. The darkest curse of dementia can be the fragments of the person it leaves behind.

Of course, this conjecture comes from the selfish perspective of the witness. I speak with a little experience: both my father and grandmother were ravaged by dementia in the final stages of their lives. As a result, I know that it’s difficult enough to be involved in the process, even at considerable remove, that it becomes easier to grieve in advance. To begin, quite frankly, to think of them as dead already.

Then, someone you thought had vanished resurfaces, gasping, for even the briefest moment. In the last days of her life, I visited my grandmother in hospital and talked with her about things which had happened – 30 years ago in my childhood and 80 years ago in her’s – in astonishing detail: memories of happy days spent in sunshine and light. She was frail and faltering, but she had clarity and emotional continuity. A woman I hadn’t seen for years was there once more. She never left that bed, and did not go gently, and I have never really forgave myself for all the conversations I didn’t have in the months and years prior, the encounters rushed through, the moments wasted.

Years later, when my semi-estranged father passed, I wasn’t lucky enough to have another chance. Never tremendously close, we had precious few shared memories to revisit and he’d lost all recognition of me well before his final days, but I know there were things which eased his passing – happy recollections of his own. Even when he began to exhibit signs of unpredictability which sometimes escalated to violence, there were bits of his old self in between.

The point is this. Dementia can present us with a locked door, a sullen slab of unresponsiveness. It’s exhausting, harrowing, alienating. It’s only going to become more common, but there is hope. Pharmaceutical trials are showing some results in the amelioration of its onset. Mental health practices and dietary advances are leading to fitter, healthier brains more resilient to its advances. And VR may have its part to play as well.

The video above found its way onto my social media streams towards the end of last year. I saw it twice before I could bring myself to watch it, but I’m glad I did, because it’s full of hope.

It comes from Alex Smale at TribeMix, primarily a social media marketing company. Smale himself has a rich games industry background, beginning his career job at NMS Software, developers of pinball sim Tilt.

After a few years of moving around “in search of ever higher pay cheques”, Smale eventually found himself working with at Bitmap Brothers as head of art, where he rounded out a decade in games. Since, he’s spent a stint running a pub (“brilliant fun, quite dangerous and always interesting”), and set up a photography business just as Facebook began to take hold, getting an early grasp of the potential of the medium for promotion. After an even wilder turn working as the head of marketing in a zoo, Smale set up his current business.

“Our friends, Stan and Dulcie, are 99 and 94 years old respectively. Over the past two years, we watched them go from active people walking into town to do their shopping, to losing their confidence and never leaving the house”

“I eventually decided to set up a social media marketing agency, Tribemix, to help other businesses use social to grow. That’s been going really, really well. I’ve had one eye on VR since the announcement of the Oculus Rift. I knew that social media and VR would converge, and brands would need to create engaging experiences on this new platform. So I’ve gone back to my roots and we’ve been working on developing branded social VR experiences for our clients.

“We had some elderly neighbours who hadn’t left the house for a long time due to disability. We’d taken them back to some of their favourite holiday destinations using Street View and an iPad already, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could take them on holiday again using VR?’ So I created a basic beach scene to run on the Rift for them to try.”

The experiment was a successful one, and Smale realised the potential of the technology to offer hope.

“I had a friend who worked in care homes, and I asked him to introduce me to one so I could try what we’d made on some other elderly people. He put us in touch with the amazing folk at Belmont View in Hertford, which specialises in dementia care and is run by the Quantum group. They were really open minded to the idea and really supportive. Before this, I didn’t have a clue about dementia, but we’ve learned a lot.

“We worked with them for over a year, developing and fine-tuning a range of experiences specifically designed to help people living with dementia. The carers, managers and residents have all given us invaluable feedback which has enabled us to create something really unique and effective. The change in the residents’ behaviour is stark, as you can see from the video.”

“You can’t just put an Oculus Rift on an elderly person’s head and walk away. There’s a carefully developed process we’ve created that ensures the wellbeing of the patient at all times and ensures a positive experience for all”

The sort of experiences which Tribemix has been developing are very much at the gentle end of VR, for obvious reasons. They’re relaxing environments rather than games, but Tribemix doesn’t use 360 degree video or photography of real-world locations, instead preferring the environmental control offered by 3D modelling.

“This is all realtime 3D,” Smale clarifies. “Yes, there’s a trade-off in realism. But the control we have in 3D environment is a world apart from what we can set up to film around a 360 camera rig. And it’s this control that makes all the difference. People living with dementia are often incredibly sensitive, so being able to control simple things such as the distance birds are from the camera, or position of the audio is vital.

“And because of this sensitivity, you can’t just put an Oculus Rift on an elderly person’s head and walk away. There’s a carefully developed process we’ve created that ensures the wellbeing of the patient at all times and ensures a positive experience for all. It’s important to understand, this isn’t for everyone. And even for those people who do like it, they don’t necessarily always like it. So it’s always important to ensure that the experience is carried out on a voluntary basis and never pressured or forced.”

Smale raises a good point. It can be incredibly difficult to understand exactly what a dementia sufferer wants, and even harder to predict how they may react to a sudden or unexpected change in environment. Smale says that not only does the experience tend to relax people, it also offers a longer-term respite from some of the emotional peaks and troughs so common with the condition and assures me that the assessment processes are based on science and the concrete experience of healthcare professionals.

“That video is just the tip of the iceberg. It only shows a few brief minutes from a small number of patients who were kind enough to let us film them and show our work to the world. We’re really grateful to them for letting us do that, as it has opened a great many doors for us.

“But what you don’t get from the video are the long periods of serenity that the patients enjoy. It’s really relaxing just watching them use it. You often wonder if they’ve fallen asleep behind the headset. But then they’ll whisper something about the scene they’re in, and you know they’re still awake. Just very, very relaxed.

“People living with dementia are often confused and distressed. Rather than trying to bring them back to what we consider to be reality, it is better to live with them in the reality that they are in. A virtual experience is a way of taking them to a nice place from wherever they feel they currently are in a way that is actually far less stressful than taking them there in reality. For many, leaving the comfort of a care home and getting on a bus to travel somewhere is just not possible. Our virtual reality experiences allow those who haven’t been able to leave the care homes to enjoy a day out. With our robust processes, we ensure that if at any point, there is a risk of distress, we end the experience immediately and bring the patient straight back to well-being. Something that has always been very important to us to maintain.

“The dementia experts at Quantum have developed a wellbeing assessment tool based on the Abbey Pain scale. This records the wellbeing and behaviour of the patients before, during and after their VR experience. It’s really useful data that clearly shows a positive benefit across the board. We’re now working with two NHS hospitals on a behavioural research study which will expand on this work. It will also demonstrate the effectiveness in an acute setting.”

“People living with dementia are often confused and distressed. Rather than trying to bring them back to what we consider to be reality, it is better to live with them in the reality that they are in”

One of the key challenges facing dementia research is that the condition is often not treated until well established. Often it will go unnoticed, and many sufferers express understandable reticence to bring it to light, fearing stigma attached to it, not wanting to cause concern or present a burden. Stimulation and emotional engagement are increasingly considered to be effective methods of strengthening the brain against dementia, so I ask Smale if his work has potential in preventative care, or whether it might actually slow the onset of an established condition.

“This has yet to be determined,” he admits. “We’re hopeful that our research studies will begin to demonstrate some really useful outcomes, such as reduced medication or improvements in appetite. We have already seen countless memories brought vividly back to life in the patients. Sometimes patients will come out of the experiences and recount childhood memories linked to the experiences for half an hour or more. It’s magical to watch.”

It’s important to note that Tribemix is a for-profit company, not a charity. Whilst he may have noble goals, Smale also has his own bills to pay, and VR is an expensive business. Nonetheless, this isn’t an exploitative venture.

“The care providers will be the ones who have to cover the costs of the systems,” he says. “We’ve tried very hard to keep this as low as possible and we’re at a price point that works well for the industry and allows care providers to have access to the systems 24-7. Hardware is our biggest hurdle to get over. Oculus have been really helpful for VR hardware, but we also need help with the PCs to run it. So we would love to speak to any laptop manufacturers who might be interested in sponsoring our project. It’s getting a huge amount of interest worldwide. We’re also keen to make any connections in the care world.

“The more places we can get the systems in to, the more people we can help.”

Is TSMC Coming To The U.S.?

January 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company held its most recent investors conference on January 12th, during which company officials said that it has not ruled out the possibility of building a facility in the US as a response to recent nationalistic pleas to restore American manufacturing jobs.

During the investors conference, company chairman Morris Chang said that fabricating chips in the US “may not necessarily be a good thing,” though the option is still under preliminary consideration. He indicated that the foundry is already helping to create jobs in the US by allowing integrated device manufacturers to succeed on a global scale and expand their operations.

TSMC also disclosed that revenues from customers based in North America accounted for 65 percent of its total wafer revenues in 2016. It projects revenues to stay about 60 percent this year, says Chang.

A shift back to US manufacturing

In late November, US president-elect Donald Trump stated that one of his biggest achievements would be to restore the decades-long decline in US manufacturing employment by relocating jobs from the self-reinforcing “supply chain cluster” of Asian manufacturing firms back to US shores. During his campaign, he declared the promise of a 35 percent tariff levied against products including the iPhone that are manufactured overseas, signaling an incentive for moving jobs back into the hands of blue collar American service occupations.

According to the most recent December 2016 jobs report from, TSMC pays its principal engineers a monthly salary of about NT$65,833 ($2,084), while senior engineers get NT$57,783 ($1,829), process engineers get NT$45,014 ($1,425), regular engineers get NT$44,517 ($1,408), and interns get NT$26,250 ($831).

TSMC is not the only foundry considering a facility in the US. Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Company) released a statement to IBTimes in December confirming its exploration of expanding in the US. Back in November 2012, Foxconn had previously gone on record and denied reports considering plans to establish a plant in the US near Detroit or Los Angeles. The manufacturer of an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronic devices said it had already established several facilities in the US and did not have plans to expand at the time.

Then there are companies such as Pegatron, which have declined to formulate such a migration plan due to cost concerns. A 35 percent tariff increase would likely be passed on to consumers, raising the $649 base price of an iPhone to around $876.


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