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AMD Appears To Be Pushing It’s Boltzmann Plan

November 25, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Troubled chipmaker AMD is putting a lot of its limited investment money into the “Boltzmann Initiative” which is uses heterogeneous system architecture ability to harness both CPU and AMD GPU for compute efficiency through software.

VR-World says that stage one results are finished and where shown off this week at SC15. This included a Heterogeneous Compute Compiler (HCC); a headless Linux driver and HSA runtime infrastructure for cluster-class, High Performance Computing (HPC); and the Heterogeneous-compute Interface for Portability (HIP) tool for porting CUDA-based applications to C++ programming.

AMD hopes the tools will drive application performance from machine learning to molecular dynamics, and from oil and gas to visual effects and computer-generated imaging.

Jim Belak, co-lead of the US Department of Energy’s Exascale Co-design Center in Extreme Materials and senior computational materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that AMD’s Heterogeneous-compute Interface for Portability enables performance portability for the HPC community.

“The ability to take code that was written for one architecture and transfer it to another architecture without a negative impact on performance is extremely powerful. The work AMD is doing to produce a high-performance compiler that sits below high-level programming models enables researchers to concentrate on solving problems and publishing groundbreaking research rather than worrying about hardware-specific optimizations.”

The new AMD Boltzmann Initiative suite includes an HCC compiler for C++ development, greatly expanding the field of programmers who can leverage HSA.

The new HCC C++ compiler is a key tool in enabling developers to easily and efficiently apply the hardware resources in heterogeneous systems. The compiler offers more simplified development via single source execution, with both the CPU and GPU code in the same file.

The compiler automates the placement code that executes on both processing elements for maximum execution efficiency.



Samsung Boots Two-Thirds Of It’s R&D Staff

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung Electronics is about to decrease personnel at its Samsung Seoul R&D Campus by as many as two-thirds in order to restructure its business model and operations

A new report from ChosunBiz said that Samsung originally aimed to house around 10,000 personnel on the site. However the majority of the decreases will be applied to Samsung’s Digital Media & Communication (DMC) and Media Solutions Centre (MSC).

The campus will instead house about 3,500 staff who have master and PhD degrees and specialise in software, design and digital media development.

The move is odd as it is coming at a time when Samsung is really desperate for killer innovation to steal the march on the competition. However reading between the lines it looks like it is reducing work in its content creation side.

We are surprised that it is doing anything with its Media Solutions centre. Originally, it was established to operate as a Korean version of the App Store. But the company announced on December 10 last year that it was dissolves the organisation.

At the time it was admitted that the content business has not been as successful as the hardware business. Moreover, the worsening performance of the smartphone business arising from the increasingly saturated market forced the company to speed up the break-up process.



Samsung Debuts 10nm FinFET S-RAM

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung appears to have stolen a march on Intel and TSMC by coming up with a 10-nano FinFET processed S-RAM

According to Electronic Times Intel and TSMC’s products are still being processed at 14-nano and 16-nano so Samsung’s 10-nano S-RAM, will open the way for a generation of Giga-Smartphones. S-RAM is faster than D-RAM and is used for CPU’s cache memory.

It means that Samsung’s 10-nano technology will be mass-produced on full-scale in early 2017. The theory is that 10-nano AP will combine Gigabyte modem chips into one faster chip.

Samsung is showing its plans to the ISSCC. They will have a 128 Megabyte (MB) capacity and a cell area of 0.040 µm2. This compares to the 14-nano S-RAM (0.064 µm2) that Samsung Electronics introduced in the past, its cell area is reduced by 37.5 per cent.

In an ISSCC scientific paper, Samsung said that it built a large-scale fast cache memory in the smallest area. An AP for a smartphone with S-RAM, can minimize Die’s area and improve its performance.

All this means that Samsung Electronics has surpassed Taiwan’s TSMC and developed the next-generation system semiconductor.

Intel postponed its schedule for developing next-generation 10-nano system semiconductor from 2016 to 2017 due to increase of production costs. Samsung Electronics is targeting end of next for commercialising 10-nano processing.

Samsung Electronics has also developed 14-nano flat-surface NAND-Flash, and this is also first ever in industries. Toshiba, Micron and others have announced that after they finish developing 15 to 16-nanos, they are giving up on flat-surface NAND-Flash.

It had been thought that 14-nano NAND-Flash, which reduces area of Floating Gate by about 12.5% compared to 16-nano, will greatly contribute to Samsung Electronics in reducing production cost of NAND by reducing Silicon Die’s area.



IBM Says 2015 Was The Year Of Ransomware

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM has claimed that sophisticated criminals are responsible for 80 percent of cyber attacks, and that there are probably a lot of kids and amateurs accounting for the remaining 20 percent.

The IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly 4Q 2015 (PDF) described this 20 percent as “script kiddies”, claiming that the attacks reveal their amateurishness. However, when people are not messing about they are able to carry out some catastrophic and expensive hacktrocities.

“The script kiddies scour the internet for ‘low hanging fruit’, the servers that can be compromised quickly and easily, and they use them for a limited time to send spam and scan other servers on the internet,” said the report.

“Or they deface the website and move on to other targets once they are discovered. These script kiddies give little thought to covering their tracks.

“In contrast, stealthy attackers might gain access to a system by exploiting the same vulnerability as the script kiddies, but they use a far more sophisticated combination of commercial tools, malware/rootkits and backdoors to increase their access level on the client’s network and compromise additional systems over several weeks of expansion.”

There is plenty to worry about, naturally, and IBM has plenty of things to spook us with. The report starts with saying that 2015 has been the year of ransomware. The FBI has already reported that such exploits have bagged attackers $18m over the period, and that it expects the problem to extend into 2016.

Take a look around your office before you read alert number two. This is the insider danger. The report said that this trend has played out since 2014, and that 55 percent of all attacks in 2015 were down to insiders, or at least people with inside information.

Perhaps as a result of this – we are not data analysts – IBM has also seen an increase in boardroom involvement and spending. Some 88 percent of respondents to a survey said that their relevant budgets had increased over the period.


Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was developing a work-focused version of its social networking tools to try and convert its consumer success into a new stream of revenue from businesses.

On Friday, the company continued that push by quietly launching its new Work Chat app for Android, which lets users message workmates using an interface that’s almost identical to Facebook Messenger. Users can send messages to individuals or groups of co-workers, and include cute stickers to punctuate their point.

Work Chat also lets users place voice calls to colleagues in their network. As with Messenger, those calls use Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection rather than the telephone network, but it should connect coworkers without requiring them to use a shared telephone directory or make international calls.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store, but people can only log into it if they have a Facebook at Work account. The only way to have one of those is to work for a company that Facebook has allowed into the private testing of its new enterprise-focused tools. According to an article from TechCrunch, 300 companies are testing the enterprise social network, and the company plans to launch it officially by the beginning of next year.

Facebook at Work will be a major entry by the social networking company into the crowded space of business collaboration. It’s going head-to-head with established players like Microsoft’s Yammer and upstarts like Slack.



Qualcomm May Be Facing Anti-Trust Issues Abroad

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Qualcomm can’t really get a lucky break anywhere. The chipmaker has just confirmed that it is facing an anti-trust probe in South Korea.

The company said it had recently received the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s staff-generated case examiner’s report (ER), which starts a process that allows Qualcomm to defend itself.

It seems that the allegation is that the company’s practice of licensing patents only at the device level and requiring that its chip customers be licensed to its intellectual property violate South Korean competition law.

“The ER alleges, among other things, that we do not properly negotiate aspects of our licenses,” Qualcomm said in a statement.

The investigation by the South Korean authorities was first reported in February, but no one confirmed it.

Qualcomm has faced investigations about its business and licensing practices in the U.S. and in the European Commission. It said in February it had settled with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in connection with the agency’s investigation of Qualcomm under the country’s anti-monopoly law.

In China Qualcomm had to pay a fine of $975 million and not condition the sale of baseband chips on the chip customer signing a license agreement with terms that the NDRC found to be unreasonable.

Qualcomm would also offer licenses to its current 3G and 4G essential Chinese patents separately from licenses to its other patents, and present a patent list during negotiations. Under the deal, the company also agreed to calculate royalty fees on 65 percent of the net selling price of the device.

The company on Tuesday defended device-level licensing as an industry norm worldwide and said its patent licensing practices were “lawful and pro-competitive
Samsung, LG and Pantech are key Qualcomm customers in South Korea.

The KFTC in 2009 ordered Qualcomm to pay $208 million for allegedly charging discriminatory royalties and offering conditional rebates in connection with its CDMA technology.



Sprint Introduces New ‘Half Off’ Rate Plan

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint has introduced a new simplified wireless plan offering 50% off competitors’ rates — part of an effort to lure consumers to try its faster LTE Plus network, which promises speeds of 128Mbps or more.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the costs of the new program will be more than offset by revenues from new customers. “There’s absolutely no way anybody can beat this offer,” he said during a briefing with reporters.

Sprint, the nation’s fourth largest carrier with about 59 million customers, has said it must cut up to $2 billion or more in operating expenses for the next fiscal year starting in April and will eliminate thousands of jobs to do so.

Even against that dreary backdrop, Claure said the new rate plan will bring in more customers. He didn’t indicate how many more are expected.

“There’s been a lot of skepticism on our network and the only way to convince them is to have them try,” he said. “Rest assured, we’ve done sufficient analysis and this is very accretive to Sprint” profits.

Sprint’s newest deal allows customers to take 50% off the price of most Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile rate plans. The only rate plan excluded is T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan, which costs $90 a month. Sprint will still offer a $70-a-month unlimited data plan.

Businesses are not included in the deal, a spokeswoman said.

The offer goes into effect for activations beginning this Friday, Nov. 20 until Jan. 7, 2016; the 50% off deal remains in effect until Jan. 8, 2018. Claure said that with a free tablet and a free year of service, along with the half-off pricing, “that’s the bet we’re making” to get new customers.





Tim Cook Says No To iOS Powered Laptops

November 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Apple CEO Tim Cook has again shot down the idea of following in the footsteps of rival Microsoft to develop a notebook that runs his company’s mobile operating system, iOS.

“We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad,” Cook told The Irish Independent, Ireland’s largest daily newspaper, in aninterview published Sunday. “Putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.”

But take Cook’s comments with a grain — or more — of salt. “These are tactical communications, nothing about what they might do, or what they potentially will do,” noted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in a Monday interview.

Cook, who has been on a swing through Europe to meet with Irish officials about an expansion of Apple’s facility in the country, and in the U.K. to trumpet the iPad Pro, which went on sale last week, again took time to take a swipe at the competition.

“What that would wind up doing,” Cook said, referring to a notebook-slash-tablet analogous to Microsoft’s new Surface Book, “is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants.”

In earlier interviews while in Europe, Cook had previously bashed the Surface Book, a 2-in-1 with an integrated keyboard and detachable screen that reverts to a tablet when held separately. “It’s trying to be a tablet and a notebook and it really succeeds at being neither. It’s sort of deluded,” Cook said of the Surface Book.

Cook’s stance is not new: The CEO has repeatedly said Apple had no interest in 2-in-1 devices, at one point calling tablets with keyboards akin to a Frankenstein mashup of toaster and refrigerator. That, of course, was long before Apple decided to join the market with the 12.9-in. iPad Pro and its optional Smart Keyboard.



Russia’s Search Giant Yandex Wants EU To Investigate Google’s Android

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Russia’s dominant search site Yandex said it has asked the European Commission to investigate Google’s practices in relation to its Android mobile operating system in the European Union.

The new complaint could strengthen the case against Google, possibly giving enough ammunition to EU antitrust regulators to eventually charge the company with anti-competitive business practices, on top of accusations related to its Google Shopping service.

The formal request was filed in April 2015 and largely mirrors the Russian company’s claims against the U.S. company in a Russian anti-monopoly case that Yandex won.

Russia’s competition watchdog ruled in September that Google had broken the law by requiring pre-installation of its search application on mobile devices running on its Android operating system.

“We think that the Russian finding of abuse of dominance is instructive, and is a conclusion that can readily be adopted in other jurisdictions, including the EU,” Yandex said.

Yandex is one of the few companies to publicly complain about Android.

It joins U.S. tech firm Disconnect, Portuguese app store Aptoide, and lobbying group FairSearch whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and French price comparison site Twenga.

Yandex, which rivals Google in Turkey as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics, said its business development in Europe would depend, among other factors, on the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation.

“We hope the European Commission … offers their help in restoring fair competition and ensuring equal opportunity to pre-install mobile applications on Android-based devices not only for Google, but also for other developers,” it said.

Yandex is ahead of Google in Russia with a search market share of around 60 percent, but it has been slow expanding abroad – a position it flagged when selling shares in a $1.3 billion initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2011.



GPU Shipments Appear To Be On The Rise

November 17, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Beancounters at JPR have been adding up the numbers and dividing by their shoe size and worked out that GPU shipments are up for both Nvidia and AMD.

Over the last few months both have been busy with new releases. Nvidia has its GeForce GTX 950 and GTX 980 Ti, while AMD put its first HBM-powered cards in the Radeon R9 Fury X, Fury and the super-small R9 Nano into the shops.

According to JPR, overall GPU shipments are up quarter-over-quarter – with AMD’s overall GPU shipments up 15.8 per cent. But before AMD fanboys get all excited by a surprise return to form from AMD, JPR said that that NVIDIA “had an exceptionally strong quarter”. Nvidia saw an uptick of 21.3 per cent.

The PC market as a whole increased by 7.5 per cent quarter-over-quarter but decreased 9 per cent year-over-year. Nivida’s discrete GPU shipments were up 26.3 per cent according to JPR, while AMD’s discrete GPUs spiked by 33 per cent.

AMD’s mobile GPU shipments for notebooks increased by 17 per cent, while NVIDIA had 14 per cent.



Facebook Tests Disappearing Messages Feature

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has confirmed that it is conducting a small test of a Snapchat-like feature, enabling users to send messages that will automatically disappear.

“We’re excited to announce the latest in an engaging line of optional product features geared towards making Messenger the best way to communicate with the people that matter most,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Starting today, we’re conducting a small test in France of a feature that allows people to send messages that disappear an hour after they’re sent. Disappearing messages gives people another fun option to choose from when they communicate on Messenger.”

This should sound familiar to Snapchat users who are accustomed to their messages disappearing shortly after they’re sent.

Users can turn the Facebook feature on by tapping an hourglass icon in the upper right corner of the Messenger screen. Tap the hourglass again to turn it off.

Facebook is testing disappearing messages for iOS and Android users in France only. While the feature may be available in more countries over time, Facebook didn’t have any current plans to share.

This may be a good defensive move for the social network.

Facebook has been struggling to retain, or even attract, younger users who are being lured away by apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

To deal with this problem, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in late 2013. The offer was turned down, though.

Then in early 2014, Facebook tried to go after Snapchat’s users by unveiling a new mobile app called Slingshot. The app was designed to enable users to instantly share photos and videos with multiple friends.

Now that Facebook is taking a different tack, the question is whether it can steal away Snapchat’s user base.






Huawei Unveils Fast-charging Battery For Smartphones

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Huawei has designed and developed a prototype smartphone battery that can be recharged to half its capacity in just five minutes.

The battery is based on the same lithium ion chemistry used in cellphone batteries today but gets its advantage from atoms of graphite bonded to the anode, Huawei said on Friday at an industry conference in Japan.

That change means faster charging but not at the expense of usage life or a sacrifice in the amount of energy that can be stored in each battery, it said.

It was developed by Huawei research and development subsidiary Watt Lab and the company showed off two prototypes in videos posted online.

One of the two batteries has a capacity of 3,000mAh (milliampere hours) — about equivalent to the batteries in modern smartphones — and can be charged to 48 percent of capacity in five minutes. The second has a much smaller capacity of 600mAh but reaches 68 percent of capacity in just two minutes.

The batteries have undergone repeated testing and the fast charging isn’t a one-time deal, the company said.

Huawei didn’t say when the fast charging might make its way into commercial products.

The announcement is one of a number this year that all point toward faster charging or longer battery life. Advances in battery technology have lagged other areas of technology and battery life remains a limiting factor for gadgets such as phones and larger products like electric vehicles.



Apple, Banks Exploring Person-to-Person Mobile Payment Service

November 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple Inc is holding discussions with several U.S. financial institutions to develop a person-to-person mobile payment service, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The talks are ongoing and it is unclear if any of the banks have signed an agreement with Apple, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The service, which would compete with PayPal Inc’s popular Venmo, would allow users to transfer funds from their checking accounts through Apple devices, the Journal reported on Wednesday.

The service would likely be linked to the company’s Apple Pay system, which allows customers to make credit-card and debit-card payments with their mobile phones, the newspaper said.

A launch isn’t imminent, but one person told the Journal that Apple could roll it out next year.

Apple has been talking with a number of banks about the service, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Capital One Financial Corp, Wells Fargo & Co  and U.S. Bancorp.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.



Will The xCodeGhost Malware Wreak Havoc On IOS Devices

November 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

A security firm has released a list of ongoing and incoming threats that cover a range of things from Apple’s iOS to the Internet of Things (IoT).

In its third report this year, Quick Heal warns that Apple users in particular better brace themselves for impact as more and more malware writers who’ve earned their stripes targeting Android users turn their attention to iOS.

“As the number of iPhone owners rises across the world, iOS has become a new potential target for Android malware authors and hackers. It is expected that Android malware will soon be altered to attack iOS users as well, and jailbroken iOS devices will be the first wave of targets for these attacks,” explained the firm (PDF).

“Recently, the ‘XcodeGhost’ malware was found on the Apple App Store and this is just the beginning of such attacks.”

In a section on wearables, Quick Heal predicts hackers will increasingly target fitness trackers, something that other security researchers have already warned about.

A lot of space in the report is reserved for Android-flavoured threats, and users are offered advice on protecting themselves such as if there is an option to use a password over a touch sign-in, then you ought to take it.

“A group of researchers have discovered a serious security flaw in the Android Lollipop version running on devices right now. This flaw allows attackers to bypass the lockscreen of an Android smartphone by using a massive password and thereby exposing the homescreen,” it explains.

“The attack essentially works by opening the in-built camera application and afflicts people using a password to protect their Android device and lock their screen.”

The most significant Android threat is a rascal called Android.Airpush.G, which claims 30 percent of the bug pool and is the kind of adware thing that makes you want to take a hammer to your phone screen. The second most prominent issue is Android.Reaper.A, which can haul in a large data harvest when in place.

Quick Heal is not the only security company in town, and a post on the Symantec website also seems set to put the fear into the Apple user community. That post, read it here – if you dare, says that the Mabouia ransomware is capable of causing a problem for Mac and PC users alike.

Fortunately, Mabouia is a proof-of-concept attack that a researcher shared with both Apple and Symantec. Symantec says that the PoC effort achieves at least one first.

“Mabouia is the first case of file-based crypto ransomware for OS X, albeit a proof-of-concept. Macs have nevertheless already been targeted by ransomware in the form of browser-based threats,” it explained.

“For example, in 2013, researchers at Malwarebytes discovered browser-based ransomware that targeted Safari for Mac users through a malicious website. The website directed Windows users to a drive-by download, while Mac users were served JavaScript that caused Safari to display persistent pop-ups informing the user their browser had been “locked” by the FBI for viewing illegal content.”



Google Open Sources TensorFlow

November 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has announced the open-sourcing of its machine learning engine TensorFlow.

Despite sounding like a sanitary product, TensorFlow is in fact behind some of Google’s biggest recent advances, such as the improvements in speech recognition that have allowed Google Now to expand.

Originally developed by the Google Brain team, as a successor to its preview machine learning platform DistBelief, it has been an internal tool up to now, but as the website explains: “TensorFlow is not complete; it is intended to be built upon, improved, and extended.

“We have made an initial release of the source code, and are currently moving our internal development efforts over to use a public repository for the day-to-day changes made by our team at Google.

“We hope to build an active open source community that drives the future of this library, both by providing feedback and by actively contributing to the source code.”

Everything you need is included, from the source code itself, development kits, Apache 2.0 licenced examples, tutorials, and sample use cases.

Earlier this year, a Tensorflow project made the news when Google’s Deepdream showed us what computer’s dream about. It turns out that when you show them Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they dream about some quite terrifying stuff that takes it to a whole other level.

The Google Research blog explains: “Today we’re proud to announce the open source release of TensorFlow – our second-generation machine learning system, specifically designed to correct these shortcomings.

“TensorFlow is general, flexible, portable, easy-to-use, and completely open source. We added all this while improving upon DistBelief’s speed, scalability, and production readiness – in fact, on some benchmarks, TensorFlow is twice as fast as DistBelief.”

It’s now available in version 2.0, for absolutely no beans whatsoever.