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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Arty spam

For most computer users the term “spam” immediately conjures up the very negative image of unsolicited and annoying messages that inundate email boxes right across the globe. Spam has long become the scourge of the Internet, taking up a very large share of email communications and often being used to spread malware. For one artist from Romania, though, spam has become the inspiration for works of computer art. Alex Dragulescu, who studied fine art in California, has created a new art form named “Pseudocode”. This involves taking characters from spam messages and translating them into images via a computer programme. This results in spam messages being transformed into digital flora specimens or three-dimensional geometric figures. Mr Dragulescu has already presented this new art technology at festivals around Europe, using a database of some 60,000 spam emails coupled with animation and sound. Another use envisaged for “Pseudocode” is to transform spam emails into classy-looking personalised screensavers. At least someone knows what to do with all those unwanted messages…

Junk mail takes over

A study has found that almost all emails that are currently sent in the world are junk. In fact, more than 95% of all emails are either spam or error messages, or contain malware, a mail-monitoring firm has said. This means that junk mail has now taken up a much larger share of email traffic than in the not so distant past, when this number ranged between 70-80%. Email monitoring between June and July this year yielded spectacular results: some 70% of emails were traditional spam, 11 were error messages and a further 9% contained malware. Only 4% of emails in the same period were legitimate messages, but this, according to experts, was a low point. Usually the share of legitimate emails tends to be about 10%.

It is thought that many spammers are now using distributed methods of delivering their unwanted junk, taking over people’s computers and using them in bot networks. According to some estimates, almost 80% of email traffic now comes from botnets, and these compromised networks continue to grow with every new critical vulnerability. The appearance of so-called zero-day flaws has also increased the strain level, as malicious users now leave less and less time for users to patch their systems. Most spam tends to originate in the US, but China is catching up fast, and other notable sources include South Korea and Spain.

Interestingly, another recent report has suggested, though, that traditional spam is now actually going down, with a drop of more than 2% in email spam registered between June and July this year. This could be due to the fact that “traditional” spam is now relatively easy to distinguish and email filters have grown to be very sophisticated and successful at doing their job. This means that spam has now become almost an invisible problem, with a large share of all Internet traffic being junk mail, but with users probably seeing only a very small percentage of that in their mailboxes. This has led cybercriminals to look at other possibilities, and now botnets, phishing attacks and hits on messaging services or networking portals are becoming the norm of the day.


Nokia Self Destruct Phone

Grow up 007!

While some stores and businesses have cell phone recycling stations to drop off your old and worn cell phone which is then taken to a facility to be shredded or physically dismantled, Nokia is looking to a new method that could be more cost effective. Through research done at the Nokia Research Center in conjunction with three universities in Finland, is showcasing a prototype cell phone that can be disassembled by applying heat which then separates the various components of the phone to make them easier to recycle. From Nokia:
The idea is to disassemble a mobile phone by a heat-activated mechanism without any contact. By using a centralized heat source like laser heating, the shape memory alloy (SMA) actuator is activated, and the mobile phone covers are opened. The battery, display, printed wiring board (PWB) and mechanical parts are separated and can then be recycled in their material specific recycling processes. The required temperature for the disassembly is 60-150 ºC.
Nokia goes on to say that takes on average two minutes to dismantle a cell phone using traditional methods. With its new process, the company cuts that time down to two seconds. And for those of you worrying about your phone falling to pieces while sitting inside your hot car, don't worry. The 60C threshold for disassembly should be well above their average temperature of a car left in the hot sun all day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Microsoft: Will Take Several Years to Catch the iPod

Catching up to Apple will require a lot of time and money says Microsoft

While Microsoft plans out its Zune strategy, Apple's ongoing success with the iPod and iTunes continue to grow on a daily basis. Analysts are expecting that Microsoft's new Zune portable media player will be an iPod-killer, but Microsoft says it's not going to be easy. During a financial analysts meeting, Microsoft president of Entertainment and Devices Division Robbie Bach said "we think of this in the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. It is something that is going to take time. This is not a six-month initiative."

Despite the strong hold Apple has over the online music market as well as the portable media player market, Microsoft says that it's confident about gaining significant market share. The company recently said it would be spending a few hundred million to drive marketing and sales for its Zune brand. Interestingly, Microsoft will also be taking on its long time partners once Zune launches. Instead of directly competing with Apple, Microsoft had used a partnership approach, hoping that other third party vendors would help it grab market share for Microsoft's PlayForSure initiative.

Bach told reporters that despite the eminent launch of Zune, its partnership program will still continue. "PlayForSure continues as it is today," said Bach. "We're not just introducing Zune to do the same thing other people do." According to Bach, Microsoft is laying out a long term plan in excess of three years. In fact, Bach said that it may take up to five years. "We have to drive a new brand: Zune. We have to drive people who think about iPod as the brand to think about other things."

It's Ballmer's Time to Shine

"Who said sit down!?"

With Bill Gates slowly stepping away from his day-to-day activities as Microsoft's chief software architect, Steve Ballmer is seeing more of the spotlight shine on him as analyst and investors inquire about what direction the company will take in the coming years. At this month’s meeting with financial analysts in Microsoft’s home city of Redmond, Washington, it was Ballmer who opened the floor instead of the omnipresent Gates. From Information Week:
Ballmer said he's continually peppered with questions from investorsabout how the company will expand its traditional software business, expand on the Internet, and "get our stock price to do something interesting." Shares of Microsoft have been trading in a narrow range for the last five years. Last week, Microsoft began a $40 billion stock buyback program designed to boost its share price.
The next few months will see the launch of several key products that are essential to Microsoft's core software business, so flawless execution is key. The two products are so important that Microsoft will be pouring $1 billion USD into marketing for the two software releases. With the multiple delays that have plagued both Windows Vista and Office 2007, many are wondering if Microsoft can actually stick the planned January release of Vista. Ballmer has been quoted as recently as May that that Vista would be released "When it’s ready" and Gates has said that there was an 80% chance that the company would ship the operating system by January 2007. The company is also looking to shorten the time betwen OS releases. "We will never have a five-year gap between releases of flagship products," said Ballmer at the analysts meeting.

Microsoft is also banking on its upcoming Zune line of portable media players to become a financial “pillar” for the company -- it is has also earmarked $500 million USD for the launch of the player. The iPod has been a tremendous cash cow for Apple and has become a must-have accessory for the ultra-hip urban trendsetters out there (and some not so hip old fogies I might add). Microsoft is hoping to strike gold with its Zune players which will feature Wi-Fi to enhance its community-based music sharing, content streaming, and Internet access for direct music downloads. Ballmer went to to say, "I know we have a long haul. For better and for worse, there is no other company that would be attempting to get in this business."

EU Launches Antitrust Probe Against Blu-ray and HD DVD

European Commission said a full investigation may follow

Just when we think that Blu-ray and HD DVD will start showing up in mass production, the two formats enter into more trouble, this time with the European Commission. According to reports, the European Commission believes that the companies that are backing each format may have licensing terms that breach European competition rules. The report said that the European Commission launched an unofficial antitrust probe this month.

Toshiba, the leading company behind HD DVD and Sony the leading company behind Blu-ray both received letters from the European Commission earlier this month. According to a European Commission representative, "we sent a letter earlier this month to the makers of HD DVD and Blu-ray to request information about licensing." Toshiba did not respond to inquiries but Sony confirmed that it did receive a letter from the European Commission.

The European Commission is still waiting for all replies to come back. It will then decide whether or not to pursue a full anti-trust probe. A representative from Sony told reporters that "there are no indications of any complaint, nor of any antitrust concerns on the part of the Commission or anyone else."

Sony's Blu-ray format has been facing a barrage of issues since the start of the year. Sony's own Blu-ray players have been suffering from continual delays. According to earlier reports, Sony will be shipping its first Blu-ray player will be shipping only slightly ahead of its PlayStation 3 console -- currently scheduled for November 17th. On the HD DVD side, Toshiba announced earlier that it would be shipping its HD DVD players at a loss to gain a head start.

Time Warner Says No TiVos

TW says CableCARDS can only be used in TV sets

An email response from a Time Warner representative has indicated to a user that TW is under no obligation to support TiVo devices and at the current time, TW will not support TiVo devices on its network. According to TW, TiVo devices harm the TW business and the company would rather users use CableCARDs with TV sets that are ready to accept them. The news of this response follows TiVo's recent announcement that its Series3 dual CableCARD DVR will be ready to ship soon. However, the email from TW said:
As Time Warner's email response indicated, TIVO devices compete with some of the converters and/or "on-demand" type services they provide. Like all other businesses, video service providers are under no obligation to assist or support their competition. I'm sure they feel that placing cards in televisions will help their business, and that placing them in TIVO type devices will harm their business.
Despite the lack of support for TiVo devices, customers are still requesting for support. Analysts indicated that many networks feel that DVRs hurt advertising revenue. In response to this, TiVo recently announced that it will perform a long-term study into TV ads and how TiVo users respond to ads, whether they skip or watch them.

With the new ad studying division, TiVo hopes to sign on major advertising agencies and promote interest among network providers. A number of companies have already expressed interest in TiVo's new study, and include Universal Pictures and McDonald's as well as others.

Hitachi Shows Off Color e-Paper Display

What's black and white and read all over... and blue and green and 4091 other colors?

Hitachi and Bridgestone Corporation, who we all know for its tires, have taken their Albirey e-ink display and have added some color to the picture, literally.

The first e-ink display, the Albirey, was a black and white display Hitachi and Bridgestone showed off not so long ago. Many thought this display would compete with the likes of Sony's eReader and iRex's iLiad as an electronic book reader, but there was no word of such capabilities.

There are still no hints at what the main purpose for these displays will be when launched, or if they will ever be launched in the form we have seen them, but the joint effort has gone a step further than Sony's PRS-500 and iRex's iLiad variants to develop an electronic-ink display which produces not only black and white and grayscales, but colors as well. Up to 4,096 colors to be exact. The new color display is 13.1-inches on the diagonal and has a not-so-spectacular resolution of 512x384. With regard to the resolution, keep in mind this is just prototype.

Among the uses for this display in its current state may be displays at trade shows or even dynamic signs at your local supermarket. The possibilities are virtually endless for technology such as this and we are looking forward to seeing this display and future versions in products such as eReaders and other mobile devices that require displays which save on power.

Iranian Company Develops Commercial SPARC Processor

Look out Sunnyvale, look out Fishkill, here comes Tehran

Parsé Semiconductor is a company relatively unknown to in the US, but the company may start making waves if its TACHRA processors take off. Parsé announced earlier this week that its TACHRA processor has been taped out at 180nm at TSMC.

TACHRA is a V8 SPARC compatible processor based on Parsé's ARISTO architecture -- which is a 32-bit VHDL design. The TACHRA features an interface for FPU and coprocessors. Parsé claims the TACHRA chip can obtain approximately 1,400 iterations per second per MHz in Dhrystone benchmarks using the Parsé compiler. A mid-range Athlon 64 single-core processor can typically pull about 10,000 iterations per second per MHz.

TACHRA will primarily be used for low-power handhelds and other small electronics that need system-on-chip support. Parsé also has another architecture design, dubbed TINY, and specifically designed for ultra-small devices like wireless radios and GPS devices.

Freescale Waves Goodbye to the BGA

Smaller chips without wire interconnects are on the way

For those familiar with ball-grid array (BGA) packaging, things may be about to change with the way we package processors. BGA, the nearly ubiquitous packaging for small mobile devices has a new competitor. Earlier this week, Freescale announced a new packaging technology called Redistributed Chip Packaging.

Redistributed Chip Packaging is not simply just a redesign of the interconnects between the PCB and the semiconductor, like between pin-grid array and land-grid array. Freescale is still light on the exact details, but the company claims RCP removes all wire bonds and package substrates.

"The word 'revolutionary' is often overused, but RCP is a truly revolutionary technology," said Morry Marshall, vice president of Strategic Technologies, Semico Research Corp. "RCP will solve several packaging problems that have become ever more severe as ICs have increased in complexity. It is the semiconductor packaging technology of the future."

Intel and AMD currently use land-grid array (LGA) and ping-grid array (PGA) packages for high end processors. Intel still uses BGA packaging for ultra-thin notebooks and tablets. PDAs and cell phones also tend to use BGA packaging, but are prime candidates for RCP. Freescale has already announced that it has developed a 25x25 millimeter radio chip using RCP.

Like virtually all semiconductor technology developed these days, RCP is completely lead-free. New devices using RCP are expected to debut in 2008.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Official Intel Price Cuts In Effect

Availability of Core 2 Duo and reduced prices on Pentium D

Intel officially lifted the performance NDA for its Conroe Core 2 Duo processors two weeks ago. While Core 2 Duo performed very well obtaining processors was a tad difficult. That was because the official Intel launch with retail availability was still set for July 27th, 2006. Now July 27th, 2006 has come and Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors are popping up at major online retailers. Online retailers such as Monarch Computer, Mwave, Tiger Direct and ZipZoomFly have Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme products list or in stock.

Intel Core 2 Duo Pricing
Frequency Wholesale Price
Retail Price
C2E X6800 2.93GHz $999 $1082.50
C2D E6700 2.67GHz $530 $595.25
C2D E6600
2.4GHz $316 $367.25
C2D E6400
2.13GHz $224 $270
C2D E6300
1.86GHz $183 $235.75
P4D 945
3.4GHz $163 N/A
P4D 915
2.8GHz $133 $143.06
P4D 820
2.8GHz $113 $126.80
P4D 805
2.66GHz $93 $101.50

Core 2 Duo retail pricing is close to Intel’s previously released pricing with the lower-end Core 2 Duo E6300, E6400 and E6600 models selling for around $50 more on average. Higher end Core 2 Duo 6700 models sell for $65 over wholesale pricing while the flagship Core 2 Extreme is selling for $83 more. Average pricing was calculated using current prices of Core 2 Duo processors from the above listed online merchants.

In conjunction with the Core 2 Duo launch Intel also slashed prices on four Pentium D models—the Pentium D 945, 915, 820 and 805. Retailers are slowly updating prices to reflect the price cuts. Mwave and ZipZoomFly have updated its prices on Pentium D 915, 820 and 805 models to reflect the reduced pricing. Tiger Direct has the newly released Pentium D 915 listed at prices similar to Mwave and ZipZoomFly while Pentium D models 820 and 805 still have old pricing. Intel’s Pentium D 945 is nowhere to be found from online retailers. Intel is expected to cut prices further in October.

Intel's Core 2 Duo for Notebooks Launched, Kinda

Intel's Core architecture gets a makeover for notebooks

Intel today announced a new range of Core 2 Duo processors for notebook computers. The Core 2 Duo processors build upon the successful dual-core Core Duo line that was launched earlier this year. Processors range from the 1.66GHz, 2MB T5500 on up through the 2.33GHz, 4MB T7600. All of the newly announced processors run on a 667MHz bus and run on a voltage of between 1.0375 to 1.3V. In keeping with the mobile nature of the chips, Intel includes Dynamic Power Coordination (intelligently managed C-states), Dynamic Bus Parking (puts chipset in low power mode) and Deeper Sleep with Dynamic Cache Sizing (flushes cache data to system memory during periods of inactivity).

To go along with Intel's announcement, Fujitsu has plans to equip its LifeBook N6400 Series with Core 2 Duo processors in the fourth quarter. This laptop is seen more as a desktop replacement as it features a 17" Crystal View display, dual 160GB hard drives in RAID-0 and up to 2GB of RAM. However, it should probably be noted that the Core 2 Duo desktops have many more announcements concerning retail availability.

For those that would like a taste of how the new processors perform, you can head over to PC Perspective to see their review of an Asus Z96J powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T2600 (2.16GHz) processor. Now remember, the performance increases seen with Core 2 Duo versus Core Duo won't be as dramatic as seen with Core 2 Duo on the desktop. Intel based notebooks have been using the Core architecture since January whereas Intel's desktops had been limping along with Pentium-D processors. Keeping that in mind, the Core 2 Duo mobile processors saw some notable increases in synthetic and real-world benchmarks. From PC Perspective's analysis:
In our testing, the Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 mobile CPU has some significant improvements over the previous Core Duo processor. The biggest gains are seen in floating point and integer operations where some tests showed improvements of more than double! One of the short-comings of the Core Duo was it's weakness in crunching numbers, but no longer. The Core 2 Duo T7400 has shown itself to be a beast when it comes to chowing down those operations. Memory performance also showed significant gains, but not on the same scale as the CPU's ability to do math operations. Thanks to a 4MB cache and smart memory access, most of our memory tests showed a nice jump. Other applications had smaller, but noticeable gains including our media tests and gaming.
For those already using laptops with Core Duo processors, this might not be the best upgrade. Core 2 Duo processors will still be using the same i945 mobile chipsets and the same integrated GMA950 graphics (for laptops without discrete graphics) and the performance gains probably aren't worth going out to purchase a brand new system or upgrade the processor in your existing notebook. That time will come, however, when the Santa Rosa platform comes around in Q1 2007 along with Merom 2. There will be lots to offer in the form of 802.11n, 3G Broadband, WiMAX, Robson, and GMA X3000.

NVIDIA Announces Rapid Adoption of SLI Core 2 Duo Systems

Core 2 Duo and SLI, a match made in heaven?

NVIDIA has announced its SLI technology has made its way into enthusiast Core 2 Duo based systems from leading system builders. SLI equipped Core 2 Duo systems are available from gaming system manufacturers such as Alienware, Falcon Northwest and Voodoo PC. Other manufacturers include ABS, Alternate, Amax/Ajump, Atelco, Carri, Casper, CyberPower, Everest, Evesham, FDC, HCL Infosystems, Hyrican, iBuyPower, Infinity, Komplete, Kraftway, Levi, Maingear, Mesh, Monarch, Next, NTT, Paradigit, PC Club, Polywell, Quiet PC, Sahara Computers, Scan, SHG, Starmaster, Systemax, Tarox, Topnotch, Velocity Micro, Vicious PC, Vigor Gaming, Vobis and many more.

Lacking from the list of Core 2 Duo SLI system manufacturers is Dell, which hasn’t officially announced Core 2 Duo XPS systems yet. Since Intel’s 975X Express chipset is only compatible with ATI’s CrossFire dual graphics card configuration, Intel users seeking Core 2 Duo and SLI compatibility are forced to use NVIDIA chipsets. NVIDIA offers a variety of Core 2 Duo compatible SLI chipsets including the nForce 4 SLI X16 and nForce 590 SLI chipsets.

With NVIDIA hyping Quad SLI a lot lately its strange to not see NVIDIA tout Quad SLI equipped Core 2 Duo systems, though this could possibly be because system manufacturers are still waiting for WHQL certified Quad SLI drivers.

Intel Core 2 Duo Desktops Hit The Streets

Here comes the first wave of Core 2 Duo

Intel's Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors were announced two weeks ago with much fanfare from the hardware editors and the enthusiast community. Intel had brought a great-performing chip to the market that was faster than every processor currently available and was much cooler than its Pentium-D predecessor. Today, there were a slew of new desktops and workstation announced that use Intel's new Core 2 processors for desktops, so let's get started.

Gateway has announced new desktops based around the new Core 2 processor: the FX510XG and the FX510XT. The $2,199 FX510G comes equipped with a Core 2 Duo E6400 processor (2.13GHz), 2GB of PC5300 memory, 320GB SATA II, 21" widescreen LCD, 16x DL burner and an ATI Radeon X1900 XT graphics card. The $3,999 FX510XT brings a Core 2 Extreme processor (2.93GHz), 4GB of PC5300 memory, 1TB of storage (2x 500GB SATA II in RAID-0), 21" widescreen LCD, 16x DL burner and dual ATI Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire graphics cards.

On the Dell front, there are three new Core 2 offerings: two desktops and one workstation. The XPS 410 and Dimension 9200 can be equipped with a variety of Core 2 processors and up to 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory. Hard drive options range from a 160GB SATA offering up to 500GB with DataSafe data protection. Also available are ATI graphics solutions along with AGEIA physics accelerators. The machines come loaded with external ports including two front/six rear USB 2.0 ports, an optional front Firewire port and an optional 13-in-1 media reader for photo enthusiasts. Operating system options include Windows XP Home, Professional and Media Center 2005. And of course, both are Windows Vista ready. The XPS 410 and Dimension 9200 will start at $1,595 and $1,674 respectively.

Dell's latest workstation offering is the Precision 320. This monster can be equipped with Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Extreme processors and fits right in with any company needing a high performance OpenGL platform. System memory is scalable up to 8GB and both ATI and NVIDIA graphics solutions are available. Hard drives up to 750GB are available as are numerous RAID configurations. Prices start at $1,050 for the Precision 390. For those that would like to see the Precision 390 in action, Digital Video Editing has posted a review of one equipped with a 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme processor.

Samsung has a new Core 2 Duo solution of its own. The new BZ60 desktop is powered by a Core 2 Duo E6300 processor, 1GB of PC5300 memory, a 320GB SATA II hard drive and a GeForce 6200 graphics card. Pricing is not yet available for this Core 2 offering.

And we can't forget Alienware's new Core 2 gaming desktops: the Area-51 7500 and the Area-51 ALX. Both feature Alienware's new P2 chassis, can be equipped with Core Extreme processors, NVIDIA SLI graphics solutions and can support up to four SATA hard drives in a RAID configuration. The Area-51 ALX ups the ante by offering an NVIDIA Quad-SLI graphics solution. Alienware's Area-51 7500 starts at a mere $1,799 while the Area-51 ALX isn't even warmed up yet until you fork over $5,999.

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