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Desktop sales drooping? Enthusiast PCs to the rescue!

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by Kevin Jacoby on 05/10/2018
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“The desktop is dead!” tech journalists cry. And to be sure, sales of traditional desktops have been declining year after year as users switch from bulky boxes to svelte handsets. After all, no one needs a traditional PC to check email or whip up a spreadsheet. We have smartphones, tablets and laptops for that.

So is the desktop PC really a thing of the past? Not quite.

While the desktop market droops, the enthusiast PC market has been quietly making serious gains. Research firm GFK reports a 55% year-over-year increase in gaming PC sales in the first half of 2017 alone.

So while the desktop PC may indeed be dying, it’s been reborn as a souped-up, fire-breathing supercomputer. And as far as enthusiast users are concerned, no portable computing platform on earth can replace it.

High-flying prices

Need an example? Consider 8Pack, a UK-based designer of gaming computers. The folks at 8Pack have created a digital monster called OrionX. The system won the admiration of Forbes magazine for both its unprecedented power and stratospheric price tag.

OrionX gaming system

OrionX: an enthusiast gaming box retailing for (gulp) $30K

How stratospheric? OrionX costs around $30,000 — and still has room for more drives, graphics and RAM.

Whoa. So is the desktop dead? Thirty grand says it ain’t.

ASP to the rescue

This issue turns out to be one of those good-news/bad-news things. The bad news is that OEMs such as Dell, HP and Lenovo can hardly give their desktops away, let alone sell them for a big profit.

The good news is that a select cadre of OEMs and system builders are not only selling more enthusiast desktops, but selling them at a higher average sale price (ASP) than ever before.

As computing technology moves inexorably forward, we ask more from our computers. Software engineers — especially those who create popular AAA games like “Fortnight” and “Resident Evil” — write code that requires unprecedented graphics and processing power.

This, in turn, creates demand for multi-GPU arrays; 8- and 10-core processors; high-capacity, super-speed solid state drives (SSD); and other upper-echelon components. And these components have become increasingly expensive of late.

Economies of a lesser scale

But doesn’t the price of a given component usually fall as it proliferates? Yes, usually. But not in this case.

That’s because no matter how many diehard gamers are clamoring for triple-SLI Nvidia GeForce Titan X Pascal graphics cards, the actual number of units sold is still far lower than previous industry norms. Lower run-rates lead to lesser economies of scale. And that leads to higher ASPs.

So are you suffering anemic margins and lost revenue due to failing desktop sales? If so, then start thinking about enthusiast gaming boxes. They’re anything but dead.


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Hades Canyon NUCs: new mini-PCs you’ll find exciting

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/19/2018
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If you and your customers think the NUC is the boring Honda Civic of mini-PCs, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Intel recently released two new versions of its popular NUC mini-PC. And far from being a snooze, this new version is more like a Mini Cooper custom-fitted with the engine from a Lamborghini.

Intel Hades Canyon NUC mini-PC

Intel’s Hades Canyon NUC chassis, with optional LED skull graphic

Designed for gaming, virtual reality and high-def multimedia, both of the new Hades Canyon NUCs are powered by 8th Generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processors rated at 3.1 GHz and, with Turbo Boost, up to 4.2 GHz.

The more powerful of the two is also unlocked for overclocking. Don’t worry, the stock cooling system can handle it.

Also, both slabs of silicon pack a surprisingly powerful graphics punch courtesy of — wait for it — AMD! Yes, Intel wanted so much to show how serious it was about the NUC’s gaming and VR cred, it partnered with the archenemy.

This unlikely Intel-AMD union adds a major dose of Radeon RX Vega graphics — 24 cores, to be exact. The result is a relatively tiny, air-cooled machine capable of pwning gaming rigs 10 times its size.

A panoply of ports

But souped-up graphics horsepower isn’t just for gaming. It also comes in handy when you want to run, say, six 4K screens at once. That’s why Intel equipped the new NUCs with two Mini DisplayPort connectors, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and two HDMI ports.

Ports on Intel Hades Canyon NUC

Hi-speed ports on the NUC’s front (top) and rear

Of course, the Thunderbolt 3 ports are meant for way more than just video. But your customers might be pleased to know they have the option.

Rounding out the impressive selection of ports is a quartet of 10-Gbps USB 3.1 Gen2 ports on the back, one more on the front, and an always-on type-A USB port for charging devices.

The front also features a conveniently located media-card reader and an IR (infrared) receiver — the latter being essential when using NUC as a home-theater component.

(For more technical specifications, see this Intel NUC spec sheet PDF.)

Yes, there’s a catch

There are a few things your customers should know about the Hades Canyon NUCs before they buy.

First, like all previous iterations of NUC, this is a kit designed for enthusiasts and system builders. As such, it does not include RAM, hard drives or an OS.

That means that the price, which starts at just under $800, can easily reach $1,600 or more if your customers plan to max it out with 16GB of DDR4 memory and a couple of SSDs.

Then there’s the power supply. There’s no putting this mildly; the box is huge and heavy. So while the NUC itself weighs just 3 pounds and is a breeze to transport, you’ll want to warn your customers about this extra baggage.

Intel NUC and power brick

Don’t forget the power brick!

Despite a small cadre of shortcomings, Intel’s new Hades Canyon NUC is a computing marvel. It’s definitely one more nail in the coffin of behemoth desktop PCs. And it offers far more power than you might expect from a computer the size of Forest Gump’s box of chocolates.

Try it and you’ll see.


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Time to upgrade with the Intel 300 Series Chipset

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/10/2018
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In all the excitement last week over Intel’s hot, new 6-core mobile processor, you might have missed another of Intel’s new products. It was the decidedly less sexy — but equally important — Intel 300 Series Chipset.

As you might expect, this latest chipset design set off an avalanche of new motherboards by OEMs including ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI.

They’re available now in a variety of iterations ranging from the budget-minded H310 (around $60) to the well-equipped Q370, which can cost nearly $300 with all the features. (Check out the Intel 300 Series product names and specs on this Intel product specification page.)

MSI 370 motherboard with Intel 300 Series Chipset

MSI H370 motherboard featuring Intel’s new 300 Series Chipset

Speaking of features, here are 3 of the new 300 Series Chipset’s features that your customers should know about:

1. The fastest Wi-Fi — ever

One of the most notable additions to the new chipset is the ability to address Gigabit Wi-Fi. The inclusion of a wireless-AC 2x2 160MHz module means users can achieve speeds up to 1,733 Mbps.

But remember, it takes two to tango. Doubling the speed of the chip gets you only halfway there. The other half must come from a router that supports the new protocol. Unfortunately, there aren’t many around right now — and those that are available don’t come cheap.

That’s sure to change in the near future, as this technology finds its way into the mainstream.

2. “Alexa, tell me about the 300 Series Chipset”

Voice-activated digital assistants are popping up in myriad devices these days. So it makes sense that Intel would pay special attention to voice-recognition technology in its new designs.

That’s why the H-, B-, and Q- variants of the new 300 Series Chipset include new audio DSP functionality. So they can support up to 5 simultaneous voice-activated apps — even in low-power mode.

These same boards also include enhanced support for Windows 10 Modern Standby. Connect those dots, and it’s plain to see that your customer’s next laptop could very well sleep for a week, wake up when its name is called, and then soldier on for hours, all on a single charge.

3. Z means “doesn’t have featurzzz”

If your customers are of the gaming variety, they’ll want to know about the Z370 motherboard. It’s the only one in the new 300 Series that offers the ability to overclock Intel’s hot, new Core i9 processor.

But let the buyer beware: There’s a price to be paid for that overclocking ability. In this case, the price is giving up the aforementioned Gigabit Wi-Fi, the new voice-recognition audio DSPs and the integrated USB 3.1.

Once Intel publishes the specs on a new chipset, it’s up the OEMs to put out motherboards that address a variety of market segments. So, chances are, the right board for your customers is out there now. Time to upgrade!


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PC customers need more speed? Check out Thunderbolt 3

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by Kevin Jacoby on 03/21/2018
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If your PC-using customers haven’t yet asked you about Thunderbolt 3 technology, they will soon.

And rightly so. With transfer speeds up to an astonishing 40 Gbps, a Thunderbolt 3 port is today’s gold standard for moving data to and from peripheral devices in a hurry.

Thunderbolt 3 cable

Thunderbolt 3 cable: today’s gold standard

But Thunderbolt is also a tricky needle to thread. While it may be the fastest interface, widespread adoption eluded both earlier versions, Thunderbolt 1 and 2. That was due to relatively high costs, technical hurdles and a marked lack of external devices.

Is Thunderbolt 3 different? Yes, but only if you’re armed with 3 important facts:

1) Thunderbolt 3 plays nice with USB-C

In a stroke of genius, the powers that be decided to give both standards the same plug.

This means all USB-C cables will fit into a Thunderbolt port. And all Thunderbolt cables will fit into a USB-C port.

It also means those cables will, at the very least, deliver a 10 Gbps data stream. Plus enough power to charge your cellphone.

Compatibility with USB-C is a small but powerful detail. And one that should save OEMs and consumers alike both time and money.

2) The cable matters — a lot

The key words to look for are “active” and “passive.”

Passive Thunderbolt 3 cables are relatively cheap. A decent 6-foot passive Thunderbolt 3 cable retails for just $10 to $20. It’s identical to a USB-C cable and will get you speeds of up to 20 Gbps — the same transfer rate as Thunderbolt 2.

Active cables, by contrast, include an integrated chip. This component is needed to achieve the maximum 40 Gbps throughput.

For an active Thunderbolt 3 cable, your customers should expect to pay $30 to $60. Yes, that’s a lot for a cable. But if they’re streaming 5K content or data from an SSD RAID-array, it’s the only way to fly.

3) High-performance peripherals open a world of possibilities

On the surface, an Ultrabook such as the Thunderbolt 3-equipped ASUS ZenBook 3 Deluxe appears to be a “yes, but” device.

Is it thin and light? Yes, but there’s not much storage space. Can you play games and edit media? Yes, but the graphics card isn’t very powerful. Does it have a good display? Yes, but it’s small and can’t handle 5K content.

With Thunderbolt 3, all that changes. Resolution junkies can stream in full 5K glory by connecting a UHD display via an active Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Ultrabook-toting gaming fanatics can connect an external graphics processor such as the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box. Connected with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, this device, which retails for about $600, turns an ultrabook laptop into a high-speed gaming platform for graphics-intensive and VR-ready games.

AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box

AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box turns a laptop into a gaming platform

What’s more, exabytes of super-speed SSD storage are just a click away — no desktop required. Just connect an external RAID-array such as the AKiTiO Thunder3 RAID Station. This device, retailing for about $370, connects to a laptop with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable, giving the user connections to any dock, display or data device.

AKiTiO THunder 3 RAID Station

AKiTiO Thunder3 RAID Station: via Thunderbolt 3, expanded connections

As Thunderbolt 3 adoptions grows, so too will the options you can offer your customers. So start the conversation now. You’ll be doing your customers, and your business, a favor.


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In the Zone

Why All-in-One PCs now rule the roost

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by Kevin Jacoby on 03/13/2018
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The concept of an all-in-one (AIO) PC has changed dramatically.

When this compact, clutter-free form factor was introduced back in the 1980s, the most amazing part was that multiple components could be housed in the same chassis.

Oh, how times have changed!

Today’s AIO systems are powerful enough to supplant their bulky desktop brethren. Recent advances in graphics processing, miniaturization and touch-screen technology could even elevate the AIO to king of the PC hill — and relegate the classic desktop design to the annals of computer history.

Thin for the win

Until recently, underpowered underpinnings kept the AIO from coming into its own. To fit a whole computer into a chassis only slightly bigger than its screen, users had to settle for a desktop with laptop specs.

Happily, those days are over. Intel’s new generation of Thin Mini-ITX motherboards now includes connectivity for the modern components your customers demand.

Improved power handling and cooling means OEMs can now offer more powerful desktop processors with thermal signatures up to 65W TDP. And the inclusion of an M.2 slot, SATA Express and USB-3 headers opens the door for solid state drive (SSD) arrays, high-performance graphics and enterprise-level peripherals.

A touch of style

Emerging screen technology also helps make a compelling argument for the latest AIOs. For example, Lenovo’s IdeaCentre AIO 520 Series offers the option of a 10-point touch display. This feature allows users to better interact with the objects on their screens. And because the system recognizes 10 distinct physical inputs, they can use both hands to zoom, scroll, draw and manipulate 2D and 3D objects alike.

Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 520

Lenovo’s IdeaCentre AIO 520 offers an optional touch display

But maybe your customers are more interested in an immersive visual experience. In that case, you’ll want to bring their attention to HP’s latest marvel, the HP Envy 34 Curved All-in-One. This monster sports a massive 34-inch curved display, with Bang & Olufsen speakers to match.

HP Envy 34 AIO

HP’s Envy 34 All-in-One features a large curved display

Under the HP Envy's hood you’ll find the latest Intel quad-core processors, up to 16GB of DDR4 memory, multiple SSDs, and all the ports you could ask for. Not bad for a computer with retail prices starting around $850.

The AIO future is now

When it comes down to it, the modern all-in-one PC is really just a giant, immensely powerful tablet. That’s what makes it the right desktop computer for today’s workforce.

For those who grew up with an iPad in their hands, the AIO form factor makes perfect sense. It offers a smooth and intuitive transition from mobile to desktop and back again.

Keep an eye on this platform. Who knows what the “all” in all-in-one will include in the near future.


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3 things you need to know about always-connected PCs

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by Kevin Jacoby on 02/21/2018
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Do your customers find it hard to disconnect? Then they may be the perfect candidates for the new generation of always-connected PCs that debuted at CES this year.

Always-connected PCs are thin and light laptops that offer all-day battery life and 24x7 internet connectivity. That connectivity, it should be noted, is guaranteed even if the system is far from a Wi-Fi signal.

Is this the right technology for your customers? Possibly. But only if they can deal with 3 important limitations to this new crop of connected devices:

1. More data = more fees

One day we’ll wake up and find ourselves living on a planet completely covered in high-speed Wi-Fi. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the likes of Verizon and AT&T to fill in the substantial gaps with LTE — and soon, 5G — cellular coverage.

The thing is, data isn’t cheap. Both Verizon and AT&T are quoting around $10/GB.

For those lucky enough to have an expense account, that might not be an issue. But if your customer is running an SMB where every penny counts, those charges could add up quickly.

2. Performance takes a back seat to battery life

While the data will cost you money, the amazing battery performance on today’s always-on PCs will cost you something else: a trade-off on performance.

A standard laptop processor pays lip service to the battery, sipping as little power as possible when it’s convenient. But when push comes to shove, a standard laptop’s processor will stand up and perform like a champ. Not so with the processor in an always-connected PC.

For instance, consider the HP Envy x2 convertible laptop. It runs a Snapdragon processor originally designed for tablets and cellphones. (An Intel Core-powered version is said to be in the works.)

HP Envy X2 always-connected laptop

The HP Envy x2 trades off 19 hours of battery life for a cellphone processor

Sure, the HP Envy x2 offers 19 hours of always-connected computing on a full charge. But to live up to that claim, the system’s performance must take a back seat to efficiency.

Remember, an always-on device is about convenience above all else. If your customers have some heavy lifting to do, this may not be the computer for them.

3. Windows S may limit app availability

The new ASUS NovaGo is an always-connected PC that offers an astonishing 22 hours of battery life and 30 days of standby. But read the fine print. You’ll see that those figures can be achieved only if you play by the rules.

ASUS NovaGo always-connected laptop

The ASUS NovaGo offers a battery life of 22 hours

And Rule #1 is that you have to run Windows 10 S as the operating system. Windows S is just like regular Windows, except that it only runs apps from the Microsoft Store. (It also makes Microsoft Edge the default browser.)

On the one hand, this is a smart way to control quality and ensure ultimate operating efficiency. On the other, some of the apps your customers may rely on day-to-day simply aren’t there.

The good news is that you can install a copy of Windows Pro or Windows Home on an ASUS NovaGo. As long as you’re using apps that include a 32-bit (x86) version, you’re good to go. But then don’t expect to get your full 22 hours of battery uptime.

Not for everyone

Always-connected PCs may very well be the next big thing. It’s hard to argue with the convenience.

Just keep in mind that the technology is still evolving. No device can be everything to everyone. Not yet, anyway.


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Quantum computing gets closer with Intel’s Tangle Lake CPU

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by Kevin Jacoby on 02/13/2018
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Quantum computing is coming. Slowly. But it’s coming, and that’s a big deal.

At CES this year Intel unveiled the new “Tangle Lake” superconducting quantum test chip. The processor is just the size of a quarter, yet it holds a total of 49 quantum bits (qubits). That’s up from Intel’s previous record of 17 qubits on a single chip, which was released just two months ago.

Maybe quantum computing isn’t moving so slowly, after all.

Tangle Lake quantum processor

The Tangle Lake quantum computing chip unveiled at CES 2018 contains a total of 49 qubits

So, you may be wondering: How many qubits does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The answer, according to Mike Mayberry, corporate VP and managing director of Intel Labs: “It will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance.”

In other words, we’re not there yet — not even close. But we’re working on the technology. And it’s only a matter of time.

Robots are coming

Not the robots in Amazon’s warehouses that follow simple instructions to retrieve infinite toothpaste tubes and bags of cat litter. We already have those.

We’re talking about iRobot-like robots. The kind whose digital brains are constructed like our analog ones. The kind that think the way we do.

The process is called “neuromorphic engineering.” It involves the construction of a brain-like neural network via quantum computing processors like Tangle Lake.

This technology can be used to imbue machines with the kind of artificial intelligence Isaac Asimov only dreamed of.

What happens next

One day in the not-too-distant future, Intel will figure out how to fit a million qubits on a single chip. When that day comes, the world will be a different place.

It will be a world in which autonomous cars make life-and-death decisions based on something far less banal than an algorithm. A world where computers don’t just come up with answers like how to cure cancer, but with questions, too: What diseases could affect humankind in the future? And how can we head them off at the pass?

Meanwhile, in order to run properly, the new Tangle Lake chip operates at temperature of 200 millikelvin, which is roughly 250 times colder than deep space. (That’s also why the processor is named after a chain of lakes in chilly Alaska.) Needless to say, you won’t have one in your smartphone tomorrow.

But eventually, quantum computing will get cheaper, smaller and hopefully a bit warmer. Remember, ENIAC, the first commercially viable computer hardly fit in a gymnasium. These days you can get billions of times more computing power on a device the size of your pinkie toenail.

So too shall it be with quantum computing. It’s all just a matter of time. And qubits.


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Intel Pentium Silver: new processors for entry-level devices

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by Kevin Jacoby on 01/19/2018
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Intel is breathing new life into its entry-level chips. Following the recently released Pentium Gold, Intel’s new Gemini Lake series is moving further down-market with the Pentium Silver and new Celeron SKUs. Pentium Silver aims to power OEMs’ latest desktops, laptops, convertibles and all-in-ones (AIOs).

But is this a branding exercise designed to stoke the flame of entry-level PC sales? Or is it a technical upgrade that’s truly beneficial for your customers?

A bit of both. These new classes do offer a clearer delineation, separating low-power/low-price processors from high-end Core and Xeon chips. And they may help both single and corporate buyers more easily intuit relative price/performance levels. Intel says that compared with a 4-year-old PC, systems running the new Pentium Silver will deliver nearly 60% faster productivity performance.

Intel Pentium Silver

Solid gold

No, “Gold” and “Silver” are not the most original names in the world. But compared with past names, they’re an improvement. Intel’s penchant for giving each of its products a multitude of monikers can be frustrating.

Most seem derived from either obscure North American lakes or unutterable character strings. “LGA 1155 DH67BL with an H67 Cougar Point chipset” does not exactly bounce trippingly off the tongue.

Gold and Silver Pentiums are different. The Gold components, already in the market, are based on Intel’s Kaby Lake architecture and are the company’s highest-performing Pentiums. The new Silvers are based on that aforementioned Gemini Lake architecture, and they’re designed to be what Intel calls a “cost-optimzed option.”

Multimedia muscle

Cryptic branding notwithstanding, the tech inside Pentium Silver is worth a moment of consideration. The design of Gemini Lake products borrows quite a lot from their 14nm predecessors. But there are some standout improvements that make the new component worthwhile in its own right.

This processor series seems expertly targeted at an ever-growing market segment: multimedia consumers. If you really want to impress the Netflix/Spotify crowd, show them an affordable device with a great screen, Gigabit WiFi, and high-efficiency media decoding.

For example, to handle the gigabit streaming, the Pentium Silver offers Intel’s Wireless-AC 9560 controller, which supports 802.11ac wave2 Wi-Fi with 160 MHz channels. Intel says it’ll download an 8GB HD movie in about a minute. With an older wireless protocol like 802.11bgn, that would take more like 10 minutes.

Low power, long charge

Once those movies are downloaded, Intel says users will be able to binge for 10 hours on a single charge. That’s thanks to the same encoding/decoding media engine introduced with Kaby Lake.

Pentium Silver pairs that technology with four cores running up to 2.7GHz (no hyperthreading) and a 4MB cache. And it manages to do all that with a TDP of only 6 to 10W. Impressive.

These new chips also carry a redesigned onboard GPU and 10th generation display controller. The latter supports a technology called Local Adaptive Contrast Enhancement (LACE), designed to markedly improve visibility in glare and bright light.

How much silver?

Intel has reportedly already made these processors available to tier-1 OEMs, including Dell, Lenovo and HP. So we should see the new Pentium and Celeron chips in a variety of their products soon.

For these buyers, the new processors are priced around the $160 mark in quantities of 1,000. For regular consumers, however, no word yet on pricing. But it shouldn’t be long before the Pentium Silver CPUs hit the shelves. 


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Intel Stratix 10 MX FPGA: beginning of the end for DDR4

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by Kevin Jacoby on 01/10/2018
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Intel’s new new Stratix 10 MX FPGA has hit the market with a pocketful of high-bandwidth memory. This device should change forever the way your customers think about memory allocation. Make no mistake, it’s the beginning of the end for DDR4 memory.

FPGAs, short for Field Programmable Gate Arrays, have long been a valuable solution for OEMs whose products need equal measures of both power and flexibility. But like all silicon-based solutions, FPGA memory capacity is limited to what engineers can fit on the die. With the Stratix 10 MX, that capacity is now 10 times bigger.

Not your grandpappy’s FPGA

The computer biz, by and large, is about decreasing physical size while increasing performance. Intel’s FPGA strategy is no different.

By dramatically increasing the performance of its diminutive Stratix FPGA, Intel is empowering a whole new generation of industrial design. The result could revolutionize myriad market segments, including virtual reality, autonomous vehicles and biomedical engineering.

The key is HBM2, short for High Bandwidth Memory DRAM. It’s the second generation of high-bandwidth memory design. With HBM2, Intel engineers can now offer up to 16GB of memory on a single Stratix 10 chip.

The Intel Stratix 10 MX FPGA: first with integrated High Bandwidth Memory DRAM.

Not only that, the memory itself is capable of far more bandwidth than the pedestrian DDR4 RAM inside your customers’ laptops. That’s because HBM2 has more logic elements, more I/O pins and more PCIe 3.0 x16 IP blocks. For a chip small enough to fit inside a pair of VR goggles, the result is truly striking performance.

Useful & expensive — or just expensive?

Should your customers be interested in the Stratix 10 MX? That depends on their primary market focus. The high price of cutting-edge technology such as this — previous FPGA chips have cost as much as $8,500 each — must be balanced against its value proposition. Namely, more power and a smaller footprint.

Bear in mind, FPGA chips like the Stratix are not meant for consumer devices. Not yet, anyway. Intel’s focus is on high-performance computing, data center architecture, virtual networking and broadcast. When implemented as intended, enterprise users could see big long-term benefits.

For instance, if your customers are looking for a competitive edge in data analysis, Stratix could be their ace in the hole. Refitting a server array with FPGA chips could provide an enormous performance boost, while also decreasing utility bills and maintenance costs. This, in turn, could enable the customer to process far more data, turn it into more useful information, and bring it to market better and faster than the other guy.

Paradigm shift

Even if Stratix is not the right fit for your customers, the reality of HBM2-equipped chips will have a knock-on effect throughout the world of technology. Intel’s new FPGA lineup is proof of a paradigm shift for onboard memory.

Its effects will eventually impact every mobile device, smart object and computer available. When that happens, today’s silicon chips will be a distant memory.


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Wearables: Where’s the growth? Just about everywhere

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by Kevin Jacoby on 12/14/2017
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The wearables market is growing fast.

How fast? More than 310 million wearable devices will be sold worldwide this year, predicts research firm Gartner. Assuming that’s correct, it will mark an increase over last year of nearly 17%.

That’s plenty fast. And looking ahead, industry analysts see more of the same. They predict that sales of wearables will continue to increase year-over-year for the foreseeable future.

Watch the watch space

Smartwatches are fast becoming de rigueur as each new generation of digital natives outfits itself with the latest tech. Gartner research director Angela McIntyre says the Apple Watch and its competitors will bring in more than $17 billion of revenue by 2021.

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3 can make calls, send texts without a phone

Apple Watch — which now includes GPS and integrated cellular connectivity — is still the most popular game in town. But it’s not without mounting competition.

Of particular note are two fast-moving sub-categories:

> Smartwatches designed for kids between the ages of 2 and 13

> Smartwatches produced by traditional fashion brands including Fossil, Tag Heuer, even Louis Vuitton

It's all in your headset

While smartwatches may be the most talked-about wearable tech of 2017, the undisputed heavyweight of wearables revenue remains the humble Bluetooth headset.

Why? Because mobile phones are shedding their headphone jacks. This forces users to either carry an adaptor or switch to a wireless setup.

Some 150 million Bluetooth headsets will be sold this year, according to Gartner. That number will head well north of 200 million by 2021, by which time the lowly headphone jack will be considered as anachronistic as the rotary telephone and floppy disc drive.

Shopping for wearables

Wearables aren’t just appearing on the shelves of retail stores, they’re also appearing on retailers themselves. In fact, a significant portion of the increase in wearables revenue can be attributed to a new generation of bionic salespeople, reports ABI Research.

One of the more interesting applications is the use of smart glasses in the retail sales space. It’s part of an effort to help brick & mortar retailers stave off competition from the likes of Amazon.

One cool example: developer GoInStore has engineered what it calls a “first-person shopping experience” for online customers.

Using GoInStore’s combination of wearable tech, high-performance servers and AI, home shoppers can look around a physical store from the salesperson’s point of view. They can also virtually experience physical products, ask questions and receive personalized demos.

GoInStore glasses on music-store salesman

A salesman wearing GoInStore’s smart glasses shows a guitar to a home shopper

Consumers once looked askance at wearables that didn’t have enough functionality to offer a compelling value proposition. But subsequent generations of wearable tech are fast becoming as important as the mobile devices they will one day replace altogether.

So put on your smart glasses, and keep a close eye on this market!



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