Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fun Facts: How Small is 32 Nanometers?

arlier this year Intel made a big splash with a new generation of Core i3 and Core i5 processors using the uber small 32 nanometer manufacturing process. Although this is eventually going to get dumped as ancient technology for an even smaller and more efficient way to produce chips, today it's state of the art.

Intel recently published a whitepaper with some amusing 32nm facts that we are reproducing here for you. If you have ever wondered how small the logic inside these chips really is in 'measurable' terms, here are some random facts to give you some perspective:

  • A nanometer is so small that it takes a billion of them to make a meter. A billion is a huge number. A stack of a billion sheets of paper would be 100 km high. If you could walk a billion steps, you would go around the earth 20 times.

  • The original transistor built by Bell Labs in 1947 was large enough that it was pieced together by hand. By contrast, more than 60 million 32nm transistors could fit onto the head of a pin.

  • More than 4 million 32nm transistors could fit in the period at the end of this sentence.

  • A 32nm transistor contains gates that are so small, you could fit 3,000 of them across the width of a human hair.

  • A 32nm transistor can switch on and off over 300 billion times in one second. It would take you 4000 years to flick a light switch on and off that many times.

  • Compared to Intel’s first microprocessor, the 4004, introduced in 1971, a 32nm CPU runs over 4000 times as fast and each transistor uses about 4000 times less energy. The price per transistor has dropped by a factor of about 100,000.

  • The “World’s Fastest Man,” Usain Bolt would have to take 3,125,000,000 steps in the 100 meter dash if his stride length was 32nm.

  • If the pace of innovation in space travel had increased at the pace of Moore’s Law since 1971, you would now be able to travel at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour.

  • Intel has shipped over 200 million CPUs using high-k/metal-gate transistors – the kind used in 32nm processors -- since the technology was first put into production in November 2007. This translates to over 50,000,000,000,000,000 (50 quadrillion) transistors, or the equivalent of over 7 million transistors for every man, woman and child on earth.

  • The price per transistor on a chip has dropped dramatically since Intel was founded in 1968. Some people estimate that the price of a transistor is now about the same as that of one printed newspaper character.

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    Microsoft, Amazon ink cross-licensing agreement

    icrosoft and Amazon have inked a new cross-licensing agreement that gives the companies access to some of each other's patents. Details are limited, but Microsoft mentioned that Amazon's Kindle e-reader and the shopping giant's use of Linux-based servers are included. Microsoft didn't specify what intellectual properties it would share with Amazon.

    Along with the licensing arrangement, it's said that Amazon will pay Microsoft a chunk of money, but the companies didn't say how much. In fact, the motive behind the deal itself is undisclosed. Some suggest Amazon agreed to the terms to avoid a patent-infringement suit from Microsoft. Other companies that use Linux have signed patent deals, and Redmond has repeatedly claimed the software violates some of its patents.

    About a year ago, Microsoft sued TomTom over eight patents -- including three related to the GPS-maker's implementation of the Linux kernel. ITIC principal Laura DiDio noted, "It makes more sense for companies to make nice and do a cross-licensing agreement -- Microsoft has come to realize that legal action is often more costly than it is worth."

    Microsoft has entered more than 600 licensing agreements since the company launched its IP licensing program in December 2003.


    Windows 7 RC's bi-hourly shutdowns begin on Monday

    ust a quick heads up for those who signed up to run the Release Candidate (build 7100) version of Windows 7 and never upgraded to the final code: get going with that or prepared to be annoyed. Starting this Monday, March 1st, besides showing an expiration notification on the taskbar, your system will start to shut down every two hours and any unsaved work will be lost in the process.

    Those brave souls who ignore the "reminders" and work their way around the shutdowns will face one more phase in the expiration process. On June 1, if you are still on the Windows 7 RC, your license will expire and the non-genuine experience will be triggered. This means Windows will boot to a black desktop and users will still have to deal with the constant notifications and bi-hourly shutdowns.

    As annoying as all this may sound, especially for those who have been running the test release as their main installation, we can't say Microsoft wasn't clear about the whole expiration process from the get go.

    That said, if you need some more time to back up your stuff there is a little-known (and perfectly legal) way to extend your RC license as many as 90 more days -- just open a command prompt window with administrator privileges, enter "slmgr -rearm" (minus the quotes) and reboot. The 'trick' can be used up to three times and each will give you 30 days to go grab a legal copy of Windows 7 and upgrade.


    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    High school uses notebook webcams to spy on students

    he parents of a Lower Merion high school student have filed suit against the district for using school-issued laptops to spy on kids. The school rigged notebooks with software that lets officials remotely view and capture images with the built-in camera -- a mechanism that was supposedly greatly misused. The plaintiff's child claims to have been disciplined in school for "improper behavior" at home, and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

    In a statement yesterday, Superintendant Dr. Christopher McGinley confirmed that the laptops indeed have a "security feature" to track missing systems. The "feature" can take a "still image of the operator and the operator's screen," but McGinley said it has been deactivated, and will not be reactivated without express written notification. He also insisted that the feature has only been used to locate lost, stolen or missing laptops.

    Students involved in the suit have contacted Gizmodo with details about the situation. It's said that the green lights next to the kids' laptops often turns on, suggesting it's in use, but the district claims it's just a glitch. One student questioned a school IT guy about the light, who said it was occurring because "people logged out when an application using the camera was on." The employee also admitted that the school could in fact look through the webcam, but it would violate law.


    Nvidia Ion 2 slower than the original Ion?

    cer last week announced its Aspire One 532G netbook as the first to carry Nvidia's forthcoming Ion 2, but few details have been revealed about the next-gen graphics chip. Some folks at NetbookNews recently got their hands on the Aspire One 532G at Mobile World Congress, and they managed to sneak in a 3DMark 03 graphics benchmark.

    While the results aren't conclusive, the Ion 2 actually performed worse than the original. The Aspire One 532G scored 3,049 3DMarks, which compares to 3,593 3DMarks for the Ion LE-equipped Samsung N510. Netbook Choice speculates that this may show issues Nvidia has faced with Intel's Pine Trail architecture.

    Since the GPU-maker isn't allowed to create chipsets around DMI, the Ion 2 likely uses PCIe to interface with Pine Trail. It's suggested that limited bandwidth over PCIe could be the culprit -- at least partially -- but there are other explanations. For instance, Acer and Nvida might have crippled the system to keep it stable while being shown at MWC. Unpolished drivers could also be responsible.

    An Nvidia representative quickly responded to the unflattering benchmark results: "I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the benchmark that was performed at that show. I believe the units there were pre-release systems. We haven’t provided performance data yet for the public, we’ll have more details coming in early March."


    Lenovo intros six new Think-branded business computers

    enovo has announced it will ship six new Think-branded business-minded computers
    next month. The company flaunts its ThinkPad X201 as the industry's fastest ultraportable laptop, the X201s as the thinnest and lightest in its product line, the X201t is the "smart tablet for business users," and the W701 and W701ds mobile workstations are the most powerful ThinkPads.

    The ThinkPad X201, X201s, and X201t all have 12.1-inch displays (capacitive multitouch for the tablet), an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, Intel graphics, up to 8GB of RAM, have a range of disk and solid-state storage options, and run Windows XP or 7. The X201 and X201s offer up to 11 and 12 hours of battery life, and both weigh less than three pounds. In order of mention, prices start at $1,199, $1,599, and $1,549.

    The ThinkPad W701 and W701ds workstations sport 17-inch screens, with the latter also packing a 10.6-inch display. Apart from the dual-screen, the machines are seemingly identical. Both carry either a Core i7-920 or i7-820QM processor, an Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M or FX2800M GPU, up to 16GB of RAM, an HDD or SSD, Windows XP or 7, and weigh around nine pounds. Prices start at $2,199 and $3,799. 

    Lenovo says its ThinkServer TS200v "goes big on features and performance" with prices kicking off under $500. It can be configured with a handful of Core i3 and i5 processors, but scales all the way down to the Pentium G6950 and Celeron G1101. Other features include a DVD drive, room for two 3.5-inch drives in RAID 0/1, gigabit Ethernet, PCI as well as PCIe X1 and x16 slots, ten USB ports, and VGA-out.


    Monday, February 22, 2010

    U.S. authorities close in on Chinese Google hackers

    .S. authorities have reportedly tracked down the hacker who wrote the code behind the attacks on Google and a number of other local companies last month. Serious questions had already been raised about the likelihood of the attacks being in some way sanctioned by the Chinese government, and today's development seems to further back that notion.

    Turns out the alleged hacker is a Chinese "freelance security consultant in his 30s" who had published extracts of his IE6 exploit code as a work in progress. Although this man did not launch any attacks himself, according to The Financial Times, Chinese officials have "special access" to his work and are believed to have picked up the code.

    The spyware's launch was recently traced to computers at Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School, the first of which counts former government cyber security experts among its staff. Both institutions have denied involvement in the attacks, of course. The latest findings don't give a definite answer as to who was behind the attacks, but it might put some extra pressure on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigations.


    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Weekend Open Forum: What's your preferred mobile phone platform and handset?

    n the past three years we've seen a number of new smartphone operating systems burst onto the scene. From Apple's wildly successful iPhone OS, to Google's increasingly popular Android and Palm's praised yet still floundering WebOS -- to name a few. Microsoft is no stranger to the market either, but just recently the company took a radical departure from its previous business-centered strategy and unveiled what looks to be a potentially solid contender in the consumer space: the Windows Phone 7 Series.

    All of them are characterized for powering a new generation of touch-driven, fast and feature-rich devices that evermore seem to be turning into pocket-sized computers. The fact that three of the most significant companies in desktop computing -- Apple, Google and Microsoft -- now stand to occupy the same positions in mobile is a clear indication of where the industry is going.

    Others like Nokia and RIM have arguably been a bit slower to adapt to the latest trends -- or have preferred to focus their efforts on a particular niche -- but still command an undeniable large portion of the cell phone market. Like them there are also a number of big-name industry players peddling their own platforms and hardware, including Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Toshiba, HTC and LG Electronics.

    In this edition of our Weekend Open Forum we want to know what kind of device you are currently using. Have you jumped into the smartphone and mobile app craze? Are you more of the business user type? Or perhaps you are comfortable with anything that can make a simple phone call? Feel free to share what you love or hate about your current hardware and mobile platform, as well as any plans for your next purchase.


    Ubisoft's new DRM more annoying than expected

    ou may recall Ubisoft's recent decision to axe StarForce DRM in favor of a new online platform. The company's online services platform sounded similar to Steam, letting users play from multiple machines without discs -- but it wasn't perfect. The platform required a permanent Internet connection. Needless to say, gamers weren't happy.

    Despite disapproval, Ubisoft is pressing on with the technology. CVG has received Assassin's Creed II and Settlers VII for review, and both are laced with the new mechanism. Granted, being forced to have your machine online is annoying, but the flaws run a bit deeper.

    CVG says that if you're disconnected while playing, you're kicked from the game and all progress from the last checkpoint or save is lost. Naturally, this occurs whether your cat unplugs your router, your ISP has issues, or if Ubisoft's servers crash.

    Piracy may not be the driving force behind Ubisoft's new platform, but the company has said any initiative that decreases illegal downloads will allow it to pour more cash into the creation and expansion of intellectual properties.

    What about the resources wasted in an attempt to prevent the inevitable? We all know that Assassin's Creed II and other popular titles will hit torrent sites around the same time as retail shelves. Resistance is futile.

    Shouldn't companies focus more on rewarding paying customers rather than punishing them for the deeds of a few bad apples?


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