The tale of my AMD FX-9590 Easter-PC

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I usually never participate in sweepstakes. Last Easter I decided to participate in a sweepstake promoted on the AMD Facebook page for a change. The chellange was to find hidden easter eggs on an online shop and then put together a word from the letters on the eggs. I figured out the word (the riddle wasn’t easy for sure) and sent it in for the drawing. Surprisingly I won a high-end AMD PC worth 1900 Euro built by a German computer manufacturer that I don’t want to mention because I don’t want any bad press for them. After all they have been really nice to me. It just took some time till I had the PC running… like 3-4 months ūüėČ Initially the PC, an AMD FX-9590 based water cooled rig in a stylish white Corsiar 600T case arrived with

a.) a totally broken graphics card that turned out to be a 7970 instead of a R9 290X

b.) a H80i Corsair water cooler running at maximum RPM not throttling down being loud as hell and

c.) a missing SSD that was on the specs.

You can’t imagine the disappointment. I never won something that expensive and that broken!

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The company where I won the PC sent me a new graphics card as a replacement that was finally a R9 290X as listed on the specs. Unfortunately it either wasn’t really new (it didn’t come in a package but just in a foil bag – later they claimed it was from a bulk buy) or the reference design fan couldn’t cope with the heat of the GPU reaching 95¬į C on full load. After a week it stopped working correctly and artifacts showed up after booting from time to time. Meanwhile I found out why the water cooler was running so loud. The person who assembled the computer forgot to connect the water cooler pump heatsink element sitting on the CPU with the mainboard via an USB cable. While trying to plug in the wrong cable in it I broke the socket of the USB connector but the manufacturer sent me a completely new water cooler. That was reall nice by them. So far so good… The water cooler was still not throttling down. It turned out the Corsair Link software for the fan control is incompatible with Windows 8.1 that came with the PC. I had to manually change some entries in the registey after finding the solution on a forum. There I was now with a SSD, a new water cooler I managed to mount and get running properly and a randomly working graphics card. Of course the company where I won the PC promised to change the parts for free. I got a shock when they sent me a collection letter and thought I would need to give this case to a lawyer. It turned out to be a mistake. Then they sent me an all new R290 (no R290X) but one that was much better because it had 2 fans, a PowerColor Radeon R9 290 TurboDuo. This one came in a package and worked flawlessly. When using the PC for gaming I noticed freezes after 1-2 hours of playing. It turned out the CPU needs a more aggressive water cooler than the H80i but I was able to create a custom profile that runs on slow and silent 1000-1500 RPM in idle mode and moderately loud high 2000-2700 RPM in games while keeping the CPU stable at 4,7 GHz (depending on the room temperature).

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Generally speaking the PC has an outstanding performance that runs every game in stereoscopic 3D on at least 30 fps via Tridef and everything else in normal 3D on rock solid 60 fps on maxed out settings. It’s not very silent but you can get used to it. The noise level is barable in my opinion. As the AMD FX-9590 is the last of it’s kind in the lost arms race with Intel it’s a special feeling owning such a machine. The CPU wars in future won’t be fought in the high-end segment for gaming rigs! AMD lost the race there but placed their APUs in the PS4 and XB1 next-gen consoles. The CPU wars of the future will be fought in the tablet and mobile segment!

This PC might be even my last true Desktop rig. As an AMD fanboy maybe I’ll get a nice Kaveri Notebook with an AMD FX-7600P or A10-7300 APU for content creation and coding on Windows or Linux and a PlayStation 4 running an AMD APU for gaming. Intel will keep staying outside my Android tablets BTW… No matter how much they pay the tablet makers there is nothing better than an ARM SoC!

Medion Lifetab E7316

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Most reviews I read about the Medion Lifetab E7316 indicate the reviewers haven’t had the real device for testing and just tried to assess the specifications. I bought it on day-1 when it became available at my local Aldi store in Munich. I had to return the first device as it had a hardware problem with the touchscreen. A part of the touchscreen didn’t react to inputs randomly. My local Aldi supermarket changed it without any problems to a new one even though I bought it in a different location. I was lucky they still had a device I could get two days after the start of the sale. As I expected it was sold out but the lady at the supermarket pulled out the show case device for me. Let’s recap my experience with the device so far.

Pros:

  • Fast Cortex A9 ARM Quad-Core SoC with 1,6 GHz. Games like Need for Speed Most Wanted, Nova 3, Dead Trigger 2 or Modern Combat 4 run smoothly.
  • Android Jelly Bean. Pretty recent version with Google Play Store. Other low-cost tablets don’t even have that.
  • Visually appealing design with brushed metal on the back.
  • The black borders might look strange but are good for holding it.
  • Lightweight. It’s amazing how convenient it is holding the tablet.
  • Front and rear camera are nothing special but good enough for Skype and funny shots. I don’t think anyone really uses tablets for photography.
  • Sound volume is sufficient on 100%. Not that long ago tablets had much worse speakers.
  • Sufficient battery life with 4 hours. That’s fine for normal usage at home. It gets charged at night and used during the day.
  • Price: 99 EUR is simply outstanding!

Cons:

  • The display. It’s only 1024×600, not very sharp and has poor viewing angles. For games and video this is fine but longer reading hurts the eyes. The brightness can be turned up though.
  • 8 GB. Only 5,7 GB of are available for Apps. For casual games that’s OK but not for having several blockbuster titles installed at the same time.
  • The SD Card setup sucks. Photos are not saved to external cards when inserted. The internal memory emulates an SD card already. Apps can’t be moved to the SD card without rooting the tablet, using Link2SD or GL to SD and specially partitioned¬† SD cards. This doesn’t always work though . Link2SD or GL to SD sometimes can’t move games or loses either the link to the files on the SD card or even the entire mounting script.

The device is sold as Medion but it’s a Lenovo, the parent company of Medion from China that might be more familiar in general. The identifier is buried deep inside the system information though. The performance in benchmarks is on paid with the Asus Nexus 7: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Lenovo+LIFETAB_E7316

Recap: The Lifetab E7316 is just perfect for gaming and doesn’t cost much.

The Snowden Effect

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The leaking of government and military material including the U.S. diplomatic cables by Bradley Manning deeply concerned me in 2010 as I assumed it can destabilize the relationships between the US and the rest of the world. It turned out everyone knew what Americans embassies and diplomats are and nobody really¬†got upset. The US started using their embassies and consulates as spy outposts after 9/11. So far… so good. Obama and Clinton managed to keep the damage low.

The NSA material leak by Eward Snowden and the revelations that followed it are much more valuable than the Manning leaks and a true wake up call for ALL Internet users, engineers and the entire IT industry.

Let’s recap where privacy has been compromised so far:

  • US based Web Communication Services and Social Networks via PRISM (although most serious Internet companies check FISA requests and won’t give out information if not absolutely necessary)
  • Intercontinental traffic via NSA Upstream, GCHQ Tempora and most probably some Chinese program we don’t know the name of (there are indications for that)
  • Your PC Operating System like Windows (backdoors are known since 1999 and it can be infected by state-sponsored Trojans)
  • Your mobile Operating System may it be Android, iOS or BlackBerry OS (NSA thinks iPhone users with location services are zombies)
  • SSL certificates that are used on the web i.e. for online banking
  • Any hardware including routers going down to the PC BIOS and even CPU Microcode can be backdoored (Hauwei became famous for this)

The entire leak finally makes people understand that sending unencrypted Emails is like putting a letter in a plastic foil and sending it via post. Unencrypted Instant Messaging might be compared to writing your private messages on postcards. It makes governments around the world finally realize their information security has been compromised a long time ago and that they need to find new and safer methods of communicating. We now know that we live in an era of CYBER WAR after the COLD WAR ended.

Not only the US government betrayed the Internet but in large portions it has been them along with China, Russia, Israel, France and the UK. Read a great call to action to all engineers who helped creating the Internet to take it back:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/05/government-betrayed-internet-nsa-spying

The process has begun and there will be nothing that can stop it:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/12/ietf_floats_prismproof_plan_for_harder_internet/

Personally I started using OTR in Jabber and I support encrypted email projects like Mailpile:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mailpile-taking-e-mail-back

Eward Snowden destroyed his own life but for a very good cause. I’m confident we, the users and creators will take back the Internet. The absolutely crazy level of surveillance is an unjustified overreaction to the terror threat!

It¬†couldn’t avoid the Boston Marathon bombing attacks although the older Tsarnaev brother even had a public YouTube channel with radical videos on it. It’s the proof this global surveillance system doesn’t work. It didn’t work before 9/11 and it doesn’t work today because the real bad guys don’t touch any device with internet access. This is why Americans had such a hard time finding Osama Bin Laden. In the end it was not torture nor any snooped email that lead to him. It was a clever woman in the CIA who connected the dots applying classic detective work.

Mozilla Firefox to block 3rd party cookies

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If you are an owner of a blog and you try to monetize it you won’t be happy about an upcoming feature of Firefox that Mozilla will introduce in version 22. Mozilla will block 3rd party cookies that are used by most banner ads. The Do-Not-Track signal will be also turned on by default. The IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has put up a petition against this. I encourage you to sign it!

http://www.iab.net/mozilla_petition/

TVPeCee HDMI-Stick MMS-874 Android Mini-Computer

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Downloading Xvid movies via Torrent or some other P2P network is out. Not even Peerblockers with blacklists of honeypots can protect users anymore (more: http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-blocklists-dont-keep-bittorrent-spies-out-120904/). Today you can “rent” movies online for a few Euro (or Dollar) on most platforms like consoles, video-on-demand boxes by your ISP or other vendors, Smart TVs, Notebooks, Tablets, Barebones, HTPCs¬†and even mobile phones. You can also watch a wide range of movies via Web-Streaming i.e. from YouTube or other sites via Flash, HTML5 or native apps.

The problem with most platforms is that still most video streaming content¬†on the web is Flash-based. That’s where most of the platforms fail… for instance the Internet Explorer¬†for the Xbox 360 (that requires Gold membership BTW) doesn’t show Flash, Apple TV wouldn’t even dare to show Flash, ARM-based Raspberry Pi would be cool enough but there is no Flash player for the Linux and the browser running on it. So what to do if your TV is not “smart” (Internet connected) yet or Flash-enabled? Of course you can connect your Notebook or Tablet via HDMI to your TV, use some Air-Play service or buy a Barebone-PC or HTPC but I was looking for a cheap convenient and noiseless Always-On solution. What could be better for that than an Operating System and CPU (more a SoC) of a mobile phone? Android runs Flash too!¬†Although any new¬†updates or¬†versions won’t be released for it the old version is good enough for most Flash video content on the web.

I decided to try out such a device that you connect via HDMI to your TV.¬†First I ordered the MMS 864 TVPeCee that turned out to be a total disaster. It has a slow single-core ARM, runs Android 4.0 with an ugly custom UI, doesn’t play Flash in full screen and has¬†black screens from time to time. The successor model the MMS 874 with Android 4.1 cures¬†all those weaknesses though!

The MMS 874 has a fast dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU that is on the level of the Galaxy Nexus performance wise (more: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Rockchip+MMS-874.dualcore), runs the vanilla Android UI, shows Flash in full screen and has better passive cooling. See full specs here: http://www.pearl.de/a-ZX1005-1602.shtml (German). I extended the device with  a 16 GB microSDHC memory card, an USB hub, a wireless keyboard and a gamepad. This way the device becomes a console too as many games support a gamepad on Android (more: http://www.jayceooi.com/2012/09/11/android-games-with-native-gamepad-support/).

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For about 150 Euro (including all peripherals) you get a nice Android Mini-Computer that can be used to stream videos, play games, check social networks etc. on your TV screen¬†. It’s noiseless compared to some fan-equipped PC-Barebones, not bound to any video platform like the Apple TV with iTunes Store or any ISP video-on-demand box and relatively¬†cheap compared to consoles, PC-Barebones or¬†HTPCs. Forget about Google TV or this Air-Play black ball device (Nexus Q) they tried to release… Vanilla Android is more than enough to make your TV “smart” and connected.

The future of the PC

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The machine on the photo above is my current PC. An AMD FX-6300@4,5GHz with 16GB RAM, Radeon HD 6870, Samsung 128GB 840 SSD, 1TB HDD and a case with 5x 120mm fans… but this desktop computer running Windows 7, built for optimal gaming performance and value, is a dinosaur.¬†The desktop PC era is coming to an end and the big players in the PC world understood it. The Home Personal Computer that had a specific immobile place in your¬†apartment¬†or house is dead. Most people use notebooks, tablets, smart phones or video game consoles for media and content¬†consumption as well as social¬†actives.¬†Microsoft made the bold move with Windows 8 and hardware makers along with chip makers like Intel and AMD try to adapt to the new situation. CPUs tend to become System-On-Chips integrating¬† GPUs even in the x86 world as they would try to copy ARM, the dominant architecture for mobile chips. For home consumers I think the Windows x86 PC will survive as a hybrid tablet and Microsoft did a good job so far in initiating this transition. They killed the desktop user interface along with the task bar and the start button and adapted Windows to work with a touch interface. Not many people know but Microsoft was behind the design of most first generation Windows 8 Tablet hardware along with releasing their own reference device, the Surface RT and Surface Pro (more info: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561849-75/how-microsoft-became-a-control-freak-with-tablet-makers/).

The big question is if corporations will adapt to Windows 8. I talked with the IT support folks in my company and none of them can imagine using Windows 8 in the corporate environment. There is also a funny video about an admin reacting to Windows 8 on YouTube:

Everyone who is into content creation, will it be image or video/audio editing, print layout (aka DTP), web design or programming, won’t give up a mouse and a desktop user interface designed for it. No matter if on a Windows 7 PC, Linux PC, or Mac Pro or even a Notebook/Ultrabook or MacBook Pro/iMac/Mac mini. All of them are designed to be used with a track-pad or mouse. OK, it’s possible to do some nice content creation with touch and there are some cool Apps but I feel they are still toys compared to the mature software packages used on desktop machines. Also the classic office application suite is difficult to use on touch and you need also a wireless printer even though I reckon Microsoft did a good job with Office 2013. For typing a physical keyboard is a must but most Windows 8 tablets are hybrids anyway. It’s understandable why Microsoft want’s to keep this exclusive to Windows 8 and is not releasing an iOS Office version (more: http://www.zdnet.com/why-ballmer-doesnt-want-office-on-the-ipad-7000010566/). So the problem of Windows 8 is the hardware but it’s about innovative corporate hardware!

The following article by a professional analyst comes to the same conclusion more or less: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9236658/If_the_PC_dies_Windows_8_will_be_its_killer_says_analyst

So far I didn’t see many corporate hardware concepts for Windows 8 that are compelling enough but the ones that are our there come surprisingly from Dell (yes, the company that went private lately). It seems that most hardware makers like Lenovo with the Yoga 13 forgot to release a docking station. In my option an essential piece of hardware making life easier in a corporate environment is a docking station (or do you want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, wired network and monitor each time?). Windows 8 has multi-monitor support so such a configuration can work pretty well in my option (more: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/05/21/enhancing-windows-8-for-multiple-monitors.aspx).

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Another concept that makes sense is a kind of stand for the tablet that connects keyboard and mouse wireless.

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Of course you could tilt a touch PC like this Dell and use it in a kind of Star Trek Geordi La Forge manner by typing and touching the interface.

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My advice to Microsoft would be to release a set of Windows 8 (or Windows Blue by that time) reference devices similar to the Surface Pro especially optimized for the office corporate environment and content creation. The Surface Pro is a good start but more has to follow and most importantly those devices have to prove they improve efficiency similar to what is shown on the video below.

The state of Flash vs. HTML5

The debate about Flash vs. HTML5 began over two years ago. It all started with a public letter by Steve Jobs on April 2010: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

Where are we today?

Flash is still the default technology for most content designed for PC-based consumption… Facebook and other browser games are Flash and web video is still Flash in most cases as well.¬†Although YouTube supports HTML5 i.e. most sites still don’t offer it by default due to the mess around the video tag and codecs. On YouTube HTML5 is in testing stage an default off. The video encoding systems would need to encode each video at least twice to support most common browsers. Google announced o drop support for H.264 in Chrome but never did it. Mozilla announced support for native codecs installed on your machine including H.264 but didn’t implement this so far. All together H.264 is a bad idea as it’s not an open standard (more:¬†http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/h-264-patents-how-much-do-they-really-cost/2122) but it would be a common standard at least between popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. HTML5 lacks vital technologies like adaptive streaming (live content), content protection (for premium content) and playback locking (for advertising) .¬†Some serious work needs to be done to get this right ¬†(more recent info: http://www.longtailvideo.com/html5).

Mobile:

On mobile Flash is dead and users suffer¬†wherever¬†there is still Flash. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean doesn’t allow an easy installation via the Google Play Store anymore (more: http://www.howtogeek.com/120277/how-to-install-flash-on-the-nexus-7-and-other-jelly-bean-devices/¬†&¬†http://www.zdnet.com/androids-flash-player-is-dead-live-with-it-7000002668/). On iOS it never really existed except some hacks with running Flash enabled custom browsers but those never allowed to play Flash games i.e.

PC/Mac:

Some PC¬†versions are dead or dying. It seems Adobe can’t keep up with the quality assurance anymore. The native Linux version that installs into Firefox has been abandoned in¬†favor¬†of supporting only the Chrome Pepper API plug-in on Linux (more:¬†http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA2MDc). The native Windows version for Firefox suffers to from bugs like the protected mode problem that can be fixed manually by editing the config file of Flash (more: http://www.trishtech.com/internet/disable_adobe_flash_protected_mode_in_firefox.php)¬†and even the Pepper API Chrome plug-in on Linux introduces nasty regression bugs breaking hardware video decoding and similar. The Mac version has regressive bugs like missing hardware decoding from time to time too. All together the variety of Flash versions is so vast that it’s really hard to keep track of them:¬†http://blogs.computerworld.com/desktop-apps/20845/explaining-confusion-over-flash-versions

Apps:

In Apps Flash is behind the door usually except in Google Chrome Web Apps that can be simple links to Flash based websites. AIR is dead meanwhile as well. The AIR App Marketplaces always sucked (I had it on my WeTab) so it was no big loss. Windows 8 Apps can be either HTML5 or native. In Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10 comes with Flash but only white listed website can run it in the Modern UI mode. Only the Desktop mode allows to show every website in Internet Explorer 10. (more: http://www.infoworld.com/t/microsoft-windows/flash-windows-8-thats-just-part-of-the-story-194315 & http://blog.rabidgremlin.com/2012/10/11/did-microsoft-just-kill-flash-ie10-wont-run-flash-unless-your-site-is-on-a-microsoft-whitelist/?replytocom=2560).

The future of Adobe & HTML5:

Adobe recently announced their HTML5 tools called Edge that are more or less what I predicted more than a year ago (more: http://html.adobe.com/edge/) . To be frankly they are very late with that. I started using a web based HTML5 editor called Maquetta (more: http://maqetta.org/) that came out of IBM as an open source project long before Edge came out (more: http://maqetta.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28:ibm-contributes-maqetta-to-open-source-community&catid=2:news&Itemid=9).

Conclusion:

In general I think content providers for video, browser game developers and the online advertising industry should get their asses up all together and invest massively in HTML5. Operating system makes should focus on making HTML5 as fast and snappy as¬†possible¬†to prevent App developers to go native on their Apps like Facebook recently (more: http://hughewilliams.com/2012/09/27/why-facebook-shouldnt-have-dumped-html5/). The W3C and individual company lobbyists looking after the HTML5 standard¬†should stop fighting about dumb codecs i.e. and finally agree on the best option. JavaScript and CSS should get some overhaul too. If I see how difficult it became to do easy things these days or how¬†inconsistent¬†and¬†immature¬†JavaScript still is I wonder how HMTL5 App developers manage to write complex web applications like browser games using that technology (not to mention browser¬†compatibility¬†issues). There is a long way to get rid of Flash ahead of us but in the end it’s worth it. Things are¬†changing¬†and Steve Jobs was absolutely right.

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