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Nvidia GTX 690 & 670

About 2 weeks ago Nvidia updated it’s Facebook page with an image of a the unnamed graphics card and the teaser “IT’S COMING”:

Nvidia "IT'S COMING" Campaign. Image taken from http://www.facebook.com/NVIDIAGeForce

Nvidia “IT’S COMING” Campaign. Image taken from http://www.facebook.com/NVIDIAGeForce

A week later we found out what “it” was. A GTX 690 – essentially 2 GTX 680 GPUs and their RAM on a single PCB. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by this. At the time the GTX 680s were hard enough to find due to GPU shortages (supposedly due to manufacturing difficulties with TSMC,) so to try to put two in one graphics cards seemed a crazy move. On top of this, The real money in graphics cards is made through the bulk sales of cheaper “mainstream” cards rather than the smaller sales of top end cards. The real kicker in the announcement though was that the GTX 660Ti wouldn’t be arriving until H2. I assumed this meant all the lower cards would be late too…

Just one week later, came the graphics card I was waiting for – GTX 670. The GTX 680 is a great card, but is too expensive to justify. The GTX 670, whilst still a high-end card, is some £100GBP/$150AUD cheaper. On to the hardware.

GTX 690 is easy to summarise. As I said before, it’s essentially 2 GTX 680s on one PCB. The GPUs on this board are clocked a little lower but could still boost to clock speeds higher than the 680’s base clock under the right conditions. The card reaches around 95% of the performance of a pair of GTX 680s in SLI, whilst consuming far less power, generating less noise and less heat. Heat. Herein lies the weakness of most dual GPU cards – a centrally mounted fan exhausts the heat from one GPU out the rear of the case, but exhausts the heat from the second into the PC case, where it will end up raising temperatures of other components. The card costs a similar amount to a pair of GTX 680s so this would be a great route to go if you were planning on diving straight in with two GTX 680s.

GTX 670 is based on a cut down GTX 680 GPU. In my post on the GTX 680 I questioned how Nvidia was planning on scaling it’s GK104, and now we know:

GK104 in GTX 670. Image by Nvidia

GK104 in GTX 670. Image by Nvidia

Rather than cutting out a GPC, Nvidia has disabled a SMX within one of the GPCs. This means a reduction in stream processors of 12.5% (1344 rather than 1536). On top of this the GPU runs 9% slower (915MHz rather than 1006MHz). Rather surprisingly, this graphics card only runs 5-10% slower than the GTX 680, this is due to the aggressive GPU boost settings which can boost the clock speed by 18% rather than the GTX 680’s 10%.

In the GTX 670, we have a card that is about 25% cheaper than the GTX 680, but only 5-10% slower. Sounds like a bargain to me and will likely make it’s way into my next PC.

An Open Letter to Spotify From an Android User.

UPDATE: Spotify have released a preview for their next Spotify version which looks like a major overhaul. Hit up this blog post for more!

Dear Spotify

I have been using Spotify Premium for something like 4 years now. I love Spotify, I think it’s one of the best things ever, but why do you not care about your Android users? It’s not just me that’s annoyed with the Spotify Android app – just look at the reviews on Google Play:

Spotify on Google Play

Spotify on Google Play

That’s a lot of 1 star ratings! And there are a lot of people with similar complaints to me and we’re all being ignored.

The majority of the problems I have are as follows:

  • Your app is INCREDIBLY unresponsive. It’s hardly pushing the CPU, GPU, or network connection when you first open it and want to choose some music, so why does it take up to 20 seconds of being totally unresponsive before you can even scroll down the first screen?
  • Playlist management is awful. It’s complicated enough to manage your playlists in your app, but if you choose to attempt it, you get 17 seconds of music before the app restarts itself. This includes starring a track. This is just unacceptable.
  • Why can you only long-press tracks/albums in the search results or a playlist? I want to do it within an album listing, surely that’s not asking too much?
  • Local music. If people plan on putting more than a few tracks from your PC onto your phone to play within your app, they’d best be prepared to have no options about how they’re listed, and which order they play in. No album or artist listings here, just a long list of tracks.
  • Offline tracks (as synced through your app, not local music) get lost if you have to reinstall. I keep my offline files on the SD card, they’re still there, why are you rebuilding them?
  • It takes an absolute age to sync offline tracks. And I mean ages. Your app makes the chosen tracks available offline as they’re played, or you can sync over wi-fi. Doing it over wi-fi is really no quicker than listening to a whole playlist though.
  • Where’s the rotation support?
  • Why will it often reach the end of a track and not move on to the next?
  • …and what’s that buzzing noise between every track? Oh, and also every time the connection drops.
  • Why does my phone on occasion restart? It doesn’t do this very often, but it’s always when your app is either playing or shortly after it’s finished while it’s still loaded.

For me though, the biggest kicker is that you are off doing other things. For example, our iOS friends recently got the SpotON radio app; and just last week you introduced the “Play Button” allowing for the embedding of tracks into webpages. If you have time to create these other things, how about setting some time aside to fix an already introduced app?

You might be excused if this was a new app and had only been out a few months, but this app has been around (and has had very few updates) since 2009.

Please get it sorted. A lot of us are getting very fed up.

Yours faithfully

Miles (Android user)

Spotify is coming to Australia!

So, Spotify is coming to Australia any week now (or so we keep hearing), but I’m not sure how many guys over here actually know what Spotify is, so I thought I’d do a quick once over.

Imagine you log onto your computer and open Media Player/WinAmp/iTunes, and you could do a search for nearly any music you want, whether you own it or not, and just play it straight away. Spotify makes this a reality. Rather than owning the music and having it stored locally, Spotify streams the music directly off the Spotify servers.

The pluses of streaming include the huge range of music, and I do mean huge. They had an estimated 15.5 million tracks July 2011, and they add more than 10,000 tracks every day so we can safely say they’re closer to 20 million. They also do a fairly good job with new releases with most major labels and bands on there although sometimes it will be a few weeks before a band puts a new album up, as they have to try to sell as many CDs/MP3s as they can first. Another important factor (for me at any rate) is that the artists get paid through Spotify! not a great deal (hard figures are hard to come by but estimates seem to be in the $0.00003 per play region) but if you get enough plays they all add up – and let’s face it, a fraction of a cent beats an illegal download!

The downsides of streaming. Streaming music will use up huge amounts of data. While this isn’t a problem in the UK, in Australia capped internet is what the majority of people have. For the highest quality streaming (which is premium only – more on that in a bit) we’re talking 2.4MB/minute. You only have to multiply that up to see the amount of data we’re talking – 2.4MB/min = 144MB/hr. If you have friends over and listen to music for 4hrs, we’re talking 576MB. If you like to listen to music all weekend, we could call that 10hrs a day for 2 days – 2.9GB. That’s a huge chunk out of your allowance. Hopefully unlimited deals will become more prevalent in the near future, but for now that’s what we’ve got.

As I said before, there are a huge number of artists on Spotify, so you’ll never be stuck for something new (Anamanaguchi anyone? How about some Dananananaykroyd? Holy Fuck?) and besides some of the more obvious omissions (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Oasis), you’ll find the majority of your favourites!

So, how do the artists get paid? Spotify makes its money through subscriptions and advertising. There are 3 different Spotify packages users can choose from:

Free: (Free) If you go for the free package, you will have to suffer one or 2 adverts interrupting your music every 20 mins or so, as well as banner ads in the program. On top of this, after 6 months you will be limited to 10hrs per month and only up to 5 plays of any tracks. This is to try to encourage you to get a pay account. In the past they have had invite accounts which take these limitations away but currently we don’t know what they have planned for Australia.

Unlimited: (5GBP – approx 7.50AUD) Unlimited gets rid of the adverts and adds a radio option as well as giving you the option to use it abroad.

Premium: (10GBP – approx 15AUD) Premium is where it gets juicy. You get Spotify on your mobile (Android, iOS, Symbian, Windows, and Palm), you get high quality streaming (320kbps ogg), the ability to stream to other devices, and an offline mode (which could save you on the earlier mentioned data).

There’s also a social side. This involves Facebook, which can turn some people off, but for many it’s worth it. Once connected, you can see (and play) other people’s playlists, what they’re currently listening to, what they star, and plenty more. This comes up within the app as well as on Facebook. It’s like last.fm (and yes, scrobbling is supported) but a bit more real time.

I’ve been on Spotify premium for a few years now and it’s much cheaper than buying CDs. The catalogue is huge, the artists get paid, and it’s available on my phone. What more could you want? Visit the official website for more and to sign up for news on when you can get Spotify yourself!

Is this the geekiest game ever?

Right off the bat you can tell this is going to be a geeky game, but the deeper you get into it the more geeky it becomes.

Let’s start with the basics. Its working title is 0x10c. It’s an Elite inspired space trading game. So far so good. Now it gets more geeky…

It’s set in the year 281 474 976 712 644 AD and here’s why:

In 1988, a brand new deep sleep cell was released, compatible with all popular 16 bit computers. Unfortunately, it used big endian, whereas the DCPU-16 specifications called for little endian. This led to a severe bug in the included drivers, causing a requested sleep of 0x0000 0000 0000 0001 years to last for 0x0001 0000 0000 0000 years.

You know, your typical little endian – big endian mix-up. We’ve all been there. What’s that? You haven’t? You’ve only really used more more modern, higher level programming tools and languages? oh. ok. This next bit may not interest you then…

Finally, within the game is a computer you can program. Well, I say computer, but what you really get is the DCPU-16 which you can program. In assembly language. To quote the official website:

The computer in the game is a fully functioning emulated 16 bit CPU that can be used to control your entire ship, or just to play games on while waiting for a large mining operation to finish.

They’ve recently published the CPU specs to give people a head start writing programs before the game itself is released.

You will even need to balance what equipment you have powered on as your spacecraft’s generator only outputs a set wattage.

This game is being developed by Minecraft developer Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, who seemingly took inspiration from some of the more complex Minecraft creations…

To keep up with developments, follow @notch

Rooting and rebooting

I’m starting this post on the train whilst listening to SBTRKT. Chances are I’ll finish it on a PC or even a Mac.

None of this has anything to do with why I’ll be rooting my phone. Rooting it will not give it a bigger screen or real keyboard. The reason for me doing so is freedom. I’ve paid good money for my phone, I own it outright, and I want to do whatever the hell I want with it. (For those of you more familiar with their Apple and iOS lingo, this is the same as jailbreaking.)

I’m an Android user and I currently own a Wildfire. It’s my second Android phone and I like Android. I previously had this phone rooted and even had it running Cyanogen Mod 7. The headphone port broke and I had to have it repaired (Telstra shop guy was great, repair centre weren’t). The repair they carried out was to replace the mainboard, essentially returning me a new phone. I’m now running the current HTC/Telstra ROM which isn’t too bad but it has some major niggles. The main one being that it isn’t my idea of current. Another big one is the bloatware on it – I’ve already run out of internal storage! Sure, apps can be installed on the SD card, but as any Android user will know, a great many apps can’t be moved, especially the large Google apps. What I ideally need to do is get rid of the apps that were installed on the phone when it arrived (especially that Garmin sat nav one that daily tells me it has an update). This is where rooting comes in. Even if I decide not to install CM7 on it, if I have it rooted I can uninstall all of these useless pieces of software (why would I want a maps app when Android comes with Google Maps?).

Before I go any further, here is the mandatory disclaimer. Rooting your phone is a scary and risky process. Read the whole set instructions twice before you start and make sure you have all the drivers ready to go.

First attempt this time around I gave unrevoked a try. Not so hot. First attempt did nothing. Second attempt looked a lot more promising when it restarted. Then it hung mid boot. on disconnection, I got a pretty scary looking red exclamation mark on the screen and nothing else. It wouldn’t turn off or do anything. After pulling the battery it rebooted. Slowly. 3rd attempt was nearly successful, but at the last step it failed. This is down to my phone having too modern a version of the HTC security software (a combination of bootloader and NAND lock).

Next I used the “Goldcard” Method. This is the same method I used last time so I know it works. Essentially this is an extended version of the unrevoked method, involving a preparatory step flashing a different bootloader and disabling the NAND lock. It all went well with this method until the last reboot after flashing CM7. I found myself in a loop with my phone just restarting itself. Re-reading the instructions I realised I’d forgotten to clear the cache and factory reset. After that, success!

Yes, you may have noticed I did flash my phone with CM7 in the end. I decided that since I would need to do this in order to use my Australian phone in the UK (with a UK SIM that is), I may as well just do it at the same time as rooting. So, my phone is now running Android 2.3.7, up from 2.2.1, and more importantly has a load of free space. I’ve found a lot more apps can be moved to the SD card than previously as well as the bloatware being absent. Next I need to work through some of the smaller niggles I’m having with CM7, namely that the Market (or Google Play as it’s now known) can take 30 mins from me hitting install to it actually start doing anything.

All in all, this is a vast improvement on how it was before!

You can listen to the whole of SBTRKT’s album SBTRKT on Spotify.

Nvidia GeForce GTX680 and going down…

So, it’s been a week now since Nvidia released the GeForce GTX680 and and response has been overwhelmingly positive. AMD have had a good run by themselves at the top end in the 3 months since they introduced their 28nm part in the form of the Radeon HD7900 series. These boards were impressive and many (myself included) wondered how Nvidia were going to compete after their last 2 top end cards were pretty hot and power hungry. The answer is to get rid of the shader clock and pack in a LOT more processor!

Previously, Nvidia ran its shader clock at twice the speed of the rest of the GPU but Kepler has done away with this approach. In doing so they have decreased the power draw and temperature the GPU operates at. Obviously with this halving of speed there will be a massive decrease in performance. In order to counter this, Nvidia has tripled (yes, tripled) the number of stream processors to 1536, as well as increasing the clock speed by nearly 30%. Unfortunately, the RAM side of things has seen no such overhaul. Whereas AMD’s 7970 has a memory bandwidth of 264 GB/s, the GTX680 has just 192.3 GB/s. This is actually down on the GTX580, albeit by only 0.01GB/s. With such a powerful GPU this could be a problem, if only minor. The situations when you need the most graphics grunt are at higher resolutions (surround for example), in 3D, and when applying heavy AA. Guess what? Every one of those scenarios also  requires a decent amount of graphics card RAM with plenty of bandwidth.

Most websites have found the GTX680 to be noticably faster than the 7970 in the majority of games (obviously it depends on the game engine, developer etc.). The real issue (for AMD) is that Nvidia have launched this card cheaper than theirs. We can expect price drops on at least the top tier of AMD’s range, and possibly further into the upper-midrange. This lower price will have been brought about in no small part by the fact that Nvidia have produced a chip that is physically smaller than AMD’s. for the last couple of generations Nvidia have produced GPUs that have been, frankly, huge. The GTX 580 was a whopping 520 mm2 this compared at the time to AMD’s 6970 at 389 mm². Big difference. This time around however, whilst AMD is producing a 7970 chip at 365 mm2, Nvidia have managed to squeeze all thGTX680’s power into just 294 mm2, allowing the use of less silicon, less cost to manufacture, and less price to the end user.

The next big question is the mid-range. How will the new GF104 scale, and how is Nvidia planning to do so. We should be finding out in the next few weeks, but if the GTX680 is anything to go by, we could have some cheap powerful chips hitting the midrange.