AMD’s RX 470 GPU debuts with excellent performance for under $200

AMD’s RX 470 GPU debuts with excellent performance for under 0

Today, AMD formally launched its new RX 470, the slimmed-down little brother of the larger RX 480. Debuting at $179, the new GPU offers much of the performance of the RX 480 in a cheaper package. Reviews have come in from a number of sites with generally positive results, though there’s an interesting discrepancy I want to touch on.

First, the big-picture takeaway. The RX 470 is a 2,048:128:32 GPU configuration (that’s cores, texture units, and ROPs). It’s a modest step down from the RX 480’s 2,304:144:32 configuration, and the GPUs base and top frequencies have been trimmed as well, down to 926MHz and 1206MHz as compared with 1120MHz and 1266MHz respectively.

RX470-Chart

With 4GB of VRAM and an updated Polaris-class core, the RX 470 makes short work of AMD’s previous GPUs in this space as well as the Maxwell-based competition. It’s up to 2x faster than the GTX 960 in DirectX 12 and Vulkan, and maintains a healthy lead against Nvidia’s GPU in every case — even Project Cars, which tends to favor Nvidia. AMD’s GPUs in this price band were typically anchored by old, GCN 1.0 cards, which means RX 470 compares even better against them.

With that said, there’s some indication that which version of the RX 470 you buy could matter quite a bit. Most of the reviews out today are on the Asus Strix RX 470; AMD didn’t distribute its own reference cards for this review. THG’s investigation of that card found its performance to be in-line with expectations, but its $200 list price is extremely close to the RX 480. The Asus card also has some issues with hot spot formation on the board rather than on the GPU.

01-Asus-RX-470-Strix-Doom-Loop

Ow. Image by Tom’s Hardware

The voltage regulators are packed tightly and not cooled well and are almost certainly operating out of spec. AMD took heat for the reference design it fielded with RX 480, but this is Asus’ own custom PCB and design — not AMD’s. The GPU’s frequency bounces around a good deal and rarely hits the 1270MHz Asus officially rates it for, instead topping out around 1150MHz. Asus also limits their card to a six-pin power connector, while at least one company, MSI, shipped an eight-pin version.

There’s some early indication that either the additional power or better GPU cooling may have had an impact on comparison results. Eurogamer also reviewed the RX 470, but they used an MSI GPU with an eight-pin power connector. Even at stock frequencies, the gap they measured between the RX 470 and the RX 480 was significantly smaller than what Tom’s Hardware, Hot Hardware, Legit Reviews, and PC World all recorded. (HH, ET, and THG all received the Asus Strix GPU, Legit Reviews and PC World got an XFX variant, and Eurogamer has the only MSI review we’ve seen so far).

The table below summarizes the performance delta between the RX 480 and RX 470 as measured by Eurogamer and Tom’s Hardware Guide. All of the tests in question appear to have been run with the same detail levels and resolution (1080p) at both sites, and with the same API where applicable.

Compiled data from THG, Eurogamer.

Compiled data from THG, Eurogamer. “Delta” refers to the RX 480’s speed advantage.

This gap, and the substantial variance in AIB board pricing, seems to explain why different sites have significantly different opinions on the RX 470 itself. Eurogamer’s review claims that the RX 470 can offer 95%+ of the performance of the RX 480, PC World declared that the RX 470 is a “Great graphics card with a terrible price.” (the XFX RX 470 RS Black Edition that PC World reviewed has a $220 list price).

And speaking of price…

Before the RX 470 formally launched, word on the street was that the GPU would launch at $100 and $150. You’ll find these numbers widely mentioned online and they were part of our own reporting on the topic.

In retrospect, it’s not clear where this information came from. It’s not included in any formal deck that AMD sent to ExtremeTech, despite having been widely reported online last week. The $179 target price for the RX 470 (AMD calls this an SEP, or Suggested E-tail price) was only formalized a few days before reviews went up.

Whether or not the $179 SEP makes sense depends on whether your benchmark results look more like Eurogamer’s or more like THG’s. An RX 470 that offers 95% of RX 480 performance in a smaller power envelope and for $20 less is a winning deal; an RX 470 at 85% of RX 480 performance and $20 less isn’t as compelling. We’re investigating the situation and will report back once more information is available.

A huge step forward for budget gaming

AMD’s successful RX 480 launch was tempered by Nvidia’s decision to return fire with the GTX 1060 (albeit at a higher price point) and the power issues that initially hit the reference cards. Neither is an issue here. While there are some questions about specific GPU models, all reviews are in agreement — the RX 470 is a huge performance upgrade over any Nvidia or AMD GPU competing in this price band. The only exception is the RX 480, and that GPU launched just last month.

While there are some questions about just how much performance the RX 470 “should” offer compared with the RX 480, the general shape of the comparison is clear. At $179, the RX 470’s price/performance ratio is at least scaled well against the RX 480. The GPU that costs slightly more also performs slightly better. No problem there. Some RX 470 SKUs may be slightly better deals than others, but there’s no bad results to speak of. The only question is, will the RX 470 and RX 480’s prices settle back down and move towards where they ought to be?

Source: ExtremeTech

Spotify’s Latest Algorithmic Playlist Is Full of Your Favorite New Music

Spotify’s Latest Algorithmic Playlist Is Full of Your Favorite New Music

SpotifyTA.jpg

Source: WIRED

Osmo’s New iPad Game Puts Your Drawings in a Monster’s Hands

Osmo’s New iPad Game Puts Your Drawings in a Monster’s Hands

OsmoTA.jpg

Source: WIRED

Intel Recalls Basis Peak Watches Because of All the Burning

Intel Recalls Basis Peak Watches Because of All the Burning

Source: WIRED

Intel recalls Basis Peak fitness trackers due to fire hazard, kills product line

Intel recalls Basis Peak fitness trackers due to fire hazard, kills product line

As more and more companies take on the Internet of Things, it’s a given that plenty of devices will have early issues and problems. Even so, the complete recall and cancellation of the Basis Peak is noteworthy — especially given all the money and effort Intel has been pumping into its own Internet of Things business.

Basis is a business funded by Intel Capital with a focus on designing and building fitness trackers. The company and its products are described as follows:

The Basis band has the most advanced sensors on the market, continuously capturing heart rate patterns, motion, perspiration and skin temperature throughout the day and night. You can then find opportunities in your daily routine to insert take-charge-of-your-health actions, like getting more activity and regular sleep. Simply choose the area you want to focus on and Basis does the rest. Basis automatically captures activity and sleep with no button pushing or mode setting required.

Perhaps Basis should have included an external temperature sensor?

Several months ago, Basis recommended that some 0.2% of its fitness tracker owners had experienced overheating from the device. As a result, it recommended that Basis owners cease using the watch until a software update was available to address reports of burning or blistering in a small number of devices. It was apparently impossible to resolve the problem, which led to the total recall discussed here.

Basis-Peak-Watch

While it might be tempting to pin this issue on Intel’s general failure to win much market share for its IoT products, the Basis Peak is, to the best of our knowledge, built around a Cortex-M CPU, not an Intel chip. Another odd thing is that the Basis Peak has been on the market for 18 months and was generally well-reviewed when it shipped. This could lend credence to Basis’ own claims that the issue only affects 0.2% of smart watches — with that low of an incidence rate, the company may well have needed time to identify the cause. One of the problems in science and data gathering is that very low probability events are extremely difficult to distinguish from background noise.

The Basis Peak won accolades when it launched for being the first accurate heart rate and sleep monitoring fitness tracker, though its sales were never very high. It’s not clear if Basis will continue building products after this, but the damage to Intel’s own IoT efforts is PR, not technical.

Details on the recall and additional information for affected customers can be found here.

Source: ExtremeTech

Hacking US infrastructure: How vulnerable is it?

Hacking US infrastructure: How vulnerable is it?

Is our infrastructure vulnerable to hackers? The short answer to the question, unfortunately, is yes. But it’s not like no one is thinking about the issue or doing anything about it. As with the dire predictions of Y2K meltdowns from the turn of the millennium, while there are definite and potentially huge risks, both the public and private sectors are working to mitigate them.

Power grid and utility vulnerability

The Ukraine power grid attack in December 2015 was a sobering wake-up call of the extent of what is possible. In that event, which some security experts have called cunning and brilliant, the hackers planned the attack by infiltrating the power utility systems over a period of months. Using some old-school exploits like Microsoft Word file attachments with an infected macro that downloaded malware, and careful infiltration of the network stealing remote login credentials over time, the hackers were able to get control of the system to ultimately shut off power to 230,000 people in a cold winter.

The good news is that manual overrides were able to turn the power back on relatively quickly, but some parts of the Ukraine grid took longer to return. Russia is suspected to be behind that attack, given the tensions in the region, but the cyberwarfare world has both state and non-state actors. Russia, China, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and the US all have cyber units, and terrorist groups like ISIS and many other lesser known groups have engaged in cyberattacks for coercive, monetary, or political motives.

Part of the risk in cyber intrusions on infrastructure is the connection of these systems to the internet. Many ICS/SCADA (Industrial Control Systems/Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems are based on older technology. The grafting of internet and networking capabilities to these systems enable remote monitoring and control, and sometimes end-customer access to utility usage and billing data. Sometimes, these newer forms of access are not adequately shielded from systems that control vital aspects of the utilities.

A case in point involved a Verizon report of a data breach at an unnamed water utility in the US in March. That utility’s SCADA platform was based on an IBM AS/400 minicomputer, a 1980s era system, and incorporated valve flow and control software as well as IT applications like customer billing. The system was connected to an end-customer online payment portal. Hackers exploited a flaw in the portal to gain access to the AS/400 admin credentials, essentially gaining control over almost all of its applications.

Security cryptography

Aside from stealing 2.5 million customer account records, including billing information, what’s more frightening is that the hackers were able to gain control over the valve and flow software. They were able to control the chemicals in water treatment and affect the rate at which water was returned for usage. Fortunately, other indicators alerted the water utility’s staff of what was happening and that the system was overridden. But it’s clear that if a series of coordinated attacks were done on vital systems, the havoc would not be easy to contain.

Interestingly enough, some of these issues can be ameliorated by simply better use of existing technology. For example, many remote or VPN logins don’t use two-factor authentication – something increasingly deployed now on many consumer-facing services. This could help thwart many situations of hackers halfway around the world stealing passwords via various known means. Part of the reason is that, in many cases, locally run utilities have regulated rates and limited budgets, and often software upgrades are put off. The “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality can delay necessary security improvements, especially when modifying older technology that may introduce new issues.

Another attacker exploit being discovered is infecting the software upgrade mechanisms of ICS/SCADA vendors. Just like Windows Update, these vendors have either manual or automated firmware and software upgrade mechanisms. So rather than break into a specific system, a hacker could plant malware in a software update. That malware may lurk in systems for months or years, ready to be triggered by some specific attack or time-based event.

Smart cities and other infrastructure concerns

Water and electric infrastructure may be particularly vulnerable due to the age of the systems and the universal dependence on these services. But obviously other infrastructure of critical importance may be equally vulnerable – transportation, energy, communications, and healthcare are others. There have been well publicized cases of ransomware attacks on hospital health record systems. While in several of those cases, the hospitals have quickly paid up relatively small sums (compared with the cost of not having their system back), in a cyberwar scenario the effects could be far costlier and deadlier. The Department of Transportation lacks a coherent cybersecurity strategy. With the push for smarter cities, more internet-connected city information and services, and a looming future of autonomous cars, the importance of best practices and standards for cybersecurity in transportation is increasing exponentially. A smart city

The Stuxnet worm virus, reported developed by Israel and the US, is said to have severely slowed Iran’s uranium enrichment development for a nuclear weapon. It is one of the best-known cases of states using cyber capabilities as an alternative to physical attack to reach an objective. We should be mindful that our own nuclear energy infrastructure needs to be better protected. A recent report indicates that attacks on U.S. non-military nuclear systems are increasing. Part of the problem is that there are contracts with vendors that deal with maintaining security, but many of these do not go into enough detail about monitoring, reporting, and performance metrics. Nuclear energy is heavily regulated, and security has always been taken seriously. But it is also an industry with aging infrastructure, and the same budget issues that apply to other utility infrastructure apply here as well.

Does all of this sound scary? It is, but the threats are being taken seriously. In this presidential election season, even the voting systems are also being considered. Considering the recent Democratic National Committee hacks, the Department of Homeland Security is looking into ways the election infrastructure can be better protected. Some of the concern comes from increasing use of wireless technology in voting machines to tabulate and aggregate voting data. It is a complicated task, with over 9,000 jurisdictions controlling voting across the country. But understanding potential threats and security best practices can limit the possibility of tampering with the system. Regardless of the severity of potential consequences, it’s impossible to protect against every threat, in either the cyber or physical world.

In time for Black Hat and DEFCON, we’re covering security, cyberwar, and online crime all this week; check out the rest of our Security Week stories for more in-depth coverage.

Source: ExtremeTech

When you look at the camera and it looks back: How artificial intelligence is revolutionizing home security

When you look at the camera and it looks back: How artificial intelligence is revolutionizing home security

Last year, we covered how scene recognition would be the next transformative milestone in artificial intelligence. With the release of the Nest’s outdoor cameras this month, we see the first glimmerings of that reality taking shape. For those new to the concept, scene recognition entails the use of machine learning to discern content within a video or photograph and categorize them the way a human would. This is essentially the same process used by virtual assistants like Google Now and Siri to understand verbal commands, except on a visual rather than auditory level.

To grasp the difference in complexity, consider the many accents and tones one might use to enunciate the word “stop” and still be intelligible. While certainly vast, the sound profile of any particular word is small when compared with, say, the variety of poses a cat might take in a photo and still be recognizable as a cat. For this and other reasons, the task of building a scene-recognition algorithm that can rival a human’s ability to recognize objects has remained elusive. That’s beginning to change, and not surprisingly Google is at the forefront of these developments.

Nest-Outdoor-Camera-1

The Nest Outdoor camera, packing a heavy dose of artificial intelligence

You may recall that Google snapped up Nest back in January 2014 for US $3.2 billion. For much of the time since then, Nest has languished, a view bolstered by the recent departure of its visionary founder and CEO Tony Fadell. But with the recent release of the Nest outdoor camera, it appears Google has an ace up its sleeve. Leveraging its expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Google is on the verge of creating security cameras capable of advanced scene recognition, a feat that could enable them to corner the entire market for surveillance cameras. Imagine a camera that could detect on its own when a robber had entered the house or when a falling branch had cracked a window, or that an elderly loved one had fallen down, or even that a baby had climbed out of its crib and was heading towards the stairs. In other words, a security camera with intelligence, and not just by motion detection.

The Nest Aware feature of the outdoor camera is exactly that, albeit still in an early stage of development. Currently, its AI algorithms allow it to detect when a human has entered the scene, versus when the movement on the camera was caused by a deer, butterfly, or any random natural phenomena. That already represents an important achievement in scene recognition, since it provides the camera with the ability to sort out useless parts of the surveillance footage from those that involve potential burglars.

Nest has been tight-lipped about touting the scene recognition features of its camera, oddly enough. You need to dig deep into the second or third layer of the marketing materials to find anything about Nest Aware and scene recognition. It’s possible the idea of an artificial intelligence peering into your house 24 hours a day, sorting video footage, may be as scary to many people as it is comforting to others.

For more, read: How to get started with DIY home surveillance systems

In time for Black Hat and DEFCON, we’re covering security, cyberwar, and online crime all this week; check out the rest of our Security Week stories for more in-depth coverage.

Source: ExtremeTech

NASA’s TESS mission on track to start hunting exoplanets in 2017

NASA’s TESS mission on track to start hunting exoplanets in 2017

Ever since it debuted in 2009, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has redefined our understanding of other star systems. But Kepler is in rough shape, and it won’t last forever. Now TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is ticking along on schedule to launch in 2017. While the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to be a partial replacement for the Hubble telescope, the JWST will also be a sort of spiritual successor to Kepler, in that it will team up with TESS to hunt for exoplanets in the visible and IR bands.

Like Kepler, TESS will use the transit method, searching for exoplanets by watching hundreds of thousands of stars for the telltale dimming. But where Kepler must cast its eyes to a small patch of distant space, peering deeply but narrowly into the skies, TESS will make a shallower whole-sky survey of stars within a few hundred light years of Earth. Most of Kepler’s exoplanet discoveries came from one relatively small patch of the sky. But NASA officials say that TESS should be able to look at over 200,000 stars.

To make things easier for mission scientists, TESS breaks up its spherical viewfield into 26 “tiles” that overlap near its north and south poles. “The spacecraft’s powerful cameras will look continuously at each tile for just over 27 days, measuring visible light from the brightest targets every 2 minutes,” NASA officials said in a statement. Based on the characteristics of those little dips in brightness, TESS scientists will be able to tell how big the newly discovered exoplanets are, and how long they take to orbit their parent stars.

Left: The combined field of view of the four TESS cameras. Middle: Division of the celestial sphere into 26 observation sectors (13 per hemisphere). Right: Duration of observations on the celestial sphere. The dashed black circle enclosing the ecliptic pole shows the region which JWST will be able to observe at any time. Image and caption via GSFC/NASA

Now, TESS is an Explorer-class spacecraft, so it isn’t like Hubble or the other Great Observatories. A better comparison might be the Explorer-class Swift spacecraft, which is watching for gamma ray bursts. If it seems like two minutes isn’t very long to look at a star, it isn’t; TESS will take relatively brief glances, because it’s looking at a greater total area of the sky. But since the camera’s viewfields overlap at the poles, some places will be under almost constant observation. The idea is to follow up on TESS’s discoveries of potentially habitable worlds using the Observatory-class JWST, slated to launch in 2018 for really real this time.

Image via GSFC/NASA

That’s not all TESS has up its sleeve, though. While it will be a planet hunter first and foremost, scientists and other “guest investigators” will also have the opportunity to take time on TESS to observe black holes, supernovas, and a variety of other cosmic objects and phenomena.

One of the other major goals of TESS is to examine short-period objects and transient phenomena, like the visible light energy that accompanies a gamma ray burst. The spacecraft’s glancing gaze might pose difficulties for asteroseismologists, because while transits might take some days or weeks, starquakes can happen in seconds, so TESS’s sampling rate might bump into the Nyquist limit. But that kind of data loss is apparently a niche enough problem that project scientists were willing to make the compromise.

TESS also has unique orbital characteristics. It’s designed to survey both the northern and southern hemispheres and will use a new lunar orbit, dubbed P/2, to do so. This highly elliptical orbit will allow the spacecraft to survey its target range while simultaneously remaining balanced between the gravitational effects of the Moon and those of the Earth. NASA has published an article with more details on the spacecraft’s orbit and its characteristics, if you’re curious.

TESS's never-before-used P/2 orbit. Image: GSFC/NASA

TESS’s never-before-used P/2 orbit. Image: GSFC/NASA

Between TESS and the JWST, our understanding of other solar systems should continue to advance for years to come, even as monuments like Hubble and Kepler are taken offline. The toolkit of astronomers continues to expand as technology gets thinner, lighter, stronger, and more durable. When TESS makes it to space aboard a Falcon 9 FT rocket, it will fill a gap in data collection and, no doubt, present new problems to be overcome. But if we can beat gimbal lock, jammed reaction wheels, and broken rover arms while still making do under an endless funding drought, believe it, we’ll get some good science out of TESS.

Source: ExtremeTech

Comcast thinks it should be able to charge more to preserve your privacy

Comcast thinks it should be able to charge more to preserve your privacy

People get up in arms when it comes to privacy on services like Google and Facebook, but your ISP could gather much, much more information about you if it wanted. That has the FCC a bit spooked, and it’s currently crafting rules that would regulate how ISPs inform users of tracking. The agency is also looking at mandating data collection opt-outs. Comcast isn’t too keen on any of that, and it’s made its position known in a new filling. The cable giant thinks your privacy should come with an added fee.

Comcast argues that it should be perfectly acceptable to charge customers more of they don’t want to be spied on. It sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? Comcast’s statement is quite clear, though. It’s not even the only ISP that thinks so. This dispute came up because AT&T U-verse customers in some markets were subjected to aggressive deep packet inspection to monitor everything they did online. This data was then sold to advertisers. They could opt-out of the innocuously named “internet preferences” snooping… for an extra $30-60 per month. Comcast’s proverbial ears probably perked up at the mention of all that new profit.

Comcast hasn’t launched anything like AT&T U-verse internet preferences, but it definitely wants to have the option to do so. In its FCC filing, the ISP compares tracking its customers to the sort of tracking already going on around the internet. Comcast says a “bargained-for exchange of information” is a common business practice, and ISPs should not be prohibited from striking such deals.

Comcast

The assertion made by Comcast that such practices are normal doesn’t hold water when you look at how the internet works. For the most part, services that make a business of collecting user data are providing a free service — for example, the aforementioned Google and Facebook. You can use the service or not, and there are privacy controls available to limit the use of your personal data for advertising purposes. Those tools don’t cost money, either. The most obvious difference is that Comcast and other ISPs are your gateway to the internet, and can therefore see everything you do. Many of Comcast’s customers don’t even have another viable alternative for internet access.

The FCC reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications act in 2015, after waffling on the issue of net neutrality for years. A legal challenge to that move was shut down in court earlier this year. This gives the FCC more power to regulate how ISPs operate. It could put a stop to these broad data collection practices, and hopefully it does. If not, you might want to look into a good VPN.

Source: ExtremeTech

The Jeep Cherokee hack gets worse — at least if hackers can get physical access to the car first

The Jeep Cherokee hack gets worse — at least if hackers can get physical access to the car first

The duo that hacked a Jeep Cherokee a year ago is back. The hacks can now take over more of the car, but only via physical access, such as via a laptop connected physically to the car’s OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port. This time around, the hackers were able to mess with the ECU (engine control unit), work the steering wheel at speed, increase cruise control settings, or activate an electronic parking brake. The hacks of 2015 were less dangerous, but they were accomplished remotely. Still, there’s cause for concern here, which we’ll explain shortly.

A year ago, online-security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek attached themselves remotely to a Jeep Cherokee. They were able to disable the transmission and brakes and — only with the car in reverse, at low speed — take over the Jeep’s steering. The hack worked because the car’s steering can be controlled when the car thought it was automatically parallel parking. Scary, but fortunately there’s not a lot of damage you can do at 5 mph. Jeep has since patched that vulnerability.

But the hackers weren’t done. The same researchers, now working at Uber’s Advanced Technology Center, switched to attacking the car via the OBD-II connector and access to the car’s CAN bus (controller area network), with provides links many of the car’s microcontrollers. Depending on what’s considered a microcontroller (a seat adjuster has one, so does the electric window lift), a car might have 100 of them.

Part of the ECU’s job is to look for spurious or conflicting signals and tell the car to ignore them. But with access to the CAN bus, it’s possible to update the ECU firmware in a way that it doesn’t reject oddball signals, such as making a sharp turn at high speed. Among the things that became possible, now going forward as well as reverse, and also at higher speeds:

  • Change the cruise control setting;
  • Take control of the steering (cars with electrical not mechanical power steering) as in the video above;
  • Set the parking brake.

Miller, in an interview with Wired cautioned, “It’s not like I can take control of the car and drive you to my house and you can’t stop me. But if you’re not paying attention, it’s definitely dangerous.”

Chrysler’s response

Told of the 2016 hacks, Chrysler issued a statement that read, “While we admire their creativity, it appears that the researchers have not identified any new remote way to compromise a 2014 Jeep Cherokee or other FCA US vehicles.” Chrysler also said the software on the hacked car was not Chrysler’s most recent.

There is a possible way to do this wirelessly, though. While the new hacks required physical access to OBD-II, it’s believed possible that OBD-II driving monitors such as from Progressive Insurance, the Automatic phone app with adapter, or the Verizon Hum, all with wireless interfaces, could be compromised. Then hackers would or could be back in business.

Source: ExtremeTech