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Week in Tech: Microsoft Loves Desktops, 3D SSDs, AMD

Know your 3D MLC from your 2D TLC

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Bit of a mishmash this week while deep and meaningful matters continue to machinate. First up comes news that Microsoft wants your love. Yes, you, the lowly, worthless, mouthbreathing desktop user. Apparently the next significant version of Windows, codenamed Threshold, is designed to win desktop users back. Since there’s actually a fair bit to like about Windows 8 in terms of under-the-hood optimisations that get overlooked thanks to the idiocy of the interface changes, Threshold might turn out to be a very good thing indeed. Meanwhile, ever the SSD innovator, Samsung has now added 3D chip tech to its SSD line up in the shape of the new 850 Pro and with it introduced a rather epic 10 year warranty. Oh, and AMD’s answer to Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software continues to mature…

Remember when new releases of Windows were something to get excited about? Yes, really, honestly a bit exciting. Windows 98 to Windows XP was all good as far as I remember (but then I didn’t hate Windows ME nearly as much as most, so take that under advisement) and moderately invigorating at the time.

Things went really sour with Vista which for me was the biggest disappointment ever, what with its promises of a totally new file management paradigm and a properly scaleable interface. The latter is something we’re still waiting for and feels pretty pertinent right now what with 4K on the up and super fine pixel pixels not jiving well with the desktop part of the Windows 8 interface.

In mitigation, it did have System Restore. Oh, OK…

Anywho, the key point for me is that Window 8’s underlying gubbins feel pretty slick and efficient, so more of that with better attention paid to the desktop interface sounds good.

Microsoft has been gently pedalling backwards in this direction with the various updates to Windows 8, but you can read more here about Microsoft’s alleged plans to ‘win back Windows 7 users’ with Threshold, due out next year.

On to SSDs. Samsung has wheeled out the next big step in flash memory tech with the release of the 850 Pro. Samsung is already at the cutting edge with its triple-level memory in the 840 and 840 EVO drives. Samsung’s new 3D memory is another attempt to deal with the inevitability that process shrinks are getting harder and taking longer.

In other words, as current technology passes through 20nm or so, it seems Moore’s Law (the assumption that the number of transistors inside a given area of computer chip doubles roughly every two years) is beginning to slow down. And that means something else must be done beyond simply shrinkage to keep prices falling and densities increasing.

For those who want a deep dive, you can read about the technicalities here. But the elevator pitch involves building chips in three dimensions – stacking transistors, so to speak, instead of merely arranging them as a flat, two dimensional circuits.

After TLC comes 3D: Samsung keeps upping the SSD ante

Intriguingly, by using a stacked process, Samsung has been able to chill the product process out to 40nm. And as we know, class, coarser processes tend to have better NAND cell longevity. So the result is both greater density and longer life. And that means a 10 year warranty, albeit it notionally limited to 150TB of traffic. Yay.

On the other hand, it’s a little surprising to note that the new 850 Pro is merely a SATA drive and not one of the funky new M.2 or SATA Express efforts. But 3D SSDs based on those new interfaces are surely on the way. Fun, fun, fun.

The Samsung 850 Pro is out later this month. Prices are circa £145 / $199 for the 256GB version, so not cheap, but this is a premium model for now. Expect the 3D thingamies to percolate out to cheaper drives in time.

Finally, AMD has been hawking its latest and most refined version of the Gaming Evolved Client. It’s basically AMD’s copycat take on Nvidia’s GeForce Experience utility. The idea is a platform to help manage your drivers and game optimisations. GeForce Experience is particularly helpful if you simply can’t be bothered to work out the best settings to suit a given game with a given graphics card.

There’s more than a whiff of Nvidia GeForce Experience in AMD’s Gaming Evolved…

You’ll always get a better result hand-tuning these things, but GeForce Experience’s can’t-be-arsed-or-don’t-know instasettings are far, far better than nothing. I haven’t had a chance to have a really detailed look at AMD’s Gaming Evolved Client, so I’d rather not pass judgement. But crowd sourcing is part of AMD’s optimisation mix, which generally bodes well.

AMD’s GEC isn’t a feature we’ve mentioned before so it’s worth noting that since its initial appearance in beta form about six months ago, work has been ongoing with the latest update including a hardware accelerated gameplay recording and broadcast feature.

Again, it’s a bit of a rip off of an Nvidia feature, namely Shadowplay. But so what? If you have an AMD graphics card and you haven’t given it a try, you can download it here, gratis.

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Jeremy Laird

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