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Week in Tech: Bent Screens, Reversible USB, AMD SSDs

LG's got the bends

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I’ve been dreading this moment for some time. But inevitably, inexorably, irresistibly it’s happened. LG has announced a curved LCD monitor. Specifically, we’re talking 34-inches of bent IPS panel in the super-wide 21:9 form factor that had me gushing like an idiot the other week. Admittedly I haven’t seen it first hand. But curved HDTVs are an appalling gimmick conceived to exploit the most base consumerist tendencies. I suspect bent PC monitors will be just as bad. Meanwhile, you might think the requirement for correct orientation of USB connectors upon insertion is hardly the most onerous threat to humanity’s collective well-being. But the finalisation of USB Type-C looks set to put an end to it, regardless. Oh, and I have a little – but only a little – more on the Intel Haswell-E uber platform I mentioned last week, Freesync monitors are said to be coming soon and, whaddya know, AMD is doing SSDs…Bent monitors, then. I can barely be bothered, but duty bound here goes on LG’s new 34UC97. In most regards it’s just like other the 34-inch panels that have popped up in the past month or two. IPS panel, 21:9 aspect ratio and 3,440 by 1,440 pixels. Noice. But it’s a bit curved.

Now I could be wrong. But all my experience to date tells me this is a dubious-going-on-blatantly-cynical development. I say that having seen a flat 34-inch 21:9 panel looking just great. I say that having seen curved HDTVs. And I say that having regularly used a projector at home to generate images far, far larger than 34 inches. On a flat surface. I understand the theoretical benefit of curved screens. But the practical reality is that it’s bollocks.

Arguably they’re even sillier for HDTVs than PCs, since there’s more chance you’ll be sitting in the right spot with a monitor than a telly. But whatever, it’s a bit depressing to think of the skilled-engineer man hours that presumably went into developing curved LCDs.

As for pricing, no word as yet but it won’t be cheap given the novel panel tech. Oh, and the inclusion of a Thunderbolt interface. LG’s own new flat 34-inch 21:9 panel was over £800 last time I looked, so this curved thing could easily bust £1,000 and goodness knows how many of your American dollars.

In that context, isn’t reversible USB Type-C also just another gimmick? To moan about the need to orient a USB connector correctly before you shove it in surely rates as a distinctly first-world problem.

But if you’ve used Apple’s similarly reversible Lightening connector, you’ll know that not having to inspect either port or connector before plugging in is actually a tangible, worthwhile improvement. If you are frequently plugging in peripherals into difficult to access ports on the back of a PC or monitor, I’m pretty sure you’ll be genuinely grateful for an interface that doesn’t care which way you stick things in.

Oh and Type-C will also be compatible with USB 3.1, which bumps bandwidth from 5Gbps to 10Gbps. That’s still only half the 20Gbps offered by Thunderbolt, if you’re counting, but what the hey.

Of course, this is a physical change to the connector, which breaks backwards compatibility unless you use an adapter, which in turn somewhat defeats the object of the whole thing. So, the fact you’ll need a new PC, a new monitor and a new, well, whatever it is you plug things into to get the full benefit of USB Type-C is admittedly a teensy bit of a downside. Still, we can all look forward to fumble-free peripherals over the next five years or so.

Next up, AMD Radeon SSDs. There’s not a great deal to say here. If you didn’t already know, you won’t be surprised to learn AMD isn’t actually making SSDs. Rather it’s rebranding them. They’re OCZ Vector 150 drives. Apparently even the customer support for these drives is being handled by OCZ.

Or should that be Toshiba now that the Japanese giant owns OCZ? AMD Radeon SSD! (By OCZ!) (Via Toshiba!). Convoluted to say the least.

Anyway, pricing at $100 for the 120GB model, $164 for the 240GB and $299 for the 480GB is hardly exceptional, so you might wonder what the point is. As far as I can tell, it’s a simple matter of AMD cashing in on the brand equity of ‘Radeon’. Some people will buy these things simply because they say ‘AMD Radeon’ on the box and that’s a good enough reason to sell them.

In other news, AMD’s official foghorn Richard Huddy has been interviewised to the effect that FreeSync will be sampling (ie samples will be going out to various interested parties) next month with retail monitors due early in 2015.

Huddy reckons adding FreeSync will only bump up the bill of materials for a monitor by around $10-$20. As ever, however, the retail impact of that increase will be a significant multiple of that. But they should still be cheaper than the first Nvidia G-Sync enabled screens and the overall effect should be more competition and lower prices all round.

Finally, the chatter around Intel’s new high-end Haswell-E CPU and X99 platform is building, what with leaks, deliddings, motherboard announcements and the rest. Like I said before, normally I’d file this stuff in the pointlessly-expensive bin. But what I’ve seen so far makes Haswell-E look both genuinely exciting and more relevant than recent LGA2011 kit. Remember when an overclocked Core i7-920 D0 stepping was the weapon of choice? Those days look set to return.

The new refreshed LGA2011 platform (yes, Sakkura, LGA2011v3, I hadn’t forgotten last time) and the chips that go with it look like they’ll offer a genuine value proposition over LGA1150 clobber. Death by a thousand lawyers if I say anything more, but I’m genuinely excited by this new kit right now.

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