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Week in Tech: AMD On The Up, NVIDIA Game Streaming

The AMD saga continues

It's a funny old world when losing $20 million is a cause for moderate rejoicing. But then $20 million's worth of bleeding is a hell of a lot better than $146 million. I speak, of course, of the never ending saga (going-on soap opera) that is AMD's fortunes. Thing is, we are all of us much better off if AMD remains in the game and at the very least things are looking up. So, its worth tuning in for this latest episode. Meanwhile, it looks like the range and choice of LCD panels for PC monitors might just be ready to explode, Nvidia adds remote access to its game streaming tech and small-form factor bricks with proper gaming grunt are popping up. Hurrah and huzzah.

For the record, the AMD numbers go like this. For the first quarter of last year, the firm bled $146 million on earnings of $1.09 billion. For the same quarter this year, it said goodbyeee to $20 million off the back of $1.4 billion in sales.

If you dig down into the numbers, you'll find AMD's CPU business still slid 12 per cent year-on-year and pretty much all the upside seems to be courtesy of those game console wins. Moreover, more competitive AMD CPUs hardly look imminent.

Likewise, for a lot of big companies, those would be ugly numbers. But for AMD, any recovery has to be good news. Hell, it even made $89 million in the final quarter of 2013. Crikey.

Anyway, the point is that it wasn't all that long ago that AMD's very existence was very much in doubt. Now it looks at least fit enough to fight another day and – here's the important bit – help keep the likes of Intel and Nvidia honest.

With any luck cash from console chips should help AMD improve its PC processors

Now, then, LCD monitors. If you're happy with ye olde 1080p, you've been spoiled for choice for a year or two. But for me what separates the PC from those dumb consoles in hardware terms is the potential for the ultimate visual spectacle.

In that context, 2,560 by 1,440 panels feels like the sweet spot to me if only panels were a bit less pricey. A little further out, I'd like to see the 4k revolution pick up pace. Luckily, all of this and more looks on the cards.

I haven't got any specific monitor model releases to share with you. But what really enables all this is the big boys who knock out the LCD panels that go into monitors. There are only a relatively small number of outfits who can stump up for the multi-billion-dollar bill that builds an LCD substrate fab will land you.

Whatever, both AU Optronics and LG have some interesting-looking panels in the pipeline. Starting with AU Optronics, it has a pair of IPS-alike 4K 32-inchers plus a VA 32-incher sporting 2,560 by 1,440.

The latter sounds like it could have a lot of potential for a high-res gaming panel barring the usual pixel-response worries that attend any panel based on 'VA' tech.

BenQ's BL2710PT is he first to sport AU Optronics IPS-alike panel tech

AU Optronics also has some new 27-inch 4K panels in the works to go with its 27-inch 2,560 by 1,440 effort. Again, 4K is probably too much to ask from current GPUs, but that could change with the next generation of GPUs, so wide availability of affordable 4K panels in the meantime would be no bad thing.

LG also has a number of new panels in the works that go heavy on pixels. They start with what ought to be a pretty sublime IPS 4K effort at 27 inches and extend to the ridiculous new 34-inch 21:9 aspect panel with 3,440 by 1,440 pixels and a so called 5K3K model, again measuring 27 inches, which translates to a bonkers 5,120 by 2,880 grid.

To put that into context, that's basically four 2,560 by 1,440 panels in a single screen. I'm not really promoting these ultra-high-res monstrosities as potential gaming panels for today. But it's nice to see more choice and generally new entrants towards the high end should help push down prices on the current 2,560 by 1,440 sweet spot.

Next up, Nvidia's GameStream has a new remote streaming feature entering beta. The idea is simple enough. Already you can stream games over your home network using Nvidia tech. The next logical step is to stream them over the internet from your PC to a client device.

The basic idea of streaming games over the internet is nothing new. But previously, most of action has involved cloud gaming services delivered by game servers, not using your own PC at home to stream games.

Nvidia Shield: A brave effort but basically borked

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to use your own PC as the server for remote streaming. If you have a high end-ish PC with a a full-on games library, streaming your own games with your own settings courtesy of a good PC is a lot more appealing than a third-party service running on servers and replete with limitations.

The downsides are things like the need to leave your PC up and running and drawing power and, as ever, that pesky limitation that currently requires you use Nvidia's Shield console as the client.

Actually, the latter is a total deal breaker, even if I do respect Shield as a plucky effort to create a handheld console with interesting fringe benefits. Put simply, Nvidia's GameStream needs to be opened out to a wide range of client devices to be of any actual interest.

If the latest price cut for Shield is anything to go by (down to just $200), Nvidia could be close to giving up on the whole fiasco and that could see GameStream finally detached from Shield. Here's hoping.

And finally, Gigabyte is rolling out some properly gaming-viable versions of it's Brix ultra-small-form-factor boxes. The AMD version was actually announced back in January and sports an quad-core APU and R9 M275X graphics.

The latter sports a mere 640 shaders, so nothing hugely exciting. However, if you add the 256 shaders from the APU (slightly disappointed to note that Gigabyte hasn't gone for the 384-shader version of the same APU) in dual-graphics mode (support for this not actually confirmed, as far as I know), things begin to look interesting. For 1080p gaming at least.

The Nvidian alternative is so new details are still emerging, but as standard it sports a dual-core Intel Haswell processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 graphics. It's not yet clear if that's a mobile 760 and thus 768 shaders or the real desktop deal with 1,152 shaders. If the latter, it'll really fly for such a small box.

AMD-flavoured Gigabyte Gaming Brix packs APU-plus-discrete-GPU gubbins

As for pricing, the AMD version goes for about $550+ stateside. Availability in the UK is patchy outside of ebay, but here's hoping for something around £400. Not cheap, but just about tolerable if you've some cash to splash.. As for the Nvidia lump, it's a bit early for prices.

If I'm really honest, these little Brix are probably more exciting as glimpses of the small-form-factor fun to come than as realistically priced propositions today. But the march continues towards proper gaming grunt in all shapes and sizes agt prices most of us can afford.

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