AMD FirePro 2460 Multi-View: four Mini DisplayPort sockets, 13W, no frills

It’s no Radeon, but AMD’s new range of FirePro GPUs might just strike a chord with a few of you multi-monitor maniacs. Just a few short weeks after the debut of the FirePro V8800, AMD as launched the ATI FirePro V7800, ATI FirePro V5800, ATI FirePro V4800, and ATI FirePro V3800, all of which are aimed at assisting digital content creators, well, create content. Frankly, those pro-oriented cards don’t do a lot for us, but the FirePro 2460 Multi-View most certainly does. Boasting a low profile (half height) form factor, this relatively simple (read: not for hardcore gaming) card packs 512MB of video memory, hardware acceleration of DirectX 11, an average power drain of just 13 watts and not two, not three, but four video outputs. AMD tells us that this was designed for day traders who need four displays to accurately watch their stock prices fluctuate, but we can think of quite a few others who’d benefit from having access to four Mini DisplayPort sockets on a single, low-power card. All of the devices mentioned here should begin shipping today, with the 2460 in particular demanding a reasonable $299.


Faster hookups: Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI 1.4 and USB 3.0

Bluetooth 4.0

What it does: Enables companies to add Bluetooth wireless technology to “low energy” devices such as watches and health, fitness and environmental sensors. The devices are intended to run for at least a year on a single watch-type battery.

Status: The specification was introduced in December and should be finalized by July. Devices with 4.0 should go on sale by the end of 2010 or in early 2011.

Caveats: Bluetooth 4.0 “low energy” devices will require new hardware. Phones and PCs will be available with dual-mode radios that work with both “classic” Bluetooth and version 4.0. (Here’s a Bluetooth FAQ with more details).

HDMI 1.4

What it does: Sets standards for HDMI cables to support 3D and “4K” ultrahigh-definition video, with 4,096 by 2,160 pixels. Enables some HDMI cables to carry Ethernet network signals as well as audio and video content, for connecting TVs, video players and other A/V gear. Also specifies new mini HDMI plugs for camcorders and automotive use.

Status: HDMI 1.4 emerged last June, but its 3D specification was finalized just last month. TVs, receivers and other products with HDMI 1.4 are now on sale. It should be used by all major brands by the fall. Sony, for instance, is now using HDMI 1.4 in products that it’s calling “3D enabled.”

Caveats: I asked the HDMI licensing group if 1.4 is absolutely necessary for 3D. Sony’s PlayStation 3, for instance, doesn’t have 1.4 but is supposed to support 3D movies.

The response from Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing: “Source devices, such as the PS3 and many set-top boxes, will be able to be firmware upgraded to accommodate the frame compatible 3D formats. So, in effect, these devices will be able to be updated from 1.3 compliant devices to 1.4 compliance with the 3D specification.”

Venuti expects to see HDMI 1.4 appear on PCs and video cards this year.

USB 3.0

What it does: Computer and electronics connector technology that moves data at up to 5 gigabits per second, or 10 times faster than the widely used USB 2.0 technology.

Status: Since January it’s been starting to appear in consumer devices, including external hard drives. By 2012, 45 percent of mobile computers will have USB 3.0, research firm IDC predicts. Meanwhile, more peripheral products are appearing.

Caveats: Getting USB 3.0 incorporated into the core architecture of PCs is taking longer than expected and won’t happen until 2011, according to In-Stat analyst Brian O’Rourke.


Pentax Optio M90 compact shows that VGA isn’t dead

Image sensors keep getting more and more pixels shoved onto their tiny surfaces, but still VGA video capture just won’t die. The latest to extend its legacy is the Pentax Optio M90, a 12.1 megapixel compact that gathers light through a 5x (28-140mm equivalent) lens up front and records to SD/SDHC cards. It naturally sports all the fancy smile- and blink-detection modes you’d expect in a little shooter, plus a so-called Copy mode, which pledges to somehow make it act like a hand-held scanner. We’re intrigued, but the lack of HD video capture is a definite bummer. Neither price nor specific availability have been announced, but we’re going to guess cheapish and soon.


Toshiba teams to create the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) Consortium

Nokia, Samsung, Silcon Image, Sony and Toshiba have joined forces to create the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) Consortium that aims to develop a new mobile audio/video interface for connecting mobile devices to HDTVs. The standard is designed to provide 1080p video and digital audio over a small cable, which also provides power to the device.

Although a number of mobile devices are currently using Mini HDMI connectors, the HDMI standard uses 19 pins without sending power to the mobile device. MHL technology is said to focus on a lower pin count, without sacrificing video resolution or other features such as control signals. The system also supports HDCP, allowing users to play protected content.

The standard could have a significant impact on other handset makers such as Apple, as many high-end devices offer HD video output via Mini HDMI. iPhone owners can purchase a component AV cable to output video and audio to a TV, although the accessory requires five connectors and limits the maximum resolution to 576i.

The MHL Consortium has already created an abridged draft specification for evaluation purposes, while the final release is expected sometime in the first half of this year.


New Samsung PRAM Memory Modules Will Speed Up Mobile Devices

Given the fact that mobile devices and handsets will become increasingly popular in the future, the need for enhanced technologies, that will make these things work faster and in a more reliable manner, is also becoming direr. And that’s exactly what Samsung seems to have achieved with the launch of the industry’s first multi-chip package (MCP) with PRAM, for use in mobile handsets beginning later this quarter.

For those of you who’ve never heard about PRAM memory up until now, here’s the nitty-gritty. So, PRAM, which stores data via the phase change characteristics of its base material, an alloy of germanium, antimony and titanium, provides three times faster data storage performance per word than NOR chips.

This new PRAM-packaged memory combines the nonvolatile nature of flash memory with the high-speed capability of DRAM. Its simple cell structure makes designing MCP chips for handsets a faster and easier process, with the imminent use of 30nm-class and finer process node technology to overcome long-time design difficulties inherent in NOR flash technology.

The 512-megabit Samsung PRAM in the MCP is backward compatible with 40 nanometer-class NOR flash memory in both its hardware and software functionality, allowing mobile handset designers the convenience of having multi-chip packaging fully compatible with past standalone PRAM chip technology. PRAM is expected to be widely embraced by next year as the successor to NOR flash in consumer electronics designs, to become a major memory technology.

“Memories for portable consumer devices today are at a major turning point as mobile applications increasingly require more diverse memory technologies,” said Dong-soo Jun, executive vice president, Memory Sales and Marketing, Samsung Electronics. “The launch of our PRAM in an advanced MCP solution for the replacement of 40nm-class and finer geometry NOR meets this need head-on. Our PRAM MCP will not only enable handset designers to utilize conventional platforms, but expedite the introduction of LPDDR2 DRAM and next-generation PRAM technology as the leading-edge basis for high-performance solutions,” he added.


Lian Li Presents Affordable Test Benches for ATX and Mini-ATX Computers

Taiwanese company Lian-Li introduced several similar products in the last months, some of which were presented by yours truly. This time, they are releasing some very affordable test benches for standard ATX/Mini-ATX and for Mini-ATX types of motherboards, namely the slightly larger PC-T60 test bench and the smaller PC-T7 model.

Do not imagine that because these products are affordable, they will provide less features for their users, as the newly announced test benches are what some might call “fully featured.” Besides the fact that the T60 will also support standard mainboards, these two test benches will allow computeristas to fit all sorts of hardware onto them, including the not-so-affordable USB 3.0 port. Both of these new test benches from Lian Li are laser pre-cut for USB 3.0 I/O ports.

Although I wouldn’t be so generous as to call them stylish, like their manufacturers do, I take full responsibility when naming them capable, especially if you take into consideration their prices: $119 (for the PC-T60 model) and $79.99.

They come in compact sizes and will allow for easy access to all the components you want to use during your tests. Not everybody has a dedicated room for computer testing, or a spacious dedicated room for that matter, which makes these models right here very practical.

The light test benches mentioned here will host both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch hard drives, up to eight (PC-T60) PCI cards and they are also available in three different colors, for those of you that think they can assort them with usual mess found in testing rooms. Lian Li has T60-1 and T7-1 optional fan cooler racks built especially for these test benches. Unfortunately, these accessories can only be purchased separately.


HD webcam for Skype

Skype users can make voice and video calls if they want to and have the hardware needed. Those who like video calling with Skype, but want better image quality can now get a new Skype compatible webcam directly from the Skype Shop called the FREETALK Everyman HD webcam.

The camera is cheap at $49.99 and supports 720p video resolution at 22 fps. The camera has a high performance lens, 24-bit color, and automatic exposure and white balance. The camera also features auto focus.

The camera attaches to notebooks and displays using a universal clip. If you want to grab one of these cameras up, but sure you have an internet connection that is fast enough for HD video. You will need at least 1Mbps symmetrical bandwidth to use the HD resolution.


Nexus One Coming to the UK in Three Days from Now

It appears Vodafone is the carrier that will bring the Nexus One smartphone in the UK and will also be giving it for free with a two-year 35 pounds sterling contract. Though the Google phone is arriving in Europe a little bit too late for my taste, those of you that still want it can now pre-order it and begin waiting for it to be shipped, starting with April 30.

Vodafone has the Nexus One with other price plans, starting from 25 pounds sterling for a 24-month contract and with the possibility to get one with an 18-month subscription as well. These are pretty good price plans, no doubt about it, considering that customers will have one of the best smartphones available at the moment, powered, of course, by Google’s services.

Out of these services, the Google Maps Navigation stands out, the one officially prohibited for iPhone users not long ago. This move from Google seems a little premeditated, now with the Nexus One arriving in the UK, or perhaps that’s just my opinion. What future users of the Google smartphone should also know is that there are a few more benefits provided by Vodafone, if purchasing the device from them.

They will give 1 GB of mobile data as part of the users’ price plan and unlimited Wi-Fi access from anywhere in the UK. Avid Wi-Fi-ers can also benefit from 1 GB of data at premium BT Openzone hotspots.

One of the most popular Google services in the UK, Street View, will also be available from the Nexus One, but I bet the Brits already knew this and are probably dying to use it on Google’s smartphone. The 512 MB Flash, 512 MB RAM handset created a big fuss even before its actual launch, but it hasn’t brought Google and HTC that much of a profit, if compared with its competitors, of course. This is why I stick to my opinion that the UK receives it in a delayed fashion.


The First Sub-$500 Hardware Business Firewall

Sadly, we have to face the fact that today’s world is not exactly a very secure place, at least as far as confidential data is concerned. For this reason, most serious enterprises are protected by several firewall layers, all of which are constantly supervised by a well-trained IT department.

Unfortunately, maintaining such a department is a pretty costly thing, so mid-size and smaller companies don’t really afford hiring multiple highly-skilled IT gurus. And in order to help these companies maintain a relatively OK level of data security, Netgear has just launched the ProSafe Quad WAN Gigabit SSL VPN Firewall (SRX5308), the first business firewall to provide in excess of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) performance for under $500.

The ProSafe Quad WAN Gigabit SSL VPN Firewall (SRX5308) features a hardware-accelerated data flow architecture that enables 1 Gbps LAN-to-WAN of stateful firewall throughput. Furthermore, the SRX5308 gives remote users the ability to build VPN tunnels to the corporate office to access centralized data using the IP Security (IPsec) standard or software clientless Secure Socket Layers (SSL).

The SRX5308 firewall supports up to 125 IPsec VPN tunnels and 50 SSL VPN tunnels simultaneously, for enhanced protection from network security threats. IPsec VPN tunnels deliver secure site-to-site tunnels connecting multiple offices together, as well as legacy, client-based remote access. SSL VPN tunnels enable clientless, individual remote access to corporate data, anytime and anywhere — without needing to install a software client. In addition, the SSL VPNs support industry-strength encryption algorithms and features such as automatic cache cleanup after session termination to ensure protection and privacy of sensitive data.

The device can be described as a high-performance, SNMP-manageable network solution providing multidimensional security, such as denial-of-service (DoS) attack protection, Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) to curb hacker threats, URL keyword filtering, SYSLOG support, configurable hardware DMZ port, e-mail reporting, logging and real-time alerts. Moreover, four Gigabit LAN ports enable maximum internal data transfer speeds, while the four Gigabit WAN ports provide two modes of session-based load balancing, as well as failover protection to ensure maximum throughput and reliable connectivity to the Internet.

“As businesses increasingly rely on Internet bandwidth-intensive applications such as cloud computing, Web 2.0 and social media, and outsourced applications, they require a high-performance network that doesn’t leave them exposed or vulnerable,” said Jason Leung, NETGEAR senior product line manager for SMB Security. “With four Gigabit WAN ports, session-based load balancing and a multitude of configuration options, our SRX5308 ProSafe Firewall is able to achieve ultra-fast performance between networks.


HDMI port will get on Mac Mini by Apple?

Apple has apparently been shipping around a prototype of a new Mac Mini that features something brand new for the company – an HDMI port. Perhaps recognising that mini DisplayPort and DVI aren’t quite sufficient any more, the HDMI port replaces the legacy DVI connector.

Of course, it’s relatively trivial to plug in an HDMI converter to one of those things, so the real reason behind the move could be that DVI and DisplayPort only support video transmission, whereas HDMI can also handle audio. There’s currently no way to get both video and audio to a TV from a Mac Mini using just one cable.

There’s also a new chipset onboard – the Nvidia MCP89, which is the replacement to the MCP79 currently used in most of Apple’s Mac lineup. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t look like the processor will be upgraded, due to Intel’s licensing dispute with Nvidia.

It’s also not clear yet whether the same HDMI port functionality will be appearing on other Apple products. The cases may have to be re-engineered somewhat to create room for the ports – which are much larger than the mini DisplayPort sockets. Still, that’s not exactly an insurmountable challenge, is it?

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