• Micron Cancels Ballistix TX3 NVMe SSD (AnandTech)

    At Computex in June, Micron announced that Crucial's Ballistix brand was being promoted to a standalone brand for gaming-oriented products. Their exhibit included three tiers of Ballistix DRAM products and one SSD: the Ballistix TX3 M.2 PCIe SSD. Based on Micron 3D MLC NAND and the Silicon Motion SM2260 NVMe SSD controller, the TX3 was to be Micron's first consumer/retail SSD with 3D MLC or a PCIe interface and was slated for a release sometime in the second half of 2016.

    Micron has informed us this week that the Ballistix TX3 program has been canceled. This leaves Micron's consumer SSD strategy up in the air. With the release this summer of the Crucial MX300, Micron moved their mainstream SATA MX line from MLC to 3D TLC NAND, casting doubt on the future of the value-oriented BX series and implying that their 3D MLC might be regarded as premium enough to be reserved for PCIe SSD. With the Ballistix TX3 canceled, we no longer have any clear indication of how Micron plans to move forward with their consumer SSD products.

    Micron may have decided to switch SSD controllers. While Silicon Motion reported last week at Flash Memory Summit that final firmware for the SM2260 controller is ready, Phison's E7 controller is also available and ready to roll out, and Micron has been shipping Marvell's 88SS1093 NVMe controller on their 7100 series enterprise SSDs in both U.2 and M.2 form factors, albeit with planar MLC NAND rather than their 3D NAND. Micron may also have decided that the timing was wrong to be getting into a market segment that Samsung has been handily dominating; beating Samsung's PCIe M.2 drives on performance will be an uphill battle to say the least, and substantially undercutting them on price may not be possible while Micron is still ramping up production of their 3D MLC NAND.

    Micron's OEM and enterprise offerings may offer some clues to their plans, but the Micron and Crucial SSD product lines are no longer mere alter egos of each other. Micron's 1100 series SATA SSD is the nearest equivalent to the MX300 with the same controller and same 3D TLC NAND, but the 1100 is more a little more conservative by retaining the traditional power of two drive capacities with generous overprovisioning while the MX300 dedicates some of the extra capacity of Micron's 3D TLC chips to increasing the usable drive capacity.

    Micron announced a 2100 series at the same time as the 1100 series, but did not provide full details as it was scheduled for a later introduction than the 1100, but still by the end of summer this year. The photos provided of the 2100 clearly showed the Silicon Motion SM2260 controller and the drive was stated to be using 3D NAND, but whether it would be MLC or TLC was not specified. The layout of the 2100 M.2 card was different than that of the Ballistix TX3 prototypes shown at Computex, but they still clearly had a few things in common. Micron's website still lists the 2100 as "Coming Summer 2016", and with regards to its fate Micron had this statement for us:

    Micron is committed to delivering client PCIe NVMe solutions. While we are excited by the possibilities with our OEM partners, we are not disclosing availability details at this time. We will be sure to keep you updated as we are ready to share more.

    We are eager to hear what Micron decides to do, as they are still only the second manufacturer to deliver 3D NAND for the client and consumer SSD market and we have not yet had the chance to test their 3D MLC NAND. Competition in the consumer PCIe SSD space will be heating up with or without Micron's participation as more drives based on Phison, Marvell and Silicon Motion PCIe NVMe controllers hit the market over the next few months, but Micron's entry was particularly promising for the inclusion of 3D NAND.

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  • Apple 2017: The iPhone X (Ten) Announced (AnandTech)

    The hot button item expected to come from Apple’s announcement today was the set of iPhones being announced. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus were the expected models to come to market, but Apple felt that for the 10-year anniversary since the launch of the original iPhone, it should release a new model which ‘breaks the standard for another 10 years’. This new iPhone X device goes all in on some significant features that are novel to the Apple smartphone ecosystem: an edge-to-edge OLED display, a TrueDepth front-facing camera system, removal of TouchID in favor of a new facial recognition system called FaceID, and a few new features surrounding the integrated neural engine inside the A11 SoC.

    The iPhone X (pronounced iPhone Ten) is a visually significant departure from previous Apple smartphones. The 5.8-inch display is called an ‘edge-to-edge’ display in the marketing material, citing minimal bezels and taking up pretty much the full real estate of the phone. Apple also dubs this as a new retina display, specifically a ‘Super Retina’ display, with a 2436x1125 resolution with a pixel density of 458 PPI. The display is Apple’s first foray into OLED technology on a smartphone, as ‘previous versions of OLED were not sufficient’ in previous generations. This means that Apple is promoting features such as HDR10 for high dynamic range, a 1000000:1 contrast ratio, and high color accuracy. That contrast ratio is due to the blacks provided by the OLED display, although it will be interesting to see what the practical limits are. Apple has always been consistent with having superb color accuracy on its smartphones, so we will have to see in our testing if OLED changes things in Apple’s qualification process. Also Apple’s TrueTone technology makes its way from the iPad to the iPhone. This display technology uses data from the ambient light sensor to detect the ambiance of the surroundings and adjust colors (particularly when reading black on white) and adjusting the display to make it easier to read. The display will also support 3D Touch.

    With Apple moving to a full-screen technology like this, there is no room for the standard Home button, and with it, TouchID. As a replacement/upgrade, Apple is implementing FaceID: a set of front-facing technologies that will develop a face-map of a user and embed that as the passcode. This functionality is likely derived from Apple’s acquisitions of PrimeSense in 2013 (the IP behind Microsoft Kinect) and FaceShift in 2015. Apple states that the technology uses its embedded neural network engine to speed up facial recognition, but also that algorithms are in place such that the system will work if a user puts on glasses, wears a hat, has different hair, and even in low light. The algorithms will also auto-update as a user grows a beard. A lot of security researchers have questioned this move, while Apple quotes that the possibility for a false positive on TouchID was around 50k-to-1, FaceID should be more similar to a million-to-one. With FaceID, users will be able to unlock the device, as well as use their face to preapprove ApplePay purchases before touching a pay pad.

    In order to enable FaceID, Apple implemented a small top area for the main hardware. This includes an infrared camera, a flood illuminator, the front camera, and a dot projector. The hardware will map the face in three dimensions with a 5-second startup (when in sufficient light) to produce a face mesh. One version of the mesh, with the textures as part of the algorithm, will be held in a secure enclave for identification and approval. At this point in time, only one face per device can be registered, marking an initial limitation in the hardware. One of the other features for the technology shown by Apple was the ability to generate a face mesh and map new textures to it, such as new SnapChat ‘masks’, or animated emoji in Message. The hardware will map 50 muscle tracking points, and a user can choose one of twelve animal emoji (fox, cat, dog, pig, unicorn, poop emoji) and record a ten second message where the ‘ani-moji’ will mimic in real-time how the user is moving and speaking in order to send to the other person. Apples plan here is to open the resources up to developers to use in their own applications.

    Because the FaceID hardware is essentially an indent into the display, there will be some issues on content that will have to be addressed. On the home screen, Apple has designed the top icons to be inside the two nooks either side of the FaceID hardware, and adjust as needed. As shown by several journalists on the show floor at the launch event, the video will naturally default to fit perfectly without the little nooks, but if a user selects full screen, it will wrap around the FaceID hardware and intrude into the video being watched. Apple usually prides itself in the simplicity in its display support, and this might be a little scratch in that armor.

    With no home button, Apple is having to implement new interactions to deal with regular home button actions. To wake the phone from a screen off state, a user can tap on the display (or use FaceID if setup). To get to the home screen, the user can swipe up in any application, although this seems a bit fraught with issues, especially with games where swiping up is a key mechanic of the application. In order to get the list of applications in memory, then swipe up but hold the finger down on the screen. Apple neglected to mention how to put the phone to sleep / screen off mode – there is a button on the side, but that is specifically for Siri. In order to get the notifications menu, swipe down from the top.

    Under the hood, Apple is using its new A11 Bionic processor, with significant upgrades over the A10 and A10X. Details were scarce, but this is a TSMC 10nm design featuring six cores: two high-performance cores and four power efficient cores, with all six cores available for use at the same time. Apple is quoting that the high-performance cores are 25% faster than the high-performance cores in A10, while the high-efficiency cores are 70% faster than their counterparts in A10. No speeds are details about the cores were provided, though some initial analysis online from the code base suggests that the larger cores have two levels of private cache, while the smaller cores only have one level of private cache, with a high level of shared cache between both sets before hitting the DRAM. The A11 SoC will come in at 4.3 billion transistors, and features Apple’s second generation performance controller to assist with the 2+4 configuration. Also involved is a new GPU, which Apple states is its own custom design, coming in at ‘three cores’ (whatever that means in this context) and offers 30% higher performance than the graphics in the A10. Apple also stated that it can offer A10 graphics for half the A10 power, and that the GPU can assist in machine learning. We’ve seen discussions on Apple’s Metal 2 compute already appear at WWDC, so this is likely what Apple is talking about. The SoC also features a new ‘Neural Engine’ inside, offering two cores and 600 Giga-Ops per second, although no information as to how this inference hardware operates or at what precision (for example, Huawei’s NPU gives 1.92 TFLOPs of FP16). Apple was very light on A11 details, so we’ll likely revisit this topic later with more details.

    For the camera system, Apple is using a vertical dual camera on the rear of the iPhone X, rather than the horizontal cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. Both of these cameras are new models, both are 12 megapixels, and both come with optical image stabilization. One camera is f/1.8, while the other is f/2.4, with both having larger and faster sensors with deeper pixels than previous iPhones to aid in image focus. Like with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, Apple will use the embedded Neural Engine to assist with photo taking, such as adjusting skin-tone mapping in real-time depending on the environment. The camera also supports dual Quad-LED flash.

    The full design is glass on the back and front, using a new technology that Apple is quoting as the most shatter-resistant glass on an iPhone, and the band in the device will be ‘surgical grade stainless steel’ rather than aluminum. The iPhone X will be dust and water resistant, although Apple stopped short of giving it a full IPXX rating. Due to the glass, Apple is equipping the iPhone X with wireless charging capabilities using the Qi standard, and will offer a large ‘Air Power’ pad in 2018 that will allow users to wireless charge the iPhone X, the new Apple Watch Series 3, and the Air Pods all at the same time. Apple did not go into the size of the battery, although it does quote it as having two hours more battery life than the iPhone 7, despite the large OLED display.

    Lots of features that we’ve seen discussed in previous Apple launches were glossed over here: changes in the haptic feedback, anything about audio (there’s no 3.5mm jack, if you were wondering), any hard performance metrics, SoC details about the cores and how/if they are different, or frequencies, or how the Neural Engine is laid out, or even how much DRAM is in the device. This is likely due to the fact that even for a two-hour presentation, time was spent detailing the new features more than the underlying hardware. Unlike other smartphone vendors or chip designers, Apple doesn’t do a deeper ‘Tech Day’ on their hardware, which is a shame.

    What we do know is that Apple will be offering two storage options, 64GB and 256GB, and two colors in Space Grey and Silver (both of which have a slight pearlescence, according to Apple). The 64GB model will start at $999, and include Ear Pods in the box. The 256 GB model will have some markup, although Apple did not disclose how much. The iPhone X will go up for pre-order on October 27th in around 30 countries, and ship on November 3rd.

    Additional: turns out there are a lot more specifications on Apple's product page that just went live. Key features are screen brightness (625 nits), dimensions (143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm, 174 grams), native FLAC support and HDR video playback support. The 256 GB model will start at $1149, putting a $150 mark-up on the higher capacity, and the Lightning-to-3.5mm cables are still included in the box.

    Apple iPhone
      iPhone 7 iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 8 iPhone 8 Plus iPhone X
    SoC Apple A10 Fusion
    2 x 2.3 GHz Hurricane
    2 x little cores
    Apple A11 Bionic
    2 x High-Perf
    4 x High Efficiency
    GPU 6 Core PowerVR GPU 3-Core Apple Custom 
    Display 4.7-inch
    1334 x 750
    1920 x 1080
    1334 x 750
    1920 x 1080
    Size / Mass 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm
    138 grams
    158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
    188 grams
    138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
    148 grams
    158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm
    202 grams
    143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm
    174 grams
    Battery 1960 mAh
    2900 mAh
    ? ? +2hr over iPhone 7
    Wireless Charging - - Qi Qi Qi
    Rear Cameras 12 MP f/1.8, OIS
    Wide Color Gamut
    Quad LED True Tone Flash
    12 MP, f/1.8, OIS
    Wide Color Gamut
    Quad LED True Tone Flash
    - 12MP ƒ/2.8 Telephoto,
    2x Optical
    Portrait Mode
    - 12 MP f/2.8
    2x Optical
    Portrait Mode,
    Portrait Lighting
    12 MP f/2.4 Telephoto, OIS
    2x Optical
    Portrait Mode,
    Portrait Lighting
    Front Camera 7MP ƒ/2.2
    Wide Gamut
    Retina Flash
    7MP ƒ/2.2
    Wide Gamut
    Retina Flash
    7MP f/2.2
    Wide Gamut
    Retina Flash
    Portrait Mode,
    Portrait Lighting
    Storage 32 / 128 / 256 GB 64 / 256 GB
    I/O Apple Lightning connector Apple Lightning connector
    WiFi 2.4 / 5GHz 2T2R 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
    BlueTooth 4.2
    2.4 / 5GHz 2T2R
    802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC

    BlueTooth 5.0
    Launch Price 32 GB: $649
    128 GB: $749
    256 GB: $849
    32 GB: $769
    128 GB: $869
    256 GB: $969
    64 GB: $699
    256 GB: $849
    64 GB: $799
    256 GB: $949
    64 GB: $999
    256 GB: $1149



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  • Lian Li Launches PC-T70 Test Bench (AnandTech)

    Lian Li has been one of the few large case manufacturers to consistently offer test benches over the years, and they have now launched their newest model, the PC-T70. First unveiled at CES 2017, this new test bench was developed with feedback from PC hardware reviewers and it has been designed with an eye towards easy access and simple hardware swapping. There is also an optional accessory kit that encloses the test bench with an acrylic cover, which simulates a closed-air environment and allows for testing conditions that more closely match a regular closed case. For those who would rather have the whole kit from the start, Lian Li will also be offering the PC-T70FX, which comes with the acrylic cover and side panels included.

    Starting off with the fundamentals, the PC-T70 is manufactured from both aluminium and steel and it is available in both black and white. It can handle motherboards ranging from Micro-ATX to E-ATX, and it has eight expansion slots that support cards up to 330mm in length, though longer cards should be fine as well if you don't install the acrylic cover. There is one small and six large pass-through ports that are used to cleanly route cables to the lower half. The bottom chamber can handle one ATX power supply up to 330mm in length, and it is also where you can install your choice of either five 2.5” and one 3.5” storage drives or one 2.5” and two 3.5” storage drives. There is also mounting space for some liquid cooling hardware, namely an up to 360mm radiator, a reservoir, and a pump. The front of the test bench features a small I/O area consisting of a 3.5mm audio input, a 3.5mm audio output, two USB 3.0 ports, and both power and reset buttons.

    If you have more advanced cooling needs, or if you're a reviewer that wants to be able to simulate a closed-air case environment, the T70-1 option kit is an accessory ​that is going to be of great interest:

    As mentioned above, the optional T70-1 upgrade kit encloses the test bench with an acrylic cover and side panels that serve as radiator mounts. The idea is that by enclosing the motherboard and other heat-generating components, reviewers will be able to simulate closed-air case environments that are more representative of the insides of regular PC cases. This should ensure more accurate testing of both thermals and acoustics. It should be mentioned that with the cover installed, CPU cooler height is reduced from an effectively unlimited height down to 180mm. Magnetic strips help secure the cover and keep it closed during transport.

    Also helping to secure the cover are the panels that enclose the side and back of the test bench. The aluminium side panels feature large cutouts with removable dust filters, and that is because each side panel can hold two 120-140mm fans or a single 240-280mm radiator. The rear panel has mounting holes for one additional 120mm or 140mm fan.

    The PC-T70FX model, which includes the T70-1 option kit, is available right now at Newegg.com for $180 USD. It is unclear if the solo PC-T70 will be available for sale in the future, though we suspect that it will because it has its own product page on Lian Li's website.

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  • Apple 2017: Announcing a new Apple Watch Series 3, with Intel LTE/Cellular (AnandTech)

    Today at Apple’s new Steve Jobs Theatre, Apple announced its new Apple Watch, called the Series 3. This is a new model above the Series 2 announced last year, with the new headline feature being LTE support through an integrated modem, which we believe to be an Intel modem according to trusted analysts.

    With other watch makers having had LTE models, it had been one of the missing features with the Watch Series 2. Now Apple is making that leap, supporting both LTE and UTMS by using the display as the antenna, rather than internal antennas that might take up extra space. Rather than use a regular SIM, Apple is implementing an eSIM to save on size, which was demonstrated on AT&T during the presentation. To that end, Apple stated that the Watch Series 3 is only 0.25mm wider than the Watch Series 2 on the rear crystal, with all other dimensions the same. With LTE, Apple states that users can use features such as Maps, take calls, and stream Apple music.

    At the heart of the Watch Series 3 is a new processor – moving up to a dual core version over the Series 2. Apple gave very little information on the processor, except that it offers 70% more performance over the Series 2 but stays at the same size. No details on the cores inside, or the node, but with the new LTE add-in, Apple is quoting the same 18 hours of battery life with a mix of LTE, WiFi and screen-off use during that time.

    Also in the hardware is a new wireless chip, called the W2. Again Apple was light on details, except to say that it offers 85% faster WiFi combined with a 50% higher efficiency. On the health side, there is a new barometric altimeter, for calculating air pressure and detecting going up stairs.

    For software, Apple is going to launch WatchOS4 on September 19th , which will ship on the new Watch Series 3. This update will bring the heart rate detection to now display directly on the display, with an enhanced heart-rate detection mechanism that will provide resting heart rate data, calculated based on continuous data over several days. Apple will also add in notifications for users that might experience abnormal heart rates when exercise is not detected. This will be in conjunction with Apple’s new Heart Study, which will use Watch data to analyse arrhythmia in a collaboration with Stanford Medical and the FDA. The first phase of this Heart Study will be available to download in the US early next year.

    For prices, Apple gave the base Watch Series 3 as $329, but in order to have the LTE version the price increases to $399. It looks like Apple will be discontinuing the Series 2 as it was not mentioned, but the Series 1 model will still be available at $249. Orders will begin on September 15th, with availability on the 22nd.

    The Apple Watch Numbers

    During the presentation, Apple stated that the Apple Watch is now the #1 watch brand worldwide, up from #2 in 2016, supplanting Rolex. This is on the back of a 50% year-on-year growth in Apple Watch sales, with Apple citing a 97% customer satisfaction rate. Apple did not disclose the exact number of unit sales, due to bundling the numbers in with other products, and so did not disclose if the 50% YoY was on unit sales or overall revenue from accessory or app sales.

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