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HW News - Sony PS5 & Liquid Metal, RTX 3090 Using GDDR6X, Fortnite's War on Apple & Google

Posted on August 17, 2020

Another week in hardware news has come and gone, capped by a dense information dump at Intel’s Architecture Day 2020 towards the end of the week. The presentation yielded new information on the rumored Alder Lake-S, Intel’s Xe Graphics, Tiger Lake, and Intel’s news manufacturing technology, SuperFin.

We’re also covering some interesting news on Nvidia teasing Ampere gaming GPUs, further fueled by what appears to be another leak -- this time on behalf of Micron and its upcoming GDDR6X memory, which is apparently slated to be equipped on the unconfirmed RTX 3090.

For the latest at GN, check out our latest piece discussing Intel’s less than fortunate position, according to conversations we’ve had with motherboard makers. We also take on the misconception that Ryzen is smoother. HW News article and video embed follow below. 


02:42 | Sony Playstation 5 Interested in Liquid Metal

We posted a hardware news piece last year sometime about the Playstation 5’s expensive cooling solution. One thing we didn’t reveal at the time was that the PS5 has been considering using liquid metal for its thermal interface, as the decision wasn’t finalized yet. Officially, we still don’t really know if the PS5 has liquid metal in it, but it was in the early engineering plans when the cooling solution was being designed.

A new patent filing, translated by Google, says the following: “In the semiconductor device of Patent Document 2, instead of a grease, a metal that is liquefied by heat during operation of the semiconductor chip is used as a heat conductive material between the semiconductor chip and the radiator.”

We’re not exactly sure which liquid metal solution was chosen for the final product, if any, but the patent filing in addition to previous rumors we heard indicate that there has at least been formal consideration of liquid metal in the PS5.

04:32 | Nvidia Appears Prepping Ampere Reveal

In what’s been the most leaked Nvidia launch in recent memory, it seems Nvidia may finally be preparing to announce consumer-facing Ampere cards. It seems Nvidia is keen to celebrate the last 21 years of computing and computer graphics, according to the event countdown page

Separately, there’s a blogpost harking back to the good old days of 1999, where 640x480 was high resolution, and we saw the birth of Nvidia’s GeForce brand with the inagraual GeForce 256. It was also the year that 3DFX essentially ceded market leadership to Nvidia, thanks to how popular the GeForce 256 was, and spelled the end for 3DFX altogether. Though, that’s a story for another time. The gist of Nvidia's 1999 blogpost is that it will “usher in a new era,” akin to what it did in 1999 with the GeForce 256.

So, Nvidia has announced a digital event taking place on September 1st, with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang. The entire focus around all of this has been PC gaming, so consumer facing Ampere cards seem certain. However, as Nvidia continues the hype train, it’s entirely possible this will be the vehicle in which Nvidia introduces something entirely new, such as the rumored RTX 3090. We’ll see.   

It sounds like the dates are shifting around a bit: We were originally told to expect a September 9th timing, but now there’s a September 1st announcement date, which will likely be followed by a launch on a different day. We’ve also been told to expect an “*80” SKU equivalent first, with a flagship to follow shortly after. The name passed around online has been “3090.”


07:06 | Micron GDDR6X, RTX 3090 Seemingly Outed 

Nvidia’s ship continues to leak, it seems. A technical PDF document was released (as spotted by VideoCardz), and has since been taken down, that mentions Micron’s yet-to-be-announced GDDR6X memory. The document doesn’t offer too many details, but does offer a glimpse of what GDDR6X will look like. As was the case with GDDR5X, it seems Micron and Nvidia have been working closely together to bring GDDR6X to market.  

The document states that GDDR6X will have a 21Gbps/pin rate, while also listing a GB/s range of 912-1008, which would mean GDDR6X will be capable of crossing the 1TB/s threshold. GDDR6X also seems to operate over a 384-bit bus. Also, as AnandTech mentions, it seems Micron is moving to PAM4 signaling, which will have implications for data per clock cycle and power consumption. 

The document specifically mentions the RTX 3090, with a board configuration of 12GB (12pcs/modules). So, Micron seems to have confirmed that Nvidia is working on an RTX 3090, with a VRAM buffer consisting of 12GB of GDDR6X, with modules capable of 21Gbps. This would likely be the starting point, as Micron states its roadmap is looking ahead to GDDR6X modules capable of 24Gbps in 2021. 

We’re sure to learn more in September, if Nvidia has anything left that hasn’t leaked.       


09:09 | Mozilla Faces More Layoffs, Looks to Restructure 

Mozilla announced that it was preparing for another round of layoffs and internal shuffles. The news comes at a time when Mozilla, and the rest of the world, is feeling the impact of the current pandemic. As Mozilla puts it, “Economic conditions resulting from the global pandemic have significantly impacted our revenue.” As a result, Mozilla is expected to cut its workforce by 250 people. 

Mozilla previously underwent a smaller round of layoffs back in January, where the company trimmed its workforce by around 70 people. The cause for that particular layoff stemmed from a protracted rollout of revenue-generating products and services between 2019 and early 2020. Along with the current layoffs, Mozilla looks to be embarking on a broad restructuring, with a focus on revenue driven products, while also trying to balance the value and user experience. 

Specifically, it seems Mozilla will need to balance revenue generation while also honoring its dedication to user privacy -- Mozilla and Firefox have long been the Anti-Google and Anti-Chrome. Mozilla has increasingly built privacy as the defining feature of Firefox, and in the world of internet browsers, privacy doesn’t pay the bills. 

To that end, Mozilla has been experimenting with ways to drive revenue without stepping outside of the box it has painted itself in. Mozilla has been exploring subscription-based privacy and security tools, such as the most recent Mozilla VPN for $5/month. Mozilla will also be looking at ways to drive user growth as well, which will be an important metric for the company going forward. 

Firefox’s share of the browser market has also tumbled, in the wake of Microsoft’s Chromium-powered Edge browser becoming increasingly more popular, and likely to take Firefox’s position as the second most popular browser behind Chrome.      


11:46 | Intel Architecture Day 2020

Intel recently held its Architecture Day 2020, and with it came a deluge of dense information. We’re going to briefly go over the highlights here, with a possible revisit in the future with a focus on specifics. Tom’s Hardware and AnandTech both have deep dives into Intel’s presentation, so we’ll link them below along with other sources for further reading. 

10nm SuperFin: This is the latest development for Intel, in regards to how its building transistors. Intel says its “SuperFin” is its biggest intra-node advancement in history, and it comes at a time when Intel desperately needs it. With the crippling delay of 7nm, Intel has found itself having to extend the life of its 10nm process -- perhaps not to the extent of the never ending 14nm and its slew of plus signs, but extended nonetheless.

Intel’s SuperFin combines Intel’s FinFET technology, and the key underlying ingredient, the SuperMIM. The SuperMIM (Metal-Insulator-Metal) is Intel's new MIM capacitor, with Intel touting a 5x increase in capacitance versus a standard MIM capacitor. The SuperMIM is aimed at reducing voltage and mitigating Vdroop, which should drive transistor performance and higher sustained frequencies. In addition to the SuperMIM, Intel has further refined its FinFET process, increasing its focus on improving gate process, gate pitch, and epitaxial source/drain. 

Tiger Lake: Intel’s new Tiger Lake will be the first to use Intel’s 10nm SuperFin technology, and will also come with  the Willow Cove microarchitecture, which is a revision of Sunny Cove that focuses on higher clock speeds at lower power, versus raw IPC gains. Tiger Lake will support  LPDDR5-5400, PCIe 4.0, and Intel’s Xe LP graphics. 

Intel Xe HPG: HPG is the fourth and newest segment to Intel’s Xe Graphics architecture, and within its purview will be gaming. Xe HPG will support hardware-accelerated ray tracing, GDDR6 memory, and will scale back FP64 support (or drop it altogether). FP64 is typically reserved for high-end compute cards destined for data centers or scientific applications. Intel didn’t disclose specifics such as tile count, EUs per tile, etc. However, Intel does expect to ship Xe HPG silicon in 2021, and it will be leaning on third party fabs to manufacture it. That’s to say, TSMC. 

Alder Lake-S: We’ve been discussing the rumors swirling around Alder Lake-S for a few months now, but Intel has finally detailed the upcoming desktop chips. As rumors have long suggested, Alder Lake-S will be an x86 hybrid chip, and builds on the similar hybrid computing big.LITTLE paradigm, which was pioneered by Arm. The idea is simple in theory. Bigger, higher power cores are used for intensive tasks, while smaller, low power cores are reserved for less intensive workloads. Intel outed that these cores will be a mix of Golden Cove cores (big) and Atom Gracemont cores (little). As we’ve mentioned before, having a mix of cores with split instruction set support means there needs to be a highly optimized scheduler in place to direct the right tasks to the appropriate cores. To that end, Intel mentioned a new, optimized hardware-guided OS scheduler would ship with Alder Lake-S, but skimped on specifics.

Intel also didn’t mention if Alder Lake-S would use SuperFin, but it’s expected to be built on one of Intel’s 10nm nodes and use a new LGA1700 socket. There was also no mention of Intel’s Foveros packaging for Alder Lake-S, which it used for Lakefield, the fist of Intel’s hybrid chips. Lastly, we’re not sure on SKUs or core counts, but rumors have so far pegged chips topping out at an 8+8+1 configuration.        


18:33 | Hackers Using Tor Nodes to Steal Cryptocurrency

The Tor network has seemingly been hijacked in order to perpetrate SSL stripping and man-in-the-middle attacks aimed at stealing cryptocurrency. This particular threat has apparently been around since January 2020, and peaked this past May, where the hackers behind the attacks controlled some 25% of Tor’s exit nodes. 

Malicious activity regarding Tor’s relays aren’t exactly new, but according to a report from Nusenu, who’s both a security researcher and Tor Network node operator, it’s been on the rise. Nusenu started monitoring relay activity around 5 years ago, and notes that 2020 is the single worst year for malicious node activity. This is the first and only time that attackers were able to command nearly 25% of Tor’s exit relays, meaning that roughly one out of every four exit nodes was compromised by an attacker. 

Nusenu sums up the attacks as such:

“The full extent of their operations is unknown, but one motivation appears to be plain and simple: profit. They perform person-in-the-middle attacks on Tor users by manipulating traffic as it flows through their exit relays. They (selectively) remove HTTP-to-HTTPS redirects to gain full access to plain unencrypted HTTP traffic without causing TLS certificate warnings.”

This is also known as SSL stripping, and it isn’t unique to Tor’s network or the Tor browser. In this case, Tor’s network -- specifically its exit relays -- are just the attack vector. The attackers are targeting Bitcoin mixer websites, and rewriting bitcoin addresses within HTTP instead of HTTPS. Rewriting the Bitcoin addresses in HTTP traffic allows the attacker to direct the Bitcoin to a different wallet, rather than the original wallet.

While the amount of nodes the attacker(s) are controlling seems to be going down, some 10% of exit relays are apparently still under their control. Multiple proposals have been made to the Tor Project to mitigate further attacks, such as overhauling the way in which relay operators are verified and better tools for tracking relays.    



20:44 | Fortnite Booted From Apple and Google Stores

In a development that came out of left field and took the internet by storm, Fortnite has been removed from both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. Epic, for its part, isn’t taking the removal lying down, revealing it will now be suing both Apple and Google over alleged antitrust issues. Epic also made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek video in response to Apple, parodying the latter’s well-known “1984” advertisement. 

Fortnite getting the boot from both platforms was a direct result of Epic instituting its own in-game payment system for V-bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency that can be bought for real money. Epic wasn’t shy about framing the move as one in which to out maneuver the 30% cut Apple and Google get from their respective app stores, as Epic was promising to pass on the savings to players. For instance, players buying V-bucks directly from Epic could expect to pay around $7.99 -- as opposed to $10 when going through Apple or Google’s stores -- for 1,000 V-bucks. 

Apple and Google have similar policies in place regarding how in-app purchases are handled, stating that in-app purchases must be transacted through Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. However, the difference lays in the platform of choice; Apple is a walled garden, where Android is much more open. Fortnite getting booted from the Google Play Store, even though it is the predominant store front of choice, doesn’t mean users can’t still get Fortnite for Android. There are multiple app stores available within Android. The same is not true for Apple. As of now, Fortnite cannot be downloaded or installed for iOS, although users who previously had the game installed can still access it. 

The whole move seems to be one that was undoubtedly premeditated on the part of Epic, as Epic has long held that Apple and Google’s app stores can no longer justify the 30% revenue cut they take from developers. Also, given how fast Epic’s responses -- including the lawsuits -- came after Fortnite got the boot seems to suggest it was prepared for the fallout. Epic’s battle with app stores isn't unlike the one it’s been locked in with Steam, over Valve’s revenue splitting policy. 

All in all, Epic seems to be playing its cards carefully here, attempting to frame the move as pro-consumer. Epic is trying to present the story as one of David and Goliath, where Epic (the supposed underdog in this story) is taking on the monopolistic Apple and Google. Epic even got the #freefortnite hashtag trending across Twitter. It’s a clever move, if not a bit funny and ironic. Epic has routinely strong-armed gamers into using its own Epic Games store, thanks to exclusive deals with developers, all in the name of consumer choice.   

Naturally, people are taking sides, with the majority seeming to be standing with Epic. Although, it’s hard to believe Epic’s moves are as altruistic as it would have anyone believe. It’s a bit hard to feel too bad for a game that consistently makes billions of dollars a year and a developer with its own questionable store front practices.