Lots of news to cover this week, including an interesting -- and surprising -- use of Intel’s Atom CPUs. We also have some commentary to add regarding the AMD “Warhol” rumor that ran rampant this past week. There’s news on the DDR5 front, as the new memory is nearing mass production and market-ready status, and we have something of an update on the Chia cryptocurrency story from last week. There’s plenty more, with news from AMD, Google, and Microsoft.
01:01 | ETH Moves Off Mining (Again), NV Mining Limit (Again)
Last time we talked about NVIDIA limiting its mining hashrate was relating to the RTX 3060, but the company accidentally leaked a driver branch without limitations in place and torpedoed its own efforts to limit mining and divert more sales to its CMP lineup. Now, NVIDIA is purportedly working on XX2 variations of GPU silicon. This silicon will have hardware-level limitations to attempt to cut mining performance, with initial reports indicating a name of “LHR,” or “Lite Hashrate.” The LHR GPUs would theoretically be more difficult to hack, and it’s likely to try and drive more sales to the CMP line.
Meanwhile, the Ethereum cryptocurrency has once again claimed that it will, for reals this time, move off of Proof of Work mining and towards Proof of Stake, which would functionally wipe-out the current mining landscape. Any mining thereafter would be for other alt coins, and at that point, either one will be elevated by commercial miners to new success or mining demand will sink. Regardless, July will yield a reduction of the mining award and thus profitability, as we understand it, and Ethereum says it plans to be off PoW entirely by EOY 2021. If this is the case, there’d be a flood of cards on the second-hand market as miners unwilling to take a risk on a new altcoin dump their cards. This may be a return to the 20-series launch market, where the 10-series dominated purchasing. If that’s the case, it makes sense why NVIDIA actually appears to be making one last, desperate attempt to limit mining. The more used mining cards that flood the market, the more it’ll hurt their next launch. The RTX 20 series didn’t do particularly well.
This past week, the internet got a bit carried away with a certain rumor that claimed AMD had cancelled its alleged “Warhol” CPUs. Previously, various rumor and leak sites attempted to connect Warhol to a Zen 3+ refresh or Ryzen 6000-series line based on a Warhol slide that hit the internet some time back. In actual fact, there was never any leak of first-party information connecting Warhol to Zen 3+ or Ryzen 6000; further, Ryzen 6000 and Zen 3+ have not been mentioned in any leaked first-party materials, but Warhol has.
In speaking with our contacts, Warhol’s existence is different from the story that has been fabricated on the internet. One of our contacts described it as “creating their own rumor and then canceling it,” as AMD hasn’t had any non-public Zen3+ mentions appear in slides..
The suggestion is that Warhol may be a “thing,” but that it was linked by non-AMD entities to other stories, like Zen 3+ or Ryzen 6000, so it’s a rumor born of a rumor that’s been negated by the community.
07:00 | DDR5 10,000MHz Future Goals
DDR5 DRAM production is continuing apace, and the emerging memory is approaching mass production status. Recent reports are now indicating major module makers in China, Jiahe Jinwei and Netac specifically, are ready for mass production of DDR5 memory.
Jiahe Jinwei shared photos of its first DRR5 modules using Micron DDR5 ICs. Jiahe Jinwei showed off both single and double-sided modules, with the single-sided DDR5 module coming in at 16GB and the double-sided module offering 32GB. Both will run at 1.1V, per the JEDEC DDR5 standard. The first DDR5 modules from Jiahe Jinwei will run at 4,8000 MHz with timings of 40-40-40.
In the same vein, Netac is also using Micron memory for its first DDR5 modules, and according to reports, has readied single-sided 16GB modules that also run at 4,800 MHz at 1.1V, with the same timings of 40-40-40. Should the mild starting frequency of early DDR5 have you disappointed, bear in mind that Netac has its sights on DDR5 clocked at 10,000 MHz in the future.
Additionally, images of DDR5-4800 modules from Crucial have also been spotted. So, DDR5-4800 seems to be very much the starting point for DDR5, but development and research will likely move ahead quickly. JEDEC’s DDR5 SDRAM standard tops out at DDR5-6400, but just like we’ve seen with DDR4, there will be many memory kits that scale well beyond that.
09:46 | NASA’s Mars Lander Is Using Intel’s Atom CPUs
If you’ve been wondering who uses Intel’s Atom CPUs, the answer is NASA. Intel announced early last week that NASA is using two Atom-based SoCs inside its $2.7B Perseverance lander currently roving around Mars.
Perhaps PCWorld’s (and friend of GN) Gordon Mah Ung said it best:
“Intel’s underpowered Atom CPU has finally found some respect—on Mars. The lowly chip had a tough time on Earth, winning the faintest of praise for its pedestrian performance. But its energy-sipping ways were apparently a good fit for a couple of compute modules that NASA built into its $2.7 billion Perseverance rover.”
We’re just waiting for Perseverance to start mining from Mars.
Jokes aside, this is genuinely an interesting story, and certainly an impressive use of Intel silicon. CompuLab is providing NASA with two of its COMEX-IE38 CoM (Computer-on-module, a type of single-board computer) boards that use Intel’s BayTrail Atom E3800. Intel’s BayTrail SoCs are based on Intel’s 22nm process and use its Silvermont microarchitecture.
The COMEX-IE38 boards power two Data Storage Units, or DSUs, that handle all of the raw data coming from Perseverance’s 23 cameras. The data is then compressed by the COMEX-IE38 modules before being transferred to a 480GB SSD via Ethernet link, where it waits to be beamed back to NASA.
According to Yuval Sela, CompuLab vice president, CompuLab “had no idea” that its products were being used to help power the lander -- they just knew that NASA had bought a couple of COMEX-IE38 boards.
This month, Microsoft rolled-out a pair of Windows 10 updates that impacted some users’ gaming performance, causing framerate drops and crashes. The updates in question are the KB5001330 and KB5001337 updates for Windows 10, version 2004, and mostly targeted security fixes. According to Microsoft:
“A small subset of users have reported lower than expected performance in games after installing this update. Most users affected by this issue are running games full screen or borderless windowed modes and using two or more monitors.”
Microsoft’s suggested guidance here is to use the new Known Issue Rollback (KIR) feature. KIR is a new feature that rolled out broadly last month and allows for reverting back to a previously known stable code for non-security related bugs/issues. Note that a restart may still be required.
13:08 | Linux Foundation on the Uni. of Minnesota Ban
Last week, the internet got to spectate as Linux steward and kernel maintainer for the stable branch, Greg Kroah-Hartman, banned the University of Minnesota from future Linux development.
As a recap, a pair of graduate students decided that, in the name of research, it would be a good idea to attempt to inject vulnerable code into the mainstream Linux kernel. They did this over the course of multiple patches, subsequently creating a lot of work for upstream developers, and courting the ire of the entire Linux development community.
It was then that not only the students responsible, but the entire University of Minnesota, got to feel the sting of the Linux ban hammer. The school has since made it clear that it will look into the research and possible remedial action. The two graduate students involved also issued an apology, for what that’s worth.
All that said, Linux developers over at the Linux Foundation have outlined some very specific actions that the school needs to take if it is to ever be welcomed back. ZDNet has obtained the letter from Mike Dolan, the Linux Foundation's senior VP and general manager of projects, that discusses the incident and what needs to happen next.
“Please provide to the public, in an expedited manner, all information necessary to identify all proposals of known-vulnerable code from any U of MN experiment. The information should include the name of each targeted software, the commit information, purported name of the proposer, email address, date/time, subject, and/or code, so that all software developers can quickly identify such proposals and potentially take remedial action for such experiments,” says Dolan in his letter.
Dolan also requested that the students’ paper, titled "On the Feasibility of Stealthily Introducing Vulnerabilities in Open-Source Software via Hypocrite Commits,” be withdrawn "from formal publication and formal presentation all research work based on this or similar research where people appear to have been experimented on without their prior consent. Leaving archival information posted on the Internet is fine, as they are mostly already public, but there should be no research credit for such works."
And finally, Dolan asked that the University of Minnesota take care to "Ensure that all future IRB reviews of proposed experiments on people will normally ensure the consent of those being experimented on, per usual research norms and laws.”
As of this writing, the school has not responded with any plan of action just yet.
AMD recently announced its Q1’2021 earnings, and as one might expect, they were very healthy. AMD is currently selling every piece of CPU and GPU silicon it can produce, and as a result, the company notched another record quarter, bringing in a total of $3.45B. That figure represents a massive 93% YoY jump, where AMD earned $1.7B for Q1’2020.
The star of the show is AMD’s Computing and Graphics segment, with a quarterly revenue of $2.10B, a 46% YoY leap. AMD’s strong revenue earnings here are of course driven by huge demand for Ryzen and Radeon products, and AMD noted that its client processor ASP grew both YoY and QoQ thanks to a stronger mix of Ryzen desktop and notebook sales. The same is also true for AMD’s Radeon GPUs, as AMD is seeing an increase in its GPU ASP thanks to demand for its high-end Radeon offerings.
We previously said it would likely take a couple of quarters to see the effects of AMD’s semi-custom sales for the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Well, we’re already getting an idea: AMD’s Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom segment brought in $1.35B for the quarter -- a massive 286% YoY increase. These numbers were driven by high semi-custom sales (consoles) and Epyc processor sales.
In the subsequent earnings call, Dr. Lisa Su touched on a couple of points. Su pointed out that AMD’s Radeon 6000-series sales have more than doubled QoQ, and that AMD is moving to ramp production as we head into Q2’2021. That said, AMD expects GPU supply to be a bit better next quarter, which is certainly promising to hear.
Last week, we mentioned the looming arrival of a brand new crypto coin, called Chia. In an effort to distinguish itself from other coins, Chia is a storage-based cryptocurrency that users “farm” and “seed” using storage space, partly created by the inventor of BitTorrent. Chia also uses a proof of time-space model, rather than the proof of work model that other coins use. For more on Chia basics, double back to our last HW News episode.
Ahead of Chia landing on currency exchanges and becoming tradeable, we mentioned how users in some parts of the world, particularly Asia, were already panic-buying storage and sending prices sailing upwards, as well as inciting concern for a shortage of storage products.
Well, a week or so later, and things aren’t exactly better. According to a report from Digitimes, Adata has notched a 500% increase in SSD orders throughout the month of April. Digitimes also reports that the run on storage is starting to spill outside of Asia, as well. Adata told Digitimes that it's currently seeing orders at a rate of 400% to 500% higher than last month, and it credits the demand to Chia mining -- or farming, rather, to use Chia terms. Rising SSD prices aren’t solely on Chia, however, as we’re also in the middle of an SSD controller shortage.
Additionally, Chia is already well on its way to killing warranties for SSDs, much like how Ethereum mining is slowly eroding GPU warranties. Galax China has posted a warning on its website, alerting prospective Chia farmers that using Galax SSDs for Chia mining/farming, where the read/write volume far exceeds what Galax considers standard use, will void the warranty.
Although we did spot a new motherboard with a few dozen powered SATA connections to plug drives straight into the motherboard, so, once again, greed breeds innovation. Or something.
The Game Developers Conference is preparing to kick off in full force over the summer, with dates set for July 19-23. This year, ahead of GDC 2021, the survey polled 3,000 game developers on topics such as developing games remotely (thanks to pandemic-induced isolation and quarantines) and the related game delays, what platforms are of the most interest to developers, and more.
Regarding pandemic related delays, 44% of polled developers said a game they were working on suffered a delay resulting from the pandemic. Interestingly, the results also show that a large percentage of studios continued to grow throughout the pandemic, with 47% of those surveyed saying that their staff had been expanded in the last year.
On the topic of revenue sharing on digital stores, the amount of developers who approve of the more “traditional” 30/70 revenue split is quickly shrinking. This year, only 3% of those polled think the 30/70 split is justified -- down from only 6% last year. This coincides with a recent trend of major store fronts cutting back on their revenue sharing policy. For instance, Google will start taking 15% from games that have generated less than $1M on the Google Play Store. Similarly, Apple has also reduced its cut to 15% for games who have earned less than $1M on the App Store. In both the case of Google and Apple, the cut goes back to 30% after a game crosses the $1M threshold.
Epic Games by far leads the way here, with a flat 12% cut regardless of a game’s earnings. Epic has also introduced a number of other more developer friendly practices, such as guaranteed minimums. We recently discussed just how much that’s costing Epic Games, as well as how it’s spending an obscene amount of money (spoiler: it can afford it) to take on Steam. So far, Steam seems to be among the last few storefronts still maintaining a 30/70 cut, but perhaps not for long.
The survey also highlights that the PS5 and PC are the top platforms commanding developer interest this year. For consoles, 44% of those polled said they were most interested in developing for the PS5. The Nintendo Switch came behind the PS5 at 38%, while the Xbox Series X|S trailed a bit at 30%. Additionally, the PC is the leading gaming platform by developer interest at 58%.
23:18 | Cloudflare Versus Patent Trolls, Round Two
Cloudflare is preparing to battle Sable Networks over a patent infringement lawsuit. We bring this up because Cloudflare, much like Newegg in the past, has a certain fervor and enthusiasm for fighting against patent trolls. Plus, patent litigation has been something of a recurring theme here for the past few weeks.
This marks the second time that Cloudflare will have to contend with a patent infringement lawsuit. The last time, it was Blackbird Technologies that sued Cloudflare -- and Cloudflare not only won the lawsuit, but went full scorched earth. It started Project Jengo, in which it crowdsourced (with paid bounties) an effort to find prior art for all of Blackbird Technologies’ patents. Cloudflare then published prior art for a huge swath of those patents held by Blackbird Technologies, which more or less invalidates the patents and makes it easier to defend against them.
Cloudflare didn’t stop there; it also went after the lawyers behind Blackbird Technologies on the grounds of violating legal ethics rules. The end result, as Cloudflare puts it, was that “Blackbird Technologies went from being one of the most prolific patent trolls in the United States to shrinking its staff and filing many fewer cases.”
Now, Cloudflare is gearing up to do it all over again. Sable Networks is using patents that are 20 plus years old in a string of lawsuits against several companies, Cloudflare included. The patents originate from Caspian Networks, which was once upon a time a router company. According to Cloudflare, Sable Networks is using four patents filed between 2000 and 2004 that are based on Caspian’s “flow-based routing” technology.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, and based on the past precedent that Cloudflare set, things don’t bode well for Sable Networks.
Rounding things out is a couple more gems we found this past week, including Microsoft detailing its commitment to PC gaming. Additionally, Google has finally added search functionality to Google Stadia’s store -- a feature that is a bit late at this point, and one that saw no shortage of roasting on the internet.
Starting with Google, the company announced that the Stadia store is set to get a search bar, among other inbound updates coming to the platform. Google, a company who’s search engine has become so ubiquitous that “Google it” has evolved into a global vernacularism, is just now getting around to a search bar in Stadia.
Other changes include UI tweaks and new ways to sort game libraries, but none as revolutionary as one whole search bar. If you’re a Stadia user and you’ve bemoaned the lack of a search bar -- now is your time.
Moving on, in a blog post over at Xbox Wire, Microsoft seems to be doubling down on its commitment to PC gaming, promising to have a “player-first” approach to the PC. According to Microsoft, this is part of its bigger initiative to build an ecosystem around games, rather than devices. It listed upcoming crossplay and cross-progression support for Halo Infinite as one example of this.
Microsoft also intends for Halo Infinite to be a premier PC experience, something you don’t hear too often for PC development.
“We have been working closely with the PC community to ensure that Halo Infinite offers a premier PC experience, including highly desired features such as support for ultrawide and super ultrawide screens, triple keybinds, a wide variety of advanced graphics options and more. We want to make sure that Halo is serving the PC community,” says Microsoft.
Microsoft also outlined how it plans to meet gamers wherever they want to play, whether that’s on Steam, Xbox Game Pass, or some other storefront. Additionally, it’s also working on more developer friendly practices, starting with reworking its revenue split for games sold on the Microsoft Store. Beginning August 1st, Microsoft will implement a 12/88 split, following Epic Game’s example.