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HW News - Minisforum Responds to GN Review, Intel Z690 Leaks, Hardware-Level Bans

Posted on September 21, 2021

It’s been another busy week at GN and we have plenty of news to go through today. There’s been some big developments in the legal battle between Epic Games and Apple, we’ll be going through the latest on that.

In more PC hardware centric news, we have our first glimpse of Ampere Computing’s Altra Max line, as an official engineering sample has surfaced in the wild. There’s also Windows 11 news from Asus, and how Riot is using TPM 2.0 to ban cheaters from Valorant.

As always, there’s plenty more. So check out the article and video embed below.  


01:06 | GN News & Updates

This one we'll leave for the video. We talked about our recent PS5 thermal testing between the two revisions of the PS5 and our collaboration with Digital Foundry. Find the original upload here, or check the news video above for more discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgWuGA8cExo&t

05:38 | Minisforum Responds to Our HX90 Review

Earlier this week, we published a review of the Minisforum HX90 miniPC. For the full details on that story as well as the review itself, check out that video. To summarize briefly, that review was delayed and re-recorded multiple times because the review sample that we received had liquid metal splattered around the inside of the unit, but none actually connecting the CPU and the cooler. After a confusing email chain, we discovered that the HX90 was supposed to have liquid metal, but that the review samples didn’t. We were sent another sample, we were told it had liquid metal, and after testing it, we were told “actually no, it doesn’t have liquid metal.” So, after more confusing and misleading emails from Minisforum, we cut our time investment with the HX90. To summarize our review, we basically said this: we have no idea what will actually be shipping to customers, but clearly Minisforum should not be allowed anywhere near liquid metal. 

Interestingly, Minisforum responded with a video of their own. The video documents the process they use for applying liquid metal to the HX90. Some parts of the process seem well thought-out, like their use of a small frame to make sure that the liquid metal is applied to the right space, they apply a foam barrier so that liquid metal stays on the die, and they have a brace setup to keep the cooler in place as they screw it down. They even show how the security torx screws will be replaced with Philips head screws to be more easily serviced. We had complained about the security bump in the screws, so that’s great to see.

Unfortunately, Minisforum seems to have completely missed the problem we illustrated in our review. And that’s that we have no idea what’s going to be sent to customers. We received two samples from them and neither of them represent the final product. We also know that that’s true of the samples sent to other YouTube reviewers, including but not limited to, JayzTwoCents, Der8auer, and Dawid Does Tech Stuff. This makes it difficult for us to know how representative of the final product the reviews are, especially since a fault in liquid metal application could spell death for the computer.

To be clear, this isn’t an indictment of any of the channels we mentioned or any other outlet that may have reviewed the HX90: the blame is solely on Minisforum. As Jay pointed out in his review, if he had removed the cooler, he would have ruined the (theoretical) application of liquid metal, this is the nature of liquid metal. It’s reasonable to avoid modifying the device to a point where you can no longer replicate the as-shipped performance for future regression testing.

So sure, maybe Minisforum will apply liquid metal to consumer products like they do in the video. But we have no way of knowing that, and given the level of misinformation we’ve already experienced from Minisforum, we have no reason to take what they say at face value. 

We had some other issues with the video as well, notably Minisforum apparently uses wireless ESD straps, which we’ve proven don’t do anything. And if our word isn’t good enough, feel free to read NASA’s white paper on the same. We didn’t think we could have any less confidence in Minisforum’s assembly line, but Minisforum managed to prove us wrong there. Minisforum also argued that the shell is made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, that it does actually have carbon fiber in it. There may be some sort of chemical analysis we could have to prove whether or not it has carbon fiber in it, but frankly it doesn’t really matter. 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TMZ6AYLYqA 

12:45 | About The Epic Games v. Apple Ruling

After a bitter legal battle that’s been going on for more than a year, the US Northern California District court issued a permanent nationwide injunction against Apple in the Epic Games v. Apple case. The ruling does find that Apple has engaged in anti-competitive behavior with the iOS App Store according to California’s Antitrust Law. Going forward, Apple must allow other forms of in-app payments -- even ones that would circumvent its increasingly contested 30% revenue cut from in-app transactions. 

It’s hard to call this a win for either company. In fact, the split decision is more of a compromise that is likely to leave both Epic Games and Apple disappointed, albeit for very different reasons. It’s also clear that this is just the beginning of the Great App Store War, and Epic still has a similar lawsuit in play with Google for many of the same reasons. 

Upon the news breaking, several mainstream media and gaming sites quickly trotted-out headlines declaring Epic’s victory over Apple. Anyone subscribing to the narrative that Epic won has likely been left scratching their heads that Epic has chosen to appeal the decision, rather than doing a victory lap. More to the point, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeny wasted little time in expressing his disappointment in the ruling, stating that Fortnite would only return to iOS “when and where Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment, passing along the savings to consumers.” It’s hard not to see Tim Sweeney’s indignation as righteous though, as he argues that “Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers.” While Epic clearly lost the court case, the injunction  against Apple is also a clear win for consumers. 

Epic set out to prove that Apple was running a monopoly with its App Store, and in so doing, was seeking a ruling that would yield a fundamental change to how Apple operated its App Store and its revenue split with developers. That didn’t happen. The court upheld that Apple is not a monopolist, and that the overall structure of the iOS App Store is legal. Additionally, the court also found that Epic explicitly breached its contract with Apple in bypassing Apple’s in-app payment system -- a move that kicked off this entire lawsuit, and one that Epic subsequently turned into the #FreeFortnite publicity stunt. 

In violating its contract with Apple, that means two things for Epic: Apple was within its full rights for kicking Fortnite off of the App Store, and Epic will have to pay Apple’s 30% cut for the revenue it earned when it implemented its own payments system -- roughly $3.6M of the $12.2M it earned. It also seems that Apple will be able to keep Fortnite off of the iOS store for as long as it wants, as the ruling points to Epic being in violation of its contract with Apple. So, that means that any changes that do come from this ruling, Epic won’t be able to enjoy. It’s hard to call any of that a victory.   

Similarly, this wasn’t a clear cut win for Apple, either. While Apple was found to not have an illegal monopoly over payment processing, it was found that Apple is violating anti-steering provisions by deliberately hiding information on alternate payment methods, and ultimately limiting consumer choice in how to pay for items in-app. Assuming a higher court doesn’t get involved, that means that going forward, Apple will no longer be allowed to block developers from steering consumers outside of the iOS App Store for microtransactions. Apple has 90 days to facilitate these changes. However, spoiler alert: Apple plans to appeal that decision, as it stands to lose billions of dollars over such a change.  

App Stores are a veritable money printer for companies like Apple and Google; Apple reportedly pocketed $64B in 2020 from its iOS App Store, while Google was reported to have earned more than $11B in 2019 from the Google Play Store. In recent years, a number of lawsuits against both companies have cast a spotlight on just how cutthroat Google and Apple are prepared to be to protect those lucrative revenue streams and what measures are taken to lock in customers and developers.

However, Apple and Google’s iron grip on payments and App Stores could be slowly eroding; South Korea recently passed legislation outright banning Apple and Google from forcing developers to use their payment systems.    

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2021/9/10/22667769/apple-epic-lost-lawsuit-verdict-ruling


17:35 | Valorant To Ban Cheaters On A Hardware Level

Thanks to Microsoft's laughably bad PR crusade for Windows 11, Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM 2.0) has courted no shortage of controversy recently. Well, we regret to inform you that the controversy isn’t likely to stop anytime soon, depending on what side of the privacy fence you’re on. Riot Games recently made it clear that the company will use TPM 2.0 to ban cheaters from its popular tactical FPS game Valorant.  

By leveraging TPM 2.0, Riot can literally ban confirmed cheaters on a hardware level -- not just by account or IP address. Riot has already come under fire for its aggressive approach to anti-cheat, primarily its always-on Vanguard anti-cheat software that uses kernel level drivers.

With TPM 2.0 and Windows 11, Riot can use the burned-in RSA key on the TPM to identify and ban machines. As the burned-in RSA key is unique to each TPM and cannot be changed or altered, if you ban the RSA key, you ban the hardware itself. Riot will also require all machines running Windows 11 to enable Secure Boot. 

There are theoretically ways around this. If a machine is using a physical TPM 2.0 module, rather than using TPM 2.0 that’s baked into the UEFI BIOS, you could potentially swap TPM modules. Outside of that, users looking to regain access to the game would be forced to shop for a new motherboard and CPU.

This approach has already divided parts of Valorant’s player base, and for good reason. While there are legitimate security benefits to be had with TPM 2.0, it’s often a matter of give and take. In the case of anti-cheat in esports titles, giving players enhanced security against cheats and hacks comes at the cost of taking away some degree of user control. And as ExtremeTech aptly points out, it potentially sets a slippery precedent in how companies may use TPM 2.0 to invade user privacy.       

Source: https://www.pcgamer.com/valorant-leads-the-charge-on-enforcing-windows-tpm-to-perma-ban-cheaters-hardware/


20:15 | 128-Core Ampere Altra Max Arm CPU Surfaces

Serve the Home offered up a teaser on Ampere Computing’s Altra Max M128-30 CPU. Ampere had already announced its Altra Max line up of Arm-based CPUs last year, with its flagship SKU topping out at 128 cores. The 128 core Altra Max M128-30 that Serve the Home has and is testing, is the flagship of the Ampere Altra Max lineup. STH published the full specs for the Ampere CPU they have on hand, we won’t go through the full list, but it will be on screen.

Based on what we already know, Ampere’s Altra Max line are semi-custom Arm CPUs based on Arm’s Neoverse N1 architecture, and are aimed at the server market -- one of the few markets left where Arm has yet to gain a meaningful foothold. As we’ve said before, Ampere’s Altra Max shares a lot in common with Amazon’s custom Graviton2 chip, except anyone who isn’t Amazon or AWS can buy it. 

Ampere Computing had previously stated that samples for its Altra Max line were expected to ship in late Q4’ 2020. The importance of these images from STH are to confirm that samples have indeed shipped, and that the silicon appears to be heading to market, though perhaps on a bit of a delayed timeline -- understandable, given the circumstances surrounding the semiconductor industry as of late. 

Source: https://www.servethehome.com/ampere-altra-max-m128-30-128-core-arm-cpu-in-the-wild/

21:34 | GeForce Now Leak Spoils Potential Releases

According to a recent data dump from Ighor July, a C++ programmer and self proclaimed reverse engineering enthusiast, the GeForce Now database is housing a slew of extremely interesting game titles -- some of which may or may not exist. Likely, some of these titles are placeholders for games that may have existed in some form, but have since been scrapped. Others, like God of War for PC, are a bit more believable. We can assume that many of these titles are for internal testing purposes as well. 

Ighor July managed to peel open the lid to the GeForce Now database through a series of very specific steps, which included some interesting API trickery on the part of the GeForce GraphQL editor (which has now been patched to avoid future exploits). What was found was thousands of database entries for a variety of games, some of which were publicly known, and some that were not. We’ve linked a reddit thread below that compiles some of the more interesting placeholders, but they include: Chrono Cross remaster, a Final Fantasy Tactics remaster, a Final Fantasy IX remake, a Resident Evil 4 remake, GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas Remasters, and even Crysis 4.

Additionally, there were entries for Final Fantasy VII remake on PC (which Square Enix has previously announced was already coming to PC), as well as an entry for a PC version of the PS4 exclusive God of War. July also spotted the GameCube/Wii emulator, Dolphin Emulator, along with the Wii exclusive Super Mario Bros. Wii. 

As ever, take this data with a large amount of salt, as it’s hard to know how legitimate some of these titles are. If we’re lucky, we may get some additional clarification on these titles in the near future, now that this data is public.  

Update from Nvidia

"NVIDIA is aware of an unauthorized published game list, with both released and/or speculative titles, used only for internal tracking and testing. Inclusion on the list is neither confirmation nor an announcement of any game. NVIDIA took immediate action to remove access to the list. No confidential game builds or personal information were exposed."

Source: https://ighor.medium.com/i-unlocked-nvidia-geforce-now-and-stumbled-upon-pirates-dc48a3f8ff7


24:11 | UK Tells Star Citizen Not To Advertise Fake Ships 

Star Citizen, the world’s most expensive game that doesn’t exist, has caught the attention of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority over how it markets in-game items that it sells. Cloud Imperium, the developer and publisher behind Star Citizen, frequently sells in-game “content” as a means of funding outside of crowdfunding and external investments

The problem, however, according to the ASA, is that these items don’t technically exist -- they’re concepts. Cloud Imperium often sells in development ships users can buy, or “pledge” to. Yet, marketing communications such as emails, don’t clarify that these ships don’t actually exist. The ASA looked into the matter after a reddit user filed a complaint over how Cloud Imperium handles the marketing of such in-game concept items. Eurogamer subsequently verified the complaint and spoke with the ASA. 

After investigation, the ASA “assessed and considered that the fact the ship was a concept product could have been made clearer." To that end, Eurogamer reports the ASA has issued a warning to Cloud Imperium.

"On that basis, we issued an Advice Notice advising the advertiser, in future, to ensure that its ads include any material information and significant limitations,” says the ASA to Eurogamer. As Eurogamer reports, the warning seems to have gotten the right attention, as Cloud Imperium has amended its marketing emails to include keywords, like “concept” and “in development.” 

As a reminder, Star Citizen is eight years removed from its announcement date, and has raked in more than $300M in funding -- and still doesn’t have a release date.  

Source: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2021-09-08-advertising-standards-tells-star-citizen-dev-to-make-it-clear-for-sale-concept-ships-dont-exist-in-game-yet

26:53 | Multiple Leaks Spell Out Z690

It’s possible that Intel has gotten tired of us making fun of their presentations and decided to simply leak all of the contents. Either way, the big item in this story is that the block diagram for the upcoming Z690 motherboards has leaked. The leaked image comes from Performance Computing Inquisitor, who don’t themselves cite a source.

According to the image, many things will stay the same from Z590 to Z690. Z690 will support the same host of Intel technologies -- Optane Memory, Rapid Storage, Smart Sound, High Definition Audio, etc., the same display port and HDMI support. PCIe support on the processor, unsurprisingly, moves from PCIe 4.0 to 5.0, on 1x16 or 2x8 lanes. PCIe support on the chipset moves from 24 lanes of PCIe 3.0 on Z590 to 12 lanes of PCIe 4.0 and 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 on Z690. Other upgrades include wifi support for 7 AX211, as well as the existing support for Intel Wi-Fi 6E, ethernet PHY gets a boost from 2.5G to 5G. USB support will also change, we’re not going to read it all out, you can see the Z690 & Z590 difference on screen. 

The most interesting part of the block diagram right now is the DDR support. We already knew that Intel Alder Lake would be the first enthusiast CPUs to support DDR5. The leaked block diagram shows that Z690 will be able to support DDR4 and DDR5. This is where the block diagram looks like a plausible leak. It coincides with a second leak, this time from serial leaker @KOMACHI_ENSAKA, who dug up an Asus EEC filing detailing their upcoming motherboard lineup. The filing named 16 motherboards, across Asus’ normal line-up of gamer-y words, like Hero, Extreme and TUF. 

Source: https://www.pcinq.com/news/cpus/intel-alder-lake-s-ddr5-platform/ 


Host, Additional Writing: Steve Burke
Editorial: Eric Hamilton
Video: Keegan Gallick