Intel demonstrates Near-Field Communications on upcoming Ivy Bridge notebook architecture

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Date: Monday, January 9th, 2012, 10:49
Category: Accessory, Hardware, wireless

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This could prove spiffy.

Per Engadget and its CES coverage, Intel executive Mooly Eden has just confirmed that the company’s forthcoming Ivy Bridge chips will support Near-Field Communications (NFC), as demoed in a transaction involving a laptop and PayPass-enabled MasterCard.

NFC technology has yet to be truly demoed as incorporated into notebooks and it’ll be interesting to see which companies and developers pick up on this as well as whether this will find its way into upcoming Apple notebooks.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel could release Ivy Bridge-based Xeon chips in spring, provide new processor offerings for Mac Pro lineup

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Date: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012, 05:48
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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The upcoming Mac Pro units could get that much niftier, even with a slightly older technology.

Per DigiTimes, Intel’s Xeon E5 launch early this year could be matched by a handful of Ivy Bridge-based models soon after based on a tentative roadmap. After releasing 18 E5 chips based on the current Sandy Bridge architecture, Intel would have 11 Xeons arrive in the spring based on the 2012 design. Billed as Ivy Bridge-H2, these would include Xeon E3 chips like the E3-1290v2 in bulk costs of US$189 to US$884 as well as E5s from US$192 to US$1,440, one of which would be the E5-2470.

The exact specifications of the Ivy Bridge models aren’t apparent. The Sandy Bridge E5 chips were already known to range from a 1.8GHz quad-core processor to 3.1GHz in eight-core varieties.

If sustained, the Xeon lineup could create dilemmas for workstations like the possible Mac Pro refresh. It may push Apple and others into either picking Sandy Bridge models and going for a slightly older but wider range, choosing from a limited Ivy Bridge range, or having to split the computer lineup between the two Intel architectures.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Leak points out possible AMD graphics cards for upcoming Mac Pro models

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Date: Friday, December 30th, 2011, 08:20
Category: Hardware, Mac Pro, News

It’s not truly mobile news, but you’ve gotta love it when the graphics card on a Mac Pro could get an ample boost.

Per Fudzilla, a detailed leak may have given out details of AMD’s mid-range Radeon HD 7000-series desktop graphics. The 7750 and 7750 would sit on the new mainstream Cape Verde Pro and XT cores and each scale back considerably from the higher-end but more expensive Radeon HD 7970. Both would drop from 384-bit to 128-bit memory interfaces and 900MHz core clock speeds.



The differences would come out of shader (visual effect) core counts, texture units, and memory. The 7750 would carry 832 shader cores and 52 texture units fed by 1.25GHz GDDR5 memory (5GHz effective), while the 7770 would up these to 896 cores, 56 texture units, and 1.38GHz GDDR5 memory (5.5GHz effective).

Little was mentioned about the 7850 and 7870 that would sit at the higher end. The two would have wider 256-bit memory buses, additional cores, and higher clock speeds. Either would share the new Pitcairn architecture sitting in between Cape Verde and the Tahiti design in the 7970.

Pricing would be close on the range, most of all in the lower end cards. The 7750 and 7750 would barely be separated at US$139 and US$149, suggesting that one is intended to only show in some retailers or in pre-assembled computers. AMD would reportedly price the 7850 and 7870 at US$249 and US$299 each to appeal to the lucrative upper mid-range gamer segment.

The chipsets wouldn’t arrive until February. If so, they would help determine when many mid-range desktop lines are updated. Apple may use one or more in the Mac Pro, since it’s already supporting the 7900 series in Mac OS X code and would likely want a lower-end graphics card for its base configurations.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple developing specialized CPUs for HDTV units

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Date: Wednesday, December 28th, 2011, 09:17
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

When in doubt, roll your own.

Per DigiTimes, rather than utilize off-the-shelf chips from a company such as Intel, Apple is expected to use its own custom-built chips like in the iPhone and iPad for its anticipated television set.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering and Siliconware Precision Industries are three companies expected to bid on orders with Apple. The companies could build custom ARM-based chips to power an Apple television, much like the A4 CPU, first released in the iPad in 2010, is found in the current Apple TV set-top box.

Apple is said to have already signed a foundry agreement with TSMC earlier this year, utilizing its 28nm and 20nm process technologies. That deal was said to be for next-generation “A6″ and “A7″ processors for the iPhone and iPad, but it’s possible an Apple television could also utilize the advanced chips.

In addition to featuring custom chips, the Apple television is also expected to be assembled by Foxconn Electronics, industry sources reportedly said. Foxconn already builds most of Apple’s devices, including the iPhone and iPad.

The report said Apple is expected to finalize the hardware standards for its television set at the end of the second quarter of 2012. After that, it will place orders for customized chips and other components directly with its contract manufacturers. That’s the same approach Apple uses to build its iPad and iPhone lineups.

The Taiwan electronics industry publication once again pegged the Apple television for launch by the end of 2012. On Tuesday, DigiTimes also said that suppliers are expected to begin preparing components for the anticipated HDTV in the first quarter of 2012, and that it will have screen sizes of 32 and 37 inches.

Earlier reports also claimed that Apple will buy chips from Samsung for its television set, while Sharp is expected to manufacture displays. As for content, analyst Shaw Wu with Sterne Agee said earlier Wednesday that Apple is hoping to offer Internet-based content subscriptions that will allow customers to choose their own custom channel lineups, offering an experience very different from current cable and satellite plans.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Intel to bring Thunderbolt port to “first-tier” Windows PCs in April, 2012

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Date: Tuesday, December 27th, 2011, 10:50
Category: Hardware, News

You were wondering when that rather-nifty Thunderbolt port would make its way to Windows PCs and thus spread the use of the technology?

Well, now there’s something of an answer.

Per DigiTimes, Intel has begun notifying PC makers that it will “fully release” the high-speed I/O in April 2012, according to a new report.

Sources from within PC players have stated that “several first-tier” PC vendors are readying Thunderbolt-equipped motherboards, notebooks and desktop computers for release. Sony and Asus are expected to adopt the new technology, while Gigabyte technology will reportedly launch a Thunderbolt-capable motherboard in April of next year.

According to the report, Intel cooperated with Apple exclusively this year in order to “speed up the standardization of Thunderbolt.” As interest in the technology has continued to grow, Intel has readied the technology for “public use.”

Thunderbolt should see even further adoption in the second half of next year as related costs drop. Sources told the publication that the technology will be “standardized gradually in the future” as chip prices fall.

In June, Sony was originally thought to have developed the first non-Mac Thunderbolt PC with its VAIO Z laptop and Power Media dock. However, it was later revealed that the company had used an early version of Intel’s technology that did not match the Thunderbolt standard.

Apple partnered up with Intel to unveil the Thunderbolt I/O in its MacBook Pro lineup this February. The Mac maker quickly added the technology to its products, including the iMac, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and LED Display.

Thunderbolt combines Intel’s “Light Peak” specification with Apple’s Mini DisplayPort to support transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps. The technology uses the PCI Express standard, allowing for a range of peripherals and functions.

The first Thunderbolt peripherals, such as RAID systems and external drives arrived on the market throughout 2011, but high costs have reportedly been a barrier to companies looking to make Thunderbolt accessories.

For its part, Intel claimed earlier this year that Thunderbolt has attracted “tremendous response from the industry,” touting more than twenty companies, including Belkin, Canon, Seagate, Western Digital and Adobe, interested in adding Thunderbolt support to their products.

Also affecting Thunderbolt adoption is the growing presence of USB 3.0. HP, the world’s largest PC maker, has decided to go with USB 3.0 after not finding a “value proposition” with Thunderbolt. Intel has said it will support USB 3.0 alongside Thunderbolt, which is meant to be “complementary,” but some PC industry insiders have claimed that Thunderbolt could “greatly affect” adoption of the competing standard.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple exploring fuel cell technologies for future notebook power sources

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Date: Thursday, December 22nd, 2011, 12:52
Category: Hardware, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Patents

It’s the patents that make life interesting.

Per two articles (1, 2) at Free Patents Online, Apple is apparently exploring ways to power its notebooks via fuel cells.

“Our country’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels has forced our government to maintain complicated political and military relationships with unstable governments in the Middle East, and has also exposed our coastlines and our citizens to the associated hazards of offshore drilling,” the filings state. “These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources.”

Apple’s proposed invention notes that the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, has helped to increase consumer awareness of the environmental friendliness of electronic devices. In addition, Apple usually highlights the EPEAT ratings of products it introduces at highly publicized keynote events.

“As a consequence of increased consumer awareness, electronics manufacturers have become very interested in renewable energy sources for their products, and they have been exploring a number of promising renewable energy sources such as hydrogen fuel which is used in hydrogen fuel cells,” both documents state.

Apple then makes a case for using fuel cells to power portable electronic devices, noting that hydrogen and associated fuels could allow such devices to operate “for days or even weeks without refueling.” But the company also notes there are challenges in creating hydrogen fuel cell systems that are portable and cost-effective.

The solution presented by Apple describes a fuel cell system that can both provide power to and receive power from a rechargeable battery found in a device like a MacBook.

“This eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system,” one filing reads. “This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system.”

“Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device” was first filed with the USPTO in August of 2010. It is credited to Bradley L. Spare, Vijay M. Iyer, Jean L. Lee, Gregory L. Tice, Michael D. Hillman and David I. Simon. “Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing device” is a continuation-in-part of a patent filed in 2010. It lists Iyer and Spare as its inventors.

Apple’s interest in fuel cell technology is not new and other patent applications have been found that showcase Apple as looking into lighter and more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. The company proposed accomplishing this by building multiple fuel cells connected in a parallel configuration by a power bus, along with a voltage-multiplying circuit to increase the voltage of the stack.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Google’s Schmidt hints at “highest quality” tablet within six months

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Date: Monday, December 19th, 2011, 10:00
Category: Hardware, News

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Where there’s money to be made, there shall be competition.

Per Electronista, Google chairman Eric Schmidt in an interview with Italy’s Corriere Della Sera raised the prospect of a Nexus tablet. The search firm planned to sell a tablet of the “highest quality” within six months’ time. He didn’t mention the Nexus label by name, but Google usually hasn’t marketed anyone else’s tablet itself, even for the reference Xoom.

The timing is such that it would nearly dovetail with plans for Google I/O in June. Google regularly gives away a free device at Google I/O to attendees of the developer-focused show, usually to showcase a new OS. Tips have hinted it might have release Jelly Bean, possibly Android 4.5 or 5.0, at or by the event.

A reference tablet would be an admission that Android tablets may be headed in the same direction as smartphones, where the stock interface becomes the rarity rather than the norm. Most Android 3 tablets launched in 2011 have used the stock interface, but later models and post-launch updates have customized the interface and both guaranteed delayed updates as well as clouded the ability to see the official Google experience.

The tablet would likely be made by a partner like HTC, Motorola, or Samsung, but it would still represent Google co-designing a direct competitor to both other Android partners and to Apple’s iPad.

In other comments, Schmidt wouldn’t comment on the rumored Majel voice command system, saying he wouldn’t comment on future, unannounced products. He insisted Google has long had the “best” voice dictation system and could use it to do things similar to Apple’s Siri. The iPhone 4S-based system has been touted as better since it understands context, follow-ups, and indirect questions where Android’s system is limited to specific syntax.

Thus far, Apple’s been able to dominate the tablet market, so the next year should prove interesting. Let us know what you make of this and we’ll have additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple developing wearable, Siri-controlled computing devices

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Date: Monday, December 19th, 2011, 09:12
Category: Hardware, Rumor

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s the rumors that make technology interesting.

Per the New York Times, Apple has reportedly begun work on new, tiny, wearable devices that could be controlled with Siri, or used to input information to devices like the iPhone.

One of the prototype products developed by Apple, according to the article, is a “curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist.” Users could interact with this device by using their voice, like with Siri on the iPhone 4S.

Another experimental idea from Apple has been small, wearable devices that could be used to input information on another, more powerful device like an iPhone. These accessories could also wirelessly display information on other devices, like iPods.

Apple’s interest in wearable electronics has reportedly been spearheaded by a very small group of employees at the company. But prototypes of some wearable devices have allegedly been built by the company.

Author Nick Bilton said Apple is not alone in its pursuit of these devices: Google, too, is said to have been working on wearable computers that could connect to Android smartphones. Calling the smartphone the “first wearable computer,” Bilton said smartphones will eventually become the “hub” for all information, “transmitting power and Internet access to sensors and screens that are tacked on to our clothing.”

Of course, Apple has produced wearable version of the iPod for years, and currently sells the iPod shuffle and iPod nano, both of which include a clip so it can be attached to clothing. The iPod nano, which includes a multi-touch display, can also be worn as a watch with available accessories.

Though the tiny iPod nano includes a standard 30-pin iPod dock connector, it does not include any wireless functionality that would allow it to wirelessly communicate with an iPhone. As it stands, the iPod nano is a standalone media playback device.

But Bilton’s report envisions a future where all devices are connected, and wearable electronics could include glasses or even contact lenses with built-in screens, capable of displaying information to users.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Thunderbolt Display firmware 1.1

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Date: Tuesday, December 13th, 2011, 06:58
Category: Hardware, News, Software

Released alongside the iTunes update is a new version of the Thunderbolt Display’s firmware, bringing it up to version 1.1.

Per AppleInsider, the update addresses fan noise issues some users have been experiencing as well as overall stability improvements.

The download comes in at 942 KB and requires either Mac OS X 10.6.8 or OS X Lion 10.7.2 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the updater and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Rumor: Upcoming Apple television sets to arrive in three sizes, including 32″ and 55″

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Date: Tuesday, December 6th, 2011, 05:06
Category: Hardware, Rumor

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It’s the rumors that help make life interesting.

Per Australian web blog SmartHouse, Apple’s full-fledged television set will arrive at the end of 2012 in three screen sizes, maxing out at 55 inches, a new rumor claims.

Citing sources in Japan, the web site reported this week that the new Apple television will also come in an entry-level size of 32 inches. It did not indicate exactly what screen size the third model would feature, falling somewhere between the low end with 32 inches and maximum size of 55 inches.

The report said it’s a “major Japanese company” that’s involved in manufacturing Apple’s rumored television set. Echoing previous claims, the report said that the Apple television will feature Siri integration, allowing users to control the TV set with their voice.

Powering the rumored television will be a new processor expected to debut in Apple’s third-generation iPad, which the publication said will arrive “midway through 2012.” Presumably that processor will be an “A6″ custom-built ARM-based CPU.

Apple’s anticipated high-end 55-inch model is expected to compete with “smart TVs” from established television makers like Samsung and LG. Those companies’ next-generation TV sets are expected to have new features like faster processors, a “combination of OLED display,” and “Super HD” from LG, the report said.

Rumors of an Apple television set have picked up steam since the release of the authorized biography of Steve Jobs. In that book, Jobs hinted to biographer Walter Isaacson that Apple was at work on a completely new device that would feature “the simplest user interface you could imagine.”

Reports have suggested that Apple’s anticipated television set could arrive as early as mid 2012, while others have seen Apple announcing it in late 2012 for an early 2013 sale date.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.