Xbox 3 may include Radeon HD 6670, and that's not so bad

By Mike on 9:57 pm

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It turns out the Xbox 3 will not be the state of the art system the original was upon its release. According to IGN, the successor to the 360 will feature Radeon HD 6670 graphics. Naturally the internet is outraged, as they tend to get over such things. The next Xbox will definitely not rival the best gaming PCs of today. That might not be such a bad thing.

When Microsoft released the 360 in 2005, it shipped with their state of the art Xenos processor. They wanted to create a console that would rival the most powerful Windows PCs of the era. As a result, they chose to use a modified Radeon X1800 XL.  It was considered an enthusiast chip, and part of ATI's flagship line of cards.

One year later, Sony selected the enthusiast grade nVidia GeForce 7800 GTX for the Playstation 3.

Using high end chips certainly extended the life of the two consoles. While no longer cutting edge, they still hold their own against more powerful systems. By comparison, the weaker Wii has already passed its sell-by date. However, using high end hardware came at too great a price.

The HD6670 may not be a power house but will be cheaper and run cooler than the Xenos
Microsoft and Sony sold their current consoles at a loss for many years. Sony in particular struggled to lower manufacturing costs for quite some time. Both systems sold for $400 and $500 respectively. Since the recession, the desire to fork over that kind of cash for a toy has waned. $300 is the magic price point.

Using a cheaper graphics chip makes a lot of sense. While console gamers care about graphics, they don't care as much as their PC gaming brethren. What matters is whether there will be a noticeable improvement over the 360. When Microsoft says it will be six times faster, there is a legitimate case to argue that. Seven years and five generations of graphics cards have passed by, with a new generation about to be released. Even a lower end card such as this will offer clear improvements. Especially if Microsoft adopts DirectX 11, and it's tickle trunk of visual enhancements.

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MMNTech's position on SOPA

By Mike on 3:09 pm

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There's been a lot of talk about the SOPA bill lately. For those who don't know, this is also known as the Stop Online Piracy Act. It's a sweeping piece of legislation that would effectively give private entities the power to remove websites from the internet. It's also pits content producers at war with content providers.

SOPA and it's companion PROTECT IP bill promise to curtail "foreign" piracy of copyrighted content. However, the bill as it is remains far too vague and open to interpretation. Due process through the courts is not required for the government to pull a site. An accusation of copyright infringement is all it requires. It would allow private corporations free reign to censor the internet. In many ways, it is not dissimilar to China's Great Firewall.

This presents a huge threat to sites like Google, YouTube, and Facebook, as well as smaller internet entrepreneurs like Channel Awesome, and MMNTech. While it is an American bill, the internet community has chosen to draw the line here. Other countries are also contemplating similar legislation.

I oppose all attempts to censor the free flow of knowledge in any form. Our society relies on this to grow, and the internet is the best tool we have today for this. While piracy may be a problem, SOPA opens far too big a loophole for abuse and should be scrapped entirely. It was a bill drafted and supported by only a hand full of media conglomerates. They are the only ones that stands to benefit this, should it become law. 

If you live in the United States, please take the time to write your congressional representatives and tell them that you oppose the bill. The Obama administration has already come out against the bill, and I applaud them for doing so.

If you have the time, it may also be worth it to let SOPA's supporters know that you oppose their attempt to censor the Internet. A complete list can be found below.

Many websites including Wikipedia and Reddit will be taking action against the bill on January 18th. They will switch off for the day in protest. MMNtech supports them in their endeavours.

SOPA supporters:
  • ABC
  • BMI
  • CBS
  • Comcast/NBCUniversal
  • Disney Publishing Worldwide, Inc.
  • EMI Music Publishing
  • Entertainment Software Association
  • ESPN
  • Major League Baseball
  • Marvel Entertainment, LLC
  • MasterCard Worldwide
  • Motion Picture Association of America
  • National Cable & Telecommunications Association
  • National Football League
  • News Corporation
  • Random House
  • Scholastic, Inc.
  • Sony/ATV Music Publishing
  • Sony Music Entertainment
  • Time Warner
  • Universal Music
  • Universal Music Publishing Group
  • Viacom
  • Visa Inc.
  • Warner Music Group
  • Entertainment Software Association

How big would a modern tube computer be?

By Mike on 1:41 pm

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Modern computing turns 66 this year. It was in June 1946 that ENIAC, the first general purpose computer, was turned on. That got me thinking. If the transistor had never been invented, how large would a modern tube powered computer be?

ENIAC weighed 27 tonnes for its 17,468 tubes and other components.

So I Googled vacuum tube weights and came up with a rudimentary number of about 150g per tube. This was for a large triode that appears similar to the ones used in ENIAC. Tube Diodes and triodes share a similar function to modern day transistors. They amplify and gate electrical signals.

My computer has an AMD Phenom II X4 955. It clocks in at 758 million transistors. At 150 grams a piece for each tube, this comes to a whopping 113,700 metric tonnes. That's heftier than a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier.
ENIAC was big...
The original iPhone 4 had about 200 million transistors. It would be about half the size of the RMS Titanic.

Intel's fastest consumer chips, the Core i7 hexes, have about 2.270 billion transistors. It would weigh in at 340,500 tonnes The weight of three of those aircraft carriers.

A vacuum tube 6-core Core i7 would tip the scales, larger than 3 aircraft carriers
Of course this is just for the tubes alone. That doesn't include the relays, wiring, resistors, capacitors, and mounting racks to hold it all together. It's pretty staggering how far we've come in the last half century of computing.

Q&A: Why does the Xbox look better than the PS3?

By Mike on 11:26 am

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It's pretty clear that Sony's Cell is more powerful than the Xbox. It was designed for high performance super computing. Yet despite its power, the PS3 doesn't look that much better than it's contemporaries. In fact, sometimes it looks worse. Graphics can occasionally look muddy or washed. You've probably heard that Sony went with a weaker and more outdated graphics chip than Microsoft did. This isn't the case.

Both Sony and Microsoft went with slightly tweaked, off-the-shelf graphics chips for their consoles. The Xbox 360's Xenos GPU, produced by ATI, is similar to the Radeon X1800 XL. The PS3's nVidia RSX is virtually identical to the GeForce 7800 GTX. Both chips have identical specifications to their PC gaming counterparts. Naturally, you'd think the Xbox's chip would outperform the Playstation's. In real world tests, it doesn't.

The PS3's graphics look washed and blurry in the original Assassin's Creed. From
Pound per pound, the 7800 GTX is the fastest. I compared the two chips using Tom's Hardware's GPU charts from 2006. The ATI chip is only faster in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and only in an outdoor environment. Even then, improvements are marginal: about two frames per second difference. The GeForce beats it at everything else.

The PS3 actually has the more powerful CPU and GPU of the two consoles. So why does it tend to look worse, or struggle with certain games like Oblivion? It's counter intuitive.

Crysis 2 is another example of where the PS3 falls short. Notice the missing details. From
The potential culprit left is memory. This is where things get complicated. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have 512mb of RAM. The Xbox shares the entire 512mb block between it's CPU and GPU. The PS3 splits it into two 256mb blocks dedicated to the CPU and GPU.

The Xbox dynamically allocates it's memory usage. Basically, if the CPU only needs 128mb of RAM, then the GPU has the rest. It uses these for textures and other things it needs to store and quickly retrieve. The more memory the GPU has, the bigger the textures it can store. The bigger the textures, the better the image.

The Xbox 360 shares it's RAM between the GPU and CPU. 
The PS3 on the other hand is locked in at 256mb. At the time of it's release, this amount of memory was considered outdated. That's another myth about it's graphics. In fact, cards with 512mb or more were largely restricted to the enthusiast segment at the time. More RAM helps performance, but not by much. The two PC cards we looked at have 256mb and 512mb for the ATI and nVidia cards respectively. When we drop the 7800 GTX down to 256mb, performance suffers but only marginally. Even at high resolutions, both chips are evenly matched with nVidia still retaining a slight performance lead.

So how much performance does a graphically intense game of the period use? I loaded up Flight Simulator X on the PC and calculated it's ram usage to be about 650mb evenly split between GPU and CPU. Keep in mind that PC isn't an embedded system. So about 50mb of GDDR are likely being used for other stuff that's running in the background. Namely the desktop.

That's not the say that the PS3 wouldn't benefit from more memory, though not necessarily for graphics. The Cell is a very powerful CPU hampered by a limited amount of system RAM. Our quick test shows that a period game easily consumes more CPU memory than the PS3 has. That's not including all the other things Windows does in the background.

In recent third party games, the differences are much less noticeable. From 
Ideally, the PS3 should have had 1gb of RAM, split in a 512/512 configuration. At minimum, 512mb of RAM should have been allocated to the CPU. So why didn't they do this? Simple, because it would have cost too much.

The PS3 is very much a system built on compromises. At launch, it was already going for $600, which Sony was selling at a loss. Estimates peg actual manufacturing costs to be over $800. While the addition of pricey Blu-ray was heavily criticized, that eventually paid off in spades for Sony. The problem lies with other parts within the system.

Sony used Rambus XDR memory, which is notoriously expensive. It's faster than the Xbox's GDDR3 on paper, but real world performance improvements are dubious at best. On top of that, they insisted on full hardware PS2 backwards compatibility. The original PS3s literally had a Playstation 2 shoehorned inside them. Had they cut that from the beginning and focused on adding more memory, they would have had a better console.

That still doesn't explain why the PS3 doesn't look as good as the Xbox 360. The real answer is much more simple. At the time, nVidia and ATI were fighting a fierce arms race to build the best GPU. There were two schools of thought going at the time. One was to build a chip optimized for raw power. A GPU that, clock for clock, could produce higher frame rates and higher resolutions than its competitors. The other idea was to build a chip that focused it's power on producing the sharpest and most vibrant images. nVidia went with speed, ATI went with image quality.

Uncharted 3 shows was a properly programmed game can do with the PS3. From
However, and it's a big one, there are exceptions to this rule. Sony's first and second party developers have created some beautiful games for the system. Games that exceed the Xbox in image quality. That's because these games are better optimized for the hardware. That's what it all boils down to: how the developer programmed their game.