Hardware

New Middleware Technology Quadruples SSD Speed

A Japanese research team developed a technology to drastically improve the writing speed, power efficiency and cycling capability (product life) of a storage device based on NAND flash memory (SSD).

The team is led by Ken Takeuchi, professor at the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Communication Engineering, Faculty of Science and Engineering of Chuo University. The development was announced at 2014 IEEE International Memory Workshop (IMW), an international academic conference on semiconductor memory technologies, which took place from May 18 to 21, 2014, in Taipei. The title of the thesis is "NAND Flash Aware Data Management System for High-Speed SSDs by Garbage Collection Overhead Suppression."

With NAND flash memory, it is not possible to overwrite data on the same memory area, making it necessary to write data on a different area and, then, invalidate the old area. As a result, data is fragmented, increasing invalid area and decreasing storage capacity. Therefore, NAND flash memories carry out "garbage collection," which rearranges fragmented data in a continuous way and erases blocks of invalid area. This process takes 100ms or longer, drastically decreasing the writing speed of SSD.

In September 2013, to address this issue, the research team developed a method to prevent data fragmentation by making improvements to middleware that controls a storage for database applications. It makes (1) the "SE (storage engine)" middleware, which assigns logical addresses when an application software accesses a storage device, and (2) the FTL (flash translation layer) middleware, which converts logical addresses into physical addresses on the side of the SSD controller, work in conjunction. This time, the team developed a more versatile method that can be used for a wider variety of applications.

The new method forms a middleware layer called "LBA (logical block address) scrambler" between the file system (OS) and FTL. The LBA scrambler works in conjunction with the FTL and converts the logical addresses of data being written to reduce the effect of fragmentation.

Specifically, instead of writing data on a new blank page, data is written on a fragmented page located in the block to be erased next. As a result, the ratio of invalid pages in the block to be erased increases, reducing the number of valid pages that need to be copied to another area at the time of garbage collection.

In a simulation, the research team confirmed that the new technology improves the writing speed of SSD by up to 300% and reduces power consumption by up to 60% and the number of write/erase cycles by up to 55%, increasing product life. Because, with the new method, it is not necessary to make any changes to NAND flash memory, and the method is completed within the middleware, it can be applied to existing SSDs as it is.

Source: Nikkei Technology

Hard drive reliability study names names

In November, online backup provider Backblaze published some interesting statistics on hard drive mortality based on over 25,000 units in active service. It found that failure rates were higher in the first 18 months and after three years. Those conclusions matched the findings of other studies on the subject, but frustratingly, they didn't include information on specific makes and models.

Today, Backblaze is naming names.

The firm has posted details on failure rates for 15 different consumer-grade hard drives, and the numbers don't look good for Seagate. See for yourself:

And that doesn't even tell the whole story. In Backblaze's storage pods, Seagate's Barracuda 1.5TB has an annual failure rate of over 25%. The 5,400-RPM version of that drive fares better—its failure rate is only 10%—but that's still pretty high compared to the competition. The failure rate of similar Hitachi drives in the same environment is less than 2%.

Only 10% of the hard drives in Backblaze's storage pods come from WD, and they're strictly low-power Green and Red models. The annual failure rates are pretty low, though: only 3-4%. Backblaze's purchasing decisions are largely driven by price, which is probably why fewer WD drives are in the mix. They tend to be a little pricier.

Interestingly, two drives proved to be so unreliable in Backblaze's storage pods that they were left out of the totals completely. Seagate's Barracuda LP 2TB and WD's Green 3TB "start accumulating errors as soon as they are put into production," the company says. It thinks vibration might be part of the problem. Other Barracuda LP and Green models seem unfazed, though.

Here's a look at survival rates over time:

After three years, only about three quarters of the Seagate drives remain. A surprising number of those failures come between 18 and 24 months, which contradicts the overall trend noted in Backblaze's initial study. Infant mortality seems to be a bigger problem for the WD drives, while the Hitachis fail at a steady but slow rate.

Backblaze says the Seagate drives are also more prone to dropping out of RAID arrays prematurely. The company uses consumer-grade drives that aren't designed explicitly for RAID environments, of course, but that doesn't seem to bother the Hitachis. They spend just 0.01% of their time in so-called "trouble" states, compared to 0.17% for the WD drives and 0.28% for the Seagates.

Overall, Backblaze's data suggests that Seagate drives are less reliable than their peers. That matches my own experiences with a much smaller sample size, and it may influence our future recommendations in the System Guide. Hmm. In the meantime, kudos to Backblaze for not only collecting this data, but also publishing a detailed breakdown.

Source: Tech Report

Alienware Steam Machine not an easy upgrade

PC manufacturer Alienware has clarified an earlier report that its upcoming Steam Machine cannot be upgraded by users.

steambox

Owners will not be locked out of modding, the company has now explained, but making alterations to the hardware will not be "easy".

"Enabling customers the opportunity to upgrade components has been a core tenet for Alienware since the company was founded, and that remains true today," Alienware boss Frank Azor explained to Eurogamer in a statement today.

"The Alienware Steam Machine, announced at CES, is designed to deliver a great gaming experience in the living room and we will enable customers to upgrade components. Considering we've purposefully designed the Alienware Steam Machine to be smaller than the latest generation consoles, upgrading the internal components will not be as easy as compared to other platforms, such as the Alienware X51, but we will not prevent a customer from upgrading."

Azor's comments take a different tack than his position earlier this week when he claimed that, for Alienware's Steam Machine, "there will be no customisation options, you can't really update it."

Nevertheless, Azor reiterated his earlier comment that users who are interested in heavily modding their hardware would be better off buying one of the company's more conventional models.

"If a customer is interested in modding and upgrading their rig on a regular basis, then we recommend the Alienware X51," he said. "Enabling easy upgradeability was a critical design requirement for the X51. It includes features such as single screw access to all internal components, and easy-to-remove ODD, HDD, graphics, etc.

"We feel we have multiple options for customers based on their individual needs. If a gamer wants more freedom to upgrade, we have the X51. If they would prefer a smaller, more console-like system, we will offer the Alienware Steam Machine."

A Steam Machine is expected to cost around the same price as a new generation console. The range will be updated with fresh hardware every year.

Source: Eurogamer

DD4 memory not far off

It seems that DDR4 isn’t as far away as we thought . According to Crucial Memory’s promo page  it’s going to come out late 2013. There is  just one month left till the years end. So that being said, we are going to have DDR4 in our PC’s hopefully by next month.

Of course DDR4 has a different architecture, meaning we are going to need a different motherboard, we can’t just put them in our old DDR3 systems. But, is it worth upgrading to DDR4? Crucial Memory also provided a comparison chart with some specifications of what DDR4 will offer, just to show you the difference.

The DDR4 will only eat up 1.2Volts as stated by Crucial , while having twice the speed of DDR3 Memory. DDR4 will run on a base memory speed of 2133MHz while having 4GB as their minimum density. According to the chart, we can see that DDR4 is 100% faster than DDR3, requires 20% less voltage and has 300% more density than that of DDR3.

Read more...

Steam Controller

A new way to play your entire Steam library from the sofa. Join the Steam hardware beta and help us shape a new generation of gaming.

A different kind of gamepad

We set out with a singular goal: bring the Steam experience, in its entirety, into the living-room. We knew how to build the user interface, we knew how to build a machine, and even an operating system. But that still left input — our biggest missing link. We realized early on that our goals required a new kind of input technology — one that could bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises. So we spent a year experimenting with new approaches to input and we now believe we’ve arrived at something worth sharing and testing with you.

Complete catalog

The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future. Even the older titles in the catalog and the ones which were not built with controller support. (We’ve fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse, but we’ve designed a gamepad that’s nothing like either one of those devices.) We think you’ll agree that we’re onto something with the Steam Controller, and now we want your help with the design process.

Superior performance

Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises. We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices. The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme, all while enabling you to play from the comfort of your sofa. Built with high-precision input technologies and focused on low-latency performance, the Steam controller is just what the living-room ordered.

controller

Dual trackpads

The most prominent elements of the Steam controller are its two circular trackpads. Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button. The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse.

Whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse are now accessible from the sofa. RTS games. Casual, cursor-driven games. Strategy games. 4x space exploration games. A huge variety of indie games. Simulation titles. And of course, Euro Truck Simulator 2.

In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.

Haptics

Trackpads, by their nature, are less physical than thumbsticks. By themselves, they are “light touch” devices and don’t offer the kind of visceral feedback that players get from pushing joysticks around. As we investigated trackpad-based input devices, it became clear through testing that we had to find ways to add more physicality to the experience. It also became clear that “rumble”, as it has been traditionally implemented (a lopsided weight spun around a single axis), was not going to be enough. Not even close.

The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.

This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player - delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware. It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.

Touch Screen

In the center of the controller is another touch-enabled surface, this one backed by a high-resolution screen. This surface, too, is critical to achieving the controller’s primary goal - supporting all games in the Steam catalog. The screen allows an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons.

The whole screen itself is also clickable, like a large single button. So actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want. Players can swipe through pages of actions in games where that’s appropriate. When programmed by game developers using our API, the touch screen can work as a scrolling menu, a radial dial, provide secondary info like a map or use other custom input modes we haven’t thought of yet.

In order to avoid forcing players to divide their attention between screens, a critical feature of the Steam Controller comes from its deep integration with Steam. When a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing, allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs.

Buttons

Every button and input zone has been placed based on frequency of use, precision required and ergonomic comfort. There are a total of sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller. Half of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back. All controls and buttons have been placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox.

Shared configurations

In order to support the full catalog of existing Steam games (none of which were built with the Steam Controller in mind), we have built in a legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse. The Steam Community can use the configuration tool to create and share bindings for their favorite games. Players can choose from a list of the most popular configurations.

bindings

Openness

The Steam Controller was designed from the ground up to be hackable. Just as the Steam Community and Workshop contributors currently deliver tremendous value via additions to software products on Steam, we believe that they will meaningfully contribute to the design of the Steam Controller. We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

parts

Questions!

prototypes

  • Can I use a controller if I don’t have a Steam machine?
    Yes. It’ll work very well with any version of Steam.
  • I’m a developer - how can I include support for the Steam Controller in my game?
    On the same day that our prototype controllers ship to customers later this year, the first version of our API will also be made available to game developers.
  • How will the beta controller differ from the one that’s for sale next year?
    There are a couple important differences: the first 300 or so beta units won’t include a touch screen, and they won’t be wireless. Instead, they’ll have four buttons in place of the touch screen, and they’ll require a USB cable.
  • What’s next?
    We’re done with our announcements, and we promise to switch gears now and talk specifics over here in our Steam Universe community group. Also we’ll talk soon about the design process and how we’ve arrived at our current prototype. (We’ll post detailed specs next week for our living room SteamOS prototype, too.)

We look forward to working together with you to design the future of Steam in the living room.

Steam Machines

A powerful new category of living-room hardware is on the horizon. Join the hardware beta now. Choose the model right for you in 2014. Finally, a multiple choice answer!

Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.

Read more...

Nvidia Prepares the "Most Amazing Thing" Ever Made

nvidiaNvidia Corp. is readying something brand-new, but this is not exactly a graphics processing unit, according to a vice president of Epic Games. In the recent years the company most known for its GeForce graphics introduced a number of products beyond simple graphics chips, but it obviously takes something to impress Mark Rein.

“Earlier this week I saw the most amazing thing made by @Nvidia – no, it is not a GPU, but gamers will love it,” said Mark Rein in a post in his Twitter.

In the recent years Nvidia introduced a number of products and technologies that did impress. Among the hardware things, the company launched Shiled video game console as well as Tegra Note media tablet this year. Previously, the company released a number of proprietary software-hardware technologies, such as 3D Vision, CUDA, PhysX and some others. All of them are aimed at gamers. For professionals, Nvidia unleashed an even higher number of other promising technologies during the same timeframe.

Source: XBit

Seagate to buy LaCie

Seagate and LaCie have gotten friendly before -- the former company's drives are in the LaCie 2big Thunderbolt HDD, for instance -- but the storage makers are about to get even cozier. Today, Seagate announced its plans to buy a 64.5-percent share in the French company, which is currently valued at $186 million. The acquisition will combine the two outlets' product portfolios and, according to the press release, "accelerate Seagate's growth strategy in the expanding consumer storage market, particularly in Europe and Japan." The deal should go through by late 2012, and Seagate will bring over LaCie CEO Philippe Spruch to head the consumer storage products division.

Source: EnGadget