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May 2013
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Win8.1 adds Start button, Boot-to-Desktop;
Haswell Arrival; SuperSpeed USB; PC Shipment Slump


Leaks of the Blue update to Win8 are becoming common. Some involve a partial reversal of Microsoft's rigid stance on that operating system!

As of this writing, four builds - 9364, 9369 , 9374 and 9385 - have leaked. These show it called Windows 8.1 Pro Preview. Reliable sources claim you'll be able to choose to boot directly to the desktop avoiding the tiled Metro menu. They also say there'll be a Start button to get back to the Metro interface from the desktop, but no Start menu.

Oddly, as Paul Thurrott reported on his Supersite for Windows, the two changes above "are not present in the recent builds." He says they: "may not show up until after the public preview . . ." He add that Build 9374 does include: "a kiosk mode" available via PC settings with two options - "the ability to lock down user accounts to only allow functions an administrator prefers (a parental control)" and a method: "to set a particular app to run on startup."

WinBeta.org to the contrary, has found recent build code disabling the Start screen. Their Michael says a Russian site has found a twinui.dll: "responsible for disabling the Start Screen" and will let you "go to the desktop automatically."

Tom Warren of The Verge also to the contrary, describes the Start button looking nearly identical: "to the existing Windows flag used in the Charm bar." Adding that Microsoft explained its changes: "using data it gathered from the company's Customer Experience Improvement Program." What? Microsoft listening to customer feedback!

Mary Jo Foley on her All About Windows site says: "One of my sources confirmed (the boot-to-desktop and a Start button) is now looking like the plan," adding that "the final Blue release . . . is expected . . . in August 2013."

Mihaita Bamburic of betanews.com, working with Build 9369, said that among changes was a: "new file explorer available in SkyDrive. . . an app list button, so that users can go straight to the list of installed software using the mouse . . . and new options inside PC settings, meant to provide a more seamless operation for users sporting a touch-based device such as laptop or tablet."

On Winbeta.org, a posting by, Ron says: "Those using a mouse can now access the Apps List by clicking a button at the bottom of the screen. Clicking it will open the Apps List, which seems to slide from the bottom of the screen. Clicking the App List button again will close it and slide the Start Screen back to focus. . . .

"While on the Start screen, you can now begin typing and see the Search charm on the right hand side without being taken to the search result page automatically. . . . Other changes we have noticed so far is the new option to connect to a wireless display, new touchpad options in PC settings and more Ease of Access settings."

First Look: Windows 8.1 (Blue) Build 9369 is on YouTube.

Among the Win8.1 upgrades I've noticed is a split-screen, side-by-side view, a feature I love in Win7. Others include: new tile sizes; new search interface; IE11; new gestures including a swipe up from Start screen to access list of apps; more personalization options; Picture frame mode and apps such as: Movie Moments ( a video editor), Calculator, Alarm and Sound Recorder.

Haswell's Arrival in Nanoseconds!

On Intel's Newsroom site, company rep Becky Emmett says the chip maker giant will "reveal all there is to know" about Haswell, in "3,337,200,000,000,000 nanoseconds." John Callahan on Neowin.net calculates: "If you do the math, that means the Haswell launch will happen on June 3 in the U.S."

But as Brooke Crothers points out on CNET "That's June 3 in the U.S. and June 4 in Taiwan where it will be rolled out at Computex."

No dateline confusion, just Public Relations reality - it happens on opening day of that monster annual trade show in Taipei.

Leaks concerning Haswell CPUs (core processing units) are exciting. It's expected to be 10-15% faster than Ivy Bridge, and the iGPU (integrated graphics processing unit) to be twice as fast as HD 4000 iGPU while needing less power to operate.

Sebastian Anthony on ExtremeTech says these fourth generation Core architecture chips will be priced: "almost exactly the same as the Ivy Bridge equivalent - perhaps even a bit lower."

He quotes from a quantity pricing (for retailers) leak. Of course our prices will be higher, but the figures do show trends - a Core i5-4570, he says is: "$ 189, while its (Ivy Bridge) i5-3570 predecessor is $ 213. . . While this might sound like Intel is cutting prices in the mid-range, it's not quite that simple. . . . compare the 4670 to the 3570, they're the same price - they're also the same clock speed (3.4/3.8 GHz)." He feels Intel has shuffled things to make room for: "more chips in the low- and mid-range."

Anthony concludes: "Haswell was intentionally designed to optimize the power reductions afforded by Intel's early jump to the 22nm FinFET process node - in short, Haswell should be the most efficient, high-power chip on the market, with some SKUs reaching TDPs ( thermal design power ) as low as 7 W . . . "

Anand Lal Shimpi of AnandTech says: "All Haswells will ship with an integrated voltage regulator. Instead of having multiple voltage rails driven by external voltage regulators enter the SoC (system on a chip), Haswell will accept two input voltages: Vccin for logic and Vddq for DRAM. Vccin should typically be somewhere in the 1.8 V - 2.3 V range, with a max of 3.04 V. Vddq will depend on your DRAM type. The integrated voltage regulator will support all of the same adjustments that we're used to on current Ivy Bridge platforms."

Niles Broekhuijsen on Tom's Hardware says: "Intel announced that the Haswell series of CPUs would be a lot easier to overclock. Like previous generations, the chips would feature a base clock frequency of 100 MHZ, however, on Haswell CPUs, users will be able to change this depending on the model.

"Intel has thought to let owners of K series CPUs change the base clock frequency to values such as 125 MHz or 166 MHz, while the other modules such as the memory controller would still run on a base clock of 100 MHz. . . . Wonder what the changes will actually yield in higher overclock."

Joel Hruska, in his review for ExtremeTech says: "The strangest thing about Intel's Haswell positioning was an assertion on the Tom's Hardware site that only certain chips will have TAX (transactional synchronization extensions) support. Their chart indicates that the i7-4770K and i5-4670K - the two enthusiast-oriented processors - won't have TAX support.

"That's frustrating, to put it mildly. It's a return to the Bad Old Days of a few years back, when Intel's Sandy Bridge chipsets forced enthusiasts to choose between Intel's QuickSync technology and CPU overclocking. The Z68 chipset fixed that problem, but now we're back to differentiated CPU tech."

Lennard Sea on VR-Zone posted a picture taken at IDF of the new Intel Kingsley (or more properly DZ87KL-75K) motherboard, the top enthusiast model of their Haswell Z87 Lynx Point line.

Earlier rumours of it having yet another new socket are confirmed. The new LGA1150 is unlike the current LGA1155 or LGA2011 designs. It basically marks the end of Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge LGA1155 extended compatibility to the new platform.

However it does have the same mounting hole spacing as LGA1155 sockets, and mounting kit upgrades for some older heat sinks are already available. But do you really want to go in that direction?

SuperSpeed USB's Power Boost

Intel announced early last month that the Thunderbolt and SuperSpeed USB specifications will soon double data transfer speeds. That's the first speed increase for T-bolt since its initial release in 2011.

Good to hear both devices doubled speed. Thunderbolt goes from 10 to 20 Gbps (gigabytes per second) while USB 3.0 moves from 5 to 10 Gbps. But Thunderbolt is not yet a popular choice. At a major dealer, I counted only 6 of 86 LGA1155 mobos with T-bolt. Although I hear Asus will equip most, if not all, of its coming Haswell Z87 boards with Thunderbolt

But it is great news that the new spec for the very popular USB includes a truly amazing power transfer boost in both directions, going from 10 to 100 watts!

When will it happen? Thunderbolt will get its performance boost from a new controller chip supposed to go into production by the end of this year. The USB specification is scheduled to be completed in July, with products likely in the market place by Christmas 2014.

What does it mean? With that much power, everything from full-size external hard drives to displays - even laptops - are within reach of USB's bus power. It's a major upgrade over what's now available.

At the Intel Developer Forum, a laptop and a couple of monitors were looped together, powered only by SuperSpeed USB. That bi-directional power bump could mean the end for many power cords. Daisy chain with USB - WOW! See the video on Youtube.

Lucas Marian of Computerworld says the increase in power means that computer monitors, laptops and even high definition televisions could be powered through the use of a single USB hub.

He interviewed Jeff Raven craft, president of the USB Implementers Forum, who called the SuperSpeed data transfer speed "evolutionary, but the power transfer is revolutionary.

"This is going to change the way computers, peripheral devices and even HDTV will not only consume, but deliver power . . . You can have an HDTV with a USB hub built into it where not only can you exchange data and audio/video, but you can charge all your devices from it."

The new standard requires a new cable, but will be backwards compatible with prior versions of USB.

Record PC Shipment Slump

It has been a disastrous first quarter for the PC industry. In fact, Lenovo was alone on the plus side in the worst slump since researchers began tracking the data in 1994. IDC and Gartner, said PC shipments fell 14 % in the first quarter, with the world's largest PC maker, Hewlett-Packard worst at minus 24 %.

IDC blames Windows 8 - saying the new interface and its lack of a Start button "made PCs a less attractive alternative" compared to tablets. Gartner sees the drop off being caused by the higher prices resulting from Win8's necessary touchscreen-based PCs . . . . Both agree that consumers are now buying more tablets and smartphones in place of desktops and notebooks.

Early reaction in the semiconductor market, had Intel, AMD, and other PC-oriented chip makers all taking a hit. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard also absorbed significant hits, down 4 to 6 percent. Meanwhile there were smiles for mobile chip suppliers such as Samsung, Calcium, and Broadloom - each experienced huge growth.

John C Abel on his blog Refuters Metafile said: "PCs aren't going to disappear, but they are no longer the most important computer we use. Many people carry three computers now: Smartphones, tablet and laptop. . . . Check out the people around you . . . . They're immersed in mobile devices."

All of which begs the question, why in this general PC sales falloff, did Lenovo march on?

Woody Leonard of Infoworld tells all: "First, a large percentage of Lenovo's sales are in Asia, where it's very common to find Lenovo PCs with no operating system pre-installed.

"In spite of the fact that Lenovo has promised for years to pre-install Windows on more PCs, and also that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer actually visited the Lenovo offices recently, it is still very easy to order Windows-less Lenovo computers from Asian Lenovo sites." His second point: "Lenovo isn't shy about downgrading new purchases from Win8 to Win7."

A British website, The Channel has Lenovo's U.S. boss saying: "The majority of Lenovo's enterprise shipments have Windows 7 installed; the touchscreen-friendly Windows 8 is discreetly bundled on its own separate disc. . . . the machines are downgraded to Windows 7 by default. Of course, that's exactly what customers want. . ."

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