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June 2013

Haswell Z87 Chipset and Mobos Arrive;
Win8.1 to be Free Upgrade; Compliancy updates

In mid-May, motherboard companies started to let slip small details of their new lines designed for the arrival of Intel's fourth generation Z87 Haswell chipset June 2.

Then on that date, when Computex Taipei 2013 opened, a flood of Haswell reviews, pictures, even a video, hit the internet here, a day early - Sunday, June 1 on this side of the globe, aided by the International date line

A huge collection of Z86 motherboard reviews, 33 in all, the largest in one place available at the time of this writing, was that by Koen Crijns writing for the Netherlands website Hardware.Info It is not only large, but includes a lot of info and many amazing colour pix.

The first YouTube video review I found was that by Richard Cameron of, made June 1 from Gigabyte headquarters in Taiwan regarding their Z87 motherboards

Intel, which we said last month has decided to get out of the mobo market post Haswell, as expected, announced details of their new Haswell chipset and CPU.

The new Haswell generation 4 CPU (core processing unit) brings a new chipset - Intel's 8 series. Unlike predecessors Sandy Bridge, series 6 and Ivy Bridge, series 7, which coped with each other, all Haswell CPUs require the new 8-series chipsets. Haswell CPUs, as we rumoured previously, use a new socket, the LGA 1150. No word on whether it will be compatible with next-generation BroadwellCPUs.

Both 7 and 8 series chipsets support a total of 14 USB ports and 6 SATA ports, but the 8-series can provide six USB 3.0 ports (up from four) and six SATA III ports. That's up from two SATA III and four SATA II.

The memory controller ( integrated in the CPU) has 1600MHz DDR3 listed as its highest officially supported speed, as was the case with Ivy Bridge.

Anyone using older expansion cards should be aware that 8-series chipsets will not support legacy PCI cards. The 20-year-old PCI specification is finally superseded.

However that Dutch website has reported Haswell having issues with USB 3.0. According to Anthony Garreffa of "They've done some very, very extensive testing . . . 22 USB 3.0 drives, with 14 of them experiencing issues and were unable to stay connected when a Haswell system woke back up from standby."

Am I excited? Not particularly. I added Z77 to my stable earlier this year and see nothing for me in Z87. It seems aimed at the mobile market, a fair jump in speed, a major lowering in power requirement (e.g. better battery life). If your top dog is a Core2, then It would be a worthwhile advance.

Thunderbolt Connection Featured

Among motherboard tidbits I've found, ASRock announced that their top-of-the-line Z87 Extreme9/ac is the first Intel 8 series motherboard to be awarded Thunderbolt certification from Intel. Thunderbolt is a connectivity platform, similar to USB. It was developed by Intel and provides high speed and the ability to daisy-chain devices through a single port.

There's also a new HDMI input with built-in switching - that ability to bring in a secondary HDMI feed should appeal to those with a limited number of monitor inputs. YouTube has a video of how that works. ASRock's A-series cards also feature waterproofing - probably a preferred addition in case you spill your coffee in some obscure overclocking adventure. You can see a live demonstration on YouTube of this Conformal coating.

Asustek showed a new Z87-Deluxe motherboard that supports more functions and features than any other unit in their lines and includes advanced connectivity. Their list of mobos includes the Z87-A with mainstream designs; the Z87-Pro, the Z87-Plus, the Z87 I-Deluxe with mini-ITX form factor and the Z87-WS for workstations.

The company also unveiled several new gaming motherboards: the Maximus VI Hero, the Maximus VI Gene (micro ATX) and the Maximus VI Extreme.

ASUS will have at least a dozen boards set for launch time, maybe a lot more, including a switch in their Pro and Deluxe feature colour, moving from blue to gold - the new standard, as their promo says. The Deluxe board (and perhaps others) now also includes 802.11ac WiFi.

Republic of Gamers retains its famous red and black touches. There's also a new high-end model, the Gryphon. And, as you'd expect, there will be evolutionary changes to its Sabertooth and RoG lines.

Gigabyte announced its G1.Sniper 5 and G1.Sniper M5 among Z87 motherboards having high-end features. These have removable operational amplifiers supported by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip for their onboard audio. A touch of gold colour has been added to the amps, but there are major lime green accents to the Sniper series that sets them apart.

MSI revealed its Z87 MPower motherboard, their high-end offering for the new Haswell processor. It has four memory DIMMs, three PCIe 3.0 x16 and four PCIe 2.0 x1 connectors, and an integrated WiFi / Bluetooth module with two antennas. All that and yellow as the accent colour.

Blue is Win8.1 Free Upgrade

Apparently Microsoft's coming Blue wave of software changes can correctly be called a full, major upgrade. It has also become clear that this wave affects a number of Microsoft products. But the one we're concerned with is code-named Windows Blue - now it is officially called Windows 8.1.

The news came from Tami Reller, head of marketing and finance for Windows, speaking at the JP Morgan technology conference in Boston on May 14. She made it obvious that Blue is not a mere update - that its even bigger than a service pack - that it can be rated a full upgrade.

She also said it will be free! At least, "free to existing Windows 8 and Windows RT customers" when it ships later this year, probably in late October. Is this to be a yearly update model? Remember Win8 launched Oct. 26, 2012.

Reller also said a public preview release of the Win8.1 upgrade will be made available June 26, at Microsoft's BUILD developer conference in San Francisco.

On the Microsoft Blogging Windows site Reller states: "Windows Blue is a codename . . . It will deliver the latest innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem . . . to respond to the customer feedback that we've been closely listening to since the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT."

Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows feels that Reller has recently: "emerged as the public and vocal face of the (Windows) division."

He also observes that: Microsoft: " will divulge what users can expect in Windows 8.1 in the coming weeks. And that once released, it: " will be delivered to customers through the Windows Store (not by Windows Update) . . . ensuring that all customers can seamlessly update to the latest version."

Seamless update? Annually? As Agatha Christie's fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, would say: "It gives one furiously to think!" Is it possible that the Windows OS could become an annual Microsoft subscription service similar to what we have now in Office 365?

Preston Gralla of Computerworld says Microsoft is: "heavily pushing its subscription-based service of Office. . . it's simply too expensive for people to buy multiple versions of Office. If the company is to keep customers from moving to Google Apps and Google Docs, it needs to offer an affordable alternative . . . In addition, Microsoft wants a steady, dependable income stream, and subscriptions offer that . . . more so than having people buy individual licenses.

He adds: "Microsoft certainly knew when it began developing Windows Blue that it would be far more than a traditional service pack. . . . a way to get people used to. . . interim changes . . . Once it's got people used to that change, it can start charging for updates.

"It would also solve a problem Microsoft has had since Windows XP - once people buy a version of Windows they're happy with, they tend not to upgrade. That's a lot of lost revenue. Selling a subscription-based version of Windows would help Microsoft regain a good deal of that lost money."

Software Compliant Updates

The presence of Win8 and its coming Blue upgrade has resulted in recent major updates to some of my favoured software. For starters, that great backup medium, Acronis True Image has delivered what's called 2013 Update 1, build 6514. The previous build was 5551. There's no fee charge between builds, only between versions, according to Acronis.

The release notes say ATI 2013 is now officially certified for Windows 8, including support for its secure boot feature.

There's now improved Nonstop Backup - the software handles unplugging and plugging of USB storage while performing nonstop backup, even if devices are unsafely unplugged.

New system tray alerts track your subscription and notify you when an update or upgrade of the product is available. Click here for more information.

WordPerfect X6 issued Hot Patch 1, a 10.2MB update that requires WPX6 Service Pack 2 to have been installed. It updates Corel Office X6 editions Standard, Professional, Home & Student, Legal, Try-Before-You-Buy to build

Among the fixes was one for a performance issue in Quattro Pro on Win8. Click here for more information on all of Corel's products

Express Assist delivered a recent upgrade to version 11 and now has full support for 32 and 64-bit versions of Win8, Win7, Vista and XP.

EA is Canadian developed software - a simple and superb mail backup and restore utility. AJSystems first created it in 1999. EA11 now backs up and restores current versions of Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail.

I like the fact it also will also, if you wish, backup and restore your Internet Explorer favourites, your documents, Firefox browser data and Chrome browser data. For more information or to download EA, check here.

Microsoft offers Win8 training wheels . . . now?

If there was ever any question that Windows 8 is in trouble with the general public, take a look at Microsoft's latest offerings: on May 17 the software giant uploaded a Get to know Windows 8 video to YouTube and followed up on May 22, by publishing a Windows 8 End User Training Brochure in pdf format, that is now available at its Download Center.

Unlike the somewhat old hat video, the 36-page handbook contains current information (a screenshot is dated April 2013) and it is useful. I'd recommend it for anyone having the yips with the new OS. But there are tips for any user. The full colour brochure shows clearly how to use specifics of the operating system.

Among explanations are the Start screen, rearranging apps, the Charms, changing settings and shortcut lists for touch, mouse and keyboard.

Quoting the site: "No matter what you want to do, you can get it done quickly in Windows 8. Whether you're collaborating on a large project, preparing for an upcoming conference, or travelling for work, you can use touch, mouse, and keyboard together. seamlessly do what you want, the way you want. This brochure will show you how to get around, navigate, manage apps, and personalize in Windows 8."

Continuing their response to public problems with Win8 - on May 23, Microsoft announced the Sculpt Comfort Mouse and Sculpt Mobile Mouse, both of which include blue-coloured buttons to help users to find their way quickly to the Start screen.

Win8 is seven months old - the Blue upgrade arrives shortly. Training wheels are better late than never.

Summer Respite

As has been my practice, there'll be no Rife Report for the months of July and August . . . a period of rejuvenation to contemplate Blue, Haswell and the flood of mini, mobile PCs.

Thank you for your support.

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