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Vol 1 Issue 191

Update 1 - Pilot; Update 2 - Threshold
Haswell hype; Broadwell delayed; Skylake

I'm writing this during the July 1 holiday weekend with one-eye on World Cup games via my on-board TV tuner - yes, I multi-task on holidays! But it's not so simple when football (soccer) games get late into overtime before a decision.

Thank goodness I still use mouse and keyboard on my Z77 Ivy Bridge desktop workhorse. Double duty can become a copy safety issue. Especially when the world's greatest player Lionel Messi, dribbles in, draws the defence and then picks out Angel Di Maria to strike Argentina's winning goal over the Swiss. My hands fly up and about, but no worries, it's NOT a touch screen!

Hooo-aaah! The writing and cup play continues . . .

On the (ahem) work portion of the monitor, as you can see above - an early draft in its window with Cup play in another. It's all on the Windows 8.1 operating system - coddled and tweaked to be stable and swift, a Windows 7 look - to my liking. Admittedly, this is also now officially Windows 8.1 Update 1 and definitely NOT the horrible first release. It also sports Stardock's Start8 to avoid what now is the most reviled interface Microsoft ever produced.

That holiday week also had news of a major reprieve for any 8.1 Update 1 users like myself. We had been facing yet another big fix in Update 2, once said to include a new mini Start menu. It is supposed to hit RTM (release to manufacturing) in a week or so, which could set public release for another Patch Tuesday, August 12.

The happy news (for me, anyway ) is that Update 2 has been downgraded and will NOT include the Start menu, only some under-the-hood stuff. The "major refinements" including the new mini menu have been postponed until spring 2015 to become part of what was once referred to as update 3 - now rumoured to be Threshold, perhaps even Windows 9.

Not at Update 1? Microsoft has a Plan

Systems now at Windows 8.1 Update1 are able to get regular Patch Tuesday bug fixes, security updates and new features. (Patch Tuesday, for any noobies present, occurs on the second Tuesday of each month, when Microsoft delivers its monthly fixes). Remember we are now past the Microsoft deadline - those NOT updated get no security, bug fixes or features. Businesses still have another month before facing the deadline.

When Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows 8.1 last fall via Windows Store - October 17, to be precise - users of Windows 8 rushed to download the bits. Although most had no problem getting or installing the updates, some had trouble. They could either not find or were unable to download the update.

The frustration even caused some to revert to Win7. It shows in the latest Net Application figures (June) on Windows usage. They have Windows 7 rising a tad at 50.55 %, Windows XP at 25.31, Win8 hovering at 5.93 and Win8.1 a bit better, but still very disappointing at 6.61 %. In fact the combined Win8 usage dropped from May's 12.6 percent to 12.5 percent. Little wonder the company which has been campaigning to kill off XP, now is taking aim at Win7 desktop users.

Microsoft released Windows 8.1 Update in April 2014 and used Windows Update, not Windows Store, to make the release available. The switch back to the normal update path seemed to proceed better, but troubles for some Win8.0 and WinRT 8.0 users remained - until now. On July 1 Microsoft initiated a "pilot program" (their words), releasing a new automatic update to assist those customers with remaining Update 8.1 issues. It is on Windows Update now.

Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows quotes the company saying it is: "an example of ways we're experimenting to help ensure more of our customers benefit from a continuously improving Windows experience." The spokesperson added: "the pilot program will automatically update consumer Windows 8 and Windows RT machines for free to Windows 8.1 Update and Windows RT 8.1 Update in select markets."

Thurrott's postscript: "Given the experience of the Store-based Windows 8.1 update, I expect . . . all future Windows updates to ship via Windows Update, as God intended." For anyone interested to see what's new in Update 1, go to this site.

On the Threshold!

Looking to the future, Threshold is a pretty good descriptor for Microsoft's coming OS changes. Redmond wants everyone to step through it (Threshold) and slam the door on Windows 8. Mary Jo Foley says on her All About Microsoft sight that Threshold is an effort to: "make it more palatable to hold-out Windows 7 users. . . . new features are specifically aimed at desktop users, meaning those who interact primarily with their Windows computing device from a desktop . . . with mouse / keyboard."

Foley also says there'll be separate SKU (stock keeping units) of the 2015 OS. Those running it on a desktop / laptop: "will get one that puts the Windows desktop (for running Win32 / legacy apps) front and centre. Two-in-one devices, like the Lenovo Yoga or Surface Pro, will support switching between the Metro-style mode and the Windowed mode, based on whether or not keyboards are connected or disconnected . . . the Phone / Tablet version won't have a desktop environment at all, but still will support apps running side by side . . . ."

She also says: "Microsoft is expected to deliver a public preview of the Threshold release, most likely this fall Which I see as taking place shortly after Windows 8.1 Update 2 arrives. She continues: "It's still early in the Windows development cycle for Microsoft to have decided on packaging, pricing and distribution, but my sources say, at this point, that Windows Threshold is looking like it could be free to all Windows 8.1 Update, and maybe even Windows 7 SP1 users."

Haswell . . .Um? Broadwell Maybe

As noted above, my workhorse PC is a Z77 Ivy Bridge model with what was in 2012, Intel's new 22-nanometre tri-gate die-shrink architecture. I still enjoy its speed. Readers may wonder why I'm not into the Haswell processor game.

Testers online are unanimous in reporting Haswell heat problems - 15C hotter than Ivy Bridge with only marginal gains in speed for both Haswell and Haswell Refresh. That was enough to make me stay clear. Now, with Broadwell retaining the 1150-socket design, but still making another die-shrink from 22 nm to 14 nm architecture, it begins to look better and better.

Admittedly the following interior parts stories get technical. I hope my clarity efforts resolve such problems.

On June 3, Intel launched Haswell Refresh processors led by Core i7 4790K. These Devil's Canyon CPU's (central processing units) clock at 3.6 GHz and turbo to 4 GHz.

Joel Hruska on ExtremeTech pulls no punches in his review of the i7-4790K. He says: "it will depend entirely on what you expect from it. If the 5-8 % performance improvement that last year's Core i7-4770K offered left you cold, the 12 % boost the Core i7-4790K dishes out may be enough to have you thinking it's time to upgrade. . . .

"If, however, you were eyeing the Core i7-4790K as an overclocking processor, we'd recommend looking elsewhere. Even if we charitably consider the Core i7-4790K's 4.2 GHz clock speed as the start of its overclocking range, we only managed to push our core up to 4.6 GHz - a meagre 9.5 %. Based on what readers and other publications are reporting, your chance of getting a 5 GHz-on-air processor is quite small.

"Remember, just because a chip has better overclocking characteristics doesn't mean its tuned for conventional air or water overclocking. Intel can improve a core's stability under LN2 (liquid nitrogen) or dry ice and honestly claim to have better overclocking performance - but, if you don't play in that market, it won't matter."

Koen Crijns, in a delightfully complete (and long) review for the UK- based site says: "Our water-cooling test . . . showed a more than 10 degrees temperature drop (at 4.6 GHz) between the new 4790K and the 4770K. This doesn't however automatically transfer into better overclocking results.

"We managed to reach 4.6 GHz multi-threaded with water cooling, 5.3 GHz multi-threaded and 5.7 GHz single-threaded with phase-change cooling. Decent results, but not much better than what a 4770K is capable of.

"Of course we can't fully judge the potential of the 4790K from just one chip. It's a well known fact that only a handful of Haswell processors have good overclock capabilities when it comes to extreme sub-zero cooling. We will have to wait and see if the percentage of 4790K processors with decent overclocking potential is much higher than the previous generation.

"It should be clear however that thanks to the improved thermals of the Devil's Canyon chips they should have a lot more potential when using air cooling. The fact that the press samples sent out by Intel don't show a whole lot of potential does worry us a little."

Good information . . . So, I won't play there. On to Broadwell.

It was back in May when Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich said the company's 14 nm Broadwell processors will be ready by the end of this year . . . during the holiday season. But remember they've been talking Broadwell launching since late last year - 14 nm is a tough manufacturing procedure. They'll be available first on notebooks with desktop chips and CPUs arriving in 2015.

Intel plans an LGA (land grid array) 1150-based Broadwell K series desktop processor and wants it to replace Haswell Refresh parts. It should end up faster than Core i7 4790 K.

Broadwell is a significant advancement for Intel - the first chip to use the Haswell architecture on 14 nm architecture. It also includes more graphics execution units on-chip. This means chips will consume much less power resulting in better battery life. More details are expected later this year - likely from Intel's Developer Forum , Sept. 9-11 in San Francisco.

Haswell-E, Intel's next generation extreme platform, is set to launch by the end of the summer, according to VR-Zone leaks. The new Haswell-E chips, along with the X99 chipset, all probably far out of my price range, should debut in September. There is no specific date yet, but the launch could, once again, be timed to coincide with the Intel Developer Forum. Haswell-E will be Intel's first professional desktop platform to support DDR4 memory.

Skylake, Intel's next chip-processor architecture, will supposedly arrive late in 2015. It will have a new socket design and maybe DDR4 memory support. According to Joel Hruska, new internet leaks on Intel's upcoming chip suggest: "Skylake will continue scaling up Intel's graphics cores, set new records for big core x86 power consumption, and offer DDR4 support . . . as well as shipping a configurable TDP (thermal design power )."

As my readers probably know, new DDR memory is usually shipped first for servers and then for desktops, but that trend could change with DDR4, which has been under development for more than five years. PCs, the memory firms say, will be faster and more power efficient with DDR4. It provides 50 percent more memory bandwidth than DDR3 and 35 percent more power savings. Of course it will also at first, be much more expensive. Patience is a virtue.

We understand from online sources that Skylake processors will have both DDR3 and DDR4 memory controllers so they will support both types of memory. That's a happy situation for cost conscious users.

Hruska also points out that: "Skylake is set to be a major update on the CPU side - the core will reportedly integrate a new instruction set . . . as well as PCIe 4.0, Thunderbolt 3.0 and new security extensions on the high-end Skylake-E ( the pricey enthusiast version)."

"Broadwell is supposed to deliver a major update to Intel's graphics engine and the company's performance has been increasing with every product line - we don't know yet if Skylake will continue this trend, but Intel's decision to include a smaller version of its eDRAM cache (as much as 128MB) on more processors also jives with what we've heard about Broadwell."

I've checked - eDRAM stands for embedded DRAM. It is capacitor-based dynamic RAM (random-access memory) - all integrated on the same die.

Another leak source, Gennadiy Shvets at CPU World says, Skylake microprocessors: "will come with DisplayPort, embedded DisplayPort, DVI and HDMI interfaces." It purportedly will initially be available in two and four-core configurations and will not sport an IVR (internal voltage regulator) as was the case on previous generations.

It's difficult to imagine - almost a system-on-a-chip - so much, so small!

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