Saturday, March 13, 2010

Non-Enclosed 3D Printer Can Build Houses [3D Printing]


Normally they're contained in a box, so the fact that this 3D printer isn't confined means it's theoretically capable of building much larger objects that most. In fact, the owner wants to build a cathedral with it.

It lives in Pisa, Italy, and uses CAD software to create objects designed using the program. Blueprint Magazine describes how it works:

Driven by CAD software installed on a dust-covered computer terminal, the armature moves just millimetres above a pile of sand, expressing a magnesium-based solution from hundreds of nozzles on its lower side. It makes four passes. The layer dries and Enrico Dini recalibrates the armature frame. The system deposits the sand and then inorganic binding ink. The exercise is repeated. The millennia-long process of laying down sedimentary rock is accelerated into a day. A building emerges.

3D printers are still very expensive though, so before you start planning on adding a new extension or granny flat to your house you should definitely weigh up the costs. Having said that, 2010 is apparently going to see the cost lower drastically from the $15,000 or so that they normally cost, with the MakerBot being the cheapest we've seen so far, at $750. [Blueprint Magazine via MAKE]


Did You Know That Octopus Love High Definition Crabs? [Machine Vs Nature]


New research shows that the advantages of HDTV aren't lost on octopuses. A recent study on octopus behavior made the upgrade from CRT sets to HDTVs for the playback of octopus-related videos, like one of a tasty crab.

Whereas the octopuses had previously ignored the videos—researchers surmise that on the CRT sets the images were "incomplete and probably incoherent" when viewed by the octopuses—the HD crabs had the octopuses reacting like they were the real thing. Scientists had tried unsuccessfully for ten years to get octopuses to react to video, until the leap to HD got the creatures interested. Wait until they see Crabs in 3D. [New Scientist]


By Your Accelerometers Combined, I Am Quake Catcher! [Earthquakes]


What if computers could be turned into a worldwide earthquake detecting network? With the Quake Catcher software and your laptop's built-in accelerometer, that might just be possible.

Elizabeth Cochran, an earth scientist at UC Riverside, has already managed to get about 1,000 people to install Quake Catcher and has been tracking the date submitted by the software—including disruptions from the recent magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile.

The system isn't perfect as it's limited by the sensitivity of accelerometers built into computers or ones connected by USB, but at least it does have a mechanism in place to ignore vibrations that are limited to a single machine. This means that accidentally letting your laptop fall off the desk won't make anyone assume there's an earthquake. Now if you coordinated such a drop with a bunch of people in your geographic area on the other hand, we might manage to upset Ms. Cochran a bit. [LA Times via Pop Sci]


Nokia C6 is actually a 5230-ish landscape slider?


We hate to turn your entire world -- nay, your very belief system -- on its end, but it's at least conceivable here that the so-called Nokia Mystic with the portrait QWERTY keyboard may not be the upcoming C6 after all. Instead, Tom's Guide is submitting this bright white exhibit as the device lucky enough to wear the C6 name, a phone that looks a whole hell of a lot like a 5230 with a QWERTY slider tacked on for good measure. That would make sense considering Nokia's goal of turning the freshly-introduced Cseries into a midrange, consumer-friendly brand; this phone could easily slot in below the N97 Mini, for example, particularly in light of rumors that the phone will lack the N97's beefy internal storage. Word is the C6 is pegged for a European release by Summer, so start cleaning off those 5800s and 5230s for eBay right now, why don't you?

Nokia C6 is actually a 5230-ish landscape slider? originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 18:38:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Okoro Media Systems upgrades HTPC range with Core i3 / i5 CPUs, bitstreaming and USB 3.0


You picked up an Okoro media PC last month, didn't you? If you're nodding up and down in a worried fashion, you're probably better off ignoring everything else we'll say in this post. For the rest of you HTPC hounds, the boutique outfit has something that's very likely to pique your interest (and kick that upgrade itch into high gear). Announced today, the company is adding Core i3 and Core i5 processors to its 2010 media center PC lineup, and as if the extra horsepower weren't enough, users will also find native bitstreaming of TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio on every system save for the Q100. You'll also get a 64-bit copy of Windows 7, up to 8TB of internal storage space, optional Blu-ray playback, quad CableCARD support and the new holy grail of transfers, USB 3.0. You can hit up the outfit's webstore now to configure your dream machine, and if you so desire, you can check out its dedicated trade-up program that'll last through May 31st.

Okoro Media Systems upgrades HTPC range with Core i3 / i5 CPUs, bitstreaming and USB 3.0 originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 20:01:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Scientists discover method for rapid charging Li-ion batteries


Huzzah! Yet another discovery for us to add to our ever-expanding list of "awesome things that'll never actually happen!" Ibrahim Abou Hamad and colleagues from Mississippi State University have reportedly devised a method of charging batteries that could hasten the process rather significantly, and better still, it could provide "an increase in battery power densities" as well. The only problem? Lithium-ion batteries have been disappointing tech users for years, and so long as Energizer and Duracell are calling the shots, we kind of doubt a lot will be done to improve the longevity of 'em. Skepticism aside, the new method involves some fancy black magic surrounding molecular dynamics simulations, and researchers have found a way to boost charging time by "simulating the intercalation of lithium ions into the battery's graphite anode." We know we just went way over your heads on a Friday afternoon, but if techobabble's your thing, all you can handle is right there in the Source link.

Scientists discover method for rapid charging Li-ion batteries originally appeared on Engadget on Sat, 13 Mar 2010 03:19:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

FeelHome Gives Easy Remote Access to Your Files Across Platforms [Downloads]


Windows/Mac/Linux: If you would like to easily access, edit, and save files across multiple computers, free application FeelHome allows you to share files across operating systems and over the web.

Once you install FeelHome on your computer and specify which folders you want to share, you can access those files from the web or from another computer in your virtual FeelHome network.

Files aren't stored on the FeelHome servers, and FeelHome isn't an online storage solution like Dropbox. Your files still reside on their respective computers. Instead, FeelHome allows you to access them between machines and through the web-based interface. FeelHome's servers act as secure mediators in the transaction—much like the LogMeIn Hamachi servers help mediate your VPN connections.

Check out the video below to see FeelHome in action:

FeelHome is free, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. Have a great tool for sharing files across multiple computers and the web? Let's hear about it in the comments.


Photo Magician Batch Converts Your Images with Drag and Drop Ease [Downloads]


Windows: If you're not about to manually convert that pile of images in front of you but you've found the batch converters you've tried to be lacking, free and portable Photo Magician offers both fine tweaking and drag and drop simplicity.

Photo Magician has two modes: full and quick convert. In the full mode you select an input and output folder and options like whether or not you want to scan the sub folders, overwrite the originals, speed up conversion by ditching the image preview, and unify the image format to a format of your select, among other options.

Photo Magician also supports presets covering popular portable devices and common image sizes. You can select Custom to set your own sizes if they aren't covered by the presets but unfortunately you can't save the custom presets you create, an oversight we'd love to see corrected in future versions of an otherwise strong program.

Full conversion mode aside you can also click "Quick Convert Mode" in the menu bar of Photo Magician and the program will minimize to the magician's hat—see at left here—like a sidebar gadget. Drop Photos right onto the hat and they will be automatically converted and saved after being reduced by the percentage you've selected.

Photo Magician is portable freeware, Windows only. Have a favorite tool—image-related or otherwise—for batching tasks? Let's hear about it in the comments.


GigaPan Indexes Enormous Panoramic Photos [Photography]


If you like taking and sharing panoramic photos—or just enjoy checking out the impressive results others have gotten—GigaPan indexes high-resolution panoramic photos.

The panoramic images at GigaPan are extremely high resolution which allows you to not only enjoy the greater panoramic image but zoom deeply into the image. How deeply? In the same image above we zoomed in to the point where we could read signs and small text—in the lower right hand portion of the bridge a guy is wearing a basketball jersey with a number 5 on it.

How big are the images in a quantifiable sense? GigaPan rejects photos smaller than 50 megapixels in size and the majority of images on the site well exceed that. Check out the link below to browse GigaPan photos and if you're interested in submitting your own pictures, check out their tips and tricks in their FAQ file. For more great—but not as huge!—panoramic photos, check out previously reviewed viewAT.

Have some tips or tricks of your own to share on panoramic creation? Let's hear them in the comments.


Reboot Your Office to Return to a Clean Workspace [Clutter]


Every night thousands of workers boot down their work stations and return to them the next morning, booting into a fresh system. Reboot your physical workspace in the same way to keep your office tidy and efficient.

Photo by Masterjay88.

Over at the organizational blog Unclutterer they've put together a list of ten ways you can do little things each day to keep your home uncluttered. We particularly like the idea of applying their first tip to your workspace at the end of the day:

Reset your home each evening. This doesn't have to take long, but it's really effective. Spend 5 or 10 minutes on a quick run-through of your home. Straighten books and knickknacks, return dishes to the kitchen, and hang up jackets. Don't strive for perfection, this is just a quick pick up.

Sitting down to a messy desk—or waking up in a messy house!—isn't a relaxing or productive experience. Today when your work day is over, take a moment to put your desk in order and prepare it for a fresh start tomorrow. The effort it takes to keep a clean workspace in order with nightly reboots is much less effort than it takes to overhaul a totally trashed office or dig through the piles on your desk looking for things.

Check out the full list at the link below for more tips and tricks for beating back clutter and disorder. Have an end-of-day ritual of your own to share? Let's hear about it in the comments below.


Enable Variable Speed Playback in YouTube [YouTube]


If your browser supports HTML5 you can opt into the experimental HTML5 video playback on YouTube. Not only will you get smoother video playback—goodbye Flash!—but you'll be able to speed up and slow down your videos.

The variable speed control is great for seeing things in slow motion. DIY and tutorial videos often go too fast and watching something in slow motion is usually better than having to watch the same section over and over again to see what is happening. Conversely you can speed up to make finding a section of a long video easier than hopping around from point to point trying to find it.

Visit the link below to opt into the HTML5 beta test. You'll need a browser that supports HTML5 like Chrome or Apple Safari to participate. Check out the link for more details and sound off with you opinion on the new video playback in the comments.


First Reviews of the Panasonic TC-P50VT20 3DTV [Reviews]


After seeing it at CES, there was little doubt. The 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50VT20 wouldn't just be among the first 3DTVs on the market, it would be among the best. The first two reviews are in, and they are glowing.

Just a little background—the TC-P50VT20 runs $2500 and comes with one pair of active shutter glasses. (Additional pairs cost $150.) You can get it bundled with a 3D Blu-ray player for an extra $250.

In 2D mode, it's a solid TV (which should be expected since Panasonic's plasmas are traditionally quite excellent...if controversial). In 3D mode? Because of a lack of current 3D content, keep in mind that the impressions here are based upon a demo disc only. But here's what was said:


... we found that the P50VT20 produced smooth, clean motion that looked as good in 3D as it did in 2D. Because of the lack of 3D source material at the moment, we were not able to run our full suite of motion tests, but we did not see any significant difference between 2D and 3D, so it looks like the new 3D feature does not adversely affect the smooth motion that this display produces. That's not a surprise, as the 3D Blu-ray standard allows the display to show a full 60 frames a second to each eye, so the eyes get to see 60 frames a second if you are watching 2D or 3D video.


As much as I tried to see the issues witnessed with the Sony FHD3D TV (the only production 3D models publicly demoed in 3D link) I did not see them. They simply are not present. These include crosstalk seen as ghost images, motion artifacts best described as a motion breakup, sort of like a strobe effect and flickering....The mode memory choices such as "Custom" have offsets built-in to compensate for the brightness reduction of the 3D glasses and any other image picture parameter shifts. They proved quite effective, although until Panasonic or someone else makes 3D test signals available on Blu-ray, there is no way to calibrate the user controls in the 3D mode.

Overall, I find the 3D image outstanding with considerably more brightness and pop than the motion picture theater 3D movie experience.

Those are pretty positive words, though we're guessing professional TV reviewers are the most excited cohort for 3D. But for those of you in the market for a new TV—are you considering the 3D PLUNGE??

(And if you still can't answer that question, I recommend this (my) piece on what it feels like to watch 3DTV.)


HDI headquarters walkthrough: details galore on the new face of in-home 3D


Call it an inexplicable fascination, or call it all-out geek lust over a screen with three digits in the "diagonal screen size" specification field -- either way, we had little choice but to shuttle over to HDI's nondescript Los Gatos, California headquarters in order to check out what even Steve Wozniak has been quoted as saying is the best 3D solution out there. While stationed on the west coast this week for GDC, we grabbed a camera and bolted down the 280 in order to get a sneak peek at the aforesaid firm, a tight-knit startup that currently has prototype displays in production and plans for far more. We've heard plenty through the grapevine, but we set out to get our questions answered directly, and possibly even provide some insight that has yet to be made available to the public thus far.

For those unaware, HDI's flagship product is a planned 103-inch 3D HDTV that uses a proprietary technology in order to showcase content in the third dimension (or 2D, if you'd like). We sat down with Chris Stuart (Director of Technology) and Edmund Sandberg (Chief Technology Officer) in order to get an overview of the tech, set the story straight in regard to pricing and availability, and dig in a little deeper on its plans for distribution and expansion. We also plopped down in front of the company's prototype 97-inch set and a 46-inch 3D LCD that has remained mostly a myth up until now, and we've certainly got plenty to share in terms of impressions. If you're eager to learn more (and take a behind-the-scenes look at a television R&D lab), give that 'Read More' link a gentle press.

Continue reading HDI headquarters walkthrough: details galore on the new face of in-home 3D

HDI headquarters walkthrough: details galore on the new face of in-home 3D originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 12:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Wacom Cintiq 21UX hands-on


It's almost too much to take in all at once. Sure, the $1,999 Cintiq 21UX pen display is priced out of reach for most of us mere mortals who "don't draw good," but the pure lustworthiness of this unit sure makes us try to forget that inconvenient fact. The expanded movability of Wacom's latest is commendable, the pen input is naturally great, the screen is beautiful, and even those new rear-mounted touchpads seem helpful. It would take someone much more familiar with professional draw-ist-ing to really speak to the more specific merits of the 21UX, but from a mere standpoint of inspiring irrational desire in our hearts, Wacom seems to have done a pretty good job this time out. Check out a video of the screen in action after the break.

Contin! ue readi ng Wacom Cintiq 21UX hands-on

Wacom Cintiq 21UX hands-on originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 14:12:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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It's A Bike Jim, But Not As We Know It [Concepts]


Designed for 10 - 15 year olds (kids get all the fun, grumble grumble), this Big Eye Cruiser bike can be adapted whenever the teen has a growth spurt, with the frame stretching horizontally.

The frame, with the comfortable-looking seat, can be angled to suit the user's height, and even sex. It's a concept by Claudia Baer, Anna Wiesinger, and Marlene Klausner, but actually very practical—unlike a lot of other concepts we feature on here. [Yanko Design]


Sony's ultra-compact concept shooter will come with an APS sensor, UI shows up on video


Yesterday we brought you pictures of the touchscreen-loving user interface on Sony's genre-straddling camera concept, so what better way to improve on that than with video and a few specs? Beyond the break you shall find one of those excessively stylized promotional vids you know and love to hate, but tolerating the fluff with reward you with some nice hints about how the shooter is operated plus finally some word on what's inside. An Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor is touted, along with the accompanying capability to shoot 1080p AVCHD video. While we still find the design of these interchangeable lens cameras ridiculously appealing, there is one thing we have to complain about and that's the clunky naming scheme. Please Sony, give us something sexier to call it than an "ultra-compact camera concept" -- how about the Sony Beta, it comes after Alpha and is typically used to denote an unfinished product. You can have that one for free.

Continue reading Sony's ultra-compact concept shooter will come with an APS sensor, UI shows up on video

Sony's ultra-compact concept shooter will come with an APS sensor, UI shows up on video originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 07:25:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Unreal Engine 3 adds extra dimension with NVIDIA 3D Vision


Epic Games has announced that its wildly popular Unreal Engine 3 has now added NVIDIA's 3D Vision to its list of supported technologies. We've already come across Batman: Arkham Asylum being played with NVIDIA's signature shutter glasses so this isn't a huge surprise per se, but it does put a stamp of compatibility on the vast catalog of games -- both current and future -- built upon Epic's graphics engine. Those include Borderlands, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Bioshock 1 and 2, and that all-time classic 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. The Unreal Development Kit -- a freeware version of the Engine for non-commercial uses -- is also being upgraded to make the addition of stereoscopic 3D effects "easier than ever," while other small improvements (covered by Gamespot) show that the Epic crew isn't standing still on its core product. Good news for all you mobile mavens wanting a taste of Unreality on your iPhones or Pres.

Unreal Engine 3 adds extra dimension with NVIDIA 3D Vision originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 08:17:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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#iPad on sale today; but what percent will buy now vs "wait and see"? (pic) -


Unreal Engine 3 adds extra dimension with NVIDIA 3D Vision


Epic Games has announced that its wildly popular Unreal Engine 3 has now added NVIDIA's 3D Vision to its list of supported technologies. We've already come across Batman: Arkham Asylum being played with NVIDIA's signature shutter glasses so this isn't a huge surprise per se, but it does put a stamp of compatibility on the vast catalog of games -- both current and future -- built upon Epic's graphics engine. Those include Borderlands, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Bioshock 1 and 2, and that all-time classic 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. The Unreal Development Kit -- a freeware version of the Engine for non-commercial uses -- is also being upgraded to make the addition of stereoscopic 3D effects "easier than ever," while other small improvements (covered by Gamespot) show that the Epic crew isn't standing still on its core product. Good news for all you mobile mavens wanting a taste of Unreality on your iPhones or Pres.

Unreal Engine 3 adds extra dimension with NVIDIA 3D Vision originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Mar 2010 08:17:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Google Reader Play: Fullscreen Playback of Popular/Recommended Reader Items [Google Reader]


Google Reader Play is a new Reader feature that plays a slideshow of cool items from around the web based on the stories you star. It's like a 10-foot viewing experience for your newsreader.

In Google Reader Play, items are presented one at a time, and each item is big and full-screen. After you've read an item, just click the next arrow to move to the next one, or click any item on the filmstrip below to fast-forward. Of course, you can click the title or image of any item to go to the original version. And since so much of the good stuff online is visual, we automatically enlarge images and auto-play videos full-screen.

You can also just run Reader Play as a auto-advancing slideshow if you just want to sit back and bask in the stream. Thanks Joey!


Intel's 6-Core Gulftown Gets Tested, Blows Us Away [CPUs]


Six cores. That's how many are in Intel's ridiculous new Core i7-980x. MaximumPC takes us deep inside the world's fastest CPU, with full, mind-searing benchmarks.

Meet the world's fastest CPU. OK, so we just gave away the big reveal to our report before you even flipped one page, and without so much as the common courtesy of a spoiler alert. For that, we do not apologize, because it's not like you couldn't have guessed how this one would end up. After all, Intel's new 3.33GHz Core i7-980X builds on all the goodness of the ass-kicking quad-core 3.33GHz Core i7-975 Extreme Edition, but is smaller, cooler, and has an additional two cores under its heat spreader. With Hyper-Threading enabled, that's a cool 12 threads at the ready. How could anyone screw that one up?

With Hyper-Threading enabled, that's a cool 12 threads at the ready. How could anyone screw that one up?

In fact, Intel's Core i7-980X seems to be one of the most flawless launches we've seen from the company in some time. By flawless, we mean there are no contortionist acts, such as explaining to consumers that a new socket (LGA1156) will have the same CPU branding as an incompatible existing socket. Nor is there the head-scratcher of a very novel, yet very limp, integrated graphics chip in a CPU (Clarkdale), which, by the way, won't work in boards that lack graphics output ports.

With Core i7-980X, you update your BIOS, drop the chip in, and-voilĂ -you spend hours rocking a six-core high. Put simply, Core i7-980X is 24-ounces of prime-rib red meat for performance enthusiasts who really haven't had much to gnaw on since the original 3.2GHz Core i7-965 Extreme Edition came out two years ago.

So we're done, right? You don't need to read on? Sorry, there's still more to learn. If you want to know if your motherboard works with the new chip, what applications can really exploit the six cores, and how this bad boy performs, you'll have to keep reading.

Click to enlarge

What's in a Name?
We know that, by now, enthusiasts should be immune to Intel's confusing model numbers, but there's one thing that sticks in our craw about the Core i7-980X: Despite it being the world's first consumer x86 hexa-core, and despite it using the latest 32nm process, it's label is a mere five notches greater than the quad-core Core i7-975 Extreme Edition part it ostensibly replaces.

Surely, all the goodness of two more cores and a total 12 threads of computing would warrant a Core i9 designation, or at the very least, a much higher model number, right? No, Intel officials told us. The company said that, despite previous reports that it would call its hexa-core Core i9, Intel backed off when retailers and vendors complained of too many blasted brands. And as to why it isn't a 999X or 9900X, Intel said such gestures are unnecessary. The part is designed for enthusiasts and the folks who buy it will know that it's not a mere five clicks more than a Core i7-975.

Beneath the Surface
Fortunately, the chip is fairly simple to understand. It uses the new 32nm process that was introduced with the dual-core Core i5/Core i3 Clarkdale CPUs. For code-name junkies, that makes it part of the Westmere family-not part of the original 45nm Nehalem family. All six-cores reside on a single contiguous piece of silicon. Like the original Nehalem CPUs, each core has 2MB of L3 available to it, giving the CPU a total of 12MB of L3 cache. The cache is shared across all the individual cores, which means a single core can have up to 12MB of L3 cache if the other five cores are sleeping.

As is the case with all Extreme processors, the chip is fully unlocked letting you change multipliers as well as Turbo Mode ratios. Turbo Boost is present but not as pedal-to-the-firewall as the LGA1156 parts. The Core i7-980X will give you a Turbo Boost up to 133MHz if more than one core is active. With single-threaded apps, the CPU will Turbo Boost up to 266MHz. That's boring compared to the Core i7-870, which will boost from 2.93GHz to 3.6GHz, or about 733MHz. We'd be remiss, though, if we didn't point out that the Core i7-870 starts out at a much lower clock speed.

Keeping with Intel's tick-tock model, with ticks being little jumps and tocks being huge jumps, 980X is a tick. For the most part, besides the process shrink, there's very little that's changed from Nehalem to Westmere. The most notable new feature is the inclusion of advanced encryption instructions, which accelerate encryption.

Overall, Westmere is just a smaller, denser 45nm Nehalem. How much smaller? The Core i7-975 Extreme Edition weighed in at 731 million transistors and occupied 263mm2 of die space. Core i7-980X has 1.17 billion transistors but occupies just 248mm2 of die space.

Westmere will run its course until 2011 or 2012 when Intel introduces its Sandy Bridge CPUs. Where Westmere is a tick, Sandry Bridge will be a tock, introducing a new microarchitecture that will include advanced vector extensions as well as other enhancements. For entry-level CPUs, Sandy Bridge will also move the GPU core onto the die. Initial Sandy Bridge chips will be 32nm with a shrink to 22nm due soon after.

Pushing the Boundaries
Normally, a smaller process leads to enhanced overclocking and the same holds true for the Core i7-980X. With the original Core i7-965, we've never exceeded 4GHz on air. The D0-step Core i7-975 improved overclocking, but even there, we've never seen production machines exceed 4.2GHz reliably-and that's with water cooling. With the Core i7-980X, we went into the BIOS and dialed the base clock up until the processor was at 4GHz. From there, we had no stability issues and ran multiple benchmark runs without incident. Mind you, this was without tweaking core voltage for the CPU, the QPI, RAM, or other various knobs we could have turned to get more reliability. We even got the machine to POST at 4.5GHz on air cooling, but then it crashed. The verdict is that the Core i7-980X looks to be a wonderful overclocker.

Early Adopters Get the Respect
Let's face it: When Intel introduced its LGA1156 Lynnfield CPUs last year, every single person who bought into the Core i7 CPUs and LGA1366 motherboards had a panic attack. Would Intel, as some feared, abandon the LGA1366 platform altogether in favor of the more cost-conscious new socket? It's happened before. Think of Intel's short-lived Socket 423 and AMD's original Socket 940. With those, early adopters got one or two upgrades and then were left waving their DIMMs in the wind.

Fortunately, users who chose the early adopter route will be rewarded for once. The Core i7-980X is an LGA1366 CPU that should be drop-in compatible with nearly every LGA1366 motherboard. To keep things compatible, Intel even kept the official spec for the Core i7-980X to DDR3/1066 only. Even though the CPU is quite capable of supporting memory at far higher speeds, Intel said it didn't want to require motherboards makers to recertify boards for higher speeds of RAM. For what it's worth, we tested both the Bloomfield and Gulftown LGA1366 Core i7s at DDR3/1333.

You'll still have to update the BIOS before dropping in a Core i7-980X, but we haven't heard of any LGA1366 motherboards being incompatible with the new chip. That's quite an accomplishment for Intel, which has a history of burning people when new CPUs are launched. We don't want to rehash ancient history, but let's just say we're happy it worked out for early adopters for once.

Extreme Exclusivity
Intel has long had a dilemma with its Extreme series of CPUs. Only folks with deep pockets actually purchased the Core i7-975-most consumers just bought the poor-boy Core i7-920 and overclocked that puppy up to the 3.7GHz+ range. There was simply very little incentive to buy the top-end part when the low-end part overclocked so well. That little cheat no longer works, though. To get a hexa-core chip today, you'll have to pay for an Extreme series. That's why we were actually surprised when Intel priced the Core i7-980X at $999. Sure, it's still too rich for most, but as the only game in town, we expected Intel to charge $1,500 for the CPU. At $999, the Core i7-980X is actually the same price as the Core i7-975 part that it will slowly replace.

When will Intel offer a friendlier-priced hexa-core? The company won't talk about unannounced product but several Internet rumor sites have reported that Intel has a hexa-core Core i7-970 in the $500 range on tap for the end of the year.

If You Build It, Will They Come?
If you think it's all sunshine and lollipops for hexa-core computing, it's not. As always, the problem is finding applications that will actually use the available threads. That was a problem with the original dual-cores and quad-cores; now with a hexa-core and Hyper-Threading, the situation hasn't improved much. The apps aren't nonexistent, but they're certainly not as prevalent as you would hope. That makes upgrading to the Core i7-980X something you'll want to think about first. Certainly, if you are a mega-multitasker, more cores don't hurt. But if your primary applications are single- or dual-threaded, the extra cores will just sit idle, so you'll need to seriously consider whether paying for a hexa-core makes sense.

A Close-Up Look at the Core i7-980X

All six cores of Intel's Core i7-980X share 12MB of L3 cache on the die. The 1.17 billion–transistor CPU also has two QPI connections but only one is enabled on consumer CPUs. The second QPI is use for multi-CPU Xeon configurations.

Even 100 Cores Won't Help Lazy Code
Multiple cores are only useful if there's software that takes advantage of them. Thus, we queried a couple leading software developers on where they saw the multicore sweet spot to be. Their answers shed interesting light on the quest for more threads.

Jeff Stephens, president of Bibble Labs: "Bibble 5 'supports' unlimited cores, and with fast enough disks and efficient OS-level scheduling, we can scale up to about 30 CPUs (performance benefits stop there, so 32 CPUs runs as fast as 30-right now). Without sounding glib, the reason no one else is doing this is because it's hard.… To scale beyond four or so threads, all aspects of a program must be built around parallel processing of huge amounts of data, efficient scheduling of processing tasks, and disk reads/writes to prevent starving CPUs of work to do by waiting for data, etc."

Paul Schmidt, president of Photodex: "In my opinion, more cores don't solve the biggest problem. The biggest problem is how the code is written-most code just isn't written to take advantage of more cores. I don't see that changing soon because writing code for multiple cores is hard and the development world is moving away from hard and toward easy. I think the trend is due to the same old brute-force single-core speed improvements that have been happening combined with how cheap computers are now. Why rewrite for more cores when you can wait a year and get a CPU that is another 20 percent faster?

AMD Responds with Phenom II X6
By now, we've pretty much become accustomed to AMD taking a back seat to Intel, particularly in matters of core count and performance. This year, however, it doesn't look like AMD fans will to wait as long for a six-core proc.

AMD expects to release its own hexa-core processor, the Phenom II X6, hot on the heels of Core i7-980X this spring. The chip will be a derivative of the company's Istanbul CPU that's been available for some time in Opteron-based servers. The chip is likely to have 6MB of L3 and will be compatible with AM3 sockets. It's not clear if the new chip will work in AM2+ boards, as we've been told that DDR3 will be mandatory for the new chip.

One other trick AMD may have up its sleeve-if a news report from Xbit Labs is correct -is its own spin on Turbo Boost. Using so-called Dynamic Speed Boost, Phenom II X6 processors may overclock individual cores when the full complement of cores is not in use.

AMD is also continuing to forge ahead with its Bulldozer core, which the company hopes will put it back on a competitive edge with Intel. Bulldozer's new microarchitecture will support advanced vector extensions and will be built on a 32nm process. Bulldozer is expected to be available in early 2011.

Let the Benchmarks Begin!

For our showdown, we decided that the new hexa-core has two primary competitors: the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition and the LGA1156-bound Core i7-870. We considered adding AMD's Phenom II X4 965 to the mix but the pricing ($185) and performance of that CPU puts it in a different class than the three Intel chips. When AMD's Phenom II X6 hexa-core hits in the near future, we'll certainly put it into the mix.

For our benchmarks, we used both older and newer benchmarks to stretch the Core i7-980X. We used both synthetic and real-world applications for video editing, encoding, 3D rendering, and memory tests, along with a handful of gaming benchmarks. Be advised, when we review a CPU, we set resolutions fairly low in order to remove the GPU from the equation.

The verdict: We have no problem proclaiming the Core i7-980X as the world's fastest. Obviously, it shined the brightest in our multithreaded 3D-rendering benchmarks, where its performance surmounted the already ludicrously fast Core i7-975 by 37 to 55 percent. Encoding also gave us a healthy 25 percent performance boost. Likewise, video editing saw the hexa-core achieve anywhere from 10 to 25 percent performance boosts. In applications where multithreading is minimal, the Core i7-980X was usually tied with the similarly clocked Core i7-975. We do suspect that the larger L3 cache of the Core i-980X paid off dividends in several of our gaming benchmarks.

One figure we couldn't quite square was the memory performance of the Core i7-980X. We expected its memory bandwidth in the synthetic tests to be equal to the Core i7-975's, but the hexa-core was at a disadvantage. The lower memory bandwidth didn't seem to hurt in the other benchmarks, though.

In the final analysis, this is a CPU that turns in performance that is, at its worst, equivalent to the Core i7-975 it replaces. At its best, the i7-980X offers up to 50 percent more performance than its closest competitor. That's pretty much unprecedented and certainly helps the Core i7-980X earn its crown as the new performance king.

Best scores are bolded. We tested both LGA1366 CPUs using an Asus P6X58D Premium motherboard with 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333, an EVGA GeForce GTX 280, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional. The LGA1156 CPU was tested with a Gigabyte P55A-UD6 motherboard, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1333, an EVGA GeForce GTX 280, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional. Both configurations used a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive.

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