Google Will Improve Linux in Chrome OS with Folder Sharing and More

Google’s Chrome OS started as an incredibly rudimentary platform with a browser and…well, that’s was basically everything. Since then, it has expanded to support more native features via Chrome updates, as well as Android and Linux apps. Linux support is still relatively new — it rolled out widely in Chrome v69. In the upcoming Chrome v71 and 72, Google will make Linux feel more useful and integrated on Chromebooks.

Chrome OS Linux support, also known as Crostini, lets you install apps either via repositories and flatpak files downloaded online. Most Linux apps should work as well on a Chromebook as they do on a native Linux system. There are still some gaps that make Linux apps feel like “second-class apps” on a Chromebook, though. For example, there’s no GPU acceleration. Google isn’t doing anything about that just yet, but it is addressing the frustrating file management segregation.

Currently, Linux apps have their own file system in Chrome OS, and they cannot see anything outside of that. If you want to access a file downloaded in Chrome in a Linux app, you first need to export it to the Linux container. To upload it someplace, you need to export back to Chrome OS. In Chrome v71, Google will add an option to share any Chrome OS folder with Linux. Just right click in the Files app, and click “Share with Linux.” The folder will appear in the Linux file system, saving you several steps. In Chrome OS v72, the sharing features will get more useful. Chrome’s file manager integrates with Google Drive, so the sharing features will expand there, too.

 

Also in Chrome v71, Linux app processes will no longer exist as a single monolithic process in the Chrome OS task manager. Right now, you can’t see how individual apps are running or manage those processes — Chrome OS just lists the overall Linux virtual machine and all the things it’s doing as one item. Chrome v71 separates all the processes for individual Linux apps.

Linux support is in the Chrome stable channel, but it’s still a little rough around the edges. When things break, there’s no official way to shut down the Linux virtual machine other than restarting your device. Chrome v71 will address that, too. Right-clicking on the terminal icon offers the option to shut down Linux.

Boston Dynamics SpotMini Robot Can Bust a Move to ‘Uptown Funk

Boston Dynamics has shown us robots that can walk, run, carry objects, and open doors. Now, it’s showing us a robot that can bust a move. In the latest demo of its SpotMini quadrupedal robot, Boston Dynamics has programmed the machine to dance to 2014’s hit track “Uptown Funk” from Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson. Now we know how the robots will celebrate after exterminating humanity: they shall dance.

The video can mostly speak for itself. Well, dance for itself. SpotMini starts off with a little bobbing, but then it slides, sways, moonwalks… and twerks? Robots don’t have the necessary anatomy for that, but SpotMini does an admirable job. It basically shows off better rhythm than most humans have on the dance floor, which is equal parts amazing and unsettling.

The video is only about a minute long while the actual song is more than four minutes. We can safely assume it wasn’t easy to get the robot to groove with such skill because who wouldn’t want four minutes of robot dancing instead of one minute if that were possible? If that is actually attainable, I implore Boston Dynamics to get the rest of the dance routine posted ASAP.

Currently, Boston Dynamics’ only product is YouTube videos, which probably bring in some respectable AdSense dollars. In this case, the video is technically an ad for the company’s first real product. SpotMini will go on sale next year, marking the first time in 26 years that Boston Dynamics has sold a product. Previously, it survived on contracts from government agencies and investment cash. It is currently working to build the first 100 SpotMini robots that will go on sale in 2019, but the company hasn’t announced a price. Suffice it to say, this won’t be the sort of thing you’ll buy to keep around the house.

Boston Dynamics sees Spot Mini as ideal for industrial, security, and maintenance purposes. It’s a refined version of the original Spot, which we’ve seen showing off its ability to run and remain standing even when some jerk human is kicking it. Hopefully, the dance program comes pre-installed on all SpotMini units.

Intel Core i9-9900K Review: Welcome to an Intel-AMD 8-Core Slugfest

The CPU market has changed more in the past 22 months than it did from 2008-2017 combined. That’s not to say that CPU architectures didn’t change, or that we didn’t see per-core pricing come down. But Intel had a remarkably successful run with the product positioning it introduced at the high-end with Nehalem in 2008 and refined with Sandy Bridge in 2011. Quad-cores with Hyper-Threading at the top, a midrange Core i5 sans HT in the middle, and a Core i3 dual-core with HT re-enabled to anchor the low end. From 2011-2017, that was Intel’s desktop product line in a nutshell — until AMD launched Ryzen. Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves in a completely different ballgame.

Intel’s 9th Generation family completes the transformation of the product line that began with 8th Generation parts. Hyper-Threading has vanished from the stack, save for the Core i9-9900K. The difference between the Core i7 and Core i5 has similarly shrunk, at least in terms of thread count. Previously, chips like the Core i7-8700KSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerceor Core i7-7700K supported twice the total threads of the Core i5 family, with the caveat that these were logical rather than physical processors and did not deliver anything like the scaling of a full core. We typically assume Hyper-Threading support adds ~20 percent performance. The Core i7-9700K no longer offers Hyper-Threading, but the core count has been bumped up to eight to compensate.

This launch is a critical chance for Intel to recover some of the prestige the company has lost over the past 10 months. While the company’s earnings have been excellent, it’s taken a hammering in the press for a variety of reasons, including (in no particular order): security problems like Spectre and Meltdown, the unexpected sudden resignation of the CEO, a significant delay stacked on top of an already-significant delay to its 10nm process deployment, and a host of downstream impacts from that, including a CPU shortage and a rumored delay to its EUV deployment timeline. As we’ve written, these downstream effects should be viewed as the logical downstream impact of the 10nm delay rather than a series of separate, unrelated problems, but they still add up to a rocky year.

The Core i9-9900K offers an opportunity to change that narrative — but only if it can get past the Ryzen-sized competitor standing in its path.

As much as I’d like to believe that y’all have read all my reviews and are current on the competitive state of the CPU market, a brief recap of the Ryzen era is in order. AMD’s top-end Ryzen 7 1800X and associated CPUs lower in the product stack collectively blew Intel’s Kaby Lake out of the water, particularly at $180 and above. Intel struck back with the Core i7-8700K last October, which won back the overall performance crown. Fast forward to April, and AMD took the lead once more thanks to its second-generation Ryzen 7 2700X. Now, Intel is striking back once again.

The Palm Phone Is a Tiny Accessory for Your Real Phone

We all probably know someone who just can’t seem to look up from their phone to have a face-to-face conversation. Perhaps, a tiny phone will help them connect more? That’s the angle smartphone maker TCL and Verizon are taking with the new Palm Phone. This device leaked a few weeks ago, and everyone agreed it seemed pretty strange. The actual device is even stranger than we thought it would be. It’s not intended to be your only phone — it’s like a backup for times when your real phone is too distracting.

Palm faded into obscurity for the second time years ago when HP acquired it, and then subsequently shut down operation when a new CEO swept in. What remained of Palm’s software was sold off to LG and now runs on smart TVs. The Palm name fell into the hands of Chinese smartphone maker TCL. You might know TCL from its Alcatel and BlackBerry handsets, and now it has revived Palm.

The Palm Phone is tiny with a 3.3-inch display and a weight of just 2.2 ounces. The phone has rounded edges and looks a little like a stretched out Apple Watch. It has very modest specs with a Snapdragon 435, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and an 800mAh battery. Verizon says that’s still enough for “all day” use, but that’s not really the intended use case. Verizon will only sell you this phone for use on an existing line of service.

Verizon and TCL think you’ll choose to leave your big phone at home if you’re headed out to a social event where you want to remain engaged with the people around you. So, you take a phone that isn’t as fun to use. The Palm Phone shares your existing Verizon number, allowing you to just grab it and go. You could just have multiple phones and swap SIM cards, but Verizon can’t charge you more every month for that.

 

The Palm Phone isn’t as powerful as your “real” smartphone, but it’s not a dumbphone, either. It runs a full version of Android 8.1 Oreo with a custom home screen that makes a handful of apps easy to access. Android has moved on from tiny form factors, so you may find that a lot of features don’t work as expected, but everything should be there. You can install any apps you want from the Play Store, they just won’t be very fun to use.

Google Unveils Pixel 3 Phones, Pixel Slate, and Home Hub

If we’ve learned anything from 2018, it’s that Google is really bad at keeping secrets. The company just had its annual hardware unveiling, and all three of its new devices leaked repeatedly in the lead-up to the event. No matter, we have all the official details and availability info now. There are new Pixel phones, a smart display, and a new Chrome OS tablet. They look like nice devices, but Google’s pricing is getting a little out of hand.

Google Home Hub

Google started talking about Assistant on smart displays earlier this year, but it was not the first company to launch such a device. Both Lenovo and JBL have released their own smart displays, but Google’s is a bit different.

The Home Hub has a 7-inch touch screen, but you can interact with it entirely by voice. Like other Google Home devices, you can shout “Hey Google” to wake it up. Unlike those speakers, the Hub has a display to show you useful information. Some commands (like changing the brightness of smart lights) produces an on-screen control to make further adjustments. It can also bring up contextual info like commute times.

Google opted not to put a camera on the Home Hub at all, whereas other smart displays do have that feature for video calling. Google says it wanted to make this a device people were comfortable putting in all areas of the home. It also added some custom software trick you don’t have on other Assistant smart displays. For example, you can have your Google Photos uploads automatically shown on the Hub like a fancy photo frame. There’s also a new “Home View” UI that gives a quick overview of your smart home hardware.

The Home Hub is the cheapest device Google announced today at $150, and you can pre-order it now.

Pixel Slate

Google has backed off on Android tablets, but it’s going all-in with Chrome OS tablets. The first such device is the Pixel Slate. It runs Chrome OS with an emphasis on the ever-evolving tablet UI already available on convertible Chromebooks. It will also run Android apps and Linux software out of the box. There is an optional keyboard case for the Slate, but it costs extra.

The Slate has a custom “molecular display,” which is an LCD with a resolution of 3000 x 2000 and 400 nits of brightness. It has dual front-facing speakers, but there’s no headphone jack. Instead, it has dual Type-C ports like the Pixelbook. Inside, you have your choice of an Intel Celeron, M3, Core i5, or Core i7 with 4, 8, or 16GB of RAM. Storage is 32, 64, 128, or 256GB.

This tablet is a bit more like a 2-in-1 computer than it is a mobile tablet. It weighs 1.6 pounds, and it runs the full desktop Chrome OS when you connect a keyboard. The price is also more in-line with a high-end computer than an iPad. The base mode Celeron starts at $599. The M3 is $799, the i5 is $999, and i7 is $1599. Across all SKUs, the keyboard case is a $150 add-on. This device will launch in a few weeks, but you can join a waitlist on the Google Store.

Lockheed Wants to Build a Lunar Lander for NASA’s Gateway Station

NASA representatives have spoken in the past about returning to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, but it was always in the vaguest of terms. The agency recently formalized its plans with the aim of building an orbital moon station called The Gateway. One glaring omission from the plan was a vehicle for landing on the moon. After all, it’ll be right there! Lockheed Martin thinks it has just the thing with its new lunar lander concept.

NASA plans to start building a moon base by 2023 with the help of SpaceX, Boeing, and its own Space Launch System. The Gateway station will consist of four parts: power and propulsion, habitation and utility, logistics and robot arm, and an airlock. First, the power and propulsion module will launch in 2022. This component is already under construction in facilities across the US. The habitation module is next up in 2023. NASA plans to lock the last two modules into place in 2024.

None of the NASA modules include a lander for ferrying astronauts to and from the surface. However, the last station module will include an airlock. A lander like the one Lockheed Martin is proposing could remain parked there most of the time. This would provide easy access to the lunar surface, which would vastly increase the amount of time humans have spent on the moon in short order.

Lockheed Martin revealed its proposal at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Germany. The spacecraft would be fully reusable, capable of transporting 2,000 pounds of cargo to the lunar surface. Once there, it would have the resources to remain on the moon for two weeks. The lander would not need to refuel on the moon to return to the station. So far, humans have spent a total of 16 days across all the Apollo missions. We could surpass that after two lunar excursions from The Gateway.

 

Since the unnamed lander won’t need to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, it can be serviced entirely at the station and operate for long stretches. While other vessels like the SpaceX Dragon could do the job, they’re designed for multiple mission profiles. The Lockheed lander could be better at this one specific task.

Intel Announces New Core i9 Family, 9th Generation CPUs

After months of leaks, Intel is finally taking the lid off its 9th Generation CPU family. The new series of CPUs makes some significant changes to Intel’s overall product line, with a new line-up of Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9 CPUs, with different capabilities and clocks to previous iterations of these chips. And, as expected, Hyper-Threading is going away from all but the Core i9.

The Core i9-9900K will be a 5GHz CPU with a 3.6GHz base clock, 8 cores, 16 threads, two memory channels rated for DDR4-2666, 16MB of L3 (2MB per core) and a $488 list price. The Core i7-9700K is an eight-core / 8-thread CPU, with a 3.6GHz base clock and 4.9GHz Turbo, with just 12MB of L3 (1.5MB per core) for $374, while the Core i5-9600K is a six-core / six-thread chip with a 3.7GHz base clock, 4.6GHz Turbo, and the same 12MB of L3 (1.5MB per core) for $295. Anandtech managed to get their hands on the Turbo frequencies (Intel no longer gives out this information publicly) as shown below:

 

This gives the Core i9-9900K an all-core boost of 4.7GHz, which should give that chip a nice nudge over all previous CPUs in the family. And all the chips in question have soldered TIMs, including the Core i5-9600K, which should give overclockers a slightly larger chance at hitting frequency targets.

There’s no update for the GPU, which means Intel is still in a holding pattern, effectively, since Broadwell. The company has dropped the references to its 14nm, 14nm+, and 14nm++ hardware and is now referring to all of these parts collectively as representing a 14nm “class” of hardware.

Meanwhile, Intel’s 14nm has reportedly become the most profitable line of hardware the company has ever manufactured, though that’s likely in part due to the necessity of using it as long as Intel has. When you normally cycle your bleeding-edge equipment through to new nodes every two years, there’s not much time for equipment to build up those kinds of profitability figures. 14nm should have been replaced by 2017 at the latest; the fact that Intel will still be shipping it in 2019 as a leading-edge node is likely responsible for the node’s excellent performance.

Anandtech doesn’t believe there are any new security fixes coming in these new desktop chips, implying they’ll lack the security fixes that debuted with Whiskey Lake. Dropping Hyper-Threading could be a nod towards improving security on its processors related to Spectre and Meltdown, or it could have been an adjustment to improve product segmentation to create a larger gap between the Core i7 and Core i9 families. The reduction in L3 cache could also be a nod to this, or a desire to reduce the manufacturing cost of the Core i5 and Core i7 chips. These new chips, along with the new Z390 motherboard chipset will be ready for launch on Oct 19. The new CPUs are backward-compatible with the Z370 chipset as well, so you won’t need to worry about being locked out of this upgrade if you have an older motherboard.

AMD Announces New 12-Core and 24-Core Threadripper CPUs, Performance-Boosting Memory Mode

In August, AMD announced a new 32-core and 16-core Threadripper, revamping its top-end product line and further distancing the performance gaps between itself and Intel. Now the company is extending that product family with new 24-core and 12-core products, along with a new memory access mode that should reduce some of the performance penalties high-core Threadripper CPUs have faced. These launches were previously expected, so the parts dropping in October puts them right on schedule.

First, let’s hit the new model numbers. The 2970WX is a new part number without an equivalent in first-gen ThreadripperSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce — a 24-core CPU with a 3GHz base clock, 4.2GHz boost, the same 250W TDP as the 2990WX, and a $1299 list price. The 2920WX replaces the 1920X (which had dropped to $400 earlier this year in a likely price-clearing gesture) and will once again run $650 for a 12-core CPU with a 3.5GHz base clock, 4.3GHz boost, and 180W TDP. The chart below shows how AMD and Intel’s stacks compare to each other, with red for AMD and blue for Intel.

 

If you’re building a powerful workstation and care about multi-threaded performance, it’s genuinely difficult to recommend Intel’s HEDT lineup. The core count disparities are high, and while the NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access) implementation AMD uses for the 2990WX can hit its performance in some applications, AMD has come up with a method for at least partly ameliorating that issue: Dynamic Local Mode. When AMD launched Ryzen, it allowed for users to switch between two different modes of accessing memory. Local Mode tuned applications to run on cores that preferred data remain local to the CPU (lowering memory latency at the cost of bandwidth) or that preferred memory bandwidth (and ran at higher memory latencies).

Overall, the two modes tended to wind up in the same place on average. But that doesn’t mean there were no application-level differences between the two. It just means that if you benchmarked a large enough suite of tests, you ended up with the two impacts more-or-less canceling each other out. Switching back and forth between them required a reboot and we suspect most users rarely bother.

 

Now, AMD has introduced the ability to shift back and forth between these modes without rebooting. According to AMD, Dynamic Local Mode automatically migrates demanding software threads running on the 2990WX or 2970WX to the cores with the fastest memory accesses, while threads that can handle running at increased latency will be pushed to cores with indirect memory access.

 

Here’s how AMD describes its capability implementation:

Dynamic Local Mode is implemented as a Windows 10 background service that measures how much CPU time each thread on the system is consuming. These threads are then ranked from most to least demanding, and the top threads are automatically pushed to the CPU cores that contain direct memory access. Once these cores are consumed by work, additional threads are scheduled and executed on the next available CPU core. This process is continuous while the service is running, ensuring the most demanding threads always get preferential time on cores with local memory. (As a corollary, insignificant threads are pushed to other dies.)

Presumably, DLM will improve performance the most in applications where the number of threads that need prompt low-latency access is small enough to fit effectively on the number of cores with low latency access. In a situation where the memory subsystem is heavily taxed by many threads competing aggressively for memory resources, the NUMA implementation AMD uses for Threadripper could still cause some threads to be isolated from direct memory access. That’s an unavoidable architectural consequence of the CPU’s design — dealing with NUMA is always a headache.

Google’s Voice Access App Lets You Control Your Phone Entirely Hands-Free

Today’s mobile devices rely on touch-screen technology for almost everything, but you can now control your Android phone entirely by voice. Just download the “new” Voice Access app from the Play Store and start talking to your phone. This could be a boon to those who have trouble using a touchscreen, but it’s also useful if you just can’t reach the phone for some reason.

Google’s accessibility team is promoting the Voice Access app like it’s new, and it will be to most people reading this. However, the Voice Access app first appeared in the spring of 2016 (two and a half years ago) as a beta. You couldn’t download it without first joining Google’s beta testing group on the Play Store. The app didn’t get much attention, but today it’s fully updated and available to everyone.

To enable Voice Access, you need to go into your system settings to give it Accessibility control. That just allows the app to tap the screen for you. After starting Voice Access, the app paints each icon, button, and system UI element with a small number. The status bar lights up white with an Assistant “listening” animation to let you know it’s ready for your command. It listens continuously, too. The status bar transcribes what you’re saying in real time, so you have to be careful to avoid idle banter while Voice Access is running.

 

You can call out a number, and the phone “taps” on the corresponding item. It also supports long-pressing on numbers to access different functions. Voice Access understands contextual commands that aren’t tied to a number — you can launch apps just by asking. For example, “Go to Chrome” will always open your browser no matter where you are. Once there, “scroll down” will advance down web pages.

Touching the screen or otherwise interacting with the phone will turn off Voice Access, but it remains accessible via a floating button (optional) and a notification item. You can launch it without touching anything by calling up Assistant with “OK Google” and asking it for Voice Access. It also ties into Assistant for text input — highlight a text field and start speaking for instant voice to text.

Google pitches Voice Access as a service for those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, spinal cord injury, and other disabilities that make it difficult to use a smartphone. However, those without a disability might still find it useful. If you’re elbow deep in a computer build or just busy in the kitchen, Voice Access could help you continue using the phone.

Microsoft Re-Open-Sources MS-DOS on GitHub

Do you dream of CONFIG.SYS and find yourself doodling “DOS=HIGH,UMB” on scraps of paper during moments of boredom? If so, recent news from Microsoft will likely make your day. Microsoft is re-open-sourcing MS-DOS on GitHub. As implied, this isn’t the first time the OS has been released as an open-source project, but according to Microsoft, it’s now much easier to use the data. The company writes, “Today, we’re re-open-sourcing MS-DOS on GitHub. Why? Because it’s much easier to find, read, and refer to MS-DOS source files if they’re in a GitHub repo than in the original downloadable compressed archive file.”

Two different versions of DOS have been open-sourced — DOS 1.25 and DOS 2.0. DOS 1.25 was used as the basis for all of the non-IBM versions of DOS, while MS-DOS version 2.0 included a number of significant features such as IBM XT hard drive support (up to 32MB formatted), user-installable device drivers, non-multi-tasking child processes, and ANSI.SYS. DOS 2.0 was also the first version to support 5.25-inch disks in capacities of 180KB and 360KB.

 

Microsoft’s blog post notes:

  • All the source for MS-DOS 1.25 and 2.0 was written in 8086 assembly code
  • The source code for the initial release of 86-DOS dates from around December 29th 1980
  • The MS-DOS 1.25 code dates from around May 9th 1983, and is comprised of just 7 source files, including the original MS-DOS Command-Line shell – COMMAND.ASM!
  • MS-DOS 2.0 dates from around August 3rd 1983, and grew considerably in sophistication (and team size), and is comprised of 100 .ASM files
  • There are some interesting documentation (.TXT, .DOC) files interspersed with the source and object files – many are well worth a read, as are many of the source code comments!

Microsoft’s decision to open source MS-DOS like this might not seem particularly important, given the plethora of alternatives on the market. FreeDOS remains in active development, while utilities like DOSBox can emulate DOS effectively. Then there’s the fact that even as DOS versions go, MS-DOS 2.0 is ancient — I got started with MS-DOS 3.3 in 1987, DOS 6.22 was the last version released at retail, and the last version to formally ship with Windows ME was 8.0. But DOS is also a critical component of the history of the PC and its development mirrors the deployment of features and technology in much of the market through the 1980s.