20.12.16 | ISSUE 46
Hello and welcome to this month’s Scan Zone newsletter. The last few months have seen a barrage of new graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD, but this month the industry is gearing up towards Christmas with a ton of special offers to tempt buyers. That doesn’t mean there’s no new products to talk about though, we’ve got news of a new device that allows you to control your PC with your eyes plus some details on Microsoft’s latest Windows Server 2016 operating system amongst other stories. Read on to find out more.
1. Control your PC with your eyes
While the keyboard and mouse combo is still the best way of playing most games, there is another way of interacting with a computer that up till now that has been ignored – your eyes. The Swedish geniuses at Tobii have spotted this opportunity and developed the Eye Tracker 4C.
Available exclusively at Scan, the Eye Tracker 4C comprises of a small bar that you stick on the bottom of your monitor. Once calibrated to your eyes, (glasses and odd shaped heads are not a problem I can attest), the bar projects a pattern of near-infrared light onto your eyes which a camera takes images of. The EyeChip ASIC in the bar then finds specific details in the user’s eyes, such as reflective patterns to calculate where you are looking.
There are a few limitations, such as a maximum screen size of 30 inches, and only flat, not curved screens are supported, but within these parameters the Eye Tracker 4C works spookily well, tracking every movement of your eyes as you focus on different areas of the screen.
While not designed to replace the keyboard and mouse or other controllers, the Eye Tracker 4C does add another level of control in supported games. For instance, in The Division eye tracking speeds up target acquisition compared to moving the mouse. You can even dash from cover to cover simply by looking where you want to go and pressing a button rather than dragging the mouse around. All in all, the Eye Tracker 4C gives you a rather unfair advantage over gamers limited to physically moving a controller as your eyes move much faster than your arm and hand muscles. Currently there are over 40 games which support eye tracking, with more being added every month.
The Eye Tracker 4C has another trick up its sleeve too – head tracking. Using the same sensors, it can track the movement of your head allowing you to freely look around the cockpit in simulator games. This is a bit like the old TrackIR products, but the Eye Tracker 4C doesn’t require you to wear a silly hat with a sensor attached. For head tracking to work the simulator needs to support Infinite Screen Extension, which is a free software add-on from Tobii, and is already available for popular simulators such as Arma 3, Elite Dangerous and Flight Sim X.
Eye tracking is a truly revolutionary way of interacting with your PC and we’re very excited about the Eye Tracker 4C and Tobii’s plans for future products. The Eye Tracker 4C is available exclusively from Scan for £139.99, which includes a copy of Ubisoft’s latest game Steep, and is supported by our full range of 3XS gaming PCs and simulator PCs.
2. AMD announces Ryzen CPUs
While AMD has been quietly teasing information about its upcoming range of Zen processors for several years, it’s just announced the biggest swathe of details yet. First and foremost are some key specs, with a performance demo of an 8-core/16-thread AMD chip running at 3.4GHz beating a similarly configured Intel Core i7 6900K in several benchmarks. That’s a huge step forward for AMD as its CPUs have lagged by Intel at the high-end for many years. Zen also has a new name too, with the first desktop CPUs being known as Ryzen.
AMD has also revealed some architectural and feature details too, including a new suite called SenseMI. This include a new power management engine Pure Power, which monitors the power consumption and temperature of different parts of the CPU thousands of times per second, enabling more granular control of voltage to help reduce power draw. Another new feature is Precision Boost, which like Intel’s Turbo will automatically increase the processor frequency when there is space capacity. Unlike Intel Turbo however, which works in 100MHz steps, Precision Boost works in much smaller 25MHz increments and so in theory could lead to much better performance.
Also is new Neural Net Prediction, which is an AI processor inside the CPU. Based on the applications you run, Neural Net Prediction will quickly learn what data and instructions are likely to be requested next and alongside another new feature, Smart Prefetch, will pre-load this data speeding up performance. This level of prediction sounds a bit too good to be true, so it’ll be really interesting to see how Ryzen CPUs perform in the real world. I have also a few concerns about privacy, although the learned data will apparently be wiped when you power down the system.
AMD will launch the first Ryzen CPUs sometime in the first three months of next year, along with new CPU socket AM4 plus new motherboards.
3. AMD Radeon Pro WX Graphics Cards
This month AMD launched a new line of graphics cards, and is going through a rebrand too, with its professional cards getting the new family name Radeon Pro. The first Radeon Pro cards are for graphics workstations and carry the WX suffix.
All three new Radeon Pro WX cards are based on the latest Polaris architecture as found in AMD’s Radeon RX gaming cards, so feature power-efficient GPUs made using an advanced 14nm process. All three models support four 4K displays and have certified drivers for hundreds of leading DCC applications.
The baby of the family is the £300 WX 4100, which has 1024 stream processors and 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and is designed for 2D applications such as AutoCAD, Illustrator, Photoshop and SketchUp. Next up is the £425 WX 5100, which has 1792 stream processors and 8GB of GDDR5 memory, and is designed for CAD/CAM and applications such as Blender, Illustrator, Photoshop, Revit and Rhino 3D. The flagship WX 7100 retails for £665 and with 2304 stream processors plus 8GB of GDDR5 and is designed for demanding media and entertainment applications such as 3DS Max, Cinema 4D, Creative Cloud and SolidWorks. The WX 7100 is also VR Ready, making it a very affordable entry into professional VR development. The reviewers at Develop3D already took a look at the WX 7100, concluding that it ‘a very powerful workstation-glass GPU’.
All three AMD Radeon Pro WX cards are available from Scan, either standalone or integrated into our range of award-winning 3XS Pro Graphics workstations.
4. Introducing the Megaprocessor
Ever since the development of the integrated circuit (IC) in the 1950s there’s been massive pressure to shrink the die size of semi-conductors, which reduces power consumption and wastage, enabling faster more complex processors to be built. However, as a result today’s ICs are far too small to be visually understandable to humans. For instance, the gate length of today’s 14nm ICs such as an Intel Core i3 7100U is roughly 5,300 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
To try and educate people about how ICs work James Newman, a Cambridge-based design engineer, has built the Megaprocessor. Built using 42,400 discrete transistors plus tens of thousands of other components, all of which were soldered together by hand, the Megaprocessor weighs in at ½ ton and takes up around 15m² of space. And thanks to having over 10,000 LEDs, you can actually see how the processor works, performing calculations and storing data to RAM.
Given how much we take the startling technical complexity of ICs for granted it’s amazing to see one at work. Check out the video below to see the Megaprocessor in action.
Watch the Megaprocessor on Youtube
You can even write your own applications for the Megaprocessor using the assembler and simulator provided on the official website.
The Megaprocessor is a fantastic feat of engineering, especially for a one-man operation, and a great educational tool. However, Intel or AMD don’t have anything to worry about just yet, as with an 8-bit architecture, 7 registers running at 20kHz and 256 bytes of RAM the Megaprocessor has a bit of catching up to do. If you’re ever in the Cambridge area make sure you check out the amazing Megaprocessor in person at the Centre for Computing History.
5. Free Hitman with AMD Radeon RX 470
Pick up an AMD Radeon RX 470 from Scan and you’ll receive a free copy of Hitman to enjoy with your new graphics card. Scoring 75% on Metacritic, this is the latest game in the hugely successful Hitman franchise and includes the complete first season.
6. Free Civilization VI with AMD Radeon RX 480
AMD’s popular Radeon RX 480 graphics card also has a giveaway this month, with new purchases receiving a free copy of Civilization VI which scored an incredible 89% on Metacritic.
7. Best PC games of 2017
2016 was a great year for PC gaming with a ton of hot new games including the likes of Battlefield 1, Civilization VI, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonoured 2, Doom, Hitman and Killing Floor 2, plus loads of new AMD and NVIDIA DirectX 12 graphics cards plus the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift VR headsets. Here’s a quick look ahead to some of the most hotly anticipated PC games for the year ahead.
Mass Effect Andromeda
The fourth game in this action RPG series is due in March. Set several hundred years after the events of Mass Effect 3 Andromeda introduces a new set of characters plus a whole new universe to explore.
Watch the trailer here : https://youtu.be/NOIzH6UcoW4
Harebrained Schemes is resurrecting the Battletech mech combat game series in 2017 with this turn-based strategy game which had an incredibly successful crowd funding campaign that reached its goal in just 53 minutes. Pirahana Games also just announced a FPS-style set in the Battletech universe too, but the new game MechWarrior 5 isn’t due till 2018 at the earliest.
Watch the trailer here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjEeDz51pHE
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
Part RPG, part duelling simulator, part RTS, Mount & Blade is getting a long awaited sequel next year. Expect a much more detailed world that retains the ability to fight epic scale medieval-style battles and castle sieges.
Watch the trailer here : https://youtu.be/pv2qb66PbUg
Dawn of War 3
The latest chapter in this Warhammer 40K-set futuristic RTS looks be a blend of the large scale battles of the first game with the small unit management of the second game and looks very promising.
Watch the trailer here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01khj0vnmpM
8. Microsoft Windows Server 2016 review
After several months of public beta testing Microsoft has unleashed the full version of Windows Server 2016. Based on the same kernel as Windows 10, Server 2016 introduces a new range of features with a primary focus on compute, virtualisation and security.
New features include an alternative install called Nano Server that is a headless operating system designed for datacentres or servers running applications in a container. Nano Server takes up 92% less disk space than a standard GUI installation and is much more secure as there is only a stripped down Nano Server Recovery Console CLI rather than a full GUI.
Containers, which separate applications at the operating system level, are now supported too, which is great news for anybody running a cloud server. Previously containers were only supported in Linux operating systems, so this is a big deal for Windows Server 2016. Speaking of Linux, Linux VMs now support Secure Boot so can be deployed in Windows Server 2016 using Hyper-V. Sticking with the subject of VMs, they can now be hosted within a VM, allowing you to build a nested system. You can also upgrade the hardware configuration of a VM without rebooting the VM.
As you’d expect Server 2016 also supports more RAM, VMs and CPU cores than earlier versions of Windows Server, with three versions available; Essentials, Standard and Datacenter depending on your requirements. Standard and Datacenter are licensed differently from previous Windows Server versions too, as you now need to buy a license according to the number of physical CPU cores in the system. It can be quite complex to get this right, so we recommend getting in touch if you need help.
Microsoft Windows Server 2016 is available standalone or installed in one of our 3XS servers.
9. Scan Zone TV
You can also keep up to date with the latest technology and products in our Scan Zone YouTube channel, which includes a hands-on demo of the Eye Tracker 4C mentioned in this months newsletter.
Incredible power packed into a smart build
The January 2017 issue of Custom PC reviewed our 3XS X99 Carbon RGB gaming PC. Packed with a GeForce GTX 1080, Core i7 6800K and all the trimmings the system is illuminated by a fully programmable RGB lighting system and built inside a tempered glass case.
CPC gave the 3XS X99 Carbon RGB a score of 90% and a Premium Grade award. Here are some quotes from the review “Scan knows how to build a PC that will your attention. Scan has done a commendable build job too. The power cables at the front are braided, and all the wire are routed tidily. It’s the same around the back, where Scan has been just as fastidious. The case is also filled with superb components. Scan’s warranty remains generous too. The new Samsung SSD is great too. The Scan is extremely quiet. There’s no question about the Scan 3XS X99 Carbon RGB’s performance. If you want a powerful, well-built system that’s also great for showing off then the 3XS X99 Carbon RGB is the machine to buy.”
You can configure your own 3XS X99 Carbon RGB on our website.