Microsoft Surface – Surface Computing Has Arrived

Post ImageMicrosoft Surface is insanely cool. I mean uber cool. Seriously, go watch the videos and tell me you’re not excited (Channel 10 has a longer video and Popular Mechanics also has a video). If there was ever a question about whether or not Microsoft can innovate, that question has been answered. Sure, similar ideas have existed for a long time, but not commercially available products. Microsoft Surface is new, different, and exciting. They’ve made it happen. From the press release:

Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, dynamic surface that provides effortless interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects. Beginning at the end of this year, consumers will be able to interact with Surface in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues.

It’s kind of like the user interface in Minority Report, except that Surface is not a hollywood trick. Surface is real!

Five years in the making, Surface is being targeted at businesses initially. According to CNET, Microsoft expects that individuals will be able to get their own surface computers “within three to five years.” The devices currently have a price tag of around $10,000. Okay, that kind of sucks, but it’s to be expected for cutting edge technology I suppose.

Don’t be surprised if Surface is all you read about for the next few days – the blogosphere is sure to be buzzing. Heck, there’s already a bunch of articles and posts available and it was just announced! For instance, this “making of” article is an interesting read.

So yeah, Microsoft Surface looks awesome! I’m all excited now 🙂

Read: Microsoft

Intel Keifer: 32 Cores

Post ImageBack in January I sort of predicted that by 2007, a common question won’t be how fast your processor is, but how many cores it has. I think my prediction is starting to look more and more like a reality. I don’t think I wrote about it, but we purchased new machines for the office a while ago, and they each have dual core processors. This last week saw the official launch of Intel’s new Core 2 Duo chips, and as the name suggests, they have more than one core.

But if you think two cores is good, wait another three to four years:

I have to say I can’t remember performance gains anywhere near 16x in only four years. Comparing a 2002 Pentium 4 3.06 GHz with a Core 2 Extreme 2.93 GHz will give you a two to five fold increase – if most. 16x more performance by 32 cores in 2010 versus today’s two cores, should it come true, equals linear scaling, which means that performance would double with the core count. Many of you will say this is utterly impossible, because even sustaining the clock speed levels at doubled core count might be difficult – and I agree, unless you start to think out of the box.

Yep it seems Intel is working on having 32 cores on a chip by 2010, a project code-named “Keifer”. According to some sources, each core would run at 2 GHz, which is slower than today’s fastest chips, but adds up when there’s 32 of them. No word on how much power this beast might devour.

Now 2010 is still a ways off, and Intel has been known to change course in the past, but if they get this project completed according to plan, the future for computing performance looks very bright indeed. That and AMD is going to have some catching up to do.

Read: Tom’s Hardware

Vista Upgrade Advisor Beta Released

Post ImageWondering if your computer can run Windows Vista? Now you can find out. Microsoft has launched a beta version of its Vista Upgrade Advisor tool that will help you decide what version of Vista you can run.

The Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor is a small beta application that you can run on your current Windows XP-based computer to find out if it’s ready for an upgrade to Windows Vista. When you run the Upgrade Advisor, it will scan your computer and generate an easy-to-understand report of any known system and device compatibility issues, along with recommendations on how you can get your PC ready for Windows Vista. Microsoft plans to add functionality to Upgrade Advisor, such as checking how your software applications will run with Windows Vista.

I haven’t tried it out yet because the Internet here in the cafe at Pearson isn’t all that fast (but it’s free, so thats good) but I will when I get back. They have also released the minimum requirements for Vista.


Brain cells fused with computer chips

Post ImageVia Scoble, I came across this story about European researchers who have developed “neuro-chips”, silicon circuits that have been fused with living brain cells. Seems that things are happening even faster than Ray Kurzweil predicted!

To create the neuro-chip, researchers squeezed more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 millimeter square in size. They used special proteins found in the brain to glue brain cells, called neurons, onto the chip. However, the proteins acted as more than just a simple adhesive.

“They also provided the link between ionic channels of the neurons and semiconductor material in a way that neural electrical signals could be passed to the silicon chip,” said study team member Stefano Vassanelli from the University of Padua in Italy.

Scary or exciting? I say exciting. If they perfect this sort of thing, drug testing times could be greatly reduced, and neurological disorders could be corrected. Not to mention the fact that we might have the ability to put computing power in our heads! No more thinking when you need to perform a calculation.


Laptop data worth millions

Symantec released a report today containing research that attempts to determine how much the content on a typical laptop is worth. Even if the numbers haven’t been seen before, the lessons are not new – back up your data and be cautious when it comes to security.

[The report] suggests that an ordinary notebook holds content valued at 550,000 pounds ($972,000), and that some could store as much as 5 million pounds–or $8.8 million–in commercially sensitive data and intellectual property.

The same research, commissioned by Symantec, shows that only 42 percent of companies automatically back up employees’ e-mails, where much of this critical data is stored, and 45 percent leave it to the individual to do so.

I wonder how they came to those valuations, because I’d be interested in determining how much my content is worth. Not for any real reason I suppose, just curiousity.

Read: CNET

How many cores do you have?

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Dave Lucas‘ popular blog, Capital Region People.

Post ImageNow that we’re into 2006, my computer is about six years old. I have upgraded certain components over the years (notably RAM and hard drives) but my original processors are still chugging along – dual Pentium III 600 MHz processors (x86 Family 6 Model 8 for those of you who like details). For the most part my computer is pretty responsive, and I do a good job of clearing up temp files, scanning for spyware and viruses, etc. Certain applications and tasks are starting to be noticeably slower though, which means a new computer is becoming more and more likely. My computer probably is doing things just as fast as a couple years ago, but it seems slower because of all the newer, faster machines I come into contact with. Faster machines that more and more frequently have more than one processor core.

To ring in the new year, Intel launched a massive rebranding complete with new logos and a new slogan, Leap Ahead. The company also announced a new focus and direction; one that includes muti-core processors at its heart. Here’s how Intel describes multi-core:

Intel multi-core architecture has a single Intel processor package that contains two or more processor “execution cores,” or computational engines, and delivers—with appropriate software—fully parallel execution of multiple software threads. The operating system (OS) perceives each of its execution cores as a discrete processor, with all the associated execution resources.

Essentially, more execution cores means you computer can do more things at once, and thus accomplish tasks faster. It was April of last year that Intel released their first dual core processor, and research on new multi-core projects (15 currently underway at Intel) has been feverish ever since. There haven’t been that many dual core processors sold yet, mainly because they are a bit too expensive still. That will change in 2006 though, as Intel forecasts “that more than 85 percent of our server processors and more than 70 percent of our mobile and desktop Pentium® family processor shipments will be multi-core–based by the end of 2006.”

Intel isn’t the only company betting on multi-core technology. In a recent interview with CNET, AMD’s Chief Technology Officer confirmed that the company will be shipping quad-core processors by 2007. AMD has a good description of multi-core technology:

Multi-core processors enable true multitasking. On single-core systems, multitasking can max out CPU utilization, resulting in decreased performance as operations have to wait to be processed. On multi-core systems, since each core has its own cache, the operating system has sufficient resources to handle most compute intensive tasks in parallel.

Improvements are being made in software as well. The current versions of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X will all be able to take advantage of the improved performance delivered by multi-core processors, and new iterations of the operating systems should improve things even more. Mac users will be happy that Apple is switching to Intel this year, opening the door for multi-core processors in Macintosh computers. Windows users will soon have Windows Vista available which will not only support multi-core processors, but other performance boosting technologies like hot-swappable USB key-based RAM too.

Let’s not forget that other system components are being improved too. The speed of memory, motherboards, hard drives, and other components are all increasing along with processor performance. All this and I haven’t even mentioned 64-bit technology yet! When you step back and look at the big picture, it’s clear that we’re on track for a huge performance boost.

If you’re going to be purchasing a new computer, the coming year is as good a time as any. The new multi-core systems that will be available are a far cry from my pokey old Pentium III’s, even if I do have two! The faster computers will usher in new applications and interfaces that take advantage of the increased horsepower, meaning you’ll see improvements across the board, from hardware to software.

Perhaps a year from now you won’t ask someone how fast their computer is. Instead, you might ask, how many cores do you have?