Intel is bringing more options to improve gaming and virtual reality experiences on Windows PCs with official support for Vulkan APIs
Vulkan is similar to DirectX 12 and can be used for many applications, but it is most relevant to visual applications like games.
Games and VR applications written in Vulkan will work with GPUs integrated into Intel’s 7th Generation chips code-named Kaby Lake and 6th Generation chips code-named Skylake. It will also support the Intel HD Graphics 505 GPU in Pentium chips code-named Apollo Lake.
The support could open the door for Vulkan applications to work on Windows-based virtual reality headsets.
Later this year, PC makers like Lenovo, Dell, and HP are expected to release headsets that attach to Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft will launch VR development kits with tethered headsets at the Game Developers Conference, which starts on Feb. 27 in San Francisco.
Intel has ramped up graphics capabilities of its integrated Kaby Lake GPUs, making it capable of 4K graphics. Vulkan will exploit the new features for a better gaming experience.
It’s already possible to run Vulkan games on Windows PCs via drivers provided by Nvidia and AMD, which sell discrete GPUs. But Intel’s support for Vulkan is now official, and the previous beta drivers were considered highly unstable.
Most Windows games today run on closed-source DirectX 12 technology. The open-source Vulkan has many similar features — it takes full advantage of the latest GPUs and CPUs for better graphics. It also uses fewer system resources and can generate images faster.
It’s also easier to port games from DX12 to Vulkan, which succeeds the older OpenGL set of APIs. Porting games from DirectX to OpenGL was considered time-consuming.
Some premium smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S7 also support Vulkan. Games running Vulkan use fewer system resources and preserve battery life in laptops and mobile devices. Vulkan is already seen as a future for gaming on Linux PCs and Steam Machines.
A security researcher is showing that it’s not hard to hold industrial control systems for ransom. He’s experimented with a simulated water treatment system based on actual programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and documented how these can be hacked.
David Formby, a PhD student at Georgia Institute of Technology, conducted his experiment to warn the industry about the danger of poorly-secured PLCs. These small dedicated computers can be used to control important factory processes or utilities, but are sometimes connected to the internet.
For instance, Formby found that 1,500 of these industrial PLCs are accessible online, he said while speaking at the RSA cybersecurity conference on Monday. It’s not hard to imagine a hacker trying to exploit these exposed PLCs, he added. Cybercriminals have been infecting businesses across the world with ransomware, a form of malware that can hold data hostage in exchange for bitcoin.
For a hacker, holding an industrial control system hostage can also be lucrative, and far more devastating for the victim.
“He (the hacker) can threaten to permanently damage this really sensitive equipment,” Formby said. “For example, a power grid transformer can take months to repair.”
Ideally, industrial PLCs should be “air-gapped” or segregated from the internet. But often times, they’re connected to other computers that are frequently online. Or they’re accessible from a third-party vendor, who’s been hired to maintain them over the internet, Formby said.
In addition, these PLCs are often old, and weren’t built with online security features in mind. For instance, there’s nothing to protect them from brute-force password attacks or to prevent the use of weak passwords, Formby said.
To demonstrate the risks, Formby designed a simulated water treatment plant, built with actual industrial PLCs that will control the flow of water and chlorine into a storage tank (a YouTube video can be found here).
In a month’s time he developed a ransomware-like attack to control the PLCs to fill the storage tank with too much chlorine, making the water mix dangerous to drink. Formby also managed to fool the surrounding sensors into thinking that clean water was actually inside the tank.
A hacker wanting to blackmail a water utility could take a same approach, and threaten to taint the water supply unless paid a ransom, he warned.
Real-world water treatment systems are more sophisticated than the generic one he designed, Formby said. However, poorly-secured PLCs are being used across every industry, including in oil and gas plants and manufacturing.
Most of these PLCs he found that were accessible online are located in the U.S., but many others were found in India and China, he said.
Formby recommends that industrial operators make sure they understand which systems connect to the internet, and who has control over them. He’s also set up a company designed to help operators monitor for any malicious activity over their industrial control systems.
Companies looking for a new video- and teleconferencing system have a fresh face to turn to in the market: Amazon Web Services.
On Monday, the public cloud provider announced the launch of Amazon Chime, a new service that’s designed to compete with the likes of WebEx, Skype for Business and GoToMeeting. It’s a powerful swing at some very entrenched enterprise software players by the public cloud provider.
AWS launched the service with native applications for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. Chime’s infrastructure is based in the U.S., but Gene Farrell, AWS’s vice president of enterprise applications, said that the service can be accessed worldwide.
One of Chime’s interesting features is a visual roster of meeting participants that includes information about any people who have distracting background noise interrupting the call. In a meeting without a moderator, any user can choose to mute one of their fellow participants so that the rest on the call don’t have to listen to a barking dog or the sound of typing.
People who get muted in that way will get notified that their mic has been blocked, and can choose to unmute themselves whenever they want to.
In addition, users can call into a Chime conference call using a regular phone number, in the event they can’t access the service’s app for one reason or another. In the future, Farrell said that AWS also plans to add support for person to person calls over a traditional telephone network.
Chime is part of AWS’s portfolio of applications focused on helping business users with their work. That set of services started with the company’s WorkSpaces cloud virtual desktop as a service offering, and now includes AWS’s WorkDocs office suite, WorkMail email service and QuickSight business intelligence service.
The service will be available in three pricing tiers. Basic offers users one-on-one voice and video calls, plus group chat capabilities. Plus costs US$2.50 per user per month, and adds support for screen sharing and integration with identity management systems through SAML and Active Directory.
Pro costs $15 per user per month, and lets users do all of the above, plus host meetings with up to 100 participants. Users at the other two pricing tiers can join conferences set up by Pro users, so companies can mix and match licenses to minimize Chime’s cost.
Amazon offers a free trial of all the Pro features for 30 days. After that expires, customers can choose to keep using the Basic tier, or pay for more advanced functionality. Farrell said that Chime could reduce a company’s unified communications bill by up to 70 percent.
Companies with existing in-room conferencing systems made by companies like Polycom and Crestron will be able to set those devices up to integrate with Chime.
To help with adoption, AWS is working with Level 3 Communications and Vonage. Level 3 will market Chime to its enterprise customers, while Vonage will work with small businesses. Both offerings will be available in the second quarter of this year.
Amazon has already been testing Chime with a handful of customers, including fashion retailer Brooks Brothers. The company, which was founded in 1818, has rolled out Chime to 90 percent of its corporate staff.
Two senators have written to the U.S. Department of Defense about reports that President Donald Trump may still be using an old unsecured Android phone, including to communicate through his Twitter account.
“While it is important for the President to have the ability to communicate electronically, it is equally important that he does so in a manner that is secure and that ensures the preservation of presidential records,” Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, wrote in the letter, which was made public Monday.
The senators are members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Trump’s use of an Android smartphone that may not be secure was raised last month in a report by The New York Times.
The senators are worried that the phone may be vulnerable to hackers who could access sensitive information by turning on “audio recording and camera features, as well as engaging surveillance tools that allow location and other information tracking features.” A number of experts have raised concerns about the president’s use of an unsecured phone.
The vulnerabilities are among the reasons why national security agencies discourage the use of personal devices, the senators added, pointing to a Department of Defense’s 2013 Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan, which stated that “DoD policies, operational constructs, and security vulnerabilities currently prevent the adoption of devices that are unapproved and procured outside of official government acquisition.”
The senators want information from DoD and its Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) on whether Trump received on or before his inauguration a secured, encrypted personal smartphone and is using it.
If not, they would like a written response that describes what kind of personal smartphone Trump is using, or has used, since taking office, as well as “a written response outlining the steps DISA has taken, or plans to take, to develop written policies and procedures regarding protective measures for President Trump’s use of a personal smartphone.”
The senators also want to know what measures DISA has taken so that The National Archives and Records Administration can preserve Trump’s tweets and other records arising from the use of the device.
Democratic party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran into an investigation and criticism, including from Trump, for using a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Hackers have probably had a harder time slipping past your security software, thanks to an alliance between some of the top vendors in the industry.
The Cyber Threat Alliance, a group of security firms that often compete, says its efforts to share intelligence on the latest hacking threats have been paying off.
Rivals including Fortinet, Intel Security, Palo Alto Networks and Symantec originally entered into the alliance over two years ago, even as doubts arose over whether it’d last.
But now the group is seeking to expand. In an effort to recruit more members, the Cyber Threat Alliance is announcing that it’s become a not-for-profit. In addition, a former White House official will be its new leader.
The intelligence sharing between the vendors will also accelerate. Before it was done manually, and involved sharing 1,000 malware samples each day. But alliance members have built a platform that will now automate the information sharing in real-time.
For customers, it means their security software will better detect cyber threats, and more quickly. By sharing intelligence, the security vendors are essentially pooling their resources to gain a more complete picture of today’s cyber threats.
“I think it should make the bad guys nervous,” said Joe Chen, Symantec’s vice president of engineering, on Monday.
The alliance has also added two new founding members, security firm Check Point and Cisco Systems.
Cisco joined to gain a greater reach to stymie the hackers, said Matt Watchinski, a senior director at the company’s Talos security group. Now, Cisco can share preventive tips that’ll be used not just in its own patches but in security software from many of the leading vendors.
“We’re going to be able to attack these guys and put them in a much smaller box, because of the reach of this entire group,” he said.
It’ll take time to see how effective this new stage of the alliance is in thwarting cyber attacks. But the prior intelligence-sharing efforts have bolstered Intel Security’s ability to detect some serious hacking attempts.
In one case a few weeks ago, Intel Security was able to quickly spot a critical infrastructure attack against a customer by using data that came from another alliance member, said Vincent Weafer, vice president of Intel Security’s McAfee Labs.
“We were able to make a real difference against real threats, by linking the information together,” he said. “It reduces the time to identify and see these issues.”
If not for the alliance, it might have taken a few weeks to spot the attack, perhaps by relying on a public advisory from the FBI or US-CERT — too late to prevent the hacking attempt, Weafer said.
To ensure the Cyber Threat Alliance remains independent, the group members sought a neutral party to lead it, and chose Michael Daniel, a former White House cybersecurity coordinator.
Alliance members are hopeful other security vendors will join. Their customers are clearly benefitting from the partnership, they say.
“We want you to ask every security vendor why they’re not a member of the Cyber Threat Alliance,” said Rick Howard, chief security officer of Palo Alto Networks.
Intel may have cut ties with Android on smartphones and tablets, but the company’s partnership with Google on Android for the internet of things is growing stronger.
Google’s Android Things, a slimmed down version of Android for smart devices, will be coming to Intel’s Joule 570x computer board.
The combination will allow makers to cook up Android-based gadgets or smart devices for use in home, retail, or industrial settings.
The Intel board adds a lot of processing and graphics muscle to projects. With 4K graphics capabilities, the 570x is good for devices with screens or computer vision, like robots and drones. Intel demonstrated a bartending robot that used the board at its annual trade show last year.
A standout feature in Joule 570x is a RealSense 3D depth camera, which can recognize objects and measure distances. The board has an Atom T5700 processor, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of storage, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Right now, only three boards — Raspberry Pi, Intel’s Edison, and NXP’s Pico i.MX6UL — support Android Things.
On paper, the Joule 570x has better specifications than the Raspberry Pi 3. But it could also be overkill for Android Things, which can also work on work on sensor devices that require only basic processors like Quark on Intel’s Edison.
Putting Android Things in more devices will help Google effectively compete with Amazon’s Alexa, the voice-assistant technology that is being used in more gadgets and home appliances.
Last week, Google hinted that makers will be able to build devices with the company’s machine-learning technologies like voice and speech recognition, which are mainly based in the cloud. Google’s will bring its TensorFlow APIs (application programming interfaces) to makers later this year.
Android Things is still in preview, and a final version of the OS hasn’t been released. The OS previously went by the name Project Brillo, and a release date for a final version of the OS isn’t available.
Android Things is also one way for Google battle Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Core, Ubuntu’s Snappy Core, and other Linux-based embedded OSes. Billions of IoT devices will ship in the coming years, and there’s an OS battle raging in the area, much like the OS competition in the PC and server markets.
Fallout 4 might look a smidge better (and more colorful!) than its last-gen predecessors, but it could always look better, right? As “a love letter to our amazing PC fans,” Bethesda announced on Monday that a high-res texture pack is coming to The Commonwealth sometime next week, for free.
The catch? You’re going to need one hell of a PC to run it. The official recommendations from Bethesda include a six-core i7-5820K and 8GB of dedicated VRAM on your graphics card (a GeForce GTX 1080 is specifically listed). Oh, and on top of that you’ll need a whopping 58GB of storage space for all these hot textures. That’s in addition to 30+ GB for the game itself.
There’s only a single picture so far, embedded below. Click on it for the full effect:
Now sure, you could possibly find better textures through extensive piecemeal modding. But if you’re still playing Fallout 4 or haven’t started yet, then this is a presumably stable first-party solution a la Skyrim HD. Pretty cool.
The irony though is that many of the popular texture mods on NexusMods take things the other direction: They further compress Fallout 4’s textures, many of which are already huge for seemingly no reason.
For instance, here you’ll notice the most downloaded mod is the “Fallout 4 – Texture Optimization Project,” which aims to reduce stuttering by “replacing the high-resolution textures with properly compressed and resized textures.” Yes, the mod description terms Fallout 4’s existing textures high-resolution, because many of them already are.
Anyway, the free texture pack will be at least a slight boost for the few, the proud, who manage to run it. Not as noticeable as a lighting overhaul perhaps, but hey, never before have trash and rusty cars been so crisp and lovingly rendered.
Whether it’s worth playing Fallout 4 at all? Well, that’s a different question.
HP’s Lap Dock represents a future where a smartphone is powerful enough to replace your computer. Arguably, the future may already be here: HP’s Elite x3 stands as the best Windows phone on the market, integrating a Continuum dock with cloud-based legacy Win32 apps for a PC-like work environment.
The Lap Dock is the other piece of the productivity puzzle, a “dumb” laptop powered by the phone. Many users already plug in a second monitor to their notebook and expand their virtual desktop view across both screens. HP’s Lap Dock operates under the same principle, but this time, the Elite x3 Windows phone is the computer—the Lap Dock lacks its own CPU.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because a startup, Nexdock, launched an Indiegogo campaign in March to build another one of these “dumb” laptops. While the Nexdock itself fell short in several ways, the $199 price point was spot-on, and the concept was definitely intriguing. (The company says it has moved on to designing docks for Intel’s Compute Card, too.)
At $500, HP’s Lap Dock is far more expensive. But the care with which HP engineered it certainly justifies a second look, especially for executives whose IT department is footing the bill. In addition to using it for ordinary UWP applications, you can tap into HP’s nifty Win32-in-the-cloud environment, Workspace, if your company supports it. (See our Elite x3 review for more.)
It’s a credit to ultrabook designers that, when closed, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that the $500 Lap Dock is not a thin-and-light laptop. It measures 11.37 x 7.91 x 0.54 inches, it has a 12.5-inch, 1920×1080 LED-lit (non-touch) display, and it weighs 2.3 pounds—you can thank the integrated 46.5Whr battery for that heft.
Clad in reinforced black polycarbonate with a shiny aluminum hinge, the Lap Dock’s exterior conveys the sophistication of a premium, executive-class device. A mini-HDMI connector can link to an external display, and there’s even an LED battery gauge, which can visually convey how much juice is left in the tank.
If you open the Lap Dock without connecting a phone, there’s a small boot sequence of a few seconds where the Dock shows you how to connect either wired or wirelessly. That screen disappears when you connect a phone.
HP’s build quality generally carries over into using the Lap Dock as, well, a laptop, though some usability issues may raise your eyebrows. The backlit keyboard feels solid, though the keys could be a bit stiffer for my taste. But there are slight annoyances, such as the lack of a function-key lock, and the omission of on-screen brightness controls, that remind you that the phone’s in control.
The only indicator of screen brightness is…the screen’s brightness, which scales up to a decent 268 nits by my measurement. You can control the volume either with the phone or the Lap Dock’s controls, and an on-screen slider visually indicates the volume level.
The Lap Dock’s Bang & Olufsen speakers are sufficiently loud. A first review unit I received had flaky audio playback, but a second Lap Dock with updated firmware had no such problems.
HP has bought into the modern USB-C connector wholesale, with one charging port, one input port (for the phone) and a third I/O port, all using USB-C. If you have an older USB-A peripheral, you’ll have to track down an adapter dongle.
The Lap Dock’s charging behavior is a bit odd, though. If you tap the “battery” button on the right edge of the Dock, the four-LED battery indicator lights to visually show you how much charge is left, in 25-percent increments. A small, almost indiscernible LED next to the Enter key also flashes red to indicate that the Dock is totally out of power. That makes sense.
I now expect my devices to visually indicate that they’re fully charged, though, and HP’s Lap Dock doesn’t do that—not really, anyway. While tapping the battery button will always light the correct battery gauge indicators, the red keyboard LED briefly flips to green when the charge climbs over ten percent—not when it’s fully charged. Then it shuts off, unless the Lap Dock is in use. (If it’s less than ten percent, the light is amber, and continually lit.)
Maybe this is an example of HP’s over-engineering, but I found the whole thing unintuitive enough that I had to consult the manual to find out what was going on. Why not simply light one of the battery gauge’s LEDs green when the device is fully charged, and red when it’s empty?
A slightly more serious issue is simply what to do with the phone. You can connect a Windows phone to the Lap Dock either via the USB-C cord or wirelessly, though a wired connection is a far superior experience. But what do you do with the phone when the Lap Dock is in your lap? You’d best hope that there’s a flat surface nearby, or that you can slip the phone in your pocket—and that you don’t trigger something accidentally. The Lap Dock also lacks a camera, so you’ll need to awkwardly prop up or simply hold the phone for Skype calls.
For me, however, the worst experience I had with the Lap Dock was using the trackpad—so, every few seconds, basically. I noticed a bit of lag when swiping right from the home screen, for example, to access the apps menu. The trackpad’s buttons were also a problem. Integrated into the bottom of the trackpad, they registered only when I clicked the very lower edges, even on both of the Lap Docks I was sent for review. Note that I said “register”—on my machine, I could click midway down, but the only time the Lap Dock would actually process a click was at or very near the bottom of the trackpad. Talk about an exercise in frustration.
The ability to connect the Lap Dock to the phone either wired or wirelessly also affects the battery life. HP’s battery test is similar to ours: looping a 4K video until the battery runs down. HP rates the Lap Dock’s battery life at 7 hours, 10 minutes while connected via the cable, and about 6 hours when video is streamed wirelessly. Our measured battery life was somewhat less—6 hours exactly—primarily because HP tested at 150 nits of screen brightness, and we standardize our testing at what we consider to be optimal brightness—between 250 and 260 nits.
Naturally, the Lap Dock will charge a connected phone via the USB-C cable—but the phone will also charge while the Lap Dock itself is running off its internal battery. Incidentally, when the Lap Dock’s battery expires, you’ll probably be left with a healthy charge on the phone.
There’s quite a bit more that’s right about the Lap Dock than wrong. Aside from the truly annoying trackpad, most of my criticisms are merely nitpicks.
A bigger issue, of course, is the viability of the Windows Mobile platform that the Lap Dock is predicated upon. Microsoft continues to support it, though the responsibility for driving it forward and developing hardware for it has fallen once again to the hardware makers. The message I take away from all of this, however, is twofold: One, HP believes some mobile platform will eventually offer the power and capabilities to drive a “desktop” environment, even if it’s not Microsoft; and two, users have become comfortable with the laptop form factor. HP’s done its homework, and if “dumb” laptops take off, HP will be ready to ride the wave.
Twitter said late Monday it is rolling out features soon to counter abuse on its platform, though it did not provide details of the measures it is taking to address the problem.
“We’re taking a completely new approach to abuse on Twitter. Including having a more open & real-time dialogue about it every step of the way,” wrote company CEO Jack Dorsey, referring to a tweet by Ed Ho, vice president for engineering, in which he promised the changes soon.
“This week, we’ll tackle long overdue fixes to mute/block and stopping repeat offenders from creating new accounts,” wrote Ho in one of a series of tweets.
Twitter has been asked by a large number of users to crack down on abuse and harassment on its platform, with some even quitting the service after being harassed online.
Dorsey asked users in December to identify what were the most important things users wanted Twitter to improve or create in 2017, and he was able to narrow down on four categories of which one was abuse. The others were the flexibility to easily fix typos in tweets, and make it easier to follow conversations and find topics.
“We heard you, we didn’t move fast enough last year; now we’re thinking about progress in days and hours not weeks and months,” Ho promised in a message on Twitter. He did not provide details on what were the changes that the company planned to introduce.
A company spokesman did not also provide details, promising to reveal more in the coming days and weeks.
Twitter said in a statement that it is approaching safety with a sense of urgency, and will be rolling out a number of product changes in the coming days and weeks. Some of these will be immediately visible, while the others will be more targeted to specific scenarios.
“We will update you along the way and continue to test, learn and iterate on these changes to evaluate their effectiveness. You can expect to see meaningful progress in this area,” the company said.
If you’re eyeing LG’s 27-inch UltraFine 5K display for Mac—the monitor that Apple recommends for Mac users and sells in its online store—you’ll want to be aware of an irritating flaw in its design. The Thunderbolt 3-capable display apparently suffers from signal interference, rendering the monitor unusable when it’s within 6.5 feet or so of a wireless router.
You can find several reviews on Apple’s site complaining about this problem, but 9to5 Mac’s Zac Hall recently gave us a front row seat to this issue. Hall brought the 5K display home for his personal set up and immediately discovered the problem.
This appears to be a known issue, according to Hall, with LG Support recommending to keep the monitor away from wireless access points. The UltraFine monitor’s manual also says in its warnings section to install the monitor where “no electromagnetic interference” occurs; however, the manual doesn’t mention what might cause this interference.
Apple began selling LG’s UltraFine 4K and 5K monitors in its online store in December. The 5K monitor is recommended as the next-generation replacement for Apple’s own Thunderbolt Display, which was discontinued last summer.
The monitor features 5120-by-2880 resolution with a P3 wide color gamut, Thunderbolt 3 for input, three USB-C (USB 3.1 gen 1) ports, a built-in camera, and stereo speakers. The monitor is currently available at the special price of $974 through the end of March.
LG’s display is certainly stunning, but it could be problematic for people who cram their computer, printer, and router into one corner of the house. If that’s you, and you do plan on buying LG’s 5K display, then you should probably see if your router can be moved elsewhere in the house. Even if the router issue doesn’t affect you it’s worth reading through the reviews of the monitor on Apple’s site. At this writing there were only three complaints referring to routers, while others complained of problems with disconnections and crashing on wake.
We’ve reached out to LG to see if the router proximity issue can be fixed with a firmware update, but it sounds like a crucial piece of the monitor isn’t protected well enough against electromagnetic radiation—which wouldn’t be easily fixed by a firmware tweak. Hopefully we’ll hear back soon.
This story, “LG’s 5K monitor doesn’t work near Wi-Fi routers” was originally published by Macworld.