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Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

AMD's success is important to budget consumers

Intel and AMD have been the primary manufacturers of x86 based processors; the kind used for desktops, laptops and servers. Snapdragon has been focusing on ARM-based chips – which are used for smartphones like Android. The competition between Intel and AMD in the last three decades has been an essential driver of innovation, which in turn translated to the affordability of high-performance processors and therefore faster computers.
AMD is finally catching up, and it's good news!
The price of a CPU is about 25% of the price of a desktop PC and hence has a strong bearing on the overall purchase prices of machines. Computer prices per unit of performance have been declining constantly up until about the early 2010s from which the price decline slowed. This could also a slowdown in incremental performance improvements in CPUs. A computer from 2010 would be perform significantly better than a computer of the same price in 2007, but a computer in 2019 would only marginally outperform a similar priced computer from 2016. This is mainly because of AMD-Intel rivalry de-escalating in the past years.
CPU benchmark market share | Source: vmozara on Reddit
Intel has always had the upper hand over AMD with over 50% of market share throughout. They have strengthened their position since 2006 and surpassed 80% market share in 2016. There are a number of factors that have led to Intel’s sheer dominance over AMD.

Why did Intel gain so much market share over AMD?

  • Hyperthreading – Intel was the first to introduce hyperthreading, which meant more than one thread of instructions, can run on a single core. This meant that Intel’s cores spent less time waiting and more time working, boosting up efficiency.
  • Lower heat – AMD responded to hyperthreading by adding more cores and increasing their speed. AMD could hence match Intel’s efficiency and performance levels, but this resulted in higher core temperatures, hating up devices and reducing lifetime.
  • Marketing – While AMD was notorious for overheating, Intel boosted up their marketing game, outspending AMD in sponsorships and advertising to cement its position in the market. Intel was loved by the market and AMD was shunned for overheating.
  • Performance vs Price – Intel competed purely on performance and charged higher prices for a comparatively smaller increase in performance of an AMD chip. AMD competed with price and hence consumers perceived AMD chips to be low-performance even though they provided more value per dollar. This perception gradually let to lower sales and hence reduced market share.
  • AMD’s mismanagement and failed strategies – AMD’s executives made mistake after mistake, ruining their finances and therefore running out of capital firepower to combat intel. One example is the story of how they produced Llano chips without properly allocating a motherboard chipset, which resulted in poor sales. They also acquired companies which were grossly overvalued, adding to their losses.

AMD’s resurrection

Because of its superior market position, Intel could afford to price higher and higher, whilst not innovating at the same rate as in the past. This has led to products with marginal performance increases and high prices. This has given AMD time and space to rethink. They have worked on the new Zen architecture, starting from scratch and shifting focus from high-heat overclocking to high-efficiency, high-performance core design. Their new product lineup, Ryzen gets them closer and closer to Intel’s offerings and now with the new Ryzen 3000 brings performance between the two chip manufacturers to the same level.

Ryzen 3000 | Image: AMD.
The fact that Ryzen is priced slightly lower than Intel’s core offerings in general is what is of most importance. Ryzen products provide much more value for money and become more enticing for consumers of all segments. In the last two years, it has gradually lost the label of being the biggest heat-producer. Gamers and enthusiasts has grown to love it, and very soon it will be preferred by all segments of the market from enterprise servers to budget users.

Tom’s hardware has the following data showing how AMD’s market share has grown from 9.1% in 2016 to 17.1% in 2Q2019. They expect it to grow further with the new 7nm process of the Ryzen 3000 series.
The rise of AMD's market share from mid-2016. | Data: Tom's Hardware
Intel will have its hand forced in the coming months and will need to enforce price cuts to compete on the same level as AMD. They would also be forced to innovate and get 7nm chips out themselves to make sure what happened to AMD in the 2000's does not happen to them in the 2020's. Either way, AMD's success is good news for budget consumers who will have access to better technology very soon.

Related reading

The benefits of migrating to 5 Ghz WiFi

Most budget focused consumers don’t upgrade their routers or networking equipment very often. And this results in a few complications. The good old version of WiFi when it launched was known as WiFi b/g which was very good for most applications in the late 2000s. It had a range of about 40 meters (or 125 feet) and a maximum speed of 54 Mbps which was quite good for 2007.
WiFi is ubiquitous but is it getting slower?
WiFi n, brought support for 5Ghz. a maximum speed of 600Mbps and double the range. However, the actual realistic speeds don’t even get close to that theoretical number for a variety of reasons. This is mainly because of an extreme growth in the number of WiFi networks in the past decade that has blocked the 13 channels used in the 2.4Ghz spectrum. Though WiFi n supports 5Ghz a vast majority of routers don’t support it.

WiFi n is supposed to use two channels in the 13-channel spectrum but according to the standard, when the spectrum is congested, it falls back to one channel which brings the theoretical maximum speed to 150Mbps. However, when there are many devices connected to the same network, and the devices are not very close to the router, the speeds drop even further. Because of this, in practical terms the maximum speed you usually get with a traditional router is about 20-30 Mbps on average.

To break free of this you must migrate away from the congested 2.4Ghz spectrum and move to the 5Ghz spectrum. Moving from WiFi n to the ac standard also increases your theoretical maximum to 1Gbps and so the average attainable speed is about 300Mbps which is major upgrade. One other advantage is the reduction in ping times where instead of the 30-40ms delay with traditional older routers, you could get a responsive 2-5ms in most cases which is a big boost to your gaming performance.

Here is a helpful chart that shows the differences between four WiFi standards, WiFi 6 or ax is not available yet, but is included here as a reference to how the WiFi standards would grow in the future.

Chart with a comparison of WiFi g, n, ac and ax. (© Kategat Media 2019; available for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license).
Chart with a comparison of WiFi g, n, ac and ax. (© Kategat Media 2019; available for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license).
Here are some TP-Link routers recommended by Kategat:


See also
Image of WiFi symbol, thanks to Christiaan Colen on Flickr. Licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Atmos for headphones and binaural sound

We humans have only two ears, on the left and the right. If we can only intake sound from only two “sound sensors” how it possible for us for us to discern sound originating from every single angle? Not only from left and right, but straight ahead, directly behind us and even above and below us. Close your eyes and listen to your surroundings, you can pinpoint exactly where each source of sound is, but how is this possible?
Atmos for headphones converts multi-channel audio to binaural sound
The answer comes in two parts, brilliant engineering on the part of our outer ear and some accurate post-processing. Contrary to what most people think, the outer ear – the piece of cartilage known as the auricle – does have a purpose. Because of its shape its able to focus and reflect sound originating from the font and attenuate (slightly reduce) sound originating from the back. The frequencies are also slightly shifted and delayed. The audio processing regions of our brains are then able to use these slight changes to decode where the signal is coming from.
The outer ear focuses and changes the pitch of sound based on the originating angle.
When we wear headphones or earphones, our outer ear does not play a big part as the sound skips the audio tuning usually performed by the outer ear and directly goes into the middle and inner ear. The post-processing component does not get the required shifted frequencies and so does not decipher any direction and distance data – so you generally can’t feel or get a sense of the where the sound originates from.

However, a workaround to this is known as binaural recording, this uses a dummy head or a mannequin head with externa ears. Inside each ear is a microphone that records audio exactly how it is perceived inside the ear. Sound waves bounce off the dummy head and external ear reaching the microphone exactly how the dummy would hear it if it were a real human. When this is played back over headphones, the listener gets the perception of hearing the sound as though it has already bounced off the external ear, giving the perception of surround sound.
A binaural recording mannequin.
The dummy head is not used to record sound in movies, TV and games. Rather it is recorded in multiple channels (microphones) and designed to play back over the same number of speakers. Sound from these speakers are meant to bounce off your external ear and be processed by your brain. Hence you don’t get binaural and you can’t experience surround sound in a headphone.

This is the problem Dolby Atmos for Headphones seems to solve. Dolby Atmos for Headphones works by taking sound from multi-channel audio such as Dolby TruHD or Atmos and processing them in to binaural audio so it gives a surround sound experience. Atmos for headphones uses an algorithm that can create a binaural effect which can create virtual speakers in any angle and distance. With Atmos, it can tap into the object meta data and create infinite channels to create sound originating in any direction.

You don’t need an expensive headphone to experience amazing virtual sound You could even use an affordable Logitech or Shure headphone to get the same amazing effect. Read our reviews.

See also
Binaural recording image source - Licensed under under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Dolby Atmos -- redefining sound

Dolby Atmos is indeed a revolutionary innovation, and it truly deserves the popularity it has gained in the last few years. Atmos is present in many forms and places, in theatres, home theatres,  headphones and even smartphone speakers. There are also ways it set it up using a sound bar or traditional 2.1 sound set up. But, how could the same technology exist in something as fundamentally different as a phones and theatres?

Dolby has over the years given us the ways and means of storing, transmitting and reproducing high-quality sound. They specialise in the way sound is stored. The so called encoding products are used to capture and store; and subsequently reproduce sound originating from various angles. They started with Stereo -- simple two channel; progressing to 5.1 and 7.1 TruHD sound. Each new offering was a significant jump from the preceding generation.
Photo by Nana Andoh on Unsplash
Dolby Atmos on the other hand is fundamentally different.  Each of the previous products store sound originating from an explicitly defined direction. Stereo has left and right. 5.1 has Left, Center, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround and a Bass output. Atmos does not have explicitly pre-defined directions. The recorder is free to choose and define any angle in a 3D space and record audio data that pertains to that specific direction. This opens up infinite possibilities to capture or artificially produce sound.

Consider the following scenario in a movie or game:
 A sports car, travelling north, is being chased by a cop car from the back and a helicopter just above the car. A cop appears from the North East, pulls out a gun and fires at the vehicle.  Instead of the traditional pre-defined sound angles, Atmos is free to create its own channels with its own originating angle and distance from the audience. From this scenario 4 distinct channels can be dynamically created:

  • Channel one: The runaway car's engines, due north, close to the audience.
  • Two: The chasing cop car, due south with a medium distance.
  • Three: The cop, due north-east, with a medium distance
  • Four: The helicopter straight above, distant.

Sound can then be encoded for each of these channels. This method best captures the precise locations and intensities of each sound source, hence accurately recording exactly what the person in the car would hear. 

Rendering or reproducing the sound is the essence of the Atmos magic. The individual channels are simulated using whatever equipment is available. A theatre with speakers in every direction will use only the speakers in those directions to generate sound, this is a big step-up from the older 7.1 standard which has a channel-limit and hence a direction-limit of 7-8. Each of the speaker arrays in the 7.1 system will have recorded all of the sounds from their particular vantage-points and hence will result in a slightly inferior sound quality in the individual channels (cross-channel distortion).

When playing Atmos content on a set-up, the decoder simulates all of the virtual channels it captures, taking into account the positioning of your speakers.You could arrange your speakers in anyway and so-long as the decoders knows the positioning, it will be able to decide which speakers to play sound originating from each of the virtual channels.

This truly gives you the best sound experience possible regardless of what your speaker set-up is. And with infinite channels, and infinite speakers, Atmos could be the very epitome of sound.

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