HW News - RDNA2 Incoming, New Intel CacheOut Vulnerability, Coronavirus vs. GN China Trip

By Eric Hamilton & Steve Burke Published February 01, 2020 at 3:46 am

Hardware news is busy this week. We've been in the throes of planning a trip to China for several months now, including a leg to Taiwan to visit several HQs, but may have to postpone due to the recent Wuhan flu outbreaks near some of the regions we were scheduled for. We're also talking about RDNA2, AMD's quarterly earnings and YOY reports, Intel's CacheOut vulnerability, and people who want Windows 7 for free.

Show notes continue after the embed.

Linus Buys Charity Modmat for $3095

We listed a GamersNexus Modmat with several YouTuber and overclocker autographs for charity auction on eBay, with 100% of the sale going toward wildlife rescue and treatment efforts in Australia relating to the bushfires, specifically working with Wildlife Rescue South Coast and Adelaide Koala & Wildlife Hospital. The modmat was won by none other than Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips fame, and he plans to list it for another charity auction at LTX 2020. We're excited for this and will be at the event, so if you're going to be in the Vancouver area, consider stopping by to say hi. We're grateful to Linus for contributing to such a great cause, and look forward to his future plans for the mat.

GN Trip to China & Coronavirus Factory Challenges

(This section written by Steve)

We've had a trip planned to Taiwan and China for months now, hoping to follow-up our epic voyage in March of 2019 with another round of factory tours. Unfortunately, given the circumstances right now surrounding the Wuhan flu / novel coronavirus, our plans are at risk of being postponed or canceled. This is one of the best times to go due to the lack of launches, but that's always true for February and March -- Lunar New Year functionally shuts down production every single year, predictably, and that means no product launches in this window. As a result, it's one of our only launch-free windows where we can walk away from the test benches without the anxiety of a launch coming down the pipe. We may have to postpone the trip as a result. Anyway, all of this has put us close to the situation on the ground as we work with factories in our planning processes for the tours in China, and we've learned a few things related to how the virus may or may not affect the wider industry.

A couple quick facts for you:

  • During planning phases, we’ve had a few of our factory contacts tell us that they will no longer be able to host the tour until further notice due to shutdowns for employee safety
  • These companies typically have a US contact fly out with us to act as an intermediary, but the main company we’re interfacing with has canceled all employee flights to China, including Shenzhen, and isn’t allowing employees to travel there until further notice
  • Chinese New Year was extended anyway. Most of the factory workers weren’t going to return to work until about February 10th even before this extension, so the impact from the virus is yet undetermined at a factory level. Our understanding is that one of the factories we were going to tour has had one infected person, so that factory is taking extra measures to disinfect and we may not be able to visit
  • TW largely unaffected, so we may still go there, but there aren’t as many factories for us to cover there and we’d have to find a different angle for coverage while still figuring out how to break even or limit losses on the trip (these trips are expensive and cost over $10,000, so we rarely make direct ROI on them, but benefit indirectly through experience and better understanding of how products are made)
  • We have to wait and see. We could pivot the trip to something else, but it’ll be hard to get ROI since coverage will be less focused without the China leg. That said, it’ll cost us $350 per person to reschedule the flight, or $1400, and we’ll probably lose the seat upgrade fees as well, so it is a potential large cut into the financial viability of the trip. Granted, it'd be worth it if it's too dangerous to go.

Ryzen DRAM Calculator 1.7.0 Update

The Ryzen DRAM calculator has received a new update, numbered 1.7.0 by creator 1usmus. The software creator posted these notes:

  • Added functionality to read current memory timings for Zen 2 (AM4).
  • Added a memory bandwidth test (Read and Write).
  • Added an Inter-Core Latency test (AM4).
  • Improved the accuracy of Random and Custom latency test.
  • Some changes in the suggested CAD_BUS settings. This could offer a significant improvement in stability for configurations with two or more RAM modules.
  • VDDG setting is now divided into two independent settings: VDDG IOD and VDDG CCD voltage (as in AGESA 1004B bioses).
  • "Compare timings" now works for Zen 2 (AM4).
  • Added support for 3000 series Threadripper CPUs (Castle Peak).
  • Minor user experience GUI changes.
  • Added support for Hynix DJR (a new CJR revision that has backward compatibility with classic CJR).
  • Minor bugfixes

FSF Wants Open Source Windows 7, Doesn’t Understand How Windows Works

In a painfully ironic twist of fate, the Free Software Foundation, the group behind the disparaging “Windows 7 Sins” campaign of 2009, is now petitioning Microsoft to offer the obsolete OS as free software. Not content to just ask nicely, and probably knowing Microsoft would never make such a move to begin with, the FSF laced their plea with one last barb. 

The petition reads, “On January 14th, Windows 7 reached its official ‘end-of-life,’ bringing an end to its updates as well as its ten years of poisoning education, invading privacy, and threatening user security. The end of Windows 7's lifecycle gives Microsoft the perfect opportunity to undo past wrongs, and to upcycle it instead.” 

Nice form, FSF. If that doesn’t convince Microsoft to dump Windows 7 in a GitHub repo, then surely nothing will. The petition also goes on to say that Microsoft has nothing to lose by opening up Windows 7 to the community. That is, unless you consider millions of dollars in extended support fees nothing to lose. 

As we mentioned last week, the German Federal Ministry is set to pay Microsoft $887K to stay on Windows 7 for 2020; there will be many more business and enterprise customers doing just the same. Despite Windows 7 being EOL, Microsoft will technically support it through January 10, 2023, via extended support. Those fees start at $25-$50 per machine, depending on the version of Windows, and double every year thereafter. Sounds like a lot to lose.  

Microsoft also can’t just give Windows 7 to the community; much of the Windows 7 code base exists in Windows 10. Also, giving away Windows literally defeats the purpose of Microsoft's Windows business model. You know, the one where they sell an operating system to customers. As The Register points out, there’s plenty of Linux distros out there if an open source, non-proprietary operating system is your thing, even some that are very Windows like.   

Source: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/01/24/windows_7_open_source/

Intel CacheOut Vulnerability  

Researchers have discovered yet another speculative execution vulnerability impacting Intel processors, meaning Intel will have to issue a third microcode update for microarchitectural data sampling (MDS) class attacks.

Security researchers from the University of Michigan have discovered and aptly coined the CacheOut attack, assigned CVE-2020-0549, which is a side channel attack that can be employed to force data to leak from the L1 cache. According to the paper, this attack can be aimed at the OS kernel, virtual machines, and SGX enclaves.

Essentially, any processor released before 4Q18 is affected. AMD remains unaffected, as its processors don’t feature anything similar to Intel’s Transactional Synchronization Extensions (TSX). Just like ZobmieLoad, RIDL, Fallout, et al, CacheOut preys on inherent weaknesses in Intel’s TSX to access and pry sensitive data from memory and CPU locations that aren’t supposed to be accessible. 

This also something that researchers pointed out originally, as stated on the MDS website, and researchers have since criticized Intel’s spot treatment approach to mitigations. 

 “The first issue, which Intel refers to as L1D Eviction Sampling (L1DES), is a RIDL variant that leaks from L1D evictions (assigned CVE-2020-0549). It may seem that sometimes history does repeat itself, because this is again something that we had already shown in our original RIDL paper, as shown in Figure 6. In the camera-ready version of the RIDL paper, we also explicitly mentioned that, at every context switch, "the entire L1 cache needs to be flushed first since the entries go through the LFBs" to properly mitigate RIDL. We removed this sentence in the original version of the RIDL paper released on May 14, 2019, since Intel had not yet mitigated the RIDL variant based on L1D evictions (which would eventually become L1DES). Since then, we spent months trying to convince Intel that leaks from L1D evictions were possible and needed to be addressed,” the website reads.

Source: https://software.intel.com/security-software-guidance/software-guidance/l1d-eviction-sampling



Surprise, ISPs Are Still Taking Money For Unfinished Networks

In what should shock exactly no one, giants ISPs and telecom companies are still enjoying government handouts made possible by taxpayers for networks that never get fully deployed. It’s yet another bullet point on the long list of America’s broadband problems, and if recent news is any indication, the government still thinks throwing absurd amounts of money at ISPs is going to fix those problems. 

Demonstrating this is CenturyLink, which has reportedly failed to meet the minimum network deployment requirements after agreeing to accept government funding in several states. CenturyLink is in good company, though, as Frontier Communications also failed to meet the necessary requirements per the agreement.

Both CenturyLink and Frontier are among several ISPs who accepted funding through the Connect America Fund in 2015 via the FCC. In accepting government funding, ISPs agreed to expand network coverage with at least 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream connections, with an emphasis on rural areas which have long been neglected and underserved. Specifically, CenturyLink agreed to expand its broadband coverage to over 1M locations across 33 states, in exchange for $505.7 million in annual support for six years. Similarly, Frontier took $283.4 million annually for six years to connect 659,587 locations. 

Now, both ISPs have notified the FCC that they “may not have” met deployment requirements. Keep in mind these connection goals aren’t exactly lofty; they’re antiquated connections reminiscent of early 2000s DSL -- not really even broadband. At least, not by the FCC’s own definition, which states that broadband is at least 25Mpbs. 

Like most other toothless agreements that have been served up to ISPs, there will likely be no real consequences. Other than rural customers will continue to be underserved, customer service will continue to be comically bad, and a handful of ISPs will continue to run roughshod over the classic monopolies and duopolies they’ve come to enjoy in most markets.    

Source: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/01/centurylink-frontier-took-fcc-cash-failed-to-deploy-all-required-broadband/

Eve Technology Prepares First Crowd-Developed Display

Eve Technology, the company that introduced the crowd-developed Eve V notebook, is now preparing to roll out a trio of crowd-developed displays. Eve’s Spectrum line of displays will use IPS panels from LG and feature elevated refresh rates.

All three models are 27” displays, with a resolution of QHD or 4K. Refresh rates come in at 144Hz, 165Hz, or 240Hz depending on the model. This also appears to be the first use of 240Hz IPS panels. All displays have an 8-bit color depth and offer a 1ms response time (GTG), as well as offering HDR 10 support (either HDR 400 or 600).  

Eve bills the new displays as being “developed by 4053 gamers, coders and designers in eve.community.” None of the monitors will come with a stand, meaning if consumers don’t intend to use a VESA mount or arm, they’ll need to buy a stand from Eve Technology for $99. The exclusion of a stand was reportedly a very discussed and requested feature. 

The entry level Eve Spectrum will start at $349, and tops out a $589. However, those are just the reservation prices; prices will increase once the monitors are on the market proper. 

Source: https://evedevices.com/pages/spectrum


AMD 4Q19 and Full Year Earnings, RDNA 2 Inbound

After reporting its official financial results, AMD has notched a record $2.13B quarter, or a 50% increase QoQ. This rounds out what has turned out to be a record year for AMD, with a $6.73B in revenue for 2019, marking a 4% increase YoY. 

AMD’s record sales for both the year and the quarter came on the back of its 7nm product stack, with CEO Dr. Lisa Su acknowledging the highest processor sales AMD has seen in six years. In AMD’s Computing and Graphics segment, which is where Ryzen and Radeon live, AMD saw a 69% increase YoY, and took in $4.7B for the year. For Q4, AMD saw a 30% increase QoQ and grew revenue up to $1.66B.

While AMD noted that it has doubled the number of Epyc platforms to 100 during Q4, AMD hasn’t quite reached double digit share in the server market. AMD still maintains that it’ll achieve double digit share by mid-2020. However, AMD did see server revenue grow by double digits driven by strong demand for Epyc Rome and higher average selling prices. 

AMD’s Embedded and Semi-Custom didn’t turn in quite as stellar results; AMD saw $465M for the quarter, an 11% decline QoQ. While this was partially offset by Epyc sales, AMD notes a weaker than expected console market as the current console generation winds down and Microsoft and Sony gear up for their respective Holiday 2020 launches -- both of which will sport semi-custom AMD silicon, which should have a very interesting effect over the next couple of quarters.

Su also reiterated that we will see a next-gen RDNA architecture this year, with more details promised for Investor Day on March 5, 2020. AMD also expects an increased “resistance” from Intel in the coming quarters, especially on the pricing front. So, the CPU price wars could get more interesting over the next few months.   

Source: https://www.anandtech.com/show/15445/amds-fy2019-financial-report

Avast Will Close Jumpshot Subsidiary Following Data Collection Controversy

News surfaced earlier this week via multiple reports that Avast was using its free tier of anti-virus software to sleuth a shocking amount of data from its users. Then, through a subsidiary called Jumpshot, that data was sold to various high-profile customers such as Google, Microsoft, Pepsi Co, and Home Depot.

Avast acquired Jumpshot back in 2013, when Jumpshot was still a PC cleanup tool. However, come 2015, Jumpshot metamorphosed into a data analytics company. It was though this business model that Avast collected user data -- supposedly anonymized -- and sold it to clients to help fund its cyber security products. Now, following a massive outcry over privacy and consent to opt-in, Avast has issued a statement indicating that it will shut down Jumpshot, permanently.

 “Avast’s core mission is to keep its users safe online and to give users control over their privacy,” said Ondrej Vlcek, CEO of Avast. “The bottom line is that any practices that jeopardize user trust are unacceptable to Avast. We are vigilant about our users’ privacy, and we took quick action to begin winding down Jumpshot’s operations after it became evident that some users questioned the alignment of data provision to Jumpshot with our mission and principles that define us as a Company.”

The wind down will also impact  “hundreds of loyal Jumpshot employees and dozens of its customers." 

Source:   https://blog.avast.com/a-message-from-ceo-ondrej-vlcek


Small Stories & Non-Stories

  • EKWB preparing EK-AIO series of AIO coolers. These were shown at CES 2020, and are available for pre-order via EKWB’s website.
  • NZXT has also refreshed its Kraken line of AIO coolers. Changes are largely cosmetic, with the exception of a 7th-gen Asetek pump design. The new Kraken Z-3 series latches onto the trend of LCD displays atop the pump block.  
  • DeepCool refreshed the Matrexx 55 with a mesh model rather than glass. There are some downsides, like a lack of flush fit of the side panel to the case -- which just sort of looks ugly -- but the original model was $58. If this new Matrexx 55 Mesh 4F comes close in price to the original, it may be a worthwhile consideration (source: http://www.deepcool.com/product/case/2020-01/9_12888.shtml)

Editorial: Eric Hamilton, Steve Burke
Video: Josh Svoboda

Last modified on February 01, 2020 at 3:46 am

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