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Computing

Apple’s M1 Max Scores Big Wins Against Desktop GPUs

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Apple’s big claims about the performance capabilities of the M1 Pro and M1 Max seem to be legitimate as more benchmarks surface. This time, a Redditor found GFXBench scores for the M1 Max that place it at around 25% faster than the mobile Nvidia RTX 3070. This puts it in line with Apple’s charts from its presentation.

Reddit user senttoschool posted the first M1 Max GFXBench scores in the r/Hardware subreddit. Obviously, it would be wise to be skeptical of these results for a couple of reasons. First, the submission on GFXBench was made utilizing Apple’s Metal API, compared to the Nvidia and AMD results using OpenGL on Windows.

That said, comparing M1 Max results to the RTX 3080 Mobile and Radeon RX 6800M (the same GPUs that Apple used in its presentation) sees the Apple Silicon either beating or coming within striking distance of the other two GPUs when looking at the offscreen results.

Comparing the Aztec Ruins Normal Tier Offscreen results to other GPUs is pretty mind-blowing. The M1 Max appears more powerful than several desktop graphics cards, including the RTX 2080 Super, Radeon RX 6800 XT, and even the Nvidia Titan V. The M1 Max doesn’t win on every benchmark such as the Car Chase and the Aztec Ruins High Tier, but the fact that it’s even keeping up at all with desktop components is a game changer.

M1 Max GFXBench comparison with GPUs.

These aren’t the only benchmarks that bear out the performance of the M1 Max. Just a few days ago, we reported on early Geekbench scores for the M1 Max. In that benchmark, the M1 Max scored a 1,749 in the single-core test and 11,542 on the multi-core. Compared to Apple’s own M1 silicon in the MacBook Pro 13-inch, the M1 Max is almost 60% faster in multi-core performance.

It must be stated that raw power alone isn’t the only feat here. These performance gains are in spite of the M1 Pro and Max consuming 70% less power compared to Intel’s offerings. Remember, the maximum wattage available for charging the new MacBook Pro 16-inch is 140 watts. The desktop RTX 2080 Super alone has a 250W TGP.

As stated before, it’s important to look at these numbers with healthy skepticism. Using Apple’s Metal API gives an advantage as it’s tailored specifically for Apple hardware, whereas OpenGL is more generalized for hardware compatibility.

However, this also means that apps that are specifically made for Apple Silicon could see much greater performance benefits. Apple has not only put Intel on notice, but also AMD and Nvidia, and it will be interesting to see how the companies combat Apple’s massive vertical integration advantage.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

Microsoft Surface wins would be a big deal for AMD, Qualcomm

If Microsoft sells Surface devices based on AMD, Qualcomm, and Intel Core processors, as expected, it could represent a new milestone for Microsoft: microprocessor diversity.

While it’s true that Microsoft has used Nvidia Tegra chips to power the Surface 2 and Surface RT, the lineup has otherwise been powered by Intel’s Core microprocessors. Now, Microsoft is expected to build Surfaces around AMD’s mobile Ryzen and a version of Qualcomm’s 8cx chip. If so, it will be an enormous stamp of credibility for both chips.

Although Microsoft hasn’t confirmed its product plans in advance of its announcement on October 2, AMD’s mobile Ryzen chip will likely appear inside one of two versions of the Surface Laptop, either the standard 13-inch version or a new, larger 15-inch option. Photos leaked by Evan Blass, a Twitter user who specializes in product leaks, shows a Surface on ARM product, similar to the Surface Pro 7, that probably includes a modified version of the Qualcomm chip. That tablet appears to have been redesigned, with a pen tray and a pair of USB-C ports.

A big break for AMD and Qualcomm

Both AMD and Qualcomm have struggled to crack Intel’s near monopoly in the laptop market. AMD’s mobile Ryzen—which is based on it’s older Zen+ architecture, rather than the Zen 2 architecture used by its desktop parts—has barely appeared, except in just a few laptops such as the Acer Aspire 5, which houses a mobile Ryzen 3.

Qualcomm, too, has been largely unable to move beyond partnerships with Lenovo and Samsung into the broader notebook market. Early versions of the Snapdragon chips that Qualcomm shipped for PCs, such as the Snapdragon 855, couldn’t keep up with Intel’s Core, though the battery life far outpaced what Core laptops could offer.

Nevertheless, Qualcomm’s vision for always-on connectivity would seem to naturally intersect with Microsoft’s vision of productivity across a variety of form factors. “I hear Qualcomm has been anxiously waiting to get a Surface win for the Always Connected PCs after designs with other OEMs,” said Kevin Krewell, a chip analyst with Tirias Research. “I was surprised Microsoft waited so long to design in Qualcomm.”

Like other analysts interviewed for this story, Krewell said that he had no direct knowledge of what Microsoft would announce. “Considering the low power of the Snapdragon processor, it could be perfect for an extremely thin device,” Krewell added. “I’d like to see it used in more innovative designs.”

Qualcomm has shown off its new 8cx in an attempt to overcome that stereotype and prove that it’s as fast as a Core i5. That Core i5 that Qualcomm tested against was Intel’s “Whiskey Lake” architecture; in the meantime, Intel has released two new architectures, Ice Lake and Comet Lake, that promise to be faster.

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Game

The wins keep coming for Valheim

For weeks now, we’ve been wondering if Valheim is going to slow down it’s rather ridiculous momentum, and today we learned once again that the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Iron Gate Studio is back with another update on Valheim, telling us where the game’s sales sit after just a month of availability.

If you’ve been following along so far, then you know where this is going: Valheim has topped 5 million sales in the span of just one month. It’s been safe to say it for a while, but now it’s definitely clear – Valheim is a success in pretty much every regard.

There are a few things responsible for Valheim‘s success. While it is an early access survival title – a common sight on Steam – Valheim generally isn’t a buggy mess. There are bugs, that’s for sure, but Valheim feels more polished than many of the other early access survival games out there. Valheim also has a decent amount of content for an early access game, and Iron Gate Studio says that from a content perspective, the game is only about 50% complete.

So, there’s a lot more content to come in what already feels like a fairly dense games. Valheim has enjoyed some stellar user reviews too, with Iron Gate noting today that the title is ranked 39th in “the best user reviewed games on Steam of all time.” Overall, the game has an Overwhelmingly Positive rating based on 121,596 user reviews (at the time of this writing, in any case).

So, it’s been a pretty intense month for Valheim and its developers, and the game shows no signs of slowing its momentum. No doubt, fans are wondering when we’re going to get the first big update in Valheim‘s 2021 roadmap, and we’ll let you know when Iron Gate shares more regarding that, so stay tuned.

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Computing

MSI’s Creator 17 wins the miniLED display race, paired with Nvidia and Intel’s just-revealed chips

In the race to introduce the first laptop with miniLEDs, MSI’s Creator 17 may have just beaten everyone. Meanwhile, MSI’s GS66 Stealth and GE66 Raider gaming laptops rock 300MHz panels, and all of the new notebooks unwrapped Thursday pack Intel and Nvidia’s latest and greatest chips.

The beastly MSI Creator 17 laptop features a 4K, 17.3-inch miniLED screen, Nvidia’s fresh GeForce Super GPUs, and Intel’s newly revealed 10th-gen “Comet Lake H” Core processors.

While the miniLED news and Comet Lake H isn’t much of a surprise after the laptop’s reveal at CES, the third shoe to drop is Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX Super-series GPUs, which were also announced Thursday.

MSI said the Creator 17 will offer both the GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q and the GeForce Super RTX 2070 Max-Q as graphics options. While the Super moniker will get the most stares, the Max-Q deserves equal attention, as the newly designed laptop should feature the newest iteration of the technology. The latest version of Max-Q promises much less of a performance hit when compared to non-Max-Q laptops, thanks to some smart features that greatly improve overall efficiency. Read our story on Nvidia’s GeForce RTX Super for laptops for more details.

msi nb creator 17 space gray photo01 MSI

MSI’s Creator 17 looks to be the first laptop to ship with a miniLED display.

A laptop needs a CPU too, of course, and MSI has tapped Intel’s newly minted 10th-gen “Comet Lake H” Core chips for the Creator 17. Interestingly, MSI’s most potent CPU on offer is the Core i7-10875H, instead of Intel’s top-end Core i9-10980HK chip. Still, this 8-core Core i7 appears to improve upon the previous 6-core Core i7-9750H, hitting blistering boost clocks of 5.1GHz.

Oddly, despite all the new hardware on the inside, the real gem in MSI’s Creator 17 will likely be on the outside: a massive 17.3-inch 4K resolution screen that features miniLEDs.

The vast majority of backlit screens are built with conventional LEDS that might be 3mm wide. This limits the density, brightness, and evenness of backlighting. With miniLEDs, the width can be small as 0.1mm, which allows a magnitude more of LED density.

msi nb creator 17 space gray photo21 MSI

MSI’s Creator 17.

With MSI’s Creator 17, that adds up to a “TruePixel” display that can hit 1,000 nits, support 100-percent DCI-P3 color gamut, and meet Vesa’s DisplayHDR 1000 spec. Impressive. MSI says it’s packed 5,570 LEDs into a 240-zone array inside the TruePixel display. As the Creator 17 is meant for content creators, each laptop comes CalMAN color-calibrated from the factory.

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Computing

The Origin 12-core Ryzen 9 EON15-X wins for Monster Ryzen Laptop of the week

The updated Origin EON15-X is about to disappoint all the enthusiasts who thought their 8-core laptop was pretty rad. Check this: The EON15-X rocks a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900 insides its relatively “light” body.

Origin said the EON15-X (starting at $1,624 currently from Origin) will feature a 15.6-inch, 144Hz panel, GeForce RTX 2070, up to 32GB of RAM, and two 1TB M.2 SSDs plus a 2.5-inch drive bay.

Those are all cool features, but the headliner is clearly the Ryzen 9 3900 desktop chip inside. That’s the power-sipping version of the stellar Ryzen 9 3900X chip—it uses 65 watts instead of 105 watts. Sure, that’s still greedier than the newest 8-core sibling, the Ryzen 9 4900HS, but for those who need the power of 12 cores, it’s likely worth it.

The laptop’s weight is also impressive: 5.9 pounds according to Origin, which isn’t bad for this kind of CPU firepower in a laptop. A Dell XPS 15 tips the scales at about 4.5 pounds, and an Acer Predator Helios 700 takes you to 10.5 pounds. Both those laptops, we should add, top out at 8 cores (although the Helios 700 gives you a much faster GPU and larger screen.)

That weight, however, doesn’t include the 230 watt power brick, which likely adds another couple of pounds to the EON15-X.

eon15 x left wide angle open keyboard Origin

Origin’s EON15-X features a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900 and GeForce RTX 2070 graphics without breaking your back.

The laptop is available now from Origin) . For kicks, we outfitted an EON15-X with a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, GeForce RTX 2070, enhanced thermal paste, custom cover wrap, 32GB of DDR4/2400 RAM, a two 1TB Samsung 970 Pro, and 4TB Samsung 860 Pro SATA drive, for a total of $4,160. Then we returned to Earth and fit it with the 12-core CPU, RTX 2060, 32GB of RAM, 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD, and 1TB HDD for $2,269.

Origin puts a 62-watt-hour battery inside, which it said is good for “120 minutes”—probably just for basic use. Gaming or CPU-intensive chores might drop that number even lower.

In multi-threaded CPU performance, the Ryzen 9 3900 is likely to slay just about all other laptops, including its sibling, the EON15-X with a Core i9-9900K inside, and others that use desktop chips, such as Alienware’s Area 51m R1. 

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Computing

The $1,799 MacBook Pro 13 vs. the $650 Acer Swift 3: Guess who wins?

Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 just came out, and it already has a tough adversary. That foe is not the usual high-end, high-priced Windows workhorse like the Dell XPS 13 we just tested, as great as it is. No, the reason Apple should worry is because based on our sister site Macworld’s preliminary performance tests, this $1,799 premium laptop could be lapped by the $650 Acer Swift 3.

That’s not a typo. The Acer Swift 3 costs just six hundred fifty dollars. But this budget laptop has a secret weapon: AMD’s Ryzen 7 4700U. When we reviewed the Acer Swift 3, it surpassed all expectations by keeping pace with laptops far bigger and more expensive. And sorry to say, the MacBook Pro 13 is in the same pickle as those other powerhouses. Keep reading and weep, Apple.

13 inch macbook pro open Apple

It’s pretty, but is it fast?

What’s inside the MacBook Pro 13

The MacBook Pro 13’s spec list is first-class all the way, starting with a 10th-gen Core i5-1038NG7 with a base clock of 2GHz and boost clock of 3.8GHz. You’ve probably never heard of the chip before, and neither have we. You can’t even find it in Intel’s official database of CPUs. All we know is it’s an Ice Lake chip built on Intel’s most advanced 10nm process. It features four cores with Hyper-Threading and Iris Plus graphics. We can’t confirm it, but we strongly believe it to be a 28-watt TDP chip, which means it can generate nearly twice the heat of a standard 15-watt TDP Ice Lake chip and therefore, technically, run faster.

The rest of the MacBook Pro 13 is equally luxurious, with four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a beautiful 2560×1600-resolution panel, 16GB of LPDDR4X/3733, and a 512GB SSD. Oddly, Apple gives you only Wi-Fi 5, which is inferior to Wi-Fi 6 when you’re using a Wi-Fi 6 router. Hey, but you do get that OLED Touch Bar that Apple users love to hate. All this can be had for a mere $1,799. It’s about as expensive and refined as a European performance car with bespoke leather interior.

acer swift 1 Gordon Mah Ung

The Acer Swift 3 costs just $650 but gives you an 8-core Ryzen 7 CPU and Radeon graphics.

What happens though, if you’re at a stoplight with your fine European performance car, and a primer-painted Datsun 510 pulls up and revs its engine? That would be the Acer Swift 3, a 2.6-pound, 14-inch laptop with Ryzen 7 4700U, 8GB of LPDDR4X/3733 memory, 512GB SSD, and Wi-Fi 6. Using published performance data, we can actually see what would happen.

MacBook Pro 13 vs. Swift 3 on Geekbench

The benchmark we have now is Geekbench 5. It’s a popular test that measures multi-core and single-core performance using various synthetic loops, which developer Primate Labs has modeled on real application use.

In Geekbench 5’s single-core performance test, the MacBook Pro 13’s Core i5-1068NG7 pulls out the win. That’s no surprise, because Intel’s most advanced 10th-gen chip has many under-the-hood enhancements which Geekbench also takes advantage of. The Intel-powered Mac, in other words, has a decent edge here and gets to the next stoplight first. In real life, this might translate into a small edge for the Intel-based Mac in photo editing, browsing, or other optimized code that uses a single CPU core.

swift 3 ryzen vs macbook pro 13 2020 geekbench 1t IDG

Geekbench 5 gives the MacBook Pro 13 and its Core i5 the lead over the Ryzen-powered Acer Swift 3.

Geekbench 5 also measures multi-core performance. The Acer Swift 3’s 8 cores (even if they don’t have SMT turned on) easily outrun the MacBook Pro 13’s 4 cores. This likely means the MacBook Pro 13 will be eating the Acer Swift 3’s dust in video encoding, 3D modelling, or just about anything that relies on multi-core performance. 

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Tech News

Switching from Android to iPhone: Here’s where Apple’s phone wins and fails

I hopped on the Android bandwagon early: I sold my iPhone 3G in 2009, bought an HTC Hero, and never looked back. I’ve been using Android every day since then, writing about Google’s platform as a tech journalist. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to keep pace with iPhone developments, and recently set aside a week of my life to get reacquainted with Apple’s smartphone.

I put all my Android phones in a drawer and settled into life with the iPhone 11 Pro. Admittedly, the iPhone does some things extremely well, even for a long-time Android user like myself. However, there are also plenty of things I hate with a fiery passion.

Where the iPhone wins

Apple’s Taptic Engine: Haptics are an underappreciated but important aspect of interacting with a smartphone, and Apple understands this. The “Taptic Engine” is essentially a giant vibration motor bolted right to the iPhone’s frame, and it’s fantastic. The haptic feedback is tight and powerful, surpassing all Android phones on the market. It can almost feel like you’re pressing physical buttons on the screen sometimes. Google’s Pixel phones have by far the best haptics on Android, but even those devices are far behind Apple.

Gesture navigation: I was skeptical when Apple decided to make gestures mandatory for navigating its phone, but its gesture scheme is a significant improvement over a physical button. In fact, Apple’s gesture approach is the best I’ve seen. The gestures are all incredibly smooth and don’t require long swipes—it feels like you’re flinging the UI around. I also appreciate that the gesture pill at the bottom of the screen doesn’t take up too much space. There’s a reason Google straight-up copied some of Apple’s gestures in Android 10.

iphone gestures Ryan Whitwam/IDG

iPhone gestures beat Android phone gestures. They just do.

Battery performance: Apple prioritizes battery life on the iPhone, and that’s a refreshing change for me. The early days of Android were a free-for-all in which app developers could do almost anything, and many apps siphoned off battery power with impunity. Google has tamped down on the worst excesses, but iOS has always been more measured. It slowly added new features to the OS, and apps are kinder to your battery as a result. The iPhone 11 Pro will last an entire day, even if you use it heavily. It’s about on par with Android phones with 20 to 30 percent larger batteries.

Silent switch: The iPhone’s silent mode switch is a quick, simple way to shut up your phone. My old iPhone 3G had one, and I’m happy Apple has stuck with it. There are still ringer volume controls and a Do Not Disturb mode, but you have to wake up the phone to use those. The iPhone’s switch doesn’t move far, but it has delightful tactile click, and you get haptic feedback when activating silent mode. It’s so easy and reliable, you can change the ringer mode while the phone is in your pocket.

iphone silent Ryan Whitwam/IDG

The iPhone’s silent mode switch sure comes in handy.

True Tone display: Color accuracy is a noble ideal, but that’s not always good for a phone display you might be staring at for hours. Apple’s True Tone technology tweaks the color temperature of the display based on environmental lighting, making it easier on the eyes. So, you get nice, bright whites outside and warmer, less-distracting tones inside. The iPhone screen “blends in” with the world much better than other phones I’ve used. Google has a similar feature on the Pixel 4, but it’s nowhere near as effective. 

AirDrop: Sharing content with the internet at large is easy these days—there’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat… take your pick. But sharing something securely with a person right next to you is comparatively difficult on Android. On the iPhone, it’s a breeze thanks to AirDrop. Just hit the share menu, pick AirDrop, and nearby contacts will appear like magic. The recipient has the option to accept or decline each transfer. If you’re daring, you can even allow AirDrop visibility for people who aren’t in your contact list.

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AI

Australia wins first AI ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ by sampling koalas and kookaburras

A team of programmers and songwriters from Australia have won the inaugural (and unofficial) AI ‘Eurovision Song Contest’, using a neural network trained on noises made by koalas, kookaburras, and Tasmanian devils to help score their winning entry.

The group, named Uncanny Valley, said their song was a response to the bushfire season that began ravaging Australia in June 2019. Scientists estimated that around a billion animals were killed by the fires (a figure that excludes insects, fish, frogs, and bats, but includes reptiles, birds, and mammals — including those sampled for the song).

The track, titled “Beautiful the World,” falls into the grand tradition of saccharine and zany Eurovision pop that so often shows up alongside raging death metal and techno remixes of European folk ballads. It includes the lyrics “Flying in fear but love keeps on coming (flying, flying) / Dreams still live on the wings of happiness (dreams still)” and recasts the devastating bushfires as “vivid candles of hope.”

The real Eurovision Song Contest has been held every year since 1956, and Australia has participated since 2015 (partly because Australians love it so much). The AI version, though, was cooked up by Dutch broadcaster VPRO after the 2020 edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thirteen teams entered songs and were live-streamed earlier this week.

The winners of the AI Eurovision Song Contest, based on a combination of audience votes and judges’ scores.
Image: VPro

Although it was dubbed an “AI song contest,” computers weren’t always calling the shots. As is often the case with AI music, machine learning was used to generate some elements of the songs, but it was usually up to humans to arrange and perform the final tracks.

In the case of “Beautiful the World,” it seems that AI was mainly used to write the melody and lyrics, with the samples from Australian fauna used to craft a synth instrument. The final performance, though, was firmly down to humans. (You can read more about the technical aspects of the song in this blog post by team member Sandra Uitdenbogerd.)

The AI Eurovision audience wasn’t just in the mood for poptimism, though. Second place in the contest went to Germany’s entry, an eerie song titled “I’ll Marry You, Punk Come” by Team Dadabots x Portrait XO.

For their lyrics, the team used AI trained on 1950s acapellas to generate a stream of babble that they then tried to recognize words in. The music was generated using a collection of neural networks trained on everything from pop choruses to baroque harmonies. The resulting track (which you can listen to below) is a melange of different styles, with one team member comparing the curation process to “hunting and gathering.”

If the results of the contest show anything, though, it’s that artificial intelligence is best used as a partner in music-making, not as the lead. The last-place entry was “Painfulwords” by Team New Piano from Switzerland, which let computers take charge.

“Faced with the choice between making an accessible song with quite a few human interventions, or experimenting with as much AI as possible and then delivering a worse-sounding song, we chose the latter,” said the two data scientists responsible for the track. The results speak for themselves.

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