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May 16, 2021 - Episode 594 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Zigbee makes the IoT Matter, Discord is playing fewer videogames, and Apple is trying to bring back the Beats.

Tech Changes Over the Past 25 Years - Episode 258 (Piltch Point)

Tom's Hardware was founded 25 years ago and made a major impact on the internet. In the years since the first article was published, a lot of things have changed in the computer industry, while other things have remained mostly unchanged. As part of the anniversary, Avram decided to look back on the industry, rather than the site, and show how the industry has progressed.

For example, let's look at the core of the computer: the processor. In 1996, the bleeding edge, top-of-the-line processor was the Pentium P54CS, which ran at 200 megahertz. In today's world, processors in the megahertz range are for microcontrollers, not for computers. Instead, the Ryzen 9 5950x, today's top processor, runs at 3.5 gigahertz with a max boost of 4.9 gigahertz. But, in addition, there are 16 CPU cores, compared to the single-core of the old Pentium.

Another area where there has been significant change is in monitors. In fact, the fact that we use a screen at all is the only real similarity between 2021 and 1996. The Sony Multiscan 20se II was the top monitor in 1996 and was a whopping 21" of 1600x1200 glory. This CRT monitor weighed 66 pounds and was almost as deep as it was wide. Today, the LG 27GN950 offers 4K gaming with a 1 millisecond response time at 144 hertz. All of this in a 27" screen that is incredibly thin.

But, not everything has changed completely. The mouse continues to exist, and exist very similarly. The Microsoft IntelliMouse premiered in 1996, bringing with it the design we are all comfortable with today, including the scroll wheel. But, this model of the mouse still used a ball. Today, the mouse looks similar, but has a lot of new buttons and has ditched the ball for an array of optical sensors.

Of course, a lot of other technology has changed, including storage (hard drives and removable storage), phones, memory, and more. Avram discusses some of it and will publish a full article at Tom's Hardware.

Zigbee Alliance expands its name and its purpose with Matter standard

While many smarthome owners have interacted with Zigbee technology, not everyone has heard of it. For those who have missed out on the Zigbee Alliance, the organization has been dedicated to creating a communication standard that allows unrelated brands of smart devices to speak to and work with one another over a special wireless technology. This alliance has produced unique and interesting products from big brands, including Philips Hue. The technology is so popular that it is even running on Mars, with the popular Ingenuity helicopter communicating with Perseverance over Zigbee.

This week, the Alliance announced a number of name changes to coincide with a focus change. No longer the Zigbee Alliance, the organization is now the Connectivity Standards Alliance. This change is because the organization is looking outside of just the Zigbee standard of wireless communication and looking for a way to allow communication between different Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

The project that was designed to connect different technologies was once known as Project Connected Home over IP (Project CHIP). But, with the rebrand of the Alliance comes the rebrand of the project, now known as Matter. This newly minted project has a lot of support, including from Amazon, Apple, Google, IKEA< Signify, SmartThings, and a lot more. Importantly, there is also support from NXP, which manufacturers a lot of internals for IoT products. Unfortunately, there are some notably absent brands, but as the group is just getting started, perhaps they will join in the future.

Obviously, the goal of Matter is to make your smart home choices wider, while making sure that things will work together from outside ecosystems. So, if you already have a number of Zigbee products but want to add in a couple of Wi-Fi-powered products, and one using Samsung's SmartThings Hub, one day you will be able to connect them all together using Matter. The organization says,

The Matter mark will serve as a seal of approval, taking the guesswork out of the purchasing process and allowing businesses and consumers alike to choose from a wider array of brands to create secure and connected homes and buildings.

This promises to make the disconnected smarthome a more unified place.

May 2, 2021 - Episode 593 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple's giving up billions, Microsoft is giving up commissions, and Roku is giving up YouTube TV.

CherryMX Ultra Low Profile Switches on Alienware m17 - Episode 257 (Piltch Point)

In January, Avram introduced us to the new Alienware m15 and m17 R4. This gaming laptop is considered to be the best performing laptop for gaming on the market today. But, like almost all gaming laptops, the biggest issue is the keyboard. Gamers tend to prefer a mechanical keyboard, but that has generally not been available on a portable rig. Thanks to a new set of switches from CherryMX, however, the m15 and m17 now have that option.

The new switches, known as CherryMX Ultra Low Profile switches. These all-new keyboard switches are designed specifically to create a mechanical keyboard that is still thin. This is because normal mechanical switches are taller than a normal laptop, and when you add the keycaps, they're even taller. For most people, that is an unacceptable situation, and so we have our new design.

A traditional CherryMX switch is 18.5 mm, the newer low profile switches are 11.9 mm, but the newest ultra low profile switches are just 3.5 mm tall. And, because of the design of the switch, the keycaps stretch across the top, as opposed to sitting on top of a post, meaning that all together they are just barely thicker than a traditional laptop keyboard. That is perfect for the m15 and m17 R4, because they are already super thin.

This new design switch maintains the ever important clicky feel while also slimming down. The design, according to the company, is based on the "Gullwing" doors from the Delorean car. When you press down on the middle of the key, a swing pulls two edges up, which the company says was directly inspired by the iconic doors from Back to the Future. No matter the inspiration, it is a welcomed addition to the laptop.

You can get both the m15 and m17 laptops right now for an additional $176.40.

Apple loses first major case involving App Store payment policies

There is no question that Apple's App Store policies are causing them a ton of trouble. They have been investigated by the European Union, The US Government, and more. There is a high-profile lawsuit against the company and a trade organization that has formed around changing Apple's policies. While Apple has continually argued that it's their store, their platform, and no one is required to participate, but many companies have disagreed - from Epic to Spotify, and that is where we pick up this week.

A complaint filed in the EU by Spotify in 2019 alleged that Apple's 30% fee for subscriptions in the App Store constitutes anti-competitive behavior, especially when it affects a direct competitor of Apple. In this case, Spotify and Apple compete with one another in the music streaming space and podcast space. The direct complaint was that, with the 30% fee for a service that Spotify does not want to use, they have to charge Apple customers $12.99 instead of $9.99 to make the same amount of money, while Apple can charge the $9.99, making their service look more attractive.

Of course, we all know that this story is bigger than just Spotify and Apple, or just Apple Music. This same complaint has been levied against the company from nearly every company that makes a competing product or service. This led the European Commission to look at it in larger terms, considering all of the surfaces on which Apple could use its 30% fee to hinder competition. And, the end result is a finding against Apple, showing that the company is engaged in illegal anti-competitive activity.

The EU does not take this charge lightly, with the potential for very stiff penalties. In fact, they European Commission has the option to fine Apple as much as 10% of all global turnover, which would amount to $27 billion. The Commission rarely, if ever, charges the maximum, but event 10% of the maximum 10% would take nearly $3 billion from the company. The amount of fine here is less important, though, than the ruling. With similar cases against Apple around the world, this could be the beginning of a change in tide for Apple, and a potential change in policy, similar to what we're seeing with other stores already.

April 18, 2021 - Episode 592 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, chips are in short supply, Twitch is reducing the bots, and Google is pushing away the rest of the web.

How to Find Limited Computer Hardware - Episode 256 (Piltch Point)

As the global chip shortage continues to affect product availability, finding certain technology products is getting more difficult. Whether you are looking for a new Radeon RX 6900 XT videocard or an Xbox Series X, you're up against limited inventory, high consumer demand, and scalpers. All of these conditions are adding to the overall challenge of acquiring one of these products. Obviously, if it is possible to skip one of these items in the near term, that is going to be your best choice. However, there are some processes and solutions if you need one of these items.

One company that is trying to provide a solution to the problem is Newegg. Their Product Shuffle feature creates a lottery system when a new shipment of inventory has been received. So, if you are looking for that NVIDIA RTX 3090 and Newegg receives a shipment, you can sign up to be considered for purchase. Once the time window closes, the company randomly draws the number of names for which they have inventory and send an email. You then have a limited amount of time to make your purchase before the inventory is unlocked once again. It's not ideal, but it does mean that you're not fighting the mob.

Another option is to sign up for an inventory alert system like HotStock. On these platforms, you can log your interest in a particular product, for example a PlayStation 5. You can also enter a maximum price you are willing to pay (which you should absolutely do), to limit the results. Then, when the system encounters the product available on one of its partner sites for a price within your range, you can get an email or a push notification (if you download the mobile app). One of the limitations of these systems, however, is that you cannot enter a product category. So, for videcards, you'll need to enter alerts for every manufacturer of a model, as opposed to just saying you want a Radeon RX 6800.

No matter how you solve the inventory issues for yourself, we wish you luck in finding the items you need.

A global chip shortage has been affecting product production and availability for nearly a year now. For those who had hoped that perhaps the fabrication plants might be getting close to having a handle on the problem, we've got some bad news. According to executives at all of the major foundries, we can expect these shortages to stay around for years.

The semiconductor bottleneck

The majority of major chip manufacturers use semiconductors produced by one foundry: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). The company produces for brands like Apple, Broadcom, Nvidia, and Qualcomm (though not exclusively) - none of whom have any chip fabrication capabilities internally.

This means that any delays at TSMC will mean major delays for products from these companies. And we have seen exactly that, with shortages in videocards from Nvidia, and chip shortages from Qualcomm. Even Apple's ability to source display technology has been affected.

The timeline to normalcy

TSMC says that they expect these delays to continue well into 2023. This delay comes because the company is already running its operation at over 100% of capacity. Producing a new facility to improve performance is not easy, as it can take years to build a facility and months to configure a new line.

So, two full years of technology at a near standstill, all because we rely on a single manufacturer for many of our chip components. And the company's affect will be far and wide in those two or so years. 45 percent of the company's revenue comes from smartphone component manufacturing and 35 percent comes from high-performance computing components. So, mobile and stationary computing are in trouble.

Automaker GM recently announced that it would have to idle some of its factories because of the shortages. While changes were made to the plans, it is still a dark situation for the automaker. Though they believe they have solved the problem in the near-term to get back up and running, the long-term effects are still murky.

The competition is stuck

But, if you were hoping to avoid the problems by switching form AMD (for whom TSMC manufactures the 7nm silicon) to Intel, who manufactures its own silicon, there is some equally bad news. Intel has also famously been affected by their own semiconductor manufacturing slowdowns. It's part of the reason why the company's chips are still not running at 7nm, while AMD has been there for a while.

New Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently told The Washington Post,

We do believe we have the ability to help. I think this is a couple of years until you are totally able to address it. It just takes a couple of years to build capacity.

The conclusion

Whether you're making them yourself or outsourcing the components, producing semiconductors is a challenge right now. And, w're going to be feeling the pressure for the next few years. So, if you were hoping to get a new Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, patience is going to be of the utmost importance.

March 28, 2021 - Episode 591 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, LG might leave the smartphone market, Xbox Live is now the Xbox network, and Twitch is scoring your stream.

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