May 212011
 

Only a month or two after it was published, a detailed report that I wrote was wiped out during a BrightSideOfNews* hard drive crash. That exhaustive report, praised by many throughout the industry as the finest of its kind yet produced, examined the emerging and inevitable ARM versus x86 clash.

It took a little while and cost BSN* a lot of money to recover the data on the hard drive, but that report is now back up and can be read here.

I’m currently working on a followup to that bit of analysis that will include even more hardware than the initial report.  I’m still waiting on a vendor or two, so I can’t promise an ETA yet, but one thing I can state is that the new report will be very interesting.

The computing landscape is changing rapidly and the war between x86 and ARM microprocessors is now underway.  The competitors have dramatically different strengths and weakness, making for a particularly exciting confrontation.

Most importantly, the results of this war will have profound effects well beyond the CPU market, where several companies will possibly see their fortunes upended.  One thing is absolutely certain: computing will never be the same again.

Dec 212010
 

After many months of trying to wring something out of NVIDIA, I have finally obtained a Tegra 2-based device.  It is in the form of the ViewSonic G Tablet, a 10″ Android 2.2 (Froyo) based slate computer.  We bought it from Sears, of all places.  Oddly enough, Sears has one of the largest selections of tablet devices you can find.

Despite its complete lack of refinement, this thing is awesome, but only if you don’t mind wiping out the stock ROM.  The G Tablet’s shipping GUI looks like it was designed for toothless nursing home residents with computer-phobia and a lot more patience than I possess.  Obviously, ViewSonic wanted the device to be embraced by mainstream consumers so they dumbed-down the Android 2.2 interface with a sluggish, buggy and artificially limited mess of an overlay.  To make matters worse, the Android Market is nowhere to be found.

ViewSonic really shot themselves in the foot with the G Tablet.  They were first to the U.S. market with a dual-core Tegra 2-based device.  All they had to do was slap on a standard Froyo installation with a full Android Market and the device would have been a runaway hit for them this Christmas season.  But nooooooooooo!  ViewSonic had to get all greedy with visions of iPad’s success with mainstream buyers.  The resulting, lousy Tap ‘n Tap interface is like pouring a pound of aspartame over a steak dinner.  Sprinkled with bugs, the unsavory kind.

Fortunately, if you are a computer geek then it is not too difficult to flash the G Tablet’s firmware with a proper Android environment.  It’s also a fairly safe process since someone at ViewSonic had the foresight to make the device relatively brick-proof.  I’ve been using TnT Lite 3.0, but there are other options as well.  Yes, there will be headaches along the way, but geeks like me enjoy hacking a new device.

And, frankly, I have not been this excited about a new genre of computing device in many years.  The promise of the iPad was immediately evident to me when we bought one last spring.  However, a properly prepared G Tablet runs circles around the iPad.  Android-based tablets are going to dominate the marketplace by this time next year.

Of course, we bought the device for our business to benchmark and analyze.  Tegra-2 appears to be even faster than I anticipated.  The G Tablet finished under 2.5 seconds on SunSpider using Firefox Mobile 4.0 beta 2.  When I wrote my ARM versus x86 treatise last spring, the 800MHz Cortex-A8 took over 14 seconds on SunSpider while the 1GHz Intel Atom needed over 8 seconds, about as fast a my updated iPad takes today.  Note, however, that Firefox’s JavaScript performance has improved enormously over that time.  On the other hand, remember that JavaScript is still single-threaded, so half of the Tegra-2’s performance is left untapped on SunSpider.

There’s been weeping, moaning and gnashing of teeth over the quality of the G Tablet’s display.  Truth be told, those people are crybabies.  Yes, it’s not as good as the IPS screens on the iPad or the B&N NOOKcolor, but it’s not awful either (its biggest problem is blinding glare, not its relatively limited viewing angles compared to IPS displays).  However, I was expecting more from ViewSonic, a company best known for its outstanding history as a computer monitor vendor.  But given the general unrefinement of the device, I was not too surprised.  I mean, one look at the dingy, off white G Tablet box shows that the challenges of marketing a tablet computer are currently beyond ViewSonic.  I had to take out a ViewSonic monitor box to confirm my suspicion that apparently the monitor and tablet marketing folks at ViewSonic apparently never speak to one another.

Anyhow, it’s not too late for ViewSonic.  They need to ditch tepid Tap ‘n Tap for a real, full Android experience, enable a complete Android Market, push device driver updates to the tablet and recognize the G Tablet for what it is: a Grade A geek toy.  In fact, it appears that ViewSonic decided to take a step in this direction today by promising to push out a new firmware edition before Christmas that will not only improve Tap ‘n Tap, but will also give the user the option to boot into a stock Android interface.

Penetrating the mainstream marketplace will require hardware tweaking like adding an IPS screen, improving the lame webcam, rubberizing the case and bezel, adding mechanical Android buttons and dramatically rethinking the case ink and finish.  If they want a nearly perfect tablet, ViewSonic can add a digital compass, GPS and rear-facing camera.

We’ll be testing the ViewSonic G Tablet and writing benchmarks specifically for this purpose.  Hopefully, we’ll have results to report soon.

Apr 162010
 

A central component of my ARM versus x86 report published last week on Bright Side of News* was my miniBench benchmark.  For that analysis, I ported miniBench to Linux for both x86 and ARM ISAs.

The ARM project can now be downloaded here.  You will need the Code::Blocks IDE to manage the GCC C++ project.  Code::Blocks is available from the Ubuntu repositories so it is very easy to install.  Of course, you will also need to minimally install gcc, g++ and gdb.

The miniBench x86 project is available here.  The x86 Linux binary is here and the ARM binary is here.

I will merge the x86 and ARM projects and upload them to SourceForge shortly.

Oct 272009
 

After nearly eight years, I resigned from my position at Centaur Technology to start a new company, Cossatot Analytics Laboratories (abbreviated CAna Labs). At Centaur, I was head of benchmarking.

I can say with a level head that Centaur is one of the best places to work in the world. I’ll write more about both my experiences at Centaur and CAna Labs soon.
“What about Van’s Hardware?” you might ask. That’s a good question. The site will likely remain on life support for the immediate future.
For an urgent fix of computer hardware information, I can recommend my favorites. Of course, HardOCP, AnandTech and The TechReport seem to be getting better and better and that’s why they continue to flourish.
I love Mike Magee; long live Mike! He’s now writing and editing for TGDaily, a very nice website that was spawned from my old haunt, THG. Likewise, I follow Loyd Case who seems to be just about everywhere nowadays.
My friend Rick C. Hodgin used to be managing editor for Wolfgang Gruener at TGDaily. Rick tempted me a time or two to write for him. Although Rick always spoke very glowingly of Wolfgang, he no longer works for him. Rick is still posting on and off at Geek.com.
For the longest time, our very own Joel Hruska worked for ArsTechnica, another top notch tech site. Now, HotHardware is lucky to have Joel’s services.
Speaking of Tom’s Hardware, I now visit there frequently after all of these years; the content there is quite good again.
I often don’t agree with his takes on NVIDIA, but I’ll never stop following my old friend Charlie.
And speaking of old friends, John Oram is now writing for Theo Valich’s Bright Side of News. I don’t know Theo, but John speaks very, very highly of him.
If you want to dive deep into computer tech, visit Lost Circuits, perhaps the most technically rigorous hardware site of them all.
Sadly, one of my favorite sites is no more. Ace’s Hardware has been defunct for several years now. Fortunately, Johan De Gelas continues to write detailed analysis for Anand. It’s true that a surrogate Ace’s forums sorta still lives on, but I’m not a big fan of message boards.
I haven’t posted on technology related message boards in many, many years. When VHJ was popular, whenever I posted under my real name I always had to be prepared to devote a lot of time for responses. To avoid this, for a few months soon after I began working for Centaur, I posted anonymously under whatever name popped into my head at the time (but I never attempted to hide my IP address out of respect to the forum owners). But even posting anonymously is a headache because it still invites responses, and many message board devotees can be determined, provocative and harsh. Some people simply like to argue. I do not like to argue, and I don’t like to spend my time reading people trade insults, which is all too common on many message boards.
Dave Graham did a fantastic job running our own VHJ message boards. We had interesting discussions there at times, but the message boards were still often a headache despite the fact that they achieved some level of success, largely due to Dave’s work.
Lastly, I like to take a peek at what Andrew Orlowski writes at The Register. I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew many years ago at a conference. He’s a very nice guy and his articles are insightful, intelligent, bold, well written and worth reading.