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Intel's upgradable processor: good sense or utter catastrophe?

Intel is about to experiment with a new concept in mass-market processors with its forthcoming Pentium G6951 CPU: upgradability. The chips will be upgradable by end users via a purchased code that is punched in to a special program. Previews of the processor quietly hit the Web last month, and with Engadget's post of the retail packaging, people took notice with reactions ranging from surprise to outright disgust.

The Pentium G6951 is a low-end processor. Dual core, 2.8GHz, 3 MB cache, and expected to be around $90 each when bought in bulk—identical to the already-shipping Pentium G6950. The special part is the software unlock. Buy an unlock code for around $50, run the software downloaded from Intel's site, and your processor will get two new features: hyperthreading will be enabled, and another 1 MB of cache will be unlocked, giving the chip a specification just short of Intel's lowest Core i3-branded processor, the 2.93 GHz Core i3-530. Once unlocked, the G6951 becomes a G6952.

The processors will ship as part of a pilot program next quarter to a select number of resellers in just four markets: US, Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain. Systems with the G6951 will have to use one of two specific Intel motherboards (DH55TC and DH55PJ), as well as an up-to-date BIOS. The process also needs an Internet connection: before authorizing the upgrade, the unlock code and ID of the OEM need to be validated by Intel. One OEM that will participate in the scheme is Gateway; the upgrade package that Engadget posted was for that company's forthcoming SX2841-09e desktop that will be available from Best Buy.

Reactions to the scheme have varied, but a common criticism has been that it's unfair to charge customers just to unlock things that a processor can already do. As Cory Doctorow put it, these are crippled processors that you have to pay extra to unlock. If Intel is shipping G6950-class processors that actually have 4 MB cache and hyperthreading support, the company should just unlock the features for everyone. Some have even suggested that the upgrade mechanism will be hacked, to allow people to upgrade for free.

There's an upside

For end-users, the processor offers a potentially attractive upgrade option. The systems built around these parts will be low-end, in the ballpark of $500 or less. A $50 upgrade—that doesn't even require you to open the case—that can offer a performance boost of 25 percent or more (depending on how much benefit the user's workload can gain from hyperthreading) is an attractive proposition.

For system-builders too, there are attractive features: the reason that the OEM's ID is validated with Intel is because OEMs will receive kickbacks for any systems that get upgraded in this way through a revenue-sharing system. Intel also argues that the scheme will allow OEMs to simplify and consolidate their product lines—instead of having to offer a bunch of similar systems with different processors, manufacturers will be able to offer fewer different processor options, relying on end-user upgrades to reinstate the variation in specifications.

The cost of a G6951 processor plus its upgrade is more than the cost of a Core i3-530 ($113 in bulk), so in that sense is poor value for someone who knows they want that level of performance to start out with, but for its target market that is beside the point. A Core i3-based system will cost more up-front, and that's not what buyers of these systems are after. People aren't going to buy the upgrade as soon as they get their shiny new computer home from the store. Rather, it'll be a way of extending the life of an existing machine, and on those terms, the pricing is something of a bargain.

You might not like it, but it ain't new

Whether buyers will resent unlocking capabilities that their systems already have is harder to say. Intel's move is not without precedent. In fact, this kind of unlocking has been a feature of the computer market for decades. Many mainframe systems were sold with what was, in effect, a throttle to limit their performance. Upgrading the performance would be as simple as opening up the case and flicking a switch or cutting a wire.

More recently, Asus' P5P800 motherboard offered a similar kind of upgrade for its integrated audio. Install the right software, and new features become available. And Apple charged $ for software to unlock the 802.11n features of many of its systems.

Moving from hardware into the software world, this kind of thing is routine. There are a million pieces of shareware that disable features until a license key is entered. A lot of enterprise-grade software has multiple pricing tiers with the more expensive versions supporting, say, more concurrent users or larger datasets, even though the software is fundamentally the same across all versions. More controversially, there's the decision of companies like EA to charge secondhand buyers for multiplayer access, resulting in the situation where the same licensed copy of the game either does or doesn't support multiplayer depending on who's playing it.

Though these decisions have been met with grumbles from the buying public—especially in the case of game unlocks—they've all been broadly accepted by that same public. People might resent paying extra for capabilities that, in a sense, they already "have," but when push comes to shove, they'll hand over the cash anyway.

Market realities of the processor business

A case can also be made that far from being a repellent money-grab, this is in fact an interesting way of reacting to realities of the microprocessor market. Intel sells many different processors, with a huge range of cache sizes, speed grades, and core counts; to that mix, there are also a number of features such as TXT and hyperthreading that are only found on certain parts. But Intel doesn't design a specific processor for each particular mix of cache size, speed, number of cores, and extra features.

Instead, the company designs a few processors that can do everything ("real" variations include core count, presence of QPI connections, number of memory channels, and a few other things), and then selectively disables features. Sometimes the decision is made for Intel—a chip might have a manufacturing defect that limits the amount of cache it can use, and not all chips can run at the same frequency within a given power envelope—but a lot of the time, the company is disabling functional hardware. For example, every Pentium G6950 processor has the hardware to do hyperthreading. It's just that it's been permanently disabled at the factory, because Intel's bean-counters have decided that that particular grade of processor won't have hyperthreading.

By offering software unlocks, users can reclaim these disabled features at a later date, if they decide that they'd be worthwhile. Given the choice between permanent disablement and unlockable upgrades, the latter is clearly the better option.

Intel is not alone in this, of course. Those mainframe manufacturers did the same, for the same reason as Intel: it doesn't make sense to manufacture different systems for each price point. AMD does it—those Phenom X3 processors are built with four cores, and sometimes can even have the fourth core re-enabled—NVIDIA does it—the GTX 470 is a GTX 480 with 32 shader cores disabled. Intel certainly takes the differentiation further than its competitors, but its overall approach is unexceptional.

Profit-making companies want to make a profit

If all Intel processors can support all the different features, some have argued that all Intel's processors should have these things unlocked. While that would obviously have some appeal—who wouldn't want the specs of a $1,000 CPU for $100—it ignores market realities. Remember, Intel wants to make a profit. Sure, the company would certainly be able to enable all the features on all its processors, but if it did so, it would no longer be able to charge many hundreds of dollars for the high-end parts.

It might still be able to differentiate according to clock speed, but there are limits even there; once Intel's fabs have got into the swing of making a new processor, it's fair to say that a large proportion of them will run at the top specified speed grade, if Intel wanted them to. Enabling the full range of a processor's capabilities would leave the company with just a handful of different models.

This leaves the company—the company that has an obligation to maximize its shareholder returns—with two options. It could drastically cut the range of models and increase the price of each processor to some kind of average, or it can artificially introduce variety by disabling features or running some parts at below their maximum possible frequency. If it did the former, a lot of people that are today gladly buying systems built around parts costing $90 or less would find themselves priced out of the market. Sure, it'd be great for people picking up a Core i7-980X for a few hundred bucks instead of its current $999, but it'd be lousy for those at the other end of the market. The "third" option—sell full-spec processors for bargain basement prices—isn't realistic given the desire for profit.

Which is why it's not a bad thing that Intel doesn't do that, and it's why selective disabling of processor features is here to stay. Some may be offended at, in some sense or other, not getting all the power their processor has to offer, but it was always like this. The new processors don't change that basic fact.

In the light of this, should we not be welcoming these new upgradable processors? They allow CPU manufacturers to address market realities, while also providing cheap, easy-to-use, waste-free upgrades to those who want them. Surely this gives consumers more options and better value.

Or to use Cory Doctorow's terminology, are we not now being given the choice between "crippled processors" that we can't pay extra to unlock, and a new generation of "crippled processors" that we can pay to unlock? It's hard to see how this is anything other than a step forward.

AMD ships Llano, the ultimate HTPC processor

It has been five years since the AMD/ATI merger promised us the "Fusion" of a CPU and GPU onto a single die, and on Monday AMD finally made good on that promise with the shipping of the company's first true multicore CPU/GPU combo parts, codenamed "Llano." Sure, the Brazos platform launch was technically the first time that AMD put a CPU and GPU onto the same die, but Llano is supposed to be what the company originally intended with Fusion—a combination of CPU cores and vector hardware that's somehow more "integrated" than a normal on-die GPU. (The exact way in which the latter is true is not clear to me; if anyone knows, feel free to enlighten.)

The picture above is from AMD's blog post announcing that Llano is shipping to OEMs, and it shows the workers in the company's Singapore factory surrounding a box that presumably contains one of the first batches of Llano processors.

AMD is calling Llano's combination of a CPU and GPU on the same die an APU, for "accelerated processing unit." Whatever you call it, it's pretty certain that even tech-savvy customers are never going to see Llano as anything other than another CPU/GPU combo part like Brazos and Sandy Bridge. No matter, though—the Llano parts will have their own place in the processor ecosystem, and it will be different from that of Sandy Bridge.

There is no chance that Llano's CPU core will outperform that of Sandy Bridge, given that the former is a straight-up derivative of AMD's existing Phenom II core. But Llano's GPU is another matter entirely. AMD has used their considerable experience in building best-in-class integrated graphics processors (IGPs) to pack a ton of GPU performance onto each Llano die. Llano will be a great gaming portable, and Llano desktops should offer extremely good price/performance ratios for gamers.

If Intel can get the performance of Sandy Bridge's trailing-edge GPU design up to the point where it can outperform low-end discrete graphics cards, then Llano should do even better. Llano's DirectX11-class GPU will beat Sandy Bridge's GPU by a comfortable margin, and should compete with mid-range discrete solutions. Intel won't have anything comparable until its Ivy Bridge launch early next year.

So from now until Ivy Bridge comes up, AMD will have the budget performance notebook and desktop segment pretty much to itself with Llano. Llano will also make a monster of a home theater PC chip, because you'll be able to build a relatively cheap HTPC with some serious gaming chops.

AMD has said that the first Llano parts will show up in laptops, with desktop parts likely to follow later in the summer. The company isn't giving out any details on which specific products are shipping, though—we'll probably get this info as part of an official launch, soon.

Tips To Keep Your Computer Safe From Attack

When you have a computer, you start to accumulate important things. Photos, documents, files, and programs are all important components. You maybe have a music collection, a lot of important information and things that if lost, would cause a lot of heartache and misery. Sometimes people keep their entire school portfolio of work online or conduct businesses and work documents are protected on peoples’ personal computers. That is why a virus can be a really devastating thing when it takes over the system of a computer. It can cause serious damage and cause you to lose all of your work.

Sometimes when a virus gets really out of hand and causes all of your applications to quit functioning, you might have to do a system recovery, which will cause you to roll back all your settings to factory settings and you will lose everything you have downloaded, saved, done, and added to your computer. Often when a virus gets that bad, it is impossible to even use your computer normally to save your work or send it to yourself or anything because the virus has taken hold and made ordinary operations almost impossible.

That is why, throughout your computer use, even when it is in perfect health, it is important to make sure that you take precautions as though a virus attack could occur at any moment. If you have very important data, you need to make sure that you back up your files and keep them safe. Back up your photos, documents, programs, and information on a hard drive or some other kind of disk so that they will stay safe and out of harm’s way. You can even make a back up for your back if the material is extremely important. But regardless, keep your back up updated so that if anything ever does happen to your system, you will not lose anything.

Also, when you draft a document, make it a habit to email it to yourself so you will always have a record of it accessible somewhere. Using something like Google Documents is a great way to keep your documents stored somewhere safe so that no matter what happens to your personal system, you will be able to access your important work from any computer. Upload your photos to photo sites like Flickr or Photobucket and keep them there in addition to where they are stored on your system. That way, even if your system crashes, you will still have your photos and important materials somewhere where you can access them. Basically, make sure that everything on your system is somewhere else, too, and can be accessed. You never want to have to cringe when a virus attacks your system and you have to lose all of your important data and work.

Keeping your computer safe with routine virus scans can be a great way to keep this kind of thing from happening and also updating your virus protection software and making sure that it is top of the line can also greatly assist in this adventure, as well.

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Has Your Personal Data Been Leaked on The Internet?

The latest gadget on everyone’s most wanted list is the iPad. They are cool and less bulky than a laptop but more simple to use than a netbook, plus they have the ability to use all the applications in the iTunes store. They can be used for work or play and could be used as a phone too.

Apple computers are notorious for being the most secure as they do not suffer from virus attacks as machines using a Window’s operating system can do. Apple machines are often chosen by security conscious computer users who believe they will be safe from many internet viruses.

However a group of iPad owners have been the victim of an internet security scam which resulted in 114,000 email addresses on the AT&T mobile network being revealed without their permission. Two American citizens have been charged with “conspiracy to access a computer without authorisation and general fraud” by exploiting a security loophole which resulted in the leak.

The email addresses and SIM card numbers for a range of celebrities and government workers were leaked in June last year to the press by a group of hackers who go by the name of Goatse Security. They run a website which reveals internet security threats.

Goatse Security insists the leak was not meant to cause harm to email owners but to highlight the security flaws in AT&T’s security system. Apparently they were hoping to prevent future security breaches which could have led to something more serious.

It has been claimed the two men, Andrew Auernheimer and Daniel Spitler, who were responsible for the leak did so in order to damage the reputation of AT&T.

This leak of email addresses is not an isolated incident and on the Goatse Security website it mentions the leak of a 2.8GB file containing personal data of 100 million Facebook users. The data was collected by hacker Ron Bowes from Skull Security who built a web crawler which collected the data found on Facebook’s open access directory.

The Facebook open access directory contains data from anyone who has not updated their privacy settings to make their page invisible to search engines. The file created by Bowes contains account names and profile URLs. The profile URLs can then be accessed to harvest such information as addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers. The other dangerous thing the list does is if you visit a Facebook users profile by clicking the URL from the file you can click through to their friends profiles even if they have made their profile non-searchable.

The difference in the two leaks between that of iPad owners and Facebook users is that Bowes has not broken the law as the Facebook information is publicly available. If you are a Facebook user you should be very careful as to what information you post online. For example if you have your address on your profile and then you tell all your friends you are going on holiday someone might just pay your home a visit whilst you are away and clear you out!

More Info:Keep up to date with the latest internet security news to be aware of the latest security threats. Check out

Firewall Configure

Additionally, a firewall provides defense against people or programs, including viruses and worms that try to connect to your computer without any invitation.

Firewall act as a barrier that checks all information, also known as traffic, which comes from the Internet or from a different network. The firewall either turns traffic away or let it pass through to your computer, depending on your firewall settings.

In Microsoft XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), you may turn off or turn on the Windows Firewall. By default, Windows Firewall is always turned on for all the network interfaces. This is the configuration which provides network protection on new Windows XP installations and upgrades. This default configuration also helps you to protect your computer from the new network connections as and when they add to the system.

Although Windows Firewall is always turned on by default, but some computer manufacturers and the network administrators may turn the firewall off. You may not have to use Windows Firewall. You may install and run any of the firewall that you want. Evaluate the features of others, and then you can decide which of the firewall meets your requirements. If you decide to install and run any other firewall, turn off the Windows Firewall.

How to configure Windows Firewall settings
Statutory Warning This workaround can make your computer or your network more vulnerable to attack by malicious users or by malicious software such as viruses. We do not recommend this but are providing this information to you so that you can implement it at your own discretion. You can use this workaround at your own risk.

To examine and configure your firewall settings, you can follow these steps:

1.) First Click on Start, then click on Run, and type wscui.cpl & then click OK.

2.) In Windows Security Center, click on Windows Firewall.

Windows Firewall will include the following tabs:
● General
● Exceptions
● Advanced

The General tab will have the following settings:
● On (recommended)
● Don't allow exceptions
● Off (not recommended)

When you click on don’t allow exceptions, Windows Firewall will block all requests to connect to your computer, including requests from all programs or services that are listed on the Exceptions tab. The firewall will also block discovery of network devices, file sharing, and printer sharing.

They don’t allow exceptions option is helpful when you have to connect to a public network, such as one that is linked with an airport or with a hotel. This setting will help to protect your computer by blocking all the attempts to connect to your computer.

When you are using Windows Firewall with no exceptions, you can still view the Web pages, send and receive your e-mail, or use an instant messaging program.

The Exceptions tab allows you to add program and port exceptions to permit certain types of inbound traffic. You can also set a scope for every exception.

For home and small office networks, we will recommend that you can set the scope to the local network only, if it is feasible. This configuration enables all computers on the same subnet to connect to program, but drops all the traffic that originates from a remote network.

The Advanced tab let you configure the following:
● Connection-specific rules apply for each network interface.
● The Security Logging configuration.
● Global Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) rules which apply to ICMP traffic. (This traffic is used for the error and status information transmission.)
● Default settings.

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