Well that's good. Fantastic. That gives us 20 minutes to save the world and I've got a post office. And it's shut!

Saturday, July 22



Not this one:

This one:


The Dell Inspiron 27 7000.  The model I'm looking at has a 4k screen, 8-core Ryzen 1700 CPU and 16GB RAM, a Radeon RX 580 graphics card with 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1TB disk drive.

It's 15% off for the next week, so instead of paying a little more for the convenience of an all-in-one system, it's actually cheaper than I could build myself.  Particularly right now with the extinction-level event that's hit mid-range video cards.

Update: Order placed!  I added a three year warranty, three year accidental damage insurance, a speaker system and their fancy Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and it still came out cheaper than the bare system was before.  (The US models ship with the fancy keyboard, but for some reason they went with a cheaper one in Australia.)

Tohru will be a little sister to Taiga, my 2015 Retina iMac.  Yes, tiger and dragon.  No, I didn't specifically plan that.

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Tuesday, July 11


SMR Drives Are Not The Fastest Things In The World...

Actually, they're bimodal.  If you try doing random writes to an SMR drive (like the Seagate Archive models) you can hit 1000 IOPS for the first 20GB of data, after which it will plummet to about 5 IOPS.  This is because they implement a WAFL cache.

For reads, they're just like any other hard drive.

Currently backing up 20 million files - about 5TB in total.  Transfer completed, verifying now.

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Sunday, July 09


I Love It When A Plan Comes Together!

Had to transfer files from some old servers to their replacements this weekend, so I can shut off the old servers and save money for new toys.

First I thought I'd make sure the new servers were all up to date, so I did the usual apt update; apt upgrade dance and they didn't boot anymore and instead showed an absence of bootable drives and a kernel panic.

Which isn't possible, because without a bootable drive there'd be no kernel to panic, so I knew something else was going on.  Fortunately at that point I was logged in on the console using VNC (which sucks when you have to use it from the other side of the planet, let me tell you) and was able to coax them both into booting again from an older kernel.  Seems there's something amiss in 4.4.0-81 and -83 on these particular machines, though I have others running just fine.

Thankfully it was nothing worse; once I purge the newer kernels both machines rebooted just fine.  Now the file transfer is running and I can just leave it to do its job; it's about 30 million files so it will take a day or so.

Update: And there's a bad drive on one of the new servers.  Yay.  At least I can hand that off to someone else to sort out.

Update: Went to the bathroom, came back, and they'd replaced the drive for me.  These guys are good!

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Friday, July 07


California Vs Texas

California Approach

iMac Pro: 8 cores, beautiful integrated retina display, starts at $4999, zero user-serviceable parts.

Texas Approach

Dell Inspiron 27: 8 cores, beautiful integrated retina display, starts at $1799*, user can replace memory, solid state drive, hard drive, processor, wifi, camera, speakers, display panel...  Basically, everything.


Oh, and the Dell has an HDMI input so it doubles as a monitor, something the iMac used to be able to do.  I'm probably going to order one next week.

* $1799 configured with 8 cores, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1TB HDD, 8GB Radeon RX 580, and a 4K retina display.  Models start at $999.

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Tuesday, July 04


Go Mine Somewhere Else, Damn You

So I'm finally ready to place an order for my new PC - I'm thinking an AMD Ryzen 1700 - and I just took a look online to see what the situation is with video cards.


On the AMD side, there are no Radeon 580 or 570 cards available, and no 4GB 560 cards either.  Only the 2GB model, which doesn't have enough memory for effective mining, and the low-end 550.

On the nVidia side, there are almost no 1070s in stock, and the price has jumped on all of them, stock or not.  The cheaper 1080s are all gone.  The 1060s are all gone.  There's some 1050s and a couple of 1050 Ti cards, and there's some 1080 Ti cards available if I want to spend $1200 on a video card.


I may go ahead and just get a 1050 Ti until the situation improves.  I don't have much time to play games at the moment anyway.

Update: Wait, Newegg now ships to Australia.  They have some RX 580 cards in stock at non-inflated prices, but only in bundles with the Ryzen 1700X.  Hmm.

Update Part Deux: There's also this puppy:


It offers an 8-core Ryzen 1700, 16GB memory, Radeon RX 580 8GB video card, 27" 4K IPS display, and a 256GB PCIe SSD + 1TB spinny drive.  It also has HDMI in so it can act as a monitor.

I checked the service manual, and memory, SSD, disk drive, and even the CPU are user-upgradeable.  It does cost a bit more than building it myself, but still a lot cheaper than my iMac.

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Tuesday, June 20


Well, That's A Thing...

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Thursday, June 15


Eaten By Moths

I mentioned in my Winter Wrapup that AMD graphics cards have become almost impossible to find, because they're all being bought by cryptocurrency miners.  If you live somewhere with reasonably priced electricity, the pay-back time for a Radeon 570 or 580 is about 3 months, and getting shorter as the currencies increase in value.

nVidia's cards are less efficient at mining, but they're still more efficient than an AMD card you don't have, so the GPU blight is spreading.  A couple of weeks ago, the GTX 1070 (a very nice card) was readily available.  Now:


If this keeps up, the Xbox One and Playstation 4 will be next to go - both have AMD GPUs.

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Monday, June 12


Tech Industry Winter Wrapup

It's been a busy time in the tech industry, with Computex, WWDC, and E3 following hard on each other's heels, so I thought a quick wrapup of the top stories might be useful to those who don't have the time or inclination to obsess over this stuff, but are nonetheless mildly interested.

I'll break it down by company, starting with

AMD: Eight Is The New Four

It's shaping up to be AMD's biggest year for a decade.  So far they've released their Ryzen R7 and R5 processors and RX 500 series GPUs, announced the new Vega GPU and Epyc server processors for release this month, launched the ThreadRipper high-end workstation CPU, partnered with Apple for the updated iMac and Macbook models and the brand new iMac Pro, and with Microsoft for the Xbox One X (aka the Xbonx).

The Microsoft Xbox One X, at 6TFLOPs so powerful that its graphics look better than reality.*

They've already completely upset the industry by selling 8-core CPUs at 4-core prices, and they'll be doubling down in the second half of this year - literally - by selling 16-core CPUs at 8-core prices and 32-core CPUs at 16-core prices.  Look for 16 cores at less than $1000 and 32 cores at under $2000, dramatically cheaper than Intel's pricing (if Intel even had a 32-core chip, which they don't).

Dell's Inspiron 27 7000 is based on the 8-core Ryzen 7, with twin overhead cams and optional supercharger.*

AMD's entire revenue stream is less than Intel's R&D budget, so they had to get clever to pull this off.  The entire line of CPUs, from 4 cores all the way up to 32, is based on a single universal design with two clusters of 4 cores.  A chip with no defects can be sold as an 8-core part, with one or two defects as a 6-core part, with more defects as a 4-core part.  Reports are that AMD is actually getting a yield of 80% defect-free chips, so many of the 6-core and 4-core parts probably work perfectly and just have some parts of the chip switched off.

For their 16-core workstation chips they simply wire two of these standard 8-core modules together.  The 32-core server parts likewise are made up of four 8-core modules.  And if you need serious horsepower, you can plug two 32-core CPUs into a server motherboard for 64 total cores supporting up to 2TB of RAM.

That standard 8-core module also has a bunch of other features, including SATA ports, USB ports, network controllers, and 32 PCIe lanes.  A two-socket Epyc server, without needing any chipset support, includes 128 available PCIe lanes, 32 memory slots, 16 SATA ports, 16 USB 3.1 ports, and a couple of dozen network controllers.

In the second half of this year AMD will be adding mobile parts with integrated graphics, a desktop chip also with integrated graphics, and a chip designed specifically for high-end networking equipment like routers and 5G wireless base stations.

Intel: Nine Is The New Seven

Intel has been in the lead with both chip design and manufacturing the last few years, and seems to have been caught napping with the success of AMD's Ryzen and the announcement of ThreadRipper.  They've fired back with their Core i9 professional platform, but it's rather a mess.  The low-end chips require a high-end motherboard they can't fully use; the mid-range chips require a high-end motherboard they can't fully use; the high-end chips are nice, but very expensive; and the super-high-end chips seem to have suffered a sudden total existence failure* - the 12 to 18-core parts cannot be found anywhere, not even as detailed specifications.  We have a price for each, and a core count, and that's it.

Popular Youtube tech reviewer Linus Somebody spends 14 minutes saying "WTF Intel?"

Apple: This One Goes Up To Eighteen

The first and last hours of Apple's interminable WWDC keynote were stultifying, with such landmark announcements as support for Amazon video (like everyone else) and a wireless speaker (like everyone else).

In between they finally refreshed the iMac to current hardware - Intel's current generation CPU, AMD's current generation graphics, the same Thunderbolt 3 that everyone else has had for eighteen months, and DDR4, which everyone else has had for even longer.

Some welcome changes in that the specs are definitely better, prices are lower, screens are even better than before (and the screens on the current range of iMacs are amazing).

And then they announced the iMac Pro.  Same 27" 5K screen as the regular model, but with an 8-core CPU on the low-end model.  High end model has 18 cores, up to 128GB RAM, a 4TB SSD, and an AMD Vega GPU with 16GB of video RAM.  Also, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3.1 ports, and 10 Gbit ethernet.

The iMac Pro has so many cores that it can be seen from the International Space Station.*

It starts at $4999, which is awfully expensive for an iMac, but Apple claimed that it still works out cheaper than an equivalent workstation from anyone else.  I configured a couple of systems from Dell and Lenovo, and I have to admit that Apple is right here.  It costs no more, and possibly less, even though it includes a superb 5K monitor.

On the other hand, not one thing in the iMac Pro is user-upgradable.  That's kind of a bummer.

nVidia: Bringing Skynet To Your Desktop, You Can Thank Us Later

nVidia have been a little quieter than their rivals at AMD, though more successful with their graphics parts so far - AMD's Vega is running several months late.

Their biggest announcement recently is their next generation Volta GPU, which delivers over 120 TFLOPs (sort of), and, at over 800 mm2, is the biggest chip I have ever heard of.

That "sort of" is because the vast majority of the processing power comes in the form of low-precision math for AI programming, not anything that will be directly useful for graphics.  And such a large chip - more than four times the size of AMD's Ryzen CPU parts - will be hellishly expensive to manufacture.

nVidia's Volta GPU is the largest chip ever manufactured.  For scale, a row of Grayhound buses is parked along each edge of this picture.*

It's nonetheless an exciting development for anyone working in machine learning, and it certainly had a positive effect on nV's share price.

Speaking of graphics, now is not a good time to be trying to buy a new graphics card, because there aren't any.  Particularly with AMD, but the shortage is starting to affect nVidia as well.  A bubble in cryptocurrency prices, especially for a new currency called Etherium, has triggered a virtual goldrush that has had miners buying every card they can get their hands on.  

AMD cards are preferred for this for precisely the same reason nVidia are preferred by most gamers: AMD's design is more general-purpose, less specifically optimised for games.  For Etherium mining, AMD's cards are roughly twice as effective as an equivalent nVidia card.

Result: No ETA.


AMD's entire production line captured by Bitcoin pirates.*

IBM: The Next Next Next Generation

One of the reasons AMD is having such a huge year is that they've spent most of the past five years stuck at the old 28nm process technology (called a "node").  The 20nm node that was supposed to replace it in 2014 wound up dead in a ditch* with only Intel managing to make it work (because they moved to FINFETs earlier than anyone else).

Last year the rest of the industry collectively got their new process nodes - called 14nm or 16nm depending on who you talk to, but all based on FINFETs and all far superior to the old 28nm node - got their new processes on line and started cranking out chips.  This means that AMD can make 8-core parts that are faster, smaller, and more power-efficient than anything they had before, and do it cheaper.  They were years behind Intel and caught up in a single step.

IBM just announced the first test chips on a brand new 5nm node.  To put that in perspective, they could put the CPU and GPU of the top-of-the-line model of the new iMac Pro on a single chip, add a gigabyte of cache, and run it at low enough power that you could use it in an Xbox.

IBM provided us with this die photo of their 5nm sample chip.  Unfortunately it is invisible to the naked eye.*

They're planning to follow up with a 3nm process.  This is pretty much the end of the road for regular silicon; we have to go to graphene or 3D lithography or quantum well transistors or some other exotic thing to move forward from there.  But the amazing stuff we're getting right now is at 14nm, so 3nm is not shabby at all.

ARM: We're Here Too!

ARM sells a trillion chips a year* dwarfing the combined scaled of Intel, AMD, and nVidia, but they're constrained by power and price and can't make huge splashy announcements of mega-chips like nVidia's Volta or AMD's Vega and Epyc.

Nonetheless, they've come up with new high-end and low-end designs in the A75 and A55 cores.  The A75 replaces the A72 and A73 cores, which are alternative designs for a high-performance 64-bit core with different strengths and weaknesses; the A75 combines the best features of both to be faster and more power-efficient than either.

An early ARM motherboard from an Acorn Archimedes A3000. Note that none of the chips have fans, or even heatsinks.  That's because these machines were cooled by photino radiation, before this was banned for causing birth defects in igneous rocks.*
Photo by Binarysequence, CC BY-SA 3.0

The A55 is a follow-up to the ubiquitous A53, which is found in just about every budget phone and tablet and many not-so-budget ones.  The A53 is a versatile low-power part with decent performance; the A55 is designed to improve performance and power efficiency at the same time.  It's not an exciting CPU, but ARM's manufacturing partners will ship them in astronomical volume.

The other thing to note about these new CPUs is that again, eight is the new four.  Most phone CPUs currently have cores grouped into fours - commonly four fast cores and four power-saving cores - because that's as many as you could group together.  The A75 and A55 allow you to have up to eight cores in a group.  Which changes the perspective a little, because eight A75 cores is getting into typical desktop performance territory.

* Possibly not literally true.

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Tuesday, May 23


The Other Akko

The other Akko arrived - my shiny new Huawei Mediapad M3.  Two weeks in transit, two weeks sitting on my desk at the office because my office days got rescheduled, then a week when I was too busy to do much with it.

Artist's impression of Pixy's week.

I'm planning to do a full review, but first some quick reactions and test results:

It's basically the same size as my Sony Z3 Tablet, which I would have been happy with except for the constant irritation of only having 16GB of storage.  The Mediapad has 64GB of storage (52GB free out of the box), a 2560x1600 screen (vs. 1920x1200), and 4GB RAM (vs 3GB).

I added a 200GB Sandisk SD card for $70; larger cards are available but at a significant premium; the 256GB model is $150.  Huawei only advertise support for 128GB cards, but the 200GB card works perfectly.  

Like Sony and Samsung, they've disabled Android 6's adoptable storage, which is a jerk move, but doesn't cause too much harm when the device itself has so much space.  I installed everything, and I still have 26GB free.

The screen is excellent.  It comes set to "vivid" mode, with over-saturated colours, but you can easily disable that, as well as setting the colour temperature to one of three pre-sets or use a colour wheel to adjust it to anything you want.

The fingerprint scanner takes a little while to set up, but once that's done it's fast and accurate.  It also has some clever tricks that I'll discuss in the review.

Performance is very good - not astounding, but very good.  I'm running Antutu and Geekbench  on all my devices and I'll fill in the scores as I go.


Device Total 3D UX CPU RAM
Mediapad M3 83,894 15,731 30,387 30,549 7,227
Xperia Z3 Tablet 63,379 9,911 22,255 21,952 9,261
Xperia Z Ultra 55,815 8,833 19,521 19,635 7,776
Nexus 7 40,583 4,453 15,189 14,785 6,156

It feels quite noticeably zippier than my Nexus 7 (as you'd expect when comparing with a device from 2013); the various minor delays and UX hiccups of that tablet are nowhere to be seen.

Huawei's EMUI Android skin is...  Not all bad.  I installed Nova Launcher, of course, so the only changes I still see are the notifications and the settings panel.  The changes to the settings panel are kind of dumb; storage and battery-related settings are hidden away under "Advanced", for example, and it's hard to find things generally.  The changes to the notifications panel are mixed, though I'll be happier if I can find a way to use a light background.

Overall I'm quite happy with it, and would likely recommend it to anyone looking for a small 16:10 tablet.  It is still running Android 6.0, and the oft-rumoured Android 7 update is nowhere to be found, so if that's an issue for you you'd best look elsewhere.

Full review will probably land next weekend, as I expect another busy week before then.

* I tested all devices with the latest version of Antutu.  If you look up the score for the Nexus 7 online, you will likely find a much lower number - around 20,000 - because the Antutu benchmark has changed since 2013.

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Friday, April 14


Celebration Of Spring

This weekend we gather together in celebration as the last of the patents on MP3 finally expires.

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