Sunday, 3 July 2011

AMD Radeon HD6970 - The Dark Horse

We’ve seen various graphics cards from NVIDIA’s stable go under the hammer recently, but it’s time to give the Red Side some attention, too. The AMD Radeon HD6970 is AMD’s fastest single GPU solution at the moment, taking over the mantle from last generation’s HD5870. Confusing naming convention changes aside, let’s see just how good this card is.
Is long. Very long.
Is long. Very long.

The HD6970 is designed like a beast. The first thing you’ll notice when you lay eyes on the card is its massive size. Well, it’s a normal two-slot card, but the 6970 is long. It’s a full-sized card, which is something you rarely see these days. Even the GTX580, which on first glance is the more powerful card, wasn’t this long. The 6970, on the other hand, doesn’t fit in mid-sized cabinets. This was a mild disappointment, because this pretty much alienates half the market AMD could have had with this card.
Gangway, train coming through!
Gangway, train coming through!

Size aside, the 6970 is a great looking card. It’s a bit iffy functionality wise, though. The single fan at the fag end of the card, much like the cards of the previous generation, might not be too effective at cancelling out the heat this card generates – even if the 6xxx series are more power-efficient than their predecessors. The fact that the card is nearly entirely closed off doesn’t help either – there are tiny vents at the top of the card and on the side panel, but the rest of the card doesn’t look too ventilated.

The connectivity options are fantastic, though. There are two DVI ports for Eyefinity, one full-sized HDMI 1.4a port and two mini-DisplayPorts 1.2, which is an offering far superior to any of NVIDIA's, really.

Anyway, even though I’m a bit worried about the design, what really matters are the specs and the performance. Time to take a look.

The 40nm Cayman chipset that powers the HD6970 has 32 ROPs, a mammoth 1536 shader units. The core and memory clocks are 880MHz and 1375MHz respectively, with the memory clock being particularly notable because of the 2GB GDDR5 memory that’s on this thing. That’s a lot of memory bandwidth folks and even if the memory bus is only 256-bit,  the amount of calculations this card can pull off are insane. Check out the specs below.
Spec Sheets
Spec sheet

Test Setup
Here’s the rig we used to test the AMD Radeon HD6970:
Intel Core i7 2600K at 3.4GHz
Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3R
4GB DDR3 – Corsair Dominator GT
300GB Western Digital Velociraptor
AMD Catalyst version 11.2

It’s a bit hard to place the 6970’s performance, actually. At first glance, the card doesn’t seem to have been made aggressively enough. It suggests AMD were looking more at the GTX480 and GTX470 when creating it, rather than the GTX570 and the GTX580. As a result, the AMD Radeon HD6970’s performance is somewhat on par with the GTX570’s, and a fair bit away from the GTX580’s.

On the other hand, the vastly superior Shader count and double the memory means the HD6970 manages to hold its own even when the quality gets scaled up – and places itself exactly halfway between the GTX570 and the GTX580 when the load gets ramped up.

Heat, Noise and Power Consumption
The fear that arose in me as soon as I looked at the design came to be realized, because the HD6970 gets rather hot. Put your hands over any of the vents when the card is under full load, and you’ll see what I mean. The temperatures are still very acceptable though, but AMD should be looking to go even more downwards temperature-wise, and not stagnate at this level of heat suppression.

For a flagship single-GPU card, the 6970 is amazingly quiet. You can’t even hear it on idle, and even under considerable load it doesn’t get too noisy. It’s only when you put it under stress testing, and the temperatures cross 90 degrees does the fan really rev up and make some noise, but you’ve got to keep in mind those are just stress tests and those situations are not likely to recreate themselves in the real world.

The card slots in between the 570 and 580 when it comes to power consumption, which is not bad at all. However, I expected more from Cayman after looking at the 6800s. Even so, the continued downward trend in power consumption is extremely encouraging. If I can utter the phrase, “Gone are the days when graphics cards used to be hot, noisy, power hungry beasts” even once, I’ll die a happy man.

The AMD Radeon HD6970 is a disappointment when you look at the initial performance numbers. The card runs as hot as the GTX580, consumes as much power as the GTX570 and performs on the same level, which really shouldn’t be what the flagship card aspires to be.

There are words written between the lines though, words that are meant to be read. Even if people call the initial L4D numbers or the results on benchmarks run with AA off disappointing, those people sure aren’t going to buy an AMD Radeon HD6970 and run games with no anti-aliasing. The card’s performance drops get smaller and smaller the more you go up the quality ladder as compared to the other cards, which can be attributed to the shader count and the increased memory. This is the very definition of future proofing. If games are going to get more intensive as days go by, the 6970 – which might look inferior as a flagship card now – will stack up better against those games than say, the GTX570, for example.

Most importantly, AMD has brought it in the value department yet again. The MSI variant of this card is available for Rs. 21, 250, which is a pretty good price for this card. However, there are reports of the HD6950’s capability to be unlocked into the 6970, something we’ll investigate next time around.

What’s New with Symbian Anna?

Nokia brought Symbian Anna to India along with their launch of the X7 and E6. Not that you haven’t heard of Anna before, but in case you’re wondering what the latest Symbian version is all about, Nokia had conducted an event titled “Get to Know Symbian Anna” andZOMG gave a quick lowdown on what the new OS had to offer. 

One pretty apparent change is that the icons throughout the interface are rounded. Add to that, there’s real time scrolling so as you scroll, transitional animations will follow your touch. You can also scroll between the main homescreen panes.
Rounded Icons look cool
Rounded Icons look cool

A much needed update this, Symbian Anna’s browser is updated giving the application support for HTML5, hardware acceleration for fluid CSS animations and the overall look of the browser looks quite clean without any unnecessary icons. Nokia has still managed to keep the more commonly used functions like a Back button and an address bar constantly available. Browser version 7.3 also has support for Flash Lite and multi touch. Obviously all this wouldn’t make a lot of sense without any improvement in performance, which has also been promised.
Browser's got an update as well
Browser's got an update as well

There’s a new virtual QWERTY keypad that has been incorporated and the older T9 keypad has been ditched. Also, unlike virtual QWERTY keypads found on most phones that have the digits on the first line only, Nokia has placed them over a few rows. The Ovi Maps have been improved, although it’s the same app available on Nokia Betalabs, where you can download full maps over the air. The email application has got an update albeit a small one. There’s more space to check mails and the UI has been improved and is a tad quicker than the earlier versions. There’s some change to the calendar app, with a Dual Pane layout in monthly view. 

So that’s about what the Symbian Anna has to offer. It cannot be termed as a major revamp to the user interface but even then, it seems to be a lot better than the current iterations of Symbian. The interesting bit however, is that Symbian Belle which will be the next update is going to be a different platform altogether. Nokia says, “If you like Android, you’ll love Symbian Belle.” Check out a video overview of Symbian Anna by Nokia India’s Product Manager below.

Buying Guide - Digital Point and Shoot Cameras

The market today is flooded with plenty of options today. There’s also plenty of confusion. This quick guide should hopefully help you get the best deal possible.
Buying Guide - Digital Point and Shoot Cameras
We’ve all used mobile phones and it’s easy to say that the cameras on the smartphones don’t provide the same kind of performance and functionality as a digital camera would. This is the very reason people like to go out and buy a decent point and shoot camera. Digital cameras, like mobile phones and notebooks are a very hot topic and there are plenty of players in the market. Each brand releases a new range of camera once or twice a year, so there are plenty of choices. And when there’s plenty of choice, there’s also plenty of confusion all thanks to the marketing gimmicks that each one uses. This quick guide should hopefully demystify most of the claims of the companies and you should end up with the best deal possible.

Megapixel is not everything!
Many of us might assume a camera to be good if they have a high resolution. It’s not the case. Point and shoot cameras have tiny sensor size and beyond a certain sweet point, you aren’t getting any more detail from it.
Small sensors with large resolutions offer little performance improvement
Small sensors with large resolutions offer little performance improvement

These days any camera with a resolution of 10 to 12 MP is more than sufficient. It’s enough resolution and detail for you to be able to take printouts and enough to fit any display. Don’t go out hunting for a 14 MP point and shoot camera.

Zoom capability
What is more interesting than the sensor resolution is the optical zoom lens on a camera. It allows you to zoom further. Look for a larger optical zoom lens on a camera. The cheapest of cameras today come with a 3x or 4x optical zoom lens. Something in the range of 6x is optimum for both indoor photography and outdoors.
A large optical zoom lens is more useful than a large image resolution
A large optical zoom lens is more useful than a large image resolution

If you like taking wildlife photographs, then even a larger zoom lens camera is recommended. Ultrazoom cameras or Superzoom cameras, as some people like to call them have optical zooms anywhere between 12x and 30x. The quality of zoom lens may not be excellent, but at least you have the capability. Ignore everything to do with digital zoom as it only helps deteriorate the quality of the image, rendering it useless.

Manual focus
Focus, on all point and shoot cameras and all digital cameras, in general for that matter is automated. All DSLR cameras and the recently introduced micro four-third cameras come with a manual focus feature. If you’re a slightly more serious photographer and want to experiment with your camera, look for cameras that have a manual focus option.

Aperture and shutter priority features
Just like manual focus, there are some other controls that are handy while shooting in different situations. The aperture and shutter priority mode are two such features. While camera manufacturers very proudly display all sorts of colour profiles and shooting modes, very little emphasis is given to the aperture and shutter priority modes. These two modes allow some control over the camera and it’s handy when you’re clicking fast action shots or shooting in low-light areas.
Display size
A camera with a large screen is a great thing to have to view photos on, as well as while shooting photos. Look for cameras that have a 3-inch display. The resolution of the display might also be stated by the manufacturer.
A large screen on a camera is handy while shooting photos
A large screen on a camera is handy while shooting photos

The higher the density, the better it’s bound to be. This is not to say that all high resolution displays are excellent, but it’s an easy way to filter out the good screens from the bad.

Video recording capability
Video recording on point and shoot cameras have been around for ages now, but in recent times, there have been some advancements. Camera manufacturers are providing HD resolution recording on almost all point and shoot cameras, today. Look out for cameras that have a minimum of 720p video recording. Make sure that the recording frame rate is a minimum of 24fps. While the video quality isn’t directly comparable to a good HD camcorder, it’s still a bonus feature, worth having on your point and shoot.

Aesthetics and build quality
The aesthetics of the camera is an important factor of the camera. Look for a camera that comes with a solid build. The zoom trigger is bound to be used the most after some of the buttons at the back such as the directional keys.
A comfortable grip on the camera is a good thing to have
A comfortable grip on the camera is a good thing to have

Loose zoom triggers and buttons means that you’re likely to run into issues a few months down the line. If you’re visiting a mall or a camera showroom, try and get a hands on feel of the product before you buy it. You’ll also get an idea of how compact the device is and how easy it is to operate the menus and hold in your hand.

Touchscreen, 3D anyone?
Some manufacturers have tried focussing their efforts on newer features such as touchscreens and 3D. For features such as touchscreen, the interface and the touch functionality has to be flawless, to be practical. 3D, although a neat feature to have is still not mainstream.
Best to wait till 3D is more refined
Best to wait till 3D is more refined

There are very few users using 3D TVs and so the only ones viewing the images you shoot will be you. Since 3D is still in its early stages, you’re likely to end up with an average quality camera with bugs. It’s a good idea to wait a while till the technology matures.

Bundled freebies
To make offers more attractive, manufacturers bundle freebies with the product. Look out for offers where free memory cards and carry pouches are bundled with the cameras. Of course, be careful and make sure that you’re not being overcharged for those freebies. If a bundled memory card is of 8GB capacity and higher, it might be a good freebie to have. Otherwise, 4GB SD cards are really cheap and are worth no more than Rs. 400 in the market. Cheap pouches are also available for that much. Keeping these points in mind and it will be hard to go wrong with your next camera purchase.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Samsung Galaxy Z Unveiled, a Galaxy SII with Low Specs

Just as the Galaxy S got a sibling with slightly lower specifications i.e. the Galaxy S-LCD, it looks like the Galaxy SII willl also follow suit with Samsung's soon to be officially announced  Galaxy Z (aka I9103). The Galaxy Z also has specifications that are a little lower than the original. The smartphone surprisingly has not been unveiled by Samsung but by Swedish carrier Three.
It's ze Galaxy Z
It's ze Galaxy Z

The Galaxy Z boasts of a slightly smaller screen and this one’s not SuperAMOLED Plus but an SC-LCD (Super Clear LCD) capacitive touchscreen, instead. The smartphone is powered by a Tegra 2 1 GHz Dual Core processor. It'll run on Android 2.3 aka Gingerbread and here are the rest of the specifications: 
  • 4.2-inch SC-LCD capacitive touchscreen
  • 3G, EDGE/GPRS, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Hotspot, GPS with A-GPS support
  • Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
  • 5 megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash
    Stereo FM Radio with RDS
  • Secondary front facing camera
  • 8GB Internal storage
  • Memory expandable to 32GB via MicroSD card
  • 3.5 mm audio jack

Unlike the Galaxy SII’s camera, this one can only record videos at 720p and has features like video-calling and geo-tagging. There’s support for DivX, XviD and MP4 video formats and the usual MP3 and WAV for audio. It has all the Google applications like YouTube and Picasa plus it also has support for Adobe Flash. 

The smartphone’s priced at $630 (approx Rs. 28,100), which is a tad lower than the Galaxy SII as well. The Galaxy Z’s specifications don’t look that bad, but then we’ll have to wait and see how the handset fares in our reviews, once it makes its way to Indian shores, that is.