There’s some magical quality about the Transformers brand, a wonderful beauty in the idea that giant, walking Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots—who absolutely hate each other, we note—can transform into the coolest of cars, the heaviest of machinery, the biggest of guns… or even larger, walking Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em robots.
Having already conquered search, Google seems to have set its sights on doing everything in its power to promote its Google+ network. There's no need to feign surprise, then, that Google its giving is Gmail video chat service a makeover with Google+ Hangouts. The alteration upgrades Gmail's peer-to-peer based video chat feature with "more modern video calling technology" that promises to improve reliability and enhance video quality, as well as allow Gmail users to connect with people using Google+.
The rise of the smartphone camera mixed with the ability to freely post video visible to anybody in the world has the power to shake nations, as we've seen around the globe in recent years. It also has a chilling side effect: dissenters are now easier than ever to identify and track down, as we saw vigilante groups doing following the London riots. Dictator haters have a little less to worry about now, as Google has added a free, easy-to-use face blurring tool to YouTube.
Remember Karen H. Klein, the upstate New York school bus monitor driven to tears from a barrage of mean spirited insults and taunts from a group of middle school kids? The Internet community at large hasn't forgotten, and continues to donate to what was originally intended to be a $5,000 fund to send Ms. Klein on a "vacation of a lifetime," but quickly ballooned into what will likely end up a tax free retirement fund worth at least $650,000.
Fair warning if you woke up in an exceptionally good mood today and don't want anything to ruin it. Stop reading right here, right now. Seriously. I'm even tossing in a throwaway sentence to give your brain a chance to communicate with your eyeballs to divert your attention elsewhere (here's a fine piece on the science behind Nigerian scams). Still reading? You were warned.
One of the latest videos to go viral on YouTube shows a group of middle school kids relentlessly taunting and verbally abusing Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor who tries her best to ignore the insults but is ultimately driven to tears. It gets worse (and better).
Could you imagine trying to pitch Chatroulette integration in Facebook to Mark Zuckerberg? It wouldn't fly, not when the billionaire 28-year-old is trying to open up access to his social playground for kids under the age of 13. But a clean version of Chatroulette? That's Airtime, a new live social video network put together by Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning.
Unpacking the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition caused a bit of déjà vu. The card bears a strong resemblance to its big brother, the HD 7970 Black Edition (reviewed April 2012), clad in svelte brushed aluminum. If graphics cards dressed up for black tie galas, then the XFX Black Edition is ready to attend.
XFX pushes the reference clocks higher than stock, hitting 900MHz for the core clock and 1,375MHz for the memory clock. The additional memory cycles translate to a peak memory bandwidth of 5.5 gigabytes per second—the same as the HD 7970, and higher than the 5GB/s of the stock 7950. The question is: Can the GPU keep up? There’s always a balance between memory bandwidth and how much of that bandwidth the GPU cores can actually use. Plus, as more games become shader- and tessellation-intensive, bandwidth isn’t as big a part of the equation.
AMD’s reference HD 7950 board sets its core clock at 800MHz and memory at 1,250MHz, using the default cooling system. Sapphire takes this reference board, adds dual 12cm fans, and juices the core clock to 900MHz. The memory clock remains at 1,250MHz—but that’s 3GB of 1,250MHz GDDR5. Priced at around $480, it’s worth seeing how the card compares with Nvidia’s GTX 580. Note that we’ve also included results from the XFX Radeon HD 7970 for your reference, but excluded that card from the direct comparisons.
For direct comparison we turned to two different versions of the GTX 580—the slightly overclocked EVGA GTX 580 SC with 1.5GB of GDDR5 and the ultra-beefed-up EVGA GTX 580 Classified with 3GB of video RAM—as well as the XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition reviewed next.
The Sapphire card ships with a slight memory bandwidth disadvantage compared with the XFX card (5GB per second versus 5.5GB/s) due to running its GDDR5 frame buffer at the reference clock speed. This shows up in a few benchmarks, where the Sapphire card places just a little behind the XFX card, but the differences are pretty small.
‘We don’t need no stinkin’ reference design!’ says XFX
It's not unusual to see factory-overclocked videocards ship with custom cooling solutions a few months after a GPU launches. But XFX didn’t waste any time with its Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition—a factory-overclocked card with a custom cooling solution that aims to take the performance crown. Based on what we’ve seen to date, XFX has delivered the fastest single-GPU card on the planet.
The Radeon HD 7970 is AMD’s latest GPU, with support for DirectX 11.1 and OpenCL 1.2. It’s a brand-new architecture—completely different from past AMD GPUs—built on TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process and sporting a staggering 4.3 billion transistors. In AMD’s reference design, the 7970’s core runs at 925MHz, and its GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,375MHz. XFX ups the ante significantly, pushing the core clock speed to a whopping 1GHz and running its 3GB of memory at 1,425MHz.
As you might imagine, the results are nothing short of amazing. We’re seeing genuine performance milestones here, including a 3DMark 11 performance score higher than 8,000 (for a single GPU), Far Cry 2 hitting 100fps at 2560x1600 with 4x AA, and Batman: Arkham City heading north of 50fps at the same resolution and AA settings. On top of that, the idle system power is just 124 watts, and a dark idle (when Windows 7 blanks the screen) draws 110 watts. Push the card and you’ll see system power consumption climb to 349 watts, but that merely puts its overall power draw into Fermi territory. XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition is substantially faster than EVGA’s super-overclocked 3GB GeForce GTX 580 Classified, and it’s outfitted with just two PCIe power connectors (one 8-pin and one 6-pin). EVGA’s card requires three power connectors.
A fabulous single-player experience in a massively multiplayer online game
STAR WARS: The Old Republic (TOR) comes with a buffet of a story for an MMO, but you only get to fill your plate once. From decisions as significant as choosing your character’s class specialization to events as trivial as responding to key dialog options, everything you do has a lasting and permanent effect on your gameplay. We like the feast: BioWare’s masterful use of instanced environments creates more captivating gameplay for the solo quester than most any other MMO.
But this is BioWare’s first foray into the massively multiplayer world, and it shows. TOR is more a role-playing game you play alongside 999,999 friends than a true MMO. BioWare either poorly integrates or completely misses the mark on many of the elements that define an MMO. On the upside, the beautiful blend of voice acting and dialogue options in each of TOR’s many quests should earn the game a celebratory parade through the Yavin 4 throne room. And while the scripted quests (occasionally punctuated by John Williams’s familiar score) are immersive, they make the rest of the game’s environments seem stale by comparison. TOR’s non-instanced “generic” areas just aren’t very player-interactive. The Nar Shadda casino, a cold and lifeless location that cries out for mini-games and interactivity, is just one example. And don’t get us started on TOR’s cantina music.