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AMD Announces Integration With Microsoft's Secured-Core PC Initiative

In today's world, computer security is becoming very important due the exponential increase in malware and ransomware attacks. Various studies have shown that a single malicious attack can cost companies millions of dollars and can require significant recovery time. With the growth of employees working remotely and connected to a network considered less secure than traditional corporate network, employee's computer systems can be perceived as a weak security link and a risk to overall security of the company. Operating System (OS) and independent hardware vendors (IHV) are investing in security technologies which will make computers more resilient to cyberattacks.

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Microsoft Partners With Spotify in XBOX Game Pass

Microsoft today announced a new partnership with Spotify for new users of their Xbox Game Pass service. The new partnership is only open for U.S. and U.K residents, though - anyone else will have to pony up for both services, if interested. In essence, should you upgrade your existing Xbox Live subscription to Xbox Game Pass (either on PC or console), which you can currently do for just $1, you will also get access to Spotify's Premium plan for a long 6 months. Fuel for thought and whatever you feel like doing - just diving into one of the more than 100 entries into Microsoft's Game Pass, or the millions of songs available with Spotify.

AMD and Microsoft Announce New 15 Inch Thin and Light Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Today, AMD and Microsoft announced the first-ever 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop powered by new AMD Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition processors. A significant, multi-year co-engineering program between AMD and Microsoft at the silicon, platform, and software levels created this 15" Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with a perfect balance of performance, battery life, and sleek and lightweight design. Combining world-class compute and graphics performance with a fully optimized, rearchitected system software stack including AMD Radeon FreeSync display technology, Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is designed for creative professionals, students, gamers on the go, and business users who value the large screen experience alongside portability. The custom AMD Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition processors and optimized software highlight the latest example in the multi-year collaboration between AMD and Microsoft, first established more than a decade ago for the Microsoft Xbox and now spanning from Azure to Surface to xCloud and Project Scarlett.

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Beta for Microsoft Project xCloud to be Available in October in Select Regions

After continuously testing its Project xCloud streaming gaming service in an internal group, Microsoft is now looking to expand its testing of the service for a broader audience. This will be done via a Beta launch of the service, available at first only for residents in the US and UK (click here, and (South) Korea (click here). The idea is to stress-test the service, since according to Microsoft, "It's time to put Project xCloud to the test in a broader capacity, with a range of gamers, devices, network environments and real-world use-case scenarios, and this is where you come in." There is no end in sight for the Beta: Microsoft wants it to last "until customers are consistently reporting a great, fun experience and the technology meets our internal quality standards."

The only thing that's needed to participate is a Bluetooth Xbox One controller that you can connect to whatever device you want, be it a smartphone, tablet, or other streaming-capable device. The idea here is to test the xCloud service in as broad hardware and network configurations as possible, and it's a Beta, so remember to cool your expectations adequately. You won't be able to play games that are already connected to your account - Microsoft offers a curated selection of titles that includes (for the time being) Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves.

Microsoft's Windows 10 is now used on Over 900 Million Devices

Microsoft's corporate vice president of the "Modern Life, Search and Devices" group, Yusuf Mehdi sent out a Tweet today that the company's Windows 10 operating system is now being used on over 900 million devices.

Windows 7, one of the most popular legacy operating systems will reach end-of-support in just a few months, which should definitely drive up Windows 10 adoption rates, too. Let's hope Microsoft takes this milestone as a reason to improve the QA testing of their OS updates, as a lot of users have experienced issues recently.

Microsoft to Reportedly Use AMD Silicon on Its Next Gen Surface Devices

Microsoft has been using Intel hardware exclusively on its Surface lineup ever since it came out with the first Surface device. The choice was clear - Intel offered much better energy efficiency than anything AMD could offer at the time, besides the strong bond between the two companies. However, it seems that AMD might have done enough with its Ryzen 3000 series to sway big Microsoft into using some of its hardware (Ryzen 3000H or U) on upcoming Surface devices, if reports are to be believed.

Microsoft should be refreshing its Surface Laptop 2 with a 15-inch variant packing AMD hardware. It's uncertain if this will happen, and much less likely to happen for the entirety of Microsoft's Surface product stack (which includes potential refreshes for Surface Pro 6, Surface Book 2, Surface Go or Surface Studio 2). However, that AMD is now being considered alongside Intel in what can be said to be the ultimate Windows experience in Microsoft's usually excellently-designed products is a prestige in and of itself, and means an empowered brand standing for the red camp. Oh and Microsoft might finally be introducing that dual-screen device we've been hearing rumblings about for a while. Project "Centaurus" has already been seeded among Intel insiders, it seems, so it might see the light of day in the upcoming Microsoft Surface event taking place in New York on October 2nd.

MAINGEAR Launches ELEMENT Gaming Notebook: 9th Gen Intel, NVIDIA RTX

MAINGEAR — an award-winning PC system integrator of custom gaming desktops, notebooks, and workstations — today launched the MAINGEAR ELEMENT, their new ultimate gaming notebook designed in collaboration with Intel. Custom engineered from the ground up, the ELEMENT features best-in-class hardware housed in a sleek machined magnesium alloy body, making it MAINGEAR's most professional notebook ever released.

The all-new ELEMENT fuses MAINGEAR's passion for design and performance into a truly modern gaming notebook with a thin, minimalist profile that doesn't compromise on raw power. The ELEMENT is optimized for the most demanding gamers and content creators, pairing a 9th Gen Intel i7-9750H processor and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with Max-Q design GPU to hit peak performance in today's latest games. An ultra-smooth 144hz 15.6" IPS display with a narrow bezel delivers an incredibly immersive gaming experience. An RGB keyboard with individually-lit silent mechanical switches and a glass touchpad ensure users have precise control of the on-screen action. 32 GB of DDR4 memory and 2 TB of blazing-fast NVMe storage top off the ELEMENT's high-end specs.

Windows 10 1903 Has a Nasty Audio Stutter Bug Microsoft Hasn't Managed to Fix

Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903) is the pinnacle of neglect and contempt Microsoft has shown towards the all-important audio subsystem of the modern PC. With it, Redmond has one-upped its last big move against audio, by killing the DirectSound hardware pipeline and mongrelizing PC audio under Intel's lousy and fundamentally anti-competitive Azalia specification that solves common audio compatibility problems under a scorched-earth guiding principle - "kill any feature that could possibly lick our aftersales support budget, by dumping every aspect of audio onto a very restrictive host-signal processing (HSP) architecture, let people come up with their own soft DSPs, because CPUs can handle them." Windows 1903 proves how this approach wasn't a silver bullet against PC audio problems, and is fallible.

I've never owned a PC without a discrete sound card. My first "multimedia PC experience" was powered by a Creative kit that included a Sound Blaster PCI, an Infra-CDROM drive, a clip-on mic, and tiny stereo speaker boxes. ISA-based integrated audio solutions back then were bested by greeting cards. I've since made it a habit to buy a sound card every 5 or so years. No gleaming SNR numbers by Realtek can convince me that an integrated audio solution can best a $100 discrete sound-card, and I've owned plenty of motherboards over the years with the most premium Azalia implementations (be it the ALC889 or the modern ALC1220). My current machines feature an ASUS Xonar AE (a bang-for-the-buck ESS ES9023P implementation with a 150 Ω amp), and a Creative SB Recon 3D. Both cards implement the Azalia pipeline at some level, to survive operating with post-Vista Windows. The SB Recon 3D uses a chip that converts PCIe to the HDA bus; while the Xonar AE uses a PCIe to USB chip and a USB (Azalia) to I2S chip (essentially a USB headset laid out on a sound card with a high-quality analog side). Both cards are borked after the "upgrade" to Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903), and two successive "Patch Tuesday" updates haven't managed to solve it.

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AMD Silently Pushes Out Radeon Software Adrenalin 19.8.1 WHQL Drivers

AMD late-Tuesday silently posted a WHQL-signed version of Radeon Software Adrenalin 19.8.1 drivers that it originally released as a Beta on August 12. The new 19.8.1 WHQL drivers, released on 20th August, are the first proper WHQL drivers since AMD's Radeon RX 5700-series launch. Besides WHQL, the underlying code is identical to 19.8.1 Beta, and hence the changelog is untouched. TechPowerUp confirmed with AMD that there are no underlying code changes, and that WHQL signing is the only change. Adrenalin 19.8.1 adds Microsoft PlayReady 3.0 DRM standard compliance to Radeon RX 5700-series GPUs. Grab the driver from the link below.

DOWNLOAD: AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin 19.8.1 WHQL

Microsoft's Chromium-based Edge Browser Now Available in Beta

Just in April, Microsoft was introducing the first flighting programs for their chromium-based Edge browser, with daily (Canary) and weekly (Developer) builds being made available to users. Fast forward four months, and the company is now making it available in beta form - the last step between general availability and an official, "finished" release.

Microsoft decided to stop developing their in-house browser engine, instead taking from and building upon the open-source Chromium project, from where Google chrome takes most of its components. The decision was meant to allow Microsoft to become a more powerful player in the development of Chromium and the internet browsing experience as a whole, facilitating developers' work. The Beta of Edge supports 14 languages and some quality of life features, such as the ability to decide whether their new tab page is laid-out in a Focused, Inspirational or Informational mode. Some other supported features include Microsoft Search (integrated with Bing), Internet Explorer mode and Windows Defender Application Guard. There's also a tracking prevention browsing mode, which prevents tracking from websites that you haven't really visited. This features includes three levels of privacy - Basic, Balanced and Strict. Will this be enough to make you jump towards the Edge?

Minecraft to Get NVIDIA RTX Ray-tracing Support

Minecraft is the perfect gaming paradox. It's a stupidly-popular title, but with simple graphics that can run on practically any Windows machine, but supports the latest 3D graphics APIs such as DirectX 12. The title now adds another feather to its technical feature-set cap, with support for NVIDIA RTX real-time raytracing. RTX will now be used to render realistic light shafts using path-tracing, global illumination, shadows, ambient occlusion, and simple reflections. "Ray tracing sits at the center of what we think is next for Minecraft," said Saxs Persson, Franchise Creative Director of Minecraft at Microsoft. "RTX gives the Minecraft world a brand-new feel to it. In normal Minecraft, a block of gold just appears yellow, but with ray tracing turned on, you really get to see the specular highlight, you get to see the reflection, you can even see a mob reflected in it."

NVIDIA and Microsoft are yet to put out a release date on this feature update. It remains to be seen how hardcore crafters take this feature. Looking at images 1 and 2 (below), we can see that the added global illumination / bloom blurs out objects in the distance. This gives crafters the impression that the draw-distance is somehow affected. Crafters demand the highest possible draw-distance, with nothing blurring their view. We can't wait to try this out ourselves to see how RTX affects very-large crafting.
A video presentation by NVIDIA follows.

A Case for Windows Defender: Triad of Perfect Scores in AV-Test

Here's a strange thing: a case for a free, bundled software solution being better (in the metrics concerned and evaluated) than paid, third-party counterparts. We're writing of none other than Microsoft's own Windows Defender suite, which is bundled with Windows and offers a security solution integrated into your OS. While the "paid is always better" philosophy has been proven wrong time and again and isn't that much of a powerhouse behind users' thought process anymore, the fact is that Windows Defender has somewhat been taken for granted as an "undesirability" in users' computers. However, a comparison made by AV-Test, which pits many of the available cybersecurity solutions available on the market, has found Microsoft's Windows Defender to be worthy of a triad of perfect scores.

The results for Windows Defender include perfect (6.0) scores in the "Protection", "Performance" and Usability" categories. The testing period refers to May through June of this year, and only F-Secure SAFE 17, Kaspersky Internet Security 19 and Norton Security 22.17 managed to get the same perfect scores as Windows Defender Version 4.18. Check out the link for the score of your cybersecurity solution of choice. But it's clear that least where this period is concerned, Windows Defender walked circles around some paid solutions.

Console Makers, Publishers Agree to Disclose Loot Box Odds for "Ethical Surprise Mechanics"

We've been covering the loot box controversy for a while on TechPowerUp now. Independently of which side of the fence you're on - that loot boxes are akin to gambling and thus unethical in some of their implementations, or just cold to the entire issue - it's likely good news for everyone that these so-called "surprise mechanics", as they've been called, will now see their odds being disclosed by console makers and publishers.

AMD Reports Second Quarter 2019 Financial Results

AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) today announced revenue for the second quarter of 2019 of $1.53 billion, operating income of $59 million, net income of $35 million and diluted earnings per share of $0.03. On a non-GAAP basis, operating income was $111 million, net income was $92 million and diluted earnings per share was $0.08.

"I am pleased with our financial performance and execution in the quarter as we ramped production of three leadership 7nm product families," said Dr. Lisa Su, AMD president and CEO. "We have reached a significant inflection point for the company as our new Ryzen, Radeon and EPYC processors form the most competitive product portfolio in our history and are well positioned to drive significant growth in the second half of the year."

Microsoft's Biannual Major Windows 10 Update Cycle to Slow Down

Microsoft has reportedly restructured the way it adds major features to Windows 10 over time. The company currently has a biannual (twice a year) cadence in updating Windows 10 version. A major update in this context refers to a multi-gigabyte update package that changes the operating system's version, its key system files, and makes significant changes to the user interface. The most recent of these was the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903).

With its new update cadence, Microsoft plans to distribute a major update in one half of an year, and a "minor" update in the other half. This "minor" update, or "point update," is much lighter in download size, but is still fairly bigger than a monthly "Patch Tuesday" update, and adds features and UI changes. The "major" annual update brings with it under-the-hood changes to the OS, such as updates to its kernel, scheduler, APIs, driver models, etc. The next version of Windows, which is expected to be Windows 10 version 1909, will be a lightweight update if you're already on 1903, but a "heavy" update if you're still on 1809. Its successor, Windows 10 version 2003 (March 2020), will be a "heavy" update regardless of which version you're on.

Microsoft Won't Move Production Out of China

Previously, we have reported that major OEMs are looking and exploring for ways of moving production outside of China, into other Asian countries, because of tariffs imposed by US-China trade war and rising labor costs. The original report from Nikkei specifically indicated that Microsoft will move its Xbox and Surface manufacturing to Thailand and Indonesia, while the production in China would stop.

However, Tom's Hardware had a conversation with Microsoft regarding the situation and the outcome was contradictory to the report of Nikkei. Microsoft told Tom's Hardware "that there currently aren't any plans to do so", which means that current manufacturing facilities are there to stay. We still don't know how will the rest of OEMs react or comment, but HP also said to Tom's that it shares industry concerns and will not comment any further to the rumors, adding that tariffs are hurting consumers.

Major American OEMs to Move Some Manufacturing Out of China

Major American PC and consumer-electronics OEMs, namely Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Amazon, are reportedly moving some of their manufacturing out of China, in the wake of the ongoing US-China trade-war, an offshoot of which inflicts import-tariffs on a spectrum of products imported from China. This impacts China as a destination for manufacturing. According to Japanese business publication Nikkei, HP and Dell are each moving 30 percent of their laptop manufacturing volume out of China. This roughly aligns with their volumes bound for the US market. They could continue manufacturing in China for volumes headed to other markets.

Currently, the U.S. Government imposes import tariffs on $200 billion worth goods imported from China, and fully built PCs were immune to these tariffs. This has had an adverse and unfair impact on U.S.-based system integrators such as OriginPC, Falcon Northwest, etc., who import components and assemble gaming PCs and notebooks on U.S. soil, on a build-to-order basis. A new round of import tariffs proposed by Washington changes this, and brings even fully-built laptops, smartphones, and gaming consoles under the ambit of import tariffs. This explains why Microsoft and Amazon are eager to change their manufacturing landscapes. Microsoft makes its Surface line of premium portable computers, and Xbox game consoles in China, while Amazon makes a vast array of IoT products under its main brand, and various knick-knacks under its Amazon Basics brand.

Microsoft to Revisit Age of Mythology After Age of Empires Definitive Editions, AOE 4

Microsoft is apparently planning to take care of their Age of Mythology games series in the future. If anything, Adam Isgreen being Creative Director for Age of Empires at Microsoft saying so must surely mean it. However, this will only be done post current plans for the Age of Empires franchise, as Adam Isgreen said that they'll devote time to Age of Mythology "after we get through the Definitive Editions for the three here, and [Age of Empires] 4 is kind of rolling".

Age of Mythology takes a pretty creative look at mythology (which could be seen as a creative source material in and of itself), but that's part of what makes the game fun. It has already been treated to an Age of Mythology: Extended Edition back in 2014, so we'll have to wait on whether Microsoft is planning of releasing a Definitive Edition of the game, or a full-blown sequel altogether.

Xbox "Project Scarlett" to be 8K and Ray-tracing Ready, AMD-powered, Coming 2020

Microsoft at its E3 2019 keynote dropped a huge teaser of its next-generation gaming console development, codenamed "Project Scarlett." The console is expected to pack some serious hardware that powers gaming at 8K resolution (that's four times 4K, sixteen times Full HD). That's not all, it will also feature real-time ray-tracing. Microsoft's performance target for the console is to be 4 times higher than that of the Xbox One X. The company is also giving the console its first major storage sub-system performance update in years.

At its heart is a new 7 nm semi-custom SoC by AMD and a high degree of customization by Microsoft. This chip features CPU cores based on the "Zen 2" microarchitecture, which provide a massive leap in CPU performance over the current Scorpio Engine SoC that uses low-power "Jaguar Enhanced" cores. At the helm of graphics is a new iGPU based on the RDNA architecture that powers AMD's upcoming Radeon RX 5000 "Navi" graphics cards. It's interesting here to note that Microsoft talks about real-time ray-tracing while we're yet to see evidence of any specialized ray-tracing hardware on "Navi." In its teaser, however, Microsoft stressed on the ray-tracing feature being "hardware-accelerated."

Microsoft to Present First Halo Infinite Gameplay at E3 2019 - On the PC Platform

Tech Journalist Brad Sams, who first reported on Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to the PC platform before its official announcement, has spilled the beans on another juicy detail regarding the Halo universe: that Microsoft will use this E3 2019 to showcase the first gameplay for the game. This isn't news, really - after last year's tease, it was expected that gameplay would be available this year to whet gamers' appetites. However, the fact that Halo Infinite will be running in the PC platform is newsworthy, since this is quite the departure from previously-known Microsoft, which seemed to relegate its PC gaming ambitions to other developers.

Now, with Microsoft vouching to treat the PC platform as the gaming juggernaut it is, and the already-known information that 343 Industries' (the current Halo developers) Slipspace engine would treat PC gamers with the latest technology in terms of graphics presentation, PC has become the defacto platform of choice to showcase Halo's next-gen visuals (whilst using an Xbox One controller, by the way). This likely only happens because Microsoft isn't ready to completely pull the wraps on the next-generation Xbox; or it could serve as a show of good faith from the company when it comes to PC gaming. Whatever the reason for Microsoft's decision, this seems like a great time to be a PC - and Halo - fan.

Microsoft Extends Variable Refresh Rate to Games that Lack Native Support

Microsoft extended variable refresh-rate (VRR) to games that don't natively support it, through a new global setting under Graphics Settings. To access this setting, you must have the latest Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903), a display that supports NVIDIA G-Sync, AMD FreeSync, or VESA Adaptive-Sync, and a graphics processor with a WDDM 2.6-compliant driver that supports these VRR technologies. For now, this setting only works with DirectX 11 games in exclusive-fullscreen mode. Microsoft clarified that this setting is not designed to override the VRR options presented by the control panels of your display driver provider (eg: NVIDIA Control Panel or AMD Radeon Settings). The option is disabled by default, and isn't visible to users who don't meet both the hardware- and software-requirements of VRR.

Rumor: AMD Navi a Stopgap, Hybrid Design of RDNA and GraphicsCoreNext

The Wheel of Rumors turns, and assumptions come and pass, sometimes leaving unfulfilled hopes and dreams. In this case, the rumor mill, in what seems like a push from sweclockers, places Navi not as a "built from the ground-up" architecture, but rather as a highly customized iteration of GCN - iterated in the parts that it actually implements AMD's RDNA architecture, to be exact. And this makes sense from a number of reasons - it's certainly not anything to cry wolf about.

For one, AMD's GCN has been a mainstay in the graphics computing world since it was first introduced back in 2012, succeeding the company's TeraScale architecture. Game engines and assorted software have been well optimized already to take advantage of AMD's design - even with its two ISAs and assorted improvements over the years. One of the most important arguments is derived from this optimization effort: AMD's custom designs for the console market employ architectures that are GCN-based, and thus, any new architecture that would be used by both Microsoft and Sony for their next-generation consoles would have to be strictly backwards compatible.
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