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Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

posted Sunday Oct 6, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

Last week, Valve officially announced more information on both the Steam Machine and SteamOS. Eligible Steam users can sign up to be one of the 300 randomly selected members to receive a Steam Machine prototype, which will ship later this year. And now Valve has released details and specs of the prototypes.

Before jumping into the specs in the blog post, Valve was sure to reaffirm that the press and fanboy-created term "Steam Box" be clarified yet again, by explaining that the "Steam Machine" idea is more than just a piece of hardware made by Valve; it's a certification that other hardware manufacturers can slap on their boxes, assuming those companies would even want to include a Linux-based operating system on a machine being sold to consumers.

Valve didn't set out to create our own prototype hardware just for the sake of going it alone - we wanted to accomplish some specific design goals that in the past others weren't yet tackling. One of them was to combine high-end power with a living-room-friendly form factor. Another was to help us test living-room scenarios on a box that's as open as possible.

Then, Valve explained that the prototype is a very high-end machine, that can also be purchased in-store and pieced together, should a customer want to do that. This confused me and several other Steam users and journalists alike, as it seemingly eliminates the need to have Valve or any other PC builder pre-manufacture something that enthusiasts can build themselves.

The prototype machine is a high-end, high-performance box, built out of off-the-shelf PC parts. It is also fully upgradable, allowing any user to swap out the GPU, hard drive, CPU, even the motherboard if you really want to. Apart from the custom enclosure, anyone can go and build exactly the same machine by shopping for components and assembling it themselves. And we expect that at least a few people will do just that.

And to be clear, this design is not meant to serve the needs of all of the tens of millions of Steam users. It may, however, be the kind of machine that a significant percentage of Steam users would actually want to purchase - those who want plenty of performance in a high-end living room package. Many others would opt for machines that have been more carefully designed to cost less, or to be tiny, or super quiet, and there will be Steam Machines that fit those descriptions.

That being said, even though we still don't have pictures, here's the specs for the 300 prototypes:

GPU: some units with NVidia Titan, some GTX780, some GTX760, and some GTX660

CPU: some boxes with Intel i7-4770, some i5-4570, and some i3

RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)

Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD

Power Supply: Internal 450w 80Plus Gold

Dimensions: approx. 12 x 12.4 x 2.9 in high

These specs are interesting for several reasons. First, Valve's idea of Big Picture Mode, along with Steam OS and the Steam Machine was to put "more flexibility" to the end-user. This allows them to pick and choose what operating system and other features they would want in a PC that would go into a living room. The key to this, however, is ease of use and affordability. Considering that the NVIDIA Titan cards run in the price range of $700-$1000 alone, this drives the Steam prototype, if it ever makes it to market, well out of the $200-$300 "open source, free-for-everyone" marketspace of the OUYA and Project SHIELD, their relative competitors for living room entertainment.

Secondly, even though Valve says that this prototype is "not meant to replace the great gaming hardware" many casual Steam users already have, so far the company has made no efforts to appeal to that very large userbase. Going back again to my original article about the Steam Box and its improbable fit in the living room, the enthusiast sees less of a need to put one of these pre-made boxes into their living room. Instead, the middle- and low-tier users are who Valve should be screaming at and the company has seemed to push them off to the side, at least for now. And, it really doesn't make sense for Valve to further limit an already limited Linux environment, considering that less than 10 percent of Steam games run stable on the platform.

Looking at the big picture here (no pun intended), it feels like Valve is more stability testing these monster specifications and will be less an indication of the final retail product from Valve than what most people are thinking right now. With as many combinations that could be made from the above specs, it would be more fitting for the gaming company to be trying out different options that could be receive a Steam Machine certification for third party manufacturers.

Still, if all of this has been made with parts that can be bought separately, is there really a market or a need for a Steam Machine or certification? Couldn't the "everything should be free" group be satiated simply with SteamOS? Or, could it be that Gabe hates Microsoft enough to still think that Steam won't run on Windows 8?

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Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

The battle for mobile streaming just got another major player in Rdio. The streaming service has announced that their stations service, similar to Pandora or Last.fm, will now be available to all users of the iOS or Android apps, whether paid or free subscriptions.

With an inventory of over 20 million songs, you can play all the music you want, just like Pandora's recent policy change. You can listen based on artist, song, genre or the customized "You FM" which is a curated station based on your listening habits from other stations. In addition, with You FM, or any other station, you are able to share your music choices with your friends, allowing people to show their friends what their music taste really is.

Rdio believes that their implementation of The Echo's Nest Taste Profiling is superior to Pandora's Music Genome Project implementation, and I will have to say, it couldn't be much worse. Anyone who has ever had Jonathan Coulton transform into Ke$ha in just a few plays on Pandora knows what I am talking about.

Other than its preference for music profiling, what does Rdio have going for it? It has the same number of songs as Spotify, but far less than that of Xbox Music; it isn't available on BlackBerry, Windows Phone or Windows Store. The thing that really makes it unique is the size of its catalog available for free. If you are a fan of streaming music but not of the poor matching algorithm of Pandora, give Rdio a try; it might just be worth the install.

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Apple's Woes on New iPhone Models

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Woes on New iPhone Models

The recent launch of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c have not been without the infamous Apple disasters. From the iPhone 4 antenna issues, Apple Maps overall inaccuracy and the myriad of iPhone 5 issues, including camera and in-box scratching, Apple has not had a good phone launch in a while. For once, Apple has launched 2 new handsets together, and both are having their own individual problems.

iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s' problem is one that will affect the end-user, so let's start there. As it turns out, the hardware sensors in the new flagship phone might very well be wrong. Users have posted on the Apple forums complaining of issues with their sensors, especially the level, motion and acceleration sensors. Gizmodo decided to put these claims to the test and have confirmed the reports.

To duplicate the issues, all you have to do is load any level app and set an iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s side-by-side on the same surface. The problem is unlikely to be caused by software, as iPhones of previous versions running iOS 7 and testing in the same applications return expected data, leaving the problem specific to the new model.

If I had to take a wild stab in the dark, I would say that there is something wrong with the new sensor co-processor installed in the phones. So, if the problem is with the hardware itself, how do you solve it? The easy answer is, you can't without a complete hardware recall. Of course, Apple, who has been pretending to be a premium brand, loses the ability to make those claims if they recall an entire generation of devices over a hardware defect.

Apple has not commented on the issue.

iPhone 5c

The problems with the iPhone 5c are not in the same realm - instead of hardware failures, the iPhone that breaks all of the rules of what makes an Apple product is seeing sales failures. Apple announced opening weekend iPhone sales of 9 million handsets, but refuses to break out the two models individually. A refusal of this type usually indicates data the company doesn't want to admit to, like incredibly poor sales.

To corroborate that theory, we are seeing some massive price breaks in the iPhone 5c starting this weekend. Target has discounted the phone to $79.99, while RadioShack and Best Buy are offering a $50 gift card with purchase, and Wal-Mart is down to $45 after initially discounting the phone to $79 on launch day.

I had suspected that launching a new handset that went against all of Steve Jobs' philosophies would not pan out for the company, and it appears that the suspicion was correct. Maybe Apple can learn something from BlackBerry and stick to what you know.

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France to Illegalize Free Shipping

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

France to Illegalize Free Shipping

France has a difficult relationship with reality. They have, in the past done crazy things like prevent Yahoo from purchasing Dailymotion because the government didn't want it sold to an American company, and then they go and do rational things, like challenging Google over its universal privacy policy. Defending them or being mad at them is definitely a moving target.

Recently they have moved more to the dark side, however, with a new bill that would ban free shipping. Yes, you read that right - a retailer would no longer be able to set the price of its own products and services as they see fit. Shutting down the free market has always worked well in the past, especially for the target market that is trying to gain the upper hand, and if you can't sense the sarcasm in that statement, it might be time to move to the next article.

Who is France trying to help, and who are they trying to hurt, with this new law? They are trying to hurt Amazon and help local bookstores. Brick and mortar stores believe that they have no way of competing with online pricing and, therefore, are unable to provide any value to their customers, since price is the only reason anyone ever shops anywhere (sarcasm again). So, teaming up with the government to essentially outlaw Amazon's business model makes perfect sense, if you know nothing about business.

In the States, there are physical bookstores in a lot of places. While Borders might not have succeeded, local and chain stores everywhere do. Why? Not because they offer lower prices than Amazon, but instead because they offer better SERVICE than Amazon.

So, why not offer personal service to your customers instead of attacking Amazon? When the government already dislikes your foe, it is easier to team up than to have a good business model. Amazon reports its European income through Luxembourg, because tax rates are lower, so France sees none of the money from their own currency. Again, rather than encourage sales in the country with tax incentives, they will just remove a large company from doing business there at all.

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SimCity Finally Getting Offline Consideration

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

<i>SimCity</i> Finally Getting Offline Consideration

Ever since the initial launch disaster, Maxis has been trying to show that it cares about players. At first, they offered free games to those who were affected by the server shutdown, but have recently taken to the SimCity forums to talk with the community.

This week, Patrick Buechner, General Manager of the Maxis Emeryville studio, posted an article on the forum talking about their internal commitment to feedback.

First, I want you to know that we are listening to your feedback. We dig deep into the forums, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds every day to see what players are talking about. There is a lot of feedback and there is a clear passion for SimCity. That's great to see. And while we appreciate positive feedback, we take very seriously the players who have criticisms. Players have high expectations of what goes into our games and we have an obligation to deliver.

We continuously review this feedback alongside in-game telemetry to help us decide where to focus our game tuning and development efforts. We've formed dedicated teams to explore specific features. Some player requests, such as a tool to raise and lower roads, were straightforward challenges. Some of the larger asks, such as bigger city maps and an offline mode, have required more thought and exploratory work.

There are two very important issues raised here: offline mode and larger maps, both of which are topics which have been a primary point of contention for most players.

Offline Mode

Buechner claims that it is being considered.

Right now we have a team specifically focused on exploring the possibility of an offline mode. I can't make any promises on when we will have more information, but we know this is something that many of our players have been asking for. While the server connectivity issues are behind us, we would like to give our players the ability to play even if they choose not to connect. An offline mode would have the additional benefit of providing room to the modding community to experiment without interfering or breaking the multiplayer experience.

In the past, Maxis has confirmed that offline was an option, but they decided not to pursue it. Instead, they implemented a required "always on" system because of global economy and other major calculations that just could not run locally.

The only problem with that theory is that offline mode is an option right now with a "very minor and easy" tweak. So, what could possibly be taking so long? EA's concern over piracy is my guess. So, while it is "being considered" publicly, my guess is we won't be seeing it any time soon.

Bigger Cities

Every person I know that did purchase the game outgrew their city plots within days. This left them wondering what to do? Maxis' official position is to play multiple cities side-by-side and explore the interconnection between communities. The problem with that, of course, is that once you leave one city and enter another, time stops for the first. That means no material collection, making it damn near impossible to explore those capabilities.

Buechner has news for those of you wanting to expand your maps, though.

After months of testing, I confirm that we will not be providing bigger city sizes. The system performance challenges we encountered would mean that the vast majority of our players wouldn't be able to load, much less play with bigger cities. We've tried a number of different approaches to bring performance into an acceptable range, but we just couldn't achieve it within the confines of the engine. We've chosen to cease work on bigger city sizes and put that effort into continuing to evolve the core game and explore an offline mode. Some of the experiments we conducted to improve performance on bigger cities will be rolled into future updates to improve overall game performance.

I know, that was misleading, but I just couldn't resist. Maxis claims that it is physically impossible to expand the cities. If they were to do it, your computer would explode. I have no idea if that reasoning is some sort of a prank being played by the development team or if they actually believe that expanding the cities would truly over run your computer's processing capabilities; either way, wow.

Good news, though: their experiments have led to a slight performance improvement in the game core. Now you can outgrow your cities slightly faster than before!

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Adobe Says Almost 3 Million Accounts Compromised in Illegal Access to Source Code

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Adobe Says Almost 3 Million Accounts Compromised in Illegal Access to Source Code

We could go on and on and on about websites and companies getting hacked, compromising millions of customers' data, seemingly ever three months or so. One of the more notable cases was in 2011, when Sony's PlayStation Network was hacked, taking the service down for a very long time and causing stress and identify theft to customers everywhere. This week is no exception, as Adobe is in the news for a breach that's put 3 million accounts at risk.

At first, an Adobe blog post explained some of what happened, which involves illegal access to source code for various Adobe products.

Adobe is investigating the illegal access of source code for Adobe Acrobat, ColdFusion, ColdFusion Builder and other Adobe products by an unauthorized third party. Based on our findings to date, we are not aware of any specific increased risk to customers as a result of this incident.

Adobe thanks Brian Krebs, of KrebsOnSecurity.com, and Alex Holden, chief information security officer, Hold Security LLC. holdsecurity.com for their help in our response to this incident.

We are not aware of any zero-day exploits targeting any Adobe products. However, as always, we recommend customers run only supported versions of the software, apply all available security updates, and follow the advice in the Acrobat Enterprise Toolkit and the ColdFusion Lockdown Guide. These steps are intended to help mitigate attacks targeting older, unpatched, or improperly configured deployments of Adobe products.

At the time of the post, it seemed like everything could have been contained. However a blog post a few days later revealed that customer data was indeed compromised, but Adobe believes that decrypted credit card numbers were not removed from its systems, but encrypted numbers have been put at risk. Chief Security Officer Brad Arkin explains,

Our investigation currently indicates that the attackers accessed Adobe customer IDs and encrypted passwords on our systems. We also believe the attackers removed from our systems certain information relating to 2.9 million Adobe customers, including customer names, encrypted credit or debit card numbers, expiration dates, and other information relating to customer orders... We're working diligently internally, as well as with external partners and law enforcement, to address the incident.

So, now that almost 3 million customers have had some sort of data compromised, Adobe is taking action. Any "relevant" customer password have been reset to stop unauthorized access to their Adobe ID accounts. An email should be in any affected customers' inboxes with instructions on how to reset the password. For those customers who may have had their credit card numbers put at risk, Adobe will be in contact with those people and will be offering one-year of credit monitoring services for free. Adobe has also let any banks know about the breach and are working with card-issuing banks to protect customers' accounts. Anyone with concerns should visit Adobe's customer support page, where agents can be of assistance.

This serves as an unfortunate reminder that no account is safe anywhere, and two use two-step verification systems, online-only debit cards with limits and other security measures whenever possible. Do constant security breaches like this deter you from putting your information online and trusting said information with any company? Why or why not? We want your thoughts in the comments section below.

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