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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon “8+ Gen 1” salvage operation moves the chip to TSMC

After missing performance estimates, Qualcomm is dumping Samsung mid-cycle.

Qualcomm's mid-cycle "plus" chip refresh—the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1—has been announced. As usual, Qualcomm is promising some modest improvements over the existing 8 Gen 1 chip. The company said the chip will provide "10 percent faster CPU performance," thanks to a 200 MHz peak CPU boost (up to 3.2 GHz now) and a 10 percent faster GPU. The real shocker is a "30 percent improved power efficiency" claim for the CPU and GPU.

For the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus, Qualcomm is moving the chip from Samsung Foundry to TSMC, which is apparently where the power improvements are coming from. That's a serious slam against Samsung's 4 nm process versus TSMC's 4 nm process, but it lines up with earlier reports of troubles at Samsung Foundry.

Swapping foundries as part of a mid-cycle upgrade is not normal, and it seems that Qualcomm has a bit of a salvage operation on its hands with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The chip has not fared very well in the real world, with the CPU regularly turning in lower benchmark scores than 2021's flagship Snapdragon 888.

Qualcomm doesn't do all that much for phones year over year to begin with, and it is regularly years behind Apple's SoC team. Usually, the one reliable upgrade Qualcomm can deliver is some measurable percentage of benchmark improvements. The GPU managed to improve for 2022, but to see the CPU horsepower decrease after Qualcomm claimed it would be 20 percent faster is a major disappointment. After a foundry change and a CPU MHz boost, Qualcomm's 2022 CPU might finally be faster than its 2021 counterpart.

Modular, DIY-friendly Framework Laptop gets updated with 12th-gen Intel CPUs

Laptop also gets structural upgrades and an optional 2.5Gbps LAN module.

We were fans of the Framework Laptop when we reviewed it last year. This was partly because its modular design prioritizes repairability and upgradeability when most other laptops don't. But we also liked it because you didn't need to make huge tradeoffs to get that repairability—the Framework Laptop is lightweight and has a high-quality screen, keyboard, and touchpad, helping it stay competitive with big-box thin-and-light laptops like Dell's XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

An upgradeable laptop is only worthwhile if you can actually upgrade it, though, and Framework is making that possible starting today: The company is introducing a new iteration of the Framework Laptop's motherboard that uses 12th-gen Intel CPUs. A brand-new 12th-gen Framework Laptop starts at $1,049 for a Core i5-equipped base model, or $819 for a build-it-yourself kit with no memory or storage. These products will be available for preorder starting today, and shipping will start in July.

The 12th-generation Core processors use Intel's latest Alder Lake CPU architecture, which combines high-performance P-cores and high-efficiency E-cores to maximize performance under heavy load and reduce power usage when your computer is mostly idle. The base Core i5-1240P CPU includes four P-cores and eight E-cores, a big boost in core count compared to the quad-core 11th-gen CPUs. The Core i7-1260P upgrade has the same CPU core count with boosted clock speeds and a small increase in integrated GPU performance, while the top-end Core i7-1280P option will get you six P-cores and eight E-cores.

The rest of the Framework Laptop's hardware is staying mostly the same, though there are a few additional upgrades to be aware of. One is a 2.5Gbps Ethernet expansion card, the first wired LAN module to be available for the laptop. The card is based on Realtek's RTL8156 chipset and will be available "later this year."

The company is also releasing a redesigned version of its top cover made with a new CNC manufacturing process that "substantially improv[es] rigidity." The new top cover will be the default option for all Framework Laptops going forward, though you can buy a new cover for your existing Framework Laptop for $89.

For existing Framework Laptop owners, a 12th-gen motherboard with the i5-1240P starts at $449, while an "upgrade kit" that includes both the motherboard and the redesigned top cover starts at $538. This is the same price you'd pay for both components individually; there's no discount for buying both the board and the top cover together. The i7-1260P motherboard will run you $699 ($788 for an upgrade kit), and the i7-1280P motherboard costs $1,049 ($1,138 for an upgrade kit). Getting the i7-1280P's two additional P-cores will cost you.

The 11th-gen version of the Framework laptop is also sticking around as an entry-level option until it sells out, starting at $679 for a Core i5-1135G7-based DIY edition and $899 for an assembled system. The company has created a new product comparison page to make it easier to figure out what you're getting.

While many of Framework's PCs will run Windows, the company boasts that the 12th-gen version of its laptop "continue[s] to focus on solid Linux support." Framework recommends Fedora 36 because it "works fantastically well out of the box" and fully supports the Framework Laptop's new CPUs, its Wi-Fi card, and its fingerprint reader. For now, though, you'll need to be careful about installing other Linux distributions—you need Linux kernel version 5.17.6 or newer to fully support Alder Lake's hybrid CPU architecture, and prominent, actively maintained distributions like Ubuntu 22.04 don't include that kernel version out of the box. This problem will disappear for most Linux distros within the next few months, but for now you may need to upgrade the kernel manually to get the best-possible Linux experience on the Framework Laptop.

If you already own a Framework Laptop and want to upgrade, the company recently published 3D-printable case templates for the laptop's motherboard. This makes it possible to turn an old 11th-gen Framework motherboard into a mini desktop PC.

 

 

 

A comprehensive overview of Windows 11 22H2, the OS’s first big yearly update

A look at the most significant features coming to the OS later this year.

Windows 11 has already changed quite a bit since the version we reviewed in October was released, and Microsoft has put out a steady stream of redesigned app updates, bug fixes, and user interface improvements.

But the company's big yearly Windows updates are still important. They're where Microsoft makes the most significant changes to Windows 11's look and feel and under-the-hood features. This week, rumors suggested that Microsoft is wrapping up work on what will eventually be released as Windows 11 version 22H2, the OS's first yearly update. That build, currently available to the Windows Insider Beta channel as build number 22621.1, will serve as the foundation for the next year of Windows updates.

We cover new Windows Insider builds fairly frequently, depending on how noteworthy the changes are. But to save you the trouble of scrolling through months of articles, we've gathered together all the most significant differences between the current public build of Windows 11 21H2 (for the record, 22000.675) and the latest beta of version 22H2.

Yearly updates ain’t what they used to be

First, a caveat: Microsoft has changed how it updates Windows in the last year. The company now releases many app updates and UI tweaks when they're ready instead of waiting for a major yearly OS update as it would have back in the Windows 10 days. That more flexible schedule has already allowed Microsoft to fix some of Windows 11's early shortcomings, including missing taskbar features and apps that still hadn't been updated with the new look and feel.

It also means that this overview won't include all of the Windows features that will be a part of the 22H2 update when it launches. It's likely that apps like the new Sound Recorder, currently in preview in the Dev channel, will be released to the public before the 22H2 update is formally released. Still-in-testing features like the tabbed File Explorer could be done in time, too. Those and other changes could be included in the 22H2 update, they could be released before it's out, or they might never be released.

So this overview is just a snapshot of Windows 11 22H2 as it currently exists. When it's released to the public, we'll take another look, note any other new features we see, and spend more time on minor changes that we won't mention in this roundup.

Mandatory Microsoft account sign-in

The Home edition of Windows 11 (and of some of the later Windows 10 releases) all required an Internet connection and a Microsoft account sign-in at setup, pushing users to embed themselves deeper in Microsoft's ecosystem. There are some benefits to this process, including automated local disk encryption and recovery key backup, passwordless sign-in, quick access to Microsoft Store apps and services like Microsoft 365 and PC Game Pass, and data syncing for apps like OneDrive and Edge. But if you don't use these things, want to sign in later, or prefer to stick with a good old-fashioned local account, there's no easy workaround, short of signing out or creating a new local account once you've gotten to the desktop.

This wasn't true of the Pro editions of Windows, which would still allow you to create a local account if you didn't connect to the Internet during setup. But that ends in the 22H2 version of Windows 11, which requires a Microsoft account no matter which edition of the OS you use. (Setup also pushes you to sign up for PC Game Pass in addition to Microsoft 365, which I think is new to this version of Windows but may have been added more recently).

The only officially sanctioned exception to this policy is if you choose the "work or school" option during setup instead of the "personal use" option. This lets you sign in with your work or school Microsoft account, if you have one, rather than a personal account. But if you just want to make a local account, or if you need to set a PC up without an Internet connection, there's no easy way to do that.

This policy only applies to new Windows installations, and it won't affect you if you're upgrading a PC that's already set up.

New security features (and new defaults)

Microsoft's baseline security requirements for Windows 11 aren't changing in 22H2. Secure Boot, TPM 2.0, and a supported processor are all you'll need to pass the compatibility checks, and for systems that don't meet those requirements, you can still work around those checks the same way. But Microsoft is adding at least one new security feature and is changing the defaults for one of the optional ones.

The new feature is Smart App Control, which puts another layer on top of the SmartScreen feature that attempts to warn you before you run a potentially malicious app. Microsoft uses code certificates "or an AI model for application trust." The behavior of any newly run app is checked against this model, and if the app exhibits behavior that the model interprets as malicious, Windows will block it from running. Smart App Control first runs in an evaluation mode to see if it can do its job without interfering with your normal activities. If the apps you need to run routinely trigger Smart App Control, it will turn itself off.

Unlike other Windows 11 features, Smart App Control can't be enabled and disabled at will. It's on by default for any new installation of Windows 11 22H2, but if you ever disable it or upgrade an existing Windows installation, it is permanently disabled. We don't know precisely how long it runs in "evaluation" mode before deciding to enable or disable itself, but this is something we can test more between now and when Windows 22H2 is officially released.

Microsoft is also changing the default behavior of the Memory Integrity feature, which is Microsoft's user-friendly nomenclature for hypervisor-protected code integrity (HVCI). Although it's still not required to run Windows 11, you'll now see a warning flag in the Windows Security app and tray icon when Memory Integrity is turned off. Enabling the feature will dismiss the warning, though you can choose to dismiss it without turning Memory Integrity on. The feature can affect performance, though the impact is usually negligible if you have a CPU on Windows 11's support list.

In Windows 10 and the current builds of Windows 11, Memory Integrity is generally off by default unless you're installing it on a recent PC (Microsoft current lists 11th-gen Intel CPUs, Zen 2 AMD CPUs, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8180 as the baseline for automatic enablement). When performing clean installs of Windows 11 22H2 on some test PCs, I noticed that Windows 11 22H2 automatically enabled Memory Integrity on a laptop with an 8th-gen Intel CPU, which suggests that Microsoft will enable the feature by default on a wider range of compatible PCs. Notably, it wasn't enabled by default on an officially unsupported 6th-gen Intel PC that I tried.

To date, Microsoft has only enabled this feature by default for new installs rather than upgrade installs. We'd expect this situation to stay the same for Windows 11 22H2, though we won't know for sure until Microsoft updates its documentation.

A new Task Manager and Efficiency mode for apps

The next version of Windows 11 will include the biggest update to the Task Manager since it was redesigned for Windows 8, though the changes are mostly visual rather than functional. The new Task Manager adopts a layout more in line with the Settings or the Windows Security apps, with vertically aligned navigation icons on the left rather than horizontal tabs with text.

The Task Manager also supports dark mode and will use your chosen accent color when highlighting app resource usage. Instead of oscillating between yellow, orange, and red to denote apps using fewer or more system resources, the new Task Manager will use a less-saturated version of your accent color for apps that aren't using many resources and more-saturated coloring for apps with high resource usage.

The Task Manager's new feature update is the ability to trigger "efficiency mode" for processes. This mode aims to conserve energy by lowering the priority and reducing resource usage for specific tasks. Apps can choose to put themselves into efficiency mode when they support it—Microsoft Edge did so on our test systems—but the new Task Manager allows you to manually trigger efficiency mode for specific processes, too. (Microsoft does, however, warn that enabling efficiency mode "may cause instability for certain processes.")

The feature formerly known as "eco mode," which would suspend processes in the background to conserve resources, is still included in Windows 11 22H2 and the Task Manager. But instead of using a green leaf icon and the "eco mode" label, these processes get a yellow pause icon and are described as "suspended."

Energy-efficient Windows Updates

Where the information is available, Windows 11 22H2 will use data from electricityMap and Watttime to determine when to install Windows updates and will attempt to install them when your local power grid is using wind, solar, or hydroelectric power. As Microsoft detailed in March, the idea is to reduce carbon emissions while installing Windows updates and rebooting your PC.

These settings won't apply to PCs that are running on battery power, and when carbon intensity data isn't available in your area, Windows will continue to try to install updates when you're the least likely to be using your computer.

Yet more dang suggested content

I don't use Windows 11's Widgets menu, because it's not extensible by third parties and because I don't find the Microsoft Start-generated content suggestions particularly useful. No longer happy with letting those content suggestions live in the Widgets menu and the default Edge homepage, Microsoft is now adding some of them to the search menu, too.

In theory, these are personalized based on your Microsoft account. If you sign into a Microsoft account for work or school, your organization can also use this area to show you important information. But most people with these highlights on will find themselves presented with bland event reminders and quotes of the day. Ignoring this content is easy enough, though you can disable it in the Settings to return to the status quo of the current search menu.

Revamped touchscreen gestures and window management tweaks

Windows 11 shed some of the last vestiges of Windows 8 that were still hanging around in Windows 10, including the full-screen Start menu option. Version 22H2 makes up for that by introducing some of its own tablet-focused features.

There are a few new swiping gestures, which are explained in a tutorial the first time you flip a laptop into tablet mode: Swipe up from the bottom-middle of the screen to see the Start menu, swipe up from the bottom-right to see Quick Actions, swipe in from the left side to see the Widgets menu, and swipe in from the right side to see the notification center. Swipe left or right on the screen with three fingers to toggle back and forth between your two most recently used apps.

There are some window-snapping improvements for both touchscreen and mouse-and-keyboard users, too. Any time you grab an app's title bar to move it around, a narrow strip appears in the top-center of the screen, signaling that you can drag the window up there to start using Snap Layouts. And it's now possible to use Snap Layouts with just a keyboard by pressing Win+Z and then a number to choose your preferred windows layout.

As of this writing, Microsoft rolled back a few of the ideas it tested in some earlier Windows Insider builds, including a new version of the taskbar that gets larger when your device is in tablet mode and which shrinks to the bottom of the screen whenever you aren't interacting with it. The current build reverts to the previous behavior, keeping the taskbar as-is but spacing the icons out a bit more to make them more finger-friendly.

Though Windows 11 uses edge swipes and multi-finger swipes in ways that recall the oft-maligned Windows 8, I'd argue that Windows 11's gestures are a bit more intuitive. In Windows 11, edge swipes are mostly used to pull up ancillary things that you don't use all the time, like the notification center and the Quick Actions menu. And the swipes are at least associated with the sides of the screen you would normally look at when accessing those things—the bottom-middle for the Start menu, the right side of the screen for notifications, and so on. Windows 8's edge swipes hid core parts of the OS's interface, including the Start button, and there was little rhyme or reason to them.

It's also worth noting that iPadOS relies heavily on these kinds of edge swipes and multi-finger swipes in its current form, particularly when multitasking and when using an iPad without a Home button. People may have gotten more used to this kind of thing as touch devices have become more common.

Start menu improvements, but the taskbar is mostly the same

Windows 11 22H2's Start menu can put pinned apps into folders to save space, and you can choose to see a larger number of pinned apps or a larger number of app and file recommendations in the Start menu's settings. These are both solid improvements, though they don't fundamentally change how the Start menu behaves.

The taskbar, on the other hand, sees very few changes beyond the tweaks made to improve touchscreen navigation and hasn't addressed many regressions from the Windows 10 version of the taskbar. Want to open files in an app by dragging them to their taskbar icon? You still can't do it. Want to change icon size or taskbar height beyond the automated changes that happen when you're in tablet mode? You can't. Want to perch the taskbar on the left or right sides of your screen? Also no. An experimental feature that would handle overflow for pinned taskbar icons better doesn't appear to be included in current builds, though this could change.

 

 

 

 

 

Nvidia takes first step toward open source Linux GPU drivers

Both Intel and AMD have maintained mostly open source Linux drivers for years.

After years of hinting, Nvidia announced yesterday that it would be open-sourcing part of its Linux GPU driver, as both Intel and AMD have done for years now. Previously, Linux users who wanted to avoid Nvidia's proprietary driver had to rely on reverse-engineered software like the Nouveau project, which worked best on older hardware and offered incomplete support at best for all of Nvidia's GPU features.

"This release is a significant step toward improving the experience of using NVIDIA GPUs in Linux, for tighter integration with the OS, and for developers to debug, integrate, and contribute back," says a blog post attributed to several Nvidia employees. "For Linux distribution providers, the open source modules increase ease of use. They also improve the out-of-the-box user experience to sign and distribute the NVIDIA GPU driver. Canonical and SUSE are able to immediately package the open kernel modules with Ubuntu and SUSE Linux Enterprise Distributions."

Nvidia is specifically releasing an open source kernel driver under a dual MIT/GPL license and is not currently open-sourcing parts of the driver that run in user space. This includes drivers for OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, and CUDA, which are still closed source, in addition to the firmware for the GPU System Processor (GSP). Nvidia says these drivers "will remain closed source and published with pre-built binaries," so it doesn't sound like there are immediate plans to release open source versions.

Nvidia is still behind both Intel and AMD when it comes to open source GPU drivers—both companies maintain open source kernel and user space drivers, along with closed-source firmware. But this is a first step toward open source parity for Nvidia's Linux driver packages.

Nvidia's open source drivers only support the company's Turing-based GPUs and newer, including the GeForce GTX 1600 series, the RTX 2000 and 3000 series, and Quadro workstation GPUs based on the same architecture. The company's proprietary drivers go all the way back to 2012's Kepler architecture.

The open source drivers also won't be integrated upstream into the Linux kernel yet, since, as Phoronix reports, the API, ABI, and the interface between the kernel driver and the GSP firmware interface have not been finalized. This means that everything, from the firmware to the kernel driver to the user space drivers, needs to match versions to work properly (today's release is version R515.43.04). Once those interfaces have been finalized, the driver can be upstreamed into the kernel, and different versions of the firmware, kernel driver, and user space drivers should be able to interoperate.

Nvidia says that support for its data center GPUs in the current drivers is "production ready" in this initial release but that support for GeForce, Quadro, and other consumer GPUs is "alpha quality"—this isn't software you'll want to rush to install unless you're wanting to kick its tires on a testbed system or contribute to the code yourself.

Hector Martin, one of the developers behind the Asahi Linux distribution, criticized Nvidia for moving many functions into its closed-source firmware, which the open source driver then calls into. Martin calls the open source driver "a net win for practical purposes" since the blob of proprietary code can be sandboxed more readily. "But no freedom was gained, for people who care about that," he writes. "[About] the same amount of code is closed [as before]."

Windows 11’s Sound Recorder is bringing back features that were removed years ago

Another new app with an old name, it replaces the current Voice Recorder app.

Windows' Sound Recorder app has gone through a few iterations since its initial release in Windows 3.0 back in 1990, when it launched as a simple app that could only record 60 seconds of audio at a time. But the app vanished altogether in Windows 10, replaced by a totally new app called Voice Recorder, which can record and trim basic sound recordings and save them as m4a files.

Sound Recorder is now making a comeback, and Microsoft is currently testing a revamped version for Windows Insiders in the Dev channel. The company announced the redesign in a blog post summarizing Windows 11's updates to built-in Windows apps.

The new Sound Recorder uses a two-column layout similar to Voice Recorder's, with playback and trimming controls to the right and a list of all the files you've recorded on the left. But it adds some old Sound Recorder features that disappeared from the app years ago, when it was boiled down to almost nothing in Windows Vista.

The app has a waveform visualizer that appears during recording and playback, and you can once again choose to save or open files in multiple formats (including the default m4a, as well as mp3, wma, FLAC, and WAV). The new Sound Recorder can also adjust audio playback speed from 0.25x to 4 and set markers so you can easily jump from place to place within a large audio recording.

This isn't the first time Windows 11 has revived the name of an old Windows app while keeping the user interface and features from a newer Windows 10-era app. The new Windows Media Player has a lot more in common with the Groove Music app than with the Windows 7 Media Player, and Windows 11's Snipping Tool is a relabeled version of what Windows 10 called Snip & Sketch.

Windows 11 has also updated a bunch of built-in Windows apps that haven't gotten attention since the Windows 7 days or even earlier, including Paint and Notepad.

NiceHash defeats Nvidia’s GPU crypto-mining limits, does not appear to be a scam

But the workaround still can't defeat the newest version of Nvidia's LHR tech.

Nvidia began releasing LHR (or “Lite Hash Rate”) graphics cards last year to slow down their cryptocurrency mining performance and make them less appealing to non-gamers. Late last week, crypto-mining platform NiceHash announced that it had finally found a way around those limitations and released an update for its QuickMiner software that promises full Ethereum mining performance on nearly all of the LHR-enabled GeForce RTX 3000-series GPUs.

Unlike past attempts to disable the LHR protections, NiceHash's workaround appears to be the real deal—Tom's Hardware was able to confirm the performance boosts using QuickMiner and a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti.

For now, NiceHash says that the LHR workaround will only work in Windows, with "no Linux support yet." The more flexible NiceHash Miner software doesn't include the workarounds yet, though it will soon. NiceHash also says that the software won't accelerate mining performance on newer GeForce cards that use version 3 of the LHR algorithm, a list that (for now) includes the RTX 3050 and the 12GB version of the RTX 3080 but which will presumably grow as Nvidia releases new GPUs and updated revisions for older GPUs.

Miners have been trying to find ways to circumvent the LHR limitations since they were introduced. The first card to use LHR, the GeForce RTX 3060, was defeated by a botched driver release from Nvidia. Other workarounds have included flashing alternate BIOSes and mining multiple cryptocurrencies on the same card.

But LHR workarounds can also be too good to be true. Another group promised LHR-defeating drivers in February, but they didn't do what they said they'd do and ended up being full of malware.

Whether this LHR unlock has an impact on the pricing or availability of GPUs remains to be seen. Bitcoin and Ethereum prices have been falling recently as interest rate increases and stock market turmoil have pushed investors toward safer bets. Ethereum's "merge," which will switch the currency from a mining-driven "proof-of-work" system to an ownership-driven "proof-of-stake" system, is also allegedly a few months away, though that has been the case for several years now. At this point, buying up a bunch of new GPUs for cryptocurrency mining, even with the performance improvements and price increases, could still be a risky investment.

Wi-Fi 7 home mesh routers poised to hit 33Gbps

Wi-Fi Alliance has promised "at least" 30Gbps.

It's looking increasingly likely that Wi-Fi 7 will be an option next year. This week, Qualcomm joined the list of chipmakers detailing Wi-Fi 7 products they expect to be available to homes and businesses soon.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which makes Wi-Fi standards and includes Qualcomm as a member, has said that Wi-Fi 7 will offer a max throughput of "at least 30Gbps," and on Wednesday, Qualcomm said its Network Pro Series Gen 3 platform will support "up to 33Gbps." These are theoretical speeds that you likely won't reach in your home, and you'll need a premium broadband connection and Wi-Fi 7 devices, which don't exist yet. Still, the speeds represent an impressive jump from Wi-Fi 6 and 6E's 9.6Gbps.

The next-gen tech is aimed at network-intensive applications, like virtual and augmented reality, video streaming at 4K and higher, and cloud computing and gaming. By making changes to the physical (PHY) layer and medium access control (MAC), Wi-Fi 7 should allow you to enjoy these applications with less latency and jitter.

Like Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 should be able to leverage the 6 GHz band while expanding channel width support from 160 MHz to up to 320 MHz.

Other expected benefits of Wi-Fi 7 include multi-link operation, enabling the simultaneous use of multiple frequency bands. Qualcomm also pointed to 10Gbps enterprise access points and up to 500 users per channel.

Qualcomm announced two tri-band and two quad-band offerings for home and business use, and the company expects Wi-Fi 7 to hit homes as soon as next year, Digital Trends reported. Qualcomm's Network Pro 1620 quad-band option, which can be used in home mesh routers, claims speeds of up to 33.1Gbps.

Even though the Wi-Fi Alliance hasn't finished the standard yet, Wi-Fi chipset makers MediaTek and Broadcom have also flagged 2023 as Wi-Fi 7's expected debut date and are showing off Wi-Fi 7 technologies. Vijay Nagarajan, Broadcom's VP of marketing for the Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division, said that home availability of 33Gbps should come in the second half of 2023.

"Ultimately, Broadcom's Wi-Fi 7 will keep performance a step ahead of the broadband speeds that DOCSIS 4.0 and multi-gigabit PON technologies bring to the home," Nagarajan told Ars Technica.

Razer’s 240 Hz laptop makes OLED more appealing to gamers

Highly expensive PC's display balances speed, resolution, and contrast.

The portability of laptop displays means they often come with compromises in speed, color, or sharpness. For those who want a screen with the deepest contrast and darkest blacks without sacrificing speed, Razer is hoping to have the answer.

The upcoming configuration of the Razer Blade 15 announced Tuesday will be the first laptop to offer a 240 Hz refresh rate in an OLED panel. That makes OLED a more viable option for people, like gamers, who prioritize fast motion processing. Neither OLED monitors, with their high prices, nor OLED TVs have yet to reach such speeds. However, OLED has hit 240 Hz in other designs, such as in this camera's viewfinder. 

The 15.6-inch screen on the upcoming Blade 15 claims a gray-to-gray (GtG) response time of 1 ms, which is as good as it gets for a gaming laptop these days, as well as 100 percent coverage of the wider DCI-P3 color space. As expected with an OLED panel, it's not super bright. At a claimed 400 nits, there are better laptop displays to use outside on a sunny day, for example.

To achieve its high refresh rate, the display is at 2560×1440 resolution, while you'll find many ultralight, non-gaming laptops offering OLED displays with 4K resolution. Razer makes a version of the Blade 15 with 4K OLED that's limited to a 60 Hz refresh rate for $200 cheaper as of this writing. However, 1440p has become a sweet spot for gamers seeking a sharper image without requiring as much graphics horsepower as 4K.

Beyond the panel, the Blade 15 has an RTX 3070 Ti laptop GPU, Intel Core i9-12900H, and up to 32GB of DDR5-4800 memory and a 1TB SSD, plus an empty M.2 slot. There's also good port selection with two USB-C ports, including one Thunderbolt 4, a USB-A port, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader.

Razer's announcement didn't make any battery-life claims about the OLED-equipped clamshell, but with OLED, a high refresh rate, and the machine's gaming heritage, don't expect longevity. The laptop does use Nvidia's Advanced Optimus feature that, among other things, switches between the discrete GPU and the processor's integrated graphics as necessary to conserve battery life.

When all is said and done, you're looking at a wildly expensive $3,500 machine when it comes out in Q4. "First" doesn't come cheap.

Razer's laptop should finally allow users to enjoy OLED's rich contrast, detailed shadows, and nuanced highlights without visual artifacts, like stuttering, deterring from the experience when your GPU is pushing high frame rates. Razer's Blade 15 laptops also come with G-Sync, Nvidia's Adaptive-Sync flavor, to fight screen tears. But if you want the smoothest video processing, laptops (including alternative configurations of the Razer Blade 15) that can hit 360 Hz and carry more powerful GPUs than Razer's upcoming speedy OLED system do exist.

In its announcement, Razer highlighted AAA games, which tend to boast impressive visuals, as a top use for the OLED panel. But unless it's a less graphically demanding esports game, you won't be pushing 240 frames per second to make the most of the screen's refresh rate, especially at 1440p resolution. If you're a gamer who plays a variety of genres, you'll more easily take advantage of the screen's multiple attributes.

Razer also pointed to photo and video editing and movie watching as good uses for the fast OLED display. But if OLED makes you envision turning the Blade 15 into an HDR vehicle, think again. The Blade 15 doesn't note any HDR10 support, which is necessary for HDR on Windows.

But if you want your SDR display to have some of the best contrast around while looking sharp during fast-paced action and supporting pretty high frame rates, Razer is finally making that an option.

Microsoft is testing a free 1GB-per-month VPN service in its Edge browser

Service is free but requires a Microsoft account sign-up.

A couple of years ago, Microsoft reformulated its Edge web browser with a backend based on Google's Chromium codebase. Since then, the company has tried to make Edge stand out primarily by adding on extra features, mostly related to privacy, security, and online shopping.

One interesting new experimental feature that could be coming to Edge soon is a Cloudflare-powered VPN feature, according to a support document published last week. A VPN (or virtual private network) provides an encrypted tunnel for all of your network traffic, shielding it from the view of other devices on the same network.

Using the VPN service, dubbed the "Microsoft Edge Secure Network," requires you to be signed in with a Microsoft account, just like cross-device syncing of bookmarks and extensions and plenty of other features. It provides up to 1GB of data per month, with no option to get more data if you want or need it—Edge will track your data usage and let you know when you're getting close to your limit.

That low data cap means Edge's VPN won't replace a subscription to a VPN service for people who run all of their traffic through VPNs or those who use them to circumvent geographical restrictions on video streaming. But it's enough for occasional coffee shop Wi-Fi use, and that seems to be the type of usage it's geared toward.

Using a VPN to safeguard traffic on a public Wi-Fi network arguably isn't as important as it used to be, given the widespread use of HTTPS and browsers that increasingly prefer HTTPS connections to HTTP ones when they're available. But if you manually force HTTPS connections and browse the Internet normally, you'll still find plenty that's unencrypted, and a VPN can protect things like DNS requests that HTTPS doesn't always obscure.

Any VPN is only as private or as secure as the VPN provider you're using—it can still see all of the unencrypted data you send it since it needs to send you the data your browser is requesting. Microsoft's support post says that Cloudflare "permanently deletes the diagnostic and support data collected every 25 hours" and that the data Cloudflare processes "is subject to the Microsoft Privacy Policy."

Apple releases beta update with fixes for Studio Display’s mediocre webcam

Firmware 15.5 includes fixes for "noise reduction, contrast, and framing."

Apple's Studio Display got dinged for plenty of things in reviews, including its price and its IPS panel technology. But the most consistent criticism was aimed at its built-in webcam, which fell far short of most standalone desktop webcams—and even the front-facing cameras included with iPhones and iPads.

Apple said in March that it would release a firmware update to address at least some of the problems, and that update is currently available in beta form starting today.

"This beta update has refinements to the Studio Display camera tuning, including improved noise reduction, contrast, and framing," an Apple spokesperson told Ars.

To download the Studio Display firmware update, you'll first need to download and install the macOS Monterey 12.4 beta that was also released today. That update is currently only available to developers, but a version for the general public should be available in the next day or so. Once that's installed, the Studio Display 15.5 firmware beta will download and install separately. The Studio Display includes an Apple 13 chip along with 64GB of internal storage—it's essentially an iPad in a monitor's body—so its iOS-based firmware updates are downloaded and installed separately rather than coming down as part of a macOS update.

There's no word on when the final version of macOS 12.4 or the Studio Display firmware update will be released. But we expect them both to come out sometime between now and the time Apple unveils its next major OS updates at its Worldwide Developers Conference in early June.