Robots Are Trying To Pick Strawberries. So Far, They're Not Very Good At It ( 125

Robots have taken over many of America's factories. They can explore the depths of the ocean, and other planets. They can play ping-pong. But can they pick a strawberry? From a report: "You kind of learn, when you get into this -- it's really hard to match what humans can do," says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics. (CROO is an acronym. It stands for Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer.) Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can't seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places. "You know, I used to work in the semiconductor industry. I was a development engineer for Intel, and it was a lot easier to make semiconductor chips," he says with a laugh.

Intel Says 'Partitions' in New Chips Will Correct the Design Flaw that Created Spectre and Meltdown ( 68

Intel said on Thursday it is introducing hardware protections against the Spectre CPU flaw that was discovered last year. From a report: Starting with the Cascade Lake version of its Xeon server processors later this year, Intel will incorporate "protective walls" in its hardware that prevent malicious hackers from using speculative execution techniques to steal private information from the secure part of the processor. These fixes will also ship with the PC version of the Cascade Lake chips, but the tech industry has been much more concerned about the effect of these design flaws on server processors running in data centers and cloud vendors.

The new fixes allow Intel to still benefit from the performance advantages of speculative execution -- in which a processor guesses which upcoming instructions it will need to execute in order to speed things up -- without the security risks. The hardware changes address Variants 2 and 3 of the Spectre and Meltdown issues first disclosed in early January, and software fixes should continue to address Variant 1, Intel said.


Intel Fights For Its Future ( 175

An anonymous reader shares a post: The Smartphone 2.0 era has destroyed many companies: Nokia, Blackberry, Palm... Will Intel be another victim, either as a result of the proposed Broadcom-Qualcomm combination, or as a consequence of a suicidal defense move? Intel sees the Qualcomm+Broadcom combination as an existential threat, an urgent one. But rather than going to the Feds to try and scuttle the deal through a long and uncertain process, Intel is rumored to be "working with advisors" (in plainer English, the company's Investment Bankers) on a countermove: acquire Broadcom. Why the sudden sense of urgency? What is the existential threat? And wouldn't the always risky move of combining two cultures, employees, and physical plants introduce an even greater peril?

To begin with, the threat to Intel's business isn't new; the company has been at risk for more than a decade. By declining Steve Jobs' proposal to make the original iPhone CPU in 2005, Intel missed a huge opportunity. The company's disbelief in Apple's ambitious forecast is belied by the numbers: More than 1.8 billion iOS devices have been sold thus far. Intel passed on the biggest product wave the industry has seen, bigger than the PC. Samsung and now TSMC manufacture iPhone CPUs. Just as important, there are billions of Android-powered machines, as well. One doesn't have to assume 100% share in the smartphone CPU market to see Intel's gigantic loss.


SgxSpectre Attack Can Extract Data From Intel SGX Enclaves ( 28

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A new variation of the Spectre attack has been revealed this week by six scientists from the Ohio State University. Named SgxSpectre, researchers say this attack can extract information from Intel SGX enclaves. Intel Software Guard eXtensions (SGX) is a feature of modern Intel processors that allow an application to create so-called enclaves. This enclave is a hardware-isolated section of the CPU's processing memory where applications can run operations that deal with extremely sensitive details, such as encryption keys, passwords, user data, and more... Neither Meltdown and Spectre were able to extract data from SGX enclaves. This is where SgxSpectre comes in.

According to researchers, SgxSpectre works because of specific code patterns in software libraries that allow developers to implement SGX support into their apps. Vulnerable SGX development kits include the Intel SGX SDK, Rust-SGX, and Graphene-SGX. Academics say an attacker can leverage the repetitive code execution patterns that these SDKs introduce in SGX enclaves and watch for small variations of cache size. This allows for side-channel attacks that allow a threat actor to infer and slowly recover data from secure enclaves.

Intel's recent Spectre patches don't necessarily help, as an attacker can work around these fixes. Intel says an update for the Intel SGX SDK that adds SgxSpectre mitigations will be released on March 16. Apps that implement Google's Retpoline anti-Spectre coding techniques are safe, researchers say.


Intel Launches Mainstream Optane SSD 800P Series Based On 3D Xpoint Memory ( 36

MojoKid writes: Intel just launched a new family of consumer-targeted Optane solid state drives today, dubbed the Intel Optane SSD 800P. Unlike Intel Optane Memory sticks, which accelerate hybrid storage configurations with hard drives through intelligent data caching, or Intel's flagship Optane SSD 900P that's aimed squarely at hardcore enthusiasts with big budgets, these M.2 form factor Intel Optane 800P SSDs target the meat of the mobile and desktop markets, with higher capacities than Optane Memory but more affordable pricing than the 900P. In the benchmarks, the Optane SSD 800P series drives offered a mixed-bag of performance, with sequential transfers that top out at about 1.4GB/s, but with small file transfers, 4K random and mixed workloads, latency, and overall QoS looking strong. Intel will initially be offering two drives in the Optane SSD 800P series, with M.2 80mm 58GB and 118GB models. Suggested pricing for the drives is $129 for the 58GB capacity and $199 for the 118GB drive.

Modders Get Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs To Run On Incompatible Motherboards ( 83

Paul Lilly reports via PC Gamer: It took some time and a whole lot of tweaking, but modders have finally figured out a way to get Intel's Coffee Lake processors running on older motherboards based on Intel's Z270 and Z170 chipsets. Even though Coffee Lake is pin compatible with older LGA 1151 motherboards, the official word from Intel is that the power requirements differ, and as such Coffee Lake only works in newer motherboards based on Intel's Z370 chipset. [T]here is a forum post on that outlines how it can be done. It is a fairly involved process and specific to ASRock motherboards, which the modders claim "have proven to work well" with the steps that are outlined. In short, getting a Coffee Lake processor to run in an older motherboard requires making tweaks to the CPU's microcode, the iGPU's UEFI GOP driver, and some Management Engine bootstraps. The modders were able to get a Core i3-8300 processor to boot in a couple of older boards, but not a Core i7-8700 chip. That is a higher core chip, of course -- six cores instead of four -- which seems to suggest that the power issue is related to driving higher core counts.

How Are Sysadmins Handling Spectre/Meltdown Patches? ( 49

Esther Schindler (Slashdot reader #16,185) writes that the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities have become "a serious distraction" for sysadmins trying to apply patches and keep up with new fixes, sharing an HPE article described as "what other sysadmins have done so far, as well as their current plans and long-term strategy, not to mention how to communicate progress to management." Everyone has applied patches. But that sounds ever so simple. Ron, an IT admin, summarizes the situation succinctly: "More like applied, applied another, removed, I think re-applied, I give up, and have no clue where I am anymore." That is, sysadmins are ready to apply patches -- when a patch exists. "I applied the patches for Meltdown but I am still waiting for Spectre patches from manufacturers," explains an IT pro named Nick... Vendors have released, pulled back, re-released, and re-pulled back patches, explains Chase, a network administrator. "Everyone is so concerned by this that they rushed code out without testing it enough, leading to what I've heard referred to as 'speculative reboots'..."

The confusion -- and rumored performance hits -- are causing some sysadmins to adopt a "watch carefully" and "wait and see" approach... "The problem is that the patches don't come at no cost in terms of performance. In fact, some patches have warnings about the potential side effects," says Sandra, who recently retired from 30 years of sysadmin work. "Projections of how badly performance will be affected range from 'You won't notice it' to 'significantly impacted.'" Plus, IT staff have to look into whether the patches themselves could break something. They're looking for vulnerabilities and running tests to evaluate how patched systems might break down or be open to other problems.

The article concludes that "everyone knows that Spectre and Meltdown patches are just Band-Aids," with some now looking at buying new servers. One university systems engineer says "I would be curious to see what the new performance figures for Intel vs. AMD (vs. ARM?) turn out to be."

OpenBSD Releases Meltdown Patch ( 44

OpenBSD's Meltdown patch has landed, in the form of a Version 11 code update that separates user memory pages from the kernel's -- pretty much the same approach as was taken in the Linux kernel. From a report: A few days after the Meltdown/Spectre bugs emerged in January, OpenBSD's Phillip Guenther responded to user concerns with a post saying the operating system's developers were working out what to do. Now he's revealed the approach used to fix the free OS: "When a syscall, trap, or interrupt takes a CPU from userspace to kernel the trampoline code switches page tables, switches stacks to the thread's real kernel stack, then copies over the necessary bits from the trampoline stack. On return to userspace the opposite occurs: recreate the iretq frame on the trampoline stack, switch stack, switch page tables, and return to userspace." That explanation is somewhat obscure to non-developers, but there's a more readable discussion of what the project's developers had in mind from January, here.

Intel Did Not Tell US Cyber Officials About Chip Flaws Until Made Public ( 79

Intel Corp did not inform U.S. cyber security officials of Meltdown and Spectre chip security flaws until they leaked to the public, six months after Alphabet notified the chipmaker of the problems, according to letters sent by tech companies to lawmakers on Thursday. From a report: Current and former U.S. government officials have raised concerns that the government was not informed of the flaws before they became public because the flaws potentially held national security implications. Intel said it did not think the flaws needed to be shared with U.S. authorities as hackers had not exploited the vulnerabilities. Intel did not tell the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, better known as US-CERT, about Meltdown and Spectre until Jan. 3, after reports on them in online technology site The Register had begun to circulate.

Intel, Microsoft, Dell, HP and Lenovo Expect PCs With Fast 5G Wireless To Ship Next Year ( 59

Intel, along with Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft said Thursday that the companies expect the first 5G Windows PCs to become available during the second half of 2019. From a report: That's about the same time that Intel plans to begin shipping its XMM 8000 commercial modems, marking the company's entrance into the 5G market. Intel will show off a prototype of the new 5G connected PC at Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona. In addition the company will demonstrate data streaming over the 5G network. At its stand, Intel said that it will also show off eSIM technology -- the replacement for actual, physical SIM cards -- and a thin PC running 802.11ax Wi-Fi, the next-gen Wi-Fi standard.

Intel Has a New Spectre and Meltdown Firmware Patch For You To Try Out ( 130

Mark Wilson writes: The Spectre/Meltdown debacle continues to rumble on, and now the chip manufacturer has announced the availability of a new 'microcode solution' to the vulnerability. The updated firmware applies to 6th, 7th and 8th Generation Intel Core devices, and the release sees the company crossing its fingers and hoping that everything works out this time.

This is Intel's second attempt at patching the vulnerability, and this time around both the company and its customers will be praying that the fix for Skylake, Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake chips actually does the job.


Ask Slashdot: Could Linux Ever Become Fully Compatible With Windows and Mac Software? 359

dryriver writes: Linux has been around for a long time now. A lot of work has gone into it; it has evolved nicely and it dominates in the server space. Computer literate people with some tech skills also like to use it as their desktop OS. It's free and open source. It's not vendor-locked, full of crapware or tied to any walled garden. It's fast and efficient. But most "everyday computer users" or "casual computer buyers" still feel they have to choose either a Windows PC or an Apple device as the platform they will do their computing on. This binary choice exists largely because of very specific commercial list of programs and games available for these OSs that is not available for Linux.

Here is the question: Could Linux ever be made to become fully compatible with all Windows and Mac software? What I mean is a Linux distro that lets you successfully install/run/play just about anything significant that says "for Windows 10" or "for OSX" under Linux, without any sort of configuring or crazy emulation orgies being needed? Macs and PCs run on the exact same Intel/AMD/Nvidia hardware as Linux. Same mobos, same CPUs and GPUs, same RAM and storage devices. Could Linux ever be made to behave sufficiently like those two OSs so that a computer buyer could "go Linux" without any negative consequences like not being able to run essential Windows/Mac software at all? Or is Linux being able to behave like Windows and OSX simply not technically doable because Windows and OSX are just too damn complex to mimic successfully?

Intel Hit With More Than 30 Lawsuits Over Security Flaws ( 99

Intel said on Friday shareholders and customers had filed 32 class action lawsuits against the company in connection with recently-disclosed security flaws in its microchips. From a report: Most of the lawsuits -- 30 -- are customer class action cases that claim that users were harmed by Intel's "actions and/or omissions" related to the flaws, which could allow hackers to steal data from computers. Intel said in a regulatory filing it was not able to estimate the potential losses that may arise out of the lawsuits. Security researchers at the start of January publicized two flaws, dubbed Spectre and Meltdown, that affected nearly every modern computing device containing chips from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM.

New Silicon Chip-Based Quantum Computer Passes Major Test ( 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Researchers from two teams now working with Intel have reported advances in a new quantum computing architecture, called spin qubits, in a pair of papers out today. They're obviously not the full-purpose quantum computers of the future. But they've got a major selling point over other quantum computing designs. "We made these qubits in silicon chips, similar to what's used in classical computer processes," study author Thomas Watson from TU Delft in the Netherlands told me. "The hope is that by doing things this way, we can potentially scale up to larger numbers needed to perform useful quantum computing."

Today, a research group at TU Delft, called QuTech, announced that they'd successfully tested two "spin qubits." These qubits involve the interaction of two confined electrons in a silicon chip. Each electron has a property called spin, which sort of turns it into a tiny magnet, with two states: "up" and "down." The researchers control the electrons with actual cobalt magnets and microwave pulses. They measure the electron's spins by watching how nearby electric charges react to the trapped electrons' movements. Those researchers, now working in partnership with Intel, were able to perform some quantum algorithms, including the well-known Grover search algorithm (basically, they could search through a list of four things), according to their paper published today in Nature. Additionally, a team of physicists led by Jason Petta at Princeton reported in Nature that they were able to pair light particles, called photons, to corresponding electron spins. This just means that distant spin qubits might be able to talk to one another using photons, allowing for larger quantum computers.
There are some advantages to these systems. "Present-day semiconductor technology could create these spin qubits, and they would be smaller than the superconducting chips used by IBM," reports Gizmodo. "Additionally, they stay quantum longer than other systems." The drawbacks include the fact that it's very difficult to measure the spins of these qubits, and even more difficult to get them to interact with each other. UC Berkeley postdoc Sydney Schreppler also mentioned that the qubbits needed to be really close to each other.

Apple's Software 'Problem' and 'Fixing' It ( 99

According to media reports, Apple is planning to postpone some new features for iOS and macOS this year to focus on improving reliability, stability and performance of the existing versions. Steven Sinofsky, a former President of the Windows Division, shared his insights into the significance of this development: Several important points are conflated in the broad discussion about Apple and software: Quality, pace of change, features "versus" quality, and innovation. Scanning the landscape, it is important to recognize that in total the work Apple has been doing across hardware, software, services, and even AI/ML, in total -- is breathtaking and unprecedented in scope, scale, and quality. Few companies have done so much for so long with such a high level of consistency. This all goes back to the bet on the NeXT code base and move to Intel for Mac OS plus the iPod, which began the journey to where we are today.

[...] What is lost in all of this recent discussion is the nuance between features, schedule, and quality. It is like having a discussion with a financial advisor over income, risk, and growth. You don't just show up and say you want all three and get a "sure." On the other hand, this is precisely what Apple did so reliably over 20 years. But behind the scenes there is a constant discussion over balancing these three legs of the tripod. You have to have all of them but you "can't" but you have to. This is why they get paid big $.

[...] A massive project like an OS (+h/w +cloud) is like a large investment portfolio and some things will work (in market) and others won't, some things are designed to return right away, some are safe bets, some are long term investments. And some mistakes... Customers don't care about any of that and that's ok. They just look for what they care about. Each evaluates through their own lens. Apple's brilliance is in focusing mostly on two audiences -- Send-users and developers -- tending to de-emphasize the whole "techie" crowd, even IT. When you look at a feature like FaceID and trace it backwards all the way to keychain -- see how much long term thought can go into a feature and how much good work can go unnoticed (or even "fail") for years before surfacing as a big advantage. That's a long term POV AND focus. This approach is rather unique compared to other tech companies that tend to develop new things almost independent of everything else. So new things show up and look bolted on the side of what already exists. (Sure Apple can do that to, but not usually). All the while while things are being built the team is just a dev team and trying to come up with a reliable schedule and fix bug. This is just software development.


Amazon Is Designing Custom AI Chips For Alexa ( 70

According to a report (paywalled) from The Information, Amazon is designing a custom artificial intelligence chip that would power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its Alexa voice assistant. "The move closely followers rivals Apple and Google, both of which have already developed and deployed custom AI hardware at various scales," reports The Verge. From the report: While Amazon is unlikely to physically produce the chips, given its lack of both fabrication experience and a manufacturing presence in China, the news does pose a risk to the businesses of companies like Nvidia and Intel. Both companies have shifted large portions of their chipmaking expertise to AI and the future of the burgeoning field, and both make money by designing and manufacturing chips for companies like Apple, Amazon, and others. Amazon, which seeks to stay competitive in the smart home hardware market and in the realm of consumer-facing AI products, has nearly 450 people with chip expertise on staff, reports The Information, thanks to key hires and acquisitions the e-commerce giant has made in the last few years. The plan is for Amazon to develop its own AI chips so Alexa-powered products in its ever-expanding Echo line can do more on-device processing, instead of having to communicate with the cloud, a process that increases response rate times.

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault ( 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.

Intel Replaces its Buggy Fix for Skylake PCs ( 57

Intel has released new microcode to address the stability and reboot issues on systems after installing its initial mitigations for Variant 2 of the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. From a report: The stability issues caused by Intel's microcode updates resulted in Lenovo, HP, and Dell halting their deployment of BIOS updates last month as Intel worked to resolve the problems. Intel initially said unexpected reboots were only seen on Broadwell and Haswell chips, but later admitted newer Skylake architecture chips were also affected. Microsoft also said it had also seen Intel's updates cause data loss or corruption in some cases.

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos ( 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."

A Look at Vaunt, Intel's Smart Glasses That Use Retinal Projection To Put a Display in Your Eyeball ( 106

Chipmaker Intel is eyeing the smart glasses market, too. The Verge was invited to the company's lab where it got to play with Vaunt, a prototype of the company's smart glasses. The Vaunt looks very much like a normal pair of glasses, and uses retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball. The Verge: The most important parts of Intel's new Vaunt smart glasses are the pieces that were left out. There is no camera to creep people out, no button to push, no gesture area to swipe, no glowing LCD screen, no weird arm floating in front of the lens, no speaker, and no microphone (for now). From the outside, the Vaunt glasses look just like eyeglasses. When you're wearing them, you see a stream of information on what looks like a screen -- but it's actually being projected onto your retina.

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