Posts Tagged‘samsung’

Samsung’s V-NAND Has Arrived, and It’s Awesome.

When people ask me what one component on their PC they should upgrade my answer is always the same: get yourself a SSD. It’s not so much the raw performance characteristics that make the upgrade worth it, more all those things that many people hate about computers seem to melt away when you have a SSD behind it. All your applications load near instantly, your operating system feels more responsive and those random long lock ups where your hard drive seems to churn over for ages simply disappears. However the one drawback is their size and cost, being an order of magnitude above the good old spinning rust. Last year Samsung announced their plans to change that with V-NAND and today they deliver on that promise.

Samsung 850 Pro V-NAND SSD

The Samsung 850 Pro is the first consumer drive to be released with V-NAND technology and is available in sizes up to 1TB. The initial promise of 128Gbit per chip has unfortunately fallen a little short of its mark with this current production version only delivering around 86Gbit per chip. This is probably due to economical reasons as the new chips under the hood of this SSD are smaller than the first prototypes which helps to increase the yield per wafer. Interestingly enough these chips are being produced on an older lithography process, 30nm instead of the current standard 20nm for most NAND chips. That might sound like a step back, and indeed it would be for most hardware, however the performance of the drive is pretty phenomenal, meaning that V-NAND is going to get even better with time.

Looking at the performance reviews the Samsung 850 Pro seems to be a top contender, if not the best, in pretty much all of the categories. In the world of SSDs having consistently high performance like this across a lot of categories is very unusual as typically a drive manufacturer will tune performance to a certain profile. Some favour random reads, others sustained write performance, but the Samsung 850 Pro seems to do pretty much all of them without breaking a sweat. However what really impressed me about the drive wasn’t so much the raw numbers, it was how the drive performed over time, even without the use of TRIM.

samsung 850 pro 512gb - hdtach-3-

SSDs naturally degrade in performance over time, not due to the components wearing out but due to the nature of how they read and write data. Essentially it comes down to blocks needing to be checked to see if they’re free or not before they can be written to, a rather costly process. A new drive has all blank space which means these checks don’t need to be done but over time they’ll get into unknown states due to all the writing and rewriting. The TRIM command tells SSDs that certain blocks have been freed up, allowing the drive to flag them as unused, recovering some of the performance. The graph above shows what happens when the new Samsung 850 Pro reaches that performance degradation point even without the use of TRIM. If you compare that to other SSDs this kind of consistent performance almost looks like witchcraft but it’s just the V-NAND technology showing one of its many benefits.

Indeed Samsung is so confident in these new drives it’s giving all of them a 10 year warranty, something you can’t find even on good old spinning rust drives anymore. I’ll be honest when I first read about V-NAND I had a feeling that the first drives would likely be failure ridden write offs, like most new technologies are. However this new drive from Samsung appears to be the evolutionary step that all SSDs need to take as this first iteration device is just walking all over the competition. I was already sold on a Samsung SSD for my next PC build but I think an 850 Pro just made the top of my list.

Now if only those G-SYNC monitors could come out already, then I’d be set to build my next gen gaming PC.

Samsung Starts Producing V-NAND, Massive SSDs Not Far Off.

I’ve been in the market for a new PC for a little while now so occasionally I’ll indulge myself in a little hypothetical system building so I can figure out how much I want to spend (lots) and what kind of computer I’ll get out of it (a super fast one). One of the points that got me unstuck was the fact that whilst I can get semi-decent performance out of my RAID10 set which stores most of my stuff it’s no where near the performance of my SSD that holds the OS and my regularly used applications. Easy, I thought, I’ll just RAID together some SSDs and get the performance I want with enough space to hold all my games and other miscellany. Thing is though SSDs don’t like to be in RAID sets (thanks to TRIM not working with it) unless its RAID0 and I’m not terribly keen on halving the MTBF just so I can get some additional space. No what I need is a bigger drive and it looks like Samsung is ready to deliver on that.

V-NAND-04-0

That little chip is the key to realizing bigger SSDs (among other things). It’s a new type of flash memory called V-NAND based on a new gate technology called CTF and Samsung has just started mass production of them.

What’s really quite groovy about this new kind of NAND chip is that unlike all other computer chips which are planar in nature, I.E. all the transistors lie on a single plane, V-NAND (as you can likely guess) is actually a vertical stack of planar chips. This allows for incredible densities inside a single chip with this first generation clocking in at a whopping 128GB. Putting that in perspective the drive that I’m currently using has the same capacity as that single chip which means that if I replaced its memory with this new V-NAND I’d  be looking at a 1TB drive. For tech heads like me even hearing that it was theoretically possible to do something like that would make us weak at the knees but these are chips that you can start buying today.

Apparently this isn’t their most dense chip either as their new 3D NAND tech allows them to go up to 24 layers high. I can’t seem to find a reference that states just how many layers are in this current chip so I’m not sure how dense we’re talking here but it seems like this will be the first chip among many and I doubt they’ll stop at 24.

As if all that wasn’t enough Samsung is also touting higher reliability, from anywhere between 2x to 10x, as well as at least double the write performance of traditional NAND packages. All SSDs are at the point where the differences in write/read speeds are almost invisible to the end user so that may be moot for many but for system builders it’s an amazing leap forward. Considering we can already get some pretty amazing IOPS from the SSDs available today doubling that just means we can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less hardware and that’s always a good thing. Whether those claims hold up in the real world will have to be seen however but there’s a pretty close relationship between data density and increased throughput.

Unfortunately whilst these chips are hitting mass production today I couldn’t find any hint of which partners are creating drives based around them or if Samsung was working on one themselves. They’ve been releasing some pretty decent SSDs recently, indeed they were the ones I was eyeing off for my next potential system, so I can’t imagine they’d be too far off given that they have all the expertise to create one. Indeed they just recently released the gigantic 1.6TB SSD that uses the new PCIe interface NVMe to deliver some pretty impressive speeds so I wouldn’t be surprised if their next drive comes out on that platform using this new V-NAND.

It’s developments like this that are a testament to the fact that Moore’s Law will keep on keeping on long despite the numerous doubters ringing its death bell. With this kind of technology in mind its easy to imagine it being applied elsewhere, increasing density in other areas like CPU dies and volatile memory. Of course porting such technology is non-trivial but I’d hazard a guess that all the chip manufacturers worldwide are chomping at the bit to get in on this and I’m sure Samsung will be more than happy to license the patents to them.

For a princely sum, of course 😉

 

Apple’s Win Could Hurt Them More Than Samsung.

I haven’t talked about the Apple vs Samsung court case that’s been raging on for the past year mostly because I didn’t feel like there was anything interesting to say about it. Usually these kinds of court cases are business negotiations that have gone south and they’re just using the legal system to figure out who should be paying who for what. The Apple vs Samsung case was slightly different as it appeared to be more of a move from Apple to try and block Samsung out of the USA market, one where they’re starting to get quite the foothold thanks to their flagship Galaxy devices selling like the proverbial hotcakes. Samsung isn’t completely innocent in this regard either, pulling the same kind of tactic in other markets.

Of course the news recently broke that after 2 days of deliberation the jury on the Apple vs Samsung case returned the verdict that Samsung had indeed wronged Apple and were awarded a cool billion dollars in damages. The damages were broken down on a per device level based on the jury’s judgement of how much they infringed on what the appropriate damages would be. No matter what the decision in the case ended up being there was always going to be something of a media storm following it, and boy was there ever.

On the surface it didn’t look like the fallout from the case was doing Samsung any favours. Trading for Samsung stock closed 7% down on the day after the announcement was made, wiping $12 billion of value from the company and making the fine look like a pittance by comparison. Of course the verdict isn’t completely finalised yet with a potentially lengthy appeals process (and issues with the way the jury decided the verdict could have the whole thing thrown out) to come but there’s no denying that the immediate down turn in the confidence that the market has in Samsung will affect them adversely in the short to medium term.

However Apple may have set themselves up for an unlikely consequence: they put Samsung in the same league as them.

Us high tech geeks could rattle off the differences between Apple and Samsung’s products for hours and realistically they’re completely different beasts. However with this very public lawsuit Apple has gone on record saying that Samsung is basically equivalent to them and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the general public. Indeed this was very much the same way Samsung managed to establish itself as a dominant player in the LCD TV business, often being touted as the cheaper version of the higher quality Sony¹. The same thing appears to be happening in relation to Apple with Samsung more than happy to be second fiddle in such a large market. Indeed the numbers back this idea up, especially when you look at the sales figures of their recent flagship product, the Galaxy S3.

I didn’t come up with this idea myself however, that credit goes to two posts I caught on Google+. It still might be wild speculation but the history of similar things happening with Samsung and other competitors does lend some credence to the idea. Whether Samsung can capitalize on that, especially with the market looking down on the ruling, is something that we’ll only know as time goes on. Their stock hasn’t tumbled any further though so there’s some indication that the initial fine shock might’ve been just that.

Personally I feel it highlights the problems with the USA’s current patent system more than anything else. Instead of them being used to encourage innovation, as was their original intent, they’re now far more likely to be used as weapons in big lawsuits or in negotiations over licensing fees. How we go about solving that problem isn’t something I have a good answer for but until we do we’ll continue to have these kinds of high profile cases which tie up resources that could be put to much better use.

¹I will freely admit that I don’t have anything solid to back this assertion up apart from the countless hours of research I poured into finding the best TV for the right price all those years ago. A cursory search finds threads like this one  which echo the sentiment I’m referring to.

Galaxy S3 Announced: Samsung Focusing Heavily on Software.

It wasn’t long ago that I got nerd chills from the speculative specifications of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S3. I think that was mostly due to the micro arc oxidation video that someone had linked to when it was speculated that the case would be some form of ceramic. The specifications were also none too shabby either although I was curious as to how Samsung was going to squeeze in such a massive display yet still keep the trim and taught design philosophy that has been a signature of the Galaxy series. After a torrent of leaks, rabid speculation and uncertainty about the actual announcement date Samsung has finally announced the Galaxy S3 at the Mobile Unpacked event in London.

I’ll have to be honest at first glance I wasn’t really thrilled with the design of the new Galaxy S3. I mean it’s not exactly ugly, the minimalistic  front panel is in essence the same as nearly all its predecessors, but the softer, more rounded edges are a step away from the much sharper corners of its predecessor. The glossy back plate is also something I’m not entirely in love with either as the textured back of the S2 is something I’ve come to appreciate after using it for an extended period of time. Apart from those two complaints though I’ve got a feeling it will be a very nice handset to use, being only slightly thicker than the S2 (8.6mm vs 8.49mm) with another half an inch of screen size that boasts a much higher resolution.

Spec wise the Galaxy S3 is a pretty large jump up from the S2 in nearly every aspect. The dual core 1.2GHz Exynos processor has been replaced with a quad core 1.4GHz giving the S3 an incredible amount of computing power. The graphics card stays the same in name only as whilst Samsung isn’t releasing anything official on it yet some early benchmarks show that its easily beating out its predecessor by a wide margin and even takes the top spot in a number of tests. The most noticeable improvement though is of course the giant Super AMOLED screen that’s 4.8 inches across and is packing a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p). Strangely though the RAM and cameras both remain the same as the predecessor so I’m guessing both of them classified as good enough and weren’t in need of any physical improvements.

Whilst the hardware is impressive it’s quite obvious that it was not the major focus of Samsung’s announcement; that honor belongs to the software.

The Galaxy S3 comes loaded with Android 4.0.4 that’s been modified with Samsung’s usual TouchWiz interface. Now I was a fan of that in the beginning, it definitely eased my transition into the Android world coming from an iPhone, but the stock ICS experience is very good so Samsung has their work cut out for them when it comes to improving on that. From what I’ve seen so far they’ve deviated heavily from the stock interface I assume mostly to enable the additional features they’ve integrated but I’ll guess I should wait and see them for myself before I pass judgement on them.

From a usability perspective Samsung has added in a few features that will make the phone much more user friendly. “Smart Stay” will recognize when you’re looking at the phone and adjust the brightness accordingly. This is similar to the auto-dimming feature on other phones but this goes a step further by looking for your face so it knows when you’ve put the phone down. Samsung has also duplicated Apple’s Siri in what they’re calling “S Voice” but has gone deeper with the platform integration, enabling you to do things like say “snooze” to delay an alarm. Finally “Smart Alert” (everything of theirs is smart apparently) will recognize when you’ve missed a call and have picked up the phone since, vibrating and putting the alerts front and center.

Samsung is also trying to make sharing between S3’s and other devices easier through their S Beam app which builds on the Android Beam present in ICS. In essence its a high speed data transfer program that works between Galaxy S3 handsets, utilizing both WiFi and NFC to get some pretty decent speeds (5MB/s from what Samsung tells us). Their AllShare Cast and AllShare Play features are also quite interesting allowing S3 owners to share video simultaneously between them or even wirelessly transmit their screen (usually a game) to say the lounge room TV. Whether those two features will prove useful however is something I’m not entirely sure about, but it is a rather novel little feature to include with the new handset.

Is this handset enough to tempt current S2 owners to pony up for the latest handset? Hard to say, I’m still only 9 months into owning mine and whilst I do have a serious amount of nerd lust for the specs of the S3 I’m not 100% sold on it yet. The heavy focus on the software is probably what is making me hesitant as whilst I found TouchWiz to be great for an iPhone user coming across to Android land I’ve since fallen in love with the stock ICS experience. I have no doubt that the people over xda-developers will eventually make a ROM that contains the best of both worlds so I can have my cake and eat it too but then again I’m not your typical Samsung user. In that regard then I think that the S3 will have more than enough to tempt current owners across, and I’m probably just talking tough right now in order to keep up some blog cred 😉

Samsung Galaxy S3 Specs Revealed, Nerd Chills Had.

7 months down the line and I’m still a big fan of my Samsung Galaxy S2. It’s been a great phone, combining large screen size with a slim, lightweight shell that I sometimes have to check for to remind myself that its still in my pocket. It’s surprisingly resilient as well, having taken more than a couple drops from pretty decent heights and coming out the other end with only minor scuffs and nary a scratch on the screen. Sadly I can’t say much more for the battery life as it seems that the more apps I pile on there the worse it gets, but I can’t really blame the phone for my app hoarding ways.

However I always knew that this relationship would be temporary, I mean how could it not? It started with geek wunderlust and as it is with all relationships that start like that it’s inevitable that my eyes would begin to wander, and so they have with this announcement:

…Ladies and gentlemen, here is the Samsung Galaxy S III:

  • 1.5GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor
  • 4.8-inch “full HD” 1080p resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio display
  • A 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera
  • Ceramic case
  • 4G LTE
  • Android 4.0

I’ll spare you the photoshopped Galaxy S2 images that are doing the rounds but suffice to say those specs are pretty darn amazing. They’re also fairly plausible as well given Samsung’s research into the component technologies and current trends for both carriers and the Android platform. The detail that caught my eye however was the ceramic case as that’s not a material that you’d usually expect to see on a mobile phone with plastic and glass being the only 2 real choices. There could be reasoning behind it though and if my suspicions are correct its due to the crazy amount of tech they’ve stuffed under the hood.

Traditionally ceramics are pretty poor heat conductors which is why they make for good mugs and insulation materials. However there are quite a few advanced ceramics that are very capable of moving heat just as efficiently as most metals are, some even better. Now anyone who has a dual core smart phone knows how hot the buggers get when you’re using them for an extended period and since most phones are plastic that heat tends to stick around rather than dissipate. The ceramic case could then be an attempt to mitigate the heat problems that will come with the quad core processor and larger screen. This also has the potential to make the phones somewhat more brittle however (ceramics don’t flex, they shatter) so it will be interesting to see how Samsung compensates for that.

With just those few details though I’m already excited for Samsung’s next instalment in their flagship line of smart phones. Their last 2 iterations of the Galaxy S line have gone from strength to strength, firmly cementing themselves as the number one Android handset manufacturer. The Galaxy S3 looks to continue this trend with specifications that are sure to tempt even the most recent purchasers of the S2. I know I’ll find it hard to resist and I’m thankful that it probably won’t be out for a little while longer.

I don’t think my wallet would appreciate buying 2 phones within 7 months of each other 😉

Fusion-IO’s ioDrive Comparison: Sizing up Enterprise Level SSDs.

Of all the PC upgrades that I’ve ever done in the past the one that’s most notably improved performance of my rig is, by a wide margin, installing a SSD. Whilst good old fashioned spinning rust disks have come a long way in recent years in terms of performance they’re still far and away the slowest component in any modern system. This is what chokes most PC’s performance as the disk is a huge bottleneck, slowing everything down to its pace. The problem can be mitigated somewhat by using several disks in a RAID 0 or RAID 10 set but all of those pale in comparison when compared to even a single SSD.

The problem doesn’t go away for the server environment either, in fact most of the server performance problems I’ve diagnosed have had their roots in poor disk performance. Over the years I’ve discovered quite a few tricks to get around the problems presented by traditional disk drives but there are just some limitations you can’t overcome. Recently at work the issue of disk performance came to a head again as we investigated the possibility of using blade servers in our environment. I casually made mention of a company that I had heard of a while back, Fusion-IO, who specialised in making enterprise class SSDs. The possibility of using one of the Fusion-IO cards as a massive cache for the slower SAN disk was a tantalizing prospect and to my surprise I was able to snag an evaluation unit in order to put it through its paces.

The card we were sent was one of the 640GB ioDrives. It’s surprising heavily for its size, sporting gobs of NAND flash and a massive heat sink that hides the propeitary c ontroller. What intrigued me about the card initially was the NAND didn’t sport any branding I recognised before (usually its recognisable like Samsung) but as it turns out each chip is a 128GB Micron NAND Flash chip. If all that storage was presented raw it would total some 3.1 TB and this is telling of the underlying infrastructure of the Fusion-IO devices.

The total storage available to the operating system once this card is installed is around 640GB (600GB usable). Now to get that kind of storage out of the Micron NAND chips you’d only need 5 of them but the ioDrive comes with a grand total of 25 dotting the board. No traditional RAID scheme can account for the amount of storage presented. So based on the fact that there’s 25 chips and only 5 chips worth of capacity available it follows that the Fusion-IO card uses quintuplet sets of chips to provide the high level of performance that they claim. That’s an incredible amount of parallelism and if I’m honest I expected these chips to all be 256MB chips that were all RAID 1 to make one big drive.

Funnily enough I did actually find some Samsung chips on this card, two 1GB DDR2 chips. These are most likely used for the CPU on the ioDrive which has a front side bus of either 333 or 400MHz based on the RAM speed.

But enough of the techno geekery, what’s really important is how well this thing performs in comparison to traditional disks and whether or not it’s worth the $16,000 price tag that comes along with it. Now I had done some extensive testing of various systems in the past in order to ascertain whether the new Dell servers we were looking at where going to perform as well as their HP counterparts. All of this testing was purely disk based using IOMeter, a disk load simulator that tests and reports on nearly every statistic you want to know about your disk subsystem. If you’re interested in replicating the results I’ve got then I’ve uploaded a copy of my configuration file here. The servers included in the test are Dell M610x, Dell M710HD, Dell M910, Dell R710 and a HP DL380G7. For all the tests (bar the two labelled local install) all of them are a base install of ESXi 5 with a Windows 2008R2 virtual machine installed on top of it. The specs of the virtual machine are 4 vCPUs, 4GB RAM and a 40GB disk.

As you can see the ioDrive really is in a class all of its own. The only server that comes close in terms of IOPS is the M910 and that’s because it’s sporting 2 Samsung SSDs in RAID 0. What impresses me most about the ioDrive though is its random performance which manages to stay quite high even as the block size starts to get bigger. Although its not shown in these tests the one area where the traditional disks actually equal the Fusion-IO is in terms of throughput when you get up to really large write sizes, on the order of 1MB or so. I put this down to the fact that the servers in question, the R710s and DL380G7s, have 8 disks in them that can pump out some serious bandwidth when they need to. If I had 2 Fusion-IO cards though I’m sure I could easily double that performance figure.

What interested me next was to see how close I could get to the spec sheet performance. The numbers I just showed you are particularly incredible but Fusion-IO claims that this particular drive was capable of something on the order of 140,000 IOPS if I played my cards correctly. Using the local install of Windows 2008 I had on there I fired up IOMeter again and set up some 512B tests to see if I could get close to those numbers. The results, as shown in the Dell IO contoller software, are shown below:

Ignoring the small blip in the centre where I had to restart the test you can see that whilst the ioDrive is capable of some pretty incredible IO the advertised maximums are more than likely theoretical than practical. I tried several different tests and while a few averaged higher than this (approximately 80K IOPS was my best) it was still a far cry from the figures they have quoted. Had they gotten within 10~20% I would’ve given it to them but whilst the ioDrive’s performance is incredible it’s not quite as incredible as the marketing department would have you believe.

As a piece of hardware the Fusion-IO ioDrive is really the next step up in terms of performance. The virtual machines I had running directly on the card were considerably faster than their spinning rust counterparts and if you were in need of some really crazy performance you really couldn’t go past one of these cards. For the purpose we had in mind for it however (putting it inside a M610x blade) I can’t really recommend it as it’s a full height blade that only has the power of a half height. The M910 represents much better value with its crazy CPU and RAM count and the SSDs, whilst being far from Fusion-IO level, do a pretty good job of bridging the disk performance gap. I didn’t have enough time to see how it would improve some real world applications (it takes me longer than 10 days to get something like this into our production environment) but based on these figures I have no doubt it improve the performance of whatever I put it into considerably. 

Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus: An Evolutionary Behemoth.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my Samsung Galaxy S2, mostly because the specifications are enough to make any geek weak at the knees. It’s not just geeks that are obsessed with the phone either as Samsung has moved an impressive 10 million of them in the 5 months that its been available. Samsung has made something of a name for itself in being the phone manufacturer to have if you’re looking for an Android handset, especially when you consider Google used their original Galaxy S as the basis for their flagship phone the Nexus S. Rumours have been circulating for a while that Samsung would once again be the manufacturer of choice, a surprising rumour considering they had just sunk a few billion into acquiring Motorola

Yesterday however saw the announcement of Google’s new flagship phone the Galaxy Nexus and sure enough it’s Samsung hardware that’s under the hood.

The stand out feature of the Galaxy Nexus is the gigantic screen, coming in at an incredible 4.65 inches and a resolution of 1280 x 720 (the industry standard for 720p). That gives you a PPI of 315 which is slightly below the iPhone 4/4S’ retina screen which comes in at 326 PPI which is amazing when you consider it’s well over an inch bigger. As far as I can tell it’s the highest resolution on a smart phone in the market currently and there’s only a handful of handsets that boast a similar sized screen. Whether this monster of a screen will be a draw card though is up for debate as not all of us are blessed with the giant hands to take full advantage of it.

Under the hood it’s a bit of a strange beast, especially when compared to its predecessors. It uses a Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 processor (dual core, 1.2GHz) instead of the usual ARM A9 or Samsung’s own Exynos SOC coupled with a whopping 1GB of RAM. The accompanying hardware includes a 5MP camera capable of 1080p video, all the usual connectivity options with the addition of NFC and wireless N and, strangely enough, a barometer. The Galaxy Nexus does not feature expandable storage like most of its predecessors did, instead coming in 16GB and 32GB variants. All up it makes for a phone that’s definitely a step up from the Galaxy S2 but not in every regard with some features on par or below that of the S2.

Looking at the design of the Galaxy Nexus I couldn’t help but notice that it had sort of regressed back to the previous design style, being more like the Galaxy S rather than the S2. As it turns out this is quite deliberate as Samsung designed the Galaxy Nexus in such a way as to avoid more lawsuits from Apple. It’s rather unfortunate as the design of the Galaxy S2 is really quite nice and I’m not particularly partial to the rounded look at all. Still I can understand why they want to avoid more problems with Apple, it’s a costly exercise and neither of them are going to come out the other side smelling of roses.

Hand in hand with the Galaxy Nexus announcement Google has also debuted Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android OS. There’s a myriad of improvements that I won’t go through here (follow the link for a full run down) but notable features are the ability to unlock your phone by it recognizing your face, integrated screen capture (yes, that hasn’t been a default feature for this long), a NFC sharing app called Android Beam and a better interface for seeing how much data you’re using that includes the ability to kill data hogging apps. Like the Galaxy Nexus itself Ice Cream Sandwich is more of an evolutionary step rather than being revolutionary but it looks like a worthy compliment to Google’s new flagship phone.

The Galaxy Nexus shows that Samsung is very capable of delivering impressive smart phones over and over again. The hardware, for the most part, is quite incredible bringing features to the table that haven’t yet been seen before. Ice Cream Sandwich looks to be a good upgrade to the Android operating system and coupled with the Galaxy Nexus the pair will make one very desirable smart phone. Will I be getting one of them? Probably not as my S2 is more than enough to last me until next year when I’ll be looking to upgrade again, but I can’t say I’m not tempted 😉

The Memristor: Moore’s Law Gets a Jolt.

The computer (or whatever Internet capable device you happen to be viewing this on) is made up of various electronic components. For the most part these are semiconductors, devices which allow the flow of electricity but don’t do it readily, but there’s also a lot of supporting electronics that are what we call fundamental components of electronics. As almost any electrical enthusiast will tell you there are 3 such components: the resistor, capacitor and inductor each of them with their own set of properties that makes them useful in electronic circuits. There’s been speculation of a 4th fundamental component for about 40 years but before I talk about that I’ll need to give you a quick run down on what the current fundamentals properties are.

The resistor is the simplest of the lot, all it does is impede the flow of electricity. They’re quite simple devices, usually a small brown package banded by 4 or more colours which denotes just how resistive it actually is. Resistors are often used as current limiters as the amount of current that can pass through them is directly related to the voltage and level of resistance of said resistor. In essence you can think of them as narrow pathways in which electric current has to squeeze through.

Capacitors are intriguing little devices and can be best thought of as batteries. You’ve seen them if you’ve taken apart any modern device as they’re those little canister looking things attached to the main board of said device. They work by storing charge in an electrostatic field between two metal plates that’s separated by an insulating material called a dielectric. Modern day capacitors are essentially two metal plates and the dielectric rolled up into a cylinder, something which you could see if you cut one open. I’d only recommend doing this with a “solid” capacitor as the dielectrics used in other capacitors are liquids and tend to be rather toxic and/or corrosive.

Inductors are very similar to capacitors in the respect that they also store charge but instead of an electrostatic field they store it in a magnetic field. Again you’ve probably seen them if you’ve cracked open any modern device (or say looked inside your computer) as they look like little circles of metal with wire coiled around them. They’re often referred to as “chokes” as they tend to oppose the current that induces the magnetic field within them and at high frequencies they’ll appear as a break in the circuit, useful if you’re trying to keep alternating current out of your circuit. 

For quite a long time these 3 components formed the basis of all electrical theory and nearly any component could be expressed in terms of them. However back in 1971 Leon Chua explored the symmetry between these fundamental components and inferred that there should be a 4th fundamental component, the Memristor. The name is a combination of memory and resistor and Chua stated that this component would not only have the ability to remember its resistance, but also have it changed by passing current through it. Passing current in one direction would increase the resistance and reversing it would decrease it. The implications of such a component would be huge but it wasn’t until 37 years later that the first memristor was created by researchers in HP’s lab division.

What’s really exciting about the memristor is its potential to replace other solid state storage technologies like Flash and DRAM. Due to memristor’s simplicity they are innately fast and, best of all, they can be integrated directly onto the chip of processors. If you look at the breakdown of a current generation processor you’ll notice that a good portion of the silicone used is dedicated to cache, or onboard memory. Memristors have the potential to boost the amount of onboard memory to extraordinary levels, and HP believes they’ll be doing that in just 18 months:

Williams compared HP’s resistive RAM technology against flash and claimed to meet or exceed the performance of flash memory in all categories. Read times are less than 10 nanoseconds and write/erase times are about 0.1-ns. HP is still accumulating endurance cycle data at 10^12 cycles and the retention times are measured in years, he said.

This creates the prospect of adding dense non-volatile memory as an extra layer on top of logic circuitry. “We could offer 2-Gbytes of memory per core on the processor chip. Putting non-volatile memory on top of the logic chip will buy us twenty years of Moore’s Law, said Williams.

To put this in perspective Intel’s current flagship CPU ships with a total of 8MB of cache on the CPU and that’s shared between 4 cores. A similar memristor based CPU would have a whopping 8GB of on board cache, effectively negating the need for external DRAM. Couple this with a memristor based external drive for storage and you’d have a computer that’s literally decades ahead of the curve in terms of what we thought was possible, and Moore’s Law can rest easy for a while.

This kind of technology isn’t you’re usual pie in the sky “it’ll be available in the next 10 years” malarkey, this is the real deal. HP isn’t the only one looking into this either, Samsung (one of the world’s largest flash manufacturers) has also been aggressively pursuing this technology and will likely début products around the same time. For someone like me it’s immensely exciting as it shows that there are still many great technological advances ahead of us, just waiting to be uncovered and put into practice. I can’t wait to see how the first memristor devices perform as it will truly be a generational leap ahead in technology.

 

Samsung’s Galaxy S2: Powerful, Elegant, Sublime.

I’m pretty fiscally conservative when it comes to my own cash, agonizing over purchases for sometimes weeks at a time before I take the plunge. It’s enough to outright kill some purchases entirely like the Motorola Xoom that I was convinced was worth at least having around just for the “tablet experience” but couldn’t seem to pass my financial filter. There are however times when my inner geek becomes so impressed with something that it overwhelms any sort of fiscal responsibility and I’ll find myself in possession of my object of desire well before I realize that I’ve taken my credit card out of my wallet. The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a brilliant example of this as I had been looking for a new phone for a while (and the Windows Phone 7 handsets available weren’t wowing me) and a quick trip to the specification sheet had me deep in geek lust, and 3 days later I had one in my hands.

The Galaxy S2 is really another world away from any other handset that I’ve had the pleasure of using. It’s quite a wide unit with the main screen measuring an impressive 4.3″ (10.92cm) across the diagonal but it’s also incredibly slim, being only 8.49mm thick. It’s also incredibly light weighing in at a tiny 116g which you’d think would make it feel cheap when compared to other similar handsets (the iPhone 4 is much more meatier) but the construction of the handset is very solid despite it being entirely plastic. The front screen is Gorilla glass which is incredibly resistant to scratches. I haven’t had a single scratch on it despite dropping it a couple times and putting it in my pocket with my keys by accident, something that would’ve ruined a lesser phone. To say that the first impressions of just holding the handset are impressive is putting it lightly, it’s simply an incredible device to hold.

In fact coming directly from an iPhone to the Galaxy S2 I can see why Samsung is in hot water with Apple over this particular device. I’ve covered the TouchWiz interface being strikingly similar to iOS in my Android review but the handset itself is also very Applesque, sporting the same single physical button on the front right in the same location that Apple has. Although its hard to accuse them of outright copying Apple since you can only get so creative with large touchscreen devices, especially when some of the required buttons are dictated by the underlying OS.

Under the hood of this featherweight device lies immense processing power, a multitude of connectivity options and enough sensors to make privacy nuts go wild with lawsuits. To give you an idea of just how jam packed the Galaxy S2 is here’s a breakdown of the specifications:

  • Compatible networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900; MHz UMTS: 850, 900, 1700, 1900, and 2100; MHz HSPA+: 21 Mbit/s;  HSUPA: 5.76 Mbit/s
  • CPU: 1.2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC processor; Samsung Exynos (GT-i9100)
  • GPU: ARM Mali-400 MP (GT-i9100)
  • Memory 1 GB RAM
  • Storage: 16 GB flash memory expandable with microSD (up to 32 GB)
  • Data inputs: Multi-touch touch screen, headset controls, proximity and ambient light sensors, 3-axis gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, aGPS, and stereo FM-radio
  • Rear camera: 8 Mpx with auto focus, 1080p HD video, LED flash; Front camera: 2 Mpx for video chatting, video recording (VGA)
  • Connectivity: 3.5 mm TRRS; Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); Wi-Fi Direct; Bluetooth 3.0; Micro USB 2.0; Near field communication (NFC); DLNA; MHL; HDMI; USB Host (OTG) 2.0
  • Screen: 800×480 px at 218 ppi WVGA Super AMOLED Plus
It’s this very list that sold me on the phone initially. In terms of computing power the Samsung Galaxy S2 is roughly equivalent to a full PC I owned just 8 years ago, except that this one fits in my pocket and can also make calls. The in built storage is extremely generous, even if 5GB of it isn’t really available to you. What really impressed me was the inclusion of an 8 megapixel camera that was also capable of recording in full 1080p HD, something I had only just recently been able to do after shelling out $400 on my Sony DSC-HX5V. There’s also a pretty decent camera on the front of it too, although I’ve yet to use that for anything. You might then be wondering how the picture and image quality stacks up against my little pocket camera, well I did a quick comparison video below showcasing both of them side by side:

As you can see it actually stands up quite well when compared to my Sony. The video and picture quality is very comparable, especially in well lit situations. However it does fall down in low light and any time there’s motion due to the smaller CMOS sensor and lack of image stabilization. The LED flash on it is also incredibly harsh and will likely wash out any low light photo you attempt to take with it, but it does make for a decent little flash light. It won’t outright replace my little pocket cam any time soon but it’s definitely a good stand in when I don’t have (or don’t want to carry) it with me.

The everyday usability of the Galaxy S2 is also quite good for someone like me who has large hands (…ladies 😉 and used to struggle somewhat with the smaller screens on other handsets. However one gripe I do have with the handset is the lack of physical buttons for the options and back buttons for Android. The Galaxy S2 opts instead for 2 capacitive buttons either side of a the physical home button which does give the device a much sleeker look but can also mean accidental button touches should you brush against them. Samsung has also opted to put the power button on the side of the handset instead of the traditional placement on top near the headset port, which takes a little getting used to but is quite usable.

Where the stock Galaxy S2 falls down however is in its battery life. With moderate usage the battery wouldn’t make it through a second day requiring me to keep it plugged in most days whilst I was work lest it die on me overnight when I went home. This could have been the deal breaker for this phone as whilst I’m not the forgetful type I do like to be confident that I can make it through the day without having to watch the battery meter like a hawk. Thankfully the guys over at XDA Developers came to the rescue again with their custom ROM for the Galaxy S2 called VillainROM. After going through the process of doing the upgrade my battery now lasts about twice as long as it used to, only needing charging once or twice a week. I’ve yet to run Advanced Task Killer to attempt to squeeze even more battery life out of my handset, but it’s good enough for the time being.

It should come at no surprise then that this has been a wildly popular handset with both the tech and non-tech crowd a like. In the 3 months since its release the Galaxy S2 has sold a whopping 6 million units and just anecdotally it seems nearly every single one of my friends who was looking for a new phone has got one as well as almost half of my workmates. I used to laugh at anyone who touted any smartphone as an iPhone killer but with the Galaxy S2 not even being available in the USA yet and already garnering such a massive reception it might be the very first single phone that will be able to come close to touching Apple’s numbers. Of course I don’t believe for a second that any single Android handset will be able to take down the iPhone, not for a while at least.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 has set the bar as to what smart phones should be capable of and it will be the gold standard with which all are compared to for a long time coming. The combination of elegant design, incredible power and features galore make the Galaxy S2 stand out from the crowd in a big way, so much so that buying any other handset seems illogical. For many it has the potential to replace several other devices with its top notch multimedia components, further improving the overall value that you can derive from this handset. Overall the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a wonderfully impressive device and if you’re in the market for a new smart phone I really can’t recommend it enough.

Samsung Galaxy Tab: The Second Step in a Brand Revolution.

I may not yet own an Android phone but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up to speed with the latest offerings from those who are using Google’s mobile OS. For the most part though the phones that I’ve been interested in are unfortunately incapable of being used in Australia thanks to our lack of CDMA and 4G services. Still there are quite a few nice handset options available for us Australians most of which come from the handset giant HTC. However after asking my far more Android savvy friend about which handset I should go for (after giving up on getting anything more than a HTC Desire) he said that I should check out the Samsung Galaxy S as it’s been a very popular handset of late. What I found surprised me.

The handset itself is quite impressive with specifications easily rivalling that of all its competitors. The 1GHz CPU and 512MB RAM are what we’ve come to expect in almost any high end smart phone. However the use of a Super AMOLED screen and a dedicated graphics chip (the same as the one found in the Apple’s A4 processor that powers both the iPad and iPhone 4) is what sets this handset apart from it’s pack. Considering this handset can be picked up for just under $700 unlocked it’s really quite competitive when compared to other handsets. It’s no wonder that Samsung has managed to move over a million of these to date.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Samsung wasn’t capable of delivering such a quality piece of hardware; I thought the same thing too. Whilst they have a reputation for making quite beautiful TVs and monitors they haven’t exactly been seen as being synonymous with quality when they’ve branched out into other areas. Still I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience when it comes to Samsung’s products, in fact most have performed quite adequately. The stigma then is most likely because people have seen them as one of the cheaper brands for consumer electronics, unfortunately tagging them as lower quality as well (however valid or invalid that might be).

Still they’ve managed to prove that they can build and deliver high end consumer devices that not only work, but can also be counted amongst the best of breed in their class. You can then imagine everyone’s excitement when they announced the upcoming Galaxy Tab, building on the success of the Galaxy handset line:

London, UK, September 2, 2010 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, a global leader in mobile technology, today announced the launch of the Samsung GALAXY Tab (GT-P1000). Powered by the Android Operating System 2.2, the GALAXY Tab is the first of the company’s tablet devices, representing a new category of mobile products for Samsung.

The Samsung GALAXY Tab brings together all of Samsung’s leading innovations to provide users with more capabilities while on the move. Consumers are able to experience PC-like web-browsing and enjoy all forms of multimedia content on the perfectly sized 7-inch display, wherever they go. Moreover, users can continuously communicate via e-mail, voice and video call, SMS/MMS or social network with the optimised user interface.

The specs on this little beasty are really quite impressive. In fact if you go down the list pretty much every gripe that anyone has ever had about the iPad has been addressed as it comes in a smaller size, packs a higher resolution screen and has both front and back facing cameras. Couple that with expandable storage and it looks like Samsung might be onto a winner here, especially if the rumours of it being aimed somewhere between US$200 and $400 turn out to have some truth to them. The question then remains: will this device sell?

Well 1 million Galaxy owners can’t be wrong and you can bet that many of them who’ve favoured Samsung in the past would definitely give such a device heavy consideration. It’s definitely aimed at the anti-iPad crowd what with its cherry picked features and Android OS, leading me to believe that this might become the flagship tablet for the Android platform. Whether it will sell or not is heavily dependent on how the market sees it. The iPad did well thanks mostly to its brand name, something which Samsung just can’t leverage the way Apple did. Still the Android crowd has proven to be just as loyal and cashed up as their Cupertino counterparts so Samsung is definitely in with a shot here.

What’s the most interesting thing about the announcement of this tablet is Samsung’s recent mindshift that has spurred them to innovate in the mobile sector. Just on a year ago if you bought a Samsung phone you probably weren’t buying an Android device and no one predicted that they would bring out something that would capture such a large market. The introduction of a tablet means that they’re looking to square up with Apple and hopefully take a piece of their deliciously profitable hardware sector pie. They’re definitely a force to be reckoned with as they have a net income of over $10 billion a year and enough sway with a whole lot of manufacturers to really give Apple (and all other companies producing tablets) a run for their money.