It’s been a decade since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare revolutionized the first-person shooter genre, a decade since Infinity Ward convinced everyone to finally stop making World War II-era shooters and move on to the comparatively greener (or sandier) pastures of modern and near-future war. And after a decade…well, World War II’s started to seem like fertile ground again.
And so perhaps it’s fitting that a decade on from Modern Warfare, Sledgehammer is releasing Call of Duty: WWII. This morning’s worldwide reveal was a bit laggy, but the trailer’s below if you missed it or want to see a version that’s not a slideshow.
The Normandy landing is right up front, same as it’s been for so many World War II games before. I’ve been waiting to see what Normandy would look like with modern tech though, and it is terrifying. The old Medal of Honor version of Normandy will always hold a place in my heart, but the new Call of Duty: WWII version is grim, at least in this trailer.
From the livestream, it looks like the game will then follow a group of soldiers through France and into Belgium and Germany, Band of Brothers style. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before—at least those of us who were playing video games pre-2007. But with such a lengthy lull in World War II-era games, maybe that’s all Call of Duty needs. Everything old is new again.
Then of course you’ve got the multiplayer side of things. Zombies is back, with the livestream teasing a single image of a Nazi zombie. On the competitive front, there are a handful of new modes, including the “War” mode, which sounds like a series of battles a la ”Operations” in Battlefield 1, loosely tied together with bits of narrative. Players will also join Divisions, refreshing Call of Duty’s create-a-class feature with a bit more of a historical framework, though we didn’t see this particular feature in action. Expect more at E3.
Anyway, it’s the most interested I’ve been in Call of Duty in quite a while. Hopefully Sledgehammer does Call of Duty 2 proud and makes a properly solemn and respectful World War II game. The series could use a pivot after the past few years of near-future and future-future ambivalence.
In late 2015, HP was reborn as a PC maker following a split of its parent organization, Hewlett-Packard. At the time, HP was a lost cause, and its double-digit decline in PC shipments was a main reason for the split.
The new HP then set out to reclaim its spot as the world’s top PC maker from Lenovo, a title it lost in 2013. It reached the goal in the first quarter of 2017, during which its PC shipments grew by 13.1 percent year over year.
A series of cool products and decisions to cut off low-margin products helped HP return to the top. Lenovo’s struggles also played a part, but HP’s strong performance in North America was a deciding factor, IDC said.
To reach the top, HP took on an Apple-like role of being an innovator and focused on profitable products. At the same time, it cut products like its Slate PCs, some low-cost Stream laptops, TouchSmart all-in-ones, Omni PCs, and other devices that were key offerings in the past.
Out with the cheap
In December 2015, HP also cut low-cost tablets and Android devices, due to fierce competition and a drop in prices. Tablet demand was declining, and low-cost alternatives were available by the dozens.
“We saw the consumer tablet market as the opposite — low-value being flooded with cheap devices with Shenzhen,” said Ron Coughlin, president for personal systems at HP. “We didn’t think that would provide the customers or shareholders with the right value.”
Armed with market research and engineering expertise, HP then set out to redesign its PCs into smaller and more attractive form factors. Products like 2-in-1s were designed to appeal to buyers like millennials, many of whom don’t mind spending the extra buck for a device that looks sophisticated.
“We don’t chase share for share’s sake. We could have discounted our way to the share gains we had, but that wasn’t our plan at all,” Coughlin said.
In 2016, HP released products like the super-thin Spectre 13, the modular HP Slice desktop, and the Z2 Mini desktop, which packs the power of a tower PC in a small form factor.
“People wanted a smaller footprint, but they wanted the same power,” Coughlin said.
HP also released the Pavilion Wave PC, a modern take on Apple’s Mac Pro.
The company also reversed some of its past mistakes. It re-entered the high-end PC gaming market, which it exited when it folded the Voodoo PC unit in 2008. Gaming PCs have been the bright spot in an otherwise slumping PC market, and in August, HP introduced a range of innovative high-end Omen gaming PCs, which had similar color tones to the Voodoo PCs.
The “high-value” Omen PCs are taking market share away from conventional gaming PC makers, and gaming is a profitable market, Coughlin said.
But it’s the volume-selling products like the Pavilion, EliteBook, Spectre, and Envy that sold well and helped HP’s market share grow. Many of the laptops are thinner, smaller and sleeker than older HP products, and 2-in-1 products are selling well.
Business, not consumer, is HP’s mobility market
With all of HP’s success, it had some duds too. One questionable product was the Elite X3, a Windows 10 Mobile smartphone targeted at enterprise businesses. Windows 10 Mobile smartphone shipments are declining, and the OS could be on its last legs.
But for Coughlin, the Elite X3 is targeted at the commercial mobility market, which is underserved.
HP has pitched Elite X3 as a device that can be used as a PC in a pinch and can be used to run commercial applications via the cloud. Many organizations are already using it as a computing device, Coughlin said.
“In mobility, we aren’t standing still. You’ll see some exciting news coming out shortly,” Coughlin said.
HP has no plans to enter the consumer mobile phone market, however.
“There’s only one or two players that make money there,” Coughlin said. “We thought that market wasn’t important for us.”
Looking toward the future
One market that’s important to HP as it looks to grow its PC business is virtual reality. The company plans to start shipping its Omen X VR backpack PC starting in June, and by the end of the year, will ship a Windows Mixed Reality headset that needs to be tethered to PCs.
HP also plans to blend augmented reality into the PC in a different way than other vendors are. A PC like Sprout, with an attached 3D camera, will be a good “on ramp” for 3D, and HP’s MultiJet Fusion 3D printer will manufacture tangible products, Coughlin said.
For example, the company will make it possible to build custom shoes using its PC, scanner, and a 3D printer technologies. A Sprout-like PC will be able to scan a foot in a footbed with pressure plates. From the scan, HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printer will be able to make the custom insole, and ultimately, whole shoes.
Looking into the future, Coughlin predicted vendors will sell “smart PCs” that can protect themselves and self-repair. For example, a PC will be able to detect if a hard drive is failing and then fix it during computer downtime. More intelligence will be built into secure PCs, Coughlin said.
There will also be a move to the PC as a service, mostly targeted at enterprises. It will involve leasing instead of paying a full price for a device.
HP has exciting announcements coming in the future related to gaming, VR, and mobility, Coughlin said.
“We’re mean, lean and focused. This company was founded on innovation,” he said.
While Google’s Pixels might still have that new phone smell, there are already signs that Google is hard at work on the follow-up to its first officially branded Android phone. Google made a huge and somewhat surprising splash with the launch of the Pixel last fall, and all eyes will be on whether the next version of its handset can start to chip away at Samsung’s dominance.
The details are extremely sparse so far, but we do know that two new devices code-named muskie and walleye are in development at Google’s Mountain View labs. So, stay glued to this article, as we’ll keep updating it with the latest solid information.
Bezels be gone
While we love just about everything about the Google Pixel, the one area where it could use some updating it the design. While the iPhone-inspired front was uninspired last year, it looks downright boring in the face of bezel-slimming designs like LG’s G6 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8. And it looks like Google is looking to push the boundaries of the next Pixel, too.
A report from ETNews says Google is eyeing a 1 trillion won investment (around $900 million) in LG Display, seemingly to shore up a proper OLED supply for the next Pixel phone. While the report doesn’t specifically say that the next Pixel would utilize a curved display, Google’s focus with the investment is on LG’s flexible display division. The two companies LG have been working closely lately, first on an Android Wear 2.0 watch and then on bringing Google Assistant to the LG G6, so a display partnership would make sense. And it would go a long way toward helping Google actually keep its next Pixel in stock.
Water, water nowhere
Google’s first crack at a premium handset checked off a lot of boxes, but one of the major ones it missed was waterproofing. Already a feature in premium handsets like the Galaxy S7, it was surprising that Google opted to skip it, but it appears it is working to rectify that in its next handset. As 9to5Google’s Stephen Hall explains, the feature is “on the table” for the Pixel 2, although sources had previously informed him that it was a priority for the next release.
Focus on the camera
The Pixel already has one of the best cameras in an Android phone, but that’s not stopping Google from making it even better. Like the iPhone, 9to5Google reports that Google won’t be focusing on megapixels with the Pixel 2, but rather will “compensate in extra features.” It’s unclear exactly what that means, but Hall says the camera will be a “major focus” in the development of the Pixel 2 as Google looks to retain its position atop the smartphone camera rankings.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer that the Pixel will launch with whatever the latest version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor will be, and 9to5Google reports that Google is indeed testing the Pixel with the new 835 chipset. But it’s also exploring other options. According to Hall’s sources, Google is also trying out Intel chips, though it’s not clear whether that refers to modems or full processors. If Google does opt to use an Intel SoC for its new Pixels, it would be quite a coup for Intel, which has struggled to make much headway in the smartphone world.
Cheaper and more expensive
When the Pixel launched, it commanded a price commensurate with its premium features, and it doesn’t look the Pixel 2 is going to be any different. In fact, in might cost more. 9to5Google reports that Google’s next handset will be “at least” $50 higher than this year’s model, meaning it could start at $699 for the 5-inch model and top $800 for the Pixel XL. A comment by Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of hardware at Google, confirms that the flagship Pixel will stay a “premium” phone.
However, there may be some relief for users who don’t want to spend quite so much on a phone. 9to5Google reports that Google is also testing a “Pixel 2B” handset, which would serve as a budget version of the flagship phone. As Hall writes, the phone would bring less-powerful specs along with its cheaper price, with a goal of bringing the “Google experience and the Google phone to emerging markets.” It was recently reported that Google was eyeing a U.S. launch for its Android One program, so a budget Pixel would certainly fit with those plans.
As far as a release date, a safe bet would be sometime in the fall, based on comments from Osterloh. “There is an annual rhythm in the industry. So, you can count on us to follow it. You can count on a successor this year, even if you don’t hear a date from me now.”
The Mac and iPhone exploits described in new documents attributed to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were patched years ago, according to Apple.
WikiLeaks released a new set of files Thursday that supposedly came from the CIA. They contain details about the agency’s alleged malware and attack capabilities against iPhones and Mac computers.
The documents, dated 2012 and earlier, describe several “implants” that the CIA can install in the low-level extensible firmware interface (EFI) of Mac laptop and desktop computers. These EFI rootkits allow the agency’s macOS spying malware to persist even after the OS is reinstalled.
According to WikiLeaks, the documents also describe an implant that the CIA can load onto factory-fresh iPhones through “interdiction” — the interception and manipulation of electronics shipments on their way to the final buyer.
Based on Apple’s preliminary analysis of the new WikiLeaks disclosures, the iPhone vulnerability described in the files affected only the iPhone 3G and was fixed in 2009 with the release of the iPhone 3GS, an Apple representative said in an emailed statement.
The Mac-related vulnerabilities were fixed in all Mac computers released after 2013, the representative said.
WikiLeaks said it would share unpublished details about vulnerabilities from the CIA’s arsenal with technology vendors whose products were affected. However, it wants vendors to agree to certain terms first, including a 90-day patch deadline.
Apple appears unwilling to negotiate and claims that so far it has not received any information aside from what WikiLeaks has already published.
“We have not negotiated with Wikileaks for any information,” the Apple representative said. “We have given them instructions to submit any information they wish through our normal process under our standard terms. We are tireless defenders of our users’ security and privacy, but we do not condone theft or coordinate with those that threaten to harm our users.”
So a warrior, a monk, and a rogue walk onto a battlefield and then… they die. A lot. And then they have to start all over. That’s been the punchline of so many of my attempts with Has Been Heroes, and while I may have laughed a couple of times in my first few hours and enjoyed some of the good ideas put forth, my goodwill has become a has-been itself. It’s bruised my admiration of the otherwise-appealing premise of this roguelike lane-brawler to the point that right now I’m content to let these heroes remain the has-beens the title says they are.
We get to hear relatively little about that. Story is hardly a strong point in Has Been Heroes, and it’s chiefly limited to a handful of cutscenes with cartoony illustrations in which we hear about how the titular heroes used to be great warriors who slew dragons and giant spiders and performed other feats of derring do. Now, though, decades after their prime, the best they can hope for is escorting two princesses to school.
It’s not a bad premise, and in the right hands it could even have been funny.
It’s not a bad premise, and in the right hands it could even have been funny. For the most part, though, Has Been Heroes leaves that potential limited to a smattering of lame one-liners you read in text boxes as the little band works its way across the maps. The maps themselves aren’t that impressive, either. Sure, it’s nice that they alternate from snowy fields to dark swamps, but I never found any visual touches that made me stop in awe like I did with developer Frozenbyte’s previous impressive visual design in Trine. If anything, it kind of looks like what you’d expect from a standard mobile game.
There’s still a ghost of Trine’s design floating about here, though, since the gameplay essentially relies on playing all three heroes at once. Each runs toward the right in their own lane, while the enemies trudge their way left like zombies marching toward plants. As in Trine, your crew is motley bunch, with the warrior dealing out massive damage in one hit, the monk knocking out two fairly weak hits, and a rogue dishing out three medium attacks.
In theory, at least, this makes for a fun setup that holds up well in the first couple of hours. Almost all the enemies marching leftward have stamina bars that must be whittled down before the heroes can knock down their health bars, and the characters usually need to change who occupies which lane in order to take turns whittling them down. You can only switch out while one character is attacking, though, and this is so crucial that Has Been Heroes rightfully pauses the action after each attack. You then switch another hero into the lane to (hopefully) finish them off. In practice, this means I might knock a few stamina points off with the monk, send in the rogue to knock the stamina bar all the way down, and then, once the health bar is exposed, send the warrior rushing in to knock off the majority of the enemy’s health.
After an hour or so I became familiar enough with this little dance to sometimes ignore the oh-so-helpful option to pause before making a move. There is a bit of a learning curve, though, and the spartan tutorial does little to explain moderately helpful strategies like switching a hero currently in play to a lane with enemies that are “behind” him or her while he’s attacking so as to hit them on the way back to the left. Figuring that out for myself took a while, and some simple instruction would’ve made my opening hours much more fun.
It doesn’t help that the controls never really became second nature. On an Xbox controller you use the X,Y, and A buttons to select and swap the lanes, B to attack, the left bumper to pause, and the right to cast spells. Even hours in, I still found myself taking annoying amounts of time to get the heroes in the proper lanes I wanted them in.
But here’s the main bummer of Has Been Heroes: gosh, it’s hard. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a good challenge, and I often opt to play games on hard mode for the first time. But there are limits: I spent a couple of hours trying to get past the first boss of Has Been Heroes, and honestly, I’ve yet to beat the giant skeleton with a bandana on his skull. The only times I’ve been able to get past that boss encounter have been the times when the random level generation has given me a mage-type boss instead. He’s no pushover either – he randomly switches lanes and spawns shadows who can kill you in one hit (although luckily they die in one hit as well). When it’s the big skeleton guy and his horde of other skeletons, I get easily overwhelmed. And then I die. And then it’s back to the beginning.
That’s especially time-consuming because taking the most direct route through a level is the wrong way to play Has Been Heroes – or most other roguelikes, for that matter. Instead, you should explore the various nodes on the randomized maps, buying spells from vendors that appear or opening chests, thereby having an arsenal of potentially devastating spells and items when you arrive at the boss, such as one that shoots out lightning when a hero lands a melee hit. Do that, and you might have a chance. The problem is that, despite my best efforts and best collections, I still often found myself on maps where there were just too many enemies with massive stamina pools to handle properly. And then I had to start over.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem is almost all of the enemies in the early hours weren’t just skeletons of some form or another. Some can heal, some have tougher armor, some will throw up shields that can thwart your precious timing while you wait for melee attacks to recharge. Sometimes you’ll get barriers or big man-eating plants, but most of the time you’re just up against a pile of skellies. Has Been Heroes’ strategic strengths manages to sustain the fun for several hours, but in time, this makes for a mind-numbingly dull and repetitive experience. Next to something like Darkest Dungeon, which has several different styles of enemies you can fight in the early hours, it becomes monotonous too quickly. There’s just too much stick and not enough carrot to make this roguelike as addictive as the best of the genre. Needless to say, I never saw the end of it after more than a dozen hours.
Making things worse is the fact that Has Been Heroes doesn’t even give you information about the items that drop while using a controller – the only way I could find out how to decide which character should pick up an item was by using a mouse while playing on PC. Hardly ideal.
I want to like Has Been Heroes. It brings some good ideas to both roguelikes and lane-based games. I even had fun for several hours before the appeal wore off. But after suffering through failure after failure even with my best efforts, I’m fine with these heroes hanging up their swords for good.
There are some good ideas in Has Been Heroes, such as the way it uses multi-lane battlefields to make us use strategies that involve switching between the strengths of three different heroes to achieve victory. It’s a recipe for fun that manages to last for a while. Eventually, though, the heavy emphasis on the luck of level generation, the frustrations of enemy repetition, the poor tutorial, and the tendency to overrun you with tough enemies spoil the whole. Hard games are great, but there are limits.
Two major US companies have pulled their advertisements from YouTube after discovering their ads may have appeared next to horrible, offensive content.
As was first reported by Variety, AT&T and Verizon are no longer advertising on Google’s video platform, at least for the time being.
“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement to PCMag. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”
Verizon, meanwhile, has pulled its ads from both YouTube and Google’s “non-search ad networks,” Variety reported. Verizon in its statement to PCMag didn’t mention Google by name, but alluded to the controversy.
“We take careful measure to ensure our brand is not impacted negatively,” Verizon wrote. “Once we were notified that our ads were appearing on non-sanctioned websites, we took immediate action to suspend this type of ad placement and launched an investigation. We are working with all of our digital advertising partners to understand the weak links so we can prevent this from happening in the future.”
AT&T and Verizon are following the lead of the British government, which recently pulled millions of dollars worth of advertising from YouTube after an investigation by The Times of London found that the government’s ads were showing up alongside videos from “rape apologists, anti-Semites, and banned hate preachers.”
Google last week pledged to more closely monitor advertisements that appear alongside YouTube videos, and give brands more control over where their ads appear. The company this week took the first steps to make good on that pledge, promising to “more effectively” remove ads from content that is “attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories.” The Web giant said it plans to introduce new tools in the coming days and months to help advertisers more easily manage where their ads appear across YouTube and the Web.
In a statement to PCMag, Google declined to comment on AT&T and Verizon’s decisions to pull their ads from YouTube, but reiterated its promise to correct the problem.
“We don’t comment on individual customers but as announced, we’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear,” a Google spokesperson wrote. “We’re also raising the bar for our ads policies to further safeguard our advertisers’ brands.”
Sometimes I like to imagine a future where DVR doesn’t exist. Instead of wrangling with scheduling conflicts and storage limits, people should just be able to watch what they want on demand, preferably with no commercials. In other words, all TV should be more like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
But as television moves online in the form of streaming TV bundles, DVR remains a crutch. AT&T’s DirecTV Now is tough to recommend without DVR, Sling TV is scrambling to add DVR, PlayStation Vue is the best streaming bundle right now largely because of DVR. YouTube TV and Hulu’s upcoming bundle will include DVR at the outset.
While I wish the DVR would step aside in favor of easy on-demand access to everything, I’ve come to understand that the situation is too complex to be resolved anytime soon, at least for traditional TV channels. With DVR, as with everything in television, change doesn’t come easy.
Fighting for rights
During the CES trade show in January, I asked Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch why DVR isn’t going away. In response, he pointed to the licensing agreements between TV networks (such as Fox and NBC Universal) and the studios that produce TV shows (such as Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. Television).
“The biggest issue there is that most of the content that you watch on channels, the channel doesn’t own the content, because they license the content, and that license is just for a period of time,” Lynch said. “The worst case is it’s only for the live broadcast, or it could be that plus three days, or seven days, or 30 days, or maybe the season. But it’s not in perpetuity.”
TV networks could always pay more for longer licensing periods, and that is becoming more common at least for current seasons of shows. As Deadline reported last year, networks are more frequently securing “in-season stacking rights” for TV shows, giving them on-demand privileges for an entire season, rather than just a handful of recent episodes. Networks are also increasingly looking to own or co-own scripted shows outright as a way to maintain full control over on-demand distribution. These developments could allow streaming bundles like Sling TV to offer more on-demand episodes from a given show.
But giving viewers the ability to binge watch multiple seasons of a TV show isn’t always in the best interests of networks and studios interests, and might not even be the best-case scenario for cord cutters.
According to Deadline, Netflix typically pays a higher rate to license a TV show if the full season hasn’t appeared online yet. Studios might crunch the numbers and realize they’re better off preserving full-season rights so they can make more money through on-demand services down the road. That’s great for Netflix subscribers who want to binge-watch Better Call Saul, but not so great for streaming bundles that don’t have DVR service.
The ad issue
The other advantage of DVR, aside from just getting to watch on your own schedule, is the ability to fast forward through advertisements. On-demand video doesn’t always offer the same privileges.
With streaming bundles like Sling TV and DirecTV Now, some channels include mandatory ad breaks in their on-demand libraries. And while Sling TV has a useful “Replay” feature that lets users jump back through several days’ worth of past programming without setting up a DVR, Lynch told me that some channels don’t support it because Sling hasn’t yet put in measures to prevent ad-skipping.
Even among on-demand services from traditional TV networks, ads are the norm. Both CBS All Access and Hulu (which is jointly owned by Disney, Fox, and NBC) charge a $4-per-month premium for the ad-free versions of their services. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins has also repeatedly assured the industry that most people accept the ads, and that ad sales will grow.
A recent Bloomberg story on Time Warner earnings includes a telling chart: Time Warner’s Turner division, whose channels include CNN and TNT, makes nearly as much money from advertising as it does from subscription fees. TV networks aren’t going to abandon that revenue stream anytime soon, even if they realize the ads are driving people away.
This is especially true of sports programming, which makes up a sizeable chunk of TV networks’ ad revenue and remains by far the biggest driver of growth in TV ad spending according to Standard Media Index. The cost to carry sporting events has been skyrocketing for years, yet TV networks go along with those costs largely because of the ad revenue to be made. Even if networks offered convenient on-demand access to game replays, it’s unlikely that ad-skipping would be part of the deal.
All of which is to say that DVR remains a vital function for traditional TV channels, despite the fact that it’s no longer technically necessary. With the industry being so resistant to change, users have no choice but to drag an archaic viewing method into the streaming age.
Of course, you could sidestep this whole issue and subscribe only to streaming services that exist outside the traditional cable ecosystem, provided you’re willing to make some sacrifices. But that’s a column for another day.
Apple has acquired the Workflow automation app, which allows iOS users to trigger a sequence of tasks across apps with a single tap.
A spokesman for Apple confirmed on Wednesday the company’s acquisition of DeskConnect, the developer of the app, and the Workflow app, but did not provide further details.
Workflow, developed for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, allows users to drag and drop combinations of actions to create workflows that interact with the apps and content on the device. It won an Apple design award in 2015 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.
Some of the examples of tasks for which Workflow can be used are making animated GIFs, adding a home screen icon to call a loved one and tweeting a song the user has been listening to, according to a description of the app.
Apple is keeping the app alive on its App Store and it has been made free, according to TechCrunch, which first reported the acquisition.
The company, which typically comments on its acquisitions with the standard line that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” on Wednesday went on to comment about the benefits of the app.
The app was selected for the Apple design award “because of its outstanding use of iOS accessibility features, in particular an outstanding implementation for VoiceOver with clearly labeled items, thoughtful hints, and drag/drop announcements, making the app usable and quickly accessible to those who are blind or low-vision,” Apple told TechCrunch.
It isn’t clear at this point how the app will be integrated with Apple’s offerings. Besides offering a standalone Workflow app, Apple may possibly look at integrating the technology into iOS with Siri being the key interface for many users, particularly for disabled people.
Not every computer owner would be as pleased as Andrew Wheeler that their new machine could run “all weekend” without crashing.
But not everyone’s machine is “The Machine,” an attempt to redefine a relationship between memory and processor that has held since the earliest days of parallel computing.
Wheeler is a vice president and deputy labs director at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He’s at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, to tell people about The Machine, a key part of which is on display in HPE’s booth.
Rather than have processors, surrounded by tiered RAM, flash and disks, communicating with one another to identify which of their neighbors has the freshest copy of the information they need, HPE’s goal with The Machine is to build a large pool of persistent memory that application processors can just access.
“We want all the warm and hot data to reside in a very large in-memory domain,” Wheeler said. “At the software level, we are trying to eliminate a lot of the shuffling of data in and out of storage.”
Removing that kind of overhead will accelerate the processing of enormous datasets that are becoming increasingly common in the fields of big data analytics and machine learning.
There’s a certain theater to HPE’s presentation of The Machine at Cebit.
In a darkened room at the center of its booth a glass case is lit from above by a blue glow and shimmering white spots. The glass case contains one of The Machine’s “node boards,” which combines memory, processing and optical interconnects.
The board is long — a little too long, in fact.
The node board’s designers based it on the 21 x 71 centimeter server trays used in HPE’s Apollo high-performance servers, but as they added more and more memory to the storage pool, they ran out of space — so they extended the board and tray by 15 centimeters or so, Wheeler said. The testbed boards project by that amount from the front of the server racks.
Four bulky heatsinks amid the rows of memory modules in the front half of the board mark the locations of the FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) that handle the memory fabric, the logic that allows all the processors in the machine to access all the memory. Other FPGAs at the opposite end of the board handle the optical interconnects. Those will all shrink when the FPGAs are replaced by more compact ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) later in the development process, Wheeler said.
For now, those FPGAs provide HPE with some important flexibility as the basis of the memory fabric is still changing.
HPE shared the lessons it had learned in designing The Machine’s memory fabric with other hardware manufacturers in the Gen-Z Consortium, which is working to develop an alternative to Intel’s proprietary memory fabric technologies.
“Our testbed allows us to incorporate more of Gen-Z’s features as it is defined,” said Wheeler. The goal will be to have full interoperability with other Gen-Z products when the specification is complete.
Gen-Z set up shop last October, a month or so before HPE booted The Machine for the first time.
Since then, said Wheeler, “We have gone from first boot to now operating at scale, a significant-sized system.”
How significant? The testbed now has 40 nodes and a memory pool of 160 terabytes. In comparison, HPE’s largest production server, the Superdome X, can hold up to 48 TB of RAM using the latest 128 GB DIMMs.
The company has seen a lot of demand for login time on The Machine — more than it can satisfy, for the moment.
However, there are other options for developers wanting to see how in-memory operation can accelerate processing of large data sets, including using a maxed-out Superdome X, or running their code in simulations of The Machine’s hardware.
HPE has tweaked the Linux operating system and other software to take advantage of The Machine’s unusual architecture, and released its changes under open source licenses, making it possible for others to simulate the performance of their applications in the new memory fabric.
The simulations obviously run much slower than the real thing. As HPE gains experience of operating The Machine, though, it has been able to calibrate its models and is more confident of the performance improvements forecast by the simulations.
Those forecasts suggest that The Machine will be able to reduce the time taken to model the risk inherent in a financial portfolio, say, from almost two hours to just a couple of seconds: a performance gain of three orders of magnitude.
If you’ve been using Windows for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve had to use the built-in Task Manager at some point or another. Whether it’s to kill a frozen process, track down some nasty malware, or figure out what’s eating up all that memory, the Task Manager is an invaluable tool for any intermediate or advanced user. But for enthusiasts that want extra control, more information, and a host of extra features, there’s a more powerful alternative available: Microsoft’s free Process Explorer tool.
Process Explorer isn’t just a supercharged version of Task Manager with more insight and control over your system’s processes. It also includes the ability to sniff out viruses and identify when programs are clinging to software you want to delete.
Part of the Sysinternals suite of Windows tools (formerly “Winternals”), Process Explorer can be downloaded from TechNet a la carte or as part of the entire suite. If you plan on completely replacing the Task Manager with Process Explorer—and eventually you probably will—you should get the whole suite. More on that later. Here are just a few of the things you can do with Process Explorer.
When you first open Process Explorer, there’s a lot of information there and it can look overwhelming. Don’t panic! Here’s what everything is.
In the top half of the main window, you’ll see a list of processes. This shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar if you’ve used the Details tab in Task Manager (aka the Processes tab in Windows XP and earlier). It lists the process name, the process description, CPU and memory usage, and the company name of the software’s creator—something that’s very useful when you’re malware hunting. (Pro tip: Micronsoft is not a legitimate software manufacturer.) You can customize your columns to include more or less information by right-clicking on the column heading, just like any other program with sortable columns.
The processes are presented hierarchically, which means if a process spawns another process, the child process will be listed nested underneath the parent. If you’d prefer an alphabetical listing instead, just click the “process name” column heading. This list is constantly updating, but if you want to freeze it in time—say, to examine a process that appears and disappears quicker than you can click on it—you can hit the space bar to pause the updates.
There’s a lot more information here—the scrolling line charts at the top of the window, the color codes, the lower pane showing DLLs and handles—but for now let’s focus on the process list.
Killing a process tree
Many people have used Task Manager to end a misbehaving process at some time or another. This functionality exists in Process Explorer as well, where it’s called Kill Process when you right-click a process. Process Explorer does one better than the stock Windows Task Manager by giving you the option to kill the entire process tree. Right-click a process, then click Kill Process Tree; or select Process > Kill Process Tree; or just highlight your process and hit Shift-Del.
Why would you want to kill a whole process tree? Sometimes when a process stalls out, it’s not the real culprit. Instead, one of the child processes it has spawned is the actual bad seed (we’re looking at you, Chrome). Even when the original process is the true villain of the story, killing it can sometimes leave orphan processes behind that can’t do anything without their parent, but which suck up resources anyway. Killing the process tree solves both problems at once.
Finding out which process has a file locked
One of the most frustrating things that Windows users run into on a regular basis is trying to edit or delete a file only to get some variation of the old “This file is open in another program” or “This file is locked for editing” message. If you’re a multitasker and you have a dozen windows open, figuring out which one is locking down your target can be an exercise in wasting time. Process Explorer offers a solution.
Open Process Explorer, select a process, and hit Ctrl+H. That changes the lower pane to “Handle View.” This will show you every file, folder, subprocess and thread that the process has open. If you suspect you know what process is locking your file and want to confirm, this is where you do it.
But what if you don’t know which process is holding your file hostage? Are you supposed to go through every process in the list hunting for your file? You could, but there’s a much easier way: Click Find > Find Handle or DLL, or use the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut. Just type your filename, and it’ll tell you which process is locking that file.
Is this a virus?
Process Explorer is especially useful if you’re hunting malware. For some really in-depth examples, you can always check out Mark Russinovich’s world-class “The Case Of…” series of blog posts and videos. But you don’t need to be a malware-busting pro like Russinovich to figure out whether a suspicious-looking process is a virus. Process Explorer uses VirusTotal, a Google project that checks questionable processes against the databases of all the major antivirus companies.
First, click the suspicious process, then go to Options > VirusTotal.com > Check VirusTotal.com. (The same path’s also available via the right-click menu.) If this is the very first time you’ve scanned a process, it will take you to the VirusTotal Terms of Service. Otherwise, it adds a VirusTotal column to Process Explorer.
This column shows the number of antivirus services that have flagged that particular process as a potential virus. For example, “7/59” means that 7 out of 59 total antivirus providers think that the process is potentially hazardous. The higher the number, the more likely it is that the process is actually malware. For more information, just click the numbers to open the VirusTotal website, where you can learn more.
Obviously, like any other antivirus measure, this isn’t foolproof, and you can get false positives. For example, Process Explorer itself is occasionally flagged as hazardous. Also, viruses may be too new to have been widely flagged, or they could be deploying any number of anti-antimalware techniques. Nevertheless, Process Explorer’s VirusTotal integration is a very good start.
Replacing Task Manager entirely
Once you get comfortable with it, you’ll discover that Process Explorer is better at managing tasks than Task Manager in almost every way, and you’ll never want to open Task Manager again. Process Explorer can help you out with that.
In the Options menu, you’ll see an item labelled Replace Task Manager. Select that, and every action that would normally have triggered Task Manager, whether you invoke it from the command prompt or select it from the Ctrl+Alt+Delete menu, launches Process Explorer instead. In Windows XP and earlier, that’s all you need to do—but in Windows 8 and 10, there’s a twist.
The Windows 8 and 10 versions of Task Manager don’t just manage processes. They also now handle startup items and service management, which were located in MSConfig in earlier versions of Windows. If you replace that version of Task Manager with Process Explorer, will you lose functionality? When it comes to services, no. The default Services app built into Windows (just type Services into your Start menu and you’ll find it) handles managing your services just fine.
But when it comes to startup items, yes—you will lose functionality. Process Explorer doesn’t handle those at all, so you’ll need another tool for that.
That’s why we recommend that you download the entire Sysinternals suite if you want to replace Task Manager altogether. There’s a utility in there called Autoruns that absolutely blows Task Manager’s startup-item functionality out of the water. How to use Autoruns is a subject for a different article, but you’ll want to extract that and keep it somewhere handy for when you want to give your startup a tune-up.
Most people will use Process Explorer for the features we’ve outlined here, but dig deeper and you’ll find even more power-user tools in its nooks and crannies. If you really want to get nitty-gritty, you can find more details in Process Explorer’s amazingly deep Help files.