Intel and AMD gearing up for battle over the OLPC’s CPU slot

It may have once dismissed the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project as a "cheap gadget," but Intel appears to have changed its mind. The companyis now involved in talks to provide CPUs for the $100 (actually ~$175) systems. HangZhou Night Net

According to theEETimes, Intel's newfound interest in the project is just fine with the OLPC design team. "Intel, like a lot of other people, is more than welcome to try to design great silicon for this project and this mission, and we've been working with them to help them do exactly that," said Walter Bender, OLPC's president.

Up until now, OLPC has been basedon the AMD Geode, and it may be the functional weakness of that architecture that has Intel interested in capturing the OLPC market. As we mentioned earlier this year, the Geode is a less than ideal x86 architecture.

The Geode LX-700 at the heart of the XO is a 433MHz chip whose design is based on the Cyrix MediaGX processor that debuted in 1997. With its 128K of L1 and 128K of L2 cache, support for DDR266, and its significantly faster clock speed, the LX-700 is obviously more powerful than the Cyrix 5×86 core on which it is based, but the heart of the CPU is still reliant on a non-superscalar architecture capable of executing only a single operation per clock cycle. Intel's Celeron M is inherently a more powerful CPU, though the lack of L2 cache in Intel's reference design will obviously impact performance.

In short, the OLPC XO is currently running on a CPU core that doesn't even qualify as a 5th-generation Pentium-class CPU. Intel, in contrast, is talking about building an OLPC system based around either modified Celeron processors or the upcoming dual-core Silverthorne, built on a 45nm process. The company seems to think it can do this in a cost-effective manner.

As for the OLPC group, it doesn't appear to be ruling out any supplier and has even tossed out the idea of building different OLPC systems for children with different needs growing up in different types of environments. Bender was quick to point out that the Geode hasn't been a limiting factor in designing the OLPC thus far and even floated the idea of using an XScale processor designed by Marvell. No one at OLPC is screaming, "We need more power, Scotty!"

Still, the door is open for any company that would like to pitch its CPU as capable of handling the OLPC's unique demands—and it appears no company, not even AMD, can rest easy as having "won" the design long term. That said, AMD isn't too worried about Intel's new love for OLPC.

AMD sitting confident

In the wake of Intel's decision to fork over a little cash and hop aboard the OLPC train, we had the chance to talk to Rebecca Gonzales, director of marketing communications at AMD, about how the company feels about Intel's Johnny-come-lately move.

To put it bluntly, AMD isn't worried. "We see nothing changing currently" with the XO, Gonzales said. OLPC began designing the XO in 2005, and in the early days the project planned on incorporating AMD's GX processor line. The XO is now powered by the Geode LX processor line, and Gonzales says that "the whole device would need to be redesigned" were OLPC to make a CPU change at this stage.

"At performance per watt, we do very well with the Geode," Gonzales said, claiming that since the Geode doesn't require a fan, it is really a superior CPU to anything Intel can offer right now. The fanless Geode can be secured in an enclosure that will keep outdirt and water,making it a better choice than any fan-cooled CPU that would necessarily require more openings in the design.

Gonzales said thatAMD can also offer better battery performance. According to Gonzales, "the LX uses .9 watts, and no one can meet that right now." Total CPU and chipset power consumption is approximately 3 watts, she said.

While there may be a showdown between AMD and Intel over who gets to ride in the front seat, it appears unlikely that there will be a design change with the current iteration of XO laptops.OLPC Project members have publicly talked about a second design only coming in late 2008 or 2009.

Competition between AMD and Intel over the OLPC? Something tells us that Nicholas Negroponte has been waiting for this for quite sometime.

Ken Fisher contributed to this report.

Germany, UK also investigating government PC espionage by China

In recent weeks, the Chinese have been accused not only of hacking the Pentagon, but also several German ministries and key sites in the UK, as well. In doing research for an upcoming story on the Pentagon attacks, I stumbled upon recent reports in Germany of surprisingly similar activity. HangZhou Night Net

Germany's Federal Office for Information has identified malicious trojan-based attacks on government computers, attacks which some members of the German government say appear to originate from within the Chinese Army.

The story was first reported by German-language newspaper Spiegel Online, which said that investigators had found evidence of "Chinese espionage programs" on computers in several government agencies, including the office of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Federal Office for Information Security experts discovered the first spyware trojans months ago and successfully thwarted the transfer of over 160GB of data, according to the report. Chinese officials in Berlin originally criticized the finding as irresponsible speculation when it debuted late last month, but as the drama unfolds, that tune is changing.

Following the accusations, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told reporters that he was "gravely concerned" over the claims. "We in the government took (the reports) as a matter of grave concern. Hackers breaking into and sabotaging computers is a problem faced by the entire world," Wen said in a statement to reporters.

The attacks come at the same time that China finds itself accused of hacking the Pentagon. China has denied these allegations: a foreign ministry spokesperson told the BBC "some people are making wild accusations against China… These are totally groundless and also reflect a Cold War mentality."

Yet as the accusations pile up, it is becoming harder to ignore. The UK's Times Online reported last week that China has also been identified trying to compromise security on government and military computer systems there.

In Germany, the issue of electronic spying isn't just limited to China. Hartwig Möller, head of the constitutional protection authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia, said that Iran has also recently attempted to infiltrate systems to obtain information on nuclear programs, according to Heise.

Nevertheless, all eyes are on China, now that three major players in the global economy have said that the country is almost certainly engaging in computer-based espionage.

RFID implants linked to cancer: the lowdown

The Associated Press has produced an extensive report on the potential risks of RFID devices, which have been approved for use in humans. The report cites a range of animal studies that have linked similar devices to cancers in experimental animals, such as mice and rats. The report is generally well prepared and raises both scientific and ethical issues. HangZhou Night Net

The ethical questions focus on the initial approval of these devices, which occurred while Tommy Thompson was in charge of Health and Human Services, a parent department of the FDA. The AP reports that five months after Thompson left government service, he joined the board of the company that produces the RFID devices. That position came with a substantial number of shares in the company. Attempts to obtain the safety information on the device that went into the approval process produced no documents.

Does relevant information exist? Absolutely; in fact, a company that produces similar devices intended to track research animals provides a list of references (scroll to the bottom) that includes a number of studies that link the use of implants to the development of cancers at the site of the implant. Although the development and progression of cancer in mice has some differences compared to humans, mice still remain the primary model system for understanding cancer. The rates seen in these studies (typically only a percent or two) should certainly have been relevant to the approval of human RFID implants.

It's important to emphasize that those studies are not necessarily sufficient to view these implants as known hazards. The data suggest that the devices foster cancer by causing inflammation of the tissues that encapsulate them. There is a large amount of scientific literature linking cancer and inflammation (the National Cancer Institute has some information on the matter). RFID tags turn out not to be the only form of animal tagging that causes cancer through inflammation; standard metallic ear tags can do so as well. That paper also notes that there have been a number of case reports where human prosthetic implants have induced cancers in the surrounding tissues.

Given that there's a known mechanism for these implants to foster cancer by irritating their surrounding tissues and that humans appear to suffer from these sorts of cases, there is clearly reason for concern. Still, it is possible that different RFID designs may have a greater or lesser tendency to induce irritation; more detailed studies are clearly needed. These should include more animals beyond mice and rats (RFID tags are used for pet identification purposes) and a detailed examination of whether those people who have received tags so far have signs of inflammation.

Should the FDA have approved the devices, given the animal data? Probably not without some basic studies of their potential to cause inflammation in humans. Although the animal reports are relatively obscure—the AP report quotes a variety of cancer researchers as being completely unaware of them—it's the FDA's job to find relevant research. Clearly, they dropped the ball here.

Equal parts Sprite and Tequila: a review of Stranglehold

The making of Stranglehold

Publisher: Midway
Developer: Tiger Hill Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Price: $59.99 (shop for this title)
Rating: M (Mature) HangZhou Night Net

The Chinese Triads and the Russian Mob have banded together. The Dragon Clan, led by the notorious gangster Jimmy Wong, is a menace to the Hong Kong people, and it's up to Inspector Yuen—or Tequila, as he is often called—to stop them. They're inches from ruling the city forever. They steal, kill, smuggle, rape, pillage, extort, and otherwise haunt the fair streets of his beloved homeland. They kidnapped his wife and daughter. And now they've killed his partner. The time has come to take justice into his own hands.

This isStranglehold, a third-person shooter that is a sequel of sorts to the 1992 film Hard Boiled. Acclaimed action director John Woo and international movie star Chow Yun-Fat worked together on the original film and reunited to reprise their respective roles as director and starring lead in appearance and voice for Stranglehold. While a video game may not have been the way many cinema fans would have preferred to revisit the gritty world of the film, the game proves to be a serviceable actiontitle that is marred by a few poorly-implemented ideas.

Equal parts Sprite and Tequila

The game centers around Chow Yun-Fat's character, Inspector Tequila. Like his signature drink, the "Tequila Bomb"—a mix of equal parts Sprite and Tequila stirred with a slam—Stranglehold is a strange concoction of strong and weak elements. Much of the game's action is pulse-pounding and true to the source material, while other parts are underdeveloped and poorly executed. As a result, Stranglehold suffersmany little annoyances rather than one or two major issues.

Just another day at the office for Inspector Tequila

That's not to say that Stranglehold doesn't succeed in many ways. For instance, the performance of Midway's "Massive D" technology for theUnreal Engine 3 is worthy of praise andit ends up being one of the selling points of the game—hopefully one that will find its way into other releases.

"Massive D" is the name given the in-game destruction engine. Every level is populated with thousands upon thousands of interactive objects. Some of the objects react in superficial ways, like exploding boxes, fruit, wine bottles, and other ornaments, for visual effect, while others significantly alter the playing field, such as telephone poles that can be destroyed to reveal new pathways, tables that can be kicked over for cover, and so forth.

Visually speaking, the technology is impressive and definitely one that would not have been possible in any significant implementation in the past. It's amazing to walk into one of the game's gorgeous environments like the Museum, note the pristine condition of the environment, and then proceed to destroy nearly everything but the key structural elements of the building itself. The ensuing debris after an intense gunfight is stunning, and the game appropriately takes note of the monetary value of damage you cause.

With all this junk strewn about the level, it was necessary for the developers to implement some kind of "smart" movement technology. After all, the last thing the player needs is to get stuck in the thousands upon thousands of objects that lay destroyed on the ground after a tough fight. This is where the environmental interaction comes in.

The environmental interaction is pretty well done,
though there are occasional response issues

By pressing a single button (the left trigger, in the case of the 360 version), Tequila performs a "stunt" that serves to not only offer extra style points (the game's in-game point system that rewards "stylish" kills) but also to interact with the world. This context-sensitive action powers much of Tequila's mobility, as you use it to dive through holes, run along railings, zip-line, and so forth.

In addition, Tequila will also automatically vault and slide across many different objects. This makes moving about a level fairly easy, and the majority of the time movement is flowing and seamless. It's easy to use and works well most of the time. It's this seamless interaction with the environments that allows you to create your own action sequences; the game is one of the more cinematic experiences we've ever seen. The Massive D technology and the context-sensitive actions all serve one master: making killing people look cool.