Valve Makes Changes To Steam Gifting System

Sending games as gifts through Steam is nothing new, but Valve made some changes to the feature that should make it easier for you to send games to your friends and family.

For starters, you can buy a gifted game months in advance and then have it sent to the recipient at a specified date. This lets you to buy the game when it’s on sale, which saves you money, and then you can send it to a friend or family member at some point in the future. If, for some reason, the gift recipient declines the gift, the purchase cost for the game is refunded to you. In the past, declining a gift meant that the game would go back to the buyer’s inventory.

In most cases, the new system should work with any Steam user, regardless of where they live in the world. However, there are instances when you won’t be able to give gifts to other Steam users, such as when the recipient lives in a different country and the game’s price is widely different between the two geographical locations. Valve didn’t declare specifically what amount would constitute a substantial enough price difference, but you’ll get a notification about it before you purchase the game as a gift.

The changes to the gift system are already implemented into Steam, but it’s not retroactive; any gift purchases made prior to the implementation of the new features won’t be affected. As always, you can provide feedback about the new feature in the Steam Discussions forum.

Go to Source

Avira Free Antivirus

You would think that software manufacturers would like to make a good impression right from the start, and on this front Avira Free Antivirus is an immediate disappointment. The installation of the antivirus tool not only takes an age, but it’s littered with advertisements for other Avira software. Sure, they’re all free tools, but it’s annoying to have to ensure the ads nonetheless.

Once you get past this, however, things start to pick up dramatically. Performing a full system scan can be slow – this can probably be put down to the fact that Avira doesn’t hog resources like some antivirus software – but lab tests show that detection rates are very high indeed.

For households with multiple systems, Avira Free Antivirus is available not only for Windows, but also Android and Mac, providing protection for all your devices.

Despite the name, there is not just protection against viruses on offer – the program can also be configured to look out of games, ‘joke’ programs and other potentially unwanted elements. There’s a lot to like in Avira Free Antivirus, it won’t be to everyone’s liking.

User experience

Avira Free Antivirus’s interface is like stepping back into the 90s, and you’re constantly reminded that you’re using the free version of the program thanks to the fact that there are greyed-out links to numerous settings that you’re unable to use without upgrading to the premium version.

Outside of the virus protection side of things, Avira Free Antivirus provides handy access to Windows’ own built in firewall, offering what many people will find an easier way to adjust settings. Virus scans are highly customizable, allowing you to choose the level of heuristic detection that’s used, and opting to exclude certain files, file types and folders from scans.

If you’re looking to tweak settings, however, be prepared to spend a while drilling down Avira’s raft of options.

You might also like

Go to Source

Xerox VersaLink C405

This substantial multifunction device from the most famous name in office printing should be able to accommodate all the paper-handling demands of a medium, or even a large office, and if not, there’s probably an optional upgrade available that will cover your needs. Xerox sells paper drawers, cabinets and other modules for this line.

With the Xerox VersaLink C405, we have a colour laser printer, scanner and fax that retails at £695 (around $900, AU$1,200). We chose to add the optional Wi-Fi dongle for wireless printing via Wi-Fi Direct. Impressively, this model can even connect to your phone with a single tap, thanks to the inclusion of NFC. 

The stand-out feature here, though, is the tilting 5-inch colour touchscreen. It lets you scroll through the menu and offers app-style access to functions such as Print and Scan for Google Drive, or simplified scanning to email. Xerox calls this the App Gallery and you can configure it on your computer. It’s certainly a long way from the 16-charcter fixed display of the Kyocera P5026cdw.

Design and build

You’ll need to dedicate a low table to this 33kg unit, which took two people to lift from the box as it’s too high for a desk. Surprisingly and a little disappointingly, it cannot accommodate A3 paper although it looks wide enough. It will, however, swallow a lot of plain A4 paper and if its 700-sheet capacity is not enough, you can add a second 500-sheet paper tray thanks to the modular design. 

Like most serious office printers, it’s not pretty, but this MFP does feel like it’s built to last, unlike your average photo printer. This machine is designed for speed and capacity rather than style, and the large touchscreen is intended to further speed up the printing process by making the interface easier to access.

Instead of the usual tiny LCD and fiddly buttons, as we already mentioned, you get a nifty 5-inch tilting touchscreen. It looks a little like a smartphone – from ten years ago – as it is a similar size and populated by app icons. Sadly, the user experience is very different as it doesn’t have the processing power behind it to make the apps open quickly. So although we agree that it is ‘best-in-class’ as Xerox claims, it’s actually frustratingly slow to use, and you’ll wind up wishing you could just use your phone to operate the apps.

Spec Sheet

Here are the full specs of the Xerox VersaLink C405:

Type: Multifunction colour laser printer  

Functions: Print, copy, scan, fax

Ink: Colour (C, M, Y, BK)

Connectivity: Wi-Fi (optional), Ethernet, USB 3.0, NFC 

Data storage slot: USB

Print speed: 35 ppm (mono and colour)

Main paper tray capacity: 700 sheets  

Print quality: 600 x 600 dpi

Scan quality: 600 x 600 dpi

Apple AirPrint: Yes

Google Cloud Print: Yes

App support: Yes

Consumables included: Four toner cartridges 

Size/Weight: 599 x 432 x 540mm (H x W x D); 33kg

Features

This heavy-duty machine can print at the impressive rate of 35 pages per minute, in colour or monochrome, and we found the reality lived up to this claim. It can scan quickly too, although the quality for both printing and scanning is limited to 600 x 600 dpi (dots per inch). That will be more than enough for most jobs, but sharper printers are available. 

The VersaLink C405 can accommodate anything up to A4 size paper, plus envelopes and photo paper of various sizes. It’s also a fax machine, if you still use that particular medium of communication, and a photocopier.

Connections include an Ethernet port and the usual square USB port, plus Wi-Fi (with the optional upgrade module) and NFC for wireless printing. The Wi-Fi module simply plugs into the back panel.

Functionality is added by downloading the appropriate apps from the Xerox App Gallery. For example, if you choose the Print and Scan Using Google Drive app, which appears on the touchscreen, this makes it easier to scan documents directly to your Google Drive folders online. Similar apps are tailored to suit Office 365, OneDrive and Dropbox. 

Setup and operation

So long as you have someone else to help you lift the thing out of its box, you should be able to set up the C405 without phoning the IT department for help. That said, it took us some time to puzzle out how to connect the printer to our home network in order to send and receive emails, so we won’t say that it’s easy. There is no companion app to take care of the process for you, so you will need to persevere with the printer’s own touchscreen.

This must be the most costly and sophisticated control panel we’ve ever seen on a printer and from a distance, it looks just like the screen on your phone. In fact, it makes one wonder why you can’t use your phone (or a tablet) rather than relying on the limited processing power of the printer. Presumably, it’s because many offices aren’t keen for staff to connect their own devices to the office network.

Once customised, the apps provide a good shortcut to your favourite features, just don’t expect the user experience and smoothness to be anything close to that of a smart device.

Performance

The print quality is reassuringly crisp and consistent in black and white, with no smearing, or creasing over time. Text has a very professional-looking finish with rounded edges and a light touch. The pages come flying out at a terrific rate too. Just be patient with single documents because the time for the first page to print is rather longer than some rivals at around 12 seconds. 

Colour prints are Pantone-approved apparently, but we found our photos to look a little artificial. In general, our colour printouts looked lighter and somewhat greener than the original. 

Scanning is fast and accurate and it’s easy to choose the destination of the finished file, be that a USB drive, your email, or uploaded to a cloud service.

Go to Source

FocusWriter

FocusWriter is a distraction-free word processor specifically designed to help creative writers put their ideas to paper (or screen).

It’s not intended for the second and third drafts, when sections need to be moved or cut, paragraphs refined and chapters cross-referenced, which explains the omission of some features we’ve come to expect from word processing software.

Formatting options are very limited, and the interface takes over your whole desktop so there’s no risk of you getting distracted by email notifications, social media, or clock-watching. It’s just you and your keyboard.

User experience

FocusWriter’s interface is very clean, with only a central blank page eagerly awaiting your words. You can change the theme (including text colours and wallpaper) to something more inspiring than the default cheesy woodgrain, but make sure it’s something you really like – there’s no way to change the size of the paper in the centre, or make it occupy the whole screen, so you’ll be looking at that background a lot.

Menus and setting in FocusWriter are accessed by moving your cursor to the edges of the screen. The top menu features a pared-back version of the usual text-editing options (alignment, special characters, bold/italic/underline, find and replace), as well as a few special tools to help keep your wordsmithing on track.

You can set alarms to trigger after a certain period has elapsed, or at a particular time, which is very useful because your PC’s clock is one of the many distractions FocusWriter blocks out.

You can also set yourself targets in FocusWriter – either by time, or by word count. By meeting your targets, you can start a ‘streak’ – a simple but effective way to ensure you push yourself by gamifying the writing process.

FocusWriter’s killer tool is Focused Text, while fades out everything except the section you’re currently typing – a whole paragraph, a block of three lines, or just the current line. As mentioned earlier, this is no use for editors, but for simply putting ideas to paper, it’s brilliant.

You might also like

Go to Source

Review: BlackBerry's KEYone phone brings back the keyboard

DAN ROSENBAUM: Maybe the biggest two surprises of 2017 are that Blackberry still exists, and that Blackberry’s new phone is actually not bad.

Admittedly, the specs of the KeyOne are strictly mid-level. Playing Temple Run will underwhelm you, and you definitely won’t want to stream Netflix. But if you live in email and texts, you should give it a look.

The KeyOne, which is actually manufactured by the company TCL, is an Android 7.1 phone that’s a tiny bit wider than a Samsung Galaxy S8. Along with its signature hard keyboard, the KeyOne’s brushed aluminum frame and pebbled leather back give it a distinctive all-business look. The KeyOne managed a solid 6 1/2 hours in our intense battery drain test, and quick-charged from zero to 100 percent in just two hours.

But that four-row hard keyboard is really what makes the KeyOne different. You might think it would be a little cramped, but the keys are sculpted and spaced well enough that typing is a perfectly good experience.

Besides acting as an input device, the keyboard is a big touchpad. The space bar holds the fingerprint sensor. You can page through your Android screens by flicking left and right, and scroll up and down through documents by dragging your thumb up and down.

What’s more, the KeyOne’s predictive typing lets you flick words into your documents, building up a good head of steam. And if you make a mistake? Flick left to delete the last word.

And the Blackberry Hub software lets you collect all your emails, text, calendars, and Facebook messages into a single interface.

The KeyOne is not a phone for playtime. This is a productivity device – something that can live comfortably in an enterprise. There’s a reason that executives used to choose Blackberrys; and the KeyOne is a good update that reminds us why.

Go to Source

Avidemux

Avidemux is a free video editor that’s simple to use, even if you’ve never cut and manipulated your own footage before.

Avidemux is best for making quick edits and cuts. For more advanced tasks you’re better off with a tool like Lightworks or VideoPad Video Editor, which offer a full set of special effects and transitions.

User experience

Avidemux has quite a spartan interface. Unlike many video editors, there’s no central pool for importing video clips, images and audio files, and there’s no timeline with multiple tracks.

However, for simple edits, it’s perfect. Clipping a video is as simple as scrubbing through the footage and setting start and end markers. You can also cut, copy and delete sections of video, and append one clip to another (though there are no flashy wipes or transitions available).

Although it’s not immediately obvious, you can also select the audio tracks (up to four), configure each one and remix for different speaker setups. You’ll also find a good selection of filters if you explore Avidemux’s Video menu (though these are all practical tools like noise reduction and deinterlacing rather than the stylish retro or pop art effects you’ll find in other video editors).

This is impressive, but the best feature of Avidemux is its array of export options, which give you total control over how the audio and video are encoded. Unlike most of Avidemux’s tools, this is definitely one for more seasoned experts, and makes it a very useful tool for serious videographers as well as new users.

You might also like

Go to Source

AMD Ryzen: Good For Enthusiasts, Bad For Investors

The recent news that AMD took a drubbing in the stock market was quite unexpected, especially considering the company’s solid revenue growth. It’s always tricky to understand the moods and the movings of the market, but one item in particular stood out to some investors in the aftermath of AMD’s most recent earnings report: the drop in margin guidance for Q2. And even if it doesn’t completely explain the bewildering cratering of AMD’s stock price–although margins are always an important investment decision factor–that margin projection is interesting nonetheless.

But behind the vagaries of the stock market and its fickle fluctuations are some tangible issues that AMD has to deal with–meaning, the ramifications of its hardware decisions around Ryzen. These include the lack of integrated graphics, unlocked multipliers for all models, the same underlying eight-core architecture, and the impact those decisions could have on AMD’s Ryzen product mix.

The Market Slump

Anchilees research weighed in with its take on the slump:

Advanced Micro Devices shares dropped sharply on Tuesday after the company’s margin outlook for the current quarter shocked investors. Though the company’s revenues and earnings were “in-line” with analysts’ consensus expectations, investors took issue with the chip company’s gross margin guidance, quickly selling their shares into the weakness. […] The gross margin guidance did not sit well with investors and was the dominant reason why investors dumped the stock.

The theme continued in Reuters article titled, “AMD’s revenue rises 18.3 percent, but margin forecast dissapoints.” MarketWatch also weighed in with a tidy summation:

Shares of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. plunged 19% on in active morning trade Tuesday, putting them on track to suffer the biggest one-day loss since Jan. 11, 2005, as investors expressed disappointment over the chipmaker’s margin outlook. 

The company reported a 34% margin for Q1, but guided down to 33% for Q2. On the surface, a 1% decline doesn’t appear to be all that alarming. However, AMD will have Ryzen on the shelves for the entirety of the next quarter, so some analysts appear to think the reduced margin projections may expose a weakness of AMD’s new product lineup, at least from a financial standpoint.

We’ve noticed a few interesting trends ourselves; there are a few caveats to the company’s recent maneuverings that might give us some insight, at least on the CPU side of the AMD operation.

What, No Graphics?

Regarding integrated graphics, AMD is up against a veritable giant in the desktop space, so much of its success depends upon stealing market share from Intel. Enthusiasts don’t have much need for integrated graphics, but they are a major factor for volume sales; the majority of the mainstream market does not use a discrete GPU.

As such, integrated graphics are a key factor to unlocking sales in the broader mainstream market. AMD currently has a relatively limited addressable market, which the company will rectify with integrated GPUs in future products. For now, it’s a limiting factor that could exacerbate another issue.

Eight Cores For Everyone! (Even If You Can’t Use Them)

AMD uses two four-core CCX (Core Complexes) per package, and all of AMD’s Ryzen models employ this same design. AMD, like other processor manufacturers, disables cores either due to manufacturing defects or simply to offer a segmented product stack. The primary takeaway is that all of the Ryzen CPUs, be they eight-, six-, or four-core, employ the same underlying eight-core design. Essentially, this means that the company has a similar manufacturing cost for a $499 Ryzen 7 1800X as it does for a $169 Ryzen 5 1400.

Price Per Physical Core (Eight)
Price Per Usable Core MSRP
Ryzen 7 1800X
$58.75
$58.75 $499
Ryzen 7 1700X $48.50 $48.50 $399
Ryzen 7 1700 $41.25 $41.25 $329
Ryzen 5 1600X
$31.25
$41.66 $249
Ryzen 5 1600 $27.35 $36.55 $219
Ryzen 5 1500X $23.65 $47.25 $189
Ryzen 5 1400 $21.12 $42.25 $169

We can analyze the pricing impact from a few angles, the most important being the price per physical core. As you can see from the table, AMD charges only $31.25 per physical core for the Ryzen 5 1600X (although you can use only six of them), which pales in comparison to the $58.75 per physical core the company gains for the Ryzen 7 1800X. Because the processors employ the same silicon, the $27.50 loss per physical core equates directly to reduced profit.

As a result, AMD has to have a solid product mix of both high-margin and low-margin models to recoup some of the reduced profit on the low end.

That’s where unlocked multipliers present an issue. We love the fact that all of AMD’s processors feature unlocked multipliers, but it also means that many reviewers (us included) suggest that you simply purchase the Ryzen 7 1700 instead of the more expensive “X” models (Ryzen 7 1800X and 1700X). For instance, the Ryzen 7 1700 is AMD’s most popular Ryzen processor on the Amazon Best Sellers list, although that isn’t entirely unexpected given its lower price point.

The “X” and non-“X” processors feature similar overclocking headroom, so for enthusiasts, you can gain quite a bit of extra value by eschewing the more expensive top-end variant. We’ve also seen similar recommendations for the Ryzen 5 series.

That might not be great for AMD’s margins, though, as it disrupts the product mix and skews it toward lower-margin models. Ensuring a healthy overall profit margin depends heavily upon maintaining segmentation. This is one of the key reasons that Intel, the self-crowned king of product segmentation (just listen to its earnings calls, you’ll get it), refuses to offer unlocked multipliers on its lesser SKUs. We wouldn’t spend the extra cash on an unlocked Core i5-7600K if the cheaper i5-7400 offered the same overclocking ceiling, so Intel locks the multiplier to prevent cannibalizing its own sales on higher-margin products.

Providing unlocked multipliers for all models grants AMD plenty of cachet with enthusiasts, but the company could possibly be punishing itself financially with an “unhealthy” product mix.

Remember, the lack of integrated graphics partially restricts the market to those who are most likely to leverage the unlocked multipliers (enthusiasts), and this group is the most likely to take advantage of the cheaper, unlocked models.

Correcting The Mix?

We’ve noticed a few Ryzen sales over the past few weeks. We aren’t sure if AMD is involved in these recent sales, thus effectively lowering its MSRP, or if retailers are trying to drum up sales independently. However, regardless of AMD’s involvement, the sales yield a few interesting points.

First, the Ryzen 7 1800X, the most expensive model and logically where the most margin resides, has been on sale at Amazon for two weeks for between $470 and $465. It’s also on sale at Newegg with a $30 discount, although we don’t have pricing history to determine the length of that sale. The Ryzen 7 1700X has also experienced a slow creep downward from its $399 MSRP over the last month. The 1700X suddenly dropped drastically on Tuesday, May 2, to $374. That happens to be the day after the company suffered its drop in stock.

The sales apply to the high-end products only. This could mean either that the distributors aren’t moving enough of the products or that AMD is attempting to correct its mix by offering lower prices. Cutting the price of the eight-core models would offer an incentive for more people to purchase the expensive variant, while also allowing the company to continue to yield higher margins than it receives for the low-end models. (Of course, neither of those could be the case; it’s impossible to draw conclusions without detailed sales data).

MSRP Price Per Physical Core (eight)
Sale Price Per Physical Core Price Per Usable Core (MSRP)
Sale Price
Ryzen 7 1800X $58.75
$58.00
$58.75 $464
Ryzen 7 1700X $48.50
$46.75
$48.50 $374
Ryzen 7 1700 $41.25 $41.25 – Negligible Change $41.25 $323
Ryzen 5 1600X $31.25 $31.25 – Unchanged $41.66 $249
Ryzen 5 1600 $27.35 $27.35 – Unchanged $36.55 $219
Ryzen 5 1500X $23.65 $23.65 – Unchanged $47.25 $189
Ryzen 5 1400 $21.12 $21.12 – Unchanged $42.25 $169

In this table, we’ve included a column to reflect the sales pricing. As you can see, cutting the price still yields a superior margin for the high-end models compared to the low-end models. It’s notable that none of the lower-end models are on sale. AMD likely has restricted pricing flexibility at the low end due to the die design, and as an astute reader recently noted, that could leave the company especially vulnerable to targeted price cuts from Intel on the low end. We have seen zero change to Intel’s pricing structure, and the company’s recent customer pricing guide also reflects no changes in the near term.

Interestingly, AMD sent an email as we were working on this article that touts the Ryzen 7 1700X’s performance in relation to the Core i7-7700K. The timing appears a bit odd, as the company hasn’t sent prior communications like this regarding other already-released Ryzen products. It also sent over an interesting graph that outlines the 1700X’s key characteristics (according to the company’s own internally-derived test data).

In either case, there is no doubt that AMD sells far more low-end chips than high-end ones, so achieving the right mix of high-margin models is critical. In some respects, AMD might be somewhat naked in defense of Intel price cuts on the low end due to the built-in cost overhead of the eight-core design, but Intel hasn’t responded as of yet.

As many others have mentioned, the fluctuation in AMD’s stock price could be a combination of several factors, including some confusion over cash stockpile maneuvering or higher expectations surrounding Ryzen sales for Q2, but margin expectations also play a role, and it’s a situation AMD is going to have to address. Unfortunately, if AMD is having problems with its CPU product mix and that’s impacting its margins, it’s going to be a challenge to correct the issue.

Go to Source