Microsoft Brings Windows Mixed Reality To The Classroom, Teases 'View Mixed Reality' Feature

Microsoft has partnered up with Pearson to “offer curriculum in health, commerce, history, and STEM, on all Windows Mixed Reality devices” for secondary and university-level students by the 2018 school year. (It’s not clear if the company means the 2017-2018 or 2018-2019 school year.)

The arrangement–like all good partnerships–could prove mutually beneficial. Microsoft gets to introduce Windows Mixed Reality to students, who might just be the most captive market on the planet, and Pearson can diversify its education-focused offerings to recover from recent financial woes. And, of course, the idea is that MR will allow students to learn in ways that fuddy-duddy technologies like “books” simply couldn’t offer.

For anyone who doesn’t remember, Windows Mixed Reality is the new name for the technology formerly known as Windows Holographic. In March, a spokesperson told us that Microsoft rebranded the tech to “be more encompassing of the company’s broader vision for the platform.” That vision revolves around a platform many HMD makers can use, so making it clear that it’s a way to offer MR on top of Windows is probably wise.

Windows Mixed Reality: An Evolution for Education

Microsoft also teased a new Windows 10 feature called View Mixed Reality. The company said in its blog post that this feature “allows you to see 3D content through your screen into the real world as mixed reality” with a ‘simple RGB camera.” View Mixed Reality is set to come to Windows 10 some time this Fall. Other details about the feature, such as its minimum hardware and operating system requirements, have not yet been revealed.

Both announcements further Microsoft’s goal of making XR mainstream. The company’s developing its own HoloLens HMD (and proprietary hardware) to showcase its vision for XR hardware, working with Intel to define hardware specs for mainstream HMDs, and preparing Windows 10 for XR hardware and software to make sure it’s ready for what many have called the future of computing. Partnering with one of the world’s biggest education publishers and making it easier to experience MR without dedicated hardware could help familiarize people with XR on their own terms.

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Nintendo Reveals What's Coming In First 'Zelda: Breath Of The Wild' DLC

Nintendo announced earlier this year that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be the first Zelda game to feature downloadable content. Now the company has revealed more information about what to expect from the first expansion, which is set to debut sometime in Summer 2017.

That first expansion is called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – The Master Trials. (Gameplay spoilers will follow.) As the name implies, the expansion’s primary draw is the new Trial of the Sword that tasks you with battling through 45 rooms filled with progressively tougher enemies. Nintendo said “the true power of the Master Sword will awaken and always be in its glowing powered-up state” if you overcome this challenge.

This expansion also introduces two new game modes: a Hard Mode that ranks up enemies, introduces “higher-ranking enemies [you] wouldn’t find through normal play,” and causes enemies to slowly recover health; and a Hero’s Path Mode that promises to help you figure out where you haven’t explored in Hyrule by tracking your steps over the last 200 hours of playtime and showing them on the in-game map as a bright green trail.

Nintendo said there are also two additions that should make it easier to traverse Hyrule and find all the Koroks hiding in the expansive world:

  • Travel Medallion: There will be a new treasure chest somewhere in the game world which contains the Travel Medallion. With the Travel Medallion, players can create a temporary new travel point on the map where they are currently standing. Link can then transport himself to that point at any time. Only one travel point can be registered on the map at a time.
  • Korok Mask: By finding the new Korok Mask, players will have a much easier time finding Korok locations in the game. When equipped, the mask will shake, indicating that a Korok is hidden somewhere nearby.

Finally, as you might expect from DLC, new equipment will be introduced. Nintendo said eight new treasure chests hidden throughout the game’s world “yield equipment themed after fan-favorite games and characters such as Midna, Tingle, Phantom and Majora’s Mask.” Much like the red Nintendo Switch armor given to people who bought the Season Pass when Breath of the Wild launched, the equipment will be exclusive to the DLC.

More details about the second expansion pass, which is set to be released in “holiday 2017,” will be revealed in the future. The only way to get either expansion is to buy the Season Pass, which costs $20 from the Nintendo eShop. Considering how popular Breath of the Wild is on both the Switch and the Wii U–it’s the best-selling launch title in Nintendo’s history, at least in North America–that could net the company plenty of rupees…erm, money.

While you wait, you can install the latest version of Breath of the Wild for the Switch. The first updates addressed frame-rate issues and resolved other bugs. This one introduces dual audio options, which means you can listen to the voice acting in English, Japanese, and other supported languages while using another language in the on-screen text. This can prove useful if, say, you don’t like the voice acting in the English version. The dual audio option is also available for the Wii U version of the game, but you have to download a Voice Pack from the eShop.

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Microsoft Announces Windows 10 S, New Surface Laptop

Microsoft announced Windows 10 S, a version of Windows 10 that can only run apps downloaded from the Windows Store, and a Surface Laptop that will rely on the new operating system. The company also said that laptops running Windows 10 S will debut this Summer with a starting price of $189–a move that’s clearly meant to help Microsoft combat Google’s efforts to capture the education market with its low-priced Chromebooks.

Windows 10 S(tore)

Microsoft said in a blog post that Windows 10 S was designed with students and teachers in mind. It’s supposed to be “streamlined for simplicity, security, and superior performance” when compared to Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. Those goals are mostly achieved with the simple decision to restrict software to what’s available from the Windows Store, where apps are vetted by Microsoft and run in their own sandboxes.

That restriction could be a deal-breaker for some people. Notable omissions from the Windows Store include alternative browsers like Chrome and Firefox, game launchers such as Steam and GOG Galaxy, and productivity-related apps like the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite. Right now that list also includes the full Microsoft Office suite, but the company said today that it plans to bring all of those apps into the Windows Store.

Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s bet that more people care about the price of their laptop than their inability to install software from outside the Windows Store. For anyone who wants to have their cake and eat it too, as it were, the company will also let them upgrade their devices to Windows 10 Pro. The company didn’t say if that upgrade would cost the full $200 it normally charges for a Windows 10 Pro license.

Microsoft could also use Windows 10 S to convince more developers to bring their software to the Windows Store. The pressure is now on browser makers like Google and Mozilla to bring Chrome and Firefox, respectively, to Microsoft’s app marketplace. If they don’t, Windows 10 S users will have more reason than ever to use Edge. (Not that making it harder to use alternative browsers has worked out for Microsoft before.)

It’s worth noting that Windows 10 S does have some features Windows 10 Home does not. These include BitLocker security features, Remote Desktop controls, and other features that will make it easier for administrators to keep tabs on hundreds of Windows 10 S laptops. Windows 10 S and Windows 10 Pro overlap quite a bit–the main differences are the Windows Store restriction and the ability to join a corporate network.

Surface Laptop

Microsoft’s push to create its own hardware continued with the new Surface Laptop. It’s basically the next logical step for the company: It made the Surface and Surface Pro as tablets which also served as laptops, pushed the Surface Book closer towards the laptop category while retaining the tablet functions, and finished the chain with the Surface Laptop. The new device also complements the Surface Studio desktop from 2016.

Surface Laptop boasts a 14-hour battery life, an Alcantara-covered keyboard, and Intel 7th Generation (Kaby Lake) Core i5 or i7 processors. Microsoft said the laptop’s 13.5″ PixelSense Display is “the thinnest LCD touch screen display on any laptop,” and the rest of the laptop follows suit, as it weighs just 2.76lbs and is 14.47mm thick at its thickest point. (Let’s not question the jumps between imperial and metric units, eh?)

Introducing Microsoft Surface Laptop

The Surface Laptop will start at $999 when it debuts on June 15. Microsoft didn’t offer much information about its specs–all we know is that can be configured with either an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor; 4, 8, or 16GB of memory; 128, 256, or 512GB of SSD storage; and various color options. All configurations use the processor’s integrated graphics, so anyone looking for a gaming machine should probably turn elsewhere.

What Chromebooks?

The last of Microsoft’s announcements focused on Windows 10 S laptops made by other manufacturers. The company said Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba all “offer a range of new Windows 10 PCs for Education today” and will “offer a range of Windows 10 S devices—from powerful and affordable Windows Ink and touch PCs to beautiful premium devices” in the “coming months.”

This means Windows 10 S isn’t only supposed to appeal to people on tight budgets. The gap between $189 and $999 is big enough to accommodate everything but high-end laptops, and chances are that most people shopping for anything higher than around $1,000 won’t be satisfied by the operating system’s restrictions. Microsoft has two obvious targets: Chromebooks on the low end and MacBooks on the high end.

Surface Laptop will handle the latter. The former’s aided by Microsoft’s offers to students and teachers, as outlined in its blog post:

  • New Windows 10 education PCs starting at $189
  • Free one-year subscription to Minecraft: Education Edition for new Windows 10 education PCs
  • Free Windows 10 S for all schools on their current Windows Pro PC
  • Free Microsoft Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams
  • Free trial of Microsoft Intune for Education

That compares favorably to what Google offers education customers with Chromebooks. Yet it remains to be seen how these new Windows 10 S laptops will fare. We don’t know how they’ll perform, how they’ll reach that $189 price floor, or how keen people will be to restrict themselves to the Windows Store. Chromebooks are restricted to web apps, sure, but some now offer access to Android apps from the Google Play Store.

We’ll find out more about Windows 10 S, the Surface Laptop, and where other manufacturers will focus with their own Windows 10 S devices as each starts to debut over the next couple of months.

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Corsair Gets Aggressive With Carbide SPEC-04 Case Design

It’s been awhile since Corsair released a new case, if you don’t count the enclosure for the its new gaming PC. The last Carbide series cases we saw were at CES, which included the Carbide Air 540 and Carbide 330. However, Corsair just announced a new chassis, the Carbide SPEC-04, which eschews the company’s traditionally clean-lined aesthetic for a more aggressive appearance similar to the SPEC-Alpha.

The new Carbide SPEC-04’s front panel is side-mounted and hides the I/O port, which includes a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, audio jacks, and the power and reset switches. On the inside you’ll find drive mounts for two 3.5-inch drives and two 2.5-inch drives, as well as seven expansion slots.

The SPEC-04 features room for five 120mm fans: two in the front (which also support 140mm fans), two on the roof, and one on the rear. Corsair includes an LED-lit front intake fan with every SPEC-04. Alternatively, you can place 240mm radiators on the front and the roof, plus a 120mm radiator in the rear. Finally, the SPEC-04 has enough clearance for CPUs up to 5.91 inches tall, GPUs up to 14.57 inches long, and PSUs up to 8.86 inches long. To keep clutter out of the way and maintain the case’s cleanliness, there are numerous cable routing cutouts and dust filters for the front and the PSU.

The Corsair Carbide SPEC-04 is available now, and comes in yellow, red, and gray.

Product Corsair Carbide SPEC-04
Dimensions 19.37 x 7.91 x 17.05 inches (WxDxH)
Colors Yellow, Red, Gray
Drive Bays -3.5” x 2
-2.5” x 2
Expansion Slots 7
Motherboards -ATX
I/O Port -USB 3.0
-USB 2.0
-Headphone jack
-Microphone jack
-Power and reset buttons
Fan Support Front: 120mm x 2 or 140mm x 2
Roof: 120mm x 2
Rear: 12mm
Radiator Support Front: 240mm
Roof: 240mm
Rear 120mm
Clearance -CPU cooler height: 5.91 inches
-GPU length: 14.57 inches
-PSU length: 8.86 inches
Price $50

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Intel Announces SSD DC P4500 and P4600 Series

Intel is revamping its enterprise SSD lineup with two new offerings that feature TLC 3D NAND and a new SSD controller that brings a range of new features, including increased performance and simplified management capabilities.

We’ve seen the client SSD market transition to 3D TLC NAND en masse, and we expect the same trajectory for the enterprise space, too. 3D NAND offers plenty of advantages, such as increased endurance and reduced power consumption, but most importantly, it offers lower pricing and increased density. The Intel DC P4600 and P4500 employ Intel’s first generation 32-layer TLC NAND with 384Gb die.

Intel DC P4600 Intel DC P4500 Intel DC P3520 Intel DC P3700 Intel DC P3608
Capacity 1.6/2/3.2/4TB 1/2/4TB 1/1.2/2/3.2TB 400/800GB 1.6/2.0TB 1.6/3.2/4TB
Random Read IOPS (up to) 702,000 710,000 365,000 460,000
Random Write IOPS (up to) 257,000 68,000 22,000 175,000 110,000
Sequential Read MBps (up to) 3,280 3,290 1,600 2,800 5,000
Sequential Write MBps (up to) 2,100 1,890 1,400 2,000 2,300
Power Operating/Idle 9.9/20.7W – Idle ? 10.9/18.3W – Idle ? 12/25 – 4W 25 – 4 W 25/50 – 8-10 W
Form Factor AIC & U.2 AIC & U.2 AIC & U.2 AIC & U.2 AIC Only
Endurance (up to) 21,700 TBW/4 DWPD 46,000 TBW/0.7 DWPD 2,490 TBW/0.35 DWPD 43,800 TBW/17 DWPD 21,900 TBW/3 DWPD

Intel’s vertically integrated design employs the company’s own NAND, controller, firmware, and components. The new fourth-generation controller features 12 channels (four CE per channel), whereas previous-generation controllers employed 18 channels. Paring back the channel count confers reduced power consumption, but in this case, it also yields a net performance gain. The performance increase is surprising in light of the transition to TLC NAND, which typically results in lower performance. Intel employs a dual-PCB design to house the hefty allotment of NAND, but it hasn’t specified which capacity points leverage a daughterboard. The company also claims the new controller is more scalable than previous generations, so we could see higher capacities in the future with the same platform. Endurance is also a notably impressive metric – the DC P4600 challenges the DC P3700 series, which has long served as the benchmark for leading endurance. The DC P4500 features 10% overprovisioning, while the DC P4600 steps up to 30%.

Aside from the fancy new heatsink (which is the same as the 3D Xpoint-powered Intel DC P4800X), the DC P4600 brings up to 702,000/257,000 read/write IOPS, which is a big improvement over the previous “standard” Intel enterprise SSDs. In fact, only the DC P3608, which is two SSDs melded onto one PCB, offers more random read IOPS, and it pales in comparison with random write performance. Notably, the increased performance offers superior IOPS-per-TB metrics, which is an important factor in the data center. Sequential throughput metrics are also impressive for a single-ASIC design.

That all comes down to firmware and controller optimization. One of the more notable aspects of the series is the step up to more submission/completion queues. These queues spread out amongst the processor cores to offer increased performance and consistency. Intel has also enabled “snap reads,” which allow the controller to read only a NAND page instead of wasting time processing the entire block. The company also added the capability to suspend in-flight background operations, such as garbage collection, to prevent interference that can impact read performance. Intel also coalesces TRIM commands and can suspend them to prevent interference with time-sensitive operations. The culmination of the techniques improves both performance and consistency. 

We don’t have more fine-grained specifications, such as detailed QoS metrics, due to Intel’s new policy of not releasing product manuals. This notable departure from the norm is the result of an unnamed competitor duplicating some of Intel’s SMART implementation. That’s unfortunate. As such, Intel customers will not get access to the product manual without a signed NDA. Intel did provide the basic 99.99th percentile metric of 500 microseconds with a 4K QD1 workload, which is an impressive 8x improvement compared to the DC P3700.

Intel stepped up to NVMe 1.2, which offers new management features and performance optimizations for large deployments, and still employs the PCIe 3.0 x4 connection. The increased capabilities of the NVMe Management Interface (NVMe-MI) allow the company to offer increased telemetry for important metrics, such as latency distributions, SSD health, and temperature monitoring. The new out-of-band management capabilities also allow for OS-agnostic management and firmware updates. The SSD also comes with the expected end-to-end data path and power loss protection features. Support for multiple namespaces also makes its way into the arsenal, which is important for carving up devices into logically separate volumes.

The new Intel data center SSDs are in production with top cloud service providers. General availability begins in June. The new SSDs feature competitive price points and Intel’s standard five-year warranty.

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Microsoft unveils new Surface laptop

Microsoft has unveiled a new Surface laptop to compete with the Macbook Air.

The device will go on sale on 15 June with a starting price of $999 (£770). It has a 13.5 inch (34cm) screen and 14 hours of battery life, the firm said.

The tech giant also revealed a new edition of its Windows 10 operating system aimed at schools and designed to run on low-cost computers.

Experts said the move was intended to help Microsoft compete with Google in the schools market.

Microsoft Surface boss Panos Panay said the new laptop had a 1080 pixel display and weighed 2.76lb (1.25 kg) – lighter than the Macbook Air.

He also said it would run the new Windows 10S operating system and, despite the price, had been designed with students who were about to leave school in mind.

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Carolina Milanese, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said: “Apple’s Macbook air is also popular with students and it hasn’t produced a new model for a while.

“So this is all about Microsoft trying to steal a march on its old rival.”

New operating system

Windows 10S promises stronger virus protection and better battery life, and will be available on third party PCs with a starting price of $189.

Microsoft and Apple have long dominated the school computing market, but they have struggled with the recent rise of Chromebooks – low-cost PCs running Google’s Chrome operating system (OS).

According to consulting firm Futuresource, 58% of devices sold to US schools in 2016 were Chromebooks, while 22% ran Windows operating systems and 19% ran Apple ones.

Microsoft said devices using Windows 10S would only run apps provided through the Windows Store, which would help maintain their security and speed.

It also said the OS would be easier for teachers to set up and manage while delivering better battery performance.

Ms Milanese said: “I think it’s a compelling proposition for schools – but the first question is how easy will it be for schools who have already invested in Chromebooks to make the transition?

“Third party hardware suppliers will be asking what is in this for them, especially if they are making hardware for the Chrome operating system too.”

She added: “Microsoft has already convinced some suppliers such as Acer to come on board, but it may have to offer incentives to keep them engaged.”

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Q Acoustics M3 soundbar review

Q Acoustics’ latest soundbar claims to be “simplicity redefined,” promising muscular sound from a single unit that you can use for your TV or music, wired or wirelessly, all with minimum fuss and headache.

Despite that promised simplicity, the M3 boasts plenty of features and a variety of available connections (including Bluetooth), EQ presets to make the most of the sound wherever you place it in relation to your TV, and a sleek design that stands out from its boxy competition. 

Q Acoustics M3 soundbar: Price and availability

The M3 is launching at £299/$349, and is available now from Amazon or directly from Q Acoustics in the UK or US.

That price puts it in line with rivals like the Orbitsound ONE P70, but comfortably below much more expensive options from Bose and Sonos.

If you want to look at how the M3 shapes up compared to the rest of the competition, check out our pick of the best soundbars.

Q Acoustics M3 soundbar: Design

The design is the first area where the M3 immediately stands out from its competition.

That’s because while the overwhelming majority of soundbars on the market right now are basically just long, black cuboids, the M3 boasts a sleeker, curved design that somehow brings to mind spaceships more than boring boxes. 

The front grille is angled backwards, while the ends of the speaker are tapered, so that the body has a slightly triangular shape when viewed from the top (or, indeed, if you have it wall-mounted – it attaches to the wall via the bottom side, not the back).

If you decide to use it standing on a table or cabinet, it rests slightly off the ground on a wide metal stand, which only adds to the spaceship aesthetic. 

There’s only one thing that gets in the way of the sleek design: the size. At 1000x125x70mm, the M3 isn’t exactly petite, though at 4kg it isn’t too heavy for its size. The size probably won’t be an issue for wall-mounting, but anyone hoping to store their soundbar inside a cabinet might want to grab their measuring tape first.

The front grille includes a small Q logo, while the top includes the power and volume buttons. The power button’s edges light up to serve as the only visual feedback from the speaker itself, to let you know which input it’s using: pink for HDMI, blue for Bluetooth, and so on.

This is a pleasingly stripped back solution to the awkward soundbar display, and a clear sign of Q’s commitment to simplicity, but be warned: if you keep the M3 too close to your TV, you could end up with that light reflecting back at you from the screen constantly.

The back is recessed to allow easy access to the various ports and connections: AC power, 3.5mm, optical, and HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel). You can also connect a TV or other device wirelessly over Bluetooth aptX, and there’s even NFC so you can pair your devices with just one touch.

While there are a variety of inputs, Q is heavily pushing HDMI as the default wired option – in fact that’s the only input cable included in the box. Just make sure your TV has an HDMI ARC port so that you can take advantage (most modern models do), otherwise you’ll need to use optical, 3.5mm, or Bluetooth to connect.

The back also includes an EQ switch, which allows you to cycle through three different EQ presets depending on where you’ve placed the speaker: on top of a TV cabinet, inside a cabinet, or mounted on the wall.

Finally, there’s a small included remote, which can turn the speaker on, change input, and alter volume. One of the benefits of using HDMI ARC is that it will let you use your TV remote to control the M3, saving you from dealing with two remotes for the most part. Again, it just keeps things simple – turning your TV on or off does the same to the soundbar, so you just never have to think about it.

Q Acoustics M3 soundbar: Performance

The design might be nice, but what really matters is whether the M3 can has got it where it counts: the sound. And let’s cut to the chase: it does.

The 100x150mm Dual Voice Coil subwoofer delivers deep, resonant bass tones that are plenty impressive for a soundbar in isolation. Anyone looking for earthshaking bass should naturally look at a separate subwoofer unit, but for an all-in-one the M3 does the job well.

It’s backed by a series of 58mm Balanced Mode Radiator drivers, which are designed to offer almost 180-degree sound dispersion, widening the spread of sound, and avoiding sweet spots – or the dead zones that tend to accompany them.

In practice, we found that the M3 pulled off the trick, and we struggled to notice any variation in sound quality as we moved around the room or changed seats – we had to go behind the speaker before we noticed any difference, which is probably an unfair test for a TV speaker anyway.

Audio quality is consistent at a variety of volumes, and the M3 should happily go loud enough to fill even a large living room.

In addition to being a great TV soundbar, thanks to the Bluetooth input the M3 can also serve as a handy music speaker. Again, the included subwoofer won’t rival a good multi-speaker setup, but as an all-in-one the M3 does very well.

Pairing is quick and easy, and the Bluetooth range is impressive – I was able to keep my phone connected from almost anywhere in my flat. Conveniently, the sound also carries similarly well, while the use of Bluetooth aptX preserves audio quality well.

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