USB Condoms are a thing now

If you connect your devices to anything public, be it wireless or wired Internet, or USB power charging stations, it is best to assume that these are not safe. While you can protect your data in several ways, e.g. by using a VPN when you need to access the Internet while connected to a public or untrusted network, it is sometimes the case that simple things are overlooked.

In November 2019, Los Angeles’ District Attorney’s Office published an advisory to travelers about the potential dangers of public USB ports. These ports could be used for an attack that has been called juice-jacking.

Juice Jacking basically allows attackers to steal data or infect devices that unsuspecting people plug into specifically prepared USB power stations. The Distrcit Attorney’s Office recommended that travelers use AC power outlets directly, use portable chargers, or charge devices in cars instead of using public USB chargers.

usb condom

While that is sound advice, it may not be possible sometimes to use these alternatives. That’s where the Original USB Condom comes into play. The USB Condom is a device that is attached to the charging cable so that it sits between the device’s charging cable and the public USB charging station.

The Original USB Condom prevents accidental data exchange when your device is plugged into a foreign computer or public charging station with a USB cable. The USB Condom achieves this by blocking the data pins in the USB cable and allowing only power to flow through.

The main idea behind the electronic device is that it blocks the data pins so that data cannot flow; this does not affect the charging capabilities so that devices may be charged as if they were connected directly to the charging station.

The device is available for $6.99 over at Syncstop. It is currently out of stock (as of early December 2019), but the site revealed that it expects the USB Condom to be restocked later this week.

The Original USB Condom is not the only device designed to block data transfers when connecting devices via USB to charging stations. A quick search returned PortaPow devices that block data transfers as well as others.

If you know someone who is traveling a lot, or spending lots of time in public places using public USB chargers at times, it may be a useful present.

Now You: Do you connect your devices to public charging stations / wireless networks?

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Intel started to remove old downloads from its Download Center

If you are using devices with Intel hardware, you may want to head over to the company’s download center website right now to download drivers and other files for that hardware before Intel removes it.

The company added notices to lots of files offered on the site, e.g. BIOS updates like this one, that reveals that it plans to remove these downloads from the site on November 22, 2019.

End Of Life – This download, BIOS Update [RL86510A.86A] P21, will no longer be available after November 22, 2019 and will not be supported with any additional functional, security, or other updates.

The product has reached end of life according to Intel and the company recommends that users remove the product or discontinue using it.

All versions are provided as is. Intel recommends that users of BIOS Update [RL86510A.86A] P21 uninstall and/or discontinue use as soon as possible.

The message is displayed even if no newer version of a download is offered by Intel. In other words: Intel wants customers to upgrade motherboards and devices to newer hardware components.

intel remove download center files

The removal does not affect aging old (in computing terms) hardware only either. This particular BIOS update was released in October 2018 and it is going to be removed as well from the company website.

Not all BIOS files are removed from the Download Center site but the removal criteria have not been revealed by Intel.

The removal affects numerous hardware components including motherboards, network drivers, and graphics adapters. Twitter user foone noticed in mid-September 2019 that Intel removed drivers selectively from its site.

The issue was first reported on the vogons forum and the thread includes some suggestions on obtaining drivers and BIOS files for Intel hardware. One of the options include using a 2014 Archive.org mirror of Intel’s FTP site. Additional links are provided in the thread.

Closing Words

The motivation behind the removal is unclear.  Intel announced plans some time ago to revamp its website and it is possible that the removal of what might look to Intel as dead weight received the okay during meetings.

The removal is problematic for a number of reasons. Old hardware may still be in use and it requires old drivers. There are still C-64 and Amiga computers used for instance, and the same is likely true for devices running older Intel hardware.

It may also be difficult to understand why a company like Intel (or any other large organization, e.g. Mozilla, Microsoft or HP) would remove files (or information) from company websites that require little maintenance or storage.

Now You: are you affected by the removal?

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Quick overview of the 2019 Microsoft Surface event

Microsoft revealed seven new products on today’s Surface event; five of which will come out this year, two next year. The coverage of the event is overwhelming and many sites post five, ten or even more articles that cover individual products or impressions.

This overview provides you with the most important information in a single, straightforward way.

Highlights:

  • Microsoft Surface Duo: Android-powered mobile device with two screens that can rotate 360 degrees.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro X: A new Surface device powered by a Qualcom/Microsoft processor called SQ1 and runs Windows on ARM.
  • Microsoft Surface Neo: A new Surface device featuring two 9 inch displays that rotate 360 degrees.

Let’s get started.

Surface Pro 7

A refresh of the Surface Pro lineup, now available in the seventh generation. Powered by Intel 10th generation processes the device will give customers several options when it comes to the components.

The base model starts with 4 Gigabytes of RAM, 128 Gigabytes of storage and a core i3 process; other models offer up to 16 Gigabytes of RAM, 1 Terabyte of storage and an Intel core i7 process.

Design has not changed all that much but the seventh generation of the Surface Pro has a USB-C port. There are some new color options and type covers and pens are sold individually as usually.

Availability: October 22 starting at $749.99

Surface Pro X

A new device in the surface family that is powered by a newly designed processor called Surface SQ1 that is been developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. It runs Windows on ARM and Microsoft promises that it is good for up to 13 hours of battery life. The device supports fast charge and has built-in LTE support.

It features a 13-inch PixelSense (2880×1920) display and works like a two-in-one with a detachable keyboard.  The device weights about 1.7 pounds and Microsoft added several new features to the device. The Type Cover has been redesigned so that it may now be used to hold and charge the new Surface Slim Pen. Surface Pro X supports removable SSD storage (M.2).

Availability: starting November 5th, 2019 starting at $999. Preorders start today according to Microsoft.

Surface Laptop 3

The next iteration of Surface Laptop comes as a 13.5 inch and 15 inch model. The smaller model is powered by Intel 10th generation processes while the 15 inch model is powered by custom AMD Ryzen processors and not Intel chips.

The 13.5 inch PixelSense screen has a resolution of 2256 x 1504, the 15 inch screen a resolution of 2496 x 1664.

The devices features a removable hard drive, a 20% larger trackpad, 1,3mm key travel instead of 1.5mm in Surface Laptop 2 for “near-silent typing”, and an USB-C port. Microsoft promises up to 11.5 hours of battery life from all models and fast charging (80% in one hour).

Consumers get Windows 10 Home, commercial customers Windows 10 Pro on the devices.

Availability: October 22, starting at $999 and $1199 respectively.

The 2020 devices

surface duo neo

The devices are not finalized yet but Microsoft showcased prototypes of the devices. The company revealed little about hardware and made no mention of price at this point in time.

Surface Duo

Surface Duo probably the biggest announcement of the entire event. It is Microsoft’s re-entry in the mobile market and looks on first glance like a smaller copy of the Surface Neo.

It is a foldable device with two 5.6 inch displays that rotate 360 degrees and expand to a 8.3 inch tablet. The device is powered by a Snapdragon 855 process and runs Android.

The two displays unlock several new modes of operation, e.g. using one display as a keyboard or game controller, and it is possible to run apps side-by-side.

Availability: 2020

Surface Neo

The dual-screen Surface Neo may remind some of Microsoft’s Courier concept from 2008. The device is powered by a new version of Windows that Microsoft calls Windows 10X. It has two 9 inch displays that are can rotate 360 degrees just the devices of the surface Duo can. And just like the Android-powered device, the screens may be used in various modes to get the most out of the device.

Availability: 2020

Now You: what is your take on these devices?

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Raspberry Pi 4 is out in all its glory

The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, a new version of the popular tiny computer featuring major hardware upgrades, is available now starting at $35. The first version 4 release of the Raspberry Pi upgrades nearly all components when compared to version 3 models that are also still available.

The new computer comes with a powerful 1.5 GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A72 CPU that promises about three times the performance of previous versions.

Other improvements include two USB 3.0 ports on the device (next to two USB 2.0 ports), support for dual monitors at resolutions of up to 4K, full-throughout Gigabit Ethernet, up to 4 Gigabytes of LPDDR4 SDRAM, and 4Kp60 HEVC hardware decode support.

raspberry pi 4

The new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B supports Ethernet, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, and uses USB-C for the power connector instead of the USB micro-B connector that older versions used. The switch gives the device the power it needs to better cope with demands.

The video output has seen an upgrade as well. The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B computer features a pair of type-D HDMI connectors instead of the type-A connectors that previous model used.

Software-wise, the Raspberry Pi 4 comes with an updated operating system that is based on Debian 10 Buster. Among the many improvements that the new operating system brings are updated applications and interface.

You are probably wondering about Model A. There is no Model A; the company behind the product used Model A to describe lower-cost versions of the Raspberry Pi. There is no Model A because it has not (yet) found a way to offer such a device at “significantly less than $35”.

The device starts at $35 in the base version with 1 Gigabyte of RAM; add $10 for the 2 Gigabyte variant and $20 for the 4 Gigabyte variant of the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B.

A range of accessories is also available. While you can get started using the mini-computer in its purest form, most users may want to get a case for the device. Cables to connect the device to displays, mouse and keyboard, a power supply, and a microSD card with software to install the operating system, are also required.

Some retailers offer bundles that include everything to get started. A budget set may include the new Raspberry Pi model, a case, power supply, and a microSD card. More advanced bundles may come with mouse and keyboard, HDMI cables, and even special purpose hardware such as extra space to connect hard drives to the device for use as a storage server.

You may purchase an official Desktop Kit that includes the 4 GB version of the Raspberry Pi 4, the official case, power supply unit, mouse and keyboard, HDMI cables, a beginners guide, and a pre-installed 16 Gigabyte microSD card for $120; that’s everything you need to get started. Third-party bundles may even be cheaper (or more expensive depending on what is included).

Availability of the 1 Gigabyte model is good; the 4 Gigabyte version of the Raspberry Pi 4 is sold out currently, at least in Germany. I recommend that you get the 4 Gigabyte model as it will offer better performance.

Closing Words

If you are new to the Raspberry Pi, you probably wonder what you can do with such a device. The short answer is: pretty much anything you want. You may use it as a computer running Linux when you connect it to a display, may use it as a media player, emulation station to play retro games on the TV, as a server, e.g. print server, web server, NAS, or game server, for robotics, as a camera, radio, or home automation.

Check out the official release announcement here.

Now You: Do you own a Raspberry Pi?

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PCI Express 5.0 specs: double bandwidth

PCI Express 4.0 motherboards, Solid State Drives. and other devices are not widely available yet, but that has not stopped the Peripheral Component Interconnect Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG) from releasing PCI Express 5.0 specifications on May 29, 2019.

Compared to PCI Express 4.0, PCI Express 5.0 promises double the bandwidth and other improvements while maintaining backwards compatibility with existing PCI Express peripherals.

PCI Express 4.0 doubled the bandwidth, frequency, and transfer rate of PCIe 3.0, and PCI Express 5.0 is designed to quadruple it.

Target markets for PCI Express 5.0 include gaming, visual computing, AI, storage, and machine learning.

The new specification increases performance in the high-performance markets including artificial intelligence, machine learning, gaming, visual computing, storage and networking.

Tools like HwInfo or CPU-Z may help you find out which PCI Express standards the PC you run this on supports (if any).

pci express 4.0

PCI Express 5.0 specification details

  • Bandwidth of 128 GB/s, 32 GT/s, 32.0 GHz frequency, and 128b/130b encoding.
  • Backwards compatible with all major PCI Express standards (4.0, 3.x, 2.x, and 1.x).
  • Features new backwards compatible CEM connector for add-in cards.
  • Support for extended tags and credits.
  • Electrical changes improve signal integrity and mechanical performance of connectors.

Closing Words

Most existing devices don’t support PCI Express 4.0 and general availability of PCI Express 4.0 supporting hardware such as motherboards or Solid State Drives is just about to get better in 2019.

AMD announced in January 2019 that the company’s X570 motherboard chipset would support PCI Express 4.0, and that some 300 and 400-series motherboards could be updated to support PCI Express 4.0 at least partially.

Phison revealed a PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD controller in January 2019 as well and managed to gain 4 GB/s of sequential reads and 4.2 of write performance out of a hardware setup back then.

With PCI Express 5.0 announced, many might wonder whether it makes senses to jump on the PCI Express 4.0 bandwagon or wait until devices that support PCI Express 5.0 come out.

PCI Express 4.0 was announced in 2017 and adoption is just about starting in the consumer market. It is not too far fetched to assume that PCI Express 5.0 will need 18 to 24 months at the minimum before devices start to become available for consumers.

 

 

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Nvidia GeForce Driver 430.64 fixes high load issue and security issues

Nvidia released a new GeForce Game Ready Driver on May 9, 2019. The new GeForce 430.64 driver fixes a performance issue in the previous driver version caused by the process nvdisplay.container.exe, and addresses security issues in driver components.

The new driver is already available on Nvidia’s official download site for all supported video cards and graphics adapters.

Note: it is recommended that you install only the driver components that you require, e.g. only the Nvidia video card driver. You may also want to make sure that Telemetry tracking is disabled on your system after driver installation. Programs like NVCleanstall or NVSlimmer may also be used to remove unwanted driver components. End

Nvidia GeForce Driver 430.64

nvidia driver 430.64

The driver series 430 supports Microsoft’s Windows 10 May 2019 Update officially. It includes the usual assortment of new game profiles and updates for SLI profiles. This particular release adds Rage 2, Total War: Three Kingdoms and World War Z Game Ready profiles to the system.

More importantly, it addresses the NVDisplay.Container.exe high CPU usage issue that was introduced in driver 430.39. Nvidia issued a hotfix release already but the GeForce Driver 430.64 is the first official driver release that patches the issue. Users affected by the issue may want to upgrade to the new driver version immediately to resolve the issue.

The remaining fixes in the release address several crashes and freezes: a crash in Hitman 2, a freeze in Shadow of the Tomb Raider when using SLI, and a crash when using BeamNG. The new release fixes the secondary monitor flickering issue and flickering when launching the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark.

The release has two unresolved issues on Windows 10. The first produces random crashes in the game Sniper Elite 4, the second affects the VSync setting.

The new driver version patches a security vulnerability that “may allow access to application data processed on the GPU through a side channel exposed by the GPU performance counters”.

The patch disables access to GPU performance counters for non-admin users. Nvidia notes that administrators may enable access for non-administrators again in the Nvidia Control Panel under Developer > Manage GPU Performance Counters.

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nvdisplay.container.exe causing high CPU load

The most recent Nvidia graphics driver, version 430.39, may cause high CPU usage on some systems it is installed on.

Nvidia released the graphics driver 430.39 last week; the new WHQL driver adds support for the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, comes with new or updated game profiles, and includes a new feature to merge two portrait monitors into a third landscape monitor.

Reports suggest that the new graphics driver is causing high CPU load issues on some systems it is installed on. A thread on the official Geforce forum highlights the issue and suggests that the issue dates back to as early as mid 2018. The most recent issue has something to do with Telemetry collecting, apparently.

nvdisplay.container.exe

The high CPU load is caused by NVIDIA Container, or nvdisplay.container.exe which may slow down the system because of the high load.  The process appears to be responsible for other high load situations.

Nvdisplay.container.exe was used initially by Nvidia to power the Control Panel.

You can verify that the process is the cause by opening the Windows Task Manager with the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Esc. You may need to switch to the Details tab to locate the process in the listing. It is a good idea to sort by CPU usage with a click on the header.

Günter Born suggests that nvdisplay.container.exe is used for collecting Telemetry data. Our colleagues at Deskmodder provide additional information: the Nvidia driver creates the new folder DisplayDriverRAS which is used by nvdisplay.container.exe for additional Telemetry collecting.

Workarounds

displaydriverras

A fix is available; users who can may also want to consider uninstalling the Nvidia graphics driver 430.39 completely, e.g. using Display Driver Uninstaller, and installing the previous driver again; this should resolve the issue temporarily as well.

The actual fix requires elevated privileges. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Use Explorer to open C:Program FilesNVIDIA CorporationDisplay.NvContainerpluginsLocalSystem
  2. Locate the folder DisplayDriverRAS and delete it, e.g. by right-clicking on it and selecting Delete.
  3. Navigate to C:Program FilesNVIDIA Corporation.
  4. Delete the folder DisplayDriverRAS.
  5. Kill the nvdisplay.container.exe process (or processes) in the Windows Task Manager.
  6. Restart the computer.

Doing so should not interfere with functionality. The process nvdisplay.container.exe still runs after the restart, but the high CPU load should be a thing of the past.

Closing Words

The folder is created even if you choose to install the display driver only using the custom installation option that Nvidia’s official driver installer supports.

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Nvidia drops 3D Vision support in GeForce Game Ready Drivers

Nvidia revealed in March 2019 that future GeForce Game Ready drivers will drop support for 3D Vision, a technology that enables stereoscopic vision for Direct3D video games.

Nvidia plans to release the last version of the GeForce Game Reader driver 418 in April 2019. Release 418 drivers will be the last release to support 3D Vision. Future drivers, release 419 and newer, won’t release the technology and software anymore.

The company will support release 418 until April 2020 but only to address critical driver issues according to a new support page on the official Nvidia support website.

Nvidia plans to include the 3D gaming software 3DTV Play with the driver release and to remove the standalone download of 3DTV from its website following the release.  3DTV is used for 3D gaming on 3D capable TVs. The previously commercial software will be offered for free with the release of driver 418 in Apirl 2019.  The 3D Vision Video Player software remains available as a standalone download throughout 2019.

nvidia graphics driver 397.31

Nvidia customers who use 3D Vision should stay on Release 418 to use the technology until 2020.

Support will be dropped completely in April 2020 by Nvidia. While it is still possible to stay on the then-outdated and unsupported driver to continue using 3D Vision, it is not recommended to do so because of the lack of support.

Nvidia did not mention why it decided to end support for 3D Vision. The most likely explanation is that 3D never caught on in home entertainment let alone in gaming, and that demand likely dropped even further with the release of the first Virtual Reality headsets. While VR technology is facing an uphill battle to win over gamers and consumers in general as well, it has better chances than 3D technology especially since it is possible to use the technology to watch movies in 3D.

Gamers who use the default installation profile when they install Nvidia drivers will notice that 3D Vision won’t be installed anymore once releases reach version 419. Less bloat for users who use the default installation profile.

Experienced users customize Nvidia driver installations or use third-party software like NVSlimmer to block any component that they don’t require from installing on their devices to remove Nvidia Telemetry and other components that may start with Windows or run in the background.

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Thunderbolt-based USB4: backward compatible, speed gains and more

The USB Promoter Group revealed information about the upcoming USB4 specification today in a press release.

In short: USB4 is based on Thunderbolt, backwards compatible with USB 3.2, 2.0, and Thunderbolt 3, and about twice as fast as USB 3.2 Gen2x2.

When USB 3.0 was introduced back in 2009, it was an improvement in all regards compared to the-then dominating standard USB 2.0. USB 3.1 and 3.2 were introduced in the years that followed; each a step up in terms of performance and data transfer rates over the previous standard.

Not all is golden today though. Not all new devices that come on the market support the latest USB versions. It is not uncommon, especially for low-end devices, to only support USB 2.0, or include more USB 2.0 ports than USB 3.0 ports. It does not help either that the names that the USB Promoter Group picked for the individual specifications are confusing, and that people had to deal with different cables and connectors next on top of that.

To add even more icing to the cake, it was announced recently that USB terms would be rebranded: USB 3.0 to USB 3.2 Gen 1 and the marketing term SuperSpeed USB, USB 3.1 to USB 3.2 Gen 2 and the marketing term SuperSpeed USb 10Gbps, and USB 3.2 to USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and the marketing term SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps.

usb4

Today’s announcement adds USB4 to list of available USB versions. USB4 is based on Intel’s Thunderbolt technology. Intel made Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free and the USB Promoter Group uses the Thunderbolt specification as the base for USB4.

USB4 offers double the bandwidth of USB 3.2 Gen2x2, and the same as Thunderbolt 3 which Intel launched in 2015. The standard supports up to 40GB/s opposed to 20GB/s which USB 3.2 supported. The upcoming version features additional improvements such as efficient options to share multiple data an display protocols.

USB4 uses USB Type C which was introduced with USB 3.2 Gen2. Intel plans to integrate support for Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 natively into upcoming products. It is likely that other manufacturers will do the same eventually thanks to the royalty-free nature of USB4.

The new USB4 architecture defines a method to share a single high-speed link with multiple end device types dynamically that best serves the transfer of data by type and application. As the USB Type-C™ connector has evolved into the role as the external display port of many host products, the USB4 specification provides the host the ability to optimally scale allocations for display data flow. Even as the USB4 specification introduces a new underlying protocol, compatibility with existing USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3 hosts and devices is supported; the resulting connection scales to the best mutual capability of the devices being connected.

Closing Words

The specification has not been released officially yet; while it is possible that things may change before that happens, it seems unlikely that this is going to happen.

The announcement leaves some questions unanswered:

  1. When will the first consumer devices with USB4 support be released?
  2. Will USB 3.2 Gen2x2 be dead on arrival?

Now You: What is your take on the USB standard and the new USB4?

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microSD Express format and 1TB microSD cards incoming

Today was a big day for the future of microSD cards. The SD Association unveiled the new microSD Express format, and the companies Micron and SanDisk the first 1 Terabyte microSD cards. In other words: more storage and a new standard promising faster transfer rates and reduced power consumption.

The new microSD Express format supports devices with PCIe 3.1 and NVMe 1.3 interfaces, and offers transfer speeds of up to 985 MB per second. The transfer rate matches that of SD Express cards.

SD Express cards, regardless of regular or micro, are fully backwards compatible. Customers can insert Express cards into their devices and access all files on the cards on their devices. Performance may suffer if the interfaces don’t support the new standard or newer standards, but access is guaranteed and that is usually what counts.

The microSD Express cards should consume less power than traditional storage cards. The cards are ideal for applications that benefit from faster transfer speeds and situations where power consumption needs to be kept to a minimum.

microsd express
via https://twitter.com/SD_Association

The faster speeds may improve the gaming experience, the recording of 4K or virtual reality videos, and anything else that benefits from fast read or write speeds.

Different types of microSD cards such as microSD HC, XC and UC Express, will become available in the future.

The SD Association published a microSD Express whitepaper. It offers additional details on the Express standard.

It will take a while before devices that support the standard will become broadly available.

1 Terabyte microSD cards

Two companies, Micro and SanDisk (Western Digital), revealed the first 1 Terabyte microSD cards at the Mobile World Congress today.

The 1 Terabyte cards double the supported storage of microSD cards.

Western Digital advertises the 1TB SanDisk Extreme UHS-I microSDXC card as the world’s fastest and largest UHS-I microSDXC card. The manufacturer lists a read speed of up to 160 MB/s and a write speed of up to 90 MB/s. The SanDisk card will be available for $449.99; a 400 Gigabyte card that offers the same specification is available for $109.99.

Micron’s c200 1TB microSDXC UHS-I card supports read speeds of up to 100 MB/s and write speeds of up to 95 MB/s meeting UHS-I Speed Class 3 and Video Speed Class 30 specifications. Micron’s card supports the A2 App Performance Class specification which promises faster loading speeds for Android apps and games saved on cards that support it.

Micron has not revealed the price for its 1 Terabyte microSD card yet.

Now you: Do you use microSD cards?

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