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Cloud biz buy-ins prove our Arm processors are ready • The Register

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Interview After two years of claiming that its Arm-powered server processors provide better performance and efficiency for cloud applications than Intel or AMD’s, Ampere Computing said real deployments by cloud providers and businesses are proving its chips are the real deal.

The Silicon Valley startup held its Annual Strategy and Product Roadmap Update last week to ostensibly give a product roadmap update. But the only update was the news that Ampere’s 5nm processor due later this year is called Ampere One, it’s sampling that with customers, and it will support PCIe Gen 5 connectivity and DDR5 memory.

A photo of Ampere CEO Renee James showing off the startup's upcoming Ampere One CPU.

Ampere CEO, and former Intel president, Renee James showed off the upcoming Ampere One chip during the roadmap update … Click to enlarge

What the video update really felt like was a message to investors and the industry that Ampere’s high-core-count Altra processors are deployed at several major cloud providers and are already making a big difference for some businesses. After all, Ampere, which has raised a lot of cash from Oracle, confidentially filed for an initial public offering in April.

In an interview with The Register, Ampere chief product officer Jeff Wittich said the startup made customer testimonials the main topic of the presentation to prove that Ampere has executed on its roadmap so far and delivered the goods, literally speaking.

“The real story here is this stuff’s real. We’ve got people using it every day. It’s actually changing their businesses. It’s actually impacting people’s lives. It’s easy to get access to it now. And that became a big part of the story,” said Wittich, who previously worked at Intel for 15 years.

A photo of Ampere Chief Product Officer Jeff Wittich talking about the startup's customers.

Jeff Wittich pitches a strong Arm future

The name drops in Ampere’s video included Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud, Tencent Cloud, Equinix Metal, Alibaba Cloud, UCloud, and JD Cloud, all of which have now launched instances powered by Ampere’s Altra chips. German cloud provider Hetzner is planning Ampere-based services, and Cloudflare has been using Ampere chips in servers to handle internet requests faster than x86 silicon.

The roadmap update included testimonials from autonomous vehicle startup Cruise, which said Ampere’s processors were the only ones on the market that could serve its high-throughput needs. Another booster in the video was the Oracle Red Bull Formula One racing team, which said it used Oracle’s Ampere A1 Compute instance to increase the number of simulations it runs to test the aerodynamics of F1 cars by around 25 percent. There was also biomedical software firm Project Ronin, which said it turned to Ampere for its “cost-effective” computing.

Other companies that gave lip service to Ampere included server maker Supermicro, storage provider DataDirect Networks, Chinese tech giant Baidu, and cloud hosting service GleSYS. And that still doesn’t cover all the organizations that Ampere said are supporting its chips.

While Ampere is getting loud about momentum with customers and partners, the startup is staying quiet about any financial details for now. The most we could get from Wittich is that Ampere saw “massive growth” in 2021 and that revenue is growing this year.

“We’re not at a million CPUs a year yet, but that’s the trajectory we’re on, to get there as rapidly as possible so that we really do have the scale that you need for this type of an operation. That’s where we’re looking, and it’s not in the distant future,” he said.

Claims of better performance scaling than Intel, AMD

One major selling point of Ampere’s Altra microprocessors is the fact that they can pack more cores than the 64-core maximum of AMD’s Epyc and the 40-core maximum of Intel’s Xeon. Ampere eclipsed both companies with the 2020 release of the 80-core Altra, and then it went even further in 2021 with the release of the 128-core Altra Max.

These higher core counts make the Altra processors well-suited for the high-density needs of cloud computing, but Wittich said what really makes his biz’s processors better than Epyc or Xeon is that they have less performance variability between each core.

A graph from Ampere Computing showing that its Altra Max CPU has far less performance variability than an x86 CPU.

A graph Ampere uses to claim that its chips have far less performance variability than x86 ones. Click to enlarge

Wittich claimed that performance variability is an issue in Xeon and Epyc processors: a software thread running on one CPU core may run slower than if it was on another core, or may run faster, or the same. The result is that users can’t always be sure how fast or slow their software will run on these hosts, though Wittich said cloud providers have developed ways to smooth out these inconsistencies and mitigate the causes of any slowdowns.

“Cloud providers try and move users away from each other. They try and detect this, migrate people. They try and cap the amount of resources that one person can have. It’s not foolproof, and all those things add complexity and overhead,” he opined.

Wittich said these kinds of fixes may hide performance issues of x86 processors from users, but it means that a significant amount of a cloud provider’s capacity is “totally wasted,” which results in extra costs.

Ampere’s Altra processors avoid these variability issues for a few reasons, according to Wittich. For one, all the cores are single-threaded: one hardware thread per CPU core, so performance is guaranteed. Meanwhile, Xeon and Epyc processors typically run two hardware threads through each CPU core as they support simultaneous multi-threading (SMT). If those two hardware threads aren’t in contention, you can get good performance, and if they contend, a slowdown may occur. SMT can be configured by the host server operator.

Wittich said the Altra chips are also more energy efficient, which allows them to sustain the same clock frequency at all times, unlike Xeon or Epyc.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re able to scale to really high utilization and not drop off. We’ve got the power envelope to do it,” he said.

A graph from Ampere Computing showing that its Altra Max CPU has higher utilization than an x86 CPU.

A graph Ampere uses to claim that its chips have better peformance scaling than x86 chips. Click to enlarge.

Another factor that makes performance consistent between cores, according to Wittich, is that Ampere designed its processors to have larger L1 and L2 caches that are private to each CPU core, which keeps the cores primed with plenty of data and code that can be rapidly accessed, thus avoiding wasting time reaching out to RAM.

“People can keep their data in the cache for longer, which means less variability in performance, because you don’t have to keep going back out to memory because your neighbor wanted the rest of the cache and you evicted all of your cache contents,” he said.

What also helps keep the cores even is the mesh-based interconnect used to connect all the components on Ampere’s chips, Wittich added.

“We’ve done a lot on the mesh front to ensure that we’ve got really consistent performance,” he said. “It’s one reason why today our products are monolithic — not going to say they’re going to be monolithic forever — but what we will do is make sure that when our products move to a disaggregated approach, that our users still have a monolithic experience.”

Ampere’s plan to keep selling old chips alongside new ones

Later this year, Ampere plans to release a 5nm processor, named Ampere One, and the startup is promising it will come with even more cores, higher performance, and better power efficiency than its current Altra chips. Most notably, Ampere One will use a custom, Arm-compatible core designed by the startup, unlike the off-the-shelf core blueprints Ampere licensed from Arm for the Altra family.  

Wittich said it was always the plan for Ampere to design its own CPU. “There are a lot of cool things that we’ve done that allows us to scale out to this many cores, not blow past the power budget, and maintain that really, really consistent performance that our users want,” he said.

Customers have been sampling Ampere One since earlier this year, and while Wittich said the processor won’t enter mass production by the end of this year, it will be available in commercial servers by then.

“Once it’s in people’s production data centers, running real live workloads, and we’ve qualified it, that, to me, is the key milestone. And so that’s what we’re driving to for 2022,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll ramp volume as fast as we can to keep pulling in more customers.”

The interesting twist is that in addition to introducing chips on a yearly cadence, Ampere plans to keep selling its older processors well into the future — maybe even the next 10 years for Altra and Altra Max, Wittich suggested. This differs from Intel, which typically supports products from the last one or two generations before discontinuing them. In other words, imagine if Intel was still selling Haswell-based Xeon processors from 2014, and you get the idea for Ampere’s plan.

Wittich said Ampere is doing this because it’s what customers want and it’s necessary so that customers don’t get left behind if they don’t need to update to the latest chip.

“Our customers want the best of both worlds. So they want us to innovate and have a new processor every single year that has new features, but they don’t necessarily want to use that new processor for everything, not on day one,” Wittich said. It sounds somewhat contrary, telling customers it’s OK to keep buying the old boring chips instead of the new shiny ones. But Wittich said it makes the most sense for how customers run their datacenters.

“With all the innovation we’re doing, there’s going to be some innovations that really matter to some people, and then there’s going to be other people that say, ‘you know, I’ll wait for the wait for the one in year two. That’s the basket of innovations that I cared more about,'” he said.

What Ampere will need to contend with, among other things, is the fact that both Intel and AMD plan to release their own cloud-optimized processors in the near future, with the former’s Sierra Forrest chips expected in 2024 and the latter’s Bergamo chips arriving in 2023. But we do like the idea of a world that isn’t dominated by only two major server CPU providers. ®

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Lego releases Atari Video Computer System set • The Register

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Lego has followed up its Nintendo Entertainment System retro throwback with one celebrating the Atari Video Computer System (VCS).

The set, retailing at a heart-stopping $239.99 (£209.99 in the UK), is a non-functional replica of the iconic game console, although only the model with four switches rather than the six of others in the range. Not that those switches do an awful lot in Lego form.

In fact, compared to the cheaper Nintendo Entertainment System set (with all its twiddly technic bits and separate television), we’d have to describe the VCS set as a bit of a disappointment if it weren’t for the nostalgia factor.

The plastic bricks also fail to include a mock cartridge of the best game on the VCS, Combat. Asteroids, Centipede, and Adventure simply don’t cut it in comparison even with the reproduction of the hopelessly optimistic cover art so beloved by ’80s and ’90s designers and some neat Lego vignettes themed after the games.

Lego also opted to skip E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, described as the worst game ever. We can imagine an appropriate model for that example and the impact it had on the industry of the time.

Still, the 2,500-plus pieces will make for a fun build and includes a replica of the classic Atari joystick and a mini-fig scale 1980s room which pops up when the front is slid forward.

The price does seem high for what is effectively a plastic throwback to simpler times. Then again, other attempts to recreate that retro magic could cost you a lot more and potentially leave you without even a pile of plastic bricks to play with.

Or one could always take the plastic assembly and stick something like a Raspberry Pi (preloaded with an emulator) into it. Similar things were done with Lego’s Nintendo Entertainment System where the Technic guts of the television were removed and replaced with a Pi and an LCD screen to create something on which one can play games (ROM ownership notwithstanding).

Youtube Video

It is a shame that Lego did not see fit to include a television with the Atari VCS in the way it did with the NES, and also limited interaction to a pop-up 1980s room and some switches. However, the design looks good and is a reminder of an age when sticking something that looked like wood on the front of the console and squeezing games into kilobytes rather than gigabytes was state of the art.

Otherwise there are many examples of the VCS that can be had on various auction sites for considerably less than Lego’s asking price that are a good deal more interactive. ®

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4 reasons hybrid working looks set to stay for young professionals

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From priorities to practicalities, Dr Amanda Jones of King’s College London explains why hybrid working may be here to stay and outlines the pitfalls that younger employees will need to avoid.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

We’re in the middle of a remote working revolution. In the UK, though remote working was slowly growing before the pandemic, in 2020 the number of people working from home doubled.

While this rapid rise can be explained by Covid lockdowns, a recent survey my colleagues and I conducted with 2,000 London workers found that six in 10 employees still regularly work from home despite restrictions no longer being in place. And most don’t want that to change.

Findings from other parts of the world similarly point to a substantial increase in the number of work days being undertaken from home.

For young professionals, the shift has been particularly significant. Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home.

In 2022, 64pc of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65pc) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48pc).

Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.

US and European data shows that around four in 10 jobs can be conducted from home. But this figure may be higher if we consider that some jobs could be at least partly done from home. In particular, jobs in finance and insurance, information and communication and education are among the most conducive to being performed remotely.

Technologies which support remote working, such as Zoom and Slack, have been available for a number of years. While the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the rise in remote working among younger employees, I would argue that other factors have also contributed to this shift – some of which were already evident before the pandemic.

Importantly, each of these factors suggest this change to the way young professionals work is here to stay.

1. Priorities

Evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, young people were becoming more focused on their own goals, wanted greater flexibility and control, and sought a better work-life balance compared with previous generations. The reasons for this may be related to the changing nature of organisations and careers, which I’ll discuss later.

Our own and other research indicates that remote working, especially working from home (as opposed to, say, at client sites), can boost feelings of flexibility and control and enhance work-life balance. So working remotely could help younger people achieve these goals in a way that traditional working arrangements can’t.

In fact, research indicates that many young people would now rather switch jobs than compromise on the flexibility they gain from hybrid working. So for employers, supporting hybrid working may be necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

2. Practicalities

Across all age groups, participants in our research picked avoiding the commute as the biggest benefit of working remotely. While this has long been a recognised advantage of remote working, it’s important to note that we surveyed London workers – and the commute may be less of an issue for people in other places.

Aside from the time and hassle involved in commuting, travelling to work every day can be expensive. The cost of working in the office goes up if you also factor in lunches, coffees and after-work social activities.

This may be difficult for younger people – who are contending with the rising costs of living, often on lower salaries – to manage. Working remotely can help reduce spending, making it an attractive option – and even a potential lifeline – for younger employees.

3. Career trajectories

Studies show that a move towards less hierarchical, more efficient and flexible organisations results in a “new deal” of employment. Employers no longer guarantee job security and progression for employees, but gain their commitment by providing opportunities – including training programmes – that enhance their employability.

The onus then moves to employees to manage their own career progression, which remote working may help them with. For example, we know working from home can reduce distractions and improve productivity.

Taken with the commuting time saved, young professionals may have more time to dedicate to development opportunities, such as studying for additional qualifications. This could increase their attractiveness in the job market.

Indeed, young professionals seem to be the most likely to switch jobs. If they don’t expect to remain with an organisation long term, they may be less motivated to build strong relationships with colleagues and managers, and unwilling to put their own goals aside for those of the organisation.

4. Managers’ behaviour

Research shows many more managers now work remotely compared with before the pandemic. This change has two important effects.

First, managers who work remotely are likely to find it harder to stop juniors from doing the same. Managers’ ability to monitor and develop their junior staff in person, a common reason for prohibiting remote work in the past, is also reduced if managers are away from the office themselves.

Second, as more managers work remotely, younger employees may feel more confident that doing so won’t prevent them achieving success. Managers serve as role models to junior employees and evidence shows that younger professionals seek success by copying role models’ behaviour.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working

Despite the positives, younger employees, with comparatively limited experience and networks, may face disproportionately negative outcomes from remote working in terms of recognition, development and networking opportunities.

So if you’re a young professional working remotely, how can you avoid the pitfalls of hybrid working?

Setting your own goals can keep motivation and performance high. Meanwhile, proactively communicating your challenges and achievements to senior and peer-level colleagues can ensure that you receive guidance and recognition.

It’s a good idea to plan some of your time in the office to coordinate with team members or managers. At the same time, it’s useful to try to schedule office visits on different days of the week. This can help maintain key relationships but also help build networks through bumping into colleagues you don’t necessarily work as closely with.

Finally, upping attendance at external conferences and events could increase your value to the organisation through encouraging innovation and fresh ideas, while keeping you aware of external employment opportunities.

The Conversation

By Dr Amanda Jones

Dr Amanda Jones is a lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s College London.

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Kids’ tech: the best children’s gadgets for summer holidays | Gadgets

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With the long school summer holiday well under way, you may need a bit of help keeping the kids entertained. From walkie-talkies and cameras to tablets, robot toys and fitness trackers, here are some of the best kid-aimed tech to keep the little (and not-so-little) ones occupied.

Robot toys

Sphero Mini – about £50

Sphero Mini robotic ball.
Sphero Mini robotic ball. Photograph: Bryan Rowe/Sphero

Lots of tech toys are fads but my longtime favourite has stood the test of time as a modern update to remote control fun. Sphero is a ball you control using a smartphone or tablet, and has hidden depths, with games and educational elements also available.

The mini Sphero ball is a lot of fun to drive around and small enough that overexuberant indoor excursions won’t result in broken furniture and scuffed-up paintwork. The Sphero Play app has games, while the Sphero Edu app is great at fostering creative learning.

Kids or big kids can learn to program, follow examples, get the robot to do all sorts of things, or go deeper and write some code for it in JavaScript. Higher-end versions such as the £190 BOLT take the educational elements to the next level, too.

Tablets

Amazon Fire 7 Kids – about £110

Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet. Photograph: Amazon

If you would rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your little ones, Amazon’s practically indestructible Kids edition tablets could be just the ticket.

The cheapest and smallest Fire 7 has just been updated and is available in a range of bright-coloured cases with a pop-out stand. If your offspring do manage to break it, Amazon will replace it for free under its two-year “worry-free” guarantee.

It does all the standard tablet things such as movies, apps, games, a web browser if you want it, and parental controls to lock it, set time limits and age filters. There’s even an option restricting access to curated child-safe sites and videos but it doesn’t have access to the Google Play store, only Amazon’s app store.

The Kids edition comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ (£3 to £7 a month afterwards), which is a curated collection of child-friendly text and audio books, movies, TV shows and educational apps.

The larger £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are available in Kids versions, too, if you want something bigger, or Amazon’s new Kids Pro tablets start at £100 with additional features aimed at school-age children.

Alternatives include LeapFrog’s various educational tablets, which are fine for younger children, or hand-me-down or refurbished iPads (from £150) in robust cases, which can be locked down with some parental controls.

Cameras

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 – about £39

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink. Photograph: VTech

Before the advent of smartphones, standalone cameras were the way we visually documented our lives, and they still can be a bit of creative fun and inspiration for kids.

The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is a “my first digital camera” of sorts made of rugged plastic and simple in operation, which VTech reckons is suitable for three- to nine-year-olds. It captures 5MP photos of reasonable quality and can shoot from the back for selfies, too, all viewable on a 2.4in screen.

The optical viewfinder helps them line up the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even shoots video, too. The kid-centric nature of it might turn off older children but every award-winning photographer has to start somewhere before the smartphone takes over.

It needs an SD card for storage and takes four AA batteries at a time, and chews through them fast, so buy some rechargeables to help save money and the planet.

For older children, rugged and waterproof action cams could be the way to go, shooting video and photos. Budget no-brand cams cost from about £80 but secondhand or refurbished models from the big boys such as GoPro and DJI go for about £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.

Fitness trackers

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 – from about £55

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition.
Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition. Photograph: Garmin

Your child may not need any encouragement to tear about the place but if you are after a gadget to “gamify” and reward their activity – as well as giving them a smartwatch-esque gadget to play with – the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 could be a winner for ages four and up.

Its watch-like form comes in various themes and designs, including with various Star Wars, Marvel and Disney characters, with custom watchfaces to choose from. The user-replaceable coin-cell battery lasts a year, so you don’t have to worry about charging it. Water-resistance to 50 metres means swimming should be no problem either.

It tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messaging. It has mini games to play once your child has hit their goals, and can all be managed from a parent’s phone or tablet, so you can keep an eye on their data. Parents can even set goals, competitions with their own activity levels, chore reminders and tasks that can earn virtual coins for them to trade for rewards with you.

It is button-operated rather than touchscreen, and the backlight doesn’t stay on long to preserve the battery.

If you are a user of Google’s Fitbit trackers yourself, then the firm’s Ace 3 (£50) means you can compete on activity, but it needs charging every seven or so days. Other cheaper adult-focused fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (about £29) may be better for older children.

Walkie-talkies

Motorola T42 Talkabout – about £35 for three

Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios.
Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios. Photograph: Motorola Solutions

Walkie-talkies are a great replacement for phones, allowing kids and big kids to keep in touch without fear of fees or smashed screens.

There are plenty of child-centric options available with various character themes but basic units usually work better. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout comes in various colours and multipacks.

They are simple to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a clear one. Once going, just push to talk, even over long distances. Their quoted 4km range might be a bit ambitious but they should be good for at least 500 metres in urban environments, or much further in the open air.

They take three AAA batteries each, which last about 18 hours of talking or roughly three to four days in active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.

They have a belt clip and loop for hooking to a carabiner (metal loop) or similar, and are fairly rugged, too, so should survive being launched across a room or two.

Nestling’s camouflage walkie-talkies (about £26) are also a popular choice but there are lots of choices under £30 available on the high street.

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