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Student tech: the best gadgets to help you make the most of university | Technology sector

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The end of the summer is here, and with it the start of a new semester at university. The landscape of learning certainly looks brighter than it has for the last couple of years but the need to have the right gear is just as big, with many universities offering a mix of in-person and online learning.

From laptops and phones to headphones and note-taking tools, here’s a guide to some of the tech that will help make the most of the student experience at a time of stretched finances.

Laptops and tablets

Most work ends up being done with a laptop, so getting the right machine makes student life that little bit easier.

Portability and screen size are key trade-offs. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to work on, but the heavier it will be to lug between lectures. I recommend a 13in to 14in screen as a happy medium but if you are frequently going to be plugging into a monitor, a smaller machine might be preferable. Make sure the display is at least 1080p in resolution.

Look for the 11th or the latest 12th generation Intel i5 or i7 processors, at least 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or more of SSD storage.

Don’t be tempted by the cheaper price or larger storage of a laptop with a traditional magnetic hard drive as it will be slow.

A university student working on a laptop
Does your laptop have a big enough screen? Photograph: I Love Images/Alamy

Generally, you can get a solid Windows 11 laptop for about £500-600. Be aware that at this price you will sacrifice typing and mousing experience, screen, speaker and webcam quality, and probably battery life, too. Of laptops usually on offer for £550 or so, the Acer Aspire 5, HP Pavilion 14 and Dell Inspiron 14 are worth considering with the right spec.

But my pick for a sub-£600 portable machine would be the mid-range Surface Laptop Go 2 at about £566 with student discount.

If you have a bigger budget and want a better screen, keyboard, trackpad, speakers and performance, my pick for a laptop under £1,000 is the tremendous Apple M1 MacBook Air at £898 with student discount, which has a gamechanging 16-hour battery life, so you will never need to carry your charger. If you need Windows, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 at £849 with a student discount is also very good.

Smartphones

The good news is that great smartphones can be had for well under £500.

The recently released Google Pixel 6a is the best budget phone of the year, costing £360 with a student discount. It beats many phones double its price, with top performance, a great camera and superb software, including the excellent auto-transcribing Google Recorder app.

Google Pixel 6a
The Google Pixel 6a costs £360 with a student discount. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Alternatively, the iPhone SE 2022 at about £419 is equally good value if you are within Apple’s ecosystem. It looks dated but has top performance and will last up to seven years with software updates, whereas most others will last about five.

Tablets

If you can stretch to it, a tablet can also be a very useful addition to your computing armoury, offering utility for learning and entertainment.

Apple’s basic iPad, for instance, costs £319, or less with student discount, and has a good 10.2in screen, which can be used for note-taking with an Apple Pencil (£85) or as a portable second screen for a Mac when you need a second monitor on the go. There are lots of educational and productivity apps available for it, as well as a keyboard case if you would like to use it as a small substitute for a laptop. With all the video or music-streaming services available, it makes a great portable TV, too.

Amazon’s budget-conscious Fire tablets costing from £60 offer the entertainment options but aren’t good for productivity. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A8 from £219 is more useful but lacks stylus support and the multitude of productivity and education apps available for the iPad.

Headphones

Concentrating in the hubbub of a busy library, cafe or student house can be hard without a good set of headphones to block out the noise.

Wireless earbuds are great for listening on the go. Nothing’s Ear 1 have noise-cancelling, sound good, last a long time on battery and have a funky transparent design that is comfortable to wear. They work with Androids or iPhones, as well as laptops, and cost about £89.

Nothing Ear 1 earbuds in a case
Nothing Ear 1 earbuds in a case. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple’s AirPods 3 are good, too, but they do not block out noise, relying instead on simply drowning it out. They are excellent for calls and can be had for about £180; just watch out for fakes.

If focus is your priority, you can’t beat a large set of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. My top pick are the older Sony WH-1000XM4, which are still excellent at blocking out most noise and sound fantastic. They connect to your laptop and phone at the same time, fold up nicely for travel and are pretty robust. Shop around and you can often find them for well under £250.

Note-taking apps

Keeping your digital notes, lectures and ideas organised and easily accessible on the go can be tricky but thankfully there are many tools that can help.

I’m a longtime fan of Evernote as a cross-platform tool for collecting notes, images, audio recordings and practically anything else in one cloud-syncable place, with apps for almost any device. It is free for up to two devices, such as your phone and laptop, with 60MB of monthly uploads, which will be fine for text notes and the odd photo. Evernote Personal costs £5.99 a month, or students get 40-50% off a yearly subscription.

Microsoft’s OneNote is an excellent alternative, with similar features and apps on most devices. It is free to use but notes are stored in OneDrive, which comes free with a Microsoft account with 5GB of space. More OneDrive storage costs £1.99 a month for 100GB of space, or it can be bought with a Microsoft 365 account starting at £59.99, which includes 1TB of storage as well as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook apps.

Apple’s Notes is also very good, particularly for handwritten notes on an iPad, but is not cross-platform and cannot handle quite as many file attachments or advanced features. It is free to use on iPhones, iPads, Macs and in the browser but uses your free 5GB of iCloud storage space, with 50GB of storage costing 79p a month.

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Graphcore launches C600 card for China amid financial woes • The Register

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British AI chip designer Graphcore has wrapped its two-year-old, second-generation Intelligence Processing Unit for China and Singapore amid recently reported financial woes.

The Bristol, UK-based startup announced on Tuesday that its Colossus Mk2 GC200 IPU will be available in the new C600 PCIe card, making the processor compatible with servers beyond the company’s pre-integrated M2000 IPU system.

The company said pre-orders are now open for the C600 card in China and Singapore, and it will be available through approved hardware partners in Graphcore-qualified systems. It didn’t say whether the card will expand to other markets.

The C600 card was designed “in response to customer demand in markets where datacenter configurations, including rack size and power delivery, vary widely,” said Chen Jin, Graphcore’s vice president and head of China engineer, in a blog post.

“This highly versatile form-factor enables Graphcore customers to tailor their system setup, including host server / chassis, to their exact requirements,” Jin added.

It’s not clear if Graphcore had to tune the C600 card to abide with the recent US export restrictions for advanced chips to China. While Graphcore is a British company, the export bans have extended to semiconductor companies far beyond American borders because the restrictions cover US manufacturing and design tools used to make most of the world’s advanced chips.

The US restrictions have prompted Graphcore’s much larger rivals to switch gears, with AMD halting sales of its MI250 GPU to China and Nvidia slowing down its A100 GPU to continue sales in the country. Biren Technology and Alibaba in China have also reportedly had to step down processing speeds for new GPUs.

Tech specs suggest it’s good enough

Graphcore’s C600 card is designed for AI inference workloads at low-precision number formats, capable of hitting up to 280 teraflops of 16-bit floating point (FP16) compute and delivering as much as 560 teraflops of 8-bit floating point (FP8) math.  

The FP8 support is new for Graphcore, as it is for the rest of the industry. Intel, Arm, and Nvidia published the specification for FP8 in September. The goal of FP8 is to create a lower precision format for neural network training and inference that optimizes memory usage and improves efficiency while providing a similar level of accuracy to 16-bit precisions.

The C600 is a PCIe Gen 4, dual-slot card with a thermal design power of 185 watts. Up to eight of the cards can fit into a single server chassis, and they communicate directly using Graphcore’s IPU-Link high-bandwidth interconnect cables. The C600’s IPU-Link bandwidth is 256GB/s [PDF].

The Mk2 IPU inside the C600 card has the same 1,472 IPU cores and 900MB of in-processor memory when the second-generation IPU was first announced in 2020.

The C600 release comes not long after multiple reports have painted a gloomy picture for Graphcore. In September, the startup said it was planning job cuts due to an “extremely challenging” macroeconomic situation. The next month, The Times reported that investors had slashed Graphcore’s valuation by $1 billion in the face of financial woes, including a terminated deal with Microsoft. ®

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200 Irish businesses are getting the chance to test-drive electric vehicles

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The Government is looking to boost the electrification of commercial fleets as part of plans to have nearly 1m EVs on Irish roads by 2030.

As part of plans to drive down emissions in Ireland, a new initiative will let businesses test out electric vehicles for free.

Fully electric cars and vans will be loaned to 200 Irish business free of charge for three months under the Government’s Commercial Fleet Trial.

The aim is to encourage businesses to make the switch to an electric vehicle and contribute to the targets of the Climate Action Plan.

Ireland is aiming to reach a 51pc reduction in emissions by 2030, setting the country on a path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050. One element of this plan is to have 945,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads by the end of this decade.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, TD, said an “important component” in achieving this target is the electrification of commercial fleets.

“Businesses up and down the country are already telling us that they are keen to make the switch to more sustainable practices, but they also need to know that the switches they want to make are going to be good for their bottom line,” he added.

“The findings from this trial will give us real-world feedback and provide us with the evidence to encourage even more businesses to switch to electric.”

The trial will involve 50 fully electric vehicles – 30 passenger cars and 20 vans – while giving businesses the option to install an EV charger.

By the end of this month, 14 businesses across Dublin, Sligo, Limerick, Louth, Wexford, Cork, Waterford and Galway will have received cars to test out.

The trial will be coordinated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Zero Emissions Vehicles Ireland – a new office of the Department of Transport that is tasked with supporting the switch to electric vehicles.

While the number of electric cars in Ireland is on the rise, there have been concerns about meeting the ambitious 2030 EV goal.

Ryan said this week that the Government is “on track” to deliver the 945,000 EVs target, and that it will launch a new €100m strategy next month to boost the number of charging stations installed around the country.

A study last year found that Ireland lags behind other European nations when it comes to EV charging infrastructure, which could hamper the roll-out of these vehicles.

However, the Government has been making moves to change this. It recently announced a new suite of grants and initiatives to boost Ireland’s transition to electric vehicles, and a €15m all-island investment to set up 90 rapid EV charging points across Ireland.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Changes to online safety bill tread line between safety and appearing ‘woke’ | Internet safety

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The online safety bill is returning to parliament under the aegis of its fourth prime minister and seventh secretary of state since it was first proposed as an online harms white paper under Theresa May.

Each of those has been determined to leave their fingerprints on the legislation, which has swollen to encompass everything from age verification on pornography to criminalisation of posting falsehoods online, and Rishi Sunak and the digital and culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, are no different.

Some of the changes to the bill, which was unceremoniously pulled from the agenda in early summer as the government cleared parliamentary time to launch its own confidence motion backing Boris Johnson, are simple additions. After the law commission recommended updating legislation covering nonconsensual intimate images, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport folded the changes into the bumper bill, announcing plans to criminalise “downblousing” and the creation of pornographic “deepfakes” without the subject’s consent.

But others reflect the contentious nature of the legislation, which faces a balancing act between the government’s desire to make the UK “the safest place to be online”, and its fear of appearing overly censorious or, worse still, “woke”.

On Tuesday, Donelan triumphantly announced that the latest version of the online safety bill would be dropping efforts to regulate content deemed “legal but harmful”. Earlier drafts of the bill had hit upon a canny way to please both sides of the debate: rather than requiring social media companies to remove certain types of content outright, the bill simply requires them to declare a position on that material in their terms of service, and then enforce that position. Theoretically, a social media company could explicitly declare itself content with allowing harmful content on its platform, and receive no penalties for doing so.

But free speech groups, in and out of parliament, worried that the requirement would have a chilling effect, and social networks backed them up: few deliberately want to have harmful content on their platforms, but faced with a legal requirement to take action on it or face penalties, they could end up being forced to over-correct. For topics such as suicide or self-harm, aggressive over-moderation can cause real world harm just like lax policies can.

The push against those regulations reached its height during the Tory leadership contest, when the online safety bill was caricatured by its opponents, such as trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, as legislating for hurt feelings. And so upon its reintroduction, the “legal but harmful” provisions were stripped out, at least for content aimed at adults. And then the government went further: in an effort to burnish its free speech credentials, it added in new legal requirements forcing not over-moderation but under-moderation.

“Companies will not be able to remove or restrict legal content, or suspend or ban a user, unless the circumstances for doing this are clearly set out in their terms of service or are against the law,” DCMS announced. The rules, described as a “consumer friendly ‘triple shield’”, could prevent companies from acting rapidly to ensure the health of their platform, and leave them facing a legal risk if they take down content that they, and other users, would rather see removed.

Some of the changes to the bill are deep and technical. But others seem to be simple headline-chasing. The government has dropped the offence of “harmful communications” from the bill, after it became a lightning-rod for criticism with Badenoch and others arguing that it was “legislating for hurt feelings”.

But in order to remove the harmful communications offence, the government has also cancelled plans to strike off the two offences it was due to replace: parts of the Malicious Communications Act and the Communications Act 2003 which are far broader than the ban on harmful communications was to be. The harmful communications offence required a message cause “serious distress”; the Malicious Communications Act requires only “distress”, while the Communications Act 2003 is even softer, banning messages sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”. Those offences will now remain on the books indefinitely.

But becoming part of the psychodrama of the Conservative party is the only way legislative scrutiny can occur in this parliament. The rest of this monster bill, stretching over hundreds of pages and redefining the landscape of internet regulation for a generation, has barely been discussed in public at all. Proposals ranging from an attack on end to end encryption to the christening of a first-of-its-kind internet regulator in the shape of Ofcom are being treated as technocratic tweaks, but if they were given the time they deserved, it would be likely the legislative process would outlast a fifth prime minister as well.

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