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Upgrade or wait? Getting your gaming PC ready for Halo Infinite and more | Games

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With the autumn video game release schedule now in full swing, the thoughts of many PC owners are turning to hardware upgrades. Blockbusters such as Halo Infinite, Battlefield 1942 and Forza Horizon 5 will all support demanding visual effects such as ray tracing, so it seems like the perfect time to invest in new kit.

There’s just one problem: this is probably the worst, most expensive time in recent memory to boost your processing power. Manufacturing and distribution problems, together with skyrocketing demand, have seen prices soar, especially for high-end graphics cards. “There are GTX 1080Ti cards listed on eBay for over £500 – that’s a four-year-old GPU for half a grand,” says Chris Wilson, design director at Cardboard Sword. “The suggestion for most people would probably be to wait it out. Intel is rumoured to have a serious GPU out early next year and they are likely to price it aggressively to try and gain some market share. Eventually the bottom has to fall out of this current disaster.”

However, if you’ve made up your mind to improve your ageing set-up, there are options out there. Here are some tips …

Graphics card

Cyberpunk 2077 PC screenshot
Blistering performance … Cyberpunk 2077. Photograph: CD Projekt

Let’s say money is no object. You want something that can support 4K monitors and two key features: ray tracing, which creates realistic lighting and reflection effects, and DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) which uses AI to improve visual detail and frame rates. I’m using an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, with 12GB of ram, G6 memory and HDMI 2.1 support and it has given me blistering performance on games such as Flight Simulator 20, Metro Exodus and even Cyberpunk 2077, at 1440p. According to Alan Dexter, senior hardware editor at PC Gamer, however, the standout card this winter is the GeForce RTX 3080. “At its intended £649 retail price, there’s nothing out there that can really touch it,” he says. “It’ll handle anything you can throw at it and even let you play at 4K properly, with everything tuned high. It’s expensive, but it’s such a leap in performance it feels like an investment that will last you for years.”

Chris Wilson agrees on the RTX 3080 but adds, “For most people running games at 1440p resolution, a 3070/3070ti should be more than enough. The previous generation cards are still decent. They were arguably overpriced at launch, but in the current state of things they aren’t that bad.” The AMD equivalent of the 3080 is the Radeon RX 6800 XT. As Dexter explains, “Its ray tracing isn’t quite as strong as Nvidia’s, but it manages to put up a good fight elsewhere, and overall, it’s a strong offering.”

CPU

Although the graphics card is the heart of a games machine, you’ll want an up-to-date CPU to get the most out of it. I’m a big fan of the AMD Ryzen models, having built a PC around an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X this year, and PC Gamer currently recommends the Ryzen 9 5900X. If you’re an Intel gamer, the Core i5 10400F or 10600K are excellent workhorses. Whatever you go for, make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard and GPU and remember to apply thermal paste before attaching the cooler!

Memory

Upgrading your system memory is the most cost-effective way of improving gaming performance, allowing for faster, smoother frame rates. For this year’s releases, 16GB is becoming the recommended requirement, but even 32GB is going to become more common. Check the speed of the ram you buy – usually given in MHz – it’s debatable how much effect this has, but 3200MHz is a good guide if you’re buying new. I recommend Corsair Vengeance or HyperX Predator kits, or at the budget end, I used the Crucial Ballistix RGB in my first home build.

Drive

If you’re somehow still solely relying on a hard disk, or want to upgrade from an older SSD/HDD combo, now is your chance – prices are quite good, and a fast SSD will greatly improve loading times, both in booting games and loading new levels while you play. The industry is now moving away from the old Serial ATA drives toward PCIe-based SSDs using NVMe communication drivers. If that means nothing to you, a site like PCPartPicker will help you decide which type of SSD your motherboard is compatible with. Also, you’re not just looking for memory capacity, you need to check the data transfer speed too, measured in MB/s – a SATA drive will manage 560MB/s while a new PCIe NVMe SSD will operate at anywhere between 3500 and 7000 MB/s.

So which models do we recommend? “1TB NVMe drives, such as the WD Black SN850 are impressive and can have a massive impact on loading times and just using Windows for that matter,” says Dexter.

Monitor

Far Cry 6
Resolution, refresh rate and response times … Far Cry 6. Photograph: Ubisoft

If you’re still relying on an old office monitor you bought from Currys five years ago, this is definitely an update worth making. When buying a screen for gaming, you need to think about the three Rs: resolution, refresh rate and response times. The first is the amount of detail on screen, the second is how quickly your monitor updates the image, and the third is how long it takes pixels to switch colour. Also, check whether the monitor supports G-Sync or FreeSync to prevent screen tearing.

If you’re on a budget, you’ll need to compromise, so think about what you need depending on the games you’ll want to play this winter. “In terms of resolution, do you want 1440p or 4K?,” says Dexter. “Or are you looking at 1080p at a super high-refresh? Curved or flat? Ultra widescreen or a more traditional 16:9 ratio?” Broadly, if you want to play a fast-paced shooter such as Battlefield 1942, then refresh rate and response times are going to be most important (and maybe a curved or ultra wide screen for better peripheral vision). If you’re going to play beautiful narrative adventures such as The Forgotten City or Psychonauts 2 you might prioritise resolution, or if you really want to show off your RTX 3090 GPU with Far Cry 6 running at ultra in all settings, a 4K or even 8K beast will be necessary.

Dexter recommends the Gigabyte G27Q – “a great, mostly affordable screen, and it ticks a lot of PC gaming boxes too”. Wilson is a fan of Asus monitors, specifically the ROG Swift PG32UQ, which he acknowledges is pretty pricey. “Something like the ASUS ROG Swift PG278QR is a good choice,” he says. “This hits the 1440p sweet spot while delivering high refresh rates.” Elsewhere, I have an Acer Predator, which is excellent, and the Alienware 25, LG UltraGear and Samsung Odyssey are all good gaming models.

The nuclear option

If your gaming PC is really creaking, buying a pre-built model might make sense in the current market. “Pretty much the best way of getting your hands on the very latest hardware is to buy a whole new machine,” agrees Dexter. “These are a bit pricier than a simple upgrade, but it does mean you’ll have a complete PC that should operate well for years to come.”

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Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy? • The Register

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In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn’t pay a $20 million ransom. 

Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government’s computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti’s leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that “We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency.” 

Experts who spoke to the AP said they doubt actual regime change is likely, or the goal; Emsisoft analyst Brett Callow told the newswire that the threats are simply noise, and not to be taken seriously.

Callow may be right: News unfolding late this week suggests that Conti has gone offline, and may be breaking into several subsidiary groups. Its political ambitions in Costa Rica may just be a distraction, albeit one that could also turn a tidy profit. 

NSA: Trust us, no post-quantum encryption backdoors

The NSA wants to ease everyone’s concerns now: Even though it’s been involved in the US government’s post-quantum encryption research, the spy agency won’t have a backdoor.

Speaking to Bloomberg while discussing the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s post-quantum encryption competition, NSA Director of Cybersecurity (and Christmas-tree hacker) Rob Joyce said the new standards being developed are so strong that “there are no backdoors.” 

That would be a departure from previous encryption standards, which the NSA is believed to have had ready access to – until foreign spies acquired a copy of the backdoor software for their own use. The Biden administration recently announced additional funding for post-quantum encryption research, which aims to develop a form of protecting sensitive data so secure that even a quantum computer couldn’t crack it. 

The US has been actively working to develop encryption standards able to stand up to quantum computers for some time; Joyce claimed to Bloomberg that the NSA has had its own post-quantum encryption algorithms for several years, but those aren’t part of the NIST competition or available to the public. 

Despite spending tens of millions to address the security problems posed by quantum computers, the NSA also readily admits that it has no idea when, or even if, quantum computers able to crack modern public key cryptography will be realized. 

Frustrated IT admin gets seven years for deleting company databases

A former database administrator from China who wiped out his employer’s financial records has been sentenced to seven years in prison as a result.

Han Bing, who managed databases for Chinese real estate brokerage Lianjia, allegedly used his administrator access and root privileges to log in to two of Lianjia’s database servers, and two application servers, where he wiped financial data and related applications that took the company’s entire finance system offline, said Chinese news sources. 

Bing was reportedly disgruntled with his employer. He repeatedly warned them of security flaws in Lianjia’s finance system but felt ignored and undervalued, Lianjia’s ethics chief testified in court. Bing’s actions directly cost the company around $27,000 to recover data and rebuilt systems, but that doesn’t include the impact of lost business.

Bing was caught when Lianjia questioned everyone with access to the financial systems who had permissions to do what Bing did, of whom there were only five. The company claims that Bing acted suspiciously when asked to present his laptop for inspection, refusing to provide his password and claiming privacy privileges. 

The company said it suspected none of the laptops would show traces of the attack, but wanted to see how those it questioned would react. Investigators were later able to recover logs that pointed to Bing’s laptop’s IP and MAC addresses, and crosschecking logs against security footage put Bing in the right place at the right time to be the guilty party.

Apple patches a whopping 98 separate vulnerabilities

Apple has had a busy week: In a series of security updates released Monday and Wednesday, the iMaker patched 98 separate vulnerabilities out of its various software platforms.

The updates in question cover most every bit of software Apple makes: WatchOS, iOS and iPad OS, macOS Monterey, Big Sur and Catalina, Xcode, tvOS, Safari and iTunes for Windows were all included. Most of the vulnerabilities are from the past few months, but one common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) number covered by the updates dates back to 2015.

A few of the vulnerabilities covered by this week’s glut of Apple patches were rolled out previously for one system, but not others, as was the case with CVE-2022-22674 and -22675, which were patched in macOS Monterey, but not older versions, in April. Those vulnerabilities were reportedly being actively exploited at the time. 

Malicious applications executing arbitrary code with kernel privileges appears to be the most common type of hole being closed in this round of patches, though some do stand out, like Apple Watch bugs that could let apps capture the screen and bypass signature validation.

On iOS, vulnerabilities patched include websites being able to track users in Safari private browsing mode, while macOS users are being protected against apps being able to bypass Privacy preferences and access restricted portions of the filesystem.

Russian-backing Chaos ransomware variant is pure destruction

Cybersecurity firm Fortinet has discovered a variant of the Chaos ransomware that professes support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but appears to have no decryption key to rescue victims in Putin’s regime. 

The variant appears to have been compiled with Chaos’ GUI customization tool as recently as May 16, Fortinet said. The researchers said they’re unsure how the Chaos variant infects its victims, and said the variant doesn’t act any differently than typical Chaos ransomware. 

Like other forms of Chaos, it enumerates files on infected systems, and irrevocably damages any larger than around 2MB by filling it with random bytes. Anything smaller is encrypted, but recoverable with a key. Chaos also typically attacks commonly used directories like Desktop, Contacts, Downloads and Pictures, which are encrypted entirely. 

Here’s where this Chaos variant differs: It’s overtly political, and instead of offering contact info and a ransom demand, the malware simply says “Stop Ukraine War! F**k Zelensky! Dont [sic] go die for f**king clown,” along with a pair of links to sites claiming to belong to the Information Coordination Center, but offering no information otherwise. Files are also encrypted with a “f**kazov” extension, likely referring to the Ukrainian Azov Battalion.

Fortinet said that this Chaos variant appears unique in the sense it appears designed to be file-destroying malware. “This particular variant provides no such avenue as the attacker has no intent on providing a decryption tool … clearly, the motive behind this malware is destruction,” Fortinet said. 

The FortiGuard team behind the research warns that with its GUI, Chaos ransomware has become a commodity product, and it expects additional attacks of this variety to emerge. ®



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UCD-led research finds potential treatment for advanced eye cancer

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The team said their research could help improve treatment options for advanced uveal melanoma, which currently has a poor survival rate.

An international team of researchers led by University College Dublin (UCD) have uncovered a potential treatment for a type of cancer that effects the eye.

The researchers looked at uveal melanoma (UM), the most common form of eye cancer which is diagnosed in 50 to 60 people in Ireland each year. The team explained that UM begins in the middle layer of the eye, but if it spreads to the liver and other parts of the body, patients have a poor survival prognosis.

Future Human

In their study, the team aimed to uncover treatment options for the advanced stage of this eye cancer, as it becomes very difficult to treat once it has spread.

The researchers focused on a drug called ACY-1215, which is currently in clinical trials for other solid tumours and blood cancers. This drug belongs to a relatively new group of anticancer drugs called histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi).

“We wanted to understand how ACY-1215 works to prevent tumour cell growth and spread, in the context of UM,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr Husvinee Sundaramurthi.

Histones are proteins that provide structural support for DNA in cells, allowing DNA to be tightly packaged together. The researchers said these proteins act like a spool that a thread of DNA can wrap itself around.

In the study, the team used the drug ACY-1215 to interfere with the histones in advanced UM cells, to stop the processes involved in their survival and growth.

“We uncovered the particular molecules that may be involved in the anticancer effects the drug ACY-1215 has in advanced UM cells,” said study lead Prof Breandan Kennedy.

“This study will pave the way to look more closely at the benefits of using HDACi, specifically ACY-1215, as a suitable treatment option for advanced UM.”

Kennedy said that by understanding the therapeutic potential of the small molecules involved in the anticancer effects, researchers can improve UM patient care and create personalised treatment strategies.

The international research team involved groups from Spain, Sweden and Ireland. Funding was provided through grants from the Irish Research Council, in collaboration with Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCD’s TopMed10, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions CoFund Programme and Horizon 2020.

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

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To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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