It’s been a while since I’ve graced the pages of Dennis Publishing’s popular weekly Micro Mart, with my last being a cover feature on the ARM architecture in Issue 1235 followed by a feature on Valve’s Steam Box console plans in Issue 1251. For this latest issue, I’ve penned a review of the Raspberry Pi 2 single-board computer as kindly supplied by low-power computing specialist New IT.
As the author of the Raspberry Pi User Guide, which will be entering its fourth edition by the end of the year, I can safely say I bring a certain amount of knowledge to the table for this particular topic. The Micro Mart coverage is one of the first print reviews to be published, with a longer review due to appear in my Hobby Tech column in a future Custom PC Magazine issue.
The Raspberry Pi itself, of course, needs little introduction. In its most recent revision, properly known as the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, the team have replaced the ageing Broadcom BCM2835 single-core ARMv6 system-on-chip (SoC) processor with a specially-designed drop-in replacement: the quad-core ARMv7 BCM2836. The result is a device significantly more powerful than its predecessor, but one for which software to take full advantage of its capabilities is still thin on the ground.
If you’d like to read the full review, Micro Mart Issue 1349 is available in all good newsagents, most supermarkets, or digitally via Zinio and similar services.
This week’s Micro Mart includes a feature I wrote a short while ago regarding Valve’s plans to release a compact console-cum-computer dubbed the Steam Box. While written before certain facts came to light – the confirmation that the PlayStation 4 would basically be a locked-down x86 PC, for example, and once and former Valve partner Xi3 announcing its own Piston product to Gabe Newell’s dismay – it still covers plenty of interesting ground for anyone into the gaming scene.
Topping 3,500 words, the feature starts with a look at the history of Valve itself, from its founding by former Microsoft staffers Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington in 1996 to the launch of Steam, the company’s incredibly successful digital distribution platform. Next, a discussion of the difference twix console gaming and computer gaming – and Valve’s concept to unite the two in a way that hasn’t been attempted since the days of the Commodore 64GS or the Amiga CD32.
A large chunk of the article deals with gaming on Linux, for one simple reason: Valve co-founder Newell has been vocal in his dislike for Microsoft’s Windows 8, and has confirmed that the Steam Box – expected to launch at retail early next year – will be based on Linux, likely a customised version of the Ubuntu distribution for which Valve has been porting its Steam client.
Following the background, the feature includes industry comment from Valve’s Anna Sweet, as well as Nvidia’s Jason Paul on his company’s Project Shield hand-held console – another Linux-based gaming device that it is hoped will help computer gaming capture more of the market share enjoyed by the console jockeys.
If any of that sounds interesting, pick up a copy of Micro Mart Issue 1251 from your local newsagent or supermarket – but be quick: it’s Dennis Publishing’s weekly, so it won’t be on shelves for long. Alternatively, pick up the digital version via Zinio.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a cover feature for Micro Mart – the last was back in Issue 1198, when I looked at the state of the printer ink refill market – and I had a little something that had been brewing in my noggin for a while, so I figured it was time for a pitch. The result: a cover feature dubbed The Secret Processor Revolution.
With an eye-catching title like that – editor Simon Brew’s suggestion, and much more likely to interest readers than my original title of The Fall and Rise of ARM – it should help shift a few copies, and those who do pick it up will find my take on the history, present and future of ARM.
For those who don’t know, Cambridge-based ARM was born from the ashes of Acorn Computers, and although it’s been a while since it was last seen on the desktop – you have to go back to the days of the RISC PC for that – the company holds a near-monopoly in the smartphone and tablet market. It’s also looking at taking on semiconductor giant Intel in the datacentre, and could well return to desks around the world – it’s already in Samsung’s latest Chromebook laptop, after all.
In this feature, I take a look at how ARM got its start, why its processors differ so much from the mainstream chips from AMD and Intel, and what the winds of change could bring for consumers. Wondering exactly what that might be? Better buy it, then, hadn’t you?
It was a fun piece to write, and a subject dear to my heart: I still own an Acorn Archimedes, and the RISC PC that followed, and have recently been playing around with a port of RISC OS designed for the Raspberry Pi – that £30 microcomputer based on an ARM processor from a company that once held the British microcomputing market in the palm of its hand.
Micro Mart is available in exchange for a shiny £2 coin – or equivalent in legal tender or acceptable credit – in most newsagents, or can be downloaded from Zinio and other retailers of digital magazines.
This week’s issue of Micro Mart features another cover piece of mine: The Printer Ink Wars. Yes, that’s what I called it. Oh, wait, it gets better.
In offices and homes around the world, a war is being fought. There are no explosions, and you won’t hear gunfire, but it’s a pitched battle for control of one of the most precious liquids known to man. The fight isn’t over oil or water but something even more valuable. It’s a conflict for control of the printer ink market.
I know, right? The piece takes an in-depth look at the ink and toner industry, both from the perspective of a printer manufacturer and from that of a compatible cartridge maker. To make sure the piece is as detailed and fair as possible, I sought comment from both sides of the fence. Interestingly, while numerous compatible cartridge makers were interested in talking to me – including the European Toner and Ink Remanufacturers’ Association (ETIRA,) the UK Cartridge Recyclers Association (UKCRA,) Amor Office Supplies, Green Cartridges and Cartridge World – the only printer maker that would talk to me on the subject was HP.
Thankfully, HP’s ink man, Mark Hurren, proved more than capable of fighting his corner. “I wish it had never been called ink,” he told me. “That makes it compared to everyday writing implements, which is unfair because it’s a much more technological product than that.”
The piece covers the growth of refills, the flood of dirt-cheap and intellectual property-infringing clone cartridges from Asia, and the patent issues surrounding recycled cartridges. It also contains some fairly inflammatory comment from Vincent van Dijk, general secretary of ETIRA – including the accusation that not all is as it seems with printer makers’ so-called ‘recycling’ programmes.
Micro Mart Issue 1198 will be on sale until the end of Wednesday next week, so if you want to find out more I suggest you take a trip to the newsagents sharpish.
My first piece for Dennis Publishing’s weekly IT mag Micro Mart, and it’s a cover feature. Not that I’m boasting or anything. Okay, perhaps I’m boasting a bit.
As you can probably see from the cover it’s a look at AMD’s disappointing launch of its consumer-grade Bulldozer-core processors, the AMD FX Series. Completed to the tightest possible schedule – I received an email requesting a 3,500-word feature on Thursday, with a deadline of the following Monday – it forms an overview of the history of Bulldozer, its launch in the server market, its consumer launch and the complaints that have been raised over its performance.
It also includes comment from an AMD engineer in the company’s Austin facility on what is being done to address the architecture’s problems – not an easy thing to get on such short notice, and massive thanks to AMD’s André Heidekrueger and Bite PR’s Sami Makinen for organising that so quickly.
It’s a nice piece, if I do say so myself, and hopefully won’t be the last to grace Micro Mart’s cover. Fingers crossed for longer deadlines next time, though…