Gaming laptops were once barely able to live up to their “laptop” moniker — too big and hot to use on laps and too heavy to be very mobile. Those days are mostly over, however, as technological advances have allowed gaming notebooks to slim down and cool off without sacrificing power.
The latest example of this evolution comes from Alienware, Dell’s longtime gaming brand, which just launched redesigned versions of its m15 and m17 laptops that the company says are its thinnest 15-inch and 17-inch laptops ever. Despite that claim, the new notebooks still pack enough performance punch to keep gamers happy.
While they won’t be confused with a MacBook, the new m15 and m17 have dieted down to to 4.7 pounds and 5.8 pounds, respectively, thanks to a rebuild based on Alienware’s Legend design DNA (first seen earlier this year on its Area 51 laptop). Other design enhancement include a revamped keyboard design and larger glass track pad, plus some intriguing display options. In addition to 144Hz, 240Hz, and OLED screen options, the m15 is the first laptop that can be equipped with Tobii eye-tracking technology, while the m17 is the first that can ship with an Eyesafe display that limit blue light emissions.
The new systems wouldn’t be Alienwares, however, if they didn’t include the latest and greatest internal components, and the m15 and m17 are no exceptions. They can be configured with Intel’s ninth-generation Core processors, along with the latest GPU options from Nvidia — including the new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti and RTX 2060, 2070 and 2080 cards. Both laptops include either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and to help keep things slimmer, they are only offered with solid-state drives (256GB and up) .To handle the heat version 3.0 of Alienware Cyro-Tech will increase airflow by at least 20 percent more than the last m15 and m17 editions.
The refreshed versions of the m15 and the m17 will become available to order on June 11, with a starting price of $1,499 for a base configuration of either size.
Cases of COVID-19 are extremely rare among people who are fully vaccinated, according to a new data analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among more than 75 million fully vaccinated people in the US, just around 5,800 people reported a “breakthrough” infection, in which they became infected with the pandemic coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated.
The numbers suggest that breakthroughs occur at the teeny rate of less than 0.008 percent of fully vaccinated people—and that over 99.992 percent of those vaccinated have not contracted a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The figures come from a nationwide database that the CDC set up to keep track of breakthrough infections and monitor for any concerning signs that the breakthroughs may be clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type, or vaccine lot number. The agency will also be keeping a close eye on any breakthrough infections that are caused by SARS-CoV-2 variants, some of which have been shown to knock back vaccine efficacy.
So far, the vaccines appear to be highly effective and working as expected, according to the CDC’s analysis—which the agency provided to Ars via email.
The vast majority of people in the US have been vaccinated with one of the mRNA vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which both had around 95 percent efficacy in Phase III clinical trials. Less than five percent of people in the US have received the Johnson & Johnson adenovirus-based vaccine, which had a slightly lower efficacy of 72 percent in the US.
The extraordinary calculation that 99.992 percent of vaccinated people have not contracted the virus may reflect that they all simply have not been exposed to the virus since being vaccinated. Also, there’s likely cases missed in reporting. Still, the data is a heartening sign.
“COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control,” the agency said in its email. “To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics.”
Keep masking up for now
Many of the breakthroughs occurred in older people, who are well-known to be more vulnerable to COVID-19. More than 40 percent were in people ages 60 and above. However, the agency noted that there were breakthrough infections scattered through every age group that is currently eligible for vaccination.
“We see [breakthroughs] with all vaccines,” top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said in a press briefing earlier this week. “No vaccine is 100 percent efficacious or effective, which means that you will always see breakthrough infections regardless of the efficacy of your vaccine.”
Vaccines can fail in some people because of a variety of factors, including immune status, health status, age, and medications they’re on. There’s also the possibility that something went wrong with the vaccines themselves, such as improper storage, delivery, or composition, Fauci explained.
“However,” Fauci added, “even if a vaccine fails to protect against infection, it often protects against serious disease.” He highlighted the case of the 2019-2020 flu vaccine, which was only bout 39 percent effective. Despite this, and the fact that only about 52 percent of people got their immunization, the vaccine was estimated to have prevented 105,000 flu hospitalizations and 6,300 flu deaths.
In the CDC’s data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections, the agency found that 29 percent of the infections were asymptomatic. Only seven percent of the 5,800 breakthrough cases resulted in hospitalization and there were only 74 deaths. That suggests the death rate among breakthrough cases is around one percent and, among all fully vaccinated people, around 0.0001 percent.
Though the risk is small, there is still risk. The CDC emphasized that everyone should get vaccinated when its their turn and, once vaccinated, should continue following health precautions for now, such as “wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing their hands often.”
An advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to vote on the fate of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, likely leaving in place a pause on the vaccine’s use until the committee reconvenes in seven to 10 days.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, expects that the coming week or so will provide additional data and analyses on the vaccine’s potential risks. Until it has more information, ACIP opted to provide no new recommendations on the use of the vaccine.
On the table, however, was everything from recommending against use of the vaccine altogether; recommending that only certain groups receive the vaccine, such as only men or only people over a certain age; or recommending that the pause be lifted and use continue in all adults as before.
In a hearty discussion Wednesday afternoon, ACIP members said they simply didn’t feel they had enough information on updated vaccine risks to vote one way or the other on any of the possible usage recommendations.
ACIP gathered for the emergency meeting Wednesday after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration abruptly announced on Tuesday that they were pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The agencies linked the vaccine to six illnesses involving an unusual combination of dangerous blood clots and low platelet levels. One person died from their condition and another is in critical condition.
The cases are extremely rare, with the six occurring among more than 6.8 million people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, the cases closely resemble a very rare side effect seen in some people who have received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which uses a similar adenovirus-based vaccine design.
With both vaccines, authorities noted unusual cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), coupled with low blood levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). CVST is a rare type of stroke in which a clot prevents blood from draining out of the brain. Platelets are the cell fragments in blood that stick together to form clots. Typically, low levels of platelets lead to bleeding, not clotting conditions, like CVST. In fact, it’s such an unusual combination that it’s unclear how often CVST even occurs in combination with thrombocytopenia in the absence of the vaccines. As such, researchers and public health experts have struggled to estimate the potential increased risk of developing this combination after taking either of the vaccines.
However, there’s a clear pattern emerging in these extremely rare, vaccine-linked cases—and researchers speculate that the vaccines may be triggering an aberrant immune response. A similar condition is seen rarely in patients given the blood thinner heparin. For reasons researchers don’t entirely understand, a small number of patients given heparin produce antibodies that attack a common platelet protein called Platelet Factor 4, or PF4. These antibodies activate platelets, leading to a hyperclotting state, while also promoting platelet clearance, dragging down platelet levels.
So far, many of the people who developed blood clots and thrombocytopenia after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine also tested positive for antibodies against PF4, even though they were not given heparin. In the ACIP meeting today, CDC researchers noted that five of the six people with clotting cases linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also tested positive for antibodies against PF4. The sixth case wasn’t tested.
There were other intriguing details revealed in the meeting as well. All six of the cases reviewed by the CDC and FDA were in white women between the ages of 18 and 48. This has led some people to speculate that for these women in the child-bearing age range, the blood clots could be related to the use of birth control pills, which carry their own risk for clotting. However, according to the data discussed in the ACIP meeting, only one of the six affected women was taking birth control pills.
Moreover, an analysis by scientists at Johnson & Johnson found a seventh case of CVST with thrombocytopenia in one of their clinical trial participants—a male participant. The previously healthy 25-year-old man developed CVST, low blood platelets, and tested positive for anti-PF4 antibodies after taking the vaccine.
To date, CDC researchers and other scientists have found no obvious pattern of risk factors for developing the life-threatening blood clots and low platelet levels.
But, CDC researchers and ACIP members expect they may see more cases emerge in the coming days. As noted in today’s meeting, the combination of CVST and thrombocytopenia tends to occur six to 13 days after vaccination. However, a little more than half of all doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine that have been administered in the US to date were administered in the past two weeks. Specifically, prior to March 30, there were 3.47 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered in the US, or 48 percent of all doses administered to date. Between March 30 and April 13, there were 3.77 million doses administered, or 52 percent of all doses administered. That suggests that, despite the pause in vaccine use, there may be more cases detected in the coming weeks, particularly with lags in clinical reporting.
With the sparse data analysis so far and the potential for more cases and data to arise shortly, the ACIP opted to hold out a little longer before making any recommendations. Their position is a difficult one. They’re trying to balance safety concerns with the urge to vaccinate people as quickly as possible against the deadly pandemic coronavirus, particularly as virus variants emerge and spread. They were also sensitive to the reality that the adenovirus-based vaccines (made by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and others) are more likely to be used in vulnerable populations and developing countries. The pauses and drama around these vaccines in places like the US and EU could increase vaccine hesitancy in populations with few other vaccine options.
For the US population overall, however, CDC researchers noted in the meeting today that the country’s vaccine supply is still strong. Even with the extended Johnson & Johnson pause, the US has steady supplies of mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
On Monday, the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab released a report entitled “Halfway to Zero,” referring to a goal of a zero-emission US electric grid. The report’s headline claim is a bit bogus, in that we’ve not cut our emissions in half relative to any point in history. Instead, they’re down to half of where they were projected to be in a report issued back in 2005.
Still, despite this sleight-of-hand, the report makes for interesting reading in that it shows how rapidly the energy market has changed and where the trends that are driving those changes might lead us in another 15 years. So, while we’re not really in a place to be patting ourselves on the back for everything we’ve accomplished, the report does provide reasons for optimism.
Persistently wrong projections
The foundation for the new work is one of the many editions of the US Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook, specifically the one from 2005. These publications take a look at the state of the US energy markets in the most recent year for which there is data and tries to project how those markets will evolve over the coming years. In 2005, that meant that projections went as far as 2025.
You can get a sense of where things were expected to go simply by looking at the cover of the report, which is graced by a picture of an oil well. To an extent, conservative projections are baked into the structure of the report. It assumes that the only policies that influence energy markets are the ones currently on the books. So, even though Congress has extended the expiration date on tax credits for renewable power multiple times, the EIA always makes projections that have them expiring as scheduled at the time.
The EIA also tends to assume slow and steady technological progress, rather than the sorts of changes that have led solar prices to drop by a factor of five in less than a decade.
So, the EIA projections will be wrong, and everyone knows they’ll be wrong and has a good sense of why. The new report acknowledges that very early on and just moves on to the comparisons. And the comparisons it makes are informative in that they show what factors are the leading causes of the mismatch between the projections and the reality that has since taken place.
In this case, however, there’s an added wrinkle: the COVID-19 pandemic, which has lowered energy use in the US considerably. It’s likely that at least some of the factors that drove the changes in energy use, like increased work from home, will outlast the pandemic, but it’s difficult to know how different things will be. While the report also performs an analysis using 2019 data to avoid this complication, we’ll largely focus on the 2020 results.
Demand is less demanding
One of the biggest factors that has changed what’s happened on the grid is a drop in demand compared to expectations. In its 2005 projections, the EIA had expected total demand for electricity to rise by roughly 25 percent. Instead, it stayed essentially flat. None of the main sectors—residential, commercial, or industrial—rose significantly, due to factors like increased efficiency and a shift away from heavy industry. (Remember, things like LED bulbs were expensive rarities 15 years ago.)
This had some significant effects. For example, the EIA projected a large increase in natural gas use by 2020 and got the magnitude nearly right. But, in its projections, this expanded generation was expected to feed the rising demand; since that never materialized, gas displaced coal instead.
Coal also took a big hit from the rise in renewables, with wind and solar producing 13 times more than they were expected to back in 2005. Combined with hydropower and other renewable sources, that’s boosted the total share of renewable generation to 79 percent higher than the EIA had projected. There are plenty of reasons for this, including the fact that tax breaks for renewables were extended several times. In the absence of a coordinated federal response to climate change, many states have crafted renewable power mandates. And, finally, there’s that tremendous drop in price noted above, which has made solar and wind the cheapest sources of power in many areas of the country.
Combined, this has produced a serious drop in carbon emissions: 40 percent since 2005, or about a third of the way toward a zero-emissions grid. Compared to the 2005 projections for this year, which had pencilled in continued heavy use of coal and rising demand, emissions are down by 52 percent—the “halfway to zero” of the report’s title.
In 2005 (and for a number of years afterwards), people frequently announced that reducing the carbon emissions of the grid would come at a catastrophic cost. That’s turned out to be very badly wrong. Retail electricity prices (in 2005 constant dollars) went from 10.6 cents/kiloWatt-hour all the way up to… 10.7 cents/kW-hr. The projections had them falling slightly, so we’re in worse shape than expected in this sense, but it’s anything but a crippling rise in price.
In fact, because there are more customers for a similar amount of power, use per customer has gone down in the last 15 years. That means that, individually, customers’ bills are a bit smaller, even if they’re paying more.
And that’s been accompanied by a huge drop in associated costs. Climate damages, estimated using the social cost of carbon, were cut by more than half, from a projected $229 billion down to only $110 billion. But the huge plunge in the use of coal, along with added pollution controls, cut down on numerous additional costs. Health costs from the pollution, expected to total over a half-trillion dollars, instead came in at $34 billion—an astonishing drop. The projected 38,000 annual premature deaths from pollution instead came in at 3,100.
If these costs are counted along with the electrical bills, the total costs of generating power were actually down by 44 percent from 2005 and less than half of what was projected for 2020.
Despite the fact that the cost of the energy is largely the same in constant dollars, the energy industry is employing a lot more people. Despite the boost in production, the number of jobs in natural gas production has stayed largely the same, while those employed producing coal has dropped considerably. But renewable energy production is labor-intensive, which has led to a dramatic jump in jobs and brought the total number of people employed in producing electricity up 29 percent compared to projections.
Where to from here?
While we may not be halfway to a net zero emissions grid, we’re a lot closer than might be expected. Are we on a trajectory that makes zero emissions possible within the sorts of time frames we’d need in order to hit climate goals? The report acknowledges that decarbonizing the last 10 percent of the grid using intermittent power sources is going to be an extremely complex challenge, and likely involve some combination of greater grid integration, demand management, storage, and carbon capture. But we have a lot of decarbonization to do before we even get to the 10 percent mark, and it’s here that we can largely focus on trends in existing technology.
The report notes that wind, solar, and batteries have all gotten cheaper much faster than anyone expected, making deep decarbonization an economic possibility. But there’s still the challenge of scaling production and installation of renewables and storage fast enough.
To get to a situation where 90 percent of the electricity generated in the US is free of carbon emissions, it’s estimated we’ll need to install about 1.1 terawatts of wind and solar capacity by 2035. Right now, there’s been applications to connect roughly half that amount by the end of 2025, a pace of over 100 GW/year, well above what’s needed. But historically, many of these projects don’t end up getting built; as a contrast, only 34 GW was installed in 2020, which is only a third of the expected pace.
We’d need to double last year’s total starting this year and maintain that pace for a decade to hit the 90 percent emissions-free goal. Plus we have to build enough grid infrastructure to connect it all. That’s not going to be easy. For a sense of how difficult it will be, compare the 70 GW/year figure to the big plan to expand offshore wind production in the US, which is only targeting three GW/year for the rest of this decade.
Achieving the sort of scale we need is going to be the real challenge if we want to hit our climate goals. And so far, even with a renewable-friendly administration in the White House, there’s been no indication of how we might do it.