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Panic’s Playdate is a pint-sized gaming machine with a ‘season’ of 12 intriguing titles – TechCrunch

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Tired of your smartphone games, and don’t want to take the Switch with you on the train today? Panic, renowned creator of useful Mac apps and more recently publisher of interesting games, has created a tiny handheld console that goes anywhere and receives a regular trickle of new games. It’s called Playdate.

One has to admire the gumption of jumping into a space that has been so thoroughly dominated by Nintendo and smartphones over the last decade that hardly anyone has even attempted to break in. But Panic isn’t trying to build an empire — just do something interesting and new.

“Nothing’s surprising anymore and surprises are great!” reads the Playdate’s FAQ. “Panic saw an opportunity for something truly different in the world of video games. Something small-scale that could deliver a dose of fun and delight to video game players who have otherwise seen it all.”

It’s different, all right. Bright yellow with a black and white screen and with no spot for removable media like cartridges, the Playdate is more or less self-contained, except of course for the charger and wireless connection. And it’s over the wireless connection that the games come: 12 of them, exclusives created by well-known developers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Bennett Foddy (Getting Over It) and Zach Gage (Ridiculous Fishing).

They appear one at a time, weekly; the first title is Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Takahashi. Oh, right — did I mention it has a crank?

Yes, the gadget has the usual d-pad and two buttons, but on the side is a little crank that you’ll be using in all these weird little games. In the first one, for instance, you use it to advance and reverse time. Perhaps you’ll be reeling in fish, charging a flashlight, grinding stones for crafting or any number of other tasks. It’s not necessary for every game, though, so don’t worry if it seems too weird. (The crank was the inspired choice of Teenage Engineering, Panic’s hardware design partner.)

In case you didn’t notice, the games are also black and white. The 2.7-inch, 400×240 screen has no backlight; it isn’t e-paper, but rather just an LCD without color filters. I’ve been saying we should do this for years! It should make for improved battery life and change the way you play a bit — in bed by the light of a lamp instead of on the couch looking at a bright screen.

“We thought Playdate needed to be a different experience than the one you get from your phone, or from a TV-based console,” said Panic’s Director of Special Projects, Greg Maletic, in an email. “This bizarre 1-bit reflective screen was a big part of that: you just won’t see a lot of devices go this route, and for us, that was part of the attraction. And it’s worked out really well: developers have felt energized designing for this weird but cool screen.”

When the 12 titles have all been delivered, there’s the possibility that more will come, but that depends on lots of things, the company said. But they were careful to make the platform easily hackable.

“Most hardware platforms nowadays have tight restrictions, so it was important to us that Playdate be open enough to allow experimentation,” said Maletic. “That’s the kind of platform that we, as developers, were personally craving. So we’ve made sure that people will be able to develop their own games and easily share them with their friends, without having to worry about plagues of mobile development like code signing and provisioning profiles.”

You’ll be able to preorder a Playdate for $149 later in the year. Yeah, it isn’t cheap — but it’s weird and fun and for now one of a kind. That has to count for something in the increasingly genericized world of gaming hardware.

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AMD laptops have a hidden 10-second performance delay. Here’s why

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Enlarge / When it’s on battery, your new Ryzen 4000 series laptop doesn’t deliver its true performance until about ten seconds into a full-throttle workload.

Aurich Lawson / AMD

In an embargoed presentation Friday morning, Intel’s Chief Performance Strategist Ryan Shrout walked a group of tech journalists through a presentation aimed at taking AMD’s Zen 2 (Ryzen 4000 series) laptop CPUs down a peg.

Intel’s newest laptop CPU design, Tiger Lake, is a genuinely compelling release—but it comes on the heels of some crushing upsets in that space, leaving Intel looking for an angle to prevent hemorrhaging market share to its rival. Early Tiger Lake systems performed incredibly well—but they were configured for a 28W cTDP, instead of the far more common 15W TDP seen in production laptop systems—and reviewers were barred from testing battery life.

This left reviewers like yours truly comparing Intel’s i7-1185G7 at 28W cTDP to AMD Ryzen 7 systems at half the power consumption—and although Tiger Lake did come out generally on top, the power discrepancy kept it from being a conclusive or crushing blow to AMD’s increasing market share with the OEM vendors who are actually buying laptop CPUs in the first place.

Enter the battery

Intel’s original Tiger Lake launch presentations sought to draw attention to on-battery versus off-battery discrepancies in AMD’s performance, but those attempts mostly went unheard. Shrout’s presentation Friday was an attempt to tell that story again, this time with enough additional information to get people fired up.

We can see this discrepancy between on-battery and off-battery performance easily in the PCMark 10 Applications benchmark and also in many of Intel’s RUGs—scripted workloads based around production applications, which the company calls “Realistic Usage Guides.” However, the same discrepancy between on- and off-battery performance isn’t visible in more commonly used industry benchmarks, such as Cinebench, PassMark, or Geekbench.

Intel’s engineering team displays the reason why we don’t see the discrepancy in Cinebench in the last image of the gallery above—in Intel’s testing, the Ryzen 4000 CPUs didn’t ramp up power and voltage to their maximum state until somewhere between eight and 11 seconds after heavy-duty workloads began.

Independent confirmation

We were able to confirm Intel’s findings over the weekend, working with an Acer Swift 3 SF314-42 laptop (with a Ryzen 7 4700u CPU) and an MSI Prestige 14 Evo laptop (with a Core i7-1185G7). In the charts above, we repeatedly compress small chunks of the Linux 7.3 kernel source and graph throughput over time on each CPU.

The 4-core/8-thread i7-1185G7 easily outperforms the 8-core/8-thread Ryzen 7 4700u in both single and quad-thread workloads, even after the Ryzen 7 4700u belatedly jumps to its full performance around the 12-second mark. In the unlimited workload, where the Ryzen 7 is allowed to flex its full octa-core muscle, things are much closer—and the 4700u even ekes out a narrow win in the last four seconds.

There are a few things we need to point out here, though. First and most obviously—Intel is 100 percent correct in its claims that AMD’s Zen 2 laptop CPUs delay ramping power and voltage up to their maximum states. This causes a sharp, corresponding, and decreased performance during those first few seconds.

We reached out to AMD representatives for comment on this design decision. Although AMD representatives asked further questions about our observations, we have not yet received a response for the record at press time.

The devil is in the details—so is the heat

But Intel is still playing games with its own power consumption. In the above screenshot, we can see the MSI Prestige Evo 14 with Core i7-1185G7 during a Cinebench R23 run. We haven’t had this laptop for long enough to fully review it—and particularly, to review its battery life, which we’ve been very curious about since being forbidden to test that stat in two earlier i7-1185G7 systems.

But we can see that—rather than dial the i7-1185G7’s cTDP down to something approximating the typical Ryzen 7 4000 cTDP of 15W, as widely expected—MSI has in this laptop chosen to dial it up even further than what we saw in earlier prototypes. This production i7-1185G7 system has a variable PL1 which hits as high as 36W during the course of a Cinebench R23 run—in addition to its PL2 of 51W, which is unchanged from the prototypes.

During this Cinebench R23 run, the laptop spent its first 10 to 15 seconds running at the full PL2 power limit of 51W, with temperatures up to a blistering 98°C. After that initial, extremely high-performance, power, and heat generating burst, the CPU dropped down to sustain an average power consumption of 34W. By contrast, an 8 core / 16 thread Ryzen 7 Pro 4750U—at cTDP up of 25W—consumed an average of 27.9W, with a high of 29.9W.

While we’re veering away from the CPUs themselves and into laptop-design territory, it’s perhaps worth noting that system-fan activity was also significantly different between the MSI Prestige 14 Evo—which reached nearly gaming-laptop levels of fan noise almost immediately—and the HP EliteBook, which took more than a minute to ramp its fans up to max and remained much quieter than the MSI throughout the run.

The battle continues

While Intel didn’t specifically tell us what conclusions we should draw from the performance delay in Zen 2 laptop CPUs versus the instant-on performance from Tiger Lake, the company was clearly hoping for something in between “AMD is gaming the benchmarks” and “it turns out, Intel was the winner all along.”

We don’t think there are any such cut-and-dried conclusions to draw here. Intel’s findings regarding the slow performance ramp of the AMD Zen 2 laptop CPUs is, obviously, correct in the facts—we had no trouble confirming it, and it does explain why many of Intel’s preferred benchmarking techniques show larger performance deltas in favor of Team Blue than the more widely used industry benchmarks like Cinebench, PassMark, and so forth.

But this ignores the greater efficiency of the AMD systems, above and beyond the delayed shift to maximum performance (and battery consumption) states in the CPU. When we run Cinebench R23 for five full minutes, a Ryzen 7 Pro 4750u system renders more scenes than the Intel i7-1185G7, and it does so with less total power consumed. There’s no clever trick to explain that away.

We also believe there’s a tuning argument to be made on both sides. Intel’s more rapid shift to the highest performance state carries some real-world benefits with it, but we’re not certain they’re as compelling as the charts make them seem. In practical terms, we’ve spent quite some time now with both Zen 2 and Tiger Lake laptops—and the Tiger Lake systems don’t really feel faster in terms of a seat-of-the-pants subjective experience. This argues strongly that there frequently isn’t much point in ramping up CPU power profiles that quickly—if the human piloting the system doesn’t notice the latency improvement, it’s probably better to conserve the battery instead.

Some exceptions exist—the most notable likely being boot time. Tiger Lake systems boot—and resume from suspend—phenomenally quickly, and we suspect their willingness to instantly boost performance to maximum has a lot to do with it. One developer we spoke to speculated that JavaScript just-in-time (JIT) compilation might be another short workload that nevertheless was easily human-perceptible.

The best news for consumers, we suspect, is that the “which system is better” argument is so difficult to conclusively answer in the first place. This level of competition means neither team gets to rest on its laurels, and consumers are less likely to end up buying systems nobody would want, if fully informed about the differences.

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Apple pushes out iOS 14.2.1, and it’s mostly bug fixes

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Enlarge / The iPhone 12 mini. iOS 14.2.1 fixes an issue that affected the lock screen on this phone.

Samuel Axon

Yesterday, Apple released iOS 14.2.1 to fix bugs users have encountered on new iPhones since iOS 14.2 launched on November 5. Unlike many other iOS releases, this release was not accompanied by updates to all of the company’s other operating systems.

The update fixes a bug that caused an unresponsive lock screen specifically on the iPhone 12 mini, and it addressed an issue that prevented MMS messages from coming in. Further, 14.2.1 fixes a problem with sound quality on connected hearing devices.

Here are Apple’s release notes for iOS 14.2.1:

iOS 14.2.1 addresses the following issues for your iPhone:

  • Some MMS messages may not be received
  • Made for iPhone hearing devices could have sound quality issues when listening to audio from iPhone
  • Lock Screen could become unresponsive on iPhone 12 mini

The previous update, iOS 14.2, was a somewhat larger one. It added more than 100 new emoji, incorporated Shazam in the control center, and introduced new audio and AirPlay features, among other things. That update was accompanied by updates to watchOS, tvOS, and others, as well.

Typically, updates with two decimal points in the number are minor bug fix updates, those with just one decimal point are small feature updates, and those with just a whole number (like iOS 14) are annual major releases.

iOS 14.2.1 should be available to all users on supported devices (any carrying the iPhone 12 name) right now.

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iFixit teardown of M1 MacBooks gives us our first glimpse at the M1 up close

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As expected, iFixit has done a teardown of two of Apple’s three new M1-based Macs: the MacBook Air and the 2-port, 13-inch MacBook Pro. What they found is somehow both surprising and not: almost nothing has changed in the laptops apart from the inclusion of the M1 chip and directly related changes.

The biggest change is definitely the omission of a fan in the MacBook Air. iFixit notes that given the Intel MacBook Air’s history of overheating in some cases, it speaks volumes about the efficiency of the M1 that so far it seems the Air gets on just fine without that fan now. Also missing: the T2 chip, which we noted in our Mac mini review has been replaced completely by the M1 in all these new Macs.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is even more similar to its predecessor. The T2 chip is also gone, but the laptop retains the exact same fan and cooling system, with no differences whatsoever. Reviews of the 13-inch MacBook Pro claim that the fan doesn’t spin up as often as it used to, but iFixit concludes here that that’s because of the shift from an Intel chip to the M1, not because of an improved cooling system. The fans on the Intel and M1 Pro are interchangeable.

What’s not interchangeable are a whole bunch of parts in the Air and parts in the Pro. iFixit laments that the similar silicon between the two machines could have presented an opportunity to make repairs easier by making it possible to use parts from one to fix the other, but that seems not to be the case.

And in general, the performance and efficiency gains of the M1 over the prior models are counterbalanced by the fact that user-serviceability and repairability are not moving in a more open direction, because the unified memory architecture of the M1 suggests that Apple isn’t planning to make RAM upgradeable or replaceable any time soon.

iFixit hasn’t given the laptops a repairability score yet, but those two notes suggest the scores wouldn’t be higher than those given to previous models (those machines didn’t have upgradeable RAM, either.)

For more shots of these laptops’ insides and some additional insights, read iFixit’s full teardown post.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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