Web Excursions 2021-10-11

Windows 11 The Ars Technica review

  • Windows 10 would be long-lived, too.

    • Some in the company billed it as "the last version of Windows"—

      • one big, stable platform

      • that would simultaneously placate change-averse users, huge IT shops

        • that would have kept using Windows XP forever if they had been allowed to, and

      • software developers

        • who would no longer need to worry about supporting multiple wildly different generations of Windows at once

    • The problem for Microsoft is that achieving one goal—

      • the same version of Windows running on almost all PCs—

      • hasn't necessarily had the results that Microsoft was hoping for

    • And that's at least part of the reason why,

      • after a release that treated widespread adoption as its primary goal,

      • Microsoft is releasing a brand-new version of Windows

        • that isn't even supported on computers more than 3 or 4 years old

    • Microsoft has shifted its focus to providing solid versions of its apps on iOS and Android, and

      • even Microsoft's modern-day phones run a Microsoft-flavored version of Android rather than anything Windows-related.

      • The new version of Windows is more preoccupied with the places where Windows already is and is likely to stay—risk-averse, money-rich, security-conscious businesses

  • it's possible to install Windows 11 on pretty much any 64-bit PC that runs Windows 10

    • if you use some registry hacks, and

    • it's possible to do a clean install from a USB drive on any computer

      • that supports Secure Boot and any kind of TPM

      • (even older TPM 1.2 modules).

  • Back when it was originally announced, there was hand-wringing

    • among Linux users in particular

      • who worried that Secure Boot support would make it more difficult or impossible to run Linux or other operating systems on PCs designed for Windows.

    • That fear has since proved unfounded—many computers allow you to turn Secure Boot off and use UEFI's legacy boot (also called "CSM") functionality instead.

    • Major Linux distributions circumvent the issue entirely

      • by using a Secure Boot "shim" bootloader

      • so that installing Linux on a Secure Boot PC is indistinguishable from installing it on anything else

  • Microsoft hasn't spelled this out as clearly as it could,

    • but the best rationale for the processor requirement is that these chips (mostly) support something called "mode-based execution control," or MBEC.

    • MBEC provides hardware acceleration for an optional memory integrity feature in Windows (also known as hypervisor-protected code integrity, or HVCI)

      • that can be enabled on any Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC

      • but can come with hefty performance penalties for older processors without MBEC support

    • [ But a conunter-argument is that ] HVCI isn't even enabled by default in Windows 11.

      • To enable it, open the Windows Security app, navigate to Device security, click Core isolation details, and turn on Memory integrity

  • Microsoft doesn't appear to have changed anything about how Windows 11 is activated or licensed compared to Windows 10.

    • Unsupported PCs running Windows 10 can be upgraded to Windows 11 at no charge, and

    • old Windows 7 and Windows 8 product keys still seem to activate the equivalent editions of Windows 11.

    • This hasn't technically been "allowed" for years,

      • but Microsoft doesn't seem interested in disallowing it either. Make of this what you will.

  • Microsoft isn't abandoning one piece of its "Windows-as-a-service" strategy:

    • Windows 11 will still receive major "servicing updates" on a regular cadence, and

    • these updates will include new features and UI tweaks

      • that are separate from routine security patches.

    • But while Windows 10 received two major numbered updates a year, Windows 11 will only receive one.

      • The current release of Windows is Windows 11 21H2

        • (Windows 10 also has a 21H2, so the distinction is important).

      • The next release will presumably be 22H2, about a year from now.

  • Layout changes aside, the overall experience of using the taskbar isn't dramatically different than it was before,

    • but it does include a handful of weird removals and feature regressions.

    • While the buttons can be left-aligned to recreate the old default look of the taskbar,

      • the taskbar itself can no longer be docked to the top or sides of the screen.

    • Files can't be dragged down to a taskbar icon to be opened by the app you select.

    • You can no longer ungroup taskbar icons and

      • now need to rely on hovering over each taskbar icon to differentiate between multiple open windows in the same app.

    • The taskbar also no longer offers to show the time, date, and system tray icons on all monitors in a multi-monitor setup,

      • even when running a full-screen app like a game or video player on the primary monitor.

    • The taskbar context menu has also been pared down

  • Snap treats monitors and tablets that are flipped into portrait mode differently than landscape-oriented displays

    • Exactly what you see here will differ depending on

      • the size of monitor you're using and

      • its orientation.

    • On a 13-inch 1080p laptop screen set to 125 percent scaling, I only see four Snap options.

    • But on my 27-inch 1440p desktop monitor, I see six—this variation appears to have to do with some combination of resolution plus zoom level, and

      • it's not tied to any specific resolution or aspect ratio

  • The neatest little detail I've noticed about the new context menu is that it tries to put the most common commands as close to your mouse pointer as possible

    • There are still a few ways to access the old context menu,

      • though they're less convenient than you might like.

      • One is to click "show more options" at the bottom of the new menu, which brings up the old menu with all first- and third-party shortcuts intact.

      • Another is to press an oddball "Shift + F10" keyboard combo after left-clicking whatever icon you need to see the context menu for.

      • And if your keyboard has a dedicated keyboard menu key, you can press it to call up the old context menu, too.

  • A release like Windows 11,

    • which at least polishes and unifies the stratum of Windows' UI that most people interact with every day,

    • is the best we can probably hope for at this point.

    • this is the first new startup noise Windows has had since Windows Vista


The Apple A15 SoC Performance Review: Faster & More Efficient by anandtech.com

  • The first few reports about the performance of the new cores were focused around the frequencies, which we can now confirm in our measurements

  • Apple’s frequency increases here are quite aggressive

    • given the fact that it’s quite hard to push this performance aspect of a design,

    • especially when we’re not expecting major performance gains on the part of the new process node.

  • Giant Caches: Performance CPU L2 to 12MB, SLC to Massive 32MB

    • at 32MB, the new A15 dwarfs the competition’s implementations,

      • such as the 3MB SLC on the Snapdragon 888 or

      • the estimated 6-8MB SLC on the Exynos 2100.

    • A 12MB L2 is again humongous,

      • over double compared to the combined L3+L2 (4+1+3x0.5 = 6.5MB) of other designs such as the Snapdragon 888.

      • It very much appears Apple has invested a lot of SRAM into this year’s SoC generation.

  • Back in 2013, Apple was notorious for being the first on the market with an Armv8 CPU,

    • the first 64-bit capable mobile design.

    • Given that context, I had generally expected this year’s generation to introduce v9 as well,

      • but however that doesn’t seem to be the case for the A15.

  • The efficiency cores have had more changes,

    • alongside some of the memory subsystem TLB changes,

    • the new E-core now gains an extra integer ALU,

      • bringing the total up to 4, up from the previous 3.

    • The core for some time no longer could be called “little” by any means, and it seems to have grown even more this year

  • Starting off with the performance figures of the A15, we’re seeing increases across the board,

    • with absolute performance going up from a low of 2.5% to a peak of +37%.

  • Compared to the Snapdragon 888, there’s quite a stark juxtaposition.

    • First of all, Apple’s E-cores,

      • although not quite as powerful as a middle core on Android SoCs,

      • is still quite respectable and does somewhat come close to at least view them in a similar performance class.

    • The comparison against the little Cortex-A55 cores is more absurd though,

      • as the A15’s E-core is 3.5x faster on average,

      • yet only consuming 32% more power, so energy efficiency is 60% better.

  • In our initial coverage of Apple’s announcement, we theorised that the company might possibly invested into energy efficiency

    • rather than performance increases this year,

    • and I’m glad to see that seemingly this is exactly what has happened,

      • explaining some of the more conservative (at least for Apple) performance improvements.

  • It’s still the same SoC and silicon chip in both cases,

    • just that Apple is disabling one GPU core on the non-Pro models,

    • possibly for yield reasons?

  • In the 3DMark Wild Life test, we see

    • the 5-core A15 leap the A15 by +30%,

    • while the 4-core showcases a +14% improvement,

    • so quite close to what we predicted.

    • The peak performance here is essentially double that of the nearest competitor,

      • so Apple is likely low-balling things again.

  • In terms of sustained performance,

    • the new chips continue to showcase a large difference

    • in what they achieve with a cold phone versus a heated phone,

    • interestingly, the 4-core iPhone 13 lands a bit ahead of the 13 Pro here

    • Both the 13 and 13 Pro throttle quite quickly after a few minutes of load, but generally at different power points.

      • The 13 Pro with its 5-core GPU throttles down to around 3W,

      • while the 13 goes to around 3.6W.

  • What’s been extremely perplexing with Apple’s motherboard designs has been the fact that

    • since they employed dual-layer “sandwich” PCBs, is that they’re packaging the SoC on the inside of the two soldered boards.

    • This comes in contrast to other vendors such as Samsung,

      • who also have adopted the “sandwich” PCB,

      • but the SoC is located on the outer side of the assembly,

      • making direct contact with the heat spreader and display mid-frame.

  • The iPhone 13 Pro showcasing lower sustained power levels may be tied to the new PCB design, and

    • Apple’s overall iPhone thermal design is definitely amongst the worst out there,

    • as it doesn’t do a good job of spreading the heat throughout the body of the phone,

    • achieving a SoC thermal envelope that’s far smaller than the actual device thermal envelope.

  • The comparison between Android phones and iPhones gets even more complicated

    • in that even with the same game setting, the iPhones still have slightly higher resolution, and

    • visual effects that are just outright missing from the Android variant of the game.

    • The visual fidelity of the game is just much higher on Apple’s devices due to the superior shading and features.