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Amazon Web Services Jumps Into Call-Center Market With New 'Amazon Connect' Service

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 17:20
Amazon Web Services just unveiled a new service for running call centers, dubbed Amazon Connect, leveraging the same technology used by Amazon.com's own customer service system to route and manage calls using automatic speech recognition and artificial intelligence. From a report: The announcement is the latest move by the cloud giant beyond its core infrastructure technologies and into higher-level cloud services. Amazon says the service incorporates its Lex technology, an artificial intelligence service for speech recognition and natural language processing, which also powers the company's Alexa virtual assistant. The company says Amazon Connect works with existing AWS services such as DynamoDB, Amazon Redshift, or Amazon Aurora, as well as third-party CRM and analytics services. Salesforce says it's integrating its Service Cloud Einstein with Amazon Connect. It uses a graphical interface to let companies set up a workflow for calls without coding.

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A Lawsuit Over Costco Golf Balls Shows Why We Can't Have Nice Things For Cheap

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 16:40
Ephrat Livni, writing for Quartz: Unless you're a golfer, you probably don't think about golf balls. But a new US lawsuit about these little-dimpled spheres has an economics lesson for all shoppers, showing why consumers have cause for concern when companies use court for sport. Costco, the wholesale membership club, rocked the golf world in 2016 when it started selling its Kirkland Signature (KS) golf balls at about $15 per dozen, a quarter to a third the price of popular top-ranked balls. Industry insiders called it a "miracle golf ball" for its great performance and low cost, and Costco sold out immediately. It's planning to release more in April. In response to the bargain ball's reception, however, Acushnet -- which makes the popular Titleist balls -- sent the membership club a threatening letter. It accused Costco of infringing on 11 patents and engaging in false advertising for claiming that KS balls meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.

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'Brainstorming Doesn't Work'

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 16:00
People aren't necessarily more creative in groups than alone, or vice versa, according to numerous studies. An anonymous reader shares an article: In fact, creativity needs both conditions; our performance peaks when we alternate -- first working alone, then coming together to share our ideas, then going off by ourselves again to mull over what we heard. It's a process. This is because our brains' creative engines are fueled both by quiet mind-wandering, allowing novel and unexpected connections to form, and by encountering new information, which often comes from other people. The typical brainstorm over-delivers on the latter and under-delivers on the former, which means that for lots of people, brainstorming is an utter nightmare. Introverts just feel alienated, and extroverts aren't pushed to reflect more deeply on the ideas they've batted around amongst themselves.

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Dutch Scientist Proposes Circular Runways For Airport Efficiency

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 15:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fast Company: While airport terminal architecture has a solid history of style and innovation, rarely is a proposal put forth to utterly redesign the runway. But that's precisely the aim of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch scientist working with the Netherlands Aerospace Center. Dubbed the "endless runway," Hesselink's brainchild is a 360-degree landing strip measuring more than two miles in diameter. Since airplanes would be able to approach and take off from any direction around the proposed circle, they wouldn't have to fight against crosswinds. And three planes would be able to take off or land at the same time. Hesselink's team uses flight simulators and computerized calculations to test the unconventional design, and have determined that round airports would be more efficient than existing layouts. With a central terminal, the airport would only use about a third of the land of the typical airport with the same airplane capacity. And there's an added benefit to those living near airports: Flight paths could be more distributed, and thereby making plane noise more tolerable. BBC produced a video detailing Hesselink's circular runway concept. The concept is fascinating but there are many questions the video does not answer. Phil Derner Jr. from NYC Aviation writes via Business Insider about some of those unanswered questions in his article titled "Why the circular runway concept wouldn't work." The fundamental issues discussed in his report include banked runway issues, curved runway issues, navigation issues, and airspace issues. What do you think of Hesselink's concept? Do you think it is preposterous or shows promise?

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GameStop To Close At Least 150 Stores Due To Poor Q4 Sales

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 12:00
GameStop announced last week that it will be closing more than 150 of its stores globally due to "weak sales of certain AAA titles and aggressive console promotions by other retailers." The chain also mentioned it "anticipates that it will close between two percent to three percent of its global store footprint" in 2017. Nintendo Wire reports: The Q4 window is often the high point of video game sales, yet despite the launch of new hardware in the PlayStation 4 Pro and a few major releases, it wasn't enough in the company's eyes. Despite this, GameStop still plans on opening 100 stores in 2017 which will likely focus more on non-gaming business, such as the Spring Mobile brand and vinyl collectibles. GameStop CEO Paul Raines said in a statement: "The video game category was weak, particularly in the back half of 2016, as the console cycle ages. Looking at 2017, Technology Brands and Collectibles are expected to generate another year of strong growth, and new hardware innovation in the video game category looks promising." You can view GameStop's 2016 earnings report here.

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NASA Spends 72 Cents of Every SLS Dollar On Overhead Costs, Says Report

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 09:00
A new report published by the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New American Security shows us where a lot of NASA's money is being spent. The space agency has reportedly spent $19 billion on rockets -- first on Ares I and V, and now on the Space Launch System rocket -- and $13.9 billion on the Orion spacecraft. If all goes according to plan and NASA is able to fly its first crewed mission with the new vehicles in 2021, "the report estimates the agency will have spent $43 billion before that first flight, essentially a reprise of the Apollo 8 mission around the Moon," reports Ars Technica. "Just the development effort for SLS and Orion, which includes none of the expenses related to in-space activities or landing anywhere, are already nearly half that of the Apollo program." From the report: The new report argues that, given these high costs, NASA should turn over the construction of rockets and spacecraft to the private sector. It buttresses this argument with a remarkable claim about the "overhead" costs associated with the NASA-led programs. These costs entail the administration, management, and development costs paid directly to the space agency -- rather than funds spend on contractors actually building the space hardware. For Orion, according to the report, approximately 56 percent of the program's cost, has gone to NASA instead of the main contractor, Lockheed Martin, and others. For the SLS rocket and its predecessors, the estimated fraction of NASA-related costs is higher -- 72 percent. This means that only about $7 billion of the rocket's $19 billion has gone to the private sector companies, Boeing, Orbital ATK, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and others cutting metal. By comparison the report also estimates NASA's overhead costs for the commercial cargo and crew programs, in which SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing and providing cargo and astronaut delivery systems for the International Space Station. With these programs, NASA has ceded some control to the private companies, allowing them to retain ownership of the vehicles and design them with other customers in mind as well. With such fixed-price contracts, the NASA overhead costs for these programs is just 14 percent, the report finds.

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Climate Change Is Altering Global Air Currents

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 05:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: One of the scientists who demonstrated conclusively that global warming was an unnatural event with the famous "hockey stick" graph is now warning that giant jetstreams which circle the planet are being altered by climate change. Jetstreams are influenced by the difference in temperatures between the Arctic and the equator. But the Arctic has been warming much faster than tropical climates -- the island of Svalbard, for example was 6.5 degrees celsius warmer last year compared to the average between 1961 and 1990. The land has also been warming faster than the sea. Both of those factors were changing the flow of these major air currents to create "extreme meanders" which were helping to cause "extreme weather events", Professor Michael Mann said. In a paper in the journal Scientific Reports, Professor Mann and other researchers wrote that evidence of the effect of climate change on the jetstreams had "only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability." They said that projections of the effect on the jetstreams in "state-of-the-art" climate models were "mirrored" in "multiple" actual temperature measurements. The jetstream normally flows reasonably consistently around the planet, but can develop loops extending north and south. The researchers, who studied temperature records going back to 1870 as well as satellite data, said these loops could grow "very large" or even "grind to a halt" rather than moving from west to east. The effect has been most pronounced during the past 40 years, they found.

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New AI Algorithm Beats Even the World's Worst Traffic

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 03:30
"Computer scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a new intelligent routing algorithm that attempts to minimize the occurrence of spontaneous traffic jams -- those sudden snarls caused by greedy merges and other isolated disruptions -- throughout a roadway network," reports Motherboard. "It's both computationally distributed and fast, requirements for any real-world traffic management system. Their work is described in the April issue of IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computational Intelligence." From the report: The Nanyang researchers' algorithm starts off by just assuming that, given enough traffic density, shit is going to happen. Someone is going to make a greedy merge -- something is going to cause enough of a traffic perturbation to result in a network breakdown. Breakdown in this context is a technical-ish term indicating that for some period of time the traffic outflow from a segment of roadway is going to be less than the traffic inflow. "We assume that the traffic breakdown model has already been given, and the probability of traffic breakdown occurrence is larger than zero (meaning that traffic breakdowns would occur), and our goal is to direct the traffic flow so that the overall traffic breakdown probability is minimized," Hongliang Guo and colleagues write. Put differently, "our objective is to maximize the probability that none of the network links encounters a traffic breakdown." So, the goal of the algorithm is this maximization, which reduces to a fairly tidy equation. It then becomes a machine learning problem. Things get pretty messy at this point, but just understand that we're taking the current traffic load, adding an unknown additional load that might enter the network at any time, and then coming up with probabilities of network breakdown at each of the network's nodes or intersections. Crunch some linear algebra and we wind up with optimal routes through the network. Crucially, Guo and co. were able to come up with some mathematical optimizations that make this kind of calculation feasible in real-time. They were able to demonstrate their algorithm in simulations and are currently working on a further analysis with BMW, which is providing a vast trove of data from its Munich car-sharing fleet. This may not be as distant a technology as it might seem. As it turns out, only 10 percent of cars in a network need to be driving according to the optimizations for those optimizations to have a positive effect on the entire network.

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Facebook Launches 'Town Hall' For Contacting Government Reps, Adds Local Election Reminders

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 02:50
Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections. TechCrunch reports: The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.

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Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Working Environment For a Developer?

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 02:10
New submitter Dorgendubal writes: I work for a company with more than a thousand developers and I'm participating in activities aimed at improving the work experience of developers. Our developers receive an ultrabook that is rather powerful but not really adapted for development (no admin rights, small storage capacity, restrictive security rules, etc.). They also have access to VDIs (more flexibility) but often complain of performance issues during certain hours of the day. Overall, developers want to have maximum autonomy, free choice of their tools (OS, IDE, etc.) and access to internal development environments (PaaS, GIT repositories, continuous delivery tools, etc.) . We recently had a presentation of VMWare on desktop and application virtualization (Workstation & Horizon), which is supposedly the future of the desktops. It sounds interesting on paper but I remain skeptical. What is the best working environment for a developer, offering flexibility, performance and some level of free choice, without compromising security, compliance, licensing (etc.) requirements? I would like you to share your experiences on BYOD, desktop virtualization, etc. and the level of satisfaction of the developers.

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Facial Recognition Database Used By FBI Is Out of Control, House Committee Hears

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 01:30
The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people." From the report: "Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.

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Prominent Drupal, PHP Developer Kicked From the Drupal Project Over Unconventional Sex Life

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 00:50
An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Last week the Drupal community erupted in anger after its leader, Dries Buytaert, asked Larry Garfield, a prominent Drupal contributor and long-time member of the Drupal and PHP communities, "to leave the Drupal project." Buytaert claims he did this "because it came to my attention that he holds views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project." A huge furor has erupted in response -- not least because the reason clearly has much to do with Garfield's unconventional sex life. [Garfield is into BDSM, and is a member of the Gorean community, "a community who are interested in, and/or participate in, elaborate sexual subjugation fantasies, in which men are inherently superior to women."] Buytaert made his post (which is now offline) in response after Larry went public, outing himself to public opinion. Buytaert retorted (excerpt available via TechCrunch): "when a highly-visible community member's private views become public, controversial, and disruptive for the project, I must consider the impact [...] all people are created equally. [sic] I cannot in good faith support someone who actively promotes a philosophy that is contrary to this [...] any association with Larry's belief system is inconsistent with our project's goals [...] I recused myself from the Drupal Association's decision [to dismiss Garfield from his conference role] [...] Many have rightfully stated that I haven't made a clear case for the decision [...] I did not make the decision based on the information or beliefs conveyed in Larry's blog post." TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans goes on to "unpack" the questions that naturally arise from these "Code of Conduct conflicts."

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Stylebooks Finally Embrace the Single 'They'

Slashdot - Tue, 03/28/2017 - 00:10
Two major style manuals are now allowing the singular use of "they" in certain circumstances. While this is a victory for common sense, the paths taken are unusual in the evolution of usage. From a report on Columbia Journal Review: Both manuals, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, emphasize that "they" cannot be used with abandon. Even so, it's the middle of the end for the insistence that "they" can be only a plural pronoun. To recap: In English, there is no gender-neutral pronoun for a single person. In French, for example, the pronoun on can stand in for "he" or "she." English has no such equivalent; "it" is our singular pronoun, so devoid of gender that calling a person "it" is often considered insulting. We could use "one," but that is a very impersonal pronoun. Consider this sentence, for instance. "Everyone needs to be sure to tighten ____ safety belt before approaching the cliff." The article adds: For hundreds of years, anyone writing formally would default to "he." Advances in women's rights led to the clumsy "he or she." Many writers alternate "he" or "she." This twisting and turning is because what's known as "the epicene they" has been considered incorrect. [...] But that's not the "they" the style guides have let loose. Simply, the singular "they" will be allowed if someone prefers that pronoun.

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Interviews: Ask Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor John Goodenough a Question

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 23:30
John B. Goodenough is a solid-state physicist and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at The University of Texas at Austin. While he is most famous for identifying and developing the lithium-ion battery, which can be found in just about every portable electronic device on the market, he has recently created a new fast charging solid-state battery that looks to revolutionize the industry. We sent him an email about doing an interview and he has responded. Now is your chance to ask Goodenough a question! We'll pick the very best questions and forward them to John Goodenough himself. (Feel free to leave your suggestions for who Slashdot should interview next.) Go on, don't be shy!

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Four Years Later, Xbox Exec Admits How Microsoft Screwed Up Disc Resale Plan

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 22:50
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We're now approaching the four-year anniversary of Microsoft's rollout (and subsequent reversal) of a controversial plan to let game publishers limit resale of used, disc-based games. Looking back on that time recently, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Windows and Devices Yusuf Mehdi acknowledged how that rollout fell flat and discussed how hard it was for the firm to change course even in light of fan complaints at the time. In a blog post on LinkedIn posted last weekend, Mehdi writes: "With our initial announcement of Xbox One and our desire to deliver breakthroughs in gaming and entertainment, the team made a few key decisions regarding connectivity requirements and how games would be purchased that didn't land well with fans. While the intent was good -- we imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing and new ways to try and buy games, we didn't deliver what our fans wanted. We heard their feedback, and while it required great technical work, we changed Xbox One to work the same way as Xbox 360 for how our customers could play, share, lend, and resell games. This experience was such a powerful reminder that we must always do the right thing for our customers, and since we've made that commitment to our Xbox fans, we've never looked back." It's an interesting reflection in light of an interview Mehdi gave to Ars Technica at E3 2013, when the executive defended Microsoft's announced plans for Xbox One game licensing. Mehdi, then serving as Xbox chief marketing and strategy officer, stressed at the time that "this is a big change, consumers don't always love change, and there's a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand... We're trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better."

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Elon Musk Launches Neuralink To Connect Brains With Computers

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 22:05
At Recode's conference last year, Elon Musk said he would love to see someone do something about linking human brains with computers. With no other human being coming up forward, Mr. Musk -- who founded PayPal and OpenAI, thought of Hyperloop, is working on a boring company, and runs SpaceX, TeslaX, SolarCity -- is working on it. From a report on WSJ: Internal sources tell the WSJ that the company, called Neuralink, is developing "neural lace" technology that would allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface. Neural lace involves implanting electrodes in the brain so people could upload or download their thoughts to or from a computer, according to the WSJ report. The product could allow humans to achieve higher levels of cognitive function.

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No One Knows What To Do With the International Space Station

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 21:40
An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.

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US Top Court Considers Changing Where Patent Cases May Be Filed

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 21:20
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.

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Apple is Upgrading Millions of iOS Devices To a New Modern File System Today

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 20:40
Apple today began rolling out iOS 10.3, the latest point update to its mobile operating system. iOS 10.3 brings with it several new features, chief among which is a new file system -- called the Apple File System (APFS). From a report: It's a file system that was originally announced at WWDC last year, and it's designed with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV in mind. Apple has been using its 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) for iOS devices so far. It was originally designed for Macs with floppy or hard disks, and not for modern mobile devices with solid state storage. Even its successor, HFS+, still doesn't address the needs of these mobile devices enough. Apple's new APFS is designed to scale across these new types of devices and take advantage of flash or SSD storage. It's also engineered with encryption as a primary feature, and even supports features like snapshots so restoring files on a Mac or even an iOS device might get a lot easier in the future.

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With Optane Memory, Intel Claims To Make Hard Drives Faster Than SSDs

Slashdot - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 20:00
SSDs are generally faster than hard drives. However, they are also usually more expensive. Intel wants to change that with its new Optane Memory lineup, which it claims is faster and better performing than SSDs while not requiring customers to break their banks. From a report on PCWorld: Announced Monday morning, these first consumer Optane-based devices will be available April 24 in two M.2 trims: A 16GB model for $44 and a 32GB Optane Memory device for $77. Both are rated for crazy-fast read speeds of 1.2GBps and writes of 280MBps. [...] When the price of a 128GB SATA SSD is roughly $50 to $60 today, you may rightly wonder why Optane Memory would be worth the bother. Intel says most consumers just don't want to give up the capacity for their photos and videos. PC configurations with a hard drive and an SSD, while standard for higher-end PC users, isn't popular for the newbies. Think of the times you've had friends or family fill up the boot drive with cat pictures, but the secondary drive is nearly empty. Intel Optane Memory would give that mainstream user the same or better performance as an SSD, with the capacity advantage of the 1TB or 2TB drive they're used to. Intel claims Optane Memory performance is as good or better than an SSD's, offering better latency by magnitudes and the ability to peak at much lower queue depths.

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