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Intel Processing; Seagate Storage

PC Notes
By Martin Walker

Computing's big names continue to offer more power in less space, as Intel pioneer new microprocessor technology and Seagate put even more data storage on your platter...

Coming soon to a PC near you — Intel's Ivy Bridge processors will offer faster performance and greater efficiency, thanks to a radically new 3D transistor design. On the left is the 32nm planar transistor in which the current (represented by the yellow dots) flows in a plane underneath the gate. On the right is the 22nm 3D Tri‑Gate transistor with current flowing on three sides of a vertical fin.Coming soon to a PC near you — Intel's Ivy Bridge processors will offer faster performance and greater efficiency, thanks to a radically new 3D transistor design. On the left is the 32nm planar transistor in which the current (represented by the yellow dots) flows in a plane underneath the gate. On the right is the 22nm 3D Tri‑Gate transistor with current flowing on three sides of a vertical fin.

The next generation of microprocessors from Intel in the Sandy Bridge series is code‑named Ivy Bridge, and will be introduced sometime in 2012, when Intel move to an even smaller 22nm manufacturing process. However, the microprocessors are notable for another reason: they will use the world's first 3D transistors. In place of the two‑dimensional planar (flat) transistors of the past with a single 'gate' on top, 'Tri‑Gate' transistors feature incredibly thin three‑dimensional silicon fins that rise up vertically, with a gate on both sides of the fin and a third on top.

The main advantage is that since the fins are vertical, transistors can be packed even closer together. This, in turn, should help extend Moore's Law, the 1965 theory by Intel co‑founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors in a given area would double every two years, with increased functionality and reduced cost. Another advantage of the Tri‑Gate technology is that it allows more powerful processing with greater efficiency: the new transistors are said to consume half the power of current ones for the same performance, and up to a 37 percent improvement at low voltages compared with current planar transistors.

Other new features for Ivy Bridge include integral USB 3 and Thunderbolt support, which should reduce compatibility problems for musicians (compared with the current situation of motherboard manufacturers having to add their own support chips), as well as upgrades to the graphics core, which should help those involved in video work.

Nebula Kernels Promoted

Back in SOS February 2008 (/sos/feb08/articles/nebula3.htm), I reviewed Acustica Audio's Nebula 3, an impressive 'dynamic convolution' plug‑in with great potential, although at the time the bundled effect‑library patches varied greatly in audio quality. The secret of Nebula's engine was 'Volterra Kernels', each of which is essentially a stream of treated audio chunks that acts rather like a single convolution impulse response, but which can exist in various tiers.

Nebula 3 now offers a new 'Aqua' interface to third‑party developers, providing the same 'dynamic convolution' engine but giving them free rein with GUI design. As this 'vintage British console channel strip' plug‑in from CDSoundMaster shows, you may even be using the Nebula 3 engine without realising it.Nebula 3 now offers a new 'Aqua' interface to third‑party developers, providing the same 'dynamic convolution' engine but giving them free rein with GUI design. As this 'vintage British console channel strip' plug‑in from CDSoundMaster shows, you may even be using the Nebula 3 engine without realising it.The output stream morphs between these tiers, depending on the desired effect, so, for example, Nebula can model compression by moving between the tiers depending on input level, at a speed determined by the attack/release controls, and at a depth determined by its threshold control. A Nebula preamp does the same at maximum speed to vary the level of harmonic distortion/saturation with input level, and swept filters and phasing or flanging can be reproduced by smoothly moving between the tiers using one of Nebula's LFOs.

Over the last three years, Acustica's tiny part‑time development team have concentrated on what they do best — enhancing the Nebula engine so it can capture and replay the sounds of existing hardware with greater realism and efficiency. However, Nebula's interface can still be confusing, and while it comes with a utility for capturing kernels, that's not a job for the faint‑hearted, either.

Raising The Bar

Fortunately, third‑party developers have stepped up to the plate, releasing a host of Nebula libraries that are streets ahead of the bundled offerings in both realism and versatility, in the process capturing vintage hardware EQs, compressors, tape saturation, tube preamps and consoles, as well as plenty of other exotica. Many are at pocket‑money prices, while others audibly rival or arguably surpass much more expensive plug‑ins!

I'm hoping to explore the best of these shortly, but in the meantime Nebula 3 Pro users can point their browsers at the new and improved Acustica Audio web site (www.acustica‑audio.com) to catch up with all the improvements, and at www.alessandroboschi.eu, www.analoginthebox.com, https://cdsoundmaster.com, https://cupwise.com and https://rhythminmind.net to see what some of these third‑party developers have been up to.

PC News

Windows 7 On The Up: Microsoft have sold 350 million licenses for their Windows 7 operating system in the 18 months since its release, and also estimate that 90 percent of corporations are currently in the process of migrating to Windows 7. This is a huge improvement compared with the take‑up of Vista, but hardly surprising, given the latter's failings. Ironically, though, Windows XP (which celebrates its 10th birthday in October 2011) still remains in pole position worldwide, holding 54 percent of the global market, although Windows 7 is expected to have caught up in a year or so, by which time Windows 8 could be upon us. Interestingly, Windows 8 will finally see the end of the dreaded 'blue screen of death' crash message — it's going to be black instead!

Seagate Break 1TB Barrier: As I write this, Seagate have just launched the first commercially available 3.5‑inch external hard drive to offer one terabyte per platter — the highest storage capacity on the market to date. Seagate's GoFlex Desk range offers models with capacities up to a massive 3TB of storage spread across three platters, and by the time you read this, its flagship Barracuda desktop hard drives may also be shipping with this technology on board.

Published July 2011