Sunday, 15 February 2015

Exploring Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous simulates some of the most dazzling sights in the Milky Way. Rick Lane’s virtual tour guide explains where to see them

Elite Dangerous simulates a galaxy of 400 billion stars. The majority of these stars’ systems are procedurally generated by algorithms based on our scientific knowledge of how space works. But 160,000 of these systems are based on real stars that can be seen from Earth, be it in the night sky, or using powerful telescopes. What’s more, because of Elite’s scientific basis, you get a fairly accurate representation of how these stars look in terms of positioning, scale and hue. From barely luminescent brown dwarfs to planet-eating red giants, these stars are orbited by planets, which in turn are orbited by moons.

The war against encryption and privacy

encryption and privacy

Jim Killock talks to cryptographer Ben Laurie about the government plans to snoop on Internet communications when a court order is present

Most people’s first reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre was sympathy and solidarity in face of an assault on our liberty. But from British government, the second reaction was a call for new surveillance powers. David Cameron appeared to declare war on encryption, asking if ‘we want to allow a means of communication between two people which, even in extremis with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read?’ Cameron’s answer was ‘no, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe’.



If you’re anything like ourselves here at Custom PC, you probably carry a fair few gadgets around with you, from USB flash drives to portable batteries to charge your smartphone on the move. However, NAS enclosure manufacturer QNAP has come up with the QGenie, which it says will combine all these features and more in one device.

In addition to having its own internal 30GB of speedy flash storage, the QGenie also has a built-in 3,000mAh battery. This battery powers the device itself, but it can also be used to charge your smartphone or tablet. This capacity is enough to charge most modern smartphones from flat to full, and again to around 50 per cent.

Asus VivoMini UN62

Asus VivoMini UN62

There are plenty of ways to get a Windows PC that’s even smaller than a mini-ITX rig. Intel’s NUC motherboards provide Celeron, Core i3 and Core i5 integrated CPUs, and Intel has even released a USB flash drive-sized Windows 8.1 Compute Stick recently too. However, Asus has come up with its own take on the NUC with the VivoMini.

Inside, there’s an MCB that looks suspiciously like a NUC board. It’s the same size, and the two SODIMM memory slots and mSATA port are in roughly the same place too. However, on closer inspection, there are a few extra bits bolted on. The attractive case is peppered with ports. The front only sports an illuminated power button, but the side has two USB 3 ports, an SD card reader plus a Kensington lock, while the rear has an Ethernet port, two more USB 3 ports, a DisplayPort connector and HDMI port, as well as a DC input jack. There’s also a combined microphone/headphone jack.

Asus GeForce GTX 970 DirectCU Mini

Asus GeForce GTX 970 DirectCU Mini

While the GTX 970 and GTX 980 undoubtedly deliver on performance, Maxwell is really all about efficiency. Efficient computing means less power consumption and heat output, while still maintaining decent performance. In turn, you can then manage this heat with less bulky and quieter coolers. With its GTX 970 DirectCU Mini, Asus has fully taken advantage of Maxwell’s efficiency, offering one of the world’s most powerful GPUs in a dual-slot card that’s just 170mm long – the same length as a mini-ITX motherboard.

Thankfully, diminished size doesn’t equal diminished build quality. The card comes complete with a lovely metal backplate; it doesn’t offer any direct cooling to components, but it looks better through a window than a bare PCB, and it will still dissipate some heat. The main cooler shroud is formed from plastic, but it’s neither loose nor flimsy.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G

The GTX 960 sees Nvidia finally bringing its Maxwell architecture to the all-important mid-range market. It replaces GTX 760, but it’s designed more as an upgrade for GTX 660 and GTX 560 users, which still make up a large portion of the market. The GTX 960 starts at £160, and MSI’s card is one of the cheaper models at £170. It mainly competes with AMD’s R9 285 (£175) and R9 280 (£150).

The GTX 960 uses GM206, a new 28nm, 2.94 billion-transistor GPU with a 227mm2 die. It’s equipped with eight Maxwell streaming multiprocessors (SMMs) split evenly across two GPCs for a total of 1,024 stream processors and 64 texture units. By comparison, the GTX 660 has 960 stream processors and the GTX 760 actually has more (1,152), but the new, streamlined SMM design means each stream processor does approximately 1.4 times more work than those in an equivalent Kepler GPU. The GTX 960 has a reference base clock of 1,127MHz  (boost 1,178MHz), but MSI has overclocked it to 1,216MHz (boost 1,279MHz).

From idea to chart-topper


The truth behind app development

What differentiates an also-ran app from an all-time great? Stuart Andrews speaks to the professional app developers to find out

Is developing an app still a route to riches? Done right, and with luck, the answer remains a resounding yes. Annual app sales now account for roughly $20 billion of revenue across the Apple and Google app stores, and Gartner predicts cumulative revenue will hit $77 billion (£51 billion) by 2017.

Meanwhile, both Facebook and Google are hungry when it comes to acquisitions: in the past few months, we’ve seen Facebook buy WhatsApp for $19 billion (£13 billion), while Google has gobbled up travel-app developer Jetpac and translation specialist Quest Visual for undisclosed sums. Undisclosed, but undoubtedly very high.

Rise and shine

rise of the tomb raider

When we last saw Lara Croft, she was battered, bruised and barely alive. Two years later, Crystal Dynamics invites to meet a very different kind of hero…

Aflare fizzes to life and illuminates dripping icicles that line the cave like drool-covered teeth. Its holder is not the human-shaped bruise we last saw staggering from Yamatai, but a glimpse of the raider she once was: the bright-eyed explorer with money to burn, who travels to the world’s most dangerous corners in maximum comfort. Bloodied rags are swapped for expensive climbing gear and two shiny ice axes promise swift ascent up the glistening walls. A wise investment, after her last model was dulled by all the skulls she thunked it into. Lara Croft looks ready for anything.

Fatal Attraction

Mortal Kombat X

After rejuvenating the series with a nostalgia-heavy reboot, NetherRealm Studios is hoping to build a bright new future for the blood-soaked world of Mortal Kombat

Stepping into NetherRealm Studios for the first time, we weren’t sure what to expect from the office that the notoriously violent Mortal Kombat series calls home. Water coolers that dispense gushing blood? Work experience kids staggering around with no arms? Keyboard wrist rests fashioned from freshly severed spinal columns?

As it turns out, and probably for the best, NetherRealm’s Chicago office is more functional than ostentatious, with nary a hint of blood splatter or brain matter decorating its clean hallways and cubicles. Only the cabinets stuffed with trophies, plaques and merchandise samples hint that this is the building where the latest chapter in Mortal Kombat’s incredible legacy is being forged.