Friday, March 26, 2010

Hummingbird vs Snapdragon: the 1 Ghz smartphone showdown

NOTE: This article has been officially hosted at For a better reading experience, you may want to view the article here!

If you follow smartphone technology at all, you're sure to have heard of the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It's the reigning smartphone CPU heavyweight; a 1 GHz processor packed with a multitude of features, based upon the same ARM CPU technology that modern smartphones such as the Droid, Palm Pre, Nokia N900 and iPhone 3GS use. However, unlike those processors, the Snapdragon runs at 1 GHz while the others run at 600 MHz and under, and thus has become the chip of choice for premium smartphones.

The Snapdragon SoC (System on a Chip) has appeared on the market in several devices recently. The most well-known example is probably the Google Nexus One, though it had already appeared in a previous device, the HTC HD2. The HD2, released November 11th 2009, had a Snapdragon processor as well as a massive 4.3-inch display (diagonally measured), and received rave reviews that almost unanimously ended with one major complaint: the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. It’s an operating system largely unchanged from its predecessors and prone to software problems. In addition, to really make good use of the processing power of the phone, applications needed to exist that made use of that power, and the majority of applications written for Microsoft’s mobile OS just didn’t take advantage. The industry begged for an HD2 with Google’s Android mobile operating system, and HTC responded that it wasn’t going to happen.

But then Sprint announced the HTC EVO 4G at the CTIA 2010 trade show, and the mobile industry collectively went wild. Here was the phone everyone had been dreaming of; a 4.3-inch display and 1 GHz Snapdragon like the HD2, as well as a deployable kickstand, 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera, HDMI port, and 4G WiMAX connectivity. The HD2 had essentially been reborn, new and improved, for the Android OS. Judging by the limelight cast upon the EVO 4G by the mobile enthusiast community, the EVO 4G is positioned to become one of the best selling smartphones of the year.

However, another device debuted at CTIA 2010 that was largely overshadowed by the launch of the EVO 4G: the Samsung GT-i9000 Galaxy S. This new phone, in contrast, has a 4-inch Super AMOLED display (more on that later), 5MP rear camera, 0.3MP front camera, (GSM/HSPDA) 3G/3.5G connectivity… and was mentioned almost as an afterthought to contain Samsung’s own 1 GHz processor. Samsung spent a lot of time at CTIA 2010 talking about the Super AMOLED display, and in contrast only a few moments disclosing details on the new SoC, stating that it has over 3x better performance than the leading competition (referring to graphics performance), and bests all other smartphone processors on the market today. Only later was it confirmed that the SoC was Samsung’s new 45 nm “Hummingbird” platform, the only production 1 GHz ARM processor thus far to challenge Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.

When the news of these phones hit the tech blogs, nearly all of the attention went to the HTC EVO 4G. The EVO 4G was what many had been waiting for, and the Samsung was typically given hardly a second glance. But let’s take a moment to really compare the hardware of these two Android 2.1 smartphones, and then we’ll even go a bit deeper into how the SoCs actually stack against one another when it comes to CPU and GPU processing power.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How To: Hack a driver to support your hardware

Okay, so for some reason or another you want to install a driver that doesn't officially support your hardware. Maybe it's a (much cooler) driver for a competitor's product, maybe you can't find the driver and you happen to have another driver for a similar device, etc.

So whatever your reasons are, this is possible, though the results can't be guaranteed. Hardware has plenty of differences that require a very specific driver to ensure that it works properly. But if you don't have any other option, read on to find out how to hack support for your hardware into a driver!

Adobe demos its new Content Aware feature; your Graphic Design degree is now worthless.

The best way to understand this is to watch it. This new tool allows an Adobe product to do what would take hours of manual, painstaking work in seconds.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sprint debuts the HTC EVO 4G: blows our minds.

Sprint's new 4G WiMAX-capable superphone has been announced, and currently outspecs any other phone on the market.

Packed into a slim package, this Android phone running 2.1 (with Sense) has a 4.3-inch-across capacitive multi-touch display, a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, an 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP forward-facing VGA camera, shoots 720p HD video, has mini-USB and HDMI outputs, has 512 megs of RAM, a 1 GB internal drive (with microSD slot for expandability), full Flash support, can function as a mobile 3G/4G connected WiFi hotspot, will come with mobile TV support, and even has a deployable kickstand for your viewing pleasure.

It suffers only one flaw: it's on Sprint!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How To: Cracking a boot-time Supervisor password on an IBM ThinkPad

I've been doing laptop repair for a while now, and most of what I end up doing is opening a laptop up and cleaning out a heatsink to prevent overheating problems.

I do run into a fair share of problems like DVD drives that won't close, power jacks that have come unsoldered, displays that have been cracked / have daiquiris dumped on them, (there is such a thing as partying too hard), keyboard replacement, etc.

But a few months back I had an interesting request: unlocking an older IBM ThinkPad that had a boot-time supervisor password preventing access.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Driver hacking is serious business!

Look what just made big news on engadget:

Old news for me... the guy that did this back in March of 2009 is the fellow who inspired me to try hacking my ELAN touch-pad drivers.

Guess I should get crackin', huh? Now that it's got media attention, someone is going to try beating me to cracking open the ELAN drivers!

UPDATE: Actually, I'm wrong. These are WHQL drivers released by HP that happen to have a set of hardware profiles in its .INF file that support just about every Synaptics multi-touch device. See my guide on hacking drivers for more info!

NVIDIA's new GPU architecture: Fermi

In line with my latest news item, I encourage those of you out there who are interested to check out this excellent article on NVIDIA's new "Fermi" GPU architecture by AnandTech:

It sheds a lot of light on what NVIDIA is trying to do to compete with ATI right now. They seem to be banking heavily on tessellation performance, but whether or not game developers will actually take full advantage of it remains to be seen. More articles (including a great article that compares ATI and NVIDIA architectures) as well as my take past the break.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Apple vs HTC: The Empire Strikes Back

Okay. Let me make it perfectly clear; I'm not a fan of Apple. It's not really anything to do with their products, but the way they do business. They produce attractive, slick, intuitive devices. But they heavily control everything that the devices do, where they can download content from, use proprietary formats and lock the user out of options that would allow them to experience media not directly sold to them by Apple. On top of that, they charge a premium for their products (when it comes to comperable performance from competitors), and utilize an elitist ad campaign that focuses on bashing the competition instead of extolling the virtues of the product.

I have an intense dislike for companies like these. These "Nike"s of the digital age stress branding more than product quality or value, and rope users into a system by which they can continue to milk them for cash.

The one I least hate right now, is Google. They make money off of advertising, and while I would certainly prefer a world without ads, they're here to stay. Some people are concerned with their privacy on the internet, but frankly, if you're concerned about privacy, you shouldn't be on the internet. I've got nothing to hide, and if it means that the ads that pop up in front of me are for tech or IT products instead of creams for "feminine itch", I'm fine with that; and I won't be clicking on either regardless.

But back to the subject at hand, Apple suing HTC. They're doing it because they can strike at Google's Android without actually having to take on the search giant directly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Current Project: Multi-touch on my laptop touch-pad...

I'm trying to hack a set of neutered touch-pad drivers to support multi-touch again. If you're interested, read past the break...

VBA in Excel, underused?

I just wrote up an application in VBA for Excel that does about 30 minutes worth of work in about 15 seconds. The sad thing is, people have been doing this process monthly for years... it seems to me that most companies don't realize that VBA in Excel can automate a lot of mundane tasks.

First blog...

Alright, so I've decided to give having my own personal blog page a go. I am, Sean-The-Electrofreak, apparently.