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NVIDIA’s RTX 3000 cards make counting teraflops pointless

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Teraflops have been a popular way to measure “graphical power” for years. The term refers to the number of calculations a GPU can perform, but while it’s been on spec sheets forever, more recently the teraflop has gone mainstream, appearing in marketing messages found in the launch of consoles like the Xbox Series X. With GPU core counts reaching five figures, it’s nice to have a simple point of comparison. Unfortunately, teraflops have never been less useful.

The term teraflop comes from FLOPs, or “floating-point operations per second,” which simply means “calculations that involve decimal points per seconds.” Tera means trillion, so put together teraflops means “trillion floating-point operations per second.”

The most popular GPU among Steam users today, NVIDIA’s venerable GTX 1060, is capable of performing 4.4 teraflops, the soon-to-be-usurped 2080 Ti can handle around 13.5 and the upcoming Xbox Series X can manage 12. These numbers are calculated by taking the number of shader cores in a chip, multiplying that by the peak clock speed of the card and then multiplying that by the number of instructions per clock. In contrast to many figures we see in the PC space, it’s a fair and transparent calculation, but that doesn’t make it a good measure of gaming performance.

Almost every GPU family arrives with these generational gains

AMD’s RX 580, a 6.17-teraflop GPU from 2017, for example, performs similarly to the RX 5500, a budget 5.2-teraflop card the company launched last year. This sort of “hidden” improvement can be attributed to many factors, from architectural changes to game developers making use of new features, but almost every GPU family arrives with these generational gains. That’s why the Xbox Series X, for example, is expected to outperform the Xbox One X by more than the “12 versus 6 teraflop” figures suggest. (Ditto for the PS5 and the PS4 Pro.)

The point is that, even within the same GPU company, with each year, changes in the ways chips and games are designed make it harder to discern what exactly “a teraflop” means to gaming performance. Take an AMD card and an NVIDIA card of any generation and the comparison has even less value.

All of which brings us to the RTX 3000 series. These arrived with some truly shocking specs. The RTX 3070, a $500 card, is listed as having 5,888 cuda (NVIDIA’s name for shader) cores capable of 20 teraflops. And the new $1,500 flagship card, the RTX 3090? 10,496 cores, for 36 teraflops. For context, the RTX 2080 Ti, as of right now the best “consumer” graphics card available, has 4,352 “cuda cores.” NVIDIA, then, has increased the number of cores in its flagship by over 140 percent, and its teraflops capability by over 160 percent.

Well, it has, and it hasn’t.

NVIDIA cards are made up of many “streaming multiprocessors,” or SMs. Each of the 2080 Ti’s 68 “Turing” SMs contain, among many other things, 64 “FP32” cuda cores dedicated to floating-point math and 64 “INT32” cores dedicated to integer math (calculations with whole numbers).

The big innovation in the Turing SM, aside from the AI and ray-tracing acceleration, was the ability to execute integer and floating-point math simultaneously. This was a significant change from the prior generation, Pascal, where banks of cores would flip between integer and floating-point on an either-or basis.

NVIDIA

The RTX 3000 cards are built on an architecture NVIDIA calls “Ampere,” and its SM, in some ways, takes both the Pascal and the Turing approach. Ampere keeps the 64 FP32 cores as before, but the 64 other cores are now designated as “FP32 and INT32.” So, half the Ampere cores are dedicated to floating-point, but the other half can perform either floating-point or integer math, just like in Pascal.

With this switch, NVIDIA is now counting each SM as containing 128 FP32 cores, rather than the 64 that Turing had. The 3070’s “5,888 cuda cores” are perhaps better described as “2,944 cuda cores, and 2,944 cores that can be cuda.”

As games have become more complex, developers have begun to lean more heavily on integers. An NVIDIA slide from the original 2018 RTX launch suggested that integer math, on average, made up about a quarter of in-game GPU operations.

The downside of the Turing SM is the potential for under-utilization. If, for example, a workload is 25-percent integer math, around a quarter of the GPU’s cores could be sitting around with nothing to do. That’s the thinking behind this new semi-unified core structure, and, on paper, it makes a lot of sense: You can still run integer and floating-point operations simultaneously, but when those integer cores are dormant, they can run floating-point instead.

[This episode of Upscaled was produced before NVIDIA explained the SM changes.]

At NVIDIA’s RTX 3000 launch, CEO Jensen Huang said the RTX 3070 was “more powerful than the RTX 2080 Ti.” Using what we now know about Ampere’s design, integer, floating-point, clock speeds and teraflops, we can see how things might pan out. In that “25-percent integer” workload, 4,416 of those cores could be running FP32 math, with 1,472 handling the necessary INT32.

Coupled with all the other changes Ampere brings, the 3070 could outperform the 2080 Ti by perhaps 10 percent, assuming the game doesn’t mind having 8GB instead of 11GB memory to work with. In the absolute (and highly unlikely) worst-case scenario, where a workload is extremely integer-dependent, it could behave more like the 2080. On the other hand, if a game requires very little integer math, the boost over the 2080 Ti could be enormous.

Guesswork aside, we do have one point of comparison so far: a Digital Foundry video comparing the RTX 3080 to the RTX 2080. DF saw a 70 to 90 percent lift across generations in several games that NVIDIA presented for testing, with the performance gap higher in titles that utilize RTX features like ray tracing. That range gives a glimpse of the sort of variable performance gain we’d expect given the new shared cores. It’ll be interesting to see how a larger suite of games behaves, as NVIDIA is likely to have put its best foot forward with the sanctioned game selection. What you won’t see is the nearly-3x improvement that the jump from the 2080’s teraflop figure to the 3080’s teraflop figure would imply.

With the first RTX 3000 cards arriving in weeks, you can expect reviews to give you a firm idea of Ampere performance soon. Though even now it feels safe to say that Ampere represents a monumental leap forward for PC gaming. The $499 3070 is likely to be trading blows with the current flagship, and the $799 3080 should offer more-than enough performance for those who might previously have opted for the “Ti.” However these cards line up, though, it’s clear that their worth can no longer be represented by a singular figure like teraflops.

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Amazon's new Echo Show 10's screen follows you around the room – MobileSyrup

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Amazon has improved the Echo Show 10 in a few critical ways.

The first and most obvious change is a new design that looks like a screen attached to a cylinder speaker. What makes this interesting is that it can swivel in a 360-degree loop to follow the user around the room.

The Echo Show 10 also works as a Zigbee and Sidewalk hub, so it should allow people to connect a wide variety of smart home devices to it.

Since the screen features a 10-megapixel camera for video chatting, Amazon has repurposed it to be a security camera. That means when you are using your phone, you can look through the Echo Show’s camera to see what’s going on in the room it’s placed in.

Much like Facebook’s Portal smart devices, the camera on the Show 10 can also zoom in on users to crop and follow them around the room while they’re video chatting.

The Echo Show 10 starts at $329. The smart speaker’s release date has not been revealed.

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Epic, Spotify, and others take on Apple with “Coalition for App Fairness” – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / Major developers are sick and tired of Apple’s rules and they’ve made a website about it.

Exactly how much power app store owners should have over developers has been a contentious issue lately, and now several high-profile app developers are banding together to form the “Coalition for App Fairness.” The group describes itself as “an independent nonprofit organization founded by industry-leading companies to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.”

Just about every app developer that has publicly clashed with Apple in the past few months is among the 13 founding members of the coalition. They include Epic Games, which had the smash-hit game Fortnite banned from the App Store for implementing its own in-app payment system; Spotify, which filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU over Apple’s 30 percent cut of sales; ProtonMail, whose CEO said Apple was holding developers “hostage” with the 30 percent fee; and also Basecamp, which called Apple’s policies “exploitative” after updates to its Hey email app were blocked for using the same non-Apple billing technique that Netflix uses.

The coalition has a website, AppFairness.org, that lays out its demands. The website exclusively targets Apple’s App Store with three main issues: anti-competitive policies that favor Apple’s apps over competitors, the 15-30 percent fee in the app store being too high, and Apple’s ban on competing app stores and payment methods.

The founding members of the group.
The founding members of the group.

The group compares Apple’s 30 percent fee to the 5 percent cut charged from “other payment providers” like credit card companies, and it also says Apple charges “600% more.” An app store is more than just a payment provider since it handles hosting, SDK and app store development, app screening, and support. But it’s hard to look at Apple’s $15 billion in App Store revenue and claim the company can’t afford to charge less.

The group is based in Washington, DC, suggesting there will be some lobbying in its future. The site hints at this, saying “As enforcers, regulators, and legislators around the world seek to address these important issues, we, the Coalition for App Fairness, urge them to recognize that every app developer, regardless of size or the nature of the developer’s business, is entitled to fair treatment.”

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Amazon Luna, Alexa, Echo, Fire TV and Ring event: Everything announced – CNET

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Screenshot by CNET

Today’s event helps Amazon generate buzz as we roll into the holiday shopping season, and for the first time, Prime Day (The annual sale is usually held in July, but this year is slated to start on Oct. 13.) That means Alexa everywhere and addressing privacy concerns, which were a big storyline in 2019 for both Ring and Alexa. In a life-at-home existence, with millions of us hunkered down for the long haul, the connected house concepts that Amazon has been developing for years have become more critical than ever. This year, Amazon will likely work to address the unique needs of today’s customers while keeping an eye toward a post-pandemic future. And you never know when Amazon will pull a suprise microwave out of its hat.

The event, which started at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, is invite-only, but you can follow our real-time Twitter feed and coverage across CNET.

The company’s Echo and Fire TV products will be its first to earn sustainability badges and it’s’ working on reducing power consumption across devices with a new low-power mode, an energy dashboard integrated with Alexa and its pledging to build solar and wind farms to generate energy that matches the consumption of all its devices.

Amazon Luna

$6/month

The company launches a cloud-gaming service on top of Amazon Web Services that runs on PCs, Fire TVs and more (on a Luna Plus game channel). 

It has a custom $50 controller that connects directly to the cloud rather than the local device.

Amazon gets into game streaming with Luna

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Amazon

Echo

$100

Redesigned with a new spherical shape and adapts to the acoustics of the room. It’s also a Sidewalk bridge and includes neural network technology to accelerate tasks.

Echo Dot 4th gen

$50

Gets the same redesign as the spherical Echo.

Echo Dot Kids Edition 2020 

Gets the same redesign as the spherical Echo, and now has a $60 kids edition with some kid-friendly features, including voice profiles for them and Sidekick, which lets Alexa read to them.

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Amazon

Amazon announces revamped Echo Dot with Clock speaker

Echo Dot with clock

$60

The Dot. With a clock.

Eero 6

$130

Amazon’s mesh network, now with Wi-Fi 6 and ZigBee support.

Amazon unveils new Eero mesh routers that support Wi-Fi 6

Eero Pro 6

$230

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Screenshot by CNET

‘Alexa, I’m getting pulled over,’ Ring debuts dashcam with Traffic Stop mode

Ring Car Connect

$200

Debuting with Tesla.

Ring’s flying Always Home Cam robot camera monitors more of your home

Ring Always Home Cam

$250

Autonomous camera that can fly within your home on a preprogrammed route or fly to a motion detection area.

Amazon announces the Echo Show 10

Echo Show 10

$250

It now has Zigbee and Sidewalk hubs, and is much quieter. There’s a built-in camera shutter. All Echo and Alexa’s will have a command to review privacy settings and “delete everything I’ve ever said.” It will also support Hulu, Netflix and Prime Video.

Fire TV Stick Lite streamer costs $30 basic version, $40 for the 4K version

Fire TV Stick

$40

It’s more powerful than before but uses less power.

Fire TV Stick Lite

$30


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