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Acer ups its high-end game

After a tough year in the notebook market, Acer aims to claw back market share with dazzling new devices aimed at the high-end, mid-range and entry-level gamer market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The personal computer market took a beating in 2016, but few felt it as painfully as Acer. The Taipei-headquartered company renowned for its slim notebooks and elegant 2-in1 devices has seen its market share slip from more than 10 per cent five years ago to below 7 per cent last year.

It’s bad enough that global PC sales also slumped over this period, meaning that Acer had a declining share of a declining market. In 2017, Acer is aiming for a reversal of fortunes on all fronts.

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At the Next@Acer launch event in New York last week, it launched a gaming notebook that, to the serious gamer, is a thing of eye-watering beauty. The Predator Triton 700 drew gasps of approval from the media, not least for new cooling technology that enabled it to pack the most power yet seen in a gaming laptop of its size.

It is just 18mm thick, but includes a 15.6-inch Full High-Definition monitor, the kind of mechanical keyboard preferred by gamers, a powerful 7th Generation Intel Core processor, the latest Nvidia GeForce GTX 10-Series graphics card, and up to 32GB of memory.

Normally, much of the space in the chassis would be taken up by the powerful fans needed to cool such a machine. However, Acer has ploughed research and development into cooling, and has used the Triton 700 to showcase the innovative dual AeroBlade 3D metal fans that increase airflow by 35 per cent, yet take up less space within the device.

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And you can see the fans in action: in its quest to make the device distinctive, Acer has placed the trackpad behind the keyboard, in the form of a transparent glass plate. In other words, the trackpad is a window into the insides of the machine.

If the Triton 700 turns gamers’ heads, it is likely only because they have managed to wrench their attention away from the new jewels in Acer’s Predator range of gaming hardware. The New York event saw the unveiling of two new 27-inch Predator gaming monitors, each more eye-catching than the other.

The Predator X27 brings absurdly high resolution to the gaming experience, using Nvidia’s G-Sync high-dynamic range (HDR) technology. The screen resolution is four times that of regular high-definition, hence the term 4K used to describe it, and it used Quantum Dot technology for better colour accuracy. Most importantly for gamers, it features a 144 Hz refresh rate, almost consigning motion blur to history.

Only fellow-Taipei manufacturer Asus has made an equivalent monitor, turning the high-end gaming display market into a two-horse race, at least for now. But that’s not the only trick Acer had up its sleeve.

It also unveiled a 27-inch curved monitor, the Predator Z271UV, which it says “puts every corner of the screen at the same distance from the gamer’s eyes – this creates more immersive gameplay with a wider field of view and increased perceived area of peripheral vision”.

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It also features Quantum Dot, which Acer explains in similar terms to that used by TV manufacturers: “With a Quantum Dot film that is coated with nano-sized dots of various types that emit very specific colored lights, the new displays can produce a wider color gamut compared to standard monitors, increasing color purity and efficiency.”

According to Victor Chien, president of the Digital Display Business at Acer, this makes gameplay more lifelike than ever before.

“The Predator X27’s 4K resolution at 144 Hz and Acer HDR Ultra technology create dazzling visuals that must be seen to be believed,” he said. “Acer’s new Predator Z271UV will also thrill gaming enthusiasts with its rich color gamut and immersive curved display.”

Does it just look good, or does it make for better gameplay? Acer says of the

HDR technology: “It not only delivers a broader, more deeply saturated color gamut, but a luminance range several times greater than that of traditional dynamic range monitors. By dimming the backlight behind parts of the screen displaying black, blacks appear deeper and darker on those parts of the panel, a significant bonus for people who play games with darker scenes.”

The monitors include eye-tracking technology, designed to complement a traditional keyboard and mouse: the camera automatically rotates as the gamer focuses on the sides of the screen.

“Pairing eye tracking with mouse and keyboard or gamepad controls offers a richer, more immersive gaming experience as gamers are able to mimic actions that occur in real life, such as ducking for cover or aiming at a target,” says Acer. So far, a hundred games support eye tracking.

Acer also announced a new entry-level laptop for casual gamers, but it is unlikely to be released in South Africa, with its small but hard-core gamer community. However, The Predator Triton 700 will arrive before long, at a price that is as eye-watering as the device: R34 999. Only serious gamers need apply.

A slightly more accessible device, the Predator Helios 300, also announced during Next@Acer, will arrive later in the year, starting at R25 999.

Designed for both gaming and movie watching, it offers 15.6-inch or 17.3-inch Full HD displays, while Dolby Audio Premium and Acer TrueHarmony promise “immersive audio with crisp, rich acoustics”. Running on Windows 10, it is certified for Skype for Business an includes Microsoft’s voice-activated Cortana smart assistant application.

Most of the new products were demonstrated in the IMAX theatre at New York’s Lincoln Square, featuring the largest IMAX screen in the world. While the message was not spelled out, it was clear that Acer hoped it would symbolise the company going large once again.

* For more information, visit www.acer.com/nextatacer

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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