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Gaming monsters coming for you

As eSports takes off professionally and gaming becomes more serious for young and old, new machines from Acer take performance to new levels, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Around May every year, Taipei-headquartered computer-maker Acer invades New York City with its latest machines. Every year, too, it raises the bar on its gaming machines, as it pursues market share in this high-margin sector.

At its next@acer global press conference in New York last week, it launched a series of specialist machines that can only be described as gaming monsters. Appropriately, they all came with branding of the Predator range, underlining their purpose as weapons of gaming war.

The new Predator Orion 5000 desktops offer both high performance and an adaptable chassis. The message? You can adapt and expand this machine as your need – and competitiveness – grows. The slogan Acer used for it at the launch left the audience in no doubt about the intention of the machine, both in the marketing war and in users’ own wars: “Win the battle”.

The Predator Orion range can be customised based on budget, which is just as well, since the 5000 starts at US$1500. That’s quite accessible for serious gamers in the USA, but in South Africa will translate into well over R20 000 when it arrives in the second half of the year. The top of the range version will cost around R30-40 000, and is expected to have niche appeal among serious gamers. 

It comes with an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8700K processor, along with the Intel Z370 chipset, and 2-way NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphic cards in SLI. This allows both exceptionally high-resolution graphics and a decent virtual reality experience. 

According to Steve Long, vice president of client computing group sales and marketing at Intel, “The 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8700K is the best desktop gaming Intel has ever built and, when combined with the acceleration and responsiveness offered by Intel Optane memory, the result is incredible performance needed for the most demanding gaming experiences.”

He said that Intel collaborated closely with Acer to bring this performance to life on the Predator Orion 5000 and 3000 gaming desktops.

The monsters are designed for showing off too, thanks to transparent side panels on the chassis. The panels also open easily to allow users to swop out components and cables for quick upgrades. 

One of the biggest challenges of high-end rigs, heat dissipation, is addressed with a technology called IceTunnel 2.0, an airflow management design that segments the system into separate thermal zones, each expelling heat through its own  airflow tunnel. Another challenge, of dust being sucked in as the machine pulls in air, is warded off with a front mesh panel containing dust filters. 

The hard-core gamer can also opt for Killer LAN high-speed Ethernet, cradles for audio headsets, and even a carry-handle for portability.

“Getting the specs right is just half the fight,” said Jeff Lee, general manager for stationary computing at Acer. “Predator Orion desktops provide a well-rounded choice for gamers with a striking chassis, built-in airflow management, expandability, and award-winning software that brings everything together.”

To this end, a slightly scaled-down series, the Predator Orion 3000, offers wider choice for the more budget conscious, starting at around US$1000. For the beginner, however, it will be hard to tell the difference in performance between the two. The 3000 also offers options that include 8th Gen Intel Core i7processors and  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs. However, it is described as VR- ready rather than supporting VR out of the box.

Next: The Predator laptops (click on 2 below to read on)

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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