Google launches Stadia free tier with two months of Pro starting today

What a bargain: Goodbye invite codes — now anybody can create a Google Stadia account. Beginning today, anybody joining Stadia will get two free months of Pro and can cancel that subscription any time before the trial ends without being charged. If you do cancel, you can still use the service for free, but with lowered resolution and sound quality.

On Wednesday, Google finally rolled out the free version of its Stadia game-streaming service. All players need is a Gmail address and a compatible controller or keyboard and mouse. To celebrate the launch, it is offering two months of the Pro tier for free. If you are already a Stadia Pro subscriber, don’t feel left out. As part of the promotion, Google will not charge existing members for the next two months.

You don’t need an invite code anymore to open a Stadia account, but you will need to sign up for the free tier through the Google Stadia app for Android and iOS. Just hit “Get Started” and follow the prompts. When it asks for an invite code, tap “Continue without a code.”

Once in, it will ask you to set up your account information, such as your user name and avatar. After that, you will automatically be enrolled in Pro. After the promo period, your subscription will automatically renew at $10 per month, but you can opt-out at any time.

This two-month trial will be a perfect time to try out the service as well as give April’s free games a whirl. There are currently nine freebies to play.

  • Destiny 2: The Collection
  • GRID
  • Gylt
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
  • Serious Sam Collection
  • Spitlings
  • Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks)
  • Thumper

It is worth noting that once you switch back to the free tier, you will no longer have access to any of the free games, even if you have already claimed them during your Pro trial. However, you will keep any of the games purchased during your subscription, even if you downgrade to the basic service. You should also note that the perks of Stadia Pro like 4K gaming and Dolby 5.1 Surround will be downgraded to 1080p and stereo sound when switching to Stadia Free.

Speaking of which, Google mentioned that due to the increased traffic during the stay-at-home orders, it is switching Pro accounts to 1080p streaming by default. The switch is not a restriction, mind you, just a change to the Stadia settings. Users who wish to continue in 4K need only change the setting back via the Stadia app.

The free tier is not available in all regions. Google states that it has planned a staggered rollout over the next 48 hours in 14 countries. Users in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland can begin signing up within the next couple of days.

The Coronavirus pandemic has a strong influence on the way we use the Internet

In brief: The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant change in our relationship with technology, from the way we work and study to the way we get our news and entertainment fix. It turns out that having our computers close in hand makes us less likely to pick up our smartphones.

As of writing, the number of confirmed cases of infection with the novel Coronavirus is quickly approaching the 1.5 million mark. Countries around the world have been shutting down their borders, imposing travel restrictions and enacting lockdown orders for large urban centers, all of which have contributed to a large number of people being glued to their Internet-connected devices more than ever before.

During times of crisis, people’s lives follow different patterns of consumption, shopping habits, etc., and the need to stay connected and informed has contributed to a significant shift in how we use the Internet, among other things.

A new analysis from The New York Times that draws its data from SimilarWeb and Apptopia shows that Covid-19 is shaping the way we work, play, and communicate with each other.

As expected, videoconferencing and messaging apps have seen sizable increases in usage, which has propelled even less prominent services like Houseparty, Nextdoor.com, and Google Duo in a way that no marketing campaign could have possibly done in the span of just one month.

This perfectly highlights the need for more video platforms, as people are seeking new ways to connect with their families, friends, and co-workers. It’s also the perfect chance for these providers to learn how to serve a diverse set of needs before we overcome the pandemic and move back to connecting in real life.

Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Hangouts have become essential tools for people who work or study from home. But in the rush to scale up as quickly as possible, services like Zoom have revealed that the strategy of “move fast and break things” that is so entrenched in the culture of Silicon Valley companies has many downsides. The opportunity to grow fast is used by executives at the expense of the privacy and security of users.

Facebook and Google have seen their share of increased web traffic as well, even though the two companies won’t be able to profit from it. According to some estimates, the losses in advertising revenue will amount to $44 billion by the end of this year.

Local and national publications are becoming the preferred source of news for people looking to stay informed, whereas partisan sites like Infowars or Breitbart have seen virtually no increases in traffic.

A more interesting observation in the analysis is that people are flocking to YouTube and Netflix, but they do so on desktop browsers more than they do on the mobile apps. One possible reason could be data caps on mobile plans, with Internet providers like Comcast waiving limits on wired connections – a decision that might outlast the pandemic.

Before lockdown measures went into effect, people used their phones so much that the whole industry tried to churn more apps and games for tiny screens that fit inside our pockets. This pushed even game publishers like EA and Blizzard to disappoint millions of PC gamers by taking platform classics and turning them into mobile titles.

Now that more and more people barely leave their homes, some of these mobile projects are becoming victims of circumstance. An obvious example is the newly launched Quibi, which is a mobile-only platform that now has to compete for eyeballs with services like Disney+ that work on a variety of devices and screen sizes.

At the same time, apps like TikTok have seen no modification in their upward trajectory from before the Coronavirus outbreak. It will be interesting to see if the overall changes in our Internet habits are just a symptom of prolonged isolation or indicative of a bigger shift.

Masthead credit: Angelina Bambina

CXL Consortium and Gen-Z Consortium Announce MOU Agreement

The Compute Express Link (CXL) Consortium and Gen-Z Consortium today announced their execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), describing a mutual plan for collaboration between the two organizations. The agreement shows the commitment each organization is making to promote interoperability between the technologies, while leveraging and further developing complementary capabilities of each technology.

“CXL technology and Gen-Z are gearing up to make big strides across the device connectivity ecosystem. Each technology brings different yet complementary interconnect capabilities required for high-speed communications,” said Jim Pappas, board chair, CXL Consortium. “We are looking forward to collaborating with the Gen-Z Consortium to enable great innovations for the Cloud and IT world.”

Motherboard PCB

The MOU outlines the formation of common workgroups between both organizations to provide clear cooperation, defining bridging between the protocols while leveraging the strengths of both technologies.

CXL and Gen-Z are both memory semantic protocols (read/write) that enable high speed connectivity to processors, accelerators and memory expansion, resulting in unique architectural opportunities and benefits for implementers. These technologies make possible the low latency sharing of memory and storage resource pools among processing elements like CPUs, GPUs, AI Accelerators or FPGAs. CXL focuses on enabling coherent node-level computing, whereas Gen-Z focuses on fabric connectivity at the rack and row level.

“CXL and Gen-Z technologies work very well together, and this agreement facilitates collaboration between our organizations that will ultimately benefit the entire industry,” said Gen-Z Consortium President Kurtis Bowman. “We are excited for this new development toward advancing next-generation architectures.”

To participate in the common workgroups, a company must simultaneously be a Promoter or Contributor Member of the CXL Consortium, and a General or Associate Member of the Gen-Z Consortium. To join the CXL Consortium, visit www.computeexpresslink.org/join. Likewise, to join the Gen-Z Consortium, visit www.genzconsortium.org.

About the CXL Consortium

The CXL Consortium is an industry standards body dedicated to advancing Compute Express Link (CXL) technology. CXL is a high-speed interconnect offering coherency and memory semantics using high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity between the host processor and devices such as accelerators, memory buffers, and smart I/O devices. For more information or to join, visit www.computeexpresslink.org.

About the Gen-Z Consortium

Founded in 2017, the Gen-Z Consortium is an industry organization developing an open- systems fabric-based architecture designed to provide high-speed, low-latency, secure access to data and devices. The Gen-Z Consortium recently showcased live demonstrations of remote memory attached across a Gen-Z link. The Consortium is nearly 70 members strong and has released 11 specifications to the public, including the Core Specification 1.1. For more information or to join, visit www.genzconsortium.org.

Apple launches $50 million advance fund for indie record labels

The big picture: Apple has set up a $50 million fund to help independent record labels pay their artists and maintain operations during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. The funds will be covered by future earnings but for many, they need money right now and this helps achieve that goal.

The fund comes in the form of advances on future royalties and will be available to labels with a direct Apple Music distribution deal that meet a minimum quarterly threshold of $10,000 in Apple Music earnings.

Apple in an email sent to labels obtained by Rolling Stone said each advance will be based on a label’s past earnings. Cupertino added that the offer is being made in good faith that labels will channel the funds to artists and operations based on financial need.

The music industry is one of many that have suffered during the pandemic. Live music has been put on hold indefinitely, both small shows and large alike. South by Southwest was canceled last month while Coachella and the Beale Street Music Festival have both been rescheduled to October.

Many musicians are now turning to online platforms like Patreon to keep income coming in. Others like Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani are utilizing platforms like YouTube to share new music with their fans while some are leaning on crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe for relief.

Masthead credit: Andrew H. Walker, Jim Weber

Design a Cyberpunk 2077-themed PC case and you could win a monster gaming PC

In brief: If you’ve got an idea for a Cyberpunk 2077-themed PC case, now’s your chance to make it a reality—and win a high-end Alienware gaming PC or laptop in the process.

Cyberpunk 2077 dev CD Projekt Red has announced the Cyber-up Your PC contest, in which entrants have to submit concept case designs based on the Alienware Aurora chassis (below). You don’t need any experience in building cases; you just need to submit three images showing the font, back, sides, and top. These can be drawn on paper and scanned, or you can send in a screenshot of a 3D render, but submissions using pre-made case design software aren’t allowed.

There are a few rules entrants need to follow:

1. As part of the cyberpunk theme, one part of the design has to include reused/recycled material, such as an old circuit board as decoration.

2. The entry has to follow design guidelines, including basing it on the Aurora chassis. That means no hiding the loop light, Alienware head, or ventilation areas, and the side panels must be closed but can be modified for windows. Additionally, the design must feature a megacorporation logo or a gang logo from the game.

3. The case must also illustrate how the rich and poor in Night city live right next to each other.

The competition is open until May 17, after which the judges will pick the best five designs. These will be built by professional case modders, and a final winner will be picked.

The main prize is a Alienware Aurora PC featuring a 3rd-generation AMD Ryzen 16-core CPU and a Cyberpunk 2077-themed RTX 2080 Ti, which are going for over $4,250 on eBay. The best design also gets an Alienware mouse, mechanical keyboard, and 34-inch curved AW3420DW monitor. The four runners-up get an Alienware Area-51m laptop (Core i7-9700K, RTX 2080) and SteelSeries Arctis 1 headset.

Winners of the competition will be announced on social media on May 29.

Crucial P2 Announced: Company’s Second QLC M.2 NVMe Client SSD

Here’s the first picture of the Crucial P2, the company’s second M.2 NVMe client SSD series based on QLC NAND flash memory, and successor to the Crucial P1. The drive sticks to PCI-Express gen 3.0 x4 as its host interface, but increases sequential read speeds over the P1. Available in 250 GB and 500 GB models to begin with, the P2 offers sequential transfer rates of up to 2100 MB/s reads with up to 1150 MB/s writes for the 250 GB variant; and up to 2300 MB/s reads with up to 940 MB/s writes on the 500 GB variant. There’s no word on whether the P2 uses the same QLC NAND chips as the P1, but we do spy a DRAM cache chip. Endurance of the P2 is rated at 150 TBW, and Crucial is backing them with 5-year warranties when they come out in the near future. Pricing in Europe is expected to be about 59€ for the 250 GB model, and 70€ for the 500 GB one.

Update 15:54 UTC: Crucial launched the drive Stateside at $54.99 for the 250 GB model, and $64.99 for the 500 GB model. We’ve added more images.

Foxconn to manufacture ventilators at its Wisconsin factory

Why it matters: Foxconn, best known for manufacturing Apple’s iPhones, is partnering with medical device company Medtronic to produce ventilators at its controversial Wisconsin plant, helping address a global shortage of the machines, which are vital in the treatment of severe cases of Covid-19.

Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak revealed the partnership in an interview with CNBC, adding that the ventilators will be based on its PB-560 design and manufactured in the next four to six weeks.

Ishrak never said how many of the devices would be produced, but Foxconn, which confirmed the partnership today, said the companies hope to speed up production time so the ventilators can be put into use as soon as possible.

Fortune notes that Foxconn has been making face masks in China since February, while its subsidiary Sharp Corp. started producing them in Japan in March.

Since Foxconn chose Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, for its $10 billion manufacturing facility back in 2017, the site has been plagued by controversy. Environmentalists weren’t happy about plans to drain 7 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan every day, and the company missed job creation targets last year. In July 2019, it was revealed that the plant would open in 2020 with a workforce of just 1,500, or 320 short of what it needs to secure $4 billion in financial incentives from the state.

Foxconn previously announced that the Wisconsin plant would produce other items, including automated coffee- and tea-dispensing kiosks through a partnership with Texas-based Briggo, when it opens next month.

Several organizations are now manufacturing ventilators to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including Tesla, Ford, General Motors, MIT, Dyson, and more. The Mercedes F1 team, meanwhile, has created a breathing aid for patients.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person for the third year in a row

In context: Perhaps even more interesting are the overall metrics associated with the world’s billionaires. Covid-19 has taken a toll on global equity markets, wiping out massive fortunes in just a matter of weeks.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has topped Forbes’ annual list of the wealthiest people in the world for the third year in a row, even after giving ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos $36 billion worth of Amazon stock as part of their divorce settlement.

Forbes calculated Bezos’ net worth at $113 billion when its list was finalized on March 18.

Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates took the silver medal with a net worth of $98 billion. Other high-ranking tech titans include Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison at five with a net worth of $59 billion, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at number seven with $54.6 billion and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the 11 spot with a net worth of $52.7 billion.

Forbes counted 2,095 billionaires which is 58 fewer than last year and 226 fewer than just 12 days earlier when the list was originally compiled. Of those that made the cut, 51 percent are poorer than they were last year. Their collective net worth has fallen by about $700 billion since 2019.

Had the list been calculated today, or even in an alternate timeline where the Coronavirus didn’t happen, it might have looked vastly different than it actually does.

Image credit: leungchopan

Apple releases minor update for iOS and iPadOS

In brief: A few connectivity bugs had slipped through for some Apple users following the hefty update with iOS/iPadOS 13.4. Those have now seemingly been fixed in the latest 13.4.1 patch.

iPhone and iPad users were treated to a host of new and much-awaited features in iOS/iPadOS 13.4; however, the update also introduced a few bugs of its own, which Apple is now addressing in this minor iteration.

For both devices, users should now be able to participate in FaceTime calls with Mac users running OS X El Capitan 10.11.6 and earlier, as well as iPhones and iPads on iOS 9.3.6 and earlier. The patch also includes a fix for Bluetooth, which on iOS/iPadOS 13.4 would crash the Settings app when accessed via the quick actions menu on the home screen.

There’s also an additional bug fix for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th generation) and iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd generation) that should now turn on the flashlight when prompted from the Control Center or on the lock screen.

Although no mention of it has been made in the release notes, Apple might also have fixed a glaring VPN issue in this update, discovered in iOS 13.3.1 and still present on iOS 13.4. The vulnerability essentially prevents VPNs from encrypting all internet traffic on an iPhone/iPad by allowing existing connections to bypass the VPN tunnel.

In other update news, Apple followed in Google’s footsteps and has silently tweaked its Maps app to include a new food delivery category. The service is now prioritized along with pharmacies and medical facilities on top of in-app searches. The change could be regional but is aimed at helping users with the current lockdown situation.

ASUS Releases BIOS Updates for Radeon RX 5600 XT That Unlock 14 Gbps Memory On Select Cards

Back in January, AMD released its Radeon RX 5600 XT graphics card with a last-minute specifications update that made it competitive with NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card. It did so by increasing GPU clock speeds, and more importantly, increasing memory clock speeds to 14 Gbps up from 12 Gbps in the original spec. Various AMD add-in board (AIB) partners released one-click BIOS updates on January 22nd (find them for ASRock, Sapphire, MSI, PowerColor, and Gigabyte). An easy updater from ASUS was missing in action at the time. The company finally got around to releasing easy, Windows-based programs that update the video BIOS of its ROG Strix Radeon RX 5600 XT O6G and TUF Gaming RX 5600 XT EVO OC graphics cards. The BIOS updates run the video memory at 14 Gbps since the cards physically do feature 14 Gbps-rated memory chips. The specifications update has had a profound impact on the price-performance positioning of the RX 5600 XT, from being able to outperform the GTX 1660 Ti to trading blows with the RTX 2060. Grab the BIOS update from the links below.

DOWNLOAD: ASUS RX 5600 XT Easy BIOS Updates for ROG Strix RX 5600 XT O6G | TUF Gaming RX 5600 XT EVO OC


Source:
Andreas Schilling (Twitter)