15th > October > 2001 Archive

AMD ships 1.53GHz Athlon MP

AMD announced three faster Athlon MP processors this morning, as we predicted a wee while back, running at 1.33, 1.40 and 1.53GHz, respectively. And - surprise, surprise - the new parts are named according to AMD's new relative performance naming scheme. Last week, AMD's PC processor chief, Dirk Meyer, said the company would be bringing the new model numbers, introduced with the desktop Athlon XP, to its other processor. We had been expecting the MPs to ship ahead of the XP - which launched last week - but the dates are close enough (AMD sources have said in the past precise launch times are something of a moveable feast) and, in any case, it makes sense to launch the new MPs after the XP, so AMD can follow up its XP-centred QuantiSpeed marchitecture launch by admitting the MP contained that 'technology' all along. Faster the new Athlon MPs may be, but they still don't appear to have brought AMD closer to any major design contracts than their 1.2GHz predecessor did. AMD clearly hopes their performance advantage will help - the company claims a dual 1.53GHz machine is 23 per cent faster than a two-CPU 1.7GHz Xeon-based box. But as one workstation maker told us t'other week: "What's the yardstick? I can show you applications under which a dual 1.2GHz Athlon MP beats a dual 1.7GHz Xeon system hands down. But I can also show other apps where it underperforms compared to the Xeon. So does that make it a 1600+ or a 1700+ model?" The 1.33, 1.4 and 1.53GHz Athlon MPs are priced at $180, $210 and $302, respectively, and their model numbers are 1500+, 1600+ and 1800+. ® Bootnote AMD is also expected to spill the beans about its Hammer 64-bit processor family today - this afternoon, California-time, to be precise. Check back with The Reg for a full update. Related Stories AMD to bring performance ratings to other CPUs AMD confirms QuantiSpeed marchitecture slogan Speed-bumped AMD Athlon MP to launch next month
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

MS-Gov talks fail, mediator appointed

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kottelly has appointed a mediator in a final attempt to squeeze an agreed antitrust settlement out of Microsoft and the US government team. To no-one's great surprise the two sides reported on Friday that they'd hadn't been able to agree on their own, and Judge Kollar-Kottelly issued an order, released on Saturday, putting the mediator in place. Dispute-resolution specialist Eric D Green is at least something the two sides agreed on. The judge's order says he was jointly proposed by them, and he has until 2nd November to persuade them to come up with a solution. Which does seem a tad unlikely, given the lack of progress so far. Failing that, it'll be back to the court on 11th March for hearings on the penalties to be imposed by the judge herself. Meanwhile, the EU antitrust action is cranking onward. Microsoft has been given a little more time to answer the Commission's statement of objections, which leaked messily last week, but aural hearing may kick off as early as December. ® Related Stories: Leaked EU papers signal guilty verdict, vast fine for MS
John Lettice, 15 Oct 2001

Tempers cool in Pay to Play Web row

The W3C has invited Bruce Perens and Free Software Foundation counsel Eben Moglen to join the next round of debate on whether to allow companies the right to charge for using future web standards that come under its proposed 'RAND' license. The two are to join the W3C's Patent Policy working group, as "invited experts", the W3C announced late on Friday. Membership of the group is currently drawn from W3C staff or $5,000 a head members, which means views from the free software community and citizens rights groups don't get heard. Although it should be pointed out that Danny Weitzner, chair of the PPWG, was a patent policy advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Perens was most vocal when the W3C's intention to bless pay-to-play emerged, promising to "fork" the web by encouraging alternatives royalty-free web standards. The news drew a cautious welcome from Linux kernel developer Daniel Philips, who helped lead the charge against RAND licenses on the W3C PPWG mailing list, and in these pages. In all, the W3C received 2,000 comments, almost all fiercely critical, and Weitzner confirmed that after these have been digested, a second draft policy paper will be pubished. Which way now? Of the two thousand comments, one crept in from Apple at the very death of the extended consultation period, but it's a highly significant comment. Apple manages to look both ways: after declaring that it prefers royalty-free licenses for web technology, it goes on to defend its right not to royalty-bearing technologies to the W3C. This is how it has always been, with the market leader du jour (in browsers, it was Netscape, now it's Microsoft) preferring to go its own way on bleeding edge technology. With its tiny market share, Apple is a negligible influence on the most end-users but a significant player in vertical multimedia markets, which represent an area where the W3C wants to be playing if it's to remain relevant. So while an Apple can't disrupt consumers in the way that a Microsoft can, by implementing non standard http or html extensions for example, it does mean that much of the W3C's multimedia work can be stalled, or rendered (no pun intended) marginal. Plus ca change, there then. But while Apple and Adobe can carry on with business as usual, IBM is left with some awkward decisions. It was Big Blue, remember, that asked for the traditional W3C royalty-free model to be supplemented with RAND licenses, with its own SOAP submissions the primary concern. This sits at odds with IBM's much vaunted pitch to compete on implementation and services rather than competing standards, and so persuading IBM to drop the royalty-option on its XML work will be the key political battle in the W3C in the coming weeks. ® Related Stories IBM risks billion dollar Linux strategy with W3C RAND demands W3C denies misleading world+dog on RAND license status We'll fork the Web to keep it Free - Perens W3C defends RAND license The free Web's over, as W3C blesses Net patent taxes
Andrew Orlowski, 15 Oct 2001

Transmeta announces 1GHz integrated graphics Crusoe 6000

Transmeta hasn't got its long-awaited and much-anticipate 1GHz Crusoe TM5800 processor out of the door yet, but it's already announcing its next chip, the TM6000. Intriguingly, the 6000 is also expected to ship at 1GHz. Transmeta announced the 5800 last summer, but running at 800MHz and not the gigahertz frequency many observers and investors had anticipated, based on promises the company made in the past. Indeed, so annoyed were some Transmeta shareholders by the 1GHz chip's no-show, they launched class action suits against the company and its management, alleging the chip maker's chiefs had made false promises to talk up the stock price. At the 5800 launch, Transmeta promised a 1GHz part in the first half of 2002. However, the 6000 is due to ship in the second half of next year, something of a delay if Transmeta skips the 1GHz 5800 for the same-speed 6000. In light of the lawsuits and the promises the company has already made, we'd be surprised if the 1GHz 5800 doesn't make it to market sometime in the first six months of 2002. But back to the 6000. Full details of the part will be announced this afternoon (California time) at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose. The Register is there, and will be reporting on the launch in full in due course. What we can say for now, from pre-launch details 'leaked' to Bloomberg by Transmeta CTO Dave Ditzel is that the part will feature an on-board graphics controller and - we reckon - south-bridge functionality too. Transmeta's CPUs already sport on-die north-bridge technology. Ditzel claims the 6000 will draw 44 per cent less power than the 5000-series, in part due to better power management but mostly because the part will be fabbed at 0.10 micron (we suspect). The 800MHz 5800 is fabbed at 0.13 micron, but with a higher clock speed, more transistors for extra cache and the graphics controller, we reckon the 6000 will need something more than better power management to produce a 44 per cent reduction on energy consumption. And the new chip will be fabbed by TSMC, which has been extending (or should that be 'shrinking'?) the envelope on processor fabrication technology for some time. We also wonder if it will be the first part to contain AMD x86-64 technology. Transmeta licensed the instruction set architecture (ISA) last May, and AMD is due to reveal all about the technology today - at the same venue as Transmeta will unveil the 6000. ® Related Stories AMD, Intel, Transmeta, VIA to go into launch frenzy on 15 October Transmeta hit with second securities fraud class action Transmeta sued over Crusoe performance claims Transmeta unveils 0.13 micron Crusoes Transmeta licenses AMD Hammer technology
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

NTL to lose 8,200 jobs

UpdateUpdate NTL is to shed 8,200 jobs by the end of next year in a bid to reduce its massive £12 billion debt mountain, according to the FT. Chief exec, Barclay Knapp, told analysts last week that the job cuts would save £275 million. It also plans to increase the average amount of cash it gets from each customer from £39 a month to £46 a month by the end of next year. The cableco currently has just under three million punters although its network passes more than eight million homes. No one from NTL was available for comment by press time. ® Related Link NTL looks to job cuts and price increases - FT
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 2001

Shot in the ARM

Increased licensing revenue allowed UK chip designer ARM to post an upbeat third quarter results scorecard today. Quarter-on-quarter revenue growth from Q2 was up four per cent (representing a 42 per cent rise from Q3 2000 to £37.6 million. This brought profit (before tax) to £12.9 million, which is up 46 per cent from Q3 2000. The company signed up a bundle of new licensing deals in the quarter, allowing it to post results from that sector of its business that doubled up on last year's numbers. Its customers and partners include Intel, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Symbian. Royalty figures remained static from the previous quarter and down 12 per cent on last year, while consultancy revenues dropped to £4.1 million (from £5.1 million) as well. ARM provides RISC processors that end up inside a wide array of products ranging from PDAs to car navigation systems. ®
James Watson, 15 Oct 2001

Palm still very strong in US retail arena

The Palm OS continues to command the lion's share of the PDA market, at least as far as the US retail sector goes. The platform accounted for 82.5 per cent of the handhelds sold online and in stores during August, while PocketPC took 13 per cent of the market, according to the latest numbers from NPD Intelect. Overall, the retail PDA market grew 10.4 per cent during August, the company reports. Not a bad sign, that, given the state of the economy, but in August, consumer spending was still high, thanks to falling interest rates and Dubya's tax rebate. With US consumer spending falling 2.4 per cent last month, in the wake of the events of 11 September, don't expect that level of growth to continue. Palm's lead was maintained in August, but its overall marketshare fell, gobbled up by the rising star of the PDA market, Sony. Palm took 51.2 per cent of the market, based on the number of machines it sold. Handspring came second with 19.5 per cent and Sony third with 10.4 per cent. This time last year Sony had zero marketshare. Handspring has grown just a few percentage points during the same period, so it needs to watch Sony's rise probably more than Palm does. Indeed, with brandname proving the biggest draw for consumers during August, Sony is in a very good position to grow its marketshare over the coming quarters, possibly even eclipsing Palm itself. Around 31 per cent of the buyers NPD Intelect surveyed said they'd chosen which PDA to buy on the basis of its brand. Possessing the latest technology and the features offered, drove just 19.5 per cent and 12.9 per cent of buyers, respectively. Only ten per cent were primarily driven by cost - good news (again) for Sony, whose PDAs are among the more expensive. Meanwhile, PocketPC players Compaq and Casio both accounted for 8.3 per cent of the market and 4.3 per cent, respectively, showing the success of the iPaq - in the retail space at least - is, like Sony, coming at the expense of rival Windows CE players rather than rival platforms. However, the relatively high price of the iPaq - plus the price-fighting in the Palm OS arena - drove down Palm OS' share of the market by value to 78.4 per cent. The average price of a Palm device fell 12 per cent, to $242. Handsprings typically went for $197 and Sonys $275. The average Compaq cost $418. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

UK Net use: October 1999 – September 2001

Jupiter MMXI has spent the last two years researching and charting the habits of home Net users in the UK. Celebrating its second anniversary as the record keeper of UK Net behaviour it's published a potted history of the last two years online. So, if you've go nothing better to do for the next couple of minutes, settle back and take a nostalgic trip down memory lane. October 1999: The first monthly research shows 7.8 million at home users in the UK. The Top 10 domains include Freeserve.com, UKplus.co.uk. geocities.com, demon.co.uk and MSN.co.uk. January 2000: Lastminute.com tops the travel category and has remained at the top of the Jupiter MMXI travel category ever since. March 2000: The UK population sees an increase of 18 per cent in the six months since October 1999. More than 2.5 million people - or a quarter of the UK online population - went to a business or finance site. May 2000: The number of Britons accessing the Internet from home reaches 10 million. July & Aug 2000: Channel 4's Big Brother becomes the fastest moving site since reporting began, reaching a top position as the eighth most popular site overall in August 2000 at the peak of its popularity. Nov 2000: For the first time, women make up half of the online population. The same trend had occurred in the US only three months earlier. Jan 2001: More than half of UK home Net users visited a retail site. March 2001: As Foot and Mouth disease takes hold, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Web site appeared on the monthly report for the first time with nearly half a million people logging on to the site. The trend for Britons to turn to the Internet as a source of reliable information in a crisis is also seen during the winter storms, rail network delays, and most recently, the terrorist attacks in America. April 2001: One in five Net users account for more than 70 per cent of all the time spent online in the UK each month. September 2001: Since October 1999, the average amount of time each person spends online per month has increased from 257 minutes to 446 minutes. ®
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 2001

TSMC capital spending to fall this year – and next

Intel may be resolutely sticking to its 2001 capital spending target of $7.5 billion, but few of its rival chip makers are sticking to their own projected levels of spending. TSMC certainly isn't. Speaking at the International Symposium on Semiconductor Manufacturing in San Jose last week, company chairman Morris Chang said that the company will have spent some $2.2 billion on new plant and equipment this year, well down on the $3.4 billion TSMC spent in 2000. Next year, the world's largest chip foundry will be even more thrifty. "I expect our capital expenditures in 2002 will be even less [than 2001]," Chang admitted, though he declined to put a figure to it. This despite the upturn is sales TSMC has recorded since the end of the second calendar quarter. The company recently said it expects its Q3 sales to be significantly higher than those recorded in Q2, with net income growing fourfold. And Chang reiterated that Q4 will be better than Q3. But not that much better, and certainly not sufficiently so for the company to make confident predictions for 2002. "I don't know when the robust recovery will happen," Chang said. He's certainly not anticipating it any time soon, if his expectations for the company 2002 capital spending is anything to go by. ® Related Story TSMC Q3 income to be 400% up on Q2
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

Marconi stops taking in water

Marconi has reported second quarter results in line with reduced expectations, giving some signs of stability at the end of an 'Annus Horribilis' for the struggling telecoms manufacturer. The firm reported an operating profit of £5 million for its second quarter ending September 30, compared to a loss of £227 million in its first quarter. Q2 sales came in at £1,444 million, down 24 per cent on the £1,899 million for the same quarter last year. In July, Marconi suspended its shares ahead of a profit warning and collapse in its share value (trading at 26.5p today against a high of £12.50 in August 2000) that eventually forced chairman Sir Roger Hurn and chief exec Lord Simpson to quit. Mike Parton, former head of Marconi's networks division, has become chief executive and is overseeing Marconi's cost reduction and restructuring program, which it reports is progressing well. During September, a further 630 employees left Marconi as part of the Company's cost reduction programme, bringing the total number of workers left the firm to 6,600 (1,625 of these workers were transferred to Jabil Circuit but were most were made redundant). The restructuring plan calls for the loss of 12,000 jobs in total. In a statement, Marconi said market conditions remain difficult and it was not able to give sales or operating profit guidance for the full year. However the firm reiterated its target of reducing the operating costs in its core business by £1 billion per annum and reducing its net debt to between £2.7 billion and £3.2 billion by March 2002. On 10 October, Marconi received US regulatory approval for the disposal of its Medical Systems business to Philips. This transaction remains subject to European Union regulatory approval. ® Related Stories Marconi and Nortel forced to pull out of Formula One Marconi shares 'worthless' Marconi saga ends as Hurn and Simpson quit Marconi boardroom genocide on cards Moody's Blues knacker Marconi shares Marconi AGM kicks off; Simpson holds firm Oracle aided Marconi collapse Marconi drops even further; everyone suffers Massive fall-out from Marconi share collapse
John Leyden, 15 Oct 2001

Socket 478 Pentium 4 shortages to end in December

Don't expect the shortage of Socket 478 Pentium 4 processors to improve any time soon, sources inside Taiwan's mobo makers have claimed - at least not until December. So claims a report over at DigiTimes, which essentially lays the blame at the door of the world's top ten PC companies, all of whom have so many PIIIs and Socket 423 P4s sitting in their warehouses, they're more interesting in selling off those chips than promoting the Socket 478 parts. Hmmm. Doesn't quite right true, does it? If the big guns aren't buying Socket 478 P4s, there should be plenty around for the second and third-tier manufacturers - but they're the ones complaining that the chips are hard to find. A more likely culprit, surely, is Intel itself, and claims that some PC makers are sitting back and waiting for P4 chips to become even less expensive before buying are telling. DigiTimes' sources claim there are one million PIIIs and two million Socket 423 P4s out there in PC makers' inventories, and that Intel is managing the supply of the Socket 478 parts very carefully to encourage the run-down of distributors' Socket 423 stocks. Intel won't comment on the matter, claiming it's in a "quiet period" in the run-up to its Q3 results announcement, due to be made tomorrow evening after the US stock markets close. ® Related Story Pentium 4 and DVD shortages Related Link DigiTimes: Socket 478 P4 supply to stabilize in December after old stock clears out
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

Renewed orders a false dawn for Taiwan's OEMs

Increasing sales to major US PC companies are almost certainly not a sign of the long-awaited industry revival, Taiwanese component and computer manufacturers have been warned. Quite the reverse, the island's Institute for the Information Industry (III) has said, according to a Commercial Times report: the renewed ordering activity will be a short-term phenomenon driven by the IT giants' attempts to build up inventory of crucial components in case airfreight schedules are disrupted by the US' punitive attacks on Afghanistan's Taleban regime. The III claims that the likes of Quanta and First International Computer have seen orders from Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq - to name but four - soar. And since demand for new PCs remains low, the III has concluded that the orders are not driven by an anticipated upturn in the market, but by fears of future supply problems. Either way, that's not good for component makers. Even if no restrictions are placed on commercial flights, unless demand picks up significantly PC makers will be left with inventory they need to clear and that means future orders will fall. Sales will also fall off is there are subsequent limitations placed on the number of flights. "As long as the short-lived demand of overseas companies is fed, local electronics firms will face adversity of sharply decreasing orders for contract manufacture, which may dent their performance for next year," said the III. Indeed, said the III, thanks to the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, the output value of Taiwanese IT production could fall by as much as NT$130 billion ($456.34 million) or 15 per cent this year. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

VIA enters mobo market

VIA has begun offering motherboards based on its own controversial P4X266 chipset and has formed an independent subsidiary to handle the sales - and, we presume, any legal action the move provokes Intel into launching. Said subsidiary is the VIA Platform Solutions Division, which the company announced today. Superficially, it sounds like an operation formed to develop and promote reference systems based around VIA chipsets and processors. VIA's been quite keen on promoting its wares this way for some time as a way of making its easier for hardware companies to select its products. So it makes sense to rationalise this side of its marketing operation into a dedicated business unit. And here's the proof: "The establishment of the Platform Solutions Division provides VIA with an exciting opportunity to further extend our industry leadership by delivering innovative platform solutions that will enable our customers to speed up their time to market for leading edge technologies and product designs," VIA's chief, Wenchi Chen, said in a statement. But there's more to it than that. The PSD is a tactical as well as strategic weapon, shown by its first two products: a pair of mobos based on the P4X266, the P4X266 PR22-R and the P4X266 VL33-S. If major mobo makers won't sign up to supply P4X266-based boards - for all its promises to indemnify them against any legal action from Intel - VIA clearly feels it has to do so itself. We reckon the move is more about encouraging those manufacturers to choose the VIA part than anything else - which is why they're so strongly P4X266-branded - but there's always the chance it can help VIA's bottom line. Of course, it could have the opposite effect, of pissing VIA's customer off so much that they turn their back on the company, just as 3dfx's add-in card making customers did when they heard the now defunct graphics chip company was going to compete with them. Even if the mobo makers don't like it, VIA no doubt hopes PC makers will. And VIA is cannily exploiting the dearth of Socket 428 Pentium 4s and the excess of Socket 423 parts by offering both Socket 423 and Socket 478-based mobos - the PR22-R and the VL33-S, respectively. Other boards, for micro ATX cases, for instance, will follow. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

AMD primed to ship 1.6GHz Athlon XP 1900+ this quarter

AMD will launch one more 0.18 micron Athlon XP processor this year, clocked to 1.6GHz but shipping as the 1900+, followed by two more early 2002 before launching its 0.13 micron die-shrink, codenamed Thoroughbred during the first quarter of next year. So suggests what appears to be (though is as yet unconfirmed) an internal AMD roadmap posted on German site Threecom.de. Now, we'd already heard about the Q4 2001 arrival of the 1.6GHz Athlon, though that was when we were still expecting the other Palomino-based desktop processors to appear rather sooner than last week's launch. Threecom.de's roadmap puts the 1.6GHz part in Q4 along with the four XPs introduced last week. Come Q1 2002, we should see XPs shipping at 1.667GHz and 1.733GHz, though the roadmap states that their new-style model numbers have yet to be determined. Ditto the model number of the 1.733GHz Thoroughbred-based Athlon XP due to be launched in the same timeframe - and the 1.8GHz Thoroughbred the roadmap has scheduled for a Q2 2002 introduction. AMD's official roadmap simply marks Thoroughbred down to be launched sometime during the first half of next year, in mobile, desktop and workstation/server implementations (Athlon 4, XP and MP). Incidentally, the Threecom.de roadmap lists a 1.2GHz and 1.3GHz Duron launches next quarter and Q2 2002, respectively. ® Related Stories AMD ships 1.53GHz Athlon MP ATI A3 chipset to support Athlon XP Related Link Threecom.de: AMD's new roadmap (in German)
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

ATI A3 chipset to support Athlon XP

ATI's upcoming A3 chipset, the graphics company's attempt to tackle arch-rival Nvidia's nForce initiative head on, will support AMD's Athlon XP processor as well as the Pentium 4. Yes, we were surprised too. Given the recent cosying up between AMD and Nividia, and Intel and ATI, we, like many others, assumed these four companies would set themselves in two, warring camps. Yet what did we spy this morning but a reference to ATI's offering on what appears to be an internal AMD document listing third-party chipsets for the Athlon XP. The roadmap was posted on German site Threecom.de along with other documents purporting to outline AMD's plans for the coming year. Of course, we can't yet say how accurate the information is, primarily because even AMD doesn't know third parties' exact release plans, but assuming the document is at least reasonably up to date, ATI is on course to ship A3 this quarter. A3 - or the listed version at least - will support DDR200 and DDR266 memory, offer 200MHz and 266MHz frontside bus speeds and offer an AGP 4x graphics port. Beyond the Athlon support, there's not much of interest here. However, the successor part, codenamed A4-K, will not only add support for DDR333 but, like nForce, be based on AMD's HyperTransport bus. A4-K is roadmapped to ship sometime next year. Hints that ATI is working on a chipset product emerged last August from claims made by mobo makers. Since ATI was (a) quite close to Intel these days and (b) a possessor of an official Pentium 4 bus licence, it was understandably assumed that the ATI part would target the P4 market. If the Threecom.de roadmap is genuine, ATI has its eye on the Athlon, though there's nothing to suggest it doesn't want to win business in both sectors. ® Related Stories ATI preps A3 alternative to Nvidia's nForce AMD primed to ship 1.6GHz Athlon XP 1900+ this quarter? Related Link Threecom.de: AMD's new roadmap (in German)
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 2001

Athlon MP rumpy-pumpy

HWRoundupHWRoundup A few reviews have sprung up around the Web regarding AMD's new Athlon MP chips, an update on the older MP chips, which ran at a maximum clock speed of 1.2GHz. On the whole, they seem to be fairly identical to the recently launched Athlon XP chips, but with multi-processor support. AMDZone has a piece benchmarking the new 1800+ chip (1.53GHz) against an earlier 1.2GHz Athlon MP, but fails to sound tremendously excited about the new processor. SimHQ gets more excited, showing benchmarks that run the new 1800+ about ten percent quicker than the older 1.2GHz MP and excelling in 'Internet Content Creation'. The site recommends a dual MP system for AutoCAD and other graphic intensive users, noting that it comes in at a similar cost to a P4 2GHz machine. Amdmb.com also has a benchmark of the 1800+ MP, mostly showing the expected performance improvement results. The reviewer does comment that on non SMP-tuned applications and tasks, the single XP chip comes very close to matching the performance of dual MP chips. ® Related Story AMD Ships 1.53GHz Athlon MP Related Links New AMD Athlon MP Processors Extend AMD's Performance Leadership in Multiprocessing Server, Workstation Markets
James Watson, 15 Oct 2001

US Net user saves Brit trapped in shed

Police rescued a Blackburn man locked in a shed after receiving a tip-off from a Net user in the US. The man - who has a PC and Net connection in his shed but no phone - posted a message on an user group early Friday morning claiming a gang of yobs had locked him in. In a short posting he said: "This is not a hoax. I am trapped in my shed with no phone. Help please." An unnamed Net user from the US read the posting and contacted police in Blackburn. They went round to the man's house and let him out. A number of the postings on the newsgroup appear to cast doubt on the validity of the cry for help. However, Lancashire Police have confirmed to The Register that an incident did take place in the early hours of October 12. They received a call from a Net user in the US who said he was responding to the SOS. The caller declined to leave his name. Police received the call at 5.30am BST and were with the man - called Steve - within 15 minutes. There, they found someone locked in a shed. There was no evidence that any yobs were involved. One theory is that the wind blew the door shut. Perhaps not an open and shut case but there you go. So far Steve has not replied to El Reg's requests for an interview. ®
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 2001

Baboons ape humans in abstract thought

Baboons may be capable of abstract thought, boffins reckon, following tests on personal computers that suggest hitherto unrecognised levels of intelligence in our distant cousins. Researchers from France and the US found baboons could spot similarities between different images, a talent that suggests they are capable of intelligent reasoning previously considered the preserve of humans, and chimpanzees. Baboons split off from the evolutionary path that led to Homo Sapiens approximately 30 million years ago, so the tests are interesting in suggesting that complex reasoning has its evolutionary origins earlier than was previously thought. The Times reports that researchers placed two adult baboons in front of a PC and got them to look at grids containing a variety of small pictures. They were than shown two grids, each of which had 16 squares like the original grid, one of which was similar in design to the original grid but had different images and the other of which contained exactly the same item in each square. Over time ("many thousands of trials") the baboons learned to regularly move their joysticks to select a grid with the same pattern even though the items that made up the pattern were different. Whether this provides proof of abstract thought or the fact that you can teach monkeys to do anything we're not sure about, but then again we can't claim to be experts on the subject. A paper on the research by Joel Fagot, of the Centre for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseilles, and Edward Wasserman, of the University of Iowa, is published in today's edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes. ®
John Leyden, 15 Oct 2001

Thousands could be booted from BT Anytime

Thousands of people could be evicted from BTopenworld's Anytime if they continue to ignore calls to temper their usage. The ISP wouldn't say exactly how many are at risk of being disconnected, but it appears that a significant number are on the brink of being kicked off. Ben Andradi, President & COO of BTopenworld, told The Register that the service has been plagued by a small minority of heavy users who are in "gross violation of our terms and conditions". And although they've been warned that using the service for commercial purposes - or leaving their dial-up connection unattended - is in breach of the ISP's terms and conditions, many users have simply ignored BTopenworld's calls for moderation. Last month, 34,000 people were migrated to a new dial-up number. BTopenworld claimed it made the move to help balance the network. However, many complained that following the move their service deteriorated overnight. Some reports alleged that BTopenworld was running a two-tier system offering a sub-standard service to these heavy users in the hope that they would either upgrade to a broadband service or cancel their BTopenworld subscription. However, BTopenworld maintains it's given the 34,000 people a superior service, but that this has been eroded by exceptionally high usage. Said Mr Andradi: "Some people are using a disproportionate amount of our network resource." And it is these people who Mr Andradi wants to see targeted. In a letter due to be sent to some BTopenworld subscribers today Mr Andradi is expected to apologise for the congestion problems experience so far. He is expected to say: "We've checked the service on the new dial-up number and again found a significant number of customers breaching our Terms & Conditions. We're taking action against them to protect the integrity of the service. This should improve availability on the new number but, with the level of use we're seeing, it's possible that the benefits will simply be 'swallowed up'." In the last month BTopenworld has terminated the accounts of some 260 users from its service. ® Related Stories BTopenworld in game of snakes and ladders BT kicks off 60 more Anytime users, threatens others BT rewrites Ts&Cs to kick off more Anytime users Punters still suffering BTOpenwoe Anytime misery BT Openworld bounces back email complaints BTAnytime turns into Notime for 200 'abusers' BTopenworld accused of providing two-tier Net access service
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 2001

AOL notches up 5m users in Europe

AOL Europe has more than five million subscribers, the Internet company announced today. The company believes this shows that it's on track to be the leading ISP in a number of European countries. Giving little away, AOL said that its flat-rate members in the UK and France average more than an hour a day online. German subscribers now spend more than half an hour a day online. Last month AOL announced it now had more than 31 million subscribers world wide. ® Related Story AOL has 31 million punters
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 2001

The recordable DVD clinic

Last week Hewlett-Packard (HP) dropped the news that is was exiting the add-on CD-RW market in order to concentrate on the emerging recordable DVD market. For the company, it seems to make sense: CD-RW has become a commodity product, meaning that margin in that business in now negligible (not as bad as the SDRAM market, but that's mostly the direction it has been heading). Also, with almost all new consumer PCs shipping with CD-RW as a standard, the add-on market for CD-RWs is drying up rapidly. Online retailer Dabs.com says that a significant portion of the market share was held by HP, but believes that other players such as Ricoh and Yamaha will move in and mop up on the gap. Sales director Jonathan Wall, says HP has made the right decision as it was definitely losing money on CD-RW. With recordable DVD being a mostly untapped market, it will be able to charge a premium price for the product. External recordable DVD drives start in the region of $599, a hefty amount more than their CD-RW brothers. On the other hand, Les Billing, MD of distributor Microtronica, raises the point that the DVD market is not as easy as it seems. Firstly, manufacturers still face a standards issue, with various DVD writing formats fighting it out to become the de facto choice (DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R all compete in this space) - Apple faced this issue when it released its Superdrive (a combo recordable CD/DVD drive) built into its G4s, eventually settling on DVD-R. Secondly, there is the issue of how well recordable DVD will be accepted by users: CD-RW is cheap, widely available (as is its media), easy to use and not as obviously limited in capacity as the 1.44-inch stiffy drive was. Did we mention cheap? Compared to this, why does the world need to rush out and upgrade to DVD? Of course, it's a more advanced technology with a superior storage capacity. But the number one thing that DVD handles better than CD is video. CD based films tend to come in a VCD (Video CD) format, which are extremely popular in Asia, and have shoddy quality (when compared to DVD). But is video, or should we say the ability to write video, enough to get people spending so much more than what they can get CD-RWs for? ® Related Stories Pentium 4 and DVD shortages HP told to pay three-and-half years' CD-R drive royalties 24xCD-R, 10xCD-RWs get pumped out
James Watson, 15 Oct 2001

AMD to cut Athlon XP prices on 29 October

AMD is cutting the prices of its Athlon XP processors on 29 October - the day after Intel kicks in with its own price cuts. The new prices are XP 1500+ $115 XP 1600+ $124 XP 1700+ $152 XP 1800+ $210 The chips arrived on 9 October priced at XP 1500+ $130 XP 1600+ $160 XP 1700+ $190 XP 1800+ $252 The prices are for 1,000 unit quantities. ® Related Stories Intel's Desktop Roadmap AMD primed to ship 1.6GHz Athlon XP 1900+ this quarter AMD's Athlon XP numbering scheme misses the (bench)mark Athlon XP pricing is killing some system builder support AMD Palominos to ship 9 October
Robert Blincoe, 15 Oct 2001

The451.com is not dead (but very poorly)

Paid-for online IT news serviceThe451.com is in urgent talks with potential investors to continue in business. Last week, Durlacher, the niche investment bank and lead backer in The451.com, told the publishing business that it was pulling the plug. But Paul Taylor, managing editor of The451.com, said that reports that the news service was folding were "exaggerated" and that it was continuing to publish stories today. He "didn't know the details" of what was happening and refered us to chief executive Martin McCarthy, who wasn't available for comment. McCarthy is talking to investors, Taylor told us, and an announcement about the future of the business can be expected later this week. In July, The451.com reduced its headcount by 20 per cent taking its headcount down from 50 to 39 and axing satellite offices in Hong Kong, Germany and Australia. Durlacher posted a £43.2 million loss last week, after writing down the worth of its investments. ® Related Stories The451.com wields job axe Durlacher falls on Net Imperative collapse
John Leyden, 15 Oct 2001

Big storage for little laptops

UK-based Mountain Solutions today released a new storage product for the laptop market. The ABSplus (Automatic Backup System) is a storage product that allows users store up to 48GB of data on a removable and portable drive. The device has a PCMCIA interface with a ribbon cable leading to a 2.5-inch hard drive. It launches automatically when first plugged in and installs the required software and gives users the choice between either backing up the entire system (essentially making a mirror of the hard drive) or just selected folders. It is relatively speedy, with a claimed transfer rate of 75MB per minute. Subsequently, each time it is reinserted, the device backs up only files and folders which have changed since the previous backup. It creates a bootable drive, storing files in their native file format (only supporting Windows-based laptops though) and creates partitions based on how the user's machine is set up. Should your hard drive fail completely, you are able to remove the device from its casing and physically install it in your laptop (obviously on supported models only). Prices range from £249.00 for a 6GB to £649.00 for the full 48GB shebang. ® Related Links Mountain Solutions' Automatic Backup Solution
James Watson, 15 Oct 2001

Anti-terror bill may regulate Carnivore use

Momentum is gathering on Capitol Hill for anti-terror legislation which will give the US government unprecedented freedom to conduct surveillance of suspects, including their comings and goings via the Internet; and yet the FBI's controversial packet sniffer, Carnivore, has been singled out for regulation. Beyond that, the Senate's bill was essentially passed by the House, which disdained its own measure approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. Confused? Anyone would be -- it's been a very busy couple of days on the Hill. First, the Senate passed the USA Act with a vote of 96 to one late Thursday night. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Democrat, South Dakota) and sponsor Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) managed to shut down the Feingold amendments, which would have addressed several civil-liberties pitfalls, as we described briefly on Wednesday. Leahy appears less than proud of his own work, and admits giving in to arm-twisting from the White House and DoJ. "Despite my misgivings, I have acquiesced in some of the administration's proposals because it is important to preserve national unity in this time of crisis and to move the legislative process forward," he explained. The bill neatly bypassed review in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was brought straight to the floor, where it sailed through on angels' wings. Even those who had sought to delay passage in favor of debate voted for it, with a frustrated Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) the lone exception. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee had produced a more balanced measure called the PATRIOT Act, which included a much-needed sunset clause, did not include provisions for secret searches, and refined some language which would have enabled the Feds to apply the label of 'terrorist' to virtually anyone they please for investigation with impunity. But this worthy item never made it to the floor. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Republican, Illinois) and other senior Republicans reckoned that differences between the Judiciary-approved House measure and the recently-passed Senate measure would tie the legislation up in conference committee for eternity. So they decided to chuck it, and brought to the floor a Senate-version clone instead. Secret searches are back in, and the previous two-year sunset clause on surveillance freedom has been watered down to extend for up to five years at the pleasure of the President. On-line pen register and trap-and-trace orders will be easier for authorities to obtain than the PATRIOT Act had intended, which means that Carnivore is going to get a lot more play in the near future; but a provision was added by US Representative Richard Armey (Republican, Texas) to make the mysterious black-box system more difficult for federal agents to abuse. The new language requires records of "any officer or officers who installed the device and any officer or officers who accessed the device to obtain information from the network; the date and time the device was installed, the date and time the device was uninstalled, and the date, time, and duration of each time the device is accessed to obtain information; the configuration of the device at the time of its installation and any subsequent modification thereof; and any information which has been collected by the device." A number of House Members complained that the new PATRIOT substitute was sprung on them at the last minute with no time for digestion and deliberation, but most voted for it nevertheless. It passed 337-79 late Friday, and will now go to conference committee, where it stands a fair chance of being reconciled with the Senate version in short order. A great deal of behind-the-scenes effort has gone into ensuring that Members in both chambers would end up voting on language which they'd barely had a chance to read, much less digest and discuss. The excuses and cover-stories for this obvious tactical maneuvering inevitably refer to the need for 'national unity' and 'bipartisan cooperation' and 'swift action against evil-doers', but we're not buying that. And you're not buying it either, are you? ® Related Stories Lone Senator thwarts Dubya's anti-terror excesses Bush admin to make hacking a terrorist offence Carnivore substitute keeps Feds honest
Thomas C Greene, 15 Oct 2001

Help! I can't cancel my sex site subs

Subscribers to thousands of web sites may face excess credit card charges due to technical difficulties at iBill, the online sex industry's favourite billing company. Problems last week took iBill's client database offline for two days, leaving site owners without access to customer records and account administration. The meltdown was blamed on "extraordinary growth" and the resultant heavy load on iBill's systems. In an e-mail sent to webmasters the company said it was bringing forward a $320,000 investment in hardware and software upgrades. Although the client database was restored on Saturday morning, one feature has remained unavailable: Subscriptions cannot be cancelled. Customers trying to cancel a subscription through iBill's customer service site receive the unhelpful message "Error reading rebill information!". Site owners who handle their own customer service are also unable to issue cancel commands. This is in apparent contrast to iBill's motto of "Where Consumers Come First", as the financial interests of site owners have clearly been prioritised. A notice posted on iBill's Commerce Management Interface page states: "CMI has been back up and running since 7:30pm Friday, October 12th. The 'Cancel Rebill Subscribers' feature, however, has been temporarily disabled. Please rest assured that transactions are still being processed through our system." So while new sign-ups are being accepted, a small number of customers may find unwanted charges on their credit cards. If a subscription is due for renewal during the current downtime, and the customer is unable to cancel their account, iBill will automatically charge them again. The greatest risk is to people who have taken out trial memberships. These generally cost between $3 and $10 for three, five or seven days, after which time the trial becomes a full membership costing anything from $15 to $35 per month. Someone who signed up for a trial period last week could find that they are unable to cancel before it automatically upgrades to a full subscription costing ten times as much. iBill's decision to suspend subs cancellations will have particular impact on the customers of adult web sites (where it is a favoured payment mechanism), as the services are fairly expensive, and the price difference between trial and full memberships is generally quite large. An iBill client services rep said today that cancellations should be available again by Tuesday. She also gave assurances that refunds issued for unwanted charges would not show up as a "black mark" against a customer's credit card, which under normal circumstances could lead to the card being declined in future. According to the rep, however, subscribers are still able to manually cancel accounts through iBill's customer service site. But tests yesterday and today showed that this is not the case. ®
Andrew Smith, 15 Oct 2001