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(credit: Diana/Flickr) Winter gloom and springtime glee are common seasonal swings. But beyond swaying how you feel, yearly cycles may also shift the way you think, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Comparing the cognitive function of 28 volunteers tested at different points in the year, researchers noted pronounced seasonal patterns in brain region activity. Namely, areas involved in working memory hit peak performance around the autumn equinox, and areas dealing with sustained attention crested around the summer solstice. Though it’s still early in the research to understand the significance of possible annual mental oscillations, the study hints at a previously unappreciated seasonal rhythm of the human brain that could affect learning and behavior. For the study, researchers led by Pierre Maquet and Gilles Vandewalle at the University of Liège in Belgium recruited 28 healthy volunteers, split evenly by gender and all around 21 years old. To rule out the influence of daily rhythms and environmental factors, the researchers prepared the volunteers for the study by having them stay in the lab for 4.5 days. During this time, participants endured a 42-hour sleep deprivation routine in a dimly lit sound-proof room with no time cues. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Blasting bots in the mines, just like old times. (credit: Revival Productions) Descent-style "six degrees of freedom" tunnel shooters are undergoing a mini-renaissance. First, some of the Austin-based Star Citizen team jumped ship and started working on Descent: Underground, a multiplayer-focused prequel to the original game using the "Descent" name on license from Interplay. Next, UK indie studio Sigtrap Games announced Sublevel Zero, another Descent-like tunnel shooter—this one with blocky, retro-styled graphics and a focus on single-player. We’ve played both, but as good as Descent: Underground and Sublevel Zero are shaping up to be, they’re missing something: the original development crew from Parallax Studios that worked on the original Descent and its sequels. We’ve been wondering since last year if Mike Kulas, Matt Toschlog, and the rest of the folks behind Descent were going to throw their virtual hats into the ring—and, as of this morning, they have. They’ve started a new company called Revival Productions LLC and launched a $300,000 crowdfunding campaign for a game called Overload. Kickstarter trailer for Revival Productions' Overload. Defending materials The Overload Kickstarter, along with the game’s website, paints a pretty detailed picture of the kind of game Revival is developing. The game is not a sequel or prequel to Descent—Eric Peterson and Descendent Studios have the right to use the Descent name and are doing that with Descent: Underground—but is instead a new game in a new universe (Revival told Ars that its own attempts to license the Descent name from Interplay were unsuccessful). However, Overload will feature gameplay mechanisms that are undeniably Descent-y: zipping through underground mines in a small spacecraft, finding keys, opening secret doors, fragging robots, rescuing hostages, and finally blowing up a reactor and escaping the level before it collapses around your ears. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Inside the main control room at the gravitational wave detector facility in Livingston, Louisiana. (credit: Eric Berger) View Liveblog2016-02-11T09:15:00-06:00 On Thursday morning, scientists will make what they are calling a major gravitational wave announcement. The scientists are being pretty coy about it, and after a century of looking for gravitational waves, you can understand their caution about not wanting the cat to slip out of the bag. However, credible rumors have been swirling about the discovery of gravitational waves emanating from a binary black hole, and physicists associated with the National Science Foundation-funded project are expected to discuss this new research during their presentation. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (credit: CSPAN) James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, told lawmakers Tuesday that governments across the globe are likely to employ the Internet of Things as a spy tool, which will add to global instability already being caused by infectious disease, hunger, climate change, and artificial intelligence. Clapper addressed two different committees on Tuesday—the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee—and for the first time suggested that the Internet of Things could be weaponized by governments. He did not name any countries or agencies in regard to the IoT, but a recent Harvard study suggested US authorities could harvest the IoT for spying purposes. "Smart devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the loT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials," Clapper said (PDF), according to his prepared testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Harrison Weber) Time Warner had its fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday morning, and HBO, a subsidiary of the network, revealed some interesting information about its new standalone streaming service, HBO Now. The highly anticipated launch of HBO Now was expected to draw a huge following from cord-cutters. But Richard Plepler, the CEO of HBO, told investors and journalists that HBO Now had only attracted about 800,000 subscribers since the service launched in April. Plepler said he was pleased with the growth, especially considering that HBO Now hasn’t yet been released on Playstation and Xbox platforms. He added that HBO Now also hasn’t yet released content from Jon Stewart, Bill Simmons, and the Vice Daily News Show, which he said was certain to drive subscriptions. Still, 800,000 subscribers could be seen as a slow start, especially considering that Plepler told investors in November 2014 that he was hoping to draw in four or five million new subscribers with HBO Now. ”We’re learning all the time… We see an enormous amount of subscribers ahead,” Plepler said on the call today, adding that, "HBO Now is an additive part of our growth strategy… We’re going to work in a multifaceted way to expand our sub[scriber] base.” Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Morals checkpoints reported in Tehran by users of Gershad. (credit: Gershad) Community mapping applications come in all shapes and sizes. There are apps to help drivers avoid speed traps, maneuver around traffic jams, and find cheap gas. And now there's one that helps people avoid being pulled from their car by the Ershad—Iran's morals police. Anonymous developers in Iran recently released an Android app that is intended to help young Iranians share intelligence about Ershad checkpoints. Called "Gershad," the app depends on crowdsourced reports from users to help others avoid being stopped, harassed, or even possibly beaten or arrested for failing to adhere to the Ershad interpretations of Islamic morality. The app was highlighted by Nima Akbarpour, the presenter of Persian Click (a technology show on BBC's Persian service). Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: TheBen91) Google Fiber recently went live in apartments and condos in Atlanta, making it the fourth metro area to get Google's gigabit Internet service. Perhaps not coincidentally, Reddit user TheBen91 yesterday posted the above photo of a mailing from Comcast, in which the nation's largest cable company tries to convince customers that it offers a better deal than Google Fiber. "So I got this in the mail today. I think someone is scared of Fiber coming to Atlanta," the user wrote. Comcast's mailing touts "The fastest in-home Wi-Fi," "9X more FREE TV shows and movies On Demand," "DVR recordings to go," and the "X1 voice remote" as features that Google Fiber doesn't offer. Notably absent from the Comcast/Google Fiber comparison are prices and data caps. Google Fiber offers gigabit downloads and uploads for $70 a month, without any monthly data caps. "Basic Internet" of 100Mbps costs $50 for Google customers in Atlanta. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Mad Catz was counting on these plastic instruments to save its business. They didn't. Things are looking mighty grim for long-lived gaming accessory maker Mad Catz this week, the company perhaps best known for making those cheap off-brand controllers you forced your younger sibling to use. Despite seeing significant sales from a publishing deal for Harmonix's Rock Band 4, Mad Catz announced that it is laying off 37 percent of its staff amid massive financial losses and a significant executive restructuring. There were hints of trouble earlier in the week, when Mad Catz announced that longtime President and CEO Darren Richardson was resigning, alongside SVP of Business Affairs Whitney Peterson. Then the real bad news came down last night in the form of the company's quarterly earnings report: a $4.36 million loss for the last nine months of 2015, up from an $809,000 loss from a year before. Mad Catz has been in dire financial straits since last summer, when the company notified investors that it was at risk of defaulting on its debt. At the time, Mad Catz executives said they were counting on a Rock Band 4 publishing deal to lead to "significant growth in sales and gross profit." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Rest assured, the EPA is not coming for your racing car. Besides, it was already illegal to remove the emissions equipment in the first place. (credit: Alex Bellus) The Environmental Protection Agency is at the center of another controversy, this time with automotive racers and enthusiasts. At issue is a proposed rule that sounds to some like the EPA wants to ban anyone from turning a road car into a track-only toy or race car. Last July, the EPA published a lengthy 629-page proposed rule called "Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2." Buried within the text was an amendment to an existing federal rule that reiterated Clean Air Act policy on road vehicles equipped with emissions controls. According to that rule, owners, operators, aftermarket companies, and service businesses may not tamper with or remove emissions equipment on vehicles so fitted, be they dedicated race cars or not. The two-month window for public comments on the proposed rule came and went (closing on September 11, 2015) with little notice or fuss. But earlier this week, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer's Association (SEMA) circulated a press release claiming that the "EPA Seeks to Prohibit Conversion of Vehicles Into Racecars." While this headline correctly assesses the EPA's position, it overstates the notion that anything has changed. Regardless, it inflamed passions in the racing and car enthusiast world in no time. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The US Internal Revenue Service was the target of a malware attack that netted electronic tax-return credentials for 101,000 social security numbers, the agency disclosed Tuesday. Identity thieves made the haul by using taxpayers' personal data that was stolen from a source outside the IRS, according to a statement. The attackers then used an automated bot against an application on the IRS website that provides personal identification numbers for the electronic filing of tax returns. In all, the hackers made unauthorized queries against 464,000 social security numbers but succeeded against only 101,000 of them. No personal information was obtained from the IRS systems. Agency officials are flagging the accounts of all affected taxpayers and plan to notify them by mail of the incident. The IRS is also working with other government agencies and industry partners to investigate the hack or stem its effects. The hack occurred last month. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Recently I began outgrowing my home file server. It's an older Mac Mini with 1TB of storage space, and though it has worked well enough for several years (and through more than one OS X Server review), it's not a great choice for someone who primarily uses it as a file server. It’s not as expandable as I'd like it to be, its Fusion Drive setup offers no redundancy, and as a general-purpose computer it is rendered unnecessary by the 27-inch 2012 iMac on my desk that's still happily humming away. My first attempt to solve the problem was with a home NAS (or Network Attached Storage) unit, a basic model with just a couple of drive bays and the ability to run a handful of media and VPN server apps if necessary. I eventually settled on a Western Digital MyCloud EX2, a basic two-drive consumer NAS that I thought would satisfy my requirements. This model gave me 2TB of mirrored storage for just under $300. I actually really liked the box itself and WD’s browser-based management software, but the wimpy ARM processor was slowing down everything from file transfers to thumbnail loading, and that didn't fill me with confidence about its future-proofness. At this point, I had a couple of options. I could spend more money on a better, faster NAS, one that wouldn't disappoint me with its performance. Or... I could go ahead and build my own, which would give me the flexibility to build basically whatever box I wanted. Inspired by our recent articles on building a living room gaming PC and a DIY router, I decided to take the more Ars option. Read 49 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge Last month's announcement that Hitman would be adhering to an episodic release format, in which new locations and missions are released each month, was greeted with an understandable degree of anger by an audience expecting to get its hands on a full product this March. While episodic structures are nothing new at this point, the decision to change Hitman to an episodic release just two months prior to launch raised raised questions. Why was this not communicated earlier? Is the game unfinished? Are players eventually going to get all of the previously promised content? Will it benefit the consumer? As Hans Seifert, studio head at Hitman developer IO Interactive tells Ars, going episodic was not a last-minute decision, at least from a development point of view. "We started talking about it when we finished Absolution [in 2012], actually," says Seifert. "Six years passed between Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Absolution, and we thought that was too long a period for us to react to any feedback that we had off of the back of Blood Money. After all, every game is a child of its time. Tweaking the game after it has been released has become more and more important. When you look at the current games that are out there some have a very long life. A lot of these haven't relied on adding content over time, but the game itself has been tweaked after release. Then there are episodic games which do add new content, but the game itself hasn't necessarily been changed or improved." Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Martin Abegglen) British chip maker ARM boisterously brushed aside concerns about a slide in smartphone sales growth on Wednesday morning, when it reported a robust rise in revenues and pre-tax profit. The Cambridge-based company told the City that its annual sales had jumped 22 percent to £968.3 million in 2015, while profit before tax hit £414.8 million, up 31 percent from £316.5 million a year earlier. ARM—which has seen its share price take a knock, after Apple recently confirmed that iPhone sales would decline for the first time—added that it had shipped four billion chips in 2015. That's a 16 percent climb compared with its performance in 2014. ARM said that its strong results had been buoyed by its shift into "emerging market opportunities," such as connected devices. It had also benefited from a growth in royalty sales, particularly for chips based on its ARMv8-A tech. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Opera Software, which is best known for its browser of the same name, has urged its shareholders to accept a buyout offer from a Chinese consortium that values the Norway-based company at £820 million ($1.2 billion). The acquisition bid comes from a number of Chinese tech firms, including Qihoo—a leading security software company—and mobile Internet provider Kunlun. Opera has been looking for what it calls "strategic opportunities" since August last year, and said that its decision to recommend the offer, led by the Golden Brick Silk Road Fund Management of China, came after "careful consideration of the various opportunities for the company and the proposals received." Opera's board and shareholders in its management team unanimously accepted the offer. In addition, "larger shareholders representing approximately 33 percent of the Opera shares outstanding, have undertaken to accept the offer for their shares in the company." The Chinese consortium said it was offering 71 NOK (about £5.60) per share, a premium of around 50 percent compared to the recent value of shares, which makes it quite likely that the offer will be accepted by the 90 percent threshold of shareholders needed for the deal to go through. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Google has confirmed a number of changes to Gmail with the arrival of two new features that will let you know if the people you’re corresponding with aren’t hip with TLS encryption. The alterations are fairly subtle: when you receive a message from, or are on the brink of sending a message to, someone using a service that doesn’t support encryption, you’ll see a broken lock in the top-right of the screen. Clicking on the icon will bring up a pop-up alert with an explanation and a warning to perhaps consider removing the offending recipient. Likewise, if you receive a message that can’t be authenticated, you won’t be hit by klaxon alarms. Instead, Gmail will replace the sender's profile photo with an incriminating question mark, identifying them as potentially suspicious. What you do with that information after that, of course, is entirely up to you. Despite the advent of this new warning system, Google stresses that not all affected messages are necessarily harmful. It's just better to practice caution. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Google) The US government has cleared the way for Google to create a self-driving car that doesn't also have a human driver inside the vehicle that can take over if necessary. In this setup, the autonomous driving software itself would be the vehicle's legal "driver"; none of the human passengers would require a driving licence. In November last year, Google submitted a proposed design to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a self-driving car that has "no need for a human driver." On February 4, as reported by Reuters, the NHTSA responded: "NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants. We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link) In the connected fitness world, we have yet to see one truly all-purpose device. There are a number of high-end gadgets, including the Garmin Vivoactive and the Fitbit Surge, that have many important features for workout tracking. However, health is measured by much more than how many times you hit the gym. Under Armour wants to expand personal fitness tech from just one device to an entire ecosystem of hardware and software that works together to help you understand your body. That's what HealthBox is—inside the physical box, you get a wristband tracker, a heart rate chest strap monitor, and a smart scale. On your smartphone, you have Under Armour Record for keeping track of all your health data, as well as other Under Armour-owned apps including MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal. HealthBox is basically your one-stop shop for connected fitness, giving you three essential devices you need to start reaching new health goals. However, at $400, it doesn't come cheap, and each device could use some fine-tuning. It's a big investment to make, and anyone thinking about it should be serious about fitness so none of the HealthBox items get left behind in a bedside drawer. Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Wednesday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) introduced a new bill in Congress that attempts to halt state-level efforts that would weaken encryption. The federal bill comes just weeks after two nearly-identical state bills in New York state and California proposed to ban the sale of modern smartphones equipped with strong crypto that cannot be unlocked by the manufacturer. If the state bills are signed into law, current iPhone and Android phones would need to be substantially redesigned for those two states. Lieu and Farenthold’s federal bill would need to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as be signed by the president in order to take effect. If that happens before the state bills are enacted, it would pre-empt them. Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivers his "State of NASA" speech at Langley Research Center on Tuesday. (credit: NASA) Each year President Obama submits a budget for NASA to Congress, and each year the House of Representatives and Senate essentially toss out those numbers and come up with their own figures. Now that the President has submitted a $19 billion NASA budget for fiscal year 2017, we can expect the same scenario to play out again this year. The macro battle with Congress will likely remain over the direction of the space agency. NASA sees itself as being on a journey to Mars. On Tuesday Charlie Bolden, the agency’s administrator and a four-time astronaut, reiterated that point. “We are closer today than ever before in human history to sending humans to the red planet,” Bolden said during a State of NASA speech. “Our plan is clear, affordable, sustainable and attainable.” However Congress has become increasingly skeptical about the viability of NASA’s plan to go to Mars. During a hearing earlier this month, Republicans openly questioned whether NASA was, in fact, on a path to Mars. The chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), called it an "imbalanced proposal [that] continues to tie our astronauts’ feet to the ground and makes a Mars mission all but impossible,” in a statement to Ars. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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All of the pretty MS-DOS virus colors. (credit: Archive.org) Archive.org has gone to great lengths to preserve and host dated software, but up until last week, its vast collection of classic games and MS-DOS executables skewed toward the overly safe side. Sure, you could run the original Oregon Trail—even on your web browser, through a DOSBOX emulator—and burden virtual pioneers with dysentery, but what about acquiring an actual virus? That changed on Friday with the site's unveiling of the Malware Museum, a website collection of 78 viruses from the MS-DOS era of the late '80s and early '90s, all ready to either launch on a DOSBOX web browser emulator or be downloaded to your hard drive. Before you fret about some kind of crazy dated-virus outbreak, know that Archive.org went to the trouble of "defanging" every virus in its collection. The "museum" began to take shape when longtime Finnish computer security expert Mikko Hypponen offered his personal collection of roughly 30 viruses, which he'd already disassembled to remove their drive-destructive capabilities, to Archive.org software curator Jason Scott. "He contacted me a week ago, out of the blue, asking if I wanted to do anything with this collection [of viruses]," Scott said in a phone interview with Ars. "I just put them all up and said, 'Yes, I like it, and I already put them all up [on the site]!'" Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Robert S. Donovan) The US Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked (PDF) the Obama administration's climate change initiative in response to a petition by more than two dozen states and other energy companies suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the carbon-emissions cutting regulations. The high court's move comes two weeks after a federal appeals court said that the plan, which impacts hundreds of power plants across the nation and is one of the president's centerpiece accomplishments, could proceed even as a legal challenge is pending. That appeals court, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, will hear oral arguments June 2 on the carbon plan Obama announced in October. The justices sided with the states on a 5-4 vote and said the regulations are shelved until the legal wrangling is concluded—which could take years. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Transport for London Centerline Removal Trial) Throughout the past year, a number of newly paved roads in and around London were finished without the traditional center lines dividing traffic. According to a white paper published (PDF) by Transport for London (TfL), removal of center lines on roads where the speed limit is less than 30 miles per hour results in a "statistically significant reduction in vehicle speeds.” Trials in Norfolk and Wiltshire have also supported the removal of the center line to reduce vehicle speed. The TfL white paper found that drivers tend to slow their driving by up to 4mph on roads with no center lines. But, since the study was only conducted on smooth, newly-paved roads, the researchers at TfL corrected the data to account for the fact that drivers tend to go slightly faster when they feel confident that the road is in good condition. With such corrections, TfL found that the lack of center lines could theoretically reduce average vehicle speeds by up to 8.6mph. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Today, the Obama administration released the president's Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP), a set of executive actions and budget requests that seeks to fix federal agencies' information security woes. The plan aims to spur broader efforts to protect citizens' privacy and the security of the nation's businesses and infrastructure from criminals and other threats. And it starts off by creating a commission to figure out how to do that. The Federal government's information security posture, as demonstrated by the Office of Personnel Management breach last year, is at best antiquated and at worst horrific in its inadequacy. The CNAP looks to rapidly infuse money into efforts to modernize the decrepit information security systems at agencies such as the Social Security Administration, which as President Obama wrote in an op-ed piece published today by the Wall Street Journal, "uses systems and code from the 1960s. No successful business could operate this way.” To make the fixes, the Obama administration is asking for over $19 billion in spending scattered across the proposed 2017 budget and is making a number of immediate moves that require funding now—$3.1 billion for an Information Technology Modernization Fund and to pay a new Federal Chief Information Security Officer (with a salary of between $123,175 and $185,100 a year, Top Secret/SCI clearance required—apply by February 26 if interested). Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Watch the ethical wisdom of crowds in action and weep for the future of humanity. Now that we have an "Internet of Things" and devices that make ethical decisions, the next step was bound to be weird. Designer Simone Rebaudengo has created a smart fan with a built-in ethical dilemma: it can only fan one person at a time. To decide who will benefit from its cooling powers, the fan outsources its problem to Mechanical Turk, and the crowd decides which person in the machine's range deserves fanning. Simone Rebaudengo's smart fan picks a human to focus on based on ethical decision dials and crowdsourcing. (credit: Simone Rebaudengo) Rebaudengo's invention is an art project called "Ethical Things." Its inspiration came from battlefield robots and autonomous cars, both of which are loaded up with algorithms that help the machines make life-or-death decisions all the time. But what about the more mundane ethical decisions we have to make every day? That's where the fan comes in. "If a 'smart' coffee machine knows about its user's heart problems, should it accept giving him a coffee when he requests one?" asks Rebaudengo. His fan is a humorous way of imagining a future of ordinary connected devices that nevertheless face these kinds of moral dilemmas because they have so much access to data about the humans who own them. Rebaudengo writes: Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Intel Skylake die shot. (credit: Intel) Skylake processors that were discovered to be readily overclockable are having their speeds locked back down, with Intel shipping a new microcode update for the chips that closes a loophole introduced in Intel's latest generation of processors, according to PC World. Intel has a funny relationship with overclocking. On the one hand, the company doesn't like it. Historically, there have been support issues—unscrupulous companies selling systems with slower processors that are overclocked, risking premature failure, overheating, and just plain overcharging—and more fundamentally, if you want a faster processor, Intel would prefer that you spend more money to get it. On the other hand, the company knows that overclocking appeals greatly to a certain kind of enthusiast, one that will show some amount of brand loyalty and generally advocate for Intel's products. Among this crowd there's also a certain amount of street cred that comes from having the fastest chip around. To address this duality, Intel does a couple of things. Most of its processors have a fixed maximum clock multiplier, capping the top speed that they'll operate at. But for a small price premium, certain processors have "K" versions that remove this cap, allowing greater flexibility for PC owners to run their chips at above the rated maximum speed. This way, most processors can't be readily overclocked, but for those enthusiasts who really want to, an official option exists (although even with these chips, Intel recommends that people do not overclock). Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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