Easter eggs, fun little references or surprises hidden just below the surface, are practically a given for modern movies and video games. But they aren't the exclusive domain of entertainment media, and they go back farther than you might think. Programmers were hiding undocumented responses to software input commands as far back as the late 60s. Apparently someone at Microsoft was doing so in the 80s, too: A recently uncovered easter egg in the very first Windows release may have gone undiscovered for 36 years, complete with a surprise appearance by Valve chief Gabe Newell.
According to self-styled Windows archeologist Lucas Brooks, there's a short list of Windows development team members encrypted into a bitmap file in the original Windows 1.0 release. Subsequent updates of the OS would have allowed users to reveal the “Congrats! The Windows Team” credits with some complex keystrokes, but there doesn't appear to be any way to show it in version 1.00, either by design or error. It's possible that no one ever found the message in the original software before Brooks did.
The Easter egg is simply a list of thirty-six names without job descriptions. Tech historians will immediately recognize Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO following Bill Gates' retirement. But there's another name that's perhaps even more famous today, as noted by PCGamer. Gabe Newell is in the list as well. Yes, it's that Gabe Newell. He joined Microsoft after dropping out of Harvard in 1980, going on to work as a producer on the first three versions of Windows.
Newell co-founded Valve in 1996, published Half-Life in 1998, and lead the production of the Steam PC gaming distribution platform in 2003. In a Code.org interview with students in 2017, Newell said that he “learned more in three months with those guys at Microsoft than I did the entire time I was at Harvard.”
We always knew Microsoft's upcoming DirectStorage technology would be fast, but how fast? Fast enough to load a game in just over a second, if a demonstration of an upcoming game, Forspoken, is any indication.
Microsoft released its DirectStorage API about two weeks ago, which allows the GPU to talk directly to the SSD to load games and textures without needing to pass through the CPU and main memory. At the time, we didn't know which games would support it or exactly how quickly the technology would serve to load games.
A video of Forspoken, an upcoming game from Luminous Productions, tells us specifically how fast DirectStorage will be under three scenarios: running DirectStorage on an M.2 SSD, on an SATA SSD, and from a traditional hard drive. The results are tremendous. The game loaded in an astounding 1.9 seconds on the M.2 SSD, and roughly twice as slow on a SATA SSD, at a still-plenty-fast 3.7 seconds. Loading the game on a hard drive, though, required a less tolerable 21.5 seconds to load.
The game also showed off a similar loading scenario on another scene, with similar results. We've included the Forspoken video below, along with how it implements variable rate shading, FidelityFX, and more.
PCGamer dove in a bit deeper, noting that Luminous revealed that data transfer with compression is just part of the story, with the DirectStorage API boasting a file IO speed of 4,839MB/s against the Win32 API on the same drive coming in at 2,826MB/s. Luminous developers told a GDC 2022 audience this week that the game needs to be optimized, including how it handles graphics decompression. Fortunately, Microsoft has already told us that its roadmap includes just that, so we can conclude that performance should definitely increase. We also know that DirectStorage will be available for Windows 10.
We have to echo a call from PCGamer, though — if you haven't done it already, it's time to ditch your spinning hard drive in favor of an solid-state drive. May we suggest you buy one of our recommended SSDs?
This is a guest post co-authored by Taylor Names, Staff Machine Learning Engineer, Dev Gupta, Machine Learning Manager, and Argie Angeleas, Senior Product Manager at Ibotta. Ibotta is an American technology company that enables users with its desktop and mobile apps to earn cash back on in-store, mobile app, and online purchases with receipt submission, […]
Whoever becomes the leader in artificial intelligence will become the ruler of the world. With the recent issues with Russia and Ukraine the Vladimir Putin quote about artificial intelligence continues to pop into my mind. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russian, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also [...]
PC power supplies haven't seen a whole lot of change in the last decade or two. We've gotten modular cables for easier routing, smaller standards for itty-bitty builds, and that's about it. But today Intel has finalized the ATX 3.0 standard, coming soon to a full-sized PC case near you. The biggest addition announced today is a new standardized connection for graphics cards and other PCIe devices, delivering up to 600 watts on a single connector.
Currently graphics cards are in a bit of a power pinch. The maximum throughput for an 8-pin ATX rail is 150 watts, so the biggest and most power-hungry GPUs need to double or even triple up, adding extra space requirements and more complex cable routing inside the case. The new 12-pin 12VHPWR connection should be able to deliver more energy than even the most powerful graphics cards need for the next generation or two. Each pin housing is also physically smaller, with a 3.0mm pitch versus 4.2mm on current power supply rails.
Technically it's 16 total pins (12+4), with four additional data pins squeezed in beneath the primary power pins. This is to manage DC output voltage regulation and a series of new tools designed to regulate high power output efficiently and safely, all handled intelligently by the power supply. According to Intel, the new 12VHPWR connection will be the standard for “most, if not all” PCIe cards using the 5.0 spec.
Some of Nvidia's 30-series Founders Edition cards use a “dumb” version of this connection, with 12 primary power pins but lacking the four additional pins. Nvidia includes adapters in the box for double-8-pin power supply rails to more easily conform with current PSUs, but that 12-pin connection should be forward-compatible with the new 12VHPWR rails. They'll be limited to 450 watts without the extra data pins for power regulation.
ATX 3.0-compliant power supplies and pre-built systems are scheduled to hit the market later in 2022. Based on everything we've seen thus far, the next generation of power supplies should be physically compatible with all ATX-standard PC cases, though you may need adapters for pre-ATX12VO motherboards and SATA components. There have been rumors that at least some vendor versions of the forthcoming GeForce RTX 3090 Ti graphics card will feature the new 12+4-pin 12VHPWR connection, but there's no official word.
We all know what VPNs are great for. They can help secure your internet traffic over public networks like at a café, airport, library, or other public place. VPNs can also get around geo-blocking in order to watch Netflix catalogs around the world, or access Disney Plus in a country that doesn't have it yet. Gaming is another popular use case for VPNs.
What to look for in a VPN for gaming
For gaming there are a few essentials. The first of which is speed. If you don't have good speeds, your online experience will just be terrible in general whether gaming or not. So excellent VPN speeds are a must.
The next big feature you need is stability, a VPN connection that gets online quickly and doesn't drop or slow down. To obtain stability you need a reliable service, but it also has to have a good number of servers. VPNs can often slow down as their servers get saturated with users. A larger network won't have that problem as much since it will automatically connect users to other servers that aren't seeing such heavy use.
If you have speed, stability, and a large server network to choose from then you're good to go. The only other thing you need is unlimited bandwidth, which means you need a paid service. Free VPNs have daily or monthly allotments, making it more or less useless for gaming.
Here's what we suggest as the best VPNs for gaming. (Too see our VPN picks for all the various common use cases, check out our comprehensive best VPN roundup.)
ExpressVPN is our top choice for the best VPN overall, and what makes it a good choice as a general VPN also helps when it comes to gaming. First, its speeds are in the top five in our download tests. Upload speeds are a bit weaker, retaining around 67 percent of the base speed when the top performers are around 80 percent. Still, ExpressVPN's upload speeds should be more than fast enough for gaming.
This VPN also has more than 3,000 servers in 95 countries around the world, giving this service a sizeable network. You should have no trouble finding a server that isn't too busy in most of the major countries. ExpressVPN costs about $100 per year, but if you want a VPN to make your gaming better it's worth it to pay the premium. Plus, there are a number of other advantages you can get from Express, which you can read about in our review.
A frequent choice as the top VPN from a number of critics, NordVPN is a very good choice for gaming. It has very fast download speeds (another top-five finisher), and its upload speeds were in the top 10, making it more than fast enough. NordVPN also has a wide range of servers with more than 5,000 total in 59 country locations. NordVPN isn't quite as easy to use as ExpressVPN, but it's still easy enough to understand for both novice and expert users. NordVPN also has a few nice features such as multi-hop VPN and TOR connections.
If you want servers, servers, and more servers then Private Internet Access is the choice for you. PIA has around 10,000 servers at the moment, and its speeds finished within the top 10 in our tests. Upload speeds were lower than NordVPN and ExpressVPN, but they are still stable enough for gaming. PIA doesn't have a ton of extras, but it's the best choice when you want a massive amount of server choices with good speeds.
ProtonVPN is our top finisher for upload speeds. So if that's the main concern for you, this is your pick. It's also the second-place finisher for download speeds. However, its server choices are quite a bit more modest than the other VPNs mentioned in this roundup, with just over 1,500, meaning there will be times when most of its servers are at or near capacity, especially in the United States. The country count is a bit lower at 63, but most of the major destinations you need are here. It's also stable and quick to connect. ProtonVPN has several pricing tiers so be sure to pay attention to what each tier offers before buying.
To test VPN speeds, we take the base download speed on three days, with each testing day having a minimum speed of 80 megabits per second (Mbps). Then we test the speeds three times each in five different countries on each testing day. These countries are often, but not always the U.S., the UK, Germany, Australia, and Japan.
The daily speeds are averaged together to get a daily average speed. Then we take the average of each testing day to get an overall global average. That overall average is then expressed as a percentage of the base speed. That way the test results provide a sense of how much speed a VPN retains over multiple locations. We avoid hard numbers since speeds can vary so much based on factors such as your service provider, router, devices, and time of day.
Do you need a VPN for gaming?
So we've seen what you need from a gaming VPN, but is this even something you need for your favorite online adventure or shoot ‘em up?
The answer is it all depends. One of the most common questions people have about VPNs and gaming is whether it will improve your ping times. That is, the speed, measured in milliseconds, that your PC can send data to the game's servers. VPNs can't really help here since it adds another connection point between you and your destination server. Instead of going from your PC to the game server and back, it goes from your PC to the VPN server to the game server and back. In most cases you will probably find that ping times either worsen or stay about the same.
Either way, it's a rare case where ping times are helped by a VPN. The one exception might be stability. In these instances, your bare internet connection isn't stable enough due to a high amount of activity in your neighborhood, or heavy load on your home network. In those cases, a VPN might make things a little more stable since you connection runs through a VPN server that specializes in keeping things moving.
That brings us to the next topic of potential ISP throttling. We're not talking about the nefarious kind where your service provider might try to charge you extra for access to gaming servers. Instead, we're talking about everyday traffic shaping, as well as penalizing bandwidth hogs (you) for taking up too much bandwidth at peak times.
Again in those cases a VPN may help. It all depends on how closely your ISP is monitoring your activity. If it's slowing down your connection to a specific server and prioritizing other traffic, then a VPN will most likely help. If, however, you're getting penalized for being too much of a bandwidth hog, the ISP will still see larger amounts of bandwidth and penalize you on that basis.
If your favorite time to play is 7PM at night, and that's a high traffic time, a VPN might help.
Another reason people love a VPN is for getting around geo-blocking restrictions. For the most part this is a bad idea or unnecessary for gaming. Many games already let you change regions freely, while others will only let you switch every few weeks. In those instances where you can't switch regions, and you want to try getting around geographic restrictions, keep in mind that your gameplay experience may not be that great. On top of that, you may be violating the games terms of service, setting yourself up for a ban. That goes for playing games and trying to get access to games early, as well as accessing DLC that isn't available where you are. It's up to you, but keep in mind there are risks to getting around geo restrictions in games. Plus game networks like Steam don't like this kind of activity, and the only thing worse than getting penalized by a game would be getting penalized by Steam.
One final issue is if you are playing a game that uses a peer-to-peer network instead of a client-server setup. These games aren't as common as they once were, but the fear here is that someone will find your IP address and try to kick you offline with a denial-of-service attack. A VPN would definitely help with that, and if you're experiencing something you think might be a DDoS then you could try playing with a VPN to see if it helps.
VPNs are solid tools for a few use cases, but whether you need it for gaming depends largely on your personal situation.
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