Intel

Playing With Intel’s 3D Camera with RealSense Technology

Intel kindly provided me with a Intel® RealSense™ Camera (R200) Developer Kit to muck around with. It was my job to work out what to do with it!

3D cameras have been around for a while, but Intel has continued to invest in this technology for several reasons. A RealSense camera is actually made up of three cameras acting together – a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector.

The normal 1080p camera is for capturing the actual images you’re seeing, just like any other camera. As I understand it, the infrared camera picks up infrared light being broadcast by another part of the RealSense camera, in a mesh series of dots – which then measures the distances and surfaces between those dots to work out. A 3D mesh can be worked out based on this, which can then be used to fully render objects in 3D. Intel have some information that will give you an idea on this.

There’s a few free bits of software that can be downloaded for the camera I was provided, one of them being itSeez3D Scanner. By pointing the camera at someone (or something) and walking around them, you can create a 3D model of the whole person, or just their bust. Of course I had to have a 3D scan of myself:

Weird but very cool! Soon you’ll be able to send off your 3D scan, and get back a 3D printout of yourself.

This sort of technology leads to some pretty amazing and novel things. You can put your face in a game, such as NBA 2K16. Scanning in an object, and then sending it off or having a local 3D printer to make a copy of it has a lot of implications for the way we think about doing things.

The accuracy of these sort of cameras leads to Windows Hello which uses all these technologies to make sure it’s you looking at the camera of your PC to unlock it, rather than a 2D photo of yourself which can trick 2D cameras.

Another cool thing I found was the Chroma app which scans a person, and lets you replace the background with something else. Again I had to test this:

One idea would be to take a photo of your office, and if you’re actually at the beach, make it look like you’re at your desk 🙂

This particular camera didn’t support Windows Hello, otherwise I would have played with that too.

The Intel RealSense Camera should be turning up in more PC devices as well as tablets, so keep an eye on this space for a lot more awesome ways people come up with to use this technology.

 

Update 31st May 2016

I was put onto Uraniom by a reddit user, which lets you use the 3D scan in games like Fifa, Counter Strike, Fallout 4 and others. Here’s the results:

Intel Remote Keyboard App

When I was checking out the Intel Compute Stick, I noticed a pre-installed app called ‘Intel Remote Keyboard’.

I quickly googled it to find out what it was, and found Intel’s download page for the product. It sounded pretty good, so thought I’d test it out:

After seeing it in action and playing around with it, I went back and installed it on my NUC to use there too. It’s a very nice solution for using an Android or iOS device as both a mouse trackpad, and keyboard. This only works on Intel devices listed at the website, but pretty much any iOS or Android device as the keyboard and mouse.

It was easier to set up than I expected, with just pointing the phone at the screen to grab the QR code for pairing. If you have, or are thinking of having an Intel NUC or Intel Compute Stick as a media box in the lounge, this gives you a free fully functioning remote. You can have multiple devices paired too, so everyone in the house can have their personal remote in their pocket.

It also supports gestures which you’d normally see on a trackpad, such as pinch to zoom which is a nice touch.

It’s one of those little feature adds that you could probably find a free solution for and muck around with, but this just works, and has a well designed app as part of the free package.

 

Downloads:

Intel Remote Keyboard Host Download: Link

Android Download: Link

iOS Download: Link

Intel NUC 6th Gen

Almost two years ago, I wrote about my Media Player Quest. The end result hardware wise was an Intel NUC, which has been dutifully serving me media content and left on 24/7 for over two years.

It’s time to upgrade that now, and check out Intel’s newer lineup of NUCs that have the 6th generation Intel CPU inside.

The unit I received was the NUC6I5SYK – there’s also the NUC6I3SYK which is identical apart from having an i3 CPU rather than the i5 I received (a big step up from the Celeron in my old unit!).

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There’s a bunch of different NUCs both old and new, but in the latest batch there are 5 to choose from. The cheaper ‘Pentium’ powered NUC NUC5PGYH, the NUC6i3SYH and NUC6I5SYH which are i3 and i5 powered NUCs with 2.5″ drive support, and the two I mentioned above, which are identical but don’t have 2.5″ drive support. All other specs are the same.

At this point you may be wondering which is best or which one to choose. Luckily this is pretty clear cut – if you don’t need much grunt, go for the NUC5PGYH. This still takes a 2.5″ drive, so you may be able to find a cheap small SSD to use. Otherwise, i3 and i5 are both pretty good, you’ll only need an i5 if you want to use it like a proper PC and play games or edit photos and videos, or other CPU intensive tasks. Finally, the SSD – go 2.5″ if you already have one to save money, or don’t care about the extra height. The M.2 version is a lot sleeker, but there should only be a small difference in SSD performance, which you probably won’t notice based on the common use cases for a NUC. If you’re hiding it behind a monitor, it’ll be easier to fit the M.2 version next to a wall.

My unit isn’t as tall as the 2.5″ models, because instead it takes a M.2 SSD instead. They look similar to RAM, but have the slot on the short side, rather than on the long side (see below). Don’t get these confused with mSATA – M.2 is the next generation of those and they have different connections. There’s a lot more technical information about this, if you’re interested check this guide out.

It’s worth pointing out that an Intel NUC isn’t a fully working PC out of the box. You’ll need to provide your own RAM and drive (HDD/SSD), but they are incredibly easy to install. 4 screws need unscrewing to take the bottom plate off:

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and you’ll need to add two types of components:

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1 & 2 are DDR4 SODIMM RAM sticks. 2 x 2GB in this one but they’ll take a maximum of 2 x 16GB = 32GB – more than enough! 3 is the M.2 SSD, mine of which (as you can see from the label) has a capacity of 120GB. I’m not storing too much locally – apart from Windows 10 and a few software installs, the media I’ll be playing is streamed either from the internet (care of services like Netflix) or via local network (care of Kodi).

Once those are added (and they’re incredibly easy to obtain from any PC parts supplier) the NUC is ready to go – at least, ready to have your OS of choice installed on it.

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Port wise, the Intel NUC has more than enough for it’s small 115mm x 111mm x 32mm size.

Front: USB 3.0, USB 3.0 + charging, Audio In/Out 3.5mm jack, Power light, Infrared sensor

Right: Kensington lock, SDXC Card Slot

Back: Power, Air vents, HDMI, 1000mbit NIC, 2x USB 3.0 , DisplayPort

Also on top is power and HDD/SDD light:

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This new NUC is a lot short than my previous unit, so I thought I’d introduce them to each other before sending the old one away:

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Once I had the new NUC up and running, I did notice a smoother experience. The old one wasn’t actually slow for general Windows 10 usage, but things felt snappier and more responsive with the much updated hardware.

Overall I can’t fault this unit. I loved the last one, and this just gives a refresh with newer hardware and more connection types. What isn’t there to like about this? VESA mounts are included too, which will turn a screen into an all in one PC with ease. Other Mini PCs exist, but Intel support their own hardware well and let you decide on your own RAM and storage requirements, rather than bundling the lot.

Intel know this makes a great Media Box and have created some Intel only apps, such as the “Intel® Remote Keyboard” which lets you use your phone as a keyboard and mouse which I’ll cover seperately soon.

Any questions about the NUCs? Comment below!

The Intel NUC covered in this post was provided by Intel Australia.

Intel Skylake CPU Bug

Back in Mid December 2015, it was reported on Intel Communities that a group had potentially found a bug on Intel’s 6th generation CPU, codenamed Skylake. It was discovered by running certain Prime95 tests, which is a program that stress tests the CPU. When the bug is triggered, which happens sometime during the test (can be quick, can take a long time) the PC will freeze completely.

This sounds very worrying from the outset, as over the years Intel have been caught with a few different CPU bugs; back in 1994 was the first Pentium CPU’s FPU bug (I had one of these CPUs!) which caused a CPU recall, and for me personally, one racing game I couldn’t play. There was also the 1998 Pentium F00F bug, which was rather widespread.

Since the 90’s though, Major Intel CPU bugs have been very quiet. That was until 2014, when a TSX bug was discovered on Haswell and Broadwell CPUs. As it was a hard-coded bug, Intel just disabled the TSX functionality altogether – which was better than the alternative of leaving the bug in place.

There are hundreds of smaller bugs found in Intel CPUS (and AMD for that matter) but they’re usually minor, fixable or only under rare conditions. I couldn’t find a list of these bugs, just random references scattered over the internet – so if anyone can, please share!

Now, the Skylake Bug (no official name, so I’ll call it that) has been found, but doesn’t seem to be causing too much dramas. There’s no reports of problems in day to day usage, but even better is that Intel has worked out what causes the bug, and is liaising with motherboard manufacturers to push out BIOS updates to fix it. At this stage, I can’t find out if it’s disabling the feature, working around it or actually applying code and fixing it.

The first known motherboard manufacturuer to release a patch (in Beta currently) is MSI who have released the patch for two of their newer motherboards. We should see a lot more BIOS updates coming soon from all manufacturers, but the BIOS is probbaly the least patched component of a PC due to the risk and manual work required (i.e. it won’t happen by Windows Updates unless you have a Microsoft piece of hardware).

The last public comment I could find from Intel on providing more communication on this issue was that ‘by the end of this month’ (i.e. January 2016) a specification update will be communicated, ‘which will include information on this issue’.

As a side note, I thought I’d try to replicate this bug on my Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 but could not reproduce after waiting a few hours. I’d already applied a BIOS update after receiving the hardware, but it’s unlikely that already contained the fix.

Intel 6th Gen CPU Launch

I was given the opportunity to attend the launch of Intel Asia Pacific’s 6th Generation CPU in Sydney, 14th October 2015.

Sydney Opera HouseSydney Opera House

The event was held in the Sydney Opera House, which I’d never been in before. Great building, but not so great for phone reception – luckily Wi-Fi was readily available. The event was also live streamed so people around the world could watch and see what Intel had to say. If you missed out, you can still watch a reply of it here.

20151014_173053Intel On Stage

The hashtag for the event was #Experience6thGen and you can check out what people were saying on Twitter – including myself as I live tweeted points I found interesting.

Take home messages from the event for me were:

  • Intel are releasing 48 different CPUs for the 6th Generation – ranging from CPUs designed for convertibles, laptops, gaming PCs and servers
  • Skylake is the code name for the 6th Gen CPU
  • Gaming CPUs are selling great, Intel are seeing a resurgence of console gamers coming back to PC. Intel is focusing more on gamers now along with eSports sponsoring
  • CPU sales are still on a slight downward trend, but as an example Q3 2015 was better than Q2 2015, and Intel are hoping this new CPU along with Windows 10 and the new devices coming out help drive growth
  • Thunderbolt 3 is supported with the new CPU which is 8x faster than USB 3.0
  • RealSense is awesome – 3D Camera support which most laptops will come with. This enables secure face scanning for login via Windows 10 along with a bunch of other cooler things – think 3D printing/copying! Sheldon Cooper can tell you all about it.
  • Intel has some crazy new storage technology on the way for 2016 – Intel Optane
  • There’s a lot of new devices on their way!

Some of the devices were on display. To get to them, I had to sneak past a robot:

RobotIntel Robot

…then I had to avoid detection of some Stormtroopers:

StormtroopersLooking for droids?

… and I finally managed to make my way to Lenovo’s showcase of devices, with Intel’s new CPU inside.

I spotted:

ThinkPad Yoga 260Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260

Lenovo P50Lenovo P50

YogaLenovo Yoga 500

Miix 700Lenovo Miix 700

Sorry about the photo angles, it was very crowded! Personally, I’m most interested in the P50/P70 series of Lenovo laptops because they’re really a decent server in laptop form, go read about them! The ThinkPad Yoga 260 is also interesting for a business user, as a lot of the Yogas lately have been consumer. They all look like decent laptops though, and have their own target audience.

There was also a gaming desktop set up, but I only managed to snap a photo of the awesome red keyboard:

20151014_175307Lenovo Gaming Keyboard

It’s nice to see a focus from both Lenovo and Intel on the gaming community again, which combines with so many people wanting a grunty PC as rich media content creator and editor.

CRQzC7bU8AAYGR6Hi from the event! (I’m 3rd from left)

Thanks for the invite Intel, had a great time and got to catch up with a variety of great people all with an interest in what Intel does. Hopefully I’ll have my hands on a 6th Gen CPU myself, so I can put it through the paces.

Intel Compute Stick

Thanks to Intel, I’ve been mucking about with the Intel Compute Stick. It’s a mini PC a bit bigger than a normal USB stick, with a HDMI port out and highly portable.

The stick turned up in a nice little box, around the size of a mobile phone box:

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Inside was the stick, a HDMI extender cable, a Micro USB cable for power and a power plug with USB port.

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Banana for scale of course.

Plugging it in and getting it going was easy, it’s the normal OOTB experience you’d get with any Windows PC. I used a Logitech keyboard/mouse combo with a bluetooth usb dongle to make things easy, and there was no special set up required – both devices just worked.

After setting it up and playing with it, I decided to try Windows 10 on it. I followed this guide, but my experience wasn’t the same – there was enough room to just upgrade without having to do extra storage stuff.

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Once Windows 10 was installed, the device was a bit laggy; so I installed the official Intel drivers for Windows 10 on the stick, and then it was running smoothly. That’s fair enough for a new operating system and a new device.

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I played around with a few apps, streaming media and so on, and the device ran really well.

If you have any questions, or want to know more about the device feel free to ask in the comments.

Two models available via Amazon:

Ubuntu: Intel Compute Stick Windows BOXSTCK1A32WFC

Windows 8.1 with Bing: Intel Compute Stick Linux BOXSTCK1A8LFCCR

Update 20th August 2015: I’ve written a much more detailed review at The Register