AMD’s Radeon RX 6600XT is its next flagship 1080p GPU

After making a return to the mid-range with its RX 6700 XT GPU, AMD has launched its 1080p flagship, the RX 6600 XT. A successor to the excellent and popular RX 5600 XT card, the new model has considerably more power on tap with 9.6 teraflops of RDNA 2 performance, compared to 7.19 teraflops for the last model. Not only that, but it offers 8GB of GDDR6 RAM, compared to 6GB for its predecessor. 

In fact, the RX 6600 XT seems to deliver about the same amount of performance as the RX 5700 XT (9.75 teraflops) and just slightly less than the GPU in the PS5, at least on paper. Since the RX 5700 XT was offered as a 1440p-capable card (and the PS5 can handle 4K), it doesn't seem a stretch to say that the new model will at least be decent at 1440p gaming. 

However, AMD is marketing this card as a "new standard for 1080p," saying that it has up to a 1.7 times uplift over the last generation for games like Doom Eternal for 1080p gaming. AMD noted that around two-third of monitors shipped are still 1080p, so that's still the norm for PC gaming. 

AMD's Radeon RX 6600XT is its next flagship 1080p GPU

Other specs include 32 compute units (compared to 40 on the RX 6700 XT), a 2359 MHz game clock and 160W power consumption with a single 8 pin power connector. AMD also touts custom features like Radeon Boost for higher frame rates and Radeon Anti-Lag for improved latency.

The main new feature with the 6000-series GPUs, however, is ray-tracing. That feature allows for higher resolutions (1440p and 4K) while still maintaining decent frame rates and allowing for more realistic images. Don't expect too much from the RX 6600 XT, however, as the RX 6700 XT struggled in ray-tracing tests compared to NVIDIA rivals in our review — and the RX 6600 XT has lower specs all around. 

Still, it looks pretty impressive otherwise for a budget-level 1080p card. We'll soon see a raft of RX 6600 XT models from ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI (above), ASRock and others, though we still don't know the prices or release date. The RX 5600 XT had a suggested retail of $ 300, but as we all know, street prices were much, much higher thanks to the current global GPU shortage.

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Facebook’s next product will be its long-awaited Ray-Ban smart glasses

Facebook's booming business is dominated by digital ads, but it also has hardware ambitions beyond VR. During the company's latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said its next product release would be a pair of smart glasses from Ray-Ban. 

"The glasses have their iconic form factor, and they let you do some pretty neat things," the Facebook co-founder said. "So I'm excited to get those into people's hands and to continue to make progress on the journey toward full augmented reality glasses in the future." 

Facebook's sunglasses have been the subject of rumors since 2019. Back then, sources told CNBC that Facebook was working with Ray-Ban owner EssilorLuxottica on AR eyewear nicknamed "Orion." The glasses were billed as a full-fledged phone replacement on which you could take calls, see information and even broadcast livestreams. That inevitably drew comparisons to Google Glass (another Luxottica collab) instead of the phone-tethered Spectacles from Snap. Last year, Hugo Barra, then VP VR at Facebook Reality Labs, confirmed that the glasses would land in 2021. But, we haven't heard much since.

For Facebook, the glasses hold the key to its future. Alongside virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) is integral to building the "metaverse," Zuckerberg said. In the future, Facebook will morph into a shared, liveable platform that lets you "teleport" between different social experiences using VR and AR, Zuckerberg explained. 

The term metaverse is the latest buzzword seized upon by Silicon Valley and futurists. While the concept has been around for well over a decade, it gained traction after the breakout success of multiplayer game creation platforms like Fortnite and Roblox. Earlier this week, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella mentioned an "enterprise metaverse" on his company's earnings call.

For Facebook, the metaverse is more than just a fad. The company is spending billions in order to build its shared universe, which will be populated with Facebook users and digital ads, according to Zuckerberg. In order for it to become a reality, the company needs more people to buy its computing hardware. Therefore, the plan is to make those devices more affordable.

"Our business model isn't going to primarily be around trying to sell devices at a large premium or anything like that because our mission is around serving as many people as possible," Zuckerberg noted. "So we want to make everything that we do as affordable as possible, so as many people as possible can get into it and then compounds the size of the digital economy inside it. So that's kind of at a high level how I'm thinking about this."

Sunglasses aren't the only hardware Facebook is reportedly working on. Multiple reports have claimed Facebook is developing a smartwatch with a built-in cellular connection and a detachable display. Initially, it was believed that the watch would be first out the gate, but it seems Zuckerberg had other plans.

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Facebook will require its US office workforce to be vaccinated

Facebook will require that its workers get immunized against the coronavirus before they can return to its Menlo Park headquarters and other offices across the US. "As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated," Lori Goler, Facebook vice president of people, said on Wednesday. "We continue to work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone's health and safety."  

Much like Google, which announced a similar policy earlier in the day, the company said it would have a process in place for workers that can't get inoculated for medical and "other" reasons. It also says how it implements the requirement in different areas around the world will depend on local conditions and regulations.

In June, Facebook announced it was on track to reopen most of its US offices at 50 percent capacity by early September. Earlier in the year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said employees could apply for permanent remote work positions. In the same post, he noted that within the next five to 10 years, up to half of the company's workforce could be made up of remote workers.

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How to watch Rocket Lab’s US Space Force satellite launch

The US Space Force is gearing up to launch a research and development satellite on Thursday with the help of Rocket Lab. The company's Electron rocket is scheduled to launch from a site in New Zealand sometime between 2AM and 4AM ET (6PM-8PM local time) to take the Monolith satellite into low Earth orbit.

The aim of the mission, which is called "It's a Little Chile Up Here" (a reference to the green chile from the Space Test Program's New Mexico home), is to test small satellites for the Department of Defense. Monolith will help determine whether it's large deployable sensors are feasible. Such sensors account for a significant proportion of a spacecraft's total mass. Since the sensor may alter the spacecraft’s dynamic properties, the mission will examine whether it's possible to maintain altitude control after the sensor has been deployed.

"Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines," Rocket Lab wrote in a statement. "The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities."

You can watch the launch as it happens on the Rocket Lab website. A stream may also be available on Rocket Lab's YouTube channel.

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Spotify added more paying customers than free ones last quarter

Three months ago, Spotify predicted that user growth would start falling, because COVID-19 had prompted so many people to sign up than expected. Today, the audio giant was proved right, as new signups fell to nine million new users in the most recent quarter, but slower growth isn’t always a bad thing. Of that nine million figure, seven million users signed up for Premium, versus just two million who went ad-supported. It means that Spotify was also able to announce a second successive quarter of profitability after a long period of losses.

The total number of Spotify users now stands at 365 million, of which 165 million are paying for Premium, while the remaining 210 are ad-supported. Converting more of Spotify’s vast ad-supported user base into Premium users is one way to ensure the company remains profitable. Another, of course, is to boost its growing advertising business, which has been bolstered by Spotify’s numerous podcast offerings. The company said that it saw “triple digit” year-on-year gain in ad-sales for the company’s owned podcast outlets, including The Ringer, Parcast and Gimlet.

The last three months has seen Spotify intensify work to push users toward cheaper forms of audio content than music. It says that Joe Rogan’s podcast has performed “above expectations,” while shows out of The Ringer saw big bumps in listenership as the NBA headed into the playoff season. No mention this month of how many people are tuning in to listen to former President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen hang out, which was the second biggest podcast on the platform from the start of the year.

As for the future, Spotify says that it’s hoping to add at least 12 million more users in total, and at least another five million more paying customers. It is still expecting to reach the coveted 400 million user figure by the end of the year, although given the uncertainties still present with COVID-19, you never can be sure.

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WoW will remove ‘inappropriate references’ following California lawsuit

The official World of Warcraft Twitter account has announced that it will take immediate action to "remove references that are not appropriate for [its] world." While it didn't elaborate on what those references are, they may pertain to in-game elements connected to its senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi, as Kotaku has noted. Afrasiabi was singled out in the lawsuit filed by California authorities accusing Activision Blizzard of fostering a "frat boy" culture that's become a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."

According to the lawsuit, Afrasiabi is known for hitting on and touching female employees inappropriately in plain view of other male employees who would try to intervene and stop him. He apparently has such a notorious reputation within the company that his suite was nicknamed the "Crosby Suite after alleged rapist Bill Crosby."(The lawsuit has misspelled Bill Cosby's name.) In addition, executives allegedly knew about his behavior but "took no effective remedial measures." Blizzard President J. Allen Brack talked to him a few times, the lawsuit reads, but gave Afiasiabi a slap on the wrist for the incidents.

Activision Blizzard denied the accusations in the lawsuit and said it "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past" in its initial response. Executive Vice President Fran Townsend told employees in a memo that the lawsuit "presented a distorted and untrue picture of [the] company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories."

A group of over 800 Activision Blizzard employees decried the company's response to the accusations as "abhorrent and insulting." They wrote in an open letter: "Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted, and in many cases false’ creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims." At least 50 employees working in the company's main office in California are now planning a walkout on Wednesday to protest the company's actions and to demand better working conditions for women.

In WoW's announcement, it said the decision to remove inappropriate elements was made in order to rebuild trust. It admitted that it must earn people's trust with its "actions in the weeks and months to come," though it didn't say what other steps the company intends to take in response to the lawsuit's allegations.

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Facebook recalls Quest 2 foam inserts over skin irritation issues

Working with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada, Facebook has issued a voluntary recall for a component that comes with its latest VR headset. According to a blog post from Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook’s Reality Labs, “a very small percentage” of Quest 2 owners have experienced some amount of skin irritation after using the removable foam face insert that comes with every Quest 2 headset and Fit Pack.

Bosworth says Facebook conducted a review of its manufacturing process and found no unexpected or hazardous contaminants in the insert. Still, out of a desire to create “safe and unbelievable experiences for all,” the company is introducing a new silicone cover that fits over the component. Whether you’ve had issues with the insert or not, you can request that Facebook send you the silicone cover for free. To do so, go to the “My Devices” section of your account page and click the dedicated button that’s there.

Facebook is also halting sales of the Oculus Quest temporarily while it works with distributors to add the silicone cover to every Quest 2 package. The company anticipates the headset will be back on store shelves by August 24th. As part of today’s recall, Facebook is also introducing a new 128GB variant of the Oculus Quest 2. It will replace the existing 64GB model, and feature the same $ 299 price tag as its predecessor. The 128GB model will go on sale on August 24th, the same day the company plans to restart Quest 2 sales.

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Samsung says an S Pen for foldables is coming at Unpacked

Ahead of its upcoming Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung has published a blog post by its president TM Roh that basically tells us what it plans to announce next month. In addition to a new Galaxy Watch powered by Wear OS, the company will be launching the third generation of its Galaxy Z series and "the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones."

A stylus made for the pliable screens on foldables like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip has been a widely requested feature, and would make the larger, opened up displays more useful. Of course, Samsung shared little else about this S Pen besides the fact that it's coming, so there are plenty of unknowns at the moment. How will it avoid damaging the softer, flexible screen? How precise will the stylus be? What size is its nib, what is its pressure sensitivity and will there be the foldables have onboard slots to house it? Will it have Bluetooth support for remote control actions? Clearly, these are things we'll have to wait till Unpacked on August 11th to learn about.

Roh also confirmed that Samsung will not be launching a new Note handset at the event, saying that "Instead of unveiling a new Galaxy Note this time around, we will further broaden beloved Note features to more Samsung Galaxy devices."

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
Chris Velazco / Engadget

As for the third generation of the Galaxy Z phones we'll be seeing at the event, Roh said the company has "lined up even more partner apps that make the most of the versatile fold-out format." We can expect "hands-free optimized video calling with Google Duo and watching videos in Flex mode on YouTube," as well as "multitasking in Microsoft Teams." 

Specifically, too, the next Galaxy Z Flip will have "an even more refined style" and "more durable, stronger materials," while the upcoming Z Fold will "combine the very best that smartphones and tablets offer and [deliver] completely new ways of working, connecting and creating."

The language is unsurprisingly vague, as Samsung can't give away all the details ahead of Unpacked. But it clearly also wants people to be excited — excited enough that they might be temped to reserve one of the new Z series devices already. If you choose to go through the company's Reserve Now program, you can trade in up to two devices, including phones, tablets and wearables, towards a new Galaxy product. I'd recommend till we learn more about what's coming on August 11th before doing that, and you can join us on Engadget's YouTube channel to watch Unpacked live. We'll be kicking things off with a pre-show at 9:40am ET and answer your questions in a post-show after Samsung wraps.

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SiriusXM’s Premium VIP plan gives two cars access for $35/month

SiriusXM has revealed a new $ 35/month plan that allows you to listen to the service’s 300-plus channels from two cars and log in to the SXM streaming app on two devices simultaneously. Subscribers will have other perks through the Platinum VIP plan, including the chance to check out some exclusive events with artists and celebrities.

The plan includes access to more than 5,000 soundboard-quality concert recordings. You’ll also be able to check out 250 video recordings of shows selected from live concert streaming service’s library. The lineup includes gigs from Bruce Springsteen, Phish and Pearl Jam (all of whom have SiriusXM channels), as well as the likes of Wilco and Metallica.

Platinum VIP seems like SiriusXM’s take on a family plan, with live concert recordings and other perks to sweeten the deal. For subscribers who have more than one car, the plan could be a better option than perhaps having two $ 22/month Platinum plans.

Even though every media-centric company is battling for customers' time and dollars, SiriusXM targets a slightly different type of user to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. It has some high-profile exclusive stations, including ones from Howard Stern, as well as features like Pandora stations and play-by-play for several major sports. However, Spotify has significantly expanded its non-music offerings over the last few years, with investments into the likes of podcasts and Clubhouse-style audio chat rooms

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The Morning After: EV-charging roads in Indiana

One problem with our electric vehicle future is the need for ubiquitous, easy-to-use charging points all over the world. After all, the only way to avoid range and lines-at-the-charger anxiety is to make sure you can get power whenever you need it. That’s what makes a project, started by Indiana’s Department of Transport, so exciting: It’s working on a road that can charge your EV as you drive.

Backed by the National Science Foundation, and in partnership with Purdue University, the team will test concrete embedded with magnetized particles. This magnetized cement, or Magment, will be produced by a German company (also called Magment). The idea will, if early tests prove successful, see Indiana’s DOT build a quarter-mile track of Magment to see if it can charge a heavy duty truck while it trundles along.

A number of countries, including the UK and Sweden, are currently testing road-based charging. If it works, we won’t need to reorder our lives to accommodate an EV. Better still, permanently available power may make it easier to build cars with smaller batteries, knowing you’re never more than a few inches from your next set of electrons.

— Dan Cooper

Steam Deck can limit frame rates to give you longer battery life

The target is 30 frames per second for an extra hour or two of juice.

Valve Steam Deck with carrying case

Steam Deck, Valve’s handheld console, brings PC gaming to your morning commute. The open question, of course, was how such a wee device would cope with the demanding, graphically intensive titles of the last few years. Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais explained that the console will ship with an option to limit the frame rate. This Frame Limiter, which has a lower limit of 30 frames per second, was tested on Portal 2, which lasted four hours without it, and six with. It seems like Valve is at least aware its handheld is more than a little ambitious and is making every effort to ensure it actually works. Continue Reading.

China plans to build the first 'clean' commercial nuclear reactor

Reactors using thorium and molten salt is the holy grail for clean energy visionaries.

Thorium pellets. In India, nuclear energy and secrecy literally go hand in hand. In a rare treat, photographer Pallava Bagla was given exclusive access deep into the heart of India's nuclear weapons laboratory for an unprecedented glimse into India's secret nuclear program. This new reactor, simply called a
Pallava Bagla via Getty Images

China has unveiled its design for a “clean” nuclear reactor, which is at less risk of meltdown and doesn’t require water for cooling. This reactor, which uses thorium and molten salt, is a bit of a holy grail for our clean energy future, at least until something better comes along. Tests should begin later this year, and there’s hope of seeing the first working commercial reactor in the early 2030s. Developed by the US in the early ‘60s, thorium and molten salt reactors are comparable to current uranium reactors. Why was the technology mothballed? For a couple of reasons, most notably because, unlike uranium, the technology didn’t work for weapons. Continue Reading.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has flown a total of one mile on Mars

This is one air mile you can’t trade in for extra legroom.

NASA Ingenuity helicopter on 10th flight over Mars

Ingenuity, NASA’s Mars helicopter, has now covered a mile of distance flown while studying the surface of the Red Planet. On its latest jaunt, the 10th so far, it zoomed around taking pictures of the Raised Ridges region of the Jezero Crater. They will help mission commanders determine if the Perseverance rover can make it over the rough terrain. Continue Reading.

Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony included a light display with 1,800 drones

A globe made of drones was a very impressive sight.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Drones form a shape of the world during the opening ceremony, seen above the Olympic Stadium REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Kim Kyung Hoon / reuters

The 2020 Summer Games, before all of the running and jumping and swimming started, was a feast for the more nerdily inclined. The opening ceremony featured a light show, with a fleet of 1,824 drones taking center stage. Initially forming the shape of the five rings, the craft then recombined to create a 3D globe in the air, while a rendition of Imagine, re-orchestrated by Hans Zimmer, rang throughout the stadium. And the geeky festivities didn’t stop there: The athletes walked out to orchestrated versions of classic video game songs. Continue Reading.

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