The Tech News Blog

August 6, 2013

Apple Offering USB Charger Trade-in Deal Following Electrocution Death

Image via Håkan DahlströmIf you're using a knockoff iPhone charger, you'll soon be able to trade it in at an Apple store for an official USB power adapter.

Apple on Tuesday announced a new worldwide USB power adapter trade-in program following the recent controversy over the safety of counterfeit and third-party chargers. The new initiative comes after a Chinese woman was reportedly killed by electric shock while answering a call on her iPhone 5 while it was plugged into a non-Apple charger.

"Recent reports have suggested that some counterfeit and third-party adapters may not be designed properly and could result in safety issues," Apple said in a note on its website. "While not all third party adapters have an issue, we are announcing a USB Power Adapter Takeback Program to enable customers to acquire properly designed adapters."

Beginning Aug. 16, you can drop off any sketchy USB power adapter at an Apple retail store or Apple authorized service provider and purchase an official Apple charger for $10. Apple typically sells these chargers for $19.

The company said it will ensure that any adapters turned in are disposed of in "an environmentally friendly way." To get the discount, you'll need to turn in at least one USB power adapter and bring your iPhone, iPad, or iPod into the store for a serial number validation. The deal is limited to one adapter for each iPhone, iPad, or iPod you own, and is valid through Oct. 18.

March 13, 2013

Microsoft Fixes Scary USB Flaw, 20 Bugs, in March Patch Tuesday

microsoft patch tuesday

Microsoft released seven security bulletins fixing more than 20 vulnerabilities for March Patch Tuesday. Affected applications and components include Internet Explorer, Silverlight, Visio Viewer, Sharepoint, OneNote, Office for Mac and a kernel driver in all versions of Windows.

Of the bulletins, four were rated critical and three as important, according to Microsoft's security advisory released Tuesday. The cumulative Internet Explorer patch, which has the highest priority, applies to all supported version of Internet Explorer, from versions 6 to 10.

"Pretty much everyone running Windows, and lots of Microsoft shops, should be diligently patching systems today," Kurt Baumgartner, a senior security researcher with Kaspersky Lab, wrote on SecureList.

The IE advisory does not apply to users who downloaded and installed IE 10 for Windows 7 released just a few weeks ago, as Microsoft had already included those fixes. While none of them are currently being targeted in the wild, IE is a frequent target and should be patched immediately.

January 16, 2013

U.S. Power Plant Hit by USB-Based Malware

USB Drives

A U.S.-based power plant was hit with a malware attack thanks to an infected USB stick used for software updates.

The incident was revealed in a new report from the U.S. Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT). The power plant contacted CERT after discovering a virus in a turbine control system that impacted about 10 computers on its control system network, and affected operations for about three weeks.

The USB drive in question was used to back up control system configurations. However, when the technician - who was not aware of the malware - inserted the USB stick into a computer with antivirus software, it picked up on at least three incidents of malware.

"Initial analysis caused particular concern when one sample was linked to known sophisticated malware," according to CERT, which deployed a team in October for an on-site inspection.

That team found the malware on two engineering workstations that were "critical to the operation of the control environment." Compounding the problem was the fact that there were no backups for these workstations.

"The recommended practice is to maintain a system of 'hot spares' or other effective backups for all critical systems," CERT said.

September 20, 2012

Roku Launches $100 Streaming Stick

Roku Streaming Stick

Roku is rolling out a new version of its media hub that no longer takes up space in front of an HDTV. The new Roku Streaming Stick is a device that packs all the functionality of a Roku 2 XS into a USB stick-sized device that plugs directly into an HDTV's HDMI port.

The Streaming Stick is powered through an MHL-enabled HDMI connection, letting it get energy from the HDTV itself. This requires an HDTV that supports MHL, which is a relatively new technology, so you might not be able to plug a Streaming Stick into your HDTV. While it should work with any MHL-enabled HDTV, it might not offer full functionality like remote control integration unless it's a new Roku Ready product.

Roku Ready HDTVs, A/V receivers, and Blu-ray players are MHL-enabled devices that are guaranteed to work with the Roku Streaming Stick, and will both let users control the Streaming Stick through their device remote and adjust volume through their Streaming Stick remote. Hitachi, Insignia, and Mitsubishi are among the HDTV manufacturers confirmed to be working on Roku Ready screens, and other major brands are expected to join in the future.

January 13, 2012

AMD Positions Lightning Bolt to Take on Intel’s Thunderbolt

Advanced Micro Devices has what it says is an answer to Intel's Thunderbolt technology and the smaller chip maker has eschewed any sort of nuance in naming its own single-port, high-speed data transfer protocol, which is called Lightning Bolt.

That's got more than a few folks rolling their eyes, but AMD was happy to explain to that thunder is "just a bunch of noise," whereas lightning "really brings the heat." We got a look at an early prototype of Lightning Bolt during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week and the standards-based technology looks pretty impressive in its early stages.

But make no mistake, Lightning Bolt is definitely at the proof-of-concept stage. The rig we saw in a curtained off room at AMD's CES meeting space wasn't pretty—we're talking a jumble of leads snaking out from a central hub to several displays, each processing video and crunching data courtesy of a single line from a laptop DisplayPort that fed into the hub.

Elegant, it isn't. But Lightning Bolt gets the job done and AMD claims notebook makers will be able to integrate the technology at a fraction of the cost of Intel's proprietary Thunderbolt.

The concept of the two protocols is pretty much the same, but AMD is using the USB 3.0 standard instead of its own protected IP to deliver a faster means of data transfer that also powers up connected devices.

January 9, 2012

LaCie Announces Thunderbolt Storage Solutions

LaCie eSATA Hub and 2big Thunderbolt Hard Drive

LAS VEGAS – LaCie announced two new Thunderbolt devices, a RAID hard drive and eSATA hub, at CES 2012.

The 2big Thunderbolt series hard drive isn't for the faint of heart. Consumers can choose from a 4-, 6-, or 8TB RAID storage configuration. It features two Thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining and two hot-swappable hard disks that spin at 7,200rpm, all in a simple aluminum chassis. It measures 3.5 by 6.7 by 7.8 inches and weighs 5.95 pounds, so this hard drive will primarily stay desk-bound. It has a read/write speed of 311 MBps, fast enough to allow Final Cut Pro users to stream HD video directly from the drive.

The eSATA Hub is a great solution for Mac users that are looking to connect older external eSATA hard drives to their Apple computers. 

December 27, 2011

Report: Intel Ready to Make Thunderbolt Widely Available


Intel will make its Thunderbolt rapid data transfer technology available to its full contingent of PC partners in April, according to DigiTimes. Several top computer makers and components suppliers are already preparing desktops, notebooks, and motherboards with Thunderbolt, the Taiwanese tech journal reported Tuesday.

Thunderbolt, which Intel developed in collaboration with Apple, is currently only available in products like Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, the MacBook Air, and the Little Big Disk from LaCie.

Thunderbolt chips are relatively expensive at more than $20 per module and serve much the same purpose as USB 3.0-standard data transmission technology, but prices are expected to drop in the second half of 2012, the tech journal reported. Apple's adoption of the technology across its desktop and notebook product lines has also accelerated the timeline for Thunderbolt's wide spread adoption, DigiTimes reported, citing unnamed sources from computer makers.

September 5, 2011

Rumor: Apple Contemplating USB 3.0 Support After All

How quickly times change. USB 3.0, the high-speed connection protocol that ex-Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously spurned in an email last year, might get a second chance to dip its toe into the water of Apple's systems.

According to unverified reports, Apple might be considering adding USB 3.0 support to its product lines—perhaps even beating Intel's integration of USB 3.0 into its own chipsets.

Why the turnaround? One word: Price. According to an undisclosed source speaking to VR-Zone, the cost of USB 3.0 controllers has dropped to around $2 to $3 for large-quantity orders, or roughly one-fifth the cost of a Thunderbolt chip.

August 23, 2011

Windows 8 Will Have ‘Robust USB 3.0 Support’

Yesterday afternoon Microsoft posted on its Building Windows 8 blog—always a momentous happening—this time announcing native Windows 8 support for the USB 3.0 hardware connection standard. Microsoft's Dennis Flanagan, the Director of Program Management for the Devices and Networking group, wrote that at up ot 5GB per second, USB 3.0's data rate was ten times faster than that of USB 2.0. He also notes that the newer standard's improved power management features have positive implications for battery life on laptops and tablets.

"By 2015, all new PCs are expected to offer USB 3.0 ports, and over 2 billion new "SuperSpeed" USB devices will be sold in that year alone," writes Flanagan in the blog post. "The decision to invest in USB 3.0 was an easy one to make, but doing so without compromising the existing USB ecosystem was a big challenge to overcome. Our design had to follow the revised 3.0 specification precisely in order to enable emerging USB 3.0 hardware. There are also billions of older USB devices that Windows must remain compatible with."

April 7, 2011

Apple Working on iPhone With Thunderbolt, USB 3.0?

By Sara Yin

The United States Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday awarded Apple a patent that suggests Apple is working on an iPhone and iPod that supports Intel Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

The invention, which in 2009 Apple called a "Reduced Size Multi-Pin Male Plug Connector" describes a 30-pin dock connector for "high-speed communication standards," citing USB 3.0 and a "dual channel" DisplayPort.

The name "Thunderbolt" wasn't mentioned (unsurprisingly, given that it only launched in February 2011 on the new MacBook Pro) but the patent's multiple mentions of a "dual channel" DisplayPort suggests the same technology.