Tag Archives: access

AMD Will Support Smart Access Memory on Ryzen 3000 CPUs for Gaming

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When AMD announced its Ryzen 5000 CPUs, it introduced a feature it dubbed Smart Access Memory, known more generally across the industry as Resizable BAR. Resizable BAR allows a CPU to access more than 256MB of GPU memory at any given time. The feature can boost game performance on Ryzen 5000 CPUs by between 3-7 percent on average based on our tests at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K. Nvidia claims up to 10 percent improvements for Ampere GPUs.

Initially, SAM was going to be a Ryzen 5000 feature and required a 500-series motherboard from the B550 or X570 families to use. Now, AMD has announced it’ll be bringing the feature to its Ryzen 3000 CPUs as well. A 500-series motherboard will still be required. Note that the Ryzen 3000 APUs, which technically use the Zen+ architecture, are not included here.

Formal support will still require a GPU from AMD’s RDNA2 family or an Nvidia Ampere card. In Nvidia’s case, it also requires a VBIOS update (all RDNA2 GPUs support the feature out of the box). Presumably, motherboard vendor UEFIs will also need to be updated to enable the feature on Ryzen 3000 CPUs. Intel support will be available on Z490 motherboards and upcoming 500-series products for 10th and 11th Gen CPUs. Z390 has apparently been supported as well by some manufacturers, but that’ll be OEM by OEM.

This slide shows how SAM / ReBAR works across Intel and AMD platforms with AMD and NV GPUs both.

This is a canny move on AMD’s part. Ryzen 5000 chips have been in very short supply these last months, making it harder than usual for the company’s fans to actually buy its hardware. Extending this small boost downward into the Ryzen 3000 family won’t change anybody’s life, but it’s a nice gesture to people who were looking for upgrades this year and may not have gotten the hardware they wanted.

The reason we won’t see Resizable BAR/SAM support added across the spectrum of current PC hardware is that UEFI/BIOS updates and GPU BIOS updates are apparently both required. Motherboard vendors and GPU manufacturers aren’t going to revisit the idea of adding these features to older cards and card families.

Hunting for Performance in the Proverbial Couch Cushions

Companies are getting increasingly creative in the places they look for additional performance. Nvidia’s DLSS feature leverages the cloud and AI/ML training to provide superior visual quality at a lower base resolution. DLSS 2.0 is a substantial improvement on 1.0, and while the feature isn’t perfect, it’s evolving nicely.

In AMD’s case, it’s got a rumored response to DLSS coming soon and we’ve recently seen the effectiveness of slapping a large L3 on top of a GPU, as well as the introduction of features like ReBAR/SAM. Intel has plans to integrate hybrid low-power CPU cores into its products, starting with Alder Lake later this year. Features like Variable Rate Shading have been introduced (if not yet popularized) as another way of diverting more GPU horsepower to the areas that need it most.

I suspect the next few years will see a lot of mud tossed at these proverbial walls as the industry continues to move away from the idea that lithography will provide additional performance improvements, and towards a model that prizes a multi-disciplinary approach to semiconductor performance improvement. Tightening the linkages between hardware and software and squeezing out inefficiencies is how companies are pushing performance forward these days. Clock jumps still count — witness the increase on AMD’s Radeon 6700 XT — but they’re increasingly just one tool in the toolbox.

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Government agrees mentally ill should have access to assisted dying — in 2 years

The Trudeau government has agreed with the Senate that Canadians suffering solely from grievous and incurable mental illnesses should be entitled to medical assistance in dying — but not for another two years.

The two-year interlude is six months longer than what was proposed by senators.

The longer wait is one of a number of changes to Bill C-7 proposed by the government in response to amendments approved last week by the Senate.

The government has rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed people who fear being diagnosed with dementia or other competence-eroding conditions to make advance requests for an assisted death.

It has also rejected one other amendment and modified two others in a motion that is to be debated today in the House of Commons.

If the Commons approves the government’s response, the bill will go back to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected chamber or dig in their heels.

Government proposes expert review

Bill C-7 would expand access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives, bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling.

As originally drafted, the bill would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

A strong majority of senators argued that the exclusion was unconstitutional. They said it violated the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability, as guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They voted to impose an 18-month time limit on the mental illness exclusion, which the government now wants to extend to two years.

WATCH | Changes to medical assistance in dying bill for dementia, mental illness up for debate

Senate amendments to the medical assistance in dying bill would make it easier for Canadians with mental illness or the prospect of dementia to get help ending their lives. But as those changes are debated there are concerns a sensitive subject will become a political football. 2:19

During that interlude, the government is also proposing to have experts conduct an independent review of the issue and, within one year, recommend the “protocols, guidance and safeguards” that should apply to requests for assisted dying from people with a mental illness.

In the meantime, senators had wanted to clarify that the exclusion of mental illness does not apply to people with neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. However, the government has rejected that amendment.

In rejecting advance requests, the government motion argues that the Senate amendment on that issue “goes beyond the scope of the bill” and requires “significant consultation and study,” including a “careful examination of safeguards.”

It suggests that the issue should be examined during the legally required five-year parliamentary review of the assisted dying law, which was supposed to begin last June but has yet to materialize.

The government has agreed, however, to a modified version of a Senate amendment to finally get that review underway within 30 days of Bill C-7 receiving royal assent.

The government is proposing the creation of a joint Commons-Senate committee to review the assisted dying regime, including issues related to mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities. The committee would be required to report back, with any recommended changes within one year.

Court-imposed deadline looms

The government has also agreed to a modified version of another Senate amendment to require the collection of race-based data on who is requesting and receiving medical assistance in dying.

It is proposing to expand that to include data on people with disabilities and to specify that the information be used to determine if there is “the presence of any inequality — including systemic inequality — or disadvantage based on race, Indigenous identity, disability or other characteristics.”

That is in response to the strenuous opposition to Bill C-7 from disability rights advocates who maintain the bill sends the message that life with a disability is a fate worse than death. They’ve also argued that Black, racialized and Indigenous people with disabilities — already marginalized and facing systemic discrimination in the health system — could be induced to end their lives prematurely due to poverty and a lack of support services.

Some critics have also raised concerns about unequal access to assisted dying for marginalized people, rural Canadians and Indigenous people in remote communities.

Since the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, the government will need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to pass its response to the Senate amendments.

The Conservatives, who largely opposed expanding access to assisted dying in the original bill, and New Democrats, who are reluctant to accept any changes proposed by unelected senators, have indicated they’re not likely to support the motion.

That leaves the Bloc Québécois as the government’s most likely dance partner. Despite his own contempt for the Senate, which he maintains has no legitimacy, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet, has said senators’ amendments to C-7 are “not without interest and indeed deserve to be looked at.”

The government is hoping to have the bill passed by both parliamentary chambers by Friday to meet the thrice-extended court-imposed deadline for bringing the law into compliance with the 2019 ruling.

But with the Conservatives signalling that they may drag out debate on the Senate amendments, the government will ask the court on Thursday to give it one more month — until March 26.

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Some internet access restored as Myanmar protests grow after military coup

As enthusiastic crowds of tens of thousands marched through the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city on Sunday to protest last week’s coup ousting Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, their spirits were lifted by the return of internet service that had been blocked a day earlier.

Separate protests that began in various parts of Yangon converged at Sule Pagoda, situated in the centre of a roundabout in the city’s downtown area. Protesters chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and “Down with military dictatorship.” Protesters in other parts of the country echoed their calls.

Authorities had cut access to the internet as the protests grew Saturday, fanning fears of a complete information blackout. On Sunday afternoon, however, internet users in Yangon reported that data access on their mobile phones had suddenly been restored.

The demonstrators are seeking to roll back last Monday’s seizure of power by the military and demanding the release from detention of Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted leader, and other top figures from her National League for Democracy party.


Protesters hold portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi while marching on Sunday in Yangon, almost a week after a military coup in which the elected leader was detained and charged with an obscure import-export law violation. (Getty Images)

The military has accused Suu Kyi’s government of failing to act on its complaints that last November’s election was marred by fraud, although the election commission said it had found no evidence to support the claims.

The growing protests are a sharp reminder of the long and bloody struggle for democracy in a country that the military ruled directly for more than five decades before loosening its grip in 2012. Suu Kyi’s government, which won a landslide election in 2015, was the first led by civilians in decades, but it faced a number of curbs to its power under a military-drafted constitution.

During Myanmar’s years of isolation under military rule, the golden-domed Sule Pagoda served as a rallying point for political protests calling for democracy, most notably during a massive 1988 uprising and again during a 2007 revolt led by Buddhist monks.

The military used deadly force to end both of those uprisings, with estimates of hundreds if not thousands killed in 1988. While riot police have been sent to watch the protests this past week, soldiers have been absent and there have been no reports of clashes.

Several videos posted online Sunday that were said to be from the town of Myawaddy, on Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand, showed police shooting into the air in an evident effort to disperse a crowd. There were no signs of panic and no reports of injuries.

Showing little fear, protest crowds have grown bigger and bolder in recent days, while remaining non-violent in support of a call by Suu Kyi’s party and its allies for civil disobedience.


Protesters shout slogans as they gather at an intersection on Sunday in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. Some internet services were restored in the city on Sunday after access was lost the previous day. (Getty Images)

In one of Sunday’s gatherings, at least 2,000 labour union and student activists and members of the public gathered at a major intersection near Yangon University. They marched along a main road, snarling traffic. Drivers honked their horns in support.

Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby.

The mostly young protesters held placards calling for freedom for Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were put under house arrest and charged with minor offences, seen by many as providing a legal veneer for their detention.

“We just want to show this current generation how the older generation fights this crisis, by heeding the guideline of Mother Suu, which is to be honest, transparent and peaceful,” said 46-year-old protester Htain Linn Aung. “We don’t want a military dictator. Let the dictator fail.”

Reports on social media and by some Myanmar news services said demonstrations were taking place in other parts of the country as well, with a particularly large crowd in the central city of Mandalay, where there was also a motorbike procession in which hundreds took part, constantly beeping their horns.

Saturday had seen the size of street protests grow from the hundreds to the thousands, but it also saw the authorities cut most access to the internet. Holes in the military’s firewall allowed some news to trickle out, but it also fanned fears of a complete information blackout.

WATCH | Myanmar coup sparks international condemnation, concern for Rohingya:

The military has seized power in Myanmar and detained Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other elected officials, sparking international concern for the Rohingya minority, many of whom fled past military crackdowns. 1:58

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were earlier ordered blocked but had remained partially accessible. Social media platforms have been major sources of independent news as well as organizing tools for protests.

Social media still affected, monitoring service says

NetBlocks, a London-based service that tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed that there had been a partial restoration of internet connectivity on Sunday, but it noted that it might be temporary and social media remained blocked.

The communication blockade was a stark reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing. During Myanmar’s decades of military rule, the country was internationally isolated and communication with the outside world strictly controlled.


Bikers flash the three-fingered salute in Yangon on Sunday to support protests against the military takeover in Myanmar. (The Associated Press)

The elected legislators of Suu Kyi’s party met in an online meeting on Friday to declare themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.

Pope Francis joined the international chorus of concern over the situation.

In remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Pope said he has been following “with strong worry the situation that has developed in Myanmar,” noting his affection for the country since his visit there in 2017.

He said he hoped that Myanmar’s leaders worked sincerely “to promote social justice and national stability for a harmonious democratic co-existence.”

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White House staffers working close to Trump, Pence to be offered early COVID-19 vaccine access

Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House officials who work in close proximity to President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, while its public distribution is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech will be made available to those who work in close quarters with the country’s top leaders, two people familiar with the matter confirmed. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House, which has already suffered from several outbreaks of the virus that infected Trump and other top officials, and other critical facilities.

It was not immediately clear how many officials would be offered the vaccine initially and whether Trump or Pence would get it.

The Trump administration is undertaking the vaccination program under federal continuity of government plans, officials said.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”


A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in London, U.K., on Tuesday. (Frank Augstein/AP)

The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported the news.

The move to vaccinate top U.S. officials would be consistent with the rollout of rapid testing machines for the coronavirus, which were similarly controlled by the federal government with kits reserved to protect the White House complex and other critical facilities.

According to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is not yet enough information to determine whether those who have had COVID-19 should also get the vaccine. Pence has not come down with the virus, and his aides have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine as the administration looks to boost public confidence in the shot.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart, meaning Trump administration officials would receive the final shot just weeks before leaving office.

WATCH | Small players will play big roles in ‘cold chain’ of vaccine delivery:

On both sides of the border, small companies are taking on a big role in helping perfect the cold chain to keep the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine cold enough for safe delivery. And one key component is making sure there’s enough dry ice to keep the vaccine cold enough. 2:06

The Trump administration’s vaccination plan could prove to be a boon for his successor, as aides to President-elect Joe Biden have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine and working to establish plans to boost virus safeguards in the West Wing to keep the 78-year-old Democrat healthy.

The White House vaccinations come as Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this December.

According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been informed how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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AMD Will Bring Smart Access Memory Support to Intel, Nvidia Hardware

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When AMD announced its Smart Access Memory, it sounded as if the company had finally designed a method of allowing Ryzen CPUs and GPUs to specifically work together in order to deliver higher performance than either could achieve together. Our performance tests confirmed that SAM worked fairly well, but it hasn’t been clear if the future would be restricted to AMD-AMD CPU/GPU configurations or not.

Thanks to a recent PCWorld interview, we have an answer. According to AMD, it has people on the Ryzen team working to get SAM working on Nvidia GPUs, while there are people on the Radeon team working with Intel to get the feature functional with Intel CPUs and chipsets. If AMD is comfortable making this kind of announcement, it implies that there’s reciprocity in these arrangements, meaning we’ll see cross-platform, cross-vendor support, though we haven’t heard anything about Nvidia/Intel cooperation. It only makes sense for the two companies to work together, however, since the alternative amounts to giving AMD a free performance advantage.

This confirms that SAM isn’t an AMD-specific technology as such, though AMD has done the work of enabling the feature before anyone else did. Resizable BAR Capability (that’s the PCIe specification-name for SAM) was initially baked into the PCIe 2.0 standard in 2008 before being modified in revisions to PCIe 3.0 in 2016. Microsoft added support for the feature with Windows 10 when it introduced Windows Display Driver Model 2.0, but evidently, no GPU vendor supported it until now.

If this were an AMD-specific technology, one might suspect that the company had to design Zen 3 and/or RDNA2 to use it. The fact that support can apparently be extended to Intel and Nvidia hardware implies the feature either wasn’t viewed as being worth the trouble or that the companies in question weren’t aware it could deliver a real uplift in performance until someone actually tested it. The latter would be rather droll.

According to AMD, there’s some work required to support the feature appropriately, implying we may not see it enabled immediately on Intel and Nvidia platforms. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of performance we see other platforms and hardware pick up from enabling this capability — Intel might benefit more than AMD (or vice-versa) and AMD GPUs might benefit more than Nvidia cards or the reverse.

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Nvidia Will Mimic AMD’s Smart Access Memory on Ampere: Report

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We haven’t even gotten to talk about the results of features like AMD’s Smart Access Memory, and Team Red’s competitors are already lining up to pledge support for an equivalent feature. SAM is AMD’s first-ever method of taking advantage of the fact that it owns its entire IP stack — CPU, GPU, and platform. According to AMD, it can use this fact to boost system performance when you combine an RDNA2 card and a Ryzen CPU with an X570 motherboard.

Specifically, AMD claims that it can give the CPU full access to GPU RAM rather than limiting the system to a 256MB aperture window for data transfers. We don’t know if the large Infinity Cache integrated into RDNA2 plays a part in this. No one has stuck a 128MB cache in a GPU before, so the idea that it could play a role in boosting data transfers in and out of VRAM isn’t crazy, especially since cache latency is presumably quite a bit lower than the time it takes to go out to GDDR6.

According to GamersNexus, Nvidia is capable of doing something similar:

Nvidia claims that the feature is part of the PCIe specification, that it has the capability working internally, and that it is already seeing similar performance results. There’s no ETA on when the feature might be available in-driver.

AMD has not publicly disclosed whether Smart Access Memory depends on features beyond the ability to adjust the size of this aperture (Intel refers to this as the IGD Aperture Size), or if it is additionally enhanced by capabilities of Zen 3 or the B550 / X570 chipset. It would definitely change the framing of the feature if Nvidia were capable of activating it on both Intel and AMD systems — but if it is, the likely end result would be AMD activating the capability for Intel systems as well.

Historically, in order for capabilities to become common, both GPU manufacturers have to agree to use a common standard. Nvidia introduced ray tracing using Microsoft’s DXR, for example, but it was only when AMD added the capability to next-gen consoles and its own GPUs that it really began taking off in the mass market. If Nvidia and Intel can both take advantage of a feature that AMD currently only enables for AMD customers, the company will likely enable it on Intel platforms as well, or risk losing match-ups to its biggest rival.

AMD is unlikely to want to risk that outcome. It’s one thing for the company to enable additional performance by leveraging commonalities within its own ecosystem and another to artificially limit performance on competitor platforms.

No matter what, though, the end result seems to be a consumer win. If Nvidia successfully adds this feature, game performance goes up for Nvidia customers. If AMD responds by enabling it for Intel as well, performance goes up for AMD + Intel customers. If, on the other hand, Nvidia (or hypothetically, Intel) can’t match AMD’s gains or fundamental capabilities, we’ll have evidence that the company really is taking advantage of its cross-product IP in new and interesting ways.

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Nvidia Will Mimic AMD’s Smart Access Memory on Ampere: Report

This site may earn affiliate commissions from the links on this page. Terms of use.

We haven’t even gotten to talk about the results of features like AMD’s Smart Access Memory, and Team Red’s competitors are already lining up to pledge support for an equivalent feature. SAM is AMD’s first-ever method of taking advantage of the fact that it owns its entire IP stack — CPU, GPU, and platform. According to AMD, it can use this fact to boost system performance when you combine an RDNA2 card and a Ryzen CPU with an X570 motherboard.

Specifically, AMD claims that it can give the CPU full access to GPU RAM rather than limiting the system to a 256MB aperture window for data transfers. We don’t know if the large Infinity Cache integrated into RDNA2 plays a part in this. No one has stuck a 128MB cache in a GPU before, so the idea that it could play a role in boosting data transfers in and out of VRAM isn’t crazy, especially since cache latency is presumably quite a bit lower than the time it takes to go out to GDDR6.

According to GamersNexus, Nvidia is capable of doing something similar:

Nvidia claims that the feature is part of the PCIe specification, that it has the capability working internally, and that it is already seeing similar performance results. There’s no ETA on when the feature might be available in-driver.

AMD has not publicly disclosed whether Smart Access Memory depends on features beyond the ability to adjust the size of this aperture (Intel refers to this as the IGD Aperture Size), or if it is additionally enhanced by capabilities of Zen 3 or the B550 / X570 chipset. It would definitely change the framing of the feature if Nvidia were capable of activating it on both Intel and AMD systems — but if it is, the likely end result would be AMD activating the capability for Intel systems as well.

Historically, in order for capabilities to become common, both GPU manufacturers have to agree to use a common standard. Nvidia introduced ray tracing using Microsoft’s DXR, for example, but it was only when AMD added the capability to next-gen consoles and its own GPUs that it really began taking off in the mass market. If Nvidia and Intel can both take advantage of a feature that AMD currently only enables for AMD customers, the company will likely enable it on Intel platforms as well, or risk losing match-ups to its biggest rival.

AMD is unlikely to want to risk that outcome. It’s one thing for the company to enable additional performance by leveraging commonalities within its own ecosystem and another to artificially limit performance on competitor platforms.

No matter what, though, the end result seems to be a consumer win. If Nvidia successfully adds this feature, game performance goes up for Nvidia customers. If AMD responds by enabling it for Intel as well, performance goes up for AMD + Intel customers. If, on the other hand, Nvidia (or hypothetically, Intel) can’t match AMD’s gains or fundamental capabilities, we’ll have evidence that the company really is taking advantage of its cross-product IP in new and interesting ways.

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Topaz Video Enhance AI Is Awesome, but Essentially Early Access Software

Note: This is not a full-fledged formal review and comparison of Topaz Video Enhance AI against other in-market applications, but a discussion of one particular application’s strengths and weaknesses.  Model quality and capability are still changing significantly from version to version.

Over the past 10 months, as I’ve worked on upscaling Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Voyager, I’ve relied on one piece of software above all others to perform the work: Topaz Video Enhance AI ($ 199.99, for Windows and Mac). I have recommended this product both indirectly and directly, and I’m going to continue to do so. But I need to make certain it’s clear what you are getting into.

Up until September, virtually all my focus had been on improving the quality of my video pre-processing steps. After publishing “What No Fan Has Seen Before,” I decided to turn my attention to the upscaler side of the equation.

Here’s the good news: Topaz Video Enhance AI is, hands-down, the best AI video upscaler I’ve tested. Some of its models are tunable and it can improve a broad range of video. I’ve seen it breathe new life into Grateful Dead shows, old VHS tapes, Star Trek, Stargate: SG-1 and a number of other types of content.

I cannot say that the entire community has been happy with the pace of development, but given the complexity of video editing software and the need to keep continually improving the underlying AI, I feel like things have been moving along at a reasonable clip. AI video processing is an incredibly new market, and Topaz is way out in front of any of the video editors I’ve tested (though I’m always happy to hear suggestions for other programs to test). To the best of my knowledge, TVEAI is the only application that does what it does as well as it does it.

I don’t have a lot of new footage to show just at the moment — I’ve been working on Voyager, but I’m not ready to show work. What I’ve got on tap is a version of the DS9 credits I built immediately after “What No Fan Has Seen Before” went live. This footage was produced using AviSynth+ for initial upscaling and TVEAI for processing. For those of you wondering where the tutorial I promised is — I’m still working to hammer out a workflow that’s going to deal with the full range of the show and improve the first seasons more than the current method does.

But users should be aware that there are some inconveniences to Topaz Video Enhance AI as well. First, it is not kind to system stability. It never fails to start properly when a machine is fresh from reboot, but if you’ve been using your GPU for other applications, the program may need a reboot to work properly. Stopping and starting it again pretty much always works the first time. It probably works a second time. You’ve even got a solid shot at three times. Asking it to render more than three videos in a row? That’s pushing your luck. Eventually, either the AI engine will fail to initialize or the application will crash and a reboot will be required.

Topaz Video Enhance AI seems to become unstable faster if other applications like StaxRip are running multi-threaded AviSynth+ encodes at the same time. It is not overly fond of sharing the GPU, though this behavior has improved in recent months. I’d recommend rebooting every 1-2 days to minimize the chances of a crash, especially if you’re running multiple videos in that time. Loading videos increases the chance that the next video will cause a crash, though the software can also crash on very long encodes. Preprocessing is often required for maximal upscale effectiveness, however. Personally, I just grit my teeth and reboot a lot.

One of the ways Topaz has addressed this instability issue is by creating an AutoSave mode that reloads your previous video and remembers (mostly) what frame you were on. This mitigates the hassle of rebooting four times in a single day when upscaling a great many short clips.

Model Quality Is Still a Moving Target

The quality of each AI model varies from release version to release version. One of the suggestions I’ve made to the company that it’s said it will implement is making it easier to find older versions of the software. This can be a necessity when testing to see if a given model works better in an older or a newer version.

The reason that model quality can vary is that the company is continuing to refine and train its models. There are a lot of moving parts in the equation, and Topaz has been trying to improve their application on multiple fronts simultaneously, which means some models have gotten worse and then been rolled back or repaired over time. Some spots that were hard for Topaz to upscale in February are still hard in October.

If you’re interested in this software, take advantage of the free trial to make certain its models can address your content before pulling the trigger on it.

Be advised that Topaz Video Enhance AI is not a magic bullet. Here are two very different versions of Benjamin Sisko:

Season 2. This is upscaled. It’s an older shot, and I’ve improved on it, but I haven’t fundamentally transformed it.

This is from Season 2, which appears to have been transferred to DVD in a manner intended to preserve every bit of the VHS “Super Long Play” viewing experience. Here’s Benjamin Sisko from Season 4:

Season 4 Captain Sisko. This is purely the difference in how the show was mastered to DVD, nothing I’ve done.

I’m still working to discover if the top frame can be fixed, but the fact that the image doesn’t look great is not TVEAI’s fault. There’s a limit to what the application can handle, and even some commercial video isn’t very good right now.

Topaz’s Ownership Model

Topaz has an interesting software model. When you buy Video Enhance AI, you get access to the application as it exists today and all future updates, major and minor — for one year. If you want updates thereafter, another year is $ 49.99. It is not clear if you are allowed to skip years while keeping the $ 49.99 price, or if you must keep resubscribing every year or buy the entire program again.

In the event that you stop paying the yearly update fee, you keep full access to the program as it exists the day you bought it. The question of how good of a deal this is really comes down to how rapidly Topaz improves the application. So far this year, it really has improved a lot — but it’s also got a long way to go.

Anyone considering this application should download the free trial first and test how it performs on your content. Be aware that you might wind up climbing under the hood with a wrench to bang on the video before you run it through the program. If you need to deinterlace footage, for example, that needs to happen outside the upscaler.

Topaz Video Enhance AI is effectively early-access software — in effect, if not in name. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the early access model, especially when the entire market is so new, we don’t have effective competition yet. But I also don’t want to plug this application as being astonishingly effective for my purposes without also noting that this program is not, strictly speaking, all that newbie-friendly. The MP4 encoding option tends to drop audio, which means it’s best to learn how to use FFMPEG to reassemble video from constituent frames. Use Topaz Video Enhance AI to render out to PNGs or JPG, and there’s no problem at all (this method also recovers more easily, since interrupted MP4 encodes can’t be resumed).

Topaz Video Enhance AI is a unique, interesting application and I’m eager to see where it goes, but I don’t want to paint the picture rosier than it ought to be. There’s not so much a learning curve around the program as there is a learning curve around the other things you need to do to use Topaz Video Enhance AI at peak capability. Either way, be aware it exists. If your content aligns well with its capabilities, the results can be incredible. If it doesn’t, it might not be worth investing in until the app gets some additional development time under its belt. Take advantage of the free trial and allow for the idea that you might wind up astonished. Also, allow for the idea that you hope to be astonished in about two years, once all the kinks are worked out.

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Countries around the world are scrambling to find a COVID-19 vaccine, but access remains uncertain

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world hard, and countries around the globe are anxious to get their hands on a vaccine as soon as possible in the hopes that it will bring a return to normalcy

Those vaccines are expected to be in short supply when they first hit the market, meaning not everyone will have access initially. Within countries, some groups will be prioritized for vaccination.

But what about globally? Which countries will get the vaccines first?

Many wealthier nations are already making bets on vaccines still in relatively early stages of development, with no guarantee that they will ever perform well enough to gain approval or protect their populations.

That has many concerned about “vaccine nationalism,” where countries look out for their own interests at the expense of others.

Here’s a closer look at what wealthier countries are doing to ensure supplies for their own citizens, how that might affect other countries, how Canada might fare and what efforts are being made to distribute a vaccine more fairly.

What can countries do to obtain a vaccine first?

There are a few different ways wealthier countries can try to ensure their own supplies:

  • Provide funding for the development and manufacture of their own candidates to help speed it up.
  • Manufacture a vaccine within their own country and prevent it from being exported.
  • Make deals to reserve or preorder large numbers of doses.

What impact does that have on other countries?

In previous pandemics, such as an H1N1 outbreak in 2009, wealthier nations were able to buy up the first batches, leaving no supply for lower-income countries.

And even some richer countries, including Canada, weren’t always first in line if they didn’t have their own manufacturing facilities. During the swine flu outbreak in 1976, for example, the U.S. decided to vaccinate its entire population before it would allow vaccine producers to export their products to Canada.

What are countries doing to ensure their own supply?

The U.S. has a program called Operation Warp Speed, which aims to produce a vaccine faster than anyone else. President Donald Trump has said he hoped it would be available before the end of the year.

The program has already announced that it’s providing more than $ 6 billion US to pay for development, manufacturing and preorders or reservations for hundreds of millions of doses of promising vaccine candidates from U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer and Merck, along with U.K.-based AstraZeneca.


Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, holds up a model of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on July 2 in Washington on the plan to research, manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed. (Saul Loeb/Pool via The Associated Press)

Similarly, the European Commission has a plan to use an emergency fund worth €2.4 billion (almost $ 3.7 billion Cdn) to buy up to six vaccines in advance for 450 million people.

Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands have also signed a deal with AstraZeneca for over 300 million doses of its vaccine, which they say all EU members can participate in. 

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has preordered nearly 200 million doses from AstraZeneca, BioNTech/Pfizer  and France-based Valneva.

There are concerns such preorders could reduce the initial availability of vaccines in the rest of the world, which has happened in previous pandemics  

The European Commission has specifically said it will not buy vaccines produced exclusively in the U.S. over concerns that might delay supplies to Europe.

What is Canada doing to ensure its own supply?

The federal government has created a $ 600 million fund to support vaccine clinical trials and manufacturing in Canada.

It is also “closely monitoring vaccine development efforts — domestically and internationally — and will work quickly to negotiate advanced purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturer(s) to secure supply for all Canadians as soon as it is feasible,” Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told CBC News in an email.

However, as of July 30, it hadn’t yet announced any such agreements.

The government has also announced it is ordering enough equipment, such as syringes, alcohol swabs and bandages, to give at least two doses of a vaccine to every Canadian when one becomes available.

Still, experts warn that Canada currently doesn’t have much manufacturing capacity for vaccines, even those developed in this country — many of which would be manufactured elsewhere and some of which would likely be licensed to foreign companies for manufacturing. 


Vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes are used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Quebec City-based Medicago is the first Canadian vaccine candidate to begin clinical trials. But CEO Bruce Clark has said that his company’s main manufacturing plant is in the U.S., meaning there’s no guarantee that a supply would reach Canada in a timely manner.

“‘Guarantee’ is a strong word,” Clark told The Canadian Press in July. “Strange things happen to borders in the context of a pandemic.”

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said Canada is a very small market.

“And we will not have a vaccine if the manufacturer doesn’t apply for approval,” said MacDonald, who has done research on ethical issues surrounding vaccines.

In the past, some manufacturers have not prioritized Canada, she said. For example, the manufacturer of the chicken pox vaccine didn’t apply for approval in Canada until it had already been available in the U.S. for five years.

Why should all countries have access to a vaccine?

Because it’s a global pandemic and our world is interconnected, outbreaks in any country have the potential to travel to other countries and cause outbreaks there, MacDonald said. “For you to be safe … your country needs to be safe and all other countries need to be safe.”

That’s even the case if the entire population is vaccinated, she said, as a given vaccine usually doesn’t work for everyone. 

Due to manufacturing and distribution constraints, when a vaccine first becomes available, there isn’t expected to be enough of it to vaccinate the entire populations of even countries wealthy and lucky enough to have preordered it. That means most of their populations could remain at risk for a long time if the pandemic isn’t under control in other parts of the world.

Outbreaks also tend to be worse and harder to control in poorer countries, posing a higher risk to both their own populations and the world.


A volunteer receives an injection of a COVID-19 test vaccine, developed at Oxford University in Britain, at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Siphiwe Sibeko/The Associated Press)

Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor emeritus at York University in Toronto who has studied pharmaceutical policy, said many wealthier countries such as Canada are able to do a pretty good job of controlling the virus without a vaccine through such measures as physical distancing, frequent handwashing, mask wearing and temporarily shutting down certain businesses and services. 

Meanwhile, lower-income countries where many people live in crowded conditions — some of them with limited access to things like clean water and soap — are struggling with both controlling the epidemic and treating those who have fallen ill.

“I think you need to look at where the outbreak is still the greatest threat to public health and also where the medical care resources are the lowest,” Lexchin said.

“You can make the case that however much we need a vaccine in Canada, there they need it much more than we do.”

What about global efforts to ensure a fair distribution?

There are some, but perhaps the biggest is the COVAX Facility, an initiative of the World Health Organization; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is a public-private partnership founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that vaccinates children against deadly diseases; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which aims to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics.

COVAX is pooling money from dozens of countries to invest in vaccine candidates around the world, with a goal of delivering two billion vaccine doses globally by 2021. 

The program is designed to connect developing and developed nations, with all partners getting enough doses of a successful vaccine for 20 per cent of their populations, initially prioritizing health-care workers. So far, it’s signed on 75 higher-income countries — including Canada but not the U.S. — to partner with 90 lower-income countries that together represent more than 60 per cent of the world’s population. It’s also joining forces with vaccine manufacturers.


Health workers screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms at the Deonar slum in Mumbai, India, on July 11. In just three weeks, India went from being the world’s sixth worst-affected country to the third, according to a tally of coronavirus cases by Johns Hopkins University. (Rajanish Kakade/The Associated Press)

The program includes investment in production facilities and incentives to scale up through preorders.

Because most vaccine candidates are not expected to succeed and make it to market, COVAX is designed to get higher-income countries to participate by improving the chance that they’ll invest in a successful vaccine.

“This is an initial opportunity for a wealthy country to kind of hedge their bets and protect their own interests and also contribute to a global effort to secure vaccine for people living in countries where the resources are not there to do it on their own,” said Prof. Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore.

“It’s very smart.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken in favour of and co-authored an op-ed article with leaders of other countries calling for equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s ready. Canada has already pledged $ 850 million to Global Coronavirus Response and $ 120 million toward the broader initiative that COVAX is part of, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says it has raised $ 600 million US from higher-income countries and the private sector to provide an incentive for manufacturers to make enough vaccine to ensure access for developing countries.

Will efforts for a fair distribution of vaccines work?

York University’s Lexchin said it’s not clear if vaccines will be fairly distributed. He noted in an article in The Conversation that even for COVAX, rich countries will get the vaccine before poorer countries. And all countries will only be able to vaccinate their highest-priority groups, including health-care workers — just 20 per cent of the population through the program, limiting its influence.

At least one humanitarian group has expressed concern that the program doesn’t stop rich countries from buying up all the supply in advance, limiting what can be distributed to the rest of the world.

Lexchin said in an interview that middle-income countries such as Brazil and Mexico sometimes fall through the cracks, as they’re not poor enough to take advantage of lower prices offered by manufacturers, who set the prices.

He said he thinks leaders, including Canada’s, need to step up as well, by requiring that vaccines and treatments be made available at affordable prices to low- and middle-income countries if government funding was received for their development.

Still, MacDonald of Dalhousie University is cautiously optimistic.

“We’re in better shape to be more equitable about a COVID-19 vaccine globally than we were for the influenza pandemic,” she said.

“Do I think we’re going to get it right? … I hope we’ll get it more right.”

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CBC | World News

Trudeau pens op-ed with world leaders calling for equal access to coronavirus vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has joined the leaders of Spain, New Zealand, South Korea, Ethiopia and three other countries in calling for equitable access to a coronavirus vaccine when one is developed.

In a new opinion piece published in the Washington Post’s “Global Opinions” section, the leaders urge countries to co-operate on manufacturing and distributing a vaccine to ensure that less-developed countries don’t lose out to rich ones.

“As the world is still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic of the 21st century, with the number of cases still rising at the global level, immunization is our best chance of ending the pandemic at home and across the world — but only if all countries get access to the vaccine,” it reads.

“While global cooperation in terms of resources, expertise and experiences is paramount for developing a vaccine, manufacturing and distributing it while leaving no one behind will truly put global cooperation to the test.”

The message comes as labs around the world race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus — and as signs emerge of a global tug-of-war between countries seeking to secure vaccine supplies for their own citizens first.

Global effort to develop vaccine

The global scientific community is engaged in an unprecedented effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, with researchers in dozens of countries concurrently developing and testing potential vaccine candidates.

Some countries — including Britain, France, Germany and the United States — already have ordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that have not yet been shown to work.

In their op-ed, the eight leaders said governments should develop a set of transparent, fair and scientifically-sound principles to guide the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

“This cannot be a race with one winner,” they wrote. “When one or more vaccines are successful, it must be a win for all of us.”

The leaders said the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility is one example of an initiative intended to ensure that any effective vaccine is distributed fairly around the world.

More than 150 countries have signed up with COVAX, including 75 wealthy countries that would finance vaccines from their public budgets and another 90 lower-income countries that hope to receive donated vaccines, the vaccine alliance Gavi said in a statement Wednesday.

Trudeau recently called for countries to pull together in the race for a vaccine when attending two events meant to raise funds for vaccine research and development.

The prime minister pledged $ 850 million for the Global Coronavirus Response in May and said Canada would contribute $ 120 million toward a new initiative called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator last month.

The ACT Accelerator was created in April by the World Health Organization, the French government, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure equitable access to medical treatments. It supports organizations, health professionals and businesses in their efforts to develop a vaccine, as well as drug therapies and diagnostic tools to battle the pandemic.

Both pledges are in addition to Canada’s five-year, $ 600-million pledge to GAVI, which has immunized 760 million children and prevented 13 million deaths in the world’s poorest countries since 2000. 

The world leaders argued that successfully developing a vaccine and then distributing it broadly would serve as “a cornerstone of strengthening multilateralism for the future.”

The other leaders who signed the Washington Post op-ed include:

  • President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia
  • President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa (also chairperson of the African Union)
  • Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón of Spain
  • Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of Sweden
  • Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh of the Republic of Tunisia

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CBC | Health News