By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

So, you’re planning on building a new gaming PC, and you’re pricing out all the components that will make your friends literally green with envy – you’ve probably spent a lot of time looking at the best graphics cards to get those sweet frames. But, why would you stop there? Why not cap all of that sweet sweet performance with one of the best gaming keyboards? A great keyboard will actually increase your own personal performance, and there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about having a keyboard lit up like a christmas tree with RGB lighting.

If you’re still using one of those old membrane keyboards that you picked up at Best Buy for $10, you’re definitely not playing at your full potential. Gaming keyboards, for instance, allow for much deeper travel, so you can stop worrying about dying because you accidentally crouched in front of an enemy instead of punching it. And, we just have to say it, there is nothing like playing on a keyboard that literally glows in the dark, thanks to RGB lighting.

With Christmas right around the corner, and a couple weeks of shopping left, we’ve created a list of 10 of the best gaming keyboards available right now. If you’re on a budget, don’t worry, as we won’t focus on high end keyboards alone, we’ve taken the value of each of these MLG typewriters into consideration. You won’t find any lemons here either – every keyboard on this list has been tested or reviewed by us, independent of any manufacturer’s input.

This beautiful keyboard has been lovingly engineered for a lightning-fast actuation point of 1.5mm and this alone makes the Logitech G413 Carbon a force of nature. This mechanical power-house is defined by its extremely affordable price tag in addition to its use of Logitech’s Romer G switches, which have time and time again proven to be all but equal contenders to the switches made by Cherry. It also manages to keep a low profile, thanks to its stealthy frame and its nigh silent keys.   

Read the full review: Logitech G413 Carbon 

Best gaming keyboards

Hoping to find a gaming keyboard that matches the rest of your Chroma-lit accessories? Then this is the one you want. Not only does the BlackWidow Chroma V2 carry an equal balance of comfort and performance, but it went a few steps further in the process. Complemented by the fact that Razer has tacked on five macro keys that can be assigned to virtually any in-game action, the BlackWidow Chroma V2 supports 16.8 million colors worth of LED lighting as well.

Read the full review: Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2

Following in the footsteps of Kingston’s first HyperX-branded gaming keyboard, namely the HyperX Alloy FPS, the HyperX Alloy Elite tweaks the company’s first winning keyboard to provide only a few subtle changes. For only $10 USD more than its predecessor, you’re getting media keys, a light bar and even a palm rest, all of which were previously absent. They’re also a series of delightful treats, making for a value proposition that shouldn’t be ignored.

Read the full review: HyperX Alloy Elite

Corsair K70

The Realforce RGB is a multi-talented keyboard that feels incredible to type on due in part to its capacitive Topre keyswitches, which offer superior tactile feedback compared to their Cherry MX equivalents. Boasting high-quality PBT keycaps and depth from 1.5mm to 3mm, the Realforce RGB is a hugely versatile keyboard that suits whatever task you’re doing at the time. Yes, even typing since its keyswitch stems are compatible with both Topre and Cherry MX keycaps. 

Like the Corsair K70 Rapidfire before it, the K95 RGB Platinum is a gaming-first mechanical keyboard with plenty of versatility to get the job done, whatever that job may be. It even packs in 8MB of memory dedicated to storing the profiles of its six macro keys. This keyboard is not only backlit by up to 16.8 million colors, but it’s the perfect travel buddy too, made better by its military-grade aluminum finish, including the wrist rest.

Read the full review: Corsair K95 RGB Platinum

Razer Ornata

For too long there’s been a divide between mechanical and membrane keys but now Razer has finally brought the two together with its ‘Mecha-Membrane’ Ornata keyboard. These new switches pull from everything Razer has learned over the years. The result is a grand typing experience with shorter keys, the tactile feel of the green switches from the Black Widow X Chroma and a loud audible click.

Cherry MX 6.0

Lending it to fast response times, the Cherry MX Board 6.0 is defined by its Cherry MX Red switches, hence the make and model. However, because the keys are positioned fairly close together they’re excellent for typing in addition to gaming. What’s more, housed in an eye-catching aluminum chassis, the MX Board 6.0 certainly doesn’t feel cheap and its blood-red key lighting is deliciously ominous.

Logitech G810

Sporting Logitech’s own Romer G switches, which aren’t quite as squishy as Cherry’s various switches, the G810 possesses a snappier feel than other gaming keyboards whether typing or gaming. And, with smart media keys that work equally well on both Windows and macOS, this board is a solid all-round offering. If you’re fed up with the weird markings, LCD screens and strange parts that come with competing “gamer-focused” keyboards, the G810 might be for you.

M500

Unlike most gaming keyboards in its class, the SteelSeries Apex M500 gets straight to the point, omitting unnecessary additives along the lines of RGB lighting and discrete media controls in favor of a compact design that wastes no space. Although the M500 neglects to let you choose your key switches beyond the standard Cherry MX Reds and Blues, these are damn fine options for a mechanical board in this price range.

Ultor

Because it packs an extremely durable, rugged aluminum body, the Cougar Attack X3 RGB is one of the best gaming keyboards you can buy if you’re on a tight budget. Equipped with Cherry MX switches and RGB  backlighting that can be customized to illuminate up to 16.8 million colors, this keyboard is a steal considering it doesn’t come close to the price of the Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2. N-Key rollover and a 1,000Hz polling rate are merely a bonus.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

IBM has pushed out a new Power chip, or as the company puts it, the ‘next generation in accelerated computing’ has arrived.

The Power9 processor is built to cope with intensive AI and machine learning workloads, utilizing Nvidia NVLink and PCIe Gen4 for 5.6x faster data throughput compared to PCIe Gen3, along with OpenCAPI technology. IBM claims a quadruple bandwidth improvement compared to its predecessor, Power8.

IBM has also built a server around the new chip, with the IBM Power Systems AC922 offering AI processing speeds of up to 300 petaflops. The company also notes that it’s capable of boosting deep learning framework performance by up to a factor of 3.8x compared to x86 solutions.

As TechCrunch reports, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, commented on the chip: “IBM’s Power9 is literally the Swiss Army knife of ML [machine learning] acceleration as it supports an astronomical amount of IO and bandwidth, 10X of anything that’s out there today.”

Reaching the Summit

IBM’s new chips are also being used in new supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national laboratories in the US – known as ‘Sierra’ and ‘Summit’ respectively – which should be up and running early next year.

Summit will apparently provide an individual application performance which is five to 10 times faster than Titan, Oak Ridge’s older supercomputer, and Sierra will provide a boost of four to six times compared to its predecessor Sequoia.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Whether you want to use them to smarten up your dumb TV set or to empower your workforce on a budget, Android boxes have earned their place – with merit – in the wider personal computer ecosystem.

Falling prices along with rising competition and a massive improvement in technology means that you can now have Android boxes capable of delivering on a par with a Windows PC, but at a fraction of the cost. 

Over the past year we’ve seen Android-powered boxes take centre-stage with Kodi streaming devices surging in popularity, to such an extent that Android boxes have almost become synonymous with Kodi boxes.

But unlike the latter, Android boxes are more versatile and don’t suffer the bane of being tied to customized user interfaces or Android builds. And in this article we’ve listed the best Android boxes you can buy for work, play, or indeed anything else.

You can run Android on Windows 10 which means that you can get the best of both OS worlds if you have a Windows machine (running Windows on Android remains an elusive goal). But instead of running Android on a laptop tucked behind a monitor or TV, why not try a mini PC – you can almost think of these as essentially laptops without a battery, keyboard or screen.

The Beelink BT3 Pro Mini PC weighs in at less than £100 (around $135, AU$180) at the time of writing, and is the cheapest Windows 10 device on the market with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Install Bluestacks or AMIDuOS on this little box of tricks and you’re ready to fly.

Despite its diminutive size, the Beelink BT3 Pro is still a pretty capable device: it runs an Intel Atom X5-z8350 CPU with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 1Gbps Ethernet port. There’s also a 4K-capable HDMI 2.0 port plus a legacy VGA port, three USB ports and an SD card reader.

At just over £20 (around $27, AU$35), the W95 is a great introduction to Google’s popular operating system, and it comes with a bundled remote control for those who will be using it for media duties.

This box runs an Amlogic S905W chipset – it’s a quad-core 64-bit system-on-a-chip (ARM Cortex A53) with a Mali 450 GPU. It supports 4K via HDMI 2.0 and can hardware-decode H.265 content. 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage are the minimum you’ll need to get Android 7.1 to run decently. The fact that this device is battery powered means that power management features are kept to a minimum (i.e. the CPU can run as fast as is needed).

Don’t expect too much of it at this price point, though: while the W95 does have a pair of USB ports, they are USB 2.0. As for the LAN port, it is a 100Mbps version. On the positive side, however, this box carries an SPDIF port and a microSD card slot.

There are no other products like the Zidoo X8 on the market. It is the only device that can be used both as an Android box and as the command center for a NAS setup thanks to an OpenWRT implementation.

Unlike most Android boxes out there, this one runs with a Realtek RTD1295 chip which combines four Cortex A53 cores with a Mali T820 GPU, highlighting the device’s focus on entertainment. At just over £70 (around $95, AU$125), it is a surprisingly affordable solution that delivers more than the sum of its parts.

You only get 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, but connectivity is where the X8 performs exceedingly well for a device pitched at this price point, boasting 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. There are also three USB ports plus an HDMI in/out, a card reader, and even Optical and AV out.

The Zidoo X8 has an external antenna as well, and both operating systems (Android and OpenWRT) run concurrently to deliver added features like SAMBA support, DLNA and the ability to run a DAAP server (think iTunes). 

Take a mini PC, throw in a camera, and you get the Cenovo King Kong, a diminutive computer that we reviewed not so long ago. It’s powered by Windows 10 which means that you will be able to get either Bluestacks or AMIDuOS to run on it.

Given that it’s priced at just over £110 (around $150, AU$195), one can expect corners to be cut somewhere, especially as it has 4GB of memory and 64GB on-board storage. And indeed this box uses one of the slowest CPUs on the market, the Atom x5-Z8300, and its Ethernet port is a 10/100Mbps model.

Other than that, though, it’s pretty decent: you get four USB 3.0 ports, a card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and that 2-megapixel camera as well. In our hands-on review of the device, we said that it “could prove to be a boon for small and medium businesses looking for a more powerful, more versatile and cheaper version of the Chromebox, with the added bonus of having an integrated camera.”

Okay, so this isn’t technically an Android box, but the level of sophistication that goes into this device makes it a real standout product. Portable projectors have come down in price significantly, and it was only a matter of time before vendors started to cram compute and connectivity into them as additional features.

The H96 is a great example of this, being a DLP projector with a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels plus a quad-core CPU, Android 5.1, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2GB of RAM and 16GB on-board storage.

That’s the sort of hardware you usually find on a midrange smartphone (and one that reminds us of the Samsung Galaxy Beam), and yet, it only costs about £140 (around $190, AU$250). Add in Bluetooth 4.0, a 3500mAh battery, an HDMI-in port (not HDMI out, though), a microSD card slot plus an audio port and you’ve got a well-rounded product. It weighs only 220g and despite its size has a brightness level of 100 Lumens.

Image credit: Gearbest

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Nvidia is bringing the Shield to China and it’s teaming up with Nintendo to make it a platform for Wii and GameCube games in the country.

The announcement was made by Niko Partners analyst, Daniel Ahmad, who tweeted that the Shield would have a focus on games in China, and will be capable of running popular PC and Nintendo titles. 

Already, Nvidia has confirmed that The New Super Mario Bros Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are available to play on the Shield in remastered 1080p with other titles such as Super Mario Galaxy planned for the future.

New markets

Ahmad also posted footage of titles running on the Shield, adding that the device costs RMB 1499 (£169 / $226 /AU$300) while Nintendo games cost RMB 68 (around £8 / $10 / AU$13). We’re not jealous at all. 

It’s unlikely that the partnership will ever expand beyond China as it’s simply a fast and low risk way for Nintendo to enter the Chinese market and give its games a foothold. 

Given that the Shield runs on the same Tegra chip as the Nintendo Switch, it’ll be interesting to see whether Nintendo eventually allows recent Switch games to be emulated on the Shield in China if these older emulations prove to be popular.

If it did, it’s even more certain that the ports would never expand beyond the localized Chinese Shield store. Because of the similar components between the Switch an the Shield this does, however, give further precedent for a virtual console on the Switch that will play these older games.

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Microsoft seems to creating some kind of new Surface device powered by ARM and featuring the Snapdragon 845 chipset and LTE connectivity, judging from a new job listing spotted by WinFuture

The post doesn’t give much information about the actual device, but there’s a good chance it could be the new two-screen Courier-like device as it, too, is thought to be powered by ARM.

The job listing is specifically for a Hardware Test Engineer /Manufacturing Engineer that has experience working with Wi-Fi and other radio-style data connections. The job itself will be based in Microsoft’s Redmond 85 building, which is typically associated with the Surface. The preferred candidate must be willing to travel to China frequently to work with the actual manufacturers there.

ARM-ed to the teeth

The listing is interesting because it expects the engineer to have completed manufacturing tests on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset, which hasn’t even been officially announced yet (although that will likely change after next week’s Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit rolls around). 

Rumors about the chipset have been swirling about in talks about other devices like the Samsung Galaxy S9 for months now so it wouldn’t be impossible that it would make its way into a Windows device. 

The Courier-style device seems like a good guess for what’s being discussed here, but of course the actual product could end up being anything from a new Surface tablet to come kind of Surface smartphone. 

Whatever it is, it’ll likely be something that commands attention, considering the combination of LTE connectivity and Qualcomm’s highly anticipated processor. 

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

 2017 has been the year of the CPU – we can’t recall a year when new product launches were so frequent. And these aren’t meaningless 100MHz bumps in performance either, as both AMD and Intel have been on a roll.

To recap, Intel kicked off 2017 with the initial Kaby Lake desktop launch in January. AMD followed with its first major architectural overhaul in more than five years, with a staggered rollout of its Ryzen 7, 5, and 3 processors, and finally the beastly Threadripper.

Intel also released its Skylake-X 6-10 core models, and Kaby Lake-X processors, and later the 12-18-core parts, topping out with the Core i9-7980XE. And wrapping things up, Intel’s Coffee Lake brings six cores/12 threads to its mainstream platform with new 300-series chipsets. That’s at least five major launches, complete with new chipsets, in 2017.

By comparison, in 2016, Intel’s Broadwell-E was the only fully new line of processors, and Intel was again the primary name in the processor space in 2015, with the launch of Skylake and LGA1151. AMD’s Godavari refresh was unfortunately still slower than the FX-series Piledriver chips it launched in 2012.

If your primary interest is PC gaming, many older CPUs remain perfectly acceptable solutions, but if you’re running CPU-intensive workloads, the deluge of new processors breathes new life into what has been a stagnating market.

Intel claims top bragging rights in the consumer CPU rankings with the i9-7980XE and the i9-7960X, but at half the price, Threadripper is impressive in its own right. In short, right now it’s a fantastic time to be a PC enthusiast.

Everyone from bargain-hunters to well-funded enthusiasts has something to consider. And if you’re already rocking a perfectly capable processor in your machine, there are still plenty of other ways in which you can upgrade your system. Let’s just hope that 2018 can keep up the pace!

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

You may have noticed the steady and sure progress of voice recognition tech in recent times – all the big tech firms want to make strides in this arena if only to improve their digital assistants, from Cortana to Siri – but Mozilla wants to push harder, and more broadly, on this front with the release of an open source speech recognition model.

The initial release of this Automatic Speech Recognition engine has just been unleashed, based on work carried out by the Machine Learning team at Mozilla. The engine is modelled on ‘Deep Speech’ papers published by Baidu, which detail a trainable multi-layered deep neural network.

Mozilla says that its project initially had a goal of hitting a ‘word error rate’ of less than 10%. However, the firm says the engine’s word error rate on LibriSpeech’s test-clean set is now 6.5%, clearly beating this goal, and achieving close to the Holy Grail of human-level performance (which occurs at around 5.8%, according to the Deep Speech 2 paper).

Mozilla has worked hard to train the speech recognition model using ‘supervised learning’ and a huge dataset of thousands of hours of labeled audio, drawn from all manner of sources including free (TED-LIUM and LibriSpeech) and paid (Fisher and Switchboard) speech corpora.

Further labeled speech data was pulled from the likes of language study departments in universities, and public TV and radio stations, all of which was more fuel to the fire for honing the speech recognition engine.

And of course the huge strength of this project, its open source nature, means that this honed technology is now open to anyone to use in their speech recognition projects.

Streamlined speech

Mozilla further notes that the plan for the future is to release a model that’s light and fast enough to run on a smartphone or single-board computer like the Raspberry Pi.

The company has also unleashed its Common Voice initiative, which is an open and publicly available voice dataset containing some 400,000 recordings from 20,000 different speakers – that represents around 500 hours of speech.

As Mozilla puts it, the idea here is to “build a speech corpus that’s free, open source, and big enough to create meaningful products with”, running in parallel with the new speech recognition model.

Microsoft is also making big strides on the voice recognition front, having achieved a word error rate of 5.1% in the Switchboard speech recognition benchmark, as announced back in the summer.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

A major analyst firm is predicting that sales of PCs will drop by 2.7% for 2017 (compared to the previous year), and things are set to get worse with shipments slumping by 4% year-on-year in 2018.

After some brighter forecasts this year, this is back to the traditional doom and gloom with IDC’s latest report which is for the shipments of ‘personal computing devices’, meaning traditional desktop PCs, laptops and workstations, as well as tablets.

Looking further ahead to 2021, shipment volumes are expected to drop to 394 million units from 423 million units this year, which represents a decrease of around 7% in terms of pure volume.

Most of that predicted decline will come from weakness in the traditional desktop PC and also tablet markets, while laptops, workstations and detachable tablets (hybrids like Microsoft’s Surface devices) will actually make some positive gains according to IDC.

Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, highlighted detachables as a particular strong point, with most of these being Windows devices.

Reith noted: “Detachable tablets are expected to see double-digit growth from 2018 through 2021. Windows-based detachables already count for close to 50% of the volume in this category and this isn’t expected to change much over the duration of the forecast. Apple’s iPad Pro line-up will remain at 30-35% of the category with the remainder going to Google-based devices.”

Unfortunately, detachable hybrids are still not a massive part of the overall PC market, representing 5% of shipment volume this year, although that will grow to a healthy 9.4% in 2021.

Short on supply

IDC further observed that the traditional PC market did actually outperform expectations this year, despite problems such as component shortages, including issues with the supply levels of SSDs which we highlighted back in the spring.

Jay Chou, research manager with IDC’s Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, commented: “IDC believes the shortage issues should ease as we head toward 2018. Despite shrinking demand overall, IDC remain optimistic the market can expect continued growth in emerging form factors such as convertibles and ultraslim notebooks, which when combined will form the dominant notebook form factor by 2019.”

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Update: HP has provided us with a statement on the matter, which you can read below: 

“HP Touchpoint Analytics is a service we have offered since 2014 as part of HP Support Assistant. It anonymously collects diagnostic information about hardware performance. No data is shared with HP unless access is expressly granted. Customers can opt-out or uninstall the service at any time.”

Original story follows

HP has been accused of stealthily installing a piece of software on its users’ PCs which hoovers up data on that machine, effectively acting as spyware, and it seems it is slowing systems down considerably, as well.

This worrying development was reported by Computerworld, and the software in question is called the HP Touchpoint Analytics Client. According to HP’s description itself, the client “harvests telemetry information that is used by HP Touchpoint’s analytical services”.

Telemetry information could potentially be anything related to the hardware, software or usage of your machine.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a lot of anger online concerning the unsolicited installation of this client, which appears to have popped up on desktop PCs and laptops without asking or notifying the user.

Although at this point, it isn’t clear whether the software was delivered via an HP update, or an update courtesy of Microsoft. There has been plenty written about this across the net in various forums and tech sites, some of which observes that the process was put in place following the latest batch of Windows updates.

System slowdown

The other major pain point here is not only the surveillance aspect of this client, but also the fact that it appears to weigh heavily on system resources.

A poster on Reddit tells us: “So today all of a sudden, I’m experiencing a considerable slowdown in my laptop (Pavilion P3V59PA). Once I look for the problem in Task Manager, I found out that the program called HP Touchpoint Analytics Client (and its subsequent follow up) constantly jumping the memory usage.

“I don’t remember ever installing this program whatsoever, and in control panel, I found that for some reason this program was silently installed today, without my consent.”

Another post on an HP support forum observes: “I noticed my mouse lagging significantly on Chrome, went to Programs & Features in Control Panel on my Windows 7 HP desktop and saw this ‘HP Touchpoint Analytics Client’ was installed on my PC without my permission on 11-17-17.”

HP Touchpoint Analytics was recently updated and there were no changes to privacy settings as part of this update. We take customer privacy very seriously and act in accordance with a strict policy, available here.

In the meantime, if you want to be rid of this particular little pest, removal is easy enough as outlined by Martin Brinkmann over at Ghacks.net.

It hasn’t been a great year for HP on the suspect software front, when you consider that back in the spring, some HP laptops were found to be hit by a keylogger (capable of monitoring and recording keystrokes) which was buried in an audio driver.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Image credit: Microsoft

Tabs are fantastic for browsing content online: so fantastic, in fact, that I’ve got 23 open in front of me right now. 

In hindsight, it’s a bit of a shock that it took Microsoft so long to extend the same concept to apps, but that’s about to change with the introduction of a new Windows 10 organizational feature it’s calling “Sets.”

The concept for Sets (which is just a temporary name that may change) barely differs from what you’ll find while using a browser like Microsoft’s own Edge. 

So, what would this look like practice? Let’s say you’re working on a project in a Word document and you want to easily copy the information you’re writing into a PowerPoint presentation. All you’d need to do is look at the title bar of the Word document, click the new button with a “plus” icon much as you would to open a new tab in Edge. 

You’d then see a splash page with all of your most recently used apps, along with a search bar in case you don’t see what you need. Click on the app you want (so, PowerPoint), and it pops up in a new tab in the same window as the original app — in this case, Word. 

You can then add even more if you want – like, say, to open a tab for a browser for research. This way you can minimize the whole project if you want in order to work on something else, while opening another “Set” for another project or entertainment.

Keepin’ tabs

It’s not entirely a new concept. After all, Chromebooks have operated under the same principle for years, as all of the apps found on them are essentially little more than glorified webpages and plugins. Still, it could drastically change the way we use Windows, which remains one of the world’s most widely used operating systems.

Despite the feature’s seeming obviousness, Microsoft is treating “Sets” as an experimental feature for now. You’ll only be able to use with with some specific Windows apps like Mail and Calendar at first, but eventually Microsoft will extend its range to more complex programs like Adobe Photoshop and the humble Notepad. 

Microsoft is also sticking to a trial rollout over the coming weeks that’s limited to only a few people. Currently you only have a chance to see if Sets you’re a member of Microsoft’s Insider Program, and even then you might end up waiting a while before they show up in your operating system.  Microsoft has been burned for unpopular feature overhauls in the past, and now it seems eager to make sure everyone likes Sets before fully unleashing it on the world.

Also, the feature will be optional. Much as with a regular browser tab, you won’t need to use Sets if you don’t want to.

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