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Blizzard puts the ‘war’ back in Warcraft

Six years of hard work. Hundreds of thousands of man hours. Twelve million subscribers who have spent billions of hours hacking, slashing, grinding, looting, and every other vaguely dirty term you can think of. So, how do you follow that? “Blow it all up,” says Blizzard. “And use a dragon.” The end result? A total reinvention of World of Warcraft that’ll have you hooked from the first second and keep you there for—oh—a couple hundred more hours. At least.

Don’t get us wrong; at the end of the day, Cataclysm still follows the basic MMO formula of killing and collecting. However, the extent to which Blizzard has rebuilt the process is nearly mind-blowing. In Cataclysm, quests are focused and generally tied into an overarching narrative. Unless you’re piloting a bomber plane, you won’t see any more “kill 60 of x monster” quests. Instead, you might be tasked with killing 10 of something, looting them, and interacting with the environment nearby—all at once. Presto: That’s three quests finished in roughly 10 minutes. No muss, no fuss, and,  unlike the majority of MMOs, it actually makes sense. Also, it’s completely epic.

Giant encounters like this are a regular occurrence during Worgen quests.

We don’t use that word lightly, but nowhere is it better exemplified than in the starting areas of the two new races: Goblins and Worgen. Both are brilliantly paced storylines with giant 100-man battles, appearances by legendary WoW lore characters, and a couple of cameos from the life of Cataclysm’s party, Deathwing himself. Beyond that, however, the two races couldn’t be more different. Worgen watch their society crumble as it’s slowly consumed by a mangy, howling curse while Goblins go on a hilarious, pop-culture-referencing romp that includes wild parties, fast cars, and being turned into a tornado that shoots lightning bolts. In both cases, it’s almost like playing a single-player RPG—and a damn good one at that. To play Cataclysm, you’ll need both previous expansion packs—Wrath of the Lich King and The Burning Crusade—but who plays WoW without those?

And giant, er, parties are a semi-regular occurrence during Goblin quests.

The new high-level questing content is similarly excellent, if not better. The five new zones are pretty much uniformly fantastic, with only Mount Hyjal descending to a level even resembling mediocrity—but that’s more a case of failed ambition than lack of effort. The seven new high-level instances, meanwhile, are some of the best WoW’s ever seen. Fast and focused yet inventive and tactical, these dungeons will eat you alive the second your brain goes on autopilot. Bickering pick-up groups need not apply.

PvP, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have the two new arenas—Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks—which are great. The new PvP zone Tol Barad, however, favors the defending side to the point where attacking is often an exercise in futility and frustration. On paper, the zone’s got a lot going for it, but it needs some serious work. Speaking of “serious work,” we’re not even sure that’ll save the new profession, archaeology. Much as we wanted to love it, it’s mostly boring, time-consuming, and requires far too many steps. Sure, the rewards are occasionally amazing, but by and large you’re basically digging for gold in a landfill.

In the grand scheme of things, though, those flaws are extremely minor. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ll never even encounter them. What you will find, however, is—to butcher a classic Disney song—a whole new World of Warcraft. And whether you’re a vet haunted by flashbacks to your days in Molten Core or an outsider wondering what all the fuss is about, there’s no better time than now to dive in.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm


Streamlined, story-centric questing; excellent new races and starting zones.


Mount Hyjal; an unbalanced new PvP zone; a new profession that’s mostly a waste of time.


Microsoft has announced today that it will be opening its third California retail store in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. The software giant did not give an exact date for the store’s opening, but did say it would be this spring. This move continues a trend of opening stores on the west coast, closer to Microsoft’s home base. 

There are also a fair number of Microsoft retail stores in other areas, including the Midwest, but none on the east coast. Rumors indicate that Microsoft may be looking to change that with a store in New York sometime this year. The stores are used as locations for consumers to get their hands on the latest Microsoft devices and software. Windows Phone 7 is a big part of the initiative, but pre-configured computers from Microsoft partners are also present.

Despite the similarities in look to the Apple stores, there are only seven currently open Microsoft stores. Apple is over 300 at this point. Do you think Microsoft will ever see anything approaching the retail success for Apple?

ms store


Western Digital on Tuesday reported revenue of $2.475 billion for its second fiscal quarter ended December 31, 2010. That’s down slightly from one year ago, in which WD posted $2.619 billion, but the hard drive maker isn’t complaining.

“We are pleased to deliver better-than-expected revenues, profitability, and gross margin in the December quarter, reflecting solid execution and an improvement in hard drive industry conditions compared with the prior two quarters,” said John Coyne, president and chief executive officer. “The opportunity for profitable growth in our industry remains tremendous and we are committed to improving our financial performance over the longer term. We plan to do so with a continued emphasis on our industry-leading low-cost structure, high quality, highly reliable and highly available products, and a sharp focus on matching production with true customer demand.”

Western Digital shipped 52.2 million hard drives during its second fiscal quarter, which contributed $225 million. During the same quarter in 2009, WD shipped 49.5 million hard drives.

Image Credit: Western Digital

An APU, in case you’re not up to snuff on your tech acronyms, is an Accelerated Processing Unit, and today AMD announced the immediate availability of its new Embedded G-Series APU.

According to AMD, this is the world’s first and only APU for embedded systems. It’s based on AMD’s Fusion technology, incorporating the chip maker’s new lower-power x86 CPU based on the “Bobcat” core.

“AMD’s commitment is to ensure the game-changing technologies we develop for consumers and the enterprise are also available for the vast and growing embedded market,” said Patrick Patla, corporate vice president and general manager, Server and Embedded Division, AMD. “Today, we have a record number of embedded launch partners. They are using the unique advancements of the AMD Embedded G-Series APU to develop a brand new generation of highly differentiated, energy-efficient, small form-factor embedded systems that can deliver the vivid visual experience expected in our always-connected world.”

The Embedded G-Series APU can be configured with up to 2 x86 Bobcat CPU cores with 1MB of L2 cache and clocked at up to 1.6GHz. Other features includes 9W or 18W TDP (depending on the number of cores), DirectX 11 graphics, third generation Unified Video Decoder (UVD), and support for DDR3-800/1066 memory.

Image Credit: AMD

Intel’s chip plant in Kiryat Gat, Israel, is about to be upgraded to 22nm production capability, the chip maker said at a news conference. The upgrade will see the company invest around $2.7 billion, including a $210 million grant that was recently approved by the Israeli government. The fab is expected to begin production on 22nm process technology in December, which is in keeping with the late 2011/early 2012 launch of Ivy Bridge processors — 22nm die shrink of Sandy Bridge. A few months back, Intel announced that it would spend up to $8 billion on similar upgrades to four of its existing plants in Oregon and Arizona and the construction of a new 22nm fab in Oregon.

Image Credit: Crown Heights

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