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The First Step Toward Protecting Everyone Else from Teslas

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The First Step Toward Protecting Everyone Else from Teslas
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Why the government’s clever investigation into “Autopilot” might actually work.

A Tesla logo is seen on a Tesla car Model 3, inside of a Tesla shop inside of a shopping Mall in Beijing on May 26, 2021. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Once again, “Autopilot” is not actually autopilot.
Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images

After spending years looking into 30 separate Tesla crashes, this week federal safety officials finally took a step toward cracking down on the electric carmaker. On Monday, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration announced an investigation into Autopilot, Tesla’s driver assistance system, which allows the vehicle to manage certain highway tasks like changing lanes and moderating speed, and which numerous drivers have treated like a fully autonomous driving system (sometimes for the entertainment of their social media followers). NHTSA’s new investigation has a narrow focus: It will seek to determine why Teslas with Autopilot engaged have crashed at least 11 times into stationary first-responder vehicles.

Depending on what the agency concludes, NHTSA could declare a “defect” in Autopilot, insisting that Tesla correct it or else face a hefty fine. NHTSA’s power over the automotive sector shouldn’t be underestimated; the agency’s investigation in Takata’s faulty airbags helped push the multi-billion dollar company into bankruptcy in 2017.

While Tesla helped pioneer electric-car manufacturing, its strategy around autonomous driving has for years led to accusations of recklessness. Many observers cheered NHTSA for moving to rein in Tesla’s approach to Autopilot and its more advanced Full-Self Driving mode, something that has long been urged by the National Transportation Safety Board, a separate federal agency that lacks NHTSA’s enforcement authority.

As I’ve argued previously, Tesla has systematically pursued competitive advantage by sacrificing safety with its design and deployment of Autopilot and Full-Self Driving. In short: Tesla has given misleading names to the two systems that create driver confusion about their capabilities, refused to install high-quality driver monitoring systems, and enabled drivers themselves to determine whether it’s safe or not to deploy Autopilot in a given road situation. So far, Tesla’s competitors have been considerably more cautious in crafting their own so-called Advanced Driving Assistance Systems. A smackdown from the feds could force Tesla to change course, while dissuading other automakers from emulating its risky behavior.

But there’s another aspect of NHTSA’s investigation that looks promising: It focuses on a specific group of people who were outside the Tesla during a collision. If an EMT has pulled over to check on people involved in a crash, there isn’t much she can do to protect herself from a Model Y bearing down on her.

If an EMT has pulled over to check on people involved in a crash, there isn’t much she can do to protect herself from a Model Y bearing down on her.

That same logic holds for cyclists and pedestrians, more of whom are being killed on American roads—by all kinds of automobiles—than at any time since George H.W. Bush was president. These “vulnerable road users” have no control over the design of American autos, which are growing heavier, taller, and more dangerous to people walking or biking. For years, the federal government has focused on automobile occupants, doing little to protect vulnerable road users beyond recommending that they “dress to be seen by drivers.”

But the investigation into Tesla offers a glimmer of hope that, at long last, that approach could be changing.

It’s worth nothing that NHTSA officials had plenty of alternatives available when they chose the focus of their new Tesla investigation. They could have asked whether the numerous videos of people playing cards or moving to the back seat while Autopilot is engaged—which Tesla warns against, but does not block—constitute “predictable abuse” of Autopilot’s design. If so, NHTSA guidance states that an enforcement action (i.e., a recall) could be appropriate. Or NHTSA could have followed a recommendation of the NTSB, probing whether Tesla should prevent drivers from using Autopilot outside its intended highway environment (its so-called operational design domain).

But NHTSA didn’t take those paths. Instead, the agency chose to limit itself to the danger that Tesla poses to first responders on a roadway. There are practical reasons for such a narrow focus; it’s a relatively rare crash situation, but still common enough to search for a pattern of failure. Political calculations could factor in as well, since providing safety for firefighters and EMTs is about as nonpartisan as a policy goal can be.

There’s something else interesting in NHTSA’s approach. Focusing on these kinds of crashes frames first responders as the implied victims—not the occupants of the Tesla, who could (arguably) be said to have accepted the risks of Autopilot when they activated the system. That “buyer beware” defense has been voiced loudly by Tesla’s defenders after previous crashes have grabbed headlines, such as one in Texas earlier this year in which two individuals inside a Tesla were incinerated (neither was reportedly in the driver’s seat). It’s impossible to claim consent exists for a first responder—or for anyone else struck by a Tesla driver.

This is a big deal, because it breaks with auto safety’s traditional orientation toward vehicle occupants. There is a natural reason for this focus. Car buyers want to be safe, and they frequently opt for pricier models or optional ADAS features like collision avoidance that they believe can better protect them. But most customers are far less willing to pay extra to reduce danger posed to people outside their vehicle in the event of a collision.

As a result, carmakers have little incentive to invest in designs or technologies that protect vulnerable road users, since they can’t charge more for them. Worse, automaker’s lineups are steadily shifting toward taller, heavier SUVs and trucks, which provide a sense of security to their occupants while they endanger everyone else on the road.

Researchers have cited this shift toward bulky SUVs and trucks as a key factor in the rising number of vulnerable road users killed on American roadways. Traffic deaths among people inside automobiles, meanwhile, have fallen 28 percent in the last 40 years. Notably, drivers who feel safer behind the wheel may drive more recklessly, assuming that they’ll come out of it OK if they end up in a crash (this is the Peltzman effect, named after an economist who argued that seat belt laws induced riskier driving). Pity the pedestrian or cyclist struck by a driver who felt secure in a Hummer that weighs as much as an elephant.

To date, the federal government has done virtually nothing to protect vulnerable road users, beyond issuing a shelf’s worth of policy reports. Institutional inertia is partly to blame, as automakers have long enjoyed a cozy relationship with their federal regulators (much to the frustration of safety crusader Ralph Nader, who was dismayed to see NHTSA fail to embrace the aggressive enforcement role he envisioned after writing Unsafe at Any Speed). Other countries have done much more to protect people outside the automobile. For instance, American auto crash safety ratings, called the New Car Assessment Program, do not incorporate the risk that a car’s design poses to pedestrians, unlike equivalent programs in Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Advocates have had high hopes that President Biden—a cyclist who has endured a personal and horrific experience with a car crash—would revitalize the federal government’s commitment to road safety, especially with the aggressively multimodal Pete Buttigieg at the helm of the Department of Transportation, of which NHTSA is a part. So far Buttigieg has said all the right things, but his department hasn’t offered significant new protections to vulnerable road users.

That’s why NHTSA’s investigation into Autopilot’s risk to first responders seems encouraging. Finally, the agency is making an automaker sweat as it probes the risk posed to people outside its vehicles.

There’s no way right now to know if the Tesla investigation is an outlier or a turning point (DOT declined to comment for this article). But if the Biden administration is serious about finally offering protections to vulnerable road users, it will have plenty of policy levers available. Federal officials could finally revise the federal crash rating system to evaluate safety risk to pedestrians and cyclists, something that automakers seem willing to accept. They could push states to provide consistent data about the location and circumstances around collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists. And—perhaps most important of all—they could rejigger competitive grant criteria to favor states’ proposals that slow traffic, as well as those that expand sidewalks and create networks of protected bike lanes.

Each of these steps would save lives. Even better, making biking and walking safer will encourage people to choose active transportation over driving. The Biden administration has attracted the ire of climate activists for doing too little in its first few months to spur mode shift away from automobiles; a renewed focus on pedestrian and cyclist safety would go over well with such critics.

However it unfolds, this initial, narrowly focused NHTSA investigation into Tesla is important for the development of autonomous vehicle technology, but it alone won’t do much to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe. But if it marks the beginning of a long-overdue federal pivot toward protecting vulnerable street users and not just the drivers themselves, it could send us down a whole new road.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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