Frostbite Tech: Good Winter Tires Work Best With Smaller Wheels

Mazda MX-5 – Mazda Ice Academy February 2016 Crested Butte Colorado

Winter may seem one-third done by the calendar. Yet thanks to the variabilities in weather in many parts of the country, we’ve only just begun. Here’s a quick primer on how tire technology has changed and what you can do to get through cold, snowy weather — and also how to survive the winter without losing yet another bleeping $400 alloy wheel to potholes.

The trick is to get a second tire-and-wheel set with winter tires where the road wheel is one, two, or even three inches smaller in diameter. You compensate by getting a tire with a taller sidewall so the overall height is the same. The bonus is that rubber sidewalls are a lot more flexible and pothole-resistant than aluminum alloy, or steel, wheels.

Both the 16-inch winter tire from Michelin (X-Ice 2) and the factory-installed 19-inch all-season tire from Toyo (A36) have the same size as far as the car is concerned: a diameter of about 28.5 inches and 735 revolutions per mile. This “minus-3” winter design (left) has more rubber sidewall to absorb pothole shocks, and less metal wheel to be damaged by potholes.

Do You Need Winter Tires?

If you have a performance car with summer tires, they’re unsafe below 40 degrees because the soft tread compound gets hard–too hard for road grip, once it’s close to freezing. You won’t immediately slide off the road below 32 degrees, but braking and cornering abilities are compromised. At the least, you need to replace them for the colder half of the year with all-season tires. You can search the tire brand and model online; that tells you if they’re summer.

Most new cars come with all-season tires and they’re okay in a couple of inches of snow if you don’t have a steep driveway or street. In really lousy weather, you also have the right to say, “I’m staying in.” And should.

Winter tires – what used to be called snow tires – have a compound that remains soft and pliable well below freezing. But they’re somewhat louder on dry highway pavement and wear faster than all-season tires. They improve traction on snow, ice, and slush. The rubber looks the same – black – as on a winter tire of the early 2000s, but the chemistry and compounding are more advanced.

Studded winter tires are less popular than a generation ago because of the rapid advances made by unstudded winter tires, because of state bans or limits on when studded tires can be used, and because they’re noisy on dry pavement. Studded tires also damage pavement over time. But for stopping and starting on ice, they’re good. In the snow, not much difference.

How Many to Get? 4 Is Always the Right Answer

The first two winter tires have to go on the back of the car. Even if you have front-wheel-drive. Why? Snow tires grip better than all-season, far better than summer tires. Brake hard in a front-wheel-drive car and the rear end with less grip will – might – slide around. If you want the car to steer well in snow, you need winter tires in front, and if you want to not spin the car while braking or suddenly coming off the throttle, you need winter tires in back.

Just remember: No matter what vehicle, what drivetrain, the first two winter tires always go on the back. It’s nice to go. It’s vital to stop.

Does an All-Wheel-Drive Car Need Winter Tires?

All-wheel-drive vehicles have better traction in snow, but AWD and four-wheel-drive (what pickups and big SUVs have) confer no braking advantages over rear-wheel-drive.

In terms of traction, nothing beats all-wheel-drive with four winter tires, followed by front-wheel-drive with four winter tires, followed by rear-wheel-drive with four winter tires. Is rear-drive with winter tires better than AWD with all-season tires? It depends on the situation and road conditions. Anyway, that’s a hypothetical question: Either you have a rear-drive car or an AWD car, and you’re deciding whether to add winter tires, not whether to dump a rear-driver that needs snows and get an AWD car that might or might not need them.

Minus-1 2 3: Smaller Rim, Bigger Sidewall

Over my driving years, about a half-million miles driven, I’ve lost about six wheels or tires and wheels to road damage. Three were in the past three years, all because of potholes. When we moved to a hilly, twisty road 25 miles outside Manhattan (such roads exist) and got an all-wheel-drive SUV, we got by for a year with all-season tires, then decided we wanted even more traction and braking up and down the hills and around the curves the half-dozen times a year we get snow. That after a pothole bent but didn’t break one of the wheels (a $200 repair).

I researched the plus-size, minus-size concept. It’s possible to get a tire-and-wheel package where the road wheel is an inch bigger, say 20 instead of 19 inches, but the aspect ratio (how tall a tire sidewall is compared with the tire’s width, shown as a number such as 50, 60 or 70) adjusts so the sidewall is smaller, and the tire’s overall diameter, top to bottom, is about the same. You can go plus-one, plus-two, sometimes plus-three, meaning 18-inch wheels beget 21-inch wheels. You can also go minus-one, minus-two, or minus-three with winter tires, so a 19-inch summer or all-season tire/wheel package becomes 18, 17 or 16 inches with winter tires. It’s harder to go down in size, 19 to 18 to 17 to 16, because the wheel basket has to be able to fit over the brake components and the basket of a 16-inch wheel is sometimes too small.

Because of the bad experience with the damaged alloy, I didn’t want big, shiny rims in winter months. I decided to see if I could swap out our compact SUV’s 19-inch wheels and 55-series and tires down to 17-, maybe 16-inch rims and tires. 18-inch winter tires were easily found, 17s too, but only a handful of 16s. One that worked for my car, a Mazda CX-5, was the Michelin X-Ice 2 winter tire, sized 225/70R16. It is a close match to the tire diameter of the original-equipment 225/55R19 tires. I chose steel wheels, stronger than aluminum alloy, a little heavier. I first checked via spec sheets to ensure the tires and wheels would for sure fit, and they did. Tire dealers, local or direct, have fitment charts showing which larger or smaller wheels fit without scraping a component or requiring fender flares.

So now we have those minus-threes on our main car. For three years we’ve had Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 winter tires on an old rear-drive sport sedan. The old sedan came with 225/55R16 tires and wheels; I got 225/60R16 winter tires and affordable alloy wheels, again about a $1,000 buy-in by the time they were mounted and bolted to the car.

If the plus/minus concept is confusing, just ask the dealer: Can I get different size wheels with matching-fit tires that wind up having the same outside dimension (diameter) from top to bottom?

How Much?

As a rule of thumb, and as I did above, figure about $1,000 to put four decent winter tires and wheels on your small or midsize car. It’s going to be more if you want high-speed-rated winter tires, or go with fancy alloy wheels. These things add or subtract from what you pay:

  • Plus-size wheels and tires cost more.
  • If you get steel wheels, add $25-$50 for a four-pack of plastic wheel covers to improve the cosmetics.
  • Add $40-$50 per wheel for a tire-pressure monitor.
  • Add $25-$50 to mount and balance each wheel and tire.
  • Add $10-25 a wheel to put each wheel on the car and torque (bolt pressure) the wheels (and remove the old set).
  • Subtract up to $75 per wheel/tire if you buy everything from the same source and you get a tire package ready to bolt on.
  • Add $40-$60 for a set of four tire bags for off-season storage, mostly so you don’t get dirty rubbing against them in the garage.
  • Add $50-$75 for a tire storage rack that goes high up on your garage wall.
  • Figure on a new set of tires after six to 10 years. The rubber deteriorates, especially in sunlight.

Don’t try to uninstall the summer tires, put winter tires on the same wheels, then reinstall winter tires next fall. Each trip to the garage runs $100-$200, so the second set of wheels becomes cheaper after two years.

Bottom line: That second set of winter tires and wheels may seem costly. At the same time, it’s about the same as the cost of your insurance deductible if you’re in a winter accident plus the higher insurance payments for a couple of years.

Beyond the cost, you’re reducing the chances of an accident, you feel safer driving in snow, and you’re more likely to take that weekend trip you’ve been looking forward to even if the weather’s threatening.

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Intel Struggles With Whether Comet Lake Is Faster Than Ice Lake

When Intel introduced its 10th Generation CPUs, it made the decision to mix 10nm and 14nm chips together in the same product matrix. Intel’s 14nm Comet Lake CPUs pack 2-6 CPU cores and hit high frequencies; the 10510U (4C/8T) has a top frequency of 4.9GHz; while the 10710U (6C/12T) tops out at 4.7GHz. Ice Lake CPUs have better IPC than Comet Lake (~1.18x) but also have lower CPU frequencies. The fastest 10nm Core i7, the 1065G7, has a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.9GHz.

At CES last week, Intel showed performance data on its fastest mobile platforms as part of an argument for its significant superiority over AMD solutions. There’s genuine truth to this, in that the top-end Surface Laptop from Microsoft is available in both AMD and Intel flavors, and the Intel flavors win that competition. AMD’s recently announced Ryzen Mobile 4000 parts will give Team Red a new chance to tackle Intel’s mobile business when it launches. In addition to this discussion, Intel also showed a pair of slides that inadvertently illustrate how much trouble Intel is having when it comes to positioning the Comet Lake and Ice Lake CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce against each other. Anandtech did a deep dive on the results that were shown for the 10710U and 1065G7.

First, here’s data on Intel’s Comet Lake, as compared with the Ryzen 7 3700U. Yes, all vendor benchmarks should be taken with a lot of salt, but we’re interested in Intel versus Intel more than Intel versus AMD.

Next up, here’s Ice Lake. Keep in mind that these tests solely discuss CPU performance. Ice Lake’s graphics are significantly faster than anything Comet Lake fields and there’s no real competition between them as far as graphics are concerned.

The Overall, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Edge tests are all from PCMark 10, while WebXPRT is developed by a consulting firm Intel works with for benchmark authoring and whitepaper work. Comet Lake wins four of these tests and ties in the 5th, 1.24x versus 1.25x.

Ice Lake ekes out a win in WebXPRT, but it falls well behind in the “Convert to PDF” and PowerPoint export tests. It wins the Windows Mail Merge Error Check and the “PowerPoint Export to 1080p Video” tests as well and ties in the Photoshop Element CC Colorize test. The other two Topaz Labs AI tests both run on the GPU, which is why it’s not surprising to see Ice Lake win those tests by such a wide margin.

Of the 13 results, the Core i7-10710U wins six, loses five, and ties two. Remove the GPU results, and Comet Lake’s record is 6-3-2, not 6-5-2. Now granted, this is something we might reasonably expect in a laptop where one CPU is a six-core and the other is just a quad — but it also means Intel has trouble positioning its top-end Ice Lake 10nm CPU against the performance of its top-end Comet Lake CPU. Intel has been arguing against using synthetic tests and scenarios in favor of additional “real-world” benchmarks, but the test scenarios that Ice Lake does best in are ones that make use of Intel’s AI and GPU acceleration in specific and particular tasks. That’s partly because these capabilities are all pretty new — software always lags hardware when it comes to broad adoption — but it sits in tension with Intel’s broad claim to want to focus on the workloads people practically run most. In the most common Office workloads, we’ve got the 10710U taking an overall leadership position.

One thing I want to note is that other Comet Lake/Ice Lake comparisons won’t look like this. The 10710U is unique in having two more cores than any Ice Lake, and while quad-core Comet CPUs still have much higher boost clocks, the performance split between the parts will be different because of this.

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ET Deals: H&R Block Deluxe + State only $20, $969 off Dell XPS 13 w/ 4K Display and 2TB SSD, $40 off Jabra Elite Active 65t

Tax season is right around the corner, but get a headstart on your taxes with a $25 discount on H&R Block’s tax software. Also, get a high-end Dell XPS laptop with a 4K display with a huge $969 discount.

H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2019 w/ 4 Percent Refund Bonus ($19.99)

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Dell designed this notebook to be a high-end solution for work and travel. The metal-clad notebook features a fast Intel Core i7-8565U quad-core processor and a 4K touchscreen display along with an enormous 2TB SSD. According to Dell, this system also has excellent battery life and can last for up to 21 hours on a single charge. Right now you can get it from Dell marked down from $2,368.99 to $1,399.99 with promo code LTXPS123AFF.

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These high-end wireless earbuds feature batteries that can last up to 5 hours on a single charge. The headphones are also rated IP56, which means they are resistant against dust and sweat, making them perfect for exercise. Currently you can get these headphones from Amazon marked down from $149.99 to $109.99. The final price with discount will be shown at checkout.

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Google Is Working on Steam Support in Chrome OS

Google’s Chrome OS started out as little more than a browser, but Google has slowly added more application support with Android and Linux modules. Chrome OS might be getting a lot more fun, too. According to a new report, Google is looking to make gaming on Chromebooks happen by adding support for Steam. 

The report comes from Android Police, which recently talked with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Chrome OS. Liu was vague on some of the details — for example, he implied that Valve was involved in the development process but wouldn’t come out and say it. Although, that would make sense as Valve is experiencing more competition than ever on Windows with the launch of the Epic Games store. Being first on Chrome OS could give it access to many millions of devices. Liu was, however, confident Google could make this work considering the increasingly cross-platform nature of games and universal computing APIs like Vulkan. 

Valve already has a Linux Steam client, and that’s probably Google’s starting point. Chrome OS has support for Linux via its “Crostini” module. That’s currently a beta feature that you need to enable in the settings, but it works surprisingly well. Steam has a selection of games that support Linux, or at least they should on x86-based systems. You might not get all the latest AAA games on Linux, but that’s not going to be a problem here. After all, we’re talking about Chromebooks. 

Google designed Chrome OS to be streamlined and efficient, so ChromebooksSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce have never needed powerful graphics processing. Some newer devices with the latest-gen Intel chips have passable integrated graphics, but there are no Chromebooks with discrete GPUs. If Steam-based gaming becomes available, Liu suggests we’ll see more powerful AMD GPUs in Chromebooks. He wouldn’t comment on Nvidia or Qualcomm’s involvement, though. 

The recently unveiled Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is one of the few Chrome OS devices with enough power to tackle newer 3D games.

Even without a new generation of gaming-oriented Chromebooks, Steam support would vastly expand the game catalog on the platform. While it’s true there are plenty of Android games on Chrome OS, most of them were designed for a small touchscreen. A game designed for PCs would work better on a Chromebook, and there are numerous indie games and 2D experiences that should work even on modest systems. 

Assuming Google follows through and makes Steam functional on Chrome OS, there’s no guarantee OEMs will start making more powerful Chromebooks. Gaming on Linux has always been a tough sell, but perhaps Google’s market power can drive these projects forward.

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Elon Musk: Starship Will Fly for 20-30 Years, Aiming for Fleet of 1,000

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made waves a while back with an ambitious plan to begin ferrying people to Mars within the next several years. He was understandably vague on details, but now he’s got a bit more to share. It still sounds like we’re a long way from colonizing Mars, even by Musk’s standards, but we have a better idea of what SpaceX needs to supply and sustain a human population on the red planet. 

Musk kicked off another of his impromptu Twitter Q-and-A sessions on Thursday evening by tweeting a new photo of the Starship SN1 prototype under construction at the company’s Boca Chica manufacturing and testing facility. Naturally, everyone wanted to know when they could get off this rock. Musk didn’t offer any specifics on that count, but he did have some new information about where SpaceX intends to go with the Mars initiative. 

The goal, according to the tweets is to have a fleet of about 1,000 Starships in service. Musk believes the company will eventually be able to produce 100 vessels per year, and each hull should be good for 20-30 years of service. With that many ships, SpaceX would be able to transport up to 100 megatons of cargo to Mars every year. That’s the equivalent of 100,000 passengers. 

SpaceX wouldn’t make runs to Mars every year, though. The Starship fleet would leave all at once every 26 months when Earth and Mars are in the right orbits to shorten the trip. It should only take about 30 days per trip at that time. While the vessels will need to refuel in Earth orbit before leaving for Mars, they will be able to pick up all the fuel they need on Mars for the return trip. That’s thanks to Mars’ comparatively thin atmosphere.

Musk says that SpaceX hopes to have 1 million people on Mars by 2050, and he hopes to make it cheap enough that anyone can go. Musk has floated $500,000 per seat with a guaranteed return ticket if you change your mind, but this is the first time he suggested the idea of loans who couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, though. He also says there will be plenty of jobs on Mars. Although, it’s not clear what would happen if you didn’t repay the loan. Do they waste fuel hauling you back to Earth?

Before any of these problems can be solved, SpaceX has to finish building the Starship. The new prototype under construction will be ready for orbital testing late this year. After that, SpaceX will begin building versions suitable for deep space travel, including a vessel that will carry a Japanese billionaire around the moon and back.

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Scientists May Have Discovered Universal Memory, DRAM Replacement

For decades, researchers have searched for a memory architecture that could match or exceed DRAM’s performance without requiring constant refreshing. There’ve been a number of proposed technologies, including MRAM (in some cases), FeRAM, and phase change memories like Intel’s Optane. We’ve seen both NAND flash and Optane used as system memory in some specific cases, but typically only for workloads where providing a great deal of slower memory is more useful than a smaller pool of RAM with better access latencies and read/write speeds. What scientists want is a type of RAM that can accomplish both of these goals, offering DRAM-like speed and NAND or Optane-level non-volatility.

A group of UK scientists is basically claiming to have found one. UK III-V (named for the elements of the periodic table used in its construction), would supposedly use ~1 percent the power of current DRAM. It could serve as a replacement for both current non-volatile storage and DRAM itself, though the authors suggest it would currently be better utilized as a DRAM replacement, due to density considerations. NAND flash density is increasing rapidly courtesy of 3D stacking, and UK III-V hasn’t been implemented in a 3D stacked configuration.

Image by the University of Lancaster

According to the team, they could implement a DRAMSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce replacement by using a NOR flash configuration. Unlike NAND flash, NOR flash is bit-addressable. In DRAM, the memory read process is destructive and removes the charge on an entire row when data is accessed. This doesn’t happen with UK III-V; the device can be written or erased without disturbing the data held in surrounding devices. This design, they predict, would perform at least equivalently to DRAM at a fraction the power

What the authors claim, in aggregate, is that they’ve developed a model for a III-V non-volatile RAM that operates at lower voltages than NAND, with better endurance and retention results. At the same time, these III-V semiconductors are capable of operating “virtually disturb-free at 10ns pulse durations, a similar speed to the volatile alternative, DRAM.” The three major features of the technology? It’s low-power, offers nondestructive reads, and is nonvolatile.

Right, But Will You Ever Be Able to Buy It?

Honest answer: I have no idea. The actual device hasn’t been fabricated yet, only simulated. The next step, presumably, would be demonstrating that the device works in practice as well as it does on paper. Even then, there’s no guarantee of any path to commercialization. I’ve been writing about advances in phase change memory, FeRAM, MRAM, and ReRAM for nearly eight years. It’s easy to look at this kind of timeline and dismiss the idea that we’ll ever bring a DRAM-replacement technology to market. The evolutionary cadence of product advances can obscure the fact that it often takes 15-20 years to take a new idea from first paper to commercial volume. OLEDs, EUV lithography, and FinFETs are all good examples of this trend. And new memory technologies absolutely have come to market in the recent past, including both NAND and Optane. Granted, Optane hasn’t completely proven itself in-market the way NAND has, but it’s also not nearly as old.

There are similarities between the difficulty of replacing DRAM and the trouble with finding new battery chemistries. In order to serve as a DRAM replacement, a new technology has to be able to hit better targets in terms of density, power consumption, cost, and performance than a highly optimized technology we’ve used for decades. We already have alternatives for every single individual characteristic of DRAM. SRAM is faster, Optane is higher density, MRAM uses less power, and NAND costs far less per gigabyte.

Similarly, we need battery technologies that hold more energy than Li-ion, are rechargeable, sustain original capacity over more charge cycles, charge more quickly, remain stable in a wide range of temperatures and operating conditions, and don’t explosively combine when breached in ways that make a Li-ion fire look like a Bic lighter. There’s a long road between theory and product. I will say that this team appears to think it’s solved more of the issues preventing a non-volatile DRAM replacement — but that, in turn, requires that it be easy to manufacture and cheap enough to interest the industry.

Top image credit: Getty Images

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