Archive for January, 2010

The Race to be the Coolest PC

January 19, 2010

LAS VEGAS – Computers gone wild! That was the theme at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Years of boring desktop computers and predictable laptops got the most dramatic makeover from big and small-name manufacturers. The biggest engineering change was the use of smaller processors found in smart phones. If you think Netbooks were cool in 2009, then feast upon these innovative designs:

Hybrid Notebook - The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid Notebook shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is unique in that it if two computer-in-one. In its clamshell mode it runs off an Intel Core2 Duo chip and Windows 7, but when the screen is detached in slate mode, it runs in Skylight mode, run by Linux and Qualcomm ARM Snapdragon processor as well as its own battery.

-Lenovo turned heads with the most impressive smart design in every kind of computer. HP and Dell should pay attention to the Chinese-once-IBM computer maker which is fusing the best designer minds from North America and China. Unquestionably, the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid Notebook is unique in that it is two computers-in-one. In its clamshell mode it runs off an Intel Core2 Duo chip and Windows 7 Premium and keyboard. But when the screen is detached from its transparent outer shell, it becomes an ultra light slate running on a smaller Qualcomm ARM Snapdragon processor (used in smart phones) and switches to Lenovo’s new Skylight interface. In slate mode it runs on Linux but looks and feels like Windows. It has its own second set of batteries and can synchronize its files with the base unit when connected again. The high-resolution 11.6” LED backlight display, 16:9 widescreen with integrated wec cam is two-finger multi-touch in either mode. It 1.7kg in notebook mode and only 750 grams in slate mode. Very cool.

Ultra portable - Lenovo's Skylightsmartbook, shown at the Consumer Elctronics Show in Las Vegas is powered by a cellphone processors, runs on Linux, invisible to users and runs for more than 11 hours. It has WiFi and alwasy connected cellular 3G.

 Lenovo’s Ultra portable Skylight smart book, is also powered by efficient cell processors most of us have never heard of. It runs on a Lenovo user interface on Linux, although you wouldn’t know it when using it. One battery charge gives you 11 hours on the go. It has WiFi and always – connected cellular 3G. It basically bridges what has been missing between smart phones and Netbooks.
The Lenovo IdeaCenter A300 desktop is the first serious contender to iMacs. It features the thinnest all-in-one desktop 21.5″ screen and the computer guts are built in the swivel base. The optimized boot and shutdown process, rich multimedia capabilities including a face tracking web cam and HDMI in and out and easy system maintenance tools. With up to Intel® Core™2 Duo processors, the A300 comes with wireless Bluetooth keyboard and as well as the Lenovo Rescue System software to quickly and easily recover data if a document is lost or becomes corrupt.
-HP’s (and Dell’s) comeback attempt to re-introduce the now eight-year old Tablet PC got a boost when shown as the only new device by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during his keynote address at CES. Too bad it wasn’t the  much awaited and rumored Microsoft Courier Tablet PC. But neither “slate” will be

around nor will  pre-empt  Apple’s soon-to-be anounced tablet.  Industry observers called the hastily assembled Windows-based  Slates an attempt to head off Apple’s expected announcement of its first tablet.If you check Apples’ screen touch patents over the past two years, which go past traditional multi-finger touch to body and hand gesturing, you can imagine how advanced their Tablet will be, likely to be announced at a media gathering called by Apple on January 27.

The Alex eReader, an elctronic book reader on steroids, featuring a companion colour LCD touch screen that goes online like a PC.

-The most impressive eReader comes from springdesign.com and is ahead of its time. Called the Alex, it sports a 6-inch Electronic Paper Display and a fully functional 3.5-inch 320×480 LCD touch screen which can be turned off/on separately. This means WiFi Internet connectivity, web browsing, music and video to accompany the monochrome book screen. The ingeniously designed eReader also features built-in stereo speakers and will be available in February for $350 US. It includes 2GB or external microSD memory and headphones.

THE NEW GOOGLE NEXUS PHONE IS NOT FOR EVERYONE

January 6, 2010

Here are my two bits on Google’s new Nexus One mobile “super phone”.

Yes, it’s one cool piece of hardware running on Google’s newest Android version OS, just as powerful as a four-year old laptop and with cool features like large OLED screen, built-in compass, position sensor, voice commands for every app for hands free use and much more. You can read all that on www.google.com/phone.

But here’s what this Nexus One is not. It’s not cheap, and will disappoint many shoppers used to actually seeing and touching a real phone in an old fashioned cellphone store…before buying one.

Why? Because according to Google, at a by-invitation-only Nexus One press conference announcement on Tuesday morning, this is a new and simple way to buy a cellphone…online. Welcome to the Brave New World…Google’s World. Don’t expect TV advertizing and other traditional marketing. That will save money and get the lower prices, Google claims.

Folks south of the boarder (Canadians have to wait) can go on the Google website, buy the phone, choose a growing number of American carriers to activate with for as low as $179, select the custom two-line engraving message and wait for their phone to be shipped at their door, and activate online. Or, they can pay the full retail price of $529 and get an unlocked phone they can use anywhere they want with their own SIM cards.

But this model only runs on the Edge network, now the second fastest network in Canadian GSM networks…so don’t expect the greatest online experience that today’s HSMA phones enjoy with all majour Canadian carriers. The iPhone does that, as do other models.

Don’t expect the coolness and plethora of apps Apple phones enjoy, having recently announced the three billionth application download mark. By the way, the Nexus doesn’t do dual touch, so no on-screen squeezing. It doesn’t tether yet either. Picky? No, just trying to water down the “super phone” part.

So, while we Canadians will have to wait a bit before jumping in the web to buy a Nexus One, we can see just how Google does with its online phone store. In a way, I feel sorry the carriers have been shut out from actually carrying the Nexus One, in-store. This is the second time a non-phone company, Apple being the first, has called the shots on cellcos.

Well, I am actually not really sorry…Canadian cellcos are doing well, thank you.

Should I wait for the “free” Google version, like all free things Google got us used to? According to them, that will be some time. The Nexus One is not an iPhone killer. But it is a media advertizing revenue killer, hoping to better Apple on the power of the Net and customers who know what they want.

I still want to buy my cellphone like I buy my shoes… in an analog store, one foot at a time.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I spent some time with the Nexus One during a brief three hour showing at the Digital Experience show in Las Vegas.

Needless to say, the phone is quality throughout, no surprise there, considering HTC built with Google’s input. I found the touch screen, not much different than an iPhone, although I did miss the lack of iPhone’s two-finger and pinch touch.

The touch keyboard was responsive as was the switching between horizontal and vertical modes. The five virtual desktops, and HTC specialty, that are a finger swipe away worked well.

But my ultimate Internet experience, watching YouTube movies online, was disappointing. Due to the slower network connection, the image quality was below average and adjusting it to the highest quality, froze the unit.

If you want Internet performance, the iPhone is still king. Time will tell if the Nexus will dent iPhone sales.  

Interestingly, in the third hour of the Digital Experience show, the Google booth was almost empty, as if the several hundred reporters who initially crowded the booth, lost interest halfway through. I think there is a message there.

Hey folks, check out my first stevoidstickcam ride in YouTube on Epson’s new eneloop hybrid electric battey-run bike at Showstoppers at the CES show in Las Vegas:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snNrUV4ciH8

INTEL KEEPS PUMPING OUT NEW CHIPS WITH SURPRISING RESULTS

January 4, 2010

Intel's Micro ATX Desktop Board DH55TC Media Series motherboard, combined with the new Clarkdale processors and integrated graphics, offers impressive and HD graphics, Blu-ray and multi-channel audio. It features three graphics outputs, including HDMI for 1080p flat panel TVs.

Just when we all got familiar with Intel’s popular Core 2 Duo processors, which have the lion’s share of Apple and Windows computers, along comes a new family of Intel chips, codenamed Clarkdale.

They consist of a newly designed processor chip, the i3 and i5 family and they are based on Intel’s new 32 nanometer technology (about 3,000 transistors across a human hair).

To consumers this means smaller, smarter and as it turns out, more powerful and capable computing.

The Clarkdale chips are Intel’s third generation of “i” processors, and the most affordable.

What is great about them?

The 3.33 GHz Core i5-661, Intel sent me to try out for the past month, along with the new Micro ATX Desktop Board DH55TC Media Series motherboard is a veritable package that offers affordable computing for the masses with exciting multimedia capability.

Not just fast processing, with four core hyper-threading but automatic on-demand TurboBoost technology which runs the CPU up to about 10 per cent faster, when needed.

How fast is the 3.33 GHz Core i5-661? In my tests, it outperformed the current Core 2 Duo 8500, even nipping away at Core 2 Quad processors.

What impressed the most though was the integrated graphics, not so much the PC gaming ability, equivalent to a $100 add-on graphics card, but the ability to play HD movies and multi-channel audio formats.

In fact, right-out of the box on default settings, the Blu-ray playback quality on my Samsung 1080p plasma TV was more eye-pleasing off the Clarkdale PC than the image from several Blu-ray consoles I tried on the same Blu-ray Baraka title. The blacks were deeper with richer mid tones and just as sharp and just as smooth.

I used Samsung’s newest internal SH-B083 Blu-ray combo drive (DVD/DL/CD R/RW) as well as LG’s external USB-connected external Blu-ray R/RW combo. Both played movies seamlessly.

Intel’s recommended test Blu-ray titles, Night at the Museum (first one) and Resident Evil Extinction, had challenging scenes with fast camera movement under harsh lighting conditions and wide shot pans. They all passed the muster.

What really impressed was comparing Intel’s fastest “gaming” Core i7 Processor Extreme Edition i-965 3.2 GHz processor equipped with a respectable upper-mid level NVIDIA N-275 graphics card with the new cheaper and simpler Clarkdale technology.

Sure, tasks on the Extreme setup where completed 30% faster, and graphics-intensive games ran at four to six times higher frame rates, but all that, with a processor that costs five times what the i5-661 does and the added $300 for the NVIDIA card, itself a very capable HD-capable GPU.

The Blu-ray looked similar on both computers, but the Clarkdale and DH55TC Media Series motherboard with HDMI out and integrated graphics still won out on smoothness, even a simple end-of-movie credit roll looking noticeably smoother than my gaming machine.

Even more impressive, was running a CPU-intensive PhotoShop action file while playing a Blu-ray movie. The Clarkdale ran the movie smoothly, thanks to the dedicated HD graphics, reserving the traditional part of the CPU for the PhotoShop task. In fact, the CPU barely peeked past 6 per cent when just playing Blu-ray movies, obviously leaving room for more tasks.

In comparison, the Extreme Edition enthusiast gaming PC had glitches running both programs with frequent playback glitches. I doubt most folks would run their PCs the way I did, but these are examples of how much better processors are getting.

The Clarkdale line of processors will offer a selection of i3 and i5 32 nanometre chips for the right job, ranging from full Hyper-Threading and TubroBoost, to plain versions, still faster and more energy efficient, with integrated graphics, for consumers and businesses looking at price value and energy saving performance.

Unless you are an extreme gamer, a quiet and small, shoebox-sized Clarkdale PC, whith CPUs staring at about $100, is all you need for great Windows 7 experience, media playing and uncompromised HD graphics on your flat panel TV. 

For more information go to: www.intel.com