Product Review–Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook (Kaby Lake version)

Introduction

Previously I have seen a lot of coverage and given some space to the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook especially in response to it being seen by the computing press as a value-priced ultraportable computer that “ticks the boxes” as far as consumer expectations are concerned. Also I had reviewed the first iteration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook and now I have a chance to take this latest iteration for a test drive and to review it on HomeNetworking01.info.

I am reviewing one of the premium variants that has an Intel Core i7 CPU and a 13” touchscreen display with a 3200×1800 resolution. But there is a value-priced variant available with the Intel i5 CPU and has a Full HD non-touchscreen display.

Price
– this configuration
AUD$2499
Market Positioning Consumer ultraportable
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U CPU
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-7200U CPU
RAM 8 GB
Secondary storage 256 GB SSD SD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics
better option:
Intel Iris Graphics 640 integrated graphics
Can support eGPU modules
Screen 13” widescreen touch display (3200×1800)
cheaper option:
13” widescreen display (Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Sound tuning options
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2
Bluetooth 4.1
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x Thunderbolt 3 with Power Delivery
2 x USB 3.0 – 1 with Sleep and Charge
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The review sample of the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook has a rose-gold finish on the outside and this was able to maintain a new look even though it has been taken around. The monitor has a narrow bezel that allows for a larger display in a small housing. Being a slimline computer, it may appear to to users as being flimsy but is very well built.

As for the keyboard, it has a surround around it that has a rubber-like texture but conveys some form of robustness about it. But this may look a bit too dirty over time and acquire an oily look.

A question that always rises regarding laptop use is whether the computer can keep its cool whether with ordinary tasks or with advanced tasks like video playback or game playing. The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake didn’t become too hot when it was used for ordinary word-processing or Web surfing. Even to watch video-on-demand content that was being streamed didn’t cause the computer to overheat. This is primarily because of the way this ultraportable computer has been engineered so as to avoid heat buildup and the metal housing with its heat-dissipation characteristic has an important part to play..

Dell has underscored the narrow-bezel look for this Ultrabook’s screen, as being something that can lead towards a relatively-small 13″ ultraportable computer. But there were issues raised regarding the positioning of the Webcam below the screen due to this design. It can be worked further by preserving a larger margin above the screen primarily for use with a Webcam and the branding.while the narrow bezel is preserved for the vertical edges of the screen.

Even the power charger that comes with the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook is so small that it doesn’t occupy much space in your bag. Here, the lightweight design makes this computer more suitable to carrying around in most shoulder bags or satchels.

User Interface

The keyboard has a shallow feel thanks to the slimline design but it has that same key spacing that allows for comfortable touch typing. It is an illuminated keyboard that only lights up while you are actually typing, thus saving on battery power.

The trackpad didn’t come across as being “hair-trigger” in any way and you didn’t have to fear the pointer moving around while you were typing. The touchscreen is also very responsive and works as expected.

Audio / Video

I have used the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook to watch some video-on-demand content and it had streamed the content smoothly without any stuttering. As well the visuals had come across with the proper amount of response.

There is the Waves MaxxAudio sound-optimisation software that comes with the Dell laptops like this one but it doesn’t really allow for a full sound through the integral speakers – this can cause the unit to play music with a sound quality not dissimilar to a small portable radio. This will still be a problem with most of these ultraportable laptops due to the small size that they have. If you expect to have better audio performance from any content you play through this computer, you will still need to use headphones, external speakers or a better sound system.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, USB 3.0 and headset jack

Left-hand-side connections – Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, USB 3.0 and headset jack

The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook is the first computer to come my way that is equipped with a USB-C / Thunderbolt-3 port. Here, I would like to be able to try this out bout don’t have any hardware to try it with. It facilitates data transfer at USB-C (USB 3.1) or Thunderbolt 3 speeds, support for the external graphics modules along with USB Power Delivery for both an inbound and outbound context. The same port is capable of working in DisplayPort alt mode to connect this computer to external displays via a suitable adaptor.

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultraook - Right had side - USB 3.0 port and SDHC card reader

Right had side – USB 3.0 port and SDHC card reader

Dell infact sells for AUD$60 an optional highly-portable expansion module for computers equipped with this port that has a comprehensive set of connectors. These are in the form of a USB 3.0 socket, VGA socket for the old data projector, HDMI socket for up-to-date displays and a Gigabit Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV network segments and connects to the XPS 13’s USB-C socket using a short captive cable.

All variants of the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake laptop have a 256Gb solid-state drive which would suit most needs for a secondary computer without the user worrying about storage space or deleting many files. You may find that you have to use an external USB hard disk if you are expecting to use it as your only computer and pack a lot of data on the computer.

Dell has also provided an SDHC card reader at last for those of us who have the good digital cameras or camcorders. This was a feature that was omitted from the first iteration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook. This came in handy when I took a “teaser picture” of this computer at the QT Melbourne hotel to put up on this site’s Facebook page to announce the upcoming review.

Network and modem

The review sample had come with all the latest drivers on board and was able to work as expected. Yet, like most ultraportables, you may not get good Wi-Fi reception at the fringe of your Wi-Fi segment’s coverage when you deal with a baseline router. This is something that I would be seeing the likes of Intel and co working on to make these computers perform properly with the typical Wi-Fi network, especially if an access point or router is being pushed “to the end”.

Battery Life

I have been able to run this computer for most of the day without the need to run it on the charger. This involved me using it for a mixture of regular computing tasks as well as setting the power-saving options so as not to “go to sleep” when I close the lid at the end of a usage session.

Even to watch an hour of streaming video didn’t put much impact on the XPS 13 Kaby Lake’s battery runtime. This is showing that with these ultraportables, there is an emphasis on the long battery runtime

Other Usage Notes

Most of the people whom I have shown the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook to were impressed by the slim design that this unit has. It is although a lot of the people don’t see many people using Windows-based ultraportable clamshell laptops these days.

Another feature that impressed some other people like one of the men from the Melbourne Men’s Shed was the use of a touchscreen which is not common in a traditional clamshell-style laptop computer, let alone an Ultrabook-style ultraportable computer. It is something I have observed whenever other clamshell-style laptops equipped with touchscreens came in to my possession for review purposes especially after Windows 8 came on the scene.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

There hasn’t been much that I could require Dell to work on as part of developing the XPS 13 series of ultraportable laptops. Here, this model range had underscored the fact that it “ticked the boxes” for a product of its class. This is although they have recently offered this series also in a convertible form as a way to appeal to that market.

Personally, I would like to see Dell offer one of the XPS 13 clamshell-style Ultrabooks with a Full-HD (1920×1080) touchscreen as either a subsequent low-tier or step-up configuration centred around the “value” model of the Intel Core i family of mobile CPUs like the i5. But they may preserve this screen for the top-shelf configurations. As well, an emphasis can be drawn to the “graphics upgrade path” offered by Thunderbolt 3 when marketing this or subsequent generations and refining these generations.

They could also work towards offering a business-class ultraportable derivative of the XPS 13 with the security and manageability features that business users would like to have. This could be simply offered under a Vostro or Latitude name and underscored with the fact that it is based on the XPS 13 that answered most people’s needs.

Conclusion

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook rear view

Rear view

I would recommend that the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook serve as either a secondary travel computer, a “work-home” laptop computer that you use to do the same work both in the office and at home or something you regularly take between your main office and your “secondary office” cafe or bar when you prefer to hear the trendy music and the sound of that barista making the coffees rather than the sound of office workers engaging you in gossip while you work on that special document. You may find that offloading the bulk of your data to somewhere else such as to a USB hard disk, NAS or online storage may work well for your needs if you expect to run it as your sole computer.

Most users who run it in these contexts could get by with the baseline variant with the Intel Core i5 processor and Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics powering a Full HD non-touch display, along with 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state storage for this kind of use. Here, Dell are offering this suggested baseline configuration for AUD$1699.

As well, I would recommend the purchase of Dell’s USB-C expansion module or a similarly-specced device if you are finding that you are likely to hook this up to a variety of equipment like external displays or Ethernet networks. This also includes if you have an intention to run the XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook as part of a workspace setup with a large screen or better keyboard.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer which is part of Brother’s newest generation of colour business inkjet printers that follows on from the MFC-J5720DW that I previously reviewed.

There is a cheaper model in this lineup, known as the MFC-J5330DW that has a single A4/A3 tray, a paper bypass feed that only handles one sheet, doesn’t come with the single-pass duplex scan, and has a smaller user-interface screen But this printer uses the same high-capacity ink cartridges and is able to print to A3 using that same landscape-printing technique.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200×2400 dpi resolution (platen) ID Copy
Book Copy
100 sheet A3 Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex Single-Pass Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based T.37 IP Fax
Scan-to-email
Print-from-email
TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing USB – PictBridge PDF
JPG
TIFF
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
Windows Mobile printing
MoPria support
Brother iPrint&Scan native app
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Facebook
Evernote
Flickr
SMB NAS
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Multiple Users for Online Services Yes
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$369

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$46.45 550 AUD$68.95 3000
Cyan AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Magenta AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Yellow AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500

The printer itself

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer control panel

Control panel with touchscreen and traditional keyboard

Unlike the Brother MFC-J5720DW, the Brother MFC-J5730 doesn’t convey the sleek looks that make printers of this class attractive. Here, the unit is styled in a more conventional approach that is very similar to Brother’s laser multifunction printers with the control panel keyboard that you use for entering numbers very similar to most other office-grade printers. This may be more user-friendly for those of us who are confused with touch-panel keyboards that light up on an “as-required” basis.

Connectivity and Setup

The printer can connect directly to your computer via a USB cable. But it can connect to your home or small business network using Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless that supports most connection setups. It can even create its own Wi-Fi access point which just exists for printing and scanning, but I personally would like to see the ability to be its own access point to “extend” coverage of a wireless network with this feature able to be disabled by management IT along with supporting “business” access point requirements. The network functionality is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 addressing, a real requirement as we run out of public IPv4 network addresses.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer detailed function display

Black-on-white detailed function display

Like all of the recent Brother inkjet printer generations, the cables for the USB or Ethernet connections is snaked in under the scanner rather than being connected to a socket on the back of the printer. The same holds true for the phone and line connections that you would need to use if this machine is being used as a fax.

The setup experience is very similar to the previous Brother printers but this is improved thanks to the larger LCD display that the printer is equipped with. Some of you may find that the black-on-white display which is implemented in this generation of printers  may be a bit awkward to use when working the menus.

Paper Handling

The Brother MFC-J5730DW implements the same paper-feed options as its predecessor model that is: to use two paper drawers up front as well as a bypass feed slot on the back of the printer capable of handling many sheets of paper. These drawers can be extended out so you can load A3 or Ledger paper in the machine, but they leave the paper exposed, which can cause it to attract dust, thus leading to unreliable operation. Here, Brother could answer this problem by integrating a larger slide-out flap in each of these trays which comes out whenever you load the tray with larger paper sizes.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer output tray

Output shelf separate from the upper paper tray

Printed documents end up on a separate output shelf rather than one that is integrated in one of the paper drawers. This makes the job of topping up the paper supply in that drawer easier because you are not having to extend or collapse the output shelf.

The ability for the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer to print to A3 or Ledger paper from either the bypass feed or any of the paper trays. This has been due to Brother implementing the “landscape” paper feed for the standard document sizes. This means that the print head works along the long edge of the paper and has allowed for documents to be printed very quickly while allowing for a relatively-compact printer design.

The scanner’s automatic document feeder doesn’t share that same compact look as the previous generation of A4 business inkjet printers that Brother issued. Here, it looks like the automatic document feeder installed on Brother’s “full-A3” inkjet multifunction printers or their laser/LED-based multifunction printers. The other missing feature for this model is that the glass platen for manual scanning is still only able to handle A4 or Letter document sizes, where I would prefer these units to have a Legal-sized glass platen for documents that are on Legal or foolscap paper sizes.

The automatic document feeder in this model implements single-pass duplex scanning but the paper path is still the “U-shaped” path which can be of concern when you are dealing with brittle paper like thin letter-writing paper. Here, it is a design limitation associated with scanners that are required to support manual and sheet-fed scanning, but could be improved upon by supporting a “two-way” feed setup.

Like with the previous models, the scanner lid on the Brother MFC-J5730DW can be pulled up at the rear so you can scan or copy thicker documents but I would like to see this improved upon by allowing you to lay the multipurpose feed tray flat so you can easily position thicker originals further up the back.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-J5730DW only supports USB-connected media like USB thumbdrives or SD card readers for local data storage. This can be a limitation if you deal frequently with digital photos, where I would like to see it support PictBridge “direct-from-camera” printing or printing from SD and CompactFlash cards.

You also have the Brother MFC-J5730DW able to work as a capable up-to-date colour fax machine with T.37-compliant email-based Internet fax functionality.

This includes the fact that Brother MFC-J5730DW offers a “fax-to-cloud” feature for standard faxes where incoming documents can be forwarded to a folder on an online storage service as soon as they arrive. This offers an Internet-based “fax-vault” functionality so that the machine isn’t printing out every fax that comes in, making it easy for others who have access to your office like contract cleaners or night-shift workers to be snooping on your confidential incoming faxes when you are not there. This is also in conjunction to being able to have faxes forwarded to a fax number or email address or sent to your regular Windows computer, functions that Brother had offered for handling incoming faxes.

Speaking of cloud services, Brother offers access to the common online services for scanning and printing. This means that you could print a photo from Facebook, a document from Dropbox or scan a document to OneDrive for you to work with on your laptop.  The cloud services also include the ability to print notepaper, graph paper, music manuscript paper and similar form documents, a feature that competing printer vendors have been offering for a while. But these documents can be improved upon such as simply providing the music paper without any clef markings so you could write manuscript for different instruments and ensembles.

Computer functions

At the moment, Brother still supplies model-specific drivers for their printers rather than offering a monolithic driver that can cover a product range. This applies to the desktop operating systems although they offer a single piece of software for the mobile operating systems. A single piece of software that covers one or more product ranges could make it easier for those of us who standardise on a particular manufacturer’s devices to set a computer up for newer printers.

But these drivers installed properly on my Windows 10 computer without throwing any error messages. They also provide the same “at-a-glance” dashboard that Brother uses for their printers. The print jobs had come through properly and reliably as would be expected.

The scan software that Brother provides hasn’t been improved upon for a long time and could be worked on, especially in the context of “editing” multiple-page scans. Here, it could support the ability to do things like re-scanning a single page so as to correct scanning mistakes like skewed pages or “splitting” a scan job to two or more documents. The latter situation may be of benefit if you are using the machine’s automatic document feeder to expedite the scanning of multiple documents and would earn its keep with the Brother MFC-J5730 and other machines equipped with a single-pass duplex scanner.

I have used this printer with my Android phone and it worked properly when I wanted it to print out an email attachment. This was using the Brother-supplied Android Print Services plug-in for the Android platform, but the printer can work with Mopria-compliant print-service plug-ins.

Print / scan speed and quality

Like most inkjet printers, the Brother took a similar amount of time to get going with the first page of the print job.

Pigment-based inks and pipe-based ink-distribution are part of this generation of Brother inkjet printers

But I have focused the print-quality tests in a way to show up the print quality offered by the new pigment-based ink setup that Brother implemented in this generation of inkjet printers compared to the previous generation machines. Here, this generation of business inkjet printers integrates the pipe-based ink-flow system, piezo-based printhead design and the pigment-based ink chemistry in to equipment designed to offer value for money at a price most people and businesses can consider.

As well, I have allowed for a firmware update to take place to assess the print quality for these newer machines.

The Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction printer was able to turn out regular office documents very clearly and there wasn’t much difference in the quality of these standard print jobs.

But when it comes to presentation-grade printing, be it a poster to put up on that noticeboard, a presentation handout to give to your attendees or a photo to put in your album, this is where the real tests show up. This also applies to those of us who use these printers to turn out inkjet proofs of documents we intend to have printed by someone else before we engage the printing service to have them printed.

You may have to use the “vivid” setting in the printer driver to make sure that presentation-grade work doesn’t look dull, as I have tried with a noticeboard “tear-off” poster to promote this Website.

But I have compared output quality for photo printing against the MFC-J5720DW which represents Brother’s previous generation of printers. Here, the photos came across with slightly more saturated with flesh tones coming across slightly more red compared to the previous model. This is a very similar look to what comes across with magazines or with most TV broadcasts where there is that stronger colour effect.

What is happening is that Brother is pushing their business inkjet printers towards the same standard as the HP OfficeJet 8600a which was a printer of this class that was known for sharp vibrant presentation-grade image quality.

As for scanning and copying, the Brother MFC-J5730DW had yielded a clear sharp image for the documents that were scanned. But it needed to be configured for the standard A4 paper size when you set up the scan software for working with most office documents if you are in Europe, Asia, Oceania and other areas where these sizes are normally used. This was because it was set up by default for the US Letter paper size, normally used in North America.

Brother hasn’t yet rectified a problem that I find with copying or scanning from the glass platen. This is where the document edge is clipped by a few millimetres and can affect jobs where you deal with documents are printed “to the edge” like credit and ID cards or news clippings, but you want to align the document against the platen’s edge to avoid skewing.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Brother could equip this printer with a Legal-size scan platen rather than the standard A4 / Letter platen. Here, it could cater towards situations where you are dealing with documents written on Legal-size or foolscap-size notepads which can be a reality when you are digitally archiving very old material. As well, they could support “to-the-edge” scanning so that documents that are placed against the edge of the glass aren’t clipped.

Brother could make better use of the network connection on these printers so people can benefit from these connections especially where there is on-premises network-storage options available to that network. This is more so for small businesses and community organisations who may prefer to use a small desktop network-attached-storage system or file server in addition or in lieu of an online service for this purpose.

For example, they could provide a walk-up print option that allows you to print documents that exist in a folder shared via your network or an Internet location using SMB, FTP or HTTP protocols using the machine’s LCD control panel. This feature could allow an organisation to create a “document library” or “stationery library” shared using an on-site server or NAS that has documents or pro-forma stationery which can be printed as required. This idea can extend to public Websites or organisation-specific intranet sites that host a collection of “download-to-print” resources.

These “print from network” setups could be configured through the printer’s Web-based admin dashboard or through the printer’s control panel. There could be the ability to remember resource-specific passwords for network shares or Web pages that are protected with passwords or require the user to supply them each time they print documents from these resources while allowing for SSL encryption where applicable. Here, it avoids the need just to rely on Dropbox & co to provide these resources.

To the same extent, the Brother “MFC-series” fax-capable multifunction printers could use a network-shared folder to hold incoming or outgoing faxes for later printing or sending. Here, this can capitalise on the idea of a “fax-vault” used to assure confidentiality when it comes to inbound documents, or to allow an organisation who does a lot of overseas business to hold the overseas faxes to be delivered to the partners according to their “local morning” time.

Similarly, Brother could support PictBridge camera-based digital printing for their business printers. This is where you can print pictures from your digital camera using a suitably-equipped printer just by connecting the camera to that printer and using the camera’s control surface to print the pictures. Such a feature can come in very handy if you need to turn out “proof-quality” prints of the photos you had taken in order to show them to others.

Brother can also use some of the neat-looking design aspects from the previous generation of business inkjet multifunction printers along with the new print-engine design to develop a range of consumer-focused A4/Photo inkjet multifunction printers that use the same consumables as these business printers. Here, these machines could be positioned as a secondary printer for the home network or as an entry-level printer for one’s home-computing setup.

Similarly, they could offer a single-function A3/Ledger printer based on these printer designs to allow people to add large-sheet printing to their document-handling needs without having to replace their existing A4 multifunction that has served them well.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Brother has just about achieved its goal in yielding a business inkjet printer that can excel with presentation printing as well as regular office-document printing tasks. This was more important for me where the goal was to see something answer HP’s well-known OfficeJet 8600 series of business inkjet printers when it comes to this task. As well, I placed importance on this feature with these printers due to the fact that the Brother MFC-J5730DW and its peers can print on A3 or Ledger paper, a size that yields very strongly with presentation-grade printing jobs.

What the printer manufacturers need to do is to keep themselves interested in maintaining their business inkjet printer lineup as something that is about high-quality presentation-grade printing especially on A3 paper as well as turning out ordinary office documents. It can encourage everyone else in the small-business desktop printer game to compete against each other when it comes to presentation-level output quality as well as their equipment’s functionality. What it can lead to is companies like HP, Brother, Epson, Canon and others to keep a viable product class for machines that can satisfy small-businesses’ and community organisations’ small-run printing needs without losing the quality aspect.

Here, I would recommend the use of the Brother MFC-J5730DW as an all-round small-run workhorse printer for a home office or other small office. This is more so if you expect to doe a significant amount of A3 printing such as to place posters on that noticeboard. You may be able to get away with saving money and buying the cheaper MFC-J5330DW if you rarely do A3 print jobs or don’t place value on double-sided scanning.

Send to Kindle

Understanding the new distributed-Wi-Fi systems

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system – understanding these devices and whether to purchase them or not

A new class of home-network device has been appearing over the last year or so in the form of the “distributed Wi-Fi system”, sometimes known as the “mesh Wi-Fi system”.

These systems consist of two or three modules, one working as your home network’s router and the other modules working as access points. But they have features that are different to setups where you use an ordinary access point and wired-network backbone or a range extender to extend your Wi-Fi wireless network’s coverage.

Some ISPs are even offering distributed-Wi-Fi systems as a product differentiator for their premium packages or as an add-on that customers can buy. They are offering these devices in response to their customer base complaining to their support desks and “bricks-and-mortar” storefronts regarding poor Wi-Fi coverage.

Core features

Simplified setup and self-tuning

When you set up these devices, you don’t have to determine the operating frequency for each of the modules nor do you have to deal with multiple devices for your network to run properly.

Typically the only hands-on requirement is to work with one management interface when adjusting your network’s settings. You may even find that this interface is where you set up things like your Internet connection parameters or your network’s ESSID and enable / disable any particular features the system has.

You may find that the procedure involved with enrolling additional node devices to an existing distributed-Wi-Fi system may be as simple as pairing a network client device to a Wi-Fi network using WPS push-button pairing. This would simply be about pressing a button on the new device then pressing a button on one of the existing devices or the main node.

These systems continually re-adjust the operating frequency and other parameters so as to cope with changes in operating circumstances.

For example, if one or more of your neighbours set up new home networks or add access points and range extenders to these networks, you may find that your network underperforms due to the neighbouring networks operating on the same frequency. Even someone running a “Mi-Fi” mobile router or using their smartphone’s “Internet-share” mode could affect the network’s performance.

But the typical distributed-Wi-Fi system will automatically tune itself to different frequencies when these situations do occur. As well, it may implement other tactics to provide the best signal strength for your client devices.

Automatic creation of a single Wi-Fi network

A problem that users will have especially with wireless range extenders is that your network is split up in to multiple extended service sets or Wi-Fi networks. This can cause problems with users having to switch between different network names to gain the best coverage, something that can daunt a lot of users.

If you set up a traditional access-point setup with a wired (HomePlug or Ethernet) backbone, you have to “copy” the SSID and security parameters to each access point’s setup interface. A few HomePlug access points simplify this task using a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function where you activate this function then press the WPS button on your router to “copy over” the network parameters to the access point.

But these systems allow you to create your network’s SSID and security parameters with these being reflected across all of the modules that are part of the system. This includes implementing these parameters across all wavebands that these distributed Wi-Fi systems support.

This leads to a network that has the same kind of “roam-ability” as what would be expected for larger Wi-Fi networks with multiple access points. It is similar to what you would have expected with a properly-set-up traditional access-point network.

System types

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system – each device links with each other

There are two different approaches being implemented with distributed Wi-Fi systems. These affect how the wireless backhaul signal is provided between each of the system’s modules.

Mesh system

The mesh method, implemented by Linksys Velop, Google WiFi, and eero require the use of three or more modules with one of these serving as the “edge” router for the network.

Here, the wireless backhaul works on a mesh approach where each module effectively receives signals from and transmits signals to the other modules that are in range. There is some fault-tolerance in these setups where the receiving module (node) can rely on other transmitting nodes if one of them fails. On the other hand, the receiving node aggregates the bandwidth it receives from two or more nodes of the network for higher throughput.

Router-extender / hub-satellite system

Hub-satellite distributed-Wi-Fi system

Hub-satellite distributed Wi-Fi system – uses extender devices connected to a router

The other approach, followed by the DLink Covr and the Netgear Orbi works in a similar vein to a traditional router and range-extender setup or traditional multiple-access-point setup.

Here, the satellite nodes in this system provide a single backhaul link to the hub node which typically is the router. The better designed systems like the NETGEAR Orbi use a dedicated wireless link for their wireless backhaul. This avoids competition for bandwidth by the portable client devices and the satellite nodes wanting to repeat the signal.

Features and limitations regarding these systems

Router-only or access-point functionality

Most of the distributed wireless setups are connected to the Internet in the same vein as a router where they create their own logical network. This setup appeals to users who have a modem that provides a media-level connection to their Internet service like a cable modem, optical-network terminator or a wireless-broadband modem.

This will be a limitation for users who have a modem router like most xDSL connections or users that implement a router that offers very advanced functionality like a VPN endpoint or VoIP gateway.

If you have one of these setups and want to use a distributed wireless system, look for one that offers access-point functionality or network-level bridging functionality. Here, these systems just connect to an Ethernet LAN socket on the existing router but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi functionality on the router if you use one of these systems if the node is closely located to the router.

Dedicated wireless backbone

Better-designed systems will implement a separate wireless backbone that isn’t used by any of the client devices. These systems will use specific radio front-ends and create a separate wireless network specifically for this backbone while each node has other radio front-ends that simply serve as the Wi-Fi access point for that area.

The benefit that is provided here is that the backhaul isn’t being shared with client devices that in the node’s good-reception area. That allows for optimum bandwidth for your distributed-Wi-Fi setup.

Alternative wired backbone

A handful of these systems are offering a wired backbone as an alternative setup for the network that they establish. This is provided through either an Ethernet LAN connection on the nodes or a setup may implement HomePlug AV500 or AV2 powerline networking as the wired backbone.

This feature may be of value for environments where the wireless backhaul just won’t perform as expected such as houses with interior walls made of highly-dense materials. Or these setups can come in to their own with multi-building home networks, where a wired link like HomePlug AV2 powerline networking for existing setups or Ethernet for new setups could link the buildings. On the other hand, if you wired your home for Ethernet, a distributed wireless system that implements support for an Ethernet wired backbone can exploit this infrastructure by allowing you to push out the network coverage further.

These systems should be able to treat the wired backbone as though it is another wireless backbone or part of the mesh. With some of these systems, you could push out a wireless backbone that refers to one of the nodes connected to the wired backbone as its “master” node rather than the main router.

Internet-dependent operation

There are some distributed-wireless systems that are dependent on an Internet connection for them to operate and for you to manage them. Most likely this is evident if the user interface is through a mobile-platform app that links to an Internet resource; along with heavy talk of “cloud operation” in the product documentation. This kind of setup is one that some new Silicon-Valley outfits are heading down the road towards as they want us to join the Internet-dependent “cloud bus”.

On the other hand, a system that isn’t dependent on an Internet connection for you to manage the network will allow you to visit a Web-page dashboard through a local network address or resource name and fully manage your network via that dashboard created by the router or node. Some of these systems that have UPnP IGD or management functionality enabled may make themselves discoverable using a Windows computer on the same network if you open Windows Explorer / File Explorer and see it listed as a Network device.

This is the traditional practice for most home and small-business network hardware and such a setup may offer the ability to be managed within your network using a mobile-platform app that points to the local resource. But this setup allows you to manage or troubleshoot your network even if the Internet connection is down. You also benefit from the ability to get your network ready before your Internet service is provisioned or deal with service-provisioning scenarios like changing your service provider or connection technology, or dealing with Internet services that authenticate with usernames and passwords.

What should I buy?

Not every distributed-Wi-Fi setup suits every house. This is because different houses come in differing sizes and compositions.

I would pay attention to those distributed-wireless systems like the NETGEAR Orbi that offer a choice of different nodes that have differing signal strengths at different price points. The benefit with these systems is that you can effectively shape your Wi-Fi network’s coverage to your premises size and shape.

For example, an entry-level package with a low-output satellite node could earn its keep with providing coverage to an area at the edge of your small house or apartment where you sometimes have good reception but could do with “pushing out” the coverage a bit further for better response from smartphones and mobile-platform tablets used in that area. But you would find that a standard distributed-wireless package may be overkill for this situation. Here, it is similar to creating a HomePlug powerline segment to serve a baseline HomePlug wireless access point to fill in that dark spot and achieve that same goal.

But for most homes, you could get by with running a standard distributed-Wi-Fi system that just has two nodes. Here, you install one where your Internet connection would customarily be while the other one either is at the centre of the house or towards the opposite side. A two-storey or split-level building may simply require one of the nodes to be placed upstairs while the other one is downstairs. You may find that houses with a large floor plan may require three or more nodes and/or a mesh-based system for optimum coverage.

Systems that support an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backhaul in addition to the wireless backhaul earn their keep with those houses that use dense building materials for one or more of their interior walls. If a system only supports an Ethernet wired backhaul, you can team it with a pair of “homeplugs” to gain the benefit of the powerline-network technology which may answer your need with that old house that has a thick brick or sandstone interior wall.

As for system management, I would prefer to use a distributed-Wi-Fi system that implements Internet-independent setup and management. This means that if the Internet connection should go down and you had to re-configure your system or you chance service providers, you can do so.

Personally- I would like to see these systems be able to support the ability for one to determine the SSID and security parameters for the wireless network that they are creating. This is important for those of us who are using one of these systems to improve our existing network, whether to supplant our existing router or its Wi-Fi functionality. In this situation, you may want to convey your existing network’s parameters to the new network so you don’t have to go around to each client device that uses Wi-Fi to set it up for the network. It is although the procedure is simplified with most of these systems implementing WPS-based “push-to-connect” client-device setup on each module.

Use an access point and a wired backbone or one of these kits?

The distributed-Wi-Fi systems do appeal to people who don’t go for a “hands-on” approach in optimising their home network’s Wi-Fi performance. They are also useful for those of us who live in a high-turnover neighbourhood where people are moving in and out frequently. You will also have to be sure that you are not dealing with radio obstacles like interior walls made out of dense materials like that double-brick home that has am extension.

On the other hand, a traditional access point linked to an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone can work well for those of us who don’t mind a hands-on approach to set up the system and don’t face a situation where they have to readjust their home network regularly.

It is also important if we want to use a mix of equipment from different vendors or place high importance on a wired backhaul for reliability. To the same extent, the traditional access point with the wired backhaul is infact the surefire path for dealing with a multiple-building situation such as reaching the granny flat or man-cave garage.

Conclusion

At the moment, the distributed-Wi-Fi system, especially the mesh-based variant, is a technology still in its infancy. What needs to happen for this technology to become more accepted is that it can work in a purely heterogeneous vendor-independent manner, something that has to be facilitated through the implementation of standards that cover mesh networking and simplified setup / configuration requirements.

But the fact that major home-network vendors are coming in on the act rather than it being owned by Silicon-Valley startups means that the product class is becoming increasingly viable as a solution for poor Wi-Fi network coverage.

Send to Kindle

Competition arises for the online games storefront

Articles

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

Steam vs. GOG Galaxy: Which is service better for PC gamers? | Windows Central

Why I’m switching from Steam to GOG for PC gaming | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Good Old Games (GOG)

Homepage

Galaxy client app

My Comments

When computer games developers moved away from delivering their game software to regular-computer users from packaged media to “download-to-own” digital delivery, there wasn’t really any competition. The options that become available were to supply the software through an online storefront that the developer creates for their imprints, a platform-specific app store run by the operating-system developer like Apple’s Mac App Store or Microsoft’s Windows Store, or to end up using Valve’s Steam online storefront.

Steam – the established games storefront

Steam was considered a good-quality online games storefront and gaming community but they got to that point where they became too proud of themselves and started to strip away desirable features or throw their weight around such as banning users for offering negative reviews.

The competition that is now rising up is Good Old Games or GOG for short. This electronic storefront and gaming community ran by CD Projekt have answered what computer gamers have always wanted. One of these is to offer value for money such as offering DLC (downloadable content – the extra content that extends a game’s value) as though it is part of the game rather than a separate title. Another was to offer DRM-free games that are really “download-to-own” along with underscoring an honour-driven carrot-based approach to tackling software piracy.

This means that you could do something like run the game without needing to be signed in to the storefront or be connected on the Internet. This can be of a bonus with those of us who use a laptop for gaming while away from home and you don’t have to lose your gaming content if GOG collapsed or was taken over by someone else. Some games can also benefit by allowing users to install copies of the game on multiple computers connected to the same network thus opening up to traditional network-based multi-player multi-machine gameplay. Thee is still the ability to save your game in the cloud along with a chat community which you would want to log in for.

One of the key features being drawn out is for GOG to support reissues of vintage and classic game titles. Here, they have revised these games to convey the same legacy feel that they offered yet are able to have them run on today’s hardware.

What I like about the rise of competition in the online retail games storefront space is that everyone involved has to treat their customers better and underscore value for money when it comes to selling games. It also means that there is pressure for these storefronts also to treat the games developers fairly and provide more avenues for these studios to sell their wares, rather than the developers having to reinvent the wheel by creating their own storefront every time they want to sell their games online in a location other than Steam or platform-specific app stores.

It could be seen as GOG being like the “indie” bookstore, record store or video store that appear in inner-urban areas of the major cities, the college towns or other areas that have that “cool” factor. This is compared to Steam positioning itself like one of the major book, music or video store chains that appears in most suburban areas or regional cities.

Similarly, it could open up the idea of Amazon and other online storefronts reaching towards the “regular-computer” gaming scene by setting up their own gaming storefronts. Here, it can lead to a vibrant multi-platform regular-computer (Windows/Mac/Linux) gaming marketplace that pleases both the gamers out there as well as the games developers including the indie studios. As well, like what is happening with the video-on-demand marketplace, it can open up the idea of niche gaming storefronts that cater to particular classes of gamers.

It is the sign of things to come for regular-computer gaming to see multiple retail online games storefronts starting to appear thanks to GOG.

Send to Kindle

Microsoft to compete against Amazon and Google in voice-driven home-assistant speakers

Article

HP Elitebook x360 G2 press picture courtesy of HP USA

Cortana may not just be in your Windows 10 computer anymore, it could be in a speaker similar to Amazon Echo

Microsoft’s ‘Cortana speaker’ features are set to rival Amazon Echo’s Alexa  | Windows Central

My Comments

Amazon and Google have established voice-driven home-assistant platforms of their own in the form of Alexa and Google Home. These have initially been presented in the form of network-connected wireless speakers but both those companies are already offering them or intend to offer them also as “pods” that connect to existing music systems and/or as reference designs for consumer-electronics vendors to integrate in to their products.

Now Microsoft has made further steps to join in the party by preparing the “Creators Update” iteration of the Windows 10 desktop operating system to support the installation of a “Cortana speaker” similar to the speakers that are part of Amazon’s and Google’s platforms. Here, they written some code and provided a user-interface space so you can set up and configure one of those speakers. But this existed as a “programming stub” which led to a separate app and to the Microsoft Windows homepage due to an intent to get one of these speakers ready to market.

But Microsoft exhibited a proof-of-concept speaker for this idea last year in the context of a speaker designed by Harman-Kardon in order to prove that Cortana could compete with Google Home and Amazon Alexa in this space.

How would I see Microsoft execute this idea? Personally, I would see the Windows Store used as a marketplace to add on extra skills to Cortana in the smart-home context. This will also include the exposure of an application-programming-interface for Cortana so software developers can add “smart-home” functionality to her. As for hardware, Microsoft would work best to license out the “Cortana speaker” design and software to independent hardware vendors as well as offering their own speaker design.

Send to Kindle

Designing for highly-compatible Internet Of Things

Article

D-Link DCH-3150 myDLink motion sensor

Smart Home and Internet Of Things devices need to be designed for compatibility and security before they become popular

How to bring true interoperability to the Internet of Things | Network World

My Comments

Increasingly, the concept of the “smart home” or Internet Of Things is becoming very real. Here, we are seeing a lot more consumer-electronics devices, home appliances and similar devices become connected to the home network and the Internet.

The “app-cessory” approach to network-controlled devices, where the only way to control these devices via your home network is through a manufacturer-supplied mobile-platform app, has now had its day. This typically asked that the device to be connected to your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet using one of three paths: a Bluetooth connection to the mobile device in the same vein as a Bluetooth headset; a Wi-Fi network created by the device that is controlled by the mobile-platform device; or the home network’s Wi-Fi segment.

The trend that is affecting these devices is to interlink them with a platform-based voice-driven “home assistant” of the Amazon Alexa or Google Home ilk. Here, the requirement is for the manufacturer to provide a “skill” or something similar to the “home-assistant” platform so that Alexa, for example, can interact with the device.

But the article is now highlighting the requirement for increased compatibility with the Internet Of Things. This is where the same device can operate across a range of different network setups and operating platforms.

Use of highly-capable hardware interfaces at the media-connection level

A direction that has assured “out-of-the-box” interoperability for regular-class and mobile-class computer devices along with an increasing number of consumer-electronics devices is to implement one or more multi-mode front-ends when handling the different interface types.

In the case of radio, it can mean being able to handle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee or similar technologies concurrently.With the wired networks, it would be about working with different media protocols over the same kind of wire, being Cat5 unshielded twisted pair, TV-antenna coaxial cable, AC wires used to power your appliances or traditional telephone wires.

Devolo Home Control Central Unit (Zentrale) press photo courtesy of Devolo

Devolo Home Control Central unit connected to router

In the case of a wireless connection, this is represented by the use of Bluetooth for peripheral-class device connection and Wi-Fi wireless networking to the latest standard for connecting to the home network and the Internet. Smartphones and some tablets will also implement a mobile-broadband modem that works across recent cellular mobile-telephony standards as well. As well, some consumer-electronics devices may implement a multifunction radio front-end that supports Zigbee or Z-Wave, typically to provide support for an RF-based remote control.

There are a significant number of “smart-home” or “Internet Of Things” devices that are designed to work solely with Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave. Examples of these range from temperature sensors, smart locks and movement sensors. These devices, typically battery-operated devices, use one of these technologies because of the fact that they are very thrifty on battery power thus allowing them to work on up to 3 AA Duracells or a 3V “pill-size” battery for months at an end or to work only on “harvested” power like kinetic energy.

But, if they want to liaise with your home network and the Internet, they have to deal with a gateway device that links between them and the home network. It is because, at the time of writing, no-one has effectively brought a Wi-Fi-capable single-mode or multimode radio front-end chipset that permits a battery-operated device to work in a power-efficient manner.

But another approach being called for is to have an Internet gateway device i.e. a home or small-business router being equipped with support for Bluetooth, Zigbee and / or Z-Wave along with Wi-Fi and Cat5 Ethernet for the home network. To the same extent, a Wi-Fi infrastructure device like an access point or range extender could simply be a bridge between other radio-network types like Zigbee or Bluetooth and the home network facilitated by the Wi-Fi or wired home-network connection.

Some manufacturers even have an “IoT hub” or gateway that links their Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave devices to your home network via an Ethernet connection. Here, this is offered as part of enabling their devices for online control via a Web dashboard or mobile-platform app. The current situation with most of these hubs is that they have the online-service hub that works with the manufacturer’s device.

There needs to be the ability to facilitate setups involving multiple gateways that link the home network with Zigbee or similar “IoT” radio segments. This is a reality with most of these devices being limited in their radio coverage in order to conserve battery power because they are expected to run on a commodity battery supply like two or three AA Duracells for months at a time or, in some cases, work on harvested electrical energy. You may find that having one of the gateways located near an IoT endpoint device like a smart lock may assure reliable connected operation from that device.

In these setups, there needs to be the ability to see a collection of these “IoT-specific” radio segments as one logical segment, along with the ability to discover and enumerate each device no matter which gateway or bridge device it is connected to and what kind of networks is used as the backbone.

Flexible software to the application level

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

To provide extended monitoring and control to the Kwikset Kevo deadbolt, you have to use a Bluetooth bridge supplied by Kwikset

Another issue raised regarding the Internet Of Things is compatibility across multiple software platforms and protocols.

A design practice that has been known to be successful was for recent network-connected home-AV equipment like Wi-Fi wireless speakers to support Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast and DLNA “out of the box”. Here, you could stream content to these devices using most computer devices, whether it be your iPhone, Android tablet or Windows computer, or whether it is hosted on your NAS device.

Here, the goal is for a device to support many different software platforms, frameworks and protocols that are needed to do its job. To the same extent, it could be feasible for a device to work with different cloud services like Google Home, Amazon Alexa or IFTTT. What this can mean is that a device can work with different control and display surfaces from different manufacturers. It also means that the data that a piece of equipment shares is set in a known standard so that any software developer working on an IoT project can make use of this data in their code.

For example, the Open Connectivity Foundation’s standards which include the UPnP standards and are supported by the “open-frame” computing community, along with the Apple HomeKit framework will be required to be supported by network-connected devices.

Here, it will be about identifying every one of the standards supported by the physical medium that the IoT device uses to link with other devices and the network. Then implementing all of the current standards supported by that medium in a vendor-agnostic manner.

Secure by design

An issue that has been raised recently is the issue of data security practices implemented by the software that runs Internet-Of-Things and dedicated-purpose devices. Situations that have come to the fore include the Mirai botnet that scoped in network videosurveillance cameras and home-network routers to perform distributed denial-of-service attacks against online resources like the Krebs On Security Website and the DNS records held by Dyn, a dynamic-DNS provider, affecting a large number of Internet household names.

Here, the issue being called out is designing the software in this class of device for security along with a continual software-maintenance cycle. But it also includes the implementation of secure-software-execution practices not uncommon with the latest desktop and mobile operating systems. This includes secure-boot, trusted-execution and sandboxing to prevent unwanted code from running along with data-in-transit protection and authentication at the network level.

The concept of a continual software-maintenance approach where the firmware and other software associated with the Internet Of Things is always updated with these updates installed “in the field” as they are available, allows for the removal of software bugs and security exploits as they become known. It also allows the software to be “tuned” for best performance and manufacturers can even roll out newer functionality for their devices.

In some cases, it could even lead to a device being compatible with newer and revised standards and protocols rather than seeing one that ends up being limited because it doesn’t support the newer better protocol. But there can be the question about this kind of software update being used as a way to enforce unpopular device-design requirements upon an existing installed base of devices and changes how they operate. This could be brought about by a government mandate or an industry expectation, such as an eco-requirement for HVAC equipment required by a state energy-conservation department or a digital-rights-management expectation required at the behest of Hollywood.

To make the IoT hardware and software ecosystem work properly, there needs to be an underscored requirement for compatibility with prior and newer devices along with the ability to work securely and with properly-maintained software.

Send to Kindle

Frigidaire offers a window-mount room air-conditioner that connects to your home network

Article

Google Home welcomes 12 new partners in big smart home update | CNET

Frigidaire Cool Connect uses app-linked smarts to chill hot homes | CNet

Dreading summer already? Frigidaire’s smart window air conditioner lets you cool on demand | Digital Trends

From the horse’s mouth

Frigidaire USA

Frigidaire Smart Room Air Conditioner with Wifi Control

Product Page (8000 BTU model / 10000 BTU model / 12000 BTU model )

My Comments

Typically, the traditional single-piece room air-conditioner that was installed through a window or a wall cut-out was never seen as anything special by their manufacturers. These noisy boxes that kept your room cool (or warm in the case of reverse-cycle units) didn’t come with anything special as far as their features were concerned.

Recently-issued models started to come with remote control abilities but could be controlled using your home network thanks to a Tado or similar “virtual-remote-control” kit. But Frigidaire raised the ante for this class of air-conditioner by offering a model that can directly work with your home network.

The Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner can be installed in a window like the rest of these beasts but this is where the similarity stops. Here, it looks very similar to one of the advanced network-capable multiroom speakers thanks to a mesh-like grille that covers the bottom half of the unit. The top edge of the unit has the output vents that blow the air upwards and may limit its installation to somewhere up to halfway up the wall.

As well, the essential controls such as to turn it off and on or adjust the comfort level are simply touch-buttons on the top edge towards the front while the temperature is shown through the front of the unit. There is also a card remote control that you use for managing the essential functions from afar.

But the difference with this room air-conditioner compared to the others out there is that can connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and be controlled using an iOS or Android app. Here, you can control the essential functions or set the 24-hour timer for pre-emptive scheduled cooling such as to have your place cool before you arrive. Here, these functions can be managed over the Internet, which can be good for starting the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner to get the home cool well before you arrive as a way of dodging that heat-wave.

A feature that impressed me about the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner is that you can have a cluster of these units controlled as a group. This can be of use with larger areas where a single unit isn’t enough to cool a room or premises down. Or you have individual units installed in particular rooms like a bedroom and the living room but want to manage them both at once for actions like dropping that heat-wave temperature down or turning them off when it’s cold enough.

Let’s not forget that you can use a device that supports the Google Home or Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistants to control the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner. Here, you could issue commands for the essential functions like turning the system on or off or increasing or decreasing the comfort level.

What has been shown here is that Frigidaire, now a part of the Electrolux appliance behemoth, is raising the bar for an appliance class often overlooked by many other appliance manufacturers. Here, they have offered a single-piece window-mount room air-conditioner that can be part of the connected home.

Send to Kindle

Netgear offers more of the Orbi extenders

Articles

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system

Netgear releases two (slightly) cheaper Orbi routers | Engadget

Netgear announces two new Orbi routers | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Orbi Wi-Fi System

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Most of the recently-issued distributed-wireless systems that consist of modules that extend Wi-Fi coverage across a larger area are typically architected for a large suburban home. But you may want to get the coverage right for a smaller or larger area such as a New-York-style apartment or a larger country house.

NETGEAR have revised their Orbi distributed-wireless system which is based on a “router + extender” setup. This consists of a three-band router serving as a hub device while the satellite devices work in a similar vein to the range extender although there is a separate waveband implemented for backhaul purposes as well as providing for a simplified setup and roaming routine. In this system, one of the bands is kept as a backhaul between the extender devices and the router.

But they have released a few more “right-sized” output extenders for the Orbi distributed-wireless system. The original system, known as the RBK50, was capable of working an AC3000 network with a 5000 square-foot coverage. On the other hand, the RBK40 works an AC2200 network capable of covering 4000 square feet of space. There is a third system, known as the RBK30 which uses a satellite unite that plugs directly in to the power outlet like most range extenders or HomePlug devices. This also uses AC2200 network technology and can cover 3500 square feet.

For example, I would recommend for a small single-storey house or apartment the RBK30 if you are answering the typical setup where your router is located at the front or back of the house. Here, you are nudging the coverage out to an area that is not fully covered because of the equipment being up the front. The RBK40 or RBK50 could answer needs like multi-storey or split-level houses, or larger single-storey houses. In this situation, you want to, for example, make sure that there is equal Wi-Fi coverage upstairs and downstairs or, again, “nudge” the coverage out towards the back of your house.

NETGEAR are also selling these repeaters as accessories rather than as part of an Orbi system. This is important for those of you who are wanting to provide infill coverage for an existing Orbi system such as to deal with a larger house.

The NETGEAR Orbi and its peers would work well for buildings where the interior walls aren’t constructed of highly-dense building materials. You would run in to problems with, for example, the brick or sandstone home where you built on an extension, or one of the English cottages where there was an emphasis on brick or masonry construction for the inside walls. The reason I am calling this out is because the Orbi system implements a dedicated 5GHz band for the backhaul while your network devices connect to the router or extender devices using another 5GHz and 2.4GHz band created for the network.

Personally, I would like to see the NETGEAR Orbi systems available as a variant that uses a HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone or can exploit an Ethernet backbone as an alternative to the wireless backbone for those environments where that backbone can’t cut it.

A question that needs to be raised in the use cases that NETGEAR demonstrates in their online marketing collateral is whether an Orbi Satellite extender can be “daisy-chained” to an extant Orbi Satellite extender. This may be of concern to those of us who decide we want to extend the Orbi System from the extender such as to “push out” the range further.

What I like about the latest NETGEAR Orbi additions is that NETGEAR are “right-sizing” this distributed-wireless system to suit different coverage areas like apartments, small homes and larger homes as well as providing a way to “fill-in” coverage dark spots.

New firmware available for original Orbi system (1.8.0.6)

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop which is a gaming-optimised variant of their 15-7000 Series laptops which are considered as the top of their mainstream consumer laptop range. These traditional-style laptops are pitched towards students and other users who like the traditional clamshell look rather than a 2-in-1 computer because they are more likely to ask for the power and capacity that these units offer without going “full pelt” towards an aggressively-styled gaming model.

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming range of laptops are positioned in a similar manner to the “sports sedans / sports saloons” or “hot hatches” that most vehicle builders were inserting in to their popular passenger-car lineups for a long time to maintain appeal to younger drivers. But these vehicles were optimised for power, being powered by some powerful engines and equipped with gearboxes suitable for competitive driving. Such vehicles would exhibit some sporty detail work inside and out and tended to carry model-name suffixes that conveyed “GT” or “Sport” driving.

I am reviewing the premium variant that comes with the Intel Core i7 processor, 16Gb RAM and secondary storage in the form of a 128Gb solid-state drive and 1Tb hard disk. There is a cheaper “value-priced” variant that comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8Gb RAM and only a 1Tb hard disk as its secondary storage.

They underscore the high performance by offering a larger amount of system RAM for the processor class that what a typical laptop would offer for the processor class such as an Intel i7 CPU machine being kitted out with 8Gb RAM or an i5 or i3 CPU being matched with 4Gb RAM. As well, these computers are equipped with a discrete-graphics chipset known to offer very high performance for a mobile-class chipset.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Market Positioning Gaming laptop
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ 6th Generation
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-6300HQ 6th Generation
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8Gb
Secondary storage 128 GB SSD + 1 TB hard disk
cheaper option:
1 TB hard disk
SD card slot
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M graphics
– 4Gb display RAM and Optimus automatic switchingIntel HD 530 integrated graphics
Screen 15” widescreen display (1920×1080 Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves by MaxxAudio Pro sound tuning 2 speakers + 1 bass driver
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band single-stream
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth BT 4.2 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 3 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Video HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

Where a computer of the same screen size and in the same product range is offered with different variations in its configuration, I highlight the options that the review unit has in boldface text and list the variations available for the computer under the review unit’s specifications, As well, I write whether the alternate specifications are cheaper options or come at a more expensive premium compared to what I am dealing with.

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop rear vents

Rear vents to improve cooling for a high-performance computer

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming comes across as a relatively-heavy machine, with the extra venting on the back of the unit similar to the air scoops integrated in to the above-mentioned performance-tuned passenger cars. The venting is primarily to allow the machine to stay relatively cool even when playing advanced games, and also underscores that it is optimised for performance. But there is still a chance of heat build-up taking place and this can be felt from underneath the laptop.

The outside of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is finished with a feel not dissimilar to rubber. This coveys that rugged look that is also about durability. But the finish has a disadvantage where it can easily look dirty and harbour stains associated with real portable use.

Another symbol of this computer’s durable construction is the use of a single thick hinge pin for the lid.  This makes the computer feel less flimsy to use when you open and close it.

User Interface

There is a hard tactile feedback that the keyboard exhibits which conveys that it can work with a lot of data entry or game control activity. There is still that chiclet keyboard design with a similar feel across the keyboard which can make things awkward if you value touch-typing or similar tactile-driven operation.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming - WASD keys for gaming

Highlighted W, A, S. D keys for gaming

For gamers, the “W”, “A”, “S” and “D” keys are highlighted so you can easily control your game using those keys. This is more so for games where these keys actually are used to control the current game character while you use other keys for other control purposes like swapping the weapon or tool your character uses or changing the current game character. If you want to use the traditional function keys, you have to use the Fn key all the time but it could be made easier to add a dedicated “Fn lock” button to allow switching between traditional function keys or the media keys for the top row.

The multi-touch trackpad is highly responsive and works as expected. This is without it being too “hair-trigger”. Most gamers may find that a gaming-optimised USB or Bluetooth mouse or trackball may do the job better for navigating around the field of play.

Audio / Video

I played a video clip hosted on Facebook using the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop and had found that the sound had come through clearly and with some “punch” in the hass. giving a fuller sound to voices as well as treating the music properly. The sound level would he strong enough for personal listening thou, and this is brought on thanks to the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning.

The display could handle most video playing tasks, even fast-paced action, in a very smooth manner. The only problem I had with running video from Windows 10 Universal Windows apps is that I couldn’t push this infrastructure to use the higher-performance NVIDIA chipset over the integrated graphics to give it a real test.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left hand side connections – Power, USB 3 with PowerShare “plug and charge”, SD card reader

There are three USB 3.0 sockets with one that is capable of being enabled for “Powershare” sleep-and-charge functionality. This is where the Dell laptop can supply power to charge gadgets connected to that port, identified with a lightning bolt, while it is switched off and on its own batteries.

Let’s not forget that the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop has the ability to be connected to an HDMI display as its external display.

The premium version of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop comes with a 128Gb solid-state drive and a 1Tb hard disk while the cheaper variant comes just with a 1Tb hard disk. This storage capacity is being maintained by Dell for most of their 15” mainstream laptops with the view of allowing these to serve well as a portable option for one’s main or sole computing device. Although, the computer doesn’t have much data beyond what is initially supplied with it, the hard disk and the solid-state drive came out as being very quick.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop - Right-hand side connections - audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

Right-hand side connections – audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

These fixed-storage devices are augmented with just an SDXC card slot for camera cards and the like. It is symptomatic of a trend regarding newer portable computer equipment where this kind of equipment doesn’t come with an optical drive of any sort. It is thanks to software being delivered using download services like Steam. Still I would recommend the purchase of a USB 3.0 external Blu-Ray burner as an essential accessory for this computer, whether to make an optical-disc backup / archive of your data, deliver some of your data on an optical-disc form to others or view collectable video content on this computer.

The Wi-Fi network works as expected with it being able to pick up properly even at the fringe of an existing Wi-Fi network. At the moment, I haven’t had to install any new drivers to make sure that the network works properly. Like most 15” mainstream laptops, this computer has a Gigabit Ethernet connection that you can use with Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks.

Battery Life

You may expect that a gaming laptop may be more thirsty when it comes to battery power but this would happen only when running demanding software thanks to the use of NVIDIA Optimus technology using the appropriate GPU setup for the job. It is  in conjunction with the illuminated keyboard lighting up when you are actually using it while the system is on battery power.

One key limitation with this computer’s battery is that the user can’t replace it themselves. It can be of concern if you intend to keep this computer going for a long time but have to deal with a battery that is at the end of its useful life. Similarly, this situation precludes Dell from offering a higher-capacity battery pack as an aftermarket option for those of us who want that high-performance gaming or video-editing ability away from power.

Other Usage Notes

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop can be seen to be too large but the red detailing can be seen by some as giving it that “cute” appeal. I had used it at a Docklands cafe that is opposite a marina and the staff reckoned that it could have some appeal to people who spend a long time on those boats in the marina.

Another man who is in charge of a “Men’s Shed” community support organisation for men has liked the rubberised housing that this computer has when I presented it to him. Here, he remarked that it conveyed a highly-durable feel about the computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could improve on the Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop range by providing at least one Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection and optimising it for use with external graphics docks. Here, gamers could choose to use the “card-cage” graphics docks to implement the high-performance desktop graphics cards which are most likely to offer more performance than mobile graphics chipsets. Similarly, those of us using a gaming-grade laptop as an entry to mobile-workstation territory, like engineering students or people dabbling with video editing or animation could use a “card-cage” graphics dock with a workstation-grade graphics card to give the CAD or animation program that expected level of performance.

“Gaming” series computers could be equipped with user-replaceable batteries to allow for a long usage life that reflects their premium prices. It can also allow Dell and others to offer higher-capacity batteries as an option during the model’s lifetime.

Conclusion

I would see the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop being suited as a sole or main computing device for consumers and students who place value on a portable computer that is all about performance. This idea of portability may be about a computer you can stow away quickly and easily when not in use, or those of us who live a nomadic life and want something that can be easily transported.

Here, I would recommend the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptops as being fit for gaming but without the aggressive look, or for people starting out a hobby or small-time business effort with photo, video or animation work but don’t necessarily want to go the Apple path. Students who are studying courses that deal with advanced graphics like animation or engineering may consider it as a starting point for this kind of work.

The high-performance variant with the Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD would be the answer for those of us who want to work the computer hard like advanced gamers, video / photo editors, animators and the like. On the other hand, the lower-tier variant with the Intel i5 processor may be good for those of us who want the taste of high performance computing.

Send to Kindle

How can you prove you bought it if it breaks down within the warranty period

JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Other documents can be used to prove you bought the product at issue during a warranty or insurance claim

A situation that can easily overcome us is whenever a device breaks down while it is under warranty. Here, you have to prove to the authorised repairer that you had bought the device within the warranty period so they can go ahead with the repairs. This can extend to a repair job that went wrong and you need to seek further repairs from that repairer under warranty. These situations cover both the vendor’s warranty they provide on the goods or services; along with statutory warranties that are provided for under national consumer protection laws.

Similarly, your device may be damaged or stolen and your insurance company needs you to prove that you had purchased the device so they can fulfil the claim. It can also affect “organisational-liability” situations concerning damage to consumers’ property such as where a power utility or telco offers to repair equipment damaged due to a power spike that came over their infrastructure.

But what does the warranty repairer or insurance company need to know?

They need to know the fact that you had purchased the goods concerned and when you had purchased those goods. Typically this is represented by the sales receipt or invoice that the merchant gives us when we pay for the item we are purchasing.

But most of us aren’t really good at keeping these invoices or receipts in an easy-to-find manner unless this was to do with a business effort where we want to claim the purchase for tax or reimbursement purposes. Typically these documents end up in one of many shoeboxes, drawers or other spaces and it is hard to look for them easily when in a hurry. Even if we are reimbursed for the goods concerned or submit the receipt to our tax accountants, there is the likelihood that we don’t have it on hand should the worse come to the worse.

The situation also becomes worse when you keep in your shoebox or drawer similar material for devices you aren’t using anymore such as equipment that has hit the end of its service life or equipment you have sold or given away. Here, you may have the receipts for your new equipment muddled up with similar documentation for the prior equipment.

There are other ways you can prove your purchase of the items. If you bought a smartphone, “Mi-Fi” or similar communications device under a subsidised-equipment deal that your telco provides, the documents relating to the subsidised-equipment contract may be enough to prove this purchase. This also applies to those of us who lease IT equipment like a laptop computer for our business use.

But if you simply pay for your equipment using a credit or debit card, the transaction you made with this card provides its own record and paper trail. Here, you would need to know which card you paid for the goods with and approximately when and where you purchased those goods. Here, you can ask the merchant for a receipt or statement relating to the purchase because they could search on the first or last few digits of the card number and the time period that the transaction took place in order to verify the purchase.

This happened to a close friend of mine who had bought a new printer and the machine had broken down within the warranty period. Like most of us, he wasn’t good at keeping the receipts in a ready-to-find manner, but I made a reference to the merchant that sold him the printer and the fact that he used a credit card to pay for the item. It was similar to a situation where I bought an old friend a gift card for a bookstore but they had lost the gift card. Here, I was able to supply the bookstore the details about the card I used to purchase the gift card so that the old friend could get a replacement gift card. But this situation allowed him to continue to seek warranty repairs on the printer.

Let’s not forget that original copies of the product documentation that came with the goods concerned can be of value when it comes to filing an insurance claim for stolen or damaged goods. Here, the original documents like warranty cards or instruction manuals can be assessed as to whether they are actually what came with the device or something that was printed out after the fact. This fact can also hold true of the optical disks that come with printers, network hardware and similar IT and consumer-electronics gear and carry drivers, software and documentation in electronic form for these devices.

Another incident had happened where a camera was damaged and its owners needed to claim against their policy’s accidental-damage cover. Here, the original instruction manual that came with the camera was enough to prove the purchase and ownership of the device thus give merit to the accidental-damage claim.

What you need to remember is that it is not always just the merchant receipt that can hold its weight as a proof of purchase for your warranty or insurance claim. Rather, things like the existence of the transaction taking place, a lease or subsidised-equipment contract, the product’s documentation or something similar can exist as a substitute for these documents.

Send to Kindle