Category: Computer Hardware Design

Desktop computers–not as ugly as they used to be

A major change has been happening for the average desktop computer system. Here this class of computer isn’t just the large box that sat under the screen or the large tower that sat beside the desk. In some ways, these desktop computers are now being welcomed back in to the main living areas of the house rather than being shut out to the den.

System types

There are two major directions that are being made available for this class of computer.


Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computerThis style integrates the computer circuitry, the screen and all of the secondary storage in one box about the size of a small flatscreen TV. The keyboard and mouse appear as separate devices that connect to this unit. An example of this style is the Sony VAIO J Series “all-in-one” that I have recently reviewed.

The style was inspired initially by the Apple Macintosh being the most popular of this form factor, but was augmented initially by the “transportable” computers that appeared at various times through the 1980s. Compaq also tried to bring this style in to being in the mid 1990s but with little success.

Some all-in-one variants where the computer circuitry, keyboard and secondary storage may appear but this style has been and could be targeted at the “retro 80s” market. This is because most of the computers that were popular in the early days of hobby and home computing that existed through the late 70s to the late 80s like the Commodore 64, the Apple IIe or the Sinclair ZX computers were based on that design layout even though, in a lot of the early designs, the secondary storage was outside of the system.

Most of these machines now have a touchscreen built in to them so as to make them appeal as interactive terminals. But HP have raised the stakes in this form factor by develop the Z1 which was a high-powered 27” workstation that implements a modular design so that it can be upgraded or repaired more easily.

Low-profile system units

Another direction for the desktop computer is for a traditional “three-piece” system to be equipped with a low-profile system unit. In earlier times a low-profile system unit was a box about the size of a typical video recorder or hi-fi CD player released through the late 80s and was very unreliable due to intense heat build-up.

Now these are units that appear in different sizes ranging from a small book to a loaf of bread to an ordinary two-slice toaster and some may be mistaken for a typical consumer network-attached-storage unit. This may include “pizza-box” designs that are so slim that you don’t know they are there; and the highly-powerful heavy-duty servers that are as big as the classic desktop computer designs.

Common features

The common features with these newer desktop-computer designs include a thermal design that relies less on a constantly-running fan to keep the system cool. In some cases, any system cooling fans that are used in these computers may operate in an “on-demand” manner where they come on if the system is running hot. This then leads to a reduced noise output from these computers compared to the traditional desktop computer.

Similarly, some of these computers will even use an outboard power supply that looks like the kind that would come with a laptop computer. Of course these would be designed to work without the use of a cooling fan.

Depending on the configuration, you may have new-design desktop computers that may suit average desktop computing tasks whereas you may have highly-compact systems like the HP Z1 that can perform heavy multimedia, graphics or intense gaming tasks.

On the other hand, most of these systems may not be as adaptable to newer needs as a classic desktop system. This may be due to a lot of the systems being built around integrated rather than standards-driven modular architecture.

Choosing the right form factor for your needs

If you want to place value on a touchscreen on a desktop setup, you could go for a large-screen all-in-one that has this feature. Similarly, the all-in-one can come in handy for a brand-new computer system where you are starting from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have a display type, size or arrangement in mind, you could value a low-profile desktop units. This same situation can come in handy if you have a screen, keyboard and mouse that is still in good order. In some cases, you could easily hide the system unit behind the screen or a peripheral if you don’t like the look of it.

It is also worth knowing that some of the larger low-profile desktop units may have room for expansion with the ability to add one or two expansion cards such as installing a discrete graphics card or upgrade secondary storage to your needs.

The traditional “tower-style” desktop is still a sure bet if you place your emphasis on expandability, ultra performance or a system that has to suit your computing needs exactly. Here, these should be purchased from a quality independent computer store who can build them “to order” or have one or more systems available “off the peg” at a cost-effective price to start from.


At least this the improvements in the new desktop-computer designs have allowed for the desktop computer system to be considered as a system option for most computing tasks in environments where aesthetics or noise issues do matter.

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Lenovo now makes available a USB 3.0 desktop expansion module for your Ultrabook


Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock lends its ports to your deprived laptop via DisplayLink, available May 15th for $180 — Engadget

My Comments

I have previously talked about on this site about the concept of standards-common expansion modules for use with laptops, especially Ultrabooks. These devices, also known as docking stations, would have connections for peripherals that you would typically used at your desk like larger displays, Ethernet network connections or work-specific peripherals.

Infoact one of these devices was part of an ultraportable laptop that I had reviewed, namely the Sony VAIO Z Series unit; and this one included a slot-load optical-disc drive that reads Blu-Ray Discs.

Now Lenovo have presented the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock, which connects to the host laptop using a USB 3.0 connection, already common on most laptops including higher-priced Ultrabooks. But it exploits the higher data throughput of USB 3.0 to allow for more than what one would typically expect from these devices.

For example, the expansion module is a network adaptor for Cat5 Gigabit Ethernet networks and an external sound module as well as a self-powered USB 3.0 hub for five peripherals. The self-powered USB hub also has the advantage of supplying power to USB peripherals independently of the host computer so that you could charge up smartphones and other gadgets or use it as a power supply for USB-driven gadgets.

But it uses DisplayLink technology to use the USB 3.0 connection to drive external displays while using the host computer’s graphics subsystem. This can encourage us to use the large displays with these laptops without needing to connecting them to the computer itself.

What I would like about this expansion module and any expansion modules designed along this line is that it isn’t dependent on the laptop being a Lenovo ThinkPad model at all, let alone a Lenovo unit. Compared to the Sony solution which exploited a proprietary “Light Path” setup over USB 3.0, this could be used with computers that use any USB 3.0 port.

This is more so as the next generation of Ultrabooks come with USB 3.0 ports integrated in to them but may have two or three of these ports as well as fewer connections for other wired peripherals. Infact the more of these devices that exist, the better it would be for people who use “work-home” laptops or 13” ultraportabls as travel/desk computers/

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Corning’s future vision of glass



A Day Made Of Glass 1 (link to this)


A Day Made Of Glass 2: Same Day (link to this)

My Comments

I had heard about Corning’s new series of videos about glass being more than just windows, mirrors and drinks containers. Their vision in these videos was to have windows, mirrors and similar objects as display surfaces for computer-hosted data; as well as for other applications like photovoltaic (solar) cells or electrochromic uses like tinting or frosting on demand.

Some of these visions include windows that are clear but become frosted “on demand” for privacy or show images or text such as a themed photo cluster or a diagram, with some being touchscreens for interacting with the display or being a control surface for lighting for example. The applications were being extended to automotive use like the glass displays being part of a dashboard for example.

This has been made feasible through efforts like the “Gorilla Glass” technology that is now being implemented in smartphones, tablets and large displays like TVs. Here, this glass is about an increasingly-tough surface or about a thinner glass surface for an LCD or OLED display application (including a touchscreen) being as tough as a glass surface of regular thickness.

It is even worth noting that Philips was also involved in “taking glass further” with mirrors that are displays and lately with an OLED light  / solar-cell combination which is transparent one moment and a light-source another moment while supplying extra power during the day. This latter application was pitched again at cars with a way of bringing more light in to the car but also working as an interior light when it is darker.

At least this shows that there will be many different game-changers when it comes to the design of display and similar technologies.

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The idea of the convertible ultrabook becomes real with ASUS


Asustek to showcase swivel-screen notebook at 2012 Computex | DigiTimes

Un ultrabook convertible chez Asus ? | Le Journal Du Geek (France – French language)

My Comments

A question that many people will be pondering nowadays when they consider a secondary computing device is whether to get a small laptop computer like a netbook or Ultrabook or a tablet computer like the iPad along with an accessory keyboard. There will be the tradeoffs of each platform such as software availability and user-interface requirements.

This will become more so when Windows 8 with its Metro touch user interface being part of the operating system and becoming another full-bore competition to the Apple iOS platform.

But ASUS have answered with an Ultrabook that can bridge between the notebook / laptop and tablet form factors in the cost-effective and power-efficient way that has been required of the Ultrabook. This machine will be the first “convertible” Ultrabook that has the “swivel-head” screen design like what I have experienced with the Fujitsu TH550M convertible notebook.

This will work tightly with the integrated touchscreen interface that Windows 8 provides rather than the previous practice where the manufacturers fabricated their own touch-optimised shell for these computers.

The ASUS convertible Ultrabook could offer a tablet-style user interface for casual computing needs yet have the full proper keyboard that would appeal to us when working on emails or documents; yet it will have the benefits that tablets like the iPad offer like quick start-up and long battery runtimes.

The main question is that whether other manufacturers would make the convertible Ultrabook form factor and make these computers cost-effective and widely available or will they be taken in by just supplying tablets as a distinct touchscreen product class?

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Laser and LED xerographic printing–what is the difference

When you are looking at laser printers to buy for yourself or specify for an organisation, you will come across printers that are known as “LED printers”.

What are these LED printers?

A LED printer and a laser printer are very similar types of printers in so much as how the paper is marked. They use the same dry-process xerographic / photostatic printing method that has been used for years with photocopiers, where there is an electrostatically-charged imaging drum which attracts powdered toner depending on whether it has been subject to light or not. Then this toner is transferred from the drum to electrostatically-charged paper and “ironed on” using hot fuser rollers.

But the main difference is how this imaging drum is illuminated with the digital representation of your document. A laser printer uses a laser beam and swivelling mirrors or pentagonal prisms to scan the document’s image on to the drum. On the other hand, an LED printer uses a fixed row of light-emitting diodes that turn on and off to scan the image to the drum. This LED array would be similar to what is used to illuminate a document when it is being scanned in the typical scanner and each LED light represents a horizontal pixel that is part of the line being printed.

This has benefits for printer design due to the elimination of the complex light path that laser printers use. Here, you don’t need to use mirrors and servo motors to control the laser’s light path, thus you reduce the number of parts that can go wrong. It also leads to the ability to design xerographic page printers that are more compact and lightweight compared to the laser-based units.

Further comments with OKI Data about LED printers

I had engaged in an email interview with Chris Thorley from OKI Data’s Australian head office to learn more about this. Here, I had learnt that they had pioneered this xerographic printing technology in 1981 and are now on their ninth-generation LED print engine.

Most other printer manufacturers use this LED technology on some of their low-end models. The main reason is a reduced part count allowing for reduced material costs; as well as the impact of unforseen technological issues not being considered significant for this market position, compared with using the trusted laser technology on their mid-tier and high-end models.

But OKI Data have implemented this technology across the board with their colour LED printers known to be yielding high colour production quality. It may also be known that some other manufacturers implement the OKI technology in to their production printing devices on an OEM (Other Equipment Manufacturer) basis. This practice is where a manufacturer uses an already-designed subsystem from anther manufacturer (the OEM)  in their own project.


It is worth considering the LED printers for your page-printer needs as long as they have the kind of specifications that you have in mind. This includes machine reliability, image quality, print speed including colour and auto-duplex print speed, functionality and running costs including availability of toner cartridges at differing capacity levels.

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