Computer Systems Archive

Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 1–Personal Computing Trends

IFA LogoI am reporting on the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin which effectively is the show that determines the consumer electronics, personal IT and appliance technology trends that will affect Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. It is also the time to publicly launch technologies that have been ready for prime time by the middle of the year.

Personal Computing

This year has become a year where smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers are seen as one force where hardware and software vendors are working across these devices as of they are simply personal-computing devices.These are primarily based around operating systems which allow people and companies to develop the software that suits different users’ needs.

Desktop, Laptops and Tablets

Intel, Microsoft and others have caused a huge refresh to this class of device thanks to new hardware, software and standards.

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10

Microsoft had just launched Windows 10 while Intel replaced their existing processor silicon with the new Skylake range. These new chipsets are focused on increased performance for the same amount of energy used. This allows for manufacturers to create a granular lineup of products that suit different needs and budgets while assuring “best bang for the buck” in this context. As for peripheral connectivity, the USB 3.1 and Type-C standards along with the Intel Thunderbolt 3 standard had been made firm and more systems honouring these standards were being launched. Acer stands behind the Thunderbolt 3 standard with USB Type-C connectivity because they want to allow users to enhance graphics performance on their computers using an outboard graphics expansion dock of the Alienware Graphics Amplifier or Sony VAIO Z Series Blu-Ray expansion module ilk..

USB Type C plug press image courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

USB Type-C plug – the way to go this year for multipurpose connectivity

Nearly every computer name has catered to the hardcore gamer market by offering high-performance  computers that are tuned to this class of user. Increasingly everyone is offering this kind of performance not just as a desktop or tower form-factor but as a laptop or notebook and some of these manufacturers are offering these products under a “performance” sub-brand like Acer Predator. Acer has even worked on the first Android-driven gaming-grade tablet and smartphone to cater for the mobile gaming community.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 gaming tower PC - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y-Series gaming tower PC – the first product Lenovo offers for core gamers

In some ways, this is the late 1960s and early 1970s where GM, Ford and Chrysler fielded to the American and Australian markets a lineup of highly-powerful aggressively-styled “muscle cars” targeted at younger buyers. Examples of these include the Dodge Challenger and  the Chevy Camaro released in the US and the Ford Falcon GT, the Holden Monaro and Valiant Charger released in Australia

It is part of a strategy common amongst this year’s exhibitors where they are offering different ranges of computer products to suit the different user groups in a similar way to how the common vehicle builders like Ford. GM and Toyota pitch vehicle ranges to different kinds of drivers. This factor has been more demonstrated by ASUS, Acer and Lenovo who are effectively “pure-play” personal-IT companies.

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock - press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock

ASUS have built out their Zen Republic of Gamers sub-brand. One key example that ASUS had offered is the GX700 gaming laptop which is liquid-cooled when connected to a special dock that has an integrated radiator but is able to perform with less power when independent of this dock. As well, ASUS have fronted up with the Zenpad S 8” tablet which has a USB Type-C connector for power and data.

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers

They also released the Zen AIO S Series of all-in-one desktop computers which are driven by Intel Skylake processors such as the i7-6100T, a 23” 4K screen or a 21” Full HD screen with both having touch as an option, NVIDIA discrete graphics, up to 32Gb RAM and 2Tb hard disk capacity and optional 128Gb SSD. These are endowed with connectivity in the form of 2×2 MIMO 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for your home network along with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready wireless and USB connectivity in the form of 1 x USB 3.1 Type C, USB 3.0 x 4 and USB 2.0 x 1. These shows up a reality that the all-in-one can have the same kind of specification as a regular desktop computer.

They also fielded their VivoStick which is a direct competitor to Intel’s “Compute Stick” when it comes to a “PC-on-a-stick” that plugs in to a TV’s HDMI port. Here, the VIvoStick has two USB ports so you can use a keyboard and mouse without the need for a USB hub. They are still at the “toy” stage by using Intel Atom horsepower, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer is building out their Predator gaming lineup of performance computing equipment. Here, they had pitched the first performance-grade Android gaming tablet known as the Predator 8 Tablet. This runs on an Intel Atom x7 processor and Intel Generation 8 graphics serving an 8” Full HD screen. It will have 2Gb RAM and 32Gb or 64Gb storage and a microSD expansion slot. It has 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, tactile feedback, an aluminium housing and four front-facing speakers. This is estimated to arrive in North America on November 6 for US$299 and will arrive earlier in the rest of the world in October for EUR€349.

They also are running the Aspire V Nitro Series range of laptops as performance laptops without the aggressive “muscle-car” looks associated with gaming computers. These 15” and 17” laptops, along with the Aspire V 13 ultraportable are driven with the latest technology – Intel Skylake processors under the hood, USB Type-C connectivity, 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi with the Black Edition variants offering Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C.

Acer also fielded the first Chromebook R11 which is the first Chromebook to come in a 2-in-1 form factor rather than the cheaper “clamshell” style. This is also accompanied by another Yoga-style 360-degree convertible in the form of the 14” Aspire R14. They also demonstrated the Revo Build which is a modular personal computer where functionality is added on simply by one plugging extra modules on to the computer.

This year, Lenovo stepped into the gaming fray by offering the Y series of performance-grade computing equipment. They fielded the IdeaCentre Y900 and Y700 gaming towers which are based on the traditional ATX form factor. This allows for core gamers to improve these systems with the hardware that suits their performance curve, much like the way the “petrolheads” liked to “hot up” the Ford  and GM cars to turn them in to “street machines”. These use quad-core i7 horsepower and discrete graphics under the hood with the Y900 being able to work with 2 display cards. The IdeaPad Y700 range of gaming laptops can be based on Intel or AMD processors  but implements discrete graphics, a 10-point multitouch screen and a RealSense 3D camera. This is augmented with a surround-sound headset, precision mouse, mouse mat, laptop-optimised backpack, mousemat and a mechanical keyboard which is a brush with their former self due to the original IBM PC keyboards.

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet press pictue courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet – to snap at the Surface Pro

Lenovo is snapping at Microsoft’s heels by offering the Miix 700 12” detachable tablet which is a spitting image of the Surface Pro lineup. It comes with the keyboard folio and has a 12” touchscreen with 2160×1440 resolution and runs Windows 10 Home.  Lenovo also entered in to the Chromebook game with the 100S Chromebook and fielded the IdeaCentre AIO 700 which is a range of all-in-one desktops that have a 24” or 27” screen with resolution up to 4K and upgradeable discrete graphics. These can come with Intel or AMD processors and a RealSense camera.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 – the latest incarnation of the Yoga Tab lineup

The Yoga Tab series has been refreshed with these Android tablets fitted with features like rotating cameras along with new horsepower. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro still has the projector so you can throw a picture on the wall as big as one of today’s flat-screen TVs. These are being pitched more as entertainment devices rather than as general-purpose iPad-style tablets.

But they have come strong with more additions to the laptop range. Lenovo had shown 2 Xeon-driven mobile workstations along with their latest ThinkPad Yoga 2-in-1 laptops both driven by Skylake processors and having a silver finish. The ThinkPad Yoga 260 has a 12” Full HD screen, 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage while the ThinkPad Yoga 460 comes with a 14” 2560×1440 screen, 8Gb RAM and either a 256Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk along with discrete graphics.

LG have launched the G Pad II which is a 10.1” Android 5.1 tablet that uses a Full HD screen. This has 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, microSD expansion and connects to your home network via 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. It is also available with an LTE wireless-broadband modem as an option and comes with that brilliant bronze look.

Toshiba has been big on the 2-in-1 computers this year. They launched the Satellite Radius 12 which is the first 360-degree “Yoga-style” convertible notebook with a 4K screen. This convertible ticks the boxes when it comes to up-to-date requirements like having a USB 3.1 Type-C socket and a capable Intel i7-6500U Skylake processor, 8Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage. Some press reports called the 4K resolution a bit of overkill for a portable computer of that 12”-13” “portable-typewriter” form factor especially because of Windows not handling display scaling properly and these machines typically earn their keep as being the smallest size to comfortably type on.

There is the Satellite Radius 14 which is a 14” “Yoga-style” convertible with Full HD resolution and available with either Intel or AMD processors. Toshiba also offers the Satellite Click 10 detachable which is based around an Intel Atom CPU from the Skylake family, 4Gb RAM and 64Gb SSD storage. These 2-in-1 computers exploit Windows 10 to the fullest by working hand in glove with Continuum display switchover, a dedicated button to access Cortana and dual-array microphones to improve speech recognition.

Samsung and Apple have pushed the barriers for mobile-platform tablets with the former offering an 18.4”  Android tablet and the latter heating the rumour furnace with the intent of the 13” iPad Pro family of iOS tablets. Do I see these tablets as something that competes with the 13” 2-in-1 laptops that run Windows 10 as a mobile computing device for group browsing or composing new material?

The tablet you get to do mobile computing activities on doesn’t have to be an iPad anymore.

Handheld devices (smartphones and phablets)

There is a main trend affecting the European smartphone market where more Android devices are appearing from brands other than the usual smartphone market leaders. It is more so with devices that are pitched to the mid-range sector. This is because it is harder to cut in to the high-end sector because Apple and Samsung have cornered the market with the iPhone and Galaxy S / Note phones respectively.

One main trend affecting smartphones this year is the fact that Android 5.1 offers native support for dual-SIM operation and this function is becoming more mainstream in this year’s smartphones. The feature may have relevance for a person who roams between different countries and wants better call value or local mobile-number presence in both these countries or a person who has a “work” or “business” SIM card and a “private” SIM card in the same device. This is typically offered by having two card slots with one that takes the main SIM card and another that can take either a microSD card or a secondary SIM card.

There is also the fact that Microsoft is intending to launch the Windows 10 Mobile operating system very shortly and it is bringing forth an improved third contender for handheld operating systems.

Lenovo Phab Plus phablet press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note products in the form of the Phab Plus

Lenovo is pushing in to the European market with its Vibe and Phab phones which are all Android based. An example of this is the Vibe P1 mid-tier phone with a 1.5GHz processor, 5.5” Full HD screen, 5000mAh battery and 16Gb storage. There is also the Phab range which is meant to join the phablet market  One of these is the Phab Plus which is a dual SIM / microSD phone having a 6.8” Full HD screen, Snapdragon 615 chipset. 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer even has pitched an Android gaming-grade smartphone which is the first for a handheld device. This Android smartphone will use a deca-core MediaTek ARM system-on-chip with 4Gb RAM and a 6” Full-HD display.Some questions may be raised about how long it would last on its own battery especially if you play games on this phone or whether it even scales back on performance when you aren’t gaming.

They also fielded the Liquid Z630 mid-tier Android smartphone which also has MediaTek system-on-chip horsepower, 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi and 8 megapixel cameras on the front and back. It also has a 4000mAh battery and runs for EUR€199.

They also are fielding entry-level smartphones that can be packaged with Windows 10 Mobile or Android Lollipop like the LIquid Z330 Series. There is also the Jade Primo Windows smartphone which has a USB Type-C connector and is made to take advantage of Windows Continuum display-mode switching courtesy of an accessory dock, keyboard and mouse. This is a 5.5” screen with Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Archos is another company who are offering smartphones that can be specified with Windows 10 Mobile or Android. These dual-SIM phones will have the usual lineup of features like LTE, Wi-FI and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, microSD card slot. But they have 1Gb RAM and 8Gb storage which can be limiting.

Gigaset has risen to the European market with the ME series of smartphones. The ME phone is powerful but doesn’t go too far. having a 5” Full HD screen, USB Type-C connection, Snapdragon 810 processor and Adreno 430 graphics, 32Gb storage, microSD slot and 3000mAh battery. The ME Pure phone is considered a “foot in the door” phone having 16Gb storage and a Snapdragon 615 processor while the ME Pro has the larger 5.5” screen.

Marshall, known for their guitar amps used by many of the famous rock stars, have pitched a music-focused smartphone in the form of the London. This has a similar styling to their amps in that some of the controls have brass accents and the phone has a rubberised housing which has the same texture as these amps. The London 4.7” HD smartphone is one of a few smartphones that implements a discrete sound subsystem and the only app that Marshall furnishes with this phone is a DJ app. It will be sold in the Boxpark retail area in Shoreditch, London for GBP£375 and I would describe this as being a high-quality MP3 player with smartphone functionality attached to it.

The premium end of the market still hasn’t lost its ground despite the imminent arrival of Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S plus phones. They also offered a clip-on keyboard for these phones as an optional accessory. Before the IFA 2015, Samsung had released the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ phones which are pitched on thinness. As well, Sony launched their XPeria Z5 family comprising of the XPeria Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact which is the smaller of the bunch and the Z5 Premium which has a 4K ultra-high-definition screen. They also offered the XPeria G8 which has the same camera abilities as Sony’s standalone digital cameras courtesy of improved focus abilities.

The next article in this series will cover the trends affecting wearable devices, display technology and the home network with subsequent articles covering home entertainment and appliances.

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Intel Skylake gives you a break for cheaper computers

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Make hay while the sun shines when you purchase your next laptop now

Intel has just premiered their new Skylake desktop and mobile CPU range which is leading to increased performance even for battery-operated devices. It also has led to newer connectivity options like USB 3.1 Type-C and Intel Thunderbolt connections to improve how you connect these computers to external devices. As well, most of these computers will come pre-delivered with Windows 10 as their operating system.

This is leading to computer manufacturers refreshing their computer lineups with equipment based on these new technologies and their will be an impetus on the manufacturers, distributors and retailers to clear out just-superseded equipment based on prior technologies. For example in Australia, JB Hi-FI is offering 15% off the ticketed price for most of the laptops on sale at most of their stores

If you are considering a computer purchase whether to upgrade existing equipment, or as an additional unit like a travel laptop or a secondary computer used in the kitchen, it may be a good time to check the specials out. For some of you, it may be a chance to move off the iPad as your only computing device and move towards a “grown up” computer system.

But here are some points worth considering:

  • If you are buying Windows-based equipment, the computer may come pre-delivered with Windows 8.1 but you can upgrade this operating system to Windows 10 for free. This is another saving for you when you want to be sure you are running the latest operating system for your Windows-based computer.
  • If you are upgrading your main computer, make sure you buy the system with as much RAM and storage as you can afford. As well, look for discrete graphics and powerful processors if you are using it frequently for graphics, games and multimedia.
  • You may get by with the Intel Atom, Celeron or Pentium processors and 2Gb RAM for your secondary laptop that is primarily for Web browsing, email and word-processing. These will probably limit you to up to 2 or 3 windows or browser tabs open at at time. The Core M, i3 and i5 processors and 4Gb RAM may allow you to be a bit more productive with these machines.
  • Solid-state may be the way to go for your ultraportable but you could eek out more storage through the use of a USB 3.0 external hard disk which you could bargain in to the purchase. This drive can earn its keep with large photo or video collections that you may be downloading from your camera or camcorder.
  • You may also be in a position to use the savings to purchase a newer printer or home-network equipment which you could also bargain in to the deal.

If you express doubts about a purchase, please don’t hesitate to contact me using the Contact Form on this site.

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Regular operating systems and their vulnerability to security threats


Which Is More Vulnerable To Viruses And Hackers: Windows 10 or Mac OS X? | Gizmodo

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – an example of a laptop based on a regular computing platform

During the 2000s, the personal computing scene focused on so-called “regular” personal computers i.e. desktop and laptop computers that ran a desktop-grade operating system. The main platforms were the Windows platform heralded by Microsoft and with hardware made by plenty of other manufacturers and the Macintosh platform that was made by Apple. Of course, there were a few personal computers that ran one of many open-source Linux distributions which were effectively UNIX.

There was the issue of security risks magnified due to an increased amount of personal and business computing time spent online through the Internet. In most cases, especially with the Windows platform, these risks were mitigated using a desktop or endpoint security program installed on the client computer. Although I have constantly seen the Apple Macintosh platform at risk of security exploits, that platform wasn’t at risk because there were fewer computer users using that platform.

Enter Windows Vista. This operating system had improved security features like operating as a regular user unless necessary but these were tacked on to the Windows XP codebase. This led to poor performance and computer users saw the value of switching to the Apple Macintosh platform for regular computing needs with some even using Apple’s iWork office tools as a way simply to dump Microsoft.

This led to the Apple Macintosh platform becoming more vulnerable due to its increased popularity and the use of “write once run anywhere” code like Java. Apple had to pull their finger out to improve the Macintosh platform’s security and, like Microsoft, engage in regular software updates and patches.


Major upgrades for pennies’ worth or free

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 – a free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1

Microsoft and Apple had even started to offer newer iterations of their operating systems to home users and small businesses at prices that would represent chump change or, later on, offer these iterations for free.

Apple started the ball rolling with Mac OS X for pennies’ worth starting with OS X Lion and for free starting with Mavericks. Subsequently Microsoft used Windows 8 to facilitate a software upgrade for pennies’ worth and used Windows 10 to instigate a free software upgrade program.

The major upgrades typically had security improvements like creation of app stores and newer secure codebases.

Blind updates for security patches

A way software developers keep their software going strong is to deliver updates and patches that rectify software bugs and allow the software to improve in performance. The delivery of these updates is being used to harden the software against known security exploits, often as soon as these holes are discovered.

Windows Update - one stop shop for software patches along with automatic delivery

Windows Update – one stop shop for software patches along with automatic delivery

This process typically involved users finding patches or newer code on the developer’s Website but Microsoft and Apple have put an end to this. Initially they set up a “one-stop-shop” program for downloading these updates including any peripheral-driver updates but have improved on this by providing for “blind updating”. This is where the operating system automatically downloads and installs these patches as soon as they become available.without you needing to do anything except, perhaps, reboot the computer when prompted.

Microsoft and Apple are even working on having these patches become effective once they are installed without you needing to reboot your computer. This is being achieved in the newer operating-system variants and with some newer patches.

The option for secure boot

Apple implemented in the Macintosh standard firmware a way to only let MacOS X boot on their Macintosh computers and this provided a sense of security because it can only allow these computers to run Apple-authorised code.

Microsoft and Intel are now implementing this through UEFI and Secure Boot which allows for authorisation of operating systems and pre-boot software that runs on a computing device. This has been considered controversial because it would wrest control of the computer from uses who may want to deploy Linux, especially a custom Linux distribution or wish to run with a dual-boot setup.

App stores and walled gardens

Windows 10's own app store

Windows 10’s own app store

Another weapon that Microsoft and Apple are deploying comes from the world of mobile computing where mobile operating systems implement an “app store” which is a one-stop software “shopping mall”.

Like a suburban shopping mall with its physical goods, these app stores have tight controls on who can sell their software there. Here, the software has to be provided by an identifiable developer and approved and audited by the operating system developer who runs that app store.

There is also a requirement for the software to be sandboxed and have access to certain parts of the operating system rather than having full run of your computer.

Another factor that is also considered important is that if an application “does the right thing” by its users and the operating-system vendor, it is typically highly recommended or featured such as being given an “editor’s choice” or put in the “spotlight”. This gives the program increased exposure which attracts more installations and more purchases. As well, there are user-review mechanisms where people can uprate or downrate the software.

But both the Macintosh and Windows platforms require the ability to work with established software deployments that are typically installed via removable media or a download from the developer’s site. This is due to their legacy where people installed software from floppy disks or CDs or downloaded software from bulletin boards and download sites.

Windows 10 is providing a way to harden things further when it comes to this software in the form of Device Guard. This is a form of sandboxing which allows only certain programs to run on a computer but is made available to the Enterprise Edition only. It is because the process for setting up this whitelist would be considered very difficult for householders, small businesses and community organisations.

Steam - one of the most common games managers

Steam – one of the most common games managers

For games, major games studios are implementing their own app stores and games delivery systems in order to allow for cross-platform game and supporting-content delivery. Here, they want regular-computing gaming to have that same level of confidence associated with console or mobile gaming. This is although Apple and Microsoft deliver games through their app stores. The best example of this is Valve’s Steam online games shop but there are others like EA’s Origin.


What is happening is that for both the Windows and Macintosh computing platforms, they are being made more secure and malware-resistant and it is becoming a race between Apple and Microsoft to keep the regular computing environment as safe as a mobile computing environment.

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VAIO makes a comeback to the US market


VAIO computers to return to the US to woo high-end customers | CNET News

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Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a – VAIO is returning to the USA independently from Sony

Regular readers will have seen the product reviews of some of Sony’s VAIO laptop computers. These were positioned by Sony at the premium end of the market and had specifications and features that were considered “out of he ordinary” as far as Windows-based computers were concerned. An example of this was a Sony VAIO Pro 13 laptop that had a display resolution that was better than the Apple MacBook Air that was issued at the time the VAIO was marketed and various reviews said that this computer could earn its keep as a photographer’s field computer. Similarly, I had seen a DJ in action use a Sony VAIO laptop computer rather than an Apple MacBook as a playout device.

As the bottom was falling out of the “regular-computer” market thanks to the cheaper mobile-platform tablets, Windows 8 and other issues in 2014, Sony sold off their VAIO computer division to an independent investment fund. This fund continued to sell a smaller product range of computers under the VAIO brand which used to be a “sub-brand” of Sony’s for this product class. This range, which was sold in Japan only, was tightly focused around a few premium ultraportable computers. People after this brand tended to “grey-import” the computers from Japan whether online or as part of a foray in to that country.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Sony VAIO Fit 15e

Now VAIO have released these computers in to the US market through an online storefront and the Microsoft Stores in that country. Here, they are selling high-end portable computers that are focused around the “made in Japan” ideal which is similar to the way that some parts of Western Europe like Scandinavia or the Germanic countries (West Germany, Austria or Switzerland) were seen through the 1960s to the 1980s when it came to consumer electronics and photographic equipment – a purveyor of finely-crafted premium equipment.

The first of these is a VAIO Z Canvas which is a 12.3”  2-in-1 with a wireless keyboard. The screen resolution is 2560×1704 and it uses an Intel Core i7 for horsepower and has up to 16Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. This will be offered as a Signature Edition computer that comes out of the box with Microsoft Windows 10 and no bloatware on board. The expected price will be US$2199 which would make you think of it like purchasing a the computer equivalent of a B&O or Loewe TV.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer

There are plans for VAIO to issue some more of these computers to the US market, more so in the form of traditional laptops (hear here, VAIO Fit 15e) and some desktops perhaps of the “gaming-rig” or “all-in-one” ilk. Personally, if VAIO were to have their fingers in the traditional “bricks-and-mortar” pie, I would recommend that they follow what Bose and B&O have done where they either run their own stores in upper-class neighbourhoods or work the “store within a store” method where they set up shop in premium department stores.

What it is showing is that computer brands are finding that working within certain profitable niches such as performance computers (mobile workstations or gaming-grade laptops) or premium computer ranges is considered a way to survive. This is similar to how a few American and European AV names focused on premium-grade photographic, audio and video equipment when Asian companies took on the mass-market for this class of equipment through the latter part of the 20th century

Who knows if VAIO will return to Europe, Australia or New Zealand?

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USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 make it real for outboard graphics expansion


Here’s The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse | Gizmodo

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Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

The Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable with functionality expanded by an add-on module

There have been some successful attempts at developing outboard expansion modules or docking stations that add discrete graphics or a better discrete-graphics solution to a laptop computer which wouldn’t have internal room for this kind of performance.

One of these was Sony with their VAIO Z Series that I reviewed previously which had an expansion module that housed a Blu-Ray drive and an AMD discrete graphics chipset. This used an Intel “Light Peak” connection (Thunderbolt over USB) between the devices to provide for high data throughput between the host computer and the expansion module.

Another of these was one of the new Alienware gaming laptops that could connect to a so-called “Graphics Amplifier” which was an expansion module for some of the Alienware R2 series gaming laptops that could house one or two PCI-Express graphics cards. This brought forward the idea that a laptop could have desktop gaming-rig performance just by adding on an expansion module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module that connects to selected Alienware R2 gaming laptops

Both these solutions implemented manufacturer-specific connection methods which restricted which devices can connect to these “external-graphics” expansion modules.

But the USB 3.1 standard with the Type-C connection allowed the same connection to be used to connect other devices via different logical connection methods like Intel’s Thunderbolt. This was effectively “opened up” as a high-performance connection for expansion modules when Intel launched “Thunderbolt 3” which has throughput equivalent to what happens on a computer’s motherboard.

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that can benefit from the Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

This led to some reference designs being presented at the Intel Developers Forum 2015 for external-graphics docks of the Sony VAIO Z or Alienware Graphics Amplifier ilk that are able to work with laptops that have the USB Type-C and Intel Thunderbolt 3 connection. In their own right, they are expansion modules which add extra connectivity to the laptop but also they give it access to improved discrete graphics chipsets. One of these was modelled on the Alienware Graphics Amplifier by virtue of allowing the use of fully-fledged graphics cards of the kind expected in that tower-style gaming rig.

The equipment that was shown proved the concept that you could use Thunderbolt 3 over a USB 3.1 Type C physical connection to provide an external discrete-graphics solution for an ultraportable laptop computer or similarly-small computer design. This proves that it can be feasible to use these modules for an “at-home” or “at-office” solutions where performance is desirable but allow for a lightweight computer system.

Similarly, a manufacturer could offer a laptop or all-in-one desktop with the integrated graphics but allow their customers to buy a graphics expansion module at a later date should they want something with more graphics acumen. Here, they can simply plug in the graphics expansion module and play rather than opening up the computer to install a graphics card. There is also a reality that as newer graphics chipsets come along, the person can purchase a newer expansion module or, in the case of those units that use PCI-Express desktop cards, install a newer graphics card in to the module to take advantage of these newer designs.

It simply underscores that fact that USB 3.1 Type C opens up the concept of expandability for tablets, laptops, all-in-one and small-profile desktops even further by use of external modules that offer different functions to suit different needs at different times.

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Gaming with a regular computer and the big screen in the lounge?


How To PC Game From The Comfort Of Your Couch | Gizmodo

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Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that bridges performance and portability

Gaming on the big-screen TV isn’t just restricted to the likes of the XBox One or the PlayStation 4 consoles. You can engage in these games using your PC especially if you are using a laptop or dare to bring the tower-style gaming rig in to your lounge area. This is more so as the regular computer platforms i.e. Windows, OS X (Macintosh) and Linux still maintain a strong level of open-frame software deployment and become more the areas to try out gaming ideas.

This is brought on by the increase in the number of portable computers that have performance-computing chops whether in the form of mobile workstations or gaming laptops is making this kind of gaming more real. The manufacturers see this as a valuable niche for people who value performance and portability for work or play.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

This will apply to those of you who are at home or at a friend’s house because you could bring your gaming computer in to the living room or games room and play that game on the big screen from the comfort of your couch. Those of you who are staying at a college dorm (university residence hall) or similar location can use the big-screen TV in the common lounge area for playing that epic game on your gaming laptop.

What do you need?

TV and sound system

The TV or home-theatre system would need to have a spare HDMI connection for you to plug in another video peripheral.

Here, you are relying on HDMI as your audio and video connection and the equipment must be able to play the sound from an HDMI connection rather than just be a switcher. Recently-made home-theatre receivers will most likely be able to satisfy this requirement but beware of lower-end equipment that can’t achieve this goal.

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

If you are buying a newer large-screen TV and you expect a regular computer to be connected to it, you should look for sets that have a high refresh rate like what would be expected for most well-bred monitors. As well, if your gaming setup is of a temporary nature, I would recommend that the equipment concerned has an HDMI connector on the front panel for a home-theatre receiver or similar device or on the side edge of a TV so that it is easily accessible without you needing to shift the equipment out or grope around the back whenever you want to play games.

Your computer

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

HDMI connection on a laptop

HomePlug AV adaptor

The HomePlug powerline adaptor – a no-new-wires network with gaming chops

The computer should have HDMI as a video output option and be capable of directing the sound through that output. This is to achieve the goal of one cable between the computer and the TV or home-theatre receiver rather than worrying about many cables, with this cable carrying a digital audio signal along with the high-resolution video signal.

When you set up the sound, make sure that you know what your equipment can handle at best. If you use a home-theatre system, make sure that you set the audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream or a similar codec that your equipment handles so you can take advantage of games that implement surround sound. As well, it may be worth paying attention to an article that I wrote about multiple sound devices in Windows.

Control devices

Games that require frequent interactive activity would benefit form a console-type controller if you are leaning back on the couch. There are some wireless controllers out there but you can use an XBox 360 controller that works with Windows courtesy of an adaptor that is sold for “pennies worth” by Microsoft.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

These Bluetooth keyboards also earn their keep on the couch when gaming in the lounge

If you are needing to use a keyboard or mouse, it may be preferable to use wireless peripherals so you avoid cable clutter. Personally I would prefer to use Bluetooth equipment because you only need to use one transceiver dongle across them all and if the computer has integrated Bluetooth, you don’t need to worry about any of these transceiver devices. Sometimes a wireless keyboard or mouse pitched at tablet use can work as a wireless keyboard for gaming use.


It is preferable to have an Ethernet socket in the lounge area but this may not be a reality. For your home or a friend’s, you may find that setting up a HomePlug AV500 powerline-network segment may work well in these circumstances.

Some college dorms and similar places may have an Ethernet socket connected to the premises’ network and Internet service not far from the common lounge area  HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 may work well in using a no-new-wires setup to bring the connection closer. In some cases, this connection may be locked down for specific devices and uses and it doesn’t hurt asking the staff about whether the connection is a “general-use” connection or can be set up as such.

At a pinch, you would need to use Wi-Fi wireless and make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection at your computer. Wi-Fi networks that use Web-based login can be tricky to use and may require you to keep the “login successful” Web page minimised while you play that online game.This is best done with a Web browser that doesn’t take up much memory space.

Similarly, if you are playing against multiple computers across a public network, it may be difficult to discover the opponents’ computers because these networks are most likely set up to provide client isolation.


There are some things you will need to be sure of when you are setting up for gaming in the living room or other lounge area.

One would be to use a rug to cover long cables that travel between the computer and the TV or home theatre so as to avoid the situation of people tripping over the cables. This is important for situations where the area between the couch and the TV equipment is part of a thoroughfare.

A tray-table is also a good place to position your gaming laptop or to use as a mouse mat. On the other hand, you may want to use the coffee table for that same purpose. This is to assure stability. Even those “Stable Table” trays with integrated cushions can come in handy as a mouse mat.

As for online game managers, Steam is the only such platform that provides a “big-screen” mode courtesy of their “Big Picture” mode. This will allow you to manage it while viewing the display from a distance. But when you are actually playing the game, this may not be a problem.


Once you know that you can game on with the big-screen TV and your gaming rig or laptop computer, you could be able to add that bit extra to your solo or group gaming experience.

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ASUS Zenbook UX305–World’s thinnest Ultrabook


Powerful Silence: What You Can Expect From The World’s Thinnest Ultrabook | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth


Zenbook UX305 Ultrabook

Product Page

Purchase direct from ASUS

My Comments

ASUS is raising the bar when it comes to designing ultraportable computers by offering the Zenbook UX305 which has been identified as the “World’s Thinnest Ultrabook”. This is because it comes in at a thickness of 12.3mm and a weight of 1.2kg.

This has been achieved through the ability to dispense with a fan for keeping the system cool during use thus also allowing for ultra-quiet operation. There is also the benefit that the system implements a 256Gb solid-state drive which also gives extra cause to the ultra-quiet operation.

But it is a 13” computer  which has been pitched not just as an auxiliary note-taking copy-creating laptop but an all-rounder thanks to implementation of the Intel Core M processor (5Y71). The Gizmodo review reckoned that it could be your only laptop but if you are thinking that way, I would head down the path which most “laptop-as-only-computer” users have gone. This is to run the computer with a larger external monitor, an external keyboard and mouse along with an external USB hard disk for data storage for your primary office setup.

The Zenbook has 4Gb RAM along with the 256Gb solid-state drive which would be up to snuff for a laptop. As well, it uses 802.11ac Wi-FI networking and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity along with having 3 USB ports and a micro HDMI display connection. The screen does support Full HD resolution but doesn’t support touchscreen functionality. ASUS is still hanging on with Bang & Olufsen for their audio-related design and tuning needs even though HP have signed up this Danish hi-fi name for the same needs and this laptop uses the B&O icePower power-amplification technology for a powerful amplifier that takes less space and can run cool.

A good question is whether the ASUS Zenbook UX305 could serve as a work-home laptop, a laptop that you use in the main office but also frequently use in your favourite “second-office” café or bar or as the only computer you need. This is more so as ASUS was selling the machine through their store for AUD$1399 and is becoming more so as the ultraportable laptop computer with the traditional clamshell form factor is facing stiff competition from the “2-in1” convertible and detachable computers that also serve as tablets.

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Lenovo revives a classic laptop design


Lenovo’s proposed ThinkPad Retro is like stepping back into 1992 | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo USA

Blog Post

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The Lenovo keeps the same look for the ThinkPad laptops

There is something about classic industrial design that never dies. This has been augmented by a lot of items like the Mini, the Fiat 500, the AGA cooker, the Wurlitzer 1015 juke box amongst other things. These examples have been evolved and reworked over longer times with newer technological improvements but have maintained their shape.

Now the IBM ThinkPad has entered this line of classic designs. Here, it was about the black housing, the blue ENTER key, the red thumbstick to move the pointer around and the 7-row keyboard. These computers became a statement for what is expected of the corporate laptop that carries through the business sense of an office in New York or Chicago..

This has been carried through even when IBM sold their personal-computing business to Lenovo as part of their computing-hardware-business divestment effort and has been shown as a way to convey the bloodline that is underscored by the ThinkPad name.

The AGA cooker always had conveyed that same homely feel with the dog in front of it

The AGA cooker always had conveyed that same homely feel always underscored with the dog in front of it

A very strong analogy that comes to my mind is the AGA cooker which for many decades kept a particular design but had  many technical improvements such as being able to use oil, gas or electricity as a fuel or work under timer control. There were still the two hotplates with the distinct insulated metal lids sitting on the black top and two or four ovens with the distinctly-shaped insulated doors, the chrome towel rail on the top front edge (with many tea-towels hanging on it) and the thermometer above the top oven door. The AGA stove still carried through the homely feel in the kitchen, consistently warm and comfortable and has often been associated with the British farm houses and cottages and the cosy lifestyle endemic to them.

One of the machines that was being celebrated and is being considered by Lenovo for a “One More Time” treatment is the highly-portable IBM ThinkPad 700c which was issued in 1992. I use the expression “One More Time” to allude to what Wurlitzer had done with the 1015 jukebox. The original design could only make 10 78-rpm records for play through its valve amplifier. But Wurlitzer issued a newer machine with the same arch shape and decorations as the original unit, but was able to have 50 45-rpm records available to play via a solid-state amplifier and used microprocessor technology to fetch the records to be played. This newer model was called the 1015 “One More Time” to reference the preservation of the same industrial design but having newer improvemts.

The IBM ThinkPad 700c had a “cigar-box” look with the black housing, the red thumbstick and the distinct keyboard layout. But it had a 4:3 display that had a resolution low by today’s standards along with the processor power, memory and storage that was okay to 1992 standards for a secondary machine. It also had a 3.5” floppy-disk drive as its removeable storage. Here, they would revise this computer with a 16:9 widescreen display with Full-HD resolution at least, a few USB 3.0 ports as the main connectivity option, current-spec horsepower like Intel Core M or i-Series processors, 4Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD secondary storage at least, and more to suit today’s expectations.

What I like of this idea put up in Lenovo’s blog is to revisit a classic design and look at how it can be made relevant to today’s requirements rather than tossing it away.

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Microsoft answers the reality with your computing environment using Windows 10


How Microsoft Is Bringing Windows 10 Features, Including Cortana, To Android And iOS | Lifehacker

Microsoft furthers Android, iOS integration push in Win10 | ITNews

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Windows

Blog Post


My Comments

Windows 10 and your smartphone platform work together-1

They now can work together

Manufacturers and platform vendors live in a dream world where customers will have their phone, computer and tablet all on the same or related platforms.

But the reality is that most people will have a personal computing environment based on two or three different operating systems. Typically this is an iPhone or Android smartphone working alongside a regular computer running Windows or MacOS X and, most likely, an iPad or an Android or Windows tablet.

It leads to problems associated with data interchange between the various devices and may require you to use cloud services or folders on a NAS, along with software import / export abilities to exchange the data. Even keeping your phone book or contact list in sync amongst devices of the various platforms can be very difficult.

But Microsoft has taken off from where they have built developer tools to allow you to quickly have apps ready-to-deploy for iOS, Android and Windows. They have taken this further by providing iOS, Android and Windows 10 apps that interlink and share data between your computer, tablet and smartphone. It may go against the dream held by Apple and their fanbois that once you have an iPhone, you progressively move towards an all-Apple computing environment with your regular computer being a Macintosh.

The first of these is the Phone Companion. This determines the corresponding apps you need to download from the iTunes App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) to interlink your phone with our Windows 10 computer on an application level.

These apps make use of Microsoft’s Windows OneDrive as a transfer point between your smartphone and your Windows 10 computer. For example, one of the apps provides a “hook” for your phone platform’s camera app to transfer photos to OneDrive so they show up on your computer.

There is also the XBox Music app which allows you to store your music on OneDrive and stream it to your iOS or Android smartphone while notes you create with OneNote on either your computer or smartphone show up on the other device. Microsoft is even making sure that if you modify a document on its Office mobile applications, the changes are reflected on your Office desktop applications.

Both the main smartphone platforms have their own integrated voice-driven personal assistant software in the form of Siri for iOS and Google Now for Android. But Microsoft has written a gateway app for each of these platforms so you can use Cortana as your voice-driven personal assistant. They are pushing the idea that, with Windows 10, Cortana will work across your smartphone and your regular computer in a platform-agnostic manner instead of just working with your smartphone or tablet..

A situation that can arise with any interoperability solution is that the solution can be engineered to be the hub of your computing life and not work tightly with the other platforms. For example, you may not be able to link your iOS or Android contacts function tightly with Windows nor would you be able to exchange photos between your device’s native photo storage and your computer’s photo collection smoothly. This can be of concern for, say, iOS users who make the Camera Roll serve as their handheld “brag-book” even though they have a PC or Mac having its own photo store or a cloud service like Dropbox being a photo exchange.

It is a step in the right direction to ensure data interoperability across the different mobile and desktop platforms when sharing data between devices along with satisfying the multiple-platform computing reality that affects most people.

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At last Australian small business buying new IT equipment benefits from a tax break

Articles Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

Fringe Benefits Tax on all portable devices used for work abolished | SmartCompany

Federal budget 2015: Fringe benefits tax abolished on tablets, laptops and mobile phones | Australian Financial Review

From the horse’s mouth

The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, Treasurer Of The Commonwealth Of Australia

Growing Jobs and Small Business Package Press Release

Relevant Material

Small Business Technology page

Buyers’ Guides

Product Reviews: Laptop, Notebook And Netbook Computers

My Comments

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

A 15″ work-home laptop that is now eligible to be paired with a..

As part of Australian tax law since the late 1980s, companies were required to pay a fringe-benefits tax on non-cash supplementary benefits they gave to their employees. The same situation also ensnared sole-traders who chose to run their businesses as a company and buy capital equipment like vehicles or computers in the company’s name but use it for business and personal / community purposes.

This has caused various tax-compliance quagmires for all businesses but there has been some special treatment for small businesses in relationship to them buying portable computer equipment. Previously, it was seen under fringe-benefits-tax law that if a company gave an employee two computers like a “work-home” laptop and a tablet computer or ultraportable, they could only see one of these devices as FBT-exempt because they did the same function.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

.. tablet computer, “2-in-1” or other ultraportable without FBT risks for small buisness

Now, as part of the 2015 Federal Budget, the Australian Government have installed a tax break for small businesses with an annual turnover of under AUD$2 million by making the supply of all work-related portable electronic device not subject to FBT. This measure, which applies from April 1 2016, would allow for the supply of a regular 15”-17” laptop as a “work-home” computer along with a tablet, “2-in-1” or ultraportable, and a smartphone to an employee and the technology can be used for personal use without dealing with any further red tape.

This, along with a tax deduction for newly-purchased individual assets less than AUD$20,000, has been part of a series of measures that Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has had small-business experience through his family life, that make things easier for start-ups and small businesses.

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