Category: Computer Systems

ISPs another vector for tech-support scams

Article

Tech support scams target victims via their ISP | BBC News

Fraudsters impersonate victims’ ISPs in new tech support scam | Graham Cluley Blog

My Comments

Previously, as I have known from close friends’ experiences, there have been the fake tech-support phone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or another major software vendor. This was with me congratulating a person who wasn’t computer-literate immediately hanging up on one of these calls along with someone else asking another of these scammers for their Australian Business Number (equivalent to a VAT number in Europe).

These scams have evolved to a pop-up message pretending to be from one of the major software firms but asking them to call a number listed on that message. Typically this comes in the form of a virus or pirated-software alert as the message and some of these messages even appear on the lock screen that you normally enter your password.

Now the messages are appearing to come from ISPs, typically the ones who have most of the Internet business in the US, UK and Canada. But this is about the ISP detecting malware on the customer’s system with a requirement to call a fake customer-support number.

In this case, they identify a customer’s ISP based on a “spy pixel” ad on a site infected with malware or a “malvertisement”. The ads are typically served through large ad networks offering low-risk advertising products. This is used to identify the customer’s “outside” or WAN IP address which effectively is the same for all computers accessing the Internet from the same router.

Here, most residential and small-business Internet services have this IP address automatically determined upon login or at regular intervals and is obtained from a pool of known IP addresses that were assigned to that ISP to give to their customers. There is logic in the malware used to identify which ISP a customer is with based which IP address pool the IP address is a member of.

In these cases, call the ISP using the number they have provided you for technical support: typically written on their own Website which you should type in the URL for; written on any documents that you receive from them like accounts or brochures, as part of doing business with them; or by looking them up in the phone book. As well, don’t give any account numbers or personally-identifiable information to unsolicited approaches for technical support that you are not sure about.

But in all cases, you are most likely to initiate the call for personal or business tech support yourself when you need this support because you know your computer and network and how these systems perform. Typically you will approach one of the computer experts in your community, your workplace’s IT department if they have one, or your computer supplier for knowledge or assistance.

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Dealing with the bloatware that comes with your computer

Article

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Being able to keep stock of the software that comes with your laptop or all-in-one computer can prevent unwanted conduits to your data.

Windows PC makers hang customers out to dry with flawed crapware updaters | PC World

My Comments

A common issue with laptop and all-in-one computers sold through the popular retail channels is the supply of “bloatware” or “crapware” with these computers. This is typically low-value software including trial or demo packages that are pre-installed on consumer-grade computers but doesn’t necessarily include drivers or manufacturer-supplied software that enables the particular features that the computer has. I have covered this issue before in relationship to the Superfish software that Lenovo had furnished with some of their consumer-focused laptops.

This can also apply to software delivered on a CD-ROM with retail-pack system parts, peripheral devices or consumer-electronics devices like digital cameras or keyboards. Some of the software is ostensibly supplied as a way to give the customer a “foot in the door” when it comes to a particular function or computing task, which tends to apply to trial versions of desktop security software or entry-level video editors and DVD / Blu-Ray playback software.

This wouldn’t necessarily happen with computer systems supplied to big businesses or contractor-supplied equipment because it is easier for these customer groups to call for a standard operating environment when they purchase their technology. Similarly, the traditional desktop computers that are built and sold be independent computer stores and dedicated computer-store chains aren’t as likely to be full of the “bloatware”.

The key issue that has been raised is the poor quality-assurance that occurs when it comes to supplying and maintaining this software. Here, there isn’t a secure path for software delivery especially whenever the software is updated or upgraded to a paid-up premium version. The software can be substituted by a man-in-the-middle attack that can be easily facilitated on an unsecured public-access Wi-Fi network. As well, there isn’t any way to verify the authenticity of the software updates, whether it is the software intended to be or actually delivered as part of the update.

This is part of the culture associated with the low-value software that the OEMs are paid to deliver with the systems that they sell to consumers and small businesses, but can affect the device drivers and functionality-enablement software.

Respected software names like Microsoft and Apple implement a secure delivery path for both server-to-device delivery and backend data transfer. As well, they implement a digitally-signed manifest (“shopping list” of files to be substituted in an update) and digitally-verified software files so that the programs can’t be altered surreptitiously.

Dell and Lenovo implement a TLS secure path for the software-manifest delivery while Lenovo implements a digitally-signed software manifest. But these policies are not applied across a manufacturer’s product line.

What can we do?

The best practice for consumers, small businesses and community organisations to do is to “strip back” the bloatware that isn’t being used. Most such software can be uninstalled through the “Programs and Features” option in the Windows Control Panel or through the uninstall routine in the software. Preferably, they should keep just the drivers and functionality software on their system.

On the other hand, they could facilitate a supervised semi-automatic software update for the OEM-supplied software and do this on their home or small-business network. If they are using any of the third-party software that has been provisioned by the OEM, it may be a better idea to visit the software developer’s Website and draw down newer versions of that software from there.

What is needed for OEM-supplied software update processes

If an OEM wishes to provision extra software with a computer, peripheral or consumer-electronics device; they need to make sure that this software is of high-quality, and respects customers’ security, privacy and data sovereignty wishes.

This includes a secure software-maintenance policy such as:

  • a secure software-delivery path with latest standards and protocols between the device and the software-provisioning servers and the software distribution backbone
  • digitally-signed software files and update manifests with verification occurring before and after delivery

Third-party software developers who wish to package software with a computer systems should be required to maintain this software to the same standard as what would be expected if they sold the software to customers themselves or through a traditional retailer. This includes allowing a person to upgrade from an OEM version to a premium version or instigate a subscription through their storefront rather the OEM’s storefront.

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Dell now offers the first 17” 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Articles

Dell announces new Windows 10 2-in-1 laptops starting at $249 | Windows Experience Blog (Microsoft)

Dell Debuts World’s First 17-inch 2-in-1 | Laptop Mag

Laptop Mag Video – Click or tap to view

Dell zeigt 2-in-1-Geräte mit 17-Zoll-Display | Netzwoche.ch (Switzerland – German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Computex 2016 Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

Dell took advantage of Computex 2016 in Taipei to launch the Inspiron 17-7000 which is the first 2-in-1 laptop to have a 17” screen. It is a 360-degree Yoga-style convertible with a Full-HD (1920×1080) wide-angle display and backlit keyboard. Dell also offer 13” and 15” variants of this computer which would also suit most peoples’ needs and are part of their high-end laptop computer lineup.

The question that would often be raised about a 2-in-1 computer with a 15” or 17” display is whether these screen sizes are considered too large especially when used as a tablet. This is because most of us are used to the 10”-13” tablets like the iPad or the small 2-in-1s. Personally, I would see them earn their keep in a tablet form whenever you are in a chair, couch or bed and are using the system by yourself or with someone else. But the Yoga-style convertible approach also opens up other usage arrangements like a “tent” view or a “viewer” arrangement with the keyboard facing downwards, which can appeal to activities like viewing photos, videos or presentations with the computer on the table

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

It also ticks the boxes for a computer having newer expectations like USB Type-C connectivity and the ability to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network segment while having an expected battery runtime of 6 hours. The horsepower behind these computers is mostly of the 6th-generation Intel Core variety and you can spec it with an NVIDIA discrete-graphics setup fit for gaming or video editing.

What is happening with Windows 10 and our exposure to the mobile-platform tablets of the Apple iPad ilk is that we are becoming more accustomed to the idea of touch-based computing and the tablet computer style rather than thinking of a clamshell style just for content creation. As well, the “Continuum” style of multi-faceted computing which shows up in the Tablet Mode on a Windows 10 computer underscores the ability to work between those modes.

Who knows whether more of the 2-in-1 laptops at the 15” and 17” will show up on the market as a way to challenge the likes of the Microsoft Surface range.

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HP gives the convertible 2-in-1 the Ford Mustang treatment

Article

HP’s Pavilion x360 affordable convertible comes in 15-inch version now | The Verge

HP’s new Pavilion PCs include a 15-inch hybrid laptop | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

When Ford launched the Mustang in 1964, they used a strategy where they could pitch it as a car affordable to young Americans yet something that would appeal to them. Here, they offered a reasonably-equipped baseline model at an affordable price but provided a litany of options that they could “buy on” such as powerful engines, transmissions that suited their needs, air-conditioning, radios with different capabilities and the like. This tactic followed through across Detroit with most of the vehicle builders offering youth-focused “pony cars” that were designed and offered in a similar vein to the Mustang.

HP have taken this approach when they launched the latest range of Pavilion x360 convertible 2-in-1 computers for this model year. Here, they offered the fold-over convertible computers in different screen sizes including the 15” variant which some would consider as too big for a tablet but big enough for a mainstream laptop. This may appeal for the common activity of viewing photos and video content on portable computers, but it could allow you to make best use of the touch-enabled apps and games which are filling up the Windows Store. This range would also come with differing colours like silver, gold, red, purple or blue

As for processors, there would be variants that have horsepower ranging from Intel Celeron to Intel Core i7. You can have your system with up to 8Gb RAM and up to 1Tb hard disk or 128Gb solid-state storage capacity. There are the expected features like 802.11ac Wi-Fi and B&O sound tuning and connectivity in the form of 3 USB sockets, SD card reader for your “digital film” and an HDMI video port.

The 15” model is being pitched as an alternative to the traditional mainstream 15” laptop that most students would end up with. As I have seen in the video clip, I see the newer HP Pavilion x360 being pitched also as an alternative to, guess what, the 15” Apple MacBook Pro especially when it comes to creative work or to be seen in the DJ booth at the trendiest nightclubs.

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Acer uses liquid cooling in their latest 2-in-1

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Switch Alpha 12

Press Release

My Comments

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet

Acer has raised the bar in the face of the Microsoft Surface Pro when it comes to releasing the Switch Alpha 12 “Surface-style” 2-in-1 tablet. The baseline model of the pack is being pitched at prices like US$599 or EUR€699 which makes for something that is keenly priced amongst its peers.

You might consider it to be an ordinary 2-in-1 that tries to copy the Microsoft Surface product range but this raises the bar through the use of a regular Intel Core series CPU. These processors will show up with cooling problems if they are used with a thin-and-light portable computer design like a detachable-keyboard 2-in-1 or tablet so Acer addressed this issue using a closed-loop liquid cooling system which works in a similar way to your car keeps its engine cool or how your fridge keeps the food or drink inside it cold and fresh. But this cooling setup is designed to obviate the need for a fan, thus allowing for quiet operation.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

With keyboard – as a laptop

Of course, it ticks the boxes when it comes to what is expected for a current-issue “2-in-1” detachable including the use of a standard USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfer rather than a proprietary connector which the Microsoft Surface uses, as well as being supplied with the basic keyboard cover. The 12” (2160×1440) touchscreen along with a full-size keyboard makes for a system that appeals to creating content rather than a glorified iPad. As for the kickstand, it has the same look as the kind of handle that an “old-school” portable radio-cassette was equipped with – the U-shaped metal handle with a rubberised grip in the centre. This allows for the tablet to be kept stable on a desk or table when you are using it with the keyboard.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet rear view press picture courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet – rear view

You can purchase the Acer Switch Alpha 12 in various configurations that have either 4Gb or 8Gb of RAM and a secondary-storage option of either a 128Gb, 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage device. The removeable storage option for this computer is a MicroSDXC card slot and, as I have mentioned before, you have a USB Type-C port and a USB Type-A port for connecting thumbdrives or SD card adaptors.

The wireless-connectivity options come in the form of a Bluetooth 4.0 link or an 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-stream Wi-Fi network link. This will allow for high throughput data transfer when you are on the go.

Acer have pitched the Switch Alpha 12 at both the consumer market and the business market by making business-focused variants of it available through its value-added resellers and independent computer stores who court the business market. Here the business variants come with the Trusted Platform Module along with being loaded with Windows 10 Pro as the operating system.

They have also provided a range of accessories such as an optional backlit keyboard along with two “expansion-module” docks. The first one is the USB Type-C dock that connects via USB-C to DisplayPort and HDMI video ports along with two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and 3  USB Type-A ports. This is in addition to an audio-in and an audio-out jack to serve its own sound module. There is also the Acer ProDock Wireless that connects to the computer via the 802.11ad Wi-Fi short-range peripheral wireless to an 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment, along with video displays that have either HDMI, DisplayPort or VGA connections as well as USB devices.

From what I have read about the Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1, it underscores the role where it could ideally serve as the “all-purpose” work-home-travel portable computer including the ability to use it as a tablet for reading content. This is more so if you are thinking of using a system that doesn’t use either an entry-level or mobile-focused CPU but uses a laptop-grade processor.

What is happening is that the battle-lines are being drawn when it comes to the kind of computers that represent the multipurpose 2-in-1 product class. Here, I would see some of these computers implementing the mainstream Intel or AMD processors with a goal to achieve long battery runtime while software developers write the kind of programs that exploit the touchscreens that these computers offer. As well, I would see some of these computers appear at a price that isn’t stratospherically expensive.

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Microsoft makes a step to all-platform online gameplay

Article

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming's holy grail - a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming’s holy grail – a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft will allow Xbox gamers to play against PS4 and PC players } The Verge

Microsoft wants PS4 and Xbox One to connect online | CNet

My Comments

Most core games which have any form of multi-machine multiplayer competition, whether online or across a local network, require all games machines involved in the competition to be on the same platform.

That means that a Windows-based regular-computer user couldn’t play against an XBox or a PS4 console. In a lot of cases, the online component of a game was managed via a platform-specific online-competition platform like PlayStation Network or Steam. In the case of consoles, you had to determine which console platform your friends were using and buy a console commensurate to that platform.

Now Microsoft has raised the question of platform-agnostic multi-machine competition by encouraging their game developers to enable this feature. This is because Microsoft effectively is associated with two platforms i.e. the Windows-based regular computer or PC as a games platform and the XBox family of games consoles. But they are inviting Sony, Nintendo, Apple and others to create the necessary cross-platform bridges to allow this kind of play. This includes allowing a player to discover other players to compete with as well as managing the state of play during a game or tournament.

If this worked, it could allow a person to choose whatever console they wanted to play especially if a title is released across multiple platforms. Similarly, this could allow for options like local-network play, whether peer-to-peer or server-based, including local-online hybrid play such as local tournaments or teams. For games developers, they don’t have to decide whether to set up their own online gaming network if they want cross-platform play.

Another issue that could be highlighted here is the ideal user interface for different game genres including the common user interfaces that the platforms use. The article cited the situation where a regular-computer with its keyboard (W-A-S-D keys) and mouse may have the advantage over a gamepad that typically comes with a console when it comes to playing certain games like first-person shooters or strategy games.

This could be used either to open up the idea of games written to be played across multiple platform types and user interfaces, including those that give players an advantage if they play a part of the game on different devices. On the other hand, there could be the feasibility for games consoles to work with mice and keyboards connected via (preferably) Bluetooth or USB.

What Microsoft is doing is to raise the issue of creating platform-agnostic core game play rather than requiring gamers to be tied to a particular platform.

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What needs to be answered about school-supplied technology

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Many questions need to be raised by knowledgeable parents about school-based IT programs

Parents often face a question when their child starts secondary school concernimg the technology that is being used as part of their education. This is more so with laptop computers that well be used at home to complete homework assignments and at school to take notes and do research.

Increasingly schools are supplying the families with the appropriate technology, typically with government and private-sector assistance. These computers may be supplied at a heavily-subsidised price so there isn’t much effect on the parent’s hip pocket.

But schools see this technology as part of their realm of control in your student’s life in a way that the see what the student does at home or away from school activities as bearing on the school’s name.

These questions are worth raising during information nights or parent-teacher meetings that you will be engaging in during your child’s enrolment.

Is the technology sold or leased to your family by the school?

If you are acquiring the technology through the school, it is worth enquiring whether you are buying the computer so that you own the computer or whether you are leasing it or renting it on an annual basis where the school or school district has legal ownership over the equipment. This may include situations where you may borrow the computer for the duration of your child’s enrolment or for certain years but you may have to pay a bond on the equipment.

This can help with further issues regarding whether you can retain the computer to be used for the younger children or as a utility computer. On the other hand, it can also affect issues regarding maintaining the system and what happens in case of loss, theft or damage.

As well, it is worth finding out whether a technology-buyout program does exist where parents or students can purchase leased or rented computer equipment that they currently use from the school. This is important for equipment supplied to senior high-school students because most of the school-supplied technology programs require that the senior students relinquish their computers once they graduate from their senior years.

Such a buyout option can benefit both the school and student in different ways. The student benefits by being able to keep the computer as a personal computer through the years between their high-school graduation and their entry to tertiary or trade studies. The school also benefits because they aren’t keeping rapidly-depreciating assets on their books but can turn them over for cash which can be used to buy newer technology.

Who provides support in case of equipment failure or accident

Ask the school whether they have a maintenance programme for the school-supplied equipment. This includes what kind of minimum turnaround time exists if the equipment needs to be serviced. As well, does the maintenance programme cover for accidental equipment damage because students can easily end up being accident prone.

It may also include whether you have to pay to replace failed or damaged parts and whom you buy the replacement parts from.

Insurance coverage for theft and damage

To the same extent, it may be worth looking at your home-contents insurance policy to find out whether they provide coverage for equipment that is damaged or stolen while away from your home, including overseas. This may be of importance when your children go on the many field trips and school camps that will be part of their education; or when they engage in social activities with their friends.

Exchange-student programs

Your school may participate in an exchange-student program where one or more local students travel to another area, typically another country while the school hosts and teaches the students from one or more other areas. This is typically to encourage awareness of different cultures and increase knowledge of different languages.

Such programs typically will include overseas travel and having the participants stay in private households that are part of the participating school’s community. There are questions that will be raised if you end up hosting an exchange student or your child becomes an exchange student themselves.

If the school facilitates this program whether by itself or with a third party, you may have to find out where you or the school stands if the equipment belonging to your child who is overseas or the student you are billeting was stolen or damaged.

Similarly, your child or the student you are hosting may need assistance with connecting to different networks such as the host’s home network in the case of your child or your home network in the case of the guest student.

For that matter, it may be a good idea for schools, student-exchange agencies and students participating in exchange-student programs to read an article I wrote on this site about testing Skype across separate networks to make sure it works properly. This is because the videocall functionality in these programs can be used as a way for an exchange student to keep in contact with home and show what the “other” culture is about.

Can I configure the system myself?

An issue that is also being raised regarding school-supplied technology is whether you can configure the system yourself or perform remedial repairs on the system.

This may be to get the laptop to work with your home network, or to install any drivers to get it to work with the network-capable printers in your home. As well, you need to be sure that the school-supplied computer can gain access to other network resources and the Internet in a similar manner to other devices that exist on the home network.

Similarly, there is the issue of keeping the operating system and applications on these computers updated and patched to avoid these computers and the rest of your home network’s computers being the target for malware. Here, the kids’ computers could be updated with the latest patches whether they are at school or at home.

Different operating platforms

This issue of configuring the school-supplied laptop yourself also extends to coping with different computer platforms and operating systems. For example, you may find that the school supplies your kids a MacBook Pro as part of one of Apple’s education-technology programmes that the school is benefiting from, while you are more comfortable with the Windows-based computer you use at home. Similarly, the school may have all the computers running Windows 10 but you are pushing the barrel with Windows 7 on the work-home laptop that you normally use.

Here, you may be able to find out whether you can learn about the computing platform and operating system your school uses and how to configure it to work with your home network and peripherals.

How does the school handle a “bring-your-own” computer?

Another situation that is appealing to parents is the ability to buy their kid’s computer from a third-party retailer and have that as the computer thay use for school. This is typically due to the ability to purchase the system at a cost-effective price through a “back-to-school” special run by a major retailer or online and some governments may provide a benefit to families to assist with purchasing this education-related technology.

This concept is being facilitated also by the fact that the “bring your own device” concept is in full swing at workplaces and newer operating systems and software allows for a level of manageability in these situations.

Minimum standards for this computer

You should find out what the minimum standards are for a computer you supply yourself. The standards for the hardware should be based on the kind of CPU the computer must have, the amount of RAM and storage space the computer has, and the graphics subsystem and display resolution that the computer has to have. This also includes the minimum standard for the Wi-Fi interface for schools that implement a Wi-Fi network.

As for the software, you need to find out the minimum version and edition of the operating system along with the application software you need to have installed.  You may find that application vendors may supply a “student edition” of their software which is licensed for personal and education use only and some of these programs may be licensed for a small number of computers that are in the same household.

Use of a school-supplied disk image?

Some schools may require the use of a disk image that is managed by the school themselves in order to assure better control of the computer on the school premises. Here, you may find out whether you need to install this image and if you can get away with a dual-boot setup where you have a “home” operating environment and a “school” operating environment.

The better solution would be a USB stick or optical disk full of any courseware that is necessary for the curriculum, including any software that is required for the studies. The Internet use at the school environment can be controlled using the network hardware that runs the school’s network.

Can the system be maintained by the school’s IT staff?

It may also be worth inquiring whether the school’s IT staff are willing to provide maintenance and support for equipment that is brought to school on a BYO basis. Here, it may be about rectifying a system failure that occurs on that day or adding support for student-accessible peripherals that the school owns such as printers or sensor devices used as part of science experiments.

Computer-education courses for adults

In a lot of households where one or both parents aren’t computer-literate is that one or more of the teenage children end up providing assistance to the parents when it comes to personal-computing issues. This is typically due to the children learning many concepts regarding personal-computing through their school years.

It may also be worth finding out if your child’s school runs adult-focused courses about computer education. This may be of importance for those of you who haven’t had much education-based or workplace-based exposure to personal computing and will be of importance for people who do work that is primarily blue-collar.

Typically, the mode of delivery for these short courses would be evening classes taught by one of the school’s computing-science teachers. The school will usually charge for the courses and the students’ parents may pay a cheaper fee due to the fact that their child is attending that school.

Here, the courses should teach the essentials about knowing your way around your computer such as file management; along with safe computing practices. This should also include learning about keeping your computer system in top order like backups and keeping your software up-to-date. As well, such courses should highlight making effective use of the Internet and its online resources in a safe manner.

Some of the courses may offer tuition in other computing platforms like the Macintosh platform which may benefit adults who are used to, say, Windows learning about the other platforms and would come in handy if the school works on that different platform.

Conclusion

Once you ask the right questions from your child’s school’s staff, you can end up being an active participant in your child’s IT-focused education without fearing as though the school “owns you”.

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Infocus ups the capacity for its Kangaroo mini-PC

Article

The $170 Kangaroo Plus pocketable PC doubles the RAM and storage | Windows Central

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

InFocus Presents A PC As Big As A Smartphone

From the horse’s mouth

Infocus

Press Release

My Comments

InFocus, known for their range of value-priced projectors, had previously released the Kangaroo mini-PC which is about the size of a smartphone. But like most of the “Next Unit Of Computing” devices which represent the ultra-small “fixed-location” computers, this model used an Intel Atom CPU, 2Gb RAM and up to 32Gb solid-state storage. This made people think of them as being “toys” rather than tools.

But InFocus raised the game for this series of computers by offering the Kangaroo Plus “deluxe” version of their small-form-factor computer. Here, this is equipped with 64Gb of data storage capacity and 4Gb RAM which is considered iy most computer users to be a realistic amount of baseline memory. It was offered in response to customers expressing a need for real capacities on both the “primary-storage” RAM and the non-volatile secondary storage.

There is still the ability to use an Apple iPad as the display and input surface for the InFocus Kangaroo through the use of a special cable and an iOS app. It also works with the Kangaroo Dock expansion module so you can safely upgrade your existing Kangaroo pocket computer to the bigger-capacity model without dumping that accessory.

Could this be a sign of hope for small-form-factor desktop computers to have specifications that can allow for most elementary desktop uses? Would this also be a sign that these computers could end up being specified as part of a standard operating environment?

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The Microsoft Surface Pro becomes another of personal computing’s Holy Grails

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of ApplePreviously, all the laptop vendors were trying to design their products to have a similar look to Apple’s MacBook product lineup. This ended up with the Apple MacBook product lineup along with the Apple iMac product lineup being seen as personal computing’s “Holy Grail” when it comes to design, construction and specification. This was involving computers that have the same slimline look to the Apple MacBook Air series along with some media-capable laptops like the HP Envy 15-3000 having a similar styling and capability to the Apple MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 press image courtesy of Microsoft USA

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – considered to be the Holy Grail for Windows-based detachable-tablet 2-in-1s

But what has just been happening at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a run of detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers that have a very similar look to the Microsoft Surface Pro.  For example, when the keyboard is attached to the Surface Pro and the kickstand is brought out so it is used as a notebook computer, the setup raises the keyboard at a slight angle; while the tablet part is very much a glass-covered slate.

This ended up with the Microsoft Surface Pro, especially the latest generation, being considered the “Holy Grail” whein it comes to detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers.

All of the contenders have the detachable keyboard supplied with the tablet even if you purchase the baseline variant in their product lineup. This is while they achieve that slimline look that the Microsoft Surface has attained as a tablet.

They also offer features that Microsoft wouldn’t provide as part of the Surface Pro’s spec like use of common “open-frame” connectors such as the USB Type-C connector. HP’s Spectre x2, for example, even adds an Intel RealSense camera for Windows Hello facial recognition.

As I have noticed over the last year, the Microsoft Surface Pro lineup has also been aggressively targeted at those of us who would buy the Apple MacBook Air or own one of these computers. This is through the use of style to woo these customers along with TV commercials that show you what you can do on the Surface Pro but can’t do on the MacBook Air and pages on Microsoft’s Website giving instructions on how to move off Apple’s Macintosh platform to the Surface.

Could this be another trend for computer manufacturers to achieve “Holy Grail” products for their product class which which other comptuer designers aspire to? But on the other hand, the desire to imitate can ruin the desire to innoviate and make products that carry their unique look and design characteristics.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 1 Desktop and Mobile Computing

This article is part of a series about the trends that have been shown at the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas in the USA.

Desktop and Mobile Computing

This encompasses personal computing systems ranging from desktop and laptop computers that run “regular” or “traditional” computer operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeOS to smartphones and tablets that run a mobile operating system typically Android. Apple hasn’t been showing their equipment at CES because of the way they see themselves as their own unit.

The key trends

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 – influences how this year’s computers are being designed

Microsoft Windows 10 and the Intel Skylake processor / chipset family have become established as far as personal computing system is concerned. This has led to most of the manufacturers refreshing their desktop and laptop product lines to take advantage of the new microarchitecture and operating system with what it offers. It doesn’t matter whether you use these computers for work or play; or at home, the office or on the road.

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year's computers

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s computers

Feature that are being made available include the USB 3.1 Type-C connector which offers data transfer and laptop power on one cable, Thunderbolt 3 which uses the USB Type-C cable as an effective way to provide PCI-Express data throughput along with mobile-optimised design based around reduced heat output and reduced power demands.

This has led to a situation where most of the manufacturers have engaged in a race to see who is the first with the lightest 15” laptop and the most svelte 13” 2-in-1 convertible or detachable computer. The latter goal has been brought on because of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book 2-in-1s as something to emulate or beat where these systems are being offered as a credible alternative to the Apple MacBook lineup. This has been brought about because of the Intel Skylake processor family offering more options for mobile-focused processors that can lead to fanless cooling and improved battery runtime. The latter benefit benefits designers due to the ability to supply a smaller battery yet yield the same runtime.

The display is being seen as a tool to differentiate the premium-grade laptops. This is based on an increasing number of laptops and 2-in-1s having a 4K ultra-high-resolution display along with some manufacturers offering OLED displays as an option in their premium models. From my personal experience with my Samsung Galaxy Note phones and their AMOLED displays, I have noticed that photos and videos do come across more vividly due to the improved contrast that these displays offer. This could mean that the OLED-equipped laptops could woo photographers and video editors away from the Apple MacBook Pro as their tool of choice.

This year has also seen a larger number of business-grade laptops and tablets being exhibited by the manufacturers. Why show business-focused computers at a consumer-focused show? Firstly, there is the concept of “bring-your-own-device” appearing in a large number of workplaces where workers could choose their own devices, perhaps with the employer subsidising the cost of the equipment. Then there is the concept of the Internet-based “cottage industry” where your place of business is your home, perhaps with extra rented premises as a shopfront or storage where applicable.

All the computer names are offering gaming-optimised desktop and laptop computers with two significant trends showing up this year. One of these is to have gaming computers rated to work with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset at best performance. Another is to have highly-compact gaming desktop computers in a manufacturer’s lineup rather than the traditional “gaming-rig” tower computers.

Some of what the brands offer

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1

Acer has premiered the Aspire Switch 12S detachable which uses Intel Thunderbolt 3.1 via USB Type-C connectivity. As well, there is a 4K ultra-high-resolution screen in the lineup but these computers normally have a 12.5” Full HD (1080p) screen. These detachables use a magnetic docking mechanism which shouldn’t be about messing around with a latch; while they maintain 2 USB 3.0 connections, microHDMI external display connection and a microSD card slot.

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer

Acer’s TravelMate business notebooks have been brought up to date. One of these is the TravelMate P649 14-incher which come with WiGig short-throw Wi-Fi support, a USB Type-C port, NVIDIA GTX940M discrete graphics, start with 4Gb RAM but can be set up with 20Gb RAM, storage up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk, MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi for the latest routers, amongst other things. It seems like this computer could be called as an “all-rounder” work-home computer. They even offered the ProDock expansion module as a recommended “desktop-computing” accessory for this laptop, because this can provide 2 USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet wired network adaptor, and the ability to connect display devices via DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.

The gaming scene didn’t miss out, thanks to Acer refreshing their Aspire Nitro range of gaming computers uprated to current expectations including Skylake technology. The Black Edition even sports an Intel Realsense camera for 3D scanning and Windows Hello facial recognition.

Acer Iconia Tab 8 Android tablet - press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Iconia Tab 8 family Android tablet with Kids’ Center

There is the Acer Liquid Jade Primo smartphone which is Acer’s entry in to the Windows 10 Mobile foray. This has the USB Type-C connectivity along with 3Gb RAM and 32Gb storage. But Acer hasn’t forgotten about Android with their Iconia One 8” family tablet that runs Android Lollipop 5.1, 9 hours battery runtime and has 16Gb storage and 1Gb RAM. Acer also added to this tablet the “Kids Center” software which is effectively an app corral for kids.

Acer has fielded a few Chrome OS computers to the foray with the Chromebook 11 which has 9 hours battery runtime, a Celeron processor and starts with 2Gb RAM but can go 4Gb RAM; and a Chromebase 24 all-in-one desktop which uses an Intel Core-family CPU and uses 8Gb RAM.

ASUS didn’t show up much in the way of laptop computers but presented their Zenfone Zoom which is a camera smartphone that uses a 10-element Hoya 3x optical-zoom lens. This phone is not as bulky as other camera-smartphone hybrid designs.

Dell revamped their Latitude range of business portable computers by offering the Latitude 11 500 series of business-focused tablets , the Latitude 13 7000 series of Ultrabooks and the Latitude 12 7000 series of detachable 2-in-1 tablets.

The Latitude 12 7000 series 12” tablets are effectively Dell’s answer to Microsoft’s Surface detachable tablet range, with an option to have the display resolution as 4K resolution as an option or Full HD (1080p) as standard; Intel Core M3, Core M5 0r Core M7 processors; 2 USB 3.1 Type-C ports with a USB Type-A adaptor supplied, 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and an Intel RealSense camera. These 2-in-1s will offer 8Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. There is also the Latitude 11 5000 which is a closely-specced 11” variant of the Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1. The Latitude 13 7000 13” Ultrabooks will have the InfinityEdge “narrow-bezel” look, Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C and a fingerprint reader and NFC / RFID reader. Other members of the Latitude 5000 and 7000 business portable-computer lineup have been revamped to newer expectations with Intel Skylake technology, all USB connections being USB 3.0 or better, Thunderbolt 3.0 and 2560×1600 screen resolution at least. One of the systems even has support for WiGig short-throw high-bandwidth Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is Dell’s entry to the bargain-basement laptop market with at least US$199 buying you a Windows laptop that has Celeron or Pentium processors, 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, 32Gb SSD storage and the 1366×768 display resolution.

For the gamers out there, Dell’s Alienware gaming brand has fronted up with some Oculus-ready gaming computers. They even put up the prospect of offering a gaming laptop with an OLED screen to improve those games graphics.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) have premiered their Phoenix x360 convertible notebook which has a variant equipped with a 15.6” display. This series implements the Intel Iris graphics engine and a 4K screen with OLED offered as an option. At the moment, HP are claiming this Skylake-equipped computer to he the thinnest  lightest 15” convertible notebook on the market. These computers are equipped with a USB Type-C connector and have their sound subsystem tuned by Bang & Olufsen which is part of a trend affecting HP laptops.

They have also released a larger version of the Pavilion x2  detachable tablet, which is another attempt to answer Microsoft’s Surface tablet range. It will come with low specs like a Core M or Atom CPU depending on the price range. The keyboard has a magnetic attachment mechanism rather than the usual mechanical latch used with most detachable tablets and the screen will come in at 12.1”.

HP Elitebook Folio laptop press picture courtesy of HP

The HP Elitebook Folio – as part of one’s office, whether that’s the main one or the café.

For business users, HP has released the Elitebook Folio whcih can lay flat for collabberation in the main or secondary office. This very thin Ultrabook has 2 USB Type-C connectors, a sound system that works well for voice communications, dedicated call-control keys, a piano hinge and, like a lot of this year’s computers, will have a 4K touchscreen option. As well, it is built on an aluminium chassis rather than a plastic chassis. You could achieve a good long workday and a few coffees from your favourite barista at your “second-office” café before the battery goes flat even if you go for the 4K touchscreen display variant or have the display at maximum brightness.

Other business computer options premiered by HP at this year’s CES include the Elitebook 1040 G3 14” notebook based on an aluminium chassis and using Core processors, Full HD or QHD displays. This is along with HP launching the Elitebook 800 family of business notebooks, available as 12.5”, 14” or 15” variants. HP have also added in a privacy filter feature to their latest Elitebook lineup as a deal-making option to prevent others like baristas or neighbouring aeroplane passengers from snooping on your work that is on the screen.

HP have not forgotten about the gamers and have premiered the Envy Phoenix performance gaming desktop which is pitched at today’s virtual-reality gamers.

Lenovo have come up with a large lineup of very interesting computer equipment.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet family - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet with additional options

Firstly, they have released the ThinkPad X1 as a family of portable computing devices rather than one notebook computer. The first of these is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet which is a highly-modular 12” detachable tablet set to answer Microsoft’s Surface. It has USB Type-C charging. Core M horsepower, up to 16Gb RAM and a 2K IPS screen. But its piece de resistance is the fact that there are clip-on modues that extend its functionality further. One of these is the Productivity Module which is a 15-hour external battery while another of these is the Presenter Module with a pico projector and HDMI video connectivity and the last of these is the 3D Imaging Module with an integrated Inntel Realsense 3D camera.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook (tent view) - press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook

The X1 Yoga is a 14” convertible notebook that carries through the Lenovo Yoga 360-degree hinged convertible design weighs in about 2.8lb and has a pen integrated in the tablet. This has a 2560×1440 OLED display as the top-shelf option or an LCD with similar resolution or a Full HD LCD at cheaper prices. It has that standard HDMI connector for external displays, uses Core M horsepower, is equipped with an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks, and can have up to 16Gb RAM and 1Th SSD storage.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook (Skylake powered) press picture courtesy of Lenovo

The Skylake-driven iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook

The X1 Carbon is a follow-on from the legendary business notebook which I reviewed that has a carbon-fibre housing. It comes with similar specifications to the X1 Yoga and has military-specification construction and there is the option to have it run with Intel i7 processors while you have the same “elasticity” that you have with RAM and storage types and capacities as the X1 Yoga.

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop

It is followed on with the ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one desktop computer that is as slim as one of today’s typical computer monitors. This has a 23.8” Full HD screen; Intel i7 Skylake processor; 16Gb RAM and an option of 500Gb or 1Tb hard disk, 512Gb solid-state drive or a 512Gb self-encrypting drive or OPAL self-encrypting drive for storage; 1080p Webcam; DisplayPort input and output; SD card reader and 5 USB 3.0 sockets. It connects to home or business networks via Ethernet.

There are some more of the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad product families being offered for business users. One of these is the ThinkCentre Tiny which is Lenovo’s latest small-footprint computer but this is designed to be able to be attached to one of their monitors as part of a “ThinkCentre-In-One” all-in-one computer design.

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook - press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook

The ThinkPad T Series manifests this year in the form of the T460 and T560 laptops, which continue the heritage that this series embodied. The T460s is a lightweight durable Ultrabook with a 14” screen while the T460p is equipped with improved graphics in the form of discrete graphics and WQHD screen. The ThinkPad X260 is a 12” Ultrabook that has an option of an add-on battery pack that gives this machine a runtime of 21 hours – enough for a long-haul flight to the other side of the world. The ThinkPad L460 and L560 are focused on military-specification durability.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 notebook - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 durable budget notebook – can be supplied with Chrome OS or Windows 10

But the ThinkPad 13 budget notebook is the shining star when it comes to a purely secondary computer although it is pitched at the education market. It is available as a version which runs on Windows 10 or as a version that runs on Google Chrome OS. This unit implements military-specification durability, Intel Core i5 horsepower and up to 16Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. The Windows 10 variant has the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick on the keyboard, an HDMI external-video port, 3 USB connectors as well as a USB Type-C connector. This is while the Chrome OS variant has 1 USB connector along with 2 USB Type-C connectors. Personally, I would see this as a budget small-enough “portable typewriter” computer that is comfortable for answering emails, writing blog posts or completing that magnum opus while away from home or office – think of your favourite café or bar.

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – now available as a Business Edition computer

Let’s not forget that Lenovo also offered the Business Editions of both the Yoga 900 and MIIX 700. These add on features that allow for improved security and allow for management by a business’s own IT department or IT contractor. This will also mean that they may be available at value-added IT resellers that pitch to the business community.

Lenovo Yoga 900S watchband hinge detail press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Improved watchband hinge in the Lenovo Yoga 900S Series

Speaking of the Yoga 900 Series, there is the Yoga 900S which is a deluxe edition of the Yoga 900 with an improved watchband hinge and is available in that “Champagne Gold” finish reminiscent of early-1980s Marantz hi-fi equipment or a platinum-silver finish. Lenovo says that the Yoga 900S is the thinnest 360-degree convertible laptop on the market.

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one – aimed squarely at the Apple iMac

Lenovo is taking aim at the iMac by offering the IdeaCentre 510s 23” touchscreen all-in-one with narrow bezel which is equipped with a drop-down module that houses some USB ports and a Webcam. This comes in wiht Intel Skylake Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GT930a discrete graphics and has up to 1 Tb hard disk and a 256Gb solid-state drive for storage.

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop

Lenovo are trying their best to conquer the US gaming market by offering a run of gaming-focused computer equipment. This is in conjunction with them developing and publishing a game that would appeal to the core-level games. The Ideapad Y900 17” gaming laptop, which I reckon is a desknote, has the Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GTX980M discrete graphics, and up to 64Gb of DDR4 RAM. The IdeaCentre Y900 Razer Edition, which comes with a Razer mouse and keyboard, has the multi-colour lighting effects and Robocop look that will appeal at that frag-fest. It comes in with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32Gb RAM, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 2Tb hard disk and 256Gb solid-state drive capacity.

The IdeaCentre 610s small-form-factor desktop looks like a home appliance or wireless speaker and has a micro projector that docks on to it. This again comes with an Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 16Gb RAM.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo are showing the Vibe S1 Lite metal-body smartphone to the American market. This implemtns a 1080p Full HD screen and a selfie flash.

Samsung are not just offering Android smartphones and tablets but are introducing Windows 10 tablets to the US market. For that matter, they are applying the Galaxy Tab Pro model name also to tablets that run Windows 10 and have offered the Galaxy Tab Pro S which is a Windows 10 2-in-1 tablet that looks like the Microsoft Surface Pro, implements a Super AMOLED display, Intel Core M processor, and can fast-charge its battery in 2.5 hours to lead to a 10.5 hours runtime.

They have also shown the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge Android smartphones which will be equipped with a microSD card slot.

As for laptops, they are offering the Notebook 9 in 13” and 15” variants with a choise of Intel Skylake Core i5 or i7 processors, Full HD displays, 2 USB Type-C connections, and have them in metallic housings. Their Chromebook is the Chromebook 3 which will be equipped wiht an 11.6” 1366×768 display, a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, a choice of 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, and 16Gb storage.

LG Gram 15 laptop CES press shot courtesy of LG

LG Gram 15 laptop – how lightweight it is

Their South Korean rival, LG,  are offering some computing equipment of their own.  They have launched a pair of budget smartphones in the form of the K10 and K7 smartphones. As well, they launched the ultra-light Gram 15 laptop which they say is the lightest 15” laptop. It has the Full HD IPS display, a choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 Haswell CPU, a USB Type-C connector and a Cirrus Logic audio DAC for its sound. They also launched the 15U560 15” mainstream home laptop which has a 15” 4K display driven by NVIDIA 940M discrete graphics, 8Gb RAM, and powered by Intel Skylake Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. Storage is up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk and this laptop comes in a white finish.

Huawei have introduced fingerprint sensors across its phone and tablet range for this year. Examples of these include the Mate 6P 6” phablet and the Mate 8 6” phablet which is highly tuned for performance. There is also the MediaPad 10” 1920×1200 Android tablet which runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. This iPad alternative comes with 2Gb or 3Gb RAM and 16Gb or 48Gb storage.

Yezz Sfera have shown up with a smartphone that implements a 360-degree camera but could this catch on? Another newcomer called E.Fun fronted up to Las Vegas with a pair of budiget-priced laptop computers – a 14” notebook with a 1366×768 display, 32Gb onboard storage and a microSD slot, along wiht an 11” convertible notebook with similar specs except for 64Gb onboard storage.

Alcatel have fielded a small tablet in the form of the One Touch Pixi 3 which can work wiht 4G LTE mobile broadband. This 8” tablet works using Windows 10 Mobile, similar to what the Windows smartphones work on and it will support Contunuum for Mobile when it is used with a keyboard and mouse.

This is while Archos have presented a US$50 entry-level smartphone in the form of the Archos 40 Power 4” Android unit. This will have an 800×480 screen, 512Mb RAM, 8Gb storage, a microSD card slot and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. Archos expects that this phone will run for 2 days before the battery dies but this depends on how many apps are running at once.

Nextbook have also fielded a range of entry-level detachable-tablet 2-in-1s driven by Atom x5 horsepower and equipped with 2Gb RAM and an HD touchscreen. Other features that are common include a microSD card slot, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, the mobile-phone-standard microUSB port and a microHDMI port. The 9” 9A and 10” 10A units come with 32Gb storage while the 11” 11A comes with 64Gb storage.

Maingear have fronted up with a gaming computer that is based on an all-in-one design. As well Gigabyte have refreshed their Aorus X5 gaming notebook lineup with Skylake internals, Fusion keyboard, 4K display option, USB-C connectivity.

Razer have proven the concept of using Intel Thunderbolt 3 over a USB Type-C connection to work with user-attachable outboard graphics modules. This is by demonstrating their Razer Blade gaming laptop being hooked up to and working with a card-cage that houses a performance graphics card.

Intel have come up with their own consumer hardware in the form of a smartphone under their own brand and equipped wiht a RealSense camera. They also revamped their line up of Compute Sticks that plug in to a display’s HDMI port by releasing an entry level variant with an Atom x5 CPU, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage; along with better models that implement Core M3 or M5 CPUs and have 4Gb RAM and 64Gb storage. These units use a power adaptor which is actually a USB hub, thus making sure you are not forfeiting a USB port for power.

MSI are flexing their muscles amongst the gaming community by offering the Gaming 27XT all-in-one gaming computer which has an outboard card cage for a desktop-grade graphics card. This lets gamers and video enthusiasts upgrade the display card at any time without the need to take the computer apart. The computer cam put up 330W of power to the display card.

They also released the GT72 Dominator gaming laptop with a Tobii EyeX eye-tracking sensor which allows game players to control the action wiht their eyes. There is also the Vortex Compact Gaming PC which is a cylindrical modular small-form-factor gaming PC with dual NVIDIA GTX 980 SLI display cards and implements 360-degree Silent Storm airflow cooling. This is demonstrative of a trend towards highly-compact but powerful gaming computers rather than the large towers thar have always represented the gaming rigs.

Conclusion

What is being highlighted in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas is that everyone is offering personal-computing devices that are pitched at every user class and wallet. This is underscored with the goal to benefit from what the new chipsets offer thus leading to slimmer and lighter-weight laptop and 2-in-1 computers along wiht higher-resolution displays.

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