Lightweight and gaming agree for a new Alienware gaming laptop

Article

The New Alienware 13-inch Laptop Promises Pro Gaming Without Backache | Gizmodo

My Comments

Quite a few examples of laptops with enough “grunt” to satisfy tasks intended for desktop computers are appearing. These are typically showing up either as “mobile workstations” for serious activity like CAD work or as “gaming laptops” for core game-playing activity. This is also happening in a similar vein with “all-in-one” desktops like the HP Z1 Workstation.

The integrated screens that these computers have appeal to users who want to quickly set up a multi-display arrangement using an external monitor, flat-screen TV or a projector. This plays well with those of us who may want to move between different setups like a desktop setup with an external desktop monitor, a presentation setup with the projector or a quick-to-setup gaming environment in a common lounge area using the flat-screen TV located there.

Some of us may think of a games-focused high-performance computer as being fit for a “starter” workstation for tasks like multimedia creation or may consider a low-tier workstation as being fit for core-level game-play because both these activities demand the use of high-performance computers. The main issue there may be factors like the way the system is physically designed or the choice of graphics chipset which may be optimised to either professional graphics or fast-paced games.

In the gaming sphere, Dell’s Alienware brand is having to face Razer when courting mobile gamers and they have fielded a 13” gaming laptop which is considered lightweight as far as the product class is concerned. Most gamers may consider this a waste because of the small screen but I would see this work well for gamers who would use it for, for example, a dual-screen “regular-computer” gaming scenario in a lounge area like the living room at home or a common room in the college dorm using its screen and the ordinary flat-screen TV in the lounge area.

Like most computers under the Dell umbrella, this will be offered in a highly-customisable form that allows one to effectively tailor it to their needs. It is another example where Dell is attempting to push the boundaries of normal product-class-specific computer design to effectively “fill the holes” left in the marketplace by other computer manufacturers.

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Dell puts forward the Inspiron 20-3000 as an entry-level Adaptive All-In-One

Articles

Dell’s new Inspiron 20 is a giant tablet for work and play | Engadget

Dell announces new Inspiron 2-in-1 and All-in-One PCs | Windows Experience Blog

From the horse’s mouth

Dell Inc.

Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet - Press image courtesy Dell Inc.

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet

The “adaptive all-in-one” tablet is still persisting as a computer form factor. Previously, I had given this form-factor a fair bit of coverage on this site, including reviewing a Sony VAIO Tap 20 which is the prime example of this class of computer.

What are these computers? These are an 18”-23” tablet computer that run a regular-computer operating system like Windows 8.1 and are able to operate on batteries for around 2.5-6 hours or on AC power. They have a kickstand or desktop pedestal so they can become a desktop computer when used alongside a (typically wireless) keyboard and mouse. I had seen the “adaptive all-in-one” tablet computer as a “lifestyle computer” that can be taken around the house as required and one example of its use that was mentioned was as a gaming tablet.

Dell have even come to the fore with this class of computer by launching the Inspiron 20-3000 at this year’s Computex Taipei. But this unit has been positioned as an entry-level “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” with the use of the Pentium economy-grade quad-core horsepower. As well, it can run on its own battery for six hours. This is compared to most of the other computers in this class which implement the more powerful Intel i3 or i5 processors.

This is an attempt by the regular-computer scene to consider itself relevant in the face of the iPad and similar mobile-platform tablet computers being used along with cloud-hosted “software-as-a-service” options for common computing tasks. But this model could fit in well in the “family house” scenario or as a large-screen “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” intended to be shifted around at a moment’s whim — something you could use for browsing the Web, checking on Facebook, doing basic word processing or viewing multimedia content.

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Dell brings in another cost-effective mobile workstation

Article

Dell thuds down low-cost lap workstation for cheap frugal creatives or engineers | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Dell USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USAThere have been a few Windows-based laptop-style workstation-grade computers that have been released over the past few years, especially by HP and Dell. But Dell have been pushing the price of this class of computer downwards but kept the performance up.

The Dell Precision M2800 is a 15” mobile workstation that uses Intel i5 or i7 horsepower but implements AMD FirePro W4170M graphics circuitry with 2Gb display RAM. It could come with up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb hard disk capacity in the inimitable way that Dell allows you to customise your computer to suit your needs. Of course there is the multi-monitor support where you could jack in an extra screen on the side for that true multi-screen look.

The workstation starts at a cost of US$1199 and is one that could be suitable as a “work-home” unit for the engineer, architect or content-creator who wants to work on their project at home or the office. Similarly, this price point and form factor could also appeal to students and others who are starting out in the trades that call for workstation-class computing especially where one’s own space may not be all that big.

Could we still see the “mobile workstation” still appear as a viable computer class even though there is work towards virtualising high-performance workstations using server capacity? I would see this class of computer appeal to freelancers who want to have control over their data and be able to take it between their office, their home and on the road.

Oh yeah, could I also see these Dell Precision workstations also appeal to the “core” gamers who would like to see the idea of playing the big games wherever they can play them?

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A reasonable price 15” mainstream laptop with a touchscreen appears from Dell

From the horse’s mouth

Online salses sheet form Dell

My Comments

Windows 8 Modern UI start screen

At last you can benefit from the Modern UI on a reasonably-priced laptop using a touchscreen

If you are thinking of a laptop that works well with Windows 8 and its Modern UI via a touchscreen is out of your reach, think again.

Dell have released their new range of Inspiron 15 and Inspiron 15R mainstreams laptops which have the expectations of this class of laptop like an optical drive as well as 500Gb on the hard disk. These now have a touchscreen that goes a long way with Windows 8 with that tiled “Modern UI” and “quick access” to application functions on the Desktop.

These range from the entry-level model having an Intel i3 processor and only using integrated graphics for AUD$600 with better models being equipped with better processors, higher capacity hard disks and discrete game-worthy graphics.

At least the time has come around for 15” screens that endow mainstream consumer and small-business laptops to be available as touchscreens. It could also be the time that the 17” desktop replacement screen size becomes available as a touchscreen.

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The Dell XPS 18 is getting closer to the VAIO Tap 20

Article

Dell’s hybrid XPS 18 is a $900 all-in-one PC and an 18-inch tablet  | Engadget

My Comments

Previously, I had written an article about the imminent arrival of the Dell XPS 18 which would answer the Sony VAIO Tap 20 in the desktop bridge computer market. This is a class of computer which looks like an all-in-one computer but the screen can be used as a touch-responsive portable tablet.

Now Dell is having this model hit the American market for US$900 for the economy model and US$1350 for the premium model. From this article, the economy model would come with a 320Gb hard disk and a Pentium processor while the mid-tier and premium models would come with the i3 and i5 processors respectively. As for the RAM capacity, this would come in at the expected 4Gb.

I looked further and found that the mid-tier model would have 500Gb on the hard disk while the premium model would have 500Gb hard disk capacity and 32Gb SSD cache, All the systems have that desireable network setup of dual-band Wi-Fi wireless which is going to be the way to go as the next-generation broadband services come on line.

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Dell catches on to the VAIO Tap 20 idea with its all-in-one desktop bridge computer

Articles

Dell announces XPS 18 – an All-in-One desktop that is also a tablet | Microsoft WIndows Experience Blog

Dell unveils massive 18″ Windows 8 tablet – say hello to the hefty XPS 18 | Tweaktown

Dell Reveals Crazy Big 18-inch Windows 8 Tablet/AIO | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product page (coming soon)

Blog post

My Comments

Sony recently released the VAIO Tap 20 (a computer I am hoping to review on this site)  which was effectively a bridge between an all-in-one desktop computer and a tablet computer and had defined this form factor. This was about an alternative to a regular all-in-one computer but was able to lie flat as a tablet computer. Promotional images that existed of this computer had shown family members sharing the large-screen computer by looking at the same screen to browse material.

I even followed this up by commenting on a Microsoft Windows Experience blog post about it being brought around by the post’s author to their parents’ house as part of a family visit. Here, the comments were about the VAIO Tap 20 being used by people of different ages and with different computer-familiarity levels. I cited the Tap 20 as being one of a few computers that would work well in the “family house” – the retired parents’ home that is visited by their children and grandchildren.

Now Dell have answered Sony by releasing a tablet/all-in-one computer that is similar to the VAIO Tap 20. This one uses a smaller screen size – 18 inches but has the same tablet abilities including short-term battery operation. There are plans for it to have a dual-core Intel processor and 320Gb on the hard disk with better configurations having the likes of i7 processors and 512Gb solid-state disks. The battery was rated for 5 hours run time.

What I see of this is that Sony’s and Dell’s effort could see the start of a new form-factor being defined – a desktop tablet computer. Here, this would implement a screen greater than 18” and have a wireless keyboard and mouse, but have full computing credentials like high-capacity hard disks and RAM. There would be a battery but it would be rated for around five hours or less while the computer is equipped with a collapsible kickstand. I am not sure whether these would come with integrated optical drives or not and this may depend on the model.

As I have said before, they would play well with formal and informal computing tasks especially with people who have different computing skill levels.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013–Part 2

Introduction

I am continuing from where I left off with Part 1 which focused on the home entertainment aspect such as the 4K UHDTV screens and the games consoles that are to put Sony and Microsoft on notice.

Computers

With Windows 8 already launched, the trend for computers is to see more of the ultraportable computer that come either with a touchscreen or a Windows-8 multi-touch trackpad. Most manufacturers are running with at least one convertible ultraportable model that has swivel-screen, 360-degree hinge or a slide-out design as well as a detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet in order to catch this user interface.

The consumer desktop computers will typically manifest as a touch-enabled all-in-one unit alithough a lot of the 21” large-screen tablet computers of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 are surfacing for this category. THe concept is augmented through the use of “one-machine multi-player” hybrid video/board games that can be played using these touch screens.

Another trend that is appearing for some of these products is the display having an increased pixel density with 1080p resolution appearing on 13” and smaller screens or 4K and similar resolution displays appearing on the mainstream screen sizes. This has been driven by Apple’s implementation of high-pixel-density “Retina” displays in some of their MacBook lineup. Of course, Windows 8 would have native support for adapting its Desktop and Modern user interfaces to these higher pixel densities and most software developers would be encouraged to adapt to the newer pixel densities.

Acer is launching the Aspire S7 Ultrabook and the Iconia W700 and W510 detachable-keyboard tablets. Dell has also launched a 1080p display as an option for the XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Toshiba have provided newer products such as the Satellite U845t which is a touchscreen Ultrabook that runs for approximately US$800. This 14” (1366×768) WIndows 8 computer has an option of an i3 or i5 CPU, 500Gb on the hard disk and 32Gb SSD cache, up to 6Gb RAM and equipped with HDMI, Ethernet, SDHC card slot and 3 USB ports (1 with USB 3.0). Here, they intended to position the U845t as the Ultrabook equivalent of the “reasonably-priced car”.

They also ran with the Qosmio X875 which is a gaming laptop with a 1Tb hybrid hard drive with 8Gb SSD cache. It also has the “Black Widow” performance design with up to 32Gb RAM, up to 2Tb storage and a 3GB NVIDIA GTX 670M GPU display and NVIDIA 3D as an option.

On the other hand. HP are launching 2 affordable “Sleekbook” ultraportables that are driven by AMD processors. Both of these are what you would call a “lightweight mainstream” laptop with a 15.6” screen, replaceable batteries, numeric keypads and multi-touch trackpads. They also have Dolby sound tuning as a way to make that music or video sound better. The basic model comes with the A6 processor, 6Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk storage while the premium “Touchsmart” variant comes with a touchscreen, the faster A8 processor, 6Gb RAM and 750Gb hard disk storage.

Lenovo exhibited their Horizon 27 touchscreen desktop all-in-one which is able to work as an “action table”. As well, Lenovo are planning to “split” their brand by having the Lenovo brand for home and small-business computing equipment and the “Think” brand associated with “ThinkPad” and “ThinkCentre” for their large-business computing equipment. This direction reminds me of Ford’s and Chrysler’s Australian operations in the late 60s and early 70s where they were trying to run a separate brand for their luxury cars with “LTD” and “Landau” for Ford’s efforts and “VIP” for Chrysler’s efforts.

Panasonic were showing their 20” 4K-display “VAIO-Tap-style” tablet with Windows 8 as a prototype for their computer entry.

Dell launched their Latitude 10 essentials tablet which is their effort at pushing the price of a full Windows 8 tablet down to a reasonable price of US$499. This has the Intel microarchitecture and comes with a 10” screen as well as 32Gb of SSD storage. They also issued a 1080p screen option for their XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Gigabyte have fielded an extra tiny desktop PC with Intel i7 horsepower. This machine is a similar size to the Apple Mac Mini, but like machines of this ilk, you don’t have room to expand compared to larger computers.

ASUS also fielded the Transformer all-in-one tablet which can boot Android 4.1 and Windows 8. It has for its display an 18.4” screen with 1080p resolution.

Regular computer technology

Intel has been tweaking the Atom CPUs as a stronger system-on-chip for low-tier portable computing and released limited runs of the Ivy Bridge chipset which are tuned for power conservation and system performance.

Peripherals

Computer monitors

There are some technologies that are appearing for this class of device such as the increased pixel density such as a 4K UHDTV screen (2560×1440) for 20” and above or 1080p HDTV (1920×1080) for lesser screen sizes, use of a 21:9 aspect ratio, affordable IPS LCD displays and touchscreen displays.

Here, LG had launched a 4K 30” screen as well as the EA93 21:9 screen which has a 2560×1080 resolution and 4-way split abilities. Similarly ASUS launched an ultrawide 21:9 monitor with similar specifications to this monitor. As well, Sharp had exhibited a 32” 4K-resolution monitor which is the thinnest in this class. This IGZO-driven screen comes in at a thickness of 1.5”.

HP had launched a run of 20”-27” monitors such as the deluxe Envy 27 that has an elegant bezel-free IPS display, HDMI digital audio with optical SPDIF output as well as a 3.5mm pre-out jack. It has the above-mentioned HDMI connector, a DisplayPort connector and a legacy VGA connector. The sound subsystem in this model is, like most of the premium and midrange HP consumer laptops, tuned by BeatsAudio.

The Pavilion xi Series (20”, 22”, 23” 25” and 27”) has IPS and the full input complement (VGA, DVI and HDMI). Except for the 20” variant, they can work with the 1920×1080 resolution. The Pavilion P Series (18.5”, 20” and 21”) are pitched as the “budget business” models which can work at 1366×768 or the 20” and 21” models can work at 1600×900 resolution.

They also released the U160 which is a USB-powered portable DisplayLink monitor. This 15” screen, which works at 1366×768, comes in a leather case and is pitched to work as a second screen for that ultraportable notebook computer.

Speaking of DisplayLink, the organisation that represents the “display over USB” concept has demonstrated a “single-pipe” USB 3.0 external-display setup. This “proof-of-concept” uses one USB 3.0 cable to provide external power to the laptop alongside the transfer of display, USB-peripheral, audio and Ethernet between the laptop and the monitor. It is more about the idea of encouraging the development of a USB monitor dock which is effectively a laptop power supply, USB hub, Ethernet network adaptor and external display and audio. As well, the DisplayLink MacOS X driver has been updated to work with 4 adaptors using USB 3.0 technology.

ASUS exploted the DisplayLink concept further with their VariDrive expansion module. This is a laptop expansion module that has a DVD burner, DisplayLink video to HDMI or legacy VGA devices, Ethernet and Audio via HDMI and connects to that ultraportable via USB 3.0.

Network technology

802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless

There is an increasing number of wireless routers, access points and USB “stick” client adaptors that work with the new draft 802.11ac wireless-network specification.

These are are also being equipped with performance-improvement and QoS-optimisation chipsets from the various chipset vendors. An example of this is Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology which manages the WAN (Internet) and LAN (home network) sides of the equation for optimum throughput for the small network.

As well, D-Link have launched an online-gaming-optimised 802.11ac Gigabit router with the Qualcomm Atheros VIVE technology. Netgear are also making for an easy-to-set-up experience for their newer routers by implementing the QR codes on their management user interface so you can integrate your Android phone to the home network very quickly. They also fielded the D600 which is the first 802.11ac DSL modem router that can work with today’s ADSL networks. But it also has a Gigabit Ethernet WAN connection for use with next-generation broadband.

Of course, most of the router manufacturers are touting cloud technology for this product class. This is primarily about remote access to data held on storage that is attached to these routers via a Web interface or a client-side mobile app.

Shoehorning the home network, and the HomePlug technology

There have been a few interesting devices that can improve your home network.Firstly, NETGEAR have shown a plug-in simultaneous-dual-band wireless range extender / Wi-Fi client bridge that offers a feature that snaps at the heels of the Apple Airport Express. Here, this device has AirPlay / DLNA audio playout so you can connect an amplifier or a pair of active speakers and push audio content from your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC through that amplifier or speakers. At the moment, I don’t know if this device can also work as a regular access point.

The HomePlug AV specification is still pushed as a “wired with no-new-wires” option for the home network and Engenius have released a device that capitalises on this fact. It combines a HomePlug AV 500 bridge, a 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and an 802.11n N300 Wi-Fi access point as the ultimate network-hub option for the far end of the house, the old bungalow or that funky old 1970s caravan that is serving as a teenager’s sleepout or extra office.

For that matter, HomePlug network technology isn’t just showing up as network-infrastructure hardware but as being integrated in connected devices. This is more so with a Netgear Airplay audio adaptor / USB server and some of Hisense’s latest connected TV designs. As well, other chipmakers like Broadcomm and Sigma are supplying chipsets for at least the HomePlug AV specification. This could reduce the cost of the hardware for this network segment.

Similarly, the HomePlug AV2 Gigabit MIMO standard which exploits the earth wire as well as the active and neutral wires in the mains wiring is coming closer. This is expected to yield good things for the home network such as each node being a repeater as well as this “no-new-wires” technology hitting the Gigabit mark.

Portable routers

AT&T and Sierra Wireless used this show to launch the second model of the touch-screen MiFi. But this one is equipped with the 4G LTE as its WAN (Internet) connection.

D-Link also exhibited the SharePort Go 2 which is a pocket-sized 802.11g/n Wi-Fi router that works with an Ethernet connection or a USB wireless-broadband adaptor. The Wi-Fi segment is the only LAN segment available to this travel router but it can also share content held on an SD card.

Printer technology

There hasn’t been much happening for printers at this year’s CES. Typically new models may be launched at separate events like CEBit in Hannover, Computex in Taipei or Photokina in Cologne due to some focusing on small-business needs or photography printing needs. As well, the manufacturers run their own events to launch their own printers.

This is  although Canon had launched the PiXMA MX392, MX452, MX522 and MX922. These have in common high-capacity cartridges with a front-load design similar to Brother inkjets and the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600a series. This is a welcome move away from having to open a lid on the printer when the ink runs out.  They are also optimised with a high duty cycle which would also please business owners who want a lot more out of them. Most of the networked models in this series also are set up for Google Cloud Print.

Storage Technology

Toshiba has shown a microSDHC card reference design which implements the TransferJet technology. This is a near-field wireless data transfer for microSDHC devices rather than having this integrated in the device’s electronics. I wonder how the operating systems would cope with the idea of this technology so you can select files to transfer but this could work well for cameras and MP3 players.

Seagate have premiered their Wireless Plus mobile NAS which is like the GoFlex Satellite except it has a larger capacity of 1 Terabyte. Surprising for this product class, this unit is the first mobile NAS to implement DLNA MediaServer technology so it could stream to Internet radios, smart TVs or DLNA media player software.

They also launched the Central NAS which works with a Samsung TV app or can stream to any DLNA-capable media device. It could then mean you can do more with your files at your Samsung smart TV rather than just view them.

The HP Pocket Playlist is HP’s first mobile NAS device. It can share stored Hulu or Netflix content which is loaded to it through PC software that ties in with the PlayLater option. For that matter, it can serve 5 Wi-Fi devices on its own.

Western Digital also launched the WD Black hybrid hard disks that integrate SSD and spinning-platter technology in a 2.5” housing. They would be pitched to OEMS for use with the next laptops or ultraportables.

Conclusion

Stay tuned to the last in this series which will encompass mobile technology as well as the smart home and automotive technology.

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Product Review–Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook which is Dell’s main foray in to the  Ultrabook thin-and-lignt market. The model I am covering is the more expensive unit which has a 256Gb solid-state drive

There are economy model of this computer, one with Intel i5 processor and 128Gb solid-state drive as the cheapest option and another mid-range model with an i5 processor and a 256Gb solid-state drive.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Rydges Melbourne

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499 – online price from Dell
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge i7-2631M cheaper option – Intel Sandy Bridge i5-2467M
RAM 4Gb shared with graphics
Secondary storage 256Gb solid-state storage
cheaper – 128Gb solid-state storage
Display Subsystem Intel HD
Screen 13” widescreen (1366×768) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Connectivity USB 2.0 x 2
Video DisplayPort
Audio 3.5mm audio input-output jack
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 7.0 Professional
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: 5.6 Graphics:  5.6
Advanced Graphics: 5.9
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Like other Ultrabooks,, this Dell XPS 13 is very light and doesn’t take up much room in your shoulder bag. The unit is wrapped in an aluminium finish with the keyboard surrounded in a rubber-feel panel which doesn’t feel as sweaty to use.

At times the computer does feel warm underneath after a long session of use. This is more noticeable around the back edge and is more so if you are engaging in video-heavy or CPU-heavy tasks.

User Interface

Dell XPS 13 UltrabookThe Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook is equipped with an illuminated keyboard. But this keyboard does feel hard and has that cheap calculator-keyboard feel.  At least you can still touch-type on the keyboard easily. It als misses distinct keys for page-up / page-down functions which can be confusing when you are browsing a Web page.

The XPS’s trackpad doesn’t have distinctly marked-out buttons for selecting or confirming the options. This is similar to what is accepted on the MacBook computers and  it can be hard to locate the correct buttons by touch when you need to click or right-click that option.

The trackpad doesn’t respond to the double-tap = select gesture which is a common gesture for nearly all laptop trackpads.

Audio and Video

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook right hand side - USB 2.0 port, DisplayPort

Right hand side connections – USB 2.0 port and DisplayPort

The Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook performed properly, responsively and smoothly with video content. This included action content that I viewed as part of a video-on-demand show. It may not be all that suitable for some activities like intense gaming.

I used this Ultrabook with the previously-reviewed Turtle Beach headset and found that you need to enable the Realtek Waves MAXXAudio all the time to keep “punch”in the sound even for the TV show. Of course, I would not expect much for the integrated speakers especially if you want to play music or desire movies and games with the effects being there.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook left hand side connections - power, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio in-out jack

Left-hand side connections – power, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio input-output jack

The Dell XPS 13 is equipped with two USB 2.0 connectors, a 3.5mm audio input-output jack and a DisplayPort port for monitors and video adaptors. These are its only connectors, in order to achieve a very slim notebook.

This Ultrabook has a 256Gb solid-state drive as its secondary storage and, unlike mist laptop computers that I have used or reviewed, doesn’t come with a memory-card slot. This would be considered an omission for those of us who take the memory card out of our digital cameras as part of transferring our images to a computer.

Battery life

The battery does live up to the expectations for an Ultrabook’s battery with it being half-empty aftar a good afternoon’s worth of hotspot surfing.

Even viewing 1.5 hour’s worth of on-demand video had the battery meter registering 45%. Like the Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 doesn’t support a hibernate mode for whenever you are not using the machine. Instead, the computer will stay in a “sleep mode” for a few hours then enter a “deep sleep”mode until you power it on.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook could benefit from a pair of USB 3.0 sockets rather than USB 2.0 sockets so as to take advantage of external USB hard disks. As well, it could be equipped with an HDMI socket or be supplied with an HDMI adaptor so that it can connect to just about every flatscreen TV in circulation.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook rear viewAs I have said before, it definitely misses the SD card slot which would be important with digital-camera users who prefer to “remove the film” from the digital camera and this could be installed in the lid if you needed to balance out the space for the various hardware parts..

Conclusion

I would recommend that people purchase the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook as a secondary notebook computer to use while travelling or using your favourite cafe, bar or hotel lounge as your second office. This assumes that you have a larger laptop or desktop as your main computer where you do most of your work on. It could be sold for a bit cheaper based on the options that it has even though the solid-state drive is sold at a premium.

Also, I would recommend that people who have digital cameras purchase an SD card reader if you you need to remove the card from the camera to download pictures. As well,you would need to know where the computer is at all times because the machine isn’t equipped with a lockdown slot.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 1

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has achieved a record of 3100 exhibitors and has made an opening for newer technology companies. This is through the establishment of the “Eureka Park TrendZone” which had space for 94 of these startups.

For Microsoft, this year was their last appearance as an exhibitor and Paul Allen had given the last keynote speech for that company at the CES. They will simply work alongside their hardware and other software partners at further events.

Trends

The major trends have been taking place with the portable and mobile computing aspect of our lives. This is mainly in the form of more powerful smartphones and tablets as well as an increased number of Ultrabooks – small slim ultraportable computers that snap at the heels of the MacBook Air.

Technologies

Energy-efficient powerful processors

This show is being used to premiere NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 ARM processor, which is an improved processor for mobile devices. This is intended to allow for increased power and longer runtime for these devices. This processor isn’t just intended for the tablets but also for use in the car dashboard as has been demonstrated with the latest Tesla electric supercar.

As well, Intel were premiering their Ivy Bridge “classic” processors which are optimised for improved graphics while being energy efficient. These processors are intended for the upcoming generation of laptops including the Ultrabooks.

New operating environments for the regular computer

Microsoft were also demonstrating the Kinect gesture-driven user interface on the PC and this wasn’t just for gaming like its initial XBox 360 application was. They used this show to promote Windows 8 as being the next computer operating system for tablets and regular computers.

Bluetooth Smart and Bluetooth Smart Ready

It was also the year that Bluetoot 4.0 a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart was being promoted. This was a very low-power Bluetooth specification which made the technology work properly with sensor applications due to allowing these devices to run on a pair of AA batteries or a watch battery for many months.

Bluetooth Smart Ready devices could work with these Bluetooth Smart devices and permit them to work in an energy-conserving way. This has legitimised the Bluetooth technology in personal health and wellbeing applications, with this application class being premiered at this show.

Mobile Computing

One technology that is affecting this class of devices is the launch of LTE-based 4G wireless broadband in to most of the USA by many of the US mobile carriers. This is expected to allow for higher data throughput and bandwidth for the data-based services.

Smartphones and Multifunction Internet Devices

One major brand change that occurred over this show was Sony’s handheld-communications identity. This was previously known as Sony Ericsson but is now known simply as Sony Mobile Communications.

Here, Sony had launched the Xperia S Android phone and their first LTE-enabled phone inthe form of the Xperia Ion. These are also to be “PlayStation capable” which allows them to run Sony’s PlayStation games in the manner they are meant to be played. They also released the Walkman Z series which is Sony’s answer to the Apple iPod Touch and the Samsung Galaxy Player multifunction Internet devices.

Samsung had released their Galaxy S Blaze 4G which is their LTE-enabled iteration of their Galaxy S Android phones. LG also released some more of the Spectrum Android smartphones to the US market. Lenovo had launched the first Intel-powered Android smartphone in the form of the K800.

But, for the Windows Phone platform, the big announcement was Nokia’s Lumina 900 which was a Windows Phone equipped with a 4.3” AMOLED touchscreen. Was this a way for Nokia to claw back in to the multifunction smartphone category again?

Tablets

Here, this device class has become more powerful and capable, especially with the spectre of Windows 8 coming around the corner and a strong effort by all to unseat the iPad from its dominant position.

Toshiba had shown a 13” and a 7.7” prototype tablet but were exhibiting their 10.1” Android tablet/ As well, Coby were launching 5 ranges of 7” and 10” Android Ice-Cream-Sandwich-powered tablets with the maximum having 1Gb RAM and 32Gb expandable flash memory.

Acer had launched the Iconia A700 series 10” tablets with Tegra quad-core horsepower, 5Mp rear camera and HD front camera, and driven by Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Asus had launched the Transformer Prime Mini 7” Android 4.0 comverrtible Android tablet which coudl be similar to the EeePad Memo. This Android Wi-Fi tablet was a 7.1” 3D-screen-equipped unit with 5Mp rear camera / 1.2Mp front camera, stylus and 64Gb flash storage.

Samsung had used this show to premiere the Galaxy Note to the US market and premiere the Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE which was enabled for the 4G wireless broadband networks.

Sony had launched their S1 Android Homeycomb powered tablet. This one had a 9.4” screen and could work as an electronic picture frame or alarm clock; and was able to work with 4G LTE wireless broadband as well as Wi-Fi. Of course it would work with the DLNA Home Media Network and implemented an “off-centre-of-gravity” position for stability. They also showed the Tablet P clamshell tablet to the US market even though it was available in other markets. They weren’t sure if it would be launched in the carrier-controlled US market.

Regular computers

Ultrabooks and other “traveller” notebooks

This year had been a changing year for the lightweight “traveller” notebook computer. This class of computer had seen the tablet computer appear as a serious competitor and Intel had defined the “Ultrabook” as a new lightweight slimline class of portable hotspot-surfing computer.

ASUS and Lenovo had exhibited convertible Ultrabook computers which could become tablets, with Lenovo’s example known as the Ideapad Yoga which was powered with the Intel Ivy Bridge chipset.

Acer’s next Ultrabook is the Aspire S5. This was claimed to be the thinnest Ultrabook and had an 8 hour battery runtime. It also had a USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt peripheral connect for use with higher-capacity hard disks for example. LG also launched the XNote Z330 Ultrabook as did Toshiba with the Portege Z835 and HP with the 14” Envy Spectre Ultrabook.

Lenovo were exhibiting their IdeaPad U310 (13”) and U410 (14”) Ultrabooks with a choice of processors but with 4Gb RAM and a choice of 64Gb SSD or 500Gb regular hard disk. The 14” U410 variant was also available with 1Gb NVIDIA graphics.

Dell has jumped in to the Ultrabook bandwagon with the XPS 13. This had the standard spec set with an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 4G on the RAM and a choice of 128Gb or 256Gb solid-state storage. The display is typically the 1366×768 resolution with Gorilla Glass screen as well as Bluetooth 3.0. Like the HP Folio 13 Ultrabook, this could be available in a “big-business package” with the business-security and customisation needs or as a regular consumer/small-business package.

Samsung launched their redesigned Series 9 ultrabooks with 13” amd 14” models. These were powered by a Core i5 processor and were equipped with 4Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk as standard. The 13” variant had a 128Gb SSD as an alternative option.

Of course, the Ultrabook and the tablet had placed doubt on the viability of the 10”-11” netbook. But Lenovo was one of the few who had pushed on with a netbook in the form of the S200 and S206 series. These 11.6” units are available with an AMD or an Intel Atom chipset and  have 2Gb RAM and a choice of 32Gb SSD or 500Gb hard-disk secondary storage.

Laptops

Of course, the regular 15”-17” laptop has not been forgotten about with the calibre of these computers approaching “multimedia” specifications. Most of the 17” units had 1080p resolution and were equipped with Blu-Ray as a standard or option for their optical disks. The hard disks came in the order of 1Tb or, in some cases, 2Tb and system RAM was in the order of 8Gb.

For graphics, most of the laptops on the show floor had NVIDIA graphics chipsets with display memory of 1Gb to 2Gb and able to operate in dual-chipset “overdrive” mode. Samsung even exhibited the Series 7 “Gamer” which was pitched as a thoroughbred clamshell gaming rig.

In-car technology

This year was a chance for new upstarts to integrate the car with the Internet. MOG and Aha by HARMAN have increased their “Web-to-radio” footprint by integrating CBS Radio into their Web content aggregation lineup and partnering with Honda, Subaru, JVC and Kenwood to increase their equipment availability. This is in addition to improving the Aha iOS app and porting this same app to the Android platform this year.

Similarly, Parrot have extended their “Asteroid” Android-driven in-vehicle infotainment platform to three different devices – the Asteroid CK which yields telephony and audio content;, the Asteroid NAV which also provides GPS navigation and Internet access via Wi-Fi; and the Asteroid 2DIN whcih is effectively a car-radio replacement by having integrated AM/FM/RDS tuners.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next instalment of the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 series which will cover the networked lifestyle at home.

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Product Review–Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop computer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Vostro 3550 series of 15” business laptop computers, which is infact the first business laptop that I have reviewed from this company. It can be purchased from Dell’s online store as one of a few preconfigured options or you or your IT contractor could order a customised system through the Dell website.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1199
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge
i7-2620M
cheaper options
Intel Sandy Bridge i5-2410M
RAM 4Gb
extra cost 6Gb
shared with integrated graphics
Secondary Storage 500 Gb hard disk
extra-cost 750Gb hard disk
DVD burner, SDHC card reader
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon + Intel HD Graphics 1Gb display RAM (discrete mode)
Screen 16” widescreen (1366×768) LED-backlit LCD
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
Wireless Broadband 3G HSPA
Connectors USB 2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
(1 shared with eSATA)
eSATA 1 x eSATA shared with USB 2.0
ExpressCard 1 x ExpressCard 34
Video HDMI, VGA
Audio 3.5mm stereo output jack,
Digital output via HDMI,
3.5mm stereo input jack
Operating System on supplied configuration Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
Windows Experience Index
– this configuration
Overall 5.7
Graphics 5.7
Gaming (Advanced) Graphics 6.5

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build quality

The Dell Vostro 3550 laptop is finished in a silver metal housing that shows that it is well built and durable. This can be available to order as a burgundy or bronze finish if you buy it through Dell’s website. Unlike most laptops, the lid is recessed down with the hinges set towards the centre.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop keyboard detail

Keyboard detail emphaising chrome trim

The screen escutcheon and palmrest are finished in a charcoal grey finish with the keyboard and trackpad set off with chrome piping. This styling reminds me o the way the dashboards on various classic cars have been styled.

User interface

The Vostro’s keyboard is an illuminated keyboard but doesn’t have a numeric keypad. This may not affect most users but those of use who need to enter in lots of figures like accountants will miss the feature. Here, they could use a USB numeric keypad for the data entry. On the other hand, you get the proper feedback which is important if you do a lot of touch-typing.

This is supported by a trackpad which, like all of the trackpads on recent Dell notebooks, is distinctively highlighted. It works properly as a trackpad and allows for proper navigation.

The Vostro 3550 does support fingerprint-recognition and Dell supplies a “software keyring” that links Web passwords with your fingerprint. Infact I was offered the option to tie my Facebook password to my fingerprint with this software.

As well, there are hot keys with one for the Mobility Center, one for Dell Support access and one you can define to launch a particular program.

Connectivity and Expansion

The Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop range is well endowed when it comes to connectivity and expandability.

The review unit cam with an integrated 3G wireless-broadband modem as well as Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi wireless. The 3G modem is available as an option on other configurations in this model range. The SIM card for the 3G service is installed in a slot located in the battery compartment and it takes the standard small-form-factor SIM card rather than the “micro” SIM card.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop left hand connectors

Left hand side with SD card reader. USB / eSATA socket, USB socket and HDMI socket

On the other hand, I don’t see why the 3G modem couldn’t, with Bluetooth, support the SIM Card Access profile for authenticating to mobile-data services. Here this setup allows authentication to mobile services via a mobile phone SIM card using a Bluetooth link. The function has been available with integrated car phones that allow authentication and phone service using the driver’s SIM card held in their mobile phone, and could support “one account, one bandwidth quota” operation for both the mobile phone and laptop.

On the other hand, the 3G modem technology used in the Vostro’s integrated modem may be considered too slow in the face of upcoming 4G LTE deployments that are occurring in most countries. Of course this is taken care of with the USB ports and ExpressCard slot being ready to accept LTE modems.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop right hand side

Right hand side with optical drive, ExpressCard slot, audio jacks and USB 3.0 socket

The Dell Vostro has a promising array of two USB 3.0 ports alongside two USB 2.0 ports with one doubling as an eSATA slot. There is an ExpressCard slot available for use with LTE or WiMAX wireless-broadband cards or whatever comes one’s way.

Of course, the computer offers for removable storage a card reader for use with SDHC and similar memory cards as well as a DVD burner.

Audio and Video

A feature that is worthy of note for the Dell Vostro is the integration of a microphone array. Here this allows for improved audio results with video conferencing or speech-recognition-based dictation by using microphone combinations to focus on the voice and cut out the background noise.

This is like when you use a stereo recorder that is equipped with two microphones to record your voice, then play the same recording through stereo speakers or headphones. Here, it is easier to catch your voice because it is dominant across both channels.

The Dell Vostro 3550 uses a dual-mode graphics setup with AMD Radeon graphics for discrete high-performance graphics and Intel HD graphics for power-saving economy-mode graphics. I have seen the benefit of this setup before when I reviewed the HP Pavillion dv7-6013TX which is similarly equipped. Here, I ran it through a DVD rundown test while the laptop was using the Intel HD graphics and it was able to play longer than previous discrete-only setups.

There is support under the new AMD control software for application-driven switchability. Here one can set a video-editing application or graphics-rich game to go with the high-performance graphics while other applications like Web browsers or word-processing can work with the power-saving graphics mode.

On the other hand, there isn’t a distinct manual switch in the AMD software to switch between discrete or integrated graphics.

The Vostro 3550’s screen doesn’t have any of the glare that is common with a lot of consumer laptops and this nicety may be peculiar to business laptops. At least this means that you can use it in most environments without seeing yourself in the mirror when you use the laptop.

Battery life

The Vostro 3550 has achieved long battery runtimes thanks to the Intel Sandy Bridge technology. I had run it on a DVD rundown test by having it play a feature movie continuously off the DVD. This ran for 6 hours 38 minutes on the integrated graphics while showing good-quality movie images.

I have also run the laptop on regular tasks and it appeared as if it was sipping the battery rather than wolfing through it. It has what appears to be a larger battery pack but this pack is the standard one for the Vostro 3550 series.

Conclusion

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop rear view

Rear view with VGA, USB 3.0, Ethernet and power sockets

The Dell Vostro 3550 Series is another of the value-for-money durable laptops that I would recommend as a standard-size “work-home” laptop if you just transport it between locations. If you intend to do a lot of numeric data entry such as accounting or statistics work with it, I would recommend that you use the Vostro with a USB numeric keypad.

Here, I would make sure you get as much RAM and hard disk space as you can afford. You could get away with the i5 processor for most tasks and choose the i5 processor for tasks that demand more like graphics for example. If you had to cut your cloth accordingly, you may have to forego the integrated 3G modem and use an external wireless-broadband modem or tether your mobile phone for your wireless-broadband use as a way of focusing money on the performance or capacity aspects.

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