simonmackay Archive

Lenovo offers the first computer with built-in 5G mobile broadband

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Flex 5G / Yoga 5G convertible notebook -the first laptop computer to have 5G mobile broadband on board

‘World’s first 5G PC,’ the Lenovo Flex 5G, now available on Verizon for $1,400 with a Snapdragon 8cx | Windows Central

Lenovo Flex 5G Laptop Landing Worldwide This Week | Ubergizmo

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Lenovo™ Delivers on 5G Computing with Leading Global Network Operators (Press Release)

Verizon

Product site and purchasing links (US only)

My Comments

The 5G mobile broadband specification is surfacing this week in an “Always Connected PC” form factor with integrated mobile broadband thanks to Lenovo.

The computer will be the Lenovo Flex 5G also known as the Yoga 5G in some markets and is a 14” 2-in-1 convertible laptop. This uses ARM RISC silicon in the form of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx CPU and Qualcomm Adreno 680 graphics infrastructure. It will be delivered with the ARM-compiled build of Windows 10 Pro. Its display is a 14” Full HD LED LCD and will come with 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage.

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of LenovoThe use of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx as the Lenovo Flex 5G’s CPU is primarily about implementing CPU technology that has higher performance compared to what is offered in a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet. This is due to the computer being in a larger chassis and not having the thermal constraints associated with the kind of housing a smartphone would have.

For connectivity, the 5G mobile broadband modem supports mmWave and sub 6GHz bands, similar to what is expected in the latest high-end smartphones. As well, it can connect to Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) networks and Bluetooth peripherals up to the Bluetooth 5.0 specification. Lenovo expects the Flex 5G to run on its own battery for 24 hours before needing to be charged.

Of course, due to the use of ARM RISC silicon, the Windows ARM build will be running Windows software that isn’t compiled for ARM RISC microarchitecture in an emulation form. This may be seen to yield compatibility issues for some software like games or device drivers.

Initially it will be offered in the USA through Verizon for USD$1400 or USD$58.33 per month as part of a contract. But Lenovo is forging partnerships with other telcos in other markets like EE (UK), Sunrise (Switzerland) or CMCC (China) as well as offering it direct through its Website later this year.

What I see of this is that Lenovo being the first to offer 5G mobile-broadband integration in a regular computer. There will be issues with having to support certain markets’ and telcos’ mobile-broadband needs such as Telstra’s wish to support proper performance in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia when they sell any mobile-broadband device. This will mean having to vary the device to suit these requirements.

At the moment, I see this class of computer appealing towards mobile professionals and nomadic users who prefer to use mobile broadband as the preferred Internet connection away from the office.

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Hair clippings will be ending up as a source material for OLED displays

Barber shop courtesy of Tim Mossholder (Unsplash)

Hair cuttings from these barbershops can end up as a material for OLED displays in many devices
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

Article

Future Flexible OLED Displays Could Be Made From Human Hair | Gizmodo Australia

My Comments

There is an increased interest in the use of OLED displays for all display applications, what with doing away with a backlight layer which means increased application flexibility and power efficiency; as well as yielding high contrast. But this technology comes at a price which may be out of the range of most commodity applications, especially equipment user-interface displays.

But researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have used hair clippings from a local barber shop to experiment with the use of hair strands into self-illuminating carbon nanodots fit for a light-emitting device. Here, it’s about breaking down the hair strands then heating it to 240 degrees Celsius, equivalent to a very hot oven to create these displays. The carbon nanodots are a form of quantum dot that can yield the bright vivid colours due to their expertise at illuminating a single primary colour.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer detailed function display

… like displays on printers such as this Brother unit

This application may not be bright enough for a TV screen intended to be viewed at a distance but could be bright enough for an application that is intended to be viewed up close. The core applications would be smartphones, tablets and wearables. But I would also see this extend to equipment or automotive displays that give a really distinct level of brightness and contrast like the vacuum-fluorescent displays used an a lot of consumer-electronics equipment made through the 1980s and 1990s.

The advantage here is that hair is a natural source of nitrogen and carbon and can be easily harvested from local barbers and hairdressers as part of a recycling program. The applications then end up as being part of a circular economy and there is further research in to using animal hair for this same application, which may allow the use of pet hair salvaged from veterinarians, animal breeders or dog groomers for this purpose.

As well, the idea of a component of this display being cheaply sourced through recycling programs may lead to the cost of these displays going downhill and allow them to displace LCD technology as the display technology of choice for small colour displays.

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The BBC to develop its own voice assistant for finding AV content

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The BBC is working on a voice-driven assistant of its own

BBC planning Alexa rival | Advanced Television

BBC’s Beeb voice assistant goes beta | Advanced Television

BBC launches voice assistant that will learn regional accents | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

British Broadcasting Corporation

What’s next for Beeb: The new voice assistant from the BBC (Press Release)

My Comments

The BBC have started work on the first voice-driven assistant platform that is designed in the UK and for British conditions. This platform is named Beeb which is one of the common affectionate nicknames for that public-service broadcaster.

It will be initially rolled out to UK participants of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program and is at beta stage, thus limiting it to use on regular computers at the moment. It is based on the BBC’s iPlayer content-directory effort and will be primarily about bringing up audio content like live and on-demand radio content, music or podcasts. It will also be able to bring forth local news and weather information.

UK Flag

… optimised for UK accents and likely to place the UK in the voice assistant sphere

There will even be the ability to respond from material written by BBC comedy writers when you ask for a joke, including the ability to ask for a joke from a particular show. This is thanks to the amount of intellectual property that they have built up over the years including all those legendary sitcoms and other comedy associated with British telly.

Beeb will be voiced with a male voice that has a northern English accent. As well, its initial setup will have the user determine what UK regional accent they have so it understands their accent better. This is part of an effort by the BBC to preserve local British accents in the face of other voice-driven assistants which force users to use standard British English pronunciation over regional accents.

There is an intent to roll it out to other devices which are software-programmable and it will also to be part of revisions to the iPlayer app and BBC Website. But personally, I see the BBC’s Beeb effort as a candidate for the Voice Interoperability Initiative driven by Amazon and Microsoft that allows a device to run with multiple voice assistants and respond to each assistant’s “wake word”. That is an activity that the BBC are infact a participant in.

Support for regional and local accents

But personally, I see the Beeb voice assistant as opening a path for UK companies to develop their own voice-driven assistants that respect UK language, dialects, accents and culture. It can also be an example of fine-tuning a voice-driven assistant platform to work with the various local accents and dialects used within a country or language and avoid steering the user towards what is seen as a standardised pronunciation for that language.

What will eventually need to happen would be to allow automatic detection of a user’s accent and to work with that accent automatically when they speak, rather than requiring a user to determine which accent they are using during setup. Having to determine which accent you are using during the setup phase can be a problem for households with members that come from different regions.

I would also see efforts like Beeb end up being about local-speech “modules” for voice-driven assistant platforms that enable these platforms to support a country’s or language’s local peculiarities when it comes to regular use. It will then avoid the need for people to resort to using “standard” diction rather than the accent they are comfortable with to deal with voice assistants. Similarly, it could be about different “voicings” that maintain local characteristics for the assistant’s speech.

Who knows what this could mean for making voice-driven assistants locally relevant?

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Bouygues Télécom to get rid of the set-top box through a Samsung smart-TV app

Articles – French language / Langue française Flag of France

Bouygues Telecom s’associe à Samsung pour faire disparaître les box TV | 01Net.com

Samsung et Bouygues Telecom s’associent pour faire disparaître le décodeur TV | ZDNet.fr

My Comments

The highly-competitive French Internet and telecommunications market is drawing out another key trend regarding provision of TV service. Nearly every French telco is offering a “décodeur” set-top-box along with their modem-router “box” that is above ordinary for this class of carrier-supplied equipment. It is typically part of the deal when a customer signs up for a single-pipe triple-play Internet service with these operators.

This led to some systems like the Freebox Révolution which demonstrated high “media-centre” capability and even the Freebox Delta being the basis of a France-owned French-speaking voice-driven home assistant platform. I have also seen this level of innovation raise the bar for European personal information/communication technology sector.

But Bouygues Télécom is heading towards the smart-TV approach through the use of their B.TV app that runs on compatible Samsung smart TVs. It is in lieu of a décodeur set-top box that normally is part of the deal for watching the TV channels provided as part of these services.

The single-pipe triple-play package is expected to cost EUR€39.99 per month over a 24-month contract and is available to areas that are served by Bouygues Télécom with fibre-to-the-premises technology. Bouygues Télécom are also offering a Samsung 4K UHDTV for people who are signing up to this deal. This is the Crystal 4K UHD model with a 43” variant for EUR€49, a 55” variant for EUR€199 or a 65” variant for EUR€349.

It is part of a trend affecting the highly-competitive French ISP market to telcos to have a “set-top-box as an app” using smart-TV platforms for their n-box triple-play service, with SFR also on the bandwagon. Here, this will offer the IP-delivered linear and on-demand TV content and a lean-back user interface for the TV service through the app.

Questions that will come up with this app-based approach include whether the app will be delivered to other mobile and connected-TV/set-top-box platforms; along with the availability of a set-top-box for people to use with existing TV sets. It is although these offers will be pitched towards the ownership of certain Samsung TVs but there is the reality of older TVs being pushed to secondary viewing areas. There will also be the issue of maintaining these apps even if the TV or set-top-box manufacturer declares end-of-support on their device.

B.TV is what I would see as part of a Europe-wide effort to provide “set-top-box-free” TV service for IP-based multichannel TV providers including telcos who are part of this game. This is to avoid the need to buy a huge quantity of hardware to get one of these services off the ground.

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Telstra’s latest Mi-Fi router ticks the boxes for future-proof operation

Article Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro mobile broadband router product picture courtesy of Telstra

Telstra now have a mmWave-capable 5G hotspot | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro router

Press Release

Product Page – has latest pricing and mobile-broadband service contracts

5G mmWave Mobile Broadband Technology

White Paper

My Comments

Telstra has fronted up with their latest premium portable mobile broadband router for the 5G mobile-broadband infrastructure. But this “Mi-Fi” known as the Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro ticks all the boxes as far as being future-proof is concerned.

Here, on the WAN (Internet) side, this device supports 5G with mmWave technology while on the LAN (local network) side, it works on the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard for 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands thus bringing your mobile network up to date with the latest standards.Of course it can work with existing 4G LTE networks and exploits what Telstra has to offer in this context.  This has a 4500mAh battery that can be removed and can run for nine hours providing full data transfer. It can be charged via a USB-C connection according to the QC 3.0 protocol and the open-frame Power Delivery 2.0 protocol, meaning you can charge it with your brand-new Ultrabook’s charger or run it for a long time using a USB-C PD powerbank.

The Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro costs AUD$599 straight up. Or you could buy this device on a post-paid Telstra service plan for AUD$24.95 / month on 24-month plan plus mobile data plan the cost of the mobile-broadband data service.

What is this mmWave 5G mobile broadband all about?

The mmWave 5G mobile broadband technology is an extremely-high-frequency variant of 5G mobile broadband technology which works between 24GHz to 100GHz. Telstra’s initial trial run of this technology at Gold Coast worked on 26GHz. The same technology has been sued with various fixed point-to-point wireless links and satellite-Internet services but is use as a mobile broadband technology is what is being identified here.

Due to the very short wavelength, mmWave 5G technology will have a short operating range of a few hundred metres from the base station. This means that to cover a significant area, the service provider will need to install many “femtocell” base stations across the area and they will typically operate at a signal strength similar to a Wi-Fi access point or router. It means that the electromagnetic energy levels are 1000 times below the maximum energy level expected for safe operation.

Therefore mmWave 5G technology is pitched for operating environments where there is a high concentration of users so as to avoid “loading” very few base stations with many users, thus denying the users adequate bandwidth. This is a situation most of us will have experienced when attempting to benefit from an Internet resource on our mobile devices while on a packed commuter train.

Here, you will see this technology be used at busy public-transport interchanges including airports; event venues like convention centres or sports stadiums; or shopping centres. You may even find it being used in high-rise residential, commercial and hotel developments where there is expected to be many people within the development.

At the moment, Telstra has to license the necessary spectrum in order to set up a mmWave 5G service and will need to see other devices come on board prepared for this technology.

mmWave 5G mobile broadband will simply be pressed in to service as a complementary technology to the existing 5G mobile broadband technologies. In this case it is about highly-concentrated operating environments with many devices.

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The two-box voice-driven home assistant setup is being made real with Bluetooth

Article

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 Bluetooth smart speaker press image courtesy of Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 2nd Generation Bluetooth smart speaker that works with a smartphone or similar devicce to benefit from Amazon Alexa

B&O Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) Announced With Alexa Integration | Ubergizmo

My Comments

At the moment, there is the latest generation of the Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset that implements a software link with the Google Assistant voice driven personal assistants through its own app. Now Bang & Olufsen have come up with the Beosound A1 Second Generation battery-operated Bluetooth speaker that has integration with the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

But what are these about?

Bluetooth smart speaker diagram

How the likes of the B&O Beosound A1 work with your smartphone, tablet or computer to be a smart speaker

These are purely Bluetooth audio peripherals that connect to your smartphone which links with the Internet via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. This is usually facilitated with a manufacturer-supplied app for that device that you install on your smartphone or tablet. You will also have to install the client software for the voice-driven assistant platform if your smartphone or tablet doesn’t have inherent support for that platform.

The Bose solution primarily used their app to “map” a secondary function button on the headset to activate Google Assistant. Then the B&O approach had the Beosound A1 and your smartphone or similar mobile-platform device work together as if it is an Amazon Echo.

Why do I see this as a significant trend for “smart-speaker” and allied device use cases, especially as Google, Amazon and the Voice Interoperability Initiative want to extend their voice-driven assistant platforms to setups based around Bluetooth audio peripherals. Here it underscores the reality that the highly-capable host devices will have Internet connectivity via a mobile-broadband connection or a local-area network.

One is to allow manufacturers to provide a highly-portable approach towards using Alexa or Google Assistant while on the move. Similarly, this approach will appeal to those in the automotive and marine infotainment sector with the idea of end-users bringing their own Internet connection with them while in their car or boat but wanting to use their preferred voice-driven assistant platform there.

Some technology manufacturers may look at the idea of a two-piece setup with a specially-designed Bluetooth speaker that links with a device that is normally connected to the Internet like a set-top box or router and both devices working in a smart-speaker capacity. Here, it can be about a cost-effective smart-speaker platform or to enable the use of battery-operated devices that use battery-efficient technologies.

After what Bose and B&O are doing, it could be about bringing the idea of a two-box smart-speaker setup for voice-driven assistant platforms opening up some interesting pathways.

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Keeping those videoconferencing platforms relevant beyond the pandemic shutdown

As various jurisdictions around the world are “peeling back” the various stay-at-home restrictions once they are sure they have the coronavirus plague under control in their territory, we could easily see our love for many-to-many videoconferencing wane. It can be more so when the barriers are fully down and we are confident about going out and about, or travelling long-distance.

But these many-to-many video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms do not need to be ignored once we can go out. It is more about keeping these platforms in continual relevance beyond the workplace and as part of personal and community life.

How can you keep these platforms relevant

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Are these multi-party video conferences going to die out when the all-clear to meet face-to-face and to travel is given?

Family and friends

Do you have members of your family or community who are separated by distance? Here, each family cluster who can meet up at a particular venue in their local area can implement Zoom, Skype or a similar platform to create a wide-area meetup amongst the clusters. It can also extend to remote members of that family or community using these platforms to “call in” and join the occasion.

This situation will be very real with us taking baby steps to getting back to what we used to do, including long-distance travel. Initially long-distance travel will be put off due to fears of newer coronavirus infections on crowded transport modes like economy-class airline cabins along with countries putting off opening their borders and enabling long-distance domestic travel until they are sure that the Covid-19 beast is under control.

If one of us moves to a place that is a long distance away like overseas or interstate, these videoconferencing platforms become even more relevant as a tool to “keep in touch with home”. For example, once that person has settled in to their home, they could use a smartphone, tablet or highly-portable laptop computer to take those of us who are “at home” on a tour of their new premises.

Similarly, an event like an engagement or “wetting the new baby’s head” that is typically celebrated by small groups of relatives or friends who get together to celebrate with a toast to the lucky couple or parents can be taken further. Here, these small clusters could effectively “join up” as part of a larger virtual cluster involving the people whom the occasion is about in order to celebrate together.

Education

For education, distance learning can continue to be made relevant especially for people who can’t attend the class in person. This includes underserved rural and remote communities, people who are in hospital and similar places or itinerant students. There can also be a blended-learning approach that can be taken where a class can both be face-to-face and remote.

Teachers can use videoconferencing to teach classes at the school even if they are home due to illness, caring for relatives or similar situations. It is important for those teachers who place value in curriculum continuity for their students no matter what. Foreign-language teachers who are engaging in personal travel to the country associated with the language they are teaching can use aspects of the trip for curriculum enrichment. With this they could “call in” to their classes at home from that country and engage with the country’s locals or demonstrate its local culture and idiosyncrasies.

A school’s student-exchange program can also benefit from videoconferencing by having remote exchange students able to “call in” to their home school. With this the students could share their experiences and knowledge about the remote location with their “home” class.

To the same extent, a school could link up with one or more guest speakers so that speaker can enrich the class with extra knowledge and experiences. It can even help those schools who can’t afford frequent field trips especially long-distance trips to be able to benefit from knowledge beyond the classroom.

Community Worship

In the worship context, videoconferencing technology can be about allowing mission workers to call their home church and present their report to their home congregation by video link. It can even appeal towards multiple-campus churches who want to be part of these video links.

This technology is still relevant to those small Bible-study / prayer / fellowship groups that are effectively smaller communities within a church’s community. Here, these groups could maintain videoconferencing as a way to allow members separated from the group on a temporary basis to effectively “call in” and participate during the meetups. In some cases where one of these groups becomes too large that they “break up” to smaller groups, they could implement the many-to-many videoconferencing technologies to host larger group meetups on an occasional basis.

Of course there are the key occasions that are part of a religious community’s life like the weddings or funerals. Here, it could be feasible to provide a video link-up so that people who can’t attend the services associated with these events in person due to ill-health or long-distance can view them on line.

As well, the supporting parties associated with these events can become global shared celebrations comprising of multiple local celebration clusters using video-link technology. This is more so with families and communities who are split up by distance but want to celebrate together.

Other community organisations who thrive on being close-knit could easily see the multi-party video-conference as being relevant especially for members who are far-flung from where they usually meet. As well, those who have presence in multiple geographic areas can exploit the likes of Zoom or Skype to make ad-hoc virtual meetings that don’t cost much to organise.

What can be done

Increased support for group videocalling on the big screens

If a mobile-platform vendor has an investment in their mobile platform along with a set-top-box platform (that’s you, Apple with your iOS and Apple TV, and Google with your Android and Chromecast), they could work towards enabling their set-top platform towards group videophone functionality.

Here, this idea would require the smartphone or tablet, which has the contact list and the user-interface for the videocalling platforms like Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger; to be able to manage the calls while a camera attached to the top of the TV is linked to the set-top box which works with the videocalling platform as a screen, camera, speakers and microphone.

I wrote in a previous article about this idea and the two ways it can be done. One of these is to have a lean software interface in both devices that link the smartphone to the set-top box and have the caller’s face and voice on the TV with the camera linked to the set-top box bringing your face and voice to the caller. The smartphone would then run the videocalling platform, allowing the user to control the call from that device.

The other is to have the videocalling platform software on the set-top box with the ability to use the smartphone to manage accounts, callers and the like from its surface. This is similar to how DIAL is being used by Netflix and YouTube to permit users to “throw” content from smartphones or computers to smart TVs and set-top devices equipped with client software for these platforms.

Conclusion

The videoconferencing platforms of the Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms ilk can be of use beyond the pandemic shutdown, serving as a way to bridge distance and bring communities together.

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An unmanaged Ethernet switch engineered for media streaming now available

Article

English Electric 8Switch audiophile Ethernet switch press picture courtesy of The Chord Company

English Electric 8Switch audiophile Gigabit Ethernet switch

English Electric’s NEW 8Switch Audiophile Ethernet Switch | Audio Bacon

From the horse’s mouth

English Electric

8Switch (Product Page)

My Comments

I have covered on HomeNetworking01.info the fact that the home network is being considered part of the home audio and video scene, even in the context of high-end applications where excellence is considered paramount. This is due to the rise of  audio-video content-streaming services including Spotify and Internet radio; along with the use of DLNA/UPnP-AV to facilitate the use of network-attached storage devices to share multimedia with dedicated home AV equipment. Have a look at these articles, and this one highlighting the Naim NDX audiophile network media player in order to see what I am about with this trend.

Naim NDS network audio player

… fit or audiophile network media players like the Naim NDX and NDS network media players

In the UK, where there is a significant small industry around esoteric hi-fi, a company has come forward with an unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch optimised for streaming multimedia, especially high-end music content. It is one of the first network-infrastructure devices targeted to the home or other small networks that is optimised for this purpose.

English Electric, a historic electrical-engineering brand resurrected by the Chord audiophile hi-fi connections brand, has answered the reality of the home network being part of a hi-fi setup. This is due to streaming content services like Internet radio, Spotify and Tidal along with the use of NAS units and DLNA-compliant network media players to play master-quality audio files through hi-fi setups.

Dish Joey 4K set-top box press picture courtesy of Dish Networks America

or set-top boxes and smart TVs associated with Netflix and similar online video services

This switch, known as the 8Switch, has been engineered for high data-packet reliability and resistance to electrical noise and mechanical vibration.

It uses a power supply of a similar standard to what would be used to power medical equipment in a hospital which is about providing clean reliable smooth power to the device while keeping AC-borne electrical interference out of the circuitry and network. The aluminium housing is designed to isolate the circuitry from surrounding mechanical vibration to assure reliable operation. Even the Ethernet sockets are optimised for high reliability and low noise in order to satisfy demanding audiophile/multimedia applications.

The clock circuitry that sequences the flow of data through the switch is specially optimised for real-time media streaming. This is thanks to a highly-optimised custom-designed crystal oscillator that assures high accuracy and reduced electrical noise, which yields reduced jitter and packet loss.

At the moment, the English Electric 8Switch is available in the UK for GBP£450 and is being sold through some UK-based hi-fi boutiques who sell Chord high-end audio cables. They will even throw in one of Chord’s audiophile/multimedia-grade Ethernet patch cords so you can connect it to your home network or a network AV component with the right cable.

Chord initially pitches the English Electric 8Switch being pitched to be used as a regional switch to interlink a cluster of network-enabled AV components include a NAS like a ripping NAS used primarily for storing multimedia content. It would be uplinked to your existing home-network router for Internet access when it comes to using streaming services or the rest of your home network.

I also see it of benefit for small-business and community-organisation audio/video setups that are heading towards using IP networks as an interconnection method. This would include those churches heading towards online livestreaming of services or small production teams using the latest network-based audio-video technology. It can even appeal to broadcast-LAN subsystems like Sat>IP where you are using multiple devices and want assured reliability for your devices’ network connection.

The English Electric 8Switch is another example of a home-network Ethernet switch that has been designed for a specific niche and devices like this could pave the way for companies to design network-infrastructure hardware that answer these specific needs.

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The Dell XPS 13 is now seen as the benchmark for Windows Ultrabooks

Other reviews in the computer press

The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake edition – what has defined the model as far as what it offers

Dell XPS 13 (2019) review: | CNet

Dell XPS 13 (2019) Review | Laptop Mag

Dell XPS 13 (2019) review: the right stuff, refined | The Verge

Review: Dell XPS 13 (2019) | Wired

Dell XPS 13 review (2020) | Tom’s Guide

Previous coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

A 13” traditional laptop found to tick the boxes

Dell’s XPS 13 convertible laptop underscores value for money for its class

This year’s computing improvements from Dell (2019)

Reviews of previous generations of the Dell XPS 13

Clamshell variants

First generation (Sandy Bridge)

2017 Kaby Lake

2018 8th Generation

2-in-1 convertible variants

2017 Kaby Lake

My Comments

Of late, the personal-IT press have identified a 13” ultraportable laptop computer that has set a benchmark when it comes to consumer-focused computers of that class. This computer is the Dell XPS 13 family of Ultrabooks which are a regular laptop computer family that runs Windows and is designed for portability.

What makes these computers special?

A key factor about the way Dell had worked on the XPS 13 family of Ultrabooks was to make sure the ultraportable laptops had the important functions necessary for this class of computer. They also factored in the durability aspect because if you are paying a pretty penny for a computer, you want to be sure it lasts.

As well, it was all part of assuring that the end-user got value for money when it came to purchasing an ultraportable laptop computer.

In a previous article that I wrote about the Dell XPS 13, I compared it to the National Panasonic mid-market VHS videocassette recorders offered since the mid 1980s to the PAL/SECAM (Europe, Australasia, Asia) market; and the Sony mid-market MiniDisc decks offered through the mid-late 1990s. Both these product ranges were worked with the focus on offering the features and performance that count for most users at a price that offers value for money and is “easy to stomach”.

Through the generations, Dell introduced the very narrow bezel for the screen but this required the typical camera module to be mounted under the screen. That earnt some criticism in the computing press due to it “looking up at the user’s nose”. For the latest generation, Dell developed a very small camera module that can exist at the top of the screen but maintain the XPS 13’s very narrow bezel.

The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook variant

The Dell XPS 13 is able to be specified with the three different Intel Core CPU grades (i3, i5 and i7) and users could specify it to be equipped with a 4K UHD display option. The ultraportable laptop will have Intel integrated graphics infrastructure but the past two generations of the Dell XPS 13 are equipped with two Thunderbolt 3 ports so you can use it with an external graphics module if you want improved graphics performance.

There was some doubt about Dell introducing a 2-in-1 convertible variant of the XPS 13 due to it being perceived as a gimmick rather than something that is of utility. But they introduced the convertible variant of this Ultrabook as part of the 2017 Kaby Lake generation. It placed Dell in a highly-competitive field of ultraportable convertible computers and could easily place a focus towards “value-focused” 2-in-1 ultraportables.

What will this mean for Dell and the personal computer industry?

Dell XPS 13 9380 Webcam detail press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Thin Webcam circuitry atop display rectifies the problem associated with videocalls made on the Dell XPS 13

The question that will come about is how far can Dell go towards improving this computer. At the moment, it could be about keeping each generation of the XPS 13 Ultrabook in step with the latest mobile-focused silicon and mobile-computing technologies. They could also be ending up with a 14” clamshell variant of this computer for those of us wanting a larger screen size for something that comfortably fits on the economy-class airline tray table.

For the 2-in-1 variant, Dell could even bring the XPS 13 to a point where it is simply about value for money compared to other 13” travel-friendly convertible ultraportables. Here, they would underscore the features that every user of that class of computer needs, especially when it comes to “on-the-road” use, along with preserving a durable design.

Other computer manufacturers will also be looking at the Dell XPS 13 as the computer to match, if not beat, when it comes to offering value for money in their 13” travel-friendly clamshell ultraportable range. This can include companies heavily present in particular market niches like enterprise computing who will use what Dell is offering and shoehorn it to their particular niche.

Best value configuration suggestions

Most users could get by with a Dell XPS 13 that uses an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM and at least 256Gb solid-state storage. You may want to pay more for an i7 CPU and/or 16Gb RAM if you are chasing more performance or to spend more on a higher storage capacity if you are storing more data while away.

If there is an expectation to use your XPS 13 on the road, it would be wise to avoid the 4K UHD screen option due to the fact that this resolution could make your Ultrabook more thirstier to run on its own battery.

The 2-in-1 convertible variant is worth considering if you are after this value-priced ultraportable in a “Yoga-style” convertible form.

Conclusion

What I have found through my experience with the Dell XPS 13 computers along with the computer-press write-ups about them is that Dell has effectively defined a benchmark when it comes to an Intel-powered travel-friendly ultraportable laptop computer.

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How to go about buying a performance-focused computer

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming performance-focused laptop computer

Increasingly, every computer manufacturer is offering one or more product ranges in their regular-computer lineups that is focused towards high-performance personal computing. This is alongside their regular-computer product ranges that are focused towards ordinary computing tasks like word-processing, presentations, Web browsing and multimedia consumption.

What is a performance-focused computer

A performance-focused computer is a computer, typically a regular computer that runs a desktop operating system, that is engineered for high performance at demanding computer tasks. This is compared to ordinary computers which are engineered to work with the typical workload of computing tasks that most of us do in a manner that is expected for today’s standards.

Such computers will have highly-powerful main CPU and graphics processor chips along with copious amounts of RAM memory that runs at high speed. The storage devices, whether mechanical hard disk or solid-state, will be optimised to load and save lots of data very quickly. The peripheral-interface and network-interface chipsets in these systems will typically be engineered for high throughput between the computer and the connected peripherals or networks.

How did these evolve?

Gaming rig

An example of those gaming-rig desktop computers

Computer enthusiasts who were into games, multimedia, CAD, statistics or similar demanding tasks would improve their computers for higher performance. This is to provide smoother gameplay, quicker graphics rendering or quicker calculations.

It was part of effective competition by the various computer manufacturers to achieve increasingly-powerful personal computer products. This goal came about due to the acceptance of graphical user interfaces and graphics-rich computing for business and pleasure during the 1980s and 1990s.

For example, games enthusiasts would work on building the fastest games-focused computers that were commonly described as gaming rigs. This was like motor enthusiasts engaging in “souping up” or tuning their cars to become high-performance “hot-rods” or “street machines”.

As well, the computer software focused towards computer graphics, statistics, multimedia and allied fields and was used as part of day-to-day work became increasingly sophisticated. This required the computers to work under strenuous loads and manufacturers had to design workstation computers to handle these workloads.

Previously the perfornamce-focused computer was offered as the traditional “three-piece” system with a dedicated system unit that housed the “brains” of the computer i.e. the main CPU processor, graphics infrastructure, RAM memory and data storage while the keyboard, pointing device and display were separate units connected to this device. Now this class of computer is evolving towards portable laptop computers and “all-in-one” computers that have the “brains” of the system and the display in the same box, leading towards user-friendly setups for this kind of computing.

In the case of laptops, the performance-focused models came about in the form of “multimedia laptops” which were focused towards a wide range of tasks involving creating or consuming multimedia content. These typically had dedicated graphics infrastructure and, in some cases, high-performance sound infrastructure; along with high-performance processors, generous RAM and high-speed hard disks. Now they are in the form of gaming laptops, prosumer / content-creator laptops and mobile workstations.

Performance computer types

Gaming computers

These computers don’t just have high-speed CPUs, plenty of high-speed RAM and dedicated graphics infrastructure. Here, the combination of components installed in these computers is focused towards quick response during games, especially action-type games with increased player interaction with the characters of the game.

Initially these computers were aggressively styled in a similar manner to hot-rod cars in order to appeal to the core gaming community. But today most manufacturers are styling the computers in a similar manner to their regular mainstream laptop products. Here this practice is very similar to how most vehicle builders are offering their performance-tuned variants of common passenger cars like the Mini Cooper S or the Holden Monaro.

They can work well for most graphics or multimedia software but the software vendors don’t count on these computers delivering the high-performance that their software would need to work. It is because most of this software is required to engage in processes that are of a hands-off nature like “joining” desired parts of a film clip in to a cohesive sequence.

Prosumer / content-creator computers

These prosumer computers like the Lenovo Creator family have the high-speed silicon infrastructure optimised to quickly handle process-driven work with minimal changes to whatever appears on the screen. In some cases, they would be “certified” by consumer / hobbyist / entry-level business graphics and multimedia software vendors to perform at their best.

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15" clamshell laptop press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15″ clamshell prosumer / content-creator laptop

The manufacturers who make these computers are offering them as an affordable gap-filler between their gaming computers and the workstations, especially for those of us who don’t have the budget to hire a specialist IT team.

Here, they are pitched at hobbyists, bloggers and freelance content creators who want to create multimedia content and be sure of optimum performance without having to pay through the nose for a high-specification workstation computer. This is because most of the software pitched at this user class doesn’t have high expectations compared to the software offered to larger businesses.

Workstation computers

The workstation computer is typically focused towards larger businesses where the use of demanding software is part of a person’s daily job. These have very high performance silicon for the main system and the graphics infrastructure that is optimised for these high workloads.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

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

These would be certified by the likes of Autodesk to work with highly-demanding software like AutoCAD at their best. They also have enterprise-focused features like manageability or high-security features with such features being pitched towards IT managers optimising them towards their company’s needs.

What does it mean for a high-performance computer to be certified?

For a high-performance computer, especially a workstation, to be “certified” by a software vendor to work with their software, the computer design has to pass tests that the vendor performs regarding its reliability and performance with their software. It brings an express guarantee of compatibility, reliability and performance regarding the computer’s ability to run the software in question and the software vendor is more likely to support users who are using these certified computers.

A computer that isn’t certified to work with the highly-demanding software in question can run the software but the user cannot expect it to run reliably for their day-to-day tasks. Some of these vendors may not even provide full support for the software running on these systems.

Which kind of high-performance computer would suit different users

People who are focusing on high-performance gaming including eSports would be best to stick with gaming computers as their computer of choice. Here, they are not expecting more than quick response from their game’s characters. The other high-performance computer types will also be able to work well with games, which can allow those who use these systems for their work to use them for rest and relaxation with their favourite “regular-computer” game.

Often it is recommended for a student to invest in a high-performance computer if their coursework involves the use of demanding software associated with their target profession like CAD or statistics packages. But there is the factor that a student may not be showing interest in completing the course they initially intend to complete and following on with the career associated with the demanding software.

It may be better for them to use a gaming computer or a content-creator / prosumer computer that can run the software that is part of their coursework. Similarly a prior-generation workstation computer refurbished by computer technicians can also suit their needs. This is more so if the software is an entry-level class of program that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of something one would use as part of their duties. These software vendors license this software to students at relatively-cheap prices while they are studying their courses.

A photo or video hobbyist or similar content creator could get by with a gaming computer if they are doing their work on an ad-hoc basis. But if they do this kind of work more frequently, they could get by with a prosumer / content-creator machine especially if they use the hobbyist / entry-level business-grade content creation software.

A workstation would be considered of value for those of us who are intending to use the demanding software as a regular part of our primary paid work. If you work for yourself, you may find it ideal to omit the manageability features from these systems or allow these features to work with a computer vendor that provides the full-on support that takes advantage of the features.

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

External grpahics modules like the Akitio Node can allow a user to use fit-for-purpose graphics cards with their existing Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptop, all-in-one or low-profile computer

If the computer in question has the ability to be upgraded for better performance, you may head towards the more advanced performance levels easily without throwing away your existing system. This is exemplified by traditional desktops equipped with standard-form user-replaceable display cards and user-upgradeable CPUs and RAM chips, or laptops and “all-in-one” computers equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports so they can work with “card-cage” external graphics modules that accept desktop-grade display cards.

Conclusion

Increasingly computer manufacturers are identifying out and differentiating their lineups of high-performance computer systems pitched for games and advanced computing tasks. Here, you need to be able to choose the right high-performance computer system to suit your task that demands that kind of power.

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