Author: simonmackay

Gift Idea – Laptop desk for use in bed

Product Listing – Officeworks Australia

J Burrows lap desk product image courtesy of Officeworks Australia

This J Burrows lap desk which can be used with your laptop computer is available through Officeworks Australia. Similar desks may be available through other office-supply or similar stores.

Reading Portable Laptop Table – Oak and Black (AUD$29)

My Comments

You may find that your local office-supply superstore chain offers a “bed desk” that allows you to use your laptop computer while you are in bed or on the couch. This is something worth having for someone who is ill or convalescing and has to stay in bed, or it could allow one to use that laptop on the couch while you are working or playing games. Some of these can even become a surface to rest a keyboard on or move a mouse around if you have your computer resting on the coffee table.

These accessories are very important when it comes to using a laptop or similar regular computer running a desktop operating system while you are in bed or on a couch. A situation I have witnessed for myself with a child using a laptop for playing games and lying on a bed was an increased risk of overheating while the computer is on a bed. This is because the blankets, doona (comforter or duvet) and quilt can easily stifle any ventilation that is designed in to the laptop.

J Burrows lap desk used with a laptop computer on a couch - product image courtesy of Officeworks Australia

These kind of desks can be used with your laptop and on a sofa

In the living room, these bed desks will earn their keep when you use them on the couch or armchair for eating, taking notes or using a portable computer. This is more important when you have no table space near the couch to place your laptop on while you aren’t using the computer. As well, you aren’t tempted to place your laptop computer on the couch where it is at risk of being sat on and damaged or overheating due to being nestled in or rested on scatter cushions.

This one which Officeworks Australia offers under their J Burrows private label, that I am highlighting has swing-out metal legs so it straddles over you or a typical seat space on a sofa and has a swing-up panel for if you wanted a desireable working angle. That is something that may come in handy for reading or if you use a tablet or a 2-in-1 in tablet mode.

Of course having it lie flat is important not just for use as a food-service tray but if you are using it with a laptop or or use a 2-in-1 convertible in the “viewer”, “tent” or “laptop” modes. This brings forth the flexibility that this particular bed table offers. The Officeworks design identified here has no flanges at the back that rise above the top of the desk thus allowing for the laptop computer to cool itself effectively.

It is also worth paying attention to other “bed desks” or tray tables which can sit on a bed or couch if you are wanting something that suits your needs better. Here, they could be found at homewares stores, office-supply stores or the second-hand market especially at op-shops (thrift stores) or jumble sales.

If you buy any of these on the second-hand market, make sure that the tables are still intact can collapse and expand properly and smoothly when they want to. Here, it may be a good idea to try them out at the store or sale before you part with them, including expanding them and placing something as heavy as a loaded food tray or a laptop on the tray to make sure they don’t collapse under weight.

The tray-table that straddles across a bed or couch can be considered viable as we use computer technology in an increasingly-portable manner.

Send to Kindle

Amazon Alexa to support voice-activated printing

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon has improved on the way you can order documents to be printed via the Echo or Alexa-compatible device

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Alexa

Introducing: Alexa Print (Product Page)

What Can I Print (Product Page with Key phrases)

My Comments

Initially, Amazon partnered with HP to offer voice-activated document printing. That is where you could ask Alexa to print out colouring pages, sudoku puzzles, ruled paper and the like. But this tied HP’s ePrint documents-on-demand ecosystem to the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform and limited this feature to HP ePrint-capable network printers. Some other manufacturers then bound their online printing functionality to Amazon Alexa so as to provide some form of voice-driven printing functionality.

Brother DCP-J562DW multifunction printer positioning image

.. even through printers like this Brother DCP-J562DW multi-function printer

Now Amazon evolved this feature to work with any network printer that supports IPP-based driver-free printing. That is usually a machine that supports Apple AirPrint or the Mopria driver-free printing protocols, which encompasses most of the printers made over the last five years. Here, the documents would be held on or constructed by Amazon’s servers rather than on HP’s servers.

To get going, you have to say “Alexa, discover my printer” to get started. This would have your Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-capable device discover any network printer on the same logical network as itself. On the other hand, you could use the Alexa app to discover the printer. This would require you to tap the “+” icon then select “Add Device”, then choose “Printer” as the device class to add. It will list any compatible printers on your home network so you can add them.

The Alexa app gives you fine-grained control so you can rename printers like the “Upstairs printer” or “Kitchen printer”; or allow you to delete or disable discovery of specific machines.

Amazon has, at the moment, partnered with particular publishers to offer printable items and has set up some basic printable items like ruled paper, arithmetic worksheets and the like to get you going. There is the ability to turn out crosswords including their answers along with recipes, which may be a rough-shot.

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium business inkjet multifunction printer

.. or this HP OfficeJet 6700 desktop multifunction printer

It also ties in with the ability for you to use Alexa to buy first-party (genuine) ink or toner for your printer through their online storefront. Here, it will know which cartridges fit your machine, but the question is whether there will be the ability for you to specify standard-yield or high-yield consumables. That is because some manufacturers like HP and Brother offer their consumables in differing yield levels which may suit your needs or budget better.

At the moment, the number of printable resources will be limited until Amazon encourages Alexa Skills developers to build out Skills for this platform that support printing. Here, it could he things like asking for a rail timetable to be printed out or Amazon could even exploit Alexa Print to facilitate transactional printing like turning out tickets and boarding passes.

It will be interesting to see whether Google or Apple will bind the driver-free printing platforms that they own or partner with and their voice-driven assistant platforms to allow this kind of printing using them.

Send to Kindle

Gateway computers to come back to the US market with a vengeance

Article

Gateway Is Back and Making Laptops | Gizmodo

Gateway PCs return as Walmart exclusives, priced from $200 to $1200 | PC World

Holy cow! Gateway laptops return via Walmart exclusive | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Walmart USA

Product Listing with prices

My Comments

Gateway, initially known as Gateway 2000, was a computer brand associated with affordable DOS/Windows personal computer packages that conveyed an increasing amount of value for money. This meant that you could get something decent and reliable for a price you wouldn’t quibble about.

Here, this company assembled the computers within the USA and sold them through bricks-and-mortar computer stores through a significant number of cities in North America. It is similar to how Radio Shack operated around the world through the 1970s and 1980s where you could get a decent piece of equipment at an affordable price. This happened from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s but they were known for a particular brand identity.

This identity was conveyed in the products’ packaging using spots associated with some dairy-cow breeds, relating to the company kicking off in rural America. As well, they ran multi-page ads in the various American computer magazines which effectively told a story and set a scene that related to American life through the years while advertising the various computer specials.

But it was taken over by Acer and subsequently extinguished. Bow Gateway has made a comeback to the USA market with a range of Windows laptops and Android tablets being sold at affordable prices.

Gateway equipment will end up being sold through Walmart, as part of the brand’s original vision to sell through a bricks-and-mortar storefront. It is very similar to how some of the consumer-electronics brands we have loved and reminisce about like AWA or Rank Arena are being sold – exclusively through particular big-box discount-store chains. Some people see this approach of bringing hack these classic brands, often associated with decent value-for-money goods, as a way for retailers to evoke nostalgia that surrounds them. This kind of brand comeback occurs during hard times as people seek comfort in the nostalgia of prior brands

In other countries for example, Aldi is doing something very similar by selling some computers and consumer electronics equipment through their discount supermarkets under their own Medion or Tevion brands.

The Windows-powered laptop range offered by Gateway will use Intel or AMD CPU and NVIDIA RTX graphics horsepower and be available at the different performance classes expected of today’s laptops. There will also be mobile-platform tablets that run Android in Gateway’s product line.

For example, their Ultra Thin series of laptop computers starts at USD$200 for a machine kitted out with a 11.6” Full HD screen, and an AMD A4 processor at least.. Here, a decent machine would set you back around US$500 and give you an Intel Core i5 current-spec CPU, 16Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage, 14.1” Full HD screen and an HD webcam. The most expensive option would be a multimedia laptop for US$999 having a 15.6” screen and performance specifications for gaming and content creation. This one even has NVIDIA RTX 2060 GPU for its graphics infrastructure.

This return to form by Gateway is being seen as viable due to reinvigorated market interest in regular computers especially laptops, and mobile-platform tablets being used at home. This is due to COVID-19 driving us more to work, run our businesses or study from home and we are relying on these devices for these activities including the many Zoom calls we make.

This will open up a stronger interest in second-tier brands including retailers’ private labels and distributor-exclusive labels stepping up to the plate when it comes to offering value-priced open-platform computing equipment for consumers.

Send to Kindle

Dell jumps on the prosumer bandwagon with the XPS Creator Edition computers

Articles

Dell XPS 17 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

Dell is offering variants of the latest XPS 17 desktop-replacement laptop that will be pitched at prosumers and content creators

What is Dell’s XPS 17 ‘Creator Edition?’ | Windows Central

Dell Reveals Redesigned XPS 15 and Powerful New XPS 17 Aimed at Creators | Petapixel

Dell’s new XPS Desktop looks to be a premium powerhouse PC | PC World Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 17 Series (USA product page with Creator Edition packages)

XPS Desktop series (USA product page with Creator Edition packages)

NVIDIA

RTX Studio program (Product Page)

My Comments

As I have previously reported, computer-equipment manufacturers are waking up to the realisation that prosumers and content creators are a market segment to address. This group of users was heavily courted by Apple with the MacOS platform but Windows-based computer vendors are answering this need as a significant amount of advanced content-creation and content-presentation software is being written for or ported to Windows 10.

Here, the vendors are shoehorning computer specifications for some of their performance-focused computers towards the kind of independent content creator or content presenter who seeks their own work and manages their own IT. This can range from hobbyists to those of us who create online content to supplement other activities towards small-time professionals who get work “by the job”. It can also appeal to small-time organisations who create or present content but don’t necessarily have their own IT departments or have the same kind of IT department that big corporations have.

Lenovo answered this market with a range of prosumer computers in the form of the Creator Series which encompassed two laptops and a traditional tower-style desktop. Now Dell is coming up to the plate with their Creator Edition computer packages. Here, this approach is to have computers that are specifiied for content creation or content presentation but aren’t workstation-class machines identified with a distinct “Creator Edition” logo.

The first of these are the Creator Edition variants of the latest Dell XPS 17 desktop-replacement laptop. These have, for their horsepower, an Intel Core i7-10875H CPU and a discrete GPU in the form of the NVIDIA GeForce RTX-2060 with 6Gb display memory, based on the NVIDIA Max-Q mobile graphics approach. This will run RTX Studio graphics drivers that are tuned for content-professional use and will be part of the RTX Studio program that NVIDIA runs for content professionals.

The display used in these packages is a 17” 4K UHD touch display that is rated for 100% Adobe RGB colour accuracy. The storage capacity on these computers is 1 Terabyte in the form of a solid-state disk. The only difference between the two packages is that the cheaper variant will run with 16Gb system RAM and the premium variant having 32Gb system RAM.

Dell is also offering a Creator Edition variant of its XPS-branded desktop computer products. This will be in the form of a traditional tower-style desktop computer but is equipped with the latest Intel Core i9 CPU, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card and able to be specced with RAM up to 64Gb and storage of up to 2Tb. It has all the expandability of a traditional form-factor desktop computer, something that would come in handy for project studios where special audio and video interface cards come in to play.

What is being shown up here is that computer manufacturers are recognising the content-creator and prosumer market segment who wants affordable but decent hardware that can do the job. It will be interesting to see who else of the large computer manufacturers will come up to the plate and have a product range courting the content creators and prosumers.

Send to Kindle

Amazon to get property managers on the Alexa bus

Article

Alexa for Residential lets landlords create smart apartments | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

A new, easy way for properties to add Alexa to residential buildings (Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

Amazon is wooing owners corporations, property managers, whole-building landlords and the like towards a customised Alexa experience for residential buildings.

This is expected to be about catering towards people who want the “smart home” within their rented apartment or condominium / strata-plan apartment. It will also be about courting the retirement living, supported accommodation and serviced apartment segments where there are people who support or provide services to residents who live in their own apartments.

This will involve the ability for a property manager or similar entity to purchase and deploy a fleet of pre-programmed Echo smart speakers that work with the pre-provisioned Wi-Fi network and smart-home devices. There will be the ability for these entities to have the Echo devices loaded with off-the-peg or custom Alexa Skills to suit the building’s and residents’ needs. Examples of these could include booking of communal facilities, paying rent or other dues, knowing when building-specific events are scheduled or providing feedback to the property manager or similar entity. It may also be about interlinking entryphone systems to the Alexa device so you can use it to communicate with your visitors and let them in if desired.

At the turnkey level, these Alexa devices will support what the property manager has pre-defined within them and support access to online information and audio services. But users can add their Amazon account to these devices to carry over all Alexa-platform customisations they have established to these speakers. That includes all of the Alexa Skills that the user is currently using with their Alexa platform devices.

As far as I know, these devices will keep users’ data away from the landlords or property managers, assuring some form of user privacy. For turnkey setups, the voice data is purged daily from the speakers, while a “brick wall” exists between the user’s Amazon account data and all pre-configuration data associated with the property. But there are still doubts about any IT service that the likes of Amazon, Google or Facebook offer due to their disdain for end-user privacy.

There will also be the ability for the property manager to remotely reset a device they are responsible for, something that would be important for whenever the residents move out. As well, there will be the ability to run custom skills while an apartment is vacant thus catering for things like guided tours or question-and-answer sessions for prospective tenants / purchasers.

A question that I would have regarding the Alexa for Residential platform is how this kind of setup would work with the “BYO Internet service” arrangement common in countries like Australasia, UK or Europe. It is where residents who are living in their apartments for the long term will choose and set up their own Internet service and home network rather than having their landlord, property manager or similar entity provide and set up this service. Here, it may be about having these devices able to work with the building’s services using the resident’s network and Internet service.

Similarly, how would it cope with residents installing additional Alexa-platform audio devices and wanting to “bind” them to both their own Amazon account and the Alexa For Residential deployment’s configurations. It may be about use of an additional Echo device in another room or to use something like the Echo Show in lieu of the standard Echo speaker that is part of the original setup. There may also be a requirement to support the concurrent use of two Amazon accounts for Alexa platform devices.

To the same extent, there would be the issue of residents bringing in smart appliances like lamps, A/V equipment, robotic vacuum cleaners and the like that suit their needs. In a lot of cases, it is about the users wanting to have their home how they want it and there may be expectations to have the resident-supplied equipment work as though it is part of the whole system.

At the moment, the Amazon Alexa for Residential platform needs to be worked out to answer different residential setup needs, especially to suit the needs of long-term residents.

Send to Kindle

Multi-gigabit wired network connections for small networks could be real

Articles

WD MyNet Switch rear Ethernet connections

The next affordable unmanaged Ethernet switch will soon appear as a multi-gigabit type

The cheapest multi-gigabit switches (2.5G, 5, & 10Gbps) you can buy now – Affordable 10GbE & 2.5GbE networking | Just Android (UK)

My Comments

A trend that is starting to appear is the increased availability of multi-gigabit wired network hardware at reasonable prices. This is a trend that will continue to appear over the next few years.

Examples of this include affordable PCI Express network interface cards for traditional desktop computers and USB3 Ethernet adaptors that support 2.5Gb network speeds.These will use Category 5 cable and RJ45 modular plugs.

It also extends to standard-form-factor motherboards for “three-box” desktop computers being pitched at the performance end of the market being equipped with multi-gigabit Ethernet connections.

As well, newer high-end Synology and QNAP network-attached-storage units are being equipped with the ability for users to upgrade their device’s network connection to 2.5Gb Ethernet at a reasonable price. This is in conformance with the way Synology and QNAP are designing their NAS units to be computers in their own right.

Let’s not forget that some affordable Ethernet switches are appearing with at least one 2.5Gb Ethernet connection like this 5-port unmanaged unit from QNAP. The use of extant Category 5 cabling infrastructure for a 2.5Gb Ethernet run means that you don’t have to pull new cabling through to upgrade an existing “wired-for-Ethernet” installation to that speed.

Of course the 10Gb idea will be seen as more expensive because of the use of newer cable types that support the higher bandwidth. A cabling upgrade of this kind can be done to an existing “wired-for-Ethernet” setup with the legacy cable being used to pull the newer cable type through. This avoids the need to drill through walls to replace new cable.

What do I see as driving the takeup of multiple-gigabit Ethernet networks for home and small business use?

One of these trends is Wi-Fi 6 wireless networks having the possibility of multiple-gigabit speeds. Here, you could use high-performance Wi-Fi 6 access points, including distributed-wireless systems supporting that technology, with a multi-gigabit Ethernet as a wired-network backhaul for those access points. This is especially if you want stable operation from a multi-AP Wi-Fi 6 network.

As well, some countries and neighbourhoods are laying the groundwork for high-speed Internet. This is through strong efforts to increase the penetration of fibre-optic next-generation broadband infrastructure through a neighbourhood, with cities and towns wanting to claim bragging rights to “Gigabit City” or “Gigabit Town” titles. That is where every household or business has the ability to have Internet bandwidth of at least 1Gbps.

The bar for these communities will then be raised to multiple-gigabit levels through “in-rack” upgrades done to existing fibre-optic networks. This is where a network is upgraded simply with the upgrading of network infrastructure electronics that exists in the equipment racks at ISP central offices, headends and exchanges. It is rather than rolling out trucks and digging up roads to pull new fibre-optic cable through a neighbourhood.

Another is the increased ubiquity of 4K UHDTV with an increased number of affordable sets with the right screen size pitched for the entry-level or  secondary-lounge-area/bedroom use appearing on the market. It would lead to multiple 4K UHDTV sets being installed around a house. This is underscored by an increased number of video-on-demand services delivering 4K UHDTV content with reasonable subscription prices in the case of SVOD services. This will lead to concurrent viewing of 4K video content in multiple-adult households.

Infact the multiple-adult household is being seen as the norm especially in urban areas where land prices are increasing rapidly. This is because housing, whether to own or rent, will become very expensive for a young couple in these areas. Similarly, there is the appeal of multiple-generation living with a family living with their older parents. It facilitates the concept of “ageing at home” which avoids the need for older parents who need extra care being sent to questionable aged-care facilities.

Another key driver is the rise of content creators working from home with their jobs involving large files. Examples of this would include video content with a resolution of 4K or higher, or multichannel / multitrack sound mixes. Such users, especially those who work for themselves on a “job-by-job” basis or use this to support a hobby or other endeavour are now considered a key market segment for personal IT. As well, it is even driven by the COVID-19 pandemic which has had us work from home more.

What will hinder the takeup of this kind of connection

At the moment, the main hindrance to multiple-Gigabit wired Ethernet being ubiquitous is the current-generation Internet connection offered to most people. This includes the routers, modems and other equipment installed at the customers’ premises.

As well, use cases associated with multiple-gigabit Ethernet need to be demonstrated to the greater populace in order to justify this concept. This may be about including a higher-throughput backbone for Wi-Fi 6 distributed-Wi-Fi applications, having a network that handles multiple 4K UHDTV streams or simply being ready for higher-bandwidth broadband Internet service.

How should you go about this kind of upgrade?

A content professional, whether working for someone else or running their own shop, would justify this kind of network. It is more so where large multimedia files are the norm for the work. This can also extend to other professionals like architects and designers who are dealing with large files.

But it can be seen as a long-term wired-network upgrade goal especially if you are wanting to create a high-speed trunk link between multiple network-device clusters. This can be facilitated with a single few-port multiple-gigabit switch at the “hub” of your home network and a few Gigabit Ethernet switches which have one multiple-Gigabit Ethernet socket on them at each “branch” of the network. Here, this creates a “data freeway” between the different clusters. Even if you start out with the single few-port multiple-gigabit switch at the hub of your home network’s wired Ethernet segment, it will be about the switch creating its own “high-performance data freeway” within itself.

Such a setup can also come in to its own if you are upgrading a Wi-Fi 6 network to access points that are capable of using that kind of connection for a wired-backhaul option.

The 10 Gigabit tecbnology will also appeal to people who are considering an optical-fibre LAN link like a robust link between a house and an outbuilding. Here, such a link will satisfy future needs and avoid the problem of an inter-building link becoming unstable due to weather conditions. Such links could go up to 300 metres for multimode fibre or 40 kilometres for single-mode fibre which is more costly.

Conclusion

The idea behind the affordable multi-gigabit Ethernet technology for local area networks is to provide an upgrade path for wired network infrastructure to support higher bandwidth. It is more useful as a long-term upgrade approach or whenever you are dealing with many large files.

Send to Kindle

How do I use an XBox One game controller with my Windows computer?

Article

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

You can use the same XBox One controller with your Windows computer as well as that console

How to use an Xbox One controller with your PC | Windows Central

My Comments

If you do play games using your Windows computer, you may want to use a game controller as a better alternative to the keyboard and mouse or trackpad. This may be of importance with most fast-paced games where games-console-style controllers may suit you better.

The same game controllers that work with Microsoft’s XBox One games console can work with your Windows computer out of the box. This is without needing to add any extra drivers to your Windows setup.

It doesn’t matter what form factor the controllers come in so that flight-yoke or steering-wheel controllers designed for the XBox One can work with Windows computers. As well, the XBox Adaptive Controller which brought video gaming to those with limited abilities can also work with Windows computers.

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

This also applies to the XBox Adaptive Controller and its custom switches that opens up gaming for those of us with limited mobility

For that matter, the XBox Adaptive Controller could open up the same kind of real-world-interface programming that was pitched during the 1980s for computers of the BBC Micro or Commodore 64 ilk. This would be feasible if you know how to write XBox controller functionality in to the software you are developing.

Physical connections

Wired setup

This is very simple if you have a full-function “charge and sync” Micro-USB cable on hand of the type that was used to charge or transfer data to “open-frame” mobile devices. These will typically have a standard USB Type-A connection which will work with most computers.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock product image courtesy of Dell

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks and adaptors like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock can allow you to use the XBox One game controllers with your newer laptop’s USB-C port

If your computer uses USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 as its only peripheral connection option, you can buy a USB-C to Micro-USB cable  (Amazon, Harvey Norman) and use that instead of the aforementioned USB-A to MicroUSB cable for connecting your controller. Or you simply use a USB-C adaptor with a USB-A female socket with your existing cable for your USB-C-based computer. As well, if you use the computer with a USB-C hub or dock that has at least one USB-A port, you can use the ordinary Micro-USB cable with that setup.

You may also find that connecting two controllers directly to the host or via a USB hub may work for local multiplayer games.

Wireless setup

Older XBox One game controllers will need to be used with a Microsoft XBox Wireless Adaptor which is a USB transceiver dongle for XBox One game controllers. This plugs in to any USB Type-A port on your computer but look at the notes in the above secton about wired setups if your computer just has USB-C ports.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

If your computer like this Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop supports Bluetooth, you don’t need to use a receiver dongle if you use very recent XBox controllers

If your computer supports Bluetooth which most laptops, all-in-ones and low-profile computers do; current-generation game controllers will support Bluetooth connectivity. It also holds true if you are using a Bluetooth adaptor dongle or expansion card with your desktop computer that doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity. In all these cases, you have to be sure that your computer’s Bluetooth functionality is turned on and active.

Pairing your games controller with your Windows computer is very simple, but you have to have the games controller turned off beforehand. This typically asks you to open “Settings” in Windows by clicking on the “gear” icon in the Start menu. Then you click the Devices option which has your computer able to listen for devices about to “come online”.

Press the large X button on your XBox games controller to turn it on. Subsequently, your Windows regular computer will list it as a newly-discovered device. Click this device to finish off the pairing process.

IF you are setting up multiple controllers for a local multiplayer game, you may have to repeat this process for each controller.

Further notes

You will need to install the XBox Accessories app from the Windows Store to get the most out of your controller. This is important for setting up different control layouts which may be necessary for different games and different players.

It will also enable a “co-pilot mode” to allow two controllers to manipulate the same character in a game. This can be of use in helping novice players get the hang of a game or can allow you to use two different controller types as complementary controllers.

What this will mean for people who play games using the XBox One console or a Windows computer is that they only need to have one set of controllers that can be used with both devices. That is rather than having to retain a controller for your PC and one for the XBox One.

Send to Kindle

Lenovo has premiered a lightweight slim performance-class laptop

Articles

Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop press image courtesy of Lenovo

The Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop that improves on portability for performance-class laptops

Lenovo Is Making a Gaming Laptop That Weighs Less Than 2 kg | Gizmodo

Lenovo’s Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop weighs less than four pounds | Engadget

Lenovo’s new Legion Slim 7i is ‘world’s lightest’ 15-inch gaming laptop with RTX graphics | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Lenovo™ Reveals Smarter Innovation and Design with Holiday Consumer Lineup (Press Release – includes reference to Legion Slim 7i)

Legion Slim 7i (Product Page – PDF)

My Comments

A problem with laptop design is that you can’t effectively mix the idea of a portable aesthetically-pleasing computer with a performance-focused design. It is still the Holy Grail of laptop design to combine these aspects in one machine.

This comes down to the requirement to provide enough power to the computer’s main processors – the central processing unit and the graphics processor for them to work your data and “paint” your screen. In some applications, the graphics processor is tasked with performing supplementary processing activities like rendering or transcoding edited video files or calculating statistics. As well there is the need to remove waste heat generated by the processing silicon so it can perform to expectation even when working hard.

Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop keyboard view press image courtesy of Lenovo

As well, there is the proper full-size full-function keyboard on this gaming laptop

What typically happens is that a lightweight highly-portable computer won’t be engineered for anything beyond everyday computing tasks. This is while a performance-focused computer fit for gaming, photo-video editing or CAD will be a heavier and thicker machine that doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing as the lightweight. Some of these computers even convey the look equivalent to an American or Australian muscle-car of the 1970s but most convey a look very similar to medium or large family cars that appeared at the end of the 20th century.

Lenovo is getting close to this Holy Grail by designing a 15” gaming laptop that is slimmer and lighter than typical gaming or other high-performance laptops of the same screen size. This laptop, know as the Legion Slim 7i, has had a significant amount of hardware and firmware engineering to achieve this goal of combining portability and performance.

It will use 10th-generation Intel Core i-series CPU silicon and NVIDIA max-Q graphics silicon, with the latter known to avoid yielding too much waste heat for mobile use. But even the max-Q graphics silicon cannot handle excess waste heat and the Intel Core silicon will underperform if there is too much of that heat.

Lenovo is implementing Dynamic Boost technology to steer power to the graphics processor where needed during graphics-intensive tasks like fast-paced gaming. It is augmented by NVIDIA’s Advanced Optimus technology that allows for task-appropriate graphics processor switching – whether to work with Intel integrated graphics for everyday computing as a “lean-burn” approach or to work the NVIDIA GPU for graphics-intense activity.

There is also ColdFront 2.0 hardware-and-software-based thermal engineering which is about increasing airflow within the computer while under load. There are small perforations above the keyboard to allow the computer to draw in air for cooling along with a many-bladed fan that comes in when needed to move the air across three heat pipes.

The Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop will have the full-sized keyboard with a numeric keypad and media keys. This will have a feel similar to a desktop mechanical keyboard. There is a 71 watt-hour battery in the computer which could last up to 7.75 hours.

Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop rear view press image courtesy of LenovoThe baseline variant will weigh in at 2 kilograms and cost $1329. But it can be specced up to Intel Core i9 CPU and NVIDIA RTX2060 Max Q graphics silicon. It can also have at the maximum 32Gb  of current-spec RAM and 2Tb of NVMe solid-state storage. The screens are available either as a 4K UHD 60Hz display, a Full HD 144Hz display or a Full HD 60 Hz display.

For connectivity, these units offer Thunderbolt 3 which means access to external graphics modules, along with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 support. You may have to consider using a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 dock with an Ethernet connection if you are considering low-latency game-friendly Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network technology.

The Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop is expected to be on the market by November this year in the USA at least. Personally, I could see this as a push towards performance being about beauty as well as grunt.

Send to Kindle

Dell designs their business USB-C docks for the long haul

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock product image courtesy of Dell

The Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock – an example of the modular USB-C docks that Dell offers

Dell

WD-19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock (Product Page)

My Comments

Dell has defined a series of business USB-C docks that can have their host connectivity technology upgraded or replaced by the user.

What are these docks about?

This series of expansion modules, known as the Dell WD19 family have in common video connections in the form of a single HDMI, two DisplayPorts and a USB-C with DisplayPort alt mode connectivity. The above-mentioned USB-C DisplayPort-enabled port, along with another USB-C port located up front offer data transfer and Power Delivery power-source functionality. There are three USB 3.1 Type-A sockets with one up-front along with a Gigabit Ethernet network-adaptor function. As well, there is a basic USB sound module that has a headphone/microphone socket up front and a line-out socket behind, which may suit the use of a wired headset, powered speakers or that old stereo amplifier connected to those old speakers you use for computer sound.

The devices are pitched for business use, especially with large businesses who practice hot-desking a lot, using shared workspace setups where you connect a laptop computer to at least one large screen as well as a full-size keyboard, full-size  mouse and Ethernet network connection.  This leads to separate modules being available for USB-C connectivity, Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and dual-USB-C connectivity depending on the performance needs of the workspace’s user group.

The power available on these units is up to 90 watts for equipment adhering to the current USB Power Delivery specification. But Dell takes this further to 130W for their own products because this specification currently doesn’t address the likes of the XPS 17 which demand more power output. This may be something that will be investigated by the USB Implementers Forum for supporting USB Power Delivery on higher-powered devices namely powerful large-screen laptops or “next-unit-of-computing” desktops.

For that matter, the Thunderbolt 3 variant has another USB-C port that supports Power Delivery, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 data transfer and DisplayPort alt mode.

If you are buying the docks, you can choose between the different units offering the different host connectivity types and pay appropriately for the connection type. But Dell sells these modules as a separate accessory so you can upgrade your dock to a better host-connectivity type like Thunderbolt 3.

What I like about this family of docks and the user-replaceable host-connectivity modules that Dell offers is if a host-connectivity module fails and the dock becomes useless, you can just replace that module. There is also the ability to upgrade your dock to newer expectations at a later time.

Although this is optimised to work primarily with Dell computers, the WD19 series of docks can work with any computer that has a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection. This is in a totally “plug-and-play” manner without the need to install device drivers.

Room to innovate

But it could allow Dell to have a range of business-class docks ready for full-on USB4,  Thunderbolt 4 or any future host-peripheral connection technology. This is with the ability for users to upgrade them to that technology when the time comes.

Also having user-replaceable host-connectivity modules could open up to Dell the idea of external graphics modules with soldered-in graphics chipsets that can be added on to these docks. Most likely this idea would be limited to high-end mobile graphics chipsets that give a bit of “pep” to your Ultrabook’s graphics rather than desktop graphics chipsets that provide the full performance.

As well, having the dock part as a separate module can allow Dell to build on this system further. For example, it could also be about creation of a multimedia variant of this dock with a better sound module having line inputs or SPDIF connectivity along with more USB connections. Similarly, there could be a dock with multiple-Gigabit Ethernet connectivity that could appeal to “workstation-class” network computing.

Limitations that are identified

From all of the material I have seen on the Internet about these devices. there are some limitations that show up here.

For example, for the single-USB-C or Thunderbolt-3 connection modules, Dell could fit each module with a USB-C socket for the upstream (host-side) connection rather than using a captive USB-C cable. This could allow the user to use longer USB-C cables thus allowing for installation flexibility. It can also allow the user to replace a broken cable themselves, something that will become real if they frequently plug and unplug their laptop from the dock.

From a video review that I had seen, there could be the ability to support Thunderbolt-level multiple-screen display for three outputs for the Thunderbolt 3 variant. This could work better with the Apple Macintosh platform, but “open-platform” implementations like Windows don’t need to worry about this issue much. But it may not work properly with the modular approach behind this dock’s design.

Conclusion

But the Dell WD19 business USB-C dock family underscores the reality that you have to pay dearly for something that is robust and will last you in to the long term. It can also show that a design platform can be achieved for premium, business and multimedia docks where there is a goal to see them last longer and be future-proof.

Send to Kindle

NETGEAR brings back the electronic photo frame as a content source

Article

NETGEAR Meural Wi-Fi Photo Frame press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR brings back the desktop digital photo frame with its Meural online content service and photo exchange

Meural’s New Digital Photo Frame Might Resurrect the Comic Strip Calendar | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR Meural

Product Page

My Comments

Meural is a brand owned by NETGEAR who offer an online photo frame and content platform.

It is reinvigorating a product class that fell along the wayside thanks to the popularity of smartphones and mobile-platform tablets. But what is this product class?

It is the electronic photo frame that shows pictures held on, usually, removeable storage on a built-in screen. These devices would show the pictures for a pre-determined time period then bring up another picture automatically. It was seen initially to have your parents see digital images of their grandchildren but have also appealed to businesses as cost-effective digital signage that can be located on the reception desk.

There were a variety of these units that connected to your home network and worked with an online photo-exchange service like Ceiva so people can send digital photos to them. The users have control over who can send photos to them to avoid distasteful imagery appearing on these devices. Some of these photo frames even were tied with online content services so that stock photos, fine art and the like can be shown on them.

NETGEAR’s sub-brand Meural has continued the latter trend by offering a range of electronic photo frames that are centred around content services. This is about having these devices repositioned as a “digital art frame”, especially in the form of wall-mounted large screen devices.  As well, the Meural platform will do what Ceiva had done by having an online photo exchange where you and others whom you approve can post photos to appear on these frames.

But they have brought back the classic desktop electronic-photo-frame form factor and substantiated it with a comic-calendar content service. It is a throwback to desk calendar products that featured a comic strip for each day. All of the content services are available for USD$70 per year. But they are offering the Peanuts comic-strip archive including Snoopy for US$30 per year as a stand-alone package.

These electronic photo frames implement touch-free gestures as a way of interacting with them, avoiding the ugly look of fingerprints on the glass or having to grope around the back to press buttons to change images. As well, they work with voice-driven home assistant platforms.

They also use an ambient light sensor so they effectively blend in to the room’s lighting. As well, they turn themselves off overnight so they don’t become too bright while you sleep.

What NETGEAR are realising is that the electronic photo frame can be seen as a digital content distribution medium for art and photography. As well, they are encouraging us not to forget about the idea of the electronic photo frame as a device to display photographs and the like, along with keeping us interested in “digital photo exchange” services.

Send to Kindle