Category: Computer Accessories

A business Thunderbolt 3 dock that is also an external graphics module

Article

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock product photo (UK package) courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics dock – a Thunderbolt 3 business docking station that has external graphics module functionality

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock review: Glorious external NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics | Windows Central

My Comments

In the average business context, Thunderbolt 3 is seen primarily as a powerful “connection pipe” for port-replication docks. The external-graphics-module benefit isn’t considered an advantage in this use case unless the user is doing multimedia editing, computer programming or number-crunching workloads involving large data sets.

But in 2018, Lenovo issued to the US market and some other markets their Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock (model: G0A10170UL) that has external-graphics-module functionality as well as port-replication dock functionality which includes RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. This uses a soldered-in NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics processor and 4Gb display memory, with this GPU considered as the economy model in NVIDIA’s desktop-class dedicated graphics processor lineup.at the time of release.

The Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock is not just seen as being fit for a desktop workspace but also being fit for travel. This is due to its relatively small size compared to the typical “card-cage” external graphics module. It is because the device has the same size and weight as the typical business-class port-replicator dock with the power supply unit being of a similar size to those that accompany this class of product.

The article mentioned that, at the time of review, there were issues with software bugs including not cooperating with onboard dedicated graphics setups in some laptops. Usually this will have been rectified through firmware, BIOS and driver updates that should have taken place by now.

But, like a lot of small external graphics modules that have soldered-in graphics silicon, the capability may be enough to give your laptop a bit of extra “pep” for some non-demanding graphics-based tasks. This may be about lightweight photo and video editing or people who aren’t really “core” gamers.

The Windows Central article also raised the prospect of number-crunching activities with large data sets. But the problem that shows up here is that regular office productivity software, especially spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, doesn’t offer the ability to take advantage of high-performance computing setups like discrete graphics processors.

As I have mentioned before, the combination of Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for a laptop computer can encourage the use of external graphics modules as a fit-for-purpose upgrade path. This is being underscored with Intel Tiger Lake silicon that comes with Intel Xe integrated-graphics silicon that is highly capable compared to before along with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity compatible with Thunderbolt 3 hosts and peripherals.

It is also another example where Lenovo thought outside the box when it came to offering external graphics modules. Here, the Lenovo Legion BoostStation “card-cage” external graphics module didn’t just come with the space to install a graphics card, but it also came with space to install a 2/5” or 3.5” SATA-connected hard disk or solid-state drive. This is compared to a lot of “card-cage” types that only have capacity to install a graphics card and can woo those of us moving away from desktops to laptops.

By seeing the idea of external-graphics-module products pitched towards everyday business users and their cost-conscious IT departments, it could legitimise this product class towards mainstream computer users. But further work needs to take place to see a wider range of business-class eGPU docks with differing peripheral-connection and graphics-silicon options, including whatever offers mid-tier multimedia-creation abilities, and to see multiple vendors offer these docks to the market.

Mainstreaming these external-graphics-module devices can also make them appeal to user classes who don’t necessarily have the disposable income to spend on high-performance computing. This is due to downward pressure on these devices’ prices and can be facilitated by Intel becoming a third force when it comes to performance-level graphics silicon.

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Trying to reduce the number of USB chargers around the house. What can you do?

Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

You may need to end up rationalising the number of USB chargers you have in your home

You can easily end up with too many USB wall chargers in your home. This can happen as you purchase more devices that come with these chargers or you find and use better chargers like multi-outlet “charging bars”.

Then you think of rationalising the number of chargers you have on hand in your home as you find you have too many of them. But how can you go about this effectively without sacrificing convenience?

Here, the idea is to keep enough chargers on hand and in appropriate locations that assures you of convenience. No-one wants to find that they can’t power or charge their devices because there aren’t enough of these chargers available near to them for their needs.

Which charges do you keep.

Firstly, you need to retain chargers that have at least one USB Type-A socket and/or USB Type-C socket on the charger unit itself. That means you don’t really need chargers that have a USB micro-B or Apple MFi Lightning plug on the end of a cable wired to the charger itself.

This will mean that you can use them to charge any device as long as you have a connection cable with the appropriate connectors on each end. You can even consider the use of longer cables for more flexible connectivity setups.

As well, prefer to keep powerful chargers or those that implement USB Power Delivery for USB Type-C units or Qualcomm fast-charge standards (for USB Type-A units. This will mean that you can quickly charge up your phone or tablet or allow them to work in a high-performance setting while connected to AC power.

Keeping one or more USB-C chargers that use USB Power Delivery and can put up at least 60 watts to at least one USB-C port is a good direction to go. This is important when you are using or intend to purchase an ultraportable laptop or 2-in-1 that has this kind of power needs, something that will be very common in the near future. Sometimes the more power output the charger can make available the better.

Chargers that have two or more outlets, including the many-outlet “charging bars” should be kept for the long haul. It is preferable to have them in the kitchen or the home office especially where you are likely to be charging multiple devices in the same location.

You will be finding that there will be more of the powerful multiple-outlet chargers on the market thanks to power-supply designers, manufacturers and vendors investing in Gallium Nitride technology that allows for compact powerful power-supply devices.

Here, you are factoring in many realities when you use mobile technology. Here, as your portable devices get older, the batteries don’t run for the same long time that they used to when they were new. As well, most of us like to run our portable devices on external power as much as possible to conserve battery runtime.

It is something we used to do with portable audio equipment and some pocket calculators since these devices came around in the 1960s.  We even did things like minimise any battery-draining activities like fast-winding of tapes with our portable tape players unless the equipment was connected to AC power. Or most portable devices that had dial or display lighting had this lighting come on when they were powered from external power but have a button to activate it as needed when on batteries. This was driven by the fact that batteries for these devices that ran for a long time were at a price premium then.

There are also the accessories that support our mobile devices like Bluetooth headsets or powerbanks and these use a USB-based cable for charging their integrated batteries. It is also underscoring that the USB Type-A plug or USB Type-C plug is being seen as the “universal DC power plug” for many devices thus simplifying what we use to power these devices with. For example, some LED-based decorative lighting is appearing that is powered by a USB charger rather than a specially-designed power supply.

As you find that you acquire more powerful USB chargers, you may find that it is high time to send the least-powerful ones away for e-waste recycling. That is unless you are using a device that uses the USB charger purely as a power supply and can work with a low-power USB charger.

You may also find yourself migrating to the newer USB Type-C connection for your devices and then find that it may be a better time to move towards chargers that use at least one of these connection according to the Power Delivery specification.

If you find that your charger uses an IEC-standard “figure-8” or “cloverleaf” AC input socket, this opens up a pathway of flexibility which may give you more reason to keep it. Here, you could use a longer AC cord that has the appropriate connection if you want it further away from the power outlet.

For travel purposes, you may find it simpler to purchase an AC cord with the destination country’s national AC plug to use it in countries using that kind of AC power outlet. Typically you would buy these cables from a local electrical retailer or office-supplies store as an AC cord for a radio or laptop. You then end up with some form of flexibility about where you locate it in your travel accommodation. This situation is more advantageous where you end up frequently visiting countries using that same AC power outlet.

Where should we keep USB chargers?

At least one of these chargers should be kept in each of the main living areas in the house.

If you find that you don’t like the idea of these chargers strewn around the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a drawer in the appropriate room while they aren’t actually in use. But make sure everyone is aware of the chargers existing in those storage locations when you store them. This is where the ultra-compact chargers really earn their keep because they don’t take up much storage space.

In the lounge areas like the living room or rumpus room, it may be a good idea to keep a powerful USB charger of some form near one or more of the armchairs or couches. This is because most of us would be using a smartphone or, more likely, a tablet there in order to interact with online resources like Wikipedia, search engines or social media when we watch TV for example.

You may find that plugging a charger in to a standard extension cord may work if you are wanting one to serve someone sitting in a chair or sofa that is located away from a wall. Similarly using a powerboard to plug your table or floor lamp and a charger in to may work wonders here. The use of longer AC-current cords may benefit these applications better due to keeping the power conversion process closer to the device using the power and reducing voltage drop where it matters.

The kitchen area may be a good location for a multiple-outlet “charging bar” due to people charging their devices in that area. On the other hand a small two-outlet powerful wall charger may earn its keep here if you are trying to avoid excess clutter.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

It is best to focus USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock towards peripherals that are being used with the dock’s host computer

The same goes too for the home office at least. Here, you may be using this as the “go to” place to charge powerbanks and mobile accessories in a location where they can be found. You may think of using that USB-C or Thunderbolt dock that you are using to connect your laptop to the big screen and keyboard for this purpose. But you may find that having a charger, like a “charging bar” may earn its keep here when you are simply charging devices that aren’t necessarily peripherals for your computer so that all USB sockets on that dock serve those peripherals.

You may want to keep a charger or two in the bedrooms if you do charge your smartphone or tablet there. It is also important to make sure the guestroom has one or two of these chargers so that guests who stay overnight have somewhere to charge their devices.

If you do keep accessories on hand for travel, one or more small USB chargers can come in handy here. You could even consider a multi-outlet “charging bar” again for packing when you travel.

At least, making sure you are keeping the powerful capable chargers that work to current standards and keeping them in areas where they are useful can work out as a convenient and effective way to rationalise these devices.

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Are noise-cancelling headphones relevant during the COVID-19 lockdowns

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset – still relevant as we stay at home

When we see the likes of Bose and Sony launch new active-noise-cancelling headphones during the time of coronavirus-driven isolation, we may think that headphones like these are totally irrelevant now.

Such thoughts will come across our mind when it comes to portable technology like laptop computers where it is seen as an unnecessary expense. It is as we see these COVID-19 stay-at-home requirements as a time of slowing down and contemplating the need for any perceived flamboyance.

This is because we aren’t travelling at all or travelling very infrequently as a measu re to reduce virus infection. But these headphones are still very relevant nowadays in some way even during the short term.

If you have heating or air-conditioning at home that becomes noisy during active operation, they can come in very handy.This may also apply to those of us with older desktop computers that have noisy fans as well.

Here, the operating noise associated with these devices can become annoying and distracting and these headphones can mask it out just like they can when it comes to transport noise. If you find that your equipment changes its operating noise level during use, usually in order to answer actual heating or cooling needs, you may find that change of noise level distracting. Again, the noise-cancelling headsets can come in to play here.

Even though the cities are quieter now, you may find that there is some excess noise from remnant vehicles moving around the streets past your place. Add to this people using tools powered by small engines such as during the weekends when most households are maintaining their lawns and gardens. Here, these noises can be very distracting especially if you are listening to podcasts or engaging in videocalls.

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

They can come in very handy with those Zoom calls

Let’s not forget that most of these headsets excel as communications headsets which will be of benefit for those Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams videoconferences. Here, the newer headsets are about improved intelligibility during these calls. The newer better noise-cancelling headsets even use microphone arrays to capture your voice more easily even while there is background noise around you.

Over-the-head-type noise-cancelling headsets do perform well with music thanks to larger drivers that allow for improved bass. This may also be of benefit with other content like video content you watch through Netflix or similar video-on-demand services, or whenever you play games and you want that bit of extra punch on those sound effects.

There is also the fact that the COVID-19 plague will be tamed through the use of vaccines and medical treatments that are proven to be effective. It is in addition to better knowledge gained through experience on how to deal with particular outbreaks.  Here, we may be then in a position to travel longer distances whether by land, sea or air. The noise-cancelling headphones will then come in to their own while you get back to travelling.

I would still consider active-noise-cancelling headphones very relevant for most people even through these uncertain times where we are at home more.

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Belkin joins the GaN bus with two highly-compact USB PD wall chargers

Article Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin GaN charging is ready to power your day | Ausdroid

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

BOOST-CHARGE GaN USB-C PD 30W Wall Charger (Product Page)

BOOST-CHARGE GaN Dual USB-C PD 68W Wall Charger (Product Page)

My Comments

A significant trend over the last few years is to see the use of gallium nitride as the new electronics semiconductor. It is being seen as the “new silicon” – a new highly-impressive highly-capable semiconductor material that opens up new doors.

At the moment, the application that impresses is highly-compact highly-efficient power supply circuits. Here, such power supplies run very cool and a USB-C PD “wall-wart” AC charger based on this technology occupies the same space on a power outlet as an ordinary AC plug yet able to yield at least 30 watts.That is due to it wasting less energy as heat therefore not needing much in the way of cooling space.

Belkin, a household name associated with computer accessories, has now joined the party with their own gallium-nitride-based USB-C Power Delivery wall chargers.

One of these can support a 30-watt load which would answer use cases like smartphones or tablets. The other is a 68-watt unit that has two USB-C outlets and a dynamic load-balancing circuit. This can mean that one of the outlets can be used to power something like a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook while the other is used to charge that smartphone or battery pack.

The idea of combining USB-C PD and the GaN power-supply technology is appealing towards having these devices that can work with laptops, smartphones and tablets yet not take up much room on that powerboard.

What Belkin and other respected accessory vendors need to work on are multi-outlet USB-C PD charging stations that can support at least two or three USB-C PD devices with a draw of at least 45 watts each. This would be important for situations where multiple tablets or ultraportable laptops are likely to be used in the same space.

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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.

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Sony releases the WH-1000XM4 headphones to put themselves ahead in the headphone battle

Article

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset

Sony Has Practically Perfected Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Sony Electronics

WH-1000XM4 active noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset

The best just got better – Sony announces WH-1000XM4 industry-leading wireless noise cancelling headphones (Press Release)

Product Page

Announcement Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Promotional Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Initial price: AUD$549

My Comments

Sony has now raised the bar when it comes to the ideal set of over-the-ear Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. This is with the fight that is going on between Bose, themselves and Bang & Olufsen to achieve the ideal active noise-cancelling headphone experience with their entry being the WH-1000XM3 headset.

This successor, known as the WH-1000XM4, follows on with what the previous model offers like Bluetooth (Hands Free Profile, A2DP, AVRCP) and the optimised active-noise cancelling. But the Bluetooth audio functionality has support for Sony’s codecs that permit playback of high-resolution audio along with audio optimisation for lossy compressed-audio files.

The active-noise-cancelling has been improved to increased useability in real-world scenarios. This includes optimisation of its functionality for situation-specific requirements like hearing transport announcements or background music played over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s audio setup.

There is even the ability to set the Sony WH-1000XM4 cans up to pause your music and admit ambient sound whenever you want to engage in conversation with other people. This can be done fully automatically when you start speaking or semi-automatically when you cap your hand over one of the earcups.

As well, you have touch control for your device so that you swipe in particular directions to switch tracks or raise and lower the volume or tap the headset to start and stop the music or answer and end a call. There is also a button that can be mapped for use with voice assistants or to manage the active-noise-cancelling function.

But Sony has improved on the multipoint functionality that allows the headset to work with two Bluetooth devices concurrently. Here, it switches automatically between the devices based on whatever audio signal is being offered by the device.

But by following the review chatter, Sony has been able to refine the successor to the WH-1000XM3 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset in order to create the ideal product in this class. Who knows what the competitors will have in store when they revise their products.

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Why use headphones during that Zoom or Skype video conference?

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Headphones and earphones can improve the sound quality during that Zoom video call

Increasingly most of you are taking part in a multi-party videoconference using Zoom, Skype or similar platforms as part of working or learning from home or keeping in the loop with distant relatives and friends. This has been driven by necessity due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and the requirement to stay home to limit the spread of this bug.

But you may find that your correspondents’ audio has that unnecessary echo or reverberation that can make the videocall sound fatiguing and awful. The excessive noise from the reverberation or echo may cause you also to speak louder as a means of dealing with a poor signal-to-noise ratio. As well it can also make a participant harder to understand especially if they have a strong accent that doesn’t cope well with poor signal quality.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

… no matter the kind of headset you use like this JBL Bluetooth headset

This is caused due to latency imposed by the different home-network and Internet connections each party uses and the fact that the sound and vision are being sent around as data packets. As well, most of the parties in the videoconference will typically be using a microphone and set of speakers integrated in or connected to the device for the sound.

Here, the reverberation or echo is heard due to your voice coming out of the participants’ devices’ speakers at a later time thanks to the videoconference setup with its limitations. It can also be magnified if someone is using a speaker setup that is very loud like most desktop speakers or a hi-fi system used as audio output for your computer.

By using headphones during that video conference if you are the only person calling in to the videoconference from your endpoint, you are effectively minimising the echo and reverberation. This is because when a person uses headphones for the videocall, the sound from the other parties is being “funneled” through the headphones exclusively to the device’s user, not likely to be picked up by their device’s microphone.

You will also find that you can hear your participants more easily when you use headphones. This is due to the headphone’s speakers located very close to your ear therefore leading to very minimal audio leakage that can cause further reverberation or echo. Those of you who use active-noise-cancelling headphones may also be at an advantage due to reducing fan or air-conditioning hum interfering with what your callers are saying, allowing you to concentrate better.

Here, any headphones or headset would do, whether they be in-ear, on-ear or over-ear types; or whether they are a wired or wireless setup. For example, if you are using a smartphone or tablet and you have its supplied in-ear wired headset, you can get by with it. Or a pair of good Bluetooth headphones may even do the job better.

This won’t be of use for a group situation where many people like a family or household are joining the videocall from the one device at the one location. It is because they want to talk to the rest of the videoconference as if they are one person. This situation would require the use of the device’s loudspeakers and microphone to be of value.

When you alone are participating in that multi-party videocall and you want to get the best out of it, your headphones may serve you better through that call.

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USB-C Power Delivery car chargers now exist that are fit for today’s ultraportables

Products

Satechi 72W USB-C car charger used in car - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

These USB-C PD car chargers are about using or charging your tablet or ultraportable laptop computer in the car or boat

Satechi ST-TCPDCCS 72W Type-C PD Car Charger
MacGear Australia (Australia / New Zealand distributor)
Dick Smith Electronics – AUD$54.99
MacFixit – AUD$49.99
60W PD + 12W Type-A from 12V DC input

Laptop Plus 45W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$69)
45W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 65W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$89)
65W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 90W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$99.00)
90W PD from 12-24V DC input, captive USB-C cable

Baseus LED (45W) PD USB-C Car Charger for Phone / Tablet
Gadgets4Geeks.com.au – AUD$34.95
45W PD and 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Targus 45W USB-C Car Charger
Officeworks – AUD$97
45W PD from 12V DC input

My Comments

Satechi 72W USB PD car charger - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

This Satechi 72W USB-C car charger is one of these devices

Previously, I had covered the use of high-capacity USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant powerbanks that serve as an external battery pack for your laptop or tablet. Now I am looking at the idea of USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant car chargers that do the same thing but work from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power infrastructure.

You may think about using the computer’s AC-based charger along with an inverter but this can be too cumbersome to deal with. As well, there are inefficiencies that this approach comes with due to converting the electric current twice – from 12-24 volts DC to 110-250 volts AC in the inverter then down to 5-12 volts DC in the AC-powered charger for your laptop to use.

But there are a few car chargers compliant to the USB-C Power Delivery standard that put up at least 45 watts. There are even some that can put up at least 60 or 65 watts, if not 90 watts in order to cater towards the more powerful computers that are appearing.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Even something like this Dell XPS 13 can be used in the car from the vehicle’s power supply without the need for an inverter if you are using a USB-C PD car charge with at least 45W

All of these plug in to a vehicle’s or boat’s DC accessory power outlet, commonly known as a “cigar-lighter” socket due to the use of these sockets for a “push-in” thermal cigar lighter. But most of these will work between 12 volts to 24 volts DC, allowing for use in large trucks, buses, large boats and the like that work on 24V. The vehicle will have to be wired for negative earthing which has been the accepted standard for vehicle wiring since the late 1960s.

You may also find that some portable solar-power setups pitched at campers will offer 12-volt DC power through the “cigar-lighter” accessory socket, so you could run your equipment from solar power while in the bush.

Some of these chargers have a standard USB Type-A socket to supply power for charging smartphones, mobile-platform tablets or accessories using the traditional USB charging cable. It is of importance if you are using something like a Mi-Fi router or a mobile printer or scanner.

What can you do with these chargers? You can top up a laptop’s battery while you are driving so as to have more power on hand when you are at your destination. This will please field workers who are more likely to work in rural or remote settings where there isn’t the likelihood to have AC power readily available.

If you are a passenger and you use your laptop or tablet while travelling in a vehicle or boat, these adaptors ae still relevant as a way to save battery runtime. For example, you may be catching up with some work while you are being driven to an appointment or a kid may want to play a game or watch a video to while away that long car trip.

Even at your destination, you may find that you want to “spin out” your laptop’s or tablet’s battery runtime by running it from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power using one of these adaptors.

For mobile workers whose vehicle is their office, it may be about doing some of the site-based “homework” on a laptop or tablet. But you don’t want to run the computer’s battery down deeply during, say, sending off some email or editing pictures.

This may also appeal to motorhome or boat users whose vehicle’s or craft’s main supply of auxiliary power is the 12-volt or 24-volt DC power available from an accessory power socket. Here, a lot of these users would be relying on a laptop or tablet for communications or entertainment while they are travelling.

What I also see of this is newer compact yet powerful power-supply designs also affecting this class of power supply. This is with more of these car chargers providing USB-PD-compliant power of at least 90 watts from 12-24 volts DC power sources including some that provide two or more “rails” of USB-C PD-compliant power from the same power input.

So at least keep an eye out for USB-C PD-compliant car chargers that put up at least 45W, if not 65W, of power and consider them as a viable laptop accessory if you think of your ultraportable laptop being used on the road.

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The cassette adaptor has been and is still an important audio accessory

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Cassette adaptor

A cassette adaptor that allows you to use your smartphone with a cassette-based car stereo

The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age | VICE.com

My comments

An audio accessory that I still consider as being important and relevant even in the day of the smartphone and tablet is the cassette adaptor.

What are these cassette adaptors and how do they work?

This is a device invented by Larry Schotz during the mid 1980s to allow one to play CDs in the car using their car’s cassette player and their Discman-type portable CD player. It has a cassette-shaped housing that has a head that faces the cassette player’s playback head along with a mechanism to prevent that tape player from acting as though it’s the end of a tape side.

The head in this housing is wired to the portable audio device using a cable that is attached to the adaptor itself in a manner to cater towards different tape-loading arrangements, and plugged in to that source device via its headphone or line-out jack using the 3.5mm stereo plug. When in place, the audio content from the source device is transferred in to the cassette player’s audio electronics using a simple inductive-coupling process between the head installed in the cassette adaptor and the player’s head.

Even if the tape player ended up being mechanically defective typically by “chewing-up” tapes, the cassette adaptor was still able to work. This is because it is not reliant on tape that is at risk of being pulled out of the cassette.

As well, the same arrangement was able to work with home or portable cassette equipment like boomboxes or low-end “music centre” stereos by enabling its use with other audio sources. This was more important as the omission of a line-level audio input was seen as a way to cut costs when designing budget-priced equipment.

How did these cassette adaptors become respected audio accessories?

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A cassette adaptor being used to play a smartphone’s audio through a car cassette player

At the time this device was introduced, the cost of a car CD player was way more expensive than what a Discman-type portable player would cost and these car CD players were out of the league for most people. It was also a reality that if a person installed a car CD player or any other advanced car-audio equipment in their car during that time, they had to pay more for their vehicle’s insurance coverage and, perhaps, install a car alarm in their vehicle. This was because of a high frequency of “smash-and-grab” car break-ins where the advanced car-audio equipment was stolen from the vehicle.

For that matter, I had made sure that if I bought a Discman-type portable CD player, I would buy one of these cassette adaptors as an audio accessory for that unit. Gradually, consumer-electronics manufacturers offered Discman players with a car power adaptor and a cassette adaptor as accessories that came with the unit.

During the 1990s, the in-car CD changer became popular as an original-fitment or aftermarket car-audio option. This setup had the user place CDs in to a multiple-disc magazine which was installed in a changer unit located in the back of the car. Then the user controlled this unit using a radio-cassette player that has the ability to control the changer with the sound from the CDs emanating from the speakers associated with that unit.

But a portable CD player along with the cassette adaptor ended up being useful as a way to play another CD in these changer-based setups without having to swap out discs in the changer unit. This approach became relevant if, for example, you bought a new CD album and are eager to listen to it or have temporary use of a friend’s car but want to run your own CD-based music without worrying about discs you removed from the changer’s magazine.

The rise of MiniDisc and file-based MP3 players and, in the USA, satellite radio assured the continual relevance of these cassette adaptors as a way to play content hosted on these formats using your cassette-equipped car stereo.

Infact I was following an online discussion board about the MiniDisc format and one British member of that board, who was in a position to buy a new car, preferred a vehicle with a lower trim-level rather than a premium trim level that he could afford. In this case, the vehicle builder offered the cheaper variant of the car with a cassette player as its car-audio specification while the more expensive variant had an in-dash CD player as its only car-audio option. This is in order so the forum-participant can continue listening to MiniDiscs in the car with their MD Walkman player and cassette adaptor.

Different variants of these cassette adaptors

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

There have been some variants of the cassette adaptor existing with one unit being an MP3 player that work as a stand-alone portable player along with units that worked as Bluetooth audio endpoints. This included one of these adaptors being a Bluetooth handsfree with a microphone module that was linked by wire to the cassette adaptor itself in order to facilitate phone calls or voice-assistant operation.

The Bluetooth cassette adaptors will become very relevant with newer smartphones as these forego the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Here, they use a Bluetooth link between the smartphone and the cassette adaptor fir the audio link. Let’s not forget that the ordinary cassette adaptor can be used with a full-on Bluetooth audio adaptor equipped with a 3.5mm stereo output jack on the unit itself rather than a flylead that plugs in to a 3.5mm AUX socket.

How are they relevant nowadays?

These cassette adaptors still maintain some relevance in this day and age primarily with vehicles built between the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s being welcomed in to the classic-car scene. This is very much underscored by the Japanese cars of the era acquiring a significant following amongst enthusiasts.

That same era saw the concurrent rise of the audio cassette as a legitimate mobile-audio format and car cassette players of that era represented a mature piece of in-car audio technology. Here classic-vehicle enthusiasts are preferring to keep working cassette players, preferably the original-specification units, in these newly-accepted classic vehicles. This is also about keeping the vehicles as representatives of their generation.

Similarly, there are a significant number of vehicles built from the late 1990s through the 2000s, especially in the premium sector or at higher-cost trim levels, where an integrated audio system with a CD player and cassette player is fitted in them by the vehicle builder. Here, these vehicles don’t necessarily have any auxiliary input for other audio sources and it is hard to fit aftermarket equipment in to these vehicles without doing a lot of damage to their looks and functionality.

These devices have effectively converted a car cassette player’s tape-loading slot in to an auxiliary input so other audio devices can be used in conjunction with these players especially on an ad-hoc basis.

Conclusion

The cassette adaptor has highlighted the fact that some accessories do still remain relevant to this day and age and has stood the test of time.

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Logitech improves on the XBox Adaptive Controller with a cost-effective control package

Articles

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit has what you need for the XBox Adaptive Controller

Logitech’s $100 kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes accessible gaming cheaper | CNet

Microsoft went all in on accessible design. This is what happened afterwards | FastCompany

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on the XBox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

From the horse’s mouth

Logitech

Adaptive Gaming Kit (Product Page, Press Release, Blog Post)

My Comments

Recently, Microsoft launched the XBox Adaptive Controller as an accessible games-console controller for people who face motion and dexterity-related disabilities. They even promoted it in a TV commercial ran during this year’s Super Bowl football match, which would have been considered to go against the grain for the usual sporting and video-game audiences.

This has been part of Microsoft’s step towards inclusionary gaming and I had written in the article about that controller not just to focus towards providing video gaming for disabled people. But I also called out the therapeautic value that some games can have for elderly people as well as disabled people with Microsoft offering a lower barrier to entry for independent game developers to create games that underscore that concept.

It has actually been underscored in a recent CNET video article about the XBox Adaptive Controller being used to help a US war veteran who lost some of his motion and dexterity in a motorcycle accident.

Click or tap here to play the video

But Logitech have taken this a step further by offering an accessory kit with all the necessary controls for US$99. This kit, known as the Adaptive Gaming Kit, makes it more affordable for these people so you can have an accessible gaming setup to suit your particular needs without having to choose and buy the necessary accessories. Here, it is important especially if a person’s needs will change over time and you don’t want to have to buy newer accessories to suit that need.

The package comes with rigid and flexible mats with Velcro anchor points for the various buttons and other controls. The flexible mats can even allow the controls to be anchored around a chair’s arms or other surfaces while the whole kit can allow for the equipment to be set up and packed up with minimal effort. The controls all have their own Velcro anchor points and screw holes for anchoring to other surfaces.

Logitech used their own intellectual capital in designing the kit while working with Microsoft to evolve the product. Here, they implemented their own mechanical-switch technology that is part of their high-end keyboards including their low-profile switches used in their low-profile keyboard range. The large buttons have stabilisers built in to them so you can press them from anywhere on the button’s surface. This leads to them not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the product’s design or manufacture because of the use of common technology.

What I have liked about Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming Kit is that the idea of accessible gaming comes at a price point that represents value for money. This is compared to various assistive-technology solutions which tend to require the user to pay a king’s ransom to acquire the necessary equipment. It has often led towards the government or charitable sector not getting their money’s worth out of their disabled-person support programs due to the high cost of the necessary technology.

Welcome to the new age of making assistive technology become more mainstream, not just for disabled users but for the realities associated with the ageing population such as ageing Baby Boomers and people living longer.

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