Desktop Computers Archive

Intel Skylake gives you a break for cheaper computers

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Make hay while the sun shines when you purchase your next laptop now

Intel has just premiered their new Skylake desktop and mobile CPU range which is leading to increased performance even for battery-operated devices. It also has led to newer connectivity options like USB 3.1 Type-C and Intel Thunderbolt connections to improve how you connect these computers to external devices. As well, most of these computers will come pre-delivered with Windows 10 as their operating system.

This is leading to computer manufacturers refreshing their computer lineups with equipment based on these new technologies and their will be an impetus on the manufacturers, distributors and retailers to clear out just-superseded equipment based on prior technologies. For example in Australia, JB Hi-FI is offering 15% off the ticketed price for most of the laptops on sale at most of their stores

If you are considering a computer purchase whether to upgrade existing equipment, or as an additional unit like a travel laptop or a secondary computer used in the kitchen, it may be a good time to check the specials out. For some of you, it may be a chance to move off the iPad as your only computing device and move towards a “grown up” computer system.

But here are some points worth considering:

  • If you are buying Windows-based equipment, the computer may come pre-delivered with Windows 8.1 but you can upgrade this operating system to Windows 10 for free. This is another saving for you when you want to be sure you are running the latest operating system for your Windows-based computer.
  • If you are upgrading your main computer, make sure you buy the system with as much RAM and storage as you can afford. As well, look for discrete graphics and powerful processors if you are using it frequently for graphics, games and multimedia.
  • You may get by with the Intel Atom, Celeron or Pentium processors and 2Gb RAM for your secondary laptop that is primarily for Web browsing, email and word-processing. These will probably limit you to up to 2 or 3 windows or browser tabs open at at time. The Core M, i3 and i5 processors and 4Gb RAM may allow you to be a bit more productive with these machines.
  • Solid-state may be the way to go for your ultraportable but you could eek out more storage through the use of a USB 3.0 external hard disk which you could bargain in to the purchase. This drive can earn its keep with large photo or video collections that you may be downloading from your camera or camcorder.
  • You may also be in a position to use the savings to purchase a newer printer or home-network equipment which you could also bargain in to the deal.

If you express doubts about a purchase, please don’t hesitate to contact me using the Contact Form on this site.

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

Articles

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Dell Inc.

Press Release

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Purchasing and Specification Journal–A new playout computer for our church

New desktop comptuer at church

New desktop comptuer at church

As I had mentioned in a previous article, I had moved to a new church congregation and, a few services later, my new pastor had approached me for advice about specifying a new computer for the church. This was because the then-existing computer that was being used to show the song lyrics during worship and to sometimes show video material during a service or similar church event was nearly on its way out.

A risk I often identify with non-profit organisations of any size is where they could end up buying capital equipment that is undersized for their needs or is very likely to fail too frequently. They are also likely to fall for purchasing mistakes where they buy from a vendor who offers the goods for cheap but doesn’t offer good-quality after-sales service and support. In a lot of cases, these organisations are likely to source goods from a “friend of a friend” or “my friend’s boss” where they are not likely to get the best deal and this can place a toll on friendships and relationships.

Identifying the application

I identified that this computer is to be used for AV playout during services and other church activities. One activity that this church also engaged in very regularly is a concert outreach with band members playing the appropriate Christian songs as part of this concert. In these concerts, it would earn its keep with playing out video material or backing tracks for the performances.

These requirements placed an emphasis on multimedia work thus requiring a computer that can handle this kind of work very smoothly. As well, we were moving towards a newer media-playout practice which is to handle file-based media that is provided on a “transfer now, play later” method. This means that the pastor or one of the church elders can receive the media via an Internet path or create the media themselves at home and transfer it to a USB stick to take to church. Then they copy it to the computer’s hard disk for playback and work from the file that is on the hard disk when the time comes to play the material.

The existing system was an orthodox “tower-style” white-box desktop computer that was running Windows XP but was underperforming for today’s requirements due to small RAM and hard-disk space. This is connected to a local screen at the sound desk for cue/monitor purposes as well as a “front-of-house” video projector for the congregation to see the material.

For that matter, a “white-box” computer is a computer, typically a desktop computer, that is built by a value-added reseller or independent computer store using components that the reseller purchases. This can be a custom-built system or a package that is available “off-the-rack” for a known price like this computer.. It was infact the way most small businesses and home users bought their personal desktop computers since the 1990s.

What can benefit this application

For this application, I have identified certain key features that are important. These are increased processor capability and speed along with a dedicated graphics subsystem so as to allow the system to work with the local monitor and the projector in a highly responsive way.

As well, I placed importance on a computer having as much RAM and hard-disk capacity as the church can afford with the minimum being 4Gb RAM and 750Gb to 1 Terabyte hard disk capacity. One of the computer dealer also recommended in to their quote the use of a solid-state drive which can give the computer some speed especially when loading the software such as during startup.

I made sure that the computer came with a legitimately-licensed copy of Windows 7 so that most of those in the AV ministry don’t need to learn new skills if Windows 8.1 was in place. This was assuming that most of the people were operating computers running Windows 7 on their home network or at work.

Obtain competitive quotes

Before any money changed hands, I made sure that the church obtained quotes from a few different vendors. This has an advantage of knowing how much a computer system of this standard was to cost and it also allowed for the pastor to use these quotes as a bargaining tool to get the best value for money.

I made sure that the vendors we had on our shortlist had a local “bricks-and-mortar” storefront because of the issue of service and support. Here, we would be able to talk with the vendor rather than an offshore call centre if the machine did break down. It also allows one of the church elders to put the computer in their car and take it to the store if it needed repairs.

The kind of vendors we went for were national computer-store chains or independent computer stores who were able to build a system to the specifications or have one that was already built. For that matter,smaller independent or local computer vendors are likely to supply a “shop-built” white-box system for better value with local support.

The new system in place

We purchased a small “white-box” system to the specification, installed the necessary software on to it such as EasiSlides and set it up for use in the church. As I was worshipping God through the first Sunday morning service after the computer was installed, I had noticed that there was very little “lag” with the song-lyrics display.

There were still a few issues with the operators getting used to Windows 7 on the new computer after being used to handling Windows XP on the previous computer which I found out after that service and is something that I notice when one is confronted with new equipment.

Conclusion

As I had mentioned in my previous article about purchasing technology for a small business or community organisation, it is important to spend some time “doing your homework” when purchasing the technology. This is to make sure you are buying the equipment that represents the best value for money and can serve you in the long run.

In this case, it involved defining a set of baseline specifications that you won’t go below along with a price range that suits your budget, then seeking different quotes on systems that meet the baseline specifications from a few different vendors for the best price within your range before buying the actual equipment. As well, placing importance on vendors with a local physical shopfront allows for one to be able to obtain prompt service and support if the equipment malfunctions.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

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Acer joins the adaptive all-in-one party–what could this mean?

Article

Acer new 21.5-inch all-in-one PC has an integrated battery | PC World

Acer joins the tabletop parade | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Acer USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Previously, I had reviewed the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which symbolises a newer class of home computer. This class, officially known as an “Adaptive All-In-One” but also known as a “tabletop” computer is an 18”-27” tablet computer which can be set up to become a desktop computer.

These have an appeal because they can be positioned lying flat on a table or desk for multi-person computing activities. Their large size and positioning flexibility has increased their appeal as a so-called “lifestyle” computer that integrates easily with a household’s lifestyle.

For example, the CNet article described a popular use case where two people sprawled over an ottoman and playing a multiplayer air-hockey game on one of these computers while a Microsoft blog article that I had cited previously in my coverage of that computer had highlighted its prowess to impress a family with different computing skill levels.

Acer have stepped up to the plate with this class of computer by dropping their Aspire Z3-600 computer on the US market at a reasonable price for this class – US$779. Here, this implements a 21” Full-HD screen and can lie flat or be upright. Like the VAIO Tap 20, it is able to run on batteries but it runs for 2.5 hours on batteries alone. There is the quad-core Pentium horsepower and it runs with 4Gb RAM and 750Gb hard disk storage more than what the VAIO Tap 20 came with.

There is even the ability for the computer to serve as a display for another computer or video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, digital TV tuner or games console through an HDMI input along with an HDMI output so it works with another display. This even comes with MHL support so it can charge an Android smartphone or be a video display for these phones.

A question I would raise is that Acer could bring the price down on these computers, could it then be possible for manufacturers to start offering a range of these computers with differing specifications rather than just the one model in their product lineup? Similarly, could this force the price for a baseline “adaptive all-in-one” computer down to more reasonable levels?

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USB 3.1 Spec Approved, Brings 10Gbps Speeds

Articles

USB 3.1 Spec Approved, Brings 10Gbps Speeds#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181

USB alliance finalizes 10Gbps specification as USB 3.1 | Engadget

USB 3.1 spec finalized with speeds up to 10 Gbps | CNet

My Comments

Just lately, the USB Implementers Forum have called the USB 3.1 specification which allows for 10Gbps link speed over the cable. But, like with the previous USB standards, it requires both ends of the link to support this standard for the high data speed to occur but will support the gradual degradation that the USB standard is known for.

It is seen as a competitor to the Thunderbolt connection technology but can link to more than 6 devices downstream. Like other USB standards, this could also be seen as a cost-effective standard compared to Thunderbolt once it is mature and and there is a lot of chipset, operating system and peripheral support for it.

Personally I see the laptops and all-in-one computers gain real benefit from it with expansion modules (docking stations), external secondary storage especially external hard disks; and DisplayLink-capable display devices with high resolutions and other high capabilities being the target applications. The latter application will also tie in with the USB Power Delivery specification to allow a laptop to be powered by a larger external display or projector that has its own AC power supply thus providing for a single-cable “walk-up” display arrangement for work or play.

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Adaptive All-In-One Computers–Where do I see them fit in?

 

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “adaptive all-in-one” computer

As I have covered in this Website before, there is a new class of computer that is bridging the gap between the clamshell laptop and the all-in-one desktop. These are known as the “Adaptive All-In-One” computers but are also called “desktop tablets” or “mobile all-in-one” computers.

What are these computers?

This class of computer is  an 18”-21” tablet computer that has “regular computer” credentials such as using computing horsepower typically used in a desktop or laptop computer rather than what would be used in a tablet like the Apple iPad. They are able to be set up as a tablet which is primarily touch operated or, through the use of a kickstand integrated in the tablet and a wireless keyboard and mouse, or a detachable pedestal which has a keyboard and mouse connected to it, they can he used as a conventional all-in-one desktop computer.

As for software, they can run on “regular-computer” operating systems like Windows 8 or a desktop Linux distribution. Users can then run the applications and games that they are able to run on a regular computer. This is being augmented through the Windows Store which is filling up with many applications and games that take advantage of the touchscreen.

The best example of this class of computer and one I have reviewed on HomeNetworking01.info is the Sony VAIO Tap 20. But other manufacturers are showing up with similar computers like the Dell XPS 18 and the HP Envy Rove 20 which is on the verge of being released as I write this article.

Where do these computers belong in the computing market?

Typically they are positioned between a 17” desktop-replacement laptop computer and a 21” all-in-one desktop or a low-profile desktop that works with a 21” screen. They also are pitched to stand between a convertible laptop or large tablet and a touchscreen-capable laptop, desktop or all-in-one when it comes to touch computing. So they end up being marketed as a hybrid class of computer which stands between a tablet, laptop or desktop form factor.

How will they benefit users in the home or small-business

I primarily see these computers fulfilling the demands of a transportable lifestyle computer. Here, it would be seen as a highly-capable large-screen alternative to a 10” tablet like an iPad or Android tablet.

One application would be large-area reading and viewing. This would range from surfing the Web through browsing email, Facebook or Twitter to reading electronic-newspaper apps or watching catch-up TV in your favourite armchair or couch. It would also underscore “second-screen” functionality while watching TV, such as use of scoreboard apps during sportscasts, engaging in online voting or using IMDB or Wikipedia to check a fact relating to what you are watching (to settle that argument).

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer right-hand-side connections - distinctive U-shaped kickstand that doubles as a carrying handle

The U-shaped kickstand on the Sony VAIO Tap 20 doubles as a carrying handle


In the kitchen, the integrated kickstand that most of these computers have would make them highly relevant for referring to online recipes while cooking. This avoids the need to rest the computer precariously on that bowl of fruit and fearing an accident would happen or the touchscreen would be covered with flour.

Of course, two or more people could comfortably pore over the same information such as an email, Facebook News Feed or photo album. Some of these units like the upcoming HP Envy Rove 20 have a manual switch which spins the display 90 degrees to allow another person to see the screen without you having to swivel the computer.

Another highly-promoted activity is group gaming. This will come in to play with computer-based “takes” of the classic board, card and casino games where these games will allow two or more human players to play on the one machine. In some cases, the machine may be able to play as one or more of the players, and / or simply represent one or more online players while preserving the rules of the game and, where applicable, rolling dice or shuffling a deck of cards.

Of course, some games like “old-school” arcade games, pinball games and strategy games will gain a level of freshness when you play them on these computers. For example, a person who grew up in the 80s may find that playing a Windows 8 version of PacMan or Galaga may remind them of playing the game on one of those “table-style” arcade games that were popular then; or a game like Civilization V takes so well to you literally moving the characters or teams over the large playfield created on the large screen.

In the small business, the “Adaptive All-In-One” could become useful in the customer-service space. Here, you could have point-of-sale terminals or similar terminals that use the increased space to show more items or options for the sales assistant to use while completing the sale.

These computers could also come in to their own when showing information to colleagues, partners or clients, whether it be certain cells of interest in a spreadsheet or a PDF file or a presentation that you can easily flick through to get to the salient parts.

The main feature that I have noticed with this class of computer when I reviewed the Sony VAIO Tap 20 was that fact that they offer the balance between a desktop-replacement laptop that you can easily take around the house or put away when not needed and a desktop, especially an all-in-one desktop, that has the large screen area. This is made much easier with those “adaptive all-in-one” computers that use U-shaped metal kickstands like what the VAIO Tap 20 is equipped with. Here, these kickstand can easily double as a carrying handle for the computer in the same manner as the carrying handle integrated in to a boombox, portable TV set or small sewing machine.

Who would buy these computers?

These could be bought by most people as  an alternative to a laptop that is used primarily at the home and taken out and about on rare occasions. It is more so when the user values a large screen while valuing an easily-portable computer.

The memory and hard disk capacities would show up the Adaptive All-In-One computers as being credible for a sole computer or primary-use computer for most people rather than the secondary computer.that you may think of typically.with this device class.

My recommendations about buying these computers

If you do buy an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer, I would recommend that you purchase an accessory optical drive if you expect the computer to be your “sole” computer. This will be of importance if you still like to share data on the low-cost optical disks or buy music and video content on optical disks.

Some of the optical drives may be available as an “expansion module” / docking-station accessory with Ethernet connectivity, extra USB ports, a sound module and other functions. Here this can come in handy if you think of using extra peripherals with your Adaptive All-In-One computer.

Conclusion

The Adaptive All-In-One computer will definitely show up as a computer type that will please a lot of users who want something to fill the gap between a transportable regular computer and a large screen. It doesn’t matter whether you use these computers as your main or sole computer or as an additional computer and will earn their keep as a “lifestyle” computer.

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HP announces an answer to the Sony VAIO Tap 20 computer

Article

HP Reveals ENVY Rove20 Specs; Available Sunday

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Envy Rove 20 Product Page

“The Next Bench” blog post

My Comments

Just a short while ago, I had reviewed the Sony VAIO Tap 20 “adaptive all-in-one” computer which is a large 20” tablet that runs Windows 8. But it can be purposed as a desktop computer by folding out a kickstand and using a wireless keyboard and mouse for text entry and finer navigation.

As well, Dell had fielded an 18” tablet computer with a similar design. Now HP who have become the behemoth on the consumer and small-business computing space have answered Sony by releasing the Envy Rove 20 which is of a similar design.

Here, the Envy Rove 20 has some gaming credentials with the implementation of 10-point highly-responsive touchscreen behaviour. It also implements “Beats Audio” sound-reproduction tuning like a lot of their Envy portable-computer collection and some of the Pavilion portable-computer collection.

It is driven by the Intel “Haswell” i3 processor and has 4Gb RAM under the hood. As well, it has 1Tb capacity on its solid-state hard disk which is twice that if the Tap 20 and also implements 3 USB 3.0 connections with one able to charge a portable device when the computer is in sleep mode. As for the Wi-Fi network, the Envy Rove 20 has native support for wireless segments that work on the 802.11ac draft standard as well as the 802.11n standard for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

As expected for this class of computer, it would be able to run for 3 hours on its own battery and also implements a manual rotate button so you can show others who are poring over the computer from the other side of the bench the image that is on the display.

But what I see of this, along with Intel defining the “Adaptive All-In-One” name for this class of computers is that the playing filed will become very full. What we would have to see is the Windows Store becoming full of quality software that exploits what these computers are all about. This could include the ability to make best use of the large display and the touchscreen user interface such as through semantic zooming and making use of the “pinch-to-zoom” gesture.

For games, some of the online board games that have been written for the iOS and Android platforms and have performed well on the tablet devices based on these platforms could be ported to Windows 8 and made to exploit the abilities of these computers.

I would personally see these “Adaptive All-In-One” computers as something to look forward to as an easily-transportable “lifestyle” computer device.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO Tap 20 desktop-tablet computer

Introduction

Previously, I have given the Sony VAIO Tap 20 “adaptive all-in-one” computer a fair bit of coverage on HomeNetworking01.info as a bridge between a tablet computer and a desktop computer. This included commenting on a Microsoft article where it was presented to the article author’s parents at their house to assess its prowess with different computing skill levels.

Now I have the chance to review this computer and see for myself what it is like as a representative of this new class of computer, especially as a “lifestyle computer”.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a tablet

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Form factor Adaptive All-in-one
Processor i5-3317u
RAM 4 Gb shared with graphics
Secondary Storage 500 Gb hard disk SDXC and MemoryStick card readers
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics
Screen 20” widescreen (1600 x 900) LED-backlit LCD
Sensors Touchscreen
Near-field communications
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connections USB 2 x USB 3.0
Audio 3.5mm audio input jack, 3.5mm audio output jack
Operating System on supplied unit Microsoft Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: 4.8 Graphics: 4.8
Advanced Graphics: 6.2

The computer itself

 

Sony VAI Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer with its kickstand

The VAIO Tap 20 using a simple kickstand for desktop use

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 can be set up to work as a desktop computer with its supplied wireless keyboard and mouse or it can be laid flat to work as a touchscreen-driven tablet computer. This appeals for a range of activities like game-playing or Web-browsing at the kitchen table to regular content creation at a desk.

Aesthetics and Build quality

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 has a style that can be described as being a large tablet computer or a large picture frame. There is the Windows button located at the bottom and a group of status lights located at the top of the screen.

The unit rests on a very sturdy aluminium kickstand which doesn’t slip but can double as a handle when you take the VAIO Tap 20 from room to room. This comes in to play even if you use the computer as a tablet in order to provide a useable operating angle when it is rested on a table or similar surface.

When I was watching an on-demand video throigh the VAIO Tap 20, I had not noticed any overheating. This is due to the use of venting on back of the computer to avoid heat build-up. There also wasn’t any heat build-up through regular use.

User interface

The supplied keyboard has a full numeric keypad plus access to system functions like volume control. It is able to sustain touch-typing comfortably nut you may find that a regular desktop keyboard may work better for this activity. It also has that hard feel which gives the proper feedback for when you type away on it.

The suppled wireless mouse works properly as expected for a three-button thumbwheel mouse and comes in handy for detailed navigation as would be expected.

The touchscreen works as expected for a large touchscreen and can serve well for coarse navigation of a desktop user interface or proper navigation of touch-optimised software like Windows 8’s “Modern” user interface. The large screen size can even allow you to type on the on-screen keyboard for longer periods, which can be useful if the wireless keyboard’s batteries died or you didn’t want to bother carrying the keyboard with you for a short bit of typing.

The VAIO Tap 20 has integrated NFC “touch-and-go” support but the sensor is located on the rear of the tablet unit. It does support what Windows 8 can do for NFC applications, especially the ability to transfer vCard contact data and Web-page URLs between this unit and Android devices. It may be able to do NFC data transfer for more data with Windows devices.

Audio and Video

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer right-hand-side connections - Gigabit Ethernet socket and power socket

Right-hand-side connections – Gigabit Ethernet socket and power socket

The touchscreen display works well for regular computing activities including Google Maps browsing. But it was able to perform smoothly and yield a good colour display for video playback as I observed with SBS On-Demand.

There is the glossy display surface which can be a problem under some lighting conditions and also can harbour fingermarks through regular use. But this is common with consumer-grade equipment.

The sound from the integrated speakers does sound “full” rather than “tinny” for most applications. But it has the volume that is good enough for close listening and wouldn’t be described as “room-filling”. I noticed this when I used TuneIn Radio to listen to Heart 106.2 London through the VAIO’s speakers while preparing the copy for this review.

The supplied VAIO Pictures and Music media browsers, available through the Windows 8 “Modern” user interface work properly as media browsers whether the media is on local storage or on a DLNA-compliant network-attached storage device.

Battery life

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer left-hand-side connections - Memory-card reader, 2 USB 3.0 connections, 3.5mm audio input jack and 3.5mm audio output jack

Left-hand-side connections – Memory-card reader, 2 USB 3.0 connections, 3.5mm audio input jack and 3.5mm audio output jack

I wouldn’t expect the battery in the Sony VAIO Tap 20 to run for more than four hours with regular work because of the large screen area. Even watching an hour-long on-demand TV show had the Tap 20 register half battery capacity even when I started watching it on full capacity. Here, the battery can serve as continuity when you move it between different areas or for short amounts of use away from AC power.

It is something that will be expected out of this class of “adaptive all-in-one” computer as these are pitched simply as transportable computers.

Connectivity and Expansion

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 has 2 USB 3.0 ports and a pair of 3.5mm stereo jacks for audio input and output. Unlike most other computers, it doesn’t have the ability to connect to an external video display, which may not be of concern for its role as a home “lifestyle” computer. If you wanted to use an external display, you would need to use a USB DisplayLink adaptor or network display link such as one based on Intel WiDi technology.

As for a network, it can connect to an 802.11g or n Wi-Fi segment or a Gigabit Ethernet wired segment, which is typical for most of these computers. It can also connect to Bluetooth wireless peripherals and even supports the Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready connection specification, which can allow for sensor devices, keyboards, mice and similar devices to be designed for battery economy.

Other experience notes

I had shown this computer to the lady of the house who has some elementary computer skills and she was impressed with the large screen and its substantial weight but saw it as a different kettle of fish to her Apple iPad tablet. She reckoned that it may work well as a transportable desktop computer for an application we were talking about where this unit may be used on a dining table and be easy to clear up when when it comes time to set the table for dinner.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The NFC sensor could be duplicated on the front of the VAIO Tap 20 so you can easily use it with smaller devices like Android smartphones or when using NFC to set up wireless peripherals. As well, the kickstand could benefit from a rubber grip along the long edge so as to avoid the risk of good furniture being scratched.

I would recommend that Sony provide an optional expansion module / docking station similar to what was available for the VAIO Z Series notebooks for this unit. This is where it had an optical drive and extra USB ports for use at the main desktop computing location. A USB digital-TV tuner module could come in handy as an option, making it work well as the supplementary kitchen TV. Similarly, Sony could also offer a bag or caddy to make it easier to transport the keyboard and mouse with the computer.

Sony could also provide a “performance” variant which uses an Intel i7 CPU, extra RAM and discrete graphics for those who value higher system performance. This could be used as a way to develop the product line further.

Conclusion

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 fits in between a 17” desktop-replacement laptop computer and a tyical “all-in-one” desktop computer as a regular computer that can be easily taken around the house or stored away when not needed.

Here this would work well where you want a large-screen tablet computer that can be stood up or laid flat on a bench or table for Web browsing and similar tasks; or a computer that can be used in the conventional form with a keyboard for content creation. It would underscore the VAIO Tap 20’s role as an alternative to the iPad or regular laptop for a common transportable “casual-use” computer and could fit the bill as a “lifestyle computer”.

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ASUS integrates a UPS and external battery pack in one of their desktop tower PCs

Article

ASUS intros the Desktop PC G10, packing a built-in UPS and portable battery (hands-on video) | Engadget

Video

Click to view

My Comments

The classic “tower-style” desktop PC could be considered to be losing its market share amongst users other than small businesses and hardcore computer gamers as the laptops and all-in-one desktops gain hold amongst the mainstream PC buyers.

But ASUS have worked on a way to take things further for this class of computer. Typically, a computer like this that is involved in mission-critical work may be hooked up to an external uninterruptable power supply to allow users to properly shut these units down, or to provide continual service when the power goes out. Typically these devices are a loaf-size box that has to reside near the computer and can look very ugly.

Here, ASUS have provided a removable battery pack which doubles as a uninterruptable power supply for the computer or as an external battery pack for a smartphone or tablet. When it is installed in the computer, this pack will charge up and stay charged while the computer is on AC power but will provide half-an-hour’s worth of power to allow you to shut down the computer properly when the AC power is removed. But you can remove the battery pack and use that to run your battery-thirsty smartphone for longer by plugging its USB cable in to one of the USB sockets on the edge of that pack.

This is definitely one way ASUS have thought beyond the norm when it comes to power-supply design and I would like to see this design concept be taken further such as an aftermarket add-on for existing “tower” desktops or with higher-capacity batteries available for this setup.

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