Desktop Computers Archive

Intel gives a product-class name to the likes of the VAIO Tap 20

Article

Intel Developing an Adaptive All-In-One PC Standard | Tom’s Hardware

My Comments

Windows 8 has added another product class to its list of computer product classes. This has been brought on by the likes of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and the Dell XPS 18, where the computer can be set up to work as an all-in-one desktop or a tablet.

Intel have defined this class as the “Adaptive All-In-One” and they specify that the computer be equipped with a touchscreen that is between 18.4 inches and 27 inches. It would have an industrial design that allows the computer to be operated lying flat or standing up. Here, this could be in the form of a foldable kickstand or a detachable pedestal as well as being light enough to carry around or rest on your knees. The computers would be expected to be able to work from Lithium-polymer batteries thus allowing them to be used around the home without the need to be plugged in.

Typically these computers would implement a wireless (preferably Bluetooth) keyboard and mouse or, if they implement a detachable pedestal, they would have a wired keyboard and mouse that connects to the pedestal.

The goal eventually is to create software that exploits this design, mainly in the form of a multi-user touch environment. Typical usage classes could be games such as electronic versions of classic multi-player card and board games; or art-type applications.

As this Microsoft blog article and my comments on that article highlighted, this was about a computer product class that worked well with different comfort zones and skill levels. The article highlighted the children sitting on the couch and playing puzzle games on the VAIO Tap 20 with one playing and the other watching with interest.

Of course, it would be interesting to know who else would front up with a computer of this class in their product range.

On the other hand, there may be issues about particular chipsets or thickness limitations which may require manufacturers to use a different name for their computers of this kind. Similarly, manufacturers may want to use a different marketing name for these computers.

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

Article

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

Articles

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

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product page (coming soon)

Blog post

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sony VAIO Tap 20 being used in a family with different computing skill levels

Article – From the horse’s mouth (Microsoft)

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 at Home with my Family

My Comments

I had just read this article which was part of Microsoft’s Windows blog and had noticed how the Sony VAIO Tap 20 tablet computer had fitted in with a household where there were different computing skill levels and desires. Here the computer was being brought around by Leigha Anderson, the author of the article I am citing, to her parents’ home which is what I would describe as a “family house”.

The article had highlighted situations like 13-year-old children sitting on the sofa in the lounge room and watching each other play a jigsaw puzzle game on the Tap 20 along with adult members of the family having it lying flat on the kitchen bench in order to read articles they had come across on the Internet. An example of this was taken further was when Leigha showed her father how the computer could be positioned and he was impressed with the different angles.

Even the concept of implementing different logins for each user appealed because it allowed the computer to be set up for each person’s own “comfort zone”. In my opinion this would help with bridging the gap for older people who aren’t all that comfortable with using the home computer.

Of course, if you are setting this or other similar equipment up for your parents or others with limited computer skills, you may need to work through the Windows Store yourself to choose the right software. This is so you don’t have the computer swamped with “rubbish” software that can slow down its performance.

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Sony Vaio Tap 20–a new class of personal computer

Article

Sony Vaio Tap 20 Review – Watch CNET’s Video Review

My Comments

We have seen the desktop-replacement laptops with the 17” displays as the pinnacle of the laptop computer class but Sony has introduced a new computer device class that bridges two other computer classes. This is part of an increased run of touch-enabled computers that take advantage of the Windows 8 touch shell.

This computer, known as the VAIO Tap 20 is a bridge between the tablet computer and the all-in-one desktop computer of the ilk of the VAIO J Series that I reviewed. Here, it is a Windows 8 tablet with the multi-touch user interface, but it can rest on a stand which links to a keyboard and mouse for regular all-in-one use.

It has 4Gb RAM and 750Gb on the hard disk but doesn’t have an integrated optical drive or HDMI video input. The screen comes in at 20” with a 1600×900 resolution while it is powered by an Intel i5 third-generation processor.

The CNET article still found this computer to have what they considered as dubious performance abilities of the all-in-one class and they found that, although it runs the Windows 8 operating system and has the NFC abilities, it is not worth the money. This is although the HP Z1 Workstation and the Malmgear Alpha 24 Super are showing up as highly-capable all-in-one computers that can handle advanced graphics for work and play.

But what I see of this is that it could be a proving ground for this computer class as more of the all-in-one computers come on the market in response to Windows 8. This is in the form a a large tablet computer which can work as a desk-based computer. Once Sony or someone else issue a “follow-up” model that has the better specifications and features, this could be a chance to legitimise the “all-in-one” tablet hybrid computer as a credible computing device.

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An all-in-one PC now with gaming credentials

Article

Maingear introduces first boutique gaming all-in-one PC | Reviews – Desktops – CNET Reviews

My Comments

Previously, a computer that had serious gaming credibility, commonly described as a “gaming rig”, was a full-size tower-style PC that was decked out with “hotted-up” processors, highly-strung graphics-card circuitry and other components. These setups needed intense cooling and, in some applications, used elaborate cooling systems as part of some wild case designs. They were typically connected to large displays and gaming-optimised input devices as well as intense surround-sound systems.

Now Maingear have redefined how a gaming computer should be designed by releasing the Alpha 24 Super. This is an “all-in-one” computer that is able to take a full-size PCI Express graphics card and use it to drive the main screen. It has a similar kind of expandability as the HP Z1 all-in-one workstation which, although pitched as a CAD or graphics-arts workstation, can be built out as an intense gaming rig.

It can support a 256Gb mSATA SSD and 3Tb regular hard disk as its main secondary storage as well as having 2 miniPCI Express slots for further function expandability. Maingear are offering it with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX-650 or the GTX-680 which have Optimus automatically-selectable graphics “overdrive”. This means that it can save on energy costs and cooling needs when undertaking regular Web browsing or office work. As for the display, this unit supports a 24” HD touchscreen for Windows 8 and has an HDMI input so it can work as a display for video peripherals.  North-American users can have this computer equipped with a CableCard-compliant TV tuner for use as the “all-in-one” bach-pad entertainment setup when it comes to regular computing use, games, TV, DVD or online video.

What I am impressed about this computer is that it is another “all-in-one” that allows you to upgrade / expand / repair it yourself, this allowing the computer to have a very long useful life. I would also reckon that it could be considered as a “poor man’s” alternative to the HP Z1 Workstation.

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New Ivy-Bridge-based all-in-ones from HP

Article

HP unveils four new business and consumer all-in-ones with Ivy Bridge insides – Engadget

My Comments

Previously, I had written an article about desktop computers in form factors other than the traditional tower case becoming more powerful. This also included an article that I wrote about the HP Z1 Workstation which could knock over the Apple iMac computers when it comes to a single-piece CAD workstation based on the Windows platform.

HP have now complemented this workstation with a series of business and consumer all-in-one desktops that still yield highly-capable aesthetically-pleasing computing environments. Infact one of the business computers, the Compaq Elite 8300 has the ability to be equipped with a touchscreen which allows for POS and related customer-service functionality.

The Envy 23 is one of those all-in-ones which could supplant that small bedroom or den TV especially where these rooms are expected to serve as a living area, work area and sleeping area. This is due to it being able to be optioned with a Blu-Ray player and a TV tuner as well as an HDMI input to connect that games console or camera.

What I see of this lineup is whether HP have dumped the classic “tower” desktop in favour of the more attractive form factors like these “all-in-ones” and raised the credibility of this class of cord-tethered computer.

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Desktop computers–not as ugly as they used to be

A major change has been happening for the average desktop computer system. Here this class of computer isn’t just the large box that sat under the screen or the large tower that sat beside the desk. In some ways, these desktop computers are now being welcomed back in to the main living areas of the house rather than being shut out to the den.

System types

There are two major directions that are being made available for this class of computer.

All-in-ones

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computerThis style integrates the computer circuitry, the screen and all of the secondary storage in one box about the size of a small flatscreen TV. The keyboard and mouse appear as separate devices that connect to this unit. An example of this style is the Sony VAIO J Series “all-in-one” that I have recently reviewed.

The style was inspired initially by the Apple Macintosh being the most popular of this form factor, but was augmented initially by the “transportable” computers that appeared at various times through the 1980s. Compaq also tried to bring this style in to being in the mid 1990s but with little success.

Some all-in-one variants where the computer circuitry, keyboard and secondary storage may appear but this style has been and could be targeted at the “retro 80s” market. This is because most of the computers that were popular in the early days of hobby and home computing that existed through the late 70s to the late 80s like the Commodore 64, the Apple IIe or the Sinclair ZX computers were based on that design layout even though, in a lot of the early designs, the secondary storage was outside of the system.

Most of these machines now have a touchscreen built in to them so as to make them appeal as interactive terminals. But HP have raised the stakes in this form factor by develop the Z1 which was a high-powered 27” workstation that implements a modular design so that it can be upgraded or repaired more easily.

Low-profile system units

Another direction for the desktop computer is for a traditional “three-piece” system to be equipped with a low-profile system unit. In earlier times a low-profile system unit was a box about the size of a typical video recorder or hi-fi CD player released through the late 80s and was very unreliable due to intense heat build-up.

Now these are units that appear in different sizes ranging from a small book to a loaf of bread to an ordinary two-slice toaster and some may be mistaken for a typical consumer network-attached-storage unit. This may include “pizza-box” designs that are so slim that you don’t know they are there; and the highly-powerful heavy-duty servers that are as big as the classic desktop computer designs.

Common features

The common features with these newer desktop-computer designs include a thermal design that relies less on a constantly-running fan to keep the system cool. In some cases, any system cooling fans that are used in these computers may operate in an “on-demand” manner where they come on if the system is running hot. This then leads to a reduced noise output from these computers compared to the traditional desktop computer.

Similarly, some of these computers will even use an outboard power supply that looks like the kind that would come with a laptop computer. Of course these would be designed to work without the use of a cooling fan.

Depending on the configuration, you may have new-design desktop computers that may suit average desktop computing tasks whereas you may have highly-compact systems like the HP Z1 that can perform heavy multimedia, graphics or intense gaming tasks.

On the other hand, most of these systems may not be as adaptable to newer needs as a classic desktop system. This may be due to a lot of the systems being built around integrated rather than standards-driven modular architecture.

Choosing the right form factor for your needs

If you want to place value on a touchscreen on a desktop setup, you could go for a large-screen all-in-one that has this feature. Similarly, the all-in-one can come in handy for a brand-new computer system where you are starting from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have a display type, size or arrangement in mind, you could value a low-profile desktop units. This same situation can come in handy if you have a screen, keyboard and mouse that is still in good order. In some cases, you could easily hide the system unit behind the screen or a peripheral if you don’t like the look of it.

It is also worth knowing that some of the larger low-profile desktop units may have room for expansion with the ability to add one or two expansion cards such as installing a discrete graphics card or upgrade secondary storage to your needs.

The traditional “tower-style” desktop is still a sure bet if you place your emphasis on expandability, ultra performance or a system that has to suit your computing needs exactly. Here, these should be purchased from a quality independent computer store who can build them “to order” or have one or more systems available “off the peg” at a cost-effective price to start from.

Conclusion

At least this the improvements in the new desktop-computer designs have allowed for the desktop computer system to be considered as a system option for most computing tasks in environments where aesthetics or noise issues do matter.

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A serious “all-in-one” workstation computer that answers the iMac

Videos

Video reveal of the HP Z1 workstation

Video introduction of the HP Z1 Workstation

Product Page

HP Z1 Workstation

My Comments

When I first saw the videos of HP’s new Z1 all-in-one workstation with 27” LCD display, I had seen it as a game-changer especially for Windows-based workstation-class computing. This is more so as an increasing number of people live in and work from smaller homes or rent smaller office spaces and the traditional workstation may not fit these settings anymore. It may also be seen similarly as a game-changer for the “serious gamers” who would like to play World of Warcraft or other similar games on high-performance computers.

Typically this class of computing was serviced by a computer that had a separate “tower-style” system unit located under the desk. This was connected up to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Some of the high-end Apple iMac all-in-one computers may have satisfied high-end graphics and multimedia needs; and there may have been a few computers with compact system units serving in this class of high-intensity computer.

I had also reviewed a Sony VAIO J Series “all-in-one” computer for this site and had found that the compact nature of these computers has a distinct useability advantage over the traditional desktop with the “tower-style” system unit that I was using.

HP has brought this kind of compact standards-based all-in-one computer to the architecture, engineering and graphic arts industries in a form that is reliable and continually serviceable. Here, the system can be laid flat and opened up so you can repair or improve the system, like as you could with the traditional workstation-class computer. It still needs the forced-air cooling but the software regulates how the fans run so as to cut down on the noise.

Some people may see this as being too “cutting edge” for a workstation-class standards-based “all-in-one” and there may be foibles associated with this model. But I would see this as a chance to bring high-performance computing in a home-friendly compact form without having to have the Apple logo.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one desktop computer (VPC-J228FGB)

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO J Series desktop computer which is the first of this class to be reviewed on this site. This computer is an “all-in-one” design with the computing electronics, secondary storage and screen in one box and the keyboard and mouse as separate entities.

This computer-design style was initially put on the scene with the early sewing-machine-sized “transportables” like the Commodore SX-64, and IBM’s and Compaq’s early portable PC offerings. But this design was legitimised and made popular with the Apple Macintosh since its inception in 1984 and underscored with the iMac lineup offered by the same company since 1999. Now, over the last five years, a selection of big computing names associated with the Microsoft Windows platform have brought this design in to being for the desktop as a legitimate alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop-computer design.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1399
Processor Intel Core i5-2430M
RAM 4Gb shared with graphics
Secondary Storage 500Gb hard disk DVD burner, SDHC / MemoryStick card reader
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon HD 6470M 512Mb
Screen 21.5” multi-touch widescreen(1920×1080) LED-backlit LCD
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth v2.1 with EDR
Modem Dial-up or wireless-broadband modems
Connectors USB 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0
Video External display
Audio 3.5mm audio in, 3.5mm audio out
Operating System on supplied unit Microsoft Windows 7
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall 5.9 Graphics: 6.5
Advanced Graphics: 6.5
Insert other variants with price shift, bold or highlight this configuration

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build quality

The Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one is well-built and the main unit is meant to resemble a picture frame with a kickstand on the back.  This is in contrast to the pedestal look that Apple has associated with the newer iMac computers. The front is finished with a piano-black bezel for the screen with a few status LEDs at the top edge glowing in a similar manner to the lighting on a classic pinball machine.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer DVD burner

The DVD burner – loads on the side using a vertical drawer

An improvement that I would like to see would be to support wall-mounting or similar “integrated” mounting setups with the back sockets arranged in a similar fashion to those on a flatscreen TV, as well as a VESA-compliant wall-mount anchor point. For some people, this may be a deal-maker or deal-breaker when it comes to aesthetics.

The power supply is a “lump”-style external unit which reminds me of the typical laptop’s power supply, thus allowing for reduced operating noise and increased power efficiency. This can be an annoyance if you are used to the AC cord plugged directly in to the computer but it can be hidden discreetly, like behind a desk or a bowl of fruit if you still want that neat look.

Through its use. I noticed a slight resonant hum while it was in full operation. This could be rectified with the fans and the hard disk being acoustically isolated such as being mounted on rubber washers and gaskets.

User interface

The Sony VAIO J Series computer uses a wireless keyboard and mouse as well as a touchscreen. The wireless link isn’t a Bluetooth-driven link but could benefit from this in order for the keyboard to work as a text-entry device for the PlayStation 3 or so larger and better Bluetooth wireless keyboards and mice can be used with the computer.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Small wireless keyboard

The keyboard’s size is small enough to store in a drawer lengthways, which can benefit applications where you would like to keep the keyboard and mouse hidden when not in use. There is that hard touch and feel that is close to the original IBM PC keyboard, where you feel as though you are typing on a hard surface. This may be OK for longer typing sessions.

The touchscreen has the multi-touch response and is very responsive in a similar way to most smartphones and tablets. An operating system like the upcoming Windows 8 with its Metro-style interface would let the touchscreen shine in many ways, but the VAIO software supplied with this computer does do justice ti this user interface. If you do buy this computer, make sure you upgrade to Windows 8 when it is released to gain benefit from this experience.

 Audio and Video

The graphics and display are very responsive and accurate even when it comes to handling games although I had tried out the touchscreen casual games that were furnished by Microsoft to demonstrate the touchscreen technology. It also is very responsive with video content even if it was served through online services.

The sound comes through very loud but it doesn’t come through with the full tone. This kind of all-in-one computer could work better off with extension speakers if you want decent sound with the full tone.

Connectivity and Expansion

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer side connections

Side connections – 2 USB 3.0, audio in, audio out, SD card reader, VAIO Assis button

This computer has the proper connections for regular peripherals in the form of 2 USB 2.0 connectors on the back and 2 USB 3.0 connectors on the side. It could benefit from having all USB 3.0 connectors as well as external video-output connectors for use with multi-display setups and projectors.

The network connectivity is in the form of a Gigabit Ethernet wired connection and an 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless connection. Here it could benefit from a dual-band 802.11a/g/n wireless connection where wireless-network performance is desired. As well, it is equipped with Bluetooth which would work properly with accessories that work to this standard. This could be improved with Bluetooth 4 “Smart Ready” connectivity in order to provide for a standards-based wireless keyboard and mouse that work on regular AA batteries.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one - rear connections

Rear connections – 2 USB 2.0 and a Gigabit Ethernet socket

Sony could sell the VAIO J Series computers as a run of models with differing processor, RAM and hard-disk specifications at different price points rather than just one model with one set of specifications. Here the specifications  could vary with 500Gb to 1 Tb for hard-disk capacity, 4Gb to 8Gb for RAM memory and / or video-display subsystems having 1Gb dedicated display memory.

The VAIO J Series could also benefit from a clip or caddy to attach the keyboard and mouse to the main unit being sold as an optional or aftermarket accessory. This could come in handy should you need to transport the computer from room to room or stow the keyboard and mouse easily.

They could also offer a “broadcast kit” as an option to allow the computer to pick up broadcast radio and TV content local to the area. This would be in the form of a tuner module that works with ATSC digital TV and HD radio (IBOC digital radio) in the US or DVB-based digital TV, DAB-based digital radio and FM RDS analogue radio in European and Asian areas; and allows this unit to become an “all-in-one” entertainment centre with access to broadcast content.

As far as the software is concerned, VAIO Media Gallery could be built upon Windows Media Player when it comes to handling DLNA network media content. This means that it could handle more media file types properly like WMA audio.

Conclusion

I would position the Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computers as a fixed or transportable “few-piece” computer alternative to a large-screen laptop. This is if you are considering the computer to be a household computer that exists in the family room or kitchen area or even as a “first” computer system for someone who is moving out. The cost may appear to be prohibitive but if you are considering the requirements for a typical “traditional-form” entry-level desktop with a system uint, a good-quality 21″ LCD monitor, and a wireless keyboard and mouse for average use, you may think of a bargain, especially if you crave the touchscreen feature.

It can work as a touchscreen POS or similar-application terminal for some businesses where there is a modest amount of activity and the system is primarily client-server based. For example, this may be a “back-office” management computer in a café or bar where the computer may be required to “ring up” orders for function space that is located near the office. Similarly, it could work well as a reception-desk computer in an environment where elegance is desired.

I would also consider the Sony VAIO J Series as a viable future-proof Windows-driven alternative to the Apple iMac family, especially if an Apple user wants the “all-in-one” look but wants to head to an “open platform” computing environment.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t really recommend it as a “serious gaming rig” for those of you who are craving a performance-driven environment to play something like World Of Warcraft.

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