Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Computers Archive

Desktop or laptop computing in the COVID-19 era

Gaming rig

Whether to buy a desktop computer like these gaming rigs…

Thanks to the COVID-19 plague, we are being encouraged if not required by law to stay at home to limit the spread of this disease.

This has led to us using regular desktop and laptop computers that run Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux at home more frequently for work, education, communications and pleasure. Think of those many Zoom or Skype videoconferences you have been making very lately. This may even cause some of us to purchase a new desktop or laptop computer or upgrade an existing one that is long in the tooth.

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

or a low-profile NUC computer like this Intel Skull Canyon…

The question that will come about more frequently in this era is whether we should buy desktop computers or laptop computers. The desktop computers are appearing in newer and different form factors like “all-in-one” computers where the computing power is part of the display; or three-piece systems that now use a low-profile system unit like the Intel “NUC” boxes. This is while the highly-portable laptop computers appear in the traditional “clamshell” form or a 2-in-1 convertible that folds over to become a tablet.

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one press picture courtesy of Lenovo

or something like the Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one or Apple iMac …

There is also the fact that high-performance computers like gaming rigs or workstations are appearing in low-profile or “all-in-one” desktop form, or in laptop form. This is so you can think of having higher performance computing in an aesthetically-pleasing or portable form factor.

As far as a regular computer’s durability and longevity is concerned, it is becoming more plausible for these systems to last for many years compared to a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet. This is furthered by some people gaining more mileage from these computers by doing things like “upsizing” their computer’s RAM memory or storage to suit newer expectations. Or they end up using external or portable USB hard disks and SSDs or network-attached storage systems as a data-offload solution.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

or a laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop …

But the question that can come about is whether a desktop or a laptop is a more relevant computer purchase at this time.

It is more so as we see schools of thought develop concerning the purchase of portable computing technology like laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. Here, some of these schools of thought may downplay the need to invest heavily in such technology because it is perceived as “something to impress others with” when out and about in a similar vein to cars, bikes or fashion. This is with us spending more time cocooned within our homes thanks to this virus therefore driving a preference for us to lead a simple contemplative homespun life.

Desktop Computers

A desktop computer may be seen as being more relevant in the short term due to us not moving around. It may be more real where there is the expectation to use only one particular workspace for your computing activities and may be augmented by the fact that you use other complementary devices like mobile-platform tablets or gaming consoles for different activities away from the workspace.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

.. or a 2-in-1 like this Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 convertible

Some users who chase high performance at all costs may simply state that a desktop computer, preferably the traditional “tower-style” unit, is the way to go. It is due to a desktop form-factor offering increased performance at a cheaper cost or being easily upgradeable or customisable. This would be preferred by the core gamers who value their custom-built gaming rigs. As well, those of us who are willing to throw down money on the latest CPU and graphics-infrastructure silicon as soon as Intel, AMD or NVIDIA release it would go for the traditional easy-to-upgrade desktop computer.

Laptop and Notebook Computers

Or a laptop or notebook computer, including a 2-in-1 convertible, can be about a long-term view of us coming out of the crisis and being able to get out and about. Here it may be about travelling again or working away from home whether that be your workplace’s office or a “secondary office” that is your favourite cafe.

In the short term, it can also be about the idea of using a highly-portable computer that can be taken around the house or stored away quickly when not in use. This can be driven by seasonal wishes like wanting to use your computer by the fire during winter or outside on the balcony or in the garden during summer. Let’s not forget that a small home may be about not having a dedicated desk for your workspace and you have to use a dining table or coffee table for that purpose. Or you could take that laptop in to a lounge area to have that casual videoconference between family and friends using something like Zoom or Skype, perhaps hooking it up to the large TV for that purpose.

The transportability issue weighs more in the laptop’s favour because you carrywith the screen, keyboard and pointing device. one piece of equipment that is essentially your useable computer system

A recent trend that has affected laptop-computer use is to create a primary workspace that is equipped with a large display, a full-size keyboard and mouse along with other peripherals. These would be connected to your laptop whether directly or through a USB-connected dock (expansion module). You may follow this path when you want to work in a particular primary location but be flexible to move around for your regular-computing needs.

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing that next regular computer during this time, it is important to think of what form-factor really suits your needs both in the short term and the long term. This includes whether you see the possibility of frequently evolving your computer system to suit newer needs or whether you value portability or affordable performance.

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Lenovo to offer a ThinkPad laptop that directly competes with the Dell XPS 13

Article

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

Lenovo is tentatively fielding a computer that rivals the Dell XPS 13 ultraportable

Lenovo ThinkPad Nano leak reveals fascinating features — XPS 13 could be in trouble | Laptop Mag

My Comments

The Dell XPS 13 series of Intel-powered clamshell laptops has been seen by the computer press as what an ultraportable laptop should be about such as durability and value-for-money. I even gave some coverage about this unit on HomeNetworking01.info and reviewed some of these laptops including a 2-in-1 variant.

Now Lenovo is answering Dell by offering a similarly-sized ThinkPad laptop, known as the ThinkPad X1 Nano thanks to leaked information that surfaced on the Internet. Like other ThinkPad laptops, this is finished in the black conservative “IBM” look rather than the silver look associated with the Apple MacBook family and the Dell XPS 13.

  1. Here, this will come with at least 16Gb RAM and implement Intel’s newer Tiger Lake (11th generation) Core CPUs which I suspect will be the i5 or i7 types. It will have a 16:10 display with at least 2K resolution along with 5G mobile broadband and the newer Thunderbolt 4 over USB-C sockets offering compatibility with USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3. The expected battery runtime for its 48Wh battery is to be around 17 hours.

The question here is whether Lenovo will still focus the computer towards the “enterprise” segment of the market with a preference to supply all of the security and manageability requirements desired of by Corporate America’s IT teams. Or will there be a desire to make this equally available to personal and small business users who would like to see an alternative to the Dell XPS 13.

Will there also be a desire by Lenovo to rival Dell with the configurations offered at the different price points for both the ultraportables especially when pitching them at regular users? Will there also be a rivalry between those companies to use the latest silicon to design and offer the best value-priced ultraportable through subsequent model generations?

If this is for real, it could open up a strong rivalry when it comes to the market for 13” ultraportable laptop computers. But I hope that the competition is about innovation in this product class with a goal for value for money centred around good-quality equipment rather than a “race to the bottom” where customers are sold substandard products at a cheap price.

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Apple advises against Webcam shields on its newer Macbooks–could this be a trend that affects new low-profile laptops?

Article

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of Apple

Apple advises against using camera covers on their recent MacBooks.

Apple: Closing MacBooks with camera covers leads to display damage | Bleeping Computer

Previous coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

Keeping hackers away from your Webcam and microphone

My Comments

Apple has lately advised its MacBook owners to avoid buying and using accessory Webcam covers on their computers.

These Webcam shields are being seen as a security asset thanks to malware being used to activate the Webcam and microphone to surveil the computer’s user. But Apple advises against them due to the MacBook having the Webcam integrated with the circuitry for the screen and built in a very fragile manner. They also mention that the Webcam is used by macOS as an ambient light sensor and for advanced camera functionality.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

with similar advice that could apply to other low-profile thin-bezel laptops like the Dell XPS 13

They recommend that if you use a device to obfuscate your Webcam, you use something as thin as a piece of ordinary printing paper and isn’t adhesive. This is because the adhesive can ruin your camera’s picture quality when you want to use it. As well, they recommend that you remove the camera-cover device before you close up your MacBook at the end of your computing session.

I also see this as a key trend that will affect other low-profile laptop computers like Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s that have very thin screen bezels like recent Dell XPS 13s. This is due to manufacturers designing the in-lid electronics in a more integrated manner so as to reduce the lid’s profile. Let’s not forget that with an increasing number of computers, the Webcam is part of facial-recognition-based device-level authentication if its operating system supports this function.

But you still need to protect your privacy when dealing with your laptop’s, all-in-one’s or monitor’s integrated Webcam and microphone.

Primarily, this is about proper computer housekeeping advice like making sure the computer’s operating system, applications, security software and any other software is up-to-date and with the latest security patches. As well, make sure that you know what is installed on your computer and that you don’t install software or click on links that you aren’t sure of.

You may find that your computer or monitor with the integrated Webcam will have some hardware security measures for that camera. This will be in the form of a shutter as used with some Lenovo equipment or a hardware switch that disables the camera as used with some HP equipment. Or the camera will have a tally light that glows when it is in use which is part of the camera’s hardware design. Here, make use of these features to protect your privacy. But you may find that these features may not affect what happens with your computer’s built-in microphone.

As well, you may find that your computer’s operating system or desktop security software has the ability to monitor or control which software has access to your Webcam, microphone or other sensors your computer is equipped with. Here, they may come with this functionality as part of a continual software update cycle. Let’s not forget that some Web browsers may bake camera-use detection in to their functionality as part of a major feature upgrade.

MacOS users should look at Apple’s support page for what they can do while Windows 10 users can look at Microsoft’s support page on this topic. Here, this kind of control is part of the fact that today’s desktop and mobile operating systems are being designed for security.

If your operating system or desktop security software doesn’t have this functionality, you may find third-party software for your computing platform that has oversight of your Webcam and microphone. One example for MacOS is Oversight which notifies you if the camera or microphone are being used, with the ability to detect software that “piggybacks” on to legitimate video-conferencing software to record your conversations. But you need to do some research about these apps before you consider downloading them.

Even if you are dealing with a recent MacBook or low-profile laptop computer, you can make sure your computer’s Webcam and integrated microphone isn’t being turned into a listening device.

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Dell has added a 17” desktop-replacement laptop to the XPS series

Dell XPS 17 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

The Dell XPS Series now appears in a 17″ screen size desktop replacement

Article

Review: Dell’s big XPS17 9700 17-inch laptop is a monster | Business Review – The Australian

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 17

Product Page

My Comments

Recently  Dell has released the XPS 17 laptop which is capitalising on what their XPS range of laptops is all about – a premium-positioned value-for-money range of ultraportable or “thin-and-light” laptop computers.

Here, the Dell XPS 17 is a 17” slimline desktop-replacement laptop that appeals to those of us who value the larger screen size for content creation. A review published by the Australian described it as being fit for use at work or home or in a hotel room rather than being always taken around a conference or university campus. I would sum this up as simply where you don’t expect to carry it around many times in a day.

The baseline variant which has an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM, 512Gb solid-state storage and Full HD non-touch display also uses Intel UHD integrated graphics as its graphics infrastructure. This is while the other configurations use NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1650 Ti graphics infrastructure with 4Gb display memory along with the Intel Core i7 CPUs.

But, like the rest of the lineup, it has four Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C sockets which allows it to be used with an external graphics module. This is something I appreciate for those of us who may want to save money in the initial purchase of one of these machines but can look towards saving towards purchasing an external graphics module that has the graphics power that suits our needs at a later time.

Two of the higher-end variants have a 4K UHD touch display which would have appeal towards content creation and make best use of the screen size. The only limitation about this would be that the laptop will be more thirsty when it comes to battery runtime. For some people especially content creators, this may be a non-issue if the Dell XPS 17 is expected to be used primarily on external power.

What is happening with Dell and their XPS laptop product lineup is that they are creating Windows-based computers that answer what most of us are after while delivering a very well-built product. They are even getting to a point where they can provide a viable Windows answer to the Apple MacBook lineup.

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

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

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

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

Lenovo Flex 5G Laptop Landing Worldwide This Week | Ubergizmo

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

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

Verizon

Product site and purchasing links (US only)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other reviews in the computer press

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

Dell XPS 13 (2019) review: | CNet

Dell XPS 13 (2019) Review | Laptop Mag

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

Review: Dell XPS 13 (2019) | Wired

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

Previous coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

A 13” traditional laptop found to tick the boxes

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

This year’s computing improvements from Dell (2019)

Reviews of previous generations of the Dell XPS 13

Clamshell variants

First generation (Sandy Bridge)

2017 Kaby Lake

2018 8th Generation

2-in-1 convertible variants

2017 Kaby Lake

My Comments

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

What makes these computers special?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best value configuration suggestions

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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How to go about buying a performance-focused computer

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming performance-focused laptop computer

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

What is a performance-focused computer

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

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

How did these evolve?

Gaming rig

An example of those gaming-rig desktop computers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance computer types

Gaming computers

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

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

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

Prosumer / content-creator computers

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

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

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

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

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

Workstation computers

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

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

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

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

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

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

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

Which kind of high-performance computer would suit different users

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s value-priced 2-in-1 laptop computer, the Inspiron 14 5000 which is positioned as a mid-tier computer for this class.

There is a model in the lineup that costs under AUD$1000 which has the Intel i3 CPU,  4Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. I would see this as being of value for most users who are dabbling in the idea of a Windows-based 2-in-1.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 - viewer arrangement at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1398
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Intel i5-8265U
cheaper option:
Intel i3-8145U
better option:
Intel i7-8565U
RAM 8GB
cheaper option: 4GB
Secondary storage 256GB SSD
cheaper option: 128Gb
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
NVIDIA GeForce MX130 Discrete graphics with Optimus (2Gb)
Screen 14” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio Pro
Network Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
2 streams
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with DisplayPort alt and PowerDelivery
2 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4b
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Digital via HDMI or DisplayPort
Authentication and Security
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 has a very similar styling to most of today’s laptops with the grey housing and black keys and screen escutcheon. It doesn’t come across with a cheap-looking finish.

This computer doesn’t come across as being flimsy. It can work smoothly between the different setups whether it be a tablet, tent mode or the traditional laptop setup. Here, you don’t need to exert much pressure on the lid and it moves very smoothly. A problem that can occur if you use it in viewer mode is that if you put a bit too much pressure on the screen, you can find that the screen collapses too quickly. This may be of concern for those of us who attempt to type with the on-screen keyboard.

There is venting along the back and on the bottom of the keyboard unit. In normal use in all modes, I have noticed that the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 hasn’t built up any heat or become too hot to be comfortable.

User Interface

The illuminated keyboard on the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 looks like what is expected for most of the value-priced consumer-grade laptops. It has the tactile feel that is expected for most modern keyboards and you still have the ability to touch-type accurately. The illumination could be improved through the use of an “on-demand” mode to prevent the keyboard lighting up longer after you stop interacting with it and this could come in to play while the unit is running on batteries.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

The trackpad on this Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 has the full precision ability which allows for multi-touch operation as expected for relatively-modern laptops. The touchscreen is also responsive and accurate as expected and isn’t easily triggered by you typing on the keyboard.

Unlike some very cheap Chinese-built 2-in-1 convertible laptops, the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 disables the keyboard and trackpad when it is placed in a tablet, viewer or tent mode. This means it fulfils the expectations of a 2-in-1 convertible and you don’t have accidental operation.

An improvement that I would like to see for use in any of the “tablet” modes would be to have a power switch and volume buttons located on one of the sides of the screen. This could allow the user to quickly shut the unit down or adjust the sound output when it is used as a tablet or a viewer setup.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell has implemented the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning but this doesn’t really improve the sound quality especially for music when you use this computer’s speakers. This is still a problem with laptops because of the shallow cramped design that is part of their construction. Here, I would recommend the use of headphones ore external speakers if you want more out of these computers.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics performed properly for handling Web video but I have done further research on this graphics subsystem. Here, it is able to be an all-rounder for most tasks including some gaming where you aren’t critical about its performance. The high-end variant with the NVIDIA discrete graphics infrastructure would come in handy if you are wanting performance for gaming or photo and video editing.

Dell has done the right thing for battery life by keeping the display resolution for the integrated display at Full HD rather than offering a configuration with a 4K UHDTV screen resolution. The DisplayPort via USB-C connection option can come in to its own for higher resolution computing needs when you have this computer teamed with an external monitor or TV of that resolution.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

This computer, like most of the configurations of the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 comes with the 256Gb solid-state storage. This is while one of the configurations equipped with 8Gb RAM comes with 128Gb. It can work well for most “secondary-computer” applications but could be made as an across-the-board baseline. As well, a 512Gb solid-state drive could be offered as a premium option.

The solid-state storage that serves as the Dell Inspiron’s system disk is augmented by a full SD card reader that can work with the standard SD cards. This means that you could load your photos from your digital camera in to your computer without the need for using an SD-card reader.

The RAM capacity satisfies most needs but a 16Gb RAM specification could be offered as a premium option especially for units kitted with the i7 CPU.

The Wi-FI does come across as being strong and quick for most of today’s Wi-Fi networks and hasn’t been much of a worry. The Bluetooth connection also worked properly with my JBL headphones and is a feature that is to be made use of on a laptop for private listening or wireless keyboards and mice.

The USB connectivity does suit most needs including having a USB-C connection with DisplayPort alt and Power Delivery support. Here, it can play well with setting up a USB-C monitor or dock as the heart of a laptop-centric desktop workspace where you are implementing an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The two traditional Type-A connections on the left work to USB 3.0 specifications while the right-had Type-A connection works to the 2.0 specification. This can come up as a problem if you are using high-performance plug-in USB peripherals like USB modems that answer high-bandwidth mobile broadband services or USB memory keys with high storage capacity and high performance.

There is also an HDMI connection for existing flatscreen TVs and monitors when you want the second screen, while you have the 3.5mm audio jack for connecting headphones or speakers for better sound.

Battery Life

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1’s integral battery can satisfy a workday of ordinary text-based computing. This is even if you do your computing totally online such as Web-surfing on your home network or at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Online video streaming for 90 minutes with full-screen video and the sound via a Bluetooth headset allowed the battery to run from full capacity to half capacity. You may find that you have to use an external power supply like a USB-C PD battery pack or the computer’s supplied battery charger if you are considering full-on binge-viewing or similar activity for over two to three hours flat-out.

Other Usage Notes

I showed the Del Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible to the chairman of the Men’s Shed that I go to regularly and he found that the screen size was “just right” – not to small or too big. Another person who is involved in business IT saw this computer as being suitable as a general-purpose household or personal computer where you are not asking for anything special in performance or security.

As well, I had used the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 during the broadcast of the Australian Federal Election vote count. Here, I found that the tablet mode worked very well for using the computer as a “second screen” in this context.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature that I would like to see with the Dell Inspiron family of value-priced 2-in-1 laptops is for one or more variants to be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connector. This is more so on machines that are targeted towards affordable price segments due to the fact that they could be optioned up for better graphics with an external graphics module.

It could also be a good idea to implement USB 3.0 for all of the Type-A connections on this computer. Here, it can be of benefit to users who are likely to use two unwieldly-sized plug-in USB 3.0 peripherals that have a large form factor like some mobile-broadband modems or high-capacity USB memory keys.

Another feature that would work well for this class of laptop is to have a power switch and volume buttons installed on the edge of the screen. This can simplify the process of regulating the volume or quickly turning off the laptop when you are done.

The illuminated-keyboard feature could have an option to work only while you are working with the keyboard with it turning off a few seconds after you stop using the keyboard. This can be a way to allow for improved battery runtime.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 series 2-in-1s fills the gap for a convertible notebook that suits the needs of most householders without sacrificing performance for most computing tasks. This includes using it as a second screen or viewing online video, with the fact that the 14” screen keeps the idea of a highly portable computer alive while maintaining a larger screen.

This model even has some configurations that suit a budget user, someone who wants an all-round performer and someone who is after improved graphics performance.

I would make sure that Dell keeps the Inspiron 14 5000 series of 2-in-1 laptop computers as a value-priced product that suits most users and to keep one model with some desirable specs at an affordable price point. Here, it could be about preserving a lineup of 2-in-1 convertible laptops of different screen sizes, powertrains (CPUs, graphics processors, chipsets), RAM capacities and storage capacities under the Inspiron banner in order to make this computer class affordable for most users.

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Lenovo starts the Thinkbook line of small-business laptops

Articles

Lenovo’s new ThinkBook line offers ThinkPad-level features at a lower price point | The Verge

Lenovo’s new ThinkBook laptop line is built for slimness and security | Engadget

Lenovo launches less-expensive ThinkBook laptops | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Thinkbook Series (product page)

Meet the New ThinkBook: Built for Business, Designed for Generation Next (Press Release)

Product Tour Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s small-business notebook computer

HP and Dell have, for a long time, created a separate range of regular computers that stand between the consumer-class and enterprise-class product lineups. These product lineups known as ProBook in the case of HP or Vostro in the case of Dell were effectively targeted at small-to-medium business / community-organisation users or self-employed / freelance professionals.

Lenovo, Acer and some other computer manufacturers didn’t target this kind of user class effectively with a product lineup that answered their particular needs without adding to much extra functionality. Typically, the computers offered by these manufacturers wore the lower-tier models of the enterprise product range or the premium consumer products in their product lineup.

Lenovo ThinkBook 14S press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkBook 14s small-business notebook computer

But Lenovo have answered the small-to-medium-size organisation’s or freelancer’s needs by launching the ThinkBook product lineup targeted at these user classes. Here, they removed all the extra management features associated with enterprise-class computers, added the kind of multimedia features associated with consumer-grade products and presented them with a stylish look.

This satisfies the reality that this user class doesn’t run or contract an IT management and support team. Rather they have their solutions provider or an independent computer store provide the necessary after-sales support.

Similarly, this user class tends to work these computers as a “work-home” computer system which has to perform well in an all-round multimedia context as well as looking stylish for the home. It includes the fact that a significant amount of the small/medium business or freelance / self-employed user class places emphasis on doing at least some of their work from home.

Lenovo answered this situation by integrating an essential subset of security features in the form of a discrete TPM security chip along with a fingerprint reader that is integrated in the computer’s power switch. These work together to provide authentication for local or Web resources according the the “open-frame” FIDO2 standards. The camera also supports the end-user’s privacy through the use of a mechanical shutter over the lens that the user can slide back when they want to use the camera with Lenovo marketing it as the ThinkShutter.

There is also the business-class durability associated with the ThinkPad business product range built in to the new ThinkBook product range. This means that the small-organisation or freelancer user isn’t treated as a second-class citizen in this respect.

But the ThinkBook 13s and 14s which are clamshell laptops implement multimedia features like Dolby Audio and Harman sound tuning for the sound output and Dolby Vision colour management for the Full HD display. Both these laptops were also designed to have the stylish looks and are finished in a sliver housing rather than a black or charcoal-grey housing associated with business-grade computer equipment.

The ThinkBook 13s (13” screen) has the integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics whereas the ThinkBook 14s (14” screen) has AMD Radeon discrete graphics with AMD Dynamic Switchable Graphics operation. Both of them support Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) dual-stream for wireless operation along with a USB-C port and one of the two standard USB 3 ports supporting “Plug and Charge” operation when the computer is closed up.

The keyboard layout will be similar to most laptops on the market and it will use a normal touchpad and not have the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick associated with the ThinkPad. There are dedicated function keys for managing voice / video calls with Skype or other softphone / videophone software that responds to standard call-control function keys.

The ThinkBook laptop range are expected to appear at least in the North-American market by the end of May. But I would see this as a chance for Lenovo to build out a regular-computer product range dedicated to the small organisations and self-employed or freelancing professionals of this world.

It will also be a chance for more of the computer vendors to build up and identify out their “prosumer” products that fill the gap between consumer-focused and business-focused or professional-focused markets. This is through practices like designing products with the essential security, durability and reliability features but presented in a stylish form and capable of satisfying multimedia work and play activity.

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USB-C PD battery packs–are they worth it for your laptop?

Article

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

This Dell XPS 13 can be charged from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack for long-haul use

The 10 Best Laptops You Can Charge With a Power Bank | MakeUseOf

List of USB-C Power Delivery chargable laptops | Wikipedia

My Comments

The USB-C connection and USB Power Delivery specification bas brought forward the idea of using a USB external battery pack a.k.a a USB powerbank for charging your laptop computer. This is in addition to using these battery packs for charging your smartphones or tablets.

For example, you could be using these battery packs to “stretch out” your laptop’s run-time while you are away from power, something you may be doing while playing a Civilization game on one of the new many-hour long-haul flights for example. Or you could simply charge up a laptop that has a battery that is depleted. It may also be of use where a battery inside the computer is nearing its end-of-life and is not likely to hold enough charge to permit use away from power.

Here, you have to look towards a USB-C PD-compliant battery pack which can put up at least 30 watts. For air travel, the battery pack would have to have the ideal battery capacity of 2600mAh because of air-transport limitations on lithium-ion batteries larger than 2700mAh for this class.

Features worth looking for include some USB-A connections for mobile phones and tablets along with another USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant connection. Having the two USB-C connections can allow you to charge the battery pack up while you are charging your laptop or running it from AC power – no need to carry extra chargers and travel adaptors with you.

This is mostly relevant to 13” laptops, 2-in-1s and similar devices. You may be able to get some more run-time out of larger-screen devices and other USB-C Power-Delivery devices if you don’t really expect to fully top up the battery in your computer.

The Dell XPS 13 in its clamshell and 2-in-1 forms as reviewed and covered extensively on this site can be charged from these battery packs. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or Yoga variants can do this job as can the HP Spectre X2 detachable and the ASUS Zenbook 3. For gaming-grade performance, you can power the Razer Blade from one of these USB-C battery packs.

Mac users can rejoice with all of the USB-C-equipped Apple MacBook family able to he charged or powered from these external battery packs. Chrome OS users also can know that the Google Pixelbook and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 can work from these same power sources.

The Wikipedia article will list more laptops that can work from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack and there is a strong likelihood that newer iterations of the abovementioned computers will run from USB-C Power Delivery in this manner.

You may be able to work around the battery-power limit regarding these batteries if you take two or more USB-C PD battery packs that is within the limits but it is best to confirm these limits with your national government’s air-safety Website.

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