Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Computers Archive

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

Article

Gateway Is Back and Making Laptops | Gizmodo

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

Holy cow! Gateway laptops return via Walmart exclusive | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Walmart USA

Product Listing with prices

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

Dell XPS 17 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

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

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

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

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

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

NVIDIA

RTX Studio program (Product Page)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lenovo has premiered a lightweight slim performance-class laptop

Articles

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

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

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

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

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

Legion Slim 7i (Product Page – PDF)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why do I see Thunderbolt 3 and integrated graphics as a valid option set for laptops?

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

The Dell XPS 13 series of ultraportable computers uses a combination of Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports

Increasingly, laptop users want to make sure their computers earn their keep for computing activities that are performed away from their home or office. But they also want the ability to do some computer activities that demand more from these machines like playing advanced games or editing photos and videos.

What is this about?

Integrated graphics infrastructure like the Intel UHD and Iris Plus GPUs allows your laptop computers to run for a long time on their own batteries. It is thanks to the infrastructure using the system RAM to “paint” the images you see on the screen, along with being optimised for low-power mobile use. This is more so if the computer is equipped with a screen resolution of not more than the equivalent of Full HD (1080p) which also doesn’t put much strain on the computer’s battery capacity.

They may be seen as being suitable for day-to-day computing tasks like Web browsing, email or word-processing or lightweight multimedia and gaming activities while on the road. Even some games developers are working on capable playable video games that are optimised to run on integrated graphics infrastructure so you can play them on modest computer equipment or to while away a long journey.

There are some “everyday-use” laptop computers that are equipped with a discrete graphics processor along with the integrated graphics, with the host computer implementing automatic GPU-switching for energy efficiency. Typically the graphics processor doesn’t really offer much for performance-grade computing because it is a modest mobile-grade unit but may provide some “pep” for some games and multimedia tasks.

Thunderbolt 3 connection on a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

But if your laptop has at least one Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port along with the integrated graphics infrastructure, it will open up another option. Here, you could use an external graphics module, also known as an eGPU unit, to add high-performance dedicated graphics to your computer while you are at home or the office. As well, these devices provide charging power for your laptop which, in most cases, would relegate the laptop’s supplied AC adaptor as an “on-the-road” or secondary charging option.

A use case often cited for this kind of setup is a university student who is studying on campus and wants to use the laptop in the library to do their studies or take notes during classes. They then want to head home, whether it is at student accommodation like a dorm / residence hall on the campus, an apartment or house that is shared by a group of students, or their parents’ home where it is within a short affordable commute from the campus. The use case typifies the idea of the computer being able to support gaming as a rest-and-recreation activity at home after all of what they need to do is done.

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Core external graphics module with Razer Blade gaming laptop

Here, the idea is to use the external graphics module with the computer and a large-screen monitor have the graphics power come in to play during a video game. As well, if the external graphics module is portable enough, it may be about connecting the laptop to a large-screen TV installed in a common lounge area at their accommodation on an ad-hoc basis so they benefit from that large screen when playing a game or watching multimedia content.

The advantage in this use case would be to have the computer affordable enough for a student at their current point in life thanks to it not being kitted out with a dedicated graphics processor that may be seen as being hopeless. But the student can save towards an external graphics module of their choice and get that at a later time when they see fit. In some cases, it may be about using a “fit-for-purpose” graphics card like an NVIDIA Quadro with the eGPU if they maintain interest in that architecture or multimedia course.

It also extends to business users and multimedia producers who prefer to use a highly-portable laptop “on the road” but use an external graphics module “at base” for those activities that need extra graphics power. Examples of these include to render video projects or to play a more-demanding game as part of rest and relaxation.

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

There are a few small external graphics modules that are provided with a soldered-in graphics processor chip. These units, like the Sonnet Breakaway Puck, are small enough to pack in your laptop bag, briefcase or backpack and can be seen as an opportunity to provide “improved graphics performance” when near AC power. There will be some limitations with these devices like a graphics processor that is modest by “desktop gaming rig” or “certified workstation” standards; or having reduced connectivity for extra peripherals. But they will put a bit of “pep” in to your laptop’s graphics performance at least.

Some of these small external graphics modules would have come about as a way to dodge the “crypto gold rush” where traditional desktop-grade graphics cards were very scarce and expensive. This was due to them being used as part of cryptocurrency mining rigs to facilitate the “mining” of Bitcoin or Ethereum during that “gold rush”. The idea behind these external graphics modules was to offer enhanced graphics performance for those of us who wanted to play games or engage in multimedia editing rather than mine Bitcoin.

Who is heading down this path?

At the moment, most computer manufacturers are configuring a significant number of Intel-powered ultraportable computers along these lines i.e. with Intel integrated graphics and at least one Thunderbolt 3 port. A good example of this are the recent iterations of the Dell XPS 13 (purchase here) and some of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 family like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Of course some of the computer manufacturers are also offering laptop configurations with modest-spec discrete graphics silicon along with the integrated-graphics silicon and a Thunderbolt 3 port. This is typically pitched towards premium 15” computers including some slimline systems but these graphics processors may not put up much when it comes to graphics performance. In this case, they are most likely to be equivalent in performance to a current-spec baseline desktop graphics card.

The Thunderbolt 3 port on these systems would be about using something like a “card-cage” external graphics module with a high-performance desktop-grade graphics card to get more out of your games or advanced applications.

Trends affecting this configuration

The upcoming USB4 specification is meant to be able to bring Thunderbolt 3 capability to non-Intel silicon thanks to Intel assigning the intellectual property associated with Thunderbolt 3 to the USB Implementers Forum.

As well, Intel has put forward the next iteration of the Thunderbolt specification in the form of Thunderbolt 4. It is more of an evolutionary revision in relationship to USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and will be part of their next iteration of their Core silicon. But it is also intended to be backwards compatible with these prior standards and uses the USB-C connector.

What can be done to further legitimise Thunderbolt 3 / USB4 and integrated graphics as a valid laptop configuration?

What needs to happen is that the use case for external graphics modules needs to be demonstrated with USB4 and subsequent technology. As well, this kind of setup needs to appear on AMD-equipped computers as well as devices that use silicon based on ARM microarchitecture, along with Intel-based devices.

Personally, I would like to see the Thunderbolt 3 or USB4 technology being made available to more of the popularly-priced laptops made available to householders and small businesses. It would be with an ideal to allow the computer’s user to upgrade towards better graphics at a later date by purchasing an external graphics module.

This is in addition to a wide range of external graphics modules available for these computers with some capable units being offered at affordable price points. I would also like to see more of the likes of the Lenovo Legion BoostStation “card-cage” external graphics module that have the ability for users to install storage devices like hard disks or solid-state drives in addition to the graphics card. Here, these would please those of us who want extra “offload” storage or a “scratch disk” just for use at their workspace. They would also help people who are moving from the traditional desktop computer to a workspace centred around a laptop.

Conclusion

The validity of a laptop computer being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 or similar port and an integrated graphics chipset is to be recognised. This is more so where the viability of improving on one of these systems using an external graphics module that has a fit-for-purpose dedicated graphics chipset can be considered.

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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. Similarly you may use a desk types that can be closed up when not in use like a roll-top or slant-top desk or has significant storage space and you could store your laptop computer there.

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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