Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Computers Archive

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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Laptop screen protectors and privacy screens–are they worth their salt?

Article

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

A screen protector or privacy screen can be a valuable cost-effective accessory for that laptop

Do laptop screen protectors affect touchscreen sensitivity? | Windows Central

My Comment

An accessory that you could get for your own laptop computer or give to someone who owns one is a screen protector or privacy screen. These accessories are considered very affordable and you would be safe to give one as a gift for any occasion. It is not hard to come by these accessories, typically found in accessory departments of computer, consumer-electronics, office-supply or similar stores or available online through the likes of Amazon.

The screen protectors, typically made of plastic or tempered glass, protect the screen from scratches or dust. The plastic option is an economy option but it itself can be scratched and is not always likely to cover the whole of your screen as well as itself becoming a “dust magnet”. The glass option costs extra but is more damage resistant and will cover your screen fully. That is more important especially for tablets and 2-in-1s due to you interacting with the screen more frequently.

Privacy screens are a screen protector that uses a fresnel-lens approach thanks to polarisation to limit the viewing angle to directly in front of the screen. This is to prevent others who are sitting beside you from viewing what’s on your screen, but if a person is directly behind you, they can see what you are doing. It is good if you are using your computer to work on confidential material in a high-traffic area regularly like making use of that “second office” cafe or bar, or using it to do your work on public transport or while flying.

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

This is more so with these 2-in-1 convertible laptops

You may expect to have reduced sensitivity from touchscreens or active-pen setups due to the extra material but this may be a slight effect. In some cases, a screen protector that has a textured surface may provide a better inking surface than using a glossy screen alone or a smooth-surfaced protector. This is more so if it has a paper-style texture.

When choosing a screen protector or privacy screen, pay attention to ease of installation and removal. This is important if you find that it doesn’t fit your computer properly or suit your needs or the screen becomes too dull as you use it. In some cases, you may find that particular screen protectors may fit a particular model of laptop rather than working for a particular generic screen size.

Something else you may may have to pay attention to is whether the screen protector does impact your computer’s screen brightness for comfortable use over its lifespan. This is more so if you have to increase the screen brightness which can have an impact on battery runtime. Let’s not forget how the automatic brightness functionality on some screens may be affected by the use of the screen protector and you may have to raise the brightness slightly.

Considering these points can allow you to choose the best value screen protector or privacy screen for your laptop or tablet so you can gain long-term use out of these accessories.

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This year’s computing improvements from Dell

Articles

Dell XPS 13 Finally Fixes the Nosecam | Tom’s Hardware

Dell G Series Gaming Laptops Get Nvidia RTX Makeover | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Press Releases

My Comments

Dell has been improving their value-for-money portable computer product line and premiering some of these new products in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019. Here I am calling out a few distinct improvements across the different product lines as supplied through their press material.

Some options that have been cropping up include a 1Tb solid-state disk in most product lines, NVIDIA RTX ray-tracing video chipsets in gamimg models and OLED displays in premium 15” models. But there are some computers out there that have some interesting features like a small built-in Webcam or “walk-up and sign-in” operation.

Improvements to the XPS 13 Ultrabook

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

Thin Webcam circuitry atop display

Dell have been incrementally improving on the XPS 13 Ultrabook by releasing the latest iteration known as the 9380 model. But this iteration isn’t just based around its silicon although it implements Intel 8th-Generation Whiskey Lake technology.

One of the main useability improvements is for the Webcam to be located in its proper position above the screen rather than below the screen as with some previous generations. This avoids videocall situations where your correspondent is looking at the ceiling or your nose when you use the Webcam located at the bottom of the screen. The problem was brought about due to Dell’s InfinityEdge “thin-bezel” approach which didn’t allow for room for a standard Webcam circuit. But it had been solved through the use of a 2.5mm Webcam circuit that allowed for a thin top bezel for the screen.

Swll XPS 13 9380 press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Now in the “Frost” finish with white keyboard and deck and silver back

It also implements a variable-torque hinge to make it easy to open and close, something that may please older users with hands that may not be all that great thanks to arthritis for example. Another feature that Dell is pushing is to have a fingerprint reader integrated in the power button on the computer.

The latest iteration of the Dell XPS 13 underscores the USB-C connectivity form by having three connections of this kind – two Thunderbolt 2 connections and a USB-C-only connection. This is alongside an audio jack which hasn’t been forgotten about as well as a microSD card reader.

The Dell XPS 13 is available with 8th-generation Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core CPUs (i3, i5 or i7) and Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics. It will have up to 16Gb RAM and 2Tb SSD as non-volatile storage. There will be three display options – a Full HD non-touch screen, a Full-HD touch screen or a 4K UHD touch screen. There is an expected 21-hour battery runtime for an XPS 13 equipped with a Full-HD display which will allow continuous use on one of the new non-stop longhaul flights facilitated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

What is being underscored here is the idea of keeping the Dell XPS 13 as the value-for-money Ultrabook that “ticks the boxes” as far as “thin-and-light” clamshell-style portable computers go. Here, it is through implementing the latest technology and answering problems that the user base and computer press have raised about this model.

G-Series gaming-laptop refresh with RTX graphics option

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell

The new Dell G Series high-performance gaming-graphics laptops

The CES 2019 exhibition became the time for NVIDIA to premiere their RTX family of ray-tracing-capable graphics processors. Dell was one of the first computer manufacturers to offer a gaming-grade computer as part of their main brand with this silicon as a configuration option.

Here, the G-Series gaming laptop range has effectively been refreshed with new Intel CPUs and the NVIDIA RTX graphics chipsets. The G-series laptops are different from the Alienware gaming brand where they are positioned with a similar approach to the “GT” or “Sport” variants of popular mainstream passenger cars which have the higher-performance powertrains.

But in some ways, these computers can be seen as an entry-level workstation for photo and video hobbyists or students starting on high-end graphics-focused computing like with architecture or statistics.

These systems will be known as the G5 15 with the 15” screen and Core i7 horsepower, the G7 15 with the Core i9 horsepower and 15” screen, and the G5 17 with the same horsepower as the G5 15 but with a 17” screen.

The system RAM can be specced up to 16Gb. This is while the storage options can be specced in the form of a single-device option with a 1Tb 5400rpm hard disk or a dual-device option with up to 1Tb M2 solid-state disk ganged with a choice of 500Gb 7200rpm, 1Tb 5400rpm or 2Tb 5400rpm hard disks.

The economy option for the display subsystem is an NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti GPU but the computer will have the Ethernet port and a USB-C port as its system-specific connections. All of the new G-Series computer can be configured with any of the RTX GPUs which will also have 8Gb of display RAM. They will have the USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and mini DisplayPort connections as their configuration-specific options.

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell CorporationThe common connection options would be 3 USB 3.1 Type-A ports, an SD card reader, an audio jack as well as those extra configuration-specific ports.

The 15” models can have a Full HD IPS screen 220nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, a similar screen with similar resolution and refresh rate but 300nits brightness, another similar screen with a similar resolution and brightness but a game-friendly 144Hz refresh rate. There is the full-on option of equipping your 15” Dell G-Series with an 4K UHD OLED screen at a 400nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, something that would appeal to photo and video enthusiasts.

The 17” model has fewer screen options in the form of a full HD IPS screen with 300nits brightness but a choice of 60Hz or 144Hz refresh rates.

OLED screens as a configuration option for premium Dell laptops

Speaking of OLED display technology, the XPS 15 thin-and-light, Alienware m15 premium gaming and the Dell G7 15  are able to be equipped with OLED displays rather than LCD displays. These will also be able to support high dynamic-range vision using technologies like Dolby Vision. This will make these computers appeal towards photo and video professionals who look out for increased photo-grade dynamic range,

Dell Latitude 7400 business 14” 2-in-1

Dell Latitude 7400 14" 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Dell Latitude 7400 14″ 2-in-1 laptop with ExpressSignIn

This is a rare sight for the Consumer Electronics Show where a computer manufacturer is premiering a business-grade computer at a consumer-focused technology fair. But small-business owners may find this of value if they buy their technology through an independent computer store or value-added reseller.

Here, Dell are premiering the Latitude 7400 14” business 2-in-1 which has features that make it stand out from other business computers in its class. Here, this computer which has a Titan Grey finish is the smallest business-grade 14” 2-in-1 convertible laptop on the market.

It also has the ExpressSignIn feature that detects user presence near the machine. When the user comes near, it will wake up and activate the Windows Hello facial-recognition routine to verify that the user is authorised to operate the machine. Then, when the user walks away, the Dell Latitude 7400 will lock the user session.

It has 2 Thunderbolt 3 connections as standard and, as specifiable options, Gigabit LTE mobile broadband, 1Tb solid-state drive, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 connectivity. The 1Tb solid-state drive’s capacity will please those of us who effectively “live out of their briefcase” but want the high performance. As is expected for a premium business laptop, this will have the security and manageability features that would please a corporate IT team or a value-added reseller offering “big-time” IT support to small businesses.

Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1s gain significant design improvements

The Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1 convertible laptops have undergone some significant revision in their design.

Rather than having an ordinary hinge, these computers have a new hinge design with a place to park the supplied active pen. This means that the pen is presented to the user without it falling out no matter whether the computer is folded over as a tablet, in a partially-folded “tent” or “media-viewer” state or a traditional laptop. It also makes sure that the hinge part looks special, as well as being part of an improved cooling and ventilation approach that understands lifestyle computing needs like bingeing on Netflix in bed or “flipping through” YouTube videos on the couch.

The improved cooling and ventilation approach is also augmented through adaptive thermal-management technology which varies the Inspiron 7000’s performance depending on whether you are moving it around or keeping it still on your desk. This avoids you handling a portable computer that is running uncomfortably hot.

The integrated power switch / fingerprint reader design has opened up a design feasibility for the 15” variant of the Dell Inspiron 7000 Series. Here, it means that the computer can be equipped with a numeric keypad which is a rarity amongst 15” 2-in-1 computers.

Still there is the limitation with this series where the USB-C port on these computers is the standard USB-C port rather than a Thunderbolt 3 port. If the Inspiron 7000 Series came with the Thunderbolt 3 port, it could then mean that these computers could be teamed with an external graphics module for at-home gaming.

Conclusion

Dell is keeping up its name as a value-for-money computer name but is assuring users that they are creating innovative designs rather than copying established ones.

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Are we to expect laptops to be mobile phones?

Article

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

Ultraportables soon to serve the same role as smartphones

Cellular voice could be the next step in merging phones and PCs | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend we are seeing with regular desktop and laptop computers is that they are being used for voice and video telephony. Thu is being driven by messaging apps of the Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber kind being ported to desktop operating systems; along with softphone applications that provide telephony functionality being made available for these operating systems. The softphone applications, along with Skype are even legitimising this usage case with laptops in the business environment turning them in to secondary or replacement phone extensions.

Headsets like the JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset are used with laptops to make voice calls with messaging apps and soon this will happen for mobile telephony

With these setups, you can talk with the caller using the computer’s integrated or attached microphone and speakers. Or, should you want the same level of privacy associated with holding a handset up to your ear, you can talk to the caller using a wired or Bluetooth headset, of which I have reviewed many on HomeNetworking01.info.

Microsoft and others in the “open-frame” computing world are pushing along with the Always Connected PC which runs ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel-based CISC kind. These ultraportable computers will also be equipped with a wireless broadband modem that is authenticated using eSIM technology.

The idea is to eventually have these computers become like a smartphone with them linked to the cellular mobile network. It is also alongside the fact that today’s smartphones are effectively pocket computers running a mobile operating system.

It could be easy to say that the Always Connected PC concept is irrelevant because one can “tether” a computer to a smartphone to have access to the mobile broadband service, whether through a USB connection or a Wi-Fi-based “hotspot” function that mobile operating systems support. Or we can simply connect our computers and phones to Wi-Fi networks including publicly-accessible networks like hotspots. For that matter, computers can also be connected to other network types like Ethernet or HomePlug AV networks.

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones now are pocket computers

Let’s not forget that the GSM Association and the Wi-Fi Alliance are looking at Wi-Fi networks as a way of providing data-offload functionality. This is through mobile carriers like BT and Telstra offering FON-style community Wi-Fi networks and the Wi-Fi Alliance using Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 as a way to provide hands-off login to public-access networks.

The Wi-Fi functionality is also being taken further in the context of smartphone-based voice telephony with the use of VoWLAN as another call-transport option for these devices. Some mobile telcos like Telstra even use this as a way to provide voice telephony continuity to their customers if they can’t reach the cellular network but can use Wi-Fi-based Internet.

The focus now is towards the concept of always-connected portable computing with a secure and consistent connectivity experience. This is being brought on through the use of 5G mobile-broadband technology and the interest in edge computing which provides support for localised data processing and storage in a cloud environment.

The eSIM is being pitched as a way to provision mobile service in an online manner, especially to vary the service to suit one’s needs or switch to a competing mobile telco. It also is placing pressure upon mobile telcos to adopt a “service-focused” approach with the idea of having multiple devices on the same mobile account and plan, ringing to the same mobile number and using the same data allowance. The goal with mobile telephony will then be to make or take a voice or video call or send and receive messages on the device that you currently are using rather than changing to a different device for that task.

Connected cars even to be another logical device for one’s mobile service account.

This concept has been driven by the Apple Watch and will be pushed on with smartwatches that have built-in mobile broadband modems. But it will be extended through other devices like smartphones, Always Connected PCs and connected vehicles. There is also the idea of implement the equivalent of a local area network across devices tied to the same service and this will be driven by the trend towards ubiquitous ambient computing.

A question that will come about is the ability to maintain multiple different services on the same physical device whether from the same telco or different telcos. This will be about maintaining separate services for business and private use. Or it could be about travellers who want to maintain a local service while at their destination along with their “home” service. This is a feature that is of relevance in countries where cross-border commuting is the norm thanks to land borders or short affordable ferry rides.

This could be addressed through support for multiple services including the ability to provision a cluster of multiple devices with the one service simultaneously. This same issue can also address the ability for us to use the conventional Internet service based around a hardwired broadband service with a Wi-Fi and / or Ethernet local network in the premises.

What I see out of this new trend is that if your computing device has mobile broadband or connection to the Internet via a local-area network, along with a speaker and microphone, it will become the one-stop computing and communications device. It doesn’t matter what shape or size it is in, being a smartphone, laptop or whatever. As well, the right-sized computing device will serve your computing and communications needs as you see fit.

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Dell takes a leaf out of Detroit’s book with their budget gaming laptops

Articles

Dell G7 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell G Series laptops – to be the “pony cars” of the gaming laptop scene

Dell’s new G series laptops pair gaming specs with a cheap plastic chassis | The Verge

Dell rebrands Inspiron gaming laptops to G Series, serves up four new models | Digital Trends

Dell’s G Series laptops are priced for every gamer | PC World

Dell’s Renamed Low-Cost Gaming Laptops are Thinner and Faster Than Before | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Ford Mustang fastback at car show

Dell used the same approach as Ford did in the 1960s with the original Mustang

During the heyday of the “good cars” that was represented through the 1960s and 1970s, the major vehicle builders worked on various ways to approach younger drivers who were after something that was special.

One of these was to offer a “pony car” which was a specifically-designed sporty-styled two-door car that had a wide range of power, trim and other options yet had a base model that was affordable to this class of buyer. Another was to place in to the product lineup for a standard family-car model a two-door coupe and / or a “sports sedan” / “sports saloon” that is a derivative of that standard family car and built on that same chassis but known under an exciting name with examples being the Holden Monaro or the Plymouth Duster. This would be available as something that young people could want to have when they are after something impressive.

Both these approaches were made feasible through the use of commonly-produced parts rather than special parts for most of the variants or option classes. As well, there was the option for vehicle builders to run with variants that are a bit more special such as racing-homologation specials as well as providing “up-sell” options for customers to vary their cars with.

The various laptop computer manufacturers are trying to work on a product class that can emulate what was achieved with these cars. Here, it is to achieve a range of affordable high-performance computers that can appeal to young buyers who want to play the latest “enthusiast-grade” games on.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – to be superseded by the Dell G Series

One of the steps that has taken place was to offer a high-performance “gaming-grade” variant of a standard laptop model like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, one of which I had reviewed. This approach is similar to offering the “Sport” or “GT” variant of a common family-car model, where the vehicle is equipped with a performance-tuned powertrain like the Ford Falcon GT cars.

But Dell have come very closer to the mark associated with either the “pony cars” or the sporty-styled vehicles derived from the standard family-car model with the release of the Inspiron G series of affordable gamer-grade laptops. Here, they released the G3, G5 and G7 models with baseline models being equipped with traditional hard disks and small RAM amounts. But these were built on a very similar construction to the affordable mainstream laptops.

These models are intended to replace the Inspiron 15 Gaming series of performance laptops and it shows that they want to cater to the young gamers who may not afford the high-end gaming-focused models. As well, the G Series name tag is intended to replace the Inspiron nametag due to its association with Dell’s mainstream consumer laptop products which takes the “thunder” out of owning a special product. This is similar to the situation I called out earlier with sporty vehicles that are derivatives of family-car models having their own nameplate.

The G3, which is considered the entry-level model, comes with a 15” or a 17” Full-HD screen and is available in a black or blue finish with the 15” model also available in white. It also has a standard USB-C connection with Thunderbolt 3 as an extra-cost “upsell” option along with Bluetooth 5 connectivity. This computer is the thinnest of the series but doesn’t have as much ventilation as the others.

The G5 which is the step-up model, is a thicker unit with rear-facing ventilation and is finished in black or red. This, like the G7 is equipped with Thunderbolt 3 for an external graphics module along with Bluetooth 4 and has the ability for one to buy a fingerprint scanner as an option. Also it comes only with a 15” screen available in 4K or Full HD resolution.

The G7 is the top-shelf model totally optimised for performance. This is a thicker unit with increased ventilation and implements high-clocked CPU and RAM that is tuned for performance. It has similar connectivity to the G5 along with similar display technology and is the only computer in the lineup to implement the highly-powerful Intel Core i9 CPU that was launched as the high-performance laptop CPU as part of the latest Coffee Lake lineup.

All the computers will be implementing the latest Coffee Lake lineup of Intel high-performance Core CPUs, being the Core i5-8300HQ or Core i7-8750H processors depending on the specification. In the case of the high-performance G7, the Intel Core i9-8950HQ CPU will be offered as an option for high performance.

They all use standalone NVIDIA graphics processors to paint the picture on the display with a choice between the GeForce GTX1060 with Max-Q, the GeForce GTX1050Ti or the GeForce GTX1050. What is interesting about the GeForce GTX1060 with Max-Q is that it is designed to run with reduced power consumption and thermal output, thus allowing it to run cool in slim notebooks and do away with fans. But the limitation here is that the computer doesn’t have the same kind of graphics performance compared to a fully-fledged GeForce GTX1060 setup which would be deployed in the larger gaming laptops.

Lower-tier packages will run with mechanical hard drives while the better packages will offer use of hybrid hard disks (increased solid-state cache), solid-state drives or dual-drive setups with the system drive (C drive with operating system) being a solid-state device and data being held on a 1Tb hard disk known as the D drive.

I would see these machines serving as a high-performance solo computer for people like college / university students who want to work with high-end games or put their foot in to advanced graphics work. As well, I wouldn’t put it past Lenovo, HP and others to run with budget-priced high-performance gaming laptops in order to compete with Dell in courting this market segment.

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Should I buy a laptop with integral mobile-broadband modem?

Article

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

Is it worth it to consider integrated mobile-broadband modems in your next laptop purchase

Why you might (and might not) want a PC with LTE | Windows Central

My Comments

A trend that will be affecting portable computers will be the rise of laptops and notebooks that are equipped with an integrated mobile-broadband modem.

Previously this was a feature associated with premium business-grade laptops as an extra-cost option, but this is being encouraged as a product differentiator for a larger range of portable computers targeted at consumers and small businesses. The key feature callout will be that the computer is equipped with LTE connectivity and this feature has been brought along thanks to Windows 10 and the “Always Connected PC” vision.

Initially such computers will authenticate to the mobile network with a standard SIM card installed in a reader somewhere on the computer’s chassis. But newer designs will move towards an eSIM module integrated in the computer which provides for “over-the-air” provisioning by the telco or their agent.

Why this trend?

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

No need to use a Mi-Fi to obtain Internet on the road with your laptop if you have an integrated mobile-broadband modem but some situations may be better served with these devices

There is the feasibility of a secure connection anywhere within reach of mobile networks. It is something you may not benefit from when using a lot of legacy-configured public-access Wi-Fi networks.

As well, you avoid the need to set up Wi-Fi or USB tethering on your smartphone or tablet, or to use a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router. Similarly, you shouldn’t need to worry about draining your battery in your “Mi-Fi” router or smartphone to keep the connection alive.

You also benefit from a faster link between the modem and the computer which is important for setups implementing LTE, because a lot of USB mobile-broadband modems don’t implement the newer variants of the USB standard. There is also the fact that an integral mobile-broadband modem design allows for a larger mobile-broadband antenna to be integrated in the laptop computer, rather than having to design a small mobile-broadband antenna to keep a relatively-compact product design for that “Mi-Fi”, USB modem stick or smartphone.

The laptop’s battery shouldn’t be affected in this case thanks to Windows 10 implementing “data-saver” and battery-management logic. There is also the fact that Windows 10 will implement a class driver and authentication software within the operating system’s code so you don’t need to run any extra software to get on board with mobile broadband.

There are some disadvantages with this approach

One of these is that the host computer may be fixed with the “current” technology and may not be able to take advantages of newer technologies or wavebands that the telco you subscribe to offers.

This can be an issue with the pending 5G mobile-broadband standards or Australian telcos like Telstra exploiting lower wavebands in the mobile spectrum with the goal to assure greater coverage in Australia’s larger rural areas but yield high data throughput. But if the mobile-broadband modem operates on a “software-defined” approach where it can work with extra subsequently-available firmware that can adapt to these situations, it may not be an issue.

Old caravan outside a house

They may not work optimumly in one of these metal-clad caravans

Another factor is the integrated-modem approach may not work properly in some usage scenarios where you have a strong signal in certain areas but a weak signal in other areas. This can be of concern for those of us who want to use our computing equipment in a post-1950s caravan or a campervan / motorhome with the vehicle’s housing being predominantly metal which can reduce radio throughput.

In these situations, you may have to use a USB modem on a long USB cable run or use a “Mi-Fi” router with some situations calling for the “two-piece” approach put forward by Solwise.

Another situation you may need to think of is whether you are intending to use multiple mobile devices on the road with the one mobile-hroadband service. Here, you may find that a “Mi-Fi” router set up as the hub of a mobile local-area network may be a better answer to your needs. This is more so if you are running many devices like mobile NAS units, Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers or Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras along with tablets that may not be equipped with mobile broadband.

Of course you will need to use a pre-paid or post-paid mobile broadband service that is provisioned in a manner compatible with your computer. In these cases, such services would be offered as a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” package where you aren’t buying a device under any form of subsidy.

Telcos can easily answer this through the provision of starter prepaid plans offered as part of the package when you buy your computer or by allowing the Windows Store that is part of Windows 10 to work as their agent. Of course you can front up to their bricks-and-mortar outlet to buy a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” prepaid plan for your computer.

On the other hand, most of the telcos will allow you to annex your new integrated modem to your post-paid mobile plan. This will be an important approach for those telcos who are offering a “shared-data” or “family” plan or underscore value for money with these plans.

What to look for

SIM card

Make sure that the SIM card fits your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop or that your service provider supports an eSIM for suitably-equipped laptops

You may have to be sure that your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop is able to connect with the mobile-broadband service that you want to use. Firstly you will have to pay attention to whatever SIM type your computer uses for authentication to the service that you choose.  That will be the kind of information you will have to supply to your mobile-broadband carrier when you are buying mobile-broadband service, or wish to buy other mobile-broadband devices which are “SIM-compatible” with your laptop with a view to moving our service amongst these devices.

As well, you would need to make sure your laptop does work “across the board” with all of the mobile-broadband services that you intend to yous. For example, if you wish to use a service like Telstra that prides itself on extensive coverage in rural areas, you may need to be sure that the mobile broadband modem can cover the lower ends of the spectrum used by this carrier. Another example would be to use it in a range of countries which work on different mobile-broadband frequencies.

People who run a post-paid mobile account should look towards being able to annex the data service used by the laptop’s integrated modem with their account. This can assure them of “many eggs in one basket” with the advantages such as paying through one bill and benefiting from deals that exploit this fact. As well, some providers may operate a deal with multiple SIMs for one number and underscore this for eSIM setups.

Conclusion

Here, it depends on your needs whether paying the extra expense for a laptop configuration with an integral mobile-broadband modem is worth it for you.

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