Category: Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Computers

Intel to launch a white-label Tiger Lake based laptop design

Articles

Intel NUC M15 Tiger Lake white-label laptop design press image courtesy of Intel

Intel NUC M15 Tiger-Lake-based white-label laptop design for small-time manufacturers to work from

Intel Shows Off New NUC M15 Whitebook Laptop | Tom’s Hardware

Intel’s NUC M15 laptop to launch in 2021 | TechRadar

My Comments

Intel has just premiered a design for a white-label laptop that implements their Tiger Lake silicon.

This computer, which is a mainstream productivity laptop and known as the NUC M15, is intended to be offered by small-time manufacturers and retailer or distributor private labels. Intel previously offered a white-label laptop design in the form of the XPG Xenix 15 gaming laptop.

This will use what is expected of a Tiger Lake laptop and will be used as a machine for smaller operators to have Intel Evo-certified products in their lineup. This means it will come with 11th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and Thunderbolt 4 as part of the feature set.

The small-time manufacturer or retail / distributor private label can be in a position to compete with larger manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft. But there should be the ability to vary the design to suit particular needs. It is also seen as a way for these kind of manufacturers to have Intel Evo-certified laptop products in their lineups.

A question that can come about is whether this is seen as a fertile ground for a small-time partner manufacturer or private label to use this as the basis for a bespoke design. It is especially where there are small-time manufacturers who focus on equipment for specialist use cases. An example of this could be a manufacturer whose niche is a highly-ruggedised computer setup.

But could these systems also be about “working out” a Tiger-Lake-based reference design for a mass-market laptop product. The machines that I am thinking of are similar to HP Pavilion or Dell Inspiron product ranges for ordinary households, HP Probook or Dell Vostro product ranges for small-business consumers, or HP Elitebooks, Acer Travelmates and Dell Latitudes for enterprise users. These are usually with 15” screens, have average graphics expectations and aren’t necessarily thin and light.

It may be a step to see decent performance and battery life available for laptop users no matter the class of portable computer they are working with, thanks to Intel’s latest iteration in its persistent innovation for this type of computer device.

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Acer answers the business market with Intel Tiger Lake laptops

Articles

Acer TravelMate P4 laptop  press image courtesy of Acer

Acer TravelMate P4 business laptop with Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 hands-on review | Laptop Mag

Acer TravelMate P2, P4, Spin P4 now official | Yugatech.com

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop (Product Page)

TravelMate Spin P4 2-in-1 laptop (Product Page)

My Comments

Acer is about to offer 14” laptop computers focused towards the business community that use Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon with Xe graphics. These come primarily in the form of the TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop and the TravelMate Spin P4 convertible laptop. The latter model is intended to snap at the heels of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible business laptop.

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 convertible business laptop press image courtesy of Acer

.. also in a convertible 2-in-1 form as the Acer TravelMate Spin P4

Both these computers have as a baseline option, Thunderbolt 4 connectivity along with other business-grade connectivity requirements. For wireless connectivity, they will have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 as standard. But there is the ability to have them specified with an LTE mobile broadband modem that uses eSIM service authentication.

As far as graphics go, these computers will use the Intel Xe integrated graphics processors that can do the job for 1080p gaming or for basic content creation tasks. There is the option for users to specify an NVIDIA MX350 mobile discrete graphics processor if they want a bit more graphics “pep”. Of course that will have the NVIDIA Optimus automatic graphics-processor switchover so the Intel Xe integrated GPU can work as a highly-capable “lean-burn” option for battery use. But, as I have mentioned before, these have a Thunderbolt 4 connection which will offer connectivity to external graphics modules as another path to improve your computer’s graphics performance.

Both computers are designed to be highly-durable and comply with MIL-STD-810G durability standards. There is also essential security security features including the TPM 2.0 security processor which works in a discrete form, fingerprint reader and camera fit for Windows Hello facial recognition.  The camera even has a privacy shutter so you aren’t easily spied upon.

The TravelMate P4 will start from USD$899 or EUR€899 while the TravelMate Spin P4 will start from USD$999.99 or EUR€999. But with Acer’s TravelMate business computer range like with the Lenovo ThinkPad / ThinkCentre business computer range, they don’t focus it necessarily towards particular business use cases, be it the small-business operator or freelancer who manages the computer by themselves as their own “axe”, or an enterprise who buys and manages a large fleet of computers for staff to use.

With Acer offering these TravelMate business laptops that run the Intel Tiger Lake silicon with highly-capable Xe graphics processors, it could really define what is expected on the outset for an all-round computer. It means being able to do some advanced graphics tasks like modest gameplay or basic photo and video editing. These business laptops could also be a sign of things to come for mainstream consumer laptop product ranges.

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Acer launches value-priced laptops powered by Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Articles

Acer Swift 3x ultraportable laptop press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Swift 3X ultraportable laptop with Intel Tiger Lake silicon including Xe integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 4 connectivity

Acer’s Putting the Best Integrated GPU in Years Into a Lot of Cheap Laptops | Gizmodo

New laptops announced at Acer Next 2020 feature Intel Tiger Lake | ARS Technica

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Acer Announces Latest Lineup of Consumer Notebooks Across Swift, Spin and Aspire Series (Press Release)

My Comments

Acer has now refreshed most of their Intel-powered laptop lineup with Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon and is about to put these new computers on the market.

One of the benefits associated with this new silicon is the Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics processors which are as capable as baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon. This means that it could do “all-round” graphics tasks like photo rendering or even Full HD gaming quite easily and is considered credible for integrated graphics silicon.

Acer Spin 5 2-in-1 laptop press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Spin 5 and its stablemate Spin 3 also have the same kind of integrated graphics and connectivity as the Swift 3x

The Acer Swift 3x ultraportable clamshell laptop that has a maximum ask for US$900 or EUR€850 also impresses me further. That is something that holds true of Spin 5 and Spin 3 2-in-1 laptops with the Spin 5 available for USD$999.99 or EUR€1099. That is while the Spin 3 will be available for USD$849.99 or EUR€899.

Here, these abovementioned computers come with a Thunderbolt 4 connection which will appeal to the use of external graphics modules, especially “card-cages” that are kitted out with fit-for-purpose graphics cards. That fits in to what I see as an ideal cost-effective graphics configuration that can appeal to students.

The Aspire 5 is available with Intel Tiger Lake silicon but also with NVIDIA GeForce MX450 discrete GPU as an option. But the question that will arise is what relevance will the GeForce MX graphics processor have in the face of Intel’s Xe integrated graphics which has similar, if not slightly better, performance chops.

I would rather that Acer offers an Aspire 5 mainstream clamshell laptop with the Intel Tiger Lake Core i7 CPU, Xe integrated graphics and at least one Thunderbolt 4 port. Here, it would be about something that can do most graphics work including Full-HD gaming but offer an “after-the-fact” upgrade path for better graphics through the use of an external graphics module that has better-performing graphics silicon inside.

But Acer are showing some reasonably-priced laptops that use decent integrated graphics that could appeal to most users who want some performance out of their computer graphics. It could be seen as the way to go when it comes to portable computers that can do what most people want them to do.

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Dell updates the XPS 13 laptop and 2-in-1 to Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Articles

Dell XPS 13 press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

The new Dell XPS 13 clamshell laptop computer that is coming soon

Dell updates XPS 13 2-in-1 and XPS 13 | PCWorld Australia

Tiger Lake is coming in Dell XPS 13, XPS 13 DE, and XPS 13 2-in-1 | ARS Technica

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 13 (9310) clamshell laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

XPS 13 (9310) 2-in-1 convertible laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

My Comments

The Dell XPS 13 range of ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1 computers has over the last few years been seen as the “top of the pack” for that class of computer. Here, it has been about delivering the right mix of features, functionality and build quality for the price with this being reflected through the different generations of that computer.

Now, just after Intel had released the latest Tiger Lake mobile-computing silicon, Dell had just refreshed all of the computers in the XPS 13 lineup with this silicon. This includes the use of Intel’s latest Xe integrated-graphics processor technology which is being seen as fit for Full-HD gaming and even able to replace entry-level discrete mobile-use graphics silicon offerings like NVIDIA’s MX offerings. As well, they are to have two Thunderbolt 4 ports which are compatible with Thunderbolt 3 peripherals like external graphics modules. The integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 (or newer) port feature combination that the Dell XPS 13 has implemented since the Kaby Lake edition is one of those computer option combinations that I do see as being valid for laptops.

In this case, there was an emphasis on the quality aspect of the Tiger Lake silicon refresh for the Dell XPS 13 series. This was about a faster range of CPUs, the availability of integrated graphics silicon that is on a par with baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon, and the use of Thunderbolt 4 connectivity which is a reliability and connectivity improvement on that specification. Here, this graphics improvement was about combining an ultraportable computer design with graphics processing technology that isn’t a wimp.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 in all modes press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

Even as a 2-in-1 that has been engineered to work with higher-power processors nut not overheat

The computers will have a thinner lighter design with the 2-in-1 variant having improved thermal design to cater towards the use of more powerful processing silicon. But that variant will be limited to the Intel Core i7-1165G7 as the most powerful CPU that can be specified. It will have the smallest integrated camera ever which clocks in at 2.25mm. The XPS 13 traditional laptop variant will use an edge-to-edge keyboard and achieve a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio.

XPS 13 computers that are specified with the 4K UHD+ display will have the display being certified for HDR and Dolby Vision use. But computers specified with the Full HD screen will have a battery runtime rated for 19 hours. The question with this is whether this can be about 19 hours with a mixture of activities ranging from Web browsing, word processing, viewing video content and playing a game like Civilization 6 on that long flight or roadtrip.

These computers will normally be delivered with Windows 10 but Dell is offering the XPS 13 traditional clamshell laptop as a “Developer Edition” variant. Here, this will be preloaded with Ubuntu 18 Linux, which will please software tinkerers and open-source computing advocates.

The minimum prices for Australian users are AUD$2999 for the 2-in-1 variant and AUD$2499 for the clamshell variamt. It will be interesting to see what the press reviews will come up with when the review units start to appear – whether they underscore Dell’s commitment to keeping the right mix of features, functionality, build quality and price for these computers.

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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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