Tag: gaming computer

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.

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.

Consumer Electronics and Personal IT trends for 2020

Every year in January, the Consumer Electronics Show is run in Las Vegas, USA and this show does give a glimpse in to what trends will affect consumer electronics and personal IT. In most cases, these are products that will be on the marketplace this year or products that are a proof-of-concept or prototype that demonstrates an upcoming technology.

The problem is that this exhibition focuses on what will be available in North America but a lot of the technology will be relevant to the rest of the world. In a lot of these cases, localised variants will appear at various trade shows or PR events that occur in Europe or other areas.

As well, the trade-show circuit will attract service-level information-technology companies who don’t need to make hardware or have a hardware platform, or be a content creator. Here, it will be simply about the provision of IT-based services as part of a ubiquitous computing environment including the concept of experience-driven computing.

Connectivity Technology

Over the past year, the two main technologies that were called out regarding online connectivity or the home network were 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless local networks. This is about very-high-bandwidth wireless data communications whether out and about or within your home or other small network.

As various radiocommunications regulatory agencies around the world “open up” the 6GHz waveband for Wi-Fi network use with the USA’s Federal Communications Commission the first to do so, the Wi-Fi Alliance have created a specification identifier for network equipment working this waveband. Here, it is known as Wi-Fi 6E as a way to identify the fact that the device can work the 6GHz waveband, and is in contrast to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) devices that only work the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands.

D-Link DIR-X5460 Wi-Fi 6 router press picture courtesy of D-Link USA

One of D-Link’s Wi-Fi 6 routers that also supports Wi-Fi EasyMesh – setting the standard for home network technology this year

Both these technologies became real with an increase in client devices or small-network infrastructure hardware supporting at least one of these technologies. This included laptop computers and smartphones having this kind of functionality baked in to them as well as more home-network routers, distributed-WI-Fi systems and range extenders being equipped with Wi-Fi 6. There is even the fact that some of the network-infrastructure vendors like Linksys and NETGEAR are offering routers that combine both technologies – 5G mobile broadband as a WAN (Internet) connection and Wi-Fi 6 as a LAN (local-network) connection.

A step in the right direction for distributed-Wi-Fi networks was to see major home-network brands offer routers and/or range extenders compliant to the WI-Fi EasyMesh standard. This allows you to create a distributed Wi-Fi network with equipment from different vendors, opening up the market for equipment from a diverse range of vendors including telcos and ISPs along with a pathway towards innovation in this space.

Bluetooth hasn’t been forgotten about here with the new Bluetooth audio specification being “set in stone” and premiered at CES 2020. This specification, known as Bluetooth LE Audio, works on the Bluetooth Low Energy profile and supports the LC3 (Low Complexity Communications Codec) audio codec that packages the equivalent of an SBC audio stream used by Bluetooth audio setups in half the bandwidth. This allows for longer battery runtimes which will also lead to smaller form-factors for audio devices due to the reduced need for a larger battery.

It also supports multiple independent and synchronous audio streams to be sent from one source device to many sink devices. This strengthens use cases like hearing aids that work with Bluetooth and may supersede the inductive loop as a technology for assisted-listening setups. As well, the multiple-streaming technology will be a boon to applications like multichannel Bluetooth speaker setups; or Bluetooth headphones as part of assistive audio, multilingual soundtrack options or semi-private listening arrangements.

The Bluetooth LE Audio technology is to be released in the first half of 2020 with compatible devices being on the market by 2021. But there will also be the issue of having device support for this technology being baked in to operating systems as a class driver.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB 4 will be the next stage for hardware connectivity and will include Thunderbolt 3

As for wired peripheral interconnection, USB 4.0 will be surfacing as a high-speed connection standard for computers and mobile devices. There will be compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 due to Intel signing over the intellectual property rights for that protocol to the USB Implementers Forum. But this may be used by some computer vendors as a product differentiator although the market will prefer that USB 4 computers and peripherals work with those that use Thunderbolt 3. Let’s not forget that the physical connector for USB 4 will be the Type C connection.

Let’s not forget that newer Android phones will use USB Power Delivery as the official standard for transferring power from chargers or powerbanks to themselves. This is about avoiding the use of proprietary fast-charge technologies and using something that is defined by the industry for this purpose.

Computer trends

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

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

At the moment, as I outlined in the article about “prosumer” content creators being identified by computer manufacturers as a significant market segment, this year is being seen as a time to launch performance-optimised computers targeted at this user group. These units will be optimised to work with popular content-creation software in a sure-fire manner.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo is tying up with NEC in order to create the LAVIE computer brand that targets mobile professionals. This was after Toshiba spun off their laptop-computer division as “Dynabook” brand then sold it to Sharp; and Sony sold off their VAIO computer brand with it existing as a premium computer brand. But is this symbolic of what the Japanese computer names are heading towards where they focus on creating premium business laptops and tablets.

As well as offering their newer-generation CPUs, Intel has demonstrated that they can offer their own high-performance personal-computer display infrastructure. They even demonstrated a graphics card that use Intel-designed discrete GPU technology. This leads towards them competing with NVIDIA and AMD when it comes to discrete graphics-infrastructure technology and could lead to a three-way race in this field.

It is alongside AMD placing a lot of effort on their Ryzen CPUs which are leading towards them in a position to effectively compete on a par with Intel’s Core CPUs. As well, Intel and AMD could head towards creating performance computing setups that are based around their CPUs and discrete graphics infrastructure technology, including setups that have the CPU and discrete GPU on the same silicon.

There is also an increase in the number of “Always Connected PCs” that run with ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel i86/i64 CISC microarchitecture. They will be about operating on batteries for a very long time and have 4G, if not 5G mobile-broadband modems with classic SIM or eSIM service authentication. Most likely I would see them as being the direction for portable mainstream business computing.

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming notebook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming laptop with AMD Ryzen and Radeon silicon

For gaming, Dell has premiered a budget gaming-grade laptop that uses an AMD Ryzen CPU and an AMD Radeon graphics processor but is styled like their other “G Series” gaming laptops. As well, Lenovo took an interesting step with one of their gaming laptops by using Intel integrated graphics processors for its graphics infrastructure while equipping it with a Thunderbolt 3 port. Here, the user is to buy an external graphics module, typically the Lenovo BoostStation card-cage unit which is their first product of its kind that they released, to have the machine perform at its best. What this is about is a trend towards creating an entry-level performance laptop product range, very similar to buying the increased-performance “GT” variant of a popular family car model.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 FOLD prototype folding-display computer press picture courtesy of Intel USA

Co-engineered by Intel and Lenovo, ThinkPad X1 FOLD is a foldable-screen device built on the Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology (code-named “Lakefield”). (Credit: Lenovo) – an example of what folding computers are about

 

Another trend that is being shown frequently is multiple-screen or folding-screen portable computers. This is being promoted by Intel and Microsoft in the context of Windows 10X and newer Intel chipsets. It is being driven by the multiple-screen or folding-screen smartphone that Samsung and others are on the verge of releasing as finished products. But this technology will have a limited appeal towards early adopters until it is seen as legitimate by the general user base.

As far as small-form-factor desktop computers are concerned, Intel is working towards a modular “next unit of computing” platform which has the whole computer system on a card the same size as a traditional PCI expansion card. This platform, known as Ghost Canyon uses the “Compute Element” which is the user-swappable card, is intended to bring hack the joys of us upgrading a computer’s performance by ourselves even if we go for a smaller computer platform.

Connected-TV technology

This year has heralded interest in 8K UHDTV which has effectively twice the resolution of 4K UHDTV. As well, the 8K Association has been formed in order to set standards for domestic 8K UHDTV applications and promote this technology.

It is in conjunction with ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGenTV, being premiered at CES 2020 as a new direction for free-to-air TV in the USA. It us being valued thanks to people moving away from cable and satellite pay-TV services towards Netflix and other video-on-demand services augmented by free-to-air TV. Here, it will allow Americans to benefit from 4K UHDTV and Dolby Atmos technology via the TV antenna. Like with DVB and HBBTV-based standards used in Europe and Oceania, this technology combines the over-the-air signal with broadband Internet data to achieve advanced TV experiences.

There is also increased robustness as far as antenna-based reception is concerned which may allow for use of indoor antennas without their associated problems. As well, mobile users will benefit from this newer technology for on-the-road viewing. But there will also be an emphasis towards broadcast-LAN operation with one tuner offering a broadcast signal amongst multiple TVs. Users can upgrade their existing televisions to this technology by connecting an ATSC 3.0 set-top box to their TV as they see fit, but there will be some TVs, most likely “living-room” models from a few manufacturers, that will support this standard.

The 4K AMOLED screen is entering the “Goldilocks” territory when it comes to product price and screen size – not too big and expensive, not too small or cheap, but just right. It is seen by the trade as a “mid-market” territory but, for a TV, it is about something that appeals to more people without being too ostentatious or requiring one to pay a price’s ransom.

The advantage it has over the LCD screen that rules this market territory is to have increased contrast and richer colours, something that those of you who have a smartphone or tablet with an OLED display benefit from. As well, it is a technology that legitimises the high-dynamic-range and wide-colour-gamut video reproduction technology being pushed by the film and video industries.

Here, Sony released the first 48” 4K AMOLED screen that would be able to fit most viewing areas. This includes apartments and small houses as well as use in bedrooms, or secondary lounge areas including living rooms which aren’t frequently used for watching TV. As well, some AMOLED TV manufacturers are pitching sets that cost under US$1000. Here, this price point puts the AMOLED TV within reach of most middle-class families who are considering upgrading to this kind of technology without paying a price that sounds too vulgar.

Another trend affecting TVs is support for variable high refresh rates. Here, it appeals towards games consoles being able to work with game-optimised variable-refresh-rate monitors typically partnered with PC-based desktop gaming rigs, offering the same kind of display refresh rate as the display card on a gaming-rig PC would offer. This is being factored in because the large-screen TV is being valued in the context of gaming, especially with one-machine multiple-player games or the excitement of playing a favourite game on that big screen.

As well, I see the Apple TV and Android TV platforms as dominant smart-TV / set-top-box platforms due to the existence of strong code bases, strong developer communities and a well-nurtured app store. Here, the Android platform will appeal to TV vendors who haven’t invested in a smart-TV platform along with some third-party set-top box vendors. But the Android TV platform as a set-top-box platform has to be disassociated from the so-called “fully-loaded” Android boxes that are sold online from China for access to pirated TV content.

This is being driven by an avalanche of video-on-demand services that will appear over this year. Some of these will be subscription-based and offer new original content produced by the service’s owner while others will use advertising, perhaps as part of a freemium arrangement, and work heavily on licensing deep back-catalogue material. There will also be an effort amongst the new video-on-demand providers to take an international approach, appearing in multiple markets around the world, most likely with the goal of licensing content in all international markets concurrently.

It will even lead to each content-production name having its own video-on-demand service that primarily hosts content from its stable. But the question that will come about is how many video-on-demand subscriptions will we be having to budget for and maintain if we want content that reflects our choices.

Audio Technology

The DAB+ digital broadcast radio platform is increasing its footprint within Europe and across some parts of Africa and Asia. It includes some European countries like Norway and Switzerland moving their broadcast infrastructure away from AM and FM radio to this technology.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Here, it would be about an increased variety of devices that have broadcast-radio reception functionality based on this platform, including those that have Bluetooth and/or Internet-radio functionality. As well, more vehicle builders are being encouraged to supply DAB+ radios as factory-standard in all of their vehicles. Let’s not forget that value-priced DAB+ and Internet radio equipment will be equipped with a colour display that shows things like station branding or album cover-art while you listen to that station.

RadioDNS will be something that facilitates a hybrid broadcast-broadband approach to broadcast radio. This will include the ability to switch between broadcast-radio channels and an Internet radio stream for the same radio station or allow for richer supporting content to appear on the set’s display. It can also be about a “single-dial” approach to finding stations on broadcast and Internet bands. But RadioDNS has been given more “clout” in to the USA due to it being able to work with AM, FM or HD Radio (IBOC digital radio on AM and FM) which is used there.

Sonos’s partnership with IKEA, the furniture store who sells furniture that you assemble yourself with an Allen key, is demonstrating that a high-end multiroom-audio platform can be partnered with a commodity retail brand. What it could lead to is an incentive to build these kind of platforms around a mixture of premium, value and budget units, allowing for things like a low-risk “foot-in-the-door” approach for people starting out on that platform or people who have the premium equipment building out their system with cheaper equipment in secondary listening areas. It could even put pressure on the industry to adopt a common standard for multiroom-audio setups.

The streaming audio-on-demand scene is moving in a manner as to shore itself up against Spotify. Initially this is about offering either an advertising-supported free limited-service tier as what Amazon and Google are doing, or to offer a premium service tier with a focus on CD-quality or master-quality sound which is what Amazon is doing. But it could easily go beyond the “three-tier service” such as improved playlists, underrepresented content, support for standalone audio equipment, and business music services. As well, your ISP or telco could be providing access to a streaming-audio service as part of their service package or you buy a piece of network-enabled audio equipment and benefit from reduced subscription rates for an online music service.

The headphone scene is setting some strong contenders when it comes to excellent value-for-money for noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets.

Bose initiated this battle with the QuietComfort 35 II headphones with the technological press’s reviewers seeing them as a standard setter for this class of headset. Then Sony introduced the WH1000XM3 headphones and these were seen on a par with the Bose cans but at a more affordable price with some press using terms like “Bose-killers” to describe them. Bang & Olufsen came in to the party and offered a premium noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset known as the Beoplay H9. But lately Bose also answered Sony by offering the Noise Cancelling 700 headset that effectively did that job in a minimalist form. This is while Sony are intending to launch the WH1000XM4 this year to raise the bar against Bose and their current product.

As far as “true wireless” active-noise-cancelling earbuds are concerned, Apple with their AirPods Pro and Sony with their WF1000XM3 have established themselves at the top of the pack for excellence. What I see of this is someone else could answer them to achieve that same level of excellence especially at a value price. This product class is also likely to benefit from the Bluetooth LC Audio specification due to the requirement for a small battery in each earbud and the small size of each earbud.

What Apple, Bose, Sony and B&O are highlighting is that they could easily compete with each other to achieve excellent products when it comes to headphones you use with your laptop, smartphone or tablet. It could even be a chance for other companies to join in and raise the bar for premium everyday-use headset design, including the idea of having audiophile headphone qualities in this class of headset.

Voice assistant platforms and ambient computing

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will still bring forth newer devices, whether in the form of speakers or displays. But Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana will be part of the Open Voice Initiative allowing the same physical hardware to handle multiple voice assistant platforms.

A question that will arise through this year is whether there will be a strong direction towards having these devices work as a fixed audio or video telephony endpoint. This is whether the device works in a similar fashion to the classic landline telephone service with its own number; or as an extension to a smartphone that is part of a mobile telecommunications service.

The voice-assistant platforms will end up becoming part of an ambient computing trend that is underscored by facilitators like Internet of Things and distributed computing. Here, it is about computing that blends in with your lifestyle rather than being a separate activity.

As far as the Internet Of Things is concerned, the Connected Home over IP protocol was set in stone. This effort, facilitated by Amazon, Google and Apple with the oversight of the Zigbee Alliance, is about an IP-driven Internet-Of-Things data transport architecture. The idea is to do away with protocol gateways which were being used with various smart-home applications but the manufacturers were goading consumers to use their own protocol gateways with their devices rather than a third-party solution. There will be an emphasis on a safe secure interoperable Internet-of-Things network.

Data security and equipment maintenance in our personal and business lives

The Social Web will be considered a very important part of our lives with us primarily benefiting from it on tablets, smartphones or highly-portable laptops.

But it will still be a key disinformation vector. One of the new methods expected to be exploited this year is the creation of deepfakes. These are audio and video items created using artificial intelligence to make it as though a person said something when they didn’t. There will even be the ability to make the voice or face of a deepfaked person appear older or younger than they were when they were recorded, while make the voice or face appear as fluid as that of a real person.

Here, it will be used as a cyber weapon to create political, social and business instability by these representing our leaders whether they be in government, business or other circles. The deepfake will also be of value as a phishing tool in order to make the threat or plea appear to be more authentic to the victim.

As well, ransomware will begin to take on a network-wide dimension and affect business and service availability. Sensitive data, whether of a personal or business nature, will end up becoming the bargaining chip for ransomware hackers. This is in contrast to access to a computer user’s data resources which was often the case with ransomware.

The Internet Of Things will also be considered a continual security risk especially due to poor software and firmware quality control. It will lead to a conversation regarding the maintenance of our online devices through their lifecycle, including making sure they are running software that is stable and secure.

Then there is the “end-of-support” issue where a manufacturer ceases to show interest on older online devices that are currently in use. That is a question that is surfacing when one invests a significant amount of money in to the devices and people don’t want to throw out older equipment just because the manufacturer doesn’t want to support it anymore. It also goes against the grain of the post-Global-Financial-Crisis attitude most of us have adopted where we don’t want to support a throwaway society but want to see what we buy exist for the long haul.

The Sonos debacle raised the issue about what level of functionality the user should expect from their device along with how platform-based setups consisting of legacy and newer devices should behave. It also raised the issue of keeping the device’s software stable and secure.

Conclusion

This year will be considered a very interesting time for our online life as we see improvements to existing technologies along with newer conversations about how system-based technologies continue to evolve with a secure stable mindset.

What to expect in personal IT over 2019

Internet and Network technologies

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

5G mobile broadband will see more carriers deploying this technology in more locations whether as a trial setup or to run with it as a full revenue service. It will also see the arrival of client devices like smartphones or laptops rather than just USB modems or modem routers supporting this technology.

Some users will see 5G mobile broadband as supplanting fixed broadband services but the fixed broadband technologies will be improved with higher data throughput that competes with that technology. As well, fixed broadband especially fibre-based next-generation broadband will also be required to serve as an infrastructure-level backhaul for 5G mobile broadband setups.

Wi-Fi 6 a.k.a. 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will be officially on the scene with more devices becoming available. It may also mean the arrival not just of new access points and routers supporting this standard but the arrival at least of client-side chipsets to allow laptops, tablets and smartphones to work with the new technology. Some countries’ radio-regulation authorities will look towards opening up the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi purposes.

It also runs alongside the increased deployment of distributed-Wi-Fi systems with multiple access points linked by a wired or wireless backhaul. This will be facilitated with Wi-Fi EasyConnect and EasyMesh standards to create distributed-Wi-Fi setups with equipment from different vendors, which means that vendors don’t need to reinvent the wheel to build a distributed-Wi-Fi product line.

Consumer electronics and home entertainment

LG 4K OLED TVs press picture courtesy of LG America

LG 4K OLED TVs – a technology that could be coming more affordable over 2019

4K UHDTV with HDR technology will head towards its evolution phase with it maturing as a display technology. This will be with an increased number of sets implementing OLED, QLED or similar display technologies. It will also lead to more affordable HDR-capable TV models coming on to the scene.

Screen sizes of 75” and more will also cut in to affordable price ranges/ This will also be augmented with OLED-based screens becoming available in a “rollup” form that comes in an out like a blind or a traditional pull-down screen. Similarly, there will be a look towards the concept of “visual wallpaper” in order to justify the use of large screens in peoples’ households, including using the screen as a way to show messages or other information.

Online services will still become the primary source of 4K HDR TV content but the 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc will increase its foothold as the “packaged collectable” distribution medium for 4K video content. ATSC 3.0 and DVB-T2 will be pushed as a way to deliver 4K UHDTV content over the traditional TV aerial with this method of TV reception regaining its importance amongst the “cord-cutting” generations who dump cable and satellite TV.

JBL Link View lifestyle press image courtesy of Harman International

More of these voce-driven home-assistant devices with screens over this year

Another major direction affecting the home network and consumer electronics is an increased presence of voice-driven home-assistant services in this class of device. Typically this will be in the form of soundbars, wireless speakers, TV remote controls and similar home-entertainment equipment having endpoint functionality for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

As well, the “smart screens” like what Lenovo, JBL and Amazon are offering will become more ubiquitous, with the ability to augment responses from a voice-driven home assistant. It will be part of having more household appliances and other gadgets work tightly with voice-driven home assistants.

It may be seen as an effort to bridge the multiple network-based multiroom audio platforms so you can run equipment from different vendors as part of one system. But the problem here will be that such setups may end up being more awkward to use.

The smartphone will be facing some key challenges what with people hanging on to these devices for longer and / or running two of them – one for their work or business along with one for personal life. Some new form-factors like folding smartphones will be demonstrated while some of them will be optimised for high-performance activities like gaming.

These devices are being augmented with the return of mobile feature phones or basic mobile phones. These phones are like the mobile phones that were on the market through the 1990s and 2000s and don’t connect to the home network or Internet or use these resources in a very limited way. They are appearing due to people wanting detachment from online life like the Social Web usually as part of the “back to basics” life calling, or simply as a fail-over mobile telephony device.

But as laptops and tablets become full-on computing and communications devices, the feature phones and basic phones will simply work in a complementary way to allow voice telephony or text messaging on the same service in a handheld form.

This situation is being underscored by more mobile carriers offering mobile telecommunications services that aren’t necessarily bound to one particular device. This is to face realities like the connected car, smartwatches with mobile broadband, Mi-Fi devices amongst other things which will be expected to use the same mobile service.

In the same context, there will be a market requirement for mobile communications devices, especially mobile phones, to support two or more services including multiple numbers on the same service. Primarily this will be driven by eSIM technology and over-the-air provisioning, but it will facilitate ideas like totally separate services for one’s business and private lives, or to cater towards people who regularly travel across international borders.

Security and regulatory issues

I do see a strong push towards more secure Internet-of-Things devices for residential, commercial and other applications over this year. This is as regulators in Europe and California put the pressure on IoT vendors to up their game regarding “secure-by-design” products. There is also the expectation that the Internet Of Things needs to be fit for purpose with transport applications, utilities, medical applications and the like where there is an expectation for safe secure reliable operation that cannot be compromised by cyber-attacks.

Here, it may be about the establishment of device-firmware “bug-bounty” programs by manufacturers, industry bodies and others used to unearth any software weaknesses. Then it will lead towards regular maintenance updates becoming the norm for dedicated-purpose devices. It may also include a requirement to for device vendors and end-users to support automatic installation of these maintenance updates but allow for manual installation of major “feature-addition” updates.

This is in conjunction with the Silicon Valley behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google having to change their ways due to them under increased scrutiny from governments, media, activist investors, civil society and end-users. It will affect issues like end-user privacy and data transparency, financial and corporate-governance / human-resources practices, along with the effective market power that they have across the globe.

Equipment design

Use of Gallium Nitride transistors for power conversion

A major trend to see more of this year is the increased use of Gallium Nitride transistor technology. This is beyond using this chemical compound for optoelectronics such as blue, white or multicolour LEDs or laser diodes installed in Blu-Ray players and BD-ROM drive for the purpose of reading these optical discs.

Here, it is to multiply the effect silicon had on the design of audio equipment through the 1970s leading to highly-powerful equipment in highly-compact or portable forms. This is through improved heat management that leads to the compact form alongside more powerful transistors for switch-mode circuits.

One of the initial applications will be in the form of highly-compact USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant chargers for laptops and smartphones. This year will be about an increased number of finished products and reference designs that, depending on the application,  yield more than 45W of DC power for USB-C PD applications from either 100-250VAC mains power or 12-24VDC vehicle / marine power. It could then be affecting multiple-outlet “charging bars” and similar devices where the goal is to have something highly compact and portable to power that Dell XPS 13 or Nintendo Switch alongside your smartphone.

I see it also affecting how power-supply circuitry for computers, peripherals, network equipment and the like is designed. This can lead towards equipment having the compact profile along with reduced emphasis on factoring in thermal management in the design like use of fans or venting.

ARM-based microarchitecture to compete with Intel’s traditional microarchitecture

In the late 1980s, the then-new RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) microarchitecture excelled with graphics and multimedia applications. This is while Intel’s x86-based 16-bit traditional-microarchitecture used in the IBM PC and its clones were focused simply on number-crunching.

But 32-bit iterations of the x86 microarchitecture were able to encroach on graphics and multimedia since the early 1990s. Eventually it led to Apple moving the Macintosh platform away from the RISC-based Motorola CPUs towards Intel-based x86 and x64 traditional microarchitecture.

This was while Acorn Computers and a handful of other computer names worked towards ARM RISC microarchitecture which ended up in smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and similar applications.

Now this microarchitecture is making a comeback with the Always-Connected PCs which are laptops that run Windows 10 on Qualcomm ARM processors for higher power efficiency. It was brought about with Microsoft releasing a Windows 10 variant that runs on ARM microarchitecture rather than classic microarchitecture.

This will lead to some computer vendors running with at least one or two of these computers in their ultraportable product ranges. But there is investigation in to taking ARM technology to higher-power computing applications like gaming and server setups.

The big question for Intel is what can they offer when it comes to microprocessor technology that can answer what Qualcomm and others are offering using their ARM processors.

Increased SSD capacity

The solid-state drive will start to approach bill-of-material per-kilobyte price parity with the 500GB hard disk. Here, it could lead towards laptops and ultra-compact desktop computers coming with 512Gb SSDs in the affordable configurations. This is also applying to USB-based external storage devices as well as what is integrated in a computer.

Here, the concept of high-speed energy-saving non-volatile storage that would satisfy a “sole computer” situation for a reasonable outlay is coming to fruition. What will still happen with the traditional mechanical hard disk is that it will end up satisfying high-capacity storage requirements like NAS units or servers. In some situations, it may lead towards more NAS units supporting multi-tier storage approaches like bring frequently-used data forward.

Conclusion

This is just a representative sample of what 2019 is likely to bring about for one’s personal and business online life, but as with each year, more situations will crop up over the year.

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.

Acer raises the bar for convertible 2-in-1 laptop performance

Articles

Acer goes after casual gamers with upcoming Nitro 5 Spin convertible laptop | Windows Central

Acer Nitro 5 Spin: Gaming Convertible with 8th Gen Core Power | Laptop Mag

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Press Release

My Comments

Before, the idea of a 2-in-1 convertible or detachable laptop having any sort of gaming or mobile-workstation acumen was considered ludicrous. These systems were simply more about computing that matched your lifestyle rather than something that was about performance.

Lenovo offered the 15” Yoga 720 which was specced with a NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics processor but this was pitched more as a productivity machine or, should I say, a “prosumer” machine for video hobbyists, animators and the like.

But Intel recently announced the 8th Generation “Coffee Lake” range of Core CPUs with a focus towards high-performance portable computing. Acer came hot on the heels of this announcement by announcing a 2-in-1 convertible laptop incorporating this technology optimised for casual gaming.

Here, the Acer Nitro 5 Spin, which is a 15” convertible laptop equipped with the 8th generation Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, is optimised and promoted specifically for casual gamers. There is up to 512GB of solid-state storage space which makes this machine earn its chops as your primary or only computer where you would harbour a lot of data. The display is a 15” Full HD display while the sound is looked after with a 3-speaker setup involving 2 properly-placed speakers and a subwoofer.

There is the backlit keyboard as expected for premium computer setups while the computer is secured using a Windows-Hello-compliant fingerprint reader. As for connecting to your home network, its 802.11a/g/n/ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi infrastructure is augmented by Acer’s OmniAmp omnidirectional antenna setup which avoids your computer losing the optimum connection no matter how you set it up. It is also worth noting that Acer places a promise for the battery on this computer to run for 10 hours before it dies out, but I am not sure if this is with the computer running a game or video content, or simply doing light computing tasks.

As the sales pitch goes, the use case would be someone who is a casual gamer rather than the core gamers who want the highest-performing computers. The class of user would be someone who, for example, plays one of the Civilization games to while away the long flight or plays games streamed from a console that has the ability to play a console game on a regular computer. But the Acer Nitro 5 Spin would also appeal to people who view the game streams like what is offered on the Twitch platform.

Let’s not forget that the powerful CPU and GPU in the Acer Nitro 5 Spin makes the computer earn its chops with people who are dabbling with video editing, animation and the like. It could also appeal as a “foot-in-the-door” towards mobile workstation territory for engineering, graphics arts and similar students, but I would like to be sure it has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for use with eGPU modules kitted out with Quadro or similar workstation-class graphics cards.

The initial price that Acer called for the Nitro 5 Spin in the US and Canada market is US$999.

Personally, I would see Acer’s Nitro 5 Spin underscore the viability of integrating the versatile positioning abilities of the 2-in-1 convertible with the concept of high-performance computing for a lot of applications.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop–now refreshed

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product Page

TV commercial – click or tap to play

Previous Coverage

Product Review of previous-generation unit

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptopSometime during March this year, I reviewed the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop, simply known as the Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, which was based on the 6th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU with a cheaper option for an Intel Core i5 CPU. Here, this high-performance computer was positioned as a gaming laptop that doesn’t show the aggressive looks of computers destined at this kind of user, rather it conveys a style similar to the typical 15” mainstream laptop. It was also kitted out with 8Gb RAM and a 1Tb hard disk for the cheaper i5 variant and 16Gb RAM, 128Gb solid-state disk and 1Tb hard disk for the more expensive i7 variant. This is also in conjunction with NVIDIA dedicated graphics that has 4Gb display memory and Optimus automatic switching between dedicated and integrated graphics.

In the review, I had positioned the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming product range at those of us who are chasing performance in a portable form. This was ranging from someone who wants something that can be quickly put away after use, or someone who is living a relatively nomadic lifestyle like one who works in the merchant navy or doing business placements around the world. I also exposed it towards students studying courses involving advanced graphics or people dabbling with photos, video or animation as a hobby or small-time business effort but don’t want to follow the Apple path.

But just lately, Dell refreshed the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming series of high-performance laptop computers with the 7th Generation Intel processors, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 series dedicated graphics with the Ti variant being a product differentiator, The cheaper machines come with a 256Gb SSD while the premium model comes with a 1Tb hard disk as well. This is a process that happens with all of the computers that become available where a manufacturer will issue a newer model that is simply equipped with newer and better silicon but is like the model that was released prior when it comes to form, function and product positioning.

The entry-level configuration costs AUD$1399 and comes with Intel i5 horsepower, 8Gb RAM, 256Gb solid-state drive, and NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, The step-up model which costs AUD$1499 comes with the same specs as the entry-level model but uses the NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti which offers a level of better graphics performance. Then the premium model which costs AUD$1599 comes with the Intel i7 horsepower, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb hard disk and 256Gb SSD as secondary storage along with the NVIDIA GTX1050Ti graphics.

But Dell are riding on the Spider-Man Homecoming movie just about to be released in to Australian cinemas for the Australian winter school holidays by running a TV commercial themed around this movie that is now on your TV. I have watched this ad a few times and see it not just as a “games during class” concept but also the fact that these computers can be relevant with advanced graphics as part of a STEM or media-focused study curriculum.

Product Review–Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop which is a gaming-optimised variant of their 15-7000 Series laptops which are considered as the top of their mainstream consumer laptop range. These traditional-style laptops are pitched towards students and other users who like the traditional clamshell look rather than a 2-in-1 computer because they are more likely to ask for the power and capacity that these units offer without going “full pelt” towards an aggressively-styled gaming model.

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming range of laptops are positioned in a similar manner to the “sports sedans / sports saloons” or “hot hatches” that most vehicle builders were inserting in to their popular passenger-car lineups for a long time to maintain appeal to younger drivers. But these vehicles were optimised for power, being powered by some powerful engines and equipped with gearboxes suitable for competitive driving. Such vehicles would exhibit some sporty detail work inside and out and tended to carry model-name suffixes that conveyed “GT” or “Sport” driving.

I am reviewing the premium variant that comes with the Intel Core i7 processor, 16Gb RAM and secondary storage in the form of a 128Gb solid-state drive and 1Tb hard disk. There is a cheaper “value-priced” variant that comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8Gb RAM and only a 1Tb hard disk as its secondary storage.

They underscore the high performance by offering a larger amount of system RAM for the processor class that what a typical laptop would offer for the processor class such as an Intel i7 CPU machine being kitted out with 8Gb RAM or an i5 or i3 CPU being matched with 4Gb RAM. As well, these computers are equipped with a discrete-graphics chipset known to offer very high performance for a mobile-class chipset.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Market Positioning Gaming laptop
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ 6th Generation
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-6300HQ 6th Generation
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8Gb
Secondary storage 128 GB SSD + 1 TB hard disk
cheaper option:
1 TB hard disk
SD card slot
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M graphics
– 4Gb display RAM and Optimus automatic switchingIntel HD 530 integrated graphics
Screen 15” widescreen display (1920×1080 Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves by MaxxAudio Pro sound tuning 2 speakers + 1 bass driver
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band single-stream
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth BT 4.2 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 3 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Video HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

Where a computer of the same screen size and in the same product range is offered with different variations in its configuration, I highlight the options that the review unit has in boldface text and list the variations available for the computer under the review unit’s specifications, As well, I write whether the alternate specifications are cheaper options or come at a more expensive premium compared to what I am dealing with.

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop rear vents

Rear vents to improve cooling for a high-performance computer

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming comes across as a relatively-heavy machine, with the extra venting on the back of the unit similar to the air scoops integrated in to the above-mentioned performance-tuned passenger cars. The venting is primarily to allow the machine to stay relatively cool even when playing advanced games, and also underscores that it is optimised for performance. But there is still a chance of heat build-up taking place and this can be felt from underneath the laptop.

The outside of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is finished with a feel not dissimilar to rubber. This coveys that rugged look that is also about durability. But the finish has a disadvantage where it can easily look dirty and harbour stains associated with real portable use.

Another symbol of this computer’s durable construction is the use of a single thick hinge pin for the lid.  This makes the computer feel less flimsy to use when you open and close it.

User Interface

There is a hard tactile feedback that the keyboard exhibits which conveys that it can work with a lot of data entry or game control activity. There is still that chiclet keyboard design with a similar feel across the keyboard which can make things awkward if you value touch-typing or similar tactile-driven operation.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming - WASD keys for gaming

Highlighted W, A, S. D keys for gaming

For gamers, the “W”, “A”, “S” and “D” keys are highlighted so you can easily control your game using those keys. This is more so for games where these keys actually are used to control the current game character while you use other keys for other control purposes like swapping the weapon or tool your character uses or changing the current game character. If you want to use the traditional function keys, you have to use the Fn key all the time but it could be made easier to add a dedicated “Fn lock” button to allow switching between traditional function keys or the media keys for the top row.

The multi-touch trackpad is highly responsive and works as expected. This is without it being too “hair-trigger”. Most gamers may find that a gaming-optimised USB or Bluetooth mouse or trackball may do the job better for navigating around the field of play.

Audio / Video

I played a video clip hosted on Facebook using the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop and had found that the sound had come through clearly and with some “punch” in the hass. giving a fuller sound to voices as well as treating the music properly. The sound level would he strong enough for personal listening thou, and this is brought on thanks to the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning.

The display could handle most video playing tasks, even fast-paced action, in a very smooth manner. The only problem I had with running video from Windows 10 Universal Windows apps is that I couldn’t push this infrastructure to use the higher-performance NVIDIA chipset over the integrated graphics to give it a real test.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left hand side connections – Power, USB 3 with PowerShare “plug and charge”, SD card reader

There are three USB 3.0 sockets with one that is capable of being enabled for “Powershare” sleep-and-charge functionality. This is where the Dell laptop can supply power to charge gadgets connected to that port, identified with a lightning bolt, while it is switched off and on its own batteries.

Let’s not forget that the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop has the ability to be connected to an HDMI display as its external display.

The premium version of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop comes with a 128Gb solid-state drive and a 1Tb hard disk while the cheaper variant comes just with a 1Tb hard disk. This storage capacity is being maintained by Dell for most of their 15” mainstream laptops with the view of allowing these to serve well as a portable option for one’s main or sole computing device. Although, the computer doesn’t have much data beyond what is initially supplied with it, the hard disk and the solid-state drive came out as being very quick.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop - Right-hand side connections - audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

Right-hand side connections – audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

These fixed-storage devices are augmented with just an SDXC card slot for camera cards and the like. It is symptomatic of a trend regarding newer portable computer equipment where this kind of equipment doesn’t come with an optical drive of any sort. It is thanks to software being delivered using download services like Steam. Still I would recommend the purchase of a USB 3.0 external Blu-Ray burner as an essential accessory for this computer, whether to make an optical-disc backup / archive of your data, deliver some of your data on an optical-disc form to others or view collectable video content on this computer.

The Wi-Fi network works as expected with it being able to pick up properly even at the fringe of an existing Wi-Fi network. At the moment, I haven’t had to install any new drivers to make sure that the network works properly. Like most 15” mainstream laptops, this computer has a Gigabit Ethernet connection that you can use with Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks.

Battery Life

You may expect that a gaming laptop may be more thirsty when it comes to battery power but this would happen only when running demanding software thanks to the use of NVIDIA Optimus technology using the appropriate GPU setup for the job. It is  in conjunction with the illuminated keyboard lighting up when you are actually using it while the system is on battery power.

One key limitation with this computer’s battery is that the user can’t replace it themselves. It can be of concern if you intend to keep this computer going for a long time but have to deal with a battery that is at the end of its useful life. Similarly, this situation precludes Dell from offering a higher-capacity battery pack as an aftermarket option for those of us who want that high-performance gaming or video-editing ability away from power.

Other Usage Notes

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop can be seen to be too large but the red detailing can be seen by some as giving it that “cute” appeal. I had used it at a Docklands cafe that is opposite a marina and the staff reckoned that it could have some appeal to people who spend a long time on those boats in the marina.

Another man who is in charge of a “Men’s Shed” community support organisation for men has liked the rubberised housing that this computer has when I presented it to him. Here, he remarked that it conveyed a highly-durable feel about the computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could improve on the Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop range by providing at least one Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection and optimising it for use with external graphics docks. Here, gamers could choose to use the “card-cage” graphics docks to implement the high-performance desktop graphics cards which are most likely to offer more performance than mobile graphics chipsets. Similarly, those of us using a gaming-grade laptop as an entry to mobile-workstation territory, like engineering students or people dabbling with video editing or animation could use a “card-cage” graphics dock with a workstation-grade graphics card to give the CAD or animation program that expected level of performance.

“Gaming” series computers could be equipped with user-replaceable batteries to allow for a long usage life that reflects their premium prices. It can also allow Dell and others to offer higher-capacity batteries as an option during the model’s lifetime.

Conclusion

I would see the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop being suited as a sole or main computing device for consumers and students who place value on a portable computer that is all about performance. This idea of portability may be about a computer you can stow away quickly and easily when not in use, or those of us who live a nomadic life and want something that can be easily transported.

Here, I would recommend the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptops as being fit for gaming but without the aggressive look, or for people starting out a hobby or small-time business effort with photo, video or animation work but don’t necessarily want to go the Apple path. Students who are studying courses that deal with advanced graphics like animation or engineering may consider it as a starting point for this kind of work.

The high-performance variant with the Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD would be the answer for those of us who want to work the computer hard like advanced gamers, video / photo editors, animators and the like. On the other hand, the lower-tier variant with the Intel i5 processor may be good for those of us who want the taste of high performance computing.

Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Computer Trends

I am writing up a series of articles about the trends that have been put forward at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The first article in this series covers all of the trends affecting personal computers.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Computers

Most manufacturers were exhibiting refreshed versions of their product ranges. This is where the computers were being equipped with up-to-date chipsets and had their RAM, storage and other expectations brought up to date.

  • Key trends affecting mainstream computers included:
  • the use of Intel Kaby Lake processors for the computers’ horsepower
  • solid-state storage capacity in the order of up to 1 Terabyte
  • RAM capacity in the order of up to 16Gb
  • at least one USB Type-C socket on mainstream units with Thunderbolt 3 on premium units and / or ultraportables using just USB-C connections with some having 2 or more of these connectors

    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

    More of this year’s laptop computers will be equipped with these USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 sockets

  • Wi-Fi connectivity being 802.11ac multi-band with MU-MIMO operation

Another factor worth noticing is the increase in detachable or convertible “2-in-1” computers being offered by most, if not all, of the manufacturers; along with highly-stylish clamshell ultraportable computers. This class of computer is being brought on thanks to Microsoft’s Surface range of computers with some of of the computers in these classes also being about performance. The manufacturers are even offering a range of these “2-in-1” computers targeted towards business users with the security, manageability, durability and productivity features that this use case demands.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

More of these convertibles and detachable 2-in-1 computers will appear in manufacturers’ product ranges

Nearly every manufacturer had presented at least one high-performance gaming laptop with the Intel Core i7 processor, at least 16Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage, dedicated graphics chipset. Most of these computers are even equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection to allow for use with external graphics docks, considered as a way for core gamers to “soup up” these machines for higher gaming acumen.

Lenovo had refreshed most of their laptop range, especially the ThinkPad business range. Here, this is a product range that makes no distinction between the small-business/SOHO user class where a few of these computers are managed and the large-business/government user class where you are talking of a large fleet of computers handling highly-sensitive data.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been refreshed to newer expectations

The new ThinkPads come in the form of a newer ThinkPad Yoga business convertible, a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook and a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible. For example, the ThinkPad Yoga 370 has the 13.3” Full HD screen, the classic ThinkPad TrackPoint button as a navigation option but is driven by Intel Kaby Lake horsepower. This machine can be specified up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb solid-state storage and has a Thunderbolt 3 connection along with 2 USB 3.0 ports. Lenovo even designed in protection circuitry for the USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port to protect the ThinkPad against those dodgy non-compliant USB-C cables and chargers. Like the rest of the new ThinkPad bunch, this computer comes with the Windows 10 Signature Edition software image which is about being free of the bloatware that fills most of today’s laptop computers. The computer will set you back US$1264.

Other ThinkPads will also come with either a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection depending on their position in the model range. For example the T470 family and the T570 family will be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connections. Let’s not forget how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Yoga have been refreshed. The Carbon implements horsepower in the Intel Kaby Lake Core i family, a 14” Quad HD display, 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD storage, and an expected battery runtime of 15 hours along with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The X1 Yoga has been given the similar treatment with similar RAM and secondary-storage capacity but can be outfitted with an LTE-A wireless-broadband modem as an option.

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop with Dolby Atmos sound

Gamers can relish in the fact that Lenovo has premiered the Legion range of affordable high-performance gaming laptops. The Legion Y720 is the first of its kind to be equipped with Dolby Atmos sound. The Y520 has a Full HD IPS screen driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1050Ti dedicated graphics chipset, the choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and hard disk storage between 500Gb and 1Tb or solid-state storage between 128Gb and 512Gb, and network connectivity in the form of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Peripheral connectivity is in the form of 1 x USB-C, 2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 and an audio jack, with this computer asking for at least US$900. The better Y720, along with Dolby Atmos, has a bright IPS screen either as a Full HD or 4K resolution and driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1060 graphics chipset with 6Gb display memory. Lenovo was also offering a MIIX 720 creative-arts mobile workstation that eats at the Apple MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro lineup.

Dell XPS 15 Notebook press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 15 ultraportable in a 15″ size

Dell had refreshed the XPS 13 lineup of Ultrabooks, known for offering the right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. But they also offered a convertible 2-in-1 variant of the XPS 13, again offering that right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. They also released the XPS 15 which is the smallest 15,6” laptop with Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics and a fingerprint reader.

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer with best bass response in its class

The XPS and Precision all-in-one desktop computers have had their sound quality improved rather than having it as an afterthought. This has led to audio quality from the XPS 27 and the Precision business equivalent being equivalent to that of a soundbar, thanks to the use of 10 speakers working at 50 watts per channel, including two downward-firing speakers to make the work surface augment the bass. Two passive radiators also augment the system’s bass response. Both have a 4K UHD touchscreen  while the Precision certified workstation can work with AMD Radeon graphics and Intel Xeon CPUs.

Like Lenovo, Dell had exhibited their business-grade computers at a trade fair typically associated with goods targeted at the consumer. This could underscore realities like people who use business-tier computers for “work-home” use including those of us who are running a business or practising a profession from our homes. Dell have been on a good wicket here because of themselves selling computers direct to the public and to business users for a long time.

Here, Dell had refreshed their XPS, Inspiron, Optiflex, Latitude and Precision computer lineups with new expectations. They would come with Kaby Lake horsepower under the bonnet, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity depending on the unit along with newer dedicated-graphics options from NVIDIA or AMD. The business machines would be equipped with Intel vPro manageability features to work with business-computer management software.

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 – the most secure of its class

In the case of business computers, Dell had underscored a desire to integrate the aesthetics of consumer-tier ultraportable computers with the security, manageability and productivity wishes that the business community crave for. For example, the latest Latitude Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s show the looks but come up with the goods as a business “axe” computer. One of the systems in the Latitude lineup is the Latitude 7285 detachable 2-in-1s which implement WiTricity wireless charging and WiGig docking while the Latitude 5285 detachable 2-in-1 sells on a highly-strong security platform with Dell-developed data-protection / endpoint-protection software and the option for a fingerprint reader or smartcard reader.

Samsung had shown some Windows 10 tablets but they also presented the Notebook Odyssey gaming laptop, available as a 15” variant or a 17” higher-performing variant. Both of these implement “dual-storage” with a solid-state drive in the order of 256Gb for the 15” variant or 512Gb for the 17” variant along with a 1Tb traditional hard disk. RAM is in the order of 32Gb or 64Gb for the 17” variant while these are driven by Intel Core i7 CPUs. Graphics is looked after by NVIDIA GTX dedicated GPU with 2Gb or 4Gb display memory but the 17” variant also has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for external graphics units.

There is also the Notebook 9 which implements a 15” HD display driven by NVIDIA 940MX graphics processor and Core i7 processor. Of note, the Notebook 9 implements a Windows Hello fingerprint reader along with a USB-C port which is its power socket thanks to USB Power Delivery.

HP was not silent but had fielded the Spectre x360 15” convertible Ultrabook, one of the few 15” portable computers that can be a tablet or laptop. It is driven by Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake horsepower and has the quota of 16Gb RAM and either a 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage. The 15” 4K IPS screen is driven by an NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics processor with 2Gb display memory, but the sound-reproduction has been tuned by Bang & Olufsen while there is an HP-designed noise-cancelling microphone array. The Webcam is an HP infra-red type which is Windows Hello compatible for facial recognition login. Connectivity is in the form of an HDMI socket, 1 USB-C socket, 1 Thunderbolt 3 socket, 1 traditional USB Type-A socket and an SD-card drive. Expect this convertible’s battery to run for 12 hours and be ready to go after 90 minutes of quick charging. The expected price is US$1299 for the 256Gb variant and US$1499 for the 512Gb variant.

Another interesting trend highlighted at CES 2017 has been an increase in the number of “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers.  This is thanks to use cases like augmented-reality / virtual-reality gaming and an emphasis on aesthetics for desktop-based computing and has been brought about by the likes of the Intel Skull Canyon NUC. One of these was a range offered by Elitegroup with computers powered by Intel Braswell, Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake processors.

Zotac Mini PC press photo courtesy of Zotac

The latest Zotac Mini PC that is the hub of a “hi-fi” approach to computing

But Zotac approached the NUC trend in a manner not dissimilar to the “micro component” hi-fi systems, especially some of the premium offerings that emerged from Japan through the early 80s. These premium “micro-component” systems offered for their amplification needs a control amplifier and a power amplifier so as to provide more power output, along with their source components being a tuner and a cassette deck. In the case of Zotac, they offered the C-Series NUC midget computer which could be powered through its USB-C port thanks to USB Power Delivery. It came with the Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics, a Thunderbolt 3 connector along with a few other features. The C-Series even has corporate manageability and security abilities such as Intel vPro and AMT system management along with the UNITE secure conferencing feature.

But Zotac offered an external “card-cage” graphics dock with a PCI Express x 16 expansion slot for graphics cards, 3 standard USB 3.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port supporting QuickCharge, but being able to supply power to the host computer via the Thunderbolt 3 port using USB Power Delivery. The graphics module’s power supply has a power budget of 400 watts and the module is known to be compatible with NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards.  They even offered their own NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card as a partner card for this dock.

The goal here was to supply a two-piece high-performance computer setup with a system unit and a module that can serve as its graphics subsystem and power supply. But users still had the ability to install better equipment when they felt like it. Or the graphics module could be purposed to provide extra graphics horsepower to portable, “all-in-one” and other small computers that are Thunderbolt-3-equipped as well as supplying necessary power through this port to host computers that honour USB Power Delivery.

Mobile Devices

Even though Samsung had suffered a deep blow with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phablets, the mobile-computing platform has not died yet. It is although we may be hanging on to our smartphones for longer than the typical two-year contract period in order to save money.

At the moment, the phones that are being given an airing are the mid-tier Android smartphones like the Huawei Honor 6X with a dual camera and the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom which is one of the first to have an optical zoom on the rear camera’s lens.

Samsung launched their Galaxy A3 and A5 Android smartphones which are still positioned in the mid-tier segment. This is while Sony came to the fore with the XPeria X2 premium smartphone which has a 5.5” 4K display and 5Gb RAM, just above the baseline expectations for RAM capacity in a desktop computer.

LG had launched a range of low-tier Android smartphones that are equipped with user-replaceable batteries. The K3 is a compact unit with a 4.5” display while the K4 comes with the standard 5” display. There is the K8 5” selfie smartphone which has a highly-optimised front camera for taking those selfies to appear on Instagram or Facebook. Then LG brought the 13 megapixel camera featured in the G series lineup to the K10 5.3” smartphone. They also offered a Stylus 3 phablet with an integrated fingerprint scanner.

The next in the series will cover high-resolution monitors, computer accessories and the home network including the distributed-WiFi trend.

A Surface Book variant is actually a portable gaming rig

Article

Should you buy the Surface Book with Performance Base for gaming? | Windows Central

My Comments

Microsoft Surface Book press picture courtesy of Microsoft

A performance variant of the Microsoft Surface will show up as the stealth gaming rig

There have been the rise of gaming-grade laptops that have enough CPU and graphics-processing acumen to handle the latest games on the market with the full performance expectations. Here, most of the manufacturers are releasing at least one model with these abilities but most of these are styled like a muscle car or street rod.

But a few manufacturers are approaching this by offering performance computers that have a “stealth” look where their looks don’t betray the performance under the hood. Microsoft has now joined the party with a performance variant of the Surface Book which works with a “performance base”. This uses a keyboard base with the same graphics ability as the baseline variant of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC.

As with other Surface Book variants, the tablet detaches from the keyboard base so it can simply be a Windows 10 tablet but, when attached, it becomes a convertible laptop. Microsoft could provide the Performance Base not just as part of a system variant for how you wish to order the Surface Book, but as an upgrade option for existing Surface Books for those of us who want to upgrade them as a full-bore gaming or multimedia PC.

It is very similar to what can be done with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C where manufacturers can offer a graphics module that connects to portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers to enhance their graphics performance. But this idea could be taken further with the use of coprocessors that are part of “performance modules” that could improve existing computers’ performance for gaming and multimedia tasks.

Personally I would find that the trend for portable and “all-in-one” computing is to offer gaming-rig performance as a model variant in one or more product lines rather than as its own product line. This is even though the manufacturer will offer a dedicated premium product line or brand that is focused towards gaming. Such products would appeal to those of us who value the performance angle for multimedia creation or gaming but don’t think of it like owning a “street-machine” car.