Archive for July, 2009

Windows 7 will give boost to PC hardware

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Windows 7 will give boost to PC hardware

Windows 7 will be more than just a better interface. Under-the-hood changes will allow chips from Intel, Nvidia, and Advanced Micro Devices to ratchet up Windows 7 performance above previous Microsoft operating systems.

Microsoft on Wednesday said it has finalized the code for Windows 7, set to ship with new PCs starting October 22. Improvements will include how Windows handles multitasking, graphics acceleration, and solid-state drives

Microsoft is working closely with Intel, whose chips will power the vast majority of PCs running Windows 7. A July 22 post from Intel’s Joakim Lialias, Alliance Manager responsible for Microsoft, described how Microsoft and Intel “saw unique opportunities to optimize Windows 7 for Intel processor technology” in the areas of performance, power management, and graphics.

In his blog, Lialias focused on improvements to multitasking based on “SMT Parking,” which provides additional support to the Windows 7 scheduler for Intel Hyper-threading Technology. With Hyper-threading, the operating system sees a single processor core as two cores. For example, a quad-core system would be seen as having eight cores, thus potentially improving multitasking–or doing tasks (threads) simultaneously.

Hyper-threading is back in vogue at Intel after being pulled from Intel Core 2 chips (it debuted in the Pentium 4 processor). Nehalem Core “i” series processors use Hyper-threading, as do Atom chips. Intel, in fact, now includes Hyper-threading as part of a chip’s core specifications. The Core i7-975 processor, for example, is listed as “4 Cores, 8 Threads.”

Lialias also mentioned enhancements to boot and shutdown times. “Our mutual goal was to provide the most responsive compute experience possible.” (Lialias’ blog was cited in a PC World article.)

Windows 7 will also do more than previous operating systems with graphics–and here, DirectX 11 stands out as the most highly anticipated technology. A recent AMD blog describes a “beast called the tessellator…which enables games developers to create smoother, less blocky and more organic looking objects in games.” The blog discusses how DirectX has been redesigned “to ensure that it is much more efficient” at using multicore processors, such as the AMD Opteron chip.

Beyond games, Windows 7 has the potential to turn a graphics processing unit (GPU) from AMD or Nvidia into a general-purpose compute engine, used to accelerate everyday computing tasks like a CPU. Specifically, “the compute shader” can be used to speed up more common computing tasks. The buzz word used to describe this technology is a mouthful: GPGPU or general-purpose graphics processing unit.

In an April interview, Sumit Gupta, product manager for Nvidia’s Tesla products, described GPGPU in some detail. “What that essentially means to consumers is, if your laptop has an Nvidia GPU or ATI GPU, it will run the operating system faster because the operating system will essentially see two processors in the system. For the first time, the operating system is going to see the GPU both as a graphics chip and as a compute engine,” he said.

Gupta gave an example of launching an application. “For example, when you launch (Google) Picasa, that is completely run on the CPU. (But) the minute you choose an image and apply a filter, that filter should run on the GPU,” he said.

Another beneficiary of improved Windows 7 technology: solid-state drives, which are typically faster than hard-disk drives and gaining ground in niche markets such as high-end laptops, gaming PCs, and servers.

SSDs will be able to take advantage of Windows 7 technology called the Trim Command. In a recent interview, Troy Winslow, marketing manager for the NAND Products Group at Intel, explained the significance of the Windows 7 Trim Command, which clears up free area on a solid-state drive.

Even when blocks of data get deleted on a solid-state drive, the drive still looks like it’s full, according to Winslow. “Trim allows you to release those blocks for reuse and maintain the performance. Every drive will degrade somewhat over time. With Trim, you’re able to stay more in that the virgin state,” he said.

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Intel: Windows 7 will deploy faster than Vista

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Intel: Windows 7 will deploy faster than Vista

Intel made a splash last year when it said there was “no compelling reason” for Intel’s IT department to upgrade to Windows Vista.

“This time I think it will go faster,” said Sean Maloney, speaking Wednesday at the Intel Technology Summit.

“There was a reason not to deploy Vista because you’re waiting for service pack X or (because of) compatibility issues,” he said.

“There are really good reasons (to deploy Windows 7) for the business client. You’ve got compatibility mode that takes away that argument,” he said. “Security, power management. A lot of good reasons,” he said.

Maloney’s comments were focused on business, but he said “consumer will happen, too.”

He also addressed Netbooks saying that Netbooks will not attract first-time buyers. “The first time you buy something you want the real deal,” he said, referring to mainstream laptops. He also reiterated a recent Intel theme that Netbooks will become more of a market targeted at children.

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ARM chip camp sees Google Chrome as opportunity

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

ARM chip camp sees Google Chrome as opportunity

Texas Instruments and Qualcomm executives talked Wednesday about the opportunities they see for the just-announced Google Chrome operating system.

The Chrome operating system is “lightweight,” a term that Google uses, meaning the OS runs fine on less hardware. Chrome will initially be targeted at Netbooks–essentially ultra-small laptops–that will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010, according to Google.

Both TI and Qualcomm believe the Google OS will provide more opportunity for new-fangled devices to gain wider acceptance. And both believe this is an opportunity for their respective ARM processors–which power many of the world’s cell phones–to gain more ground.

Analysts see the makings of a broad realignment in the computer industry. “What Google is betting on with the Chrome OS (is a) shift in computing and consumer behavior,” Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT, wrote in a research note on Wednesday. “If that scenario truly comes to pass, it could disrupt the efforts of virtually every vendor focused on personal computing.”

Texas Instruments, which has been working with Google on the Chrome OS, expects big changes in the design of devices, according to Ramesh Iyer, TI’s head of worldwide business development for mobile computing.

“Netbooks are really the tip of the iceberg. We need to fast forward into the future and think of things beyond the Netbook thanks to this initiative from Google,” Iyer said in a phone interview. TI’s OMAP ARM processor powers a number of cell phones and smartphones including the recently-announced Palm Pre.

“We see the future being cloud computing really. You are walking around with a simple tablet, that is probably no thicker than the thickness of your display. It may have a (physical) keyboard, it may have a soft keyboard. A world where you’re no longer carrying around a two-pound or five-pound notebook but a small tablet,” he said.

These handheld computers, sometimes called mobile Internet devices, physically differentiate themselves from high-end handsets, like Apple’s iPhone, by their size. They typically have screens about 1.5 to 2 times the size of an iPhones’s and, in some cases, come with keyboards.

Qualcomm is already seeing new designs in the pipeline. “We’ve seen designs that are so thin that when people pick them up for the first time they’re shocked by how light they are,” Rob Chandhok, vice president of software strategy for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, said in a phone interview.

For these devices, the focus will be the browser, not the OS underneath. “Probably one of the biggest things you can read into the Chrome announcement is that in this proposed world the browser is the platform,” he said. “In Smartbooks (Qualcomm’s terminology for a Netbook) you need a little bit more screen because you’re reading documents and doing a lot of typing but not carrying around a four-pound laptop. In that environment, the most important platform is the browser,” he said.

Chandhok also spoke to how the platform is different from Google’s Android OS. “In Chrome, it is written as Java Script application,” he said. “The difference is that the Gmail application on the Android phone is a separate application. (But) the way you would do that on a Chrome OS device is you would run that in a browser window. More of the computational environment is in the Web browser, like Google Maps.”

None of this is lost on Intel. The world’s largest chipmaker has been successful so far at squeezing its silicon into most of the world’s Netbooks. And Intel is now going after the ultra-small device and smartphone market by hooking up with companies like Nokia and LG Electronics.

“We welcome Google’s move. More choice in this area will benefit the industry and help to speed innovation,” an Intel spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Will Google’s Chrome technology result in a precipitous end to the domination of Windows-Intel-based laptops and Netbooks? King cautioned that Google has a lot of catching up to do. “We believe those assessments are deeply premature. By the time Chrome OS-enabled products (and their still-unknown tools and applications) reach the market Windows 7-based netbooks will have been available for the better part of a year,” he wrote.

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Intel CEO keen on ‘ultra-thins’ as alternative to Netbooks

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Intel CEO keen on ‘ultra-thins’ as alternative to Netbooks

During Intel’s earnings conference call Tuesday, CEO Paul Otellini said inexpensive “ultra-thins” will give users what they’re missing in Netbooks, a theme that the chipmaker has been reiterating in various forums lately.

Intel continues to try to maneuver this new and more profitable category of laptops into territory where Netbooks continue to hold mindshare. Ultra-thins are low-cost laptops, typically with 13-inch screens, based on Intel’s ultra-low-power (ULV) chips. Netbooks have screens usually no larger than 11 inches and use Intel’s lower-cost, lower-performance Atom processor.

Echoing prior comments by other executives, Otellini said that ultra-thins address the Netbook’s shortcomings. “When people try to do 3D games on these things (Netbooks) or try to run their office applications on them, they tend to think it’s a bit slow and that isn’t just the processor, it’s the entire architecture,” he said in response to analyst’s question during the conference call, which was streamed on Intel’s Web site.

“Now, if you want a thin and light notebook, you don’t have to just pick a Netbook. You can pick an affordable notebook that has more functionality,” Otellini said.

Well-established consumer perceptions of Netbooks and the higher prices of ultra-thins, such as the $699 Acer Aspire Timeline, makes the latter a challenge to position in the marketplace.

“When we first released our ultraportable (ultra-thin) a lot of people looked at it and said, ‘oh it’s Netbook,’” said Kelt Reeves, president of enthusiast PC maker Falcon Northwest. “No, it’s close to a Netbook in size but it’s much, much more capable,” Reeves said, addressing user misconceptions.

Windows 7 may not go very far in correcting all the confusion. “Windows 7 runs well even on a $199 Netbook,” said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at investment bank Collins Stewart. Kumar said Intel may continue to have trouble managing consumer perceptions of Netbooks and ultra-thins.

Otellini also revisited the subject of cannibalization–that is, the tendency for Netbooks to take market share from more mainstream laptops. “We’re talking about a total cannibalization that’s probably no more than 20 percent,” Otellini said, in response to another analyst question.

The Intel CEO also said that Netbooks may become increasingly popular as a wireless 3G device sold by telecommunications companies. “I think in 2010 that’s likely to be a large part of the business…There was a Best Buy, Sprint Netbook ad last week at $0.99 if you signed up for two years…And you’ll start seeing more of that,” he said.

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Get a 10-inch Asus Netbook for $249.99

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Get a 10-inch Asus Netbook for $249.99

Remember the $279.99 HP Netbook from a couple weeks ago? Here’s an even better deal: Woot Sellout has the Asus Eee PC 1000H for just $249.99. Shipping will run you a very reasonable $5.

Because this is a Woot deal, it expires when the clock strikes midnight–and may well sell out before then.

As Netbooks go, this one’s pretty loaded. In addition to the 10-inch screen, you get 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Windows XP.

Other perks include a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, Bluetooth, and a keyboard that’s only a fraction smaller than a standard laptop’s. The 1000H weighs 3 pounds and measures 1.5 inches thick.

Because it’s a refurb, the warranty ends after 90 days.

That’s the only area where the Asus doesn’t exceed the aforementioned HP, which had a smaller hard drive and 802.11g. Of course, it’s also $30 less.

Interestingly, Woot was offering the Eee PC with your choice of a six- or four-cell battery, but the former are already sold out. If you want this Netbook, act fast. Really, really fast.

Get an 8GB iPod Nano for $99 shipped

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

It wasn’t very long ago that scoring a 4GB third-generation iPod Nano for $99 was a big deal. Now you can get an 8GB current-gen Nano for $99. Good things come to those who wait!
Get an 8GB iPod Nano for $99 shipped

That deal (which, admittedly, has been around a while) comes straight from the Apple Store–the section that sells “certified refurbished” stuff.

I’ve purchased gear from there before, and it always arrives in mint condition–complete with the same one-year warranty as the new iPods come with.

Which begs the question: why spend another $50 on a new one? The only real difference is the box: Refurbs come in a nondescript cardboard one, not the fancy plastic shell you see in stores. Meh.

The $99 Nanos are available in your choice of colors: yellow, pink, purple, blue, black, etc.

In case you don’t already know everything there is to know about this iPod, check out CNET’s First Look video up there on the right.

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Top-rated 23-inch LCD computer monitors

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

My new favorite LCD computer monitor category is the 23-inch. The 23-inchers by their nature have 16:9 aspect ratios, which means at least a 1,920×1,080 resolution. Sure, that’s not quite as large as say a 24-incher’s 1,920×1,200 resolution, but it’s much better than a 22-incher’s comparatively low 1,680×1,050.

We’ve only reviewed a few of these, but I thought it was a good time to feature the best ones…actually, these are the only ones we’ve reviewed, but I do list them in order of preference. So, if you’re having trouble deciding which 23-incher is right for you, check put this convenient, easy-to-follow

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Turn your iPhone into a humanoid robot

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Turn your iPhone into a humanoid robot
When it’s not enough to let your iPhone control your life, you can have it control a robot.

An enterprising tinkerer in Japan has turned an iPhone 3GS into a humanoid robot by wiring it to a mechanical body.

Meet “Robochan.”

Check out the video. Robochan is perhaps disturbing, but undeniably cute. The anime face and leek-waving are nods to Hatsune Miku, a character created for Yamaha’s Vocaloid singing synthesizer application. Hatsune is a virtual idol in Japan; one of her albums topped the Oricon music chart last month.

Robochan consists of a 3GS wired to a Kondo Kagaku KHR-2 HV kit robot through its doc connector. The 3GS serves as the controller for the humanoid body, a popular kit which retails for about $900 with much assembly required. The Humanoid Robot with iPhone 3GS Head

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Apple releases 2TB Time Capsule for $499

July 31st, 2009 admin No comments

For those of you looking for more capacity in Apple’s combo 802.11n router/NAS drive, the company has boosted its top-end Time Capsule to 2TB and slapped a $499 price tag on it.

More significantly, Apple also dropped the price of the 1TB model–which just Wednesday cost $499–to $299. Aside from the higher capacity, nothing else appears to have changed.

Previously, Apple also offered a 500GB Time Capsule, but that model has been discontinued and can only be found in the refurbished aisle, where it’s going for $199.

All I can say is that if Apple was able to shave off $200 on the 1TB model, it must have had one hell of a nice margin.

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