Could Dell finally awaken the Penguin with Linux powered XPS machines?

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | December 4, 2012 - 01:28 PM |
Tagged: XPS 13, ultrabook, ubuntu 12.04, ubuntu, sputnik, linux, dell

Dell's XPS 13 Developer Edition is branded as an Ultrabook but it has two significant differences; a custom built Ubuntu distro and a price $250 higher than Dell's other Ultrabook offering.  Those two points are somewhat interrelated as Dell will be offering support equivalent to Windows powered machines which means new training, procedures and staffing which can be expensive to set up.  There is another reason the price is so high which is the hardware as, even the base model comes with a 256GB SSD; the rest of the hardware is pretty standard, an i7-3517U, 8GB DDR3 and no discrete video card.  It is hard to say if sticking the Developer Edition moniker on the machine will encourage people to purchase this ultrabook, if you are curious check out more at The Inquirer.

XPS13_Ubuntu.png

"TIN BOX FLOGGER Dell's decision to put arguably its best laptop on sale preloaded with Ubuntu Linux shows not only how far desktop Linux has come but how far Microsoft has fallen.

Dell announced its Project Sputnik earlier this year to a warm if not ecstatic reception. The firm had preloaded Linux onto its consumer machines before but they were hard to find and on forgettable machines. However with the XPS 13 the firm is not only loading Linux on its most high profile laptop but showing that Microsoft's operating system isn't the only choice in town for OEMs and consumers alike."

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Source: The Inquirer

Video Perspective: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Windows 8 Ultrabook Preview

Subject: Mobile | October 30, 2012 - 01:17 PM |
Tagged: yoga 13, yoga, ultrabook, Lenovo, Ivy Bridge, Ideapad

Earlier today we got in the new Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13, an Ivy Bridge Core i5 Ultrabook with a very distinctive display panel that works as a laptop, a tablet, a tent and in a stand mode.  Basically, think of the Lenovo machine you saw from CES with the screen that wraps around the back. 

yoga13.jpg

After getting the notebook in I recorded a quick 15 minute hands-on and overview video that I thought I would share in preparation for our full review coming later!  Enjoy!

Asus Zenbook Refresh Introduces Several New Ultrabooks

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | October 28, 2012 - 03:18 AM |
Tagged: zenbook, windows 8, ultrabook, nvidia, laptop, Ivy Bridge, GT650M, GT620M, asus

Asus has announced a refresh of its Zenbook lineup of Intel-powered ultrabooks to accompany its new VivoBooks and VivoTabs running Windows 8. Available next month, the PC OEM is introducing six new laptop SKUs with Ivy Bridge processors and dedicated graphics cards from NVIDIA. Specifically, the Asus Zenbook UX21A, UX31A, UX32VD, UX42VS, US52VS, and U500VZ ultrabooks are coming soon with the refresh.

ZENBOOK_UX31A_Touch_Ba.jpg

The UX31A Ultrabook with touch display

The new Zenbooks will have Ivy Bridge processors, up to 10GB of memory, and up to NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics. They maintain the aluminum chassis of Asus’ previous generation ultrabooks but up the hardware ante. The company has expanded the lineup to include models with 11.6,” 13.3,” 14,” and 15.6” IPS displays, backlit keyboards, and multitouch trackpads. The U500VZ and UX31A can even be outfitted with capacitive touchscreen displays.

ZENBOOK_UX52VS_Ab.jpg

The ASUS UX42VS Zenbook

The VX42VS further includes an optical drive, but otherwise the Zenbooks source of storage lies in solid state or hybrid hard drives. Interestingly, the UX32VD and U500VZ can even be configured with two 256GB solid state drives in RAID 0 (Ryan’s favorite kind of RAID).

ZENBOOK_UX42VS_Ab.jpg

The ASUS UX52VS Zenbook

The following chart outlines all the known specifications. Note that several of the ultrabooks are not listed on Asus’ website yet so exact dimensions are unknown for the UX52VS and U500VZ in particular.

Zenbook UX21A UX31A UX32VD UX42VS UX52VS U500VZ
Dimensions 299 x 196.8 x 3 ~ 17 mm 325 x 223 x 3 ~18 mm 325 x 223 x 5.5 ~18 mm 14" tapers to 6mm ~15" tapers to 6mm ~15"
Weight 1.1 kg 1.3 kg 1.45 kg 1.5kg 2.2kg 2 kg
Processor i5 3317U or i7 3517U i5 3317U or i7 3517U i5 3317U or i7 3517U i3, i5, or i7 IVB i5 or i7 ULV IVB i7 std voltage
RAM 4GB 8GB*  6GB* 6GB 10GB 8GB
Graphics HD4000 HD4000 GT620M GT645M GT645M GT650M
Storage 256GB SSD 256GB SSD 2 x 256GB SSD (RAID 0) 1TB Hybrid Hard Drive 1TB Hybrid Hard Drive 2 x 256GB SSD (RAID 0)

*onboard + 1 x SODIMM

All of the new Zenbook laptops will be available in November and will come with Windows 8. Pricing will range from $699 to $1999 for the premium model (The U500VZ). Specific pricing details should become available closer to launch.

It's expensive but impressive, Acer's new Aspire S5 Ultrabook

Subject: Storage | October 7, 2012 - 03:33 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, Aspire S5, Aspire S Series, acer

The Acer Aspire S5 is a 13.3", 1366x768 ultrabook with a Intel Core i7-3317U, 4GB of DDR3 and two 128GB SSDs in RAID 0.  At its thickest point it measures 0.59" and overall is a blazing fast ultraportable system, in fact TechSpot saw some results where the S5 outperformed a system with OCZ's RevoDrive X3 PCIe SSD inside. Connectivity options are very impressive as well with not only the usual suspects,USB 3.0 and HDMI, there is also a Thunderbolt port on the back.  The news is not all good however, as this ultrabook is likely to cost around $1400 which is much higher than the supposed sub-$1000 ultrabook price requirement.

TS_s5.jpg

"'Easier said than done' is the best phrase I can think of to describe Intel's ultrabook initiative. On paper, the plan seemed easy enough, although manufacturing partners and knowledgeable consumers alike would testify that it's been anything but. Aspirations to compete with Apple's ultrathin MacBook Air have been met with a number of compromises as hardware makers struggle to find the perfect blend of features while keeping the overall price somewhere around Intel's $1,000 target.

Could a few hundred bucks tacked on the top end make a difference between a vanilla ultrabook and something truly special? That's something Acer is willing to gamble on with its latest flagship ultrabook. "

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Source: TechSpot

The Ultrabook Revoltion ... is all in the mind of the professional fortune tellers

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | October 2, 2012 - 04:27 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, Intel, haswell, told you so, fail

We've not been kind to the idea of Ultrabooks here at PC Perspective, even some of the models we reviewed were rated very highly.  The product is nice for those who want an ultra-light, ultra-thin computer with instant resume from sleep and a very long battery life and frankly, who wouldn't like that.  The problem was in the implementation of the design, in order to meet the hardware requirements and the materials required to make a sturdy yet thin device the price soared well above the $600 price point that Intel originally reported an Ultrabook would sell for.  In order to meet all the specifications from the original PR, the price was over $1000 which significantly shrunk the number of consumers willing to purchase an Ultrabook.  Some manufacturers chose instead to compromise and not include all of the hardware originally listed, often the SSD but in other cases we saw lesser LCD panels used or a less sturdy chassis, which lowered the price but also made less consumers interested in purchasing an Ultrabook.

The Ultrabook dream has taken a big hit today as those in the market who predict sales have finally admitted they vastly overestimated the success of the Ultrabook.  Most of these companies sales predictions, such as the iSuppli numbers referenced by The Register, have been sliced in half. Instead of admitting the numbers were inflated they referenced the growing tablet and smartphone market, neither of which devices can manage any task an Ultrabook could apart from the mobility.  An Ultrabook was originally touted as a full computer, not a low powered mobile device. 

From what DigiTimes heard Intel is convinced that Haswell will change all of that somehow, with the new processor making the Ultrabook much more attractive to customers.  Of course they don't mention the pricing, which may fall a bit over the next year thanks to the dropping prices of SSDs but it is doubtful that Haswell will be cheaper than its predecessors.  It is unknown at this point if Intel will continue to provide the cash incentives to manufacturers that they have over the past year but if they want any hope of manufacturers producing the next generation of Ultrabook.  As it stands many major vendors are not interested in designing a new generation of Ultrabook as it is not a product that they made much profit on during the first generation.  SemiAccurate also harbours the same doubts about next generation Ultrabooks they had for the first generation, with more numbers to back up their beliefs.  The analysts still think that the next generation of Ultrabook will do well though ... for some strange reason.

asus-zenbook.jpg

"The basic problem for Ultrabooks at the moment is one of price, Stice explained. Intel's original vision for the platform was for a price point of around $600, but even with the $300m in support and subsidies that Chipzilla is pushing out to manufacturers, prices are much closer to a grand – and at that price, customers aren't biting."

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Source: The Register

Lucid Dynamix adjusts mobile gaming quality in real-time

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | September 13, 2012 - 06:42 PM |
Tagged: lucid, dynamix, ultrabook

Lucid has a history of fast product development as a software company.  It wasn't too long ago that Lucidlogix was a fabless semiconductor company that made chips for motherboards to enabled multi-GPU solutions across card models and GPU vendors.  Since then we have seen them move to GPU virtualization tasks like enabling discrete and integrated GPUs to work seamlessly without user interaction on the same notebook. 

The Lucid MVP software is the most recent version of that track and it has been very well received, find its way onto most motherboard brands and recently the Origin gaming notebook line

While huddling in San Francisco during IDF, we stopped by Lucid's suite to see what new stuff they were cooking up.  One of the products was called Dynamix and it has the goal of adjusting the image quality of games in real time to help users hit minimal gaming experience levels.  Lucid isn't adjusting the settings on your games but rather is intercepting calls from the game to the graphics solution (integrated or discrete) and altering them slightly to adjust performance.

dynamix_ui.jpg

Above you'll see the beta user interface for Dynamix that allows the user to configure it and assign which titles it should operate on.  Two sliders, one for a frame rate and one for a somewhat subjective "quality" level can be moved in order to alter the algorithms Lucid has set in the place. 

When you set the minimum frame rate, that is the "threshold" with which you would like to make sure all of your games run at.  The default was 30 FPS when I played with it and left the quality slider where it started as well.  If you start a game that does NOT run at 30 FPS with the settings you have (or maybe it won't with any settings) Lucid's software will attempt to change some quality and rendering settings completely transparently to bring the frame rate up.

In our demo we saw Crysis 2 running on a Dell Ultrabook at 1366x768 and a reported frame rate of 9 from FRAPS.  Obviously a game at that frame rate is pretty much unplayable, so when you enable the Dynamix software via a hotkey it attempts to bring up the frame rate; not by adjusting settings in the game engine but rather by changing DX calls to the GPU itself.

Examples given were that Dynamix might change the color depth requested by the game, or it might lower the texture resolutions and anti-aliasing passes.  It gradually degrades image quality until it is close to reaching your desired minimum frame rate.  When I enabled it on Crysis 2, my frame rate went from 9 to 28 or so - a sizeable difference that made the game mostly playable.

It's not magic though - there are degradations in quality that are visible.

dynamix_off.jpg

Here you can see a close up of the game running without Dynamix at work.  The quality is good but the frame rate was again at 9 FPS or so.

dynamix_on.jpg

This image shows the game after enabling Dynamix, with a frame rate of 28 or so.  You can definitely see blurrier textures, less sharpness around the gun and the foliage quality has gone done some as well. 

So why is this even interesting?  There are several reasons.  First there are some games that may not have quality settings low enough to run on an Ultrabook with HD 2500 graphics; kind of like Crysis 2.  Lucid is able to change things that the developer might not have thought of (or might not have wanted) with its access to the graphics pipeline. 

Secondly, as the name implies, the software is dynamic.  If you already running a game OVER your minimum threshold then the software will not change anything.  But if you are running in an indoor area at 40 FPS and then drop to 20 FPS when you go outdoors, the software will kick in and attempt to adjust quality to get you back up to the 30 FPS mark. 

Finally, the UI remains untouched - the informational points that were part of the game's interface were untouched so you don't have to worry about blury text or anything like that.  Lucid's capability to know about the back end of the 3D engines allows them to tweak things like this pretty easily.

Lucid says the goal is to make games that would otherwise be unplayable on a system, playable for consumers.  Without a doubt the target is Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge notebooks and the somewhat limited performance of the HD 2500 graphics system.  While this could also be applied to discrete graphics system from AMD and NVIDIA, I don't see that being necessary. 

Currently the software works with DX9 and DX10 games though they are still working to get DX11 covered completely.  And while the software worked find our demo, we only tried out one game on one notebook - there is still a lot of proving that Lucid needs to do for us to buy in completely.  If Lucid's bragging was anything to judge by though you should see Dynamix in quite a few major notebook brands later this year. 

What do YOU think?  Is this a technology you are interested in and do you see a place for it?

Western Digital Hybrid Hard Drives: 5mm 500GB Sampling

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Storage | September 10, 2012 - 05:50 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, ssd caching, ssd, Hard Drive

Western Digital has been sampling 5mm-thin 2.5” hard drives designed for Ultrabooks. They have currently announced partnerships with Acer and ASUS to include these drives in future ultrathin laptops. Western Digital has currently only listed capacities of 500GB for the spindle portion of the drive but no word how much MLC flash will be included to cache most used files. The product will be discussed during the company’s investor day on the 13th of this month.

At this stage SSDs are pretty much the missing link to a fast and responsive computer.

Prices have dropped to under one dollar per gigabyte ($1/GB) a few months ago with some models reaching 70c/GB – and those are the good ones too. The massive drop in price is still about an order of magnitude more expensive than spindle hard drives and consumers are using whatever space they can get. Several solutions exist to balance the speed of SSDs with the storage effectiveness of HDDs.

One solution is to include both in a single drive and keep the most used data in the SSD cache. Western Digital has just released samples of 5mm-thin hybrid hard drives for OEMs to put in extremely thin laptops.

I wonder if they're feeling chip-er...

Users who purchase laptops often have the mistaken assumption that a faster processor directly leads to increased response. That is certainly the case when comparing an Intel Atom to an i5 – but an i3 will probably spend just as much time idle and awaiting instructions from the hard drive as an i5 would.

Western Digital has not broken the SSD market despite their long success with spindle storage. It makes sense that Western Digital will push into the market with the starting point from which they are most comfortable. Western Digital has been shipping SSDs for over two-and-a-half years at this point but never really gained any traction.

It looks like Western Digital is realizing that they need to mix SSDs with what they know best and do something innovative to get a unique hook in the market – buying just a little more time.

The drive which has been announced today will contain a storage capacity of 500GB with an undisclosed amount of MLC NAND flash memory caching the most used data. The hook to differentiate themselves from other hybrid hard drives is its size: 5mm compared to the more common 9.5mm.

The Ultrabook market could be a lucrative wave to ride for the time being and give them even more capital to invest future SSDs. Hopefully they will not wait for solid state storage to creep up on them twice. Fool you once…

Western Digital is expected to discuss and showcase this product more at their Western Digital Investor Day on this Thursday, September 13th, 2012.

Intel Haswell CPUs to Have 10W TDP, Perfect for Mobile Devices

Subject: Processors | September 6, 2012 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, Intel, haswell, cpu, 10w tdp

Intel’s next generation Haswell CPU architecture is set to lower the bar even further on power efficiency by requiring only 10W of cooling. As the company’s mainstream processor, and replacement for Ivy Bridge, it is set to launch in the first half of 2013.

Haswell will be based on a new socket called LGA 1150, and is said to feature incremental performance improvements over Ivy Bridge. Further, Haswell CPUs will include one of three tiers of GT1, GT2, or GT3 processor graphics along with the AVX2 instruction set.

What is interesting about the recent report by The Verge is that previous rumors suggested that Haswell would have higher TDP ratings than both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge. Considering Ivy Bridge has several 35W desktop models, and a few 17W mobile parts, the reported 10W TDP of Haswell seems to indicate that at least the mobile editions of Haswell will actually have much lower TDPs than Ivy Bridge. (It is not clear if detkop and non ultra-low-voltage (ULV) chips will see similar TDP improvements or not.)

The 10W TDP would mean that ultrabooks and other thin-and-light laptops could use smaller heatsinks and suggests that the processors will be more power efficient resulting in battery life improvements (which are always welcome). The Verge further quoted an Intel representative in stating that "It's really the first product we're building from the ground up for ultrabook."

While the lowest-power Haswell chips won’t be powerhouses on the performance front, with the improvements over Ivy Bridge to the CPU and GPU it should still handily best the company’s Atom lineup. Such a feat would allow Haswell to secure a spot powering future Windows 8 slates and other mobile devices where Atom is currently being used.

Just the fact that Intel has managed to get its next generation mainstream CPU architecture down to 10W is impressive, and I’m looking forward to see what kinds of devices such a low power x86-64 chip will enable.

Stay tuned for more Haswell news as the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) next week should be packed with new information. Here's hoping that the desktop chips manage some (smaller) TDP improvements as well!

Source: The Verge

Lenovo Launches New Ivy Bridge Powered Budget Laptops

Subject: Mobile | September 3, 2012 - 03:06 AM |
Tagged: ultrabook, s405, s400, s300, Lenovo, laptop, Ivy Bridge, core i5, budget, amd, a8

Tablets and ultrabooks have stolen the IFA 2012 show, but the hardware – while nice to look at – is not for everyone, especially for the price. It seems that Lenovo has the budget showings covered by announcing three budget laptops that offer up some decent specifications.

Lenovo has added three new laptops to its Ideapad S series, and the specifications of the new models are vastly improved versus the current netbook-class S-series models. The new additions are the S300, S400, and S405, and all three are packing the latest generation processors from Intel and AMD respectively.

Lenovo Ideapad S300 Silver Gray.jpg

All three of the laptops feature a display resolution of 1366x768, full QWERTY keyboard, trackpad with gesture support, 720p webcam, and a "tactile metal finish" for the laptop lid that comes in silver, pink, or red colors. External ports include an SD card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack, and power jack on the right side and a USB 3.0 port, HDMI output, Ethernet jack, and recovery button on the left. They are all expected to provide around four hours of battery life, and the laptops weigh in at 3.97 pounds and are 0.86" thick. All three models will come with Windows 7, but will eligible for the $14.99 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro.

According to the press release, all three models will have cotton candy pink, red, and silver-gray lid color options in a "tactile" metal finish, though only the S300 has been spotted in the wild with the pink lid.

Lenovo Ideapad S400 Black.jpg

The S300 has a 13.3" screen while the S400 and S405 have 14" screens, but they share the same chassis, which means that the S300 will have a slightly bigger bezel but otherwise will be the same as the higher-end models on the outside.

S300.jpg

On the inside, the S300 is powered by an Intel ultra low voltage (ULV) Core i3 or Core i5 "Ivy Bridge" processor, a 500GB mechanical hard drive, up to 4GB of RAM, and optional AMD Radeon 7450M graphics. Other features include Intel's WiDi (wireless display) technology, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and stereo speakers powered by Dolby Advanced Audio v2.

The S400 follows that exact same pattern: Intel ULV Core i3/i5 Ivy Bridge CPU, up to 500GB spinning platter hard drive, 4GB of RAM, optional AMD Radeon 7450M GPU, WiDi, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, stereo speakers and WiDi support. The differences include a larger 14" LED backlit display (at that same 1366x768 resolution, unfortunately) and an optional 32GB SSD.

S400.jpg

The S400 comes in two different lid color options: a black interior and red lid, or a black interior with silver lid.

The S405 breaks the mold by replacing the Intel Ivy Bridge processor for an AMD A8 Trinity APU. It can also have up to 1TB of mechanical hard drive storage, 4GB of RAM, and optional AMD Radeon 7450M. Alternatively, it can be upgraded to a 32GB SSD. It features the same LED backlit 14" display and red/black or silver/black color scheme as the S400. The WiDi option does not appear to be included with the Ideapad S405 (which would make sense), but otherwise it is essentially the S400 without the Intel CPU/iGPU.

All three notebooks will be available later this month in the US, and the starting price is $499. The new Lenovo Ideapads make up a nice middle ground between expensive thin-and-light ultrabooks and low cost tablet+keyboard combinations. The quality of the keyboard and trackpad are really going to make or break the new S-series notebooks, because if they manage to pull off a good typing experience these could be some decent travel companions for people that need a productivity machine with a bit of "oomph" thanks to the Intel i5 or AMD Trinity APU. On the other hand, if the keyboard is crappy, the middle ground budget notebooks will really miss the entire point and road warriors will need to look elsewhere. Be on the lookout for reviews on these S-series Lenovo notebooks, as they look interesting for the money (if you are in the position of looking for a budget workhorse machine/one that would not be as terrible to lose on a trip, et al).

What do you think about the new budget Lenovo laptops?

Read more about IFA 2012.

Source: Lenovo

Samsung Shows Off Ultrabook With 2560x1440 Display at IFA

Subject: Mobile | September 2, 2012 - 09:50 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, Series 9, Samsung, retina display, prototype, ifa

The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA) 2012 electronics show in Berlin has seen numerous Windows 8 tablets, but those are not the only mobile devices on the show floor. Samsung is at the event with its lineup of Series 9 Ultrabooks, for example.

The most interesting model is a prototype (engineering sample) Series 9 ultrabook that sports a WQHD display. That’s right, the 11.6” and 13.3” ultrabooks have displays with a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels! The new display has a pixels-per-inch (PPI) rating of 220.84, which is a major improvement over the current 13” Series 9 ultrabook’s 1600x900, 138.03 PPI display. The new prototype Series 9 has a total display resolution lower than the 2880x1800 “Retina” display in the 15” Macbook Pro, but due to its overall smaller size at 13,” the PPI is comparable. In fact, it is ever-so-slightly higher at 220.84 PPI versus 220.53 for the Apple Macbook Pro. In addition, the Series 9 display features a matte finish, which is something road warriors will appreciate.

Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook.jpg

Image credit: Engadget.

It seems that – except for the new higher resolution display – the prototype spotted by Engadget at IFA is exactly the same as the latest Ivy Bridge-powered Series 9 ultrabook. It features a full QWERTY keyboard and click-able multitouch trackpad. The right side of the Samsung ultrabook includes a microphone, HDMI output, combination headphone/microphone jack, and a USB 2.0 port. There is also a covered slot for a full-size SD card on the underside of the chassis. On the left side of the ultrabook is a power jack, USB 3.0 port, micro-HDMI port, and micro RJ45 Ethernet port.

Powering the Series 9 prototype is likely an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, at least 4GB of RAM and an SSD. Further, the computer comes loaded with Microsoft's latest Windows 8 operating system. Beyond that, it is impossible to know the exact parts being used as Samsung isn’t ready to unleash this notebook yet. Unfortunately, that also means that pricing and availability are also not known.

With rumors that Apple is working on a new 13” Macbook Pro with “retina” display of its own, one possibility is that the prototype Series 9 is just that – a prototype (and proof of concept) – from which the company will sell the panels to Apple for its Macbook while not coming out with its own high resolution ultrabook. On the other hand, Samsung may be pursuing this and trying to beat Apple to market with a smaller notebook packing a comparible display to Apple's current Macbook Pro.

Personally, I’m rooting for the Series 9 with 2560x1440 display to at least come to market even if the panels also end up in Macbooks (though with Samsung’s luck that would just give Apple yet another device to attempt to get an injunction on….).

Either way, the concept is certainly promising, and here’s hoping that it inspires other OEMs to step up their ultrabook designs by using higher resolution displays!

Below is a hands on video by Mat Smith over at Engadget. For more information, you can find our Series 9 review as well as an editorial on the "Retina Macbook Pro from a PC Perspective" (see what we did there?).

Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more IFA 2012 coverage!

Source: Engadget