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Introduction and Design
As headlines mount championing the supposed shift toward tablets for the average consumer, PC manufacturers continue to devise clever hybrid solutions to try and lure those who are on the fence toward more traditional machines. Along with last year’s IdeaPad Yoga 13 and ThinkPad Twist, Lenovo shortly thereafter launched the smallest of the bunch, an 11.6” convertible tablet PC with a 5-point touch 720p IPS display.
Unlike its newer, more powerful counterpart, the Yoga 11S, it runs Windows RT and features an NVIDIA Tegra 3 Quad-Core system on a chip (SoC). There are pros and cons to this configuration in contrast to the 11S. For starters, the lower-voltage, fanless design of the 11 guarantees superior battery life (something which we’ll cover in detail in just a bit). It’s also consequently (slightly) smaller and lighter than the 11S, which gains a hair on height and weighs around a quarter pound more. But, as you’re probably aware, Windows RT also doesn’t qualify as a fully-functional version of Windows—and, in fact, the Yoga 11’s versatility is constrained by the relatively meager selection of apps available on the Windows Store. The other obvious difference is architecture and chipset, where the Yoga 11’s phone- and tablet-grade ARM-based NVIDIA Tegra 3 is replaced on the 11S by Intel Core Ivy Bridge ULV processors.
But let’s forget about that for a moment. What it all boils down to is that these two machines, while similar in terms of design, are different enough (both in terms of specs and price) to warrant a choice between them based on your intended use. The IdeaPad Yoga 11 configuration we reviewed can currently be found for around $570 at retailers such as Amazon and Newegg. In terms of its innards:
If it looks an awful lot like the specs of your latest smartphone, that’s probably because it is. The Yoga 11 banks on the fact that such ARM-based SoCs have become powerful enough to run a modern personal computer comfortably—and by combining the strengths of an efficient, low-power chipset with the body of a notebook, it reaps benefits from both categories. Of course, there are trade-offs involved, starting with the 2 GB memory ceiling of the chipset and extending to the aforementioned limitations of Windows RT. So the ultimate question is, once those trade-offs are considered, is the Yoga 11 still worth the investment?
Apple has seen a healthy boost in computer sales and adoption since the transition to Intel-based platforms in 2006, but the MacBook line has far and away been the biggest benefactor. Apple has come a long way both from an engineering standpoint and consumer satisfaction point since the long retired iBook and PowerBook lines. This is especially evident when you look at their current product lineup, and products like the 11” MacBook Air.
Even though it may not be the most popular opinion around here, I have been a Mac user since 2005 with the original Mac Mini, and I have used a MacBook as my primary computer since 2008. I switched to the 11” MacBook Air when it came out in 2011, and experienced the growing pains of using a low power platform as my main computer.
While I still have a desktop for the occasional video that I edit at home, or game I manage to find time to play, the majority of my day involves being portable. Both in class and at the office, and I quickly grew to appreciate the 11” form factor, as well as the portability it offers. However, I was quite dissatisfied with the performance and battery life that my ageing ultraportable offered. Desperate for improvements, I decided to see what two generations worth of Intel engineering afforded, and picked up the new Haswell-based 11” MacBook Air.
Since the redesign of the MacBook Air in 2010, the overall look and feel has stayed virtually the same. While the Mini DisplayPort connector on the side became a Thunderbolt connector in 2011, things are still pretty much the same.
In this way, the 2013 MacBook Air should provide no surprises. The one visual difference I can notice involves upgrading the microphone on the left side to a stereo array, causing there to be two grilles this time, instead of one. However, the faults I found in the past with the MacBook Air have nothing to do with the aesthetics or build quality of the device, so I am not too disappointed by the design stagnation.
From an industrial design perspective, everything about this notebook feels familiar to me, which is a positive. I still believe that Apple’s trackpad implementation is the best I've used, and the backlit chiclet keyboard they have been using for years is a good compromise between thickness and key travel.
Kepler-based Mobile GPUs
Late last month, just before the tech world blew up from the mess that is Computex, NVIDIA announced a new line of mobility discrete graphics parts under the GTX 700M series label. At the time we simply posted some news and specifications about the new products but left performance evaluation for a later time. Today we have that for the highest end offering, the GeForce GTX 780M.
As with most mobility GPU releases it seems, the GTX 700M series is not really a new GPU and only offers cursory feature improvements. Based completely on the Kepler line of parts, the GTX 700M will range from 1536 CUDA cores on the GTX 780M to 768 cores on the GTX 760M.
The flagship GTX 780M is essentially a desktop GTX 680 card in a mobile form factor with lower clock speeds. With 1536 CUDA cores running at 823 MHz and boosting to higher speeds depending on the notebook configuration, a 256-bit memory controller running at 5 GHz, the GTX 780M will likely be the fastest mobile GPU you can buy. (And we’ll be testing that in the coming pages.)
The GTX 760M, 765M and 770M offering ranges of performance that scale down to 768 cores at 657 MHz. NVIDIA claims we’ll see the GTX 760M in systems as small as 14-in and below with weights at 2kg or so from vendors like MSI and Acer. For Ultrabooks and thinner machines you’ll have to step down to smaller, less power hungry GPUs like the GT 750 and 740 but even then we expect NVIDIA to have much faster gaming performance than the Haswell-based processor graphics.
An new era for computing? Or, just a bit of catching up?
Early Tuesday, at 2am for viewers in eastern North America, Intel performed their Computex 2013 keynote to officially kick off Haswell. Unlike ASUS from the night prior, Intel did not announce a barrage of new products; the purpose is to promote future technologies and the new products of their OEM and ODM partners. In all, there was a pretty wide variety of discussed topics.
Intel carried on with the computational era analogy: the 80's was dominated by mainframes; the 90's were predominantly client-server; and the 2000's brought the internet to the forefront. While true, they did not explicitly mention how each era never actually died but rather just bled through: we still use mainframes, especially with cloud infrastructure; we still use client-server; and just about no-one would argue that the internet has been displaced, despite its struggle against semi-native apps.
Intel believes that we are currently in the two-in-one era, which they probably mean "multiple-in-one" due to devices such as the ASUS Transformer Book Trio. They created a tagline, almost a mantra, illustrating their vision:
"It's a laptop when you need it; it's a tablet when you want it."
But before elaborating, they wanted to discuss their position in the mobile market. They believe they are becoming a major player in the mobile market with key design wins and outperforming some incumbent system on a chips (SoCs). The upcoming Silvermont architecture pines to be fill in the gaps below Haswell, driving smartphones and tablets and stretching upward to include entry-level notebooks and all-in-one PCs. The architecture promises to scale between offering three-fold more performance than its past generation, or a fifth of the power for equivalent performance.
Ryan discussed Silvermont last month, be sure to give his thoughts a browse for more depth.
Cortex-A12 fills a gap
Starting off Computex with an interesting announcement, ARM is talking about a new Cortex-A12 core that will attempt to address a performance gap in the SoC ecosystem between the A9 and A15. In the battle to compete with Krait and Intel's Silvermont architecture due in late 2013, ARM definitely needed to address the separation in performance and efficiency of the A9 and A15.
Source: ARM. Top to bottom: Cortex-A15, A12, A9 die size estimate
Targeted at mid-range devices that tend to be more cost (and thus die-size) limited, the Cortex-A12 will ship in late 2014 for product sampling and you should begin seeing hardware for sale in early 2015.
Architecturally, the changes for the upcoming A12 core revolve around a move to fully out of order dual-issue design including the integrated floating point units. The execution units are faster and the memory design has been improved but ARM wasn't ready to talk about specifics with me yet; expect that later in the year.
ARM claims this results in a 40% performance gain for the Cortex-A12 over the Cortex-A9, tested in SPECint. Because product won't even start sampling until late in 2014 we have no way to verify this data yet or to evaluate efficiency claims. That time lag between announcement and release will also give competitors like Intel, AMD and even Qualcomm time to answer back with potential earlier availability.
A Reference Platform - But not a great one
Believe it or not, AMD claims that the Brazos platform, along with the "Brazos 2.0" update the following year, were the company's most successful mobile platforms in terms of sales and design wins. When it first took the scene in late 2010, it was going head to head against the likes of Intel's Atom processor and the combination of Atom + NVIDIA ION and winning. It was sold in mini-ITX motherboard form factors as well as small clamshell notebooks (gasp, dare we say...NETBOOKS?) and though it might not have gotten the universal attention it deserved, it was a great part.
With Kabini (and Temash as well), AMD is making another attempt to pull in some marketshare in the low power, low cost mobile markets. I have already gone over the details of the mobile platforms that AMD is calling Elite Mobility (Temash) and Mainstream (Kabini) in a previous article that launched today.
This article will quickly focus on the real-world performance of the Kabini platform as demonstrated by a reference laptop I received while visiting AMD in Toronto a few weeks ago. While this design isn't going to be available in retail (and I am somewhat thankful based on the build quality) the key is to look at the performance and power efficiency of the platform itself, not the specific implementation.
Kabini Architecture Overview
The building blocks of Kabini are four Jaguar x86 cores and 128 Radeon cores colleted in a pair of Compute Units - similar in many ways to the CUs found in the Radeon HD 7000 series discrete GPUs. Josh has written a very good article that focuses on the completely new architecture that is Jaguar and compared it to other processors including AMD's previous core used in Brazos, the Bobcat core.
Introduction and Design
While Lenovo hasn’t historically been known for its gaming PCs, it’s poised to make quite a splash with the latest entry in its IdeaPad line. Owing little to the company’s business-oriented roots, the Y500 aims to be all power—moreso than any other laptop from the manufacturer to date—tactfully squeezed into a price tag that would normally be unattainable given the promised performance. But can it succeed?
Our Y500 review unit can be had for $1,249 at Newegg and other retailers, or for as low as $1,180 at Best Buy. Lenovo also sells customizable models, though the price is generally higher. Here’s the full list of specifications:
The configurations offered by Lenovo range in price fairly widely, from as low as $849 for a model sporting 8 GB of RAM with a single GT 650M with 2 GB GDDR5. The best value is certainly this configuration that we received, however.
What’s so special about it? Well, apart from the obvious (powerful quad-core CPU and 16 GB RAM), this laptop actually includes two NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M GPUs (both with 2 GB GDDR5) configured in SLI. Seeing as it’s just a 15.6-inch model, how does it manage to do that? By way of a clever compromise: the exchange of the usual optical drive for an Ultrabay, something normally only seen in Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops. So I guess the Y500 does owe a little bit of its success to its business-grade brethren after all.
In our review unit (and in the particular configuration noted above), this Ultrabay comes prepopulated with the second GT 650M, equipped with its own heatsink/fan and all. The addition of this GPU effectively launches the Y500 into high-end gaming laptop territory—at least on the spec sheet. Other options for the Ultrabay also exist (sold separately), including a DVD burner and a second hard drive. The bay is easily removable via a switch on the back of the PC (see below).
A much needed architecture shift
It has been almost exactly five years since the release of the first Atom branded processors from Intel, starting with the Atom 230 and 330 based on the Diamondville design. Built for netbooks and nettops at the time, the Atom chips were a reaction to a unique market that the company had not planned for. While the early Atoms were great sellers, they were universally criticized by the media for slow performance and sub-par user experiences.
Atom has seen numerous refreshes since 2008, but they were all modifications of the simplistic, in-order architecture that was launched initially. With today's official release of the Silvermont architecture, the Atom processors see their first complete redesign from the ground up. With the focus on tablets and phones rather than netbooks, can Intel finally find a foothold in the growing markets dominated by ARM partners?
I should note that even though we are seeing the architectural reveal today, Intel doesn't plan on having shipping parts until late in 2013 for embedded, server and tablets and not until 2014 for smartphones. Why the early reveal on the design then? I think that pressure from ARM's designs (Krait, Exynos) as well as the upcoming release of AMD's own Kabini is forcing Intel's hand a bit. Certainly they don't want to be perceived as having fallen behind and getting news about the potential benefits of their own x86 option out in the public will help.
Silvermont will be the first Atom processor built on the 22nm process, leaving the 32nm designs of Saltwell behind it. This also marks the beginning of a new change in the Atom design process, to adopt the tick/tock model we have seen on Intel's consumer desktop and notebook parts. At the next node drop of 14nm, we'll see see an annual cadence that first focuses on the node change, then an architecture change at the same node.
By keeping Atom on the same process technology as Core (Ivy Bridge, Haswell, etc), Intel can put more of a focus on the power capabilities of their manufacturing.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Oyen Digital
Oyen Digital, a popular manufacturer of portable storage enclosures and devices, provided us with its MiniPro™ eSATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure for testing USB 3.0 enhanced mode on the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard. This enclosure offers support for USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA ports in conjunction with a 2.5" hard drive. We put this enclosure on the test bench with the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe board to test the performance limits of the device. The MiniPro™ enclosure can be found at your favorite e-tailer for $39.95.
The MiniPro™ SATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure is a simple aluminum enclosure supporting any 2.5" form factor hard drive up to SATA III speeds. The enclosure itself supports USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA connections. Because of its use of the ASMedia 1053e chipset for USB 3.0 support, the enclosure supports both USB 3.0 normal mode transfer speeds and UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) mode transfer speeds. UASP mode is a method of bulk transfer for USB 3.0 connections that increases transfer speeds through the use of parallel simultaneous packet transfers. Per our sources at ASUS, UASP can be explained as follows:
The adoption of the SCSI Protocol in USB 3.0 provides its users with the advantage of having better data throughput than traditional BOT (Bulk-Only Transfer) protocol, all thanks to its streaming architecture as well as the improved queuing (NCQ support) and task management, which eliminated much of the round trip time between USB commands, so more commands can be sent simultaneously. Moreover, thanks to the multi-tasking aware architecture, the performance is further enhanced when multiple transfers occur.
The downside of UASP is that the receiving device (Flash drive/external hard drive etc) must also be UASP enabled for the protocol to work. This requires checking your peripherals before purchase. However since UASP is an industry standard, the device support for ASUS UASP implementation is not restricted to a particular controller manufacturer or device type, so the overall number of peripherals available should undoubtedly grow.
Technical Specifications (taken from the Oyen Digital website)
eSATA 6G (Up to 6.0 Gbps)
USB 3.0: (Up to 5.0 Gbps)
|SATA III (up to 15mm SATA 2.5" HDD/SSD)|
|Windows XP/Vista/7/8 & above; MAC OS 10.2 & above; Linux 2.4.22 & above|
NVIDIA releases the GeForce GT 700M family
NVIDIA revolutionized gaming on the desktop with the release of its 600-series Kepler-based graphics cards in March 2012. With the release of the GeForce GT 700M series, Kepler enters the mobile arena to power laptops, ultrabooks, and all-in-one systems.
Today, NVIDIA introduces four new members to its mobile line: the GeForce GT 750M, the GeForce GT 740M, the GeForce GT 735M, and the GeForce GT 720M. These four new mobile graphics processors join the previously-released members of the GeForce GT 700m series: the GeForce GT 730M and the GeForce GT 710M. With the exception of the Fermi-based GeForce GT 720M, all of the newly-released mobile cores are based on NVIDIA's 28nm Kepler architecture.
Notebooks based on the GeForce GT 700M series will offer in-built support for the following new technologies:
Automatic Battery Savings through NVIDIA Optimus Technology
Automatic Game Configuration through the GeForce Experience
Automatic Performance Optimization through NVIDIA GPU Boost 2.0
ARM is a company that no longer needs much of an introduction. This was not always the case. ARM has certainly made a name for themselves among PC, tablet, and handheld consumers. Their primary source of income is licensing CPU designs as well as their ISA. While names like the Cortex A9 and Cortex A15 are fairly well known, not as many people know about the graphics IP that ARM also licenses. Mali is the product name of the graphics IP, and it encompasses an entire range of features and performance that can be licensed by other 3rd parties.
I was able to get a block of time with Nizar Romdhane, Head of the Mali Ecosystem at ARM. I was able to ask a few questions about Mali, ARM’s plans to address the increasingly important mobile graphics market, and how they will compete with competition from Imagination Technologies, Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.
We would like to thank Nizar for his time, as well as Phil Hughes in facilitating this interview. Stay tuned as we are expecting to continue this series of interviews with other ARM employees in the near future.
AMD Exposes Richland
When we first heard about “Richland” last year, there was a little bit of excitement from people. Not many were sure what to expect other than a faster “Trinity” based CPU with a couple extra goodies. Today we finally get to see what Richland is. While interesting, it is not necessarily exciting. While an improvement, it will not take AMD over the top in the mobile market. What it actually brings to the table is better competition and a software suite that could help to convince buyers to choose AMD instead of a competing Intel part.
From a design standpoint, it is nearly identical to the previous Trinity. That being said, a modern processor is not exactly simple. A lot of software optimizations can be applied to these products to increase performance and efficiency. It seems that AMD has done exactly that. We had heard rumors that the graphics portion was in fact changed, but it looks like it has stayed the same. Process improvements have been made, but that is about the extent of actual hardware changes to the design.
The new Richland APUs are branded the A-5000 series of products. The top end is the A10-5750M with HD-8650 integrated graphics. This is still the VLIW-4 based graphics unit seen in the previous Trinity products, but enough changes have been made with software that I can enable Dual Graphics with the new Solar System based GPUs (GCN). The speeds of these products have received a nice boost. As compared to the previous top end A10-4600, the 5750 takes the base speed from 2.3 GHz to 2.5 GHz. Boost goes from 3.2 GHz up to 3.5 GHz. The graphics portion takes the base clock from 496 MHz up to 533 MHz, while turbo mode improves over the 4600 from 685 MHz to 720 MHz. These are not staggering figures, but it all still fits within the 35 watt TDP of the previous product.
One other important improvement is the ability to utilize DDR-3 1866 memory. Throughout the past year we have seen memory densities increase fairly dramatically without impacting power consumption. This goes for speed as well. While we would expect to see lower power DIMMs be used in the thin and light categories, expect to see faster DDR-3 1866 in the larger notebooks that will soon be heading our way.
The Ice Storm Test
Love it or hate it, 3DMark has a unique place in the world of PC gaming and enthusiasts. Since 3DMark99 was released...in 1998...with a target on DirectX 6, Futuremark has been developing benchmarks on a regular basis in time with major API changes and also major harware changes. The most recent release of 3DMark11 has been out since late in 2010 and has been a regular part of our many graphics card reviews on PC Perspective.
Today Futuremark is not only releasing a new version of the benchmark but is also taking fundamentally different approach to performance testing and platforms. The new 3DMark, just called "3DMark", will not only target high-end gaming PCs but integrated graphics platforms and even tablets and smartphones.
We interviewed the President of Futuremark, Oliver Baltuch, over the weekend and asked some questions about this new direction for 3DMark, how mobile devices were going to affect benchmarks going forward and asked about the new results patterns, stuttering and more. Check out the video below!
Make no bones about it, this is a synthetic benchmark and if you have had issues with that in the past because it is not a "real world" gaming test, you will continue to have those complaints. Personally I see the information that 3DMark provides to be very informative though it definitely shouldn't be depended on as the ONLY graphics performance metric.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Lenovo
As one of the newest members of Lenovo's Thinkpad line, the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist attempts to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets in a convertible Ultrabook format. We decided to put the Twist through the normal suite of benchmark and functional tests, along with some tests specifically geared towards laptops, to gage how well it performs. At a starting MSRP of $829.00 for the base model, the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist offers an intriguing price to feature proposition with its ability to convert from a fully functional laptop into a tablet almost seamlessly.
Courtesy of Lenovo
The Thinkpad Twist offers an innovative take for the user that wants the best of both worlds - the portability and usability of a laptop with the ease of use of a tablet. Featuring the Windows 8 OS, the Twist comes with a 5-point touchscreen usable in all modes of operation. Lenovo designed in support for the following features: USB 2.0 and 3.0 type devices; three networking types including a Realtek-based GigE NIC, a Broadcom-based 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, and a Broadcom-based Bluetooth adapter; 4-in-1 media card reader port; mini-HDMI and mini-Display Port video output ports; a dual-purpose audio port; and a 720p HD-capable integrated webcam.
Courtesy of Lenovo
In designing the Twist, Lenovo decided to use a center hinge on which the screen pivots to support its four modes of operation: laptop mode, presentation mode where the screen can be rotated to face the audience, tent mode which allows the system to stand upright for movie or other media viewing, and tablet mode where the screen folds down to cover the keyboard entirely.
Windows RT: Runtime? Or Get Up and Run Time?
Update #1, 10/26/2012: Apparently it does not take long to see the first tremors of certification woes. A Windows developer by the name of Jeffrey Harmon allegedly wrestled with Microsoft certification support 6 times over 2 months because his app did not meet minimum standards. He was not given clear and specific reasons why -- apparently little more than copy/paste of the regulations he failed to achieve. Kind-of what to expect from a closed platform... right? Imagine if some nonsensical terms become mandated or other problems crop up?
Also, Microsoft has just said they will allow PEGI 18 games which would have received an ESRB M rating. Of course their regulations can and will change further over time... the point is the difference between a store refusing to carry versus banishing from the whole platform even for limited sharing. The necessity of uproars, especially so early on and so frequently, should be red flags for censorship to come. Could be for artistically-intentioned nudity or sexual themes. Could even be not about sex, language, and violence at all.
Last month, I suggested that the transition to Windows RT bares the same hurdles as transitioning to Linux. Many obstacles blocking our path, like Adobe and PC gaming, are considering Linux; the rest have good reason to follow.
This month we receive Windows RT and Microsoft’s attempt to shackle us to it: Windows 8.
To be clear: Microsoft has large incentives to banish the legacy of Windows. The way Windows 8 is structured reduces it to a benign tumorous growth atop Windows RT. The applications we love and the openness we adore are contained to an app.
I will explain how you should hate this -- after I explain why and support it with evidence.
Microsoft is currently in the rare state of sharp and aggressive focus to a vision. Do not misrepresent this as greed: it is not. Microsoft must face countless jokes about security and stability. Microsoft designed Windows with strong slants towards convenience over security.
That ideology faded early into the life of Windows XP. How Windows operates is fundamentally different. Windows machines are quite secure, architecturally. Con-artists are getting desperate. Recent attacks are almost exclusively based on fear and deception of the user. Common examples are fake anti-virus software or fraudulent call center phone calls. We all win when attackers get innovative: survival of the fittest implies death of the weakest.
Wireless storage for PC, Mac, iOS and Android
Today we are taking a look at the new Patriot Gauntlet 320 external USB 3.0 and wireless hard drive, available starting at $149 at Newegg.com.
The premise is quite simple: take a portable hard drive with USB 3.0 support and add in the ability to share the unit wirelessly with up to 8 different machines and power it by a lithium-ion battery. Not only does the Gauntlet show up in your network as a mountable drive in Windows and Mac OS, the Gauntlet supports using free applications for iOS devices and Android devices to share and stream media.
There are some limitations that you might want to consider including the inability to access network-based devices when using the pass through Internet capability the Gauntlet provides. Also, data transfer performance on the wireless connectivity that the Gauntlet provides seemed pretty low, even with the 802.11n support.
Potential uses cases for the Gauntlet include any time you need a shared data source like working on group projects for school or the office, on-the-go storage for devices like Ultrabooks with smaller hard drives and users that have large media collections they want to use with smart phones and tablets.
Check out our full video review below!
Note that in the video, our early sample of the Gauntlet 320 has the "node" label on it; the Gauntlet Node is a separate device that is only a DIY enclosure WITHOUT an included hard drive. Originally there was a sticker cover the "node" label but incorrectly removed it before filming. Just a heads up!
Or: the countdown to a fresh Start.
Over time – and not necessarily much of it – usage of a platform can become a marriage. I trusted Windows, nee MS-DOS, guardianship over all of my precious applications which depend upon it. Chances are you too have trusted Microsoft or a similar proprietary platform holder to provide a household for your content.
It is time for a custody hearing.
These are the reasons why I still use Windows – and who could profit as home wreckers.
1st Reason – Games
The most obvious leading topic.
Computer games have been dominated by Windows for quite some time now. When you find a PC game at retail or online you will find either a Windows trademark or the occasional half-eaten fruit somewhere on the page or packaging.
One of the leading reasons for the success of the PC platform is the culture of backwards compatibility. Though the platform has been rumored dead ad-infinitum it still exists – surrounded by a wasteland of old deprecated consoles. I still play games from past decades on their original platform.
Ahead of the release of Windows 8 and the onslaught of Windows 8-based tablets that will hit the market next month, Intel is taking the cover off the processor that many of these new devices will be powered by, the Intel Atom Z2760 previously known by the codename of Clover Trail. Intel is claiming that the Atom Z2760 is the beginning of a completely new Atom direction, now a complete SoC (system-on-a-chip) design that lowers power requirements, extends battery life and allows Intel's x86 architecture to find its way into smaller and more portable devices.
At it's heart, Clover Trail is based on the same Saltwell CPU core design that was found in the Medfield processor powering a handful of smartphones over in Europe. That means the Atom lineup remains an in-order architecture with a dual-issue command structure - nothing incredibly revolutionary there.
Unlike Medfield though, the Atom Z2760 is a dual-core design that still enables HyperThreading for four-threaded operating system integration. The cores will run at 1.8 GHz and it includes 1MB of L2 cache divided between the two cores evenly. Memory is connected through a dual-channel 32-bit bus to low power DDR2 memory running at 800 MHz and capacities up to 2GB.
Before Intel released the ultrabook standard there were already laptops that we’re close to what Intel would envision, and while some had already gained attention on their own, most were not given any special attention. One of these laptops was the IdeaPad U series, a part of Lenovo’s consumer line-up which had long focused on thin and light design.
I reviewed one of those laptops, the Lenovo U260, in 2010. That 12.5 laptop weighed in at just 3.04 pounds and is - to this very day - among the thinnest and lightest laptops we’ve reviewed at PC Perspective.
Alas, the U260 was not long for this world, but its largest siblings live on. Now we’re taking a look at the U410, Lenovo’s 14-inch ultrabook and the largest product in the U-Series. Let’s see what kind of hardware it brings to this suddenly crowded category.
Well, there are no surprises here, but you shouldn’t have expected any. Intel’s moves to make cool, thin laptops more widespread has ironically robbed them of their excitement. They’re all roughly the same in size and weight and they can all be equipped with identical Intel processors.
This makes it hard for any particular ultrabook - even those with a bloodline that starts prior to Intel’s ultrabook push - to stand out. Let’s see if the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 can conjure some magic.
Lenovo is one of several companies–including Acer and HP–that have embraced the ultrabook concept with both arms. Lenovo has not simply released a few high-end models similar to what as ASUS has done. Rather, it has released a fleet of products which include the U300/U310, the U410 and the U300S. And now there is a new high end product in the lineup called the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
There several traits that mark the ThinkPad X1 Carbon as unique. This is the first ThinkPad to bear the ultrabook title, for example. Further, the 430u (which was initially announced all the way back in January at CES 2012) is not yet available. The X1 Carbon is also one of only a few laptops to use carbon fiber in its frame. And this laptop is the only ultrabook on the market with a trackpointer. As I’ve mentioned before, unique design traits are kind of a big deal, and a peek inside the X1 reminds us why.
There’s nothing in that spec sheet that stands out. Yes, the Core i7 low-voltage processor will prove faster than the Core i5s in most competitors, but you can usually option to an i7 if that’s what you desire. The solid state drive is completely standard for an ultrabook above $1000, and four gigabytes of RAM can be hand in virtually any laptop on store shelves today–even those selling for $500.
This means Lenovo needs to bring something special if it wants to justify a premium price. You can buy this laptop right now for about $1250, but grabbing the upgrades found in our review unit raises the price to about $1500. That’s in line with the HP Envy 14 Spectre, an editor’s choice winner, and the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A, which would have won an editor’s choice if ASUS had a handle on its quality control. Let’s see if the Carbon can deal with these top-tier competitors.