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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.
I say let the world go to hell
… but I should always have my tea. (Notes From Underground, 1864)
You can praise video games as art to justify its impact on your life – but do you really consider it art?
Best before the servers are taken down, because you're probably not playing it after.
Art allows the author to express their humanity and permits the user to consider that perspective. We become cultured when we experiment with and to some extent understand difficult human nature problems. Ideas are transmitted about topics which we cannot otherwise understand. We are affected positively as humans in society when these issues are raised in a safe medium.
Video games, unlike most other mediums, encourage the user to coat the creation with their own expressions. The player can influence the content through their dialogue and decision-tree choices. The player can accomplish challenges in their own unique way and talk about it over the water cooler. The player can also embed their own content as a direct form of expression. The medium will also mature as we further learn how to leverage interactivity to open a dialogue for these artistic topics in completely new ways and not necessarily in a single direction.
Consciously or otherwise – users will express themselves.
With all of the potential for art that the medium allows it is a shame that – time and time again – the industry and its users neuter its artistic capabilities in the name of greed, simplicity, or merely fear.
Introduction, Virtual V-Sync Testing
In my recent review of the Origin EON11-S portable gaming laptop I noted that the performance of the laptop was far behind that of a larger 15.6” or 17.3” model. The laptop won a gold award despite this, as all laptops of this size are bound to physics, but it was an issue worth nothing.
Origin surprised me by responding that they had something in the works that might buff up performance. This confused me. Were they going to cast a spell on it? Would they beam in a beefier GPU? What could they possibly do that would increase performance without changing the hardware?
Now I have the answer. It’s called Lucid VirtuMVP and it uses your existing integrated GPU to improve performance. As with Lucid’s other products, VirtuMVP makes it possible for two different GPUs – in this case, your integrated GPU and your discrete GPU – to work together. It’s not magic – just ingenuity. Let’s take a closer look.
I often think of ASUS as the PC’s answer to Apple. Their products are not up to Apple’s rigorous engineering, nor is the customer service as accessible, but ASUS does offer a number of products that were obviously designed to meet a set of high standards. I’ve always enjoyed the company’s G-Series gaming laptops, ultraportables like the U33 Bamboo and high-end multimedia laptops like the N53 and N56.
The original Zenbook didn’t impress me, however. PC Perspective never reviewed it, but I did have some hands-on time with one courtesy of Intel’s CES 2012 ultrabook giveaway. The build quality wasn’t great, the touchpad was quite poor and the overall look and feel proved a bit tacky (the cursive lettering below the display panel being the most obvious example).
ASUS has now followed up the original Zenbook with the new Zenbook Prime. There are a couple of different variants. We received the 13-inch UX31A which come equipped with the 1080p IPS display panel. As for the rest? Well, see below.
This is one well equipped ultrabook, which explains why it comes with a nearly $1500 price tag. You don’t have to spend that much, however. The basic Zenbook Prime, which still has the IPS display but downgrades to a Core i5, is $999 on Amazon.
Does the flagship of ASUS design deliver the goods? Let’s find out.
Lenovo has become an important player in the mainstream laptop market. Five years ago the offerings from Lenovo were not great, but today the IdeaPad line has matured. This has been reflected in Lenovo’s growth. The company has posted gains in global market share over the last few years.
In this review we’re looking at the Z580, a laptop that’s smack dab in the middle of the company’s IdeaPad brand. It’s a 15.6” laptop that starts at $469 but can be optioned to around $900. Our review unit is a well configured version which includes an Intel Core i5-3210M processor. Lenovo’s website prices it out at a cool $599.
What else will six Benjamin Franklins buy you? Let’s take a look.
The $600 price point is important. Studies of the laptop market have consistently shown that the average price of a new laptop hovers around $600 (much to the dismay of manufacturers, who’d rather people spent more).
This market is extremely completive as a result. If you want a portable laptop with an IPS display you don’t have many options, but consumers who want a powerful and competent laptop for $600 have a buffet to choose from. Can the Z580 make room for itself in this crowd?
Introduction and Design
Introduction and Design
Introduction, Design and Connectivity
Quick glance at the new MBP
The newly released retina-screen MacBook Pro has been an interesting product to me since it was first announced. I have long been a proponent of higher resolution screens for PCs, hoping for the lower cost screens that we are just now finding in the Korean 27-in screen market (like the Achieva Shimian we recently reviewed). When Apple announced a 15-in notebook with a screen resolution of 2880x1800, my hopes were raised that other vendors would take note and duplicate the idea – thereby lowering costs and increasing visual quality for users across the board.
While I didn’t have enough time with the retina MacBook Pro to give it a full review, I did spend an afternoon with one that had Windows 7 installed. After getting some benchmarks and games installed I thought I would report back to our readers with my thoughts and initial impressions on the laptop from a PC perspective.
The hardware inside the new retina MacBook Pro includes an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M discrete GPU, 512GB Apple-branded solid state drive, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt and of course that impressive 2880x1800 screen.
Introduction and Design
Introduction and Design
In the wilds of the laptop market, nestled between the hordes of 15.6” mainstream laptops and the slim ultraportables, there is an odd breed. The 14” multimedia laptop. Even describing them as such is limiting because each model seems to offer its own take on the concept. Some are nearly as thin and light as laptops with much smaller displays while others are bulky powerhouses hidden behind a façade of portability.
Lenovo has long been a proponent of the 14-incher in actions if not words. IdeaPads of this size have also been common, usually gracing Lenovo’s website as a smaller alternative to a 15.6” laptop with a similar model name.
As a result, absolutely no one was shocked when Lenovo announced the IdeaPad Y480. It’s exactly the kind of product most consumers end up buying and exactly the kind of product tech journalists don’t care to talk about.
So what’s powering this new mid-size laptop? Let’s have a look.
Introduction, Driver Interface
There exist a particular group of gamers that are consumed by dreams of gigantic dual-SLI laptops that replace towering desktops. And who can blame them? Walking into a LAN party with a $5,000 laptop under your arm is the geek equivalent of entering a party wearing a $2,500 jacket or driving through your neighborhood in a $250,000 car. We can dream, right?
On the other hand, those super-powerful laptops are a bit...boring from a critic’s standpoint. Why? Because they are almost always excellent machines (due to price) and because most readers gandering at a review (of an expensive gaming laptop) I pen about will never buy one – again, due to the price.
Most folks – even many geeks – lust over a beefy gaming rig, but end up buying a $600 to $1000 multimedia laptop. This is the laptop that the average person can actually afford, regardless of his or her enthusiasm about computer hardware.
In the past, this market segment was a gaming wasteland, but that began to change about five years ago. The change was due in part to the fact that many game developers started to veer away from (a focus on) jaw-dropping graphics in favor of expanding their potential markets by going after clients with average/medium-range hardware.
About two and a half years ago Intel (again) committed to raising the bar on integrated graphics with the release of Intel HD and has since consistently improved its IGP offering with each new generation. AMD has done the same with its Fusion products and NVIDIA (already in the game with its numerous x10/x20/x30M products) just recommitted to power efficient GPUs with its Kepler architecture.
These changes mean that “serious” gaming is now possible on an inexpensive laptop. But how possible? What sacrifices do you make and how do low-end IGPs and GPUs stack up against each other?
Introduction, Design, User Interface
This summer is shaping up to be an amazing time to buy a gaming laptop. Intel has launched its Ivy Bridge processors, bringing faster performance to the entire range without increasing power consumption. Nvidia’s new Kepler based parts, although technically launched a couple months ago, are only now widely available.
We’ve already looked at many low-end solutions including Trinity, HD 4000 and the Kepler-based Nvidia GT 640M. We’ve also looked at one high-end gaming solution in the form of the ASUS G75V.
Today we're reviewing the Origin EON17-S, an obvious competitor to the G75V. It's packing an Nvidia GTX 675M. An Intel Core i7-3920XM joins the party as well. Clearly, this laptop is meant to provide maximum performance - as the other specifications make clear.
Though it has gobs of high-performance hardware our review unit did not arrive with an internal optical drive (it did come with an external Blu-Ray). The drive had been removed and a 1TB hard drive installed in its place. This is a clever bit of packaging that makes a lot of sense and isn’t offered by Alienware, Maingear or ASUS. While I know some gamers do still use optical drives, I personally can’t remember the last time one was required for install.
Our review unit tallies up at about $3500 bucks, which is expensive but not outrageous. Spending much more is difficult and requires that you either pony up for every frivolous option available or buy Nvidia Quadro graphics cards instead of the consumer-market GTX. Or you can put the price in reverse by downgrading to a Core i7-3610QM, which saves you over $1000.
Introduction, Design, User Interface
In August of 2011 I reviewed the Acer AC700-1099, one of two Chromebooks available in the North American market. The review was almost entirely negative. The hardware wasn’t great and the operating system was a bit of a mess–capable of only the most basic tasks.
Since then, the small surge of hype that surrounded the Chrome OS release has receded. You could be mistaken for thinking Google has abandoned it, but they haven’t. In typical Google fashion it has been slowly, quietly improved. Performance tweaks have allegedly improved web browsing, a proper file manager has been added and Google has just launched Google Drive, its cloud storage service.
Such enhancements could address a lot of the concerns I had with the Acer rendition. Do they? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with the basics - what’s inside?
The hardware inside the Samsung Series 5 is nearly identical to what was inside the Acer AC700-1099 that we reviewed late last year. We’re talking an Atom processor that must rely on its own IGP, two gigabytes of RAM and a tiny–but quick–16GB solid state drive.
While the equipment is the same, the pricing has changed. When we reviewed the Acer Chromebook it was $349.99. That has been slashed to $279.99. The Series 5, which used to be priced at $429, is now sold for just $299.
Introduction, Product Specifications And Line-Up
Earlier this year I penned an editorial about ultrabooks. It wasn’t all that nice. I pointed out that they are slow, that they require design sacrifices that not everyone will enjoy and that ultraportables often provide a better experience at the same price or lower.
Since then I’ve also discovered, through various reviews, that ultrabooks so far have not shown any battery life advantage over ultraportables. The advantage of a low-voltage processor is consistently negated by the smaller batteries squeezed into Intel’s thin form-factor.
I’m not on the bandwagon. This, however, should not come as a surprise. It’s exceedingly rare for a company, even of Intel’s size, to knock a new product out of the park on its first try. The models that released so far were decent products in some ways, but they were also the hardware equivalent of a beta. Intel and laptop manufacturers are now responding to what they’ve discovered.
This brings us to Ivy Bridge. As I noted in my Ivy Bridge for mobile review, Intel’s architectural update seems to be more exciting for laptops than for desktops. The Core i7-3720QM we received in our Ivy Bridge reference laptop was a beast, easily defeating all previous processor benchmarks and also posting surprisingly good results in gaming tests. Despite this, battery life seemed to at least remain the same.
Introduction, Design, User Interface
When Ivy Bridge was released Ryan did a deep-dive and desktop review while I worked on a review of the mobile processor. My mobile review was based on a reference laptop known as the ASUS N56VM. Although considered a “reference platform,” the laptop is really a production product and successor to the outgoing ASUS N55. We held off on a full review to provide coverage of the new G75, but now it’s time to revisit the N56.
This is an important product for ASUS. The 15.6” laptop remains a sales leader and the N56 will likely be the company’s flagship in this arena for the coming year. This means it won’t be a high-volume model, but it serve as a “halo product” – an example of what ASUS is capable of. If the company follows its usually modus operandi we’ll see this same chassis used as the basis for a number of variations at different price points with different hardware.
As you may remember from our Ivy Bridge for mobile review, the model we received is equipped with a Core i7-3720QM processor. It’s hard to say if this is a mid-range quad given the limited number of Ivy Bridge products available so far, but it probably will end up in that role. What about the rest of the system? Well, take a look.
AMD’s position is not enviable. Though they’re the only large competitor to Intel in the market for x86 processors, the company is dwarfed by the Giant of Santa Clara. As a resident of Portland, I can’t forget this fact. Intel offices are strewn across the landscape of the western suburbs, most of them at least four times larger than any office I’ve worked at.
Despite the long odds, AMD is set in this course for now and has no choice but to soldier on. And so we have today’s reference platform, a laptop powered by AMD’s latest mobile processor, codenamed Trinity. These processors, like the older Llano models, will be sold as the AMD A-Series. This might lead you to think that it’s simply another minor update, but that’s not the case.
Llano was released around the same time as Bulldozer, but it did not use Bulldozer cores. Instead it used yet another update of Stars, which is a mobile incarnation of Phenom II, which was of course an improvement upon the original Phenom. The “new” Llano APU in fact was equipped with some rather old processor cores. This showed in the performance of the mobile Llano products. They simply could not keep up with Sandy Bridge’s more modern cores.
Bulldozer isn’t coming to mobile with Trinity, either. Instead we’re receiving Piledriver. AMD has effectively skipped the first iteration of its new Bulldozer architecture and moved straight on to the second. Piledriver includes the third generation of AMD’s Turbo Core and promises “up to 29%” better processor performance than last year’s Llano-based A-Series.
That’s a significant improvement, should it turn out to be correct. Is it true, and will it be enough to catch up to Intel?
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