Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | April 18, 2014 - 02:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: canonical, ubuntu, ubuntu 14.04
Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution, has been on a steady six-month release schedule for eight years. Every four versions, that is, once every two years, one is marked as Long Term Support (LTS). While typical (non-LTS) releases are supported for around 9 months, LTS versions are provided with five years of updates. Of course, each version, LTS or not, is free. The choice to stay on a specific branch is something else entirely.
For most home users, it will probably make sense to pick up the latest version available on your update manager. Of course, each new release will change things and that can be a problem for some users. That said, given that releases come in six-month intervals, it does make sense to keep up with the changes as they happen, rather than fall behind and have a real shock in five years. Enterprise customers, on the other hand, would love to adopt an operating system which never changes, outside of security updates. Windows XP is a recent example of where enterprise customers will actually pay to not upgrade. These customers will benefit most from LTS.
First and foremost, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, wants to catch the wave of PC users who are looking to upgrade from Windows XP and Windows 7. It is free, it has a web browser and an office suite, it is stable and secure, and they suggest that it will be easy to deploy and manage for governments and other institutions.
The interface is Unity7, although users will have the option to try Unity8. The latter version is Canonical's attempt to cover all form factors: phones, tablets, TVs, and desktops.
They probably could have chosen a different number, if only for the jokes.
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is available now at their website. It is free. If you want it, go get it unless you already have it.
Back in September we posted a review of the latest Intel NUC device (next unit of computing), a tiny 4-in x 4-in barebones computer developed and sold by Intel directly. As a couple of readers pointed out to me today, these units are being discounted by as much as $70 today over at Amazon.com
These units share a lot of the same feature set but they differ in the processor actually embedded in them. The Core i5-4250U comes with the more expensive model and that includes the faster Intel HD 5000 graphics configuration as well. This is the same processor found in the MacBook Air and many shipping Ultrabooks. For the lower priced model you get the Core i3-4010U that runs at a static 1.7 GHz clock speed. The 4250U scales up to 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost technology.
Both are based on the Haswell architecture and pack a lot of processing punch in a tiny little form factor.
Keeping in mind these are barebones units, you'll still have to add memory, storage in the form of an mSATA SSD, wireless modules (unless you want to use the Gigabit Ethernet) and a power cord. If you are looking for some suggestions from us on those components, check out the lists and pricing below.
|Core i5-4250U System||Core i3-4010U System|
|Barebones System||NUC D54250WYK - $329||NUC D34010WYK - $265|
|Memory||Crucial 4GB Single DDR3L SO-DIMM - $40||Crucial 4GB Single DDR3L SO-DIMM - $40|
|Storage||Samsung 840 EVO 120GB mSATA - $109||Samsung 840 EVO 120GB mSATA - $109|
|Wireless||Intel Dual Band 7260 802.11ac - $32||Intel Dual Band 7260 802.11ac - $32|
|Power Cord||6 ft 3-slot - $4||6 ft 3-slot - $4|
|Total (Amazon)||$514 on Amazon.com||$450 on Amazon.com|
If you are really on a budget and want to save some more cash, you could go with a smaller and less expensive mSATA SSD like the ADATA Premier Pro 32GB option for as low as $39.99 but you are going to be REALLY limited on local storage space.
Still, for $514 you are getting most of the component technology of a high end Ultrabook but in a desktop form factor, ready to be used as your primary PC or connected to your TV for a home theater setup. I built one for my dad for Christmas to play a flight simulator on and its still going strong and he's loving it!
Going to take Intel and Amazon up on these prices? Already have a unit of your own? If so, let me know in the comments what you currently, or plan to, use it for. Happy SFF building!
Subject: General Tech, Systems | April 15, 2014 - 08:48 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: vaio, sony, battery issue
So it turns out that Sony, after releasing their last VAIO PC refresh before the division is sold to Japan Industrial Partners, have found an issue with Panasonic's custom lithium battery packs. The VAIO Fit 11A models, released February 2014, have the potential to overheat and catch fire, burning itself and the PC. They are in the process of creating a refund, repair, or exchange program but, in the mean time, request users stop using the devices for their safety.
In head-crushing formation. #HandsCheck
The affected products fall under the model number, "SVF11N1XXXX", where Xs are, of course, some random letter or number. This information is printed underneath the display, accessible using the "release-lock" latch when the laptop is open.
Of course, this is all just unfortunate for Sony. The last product they create under their VAIO brand requires what basically amounts to a safety recall -- for a third-party component. Beyond that, Panasonic asserts that the flaw only seems to exist in the batteries that were customized for Sony. Panasonic, like many manufacturers, introduces slight modifications to existing products for a specific customer's needs. They do not believe that their other batteries, even of the same model, is defective outside of the shipment that Sony received.
At some point, you just need to feel bad for them...
Subject: Systems | April 10, 2014 - 02:57 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, mini-itx, AAEON, EMB-BT1, Bay Trail, SFF, htpc
You may not recognize the name AAEON but you will recognize its parent company, ASUS. AAEON makes low power small form factor single board SoCs and with the introduction of Bay Trail they may become more common. The EMB-BT1-A10-3825 sports a quad-core Atom E3845 @ 1.33GHz and Ivy Bridge era Intel HD graphics with support for up to 4GB of DDR3-1067. It has a total TDP of 6W but unfortunately Phoronix's WattsUp meter was busy on another system so you will need to wait for an update on total power consumption.
The connectivity on this SoC is incredible, mSATA for an SSD, two SATA 6Gbps ports and two SATA-2 ports, dual gigabit LAN ports, a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a single 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, COM, and audio jacks. You could configure this as a small media server or as it supports dual displays it would serve wonderfully as an HTPC.
"For those after a low-cost mini-ITX board for use within an HTPC, SOHO file server, or other low-power situations, AAEON has out an interesting board called the EMB-BT1, or more formally the AAEON EMB-BT1-A10-3825. This mini-ITX motherboard has onboard an Intel Atom E3825 "Bay Trail" SoC for delivering decent performance out of the six Watt SoC and having open-source-friendly graphics under Linux."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Acer DA241HL Android all in one @ The Inquirer
- MSI Nightblade Barebone System Review @ Modders-Inc
- Cyberpower Zeus Mini - Review! @ Bjorn3D
- Cube Gaming PC Core i7 Overclocked Assassin /w MSI GTX 770 @ Kitguru
Subject: General Tech, Networking, Systems, Shows and Expos | April 8, 2014 - 03:26 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: NAB, NAB 14, Thunderbolt 2, thunderbolt
Video professionals are still interested in Thunderbolt in probably much the same way as Firewire needed to be pried from their cold, dead hands. It is a very high bandwidth connector, useful for sending and receiving 4K video. Also, it was originally exclusive to Apple so you can guess which industries were first-adopters. Intel has focused their Thunderbolt announcements on the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show. This year, Thunderbolt Networking will be available for Windows via a driver. This will allow any combination of Macs and Windows PCs to be paired together by a 10 Gigabit network.
Of course, this is not going to be something that you can plug into a router. This is a point-to-point network for sharing files between two devices... really fast. Perhaps one use case would be a workstation with a Mac and a Windows PC on a KVM switch. If both are connected with Thunderbolt 2, they could share the same storage pool.
While this feature already exists on Apple devices, the PC driver will be available... "soon".
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | April 8, 2014 - 01:11 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: BUILD 2014, microsoft, windows, winRT
A few days ago, I reported on the news from BUILD 2014 that Windows would see the return of the Start Menu and windowed apps. These features, which are not included with today's Windows 8.1 Update 1, will come in a later version. While I found these interface changes interesting, I reiterated that the user interface was not my concern: Windows Store certification was. I did leave room for a little hope, however, because Microsoft scheduled an announcement of changes. It was focused on enterprise customers, so I did not hold my breath.
And some things did change... but not enough for the non-enterprise user.
Microsoft is still hanging on to the curation of apps, except for "domain-joined" x86 Enterprise and x86 Pro PCs; RT devices and "not domain-joined" computers will only allow sideloaded apps with a key. This certificate (key) is not free for everyone. Of course, this does not have anything to do with native x86 applications. Thankfully, the prospect of WinRT APIs eventually replacing Win32, completely, seems less likely now. It could still be possible if Windows Store has a major surge in popularity but, as it stands right now, Microsoft seems to be spending less effort containing x86 for an eventual lobotomy.
If it does happen, it would be a concern for a variety of reasons:
Governments, foreign or domestic, who pressure Microsoft to ban encryption software.
Internet Explorer's Trident would have no competition to adopt new web standards.
Cannot create an app for just a friend or family member (unless it's a web app in IE).
When you build censorship, the crazies will come with demands to abuse it.
So I am still concerned about the future of Windows. I am still not willing to believe that Microsoft will support x86-exclusive applications until the end of time. If that happens, and sideloading is not publicly available, and web standards are forced into stagnation by a lack of alternative web browsers, then I can see bad times ahead. I will not really feel comfortable until a definitive pledge to allow users to control what can go on their device, even if Microsoft (or people with some form of authority over them) dislikes it, is made.
But I know that many disagree with me. What are your thoughts? Comment away!
Athlon and Pentium Live On
Over the past year or so, we have taken a look at a few budget gaming builds here at PC Perspective. One of our objectives with these build guides was to show people that PC gaming can be cost competitive with console gaming, and at a much higher quality.
However, we haven't stopped pursuing our goal of the perfect inexpensive gaming PC, which is still capable of maxing out image quality settings on today's top games at 1080p.
Today we take a look at two new systems, featuring some parts which have been suggested to us after our previous articles.
|AMD System||Intel System|
|Processor||AMD Athlon X4 760K - $85||Intel Pentium G3220 - $65|
|Cores / Threads||4 / 4||2 / 2|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte F2A55M-HD2 - $60||ASUS H81M-E - $60|
|Graphics||MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180||MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180|
|System Memory||Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73||Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60||Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master GX 450W - $50||Cooler Master GX 450W - $50|
|Case||Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50||Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50|
(Editor's note: If you don't already have a copy of Windows, and don't plan on using Linux or SteamOS, you'll need an OEM copy of Windows 8.1 - currently selling for $98.)
These are low prices for a gaming computer, and feature some parts which many of you might not know a lot about. Let's take a deeper look at the two different platforms which we built upon.
First up is the AMD Athlon X4 760K. While you may not have known the Athlon brand was still being used on current parts, they represent an interesting part of the market. On the FM2 socket, the 760K is essentially a high end Richland APU, with the graphics portion of the chip disabled.
What this means is that if you are going to pair your processor with a discrete GPU anyway, you can skip paying extra for the integrated GPU.
As for the motherboard, we went for an ultra inexpensive A55 option from Gigabyte, the GA-F2A55M-HD2. This board features the A55 chipset which launched with the Llano APUs in 2011. Because of this older chipset, the board does not feature USB 3.0 or SATA 6G capability, but since we are only concerned about gaming performance here, it makes a great bare bones option.
Subject: Systems | March 24, 2014 - 01:49 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gigabyte brix, brix pro
The Tech Report got their hands on the rather impressive Brix Pro from Gigabyte, a tiny PC that packs a fair amount of power. Hidden in this 2.4 x 4.3 x 4.5" box is a Core i7-4770R with accompanying HD 5200 Iris Pro graphics, a 240GB 525 Series SSD and 8GB of DDR3-1600, though the last two components are optional. The new Intel GPU was able to handle BF4 and Borderlands 2, though some strange artifacting was noticeable in the latter title. Overall they like the new Brix Pro but thought Gigabyte shrunk the device a little too much as the fan was quite loud when under load; a larger heatsink and fan combo may have avoided that minor irritation.
"The first, Intel-built NUC (short for Next Unit of Computing) debuted a little over a year ago, and our own Scott Wasson picked it apart at the time. Today, we're back with a mini-PC that's based on the same form factor but trades the power-sipping mobile CPU for a quad-core desktop specimen."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- CyberpowerPC Zeus Mini-I 780 mITX System Review @ Legit Reviews
- Asrock Vision HT 420D @ Legion Hardware
- Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Mini-PC Review @MissingRemote
- Shuttle Barebone DS437 Fanless Slim PC with Celeron CPU Review @ Madshrimps
- MSI Nightblade @ Kitguru
- Monster Build Part 2: The Machine @ TechwareLabs
- CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini System Review @ Hardware Asylum
- YOYOTech M-Cube WS2 @ Kitguru
Subject: Processors, Systems | March 19, 2014 - 08:00 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: ready mode, Intel, gdc 14, GDC
Intel Ready Mode is a new technology that looks to offer some of the features of connected standby for desktop and all-in-one PCs while using new power states of the Haswell architecture to keep power consumption incredibly low. By combining a 4th Generation Core processor from Intel, a properly implemented motherboard and platform with new Intel or OEM software, users can access the data on their system or push data to their system without "waking up" the machine.
This feature is partially enabled by the C7 state added to the Haswell architecture with the 4th Generation Core processors but could require motherboard and platform providers to update implementations to properly support the incredibly low idle power consumption.
To be clear, this is not a desktop implementation of Microsoft Instant Go (Connected Standby) but instead is a unique and more flexible implementation. While MS Instant Go only works on Windows 8 and with Metro applications, Intel Ready Mode will work with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and actually keeps the machine awake and active, just at a very low power level. This allows users to not only make sure their software is always up to date and ready when they want to use the PC but enabled access to a remote PC from a remote location - all while in this low power state.
How low? Well Intel has a note on its slide that mentions Fujitsu launched a feature called Low Power Active Mode in 2013 that was able to hit 5 watts when leveraging the Intel guidelines. You can essentially consider this an incredibly low power "awake" state for Intel PCs.
Intel offers up some suggested usage models for Ready Mode and I will be interested to see what OEMs integrate support for this technology and if DIY users will be able to take advantage of it as well. Lenovo, ASUS, Acer, ECS, HP and Fujitsu are supporting it this year.
Subject: Systems | March 12, 2014 - 07:38 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, SFF, projector, i3-4010u, gigabyte, bxpi3-4010, brix projector, brix
With more than a few of NUC-sized SFF PCs floating around these days, the BRIX Projector, with a catchy model number of BXPi3-4010, has something that no other option can offer: an integrated mini projector. As the name would imply, the BRIX Projector is part BRIX and part projector, and the combination is unique to the market as far as I can tell.
The guts of the BXPi3-4010 are split seemingly in half between the computer components that make up the BRIX and the DLP LED projector that rests on top. The processor inside is a Core i3-4010U that runs at up to 1.7 GHz and includes integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics. With a dual-core HyperThreaded design, the 4010U is competent, but nothing more, for standard application workloads and productivity. The HD 4400 graphics can run your most basic of games (think Peggle, FTL, Starbound) but isn't up to the task of most demanding 3D games like Bioshock.
You'll get a set of four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, mini-DisplayPort and HDMI output. Combined with the projector, you can use any TWO displays at one time: projector plus HDMI, HDMI plus mDP, etc.
The mini-HDMI input is pretty interesting and allows you to use the BRIX Projector as a stand alone projector, hooking up a DVD player, game console or anything to be displayed. The power button on the projector is separate from the PC power and you can run each without the other.
The unit comes as a barebones design, meaning you'll have to add mSATA storage and DDR3 low power SO-DIMMs to get up and running. Once you have your OS installed, you are going to be met with a rather small 854x480 resolution projector powered by a 75 lumen output. It's good, but not great.
That low resolution causes some issues with browsing the web and using some applications like Steam because we have all moved past the likes of 800x600 - thank goodness. Windows works fine and even Big Picture mode in Steam is an easy fix.
You can see in the video review below that image quality was pretty good for such a small device but the noise levels of the fan cooling the projector are quite high. I was even thinking of ripping it open and trying more creative ways of cooling the display components until Gigabyte informed me they need it back in a...functional capacity. Oh well.
The Gigabyte BRIX Projector BXPi3-4010 is selling for about $550 on both Newegg.com and Amazon.com which does NOT include the memory or storage you'll need (WiFi is included though). That seems kind of steep but considering other pico or mini projectors can easily cost $250-350, this BRIX unit is a better deal that the price might first indicate.