TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

Zap…Wii are surrounded!

I had to search for a while, but I finally found Wii Zapper stock. At an unreasonably cheap $19.99 including Links Crossbow Training from a major retailer, it would have been rude not to buy it.

The ingenious Zapper is simply a plastic moulding with a trigger and housings for the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Once these two controllers are fitted into place, with satisfyingly secure feeling mechanisms, the Zapper becomes a light gun with joystick control provided by the Nunchuck. A hole at the front allows communication with the Wii Sensor Bar.

It’s a great design which works well in practise. The experience feels natural and as with all things Wii, it’s a case of pick it up and get straight into the action.

Links Crossbow Training is a fun arcade shooter with a variety of mini games through its levels. The games are amusing, each lasting a brief time before transitioning to the next sprite shooting fest. If goblins, walking skeletons and huge ice creatures are not your thing then the zapper is compatible with many of the Wii shooters out there, such as Ghost Squad.

The packaged game on its own is probably worth the twenty bucks I paid for the whole shebang. At this price the Wii Zapper should help Nintendo to further broaden the Wii’s appeal, if it even needs any help at this stage. As ever when I went into the store the PS3 and Xbox 360 boxes were piled high and a hastily scrawled sign at customer services read “We have no Wiis”. Nintendo seems to have the competition Zapped at the moment.

Click here to read about how the British are dealing with Wii stock shortages
Click here for Wii vs Playstation analysis
Neil Berman

Dec 31, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment


The colored Asus EEE PCs have arrived, with matt pastel lids. Only the 2Gs get the treatment with cutely named Sky Blue (above), Blush Pink and Lush Green (below) on offer. If ‘lush’ conjures up images of rich green fields, then think again. These colors are more like fun pastels than deep hues.

Unfortunately the 2G does not seem to be available in Pearl White or Galaxy Black. The cheapest route to those colors is the $349 4G Surf models. Please correct me if you know otherwise…I’d love to be proved wrong on this.
Click here for the full Asus EEE PC review.

Neil Berman

Dec 30, 2007 Posted by | Mobile | | Leave a comment

What Price 4G?

Nokia Siemens Networks has completed a proof of concept test for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile data technology, which promises data rates of up to 173 megabits per second. WiMax is already available in some parts of the world and offers up to 70 mbps.

Question is, which mobile devices are going to take advantage of these technologies? Leaving aside both LTE and WiMax as they are currently emerging, precious few devices use the current high speed mobile data networks. In fact very few carriers have even implemented the fadtest 3G technology, HSDPA, which can deliver up to 14.4 mbps peak.

The whole HSDPA community is made up of users of a handful of devices such as the very smartest smartphones and some laptops, whose owners have chosen a carrier network which supports the standard.

At full speed HSDPA should give similar performance to many home or office high speed internet connections, so would increasing the data rate actually increase the market for services?

My HTC TyTN cellphone, which is basically a mini computer with a 400 MHz processor, sometimes has difficulty handling Skype voice calls over 54mbps WiFi because the processor is working so hard. More tellingly it opens web pages as quickly over WiFi as it does over EDGE, which suggests that the performance limitation for current mobile devices is in the processing speed of the device rather than the data speed of the wireless network.

Problem is as processor speed increases, the heat generated and battery power needed becomes highly challenging for a mobile device. In fact like the TyTN, the recently released TyTN II also has a 400MHz processor and I’m not aware of a more powerful smartphone on the current market. So it is doubtful that smartphones will be able to take advantage of higher mobile data speeds in a hurry.

More likely, the slow but ongoing growth of the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) sector will be able to make better use of fast wireless networks. These run industry standard operating systems and are more able to integrate seamlessly with corporate networks.

UMPCs also have software readily available for handling data intensive on-demand multimedia applications such as high quality video and music streaming, which fast wireless networks will be able to support. However as a society we have not reached the stage where video streaming into homes replaces traditional TV delivery methods, let alone trying to achieve critical mass in the mobile community.

Some years ago the auctions for 3G bandwith were a bonanza. In an ideal world those 3G data networks such as HSDPA and their associated service offerings would be prevalent across the market by now to repay the investment. In reality implementation and consumer adoption has been slow. There may even have been an ultimate aim for 3G networks to compete with home broadband and cable providers; HSDPA is certainly fast enough in theory.

LTE and WiMax – call them components of ‘4G’ for now – should be even better placed than 3G HSDPA to enter the home and office market to compete with fixed line data connectivity providers.

However as auctions approach for the rights to the ‘4G’ bandwidth, will the carriers be confident enough to pay such a high price again?

Neil Berman

Dec 28, 2007 Posted by | Mobile | , , , | Leave a comment

Inside The New Apple Store

This is the new Manhattan Apple Store, tucked away in an unassuming Meatpacking District warehouse. In fact the only identifier to the building is a huge roof billboard, which sits uncomfortably amongst the cool frontages of the surrounding designer stores and bars.

Apple has chosen an interesting location for its new Manhattan store. Whilst 14th Street traditionally conjures up visions of Union Square’s hustle and bustle with its Circuit City, Virgin Megastore and summer festivals, Apple has chosen the more exclusive end of the street. It feels like this entrenches an image of designer media brand rather than aiming at the the mass market.

Walking into the store, the staircase is a stunning centerpiece amongst now familiarly identikit furnishings shared with other Apple stores.

Perhaps in an attempt to capture some of Acer’s stratospheric laptop sales volumes, Apple has placed the computers on the ground floor which reminds you to look at them before heading up to the iPod and iPhone floor. With the iMac having to start again earlier this year it will be interesting to see if the MacBook range can capture some of the PC market share which the Intel move was meant to facilitate. Certainly MacBooks are the primary focus downstairs.

Moving up a floor and it’s all iPod, iPhone and Bose, the now familiar Apple music partnership. Everything is well layed out, if now a little passé, with plenty of staff on hand to assist. On the top floor is the Genius Bar.

Coming back down the staircase is definitely one of the fun experiences in this store. Another is imagining how cool this place would be as loft apartments or a club…and that stimulates the key question for me: What is this store doing here?

For the Saturday afternoon before Christmas, it feels empty because the shopping action is elsewhere. For tourists, there’s the 5th Ave store. For local residents and small businesses there are little independent stores in Chelsea and the Village to help them out with any worms in their Apples. Perhaps this is the target market?

As I leave someone is handing out flyers to his local independent Apple store…I hope he gets along with his new neighbor.

Neil Berman

More from the staircase…

Dec 25, 2007 Posted by | Apple, Audio | | Leave a comment

Laptop Buying Guide Part 2: CPU Codename Overload – How To Choose A Laptop Processor

Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news

The main processor is what makes a computer tick. Choosing the right processor (aka CPU) in a laptop is a minefield these days, mainly because names like T2310 or TL-56 don’t tell us anything about speed. For example is a T2310 actually a better buy than a T2300? So as part two of this laptop buying guide, here is the geek-speek translation of what the confusing names mean. (Click here for part one.)

In years gone by, the only spec which counted was the brute speed of a processor (or CPU – Central Processing Unit). This was measured in Hertz and it was simply a case of figuring out whether you could afford a 3 Giga-Hertz or only a 2.5 GHz chip.

One factor changed that: Power consumption. In the world of laptops this impacts all important battery life. As processors became faster they required more power which ate battery life. Intel pioneered laptop energy saving features such as SpeedStep, which reduced processor speed when less horsepower was requied. However as memory prices fell another option became available to chip manufacturers, which was to increase the processor’s on-board memory, otherwise known as the L1 and L2 Caches.

By increasing the L2 Cache in particular, the amount of RAM fetches decreases and so overall system performance goes up. This is because accessing the L2 Cache is quicker than accessing RAM. Since memory uses little power we get increased battery life and good performance by increasing the L2 Cache compared to incresing brute processor speed. Better still, two slow-ish processors (or cores) can be combined on one silicon die to increase performance whilst preserving battery power. See part one of this laptop buying guide for more info about making RAM and Cache decisions.

Why is this important? Because when you go laptop shopping, you now know that processor performance is dependent on both speed and the L2 Cache size. So with this in mind let’s talk about some of the processors on the market currently.

Intel’s premium laptop processor range is called Centrino. The Centrino brand pioneered the use of larger L2 Caches in laptops. At the budget end is the Celeron M range and sitting in the middle is Pentium Dual Core.

AMD also has three ranges. The budget range is called Mobile Sempron, in the middle is the Athlon Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core and the top end is the briefly-named Athlon Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core Mobile Technology.

AMD follows a straightforward range structure:

Budget: Mobile Sempron has one core and a small 512KB L2 Cache. It has a four digit numeric identifier, such as 3400+.

Midrange: Athlon Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core has two cores and a small 512KB L2 Cache. It is identified by the TK prefix, such as TK-57.

High end: Athlon Turion 64 X2 Dual Core Mobile Technology processors have two cores and a 1MB L2 Cache. They go by the TL prefix, such as TL-66.

So making a choice in the AMD range is fairly straightforward as long you understand the three processor groupings. Mobile Semprons are for basic needs and are actually getting harder to find in stores. The TKs are incresingly common in low to mid range offerings and fine for general computing needs. The TLs in the AMD range have more horsepower for really taking advantage of Vista.

The Intel range on the other hand is more complex partly because it has repositioned the Pentium brand, which used to be the premium offering, at the middle of the range. Here’s how it works:

Budget: Celeron Ms have one core and predominantly 1MB of L2 Cache. They are denoted by numeric identifiers, such as 530. Celerons tend to ship with Vista Basic.

Midrange: Pentium Dual Cores have two cores and a 1MB L2 Cache. They are denoted by a T followed by four numbers, such as T2310. Pentium Dual Cores tend to ship with Vista Premium.

High end: Centrinos and Centrino Duos have either one or two cores. The Core Solo and Core 2 Solo models have one core and the Core Duo and Core 2 Duo models have two cores. The processors in the Centrino Duo range have either a 2MB or whopping 4MB L2 Cache. They are denoted with a T, U or L followed by four numbers, such as T2300. I run Vista Premium on a T2050 Core Duo 1.6 GHz with 2MB of L2 Cache and it flies along in general use.

Where it gets confusing is that Pentium Dual Core identifiers appear to cross over with the Centrino Duo range and in some cases slower Pentium Dual Core processors appear at first glance to be higher in the Intel hierarchy than similarly named Centrino Duos.

For example it may be a fair assumption to think that a T2310 is higher in the range than a T2300. The T2300 is a Centrino Duo with dual 1.66 GHz cores and 2MB of L2 Cache. However the T2310 is actually a Pentium Dual Core with slower dual 1.46 GHz cores and only 1MB of L2 Cache. Caveat emptor.

Typically for performance vs. battery life Intel is leading the way in he laptop market. In fact the original Centrino brand, which was Intel’s first foray into significantly increasing the L2 Cache on laptop processors, was so successful that they have recently revived it to be an umbrella brand for their Core ranges.

Interestingly Apple ships its MacBooks with extremely high end Centrino Duo processors. So whilst there seems to be a popular perception that Vista runs slower than Mac OSX, most Vista laptops on the market have massively slower hardware than Apple’s offerings.

That’s the geek-speek tanslation for laptop processors and the end of this two part laptop buying guide. Happy shopping!

Click here to read part one of the laptop buying guide

Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news

Neil Berman

Dec 23, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Silence is Eco-friendly, Vivid and Fanless

I just upgraded my living room PC’s video card from being VGA only to a dual monitor DVI and VGA NVIDIA card. Crikey what a revelation! My projector image is now so bright and vivid from the DVI PC output that we have to turn down the lamp strength to avoid eye fatigue! In fact this upgrade will have turned out to be a really cost effective way of saving energy and increasing lamp life.

I was already impressed with my MacBook’s DVI output but this NVIDIA card makes the XP Media Center image look so vibrant that sometimes it seems like it’s jumping off the wall. In fact it’s made me question the quality of the MacBook’s DVI output, although to be fair built-in outputs rarely compare favorably to dedicated hardware.

I chose a fanless card, which are becoming more and more rare. The result? A near silent PC…it turns out the fan in my old card was actually generating pretty much all the internal noise in the computer. Better still the new card installled itself in minutes. Silence s eco-friendly, vivid and fanless!

Neil Berman

Dec 16, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Asus EEE PC Review

Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news, including details of the Asus R50 UMPC

After weeks of low supply, the Asus EEE PC has finally appeared. I spent some eagerly awaited quality time with the small, cute and cheap 4G model.

UMPCs: When size does matter

Next to a regular ultraportable the Asus EEE PC is noticeably smaller. It´s also thinner, most likely due its lack of optical or mechanical hard drives. It does however still manage to pack in a VGA output, Ethernet port and 3 USB 2.0 connectors without needing a port replicator.

The screen is also smaller than most ultraportables at seven imches, the same size as Samsung’s Q1 series. However in the case of the EEE this seems to be to keep the cost down than anything else.

The lid can actually accommodate a couple more inchesof screen space and the resulting look is of a laptop from the mid 1990s with a wide screen border.

The keyboard is also a shrunken affair but is surprisingly easy to use. I was able to type lines of text accurately without any need to acclimatize. This will depend on finger size but I was pleasantly surprised. For such a thin laptop the keys also have a positive feel with a decent amount of travel.

The EEE PC has a traditional trackpad which has a separated section on the right hand side. Using the media player this section controlled playback volume. The trackpad was fairly responsive to movement but less so to taps, although it is usable. There´s only one button, like a Mac, but improving on Apple’s design the left side of the button gives a left click and the right side gives a right click (thanks for the pointer Neil). Great idea and works well in practise.

In comparison to competitors, the EEE dwarfs the Fujitsu U810 (above) and Sony UX380N (below).
These both have smaller screens and keyboards also, as well as oddly placed mouse control, to the extent that they are really for emergency use in my opinion. Samsung´s Q1 has the same size screen but an almost impossibly small thumboard, although for desk use you could always add an external keyboard. All three competitors are far more expensive than the EEE PC.
Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news
The colored EEEs are now available, click here for photos.

It’s cheap, but can I actually use this thing in real life?

Switch on the EEE and it boots quickly (I counted 24 seconds) into a home screen with big icons and tabs. It looks ultra easy to use and find what you want.

In this regard it’s similar to the iPhone home screen. But then I always thought the iPhone home screen looks simple because it only has a few preloaded applications. The EEE is similar, with limited applications it’s easy to give everything a big icon. I expect most owners will never add any applications anyway, as much of what you need to get going is included right out of the box.

The EEE ships with internet, office and media playback software sitting on top of its Linux operating system. The look and feel is overtly Windows XP and when I was using the file explorer I actually had to do a double-take to check I was not using an early shipment of XP preloaded EEEs.

Following years of anti-Microsof sentiment from some corners of the IT community, it is somehow ironic that Windows has become so popular that competitors either mimic it or allow users to run it on their own environment to attract switchers.

Using the internet browser will be straightforward for most owners, with the exception that some sites optimized for Internet Explorer may not work properly. I occasionally find this on my Macbook and Nokia tablet with their respective Safari and Mozilla browsers. Similarly the office software is not Microsoft Office so again there may be compatibility issues if you are trying to share files with MS Office users, although some common file formats are supported. The media player is also less friendly than iTunes or Windows Media Player but is usable nonetheless.

All of this of course results from the low cost of the EEE. Building a Linux system is much cheaper than building a Mac or Windows system. Unfortunately file, application and peripheral compatibility is where you ultimately pay for this. So make sure that whatever you want to do is Linux compatible before you purchase your EEE. The alternative is to either install Windows (which can be done by running the installation from an external drive), or wait for the Windows preloaded version to be released. Of course this will have a cost implication and if you then want to run Microsoft Office then this is another $150 as a home user.

The EEE PC 4G’s lid houses a webcam. This is missing from the cheaper models in the range, but a fantastic feature to have if you can afford a higher end EEE. The quality of the camera is on a par with similar devices in other laptops. Every laptop should have one of these!

EEE owners are likely to take their units around with them due to the small sixe, so how is it likely to stand up to road use? First impressions are that the EEE seems well built with an assuringly solid looking hinge mechanism. Apart from this and the keys, the EEE is pretty low on moving parts. There are no mechanical hard or optical drives to break in transit so some risk associated with traditional laptops is not present in the EEE. Of course it is still vulnerable to failure like all electronics, but hopefully Asus’ choice to go for a solid state drive will save many a users’ data on a bad day.

So is it the bEEE’s knEEE’s?

If you’re a light, or adventurous, user then don’t let my compatibility comments put you off. For mobile corporate users running thin client software this is also a winning solution. It’s the middle tier of users I think are likely to struggle. These are the people who want to do funky things now and again and might not have the knowledge to do it quickly in Linux. If you’re one of these people then you may prefer to wait for the Windows version.

If on the other hand you’re happy with EEE’s preloaded goodies or are a Linux lover then this is the IT bargain of 2007. Expect other companies to follow…

May 2008 update: Read the Asus EEE 900 vs HP Mini-Note 2133 comparo here.

Jan 2008 update: As predicted above, others have followed. Read about Everex’s $399 here.

See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.
To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

For details of the new Asus R50 UMPC, click here.

The colored EEEs are now available, click here for photos

Neil Berman

Dec 9, 2007 Posted by | Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Nokia N810 Review

With my Nokia 770 despatched swiftly on eBay, I could switch on my new N810 with an almost clear conscience. The N810 was an impulse upgrade following great first impressions. I think I was one of many, as the tablet ranked #2 in Wired’s December 2007 listing of “Top 10 Gifts We’d Love To Get”. Time to see what it can really do.

What’s in the box?

The slickness of the N810 makes an instant impact. The casing is silver with a brushed chrome color screen surround, buttons fit flush to surfaces and the backlit keyboard glides out smoothly. A built in stand allows the N810 to be used as a close range viewing device on a table. The box also contains a car dashboard holder for using the GPS navigation and a soft pouch. It all looks cool and feels well put together.

What’s it got?

Switching on, the screen is an immediate improvement over the 770. As with the better small devices on today’s market, it’s bright and colors are vivid. Howeve, unlike any ultra-portable computer I’ve used the screen also is genuinely sunlight readable. This is great for working on the move or using as an outdoor GPS navigation device. The idea of working with a laptop in the park is always appealing, but often hindered because nice days in parks tend to involve sunlight. Sunlight is not such a big problem for the N810.

The N810 boots-up in about fifteen seconds into the now familiar Nokia tablet desktop. Status indicators are on the top right and applications are on the left. The user transition from the 770 is seamless. Read about the 770 here.

Loading up the web browser makes the N810 search automatically for a connection. As with the 770, the WiFi search is quick and signal strength is strong. I made a connection straight away and was surfing at full speed in seconds.

The screen resolution is 800 by 480 so the N810 comfortably fits a typical web page across the width of its screen, with the option to specifically ‘fit to width’ if necessary. There is also a full screen mode accessed via a dedicated hardware button. Another dedicated button displays a list of currently open windows/applications for easy window switching.

The sliding keyboard transforms the internet experience on the N810. Whereas the 770 had an iPhone style on-screen keyboard which was fine for a short message here and there, the N810’s dedicated hardware keyboard allows full scale email, blogging and even word processing. Ironically, although the N810’s keyboard is bigger than my HTC TyTN’s, I have found it slower to type on. The keys have a less positive feel and the OS 2008 implementation of word prediction is less user friendly than the Windows Mobile version, which can be used from the keyboard without needing to touch the screen.

There’s a wide range of applications for the Nokia tablet series available for download. A built in software updater also searches for new apps and upgrades. Kudos to Nokia for implementing such a grown-up feature aimed at openly developing the N810’s functionality. This elevates it out of the closed platform space that most small mobile devices occupy and into the wider portable computer space. Skype is now available for the N810, although it does not currently take advantage of the front mounted webcam.

I miss having an office application suite built into the N810, it really seems ripe for it. The extra screen space compared to my TyTN makes it a perfect mobile office tool. Ironically it’s the TyTN which actually has Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, but due to screen size only Word is of practical everyday use. There are some office applications available for the Nokia tablet platform, but a Maemo port of the StarOffice suite would be perfect.

How does it perform?

In general use the N810 performs pretty briskly. The 400mhz processor powers preloaded applications adequately, although I experienced slowdowns when trying to access multiple websites in multiple browser windows. There is 256Mb of Flash memory, 128Mb of onboard RAM with an extra 128Mb assignable as vitual memory from the 2Gb of onboard storage, which is pretty decent for this type of device. The N810 has not crashed on me yet; when applications have slowed down or gotten confused it has always recovered given time.

The Mozilla based browser handles the majority of sites well, although like Safari on my MacBook there are occasional compatability issues with some sites. I became used to this on my MacBook and just reserved surfing certain sites for my Windows PC. Pages load quickly enough and the N810 can handle certain multimedia content such as YouTube videos happily. Given the software update functionality I hope that browser updates will be possible to keep the N810 up to date.

Launching the map program engages the GPS. In Central Park on a clear day, the built-in antenna took around five minutes to get a fix on my location. Once it knew where I was, the N810 was able to show me the location of WiFi hotspots in the vicinity as well as other points of interest. This is a free service, whilst upgrading to full in-car navigation is an optional cost upgrade.

The points of interest are a great facility and of course GPS mapping is wonderful if you don’t know where you are. I expect though I’m more likely to use Google Maps on my TyTN on a day to day basis as it’s interface and zoom implementation is excellent.

Audio sounds great through both the onboard speakers and 3.5mm headphone socket. To their credit, Nokia squeezed a regular size headphone port into the thin N810. Video runs smoothly and the screen is viewable at pretty acute angles so your friends can watch alongside you using the built-in stand.

The 770 is actually more comfortable to hold than the N810 for prolonged periods. This is partly due to its greater depth and also because on the left of the screen there is more room to rest your hand. With the N810 you really feel like you’re holding a fat-free tablet, with the ‘downside’ that there’s precious little places to hold it! So your hand falls naturally at the back giving support at the edges. The weight of the tablet series has remained pretty constant throughout three generations, with the N810 weighing in at a meager 226 grams.

Battery life is claimed by Nokia to be fourteen standby days or four hours of continuous WiFi usage, which is better than the vast majority of laptops. Various power saving features can be configured, such as screen dimming and WiFi disconnection after periods of inactivity.

The recommended retail price of the N810 is 479.99 dollars but some retailers are listing it for less. Net of my 770 sale it cost me just over 300 bucks, which is pretty good value considering the improvements. The price puts it squarely in Asus EEE PC territory, which offers a whole lot more (potential, size and weight) but also a whole lot less (portability, battery life, sidewalk use).

Overall the N810 has been a superb buy. The keyboard and improved browser transform it from its earlier siblings into one of the most complete ultra-mobile computers ever made. Regular software updates and a growing application suite mean that it should have a good lifespan. Given that it can also double up as an in-car sat nav and use-anywhere media player, it is also great value…which is why Nokia’s USA site currently states it is on back order!

Click here to read the Nokia 770 review

Neil Berman

Dec 4, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment


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