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MacBook Pro refresh leaves Apple fans wanting more

MacBook ProThose long awaited MacBook Pro refreshes finally arrived today, and the news was a mixed bag.

The 13″ models are still saddled with Core 2 Duo processors, while the 15″ and 17″ models have finally made the jump to Core i5 and i7. The astute geek readers among you will recall that Dell and HP hit the market way back in 2009 with Core i7 laptops. That means Mac releases are now in danger of falling significantly behind Intel’s roadmap if newer processors come out this Fall.

The base price of the 15″ model has gone up by $100, the base 17″ is down and the base 13″ is holding steady.

GPUs have been upgraded across the board to the Nvidia GeForce 320 and 330, missing out on the top of the range GeForce 340.  There’s intelligent switching between integrated and discrete graphics and inertial scrolling is now built into the trackpads.  4GB RAM is also standard on all models.

While today’s updates are probably disappointing for Mac fans hoping for more market leading hardware, theONbutton readers shouldn’t be too surprised. These updates really fall in line with my post last month about how Apple seems to be focusing away from Mac in favor of iPhone OS devices.

Expect more of this to come as I expect Apple to continue developing its strategy in this direction.

Neil Berman

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Apr 13, 2010 Posted by | Apple, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HP TX1000z Tablet PC Review

For the past decade consumers have been on the verge of adopting tablet PCs of one form or another. Apart from some early fledgling attempts which gathered little steam, the main thrust came from expensive laptop tablets based upon Windows XP Tablet Edition. Since then Vista has come about with its tablet extensions and new UMPC formats have sprung up such as Samsung’s Q1 to take advantage of them. So is there still a need for full size laptop tablets?

When newer is cheaper

Cue HP’s TX1000z range and recently released TX2000z. This 12.1 inch laptop has an ultraportable tablet format without the price tag associated with the genre. Powered by AMD’s Turion range it should have the horsepower it needs to ease through daily tasks and it’s swivelling screen gives it the all important ‘wow’ factor. It also has handy chassis mounted buttons for quick access to multimedia functions. The Vista Premium TX1000z unit I tested was fitted with a DVD rewriter and 2 GB of RAM, in place of the standard 1 GB.

Groping around

Looking around the laptop everything feels pretty solid, if a little heavy. The battery sticks out at the back, which is a tad ugly, but overall the design is slick. At 4.2 pounds the HP weighs in a fair amount more than my Everex 12 inch laptop. It’s not unbearable but not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the term ultraportable either.

Open the lid and the TX1000z’s keyboard and trackpad layout echo current HP silver and black smart simplicity. The trackpad looks great and has both horizontal and vertical scrolling. The keyboard feels OK; it’s no IBM but it’s perfectly usable.

A webcam stares out from above the screen, which itself looks a little overprotected by a thick bezel. A fingerprint reader and dedicated buttons for screen orientation and multimedia control sit at the sides. The screen joint feels very strong, holding the screen happily at some very bizarre angles.

Around the edges of the chassis are three USB ports, a 5-in-1 card reader, ExpressCard slot, SPDIF output, headphone & microphone ports, ethernet port, S-video and VGA out. Phew! There’s also a remote control in the box.
In use

In use there weren’t too many surprises, with the exception that performance from the 1.9 GHz AMD TL-58 was a little below expectations. My 1.6 GHz Core Duo laptop kept up with it pretty well in general use and surpassed it in almost all Passmark tests…and it only has 1 GB RAM. Most disappointing was the 3D graphics performance, which let’s just say is a good way to make sure you stay productive. The webcam too was average, under-performing against my MacBook in low light.

The Altec Lansing speakers on the other hand were nice and loud, if lacking in bass, and the bright screen is readable even with sun coming onto it through a window.

Is the writing on the wall for the traditional laptop?

Whilst the HP is certainly good value, I’m not sure how the average consumer would really take advantage of the tablet functions. The aspiration of note taking or sharing ideas across a meeting table have long been the promise of tablets, but something like a Samsung Q1 might be the modern day prince-in-waiting to this eventual throne due to its weight. If you have a use in mind for the tablet features then the TX1000z is a good buy. If not then look past the glamor of the swivelling screen and see how it stacks up against more traditional designs.

At the time of writing, the starting price for the HP TX1000z was $899.99 on http://www.hp.com

Also worth considering (prices correct at time of writing):

Neil Berman
http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 28, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , | 1 Comment

MacBook: Is there revolution in the Air?

Apple announced the new MacBook Air today, bringing truth to recent rumors about the release of an ultra-portable from Cupertino. At 3 pounds it’s not quite the featherweight match of its PC competitors, such as Lenovo’s 2.3 pound U110, but it certainly does have the Apple family’s good looks. So is this a case of evolution, or is there revolution in the Air?

Similar to the existing MacBook range, the Air has a 13.3 inch screen with built-in iSight camera. The Air ships with a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, making it the slowest laptop in Apple’s current line-up by clock speed. An 80 GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM are also standard, with the top end model getting a 64 GB SSD.

The dimensions of the Air are almost identical to the existing MacBook, except that the latter is 1.06 inches thin whereas the thickest point on the Air is 0.76 inches. The optical drive costs an extra $99 and the graphics implementation is identical to the current MacBook.

Specs of course are not really the point. The MacBook Air is all about showcasing design, showing that Apple can go ultra-portable, and for those with the money to spare, showing off. The design itself looks like a stunner and the lack of optical drive is overcome by Apple’s new Remote Disc software, which allows a PC or Mac to share its optical drives with the MacBook Air for installing new software. The pricing is actually fairly competitive alongside PC laptops of similar weight.

Overall it seems more like evolution than revolution. But we know by now that Apple does not need a revolution to sell bucketloads of these awesome machines to willing customers. Will I be one of those rushing to turn in my MacBook for a dose of Air? Not quite yet, but stay tuned for a hands-on review soon…

Neil Berman
http://www.neilberman.com/

The 1.6 GHz, 80 GB MacBook Air costs $1,799
The 1.8 GHz, 64 GB SSD MacBook Air costs $3,098

Jan 15, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , | 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

http://www.neilberman.com/

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

In Defense of MacBook 1.1

When Apple released its recently updated Intel MacBook, the changes were more 1.1 than 2.0. Rapid condemnation followed. Moving from 2 GHz to 2.16 was more like an engine tune from Santa Clara than an engine overhaul from Santa Rosa.

In Apple’s defense, the Intel MacBook was probably a pricey initial release. Even now, getting a T7200 powered laptop for $1,099 is amazing value, especially if you use it as a Vista and OSX dual boot machine.

Given that it would be exceptionally difficult to find a laptop of similar spec on the market we can make one of the following conclusions:

1. Vista adds considerably more cost to the price of a new laptop than OSX, or

2. Apple took a financial hit upfront to woo Windows users by offering a high-spec medium-cost laptop capable of running OSX and Windows, figuring that over time MacBook would become profitable through falling component prices linked to minor technology facelifts.

Although 1 is true to an extent, I think 2 is more likely as it is very hard to find a similar spec’d laptop within even a few hundred bucks of MacBook. Also, any increase that Vista adds would be partially offset by the discounts big PC houses probably receive on massive-scale component purchases compared to Apple.

So I can understand Apple for this one. They’ve got a great laptop and it’s time in MacBook’s lifecycle to cash in on sales and component margins. We’ll just have to wait a little longer for MacBook 2.0.

Neil Berman
www.neilberman.com

Jul 21, 2007 Posted by | Apple | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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