Category Archives: Notebooks

MacBook Air 2011 Model Launch Immenent

Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to put forth a baseless prediction, but while browsing the prices I did notice that the refurbished models of the MacBook Air have all dropped by about $20, previously the entry level MacBook Air model was listed at $849 with a 15% discount. I have watched the refurbished store in the past and noticed that shortly before a product launch, the prices for a particular product would drop as a successor was released shortly there after. This would lead me to believe that Apple will probably launch a new MacBook Air right around the time of the WWDC. My only other explanation for Apple to reduce the prices of their refurbished MacBook Airs would be that the products simply aren’t moving from the refurbished market which would be something I have yet to witness from Apple.

The only reason why I am even bringing this up on this site is that after a quick Google search, I haven’t seen anyone else make this observation and thought I would try and be the first to call this prediction.  A number of other sites have predicted the next MacBook Air would be released around June/July with a SandyBridge Processor and Thunderbolt interface.  Most likely this will include an integrated  Intel HD3000 graphics chipset which will likely result in a significant boost in CPU performance all the while being inferior in 3D graphics.  Then again, who buys a MacBook Air for gaming or graphics editing?

UPDATE: Well, apparently I was incorrect in assuming the exact release date.   Hopefully Apple will refresh the model sooner than later.

MacBook Pro 2011, The Good and the Bad

Like many others, I had been holding my breath for the greatness of the Macbook Pro hoping some of the rumors where true while others were not.
First let’s take a look at the good which would be the obvious inclusion of the Sandy Bridge processor. The Core 2 Duo was aging gracefully, but still needed to be retired only to be replaced by a much speedier i5 offering two generations of performance boost over the Core 2 Duo. The immediate added bonus and probably the second most promoted item would be the inclusion of Light Peak, or as we have now rebranded it, Thunderbolt. With an interface that allows for 10GB of bandwidth across the interface, moving data to an SSD has never been so fast. In fact, I might want to run my games off of the external drive because of the speed. Also a couple of maintstays with the New Macbook Pro are the Firewire 800 port and two USB ports. We have the same Super drive without any mentioning of the BluRay drive at this time. Clearly Apple wants to distance itself from Sony and promote their iTunes store here. All MacBook Pros include an illuminated keyboard which they have for a couple of generations now. The resolution starts with the very familiar 1280×800 and moves upwards. We also include the familiar SD card slot which started with the 2010 generation of MacBook Pros  The one last good thing that I have to mention is that they have bumped up the hard drive capacity to 320 GB by default.  However, if you want to get an SSD, they are by no means any cheaper of an upgrade than they were a year ago.

Now time for what I consider the bad. The Macbook Air 13.3″ laptop has a superior 1440×900 resolution screen that makes me almost want that particluar laptop instead of the 13.3″ MacBook Pro. Also, and I personally hold Intel responsible for this, but the 13.3″ models also suffer from using Intel’s intregrated HD 3000 video card. This is an unfortunate departure from the nVidia chipsets in the last four generations of Macbook Pros. At this time, I have not met an Intel video chipset which I have liked. They are all slow performers and lack the power that I need just for my day to day operations. I may try the latest Macbook and change my mind, but I highly doubt this. I can usually tell when I am running a PC with an Intel graphics chip or an alternative.
Last and this is what I probably consider why I recommend anyone with a current Macbook Pro to stay away from this upgrad is that Apple has slashed the battery life with the new upgrade. They are now 3 hours less than the previous generation. That to me means that I might as well stick with my iPad for the long trips or try getting a different brand of laptop. -See Update.  I currently think a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 has my name on it. As much as I was looking forward to the new releases, Apple has done little to impress me and much to disappoint me.

As for Steve Jobs, please get well soon as I feel your company is beginning to disappoint me.

UPDATE: There was a bit of a misunderstanding on the battery life. Apparently the battery holds the same charge as before and the laptop has the same power draw as before, but the tests were changed.  As noted in a computer shopper review.  The battery life is the same in both 13.3″ laptops.  The new testing is that using the DVD drive during the operation of the laptop while the older test was based on “average” use.  Average use would be something akin to browsing the web or performing other low CPU intensive tasks.   I hope that holds accurate as I would hate to see newer generations of laptops moving towards power draining CPUs again.

Realtek card reader drivers slow transfer rates 4 fold

I helped acquire an HP G72-250US 17.3″ with Core i3 notebook for a friend of my mother.  When I tested the SDHC card reader speed, I was shocked to find that read speeds would drop to less than 5 MB/sec after the first time read in Windows 7.  Once I uninstalled the software using CCleaner, the card continued to work but it would maintain its 20 MB/sec read speeds.

While I appreciate Realtek going to the effort of writing extra software, they really need better quality control.  I suppose I should be happy that at least this isn’t one of their silent data corruption bugs that I found a few years back.  The other thing that really bugs me is their massively bloated wireless network driver that forces you to install a bunch of extra wireless supplicants (like Cisco) on top of the Windows wireless client.  You’re forced to download a large EXE from Realtek which extracts and autoinstalls the driver without asking for permission.  I had to note the extract folder path and then uninstall the Realtek drivers, and then manually install the drivers from device manager by pointing it to the uncompressed installation folder.  It would be so much simpler if Realtek just provided the bare drivers.

HP needs to wise up and keep that software (and all the other crapware they install) off the system.  The PC industry needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves why Apple completely owns the $1000+ notebook market.

The $330 and above netbook market is dead

It’s hard to believe that it was less than a year ago when higher end netbooks still commanded $600 and maybe even above.  But if you bought a netbook in the last month or two for $400 or more, this is a good time to kick yourself.  Last week a premium netbook should fetch well below $400, but that market just died with the arrival of cheap $400 Acer Aspire AS1410-2285 ultraportable.

The AS1410-2285 has the following notable specifications.

  • Dual-core 1.2 GHz SU2300 “CULV” processor
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics chipset
  • 11.6″ LCD w/LED backlight
  • Full size keyboard
  • Windows 7 Home Premium x64 edition
  • VGA and HDMI port
  • 6-cell battery
  • Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • 0.87″ to 1.18″ thick and 3.08 lbs
  • 160 GB 2.5″ SATA HDD
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Two real mouse buttons instead of a cheap imitation MacBook button that works like garbage.
  • Did NOT see anything about BlueTooth but you can buy one of those tiny dongles for $10 or less if you get a bargain.

This is the sort of specification that would have probably fetched close to $2000 just two years ago but the “race to the bottom” has been won by Acer.  While I’m sure this saddens those in the notebook industry, consumers are rejoicing.  I saw an ad over this weekend for a netbook with Windows 7 “Starter Edition” for $368 so I feel for the poor guy/gal who buys it.

It’s worth noting that the HP Mini 311 netbook with NVIDIA Ion still sells for $400.  While the NVIDIA Ion LE graphics chipset in the Mini 311 is about 79% faster than the GMA 4500MHD in 3DMark2006, the Atom CPU in the Mini 311 CPU is slower than a dual-core 1.2 GHz SU2300 especially for multi-thread optimized workloads.  So which product is better depends on your preferred workload, but I personally don’t take gaming on netbooks too seriously.

How low can laptop prices go?

15.4″ dual-core Intel laptop from Lenovo for $330.  This is better than the black Friday deals from last year.  And since I don’t feel like standing in line for 30 hours, I might just grab one of these as a gift for someone.

Update – I got one of the last units before Fry’s closed.  Mom needed a laptop.

The specs include a GS45 graphics chipset and a Pentium dual-core T4200 operating at 2.0 GHz, 35mm package, and 35W TDP.  The stock OS is loaded with crapware as usual, but I’m installing from scratch so it should run extremely well after I’m done.  Based on the stock install, it appears the laptop can stretch to 4 hours idle with wireless off and minimum brightness (which is not that dim and perfectly usable on an airplane), but I need to test it on movie playback mode.  I am hoping it will get close to 3 hours battery.  If not, I’ll try running RMclock on it to see if I can underclock and undervolt it to get more battery life.

Forget Netbooks, ultraportable 11.6″ laptop for $434

11zDell has the new Inspiron 11z 11.6″ ultraportable laptop for just $434 (order here and just add the $35 6-cell battery option).  It’s much faster on the CPU and graphics than a Netbook but it’s priced like a Netbook.  This is an Intel Celeron 743 45nm Core microarchitecture single core processor running at 1.3 GHz with a mere 10W TDP so the performance is better than the 1.6 GHz Atom processors used in Netbooks.  The graphics chipset is the GS45 which absolutely annihilates the aging G945 chipset used in most Netbooks.  The 11Z also has an HDMI out.

The only down side is all the trial and crapware that Dell ship with this thing, but that can be wiped out with a fresh OS install and you can use the OEM license sticker on the bottom of the laptop.  If Vista refuses to activate, call into Microsoft activation and they’ll fix it for you quickly.

For a total price of $434, it is an unbelievably low price for a real ultraportable laptop that performs like the $2000 ultraportables of 2006.  I never expected these CULV (stands for consumer ultra low voltage) notebooks to sell at this price point since that is overlapping with netbooks, but I’m not complaining.

The only downside to the 11z appears to be the weak trackpad and relatively slow single-core low frequency CPU.  But it’s still faster than the Atom processor and at least it supports the SSE4.1 instruction set.  Some of the power saving features like speed step is disabled, but the system still has a very impressive battery life.  Dell does offer a $75 option to upgrade to the fully featured SU4100 processor which has two CPU cores and it also has speed step enabled to improve battery life.  Then if we add the $25 802.11n and $20 internal Bluetooth upgrade along with Windows Vista Premium (which also comes with a free Windows 7 upgrade) for $30, the total price comes to $584 which is still a great deal considering the specifications.

Initial impression of the Lenovo X200

I just got my Lenovo X200 12.1″ ultra-light laptop yesterday in the mail and here are the options I got.

  • 6-cell battery (9-cell option)
  • 7200 RPM 160 GB hard drive
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Intel P8600 45nm 2.4 GHz CPU
  • No Camera or Mic in the lid this particular version
  • Bluetooth and Fingerprint reader
  • Intel Wi-Fi 5100 802.11 AGN
  • Vista Business license with XP Pro preloaded

Buying mistakes you might want to avoid

I paid $1400 including shipping for the above specs and didn’t get the 9-cell because of the 2-week delay and I figured that I’ll eventually order a second battery anyways.  If I had to order again, I would have waited an extra week or two for the cheaper model for $1175 including shipping.  7200 RPM 250 GB hard drives are only about $100 and I would have ordered a 9-cell for about $180 to complement the 4-cell that comes with the cheapest model.

I might have been better off just ordering from Lenovo.com and paying the California sales tax because then I would have at least gotten a Microphone and Webcam.  Sure I have much better external mics and cameras, but having integrated ones is still good to have because it’s convenient.


The good:

  • Make no mistake, this is a road warrior’s machine
  • Intel Centrino 2 platform
  • 2.4 GHz 45nm Penryn class processor slaughters the 65nm processors in the MacBook Air or other previous generation Centrino laptops with sub 2 GHz processors.  Despite the fact that this is a 25W TDP processor, its 45nm process makes it competitive with the 20W TDP 1.6 or 1.8 GHz 65nm processor in the MacBook Air in terms of power consumption.  The battery drain tests I’ve seen on the X200 are even beating laptops with Ultra Low Voltage 10W TDP 1.33 GHz CPUs!  2.4 GHz is not only a much higher clock speed, but you get SSE4 capability which doubles the performance of certain operations like video encoding.
  • Integrated AT&T 3G or Verizon 3G wireless Internet option with 3G antenna built in to the display lid
  • Integrated BlueTooth makes tethering to an Internet connected phone fairly convenient
  • Glare-free and very bright 1280×800 display
  • Bright enough to run at mid-level brightness even in brighter room
  • Great price for this class of machine.  Most 12.1″ notebooks in this class are much more expensive.
  • Full size keyboard just like the 14″ ThinkPad models
  • Great battery life even with 6-cell, outrageous battery life with 9-cell
  • Light weight

The bad (or good depending on how you see things)

  • My only major disappointment is that the larger 6-cell battery extends down instead of to the back.  I hope the 9-cell extends back and down so that it doesn’t get any thicker than it already is.
  • Some people would fault it for the lack of a track pad and/or optical drive, but I personally don’t care for either item.  I prefer the track point anyways and DVDs and videos can be ripped to the hard drive or better yet, played off the SDHC card so you can let the hard drive rest.
  • Some people might find the dull harsh machine look of ThinkPads ugly and maybe it is, but the surface isn’t slippery and doesn’t put glare in your eyes.  It’s nowhere near as pretty as a Mac Air, but all the ports on the side are way more practical.
  • Would have been nice if an HDMI port was included.

Verdict

The bottom line is that I can recommend this computer for highly mobile professionals who want a powerful yet light and affordable notebook.

I’ll be posting some more test results tomorrow on battery performance and tweaking.

Why the new Sony FW series laptop fails miserably

I started off as the proud new owner of a brand new Sony VGN-FW140E notebook with the latest processor and chipset, but happiness turned to severe disappointment as the flaws rolled in one after another.  The notebook looks deceptively sleek and cool when it’s actually quite bulky with a 16.4″ LCD display, but that’s not one of the many reasons it failed.

The first problem with this laptop is that the display is so glossy that I could literally shave myself it in.  Take it in to any semi bright room with a window or bright lights and it’s basically worthless because you can barely see a thing.  I have no idea why laptop manufacturers keep putting out glossy displays but this particular laptop was particularly horrendous.

The second problem with this laptop is the buggy drivers.  The HDMI audio drivers for example simply refused to install on a fresh install of Windows Vista Ultimate Edition 32-bit claiming that it only installs on Windows Vista (don’t know how much more Vista I can get).  Clearly Sony has not tested this driver.  The other problem was the panel button drivers which disabled Vista UAC and rebooted and then installed itself.  I re-enabled UAC after Vista warned me and then all hell seemed to break loose with these drivers.  Vista now complained about a missing battery (strange considering the fact that it has power to warn me) and dropped me in to hibernate mode.  You boot up again and same thing happens again and I had to do a system restore to put the computer back to the ways things were before I installed those drivers.

The third problem is this laptop’s hardware.  The battery simply stops charging after a few minutes whether it’s in suspend mode or whether it’s powered on.  When you first plug the power cord in, the battery indicator in the task tray charges but it stops in a few minutes.  Even after leaving the laptop plugged in all night long, it refused to charge the battery.  I think the only way to charge the thing is to completely shut down and I’m still not sure if that will work.

The verdict on this laptop is that it’s a miserable failure because it belongs in a lab somewhere as a beta product and not as a production product.  It’s going back to Fry’s where I bought the machine at a discounted $899.  It’s not that the laptop is a complete design failure, it simply needs a lot of work to hammer out the flaws.  The camera and microphone worked fairly well, the inclusion of an HDMI port was a welcome entry, and the discounted price was reasonable for a high-end laptop.  But until these issues are worked out and the LCD replaced with something that works in a bright room, it’s a nonstarter for me.

Moving forward, I just bit the bullet and ordered a real road warrior’s laptop the Lenovo X200 12″ ultra-mobile laptop for around $1120 (need to order 9-cell battery extra) which got a fairly impressive review (especially the 6+ hour DVD playback drain test and CPU performance).  I was very tempted to go with an Asus 1000H NetBook at only $450 but I really wanted a high performance ultramobile with the Intel 45nm P8600 2.4 GHz CPU.

The best antidode for the Apple MacBook Air Kool Aid

I think that this video says it all:

Thanks to “Fake Steve Ballmer” for the video!

But let’s get real folks. The MacBook Air is a pretty slick design. Regardless of what peripheral capabilities it does and does not have, it packs a lot into a pretty tight package, and Apple deserves kudos for that. I am fairly certain that most users don’t need an optical drive, either (especially if they get media via iTunes or something similar). And a lot of consumers (and prosumers), basically anyone not tied to a corporate desk 8 hours a day has a WiFi connection, so the wired NIC is less of a requirement for a lot of people. But where did Apple miss? The mouse. Every laptop user I know who uses it for more than 1 meeting a week is forced to drag a mouse around with them everywhere. And that’s the real rub. I don’t care what you do to the device, users hate the trackpads and pointing sticks, and these devices will always be cumbersome if the user has to drag one (and a power cord) around. That’s the real pain point, not the thickness or even the weight.

J.Ja