Archive for April, 2008

Nokia n810 Internet Tablet Review

A while back I tested the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. I wasn’t impressed. It was slow and clunky. Since then, Nokia announced the n800 followed by the n810 and the n810 WiMax Edition. Based on my experiences with the 770 Internet Tablet, I didn’t pay much attention to these new devices. Still, one day I was bored so I thought I’d give Nokia’s Internet Tablet another try. Boy, have things changed…

When I first took the n810 out of its box I was surprised at its heft. This is a good thing. I also found the design to be very stylish. The last Internet Tablet that I tried was the 770. While the 770 wasn’t cheap feeling it reminded me of a calculator (it was probably it’s screen cover). The n810 on the other hand feels sleek. Let’s take a tour:

On the top there is a maximize, volume and power buttons along with a hold switch and the stylus silo.

The right side has the right speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack, Nokia charging port and a micro USB port. You can’t charge the n810 via the micro USB port. The left has the left speaker.

Along the bottom there’s the battery cover release latch and MiniSD slot. Too bad they couldn’t stick 2 Micro SD slots there instead. The bottom is partially covered by the built-in stand which you use hold the n810 up when it’ sitting on your desk. It can hold itself at three different viewing angles.

The front has a status LED, photo sensor, (so the n810 can adjust the backlight depending on ambient lighting conditions), camera, task switcher and a back button. The sleek design is ruined by a really chintzy stylus that’s stored in the top right. You pull it out horizontally.

Size wise the n810 has a similar footprint to the Nintendo DS lite but the n810 is much thinner.

With one exception I thought the keyboard had a decent layout and the keys are very slightly domed (it’s hard to tell since they look flat. From an ergonomic standpoint it would have been nicer if they were more domed. The keyboard keys have a decent feel to them.

Notice how there are two shift keys – Nice! There’s also a Ctrl key. I wish there was a delete key and an ESC key (great for VI). Luckily the terminal app has an on screen ESC key.

For some reason Nokia put the navigation pad on the left side of the keyboard. It makes the n810 really unintuitive to use since every other keyboard I’ve encountered has the arrow keys on the right side.

The display is a fairly large (for a portable device) 4.13″ LCD with a resolution of 800×480. It’s reflective so sometimes you might run into problems with your reflection. 800 pixels is wide enough that many websites look decent, as opposed to the ‘optimized for your mobile device’ look that you get with narrower displays. 480 doesn’t sound like much but the n810′s UI is such that 480 isn’t as short as it sounds. The maximize button also really helps in this regard.

It’s not the brightest screen I’ve ever seen on a mobile device but it looks fine none-the-less and works awesome in direct sunlight as long as you’re not looking at a black screen. Power is supplied by a 1500mAh battery. You can get 2 or 3 hours of heavy usage (WiFi, surfing the web and remote desktoping) from the n810 and under typical usage you’ll get 3+ easily.

For sound there are two speakers on each side (stereo). They sound decent but they’re very loud. I thought I could watch TV while I was barbecuing but I couldn’t hear the n810 over the veggies I was cooking. In the box you also get a: charger, headphones, micro USB cable, manuals, etc.

You also get a soft leatherette case with a sweet turquoise (blue) lining.

Software:

Here’s how you use the n810. The left side of the screen has links to popular programs + running programs. There is a launcher that you access by pressing icon that looks like 4 squares on the left side. The bottom left has a switcher button which brings up a list of windows you currently have open which is useful if have a few web browser windows open plus different emails.

Normally they’re hidden (from view) but you can access program specific menus are accessed by tapping the menu button next to the globe near the top left. You can also access them by pressing the menu button below the nav pad.

There’s a status section that shows screen brightness, system volume, signal (of your WiFi or BT connection) and a battery meter. It doesn’t show the time. There’s room for a couple of extra status icons. I have “load applet” installed which shows the current CPU utilization (which is very important, more on that later), RAM usage and it lets you take screenshots.

You can close programs by tapping the X at the top right of the screen (Ctrl Q usually works too). The minimize icon does just that. For the most part programs always run ‘maximized’. It’s not a big deal but it’s something worth mentioning. When you’re done with it, slide the hold switch so it doesn’t accidentally turn on. By default you get the following programs which are already installed:

  • Map
  • Media player
  • Images
  • Browser
  • RSS Reader
  • Contacts
  • Email
  • Internet Call
  • Chat
  • File manager
  • Calculator
  • Clock
  • Notes
  • PDF reader
  • Sketch
  • Search
  • Control Panel
  • Application manger
  • Backup/Restore
  • Connection manger
  • Chess
  • Blocks
  • Mahjong
  • Marbles

The Mapping software is from Wayfinder. A couple of people expressed interest in the n810 because they figure it’s more flexible than a Garmin or other portable GPS. Indeed the n810 is more flexible but I would still prefer a standalone GPS to the n810 simply because the n810 isn’t easy to use while you’re driving.

Another thing to think about is that the Wayfinder program doesn’t include guidance by default. Guidance is subscription based. A month is 8 euros. If you don’t find Wayfinder useful there’s a free mapping program called “Maemo Mapper” which apparently has free guidance.

There’s a control panel where you can adjust the n810′s settings. I used Media player with Orb mostly. It works well though I’d recommend a bit rate of 320kbps.

The Browser is based on the Gecko browsing engine which is the same engine that Firefox uses. It feels a lot like Firefox. It’s pretty fully featured. It can remember passwords, has support for multiple windows, support for Flash, SSL support (I actually ordered some stuff from Dell using the n810), etc. It also has support for plugins like Ad Block.

The Internet call supports SIP, Google Talk and Jabber. If you don’t like it there are other VOIP programs you can download. Chat supports Jabber. If you want to IM go download Pidgin from Maemo.org.

The Email program supports IMAP4 and POP3. It can poll your email server at user specified intervals. One neat feature it has is that you can specify a different SMTP server depending on your connection – neat.

I wasn’t impressed with the Contacts program. It sounds like a fully featured Addressbook but really it’s just for storing email addresses, telephone numbers and Instant messaging handles.

Besides the built-in programs there are links to: Skype, Rhapsody, Gizmo, among others which let you download them from Nokia’s maemo.org site – awesome!

The programs work fine but a lot of the time I found myself wishing the n810 was faster. Inside the n810 runs Linux. The whole thing is called Maemo, this version is OS2008. Since the n810 runs Linux there is a lot of terrific software avaiable for it. Here’s a small list:

  • Pidgin (IM client that supports:)
  • Various media players (like mplayer)
  • Image viewers
  • Games (Quake, Doom, ScummVM, emulators like mame)
  • Newsreader
  • WiFi utilities
  • USB control
  • Cool stuff (like USB control which lets you connect USB keyboards and USB drives to the n810)
  • OpenSSH
  • VIM
  • MySQL
  • Utilities (disk usage, file managers, screen capture)
  • VPN software (Cisco, OpenVPN)
  • Remote control software (IR control, Media Center controller,
  • Calculators
  • Apache
  • Password manager
  • Perl
  • Themes (if you’re a Star Trek geek there’s a sweet LCARS theme)
  • Sync software (SyncML support)

You can install programs using the built-in package manager. Like other Linux distros you can download package lists to the n810 and then pick and choose what you want to install. I think that if you use Linux a lot, the first thing you should do is install OpenSSH (both the server and client package). That’s what I did.

Once you’ve installed this you can SSH to your n810. It will ask you to assign a root password. Now you can SSH to your n810 – I was drooling once I realized I could do this. It’s also an easy way to become root. Just ssh root@localhost to become root. Be careful, now that you’re root you can really mess things up. Have fun!

The next thing I did was setup OpenVPN so I could access my home network. Generate certificates for the n810 and then copy them to the device. You can use SCP or whatever. Then fire up the terminal, root yourself and then start it /usr/sbin/openvpn /path/to/your/client.ovpn. Once that was working I installed rdesktop. Now I can RDP to my Windows boxes.

Most programs on mobile devices feel like cut down versions of a computer. I feel the n810 is really different in this regard since I feel I don’t have to make many sacrifices when I use it. Many popular Linux programs are available for it and they’re more or less the same. This is just a small taste of what you can do with the n810. Hell, if Nokia would lend me a few 100 or 1000 of these babies along with a load balancer with a few 100 ports I’d like to try hosting HowardForums off of a farm of n810.

One notable program that isn’t available for the n810 is OpenOffice. Hopefully it will have OS2008 support in the future.

Conclusion:

I’ve tested a lot of devices so I’m not easily impressed. That said I was really impressed with the the flexiblity of the n810. It’s probably the first small device that I’ve used that I feel could replace a laptop. In fact, since I started using it, I’ve been leaving my laptops at home more – brilliant.

That said, if you don’t use Linux you might not find the n810 that great. I think the amount you’ll enjoy the n810 is proportional to your Linux knowledge. Since the n810 is so computer like, it suffers from the three wants when it comes to computers. More speed, more RAM, more storage. What it needs most is more speed followed by more RAM. You can add Micro SD cards for more storage.

Pricewise it’s hard to say whether the n810 is a good deal or not. At around 400 bucks it’s similar in price to the Asus Eee PC. Yeah they’re totally different devices but they’re both small computers that run Linux. The Eee PC is more powerful which makes it more flexible in that sense but the n810 is much more portable plus it has longer battery life. In the end I’ll probably have both of them but I’ll get the n810 first.

Howard Chui
04.25.2008

13 comments April 26th, 2008

Sony VAIO TZ Series Review

If you go to your local electronics store, you’ll find most laptops are of the 15.4″ or 17″ variety. These sizes are fantastic if you plan on using your computer mostly at home. However for those who already have a desktop, 15.4″ or 17″ can get tiresome to carry around because they tend to weigh a lot.

For those looking for something smaller there are also 14″, 13″ and even 12″ laptops. While there are some exceptions, 12-14″ laptops typically start at 4lbs. If that’s still too heavy there is the Sony’s TZ series.

The TZ has a 11.1″ LED backlit display, built-in EVDO, built-in DVD burner and tips the scales at an airy 2.8lbs. There are smaller laptops out there but the TZ in my opinion is about as small as you can get without seriously compromising usability.

I’m going to be reviewing the TZ170. It’s actually a slightly older model but the only real differences between it and the newer ones are extra RAM and slightly faster processors.

First Impressions:

Here are some of the TZ170s specs. This list is just whats off the top of my head since you can just go to Sony’s website to read them:

  • 1.06Ghz Core 2 Duo
  • 11.1″ 1366×768 LED backlit display
  • 1GB RAM (I upgraded this to 2GB)
  • 2.8lbs (according to my scale)
  • 100GB 4200RPM HD
  • Built-in Webcam
  • 100mbps Network
  • 802.11abg
  • Bluetooth
  • Stereo speakers
  • VGA out
  • External DVD player buttons
  • SD card slot
  • Memory stick slot
  • Headphone/microphone out
  • IEEE 1394 (firewire) slot
  • Modem
  • EVDO modem
  • 2 USB slots
  • Windows Vista Business

The TZ150 actually comes with 1GB of RAM. After booting it up for the first time and seeing how much crapware was preloaded I ran out and replaced it with 2GB.

Let’s take a tour:

On the left we have 2 USB ports, laptop lock slot and network, modem and firewire connectors behind a cover.

The front has the microphone/headphone jack, SD card reader, MS reader along with some DVD player buttons (more on that later).

The right has the DVD burner, VGA port and power button. The power button glows green when the TZ is on.

The back is all battery. The TZ comes with a battery which sticks out which isn’t a bad thing since it gives you something to hold onto.

The screen lid stays shut with magnets.

One of the TZ’s main selling points is it’s very thin screen – indeed it is really thin. To make it so thin, Sony made the bezel around the screen completely flat which looks cool but means the screen is some what flexible. My only complaint is that the screen and lid are so light that they ‘bounce’ when you open the screen so it feels flimsy. It doesn’t affect the usage of the TZ but it doesn’t instill confidence.

When closed, the TZ feels fairly solid. It’s also solid when you open it with the exception of the screen.

The keyboard is smaller than standard. I don’t have any problems using it but those with thicker fingers may disagree. The fingerprint reader is inconveniently placed between the 2 left and right touchpad buttons. This wouldn’t be a problem but every time you brush your finger on it, a fingerprint dialog window pops up.

There are some DVD player buttons on the front of the TZ. My wife hates them because she keeps accidentally ejecting the optical drive. The DVD player buttons allow you to watch DVD’s listen to music and view pictures that are stored on the hard drive without having to boot into Windows. I tried doing this with media stored on a memory card but the TZ doesn’t see them.

The SD and Memory stick slots. They don’t cause the CPU utilization to go nuts when you use them.

Sony includes a pretty large battery that’s located at the back. Battery life is excellent. I found you can get around 4.5 to 5hrs with the included battery.

The power adapter is similar in size to other manufacturer’s 65watt models. It comes with a piece of attached velcro to help you organize the cables. There’s a LED that lights up when the power adapter is plugged into the wall. It doesn’t matter if it’s plugged into the laptop. If you unplug the adapter from the wall, the LED will stay lit for a while. I was hoping it would be like the Apple adapter which tells you if the laptop is actually being charged.

Underneath there are no important ventilation holes so you can leave the TZ on a bed all day and it won’t overheat – mind you the left side of the TZ gets pretty hot when you’re using it.

The screen measures 11.1″, has a resolution of 1366×768 and is backlit with LED’s. It’s reflective like most consumer laptops. The screen is really bright and works well when it’s sunny outside.

One thing which surprised me is how the TZ has decent speakers given it’s relatively small size – good stuff.

Like I was saying before, the TZ is a pretty small laptop. Here it is next to a Macbook. In case you don’t know the Macbook has a 13.3″ display.

The biggest difference between the two (from a size perspective) is that the Macbook has a regular sized keyboard and the TZ doesn’t.

Software:

Software-wise my first impressions were shock at how much stuff is preloaded on the TZ. The Uninstall Program has a zillion entries that start with “VAIO”.

Most useful software:

  • WinDVD
  • HDD protection

Mildly useful software:

  • Click to DVD (software to create DVD’s)
  • Instant Mode
  • LAN setting utility
  • Protector Suite
  • Roxio Easy CD Creator
  • Setting utility series
  • SmartWi
  • Vaio Status Monitor
  • Vaio
  • Instant Mode
  • AV mode launcher
  • Camera Capture Utility
  • Vaio Video and Photo Suite
  • If you use any of these:
    • MS Works
    • MS Office 2007 60 day trial
    • Norton Internet Security 60 day trial

Less useful software:

  • Location Free Player (useful if you own a Location Free TV, I’m guessing you don’t)
  • Sonic Stage

After playing with it a bit, some of the stuff they included is mildly useful but there are just so many different little programs. For example; why are the “VAIO Power Management View” and “Battery Care Function” separate? The VAIO central program ties a lot of the utility type programs together.

SmartWi let’s you switch between the built-in EVDO modem and WiFi. If you don’t want to use this program you can just create a dial up connection to the internet and start it whenever you want to use EVDO.

Speaking of the EVDO the built in modem is a Novatel USB model. It’s probably very similar to my U720 Novatel USB EVDO modem. Speed and signal are also comparable to my U720.

This TZ is from Sony Canada so you can only activate it on Bell. I don’t think you can activate it on Telus. If you got it from the US you can only activate it on Sprint.

There is Bluetooth support. Sony includes Toshiba’s Bluetooth stack.

Performance:

While the TZ is fast enough that I found it useful for everyday tasks, it’s 1.06Ghz processor and glacial 4200rpm hard drive aren’t going to make for pretty benchmarks. Just remember, the TZ’s a small laptop so don’t expect big scores.

You can actually set the speed of the RAM. You can either run it at 400 or 533Mhz. There is an increase in performance at the expense of battery life. The increase is very mild, I didn’t notice it in day to day usage.

Benchmarks are run with 2GB of RAM installed. Given the TZ’s relatively high price and the low price of RAM, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this will be a popular configuration. I’m testing against a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 (Windows XP, Intel T2500 Core Duo 2Ghz, 2GB PC5300 RAM, 100GB 5400RPM hard drive), Lenovo Thinkpad x300 (Windows Vista Business 32bit, Intel T7600 Core 2 Duo 1.2Ghz, 4GB PC5300 RAM, 64GB SSD), and my desktop (Vista Ultimate 64bit, Intel QX6700 Core 2 Quad 2.66Ghz, 8GB PC6400 RAM, 3x150GB 10000RPM hard drives RAID 5 with Areca 1210 RAID controller).

Here’s the Vista score. Click to see the original image.

The first test is how long it takes to turn the system on and see the Windows login screen. This includes the time it takes to POST (POST time is in the brackets).

  1. Sony TZ170 31secs (12 seconds)
  2. Thinkpad X300 40secs (15 seconds)
  3. Thinkpad T60 62secs (12 seconds)
  4. Desktop 75 seconds (45 seconds)

Despite its slow hard drive, the TZ boots in a very fast 31 seconds. Just keep in mind it takes a while to load all the stuff that’s loaded on the TZ AFTER you login.

Time to create rar files for a Linux ISO. In this case, CentOS 4.6 32bit which is about 2.3GB in size. This tests the CPU mostly and can take advantage of multicore processors although it doesn’t scale well after 2 cores. It doesn’t use much RAM or tax the disk too much. I issued the command:

rar a -v20000 CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.rar CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso

  1. Sony TZ170 44mins 30secs
  2. Thinkpad X300 35mins 40secs
  3. Thinkpad T60 34mins 45secs
  4. Desktop 19mins 36secs

No surprises here.

Next I unpack the rar files I just created. This is disk intensive, somewhat CPU intensive and doesn’t use much RAM.

unrar e CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.part001.rar

  1. Sony TZ170 334 seconds
  2. Thinkpad X300 154 seconds
  3. Thinkpad T60 310 seconds
  4. Desktop 96 seconds

Despite it’s slow 4200RPM hard drive, the TZ is just slightly slower than the Thinkpad with it’s faster CPU and hard drive.

I didn’t bother testing the video card. If you want to game, get a laptop with dedicated graphics card. It seems to run Aero Glass fine. The 1.06Ghz Core 2 duo isn’t fast enough to view a 15Mbps AVCHD files from my high definition camcorder.

The hard drive is slow. Most of the time I was okay with the speed. The only time I really noticed how slow it was was when I was removing all the crapware from the TZ.

Conclusion:

If you forget about it’s high price, the TZ’s a lot nicer than I thought it would be. The bouncy screen makes a horrible first impression but it’s more a symptom of a thin screen and a very strong hinge. Actually, the TZ is a pretty solid laptop.

It’s really light and extremely portable. The screen is really bright and works ok outdoors when it’s bright.

The external DVD player is mildly useful. If you don’t mind having wireless access on one computer only then the built-in EVDO is also useful.

Like I said before, the only real catch is the high price. Then again, compared to other 11.1″ laptops, the TZ is in the same ballpark as them so it’s the price you pay for extreme portability.

Howard Chui
04.13.2008

6 comments April 13th, 2008

Lenovo Thinkpad x300 Review

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Ever since I got my first Thinkpad I’ve been a fan of them. My first one was a T41p. It was powerful, fully featured, had a 14.1″1400×1050 display and at 4.5 lb was pretty light for what it was. Next up was a T60. It was similar to the T41p but more powerful and about 0.5 lb heavier. I was looking to replace my T60 with a T61 14″wide screen but when I checked one out, I thought it was a little heavy and thick for my liking.

I contemplated getting a X series many times but the T60 only comes with a 1024×768 display, while the T61 tablet is too deep. Then along came the X300.

13.3″ 1440×900 display, SSD, 3 lb weight, the X300′s got the features I want. Now that it’s here, let’s see how it is.

x300.png

First Impressions:

Here are some of the X300′s specs. I’m doing this off the top of my head since you can just go to Lenovo’s website to read them:

  • 1.2Ghz Core 2 duo
  • 13.3″ 1440×900 LED backlit display
  • Up to 4GB PC5300 RAM (You can order whatever amount you want)
  • 64GB Samsung SSD HD
  • 1000mbps network
  • Integrated graphics (Intel x3100)
  • 3 USB ports (2 on the left, 1 on the back)
  • DVD RW drive
  • 6 cell extended battery
  • Headphone/microphone jacks
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Touchpad
  • Trackpoint (the red eraser head pointing device)
  • Webcam
  • Thinklight (an LED which shines on the keyboard when it’s dark)
  • Stereo speakers

I actually ordered a X300 with 1GB of RAM and Vista Business 32bit. When I received the X300, I promptly removed the 1GB of RAM and stuck 4GB in. Since I’m running Vista 32bit, the operating system can only see 3GB of RAM. I would have ordered 64bit Vista which would have been able to use all my RAM but it wasn’t an option on Lenovo’s Canada site at launch.

Let’s take a tour of the X300.

left.png

On the left you get: 2 USB ports, some sort of cover (I’m guessing there’s a hard drive behind it), headphone and microphone jacks.

In front there’s the switch to open the screen.

right.png

The right side has the DVD writer – you can swap this with a second battery, and a laptop lock connector.

back.png

The back has a VGA port, power plug (the same one found on the T60 and other Lenovo era Thinkpads), network connector, wireless on/off switch, other USB port.

memory1.png

There are 2 SODIMM slots behind a door underneath. There’s also 2 mini PCI Express slots.

As someone who’s owned a couple of Thinkpads (T41p and T60), the first thing that I noticed was just how light the X300 is. Of course the T series are bigger and heavier but with its 13.3″ screen, the X300 isn’t that much smaller yet it’s almost 1.5 to 2 lbs lighter.

Actually, my first impression was that the X300 came in the same box as my T60. It even says T series on it.

lid.png

My third impression was that the rubberized paint you normally find on the lid of the screen is also on the part that surrounds the keyboard. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look at someone who owns a T or X series Thinkpad. You know all the fingerprints on the lid (probably from eating KFC while computing)? They actually wash off with soap and water. I’ll post something about how to do this later.

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The battery is located under the unit (instead of at the back). This is good and bad – I’ve always hated how my extended batteries stick out the back because it makes them a pain to stick in a bag. I’ve always loved how my extended batteries stick out because it gives me something to hold when you’re walking around. I ordered my X300 with an extended battery. It sticks out a tiny bit on the bottom. I’m guessing the smaller one is flush.

bottom.png

Underneath there are no important ventilation holes so you can leave the X300 on a bed all day and it won’t overheat. There are some small holes that allow you to drain coffee out in case you spill it on your X300.

The T series are known to be tanks. Underneath their body shells are very solid metal frames which can take a beating. The X300 feels just as solid despite being so light.

keyboard.png

Thinkpads are known for their awesome keyboards and the X300 maintains this heritage. The keyboard has an excellent feel to it. The keys are full sized and have the right amount of travel to them.

I was a little surprised to find out the X300′s keyboard has certain keys which light up. Specifically the power button, caps lock, Thinkvantage button (the blue button) and the mute button. Light up buttons are cool but what about the rest of the keys? If it’s too dark, you can press the function key and the <top right button> to activate a LED on the top part of the screen lid. It’s not the prettiest but it will light up the keyboard enough to see what your typing when its dark.

The trackpoint is pretty much the same as on my T41 and T60. It still drift occasionally but I love the trackpoint because you can use it to scroll by pressing the middle button (I think it’s called an UltraNav). The touchpad is almost flush with the rest of the wrist wrest.

As I mentioned before, the screen measures 13.3″, has a resolution of 1440×900 (most 13.3″ laptops have a resolution of 1280×800) and is backlit with LED’s instead of CCFL’s like most screens. It has a matte finish and isn’t reflective like a lot of other laptops. LED’s are supposed to be brighter and use less power.

screencompare.png

Compared to my T60, the X300 is noticeably brighter. Both are plugged in and set at maximum brightness. Don’t pay attention to the colour accuracy in the picture.

hinges.png

The screen lid has two latches to stay shut. The switch you slide to open the laptop is located on the lower part, instead of being part of the screen.

You get two speakers which are located on top of the wrist rest. They’re not super loud but they don’t suck either.

If you’re right handed and use a wired mouse, it will pain you to hear that there are no USB ports on the right side of the device. There are two on the left and one on the back.

holding1.png

I normally carry my Thinkpads in either two ways. I leave it open and carry it with my finger, cradling it underneath and my thumb on the top left corner of the keyboard.

holding2.png

I also carry it by the top part of the screen while it’s open (yes, when I’m indoors I walk around like this and yes this makes me look like a moron but the laptop can take it). There isn’t that much space on the top left corner of the keyboard so I’ll either have to carry it the stupid way or by putting my entire hand underneath it.

Battery life is not bad but it’s also not as good as I thought it would be. Surfing the web I’d say you can get around 3.5 hrs with the extended battery.

One computer the x300 is often compared to is the Apple Macbook Air.

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Really they’re totally different computers. The only similarities are that they both have displays that are about 13″, both weigh the same and both come with SSD’s (the Macbook can also come with a regular HD).

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The Macbook Air is faster, more compact and it’s curved case is more striking. The x300 has more features.

withmacbookair3.png

The Macbook Air is thinner but slightly wider.

Software:

As far as software goes the X300 has some very useful programs and utilities along with some crapware. The “Uninstall or change a program” list is pretty huge but most of it is populated with driver related software. Here are some programs and my take on their usefulness. Please note I’m not listing everything, but what stuck out to me.

Most useful software:

  • InterVideo WinDVD
  • Access Connections.

Mildly useful software:

  • PC Doctor
  • Rescue and Recovery
  • If you use any of these:
    • PC Doctor
    • Windows Live Toolbar
    • Picasa
    • MS Office 2007 60 day trial
    • Norton Internet Security 60 day trial

Less useful software:

  • Disk keeper (I’m pretty sure there’s no point defragmenting a SSD HD, plus defragmenting a SSD probably helps wear it out faster)
  • Lenovo Message center
  • Active Protection Services (parks the hard drive head when the laptop is moved suddenly – also useless on a SSD).

Access Connections is a sort of connection manager. With it you create profiles for each place you connect to the net. You can specify specific network settings for each profile (such as ip address, what home page you want, whether you want the firewall up or down, etc) – it’s really useful.

Lenovo has some very nice fingerprint reader software. You can use it to log into Windows (most Biometric software let you do this) but you can also use it when your computer POSTS.

Performance:

I’ve never used a SSD equipped laptop till now. There are times when any computer bogs down because it’s waiting for the hard drive. The X300 is no different but instead of hearing the hard drive grind away, it’s silent. I must say it’s quite an eerie experience.

In terms of performance, an SSD’s greatest advantage is that it’s very fast when it comes to tasks such as booting up, opening programs and that sort of thing.

Benchmarks are run with 4GB of RAM install. Given the X300′s relatively high price and the low price of RAM, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this will be a popular configuration. I’m testing against a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 (Windows XP, Intel T2500 Core Duo 2Ghz, 2GB PC5300 RAM, 100GB 5400RPM hard drive) and my desktop (Vista Ultimate 64bit, Intel QX6700 Core 2 Quad 2.66Ghz, 8GB PC6400 RAM, 3x150GB 10000RPM hard drives RAID 5 with Areca 1210 RAID controller).

vistascore.png

Here’s the Vista score. Click to see the original image.

The first test is how long it takes to turn the system on and see the Windows login screen. This includes the time it takes to POST (POST time is in the brackets).

  1. Thinkpad X300 40secs (15 seconds)
  2. Thinkpad T60 62secs (12 seconds)
  3. Desktop 75 seconds (45 seconds)

25 seconds from when the computer is done POSTing to when you get the Vista login screen is pretty impressive. It’s even faster than my desktop. The desktop has the slowest total boot time because it has an extra RAID card, other drive controller and a DVD in the DVD ROM (whoops).

Admittedly, the next tests aren’t very real world but it does give you a good idea of how fast the CPU, RAM and hard drives are.

Time to create rar files for a Linux ISO. In this case, CentOS 4.6 32bit which is about 2.3GB in size. This tests the CPU mostly and can take advantage of multicore processors although it doesn’t scale well after 2 cores. It doesn’t use much RAM or tax the disk too much. I issued the command:

rar a -v20000 CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.rar CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso

  1. Thinkpad X300 35mins 40secs
  2. Thinkpad T60 34mins 45secs
  3. Desktop 19mins 36secs

While the X300 has a measly 1.2Ghz Core 2 Duo, it’s almost as fast as the T60 with it’s 2.0Ghz Core Duo processor – impressive!

Next I unpack the rar files I just created. This is disk intensive, somewhat CPU intensive and doesn’t use much RAM.

unrar e CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.part001.rar

  1. Thinkpad X300 154 seconds
  2. Thinkpad T60 310 seconds
  3. Desktop 96 seconds

With it’s SSD, the X300 blows the T60 out of the water. While the desktop looks a lot faster, keep in mind that it has three 10000rpm hard drives plus a high end RAID controller.

I didn’t bother testing the video card. If you want to game, get a laptop with dedicated graphics card. It seems to run Aero Glass fine.

The X300 does well in my benchmarks but there are times where it could use more processing power (compared to the T60). The 1.2Ghz Core 2 duo isn’t fast enough to view a 15Mbps AVCHD files from my high definition camcorder.

Conclusion:

thinkpadlogo.png

I really like the X300, it’s light, has a high res screen and has a SSD and most of the connections I need. The ergonomics are terrific. My only complaint is that I wish Lenovo had stuck a faster processor under the hood.

Howard Chui
04.01.2008

5 comments April 1st, 2008


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