Posts filed under 'Computers'

Samsung Reclaim Hands-on

Here’s the Samsung Reclaim. With a name like reclaim you’d expect it to be made from recycled bottles or something like that. In fact the reclaim is made from bio plastic – it’s made from corn as opposed to plastic made from petroleum.

Anyways a more appropriate name for the Reclaim would be the ‘Samsung Easy to Reclaim’. Apparently 80% of the Reclaim can be recycled and some places can recycle up to 96% of it.

Bio plastic is nice thing but it doesn’t feel as solid as the plastic on Samsung’s other phones. Still, I wouldn’t say it feels really chintzy, it kind of reminds me of the Palm Pre’s plastic.

Feature-wise the Reclaim is similar to the Samsung Vice but in a different form factor. You get a feature phone QWERTY device with a 2 megapixel camera, memory card slot, etc. While Bell’s carrier interface looks okay it’s still a carrier interface – that’s generally a bad thing. For example the music player has no background play, if you want to listen to music while you check your messages you’re out of luck.

3 comments September 18th, 2009

Rogers 21Mbps HSPA+ network live now, device support coming later

Rogers has just announced that their 21Mbps HSPA+ network is now live in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. There will be a USB modem which supports this speed that you can pre-order for as low as $75.

The 21Mbps stick the ZTE 668, a triband HSPA (850/1900/2100Mhz) USB modem that can do 21.6Mbps down 5.76Mbps up. It has a retractable USB connector and a micro SDHC card slot. You have to remove the SIM card slot cover to access the SDHC card slot.

At 21Mbps it would take just under 40 minutes to go through Rogers 6GB data plan. No word on whether there will be any special data plans for the 21Mbps USB modem.

I’m at the launch right now and am observing speeds of around 16Mbps down and 2.8Mbps up from speedtest.net – nice. Keep in mind these modems aren’t widely available so it remains to be seen what speed will be like later.

10 comments September 14th, 2009

Apple Keyboard (concept)

This Apple Keyboard concept pictured below and featured on Blosmo charges and syncs your mobile Apple device (iPod or iPhone) by induction charge.  Six user customized OLED keys above the four directional arrows can be set to open either applications or your favorite websites, such as HowardForums and HowardChui.  Pricing for the keyboard has been set at $79.99-no word if this concept will actually be made into a reality.

live_strong

2 comments January 19th, 2009

My trip to Asia

I recently got back from a Trip to Hong Kong and Japan. Here’s how it went.

I thought it would be fun to bring some gadgets along with me to see how well they work.

Here’s some of the stuff I brought (stuff not pictured, Nintendo DS, noise canceling headphones and a few other things).

hk

There were a few things I wanted to try:

Using VOIP and prepaid phone cards to avoid paying roaming charges.

Playing around with my new digital camera (a Canon 50D).

Seeing how well my Eee PC works for an extended period of time.

Using a Slingbox Solo along with my spare camcorder to watch my pet frogs while I was gone.

hongkong

The Phones:

I tried to travel light so I only brought 4 phones with me; Nokia n95 8gb, Sony Ericsson K850i, Apple iPhone 3G and a Motorola RAZR2 v9. We also brought a Blackberry 8800 but my wife uses it soley as a PDA. Here’s my reasoning for bringing each of these;

bic

I was actually going to bring an Nokia e71 (e71-2, North American version) but decided the n95 8gb’s vastly superior camera – particularly it’s video recording would be an asset.

The only software I stuck on the n95 was WorldMate (the free version). The weather, world clock and currency converter features were very useful.

The Sony Ericsson K850i has triband HSDPA (850/1900/2100). It’s a nice phone with a decent camera and music player. I planned on letting my wife use this. While she liked the music player she wasn’t crazy about how the Roger’s music player was also present, which made the SE music player harder to find.

kyotoball

The iPhone 3G got packed because I don’t have a lot of HSDPA 2100 devices. It also has a very decent browser. Mine is locked to Fido.

As for the RAZR2 v9, I brought it because I thought it had tri band HSDPA. It turns out the North American one only has HSDPA 850/1900. I should have known better. Anyways my thought was that I would pop a SIM card to use it while in Japan – instead I never really used it on the trip.

The Blackberry is my wife’s. There’s no service on it, she normally uses it as an organizer. To prepare for the trip, we thought it would be a neat idea to load something to help out with the language barrier in Japan. We got BEIKS Dictionary and BEIKS Phrase Book.

We didn’t find the dictionary to be very useful because no one could understand what we were saying when we tried to pronounce the phonetic Japanese. The talking phrase book on the other hand was fairly useful. While we didn’t use it that often, it was great when we needed to. The volume gets pretty loud (really, more of a function of the 8800′s speaker) but it also allows for 100 levels of adjustment. This is nice if you want to use the phrase book to ask a question but don’t want everyone else around to hear it.

Phrases are sorted into categories or you can just search for something by pressing ‘f’ and then entering part of a phrase. You can press in on the trackball to have the Blackberry say the phrase, you can press it again as many times as you want to have it repeat it. Again, a good UI decision.

Another thing I liked is that all the phrases were stored on the device so the program doesn’t need to be connected to the internet to work.

From my experience, no one had trouble understanding the phrases. My only complaint I guess is that I wish there were more phrases built-in.

A general comment about speaking phrasebooks in general is that if you need something to ask the question for you, you probably won’t understand the answer. That said pointing and numbers are often good enough.

e71

Phone Service:

For service I was going to get prepaid SIM cards in Hong Kong and then use them to roam in Japan. You see my wife doesn’t really have phone service that will work overseas plus it would cost me $2 to $3 dollars to roam.

In Hong Kong, I had some people to call, while in Japan it would only be used to call my wife in case we want to split up.

My regular line (my Fido), would be forwarded to my voicemail. If anyone left a message I would get the SMS and then check my voicemail using my VOIP line which costs around 3 cents a minute vs 3 bucks a minute if I roamed with my Fido in Japan.

The VOIP service I was using is from http://www.callcentric.com. To be honest I haven’t tried many SIP providers and chose Call Centric because it was one of the first ones I found. I used it with n95′s built-in SIP client.

The other VOIP service that I was going to try is a UMA phone from Rogers (a Blackberry Pearl flip). It turned out that the Blackberry I got was a prototype that didn’t have working WiFi so I didn’t get to try it.

stores

So in HK I got both a PCCW (n95) and SmarTone (didn’t use it) while she got a Peoples (K850i) prepaid SIM cards. The SmarTone and People’s both have roaming in Japan for $8 HKD.

Now I talked about being connected to the internet. For that I used my Novatel MC950D along with my Cradlepoint PHS300 portable router. I used CSL which cost $178 HKD (30 CDN) for 5 days of unlimited HSDPA which works out to $6 CDN per day. The service only for 3G; UMTS and HSDPA only, no EDGE. Not a bad deal for prepaid data – especially when you consider my hotel wanted $140 HKD per DAY for internet service.

I was pleased with the service. While I didn’t walk around all day checking network signal it worked when I wanted it to and noticed real world speeds of around 2.4 mbps.

phonewall

I didn’t use VOIP much in HK but when I did, it worked okay. My SIP service is located in the US so I was expecting the latency to be a problem (which would result in a lengthier delay from when I speak to when the person on the other end hears it). Normal mobile phones have about 1/4 or 1/2 a second delay which most don’t notice because we’re used to it. I did notice slightly more latency but to be honest it wasn’t bad. Besides the latency the only other issue I noticed was that the volume could have been louder – I think this is more a function of the VOIP provider and not really a n95 8gb issue.

Now my n95 8gb is a North American version which only has HSDPA 850 and 1900 support. In Hong Kong, HSDPA is mainly at 2100Mhz, while in Japan they use 1700/2100Mhz. So it would only be used for voice in HK and only for VOIP in Japan.

So overall I thought my experiment with phones in HK went well.

shibuya2

Let’s move onto Japan.

Now my iPhone is locked to Fido, I thought my wife would use the K850i in Japan while I would use the RAZR2. Those plans were dashed when I realized my RAZR2 is only dual band HSDPA and not triband. So now instead of bringing 3 HSDPA 2100 phones I only had 2 and 1 of them is locked. Boo!

I tried buying a Turbo SIM but it didn’t work because I updated my iPhone 3G to version 2.2 (it only works up to version 2.1).

Regardless, I planned on leaving my Fido SIM in my iPhone like I did in HK so that it could alert me when I had a new SMS/voicemail.

shibuya4

Before I talk more about Japan, I should point out that it’s not easy for foreigners to get prepaid SIM cards. Softbank and DoCoMo operate HSDPA 2100 networks which you could always roam on but the roaming rates for Canadian carriers are very expensive. The solution is to rent a mobile phone (or get a prepaid card from HK with cheaper roaming rates). I ended up doing both. My wife used her People’s prepaid SIM card while I rented a D02HW USB modem. The modem works on the EMobile network which is HSDPA 1700Mhz. I should point out, that this is a different 1700Mhz from the AWS 1700Mhz we have here in North America.

fence

The modem rental was considerably more expensive than the prepaid SIM I used in HKD. It cost 1050 YEN per DAY which works out to about 15 bucks CDN. Ouch!

Now since I only had 2 HSDPA 2100 phones, one of which was meant for my wife and the other for Fido, I was the odd one out. Since I still didn’t want to pay for roaming, I planned on using VOIP for myself only. Since I don’t know anyone from Japan I wouldn’t be placing many calls anyways.

EMobile 1700Mhz is mainly for wireless data only. I often found that EMobile had very low signal levels, even outdoors in urban areas. So, while I didn’t call my wife often when I did, I often dropped the call. When I logged into my Cradlepoint router to check the network signal, it would often read as zero bars (I forgot to log into the modem properties page to check the signal in DBm). Regardless, a dropped call is a good indicator of weak signal. Later in the trip, I would walk around with my iPhone logged into my Cradlepoint looking for spots with strong signal to place the call. After doing this I didn’t drop any more calls. Looking back, walking around like this was a pretty stupid measure not to mention I must be a real cheapskate but hey, I did so I could tell you all about it.

ikebukuro

The K850i worked fine in Japan. It roamed on both DoCoMo and Softbank.

Overall I was disappointed with the performance of the USB modem, then again maybe I expected too much from it.

As a side note, the trip made me realize that I have things pretty good with Rogers in Canada. While not perfect, Rogers has decent coverage for me (YMMV) most places that aren’t the subway, the data isn’t that expensive, and data rates are decent. Just remember Hong Kong’s really good too.

shibuya

Phone Related Stuff:

Now the Cradlepoint router has one weakness, from my experience with my EVDO modem, the built-in battery is only good for about 2hrs of battery life. To remedy this problem, I constructed a battery pack with 8AA batteries that will boost the battery life up to around 12hrs. You’ll also know that I inserted a battery the wrong way and caused it to melt – oops. Anyways, while my router is horribly scared it still works. However, since I’d be gone for a long time I figured I’d pick a new one up (the one pictured is so new, some of the plastic wrap is still on it).

So I brought the router, 8AA batteries, two 4AA holders plus a Novatel MC950D HSDPA modem to get myself on the net while in Hong Kong and rented a HF11w USB modem for Japan.

kyoto

I made one big miscalculation, The HSDPA modems use more power than the EVDO one I used before so instead of having close to 12hrs of battery life I was looking at closer to 8hrs which is a big problem if I plan to just leave it on all the time. Another problem I noticed is that one of the 2 sets of 4AA batteries I brought stopped working. When I put them in the holder and plugged them into the router they wouldn’t charge it. I’m not sure why this happened… particularly since I just tried them again and now they work. Anyways next time I’m bringing more batteries.

To charge my batteries, I brought my Maha MH-C801D – yup, it has the biggest AC adapter off all the adapters I brought. It can charge 8 batteries in about an hour. It can also condition batteries (discharge them) and slow charge them in 2 hours.

tree

Camera:

I picked up a Canon 50D a couple of days before my trip. To be honest I wasn’t planning on buying one but a friend convinced me to get one. I already have a pretty full setup of Canon gear so while I’d love to get a Nikon D300/D700 that would be a little out of the question at this point in time. I’m a little ashamed to admit that at the time of purchase I haven’t read any 50D reviews and really don’t know that much about the camera other then that it has: the same LCD as the Nikon D300, live view, 6.something frames per second burst mode, 15 megapixels, along with a few other things.

bamboo

Now I was pretty sure I would like the 50D, after all the 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D are all solid cameras. Anyways not reading reviews makes getting to know the 50D that much more interesting.

At this point, I should point something else out, I rarely like reading manuals, I prefer to figure things out as I go and only read the manual as a last resort or if I’m really bored.

With that in mind, I also brought the following camera stuff; Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5, Canon 580ex flash and a spare battery. I left my tripod, 50mm f/1.2 and 70-200mm f/2.8 IS (other stuff I’ve traveled with in the past) at home.

ladies

On my Rebel XTi I’ve found that the grip is too small and the camera to be too short so I always used a portrait grip with it. The grip makes holding the XTi easier plus it allows it to take over a 1000 shots on a charge. It also allows me to use a AA battery charger to charge it since I travel with one anyways.

I was going to get a battery grip for the 50D but I’ve found that the grip is nice and big plus the camera is tall enough so that I don’t need one. So now I need to pack an extra battery charger.

Okay with that stuff out of the way, here are my camera observations.

In the past I’ve traveled up to 5 days with: body, 24-70, 10-22, 70-200, 50, flash and tripod with no problems at all. This trip would be 3 weeks plus I had to have a laptop, a few phones and a portable hot spot with me at all times so I traveled lighter. I learned a few things about myself;

a) I’m fine with lugging around lots of camera for a few days but after about 6 days I really start to feel it.

b) After about a week of carrying a camera on my neck, I began running out of skin on my neck – eww!

castle

Now you’re probably wondering how I managed to carry all this stuff around. While I do own a couple of LowePro bags I find they’re too bulky for a 3 week trip. Instead of using them, I decided to wrap my camera and lens in bubble pack and then I just threw them into a regular North Face backpack. Did it work? Well my camera gear still works well. There are a few caveats. First off, the bubble wrap is no substitute for a proper padded bag. I did my best to not drop my bag (and indeed I never did), another more amusing thing is that whenever you show someone the bubble wrap they tend to laugh and start popping it which isn’t good for the wrap.

camerabag

One thing that may cause some photographers to cringe is that I accidentally dropped my 50D on the ground. I was at a cramped Starbucks in Japan and had the camera on the table, then I walked off and accidentally knocked the camera onto the ground! I’d say it’s a medium height drop – oops it was at Starbucks so it was a ‘grande’ height drop.

The hood on my 24-70mm is really durable, I dunno how many different things it bumped into over 3 weeks.

Anyways the camera was fine. You can’t really tell it was dropped – impressive.

sushi

Another durability comment I had was that I didn’t have a LCD screen protector on the display. I walked around for 2 weeks with the camera on my neck with it bouncing off me where ever I went. Well, after 2 weeks I decided to buy a screen protector (a made in Japan one). After one day, the screen protector was completely covered in scratches. Again, the scratch proof coating on the 50D’s display… impressive.

tokyocity

Now I mentioned the skin on my neck – after a week, my neck felt like it had a major sun burn. My solution was to get a nicer neck strap that was more cushion-y. I picked up a LowePro Voyager S neck strap. It works great and I’m happy to say that my neck is back to normal.

As for the camera, I shot exclusively in RAW+JPEG mode. I used a 16GB Sandisk CF card. 16GB is good for around 550 RAW+JPEG images.

There are a lot of features on the 50D and to be honest, between the phones, computers, trying to figure out how to get around and enjoying myself, I haven’t learned all of them yet.

train

Anyways what stuck out most to me is that the 50D has a much nicer screen than my Rebel XTi, the imaging processor is really fast, you really notice this when you’re reviewing pictures you’ve taken. The speed at which it moves back and forth between pictures coupled with the high resolution LCD really makes the 50D excellent for comparing pictures.

My Rebels shoot at something like 3 fps, the 50D shoots twice as fast at 6.3 fps which is useful for bracketing in case you want to make HDR’s.

Now I’ve been wearing contact lenses for 16 years. I learned on the trip that I have trouble manual focusing when I’ve been wearing them a lot. Luckily the 50D autofocus worked most of the time.

I loved the 50D’s high ISO abilities (it goes up to 3200 along with 2 special 6400 and 12800 modes). Having all these ISO’s available gives you amazing flexibility with your shots. Just watch out, the 6400 and 12800 modes are very noisy which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – what’s bad is that the noise doesn’t look like film noise.

aki

Computers:

So lately I’ve been enamored with my Asus Eee PC 1000h. It’s small, has good battery life and most of the time it has adequate performance.

Unfortunately, after 3 weeks of using it with no access to other computers, I can say the honeymoon is over.

The 1000h is fine in small doses but after 3 weeks I had grown to loath the 1024 x 600 display – I need more resolution sometimes. Also, it’s slow processor does not make the ideal machine to look at pictures for the 50D. To be honest I rarely looked at the pictures I took because I couldn’t take the speed (I’m a very impatient guy). Secondary problems were that I couldn’t stand the fact the touchpad is so easy to accidentally tap when you’re typing. I did manage to get used to the awkward positioning of the left shift key though it became a problem occasionally.

At this point I’d like to point out that you CAN disable the touchpad if you download the touchpad driver from Asus.com. I wish I figured that out on the trip.

I did like the battery life. To save money we had a monstrous 2 connection flight; Toronto to Detroit, Detroit to Japan, Japan to Hong Kong. I picked up a cheap battery for the 1000h from Deal Extreme. It’s advertised as a 12000mah model (the 1000h’s base battery is a 6 cell 6000mah model). With the screen brightness turned almost all the way down and bluetooth and wifi off, you can get about 6 hrs out of the base battery when you’re watching divx videos. I was kind of annoyed to find that the new extended battery only lasted around 9hrs (it’s advertised at having almost 2x the capacity). While I was moping about this (before the trip) I popped the batteries on a scale when I noticed the new battery only weighed about 30% more so the fact that it gets about 30% more battery life makes sense.

bud

As far as economy class goes, the Eee PC is a good size for the plane trays, you could fit something bigger but you might run into problems if the person in front decides to recline their chair all the way.

The other thing I got for the trip is a neoprene sleeve for the 1000h (also from Deal Extreme). It doesn’t have the best build quality (the sewing is funny and there’s a loose thread). Still it did a good job of keeping my 1000h from getting scratched up. To carry it around, I tossed it in the front pouch of my backpack. I had to be careful not to drop the bag because it might cause the 1000h’s case to crack (plus it might damage the camera equipment).

My wife brought her Sony TZ 170. It still has that horribly slow 4200rpm hard drive.

For our mice, I brought a Logitech VX nano which has a small wireless dongle and a Microsoft 5000 Bluetooth mouse (which just uses the Bluetooth in your laptop). While I liked how the Microsoft mouse doesn’t require a dongle, I thought the VX was a better mouse when it came to tracking on different surfaces.

shibuya3

Other Stuff:

Let’s move onto the SlingBox/Camcorder/Frog thing. Now as I’m sure you’ve noticed whenever I take HowardForums down for maintenance there’s a frog telling you to check back later. Yes, I have a bunch of pet frogs who live in the water. I wanted to keep an eye on them and make sure my parents weren’t forgetting to feed them.

I set the camcorder up on a tripod, hooked it up to my Slingbox Solo and hooked the Solo up to an ethernet jack (my house has a whole bunch of them).

Now my frogs don’t place too much strain on my tank so I don’t have to run the filter 24 hrs a day. What I did was hook the filter and tank light up to a timer so that they would only be on at night in North America – which would be around the time I’d be waking up in Asia, that way I can see them more easily.

Originally I was going to use this to view my frogs only but then I got the bright idea to have it aimed at both the frogs AND my front door. It turns out that when there’s light outside it’s much brighter than the light in the tank so I wasn’t able to make out the frogs during the day. Otherwise this setup worked well.

Now since I travel with a lot of electronics, most hotel rooms don’t have enough outlets for all my electronics. I usually need; my laptop, wife’s laptop, AA battery charger, his and hers digital camera charges and usually my Apple Airport Express if there’s an available network jack.

elevator

To address this problem I got a Monster Power Outlets to Go 6 power strip a few years ago. The power cord is flat and folds neatly around so that it takes up very little space when it’s being transported.

Until this trip, I’ve only used it in North America (since that’s where I usually travel). In North America we use 120 volt outlets while in Hong Kong they use 240 volt and Japan uses 100 volt. All my adapters are 100-240 volt compatible but I’m not sure if the power strip can handle voltages besides 120volts. The power strip normally has a LED which lights up when it’s plugged in – that no longer works. That aside, the power strip worked great on the trip.

dog

I got my Airport Express a few years ago and it has paid for itself many times over because of all the hotels with pay internet and just a single ethernet jack my wife and I have stayed at.

You’ll notice that I didn’t bring chargers for all the phones. We charged them all using USB cables connected to our computers.

The only phone which didn’t charge as expected was the K850i. It seems you have to put it into mass storage mode before it will charge.

gates1

My watch:

I brought a Suunto Core watch. The main features which interested me are the dual zone clock, timer and compass. The dual zone clock really helped minimize jet lag as it made it easy to know when to sleep before I left.

suunto

I have some funny stories about the compass. In Hong Kong I got lost despite my compass; later I found out that the area map at the subway station didn’t have north as up (oops). In Japan, the compass never worked – remember how I don’t like to read manuals? Well eventually I did read it… if you’re having trouble with the compass you have to calibrate it. You do this by holding the compass level and turning around 360 degrees. Once you do this it works well.

Notice how the orange band is all dark around the edges? That happened after a few days.

Carrying all this crap around:

So you’re probably wondering how I managed to haul all this crap around on a long trip.

cases

Now if you own a lot of gadgets and have carried them around in the past, you’re probably thinking I have a nice gadget bag but really I just used 4 pencil cases I got from the dollar store for the accessories (they were $1 each). I put those inside a regular backpack (the  backpack didn’t have any padding).

The reason I just used regular stuff to carry my gadgets was because from experience I know that a) I never drop my bags – I always place them down b) the lack of padding makes things lighter plus you can fit more stuff when there’s no padding.

harajuku

The laptops had their own cases (mine was 6 bucks from Dealextreme, wife’s was free from Sony with her laptop). The camera and lens got a nice case made of bubble pack. I put the router inside a small fanny pack (which I wore sometimes) and sometimes I left it in the backpack.

I should point out this arrangement was only for airplanes. The only stuff I walked around with was; laptop + mouse, camera + lenses + flash + batteries, router + modem + batteries and phones.

For phones, I stuffed the iPhone and n95 in my pockets. My wife threw the k850i and 8800 in her purse.

What would I do differently next time:

tally

I would double check that my phone forwarded properly! I used the menus on my phone to forward all my calls to my voicemail. It turns out it forwarded all calls to the number used to check voicemail and NOT my voice mailbox.

First off I’d bring a faster computer. While I like my eee PC I was ready to throw it against the wall after 3 weeks. I’d like something like my Thinkpad x300 but with much better battery life (maybe a x200?).

For my next trip to Japan I’d also probably bring more HSDPA 2100 phones. If not it’s okay because most places have EDGE support for phones with no HSDPA 2100.

garage

If I had to use my router again, I’d bring more AA batteries or maybe construct a battery pack using 11000maH D cells.

For the camera I might bring a wrap instead of bubble pack as the bubble pack was starting to fall appart near the end of the trip. It would have been nice to bring a tripod too but I wasn’t willing to pay the weight penalty associated with one.

Otherwise I was very pleased with how the trip went.

So there you have it. What I brought, what worked and what didn’t work on my trip to Asia.

frogs

Howard Chui
12.29.2008

13 comments December 29th, 2008

Asus Eee PC 1000h review

Here’s the Asus Eee PC 1000h. A 3lb computer that costs around $500.

The 1000h comes with a 1.6Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB 5400 RPM hard drive, 802.11 draft N, a 6 cell battery and Windows XP Home. There are also versions with 40GB SSD and 80GB hard drives. You can also get a white coloured version.

The body is plastic and is covered with a glossy finish which shows fingerprints. It weighs in at 1434g (3.16lbs).

The plastic feels pretty thick so the 1000h feels fairly solid.

The 1000h isn’t particularly thin. The battery is the thickest point. I actually don’t mind this because it makes it easier to hold if you’re walking around. In fact, I thought the best way to carry the 1000h around is just by putting it in a form fitting case and carrying it like I would a binder.

The screen hinge is pretty strong and feels well made. It opens to about 160 degrees.

The included AC adapter is tiny; if you don’t include the cables it’s about half or third the size of my other laptop chargers.  It has an output of 36w compared with 55w to 90w on most larger laptops.

If you want to start over again, get a DVD you can use to bring the 1000h hard drive back to factory specs. You’ll need to find an external optical drive to do this since the 1000h doesn’t come with one. I just disconnected my DVD drive on my desktop and ran a cable to a portable hard drive case and then connected that to the 1000h. Please note, the DVD contains a ghost image which will create 3 partitions on the hard drive; a “c” drive, an empty “d” drive and an EFI partition (more on that later).

On the left are the laptop lock slot, Ethernet port, USB connector and headphone/microphone connectors.

On the right is the power connector, VGA and 2 more USB connectors.

There is no Express card slot. This doesn’t bother me one bit but it may be an issue to some.

The underside has a big door. Behind it are the 2.5″ SATA drive, mini PCIe slot (with a wifi card in it) and a DDR2 SODIMM slot. You can use 9.5mm (standard) 2.5″ SATA drives.

To be honest, the easy to access 2.5″ drive and SODIMM slots (plus availability of cheap 1000 series accessories) are what sold me on the 1000h over other similar netbooks. I had a spare 2.5″ SATA SSD lying around so I was anxious to put it in something.

The screen measures 10.2″ and has a resolution of 1024×600. I was surprised at how bright the display is. I find it very usable indoors at all brightness settings except the lowest one.

Now I’m generally used to screens that are at least 768 pixels high so I had some usability concerns before I got the 1000h. Indeed I initially had some issues but found that adjusting some settings in Windows helped alleviate most of them. The 3 main things I did was switched the start menu to small icons, auto hid the start menu and moved some of my Firefox tool bars around. After these changes, the 600 pixel height doesn’t bother me as much. The only time I really have problems are with some webpages which have pictures which are too tall for the screen.

On top of the screen is a 1.3 megapixel camera. To be honest I never use webcams so I have no idea how good the camera is. I did use it to take one or 2 pics, the image quality wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.

The keyboard is not bad, the feel is okay and I was able to touch type on it immediately. Dedicated page up/down/home/end keys would be nice but given the size of the 1000h, I understand why they need to be accessed with a function key.

My only real complain about it is that the right shift key is half width and is to the right of the up key. So, whenever I want to press the right shift, I press up instead. It’s really annoying and despite having the 1000h for a few weeks now I’m still not used to it.

The touchpad is fairly small. There are 2 mouse buttons that have a snazzy metal finish to them. I found them to be too stiff and noisy when you press them.

Another problem I found is that the touchpad is too close to the keyboard – so, when I type, I found myself touching the touchpad a lot.

Speaking of the touchpad, it’s multi touch so you can put 2 fingers on it to scroll through webpages like you would with the touchpad on a Mac. If you want to scroll side ways, you could double tap the touchpad to bring up freehand scrolling (sort of like when you click the wheel on a mouse wheel).

There are 2 speakers on the side of the Eee. They’re surprisingly loud and actually sound pretty good for a laptop. They’re loud enough that I don’t bother using headphones when I exercise on a machine.

Noise wise, I thought the included hard drive (a Seagate 160GB 5400.4) was audible even when idle in a quiet room. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m used to a laptop with an SSD.

There is a built-in cooling fan, while it’s not extremely loud it does have a distinct noise to it. I’d describe it almost as a ‘mooing’ sound.

You get 3 main pieces of software with the 1000h: Eset’s ENOD32 antivirus (I think it’s a version with 3 months of updates), StarOffice 8, EeePC Tray Utility and ‘Super Hybrid Engine’. Super Hybrid Engine is just a piece of software that helps throttle the CPU speed when you’re not using it. It can also overclock it to 1.7ghz when you need that extra 0.1ghz of speed.  The Tray utility is used for switching screen resolutions and turning the camera/WiFi/BT on or off.

For the Bluetooth, Asus includes WIDCOMM 5.5.0.3200. It includes support for A2DP.

Probably the best thing about the 1000h is that it boots up really fast. Most PC’s come with a bios (the black screen that shows you your processor speed, RAM, hard drives, etc. when you boot up). The 1000h has this but it also has an option to use EFI (Intel Mac’s use EFI) which cuts the time from when you press the power button to when Windows actually starts to load down drastically. Basically, when you press the power button, the 1000h almost immediately begins to boot Windows.

I think when I first got the 1000h, it booted up in about 32 seconds – that includes an antivirus program.

Performance is adequate for surfing the web, emailing, word processing, chatting, stuff like that.

If you’re a patient person, you can even do some image editing and stuff like that.

I might add some benchmarks later but to be honest I don’t see much point for a device like the 1000h.

Performance is not adequate for playing most newer games including many flash games, video editing, that sort of thing.

Here’s what I’ve done with my 1000h; I was working out on an elliptical and streaming a DVD over my wifi network and surfing the web while at the same time using remote desktop to chat on my computer upstairs.

The video didn’t skip and the processor hovered around 40% utilization. Given how slow I was expecting the 1000h to be, I was very impressed with this. I was also impressed that the WiFi was stable and fast enough to stream a DVD.

Battery life is always hard to quantify since everyone uses their computer differently but under normal circumstances (surfing the web, emailing with the brightness all the way up and BT and WiFi on) I’d say the 1000h is good for a very useful 5 hours. You can probably get more if you turn the brightness down.

The question I ask myself is: do I want something powerful that I will use less or do I want something that I use more?

While the Eee has a similar price to an entry level laptop, typically these entry level laptops weigh 5 or 6 lbs – so they’re too big and heavy to bring around. The Eee on the other hand is smaller, lighter and for many tasks, fast enough. It’s a trade off; performance or portability. If you can live with the 1000h’s modest performance then you’ll love the portability.

Another thing to consider when it comes to portability is if you can have your computer with you more – you’ll use it more. What good is having a fast computer if it’s not around to be used.

As for the Eee PC specifically, while not without some flaws; the horribly placed right shift key, distinctive fan noise, stiff mouse buttons, somewhat lumpy profile and slightly low resolution display I find it to be a very useful device. It’s a good balance between power and portability. It’s nice having a computer that is small enough to carry around yet is powerful enough that I can actually use it.

What stood out most to me when it comes to the 1000h are it’s bright screen, loud speakers, useful battery life and easy to upgrade hard drive.

Howard Chui
11.24.2008

1 comment November 24th, 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Lenovo Thinkpad x300 in the house

Here’s a quick background about me and laptops; I love Thinkpads. I’ve owned a T40 and T60. The new T61′s are nice but a bit too porky for my tastes while you can only get a higher res panel on the heavier X61 tablet.

Then came along the X300. It’s screen is larger than the X61 and X61 tablet, it’s got a fairly high res screen, a built-in optical drive (which I’m indifferent about), it weighs slightly less than the X61 tablet and best of all it has a SSD instead of a conventional hard drive. Ever since I first heard about this laptop, I’ve been waiting impatiently to order one. I finally got the chance late last month and after the customary 3-4 week wait, it’s finally here:

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It’s slightly wider, shorter and thinner than the Macbook (I’ll try to get a picture with a Macbook Air later).

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It’s slightly wider than my T60 and quite a bit shorter. There’s nothing but the screen hinge in front.

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The battery doesn’t stick out the back so Lenovo’s stuck the VGA out, network connector, wireless on/off switch and a USB port on the back. Like the T60, the X300 vents air out the side so you can leave it on something smooshy (like a bed) and it won’t overheat.

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On the left there’s another vent, 2 USB ports, headphone out and microphone in.

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The right side just has the optical drive (you can swap it out for a travel bezel to save weight or stick an optional battery for more runtime and the laptop lock slot.

My first thoughts were amazement at how light the X300 is given its size. I stuck it on the scale and it weighed 3.3lbs (X300 with optical drive and extended battery). Yes there are lighter laptops out there but most have smaller screens and less features.

I thought performance would suck because the X300 only comes with a 1.2Ghz dual core processor but actually it’s pretty snappy. If you use the X300 in a quiet room and the cpu fan isn’t running (it only turns on every now and then under normal usage) it’s eerily silent because the SSD doesn’t make any hard drive noises.

I’ll post more about the X300 later.

Howard Chui
03.26.2008

2 comments March 25th, 2008

Fujitsu u810 review

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I love computers. While I love phones my first passion is computers. One of the best things about being the Howard in HowardForums is that I get to buy and test tons of computer equipment. Another plus of being me is that I always need to be connected. Phones are a great way to be connected to the ‘net but the best way is still using a computer. Because of this I have a soft spot for small laptops.

For the past couple of years I’ve been walking around with a Toshiba Libretto. It’s a terrific little computer that allows me to fix any problems that may arise on the site. Still, I’m always on the lookout for something better. I think I may have found it with the Fujitsu u810.

It’s got most of the features of my Libretto (the Libretto has a bigger hard drive, higher resolution display, slightly more battery life, a PC card slot, physically bigger than the u810, has CF and SD card slots) but it’s even more portable.

Oh yeah, the best thing about the u810 is its price. I paid just under $900 Canadian for the u810 compared with over 2 grand for the Libretto. $900 isn’t cheap for a laptop but it sure is considering what other similar computers cost.

First Impressions:

Here are the u810′s specs. I’m doing this off the top of my head since you can just go to Fujitsu’s website to read them:

  • 800Mhz single core Intel A110 processor (apparently it’s similar to the Pentium M processor which Intel’s Core and Core 2 Duo are based on)
  • 1GB PC4200 RAM (not upgradeable)
  • 40GB 4200RPM hard drive (smaller than an iPod Classic)
  • 100mbps/VGA out via an included dongle
  • Compact flash slot
  • SDHC card slot
  • Swiveling 5.6″ 1024×600 LCD
  • USB slot
  • Headphone/microphone jacks
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Web cam

When you first pick the u810 up you can’t help but marvel at the size. Despite it’s diminutive proportions, there’s a (somewhat) proper keyboard and a twisting display. It’s a fairly solid unit because it’s so small. Here it is on top of a Macbook.

withmacbook.png

The screen measures 5.6″ and has a decent resolution of 1024×600. While it’s not foggy or anything it’s not the clearest or brightest display out there. I suspect this is the touch screen’s fault. It’s reflective but is hard to see in the sun because it’s not bright enough.

left.png

Despite the small size you actually get a couple of connectors and ports. Starting from the left side you get; wireless on/off switch, SD card slot (my 4gb SDHC worked fine in it), volume rocker switch, headphone out, microphone out.

front.png

In front there is a lone connector for the network cable/VGA dongle.

right.png

The right side has a Compact Flash slot (16GB CF card worked fine), a power switch and a USB port that’s hidden behind a cover.

keyboard.png

The keyboard is tiny – unless you have really small hands forget about typing like you would on a regular keyboard. I actually have pretty small hands and can touch type on the u810 (barely) but found cradling the u810 with my fingers and typing with my thumbs to be the best arrangement. If you have a flat surface you can hunt and peck.

lights.png

There are LEDs right above the keyboard that you can use when it’s dark. I found that they weren’t positioned in the right place/aren’t bright enough to be useful. You turn them on using the left button below the center of the display.

There are a couple of other horrible things about the keyboard; the direction keys, tab and page up/down, ‘f’ keys are all accessed via function button. I dunno if I’ll ever get used to this arrangement but sacrifices have to be made when the keyboard is so small.

otherkeys.png

There is a small joystick on the right by the screen while the left and right mouse buttons are on the left side. If you don’t want to use the pointing device, there’s a stylus located on the top right of the screen.

If you open the screen to 90 degrees, you can flip it around and use the u810 in tablet mode. I’m not crazy about tablet PC’s and used the u810 as a conventional laptop.

When the u810 is in tablet mode, you can still access the joystick, mouse buttons, up/down keys, function button, 2 special buttons and a screen rotation buttons.

The battery that comes with the u810 sticks out the back. I actually like how it sticks out because it gives you something to hold onto which is important given the u810′s size. It’s especially useful if you’re using it as a tablet. Battery life is a decent 3 to 4 hours on a full charge. Trust me, you don’t want to use the u810 any longer than that.

withadapter.png

When you use the u810 for long periods of time, it gets warm but it’s never blazing hot – which is impressive given it’s small size. There’s microsuede on the bottom to keep it (I presume) cooler to the touch.

There’s a 65 watt power supply. It’s the same size as the one that comes with many other smaller, lower power laptops (like the Sony TZ series, Lenovo Thinkpad R series, Toshiba Libretto).

While Fujitsu includes a couple of extra programs with the u810, they didn’t load it up with crapware. The two most notable Fujitsu specific things they include are Fujitsu menu and a driver update utility. The menu program is really a sort of quick launch for when you’re in tablet mode. You can access it by pressing the function menu between the up/down buttons. It launched such things as a sound menu, LCD brightness, enable bluetooth, that sort of thing. You can add your own shortcuts to it.

There’s a finger print reader on the right side of the screen. You get Omnipass which is software that can log you into Windows and memorize website passwords. Omnipass is mildly useful – it has two drawbacks; Firstly, if you want to use it to enter your Windows password you’ll have to wait an extra 10 seconds for the Omnipass dialog to load when the Windows login screen shows up. Secondly it only seems to work with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Performance:

Performance is horrible. There are two problems with the u810, it has a really slow processor and a slower hard drive. There isn’t much RAM either but I’d say it’s enough to do basic tasks such as checking email and surfing the web. If you want to do more, the u810′s RAM is not user upgradeable – go buy a bigger laptop with a bigger keyboard and more RAM if you want to do more.

The u810 has a 40GB 4200rpm hard disk that takes forever to do anything. It only has 1GB of RAM which is barely enough to run Windows Vista.

When I first got the u810 I thought it would make a brilliant digital photographer’s tool because it’s small and has both SD and CF card slots. Unfortunately both slots are so slow they’re pretty much for show IMO. It takes forever to read/write to the cards which makes them virtually useless. They’re so slow I wouldn’t even bother using them for listening to music/watching video. Another problem is that the CPU maxes out when you’re using them.

There’s a saying; small speakers, small sound. The u810 has a tiny speaker. Let’s just leave it at that.

I was going to benchmark the u810 but to be honest, I thought the u810 was so slow there’s no point to it. Every time I pick it up, I end up watching the hard drive LED blink non stop for what seems an eternity. If something is so slow that it affects its usage what is a benchmark going to tell you? Like I said before, the u810 really needs a faster hard drive, followed by more RAM and then a faster or dual core CPU.

Conclusion:

I struggle when it comes to figuring out if I love or hate the u810. It can handle basic tasks of surfing the web, checking email, SSH, VPN/Remote Desktop but it does the other tasks so incredibly slowly. Tasks such as starting up, virus scanning, opening programs, etc. The horrible performance is balanced by it’s amazing portability. But the amazing portability is balanced by a keyboard which requires you to use the function key to access many important features (tab, up/down/left/right, etc). One thing is undeniable though, the u810 attracts a crowd where ever it makes an appearance. Most guys think it’s cool and most girl’s think it’s cute, everyone’s amazed at the price.

Before I got the u810, I really really wanted to love it. But in the end I’m speechless. I guess I’ll be keeping my Libretto a little longer.

Howard Chui
03.23.2008

2 comments March 24th, 2008


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