Haswell: Intel 4th Generation Processor – Marketplace Effect

Intel has recently released the Haswell, their 4th generation of the Core i series processor, and it has occurred at an interesting time. Some are viewing it as a factor in furthering the PC industry's sagging sales. I see that as a short term effect; let's also look at this from a more long-term view.

Yes, it's true the price point on the laptop low-end will be in the $700 range and $1300-1600 on the high-end. However, it is also true that with a new generation release (tock), the price will be higher. . . somewhat. Looking beneath the surface of that, let's consider what has occurred with the Haswell release in terms of it's features (or lack of) that are narrowing the gap between laptops (more distinctly Ultrabooks) and the tablets.

Let's consider the changes that have occurred from this 4th generation release:

  • Energy usage has become much more efficient. Longer battery life is the top feature; 7-9 hours are possible now. Users that have considered going to tablets because of their much longer battery life now have a viable option with a Haswell laptop/ultrabook. 
  • Enhanced Graphics capability will be a joy to many users. Users that opted for a tablet because of graphics support may now want to think twice about converting to a tablet.
  • Intel Ultrabook touchscreen mandate; the machine must now have a touchscreen or it is not considered an Ultrabook. Users that love the tablet touchscreen now understand all Ultrabooks will in fact have that capability; no exceptions.

The long-term laptop/tablet marketplace pricing will follow the features users desire for their computing. The features that were so attractive to tablets; long battery life, user interaction, good graphics capabilities, are now available to laptops/ultrabooks. As demand increases, prices should come down. This should drive laptop sales up and stabilize that industry sector.  That sector definitely can use a boost.

It will also be interesting to see the overall PC industry effect from the 4th generation Haswell. Intel has earmarked all sectors; tablet-laptop-desktop-server as candidates for this processor. This Fall, we will see more of the higher-end desktops available with this processor. Desktops with the Haswell will no longer have legacy PCI support on expansion cards. PCI Express is the only game in town now.

Many of you opting for a laptop to tablet conversion may find this is a good time to get a tablet, with the great prices available. However, I believe we will see in the not too distant future, the public being in an interesting position to consider two choices: the tablet, and the good ole tried and true laptop, that can also successfully meet your portable computing needs with similar features.  I see that as a great place to be.

 To get more information about the Hawell 4th generation processor from Intel, you can view it here.

Apple Computer’s Thunderbolt

Are you looking for a Windows PC that has the fastest external data transfer speed in home computing? Orginally desgined by Intel and Apple Computer for their computers, the Thunderbolt technology  has been licensed to a few companies, including Acer, for one of its higher-end laptops. Thunderbolt's speed is 10 Gbps; to understand just how fast this is, you can download a full-length HD movie in under 30 seconds. Yep, that's pretty quick. 

Thunderbolt vs USB

To put it in perspective to other data transfer technologies, USB version 3.0 is 5 Gbps, so Thunderbolt is twice as fast, although replacing copper with fiber-optic wiring in the interface cables will significantly add to the speed.

Acer Aspire and Lenovo ThinkPad Ege

The Acer Aspire S5 laptop is selling with the Thunderbolt port for about $1300. The Aspire is ultra-thin and light, at 2.6 lbs,  and all of the ports are contained behind a motorized door. Other PC makers on the Thunderbolt bandwagon include the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge laptop, and Asus has added it to a few of their laptops as well.  The issue right now is that only a handful of companies make peripherals that are compatible with the Thunderbolt standard, although many believe it will be a different story by the end of 2012.  Time will tell. 

More information about Thunderbolt vs. USB can be viewed here.

Laptop or Tablet: The Ultimate Decision

Within the last few years the PC industry has experienced a new phenomenon, the Tablet PC. The tablet is quickly emerging as a strong niche in the PC industry, and the functionality of it is being defined as users discover the strengths and weaknesses of its computing sessions, as well as the unique human touch interaction that defines so much of its appeal and unique interactive qualities. We're going to examine the ultimate question: should you put out the bucks for one or stick with the traditional laptop instead. To answer that question, we need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms. Let's start by considering the interaction with these devices.

Tablet Considerations

There are some tablet considerations you should think about. Do you use programs that require input; perhaps a considerable amount of input? If so,the tablet may not be for you. It uses a touch interface and point and click for inputing information. Although tablets usually have a virtual keyboard, similar to many stylus-operated SmartPhones, using one is clumsy at best, and limits your input speed. You can get around this issue by obtaining a bluetooth keyboard, but this would be an additional cost and another item to be carried and accounted for if you travel often.

Laptop Constraints

If lugging around something continually is a hassle, the tablet choice would certainly be a consideration. Tablets weigh under two pounds and are about the size of a small paper tablet, thus contributing to its genre name. A keyboard/trackpad addition is the primary reason for the size differential. Additional laptop constraints also include a higher power requirement, which generates more heat, so a means of cooling is necessary as well. This equates to a larger battery/power supply and the addition of a cooling fan, increasing its size and weight.

Ultrabook vs Netbook

However, with that said, there are two alternative genre of laptops: the netbook and ultrabook. They are for customers who want a smaller dimensioned device, but their computing needs are not successfully met with a tablet. They are a viable option if you're in this category, but be prepared to spend more money for the ultrabook, ranging from $700 to well over $1000. The ultrabook size isn't necessarily smaller than a regular laptop, with screen sizes ranging from 11 to 15 inch. It's their weight that makes them unique, about three pounds, accenting their portability. The netbook costs less than a regular laptop, roughly $200 to $300, but has a smaller hard drive, and the screen is smaller than the average laptop, averaging about 10 inches. Ultrabooks and netbooks don't have a DVD/CD in them, but will take a thumb drive; for portable data usage. The ultrabook uses the more expensive solid-state drives because of their smaller size, but because of the cost, they can be smaller in capacity than the traditional mechanical drives still used by the netbook and most laptops. Since the engineering costs of manufacturing a smaller laptop are significant, the more expensive ultrabook cost is passed on to the consumer.

Battery Life

The one strong suit of the tablet is its power requirements. Since a tablet's hardware is much less sophisticated than a laptop, the power requirement is small and the battery can last as long as 10 hours before needing a recharge. Contrast that time with a standard laptop battery, with a charge life of two to three hours, and you can see the clear winner.

Storage Capacity

In order to keep the size of a tablet small, solid-state drives (SSD) are used in capacities of 16 to 64GB, in lieu of the traditional mechanical type of drive still used in laptops and netbooks. This will undoubtedly increase as SSD costs drop. Compare that capacity to a traditional hard drive on a laptop, which hold several hundreds of gigabytes. Even a netbook will have more hard drive storage space. However, using the cloud for storage is available and would certainly supplement the needs of a tablet. Keep in mind that for backing up data, connecting the tablet to a PC is necessary.

Applications

If you're using the tablet for email, internet, low-requirement audio or video, these applications would be as acceptable as they are on a laptop. When you start getting into applications that require heavy processing such as 3-D games, intensive graphics, or just multitasking, you run into problems, and would have to opt for the laptop's superior hardware. There are scaled-down versions of regular programs that can be used, but remember that the lack of data inputing combined with limited hardware capability will significantly impact what type of programs you will be able to use for a tablet.

Tablet and Laptop Cost

Although many low-end laptops and netbooks are available for the same price as tablet, the average-priced laptop is still at about $650, taking it out of the price range of the average priced tablet, which is about $450. Keep in mind that for that $200 category price difference, you have the full functioning capability of a PC by going with a laptop.

All things considered, at this point in time with tablet technology, there is really only one logical choice if you don't already have a desktop or laptop PC. If you do in fact already have a PC, there are some good tablets out there; some of them are available for as little as $199, with excellent value. Remember though, that since a tablet is used mostly for web usage and entertainment purposes, right now it is really more of a luxury than a necessity. As time goes by, this tablet scenario will certainly change, as with all new technologies, but for now, in these tough economic times, your association with a tablet may really be best limited to the paper variety you touch with a pen instead of the silicon type you touch with your finger.

WiFi LTE Phones, Laptops, and Tablets

The technology field has some interesting terms, doesn't it; LTE, WiFi to name just a couple. It can be confusing, especially if you're a cell-phone user (who isn't), or have a need for a laptop or tablet PC and need Internet connectivity through the best means possible.  You used to hear LTE associated more with mobile usage and WiFi with PC usage. With tablet PCs now a standard niche in the PC industry, many of us are hearing both terms used. Let's look at these two terms, LTE and WiFi, and break it down so it makes sense, not only from a mobile perspective but from a PC perspective as well.

LTE Cell Phone Coverage

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is associated with the term 4G, which means 4th Generation. Prior to LTE, 4G was the cutting-edge Internet connectivity standard associated with mobile phones, enabling the user a 3 to 8 mbps speed. With 4G LTE, the fastest technology, a 5 to 12 mbps is possible. Contrast those speeds with 3G, at 800kbps to 1mbps. A substantial portion of the U.S. is still operating mobile networks with 3G, although the major mobile network carriers, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have converted over a considerable coverage area already to 4g LTE, and continue to convert over to it regularly. Recently, carrier T-Mobile is now beginning to convert to 4G LTE networks as well.

Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint LTE Coverage

Many Internet users who travel and use a laptop on their trips need to be able to connect to the Internet. For years now, they have been able to do that through the mobile network (cell phone towers). And for several years, they have used 3G connectivity speeds until 4G came along and improved their speed. Now, the fastest of the 3 technologies, 4g LTE, is slowly becoming the new standard, although much of the U.S. is still not converted over to it.  Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint currently have LTE networks in place. As of October, Verizon has over 400 LTE markets established, AT&T has 60 markets, and Sprint has 24 markets. All 3 carriers are increasing that count regularly so if your area is not yet covered, be patient.  

Tethering

To enable Internet connectivity via the mobile network, you used to need a PC card, commonly referred to as an air-card, which was inserted into the laptop; however that setup has been for the most part, replaced. Today, the popular feature known as tethering, tethers the laptop to your cell phone. The plan pricing is based on amount of data transfer and most carriers offer it for a set monthly fee. 

Tablet Usage

LTE is now an optional model for table PCs. The Apple iPad is offered with a LTE capability, and the 4th generation iPad offers two frequency ranges, so that it can be used outside the U.S. It is not a popular option for most of the tablet industry, although with time, we should be seeing it as a viable model option with most tablet makers. 

LTE is a great feature to have if you watch a lot of streaming video, or do a lot of downloading. It will improve the performance of both of those evolutions and certainly should be a consideration if you fall into that category of user.

 

 

 

Desktop/Laptop PC Care

PCs including desktop and laptop types can cost some money when you consider you first make the PC purchase, then the printer, and possibly a larger computer desk or chair. If you have a laptop, besides the items already mentioned, you will certainly need a quality laptop case for it too, right? It only makes sense to protect the thing that you have spent several hundred dollars on, and providing you don't have a run of bad luck, if you follow the following PC tips, you should get years of good service. 

Desktop Tips

The following are great tips for keeping your desktop PC in good shape as well as prolonging its life:
  • Always keep your PC plugged in to a good quality surge suppressor. One bad voltage transient and it could render your computer inoperable.
  • If you're a smoker, do not smoke around the PC.  Smoking around the PC will leave a residue on the circuit boards that can cause overheating of parts and eventually can cause various parts to fail. Dirt and dust are also primary enemies of a PC's overall health. 
  • If your PC is past its warranty period and you're comfortable opening the case, clean the inside of dirt and dust by using a can of compressed air or an antistatic portable vacuum specifically made for PCs.  Concentrate on cleaning around the fans and the case vents. Make sure you clean off the motherboard of any dirt and dust displaced by the cleaning process of the other areas. You should clean the inside of the PC every few months and if you're a heavy user or live in a dusty area, clean it once a month.
  • If you feel uncomfortable about cleaning the inside of your PC, take it to a computer shop and have them clean it. It may cost you a few dollars but the long-term effect on your PCs longevity will be positive. 
  • Regularly clean or replace your home's air system filter. 
  • When cleaning your monitor screen, never use a standard household cleaner or glass cleaner. You should only use screen wipes or a special screen solution formulated specifically for monitor screens. They are available at a computer store or a home office store.
  • Pull the power cord from the electrical outlet during an electrical storm to avoid high-voltage spikes damaging the PC.

Laptop Tips

The following are great tips for keeping your laptop PC in good shape as well as prolonging its life:

  • Only use approved battery packs
  • Never tightly pack a laptop in a suitcase. The pressure may damage the LCD screen. 
  • Never place heavy objects on top of a laptop.
  • Never pick up a laptop by the LCD screen.
  • Do not put the laptop close to TV, large speakers, refrigerator, or any other appliance that generates a strong magnetic field. 
  • Only use an approved cleaning solution on the LCD screen. Do not use a regular household cleaner or glass cleaner. Generally, it is acceptable to clean the screen with distilled water, which will not leave a mineral deposit residue. Alway power-off the laptop before cleaning.
  • Do not leave the battery inside the laptop for a long period of time unused.
  • Do not expose the laptop to sunlight for an extended period of time.
  • If the laptop ever gets wet on the inside, immediately power it off and give it several days to dry before attempting to use it again. 
  • Use a power plug strip with a good surge suppressor built into it. 

It's pretty clear to see that extending your PC's life isn't just about what to do, but it's also about what not to do as well. Please keep this thought in mind about PC warranties. Except for high end PCs, it is not necessary to buy an extended warranty.  Please check out the article I wrote about Manufacturer and Extended Warranties for more details. Adhere to a few basics I've mentioned here and your PC will last you for years. Then you can save the money you would have spent on an extended warranty for something more important. Good luck with your computing!