Category: Review

Intel, Microsoft have terrible annuses

“Your shadow at morning striding behind you    
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;    
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” – TS Eliot, The Wasteland    

Yeah, I am quite aware the plural of annum is not annuses but then the headline is more important than the body text.

Both Microsoft and Intel have had a terrible year and Janus, which rhymes with anus, suspects that 2014 won’t be much better for either.

Intel’s “customers” – for that, read compliant vendors – have, like Nero never did, fiddled while Rome burns. The X86 chip is not quite dead but considering the amount of money Intel spent on branding in the 1990s, it must be frustrating for the old lags at Chipzilla – those that are left of course – that the world+dog is not in the slightest bit interested in what component powers the smartphone and the tablet.

Intel, it could successfully be argued, brought it all upon itself by allowing the famous Atom to cannibalise its ever so famous brand.  It thought the gravy train would run forever but it found itself at the end of the line, hitting the buffers of indifference and even this old buffer doesn’t care about Intel any more.

The  notion that anyone in her or his right mind would pay over the odds because a machine had an Intel chip in it  is just plain busted.

Microsoft is a different case.  It’s heart is in the right place, that is if any multinational corporation can be said to have a heart. Intel certainly has never been challenged by sentiment.  But Microsoft lost the plot too – why would you choose a Microsoft operating system for a phone and a tablet when it has such a big slice of a PC’s pie?

This year has seen the brutal toppling of a quiet, charming man who has a large voice that can be heard 10 blocks away.  Steve Ballmer did not deserve the opprobium heaped upon him by, as Nick Farrell describes them, the Wall Street cocaine nose jobs.  Microsoft, like Intel, is now simply irrelevant.  The game has changed and both megamoths are tumbling into the dying flame of the X86 monopoly.

Say you are a diplodicus with a huge body and a tiny brain.  Does death take longer because of your bulk?  I can think of only one IT company that managed to successfully re-engineer itself, and that is IBM under the stewardship of the Nabisco man.  Getting in a geezer from Ford to run Microsoft is just plain nuts in May.

No one cares about the operating system, the motherboard, and the CPU any more.  Those days are gone.  A happy new year to all of our reader (sic) and lang may your lum reek.

D-Link net cam covers all the angles

Want to keep an eye on your yard while you’re down at the Dog and Duck? D-Links wireless pan tilt network camera could be just the job for you.

The DCS-5222L comes with an installation CD, a remote control, a metal camera base and mounting kit, a power cable and an Ethernet cable.  Optionally, you can buy a micro SD card to record what’s going on while hopefully not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.

The camera is a dumpy little creature that stands about six inches high, and is equipped with an array of LEDs on its working end and an antenna to pick up your wi-fi.

It works with PCs, Macs, and Linux and supports a number of browsers including IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. It’s got a built in microphone too, if you want to record the spiders having their mysterious conversations while you’re out of sight and site.

Installation is a bit of a doddle. You plug the Internet cable into the back of Mr Dumpy, kick off the installation CD and off you jolly well go. Once you’re up and running, you can use your PC, your smartphone or your tablet to view what’s going on in your den across the internet, using mydrink.com to tune in and turn on It has both a night and day mode, which you can set to auto.

From the web interface you can choose the live view, playback recording – provided you have that micro SD card in the slot – and alter the settings of the camera remotely, too. From the browser, again, you can perform an automatic 360 degree scan, zoom in and out,  tilt the camera up and down, left and right, and take a photo.

D-Link

From the settings menu can switch on motion detection and if the said rodent makes an appearance it will send you an email alert.  You can also create scheduled notifications.

So how did it all work out in practice? Well, it certainly works when you’re down the Dog and Duck – that’s the Kite in Oxford in my case. I’ve used my iPad, my smartphone and several PCs to check out that all is well at Chez Moi.

The camera supports H.264/MPEG/MJPEG multistreaming and H.264/MPEG4 mulitcast streaming.  Image resolution is HD720 and a maximum of 1280/720 at 30 frames per second. It weighs 540 grams and its dimensions are 114x114x125. An additional sensor can be attached to a door or a window via the standard IO port that’s built in.

The night vision works well, even in complete darkness but don’t have it gazing out of a window at night – the array of LEDs at the front reflect back into the lens.  

This is a fun and functional piece of kit, easy to set up and easy to use.   Prices range from £159 to £186, when we searched on the web for the unit.

We review the new Pope Francis Mark I

Due to our proximity to the VaticanTechEye was given a chance to review the new St Peter v50 Pope which is code named Pope Francis (Mark One).

The good: The marketing of Pope Francis is slightly better than the earlier Pope Benedict model. The style looks less scary, and has a more user friendly “rabbit in the headlights” approach. The brand is untainted by a scandal involving the Nazis in its early design days. The fact he comes from Argentina will be good for Roman tourism which has suffered under a German pope. Germans only buy postcards and haggle over the price.

The bad: The software is based on Jesuit OS 2013 which was been taken off the market before for corrupting the Church’s operating system with its hidden binaries and other trickery. It was rebooted but has never shaken off its image of being a shadowy behind the scenes outfit. Pope Francis may also have been a little close to the Argentinian Junta and was implicated in the kidnap and arrest of two priests who made the grave mistake of helping the poor, which was not in the Vatican design spec.

There are some concerns that the keyboard and the operating system on Pope Francis is not flexible to meet the new market requirements.

The bottom line: Pope Francis is a fairly typical variant of the St Peter franchise with no great surprises.

Comparing the roughly half-dozen St Peter variants is relatively easy. The last two, the Pope John Paul reboot, and the rickety Pope Benedict were built around essentially identical hardware platforms. Inside was a CPU which was too conservative to actually run it.

Indeed, if the Pope John Paul had not assisted in the collapse of the old Stalinist central mainframe model, it would be remembered as an underpowered ultra-conservative which, while popular, failed to make a difference in the developing markets. Its attempts to launch new Saint apps may have flooded the market and resulted in the St Terresa  of Calcutta app being pushed through before anyone realised that she was not that nice.  The Benedict (St Peter v50), which was a stop gap brand, became swiftly bogged down with child abuse malware and there were rumours of corruption of financial files within the Vatican’s hard disk.

With its new Glasses trademark, the Pope Francis is seen as being more visually attractive, but lacks the design finesse of some of the more recent religions, such as Neo-paganism, Mormonism, or Apple fanboyism. Clearly St Peter v50 would benefit from some sort of makeover deal, such as Apple’s game changing rounded rectangle. However, it seems that Pope Francis will stick to the traditional cup and flatbread approach which has kept its existing clientele happy for centuries.

Fortunately Pope Francis has become equipped with enough memory to do something useful. Something that its predecessor appeared to be lacking, probably due to the age of the spec.

On paper, at least, these two products are remarkably similar. Both stick to the guidelines and are unlikely to do anything radical.

There are differences, and they don’t always favour the allegedly more consumer-friendly market. The Pope Francis still lacks the super-fast and friendly connections we have come to expect in the top of the range models. While its battery life might be slightly longer than the Benedict, the design is still too long in the tooth to expect much from, particularly when the pressure is increased under some hard operating conditions.

This model feels more ultraportable when plugged into its clam-up base, but it doesn’t stack up to the John Paul II in terms of hands-on utility and usability. Annoyingly, the Vatican’s website doesn’t seem to have a dock for sale as of this writing, but it has been spotted at Amazon, Staples, and others.

As a standalone, the Francis feels less substantial, certainly than the John Paul II model. The back seems a little plastic, although that might be useful as the model tries to appear to make reforms to the Vatican’s business plan, while not making any at all. Of course, it will continue to run Stainedglass Windows, but not the touch variant.

As a standalone the Francis is thick and heavy but that is the way its users like it. The main problem is the cost and its inability to use any practical apps other than the various flavours of guilt.

We give it three stars for now.

 

 

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s review

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U300s is seemingly positioned somewhere between appealing to the consumer and businesses, with an attractive tapered front edge and metal lip running around the side of the chassis giving it a slimline ‘book’ appearance.

At a skinny 16mm the U300s has the razor-thin appeal of an ultrathin laptop, and the two tone dark metal chassis hits high in the prettiness stakes. It is eye-catching without being overly stylised like some Ultrabooks, and when shown to non-techy friends it received considerable praise for its initial looks, a prime requisite for a spot of Mac Book Air bashing.

At 1.32kg it is also a very light machine, though we found it hard to feel any substantial difference with the Folio 13, and Lenovo even provides a miniscule battery brick that is a thoughtful, and useful, touch.

Despite its weight, or lack of, the majority of the aluminium chassis feels strong, and holding it one-handed results in no problematic bending at the edge of the main body. The thin metal surrounding the screen is slightly flexible, however, and has an unnerving tendency to bounce back and forth for a second or two when opened and positioned into place.

Nevertheless it is sturdy overall, and users will be more than confident to throw it in a bag to bring outside without fretting that it will be crushed in by whatever is lurking around it.

As with the Folio 13, the 1366×768 screen is not remarkable, and we found that the brightness left a fair bit to be desired, sometimes making it slightly difficult to use in well-lit environments.   This appears to be a feature of many Ultrabooks, and the inconvenience was minimal.

The audio is decent enough for a laptop of this size, if slightly tinny and obscured by the main body.

The glass trackpad is spacious and a joy to use.  The left and right click buttons both have just enough resistance, as does the satisfying one touch click. The two finger scroll and pinch zoom were as good as any we have used, with even our clunky and uncoordinated digits moving around with ease and precision.  

The keyboard is generally easy to use, with enough give in the well-spaced keys to make for speedy typing. The positioning of the shrunken ‘enter’ and ‘backspace’ keys meant that mistakes were made occasionally when typing fast, though most will adjust to this, and did not present any significant problems.

The rounded keys suit the lines of machine, but the lack of backlighting on the keyboard is a missed trick both in terms of functionality and general aesthetics.

One drawback with the U300s is perhaps in terms of connectivity, as it is far from generous in this department.  While a full sized HDMI on an ultrathin device rather than a mini port saves on faffing around with adaptors, with two USBs (one being the newer USB 3.0) and no Ethernet, connectivity is basic. What is even more glaringly absent is the space for an SD card. While external hard drives and cloud storage offer some alternatives to the 128GB SSD, many will find an SD card upgrade essential.

The SSD itself is fantastic, and the boot up times are as speedy as Intel has claimed the Ultrabooks would be, switching from sleep mode to full use in a flash, and zooming through a restart.

This is one of the main benefits of Ultrabooks aside from their portability, and go a long way to rivalling tablets for carrying around and instant use.

In terms of performance, the spec varies little from the Folio 13 – and indeed many other Ultrabooks – with 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 1.6GHz i5-2478 Sandy Bridge Intel chip, meaning that the U300s rumbled through most tasks without blinking.  For a small and light device this is impressive, and makes netbooks look almost laughable.

Of course an Ultrabook is not the place to play newer games with graphics at full tilt HD 3000 or no, but gaming on reasonably new titles without major tweaks was possible, and there is little the average user will require that the U300s cannot provide without stuttering. HD video playback through an LCD TV caused no hiccups either.

Similarly, multitasking was a cinch, with the U300s not batting an eyelid even battling a ridiculous amount of web tabs open at once, as well as a number of programs open simultaneously. One slight problem that was evident at times was a tendency to start overheating when the processor is working harder, though this was relatively rare.   

Battery life on the machine was again impressive, and we managed to eke out close to six hours with moderate day to day usage and even more with the settings turned down and minimal usage.

The benefits of such longer battery on a device this small and powerful are hard to understate.

HP Folio 13 review

The HP Folio 13 is aimed more at the business rather than consumer market, and consequently is less flashy than some of the other Ultrabooks that have emerged so far.  That it is not to say it isn’t attractive itself – far from it in fact.

The Folio 13’s charms may be more subtle than other Ultrabooks, but on closer inspection it is clear that it is remarkably well designed, achieving the crucial ‘wow’ factor that would have formed part of Intel’s brief in an understated way.

The silver brushed metal chassis surrounds the matching blacks on the chiclet keyboard, screen bezel and trackpad making for a cohesive, sleek finish.

Switch on the keyboard backlight and few would disagree that HP has succeeded in building a rather gorgeous machine that gives a classy edge to a business-use laptop.   

While the Folio is not the lightest of Ultrabooks, at just less than 1.5 Kg it is still very easy to throw into a bag and carry around without wearing your shoulder out.

At 18mm it is middling in terms of thinness and forgoes the tapered edges of the Mac Book Air and some other ultrathins. The flipside of this means that it is reassuringly robust, with the screen moving sturdily into place when opened.  With barely a hint of flex at any point of the chassis this gives the feel of a premium laptop, as you would expect.

Getting to grips with using the Folio 13 is relatively hassle-free. The beautifully weighted tiled keyboard is a joy to use for extensive typing, while the rubberised plastic coating stops digits from sliding around.  The page up and page down keys feel somewhat crammed in to fit the keyboard’s confines, but just take a few moments to get used to.

The touchpad is a success on the whole, with the multitouch scrolling easy to use, though there is a slight stiffness in the left and right clicks. The pinch zoom is over sensitive at times, with a slightly misjudged pincer movement resulting in zooming in and out almost reminiscent of the dizzying staircase scene in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

The audio on the Folio is impressive considering the size of the machine.  The bass might be scant but the front facing Dolby Advanced Audio speaker bar is crystal clear, surprisingly loud and overall a fantastically well designed and delivered addition to the machine.  

The 13.3 inch screen is decent if unremarkable, 1366 x 768 as the rough standard for most of the initial flock of Ultrabooks.  The glossy screen can at times be difficult in terms of glare, but mostly it caused little problems, and has very good brightness levels.

Loitering around the side of the machine is enough connectivity to make the case for business use. HP have supplied two USBs, one of which is USB 3.0, as well as a full sized HDMI port and Ethernet connection.  These mean that the Folio 13 is ideally suited to BYOD fans.

Furthermore there is an SD card slot, very useful from the perspective of business use by professionals, and almost essential in terms of giving expansion options over the 128GB solid state drive.

Using an SSD in the place of the more traditional hard disk drives found in notebooks obviously means a significant drop in capacity, but from a business use perspective this is not massively important, and in an era of cloud storage it is less of a problem than we first expected. For those who are intent on storing large amounts of media an external hard drive is a worthwhile investment, considering the impressively cheap storage options available even at terabyte sizes.

In terms of performance the Folio 13 has the standard Intel spec of a Core i5-2467 processor, in this case Sandy Bridge, and along with 4GB of DDR3 RAM means that the Folio 13 can deal with just about everything you would expect from an ultraportable.

The Folio is by no means aimed at gaming, but still manages to support games from the past couple of years running at a fairly impressive rate with Intel’s HD3000 graphics, and even new titles with most of the graphic features turned down a bit.

Multitasking is rarely a problem, and HD video does not tax the machine, running smoothly when hooked up to a larger screen.

The battery life is another area where the Folio 13 really excels, and we were suitably impressed by the usage – approaching seven hours that could be wrung from the machine with low settings and light usage.  A more realistic figure for the general mix of web browsing, word processing, intermittent Spotify or YouTube use still gave a thoroughly decent life of around five hours plus.

This is an example of the real usefulness of the Folio 13.  The peace of mind that comes from not having to find the nearest plug to fill up the battery every couple of hours can really not be overstated, particularly for business use.   

Indeed, the usual jolt of fear when the battery icon approaches vanishes when you get used to battery life that has a fair crack at running all day, and this makes for a truly ‘ultraportable’ device.

Here comes our Intel Core i7 3770K review

Here is our review of the Core i7-3770K processor, Intel’s highest-end Ivy Bridge-based processor. There’s a lot to be discussed about it, but we’ll start from the top.

 

Sandy Bridge exits the scene

Sandy Bridge was a tock in Intel’s design and manufacturing tick-tock strategy. A ‘tock’ is usually a new architecture on a mature process and, as such, normally results in better yields and much better revenues for the manufacturer. Ivy Bridge, its successor, is a tick. It’s a new process on a slightly tweaked architecture so carries with it a risk of lower yields.

Sandy Bridge was a successful move for Intel, in particular in the processor graphics department. The 32nm-built processor fully integrated the graphics core and improved GPU performance over its stepdad, Clarkdale. It introduced an extended instruction set named AVX, video hardware encoding features and an optimized branch prediction amongst other improvements. The now-famous K-series offered unlocked multipliers and some serious overclocking headroom, which proved to be an enthusiast’s delight. It has proved to be a very successful design and was bound to be hard for Intel to do better.

As Sandy Bridge bows out of the market, you’ll see boxes and boxes at heavily discounted prices right now. The brutal slashing began a week before the launch, emptying shelves and making room for the shiny new toy to come. 

 

Ivy Bridge arrives, not late, not early

Lo and behold, the Ivy Bridge, Intel’s 3rd generation Intel Core processor with processor graphics (as the chipmaker calls it). Not really late to the party, nor early, just on time considering it is Intel that’s pushing the market forward. Despite rumours of delays and a bit of crossed lines between some Intel execs, the CPUs officially launched this Monday.

As of now, Intel is introducing 14 new Ivy Bridge-based SKUs. These include one mobile extreme edition, four standard mobile versions, five desktop and four low-power ones. In order, these are:

Core i7-3920XM, Core i7-3820QM, Core i7-3720QM, Core i7-3612QM, Core i7-3610QM, Core i7-3770K, Core i7-3570K, Core i5-3570K, Core i5-3550, Core i5-3450, Core i7-3770T, Core i7-3770S, Core i5-3550S and the Core i5-3450S.

The 3 prefix in the numbering is the generation, ie: 3rd generation Core processors, while the rest of the number represents the model itself. The letter suffixes represent variants. K for multiplier unlocked, S models are low power and T models are ultra-low power. You can see below the full spec sheets.

 

Intel Ivy Bridge desktop CPUs

Low Power Ivy Bridge CPUs

Mobile Ivy Bridge CPUs

Some facts about Ivy Bridge

Ivy Bridge is the successor to Intel’s Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. It isn’t a completely new design, but a spin on its predecessor, built on a smaller process and introducing a few new tweaks to the original recipe… some of them more than just pure performance tweaks. Still, we need to state some facts about Ivy Bridge, even before we start the testing. There are two parts to the Ivy Bridge architecture that need focusing on.

First of all, Intel proudly parades Ivy Bridge as the first 22nm “3D” (ie: tri-gate) transistor-based processor. Yes, 3D is all the rage even on CPUs. Simply put this means it’s stacking the gates on its transistors keeping current leakage down (allowing Intel to scale its CPUs to 22nm and beyond) as well as providing some valuable space savings. Transistors built on this 22nm process also require less power, which has amounted to some substantial power savings on the CPUs.

Ivy Bridge integrates a more advanced graphics core onto the die, the HD 4000, a DirectX 11 (ie: hardware tessellation), DirectCompute capable part, which now shares the CPUs own L3 cache. The Intel HD 4000 processor graphics features 16 Execution Units (let’s call them shaders), Clear Video Technology (to offload video decode) and Quick Sync Video, which is hardware based encoding and decoding, which, we’ll see, works quite well. Intel claims up to twice the performance of the graphics in its Sandy Bridge predecessor.

Ivy Bridge is a 1.4 billion transistor processor with a die size of just 160mm2, by comparison, Sandy Bridge had 1.16 billion transistors and a die size of 216mm2. Despite a higher transistor count, the more efficient power design of the 22nm “3D transistors” still rack up the power savings from 95W on the 2700K to 77W on the 3770K. You can see the “processor graphics” die area has become considerably larger than its predecessor

Sandy Bridge Die, labeled

Ivy Bridge die, labeled

Sandy Bridge (on top) and Ivy Bridge (below), you can see that the processor graphics element has swollen up considerably in the latter.

The new architecture comes hand in hand with a new chipset family, the 7 series, codenamed Panther Point. This chipset is compatible with both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, but not first generation Core products.

Intel supplied a DZ77GA-70K motherboard which is powered by the Z77 chipset and was launched a week prior to the Ivy Bridge release. The DZ77GA-70K, as most Intel motherboards, have all the shiny LEDs and the looks of a deadly killer, but is very tame when it comes to overclocking and basically stepping out of bounds, even though its EFI BIOS is one of the best we’ve seen to date. From system monitoring to dialing up the clock on the CPU, it’s all dead simple. Our overclocking experiments with the motherboard yielded a humble 1.4GHz overclock (3.5 to 4.9GHz), that we are sure was too easy to achieve, yet too hard to overtake on this particular motherboard – something Asus or Gigabyte will pick up and take to the next level. Still the EFI BIOS is gorgeous and simple to use.

The 7-series chipset includes Intel Rapid Storage Technology 11, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt support, SATA 3.0, PCIe 3.0 and up to 3 independent displays (depending on configuration). It’s what the 6-series could have been, in essence.

7 Series Chipset Overview

 

Benchmarks

Our Engineering Sample Core i7 3770K is the counterpart to Intel’s Core i7 2700K Sandy Bridge, both clocked at 3.5GHz and both sport four cores / eight threads. Both have the same Turbo Boost speed of 3.9GHz and both are in the lab for our Apples to Apples comparison. Intel promised something in the vicinity of 7/15 percent pure CPU performance increase, and almost twice as much in “media” processing, thanks to its new graphics core, so let’s see what we get.

We’ll begin with a few CPU benchmarks. We aren’t holding our breaths on this, to be fair, Ivy Bridge didn’t introduce any revolutionary new magic tricks.

Cinebench R11.5 score

In Cinebench R11.5, the HD 4000 GPU is clearly marking the difference. The 3770K pulls ahead of its predecessor by a comfy margin.

Passmark Int/FPU score

Passmark is a simple fire’n’forget benchmark that assesses PC performance on several levels. We’ve focused on FPU and Integer performance. The Ivy Bridge FPU is tremendously more efficient than its predecessor, beating it by a 67 percent margin. Overclocked, the 3770K scales very well.

PCMark7 Computation score

The PC Mark 7 benchmark suite tests all PC subsystems, but we’re actually interested in the Computation score, here. Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge are almost 1-for-1.

POV-Ray Biscuit

POV-Ray is a ray tracing benchmark that relies on CPU muscle to render its target image.

SuperPI score

Purely mathematical in nature, Super PI maxes out single-threaded performance to calculate PI, in this case to the 2 millionth place.

SANDRA 2010 AES 256 bandwidth

The 3770K features a new encryption engine that allows it to squeeze a lot more data down the pipe.

SANDRA 2010 Arithmetic score

WinRAR Compression 320MB time

WinRAR Compression shows the minor edge the 3770K offers over the Core i7 2700K. A bit meh, if you ask us.

Now onto some strictly graphics-oriented benchmarks.

The HD 4000 end of business warrants its own analysis. With its 16 Execution Units and CPU-shared LLC (Last Level Cache) the HD 4000 is now spelling out some doom and gloom for the low-end discrete graphics business.

3DMark Vantage score

The inevitable 3DMark Vantage benchmark shows off DirectX 10 performance for the HD 4000 graphics. Granted it’s nothing to write home about, but it seems Intel is finally getting somewhere with its graphics processors.

3DMark 11 Performance score

3DMark 11 performance is nothing to sneeze at, considering that DirectX 11 support is brand new to the Intel lineup. We did get some artifacts in some scenes, but we believe this to be a driver issue, more than the hardware getting uncomfortable with the benchmark.

Dirt 3

We put Dirt 3 at max settings and Intel’s processor graphics survived the ordeal. If you scale down AA, you can game quite well on Intel’s new toy.

Metro 2033

We threw Metro 2033 at it as a crash test. The Metro 2033 – Frontline benchmark, running in DX 11 mode with Very High details, was like a slide-fest at times, but, again, scale back the details and image quality just a little bit and you’ll find something playable.

ComputeMark score

Considering Intel’s HD 4000 is now a OpenCL/DirectCompute capable part, we ran ComputeMark on it. The HD4000 part scored a quarter of the discrete competition.

TechARP x264 Benchmark

Finally, our media encoding test is where Intel’s HD graphics part stretches its legs. The HD 4000 graphics with its new media encoding engine chews away at frames almost as well as a discrete part.

 

Conclusion

Overall the Ivy Bridge core offers some meager performance gains over Sandy Bridge, good power savings and some great potential if you like to overclock your CPUs. The Core i7 3770K’s direct competition hails not from AMD (it hasn’t for a while now) but from its direct predecessor, the Core i7 2700K.

Over the next weeks you’ll also see that Ivy Bridge brought with it a bevy of new hardware releases, from motherboards to RAM to SSDs, as one way or another you do get quite unique advantages if you buy hardware that has been optimised for Intel hardware. The optimisations, however, revolve mostly around the motherboard and its chipset rather than the CPU, so if you see Z77 bundles with Core i7 2600K processors at a good price, you might want to consider the deal. As much as HD 4000 graphics are an improvement over their Sandy Bridge predecessor, many will keep on asking why bother with processor graphics in the mid-to-high end of things, considering most discrete GPUs will simply annihilate it. Ivy Bridge does bring DX 11 compute capabilities which we can only expect Intel will leverage down the line. Our media encoding results with the HD 4000 were close to the results we had with a discrete (GTX 460 1GB) GPU, which is nothing short of amazing. Gaming, while it might not be its forte, is definitely on the menu. Add to that the fact that you can combine the processor graphics with a discrete part, it’s up to Intel to bring to the fore some additional features.

Sandy Bridge was, admittedly, a hard act to follow, but Ivy Bridge is more than a speed bump with minor architectural improvements. It’s an important shift in design and manufacturing for Intel. In its own right, Ivy Bridge is a formidable opponent even for some higher-end Extreme Edition CPUs. It happens to also have a great deal of potential for forthcoming software and driver updates, like OpenCL/DirectCompute support. “Potential” is the operative word here, and it might not shake you to your core (no pun intended) and make you rush out to buy it.

If you can do without the power savings, overclocking tweaks and processor graphics, you might be better off picking up a Core i7 2600K/2700K on sale, but if you were about to buy one, this supersedes – dollar for dollar – what the 2700K had on offer, on just about every level. If you already own a Core i7 2600K or 2700K, you needn’t go digging in your pocket for the upgrade money just yet.

PaloAlto's Cubik speakers reviewed

Here we have PaloAlto’s new laptop speakers which are arguably aimed at the Apple crowd. Compatible with both PC and Mac, PaloAlto says the Cubik speakers are a high end system that offers sound which is unmatched by other speakers in its class. 

The first thing you’ll probably notice about Palo Alto’s speakers is the design – a cube but at a weird angle – which makes fitting them on your desk kind of a pain if you live among clutter. I do.

But once you’ve figured out how to screw the base on (not hard) and plugged the things in, they complement a stylish laptop but look very out of place with a desktop. That was the idea. PaloAlto says that the way they are designed means you can place them anywhere in a room and get the same quality of sound – which you do. 

Unfortunately they are not particularly portable, so one assumes they are intended for the user with a desktop replacement laptop. Fortunately for Palo Alto there are a lot of those out there, and they’re available to buy on the Apple store, which shouldn’t hurt revenues. Again, the portability is testing for someone who moves around a lot but doesn’t like the  generally tinny sounds that come out of, say, a netbook. Headphones are still the best bet on that front. Especially because you’re going to need a power supply – these aren’t some flouncey USB powered speakers, they need proper juice.

Impressively, they handled Skream’s dub island and you could still hear the beats over the top. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eWnp_RwKCU It struggled about half-way through, but a worn out or elderly sub can give you the kind of wobble you don’t want to hear. The Cubiks have long-vent advanced enclosure, which is the technology that enables the rich sound and bass from a small system. 

A problem was the controls. They’re on the speaker itself, which is fine, but the way the individual speaker is designed and sits on your desk means you’ve got to reach around to turn the volume up or down. The buttons were not particularly clearly marked, so if you’re a forever alone basement dweller they will be no good for 2am bouts of Starcraft with the lights off. 

You can tell why when you switch them on. The design is incredibly clever. It manages to deliver a respectable amount of bass without totally muddying the music. Of course, it won’t compare to a real sub-woofer or high end gear, but in a touch, they’re an OK buy for what they can do. 

PaloAlto claims that the Cubiks are of a comparable quality to BOSE PC speakers and for half the price, at £179.49. Admittedly, there are similar options in the same class that cost a lot more – but we would still recommend a full set up for sound buffs regardless. Those are upgradeable. I have to say that my six year old Creative I-Trigue speakers, which have been used an awful, awful lot, still deliver clearer clarity and overall sound quality, with a fuller experience. Personally, the price tag seems a little high for the product you get. Although it is undoubtedly a smart design with impressive quality for what they are, music buffs will still probably prefer a more serious, fuller option.

We had a dubstep DJ and music producer give the speakers a run through. He was impressed with the punch they pack for the size and set-up, but ultimately, said in a pinch they wouldn’t do for basic sound engineering or, in his opinion, listening. But he still liked them, because they are a likeable product.

Marrakech virtual chip conference heats up

I’m only in Marrakech because there was supposed to be a chip conference going on that got canned. Jerry Sanders III was supposed to be here but the trouble in North Africa and the earthquake-tsunami in Japan was a further blow.

As I’d paid for my air ticket already, it seemed pointless not to come here. And I have had quite a fun time and got too close to the sun – a bit like Icarus but I don’t have waxwings.

So here’s where I’ve been and what I’ve done for my solo chip conference. I am not Michael Winner. I am Michael Magee.

I first tipped up at this Riad – it doesn’t cost a lot – it’s cheap, it’s clean and it’s nice too. From there I ventured northwards to the Grand Place, that’s the place that got bombed last week. There is still quite a lot of tension in Marrakech, that’s for sure.

My Riad, my home from home, has a crimson winged finch that’s quite bossy in making sure it keeps the house sparrows at bay. As I already said on FB,  it’s quite beautiful, the breakfast is simple and straightforward, and it’s quite a delight to stay in this Absolutely Fab place.

Tonight I made the compulsory evening trip past the Old Palace, where former sultans, kings or whatever held court and had plenty of rooms for concubines and where the swifts shriek loudly as dusk descends. Why do swifts take all the effort to fly from sub-Saharan Africa to North Yorkshire braving all the perils the flight takes? No one knows the answer to that question.

Tonight, and this is where the comparison between me and Michael Winner ends, I decided to go a bit upmarket and go to Les Borjs de la Kasbah, about 30 metres away from chez nous. I had a delightful meal complete with a wonderful Moroccan rose, an espresso coffee, a chicken tajine, a bottle of water and wonderful service for about 23 Euro. The Euro is almost equivalent to a quid, as I write this.

I must say that I am not too keen on playing golf and the like. Personally I prefer darts because it’s almost always conducted in a pub under strict rules that mean no ball games are allowed.

The Grand Square was a tense place today, but the tourists as usual wandered around a little aimlessly, no doubt hoping they’d be the target of a chicken cous cous rather than an Al Qaeda outrage.  Nevertheless, there is anti-Western feeling abroad. An adolescent in the Medina screamed at me in French today, telling me to go away.  Luckily, I am Scottish, so couldn’t understand a single word he was screaming.

In these circumstances, I am pleased to announce that Morocco is still a pretty fab place, despite everything. I first came here in 1968 but didn’t catch the Marrakesh Express. Instead, I found myself between the devil and the deep blue sea – in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave. How we Danes, Brits and Yanks laughed at Franco for claiming Gibraltar as his while still maintaining a foothold in North Africa and paying his conscripts about one shilling a month (clothing, food, Fascist discipline compris).

How glad I am to be in Maroc, nearly 40 years later. The swifts are still screaming and it has a Cyber Park! I am not sure if it is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), like Tangier used to be in the bad, sorry good old daze…

We build a fab Intel Media PC

We decided to go and build  a PC using the Intel Sandy Bridge 2nd Generation Core processors and the new LGA 1155 socket. The processor is the i5 2nd Generation Core – 2500K Unlocked version. When paired with the H67 chipset on this motherboard it means that Graphics Overclocking is enabled. Early reviews jumped the gun because Intel was forced to a chipset recall, as we explain later on in this review.

This is one of Intel’s so called Media platforms. It is a micro ATX motherboard and its specification is designed to take advantage of the Intel 2nd Generation Core processors and their HD graphics support.  This platform uses  the Intel Series 6 chipsets – in particular the H67 Express Chipset designed to support HD audio, SATA both 6Gb/s (2) and 3Gb/s (3+1 eSATA), 2 PCI Express connectors and one PCI connector,  Intel PRO 10/100/1000 network connection,  2 USB 3.00 and up to 14 USB 2.0. The DH67BL also has the Intel Rapid Storage Technology for RAID 0,1,5 and 10, an optional extra for this chipset. 

Intel board

The H67chipset was  recalled due to the Cougar Points fault, which affects the 3Gb/s SATA ports only. The degradation is slow and take one to two years to exhibit fully, however it is enough for the whole H67 chipset motherboards including non-Intel ones using this chipset, to be recalled. TechEye therefore did a before and after test of this platform with the replacement H67 B3 Revised chipset too, which is supposed to have fixed this, in order to get the full picture and deliver a fair review to our readers.

Intel

The system we built used a standard Gigabyte ATX case, an Antec  Basiq 550W power supply, 4 GB of DDR3 1333, an Intel 80GB SSD, SATA DVD Blue-Ray drive, a Seagate 500GB SATA hard disk as backup to test the 3Gb/s SATA channels. The operating system was Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit edition. We used exactly the same processor and peripherals on both revisions of the motherboard, seating them in exactly the same way with Intel Fan Heat Sink DHA-A and Arctic Silver 5 heat sink compound.

It is worth noting that the Integrated Graphics only supports up to DirectX 10.1 though DirectX 11 was installed.

The comparison of the before and after for the 3Gb/s SATA channels using the Seagate 500GB SATA did show a very slight degradation for the original motherboard. This was not exactly calibrated however and simply compared several read specs of the Seagate 500GB SATA. It showed that in a couple of weeks on the original H67 it had degraded by a few tenths of percentage.  The benchmarking software can vary that much from test to test, so it was run several times but the trend was always downwards. On the new B3 release there was noticeable improvement from the outset for the same drive of several per cent and it has not degraded at all as yet. I therefore conclude that this issue has been resolved.

For the B3 revision the BIOS was updated to the most recent versions as were all the drivers. This may also account for some of the improvements.

Sandy Bridge and the saga of the faulty motherboards
The story of the new Intel 2nd Generation Sandy Bridge processors with the  LGA 1155 and the corresponding Intel motherboards has been an on-going saga this year. In December 2010 we were asked to review the DP67BG with i7 and the DH67BL with i5. Due to delays we did not get everything set to do this review until the time of the recall of the H67 and P67 Express Chipset Motherboards in late January. We at Techeye felt that we were not happy reviewing this product after that, unless we could also review the replacement motherboards with the revised chipsets in a before and after capacity. So we have waited for replacement motherboards and have done thorough checks on the faulty version and the new replacement for comparison. We felt this was only fair to our readers as many early reviews of these platforms were glowing and yet they still turned out to be all faulty.

The problem was not with the processors at all, as our tests show, but with the H67 chipset on the motherboards and not just Intel’s motherboards but all using this chipset. It was the Cougar Points on the SATA controller. This did not affect Channel  0 or 1, usually reserved for the boot devices but with time all the other channels would degrade in performance.  The significance of this was somewhat downplayed, many saying it was a minor  fault and would not show up with any significance for one or two years but this is still a critical fault. Product recalls are very expensive and the degradation was faintly noticeable in our investigation in as little as two weeks. It therefore looks like the early version was simply an unfinished product, not ready for release and it has to beg the question, was this more likely the result of marketing strategies overruling some of the quality assurance concerns?

In conclusion the replacement B3 H67 and P67 chipsets do appear to fix the problems. It is unfortunate that it had to come to this and perhaps some may not be so quick to get there first with such new hardware releases in future. Hopefully many lessons have been learned and we can look forward to more rigorous quality assurance in future. The B3 H67 and P67 chipset is the finished product that should have been the first to market release. The original releases have been shown to be more of a prototype. Our results show the B3 version to be a stable and fast platform for both we reviewed.

Conclusions
Though the on board graphics (Intel HD Graphics Family) is only DirectX 10.1 compatible this platform is excellent for all but high end gaming and 3D design. With the DVI-I and HDMI display options, Graphics Overclocking with the B3 H67 Chipset, Realtek High Definition  audio output including Toslink optical connector, the extra USB ports and MicroATX size board this makes it a very versatile platform for all media manipulation and development. It would also make a very good basis for a Home Theatre PC.

Specifications
Intel Core i5-2500K Processor Key Features
·    4-Way Multi-Task Processing
·    Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
·    Intel Smart Cache
·    Graphics Overclocking Enabled with Intel H67 Express Chipset (and H67 B3 Revised)
·    Integrated Memory Controller
·    Chipset/Motherboard Compatibility
·    AES-NI
·    Built-in Visuals
Intel Desktop Board DH67BL (Media)
·    2nd generation Intel Core Processor support (LGA 1155)
·    Intel H67 Express Chipset (revised to H67 B3)
·    Support for processor graphics included in all 2nd generation Intel Core processors
·    Intel Rapid Storage Technology for RAID 0, 1,5 and 10
·    Dual-channel DDR3 with four connectors for 1333/1066 MHz memory support (32 GB max)
Supports  1.2 V to 1.8 V memory voltage control for maximum DIMM compatibility
·    Gen 2.0 PCI Express* x16 graphics connector
·    Two PCI Express* x1 connectors and one PCI connector
·    Two SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports and three SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports, with one port compatible with an eSATA extension
·    One eSATA 3.0 Gb/s port
·    Two SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports: 5.0 Gb/s signalling rate
·    Fourteen Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports: Six back panel ports and eight additional ports via four front internal headers.
·    Integrated Intel PRO 10/100/1000 Network Connection
·    Ten-channel Intel High Definition Audio with multi-streaming capability: Features internal S/DIF header and front panel audio header with 7.1 Analogue output and one Toslink optical output from back panel
·    DVI-I + HDMI*: Supports dual independent display and allows for the most flexible display output for Intel processors with Intel® HD Graphics.
·    MicroATX Form Factor

Benchmarks
NovaBench Score 673
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate
Intel Core i52500K 3.30GHz @ 3301 MHz
Graphics Card: Intel(R) HD Graphics Family

4004 MB System RAM (Score: 157)
– RAM Speed: 12947 MB/s

CPU Tests (Score: 474)
– Floating Point Operations/Second: 102768688
– Integer Operations/Second: 422686308
– MD5 Hashes Generated/Second: 1183689

Graphics Tests (Score: 28)
3D Frames Per Second: 99

Hardware Tests (Score: 14)
– Primary Partition Capacity: 74 GB
– Drive Write Speed: 94 MB/s

SiSoftware Sandra Lite 2011 SP1
Display
Connection    Local Connection

Processor Arithmetic
Combined Score    70.75GOPS
Result ID    Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-2500K CPU @ 3.30GHz (4C 3.6GHz, 3.6 GHz IMC, 2 x 256kB L2, 6MB L3)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Processor Multi-Media
Combined Score    181.90MPix/s
Result ID    Intel(R) Core(TMA) i5-2500K CPU @ 3.30GHz (4C 3.6GHz, 3.6 GHz IMC, 2 x 256kB L2, 6MB L3)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Memory Bandwidth
Combined Score    17.40GB/s
Result ID    Intel Core (Sandy Bridge) DRAM Controller; 2 x 2GB Kingston 99U5471-002A00LF DIMM DDR3 (1.33GHz) PC3-17000 (9-9-9-24 4-33-10-5)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Physical Disks
Combined Score    251.74MB/s
Result ID        INTEL SSDSA2M080G2GC (80GB, SATA300, 2.5” SSD)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Video Rendering
Error (335)    Direct3D 11 Devices: Intel(R) DH Graphics Family. Display call failed. Try another interface or update video drivers.
Combined Score    21.64MPix/s
Result ID    Intel(R) HD Graphics Family (12 SM4.1 850MHz, 64MB, DDR3 1.33GHz 128-bit, Integrated Graphics)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Overall Score
Combined Score     1087 (total)
Finished Successfully    Yes

Is this the first iPad 2 to climb a volcano?

Thanks to a well-stocked campus Apple Store and quite a lot of driving around, I ended iPad 2 launch day with a shiny new tablet in hand. I didn’t have time to start on my review immediately though, because my flight to Guatemala was only a few hours away. So the iPad ended up shoved in the bottom of my backpack as I made my way through security lines and customs stations and, finally, to the streets of Guatemala City.

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth.

I took a bus from there to the nearby city of Antigua. It’s a strange town – filled with nice ex-pat bars and fancy restaurants on one street and houses made of tin sheeting and crumbling brick on the next. Antigua was my base to explore rural Guatemala and, eventually, the top of an active volcano. My iPad 2 came along for every step of the journey.

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop.

Unreliable hotel WiFi is just one of those things you put up with in a country still recovering from a 26-year civil war. Every morning, I’d flit into a nearby cafe to eat my breakfast and take care of my morning work. The place was always filled with ex-pats and missionaries working in the outlying villages. Within a few short mornings, my iPad 2 was the “go to” email machine for all of my new friends.

But it wasn’t until I travelled to the sleepy town of San Lorenzo that my new iPad was really put through its paces. Five minutes of tooling around on GarageBand was enough to convince me that the iPad 2 was the perfect device to keep a gaggle of little kids entertained. A local youth mission was only too eager to help me test that theory out.

There weren’t many kids hanging around when I first arrived, but I quickly found one little girl with a Hannah Montana t-shirt who was eager to play. I took her apparel as a sign that she wouldn’t be offended by my complete lack of musical talent.

iPad 2 is easy

It took me about three minutes, total, to run her through all the basics on the app. How to switch instruments, how to play, how to set up the drums. By the time my demo was over, she was all but an expert. Despite the fact that she’d probably never seen a touchscreen before that afternoon, my little friend was running her own demos within the hour.

Already an expert on the iPad 2

Before long, it was time for me to head out and get some table-building done. But I didn’t want to deprive my Guatemalan homies of their new toy before it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, my good friend Magenta (who saw Rocky Horror for the first time that week) was there to take over. After a little more GarageBand, she decided it was time to fire up Photobooth.

The kids didn't know what to make of that one at first
The kids weren’t quite sure what to make of that one, at first.

Magenta showed them how to use it - and they loved it

But then Magenta showed them how to warp the faces of their friends into weird, twisty blobs. They loved it.

If I’d had more time there, I’d have pulled out a Family Guy DVD to test my new theory on the convergent amusement trends of poor children in the third world and stoned college students.

The iPad 2's kaleidoscope view was a crowd-pleaser

The kaleidoscope view was a big crowd-pleaser too. If I hadn’t had a volcano to climb, I’m sure they would have drained the battery and giggled the whole way.

Kaleidoscope feature still a big crowd pleaser with Guetemala kids

The Volcano.

This is a picture of the Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976.

The Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976

We arrived a little less than a year after the most recent catastrophic eruption, and things were peaceful. The ground was covered in a thick layer of marble-sized volcanic rock. Once we hit clouds, the whole world got real moist. I worried a little about the iPad, nestled (perhaps unwisely) in the very top of my pack.

On top of a volcano with an iPad 2 in a backpack

But I needn’t have. The iPad functioned perfectly well when we hit base camp. Magenta stuck it into her giant adventure purse, and we set out with our Ox Guides to roast marshmallows on the tip of a volcano. I’d been expecting a giant rent filled with lava. Reality was somewhat less colorful.

The last eruption pulled open a tiny scar on Pacaya’s tip. Raw, boiling geothermal heat radiated out from it. If you got closer than about a foot, it was hot enough to singe your eyebrows. Marshmallows cooked in seconds, no flame required. To help with the lighting, we tossed some sticks in. They ignited, providing me with yet another Photobooth opportunity.

Roasting marshmallows on top of a volcano

Kaleidoscope roasted marshmallows

There was also a giant heated cave nearby. At the top was a great vent, bleeding intense heat out into the sauna-like room.

A giant heated cave nearby

As I fiddled about, Magenta snapped this picture of the world’s first iPad 2 to reach the top of a volcano. That’s just my assumption. Maybe Apple really does get crazy with the stress tests.

The first iPad 2 on top of a volcano!

The iPad 2 is pretty darn resilient. I wasn’t reckless with it, but I also didn’t hesitate to toss it into a backpack and toss that backpack into the bed of a ratty old F-150 for a harrowing ride through poorly maintained mountain roads. If it handled all the moisture of Pacaya, plus being sat on for close to an hour by a nameless member of my tour group. I didn’t even have a smart cover to protect the display.

Apple made this thing right. I’m frustrated by several aspects of iOS– the lack of widgets is annoying to a long-time Android user, and being forced to go through iTunes to add in media sucks. I’m considering a jailbreak. The iPad doesn’t do as much as I’d like, but it does what it is built for exceptionally well.

The iPad runs smoother, provides a more enjoyable browsing experience and offers a superior volume and quality of entertainment content to every rival I’ve tried. And, between CES and MWC, I’ve tried nearly all of them. I’m sure Motorola’s Xoom or HP’s TouchPad could both have survived my trip around Guatemala. I doubt either of them could have kept a room full of hyperactive village kids entertained for hours on end.

For more of my Guatemalan iPad 2 adventures go here.

The view from the hotel roof, slightly modified
The view from my hotel roof… slightly modified.