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Friday, July 28, 2006

Intel Got Centrino Right!

I have found that most people do not understand how the Pentium M or “Centrino” processors work. I will do my best to explain the difference between the new mobile processors verses the full blown versions like the Pentium 4. Ok…for those who know better, the processor is actually the Pentium M and Centrino is the combination of a Pentium M, Intel 855PM or 855GM chipsets, and Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 (or future versions).

Speed: 1.6 GHz = 2.5 GHz?

This is probably one of the most confusing aspects for the average consumer. Centrino chips benchmark much faster than their GHz rating. How is this possible? It is important to know that Intel completely redesigned the Centrino chips from scratch creating a new architecture that is completely new and different. The Pentium M has a better stack manager, branch prediction is more efficient, increased amount of level 2 cache (1 Mb or 2 Mb), more Level 1 cache (four times more data cache than the Pentium 4 class of processors), and the pipeline isn’t as deep in order to avoid the penalty for faulty branch predictions. Also, the Pentium M accepts SSE2 instructions like the Pentium 4.

Lower Power Consumption

The Pentium M uses third-generation SpeedStep technology to raise and lower the clock speeds and core voltages. This technology allows the processor to use more power when needed and less when it isn’t. Power conservation is nearly as important as power in a mobile processor because lower power consumption means a longer battery life. What good is a fast processor if your batter only lasts one hour? Not to say that the Pentium M isn’t a fast processor.

But How Good is the Chipset?


Intel designed the Pentium M to work with the 855 core-logic chipset, which has a 400MHz front-side bus, support for DDR333 memory, and a few power saving features. The 855 chipset can send power-down instructions to the Pentium M and is also capable of shutting down elements of the system bus to further conserve power which goes hand in hand with the SpeedStep technology. A series of ultra-deep sleep states rounds out the 855 chipset's power-saving features. Some versions of this chipset only allow for integrated graphics and others include an AGP 4x slot. Overall, the chipset is good and conserves power well.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

A $70,000 Television???

I couldn’t believe this when I first heard it, but it is true. Panasonic just announced that they are going to release a massive 103” plasma TV (TH-103PZ600U) that will arrive just in time for the holiday season. The retail price is just under 70,000 dollars. For those who are interested, here are the specs: Display Area: 103 inches diagonally DA Height: 50.2 inches DA Width: 89.3 inches HDTV Ready: Yes Contrast Ratio: 4000:1 …and yes, it is 1080P "Panasonic's 103-inch display represents the pinnacle of our achievement to date and truly redefines the level of ultimate home entertainment available for the most demanding video connoisseur." -Andrew Nelkin (Panasonic’s Display Group VP)

I would have to see this to understand the justification behind the price tag. How much of a video connoisseur would you have to be to fork over this much for one TV? If you do have a few thousand (but not 70,000) to spend, I would recommend getting a projector and putting it in a room that has dim lighting. You can get a top of the line projector for anywhere between 10,000 and 12,000 dollars. That is a lot less than purchasing a 103" plasma TV that will only last between 10 and 12 years.

How to Choose a New Laptop (Part 2)

Many people just do not know how to pick the right laptop. The difficulty is in finding the laptop that fits your lifestyle. Many new technologies exist that give some laptops an edge over others. Some are nicer if you want a desktop replacement, and others are nicer if you want a light travel-friendly model. Part 1 of this article with deal with what size of laptop to buy and what screen to buy.

Processor: Dual Core, Centrino, AMD Turion, Pentium 4….which is best?

This is one of the most debatable components of a laptop. Personally, I do not have a dual core right now because most applications can’t utilize the dual core effectively and Intel (my mobile processor brand of choice) runs everything through one FSB (front side bus) that is limited to 533 Mhz. Also, there is a debate over Intel chips and AMD chips. Intel has a better mobile processor, but it is more expensive. The Intel Centrino chips run fast, conserve energy, and generate less heat. If you want to know more about the Centrino processors, feel free to read Intel Got Centrino Right! The right processor will make a big difference in the overall performance of your laptop. One thing to keep in mind is that full blown processors require lots of power and drain batteries quickly. If you want to travel, please buy a mobile processor. You will thank me later.

RAM: How much is enough….and how much is overkill?

Ram is important depending on what you are buying a laptop for. Personally, I never use more than 1 gig, but I do know some who claim to need 2 gigs of ram in their laptops.
For the average user, it is not necessary to load a laptop with ram. I would say that XP only needs about 512 Mb of ram to run most applications well. Just keep in mind how much you want to multitask when considering the amount of ram to buy. If you know how, you can buy a laptop with less ram and upgrade it yourself which is sometimes cheaper. Quality ram and enough of it will allow for you to multitask pretty flawlessly without causing much lag. If there is one rule of ram, it is this: never sacrifice ram for a few dollars savings.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Are HTPCs the Next Big Thing?

Are HTPCs (Home Theater Personal Computers) going to be the next big thing? Maybe. It depends on how technology savvy the average person gets. The thought of running all multimedia content through a single PC is a cool idea and practical. However, pre-made HTPCs don't provide enough "bang for the buck." If you can build a PC or have a PC just laying around, look into buying an HTPC case (between $150 and $300) for an HTPC that looks like a piece of AV (Audio Visual) equipment. I will write review in the future on specific components to put in an HTPC, so keep looking out for those. I am currently in the process of building my own.

How to Choose a New Laptop (Part 1)

Many people do just do not know how to pick a laptop. The difficulty is in finding what the right fit is for you. Many new technologies exist that give some laptops an edge over others. Some are nicer if you want a desktop replacement. Part 1 of this article with deal with what size of laptop to buy and what screen to buy.

Size: Is Bigger Better?

This is a common question among people purchasing a new laptop. A plethora of 17” widescreen desktop replacements exist with beautiful screens, decent speakers (for a laptop), and even media functionality. These laptops are great, but not if you want to travel. The lightest models weigh more than nine pounds and most weight in around twelve pounds. That is a lot to lug around on a daily basis.

Screens: XGA or Widescreen?


There are also two formats of screen currently available: XGA (4:3) or WXGS (16:9). Neither has a clear advantage over the other; however, depending on your use for a laptop, a certain screen format may be right for you.

XGA

If you want a laptop mostly for work (Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Dreamweaver, Etc.), then an XGA may be right for you. XGA screens offer more viewing vertically. If dealing with multimedia, it is hard to justify an XGA while media is converting to widescreen format.

WXGA

If you want a laptop for media or multitasking, widescreen format (WXGA) offers many advantages. With a widescreen laptop, you can download utilities that will allow you to use two applications at once. The utility can size the window so that one window runs on the left half of the screen and another application runs on the right half of the screen. Also, as I mentioned before, media is moving toward adopting widescreen as the standard. Widescreen laptops allow for a much bigger picture while watching any widescreen media (like a widescreen DVD).

SIDE NOTE: Many companies offer screen upgrades such as BrightView (HP), ClearView (Fujitsu), TruBright (Sony), etc. Absolutely buy this upgrade! These screens add more backlighting and provide polarized glass, so that you can see the screen even outside. Also, the viewing angles are much better. The only downside that I have noticed is that the screens do reflect some of the surroundings; however, these reflections are not noticeable unless you focus on them because the polarized glass helps you to see through them easily. I would advise you to go look at working models in a store before purchasing a laptop.