Quick Look at ASUS UX51V: My CES 2013 Laptop

Autore: AnandTech

Brian and Vivek talked about their CES equipment, and I thought I’d chime in as well—except I don’t really have anything worth discussing other than my laptop. My Nikon D3100 DSLR with a kit lens and a dumbphone (with a slider keypad) aren’t even worth this sentence, so we’ll just move on. No, the only really exciting piece of kit that I have for Las Vegas this year is ASUS’ new UX51V “not-an-Ultrabook”, which is basically an Ultrabook but with a standard voltage quad-core processor. Take last year’s Ivy Bridge N56VM prototype, upgrade the dGPU to a GT 650M, switch to the 35W quad-core i7-3612QM, and then make it all thinner and give it an aluminum chassis and you’ve got the UX51V.

The UX51VZ is sleek looking, offers plenty of performance potential, and it might just be the best laptop I’ve been able to test during the past year. If it were just looks, we wouldn’t have much to discuss, but ASUS pairs the nice looks and attractive components (in most areas) with some great elements like a 1080p matte IPS display. Hallelujah! (It’s an LG Display LP156WF4-S if you’re wondering.) Maybe we’re finally at the point where high-end laptops can ditch the TN panels we’ve been using for over a decade? The keyboard layout is also good (it’s still missing the full-size Zero key for the 10-key, but that’s my only real complaint) and the keyboard is backlit. The UX51VZ showed up on my doorstep unannounced right around Christmas (in the middle of a move), so I didn’t get a chance to really put it to the test yet, and CES 2013 served as the proving grounds.

There are a few oddities with the UX51V, however. First, ASUS goes the dual-SSD in RAID 0 route (with SanDisk drives—the model number is SD5SE2128G1002E, and it appears to be based on the newer SanDisk drives with the Marvell SS889175 controller), so all the usual caveats apply: potentially less reliable and no faster for random accesses. Given this is a high-end Windows 8 laptop, it’s also at least a bit surprising that the LCD isn’t a touchscreen; I’m not really feeling the loss—in fact, I’m ecstatic we’re looking at a matte IPS panel!—but undoubtedly some people will be disappointed. The touchpad on the other hand is a sore spot for me, as I’m getting periodic activation of the touchpad while typing this up and it’s just not as responsive as I’d like. ASUS uses Elan hardware with their own customized drivers, and for all the complaining we’ve done over the past year they still don’t seem to have the drivers nailed down (though I have to note that I haven’t looked for updated drivers yet).

Before we get to this mini-review quick look, I want to note that I still haven’t had a chance to benchmark the laptop and see how it holds up under a sustained load. I have concerns as you’ll note that the hardware is basically the same as what I tested in Dell’s XPS 15 last summer. The XPS 15 simply couldn’t handle any sustained load, going so far as to heavily throttle both the CPU and GPU even when just playing games—never mind actual stress testing where both the CPU and GPU are at 100% loads simultaneously. Hopefully, the UX51VZ holds up well, because it really has some great qualities going for it.

The look and feel is certainly one of the main points of attraction for the UX51VZ. ASUS takes the Xenbook aesthetic and simply inflates it to the 15.6” form factor, and the result works quite well. The larger area also makes room for a full 10-key, and in fact there’s about an inch or so to spare on the sides that ASUS could have used to fix the one complaint: the smallish [0] on the number keypad. Of all the 15.6” laptops I’ve looked at so far, the best of the breed in terms of keyboard and layout is the Samsung Series 7 Chronos, where both the 17.3” and 15.6” models have nearly perfect keyboard layouts. After that, the ASUS is at least close, with a generally good feel and no layout quirks. But enough about the look and feel of the laptop—though arguably those are some of the most important elements—how did the UX51VZ fare at CES?

Obviously, pulling out a laptop to do some writing isn’t exactly something you do without thought. Most people are running around with smartphones or at most a tablet to use for checking appointments and such. A full-size laptop is cumbersome, and even at a bit under five pounds the UX51VZ is certainly not “light”. It does come out of sleep quickly enough (under two seconds), and I appreciate having full access to all my Windows applications, but a tablet or smartphone is far more handy on the show floor. Connectivity is merely “okay” as well; ASUS includes a dual-band 802.11n WiFi adapter, the Intel Advanced-N 6235 (with Bluetooth support), but the wireless stack just isn’t as well optimized as on certain other laptops (MacBooks, basically—if you ever get a chance, do a comparison of connection speeds and send/receive rates in a crowded area with a PC vs. a MacBook and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

Battery life was a bit odd. ASUS is using a 72Wh battery, which is quite large for something this thin but very much appreciated. Typical runtime using the Power4Gear Battery Saving setting should be much higher, but I estimate my light use (mostly typing with some WiFi and Internet) at CES still only managed around five hours. With meetings and other things going on where the laptop wasn’t in use, that should have been sufficient, but on Thursday I actually used up the battery after just eight hours, during most of which the laptop was asleep in my backpack. Either the somewhat frequent suspect/resume used up power, the standby mode used more power than expected, or something else funky was going on. I would have estimated light battery use to get closer to seven hours, and with my Thursday schedule I probably only had the laptop out and active for three hours. I’ll have to look into this more, but it’s possible either connected standby was sucking up a fair amount of power or else the laptop actually wasn’t fully entering sleep mode. For the remaining three days of CES time, I never had a problem and today I’m still at 50% battery life with an estimated 2.5 hours remaining after a couple hours of use throughout the day.

Outside of the running out of power on Thursday, however, I have few complaints. The UX51VZ performed well and it was light enough to carry around while still offering an excellent display and a good user experience. This is the sort of laptop we’d really like to see more companies making—not necessarily 15.6”, but all the other aspects: great screen, good build quality, a good keyboard, and in general no areas where we have to really hold up a red flag and point out flaws. Several of the other AnandTech editors were quite impressed with the overall look and feel of the UX51VZ and expressed an interest in buying one. And unfortunately, that’s one thing the UX51VZ doesn’t have going for it: the price. Similar to the Acer Aspire S7, for all the great qualities on tap, the price may simply be too much for most potential customers. The MSRP of our review unit is $ 1999 I believe—it appears to sell online for around $ 1910. We can do the math, and as we noted in the Acer S7 review, it’s simply too much for something that doesn’t have the following of an Apple product.

I’d put the BoM (Bill of Materials) at close to $ 850, and some of the other editors think even that’s too high; asking over twice the BoM is just not something you can do in the Windows laptop space unless you’re selling enterprise laptops/mobile workstations. The price should probably be closer to $ 1500, and then we’d have a serious contender on hand. If ASUS wanted to be daring, try selling direct to customers at those prices and cut out the third party middlemen, and they’d not only grab some awards but they’d also make a lot more money per unit. At the current price, we have a great laptop that we can recommend in most areas, but most people will balk at the bottom line and likely go elsewhere. Still, I can’t say enough how pleased I am that ASUS is putting 1080p IPS displays in their higher end laptops; it’s almost enough to make me look past the pricing…almost.

Nuovi Ultrabook Serie 7 Ultra e Chronos Serie 7 da Samsung

Autore: Hardware Upgrade RSS

In occasione del CES 2013 di Las Vegas Samsung rinnova le proprie soluzioni notebook presentando il nuovo Ultrabook Serie 7 Ultra e una versione aggiornata del già noto Chronos Serie 7. Serie 7 Ultra dispone di un display da 13,3 pollici con risoluzione full HD e sarà disponibile in due versioni, con o senza pannello multi-touch.

Lo spessore massimo di questo modello è pari a 18,9 mm per un peso di 1,65Kg nella versione con pannello multi-touch, e rinunciando a questa opzione è possibile risparmiare circa 200 grammi. Lo chassis è interamente realizzato in alluminio e la tastiera è retroilluminata, con caratteristiche di design ormai comuni alle più recenti soluzioni Samsung.

Per quanto riguarda la configurazione hardware Samsung indica l’utilizzo di processori Intel Core i7/i5 ULV in abbinamento una gpu AMD HD8570M e una dotazione massima di memoria ram DDR3 pari a 16GB. Come opzioni di espansione per questo Ultrabook sono previste 2 porte USB 2.0 affiancate da un’ulteriore connessione USB 3.0, uscita HDMI e mini VGA.

Nel caso del Chronos Serie 7 viene indicato un aggiornamento rispetto al modello precedente: lo spessore dello chassis è stato ridotto a 20,8mm, la cpu prevista è una soluzione quad core Intel Core i7 3635QM in abbinamento a una gpu AMD Radeon HD 8870M dotata di 2GB di memoria video dedicata. Per entrambi i modelli è prevista l’installazione di Windows 8.

Al momento attuale non abbiamo indicazioni relative a prezzi e disponibilità dei nuovi modelli sul mercato italiano.

CES 2013 in Retrospect: Laptop Market Trends

Autore: AnandTech

With CES now wrapped up and all of us home or headed home, Anand has tasked each of us with putting together some thoughts on what we saw at CES and where the market is headed. I’ve discussed much of what I’m going to say here in our recent podcast, but with my area of focus being laptops I’ve got both good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news.

Last year at CES 2012, I gave my thoughts on some of the most exciting products of the show for me. Chief among these were the Lenovo Yoga, ThinkPad X220, and the Sony VAIO SE, both of which shared a common trait: IPS display panels. They were really the only two laptops I saw one year ago with IPS panels, and it was frustrating to see displays improving on other devices while the laptop languished in mediocrity. I read a book recently where the question was posed: what’s the opposite of success? If you answered failure like so many do, you’re only correct if we’re speaking in terms of the English language antonym. The author of that book posited—and I wholly support his position—that the opposite of success is mediocrity, and in fact if you want to succeed, your best bet is to increase your rate of failure. The people and companies that succeed don’t do so by accident; they do so by repeatedly trying, and in the process that might mean one, two, or many failures.

This year at CES 2013, not only have we reviewed several IPS equipped laptops over the past year, but there were numerous laptops on display where it’s apparent that the OEMs are finally starting to get the importance of display quality. The race to the bottom hasn’t finished, sadly, but with displays the OEMs are finally being forced into recognizing how critical the component that you stare at whenever you use a device really is. A walk through Intel’s booth for example had well over a dozen different Ultrabooks and laptops on display; many of these—and in particular the hybrid laptop/tablet devices—are now using IPS panels, or some other equally viable wide viewing angle technology (*VA or PLS). As such laptops begin to occupy retail space next to the budget TN panels, hopefully there will be enough uptake of the laptops with improved displays that we can finally halt the downward spiral we’ve been on in that area.

The bad news is that the reason we have this trend towards better displays is almost completely attributable to tablets. When consumers look at a $ 300-$ 400 tablet and see wide viewing angle displays with decent colors and good contrast and then they look at laptops with low-end TN panels, their eyes tell them all that they need to know about which looks better. The problem is that more and more people are shifting to tablets, and once they leave they’re basically gone for good. I said something similar to quite a few of the vendors that I met with, and the message bears repeating: if tablets offer better displays, better build quality, better features, and an overall better experience, for many people a $ 400 tablet (or $ 500 with a keyboard of some form) is the far more sensible choice.

I don’t think everyone will end up using tablets and smartphones in place of laptops, at least not in the near future, in part because many of us older folks just don’t have the vision to deal well with smaller screens. However, I also don’t think we’re anywhere near the final equilibrium in terms of tablets vs. laptops, and when we reach that point I suspect that tablets will be outselling laptops in the market just like laptops are outselling desktops today. The best way to stem the tide of departing laptop users is to improve the value of what they’re getting—not only by cutting the price of laptops, but also by offering better features and quality. Better displays, especially touchscreens, are a good way to keep people buying laptops. Better battery life and a more consistent user experience (e.g. good SSDs) also help. But mark my words: just as the netbook market has essentially imploded, going from dozens of netbooks from every conceivable manufacturer to essentially none at this CES, the budget laptop market is likely to do the same. Tablets are there to pick up the users, and the only real question is will those tablets be running Windows, Android, or iOS.

Magnetic brain stimulation — what can it do for you?

Autore: ExtremeTech

Magnetic brain stimulation is an up-and-coming technology and its purveyors seek to apply it to new diseases nearly as fast as they can be diagnosed. The latest comer to the party is Israeli-based Brainsway, which recently got the green light from the FDA to treat depression with their new, deeper-penetrating electromagnet. These devices are no joke, they can generate magnetic fields in the range of a several tesla, an amount comparable to many MRI machines.

Dumping up to 8000 amps into their coils and driving it home with more than a kilovolt, any of these machines would make one heck of a wireless phone charger. It should come as little surprise that they could have an effect on your brain. The question we must first demand be answered is — what exactly do they do?

If you brought your child to the hospital with a broken leg, and the doctors took out a figure-eight shaped wand, waved it over the leg and set you packing, you might seek a second opinion. If your malady was instead depression, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cocaine addiction, or obesity, you might not have too much to lose in giving it a go. There is little question that these kinds of devices work — the calibration procedure alone, which serves to position the coils in a desired location, should remove any doubt of that. To target specific parts of the brain, exploratory stimulation pulses are sent to your motor cortex until the exact region and power setting that just twitches your thumb is hit upon. Once that position is known, the device can be translated to target other structures directly.

Brain stimulation - (Transcranial magnetic stimulation)When these electromagnets are fired, the huge current deforms the coils and they secondarily emit loud clicks, much like a speaker or the hum of a 60Hz transformer. Meanwhile, deep in the brain, the neurons are thoughts to be excited by small transient currents induced across their neurites, which, in turn, would release neurotransmitters.

While these effects are frequently trotted out as the main mechanisms underlying magnetic stimulation, it needs to be recognized that the real reason these devices work at all is the same reason that a sharp bang to an old-fashioned TV can clear up the static, or the Fonz could similarly charm the jukebox — sometimes things just need a little shaking up.

When these fields and currents are set up inside the brain at significant levels, things are going to move. Neurites get twanged like guitar strings, which leads to their activation. As much as a World War I soldier dared not remove the boots that covered the sources of his unseen displeasure, what assurance might we have that repeatedly donning these magic helmets would not create cerebral trenchfoot inside our skulls?

Frequently in medicine, the difference between remedy and poison can come down to the dose — the same should be expected for stimulation. For cases where all known medicines fail to offer benefit, patients have little other choice then to try something more direct. Targeting the brain for internal stimulation by using noninvasive external coils is obviously preferable to deep brain stimulation with internal electrodes for all but the most severe indications, and can generally be regarded as being much safer. On a related note, DIY electrical stimulation is not something to be safely pursued beyond low power sources (or likely at all), however for those so inclined, DIY magnetic stimulation may offer a little more enticement.

Ultimately magnetic stimulation, even Brainsway’s new deep tissue device, will have a limited window of opportunity as more precise methods to target neurons are approved. They will carry much the same risks and concerns — primarily that for the predisposed brain, seizures are a default and ever-present attractor state. Ultrasound stimulation is a case-in-point. Whereas the mechanism of activation in this case is initially thermal in origin, this is translated again to mechanical activation of neurons — but the difference between ultrasonic activation and ultrasonic cooking is by degree.

In sorting through these issues, magnetic stimulation can be fairly accepted as a powerful new tool of which we should avail ourselves in the right circumstances, though the best course forward is open and honest reckoning of what it does and does not do.

Now read: Boost your brain’s power with a 9V battery and some wet sponges

LTE Broadcast (EMBMS) Shown Running on Verizon’s Band 4 LTE on Qualcomm Hardware

Autore: AnandTech

Another demo I was impressed by at the Qualcomm booth was LTE Broadcast (EMBMS – Evolved Multimedia Broadcast / Multicast Service) demonstrated on a live test network showing an example live streaming event video player. EMBMS is a service which allows, as its name suggests, multicast delivery of both live streaming video and data. The service is a part of the 3GPP specification and is aimed at reducing network load when there’s some traffic workload that everyone on the network in either a single cell, region, or entire network are likely to watch or view. The ideal workload example is a stadium where participants all want to watch multiple angles of broadcast video — rather than unicast individual video streams to each user in the stadium which would quickly overwhelm the network, the idea is to multicast the same video streams or data to every user on the network. A middleware layer on the device then exposes EMBMS data to applications or the OS for it to use. 

Qualcomm provides a middleware layer on its devices that implement EMBMS for applications to use, along with an SDK and APIs for developers to make their applications able to use EMBMS data. The use case in the stadium scenario involves a user installing a stadium application and then accessing the streams through it. Running this at the 2014 “Big Game” was alluded to during the Paul Jacobs keynote, and I’m told there’s considerable pressure to make this happen. Of course this will require the appropriate network resources and either updates to devices or new devices with the middleware layer.

What was interesting was that this demo was running on 10 MHz of Verizon’s Band 4 just for the show. EMBMS works by allocating a certain number of resource blocks to the service, and in Release 9 (what this demo was running) up to 60 percent of the resource blocks for a given carrier can be allocated to the service. The same demo and streams were playing back at their own booth as well, which I took a look at. There were four 1.9 Mbps WVGA streams running H.264 video, which looked very good compared to the usual couple hundred kilobits streams I see some large events running across a unicast layer.