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Budget Windows 8 Tablets work well in ‘RT Mode’

I’m testing a Point of View Mobii Wintab 800W budget Windows 8 tablet and it’s been a tough, slow process. The Wintab 800W is built on Intel’s low-cost reference platform that you’re going to see in a lot of $99 Windows tablet offers this quarter so what you see here applies to many other models. The issue is that with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage you simply can’t approach them as Windows PCs. Working in the desktop means running out of RAM and disk space quickly. Even Chrome is going to take up over 1GB  of disk space after you start using all the features and you’ll end up with this very quickly…

An empty disk on a 16GB Windows 8 tablet

An empty disk on a 16GB Windows 8 tablet

I’m testing the PoV Wintab for Notebookcheck and the process we use for benchmarking is focused on desktop apps. In some extra testing I focused on the RT / Modern ui of built-in apps and Store apps and the results were completely different. Turn off automatic Windows Updates (it’s a security risk but you can selectively download the security patches if you want them) and refrain from installing desktop apps. Switch to RT mode / Start Screen and everything suddenly becomes smooth and trouble-free. These budget Windows 8 tablets are, effectively, RT tablets. Advanced users will probably want to remove the recovery partition (5GB) and experiment and I’m sure that those users will be able to squeeze some impressive usage out of these tablets but for normal users, don’t bother.

Point of View low-cost  16/1 Windows tablet.

Point of View low-cost 16/1 Windows tablet.

My guide to surviving with 32GB of storage applies to 16GB tablets too so if you want to experiment, take a look here.

So here’s the video demo. In it you’ll see browsing with smooth zoom, music playing in Connected Standby, a 33 Mbps 2K video playing, maps and other apps running. In fact, everything a normal user would need is here. It’s an X86 Windows RT tablet.

 

The full review will be linked here when available. (Notebookcheck.net)

Windows Surface Laptops. (Or, How to Kill Consumer Chromebooks.)

After a weekend of testing the new $200 Acer E11 Windows laptop (first impressions and video here) I’ve completed my first-take on the subject of Chromebooks vs modern netbooks. Windows netbooks, or at least the new-wave of netbooks, remain the more flexible option but they don’t ‘kill’ Chromebooks. The Chromebook’s efficient, secure and manageable nature has massive appeal to the education and small-business market and Windows remains too heavyweight and too expensive / time-consuming for a ‘low-cost’ solution. It’s in the consumer space though that Windows continues to have the lead despite being an old and bulky OS. Call it the Minecraft-Skype effect or just attribute it to familiarity; Windows remains the go-to choice. The problem is that Chromebooks are getting better every day and prices are dropping quickly. Entry-level for a spritely 7-hour Chromebook is just  $179. (Acer CB3-111 at Amazon.) It’s great for consumers but not so good for Microsoft who need to respond quickly. Given their opportunity to improve Windows for the next version in mid 2015, what is needed to make sure that next-generation Windows stay ahead of Chromebooks for consumers? Here’s a list of issues that need to be solved, and a simple solution I’m calling a Windows Surface Laptop.

Acer E11 and Acer CB3

Acer E11 and Acer CB3

Switch-on experience.

Windows 8 is already a huge improvement over Windows 7. It boots quickly and runs efficiently. Using a Microsoft account enables account information synchronization and OneDrive storage is nicely integrated. If you use more than one Windows 8 PC it synchronizes settings and setup well across devices. File History will even restore your files if you want to reset your device but there are three issues that kill the experience. Virus checking, file indexing and updates can cause even a powerful PC to fall to its knees after turning it on. Windows 10 will still have to include these features if it retains the same OS architecture as before (it does!) but the process has to be improved. The switch-on experience with Chromebooks is fast and smooth, every time and it’s a major selling point

Disk-creep.

If Microsoft wants to support Windows 10 on a low-cost 64 GB or 32 GB drive then they need to cut disk creep. Windows updates can take a huge amount of space. Desktop applications do too and if you’re unlucky, like I was recently, OneDrive will synchronize a cache to the local disk and kill the PC within hours. A Chromebook lasts almost indefinitely on a reduced disk space without user interaction.

Disk cleanup.

Again, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7 in terms of disk monitoring and clean-up but it’s still ugly. For example, if you want to clean up Windows update files that are under 30 days old you have to use a the command-line. Windows Metro only calculates RT apps disk usage, the desktop application manager only shows desktop apps and there’s no method at all of knowing, quickly, where all the files are building up. Windows 10 needs to include monitoring, alerting, searching and clean-up tools in one place.  [Note: I haven't tested Data Sense on Windows 10 yet.] An alternative would be to store all user files off the disk and to implement a fast reset feature.

Toshiba CB35Reset experience.

PowerWash on a Chromebook is a powerful tool. Within 60 seconds you can fully reset a Chromebook into a clean and safe state. You log in and your apps, obviously cloud-based, are there within a minute. On a Windows 8 PC (with encryption turned on and assuming you don’t have to back up any files or re-install any programs) that process takes 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have disk encryption turned on and you have programs to install and data to restore it takes hours. The only way to increase this speed is to reduce the size of the Windows image, the Windows applications and to have encryption turned on by default. (It’s a security risk to simply reset file descriptors unless those files are encrypted.) Windows also needs to reset to a safe experience and not a recovery partition that might be 2 years old. Windows Store is moving to a model where apps, settings and data could be restored automatically and that’s a good start.

Secure guest mode.

Windows does have a guest mode but the account is not cleaned on logging out as it is on a Chromebook. For those worried about privacy and security the one-time login has real advantages. ChromeOS allows the use of a VPN in this mode and within the session it’s possible to log into Google Drive and work on files. Exiting guest mode removes any trace of that work. Windows needs that mode.

Sort out the memory issue.

Fact: Chromebooks can do more than Windows PCs in the same memory. Windows does some intelligent stuff in memory that can help improve performance but it still hogs memory and doesn’t gracefully use swap. When ChromeOS runs out of memory it starts to compress data in RAM to increase RAM space but Windows ends up using horribly slow disk access. Windows needs to degrade much more slowly.

Improve security.

Run Windows desktop as an administrator and you are asking for trouble. Secure boot can be turned off while personal files are still on the system. There’s little sandboxing. Resource usage is uncontrolled (e.g. network resources) and there are simply too many lines of code. Windows 8 offers improvements in the RT / Modern environment where apps are sandboxed, resource usage is kept in check and if the application adheres to some rules, it can run in the background while the PC is off. Chromebooks can’t do that (think Skype, notifications, streaming audio.) so it makes sense to push the user towards this way of working. With RT / Modern apps now floating on the desktop in Windows 10 it doesn’t look like Microsoft are going to succeed. Files must be encrypted by default.

Acer Aspire E11Add Xbox-cast.

Microsoft badly needs an Xbox dongle to carry Xbox services and to extend Windows Store apps to the big screen. A Miracast adaptor isn’t good enough.

Continue with the good stuff.

Xbox music, videos, games. Skype, Minecraft, Wordament! USB support, advanced networking, free cloud storage. Data sense, Cortana, Health services. Office. Touch support.

 

Windows 10 is likely to improve on Windows 8.1 in every one of the above areas but it’s not going to be good enough. A new security and app model is needed. Fortunately, Microsoft already have it and it’s working well. Windows RT might have tripped-up due to lack of apps but it’s perfect as the base of a consumer laptop operating system. It’s everything we’ve discussed above except Minecraft and that, I’m sure, will be coming soon. The universal apps being built for Windows Phone will all work in Windows RT (in Windows 10) and that’s ignoring the application ecosystem for Windows Store which is a lot better than it was. Internet Explorer (RT) is one of the best touch-enabled browsers around. Office for RT is coming. The notifications center will be there in Windows and sharing between apps and the ‘net already works. Its efficient. Importantly it reduces the code base and that’s always good.

Laptops are laptops and you can’t compete on price at the very low-level but you can make a better consumer operating system and you can add some sweeteners. Free Office, free unlimited OneDrive, simple device and account management, Cortana, Lumia optics and of course, Minecraft! Games, photos and sharing are the key elements for a modern consumer laptop and Windows RT already does this better than ChromeOS.

How you market this Microsoft consumer laptop is another matter. Given that you can’t call it RT and it’s not Windows Phone 10, how do you place it? In my mind I’m already seeing the Xbox logo on the laptop but that might imply full Xbox ability. Surface Laptop? Whatever it’s called I’d pay a $350 for an 11.6-inch 64GB Core M-driven 10-hour fanless one. Would you? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

[For those that are wondering, yes, I run Chromebookworld.com too. It's an interesting and important segment and it keeps me on my feet.]

Acer Aspire E11 / ES1 $200 Netbook first impressions + Video

Acer Aspire E11

The Acer Aspire E11 (ES1 in some areas) is one of a new-wave of 200-euro / dollar Windows netbooks entering the market as both a response to low-cost Chromebooks and  part of a continuing drive to cut the cost of entry-level laptops. It’s made possible by a low-cost Intel System on Chip and tight motherboard integration, low-cost storage and the removal of the fan. Just 32GB of SSD storage is offered so there are some limits to how you can use the ES1. Look at it as a cloud-computer though (100GB of free One Drive is included) and it’s easy to see how it might fit into schools, bedrooms and living rooms in many houses across the world. The Acer Es1 can boot Linux too so if you feel like trying  XBMC , Tails, Ubuntu or other distros, you can. A full unboxing and test video is embedded below, after my words on the first 48 hours with the Acer Aspire E11 ES1-111M.

I unboxed the E 11 (ES1-111M from Amazon.co.uk) and spent an evening videoing and testing and came away feeling positive that the N2840 SoC and the eMMC were working well together. I continued the next day with general browsing, game testing and this…typing. The keyboard isn’t bad at all and although it’s got the a hollow-sounding plastic feel to it there’s a reasonable amount of travel and good accuracy. The touchpad is OK but a bit uncertain on two-finger scrolling as there’s a delay until it starts working.

More information including specifications and benchmarks in the database.

On opening the casing I found good and bad news. There’s a memory slot (2GB installed) but the header for the 2.5-inch drive bay has been removed which is a real shame as a SATA SSD upgrade would have been an easy and rewarding process. You’ll have to decide if you want to go for the slightly more expensive 500GB hard drive version but if you do, consider that until you add the SSD ($60-$100) you’ll have a noisier, slower, less-efficient and less rugged system than this 32GB eMMC version. 10GB is reserved for recovery so if you clean everything up you’ll have about 18GB of free space. The SD card slot is not full-length so you can’t leave the SD card in as storage.

Acer Aspire E11 internal _1_

eMMC storage is never as fast as a good SATA-connected SSD drive but my initial tests on the Acer Aspire E1 showed it to be one of the best eMMCs I’ve tested, until the disk space reduced. After 2 days I had just 4GB of free space left and disk write speeds had dropped. The 4K write speed started a 10MB/s (acceptable) but is now in the 4MB/s range which isn’t so good. I will clean the system, remove the recovery partition and re-test to see if I can improve those figures. I won’t publish the figures I have until I’ve done more testing.

The matte screen has reasonable brightness but appears a little washed. Contrast could be better and of course it’s only 1366×768 resolution which is a result of the price but improves battery life and some graphics performance over a Full HD screen.

Performance

Dual core max turbo

The image above shows the CPU Turbo Boost running at 2.55Ghz constantly under a dual-core load. After 5 minutes there was no throttling indicating that the passive cooling solution works well enough. General Windows operation (after updates, indexing, virus scanning) is quick and responsive.

I’ve added the first set of benchmarks to the product information page here (Cinebench, Sunspider, Peacekeeper etc.) and they’re not bad considering this is an entry-level processor. The Aspire E11 certainly doesn’t feel like anything is holding it up under single-tasking operations but after installing Minecraft and playing for 30 minutes I came out to find slow Chrome tabs and the sluggishness you would normally associate with a pageing / swapping. The 2GB RAM could be more of a limitation than the low-end CPU for some people so consider a 4GB RAM upgrade when you buy your E11. Disk storage is another issue though and you’ll hear more about that below.

Something the Chromebook can’t do is connect to printers, stream files from a NAS, play DVDs and simple things like AC3 support and Bluetooth file transfers. The Acer Aspire E11 is a full PC and can be docked to a 1080p monitor and used just as you would a desktop PC. And it’s silent. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I use on the go sometimes and let me tell you this – at my co-working office space it’s damn annoying to hear the fan when I’m working hard. The move to fanless laptops is welcome.

Skype works fine in the background on Windows 8.1 (I use the RT version for more efficiency) but the camera is a bit grainy.

Speaker quality is OK and goes loud without distortion. There’s a typical lack of bass and roundedness though.

Battery Life

I’m impressed, so far, with the battery life on the Acer Aspire E11. A 36Wh battery isn’t that big and yet it looks like the Acer Aspire E11 is a true 7-hour browsing laptop. Checking battery usage under various conditions showed good efficiency and very low background drain. I was using the E11 for 4hrs and 8 minutes on the first full day of usage (according to powercfg -batteryreport) and 40% battery was available on the next day. [As I finish this article there's still 2 hours battery life left. 15% has been used in the last 2 hours.] Windows 8.1 with a highly consolidated mainboard can be incredibly efficient and I don’t see much difference at all between the Acer CB3 Chromebook and this Acer E11 Windows laptop.

Notes

  • Gigabit Ethernet port is included. (Why don’t we see these on the Chromebooks?)
  • No GPS or other sensors.
  • No TPM (and therefore no Windows 8.1 disk encryption.)
  • No detected heat during use.
  • Easy to remove back cover. Access to memory requires removing the mainboard (see video.)
  • Power button feals flimsy and low quality
  • Minecraft works on low settings but it’s totally smooth. Still, quite enjoyable.
  • 8GB of storage free out of box (10GB is used for recovery partition. This can be removed.)
  • Lots of Acer-installed programs but nothing much running in background except McAfee Live Safe (remove if you’re happy with Windows Defender)
  • No free Office 365 license. 100GB free One Drive (2 years) included.
  • Acer Office and cloud programs pre-installed. Not tested.
  • Screen is matte, not glossy.
  • Wifi is a/b/g/n  (Broadcom) and appears to be only 2.4Ghz capable
  • N2840 SoC includes Intel Quick Sync hardware encoding support. (Tested and working with Handbrake)

Acer Aspire E11 OpenelecLinux on the Acer Aspire E11

There’s a legacy boot mode in the UEFI BIOS which is available after you add an administrator password, reboot, disable secure boot and reboot into UEFI again. [I think it's F2 to get into the UEFI. I had problems though and used Windows recovery reboot options to get into UEFI] I booted Openelec from a USB stick and after wating a while was able to stream a YouTube video. You’ll see that in the video too.  There are issues though. WiFi didn’t work, the touchpad didn’t work and audio didn’t work. I couldn’t even output through the HDMI port. I haven’t tried Ubuntu but I suspect it will be better as it’s a distro that covers a wider range of hardware than Openelec. I will also try Tails (the privacy-focused, TOR-enabled distro) and XBMCBuntu over the coming weeks.

Video – 30 minutes unbox, tests, Linux, internals and more

Summary

The Acer Aspire E11 looks like a real bargain of a Windows laptop and once it’s settled after updating, indexing and virus-checking it’s a smooth experience for browsing and Windows RT apps.  Office has installed and is working. Minecraft too! The Acer E11 is nothing like the cramped 10-inch netbooks of 5 years ago and has more than ‘just enough’ performance but in a way, this new generation of low cost laptops is way more suited to being a Net-book than the original netbooks. The infrastructure is there too so I have non in continuing to use that label.

The disk space is going to limit local application use so consider this more of a cloud-storage laptop with occasional native app capability. There’s a big problem for the average consumer here though and we’ve seen it on Windows 8 tablets – disk management. After just 48 hours I had filled up the disk and that was without adding any content like videos or music. Chrome, Windows update files (not easy to remove before they are 30 days old) and other ‘cruft’ build up quickly.

These 1500 words have proven that the keyboard is accurate but the touchpad has poor multitouch performance and the mouse button clicks have a squishy feeling.

It’s silent, Linux-capable, 4GB RAM-capable, has long battery life and runs a complete Windows 8.1 build which , if kept clean is a smooth experience for basic Windows usage.

Testing continues…

Will I use a Netbook?

The Acer ES1 might cover most of my working scenarios well. I type a lot, I use the browser a lot. I’m getting used to OneDrive integration, music and video playback are important and when a laptop is as light and as quiet as this it’s a bonus. The big issue for someone like me is video editing when i’m mobile. While the Acer ES1 will be able to edit 720p videos with a basic desktop video editing application there are two issues. 1) speed of rendering. I think the ES1 will be able to render 720p in H.264 at about 2|X real time which is fine for me. 2) Storage of 10’s of Gigabytes of source videos and images. That’s the biggest problem I have with netbooks. I could, indeed, offload everything onto a fast USB3 SSD drive and I will try this Maybe the Acer E3-112 is for me. It’s a version of the E11 that comes with a 500GB hard drive. Upgrade that with a 250GB SSD and we’re talking!

More information including specifications and benchmarks in the database.

Core-M ASUS Transformer Book T300FA gets a detailed review

An early sample of the 12.5-inch Asus Transformer Book T300FA 2-in-1 has been reviewed by Ultrabookreview. The 812 gram fanless tablet  (1.79 pounds) is not as light as the ASUS Chi but at around 600 Euro (based on one online pre-order price)  it looks like a good value and yet powerful 2-in-1. A 1366×768 screen might put off those thinking about replacing a laptop for productive use but there’s a nice feature in the docking-keyboard drive-bay.

ASUS Transformer Book T300FA runs on Core M

ASUS Transformer Book T300FA runs on Core M

A few noteworthy take-aways from the review include the relatively slow eMMC disk speeds. They’re no faster than a $200 PC and should have been better. Having said that there’s a disk bay that can be used. It’s a USB-connected SATA interface and speeds, with the right SSD, should be better than the eMMC. Unfortunately that wasn’t tested in the review. The other slightly disappointing thing is the battery which, at 30Wh is small for a 1.6KG total weight. ASUS haven’t put a battery in the dock so you’re looking at around 5 hours of browsing on the tablet and less if you’re docked to the hard drive.

Core M performance is as we would expect with Ultrabook-level 3D performance and sub-Ultrabook CPU performance which is impressive on a fanless device. Weight still needs to come down though so for the best ultra-mobile PC experience on a 12.5-inch 2-in-1 you’ll have to wait for the ASUS Transformer Book Chi.

The detailed review can be found at Ultrabookreview here.

All the Core M mobile PCs in our database can be found here.

 

New Core M variants signal maturing 14nm process

Intel are introducing new Core M SoC variants. All have higher base clockrates on the CPU and GPU which indicates that the quality emerging from the Core M production process is increasing. That means yields for the low-end Core M models are increasing and that ultimately, prices can start to trend down. The new SKUs are: Core M-5Y10c, Core M-5Y31, Core M-5Y51 and the Core M-5Y71.

See a list of Core M PC’s in our database here.

Core M die

Core M die

All new models have the same 4.5W base TDP but, for consumers, the performance of a Core M under normal conditions is going to depend on internal thermal ‘headroom.’ In fact the TDP figure is largely useless now due to burst TDP and configurations that can increase or increase the TDP.

  • Core M 5Y10c  800 MHz-2 GHz , GPU: HD 5300 300 / 800 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP
  • Core M 5Y31  900 MHz -2.4 GHz, GPU:HD 5300 300 / 850 MHz,4.5 Watt TDP
  • Core M 5Y51  1.1 / 2.6 GHz, GPU: HD 5300 300 / 900 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP
  • Core M 5Y71 1.2/ 2.9 GHz, GPU: HD 5300 300 / 900 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP

Core M is available in a number of PCs already (we keep a list of Core M mobile PCs here) and inital feedback is that it’s not quite as good in these products as we saw in demonstrations at IDF in September. The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro offers class leading thickness and weight for a 2-in-1 but performance sits somewhere between Atom and the performance seen in Ultrabooks. Some products are including eMMC storage too.

The 14nm ‘y-series’ Broadwell SoC is a big help to PC designers that want to offer think designs at light weight and we see it evolving into Celeron and Pentium branded designs for fanless low-cost laptops and Chromebooks during 2015.

Source: CPU World via Liliputing

Amazon Fire TV Stick does Miracast too for just $39

Every Windows 8 tablet I’ve tried recently supports Miracast but I rarely use it because it’s never plugged into my TV. I’ve thought about getting a cheap stick I can leave in the living room TV but never really got round to it. Now that the $39 Amazon Fire TV stick has been announced though I think the solution will be a no-brainer.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Like Chromecast, the Amazon Fire TV stick can be directed to pull content from the Internet. It can handle protected content from Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Amazon Video and other streaming services and it’s got a partner app for Android-based phones that allows you to select content. Unlike Chromecast you won’t have the capability of directing content from a PC desktop like you can with Chrome but you will have Miracast – something that Chromecast doesn’t officially support.

Miracast is primarily a screen mirroring app but can be used to extend a screen which makes it useful for wireless tablet-controlled presentations. Miroring content from a powerful PC can also have advantages if you’re using rare codecs. Don’t expect a Chromecast or Fire TV Stick to handle Hi10p for example.

Amazon are pushing the Fire TV Stick as a high-performance solution so it could make it one of the more reliable Miracast solutions at this price level. I’m not sure it supports WiDi extensions though. The unit is based on a dual core CPU (Broadcom Capri 28155, dual-core 2xARM A9) with 8GB of storage and has 1080p and 7.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus support. With dual-antennas it also supports dual band WiFi a/b/g/n operation. There’s even a Bluetooth module inside for HID, HFP, HPP profiles so it shoud be possible to control this over Bluetooth and that’s possibly how the included remote control works.

It’s adding up to a good value package for many Windows 8 PC and tablet owners. At $39 it’s the perfect gift and if you’re an Amazon Prime user (or if you take a 30-day trial now) you can have the unit for just $19. (Amazon.com link)

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