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Archive for January, 2008

The Eee — a $400 Linux laptop

Friday, January 11th, 2008

 The Eee — a $400 Linux laptop

That’s Associated Press writer Daniel Sorid’s rave review of Asustek Computers’ which he kicks off with:

“Didn’t Asus know notebook computers need hard drives? Or that they’re supposed to run Windows?” wonders Sorid. And, “Don’t they know you don’t just go selling laptops for less than $750 – let alone $400 – unless the hardware has been aged like whisky?”

Could it be Asus has figured out laptops came be produced inexpensively and unencumbered by bloatware and still do the job?

Bill and the Boyz started it by making sure you got Windows whether you wanted it or not. Other software manufacturers saw the possibilities and pretty soon, your PC and then your laptop arrived packed to the gills with all kinds of junk you didn’t ask for and didn’t want, but couldn’t remove.

Asus says the 7″ (5″ screen) Linux Eee PC, with built-in WiFi 802.11, weighs 0.92kg and comes with a card reader, camera, speakers, and microphone, and has USB ports for peripherals, a monitor port and a flash memory slot, 512 MB (DDR2) memory, and a 4 gig solid-state disk).

But it does after all, come pre-loaded with certain corporate applications you didn’t ask for and perhaps don’t want, and neither AP nor Asus say whether or not you can easily dump them.

The review continues the Eee’s “custom version of the Linux operating system has a simple user interface that takes some getting used to.”

But no worries there, and it organizes the software by tabs – Internet, Work, Learn and Play although, “many users on the Eee forum dislike its look”

However, “An upgrade to a more familiar, Windows-like interface is available in ‘advanced’ mode, which can be activated with a few minutes of careful programming. (But you’ll do that at your peril. On my second day, a badly written command crashed my system. I had to reinstall the original software.)”

Firefox , Adobe Acrobat Reader and open-source OpenOffice come pre-installed, but Google Docs,”an online document suite for storing files remotely and sharing them,” is also “configured” and, “Links to Yahoo Mail, Gmail and other e-mail programs are already on the desktop,” says Sorid, adding:

“A messaging program called Pidgin worked with AOL Instant Messenger and Google Talk. Skype, the voice and video calling program, also worked well.”

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Moreover, “Users willing to learn a few Linux commands can add the Picasa photo sharing program, Google Earth and Audacity, a free audio editing program beloved by bloggers.”

So at the end of the day, even thought it’s only $400, you still pays your money and takes your chances.

Crave TV: Toshiba Spurs Engine puts PS3 Cell chip in a laptop

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Ever wondered what would happen if you put the PlayStation 3’s Cell processor into a laptop? Us too, and now we know the answer: you get the Toshiba Spurs Engine, a system that turns a normal laptop into a motion-sensing, video indexing, face morphing, standard-def to hi-def converting super machine.

The system was demonstrated in modified Qosmio G45 laptops, each of which uses a standard Intel Core 2 Duo CPU in addition to a Cell chip with four 1.5GHz synergistic processing elements (SPEs). For reference, the PS3 has eight SPEs running at 3GHz, making it approximately 75 per cent quicker. Like any sensible human beings, we wondered how much all this would cost, but Toshiba assures us that if the system actually does come to market, it won’t be too expensive. Yeah, and pigs can parallel park.

Toshiba had four demos running, the first of which transformed standard-definition video into 1080p. This takes any grubby-looking 640×480-pixel video — of the sort you might record with a mobile phone or digital camera — applies some hardcore image processing, and spits it out a few hours later as full 1080p. The effect was extremely impressive, and proves that you can, to some extent, polish a turd. Toshiba says it’s possible to do this using an ordinary Intel Core processor, but the Spurs system speeds things up considerably — what would take 24 hours with an ordinary laptop can be done in just three hours with the aid of Spurs. Stop sniggering, Arsenal fans.

The second demo was equally impressive, if a tad pointless. It allowed us to control a Qosmio G45 laptop using hand gestures — like in Minority Report. The on-board webcam monitored our hand movements and the Spurs system translated these as instructions for the PC. We could pause and resume movie playback simply by holding our palm in the air, or control a cursor by waving a fist at the screen. Selecting options can be achieved by giving a thumbs-up. It’s not as easy as, say, using a remote control, but it is very cool indeed.

Demo 3 might interest anyone with a shed-load of video to sort through. It scans all your movie files, recognises faces and creates thumbnails of those faces. You can then click the thumbnails to watch scenes with those faces in, or compile them in a separate playlist. This might be useful for creating a ‘best of’ reel of your favourite actor, but we didn’t bother playing it for too long — we got distracted by the next demo.

The final Spurs demo was the most fun of them all. Again, it uses the laptop’s webcam — this time to take a picture of your face. This it turns into a pseudo-3D representation of your mug, which you can modify in some interesting ways. We tested it by applying some pink hair, a facial tattoo and some make-up, which did a great deal to improve our four-days-in-Vegas appearance. We don’t envisage it being used by many people, but it could be handy for next-gen instant messaging clients or in hair salons.

As with all things cool, Spurs is not yet available to consumers, and may never actually come to market. But it’s fun to dream. Make sure you watch the video to see it in action. We think you’ll be mightily impressed.

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RPT-Apple eyed for slim laptop, online film rentals

Friday, January 11th, 2008

 As the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas winds down to lackluster reviews, Apple Inc (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) is expected to grab the spotlight with an ultra-slim laptop computer and online movie rentals at its biggest annual show next week.

The new products are seen more as enhancements to Apple’s current offerings rather than ones that pack the “wow factor” of last year’s star attraction, the iPhone.

Next week’s annual Macworld event in San Francisco is the favorite venue of Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs to roll out new products and chart the company’s course for the year.

His showman-like pronouncements also increasingly set the agenda for the computer and electronics industries, and have in recent years overshadowed CES, held in Las Vegas around the same time.

Apple gives no hint of what will be announced, so guessing what Jobs has up sleeve is a favorite pastime of analysts and industry executives.

Analysts expect a computer half as thick as Apple’s current MacBook lineup, but using flash memory chips like those found in its iPod music players rather than a hard drive.

“The energy seems to be around a smaller-form-factor laptop computer,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester, a market research firm.

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