Build Yourself a Raspberry Pi Laptop

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

The creators say one evening of tinkering will be enough to get the low-cost laptop ready-to-go.

People who enjoy building their stuff from the ground up will really enjoy the Pi-Top. The kit contains an injection molded casing, trackpad and keyboard components, a 13.3″ HD screen, the circuit boards, battery and a few chords for a complete set-up. The kit sells for $285 (future retail price will be $300). If you already have a Pi board, you can get one for $209. The design is very straightforward. The USB ports, audio interface and power source all have their dedicated holes in the case. Except for the odd positioning of the trackpad and a sliding transparent panel to quickly access the inner workings, it looks just like any other laptop. With a purchase, you will also gain access to STL files to print your own case and add any customizations you might come up with.

The Pi-Top runs Raspberry Pi, an OS that makes developer-friendly boards affordable, especially to educators. The Raspberry Pi’s home is a credit card-sized circuit, a motherboard with impressive capabilities such as word processing, spreadsheets and games.

The creators of Pi-Top have created three modular attachments for greater functionality. Using the Raspberry Pi’s HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) capabilities, the add-on boards will give interesting capabilities to your laptop.

These HATs are the LCD HAT which allow you to use external displays with an HDMI connector. The Robot HAT does what the name says. It falls on top of the Pi board and gives the board control over servo motors, proximity sensors and more. The Home Automation HAT adds a lot of input sources to the laptop. This add-on board comes with sensors for pressure, humidity, temperature, touch, IR proximity and sound.

The Pi-Top, at press time, is already fully funded clocking in about 120% of its original goal of $80,000, 25 full days before the campaign ends on IndieGoGo.

The Raspberry Pi OS and small board really shine in terms of accommodating creative pursuits. The conveniently small but powerful board is a hit with kids and serves as a teaching tool for computer programming . Kid-oriented projects with downloadable worksheets and guides include a fart detector (teaches about air quality sensors and “fart potency”) and a stuffed bear that takes photos and tweets them (formerly Abuse Bear that does the same when punched–not really classroom material).


Samsung Chromebook 2 Uses Intel at $249.99

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

When I read this story on another computer hardware website, I quirked my eyebrow and wondered why this was news. I distinctly remembered covering the Chromebook 2, powered by an Intel processor at the $249 price point. Looking back, I was right.

As it turns out, I did a news post on the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (13-inch), and this announcement is for the Samsung Chromebook 2 (11.6-inch). These two devices are quite similar although it is difficult to see a metric by which Samsung beats Toshiba, from a pure numerical standpoint. They are basically identical, with 2 GB of RAM, an Intel Celeron processor, one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port, SD card support (Samsung uses microSD while Toshiba has a full size SD slot). Both have 802.11ac wireless.

The only meaningful differences that I could find is a slightly larger, although roughly the same resolution, display on the Toshiba. Otherwise, it is down to physical design and possibly battery life. If possible, go to a store, play around with the keyboard, and feel the chassis.


Cooltek’s GT-03 Looks Like SilverStone’s RV05

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Cooltek is a German manufacturer that builds PC enclosures. From time to time, the company makes cases that appear to mimic chassis made by bigger manufacturers. They don’t copy them entirely, though; while the external appearances of Cooltek’s cases may take some styling cues from its competitors, the interior case layouts are always very different.

Now, Cooltek has announced another such enclosure, the GT-03. This case appears to ape the exterior design of SilverStone’s RV05, but it has a very standard interior rather than the RV05′s 90-degree rotated motherboard placement. Additionally, the GT-03 is bigger and lacks the side window.

Inside the case, there is room for an ATX motherboard, four 3.5″ drives, three 2.5″ drives, and two 5.25″ optical drives. Additionally, graphics cards can be up to 300 mm long with the hard drive cage installed, and CPU coolers can tower up to 152 mm high.

In total there are four 120 mm fan mount locations, two of which come pre-populated.

Front I/O of the case is respectable, too. It consists of two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, the usual pair of HD audio jacks, and a hot-swappable SATA connection point.

All things considered, this is quite a decent case. It might only be made of steel with a disturbingly large amount of plastic, but it has a no-frills internal design, plenty of room for expandability, and lavish front I/O connectivity. It’s well-priced, too, with the European price tag at just €44.99, which translates to roughly $48.50 USD after removing VAT. It can already be purchased in Germany, with no official word on US availability.


Is It Time to Replace Your Desktop Computer With a Tablet

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

I have long since replaced my desktop computer with a laptop. But my laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad T520, was designed for a lap bigger than mine. I would like to lighten my load and embrace more portable computing. Is it time to replace my laptop with a tablet computer?

I reviewed the ThinkPad 8 in April. I predicted it would make inroads into law firms but I did not mention it as a laptop replacement. The omission was by design. I did not even pose the question that a tablet can replace my T520. Then Lenovo called the question by shipping me a ThinkPad 10 with docking station and an external keyboard.


The 7-by-10-inch ThinkPad 10 is a tad larger than the ThinkPad 8, which is almost the size of a 6-by-9-inch steno notebook. The 10-inch tablet weighs 1.3 pounds with a 64-gigabyte drive installed. It looks and feels like an ultra-laptop chopped in half—without the keyboard.

Two more inches of display are like two more degrees of heat in a cold winter—you take notice. When the tablet’s on-screen keyboard rises for input on the 10.1-inch (diagonal) display, plenty of screen real-estate remains to review your input in the context of a document, form or Web page.

The ThinkPad 10’s display is made of Gorilla Glass with anti-reflective coating and light-emitting diode (LED) backlight technology. It supports a native 1920 x 1200 resolution and works with an ambient light sensor on the tablet to automatically adjust brightness depending on the tablet’s operating environment. I did not have to adjust the brightness once during my operation at work and home and on trains and planes. The display has in-plane switching technology that quickly adjusted the screen to the laptop’s position in landscape or portrait mode.

The tablet runs Windows 8.1 Pro (32-bit or 64-bit) on a dual Intel Atom CPU Z3795 (64-bit). I am not a fan of running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit chip, but you may have an application that is not supported in a 64-bit architecture. The tablet can use two or four gigabytes RAM and supports a stylus pen and ten touch points. It has a built-in Bluetooth radio and an 802.11agn Wireless SDIO Adapter. Models other than the Wi-Fi-only support a Sierra EM7345 LTE cellular modem.

The ThinkPad 10’s two-megapixel, front-facing camera can take pictures, create video and make video calls. It has two built-in microphones to capture sound for video and calls. My USB headset or external microphone worked well and the combo-audio connector supported my ear buds, but I liked the ability to use the tablet to make Skype calls without peripheral devices. Note that the combo-audio jack does not support a conventional microphone.

The back of the unit has an 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with flash, a configurable exposure setting and optional timer to capture single shots, panoramic views and video. I had no trouble taking photographs of documents and copies of title pages to books and other materials with the camera. Two speakers, a smart card slot (some models) and a fingerprint reader (some models) are also on the back of the tablet.

Without more, the tablet has a built-in USB 2 port, a micro-SIM card slot to support a wireless wide-area network connection (not functional on Wi-Fi only models); a micro-SD card slot for data access or storage; and a micro-HDMI interconnect to interface digital audio and video for high-definition television (HDTV) or a high-end monitor.

The tablet has a dedicated Windows Start screen button so you can always find your home screen. Below that, along the edge of the table, are interconnects for the ThinkPad 10 Ultrabook Keyboard, ThinkPad 10 Touch Case, or the ThinkPad Tablet Dock. I found the dock and keyboard instrumental in using the tablet as a laptop replacement.


The tablet connects to the ThinkPad Tablet Dock ($130) in landscape mode. The side of the dock has a combo-audio connector and an always-on USB 3 connector to charge mobile devices when the tablet is off or in sleep or hibernation mode. The back of the dock supports a gigabit Ethernet connection, an HDMI port and two USB 3 ports. I used the dock at work, where I connected it to a USB keyboard and mouse and an extended Lenovo ThinkVision monitor via HDMI. See Figure 1.

Like the docking station, the table connects to the ThinkPad Ultrabook Keyboard (Web price $120) in landscape mode. If you need to edit a document in portrait mode with an external keyboard, use a USB keyboard that doesn’t require the dock and a flexible stand such as the Nimblstand, which supports either portrait or landscape and a slot for a USB keyboard.

The Ultabook Keyboard is a six-row QWERTY keyboard with a mouse positioning track-pad and two-buttons. The tablet is inserted into a slot or tablet holder on the back of the keyboard. Besides the usual keys to adjust brightness and speakers and mute the microphone, there are keys to open the charm settings, search charms, view all open apps, view all apps, and navigate to the top and bottom of an open window be it a Web page, Word document or PDF file. I used the external keyboard at home so I could easily create and edit documents.

I used Lenovo’s System Update software to install new device drivers and a BIOS update. I engaged the download and selected to defer the installation of software until I reached a stop point in my work.

Lenovo Solution Center software monitors system health and security. I checked hardware and updated software and engaged a hardware scan to check all system components. The Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter issued a warning for its local connection test, but the software provided no detail. The Wi-Fi device, although enabled, was not connected to an access point.
Lenovo’s preinstalled software varies by geographic locations. I found Lenovo’s SHAREit very useful to easily share large files between my Windows PCs and Android smartphone—Apple’s iPhone is also supported. Other Lenovo software tools include a photo and video editor by CL.

To use the ThinkPad 10 as a laptop replacement, I needed Window’s Remote Desktop Connection and support for the Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client. Remote Desktop is included with Windows 8.1 and Cisco’s VPN software installed and ran without a support call to the help desk.


You can password protect the ThinkPad 10 on boot, on screen-lock, or when the tablet returns from Windows sleep or hibernation mode. A supervisor password can prevent an unauthorized change in the ThinkPad Tablet Setup program, where the primary security features are found.

To get to the tablet’s setup program, simultaneously press the power button and the volume-up button. If the tablet is on, swipe in from the right edge of the tablet and tap Settings > Change PC settings. In the navigation panel that displays, tap Update and Recovery > Recovery. In the Advanced startup section, tap restart now. The tablet restarts and a menu is displayed. Tap Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options > UEFI Firmware Settings > Restart.

The ThinkPad setup program Provides access to several submenus: Main, Config, Security, Startup and Restart Menu. I selected security where I set a supervisor’s password and enabled Secure Boot, which helps prevent malicious software applications and unauthorized operating systems from loading during system startup. I also restricted boot devices to internal storage devices and disabled Bluetooth and support for Near Field Communication. Note that the tablet supports a Computrace Module for anti-theft.

Office 365 is included with select ThinkPad 10 models. If not preinstalled, you can install it as if the tablet was any Windows PC you ever owned. The Web price starts at $829.


IBM preps for a post-silicon world

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

IBM’s decision to get out of the semiconductor manufacturing business may be of little consequence in a post-silicon world.

In a deal announced today, GlobalFoundries is getting IBM’s semiconductor manufacturing business and IBM is paying the company $1.5 billion to take it. In exchange, IBM gets access to manufacturing scale it does not have.

IBM’s latest weak quarter, also announced Monday, clouds the manufacturing exit. CEO Ginni Rometty all but apologized for the slack earnings. But that doesn’t change the fact that silicon is reaching its performance limits and there’s no clear replacement.

IBM is one of the few global companies with the resources to figure out what comes next.

In announcing the GlobalFoundries deal, IBM said it has no plans to cut its planned $3 billion investment in semiconductor technology research over the next five years. The bigger issue is whether it is spending enough to extend silicon technologies and, ultimately, replace them.

In July, IBM detailed plans to invest in quantum computing, as well as brain-like emulation system called neurosynaptic computing. It is also investigating new materials to replace and extend silicon, including carbon nanotubes and graphene.

“A lot of our research focuses on post silicon,” Arvind Krishna, general manager of IBM’s manufacturing & development, said in an interview.

IBM is working on 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer chip designs — and beyond — but as size shrinks and silicon transistors near the point of physical limitation, manufacturing gets more expensive.

Silicon still has a ways to go, and IBM is researching how to get more use out of it by combining it with other materials. “Different materials may be able to extend silicon,” said Krishna.

Solving the problem of what comes next isn’t just IBM’s problem, according to said Nathan Brookwood, a semiconductor industry analyst at Insight 64. “The stakes are not only high for IBM, the stakes are high for the entire semiconductor industry,” he said.

There is general agreement that silicon chips will reach their limit at about 7 nanometers, about a decade from now. But Brookwood said nothing is ever certain, and you can’t count out the possibility that someone will figure out a way to extend the technology another decade.

On the question of whether IBM is spending enough on research, Brookwood points to companies such as Intel and Samsung, which are also investing on extending silicon’s usefulness. If one of these companies doesn’t develop a breakthrough, “then it’s not just IBM that’s in trouble, it’s the entire semiconductor industry,” he said.

For users of IBM’s mainframe and Power-based systems, the deal with GlobalFoundries changes nothing, said Krishna.

“Given that all the design, all the software, all the operating systems, all of the firmware and all of the other system advantages that we put in remain with IBM, my basic answer would be it does not impact our mainframe, or power system or our storage clients at all,” he said.

Matt Eastwood, an analyst at IDC, said the deal makes sense because of the changing economics of the semiconductor manufacturing business. “The cost of semiconductor manufacturing is going to continue to increase, making it a business where scale will matter more and more going forward,” said Eastwood.

IBM has been working to increase adoption of its Power architecture. Last year, it formed the OpenPower Consortium, which made Power hardware and software available for open development. The goal is expand use of this architecture.

Global Foundries “also hopes that IBM’s focus on growing the OpenPower ecosystem will create new demand for semiconductor manufacturing services,” said Eastwood.

Krishna said GlobalFoundries’ manufacturing capability will also help. “Over time, you will get the at-scale manufacturing that actually assures the longer-term sustainability of these systems,” he said.

GlobalFoundries was created when AMD’s manufacturing arm was spun off. The company operates in the U.S. and is headquartered here, but its majority owner is Abu Dhabi.


Atom Computer crowdfunding Neutron mini-computer

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

The Neutron is a small-form factor computer that can run the OS of your choice. Image from Kickstarter page.

MANILA, Philippines – A ‘new’ small form-factor computer that makes the Mac Mini look like a giant is more than just a concept. It’s called the Neutron, and its open to crowdsourced funding.

The Neutron is a portable desktop computer that can perform like its bigger brothers in the market. It is powered by the 4th Gen Haswell i3 or i5 processor, carrying up to 16GB of RAM and up to 480GB of mSATA SSD storage. With 21 days left on its Kickstarter campaign, the Neutron has already met its $30,000 goal.

The secret to its size is the company’s use of Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) boards. The NUC board for the ultra-compact form-factor was introduced by Intel back in 2012. Even with a hardware update in 2013, it didn’t quite take off in the market. With the Neutron not offering anything new from the Intel kit, it raises the question of why it will be a success if Intel didn’t.

Another issue is the price. While it does have cheaper Kickstarter-based early adopter packages, the Neutron will generally go for $900 while the Neutron Pro will sell for $1250.

By comparison, Intel sells their ‘bare’ NUC kit on Amazon for just $350 with an i5 processor, leaving more than enough to buy RAM and an SSD. After everything (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth cards, etc), it still won’t cost you the premium that the Neutron is asking for even if you adjusted the purchases to match the ‘Pro’.

In the comments section of its Kickstarter page, Atom Computer responded to the price point by saying it is “trying to compete with companies like Alienware and Dell who can assemble computers that require no more from the user that just to plug it in,” adding that the price is high due to Kickstarter taking a huge percentage per Neutron.


Faster “cloud” orders for SAP hurt 2014 profit outlook

October 21st, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

German software maker SAP cut its 2014 operating profit forecast on Monday as customers shifted faster than expected to products delivered over the Internet, delaying when those orders can be booked as sales.

Company executives said the accelerating switch from packaged software to so-called “cloud” software would shave about 200 million euros off a previous profit forecast, but that cloud contracts would bolster sales and profit in the future.

The corporate software industry is undergoing a rapid shift from packaged software which customers run on their computer systems to software run over the Internet in remote datacenters, making data easier to manage, analyse and use on mobile phones.

SAP said it now expects 2014 operating profit, excluding some special items, of 5.6 billion to 5.8 billion euros ($7.1-$7.4 billion), down from 5.8-6.0 billion euros previously.

Packaged software sales are recognised immediately, while cloud orders are booked as sales over the life of multi-year contract, which officials said largely explained its new outlook.

SAP shares dropped 4.2 percent at 0955 GMT, making it the worst performer in the German blue-chip DAX index and leading European technology stocks lower.

Analysts said there was concern that a rising proportion of cloud sales would lower the company’s profitability.

“Growth dynamics are increasing, but at the cost of margins as the cloud cannibalizes SAP’s licence business,” said Mirko Maier, analyst at Germany’s Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg, who has a “buy” rating on SAP shares.

SAP specialises in providing a mix of business applications for companies from accounting to human resources to supply chain software, but has come under pressure from rivals that offer cheaper services over the Internet, or in the “cloud”.

Europe’s largest software firm aims to boost the proportion of its software sold via the cloud to compete with arch U.S.-rival Oracle Corp and purely cloud-based competitors such as and Workday Inc.

“De-acclerating in the cloud would make absolutely no sense,” SAP finance chief Luka Mucic said on a conference call. “We are hitting the gas pedal as much as we can,” he said. “We will then see the positive returns in the longer run.”


SAP’s said third-quarter sales rose 5 percent to $4.25 billion. Solid sales in Germany and a recovery to double-digit sales growth in Japan helped offset a 10 percent drop, excluding the impact of foreign exchange, in Latin America which it blamed on macroeconomic woes and its own sales execution there.

The company expected 2014 revenue from the cloud part of its business to range from 1.04 billion to 1.07 billion euros, up from a prior forecast of 1 billion to 1.05 billion euros and 757 million euros in cloud software sales for the whole of 2013.

The company, based in Walldorf, Germany, said new orders for cloud-based software had risen each quarter this year and were now equivalent to more than a third of revenue from its classic packaged software business. SAP’s chief financial officer said cloud orders as a percentage of classic software sales stood at “somewhere in the twenties” at the end of 2013.

SAP reported a 5 percent rise in third-quarter operating profit, excluding special items, to 1.36 billion euros, which was slightly below average expectations of 1.37 billion euros, according to a Reuters poll of analysts.

To cut up-front spending on new datacenters, SAP announced a partnership deal with IBM last week to run more of its cloud-based services in IBM facilities.

SAP’s multinational customers, which include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Vodafone, are moving to cloud computing because there are no upfront costs for software licences, dedicated hardware or installation, giving them more flexibility to respond to shifting market demand.

Reflecting that long-term shift in its business mix, SAP in January pushed back its 35 percent operating margin goal by two years to 2017, citing faster growth in its cloud business.

Its third-quarter operating margin was 31.8 percent, down from 32 percent a year earlier, but up from 29.8 percent in the second quarter of 2014.

Global business spending on cloud services is expected to jump 20 percent this year to $174 billion, research firm IHS estimates, and rise to more than $235 billion by 2017.

Last month, the German software giant agreed to buy U.S. expenses software maker Concur for $7.3 billion, aiming to strengthen its position in cloud computing.


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