MacBook Pro Hands-On Gallery

via Gizmodo by Jason Chen on 6/10/09

We’ve got a delicious gallery of pics of the new 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros. Wanna know how to swap the locked-in hard drive and battery? We have shots of that too.

Just by looking at the 13 and 15-inch models together, you can tell that Apple was pretty much right when they said that they belong in the same family. The construction is almost identical. The only difference is that the 13-inch has one fewer audio jack and no side-board speakers, as been the case for the 13 for years now.

How To Install Windows 7 On Almost Any Netbook

via Gizmodo by John Herrman on 5/16/09


Windows 7 is free for now, and works extremely well on netbooks. That said, installing the OS on these tiny laptops—especially low-end models—can be daunting. Here’s how to do it, the easy way:

If the Release Candidate is any indication (and it should be), then Windows 7 will be a nice upgrade for any Windows user. The new OS, however, is a huge step up for netbook users. Vista is notoriously poorly suited to netbooks; a buggy resource hog that subjects its users to incessant dialog boxes and requires far too many clicks to perform basic tasks, it’s kind of a nightmare to use on a 9-inch laptop with a 1.5-inch trackpad.

Windows XP has been given a boost by netbooks, as its system requirements—more-or-less decided in 2001—are more in line with the specs hardware like the Eee PC and Mini 9. But let’s face it: XP is nearly a decade old. Its user experience is trumped by free alternatives like Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Linpus, and it’s not at all optimized for solid-state drives—especially cheap ones. This means that on low-end, SSD-based netbooks, it borders on unusable.

Hence, Windows 7. It’s noticeably faster than Vista on low-spec machines, properly optimized for netbook hardware, and, most importantly, free (for now). Thing is, installation isn’t quite as easy as it is on a regular PC—in fact, it can be a pain in the ass: netbooks don’t have DVD drives, which means you’ve either got to get your hands on an external drive or boot from a USB stick for a clean install. Furthermore, smaller SSDs, like the 8GB units in popular versions of the Dell Mini 9 and Acer Aspire One, make a default installation impossible, or at least impractically tight. Luckily, there are simple methods to deal with both of these problems. Let’s get started.

What You’ll Need

• A netbook (Minimum 1GB of RAM, 8GB storage space)

• A 4GB or larger USB drive

• A Windows 7 RC Image (details below)

• A Windows XP/Vista PC or a Mac to prepare the flash drive

• For low-end netbooks, lots (and lots) of time

Getting Windows 7

Downloading Windows 7 is a piece of cake. Just navigate to this page and download the 32-bit version. You’ll need to get a free Windows Live ID if you don’t already have one, but this takes about two minutes.

Microsoft will then give you your very own Windows 7 License key, valid until June 1st of next year. (Although after March 1st, it’ll drive you to the edge of sanity by shutting off every two hours. But that’s a different story, and March is a long way off). Microsoft will then offer up your ISO through a nifty little download manager applet, complete with a “resume” function. There are ways to sidestep this, but don’t: you’d be surprised how hard it is to keep a single HTTP connection alive for long enough to download a 2.36GB file.

Preparing Your Flash Drive

This is the annoying part, but it’s not necessarily that difficult. Here are some guides, by OS (some linked for length):
Windows XP
Windows Vista
• Mac OS X (courtesy of Ubuntu, funnily enough):

1. Open a Terminal (under Utilities)

2. Run diskutil list and determine the device node assigned to your flash media (e.g. /dev/disk2)

3. Run diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN (replace N with the disk number from the last command; in the previous example, N would be 2)

4. Execute sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.iso of=/dev/diskN bs=1m (replace /path/to/downloaded.iso with the path where the image file is located; for example, ./windows7.iso)

5. Run diskutil eject /dev/diskN and remove your flash media when the command completes (this can take a few hours on slower drives)


Starting Your Install

Ok! Now you’ve got a bootable flash drive, and you’re ready to start installing. It should go without saying, but once you start this process, you’ll lose all existing data on your netbook, so you should back up any important files before going through with anything from here forward.

Insert your USB drive and reboot your netbook. As soon as your BIOS screen flashes, you should see instructions for a) changing your netbook’s boot order or b) entering its BIOS setup. In the first situation, simply assign the USB drive as the first boot device. In the second, navigate through your BIOS settings until you find a “Default Boot Order” page, and do the same thing there.

From there, you should see the first Windows 7 installation screens. Anyone with a 16GB or larger storage device in their netbook can just follow the instructions until the installation completes, and skip the next step.

If your SSD is smaller than 16GB, or if you just want to save some space, do what they say, but only until the first reboot. After the Windows 7 installer has restarted your computer, you’ll need to modify the boot order again. Do not allow installation to continue! Manually change the boot order to prioritize the USB drive again, just as you did at the beginning of the installation.

Compression!
Simple file compression is the secret to squeezing Windows 7 onto your skimpy 8GB SSD. Now that the Windows 7 installer has copied most of its system files to your drive, you’re going to tighten them up with Windows’ trust old “Compact” command. Here’s what you do, as described by Electronic Pulp:

Choose “Repair” at the Windows 7 Setup screen, go to “Command Prompt” and enter the following code:

d: (or whatever drive letter is assigned to your SSD)
cd \windows\system32
compact.exe d:\*.* /c /s /i

And wait. And wait and wait and wait. This can take anywhere from eight hours to two days, so you’ll want to set your netbook down in a corner and forget about it for a while. [Note: compressing so many of your system files does have a performance cost, but in day-to-day use, it’s negligible]

Once this is done, reboot the netbook again and let it continue the installation as normal. That’s it!

All said and done, an 8GB SSD should have nearly 2GB of free space left—not much, but enough to work with. And given that most netbooks come with inbuilt, flush SD expansion slots, and that high-capacity SD cards are extremely affordable, having a small amount of space on your root drive isn’t at all prohibitive.

Setup and Customization Help

Windows 7 works fairly well out of the box, but as with any new Windows installation, you’re going to need to download some drivers. Vista drivers usually do the trick, but sometimes workarounds are necessary. Thankfully, most popular netbooks have spawned helpful fan forums, many of which have Windows 7 subforums. Some of the best:

So there you go! Enjoy your new Windows 7 netbook! Please share your experiences in the comments-your feedback is a huge benefit to our Saturday guides. And of course, have a great weekend!

HP Recalling 70,000 Laptop Batteries Over Fire Hazard Concerns

via Gizmodo by Sean Fallon on 5/14/09

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a recall of 70,000 lithium-ion batteries used in Hewlett-Packard and Compaq laptops. Apparently, there have been at two reported cases where the batteries caught on fire.

The battery packs were sold separately and in laptops between August 2007 through March 2008. Naturally, if you think you might be affected, it might be a good idea to check and see if your battery matches the ones pictured in the gallery before using it again. Hit up the following link for more details.

[HP and CPSC via Ubergizmo]

Pixel Qi 3Qi Magic E-Paper and High-Res LCD Dual Display Becomes Real Next Month

via Gizmodo by matt buchanan on 4/23/09

The display technology Pixel Qi has been promising is revolutionary: A high-res color LCD and low-power, reflective reader mode better than E-ink. For dirt cheap. And it’s coming next month.

If you recall, PixelQi’s founder, Mary Lou Jepsen, is the brains behind the OLPC’s breakthrough reflective screen, and an evangelist for the idea that the future of the computer is in displays. When we talked to her about the problems with e-readers, she predicted that LCD would overtake electrophoretic display technology—aka E-ink—by 2010.

The idea isn’t crazy if Pixel Qi’s displays match the hype: One screen that delivers a high-res, color LCD for normal computer stuff; an e-paper mode that’s even more readable than e-ink; and a super low-power black-and-white mode. And is cheap to make and advance, since it’s fabricated in standard LCD factories. It makes the possibility of a single tablet computer that really can do everything that much more possible.

And we’ll get to see the first one, 3Qi, next month. Sure, it’s just a stupid screen, but I’m excited.

[Cnet via Engadget]

Pre-Order the Sharp Mebius NJ70A Netbook With LCD Multitouch Trackpad

via Gizmodo by Sean Fallon on 4/23/09

The Sharp Mebius NJ70A Netbook definitely turns some heads with its touchscreen LCD trackpad. Interested parties can now pre-order the Mebius for $999 for a June 5th ship date.

[Dynamism via Crunchgear]

GeForce 9400M to hit notebooks from five major vendors, mock Intel

via Engadget by Samuel Axon on 10/22/08

Now that NVIDIA’s GeForce 9400M has made its debut in Apple’s new MacBooks, Technical Marketing Director Nick Stam says that five major notebook vendors are planning to ship systems with the chipset — though we don’t know if that includes Apple or not. Stam expects NVIDIA will carve out 30 percent of the integrated graphics market for itself, partly by improving other experiences besides games — Google Earth, photo editing, day-to-day video encoding, and other activities performed by people who use keys besides W, A, S, and D. Frankly, we’re just thankful we’ve evolved past the days when we needed a 19-inch monster to perform high-impact 3D tasks without sacrificing to the sinister gods of screen tearing.

What They Said: The 5 biggest drawbacks of the MacBook Air

via DVICE by Kevin Hall on 1/24/08

Apple MacBook Air roundup.jpg

The MacBook Air may be one of the thinnest laptops ever made, but Apple had to make some sacrifices to shed all that poundage. Did the company go too far? Some reviewers on the Web think so. Of course, a lot of the criticism centers around the stunted functionality the Air suffers because of its excised features — such as the lack of an optical drive and Ethernet port.

But that’s not all the reviewers nitpicked. The Air has issues that go beyond its jettisoned components — the single USB port took some heat, for example, and not for the reason you’d expect. Click Continue for five downsides of the MacBook Air that have come to light since its big debut.

1. It does have an optical drive, after all
Apple offers an external CD/DVD drive for the MacBook Air. Be forewarned, however, if you buy one, it will only work with your MacBook Air — other MacBooks just don’t pump out the power necessary to keep the external drive running. That’s all right, since other Macs tend to have optical drives. To its credit, it looks like the Air has one powerful USB port.

2. Single USB port is picky on drive size
The USB port is hidden in a foldaway hatch alongside the headphone jack, and it looks like anything but your average thumbstick may have trouble connecting with the MacBook Air. Make no mistake: not all USB drives are created equal.

Engadget tried the slim Sprint / Novatel U727 USB EV-DO modem and couldn’t get it to fit. Since Wi-Fi is your only option with the MacBook Air, it’s important — especially to us bloggers — to have an alternative when that isn’t available.

It’s like the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack all over again.

3. Power cord options more finicky than a cell phone’s
Let’s say you misplace your power cord. Well, if you happen to have one of Apple’s other MagSafe chargers sitting around, you’ll have to accommodate the MacBook Air if you want one of them to fit. Gizmodo confirmed that, on a table, other MacBook chargers won’t fit in the Air, though the Air’s charger will work with both MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

So you’ll actually have to put your laptop in your lap, which may not be so bad according to Steven Levy from Newsweek. Levy says, “the Air doesn’t run as hot as Apple’s other laptops — it’s actually possible to work for an hour with the device on your lap without the feeling that your fertility is at stake.”

4. Low battery life
Apple’s best-case scenario for the MacBook Air is five measly hours. Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal found that with the screen’s brightness all the way up, music playing and his Wi-Fi active, the MacBook Air only managed 3 hours and 24 minutes. With all of that turned off, Mossberg says, “you could likely get 4.5 hours in a normal work pattern.”

What’s worse, the battery is sealed into the laptop. Forget carrying a spare with you to swap out if the battery is low. But, as David Pogue of the New York Times points out: “That’s a familiar Apple trick for saving bulk; as on the iPod and iPhone, sealing the battery eliminates the need for a walled compartment, battery contacts and a door.” The worst that can happen? Your battery dies and “you’ll have to pay Apple $130 to install a new one,” says Pogue.

5. Remote Disc isn’t quite there yet
Apple does offer an alternative in recompense for the MacBook Air’s lack of an optical drive: the Remote Disc feature. It allows you to install software onto the Air using another machine, even a computer running a Windows operating system.

Edward C. Baig from USA Today gave the feature a whirl, though the trouble he ran into wasn’t necessarily the Air’s fault: “I ran into initial snags trying to remotely install software from the DVD drive in a Dell PC, until tweaking settings in Windows.” Baig reports that Apple is “working with the companies to try to resolve compatibility issues.”

The Bottom Line
The MacBook Air is a challenging design — no question there. It has the screen and keyboard of your average notebook, yet shares the attractive slimness and low weight of an ultraportable. Apple has tried its best to balance sacrifice with functionality, and in the process toes the line between a logical step forward and a radical leap.

Is it for you? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

New NVIDIA 8700M GT Rendering Looks Better Than Xbox 360

8700mgt.jpg

NVIDIA has just released their new top of the line GeForce 8700M GT, just in time to remind you that no matter how cool your new MacBook Pro or Sony VAIO are, you are not the King of the Hill anymore.

Not only that: NVIDIA says that now your Xbox 360’s graphics have been officially overtaken by a notebook GPU, as you can see in the gallery. The new 8700M GT has been first appeared into the Toshiba Dynabook Satellite WXW, which just got announced in Japan.

The 8700M GT has the same 32 Stream Processors of the 8600M GT, but it has increased the frequency of the GPU to 625MHz from 472 MHz. The shader processor has also seen an increase, from 950MHz to 1,250MHz, the same as the memory bus, which now clocks at 800MHz instead of the 700MHz with a maximum 512MB on board.

This new specs push performance quite a bit, jumping from a 7.6 gigatexels per second Texture Fill Rate to reach the 10 gigatexel/s mark. All quite stunning for a mobile graphic chip, matching the performance of some of the best desktop cards last year.

toshiba_01.jpg

Other than the new graphics processor, the Toshiba Dynabook Satellite WXW is your usual top of the line Santa Rosa laptop. It comes with Core 2 Duo T7300 at 2GHz, 1,680 × 1,050 pixel screen and 120GB hard drive. It also comes with your usual ports plus HDMI out, S/PDIF digital audio and a fingerprint sensor. The NVIDIA 8700M GT, however, comes with just 256MB of RAM.

toshiba_02.jpg

Good specs, fugly design.

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Intel’s super-thin laptop sets the bar a little higher

intelthinlappie.jpg

Now this — this is a sexy laptop. A mere 0.7 inches thick, it’s nearly as thin as a Motorola RAZR phone yet still manages to pack in an impressive set of features. Inside the 2.25-pound body are all Intel components, including always-on connectivity that keeps you hooked up to Wi-Fi hotspots, EV-DO networks, or even WiMax connections, depending on what’s available.

In addition to the insanely thin form factor, there will be magnetically attached skins to give it different looks, and it even has an external screen on top to let you see information without opening the computer.

So the real question is: When can I get one? Maybe as soon as the end of the year. It’s merely a concept design by Intel, but the company seems serious about making it a reality. Don’t expect the price to be anything but astronomical, however. If the price manages to get down to MacBook levels, Intel will have a serious contender on its hands.

Business Week, via Gizmodo

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Review: Toshiba Satellite P105 gaming notebook

Toshiba_P105_notebook.jpg

For a long time, the notion of a “gaming laptop” was a contradiction in terms. After all, everyone knew that notebooks had to compromise on features and performance to achieve maximum portability, right? And even with advances in chips that make it possible for today’s laptop PCs to outpace the desktops from 12 minutes ago, you’re still faced with awkward controls and a screen that’s too small. Am I right?

“Dude, you’ve been misinformed,” is what Toshiba would say to that. The notebooks in the company’s Satellite series are designed with gaming in mind, as the P105-S9722 shows. It sports a 17-inch widescreen LCD monitor (1,440 x 900 pixels) and some serious multimedia hardware, including an Nvidia graphics card with 256 MB of memory and dual-core processing power. We’re way beyond Pong here.

Not everything’s in the specs, though. When it’s all said and done, the P105 has one simple mission: Convince me that a laptop can serve as a primary gaming platform. After all, if you’re spending 2 Gs on a rig, it damn well better not be a “secondary” one. Let’s see how it did.

Flat Tax

Turning on the Toshiba for the first time, I was greeted by a dialogue box asking me if I wanted to disable CD burning in case I wanted to record on DVD-RAM discs, obviously referring to the built-in SuperMulti drive, which can write data to any of the five recordable DVD formats floating out there. Um, awesome, but I’m not interested in burning DVDs right now, thanks. Let’s just hit Cancel. Oh, you mean that box is always going to come back to greet me every time I restart? Great. Although I’m sure there’s a way to remove it permanently, who wants to bother with this right out of the box? In fairness, this is more of a Windows problem (XP, not Vista) than a Toshiba problem, but it sure made me immediately long for my MacBook.

One way-cool perk on many of Toshiba’s Satellites is the built-in fingerprint reader to the right of the mousepad. After you set it up, it provides a nice way to speed up any logins and add security to your computer. It also has the effect of making you feel like James Bond for a few seconds. Even though it sometimes took two or three swipes to work, I’m a fan.

A bit further down my list of “noteworthies” is the Dual Mode mousepad, which adds some extra functionality via a few “virtual” buttons. They light up when you touch the pad in a specific spot and do things like call up Outlook or a turn up the volume. Three of the buttons are customizable, though they can do only simple stuff like launch applications or skip tracks in a media player. I was hoping I could make them do fancy gaming actions like switching weapons or skipping a turn (depending on which game I was playing), but not so much. Plus the pad is just kind of small — or maybe it only looked that way right next to that brightly colored sticker touting the P105’s features. Nope, it really is tiny. Strike three: the pad seemed to click things from time to time when my finger hadn’t gone anywhere the mouse button. Yeah, not a fan here.

Game Time

Okay, the gaming. After a quick install of Guild Wars: Nightfall, I was ready to save the people of Elona with my party of warriors while accepting a quest… you get the idea. To fully get your war on, the Guild recommends a 2-GHz Pentium 4 processor, an Nvidia GeForce FX5700 graphics card, and a gig of RAM to play. Since the Toshiba is equipped with a pair of 2-GHz Centrino chips, an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS card, and 2 GB of RAM, I think I was well covered. And with a colossal 200-GB hard drive, you’ll never run out of room for saving games.

Gameplay was as silky smooth as you’d expect from such a system. Guild Wars is an action-packed fantasy role-playing game; not only does it have a lot of elements moving at any moment, but also a fully customizable “camera” view that you can change on the fly. The P105 handled every spear throw, axe strike, and magic spell deftly. To be completely honest, when my party came to a village with dozens of online players present, there were some hiccups, but this was probably due to the speed of the network connection, not the hardware.

The only issue I had was that tiny mousepad. It could be just my style, but it was just too small and awkward to play a dynamic game like Guild Wars as effectively as I’d like. And, hey, if the monitor’s widescreen, why doesn’t the pad match its aspect ratio? Sure, you could hook up an external mouse, but then you might as well have a desktop. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker depends if you think you could get used to it. For me, it would take a while.

At the End of the Day…

There’s no question the Toshiba P105-S9722 has tools to impress. It’s no Dell XPS tower, but the guts of this baby will run most anything you can throw at it — even Vista. The performance is impressive given the price tag. A big, bight screen and other perks help to make you forget it’s a laptop, although eventually you’ll run into some inherent limits of portable computers. Stil, if you need to ditch the desktop for a notebook, the P105 won’t stop trying to win you over. Given enough time, it may even succeed.

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