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November, 2008

All the week’s reviews

Friday, November 28th, 2008

In a week dominated by laptops, we also saw ATI launch its latest dual-GPU monster, Getac earn an award for another rugged wonder, and a rather niche new addition to the Sling family.

Laptop frenzy

Packard BellWe were intrigued by the Packard Bell EasyNote BG45-U-300, a portable laptop to take on the netbooks at less than £300 exc VAT – just £50 more than our A-Listed Samsung NC10. Matt reckons it’s perfect “if you’re after a little more oomph and a higher-resolution screen” than a netbook.

ToshibaIf your budget is significantly higher the UK’s first review of Toshiba’s brand new Portégé R600 ultraportable may be more your bag. Tim reckons it can trounce the Macbook Air on most specs – and he’s the editor so we can’t argue. It’s not the prettiest but “its price, integrated 3G modem and low weight all work in its favour.”


Playlists killed the classic album

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Chinese DemocracyAs someone whose musical tastes are so reluctant to be dragged into today that I spent last Saturday night at a gig featuring Carter USM and EMF, this week has been both beautiful and troubling.

On the one hand, Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose’s 15-year tortuous journey towards the Guns N’ Roses album he always felt he had in his brilliantly destructive brain, was released. On the other hand, a music software company came to our offices and showed us some software that analyses all the music on your hard drive, clusters it into a big cloud of tempos, styles, and other gubbins, then lets you choose your playlists visually by picking the clusters that interest you.

The two couldn’t have been further apart in what they represent. (more…)

Creationism versus Artificial Intelligence

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

I’m well acquainted with the presence of the creationism/evolution debate in the classroom and in politics, but I never thought it would dare to bother computer science, Mecca of all things logical, provable and reproducible. Still, I read a blog post today that boiled my blood. (more…)

10 ways in which Windows thinks it’s being helpful but isn’t

Thursday, November 27th, 2008


Man in screenLike a well-meaning Aunty who buys you a pair of slippers two sizes too small for Christmas, Windows has a number of ways in which it thinks it’s being helpful, but actually just makes things worse.

With the help of the PC Pro team, I’ve collated a top ten “thanks, but no thanks” Windows features:

1.  How many times have you come back from a tea break, to find that Automatic Update has downloaded the latest Windows Patch and helpfully restarted your PC – taking any unsaved work with it – just because you weren’t in front of the screen when the five-minute warning started? Thanks Windows.

2. Plug in any new piece of hardware, and Windows will kindly volunteer to scour the web for the relevant drivers… and come up with precisely sod all 99% of the time. On the rare occasion it does find a driver, it’s normally generic software that cripples whatever peripheral you’ve plugged in.



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Ofcom: the chocolate fireguard starts to crack

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Ethernet cableMore than half of Britons haven’t got the first clue whether their broadband connection is dawdling along at dial-up pace or delivering data to their door at warp speed, according to Ofcom’s newly-published (and ironically titled) Consumer Satisfaction report. “The proportion of broadband customers unaware of their connection speeds has continued to grow – 55% were unaware of their connection speed (actual speed),” the report claimed.

Who’s to blame for this widespread ignorance? The ISPs, who continue to advertise “up to” speeds that are often so detached from reality they make the X-Files look like a documentary? Ofcom and its equally toothless cohorts at the Advertising Standards Authority who’ve allowed the ISPs to get away with marketing these fantasy speeds? No, apparently it’s us meddling journalists.


Why my desktop is like a space station and other assorted thoughts

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Way back in 2001 I set off for university armed only with a rudimentary grasp of the object-orientated programming model and my trusty desktop computer. Actually, that’s a slight misnomer; my PC at the time was a reclaimed, bright blue server case that stood nearly as tall as me.

It weighed an absolute ton, and virtually no desk could support it. Inside were 4 or 5 hard disks, of random size and origin, a bizarre selection of scrounged components and enough fans to build a quite effective hovercraft, all linked to a controller that I’d built myself.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the most stable PC ever created. It fell over, a lot – very often because a screw had been worked loose by the vibration from all those fans and landed on a circuit board. In the halls of residence we used to hold regular movie nights, with media streamed all over the super-fast campus network. If the film stopped, I would have to run back to my room to find the offending screw, remove it and reboot. (more…)

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The joy of backup

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Carbonite in actionI think it’s fair to say I’m all things that are wrong with man. I’ve known for many years that I really should have an organised backup plan in place, but – just like putting in my expenses form – I’ve been putting it off in favour of, you know, writing articles about backup. That sort of thing.

But about three weeks ago, after a brutal personal slur on my character by PC Pro’s deputy editor David Fearon, I finally did it. “For [insert preferred deity here]’s sake Tim, we’ve got the software on the cover disc, just load it up and follow the wizard.” (more…)

How to watch the BBC iPlayer on the Xbox 360

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Xbox 360Ever since the BBC announced that its iPlayer works perfectly happily with a couple of Media Center Extenders (NetGear’s EVA8000 and the Linksys DMA2200), I’ve been determined to get the service working on my Xbox 360. After all, if the iPlayer works on third-party MCE devices, why the hell shouldn’t it work on Microsoft’s own?

The BBC’s Where To Get iPlayer page suggests getting the service to run on any MCE (or Home Media Hub as the Beeb calls them) should be a piece of cake. Simply download the programmes as normal on your PC, open Windows Media Center and add the iPlayer downloads folder to your Media Center library, then jump on to your MCE device and simply play back the relevant files from the comfort of your TV. Robert is your dad’s brother.

Except it doesn’t work on the Xbox 360. Well, at least not my Xbox 360, nor those of a couple of colleagues I’ve spoken to. Although judging by numerous internet forums, it seems to work flawlessly for some people. When I click on downloaded programmes using the Xbox 360’s MCE, however, I’m presented with a blue screen displaying the message:

“Video Error. Files needed to display video are not installed or not working correctly.”


All the week’s reviews

Friday, November 21st, 2008

A good week for hardware saw TomTom putting our driving into the hands of the masses; Sony proving that not all beautiful all-in-one PCs come with extortionate price tags; Asus slapping its Eee logo on yet another cheap and cheerful piece of plastic, and RIM taking a leaf out of Apple’s book for its latest iPhone rival.

All-in-one PCs

Eee TopAsus will get the headlines with its little lump of white plastic, the touchscreen Eee Top ET1602, and while it’s not going to win any speed competitions, we liked it nonetheless. “We can see it finding a niche both in homes – say, the kitchen, or a child’s bedroom – and offices. It’s even got enough style to be a front-of-office PC,” gushed Mike.

Sony VAIO VGC-JS1EEven more popular was the Sony VAIO VGC-JS1E. Take note of the fast processor, the sleek metal frame, the stunningly vibrant screen and the amazing price. As the review concludes, “for years Apple users have been happy to pay a silly premium for this sort of beautiful design, so if Sony can offer the same for a comparative pittance, we’ll be first in line.” 

Traffic shaping satnav

TomTom Go 740We try to keep reviews editor Jon Bray away from things with wheels – the Labs currently houses around 17 bikes and he arrives in indecent Spandex most mornings – but we had to let him loose on TomTom’s Go 740 Live. And we haven’t seen him since. It hooks up to GPS satellites and mobile phone networks to map and shape traffic as it builds up. You can even talk to it when you’re driving, which is probably why Jon called it “undoubtedly the best third-party sat-nav you can buy.”

Pushscreen technology

RIM Blackberry Storm 9500Onto phones, and RIM’s BlackBerry Storm 9500 likes you touching it so much that it just has to have more. Jon reckons “the touch-then-click approach also avoids those infuriating accidental taps that so often happen with other touchscreen phones,” but iPhone owners may struggle with the idea of having to physically push the screen in until it clicks. Credit to RIM, though, it’s like the new MacBook touchpad, but actually works.

Best of the rest

Picasa 3 arrived from Google, and Tom was very close to elevating it to the A List ahead of Photoshop Elements – but it remains a great choice for casual photographers nonetheless. And the Genetica 3 software utility impressed him with its approach to texture creation, too.

Viewsonic’s VX2260wm highlights the current move towards 16:9, 1080p panels on large-format monitors, with mixed results, while Gigabyte’s EX58-UD5 is the first Core i7 motherboard we’ve tested – and the price tag is as high as you might expect. We also saw the barebones PC that housed dual-core Atom we benchmarked last week, the Shuttle X27D; small, well-designed and very quiet, it certainly had Darien impressed.

And on the business side of things, we exclusively reviewed the Boston 3000GP rack server with one of the world’s first AMD Shanghai processors inside; we saw Western Digital’s ShareSpace attempting to make an impact in the desktop NAS appliance market, and Dave Mitchell played with the brilliantly named Splunk log management utility.

Eee PC versus the world!

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Eee PC 1000HIs the Eee PC brand the fastest growing in the world right now? When it first appeared at Computex in June 2007 it was intriguing, a new, outlandish idea that we genuinely didn’t think would catch on. Low-power internet-only machines for £100? Pah! It’ll never work!

When I had my first hands-on at IDF that September I was impressed, saying “the Eee PC could be a huge success in schools, particularly in emerging markets abroad.” If they’re totally honest, I reckon that’s what Asus thought at the time, too – I find it hard to believe anyone really predicted how big the lightweight laptop would become. 

Alright, Asus didn’t quite manage to hit that stunning price, but the Eee still struck an unexpected chord with consumers, growing in that short time from a newsworthy novelty, into an early-adopter fad, and onto a social phenomenon. Just count how many you see on the train each morning. (more…)






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