Friday, December 31, 2010

Cloud Backup: Hitachi’s Life Studio Mobile Plus, Tested

What do you do if you need to back up your data, transport it, synchronize it between several locations, and access it online? Hitachi’s Life Studio Mobile Plus is a brave attempt at solving that dilemma, but it only really appeals to mainstream users.
A lot has been said and written about data protection, so we're happy every time a company tries to breathe new life into the market with some amount of real innovation. Obviously, backing up data to an external hard drive or network storage solution is nothing new. Virtually everyone has a USB thumb drive today, and even saving data onto your personal Web space is old hat. However, when someone promises all of this in a single, user-friendly, convenient, and affordable package, we gladly take a closer look.
Hitachi promises that its new LifeStudio product makes organizing and finding files, music, and photos even easier. The software uses the same Cooliris 3D wall paradigm found in Android smartphones' Gallery app. All content is conveniently accessed, edited, and managed through a centralized piece of software with support for uploading photos to Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa. The integrated USB thumb drive provides an easy and flexible way to transport important data. Finally, apps for the iPhone let you can access the data online later. Unfortunately, these are not free of charge.
On the following pages, we'll take a closer look at the Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus. We didn’t doubt that the concept would work, but the promised user friendliness and simplicity is something we had to see to believe. This includes benchmarking the individual components, as well as assessing everyday use. We also chose two unbiased test subjects who had never used a product like this before.

We already owned external hard drives, a collection of USB thumb drives in various capacities, and various Internet storage spaces. Could the Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus render all of these disparate pieces obsolete? We had to know.

We've been considering packaging in our reviews for a while given that, sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover is responsible for protecting the product throughout shipping and retail. Packaging also gives you clues about how eco-minded the manufacturer might be. From this perspective, Hitachi has created exemplary packaging by getting rid of unnecessary plastic and instead opting for form-shaped cardboard. Instead of including an installation CD, the hard drive is configured as a virtual CD drive that provides all required software.

A short, printed manual is included, helping the user through the first few installation steps. The drive also comes with two USB cables in addition to the docking station and 4 GB USB stick. In this Mobile version of the product, power comes directly from USB ports. To help deal with any low-power ports, Hitachi includes a Y cable with two USB connections. We found the USB cable a bit short, and had to use an extension cable to connect the Life Studio Mobile Plus to the tower PC located below our desk.
• 2.5" external hard drive
• 4 GB USB stick
• USB docking station
• 2 USB cables
• LifeStudio software
• Hitachi backup software
Technical Data

• Available capacities: 250 GB, 320 GB, and 500 GB
• Available colors: graphite and platinum
• Dimensions (HxWxD): 13.6 cm x 8.5 cm x 8.05 cm
• Supported operating systems: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 with USB 2.0 or 1.1 ports. Apple MacOS 10.5 or newer with USB 2.0 or 1.1 ports.
First Startup
Assembly is hassle-free. When unpacking, observe how parts are placed inside the box. Maybe even take a picture or two. Getting everything back into the box in case you want to return the product for whatever reason can be tricky.
Setting up the hard drive and docking station takes about one minute.

USB Connection
We mentioned the short USB cable; hopefully you won't need to buy a longer one. The drive is detected immediately after connecting, and both the hard drive and the USB stick show up as removable media. The next step is to install the software from the virtual CD drive.

Software Installation
Software installation is quick and trouble-free, as well. It's a bit strange, though, that just after the installation is complete the setup runs a mandatory update check, immediately installing a newer version. Why not run this before installing the first version?
Maybe this sounds like nitpicking, but there's an annoying aspect to the update process, too. Despite having just installed the application, LifeStudio needs to be completely (automatically) uninstalled before the new version can be installed. This is time-consuming and should have been more efficiently implemented, especially since this is supposed to be a smart, nimble, and mobile solution. We would have gladly accepted an update patch, but now there's this lengthy procedure to endure on all computers that use the product.
There aren't many options to choose from.
The simple nature of Hitachi's software results in some reductions in functionality. Just allowing the user to select which directories to back up would have made things easier. Without any kind of file filter, this superficial approach quickly leads to meaningless and wasteful data transfers. For example, the entire Windows user directory is selected for online backup by default, meaning that your browser cache and temporary data is backed up and synchronized. We'll discuss this in more detail later in the article.

You use Cooliris to view data content. Whether or not this tool meets your personal taste is for you to decide. It's quite easy to view simple content structures, but checking out a large photo collection with the original camera file names quickly becomes challenging.
The Second Account
The login button on the main screen has nothing to do with the cloud, but requires a separate Cooliris account.
The registration process could be smoother. Despite the error messages, we did receive confirmation links when registering, but these emails all landed in our spam folder. It's not that hard to follow some basic rules in order to bypass spam detection, and less experienced users in particular may depend on properly delivered email.
We would have preferred an alternative visualization method to the wall. Users archiving a few photos and music will get used to it pretty fast, but power users with a variety of file types that are not all multimedia files will be frustrated by the lack of an overview.

We observed the two following people as being representative of the experiences an average user would have. We followed them from opening the package through installation to actually using the product. We wanted to supplement our own conclusions with their observations and actions. The criticism and tips mentioned in this section are thus indirectly included in the final conclusion. We asked both users to evaluate the product in a few sentences.
Test Person 1: Student (16, male)
This is a summary of the first test person’s evaluation. In addition to some cell phone photos, the user mainly dealt with short movie clips, wallpapers, and MP3 files. After a short introduction on the advantages of online backup, the user enthusiastically dove into the product.
He had some criticisms regarding the boring Web interface and its usability. The search either found the wrong content or offered too many hits with little relevance. He mentioned the lack of a directory hierarchy as well as the absent EXIF data in photo files. The hard drive and USB thumb drive storage were praised, though the lack of file filtering was an issue. The 3D Wall was enjoyed and classified as stylish, balancing out the problems with file searching.
The included software proved no challenge for this user. The iPhone we supplied with the prepaid app installed was met with a "no, thank you." His grade for the entire product was a B.
Test Person 2: Adult (29, female)
This is the assessment of a professional Web designer. She liked the idea of the adopting a USB thumb drive, and its operation went smoothly. The two required user accounts were taken negatively, as was the overly complicated registration process. She missed file filtering and described these as the only reason why she would never use this product on her own, in spite of a good concept.
This is the key question: why should users have to adapt when storing files on the computer instead of having the backup software adapt to them? She would have liked more options, as well. Overall rating: satisfactory.


• good idea and interesting concept, especially the cloud connection and the USB thumb drive
• eco-friendly and efficient packaging
• premium materials and good construction quality
• good product design
• everything essential is included in the package
• easy software installation
• settings are easy to understand
• visually attractive management interface
• 3 GB free online storage space


• short USB cables
• few configuration options
• no options for file filtering (more specifically, what to backup)
• not possible to hide sub-directories
• need to register two different online accounts
• minimalistic Web interface
• limited search functions or too many search results
• no user-defined hierarchical file organization
• Windows user directory backed up by default, including temp folder and browser cache
• the 3D wall is stylish but impractical
• form over function throughout
Final Evaluation
In order to properly evaluate the LifeStudio, we must draw a clear line between average home users and the power user with technical knowledge. This product is most likely best classified as a lifestyle product for casual, personal users. The absence of a number of file selection options makes it inappropriate for semi-professional or professional use.
While the backup result is rather good out of the box, the lack of data selection settings could be a deal breaker. The backup solution automatically includes the Windows Default User directory for backup. We spent over two hours uploading more than 5000 files to the cloud, and none of them contained important documents or media files! It was just the browser cache and temporary files.
The concept behind LifeStudio is great. So are many aspects of the product. But it is severely limited by the beautiful, yet inefficient, software interface and a poorly-implemented Web interface.
The Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus is guaranteed to find its audience. People with modern lifestyles who want to handle a manageable number of images and secure their data from disasters are offered just the right product. The hardware is fast enough and convenient, and the software does its job well once set up.
The services are temptingly easy to work with because of their simplified features. However, anyone looking for an effective and more powerful backup solution for daily work needs to keep looking, because this product lacks a few important backup features and criteria.
We conclude this review with mixed feelings. We hope that this article provides a few useful suggestions to Hitachi. The hardware is perfectly fine. Only the software is holding it back for anyone who considers herself or himself more knowledgeable than a mainstream consumer.


Acer's Aspire 5551G: AMD's Budget Gaming Laptop

A couple months ago, we looked at AMD's quad-core P920 processor and HD 5650 GPU combination (with HD 4250 switchable graphics) courtesy of the Toshiba A660D/A665D. The combination wasn't without promise, but we walked away with a few concerns. First, we didn't think the Toshiba notebook was the best-built system on the block, with its glossy textured plastic. Then there's the issue with the CPU: the Phenom II P920 may be a quad-core processor, but the slow 1.6GHz maximum clock speed can be a serious bottleneck. And while we like the idea of switchable graphics, Toshiba garners two more marks against their offering: first, they don't participate in AMD's mobile driver program (you can get around this by downloading the drivers on a different laptop from a vendor that does participate, interestingly enough); second, they take the Radeon HD 5650 and clock it at 450MHz instead of 550MHz. Combine all of the above with a minimum price of $800 and we walked away without a clear winner. Here's our wish list from the conclusion of the A660D review:
Frankly, it just doesn't seem like anyone has yet come up with an ideal AMD-based laptop—not that they can't, but more like they won't. So to help, here's what we want. First, give us more than a 48Wh battery—look at ASUS' U-series laptops with 84Wh batteries for inspiration here. Second, keep the CPU clock speed above 2.0GHz, because when Intel's i3-330M beats a quad-core 1.6GHz part in virtually every benchmark you know there's a problem. Third, give us a decent GPU (5650 or faster), but don't force us into 16" and larger notebooks; P520, 5650, and a 63Wh battery (at least) should all fit in a 14" chassis. Bonus points for the first laptop to provide all of the above and not use a cheap LCD (and we'd even pay an extra $50-$100 for such a display). Considering the competition on the Intel side of the fence, realistically all of this needs to fit into a budget of under $800, since an extra $100 brings Core i5 parts into direct competition.
Besides the above, we also had to question whether P920 made sense with the 5650—a higher clocked dual-core processor seemed like a better overall gaming solution, given the dearth of games that truly benefit from having more than two cores. Not long after that review, AMD contacted us and asked if we'd like to look at the Acer 5551G-4591, a laptop that at least meets several of the above wish list bullet points. Now, we haven't been particularly kind in our comments on some of the Acer/Gateway laptops of late, but that doesn't mean they can't fill a niche. We still think the keyboard is one of the least desirable options for a notebook (which is putting it kindly), and they're not likely to ever win an industrial design competition, but one thing Acer tends to do better than anyone else is to pack some decent performance options into very affordable offerings. So just what does the 5551G-4591 bring to bear? Here's the spec rundown.
Acer Aspire 5551G-4591 Specifications
Processor AMD Athlon II P520 (2x2.3GHz, 45nm, 1MB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD RS880M + SB850
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon Mobility HD 5650 1GB DDR3
(400 Shaders, 550MHz core clock, 1540MHz effective memory clock)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
AU Optronics B156XW02-V2 Panel
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 5400RPM (Seagate Momentus 5400.6 ST9500325AS)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW Drive (Matshita DVD-RAM UK890AS)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom BCM57780)
Wireless 802.11n (Atheros AR928X, 300Mb capable)
Audio Realtek ALC272 HD Audio
Stereo speakers, headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 4400mAh, 48Wh battery
Front Side Flash reader
Left Side Headphone and microphone jacks
1 x USB 2.0
Ethernet jack
Exhaust vent
AC plug
Right Side 2 x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.0" x 10.0" x 1.0"-1.3" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.7 lbs
Extras 1.3MP Webcam
103-Key Keyboard with dedicated 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo, xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing Estimated price of $649
[Possibly discontinued]
Let's get the have-nots out of the way first: no switchable graphics; a small 48Wh battery; no USB3.0, FireWire, or ExpressCard; no high quality LCD. There aren't any surprises in that list, but the haves are a bit more compelling: a 2.3GHz Turion II P520 processor, a 550MHz HD 5650, a modified design that isn't quite as bad as the last-gen Aspire "bulbous cover", and a price starting at just $630 online. We can throw sticks and stones at the keyboard and chassis all day, but the fact is many users aren't nearly as demanding as we are. If you want a great keyboard experience, we would look elsewhere, but if you're willing to live with the "floating island" keyboard—or perhaps you even like it?—then a price that's only slightly more than the better netbooks and the cheapest ultraportables will help you get your game on.
Before we move on to the actual user experience with the 5551G, let's make sure we set expectations appropriately low. The Toshiba A660D managed battery life of nearly four hours, but it included switchable graphics. With the same size battery but discrete-only graphics, the 5551G will be hard pressed to break the three-hour mark in our best-case scenario. It's a shame Acer doesn't toss in something like the 84Wh ASUS U-series battery, because the difference between three hours and five hours could easily mean leaving the power adapter behind while you head out to a day of classes. Also, the LCD is another 768p model, and like so many others it utterly fails to impress. It will show you content as well as the speakers will play music (which is to say, not that well). But again, the price lets us excuse quite a few complaints…if only we could still buy it!
In typical Acer fashion, a notebook that is less than two months old is no longer available online at the time of writing. Perhaps the price was too good, or maybe Acer is counting on unsuspecting users buying the 5551G-4280 thinking it's the same as the 5551G-4591. Well, it's not, because the 4591 comes with a 5650 while the 4280 drops to a 5470, and the standard 5551 (no G) only uses integrated HD 4250 graphics. Arrrgh! But all is not lost, as the 5551G-4591 might still be found on store shelves at Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Office Depot, or Office Max—try giving your local store a call. Or you can look at alternatives from other companies; the only Athlon II dual-core + 5650 we know of right now is the HP Pavilion dv6z (which will start at $700 with the 5650).

2010: The Year Technology Replaced Talking

Despite all the technology that makes communicating easier than ever, 2010 was the Year We Stopped Talking to One Another. From texting at dinner to posting on Facebook from work or checking e-mail while on a date, the connectivity revolution is creating a lot of divided attention, not to mention social angst. Is it time to step back and reassess?

When Gretchen Baxter gets home from work as a New York City book editor, she checks her BlackBerry Relevant Products/Services at the door. "I think we are attached to these devices in a way that is not always positive," says Baxter, who'd rather focus at home on her husband and 12-year-old daughter. "It's there and it beckons. That's human nature (but) ... we kind of get crazy sometimes and we don't know where it should stop."
Americans are connected at unprecedented levels -- 93 percent now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are "smartphones" that allow users to browse the Web Relevant Products/Services and check e-mail Relevant Products/Services, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around.
The downside: Often, we're effectively disconnecting from those in the same room.
That's why, despite all the technology that makes communicating easier than ever, 2010 was the Year We Stopped Talking to One Another. From texting at dinner to posting on Facebook from work or checking e-mail while on a date, the connectivity revolution is creating a lot of divided attention, not to mention social angst. Many analysts say it's time to step back and reassess.
"What we're going to see in the future is new opportunities for people to be plugged in and connected like never before," says Scott Campbell, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, who studies the social implications of using mobile Relevant Products/Services devices. "It can be a good thing. But I also see new ways the traditional social fabric is getting somewhat torn apart."
Our days are filled with beeps and pings -- many of which pull us away from tasks at hand or face-to-face conversations. We may feel that the distractions are too much, but we can't seem to stop posting, texting or surfing.
"We're going through a period of adjustment and rebalancing," says Richard Harper, principal researcher in socio-digital systems at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England, and author of the new book Texture: Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload.
Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self in Cambridge, Mass., wants to remind people that technology can be turned off.

"Our human purposes are to really have connections with people," she says. "We have to reclaim it. It's not going to happen naturally."
Her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, suggests that the time is right for reassessment. "You have to have experiences with it before you can ask these questions. You can't ask in the first five years. You have to see how it plays out," Turkle says.
She's worried about what she sees today.
"We've come to confuse continual connectivity with making real connections," Turkle says. "We're 'always on' to everyone. When you actually look more closely, in some ways we've lost the time for the conversations that count."
Connected to Your Social Circle
Sociologist Claude Fischer of the University of California-Berkeley is familiar with dire predictions associated with new technology: He outlined them in his 1992 book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.
"If you go back 100 years, people were writing things about the telephone not unlike people are writing about these technologies. There was a whole literature of alarm -- how it's turning everything upside down," he says.
In a new book, Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970, he says the total contact time with friends and family has not changed much in 40 years; there has been a slight decline in face-to-face contact but a substantial increase in other ways of communicating, such as phone and e-mail.
The "major" change is "the idea that you are available to everybody in your social circle at every minute and they are available to you," he says. "What its consequences and implications are, we don't know."
Social psychologist Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is among those studying our relationship with technology. "At any moment, you're dividing your attention between the person in front of you and the person you're giving snippets of your attention to. We don't know the net consequence of reducing the quality of the relationship a little bit with the person you're with while improving or maintaining it with the person you're electronically tied to."
Harper says, "Some researchers do worry that connections to other people elsewhere are weakening the connections to people you're with."
Adds James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and editor of Mobile Communication: Dimensions of Social Policy, out Jan. 31: "There's no question that these mobile gadgets are affecting our behavior. There is not a uniform declaration that everyone agrees to as to what this change means. Everybody sees merits and demerits, but whether the effect is good or bad is hotly contested."

Campbell says mobile phones provide opportunities to coordinate social activities more easily.
"The more people use mobile phones, the more likely they are to see friends and family because it strengthens those relationships," he says. "It doesn't take away from how much we see our friends, but it can take away from the quality of the time we spend with people when we're physically together and using the technology with others."
The statistics paint a clear picture of dramatic increases in mobile devices. According to a semi-annual wireless survey released in October by the industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association, 93% of Americans now use a wireless device or cellphone -- and not just for voice calls.
From June 2009 to June 2010, subscribers sent 1.8 trillion text messages (up 33% from the previous year) and 56.3 billion multimedia messages (up 187% from the year before). In its latest monthly report, the Nielsen Co. found that almost 30% of mobile subscribers in the USA have a smartphone such as a BlackBerry or iPhone.
"Mobile telephony is becoming ubiquitous, with access to mobile networks now available to over 90% of the global population," says the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency.
Campbell says Americans feel these changes so profoundly because we're just now "truly experiencing this kind of critical mass."
"It's not just about the adoption level being high, but this technology has really worked its way into our everyday lives," he says.
Less Than Full Attention
As with much in technology, some differences may be generational.
Teens are just fine with being together and texting others at the same time, Campbell says.
"There's no social disruption," he says. "But across generational lines, there is major disruption." Adults "are offended and don't understand why, when the family is trying to spend time together, teens have to be socially someplace else."
It's not just happening with parents and teens.
When someone starts texting at a party or a business Relevant Products/Services meeting, it may be taken as in insult by those physically present. When a parent pulls out the BlackBerry to e-mail the office while at home with the kids, the unfortunate message they send to the children may be that "there is someone I'd rather be interacting with than you."

There are upsides: The increased use of mobile devices does help keep relationships alive, says Kraut, who says cellphones allow people to convert otherwise wasted time (such as that spent walking somewhere) to contact with others.
"It's multitasking in a way that's good," he says. "They need to get someplace, but can have a pleasurable conversation when they're doing it."
At the same time, Turkle says, we can no longer assume we have someone's full attention when we're physically with them. "We're saying to each other in one way or another that we can always put each other on pause."
Sharing Space
Like Baxter, more tech lovers are setting limits.
No one had to tell Susan Maushart of Mattituck, N.Y., how consumed by technology her family was. They unplugged for six months, and she recounts the experience in The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept With Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale, out Jan. 20.
"We're connected to everything but one another and it's completely normal for this time and place," she says.
Maushart was spurred to act when she looked around the living room and "all I could see were the backs of people's heads, because they were interacting with their screens."
At the time, her kids were 14, 15 and 18.
"It was the prime of their teenage years -- that last moment when we were going to all be together under that one roof," Maushart says. "I felt sick at the pit of my stomach that this was going to all dwindle away."
She says it was liberating to be free of her devices, even though she loves technology.
Others have these mixed feelings, as well.
"There's no question cellphones somehow make you reachable 24/7, and I don't like it," says Prudence Bushnell Boyer of Silver Spring, Md., a lawyer and mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 7.
"Now, they expect you to answer the phone all the time," she says. "I think it's disruptive and disconcerting. But my 12-year-old thinks it's wonderful to be connected all the time."
Bushnell Boyer says times have changed.
"It used to be if someone was talking to themselves, they were usually not in their right state of mind. Nowadays, you realize they have an earpiece and are talking to someone and not really where they are. They're not connected to the time or place they're in," she says.

Despite her cellphone, BlackBerry, Kindle and the iPad she shares with colleagues at work, Gretchen Baxter says adults are having a more difficult adjustment to the world consumed by technology. She doesn't thinks kids will.
"They're so used to it and like everything, they'll get blase about it," she says.
But, Baxter says she has her concerns: "I worry for the kids that they won't know what it's like to share a story, to look people in the eyes -- to know that sharing a space with someone is all about connecting and not with the technological device."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Corsair Graphite Series 600T: Cool and Quiet

Today we open with what is hopefully the first in a fresh series of case reviews, and we kick it off with a bang with Corsair's Graphite Series 600T. The 600T is the least expensive in Corsair's lineup, but that doesn't say much when the MSRP is still $159. That pricing puts it right in line with crowd favorites like Antec's P182 and many of Lian Li's enclosures: no small competition. That said, a good case is the kind of investment that can last you a long time.
I've had my system installed in an Antec P182 for a long time, and there's a reason that case (and its successor, the P183) has garnered so many favorable reviews: it has a smart internal design and cools extremely well while being very quiet. That said, the P180, P182 and P183 aren't the easiest cases to work in, and when Corsair announced the 600T I was eager to see if it could bring all the benefits Antec's cases brought to the table while adding more conveniences. Cases have matured in the intervening period, and I can tell you right now, Corsair's 600T is a remarkable bit of progress. Here's the rundown of the case specs.
Corsair Graphite Series 600T Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor ATX, Micro ATX
Drive Bays External 4x 5.25”
Internal 6x 3.5”
Cooling Front 1x 200mm intake
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust
Top 1x 200mm exhaust
Side -
Bottom -
Expansion Slots 8
Front I/O Port 4x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic, 1x 6-pin Firewire, 1x USB 3.0, Fan Controller
Power Supply Size Standard ATX
Weight 28 lbs.
Dimensions 23.3” x 10.4” x 20”


ASUS EeePC 1215N: Bringing NG-ION to the 1201

It’s been a while since I last reviewed a netbook. Even though the netbook market is pretty huge right now, there’s a couple of pretty good reasons for this. First, the iPad factor—tablets have the buzz, and devices like the Galaxy Tab, RIM PlayBook, and anything and everything else with a touchscreen are far more interesting than the bog standard netbook. Two, they all have basically the same hardware in slightly different cases. If you’re ASUS, that means you’ve got roughly 20 different models with the same basic internals and otherwise minor changes to differentiate them all.

But this one, the 1215N, is actually different. You’ve got a dual-core Atom (a desktop Atom D525, not the new N550), a 12” screen, and NVIDIA’s Next Generation ION (NG-ION) platform, all in a tasty aluminum wrapper. Like the 1201N it’s replacing, it’s a unique riff on the netbook theme. Thankfully, most of the inane netbook limitations are gone, so the 1215 has a solid 2GB memory and Windows 7 Home Premium (as opposed to the awfulness that calls itself Win 7 Starter). All the other standard stuff is here too—Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. It’s a full featured netbook, except on steroids.
ASUS EeePC 1215N Specifications
Processor Intel Atom D525
(1.80GHz, 45nm, 1MB L2 cache, 13W)
Chipset Intel NM10
Memory 2x1GB DDR3-1066
Graphics NVIDIA Next-Generation ION
(16SPs, 475/790/1092 Core/Shader/RAM clocks)
Intel HD Graphics (Optimus Switchable)
Display 12.1" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 250GB 5400RPM HDD (Seagate ST9250325AS)
Optical Drive None
Networking Atheros AR8152 Fast Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 BGN
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with two audio jacks)
Battery 6-Cell, 10.95V, 5200mAh, 56Wh battery
Front Side None
Left Side Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD/xD)
1 x USB
Cooling Exhaust
AC Power connection
Right Side Headphone/Microphone jacks
Kensington Lock
2 x USB 2.0
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium
Dimensions 11.65" x 8.0" x 0.91-1.46" (WxDxH)
Weight 3.21 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
86-Key keyboard
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MSPro/SD/xD)
Multi-touch touchpad
ExpressGate OS (8-second boot)
Warranty 1-year global warranty
6-month battery pack warranty
30-day zero bright dot LCD
Pricing ASUS EeePC 1215N Silver starting at $484
Compared to the outgoing 1201N, not much has changed here. It's the same basic hardware configuration in a similar chassis; the biggest difference is the bump from the first gen ION platform to Pine Trail and NG-ION, with a slightly higher CPU clock. It’s still pretty great as far as netbook specs go, but it costs significantly more than most netbooks. Our favorite 1001P goes for $299, while the 1215N goes for $499. Can the performance upgrades justify the large amount of additional cost, and how does it hold up versus similarly priced notebooks running AMD’s Nile platform? There are some other interesting questions; NG-ION is not significantly faster than the first-gen ION platform, so will the 1215N be better than the 1201N? And then you’ve got the N550 in play now as well; now that there are plenty of dual-core 10” netbooks out there, is the 1215N as different as it seems at first look? Let’s find out.

HTC Thunderbolt May Be Verizon's First LTE Phone

Verizon's first LTE phone may be the HTC Thunderbolt, based on pictures on a web site. The HTC Thunderbolt is similar to Sprint Nextel's Android-powered HTC EVO, which runs on its WiMAX network. HTC has vowed to be "first to 4G," with Motorola and other phone makers also offering LTE devices. The phones may compete with Apple's iPhone.

HTC's vow to be "first to 4G" appears to be gaining credibility as photos have materialized of a device from the Taiwan-based smartphone giant designed for the Verizon Wireless long-term evolution network.
The shots on a blog devoted to Android phones appear to be the HTC Thunderbolt, a 4.3-inch touchscreen device that has drawn comparisons to the HTC EVO, the first phone for Sprint Nextel's high-speed WiMAX network. Both devices run Google Relevant Products/Services's Android operating system.
First, But Not Alone
HTC's web site now features teasers promising to be "The first to 4G again," although Verizon Wireless COO John Stratton told The Wall Street Journal this week that "Motorola will be right there" when the company launches its first LTE phones at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6. HTC and Motorola currently partner with Verizon in producing the popular Droid phones. In all, six LTE phones are expected, and other likely partners include Samsung and LG.
Irving Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, the co-owner with Vodafone of Verizon Wireless, is slated to give a keynote address at CES on Jan. 6, during which he'll likely announce the LTE phones. The company will also hold a press conference that afternoon with three top Verizon Wireless execs for what it says is a "sneak peak" at the phones. That event will be webcast live by Verizon.
The device featured on Droid Life has a built-in rear kickstand, front and back cameras, and four mechanical buttons under the oversized touchscreen, with the Verizon logo on the front and HTC's on the back, along with Verizon's 4G LTE logo. Specs were not listed. One photo shows a Thunderbolt startup logo on the screen.
That graphic is reminiscent of commercials currently promoting Verizon's LTE network, which feature a teenager opening a package that contains a bolt of lightning. No device is mentioned in the ad.
HTC's web ad for its next 4G phone, shrouded in black and unnamed, declares that "it's not your dream phone. It's the one after that."
iPhone Face-Off
The new LTE phones may soon compete with a CDMA-capable iPhone, which has been rumored for months but unconfirmed by either Apple or Verizon. A report by BusinessWeek on Wednesday said an Apple event to launch that device could happen as soon as Valentine's Day, some five weeks after CES. Seidenberg's address is sure to be closely watched for hints of that announcement.
Losing its exclusive U.S. deal with Apple could cost AT&T millions of potential customers, but current iPhone users won't be able to switch from AT&T to Verizon without upgrading to a new device. Ending their contract early will also cost users a $325 termination fee.
Technology analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates sees a Verizon iPhone as inevitable, but the timing as less certain.
"I think it's something Apple is better off doing sooner rather than later," said Gold. "It will help them stop the onslaught of Android devices. I would bet it's soon."
Assuming Verizon's iPhone runs on its 3G network, Gold said it would compete well with new LTE-capable phones because the 4G network won't fully cover the United States until 2012, and most users won't feel deprived without it.
"Anything they release is going to have to roam from LTE to 3G," said Gold. "The question is, how many people will actually care [about 4G smartphone coverage] or actually notice the difference? For typical web browsing, 3G is probably fast enough."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thermalright's Shaman VGA Cooler: The Quiet Giant?

Thermalright's Shaman is the largest VGA cooler we've ever seen. Having recently reviewed three competing aftermarket graphics cooling solutions, we're eager to find out if size really matters when it comes to overclocking the ultra-hot GeForce GTX 480.
After we wrote our last VGA cooler roundup, Thermalright brought its newest entry in this segment to market: the Shaman. Thermalright claims two world firsts for this cooler: the first VGA cooler designed to accommodate a 140 mm fan and the first VGA cooler with eight 6 mm heat pipes.
Of course, we're always looking to put claims of superiority to the test, so we're itching to compare this unit to some of the products reviewed in the past.

Let's have a look at how Thermalright's new VGA cooler stacks up against the competition:

Arctic Cooling
Accelero XTREME Plus
Dimensions:160(L) × 132(W) × 38(H) mm290(L) × 104(W) × 56(H) mm212.5(L) × 110.5(W) × 65(H) mm239(L) x 98(W) x 51(H) mm
Weight:500 grams
(without fan)
622 grams759 grams430 grams
(without fans)
Fans:Single 140 mm fanThree 92 mm fansTwo 92 mm Case FansTwo 92 mm Fans
Power Cables:Single Motherboard
Fan Header
Single Graphics Card
Fan Header
Two Motherboard
Fan Headers
Single Motherboard
Fan Header
Copper Cooling Block
Aluminum Heat pipes
and Cooling Fins
Copper Cooling Block
Copper Heat Pipes
Aluminum Cooling Fins
Copper Cooling Block
Copper Heat Pipes
Aluminum Cooling Fins
Four mounting hole size options:
Radeon 3870/4800/5800
and GeForce 250/9800GTX,
GeForce GTX 200 series,
GeForce GTX 480 and 8800,
GeForce GTX 460
Radeon 6950/6970
GeForce GTX 570/580
Five compatibility set options:
VR001-Multiple Radeon/GeForce Cards
VR002-GeForce GTX 200 series
VR003-GeForce GTX 470/465
VR004-GeForce GTX 480
VR005-GeForce GTX 460
Six mounting hole size options:
43 mm, 51 mm, 53 mm,
58 mm, 61 mm, 80 mm
VF3000F: GeForce GTX 480
VF3000F: GeForce GTX 465/470
VF3000A: Radeon HD 5800 series
VF3000N: GeForce GTX 200 series

From the raw specifications, we can see that the Shaman's 140 mm cooler does stand out amongst the crowd. A large fan has the potential for higher airflow combined with lower RPMs (and consequently lower noise) compared to smaller fans. Of course, the drawback is the significantly larger size of the cooler, standing more than 20 mm higher than the next-largest competitor, and even higher when the fan is attached. As a result, the Shaman won't fit in anything smaller than a full-width case with at least 6 3/4" inches of clearance from the motherboard.
Enough statistics for now though; let's have a closer look at Thermalright's VGA cooling beast.

Just like the competition that we'll be comparing it to, Thermalright's Shaman VGA cooler is able to work on a number of different graphics cards. It is compatible with most high end Radeon HD 3800- to 5800-series cards and most high-end GeForce cards from the 8800 series, GTX 200 series, and GTX 400 series.
The Shaman will also fit the new Radeon HD 6950/6970 series and GeForce GTX 570/580, but the Radeon HD 6850/6870 is not compatible.

The Shaman cooler weighs 500 grams, but tips the scales over 660 grams with its mammoth 140 mm fan attached. This is heavier than the stock cooler and most aftermarket options, but it's surpassed by the 759 gram DeepCool V6000.

There are a lot of heat pipes to transfer heat from the cooling block--eight, to be exact, the most on any VGA cooler to date, according to Thermalright. To cool them down, the 140 mm fan can push up to an advertised 73 CFM of air at a low 21 decibels. While the entire cooling assembly appears to be aluminum, the cooling block is actually nickel-plated copper.

The understated cardboard box is classic Thermalright packaging, and inside we find the cooler, 140 mm fan, instructions, sticker, and assembly package containing the hardware we'll need for installation.

With the reference GeForce GTX 480 cooler removed and the contact surfaces cleaned appropriately, the RAM and VRM heat sinks must be applied. This is where the Shaman delivers its only disappointment, as the thermal tape isn't strong enough to stick to the small VRM components. The RAM sinks stick well enough, but Shaman owners who want to keep the critical VRM components cool will need another strategy, such as stronger thermal tape or thermal adhesive. We try to avoid thermal adhesive when possible because of its permanent nature.
A representative of Thermalright let us know that they are aware of this problem and that the company prefers to stay away from super-sticky tape, as it can break components if the heatsinks are removed. Thermalright says it'll supply Shaman buyers with replacement sticky tape if they request it. While it's nice that that the company acknowledges the issue we encountered, it's disconcerting that the VRM heatsinks will not stick the way the product is being shipped.

While we'd prefer to use the VRM heat sinks included with the Shaman, we look to a separate Thermalright product to solve our VRM cooling woes: the VRM-G2 cooler.

The VRM-G2 is specifically designed for the GeForce GTX 480, and it's certainly an impressive piece of cooling hardware when you consider its VRM-specific nature. It can even be fitted with an 80 mm fan, if the user wants to purchase one separately. This makes sense, of course, since the VRM gets very hot, and keeping it cool is a critical strategy for overclockers.
The large VRM cooler is an interesting heavy-duty solution to VRM cooling, but it may have trouble fitting in some cases (we needed to modify our test bed to accommodate it). It should be noted that the VRM-G2 costs $35 alone at, and it's separate from the cost of the Shaman. Before you start sinking this much money on aftermarket air cooling, consider what you could sell your existing card for on Ebay or a forum, and what it might cost to simply buy your way up to more guaranteed performance. After all, the VRM-G2 and Shaman, together, cost an additional $115 beyond what you've already paid.

With the VRM problem addressed, we can continue with the Shaman installation, an easy task that involves only four screws and a bracket on the rear of the card. The Shaman dwarfs the large GeForce GTX 480 PCB and makes the card appear even more formidable. Now that we have the hardware installed, let's see what it can do to keep the GF100 cool and quiet.

We’re testing idle and load temperatures, in addition to noise levels. The graphics load we’re using is the brutal FurMark stress test at 8x AA.
The Shaman is benchmarked against products from our recent VGA cooler roundup, including the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus, the Zalman VF3000, the DeepCool V6000, and the reference GeForce GTX 480 cooler.
All sound and noise tests are recorded in an open test bed. Results always change on a per-case basis, as every type of chassis has its own unique airflow. Noise results are recorded with a decibel meter positioned two inches above the graphics card.
  Test System
MotherboardAsus M4A785TD-V EVO Socket AM3, AMD 785G, BIOS 0410
ProcessorPhenom II X4 970
3.5 GHz, Quad-Core, 6 MB L3 Cache
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper TX3
MemoryCrucial DDR3-1333
Dual-Channel 2 x 2048 MB, 669 MHz,  CAS 9-9-9-24-1T
GraphicsGeForce GTX 480
700/1401 MHz GPU/Shaders, 924 MHz GDDR5 Memory
***all clock rates set to reference specifications for the purposes of benchmarking***
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black 1 TB
7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache SATA 3Gb/s
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 x64
DirectX VersionDirectX 11
Graphics DriversGeForce 258.96
Benchmark Configuration
FurMarkVersion: 1.6.5, Stability Test - Xtreme Burning Mode, 8x AA

Thermalright's Shaman sails past the competition by a large margin when it comes to our thermal measurement. Simply put, the Shaman offers twice the performance of the stock cooler, and bests excellent aftermarket options by at least 10 degrees Celsius.
These are unquestionably impressive results, and Shaman's raw cooling ability can not be denied. Having said that, ultimate cooling performance isn't nearly as meaningful if the accompanying acoustics leave you deaf. Let's check out the noise performance next.

The Shaman not only delivers superior cooling capacity, but it does so quietly. The huge 140 mm fan doesn't need to spin quickly to push a significant amount of air through the large cooler, and as a result the near silence doesn't require a compromise in thermal performance.

Thermalright's new Shaman graphics card cooler delivers irrefutably superior cooling and noise performance compared to the competition we've tested. All it really asks for in return is a lot of space and a notable monetary investment. It's admittedly large, but shouldn't be so sizable as to be problematic in a majority of full ATX enclosures.
The Shaman can be purchased for $80 from, and at this price the Shaman is a solid value compared to competing VGA coolers that we tested, products that are all priced similarly. The Thermalright representative suggested that it will be available on in the near future for a few dollars less.
(Ed.: Extra emphasis is put on the comparison above because we have to remind you that superior thermal performance does not guarantee your graphics card is going to overclock significantly higher. Deriving an extra $80 worth of value from a board that simply might not want to operate any faster is difficult using any of these products. You'd be infinitely better off saving up for a second GeForce GTX 460 or Radeon HD 6850 used in SLI/CrossFire.
With that said, perhaps you're simply trying to quiet down a card you have no interest in replacing. Fair enough. Who're we to tell you where to spend your money? Be warned, though, knocking 10 degrees from your load temps doesn't translate to an extra x MHz of headroom, especially if you don't have control over your card's voltage settings.)

There is only one real problem that we have with the Shaman, and that's the bundled VRM heatsinks that suffer from thermal tape too weak do the job. While this can be fixed with better thermal tape or thermal adhesive, the problem is unacceptable for a critical cooling component like the VRM.
Yes, Thermalright offers the VRM-G2 dedicated VRM cooler, and it can be used as an alternate VRM cooling solution on the GeForce GTX 480. This is an interesting product in its own right and is quite attractive for overclockers. Priced at $35, however, this is a sledgehammer for a job that calls for a claw hammer. It's also quite large, and can create even more case compatibility issues than the Shaman itself, due to the large offset cooling surface.
In the final analysis, we cannot deny that the Thermalright Shaman VGA cooler has market-leading potential, and there probably isn't a better graphics card cooler available on the market. Having said that, it deserves to have a bundled VRM cooling solution that simply works out of the box. Be sure you're buying aftermarket graphics cooling for the right reason, and you won't be disappointed by what this product can do.