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All posts tagged "hardware"

Thursday, July 26, 2012

When Bigger Is Not Better: Review Of Four Nettops

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 02:00 PM,3231.html

"Today, we have four machines from as many different vendors. Our focus this time around is more on the products themselves, particularly now that we know how the hardware inside each performs (don't worry, we're running plenty of benchmarks here, too). Each box has its own unique focus. Some aim to squeeze desktop-like performance into a diminutive enclosure, and others minimize physical dimensions while pushing performance a notch higher compared to previous-generation models."

Laptops, tablets and smartphones are all the craze. Who wants a big boxy computer that stubs your toes when you are surfing the Internet fantastic? For those of us who still like a desktop kind of setup, these mini-pcs can provide a lot of benefits. Whether they act as an HTPC, office computer, a computer for the kids, or whatever else, space can often be at a premium. Historically, I have seen many of these small machines compromise performance in many ways, however, its impressive to see one of them sport a Core i5. It will not boost your bitcoin mining operation, but for regular use, and possibly even some light gaming, it's great to see these tiny wonders pack a punch!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Canon Launches EOS M Mirrorless System Digital Camera

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 02:20 PM

"Canon has, as expected, announced the EOS M - its first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Based around the same 18MP APS-C sensor as the recent EOS 650D/T4i, the EOS M is the first model to use a new, smaller 'EF-M' lens mount."

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Canon has finally joined the mirrorless party with the EOS M. While Canon is late, being the largest player in the digital camera market affords this luxury. The camera is basically a Rebel T4i/EOS 650D squeezed into Powershot-like body in both size and external controls. The sensor is the same one found in the EOS 650D, an 18 megapixel one with phase-detect sensors on it. The LCD is the same on the EOS 650D (you get the pattern), a 720x480 high resolution touchscreen at 3". Given the lack of external controls, the touchscreen is expected to be used a lot more than the one on the EOS 650D. Having played with the EOS 650D's touchscreen, it is still a better way of controlling the camera than the Nikon 1, even though both are not ideal from an enthusiast-level perspective. Like the EOS 650D (again), the camera will feature the same video modes, which includes 1080p video at 30, 25 or 24 FPS with stereo audio recording. The camera boasts a 4.3FPS continuous stills advance as well.

The camera will also debut with two lenses and a new flash. Both lenses feature the new STM focus motor introduced with the 40mm f/2.8 and 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lenses, which are designed to be silent for video work. The 22mm f/2 EF-M lens is a compact 35mm f/2 equivalent, which will no doubt please many street photographers, along with the usual 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom. The small 90 EX flash also debuts, and will be considered to be essential by some, as the camera lacks a built-in flash.

I have no doubt the camera will sell quite well. Like the Nikon 1 before it, it will make good sales to a large segment of non-photographers who want something that is significantly better than either their phone's cameras or a compact digital camera. Enthusiasts might be on the fence, as it lacks a number of external controls like a mode dial or a main command dial, as well as the inability to add an EVF to the hotshoe. The interesting thing is that unlike Nikon, Canon's decision to use an APS-C-sized sensor means the platform has room to grow into the enthusiast area if they choose to. The question then is, will they?

The camera will go on sale in USA in October with only one kit, the 22mm f/2 lens at US$800. Other countries are expected to have a kit with the 18-55 as well, and are expected to bundle the 90 EX flash in the kit. More details in the link, which includes a full preview!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Panasonic Announces DMC-G5 and G Vario 45-150mm f/4-5.6 OIS Lens

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 10:03 AM

Well, it's Panasonic's big day today! First up, we have a new Micro Four Thirds camera, the DMC-G5. It's a nice improvement over the G3, if you ask me. Let's start with the technical specs: The G5 has a new 16 megapixel sensor, which Panasonic calls it "digital" (their marketing speak, not mine), as it shunts even more processing onto the sensor itself. The claim is that this will improve noise, so we shall see how it performs once it arrives. Also new is the 3" VGA LCD touchscreen, up from the previous HVGA screens, so now images should be nice and crisp. One big improvement is in the video department: The G5 now features full 1080p video at 60 FPS in AVCHD, at a bit rate of 28 Mbps. This equals that of many high-end video cameras. As those who used the GH1 can remember, 17 Mbps is not much to shout about. That said, with the data stream now doubling with 60FPS progressive mode, one wonders if 28 Mbps is sufficient. The continuous stills shooting is now at 6 FPS, up from 4 FPS in the G3.

The controls and design have gotten a rework. The camera is now more curvy, and the handgrip looks far more effective than the shallow one in the G3. The rear command dial is now facing more to the right, and there's a lever just behind the shutter release. By default, it controls the zoom on the power zoom lenses, but can be set to control exposure settings, making the G5 the closest thing Panasonic has to a two-dial camera in their Micro Four Thirds line up (Olympus's flagships have always been two-dial cameras). All-in-all, it looks like a solid upgrade to the G3. As with Panasonic's usual practice, price and availability will only be released once the camera is almost ready to the market. More links, and information on the new lens after the break.


Panasonic Announces a Bunch of Superzooms; DMC-FZ200 Leads the Pack

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 10:00 AM

Next up, we have a lot of superzoom cameras from Panasonic. First up is the something that Panasonic has not done in a long time: A superzoom with a constant aperture through the entire zoom range. The DMC-FZ200 has an optically-stabilised 24x 25-600mm equivalent zoom lens that remains at f/2.8 throughout the entire range. Quite impressive, and with a small 1/2.33" CMOS sensor packing 12 megapixels. There is also a 3" articulated HVGA LCD and a slightly below SVGA EVF. The camera does 1080p video at 60 FPS (!) in AVCHD like the G5, and can do 12 FPS continuous still shooting with AF locked, and 5.5 FPS with continuous AF. The FZ200 also supports the raw format, and has a number of external controls for the serious shooter. Coverage of the other cameras and links after the break!


Panasonic Announces DMC-LX7 Premium Digital Compact Camera

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 10:00 AM

Not to be outdone by Samsung's EX2F announcement, Panasonic's follow-up to the LX5 also has an f/1.4 lens. Like the Samsung, the lens is a 24mm equivalent on the wide end, with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, and it goes to 90mm equivalent, with a maximum aperture of f/2.3. The sensor is now slightly smaller; I suspect it's the same 12 megapixel 1/1.7" CMOS sensor found in many other compacts, but to keep the multi-aspect feature, the output is slightly under 10 megapixels instead, but allows aspect ratios of 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 with minimal loss of megapixels. New features include an aperture ring around the lens barrel, to select apertures (but not customisable like the ring in the Canon S90/95/100), a built-in ND filter, a 3" VGA LCD, 1080p video at 60 FPS (!), 11 FPS continuous shooting with locked focus, 5.5 with continuous AF, and an electronic level. As always, the camera offers a number of manual controls, including a rear command dial (my preferred position) along with raw file support. No word on availability and pricing till close to release date. Check out the link for a DPReview preview of the LX7!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting Seniors Connected

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 01:00 PM

"Well the Telikin is an entirely different sort of PC. Built as an all-in-one device, the machine includes an 18- or 20-inch screen, large-print keyboard, and a normal wired mouse. It runs an unnamed version of Linux and is completely locked down, dumping you into a kiosk-like experience that you can’t leave."

Targeting seniors and getting them connected is an admirable task. While some seniors may be comfortable and fully able to live a full life without going online, I can see that many want to remain connected to their family, and the Internet is a great way of doing it. The problem is that computers tend to have large learning curves and lots of kinks to confuse people not used to technology. Having grown up with computers, most things are second nature to me, but when working with my parents, I can understand the challenges that face them. I like the Telikin concept, but I think a more successful implementation would be something based on Android. An iOS device would also be welcome, but I suspect Apple is satisfied that their current offerings are sufficient. A custom Android tablet could prove useful to seniors as it provides a more intuitive and easier to use interface. With Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond, usability is also up there. It would be great to see more seniors get online and be exposed to everything that the Internet has to offer!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cisco Gives You Your Router Back

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 01:30 PM

"We told you earlier today about how Cisco is pushing a cloud-based WiFi router management service onto customers of certain Linksys devices—and that to use the service customers must agree to a list of anti-porn and anti-piracy clauses. The trouble is that for customers with automatic firmware updates turned on, the traditional (and very useful) router management tools available in a Web browser at the address became completely unavailable. Instead, you had to sign up for Cisco’s cloud service, roll back your firmware, or just forget about using advanced router management features."

Cisco has since reversed their position on forcing you to use their cloud connected service, but the issue remains that a company could do this. While I wonder how many people this actually affected, the idea that a company could fundamentally change something you own is disconcerting and in particular, their service agreement which outlined what you could or could not do with the new service they have imposed on you. This issue does go beyond your own router, but to many services. Lots of people use web services such as Gmail, or Facebook or Twitter. Every one of those companies has the ability to change their service and limit what you can do.

The biggest lesson learned is to make sure you have control over your own data. In particular, if you use any of the above services, make sure you have a copy of it (there are many ways) for yourself so that if a company blocks you out, the affect on you is minimized. As for Cisco's kerfuffle, that is just one reason why I use an alternate firmware, dd-wrt, to handle my internet connection.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Samsung Announces EX2F Digital Compact Camera

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 07:38 AM

Today Samsung has announced the EX1/TL500 replacement, the EX2F, and it is quite an interesting camera. It boasts a 3.3x optically-stabilised zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 on the wide end at 24mm equivalent. The telephoto end is an 80mm equivalent focal length with a still impressive f/2.7 aperture size. Nicely done Samsung. As far as I remember this is the first digital compact with a f/1.4 aperture lens. The sensor is a 12.4 megapixel 1/1.7" BSI-CMOS sensor, which should make it well-placed against the competition like the Canon S100. Other niceties include the Wi-Fi features that first debuted on the new crop of Samsung cameras, a 3" VGA AMOLED screen (likely to be using the PenTile arrangement), and 1080p videos at 30 FPS. No pricing and availability, which makes it hard to draw an early impression on its place in the market. See a more comprehensive specification sheet and more photos at the read link.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Simple Home Automation Via Belkin WeMo

Posted by Richard Chao in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 09:02 PM

"Belkin's new WeMo Home Automation Switch lets you control various electronics in your house right from your iOS device, and it's available now."

The Belkin WeMo Home Automation Switch is a cheap and simple way to introduce some automation into your home. The WeMo allows control of power on any appliance or fixture that is plugged into the WeMo outlet via the free iOS app. The WeMo comes in two flavors. $49 for the basic kit and $99 for the WeMo with a motion sensor attachment.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

USB 3.0 Performance - Can You Make It Better?

Posted by Brad Wasson in "Digital Home Talk" @ 04:30 PM,3215.html

"Why is it that an interface that operates at 5 Gb/s never reaches corresponding transfer rates? Our investigation reveals that not all USB 3.0-based solutions are created equal, and we explore two technologies used to bolster the performance of USB 3.0."

Not getting the USB speed you felt was promised when you moved to USB 3.0? You may have seen advertisements suggesting USB 3.0 could bring you a maximum throughput of 625 MB/s. Not getting it? You are probably not alone. Tom's Hardware decided to have a look at the issue and see if there was a way to improve USB 3.0 performance. Indeed, there seems to be some good news coming in the future. In the meantime, a read through the Tom's article does a very nice job explaining why the theoretical throughput is not achievable, and what is being done to improve performance. It is a detailed read, but very interesting if you have pondered the performance question in the past.

StarTech Opens The Hard Drive Docking Port

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 12:30 PM

" specializes in gadgets performing niche, yet handy functions. We reviewed their portable SATA duplicator last year, and this time around we have another interesting gadget from their stables. SATA and IDE hard drive docks / enclosures are a dime a dozen. However, the combination of features provided by the USB 3.0 SATA/IDE HDD docking station persuaded us to get a unit in-house for evaluation."

I know of more than one techie who has a closet full of hard drives. Salvaged from old computers, or as backups, or for archiving data, it is hard to beat the cost per gigabyte that hard drives offer. All that lovely data, but accessing it can be problematic. Docking bays are handy, however, having carts for them, or accessing your case may be convenient. There are USB to Sata adapters, but they pose some risks, leaving your hard drive open on a desk. The docking station solution, like the one StarTech offers, is a good compromise between archiving lots of hard drives, and accessing them when y ou need it. At USB 3.0 speeds, it looks very tempting.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nikon Announces AF-S 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX and AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR Lenses; Reaches 70 Million Lenses Milestone

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 11:00 AM

Well, Nikon just announced that they have produced 70 million lenses, and they are celebrating it by releasing a couple of new lenses! The first is the fairly large AF-S 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens (27-450mm equivalent). I was not expecting anything like this, especially with a f/5.6 aperture at the long end. This means that this is not a small lens, with lens weighing in at 29.3 oz (or 830g) and using a 77mm filter thread. The lens boasts the largest zoom factor, outclassing the previous champ, the Tamron 18-270 lens. Ships in late June for US$1000.

The second lens is an update of an old favourite, which is the AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR. The new lens gains VR, but other looks very similar to the previous lens. The lens will ship in late June for US$600. The privilege of VR is quite a bit, it seems.


Canon Announces EOS Rebel T4i/650D and Two New Lenses; We Have First Impressions

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 09:00 AM

Canon last week announced the Rebel T4i/EOS 650D, and while it is one of Canon's famous incremental upgrades, it does make quite a nice package for casual shooters and point-and-shoot upgraders. The main new features are the 18 megapixel sensor with a hybrid design that incorporates phase-detect autofocus around the centre of the frame, promising faster AF in live view and video mode, a new 3" 7240x480 capacitive touchscreen, 9 point cross-type AF points, and 5 FPS continuous still shooting mode. The camera still does 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30 FPS. Ships in late June for US$850 body only, US$950 with the standard 18-55 kit lens, or US$1200 with the new 18-135 STM lens, which I will talk about next.

The two lenses are a special bunch: They are Canon's first "STM" lenses, which incorporates a stepping motor to allow for smooth and quiet autofocus while recording videos. The first is the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens, which will ship in late June for US$550. The second is Canon's first pancake, the adorable 40mm f/2.8 STM, which is really small. Priced at US$200, I can imagine they will be quite popular when they appear in stores in late June. More specs at photos of the lenses at the read link, and jump past the break for my first impressions!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

VIA Offers Low Cost Android Board

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 01:00 PM

"VIA Technologies' small -- but not bite-sized -- Neo-ITX-based barebones Android PC is now up for pre-order. Folks willing to plunk down $49 now will be among the first to play with the APC's version of Gingerbread that's been modified for use with a mouse and keyboard."

Tiny computing boards have been around for a while. Mini, micro and nano-itx based systems have seen uses as light use PCs in living rooms, offices and cars. The race for extremely low cost general purpose computers continues with VIA's entry. At $49, it is slightly more expensive than the popular Raspberry Pi board, but offers different strengths. Whatever platform you go with, what I think is most important when it comes to these devices is developer support. Tiny computers such as the Gumstix and Arduino are great old school devices, but I suspect that they have not taken off as much partly because of the amount of tinkering needed. It looks like we are approaching a point where it is accessible to more people and should see these devices or things based on these devices becoming much more popular.

Tags: hardware, android, via

Friday, June 8, 2012

SSDs make computers go ZOOM

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 01:00 PM

"That video card was the most important PC upgrade I ever made, sparking a total change in my perception of what computers could do. I didn't think I would ever again experience something as significant as that one single upgrade—until the first time I booted up a laptop with a solid-state drive (SSD) in it. Much like that first glimpse of a texture-mapped MechWarrior 2, that first fast boot signaled a sea change in how I thought and felt about computers."

A long, long time ago, one way you could make your computer run extremely fast was the use of a RAM drive. No more waiting for a pudgy floppy drive to sing its song for you to write up a document in Wordstar. Nowadays, there are much more practical solutions such as SSDs which zip along at speeds that traditional hard drives can only dream of. Ever wonder how SSDs achieve those speeds? Ars Technica has a great article that goes into practical detail about how these speed boosters work. It is amazing just how much technology is packed into these devices, and if your computer is acting like you are without your morning coffee, an SSD upgrade may be just what you need.

Tags: hardware, ssd

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sony Announces the DSC-RX100, or the Canon Powershot S100-killer

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 08:56 AM

Oh my. Sony has announced a pretty interesting camera, the DSC-RX100. It is a pocket-sized metal-bodied camera that in many ways is similar to the Canon S90/95/100 series, right down to the lens control ring and fast (on the wide end) lens; in this case, it is an optically stabilised 3.6x 28-100mm equivalent f/1.8-4.8 zoom lens. What sets it apart, is the sensor: Unlike many other premium compacts which use a 1/1.7" sensor, this uses a much larger 1" sensor similar in size to the Nikon 1 CX format, and packs 20 megapixels. The camera has a 3" VGA LCD that uses a new array that packs white pixels on top of the usual RGB trio which promises a brighter screen, full manual controls, 1080p video at 60 FPS that can take 16:9 stills while capturing video, 10 FPS continuous stills shooting, electronic horizon level, and the always popular Sweep Panorama feature. I suspect for those who can afford the US$650 asking price, this will be the compact camera of choice, as it combines a faster lens than the Canon S100 with a much larger sensor. Only downside is the 28mm equivalent starting point, instead of 24mm like the Canon. Ships in July. Check the link for DPReview's hands-on preview!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Google Polishes its Chrome

Posted by Hooch Tan in "Digital Home News" @ 02:00 PM

"We often joke Google is like the old Microsoft — getting things wrong, bumbling its way into new markets, and getting things right on the third try. This seems to be quite true of Google’s efforts to develop a cloud PC. Google and its partner, Samsung, are launching a new Chromebook and Chromebox today, targeting them at the educational and corporate customers."

Google likes Chrome. It created a browser named Chrome. It launched a netbook like device called the Chromebook. It looks like they are back, and in addition to updating its portable funtoy, you can say hello to the Chromebox. It does not roll off the tongue like iPad, or iPhone, but I suppose that is the name they are sticking with. I never heard of much success with the original Chromebook, but it appears that the new strategy they are taking, that is, targeting corporate and education markets, makes more sense. One of the biggest benefits of the whole Chrome ecosphere is asset management. A person's profile is not really stored on the computer, but in the cloud. With the ChromeSomethingSomething, someone can switch between two different devices and largely get the same experience which is big karma for large organizations. I am sure that individuals can also get some ChromeLove, but the money is in big markets.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Understanding The Differences Between Core i5 And i7

Posted by Brad Wasson in "Digital Home Talk" @ 06:30 AM,281...,2404674,00.asp

"Discounting Core i3 (mainly found in budget systems) and AMD processors (another article entirely), the difference between Intel Core i5 and Core i7 can seem daunting, especially when the prices seem so close together once they're in completed systems. We break down the differences for you."

Have you ever wanted a summary of the differences between these two processor families? If so, a recent PC Magazine article may help. While both processors are infinitely capable, there are some benefits to the Core i7 family in certain circumstances. The article compares the processors along the lines of price and marketing, performance, cache, turbo boost, hyper-threading, and integrated graphics. It is not a deep-dive by any means, but it is a nice summary.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Olympus Announces M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 Lens

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 01:00 PM

Micro Four Thirds shooters, there is yet more good news for you! After Panasonic's 12-35/2.8 lens, Olympus has announced a 75mm f/1.8 lens, which translates to a 150mm lens on a 35mm camera. I actually managed to spend some time with a pre-production version of the lens, and I was very impressed with it. Due to the pre-production status of the lens, along with the pre-production OM-D E-M5 it was on, I did not get any images from it, but reviewing the results on the rear OLED screen showed promise. Get ready your wallets, for this lens ships in Summer 2012 for US$900. DPReview has a hands-on at the read link.

Pentax Announces K-30 DSLR and 50mm DA Lens

Posted by Lee Yuan Sheng in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 10:30 AM

Pentax has announced their mid-range DSLR, the K30, which replaces the K-r. Like most Pentax DSLRs, they try to punch above their weight, with the K-30 offering a list of features such as a weatherproof body, a true pentaprism 100% viewfinder instead of a pentamirror, and frame rates of 6 FPS (both the Canon Rebel T3i/EOS 600D and Nikon D5100 are at 3.7 and 4 FPS respectively), and the very innovative sensor-based SR anti-shake mechanism. In addition to compensating for hand shake, the SR feature can be used to level horizons, adjust the composition without moving the tripod, and eliminating star trails in long exposure shots (though that last one requires a GPS for the camera to do the correct calculations). At the heart of the camera is a Sony 16 megapixel CMOS sensor with an ISO range of ISO100-12,800, like the one found in the K-5 and Nikon D5100/D7000, along with a 3" VGA LCD, an 11 point AF system featuring 9 cross points, and 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30 FPS. Three colours are available, and the camera will ship in July for US$850 for the camera alone, or US$900 with the 18-55 kit lens.

Also, Pentax announced the 50mm f/1.8 DA lens. I'm not sure what Pentax is up to. At US$250, it is more expensive than the Nikon or Canon offering, but like the Canon, features a plastic lens mount and no focus distance scale. I suppose if you are stuck on the Pentax system you have no choice, but the price seems a little high regardless. Ships in July. More photos and details at the link!

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