Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

March, 2010

  • Are those really bats coming from under the Austin Congress Ave. bridge?

    Everyone knows there’s a colony of bats that live under the Austin, Texas Congress Avenue bridge. These bats are smart.  They hang out in Mexico in the winter and come back just in time for SXSW each spring. The 1.5 million furry Mexican free-tail bats come out each evening to feed on insects and mosquitoes. 

    Tadarida brasiliensis is one of the most abundant mammals in North America.  Bracken Cave outside San Antonio is home to 20 million and considered to be the largest congregation of mammals other than urban areas.

    But you’re going to need to look closer at the sky.  Is that really a bat, or a high tech spy bot?


     Read what the University of Michigan is working on.

  • Active Directory Design Guide – now available for download

    I was digging around looking for some good information related to Windows Server Directory Services and stumbled across a new guide that looks very nice.  Although the guide states up-front that it was written with the healthcare industry in mind, I didn’t see anything in it that led me to believe you wouldn’t benefit regardless of the industry you serve.


    Sound interesting?  Sure it does.  Head on over to and snag your copy.  It’s PDF format and easy to navigate.

  • Microsoft Messenger for Mac 8 Beta – now available

    MacMess If you are a Mac user, you might be interested in the just released beta of Messenger for Mac.  No, the Keith in the pic at isn’t me.  I am not that green.

    Anyway, this new version adds some integration options for Live ID login, webcam and audio, and a few other features.  See the Help documentation for all the feature goodness.

    See the release notes for known issues. And of course jump right to the download at

  • Want to learn PHP? PHP on Windows Training Kit Updated

    ws2008 r2 blog logo Matt Hester, Dan Stolts and I did an Interoperability Road Show not long ago.  A portion of that day was geared towards running open source software on Windows and some of the demos I used came from the PHP on Windows Training Kit.  There are some really cool demos in that kit that show you you how to install and configure PHP so that it can take advantage of SQL Server, SQL Server Reporting Services, and Bing mapping services. In addition, you’ll find information on access control, migration, troubleshooting and other issues you might encounter.

    Zach Owens is the man when it comes to this subject and I spotted his blog post at I wanted to make sure and introduce him to you in case you have some questions.

    If you want to head directly to the download, by all means jump to  You’ll notice this release fixes a Windows 7 install bug in case you are using that as your development or infrastructure testing environment.  I typically don’t because I am usually knee deep in Windows Server 2008 R2 via some virtualization product. Enjoy!

  • Clear 4G+ CMU-300 and Clear Spot WIFI Hotspot Review

    Clear4G_CMU300 Last summer I started looking at 4G devices when Windows 7 released.  However, at that time the software and drivers weren’t stable so my experience wasn’t very good.  That has all changed now.

    Both Sprint and Clear have solid 4G offerings on the market now.  I wrote about the Sprint U301 experience last month. I knew then I wanted to try the Clear service because they offer a month-to-month option.  The planets really lined up when I discovered the DFW IT Pro Users Group was having a meeting and Clear was going to give away hardware.  Cha ching!!!  Free is one of my favorite words.

    Clear 4G+ CMU-300 

    The Clear 4G+ U300  pictured at right is a very flexible device.  The USB connector flips forward or back to accommodate the device you are plugging it into. The Clear connection manager software behaves very nicely on both Windows 7 Enterprise x64 and Windows Server 2008 R2. 

    The install is clean and you can choose to have it start each time you start Windows.  The software initializes the device and looks for a 4G network first.  If it doesn’t find a 4G network, it falls back to 3G mode and connects.  This is typical at my home.

    As the technical specs for the Apple iPad began to emerge, it became apparent that there was no USB connecter on that slate device.  That meant there would be no way for the iPad to use the Clear 4G+ USB device.  Wrong.  I realized later that Clear has this cool little WIFI device the call the Clear Spot.

    Clear Spot

    The Clear Spot is a device the size of a 2.5” mobile hard drive enclosure.  The device is a portable WIFI router that uses a Clear USB device as the gateway to the internet.  In theory this allows any WIFI enabled device to use the Clear 4G connection. 

    Unfortunately the Clear Spot didn’t work very well for me.  The device kept dropping the connection and rebooting. I could tolerate the 3G/4G connection dropping and preventing any device connected to the hotspot from using the internet but it became apparent there was too much instability. 

    At the time I had the hotspot sitting on my desk using battery power.  Considering I was only one hour into the use of the device it wasn’t looking good.  So I decided to move the Clear Spot next to the windows of my home office and plug it into the charger.  This improved the behavior, but after several file download attempts I noticed the device dropped the 3G connection yet again and rebooted.  That was the kiss of death as far as I am concerned.


    For now I’m keeping the Clear CMU-300 USB stick.  Considering it was free, it’s a no brainer.  I’m on a month-to-month plan so I still have a great 4G solution for my Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 laptops.  However, the Clear Spot is history.  It’s too expensive and the return policy is too short.  Sorry Clear but you left me no choice in this regard.

    Next up, the Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot.  I hope that goes much better.  The user reviews at the Sprint site look pretty promising.  To be continued…

  • Dell prepares to launch new Latitude and Precision Workstation Laptops

    If you were considering upgrading a laptop from Windows XP to Windows 7, you have picked a very special time in the technology continuum.  A number of Intel i3, i5 and i7 based laptops are already available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  A whole bunch of machines are hitting the market within the next few weeks.  Dell is one of the makers getting ready to launch.


    For instance, Dell is getting ready to launch several new Latitudes including the E6410 and E6510 pictured above. For those of you that have even more demanding needs, the Precision M4500 will be available soon and they have stated it is the most powerful 15.6” laptop on the market. 

    That’s a powerful boost to make but I look forward to seeing for myself.  Grin.  See for some showcase information on the Latitude E6410 and E6510.  I have asked for a clarification in that .pdf on the note that only the 32bit version of Windows 7 is supported.  I think that might be in error.  I certainly hope so.

    As for information on the Dell Precision M4500, there is information all over the internet on it.  If you want to hear directly from Dell, see the Direct2Dell blog post or watch the following video.  The video isn’t the most exciting video you’ll ever watch but is does have some good information.  Dude, you getting a Dell?

  • Microsoft Desktop Virtualization Hour – March 18th at 9am PST


    Ready, Set, Virtualize. You are invited to attend The Microsoft Desktop Virtualization Hour.

    What is the best migration path to Windows 7? What’s the best desktop management strategy for your company? Which virtualization solutions can save you time and money? Join us in this virtual event and learn how Microsoft can help you discover choices, preserve & extend your existing investments. Learn how Microsoft’s virtualization vision and technologies can help you:

    • Build a desktop virtualization management strategy that helps you manage your applications, data, mobile workers and multiple physical and virtual form factors
    • Reduce desktop costs
    • Enable flexible and agile IT through virtualization
    • Increase desktop security and compliance
    • Improve business continuity and end user productivity
    • Increase end user productivity and streamline your IT management with Windows 7

    March 18th @ 9am PST See

  • Windows 7 Application Compatibility List for IT Professionals

    windows7rc_bloglogo The Windows 7 Application Compatibility List for IT Professionals is a Microsoft Office Excel-based spreadsheet listing software applications which have met Windows 7 Logo Program testing requirements for compatibility with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7, and have thereby earned the right to display the Windows 7 Logo Program logo with the application. These products are identified with the compatibility status “Compatible – Windows 7 Logo.”

    Additionally, this list includes applications with the following compatibility statuses: “Compatible,” “Free Update Required,” “Paid Update Required,” “Future Compatibility,” and “Not Compatible.” These statuses are based upon the software publishers’ statements of compatibility. These products have not met the Windows 7 Logo Program testing requirements. For an explanation of the various compatibility statuses, please see the Release Notes for the Windows 7 Application Compatibility List.

    For the latest collection of compatible applications and hardware devices, please visit the Windows 7 Compatibility Center. You can also leave feedback on compatibility and suggest new products to get added in future reports.

    Get the spreadsheet @

  • Microsoft Office 2010 Technology Guarantee - now available


    Having you been thinking of purchasing Office 2007 but decided to wait for Office 2010?  Well, the site has all the information about the Microsoft Office 2010 Technology Guarantee.  Check out the qualifying products and process.

  • HP Elitebook 8440p – mini review

    image As is tradition on this blog, I like to write about my first impressions with new hardware.  Yesterday at about 8am I received the HP Elitebook 8440p.  This machine is HP’s high end professional 14” laptop and I was eager to tear into it and see how it handles the duties of my normal mix of operating systems and applications.  Unfortunately, I have a day job so the “24 hour” report is a little late.  About the only time that is going to ever really happen is when I get a delivery on Friday afternoon.

    Brushed Metal

    When I unpacked the HP 8440p, I instantly recalled the cold steel feel of my MacBook Pro.  Sleek and cool to the touch.  I really like the chassis.  It feels like it’s made for business and will hold up well.  Slightly heavy but solid.

    The top LCD panel is brushed metal and looks very professional. The bottom of the machine is a combination of plastic and metal and feels very solid.  I haven’t yet cracked open the case to see the innards, but I expect to see a solid frame on the inside because the machine feels very rigid.

    I will take pictures of the machine later, but for now you should know the 8440p has a DVD drive, eSATA/USB combo port, RJ-11 and RJ-45 ports, and a smartcard reader on the right side.  The back has power, DisplayPort and VGA.  The left side has 3xUSB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394 4 pin, mic, audio out and 54mm ExpressCard slot.  The front has a Ricoh multi card memory stick reader slot and speakers.  I must say I like the layout all the way around the machine.  The bottom includes access to the primary hard drive bay, one of two SoDIMM slots, and access to slots for wireless modules.

    False Start

    You know that saying, know your audience?  I roared with laughter when I hit the power button and the top-of-the-line HP Elitebook 8440p started booting through the Windows XP setup process.  Where’s my magnet?  I played along and let the machine do it’s thing because I was busy on conference calls anyway.  About halfway through the process I decided to check the box and see if a disk set was there.  Sure enough, there was a disk set for Windows XP and Windows 7 Pro.  Both 32 bit.  I knew I wasn’t going to create a x86 disk set to I let the install complete.  I sniffed it and it smelled like a 32 bit OS so I hit the power button and grabbed my Windows 7 Enterprise x64 DVD.

    When the going gets tough, the tough head to the downloads area for the OEM.  Fortunately HP has been doing a great job for years in this department.  Better than most OEMs in fact.  The HP 8440p drivers and software area is well organized and easily understood.  I downloaded all of the Windows 7 x64 drivers in anticipation of the install for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

    The BIOS and Windows 7 x64 Clean Install

    As you might have guessed, I wasted no time in throwing in the Windows 7 DVD and nuking the factory installed WinXP x86 image.  Before installing Windows, I took some time reviewing the BIOS settings to confirm they were set the way I prefer.  I made subtle changes.  I enabled the TPM chip, RAID controller, and tweaked a few more settings like boot order.

    Windows 7 installed without issue although I made one change after the fact.  I decided to shrink the Win7 partition and create a 40GB partition for a Windows Server install.  I didn’t get the HP Upgrade Bay hard drive adaptor so I wanted to checkout R2 in the meantime.

    As expected, Windows 7 installed without issue but the ethernet and wireless card devices weren’t working using the Windows 7 DVD inbox drivers.  The downloaded drivers resolved that issue.  This is beginning to become a familiar theme with the machines that came out six months after Windows 7 released.  Keep in mind that the image you receive from HP works, and the drivers for custom images are on so there’s no real problem here.

    I did hit a couple of issues with Windows Server 2008 R2.  First, you must manually install the ethernet driver using the .inf file that was unpacked.  This is the same process I documented with the ThinkPad W500 and T400 Windows Server instructions on my blog.  Nearly Identical.  Hint hint.

    Second, don’t bother trying the NVIDIA video drivers with Windows Server.  The will install but they don’t work on my machine.  I have reported it to HP and will update this post, or my final post if I get a resolution.  This has important implications.  Windows Server video support is really required for the Microsoft field employees so we have control over multimon and projector scenarios. I’m sure it will get resolved, but I don’t know if it will happen before i return the machine.

    Likes and Dislikes

    I’ll document the specs of the HP Elitebook 8440p eval unit in a minute, but I am going to deviate from my normal modus operandi for a bit.  The reason is simple.  I have some pretty well defined notions of what I like in a machine.  The 8440p has some.  It’s missing others.  And considering my wife took a place to Florida and back today and left her ThinkPad T400, you can imagine I am doing a side-by-side comparison while I backup her machine.

    The machine I received has the Intel® Core™ i7-620M Processor (2.66 GHz, 4 MB L3 cache) CPU, the Intel Mobile Intel® QM57 Express chipset, I assume 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM although the score didn’t seem like 1333MHz memory, 320 GB 7200 rpm SATA II hard drive, 14.0-inch diagonal LED-backlit HD+ anti-glare screen, NVIDIA NVS 3100 graphics with 512 MB dedicated gDDR3 video memory, 6 cell battery and weighing in at about 6 pounds.

    First up, the keyboard.  I could get used to the 8440p keyboard, but the trackpad is offset too far to the left.  It throws me and everything else off.  I also want a backlit keyboard.  Or at least the ability to light the keyboard without a USB accessory.  If you live on the laptop keyboard, this is a serious consideration.  The key placements around the keyboard are very foreign to me right now.  I am having a hard time finding the END, DEL, FN and other keys.

    8440pWEI I’m pretty spoiled with the ThinkPad keyboards I’ve been using for the past five years.  Evaluate this aspect of your purchases carefully.  If you plan to use the keyboard a lot, choose carefully.  If you plan to use the machine in a docking station with an external keyboard, this may not be a big deal.

    Next is the screen.  I really dig the 1600x900 resolution on the 14” widescreen.  However, the HP screen isn’t bright or clear enough.  That needs to be resolved with a better LCD panel in my opinion.

    By comparison, the ThinkPad T400 1440x900 screen is awesome. Super bright (250 nits) and clear.  HP should improve the screen to that level.  At the current screen brightness and quality, it’s too grainy and I’m not sure I would be happy long term.  Reminds me of the 1920x1200 T61p screen I have.  I have never been satisfied with that screen either.


    The Calpella based laptops are knocking down some pretty good performance numbers.  The 8440p is no exception but you can see, a couple of areas could use improvement.

    First, the memory score at right isn’t that good.  A DDR3 machine should be scoring in the upper sixes or lower 7’s range if you are using good memory.  See my W510 score for an example.  I had the W510 loaded with Kingston memory when I ran that test to get that WEI score.

    Second, notice the GPU scores.  They aren’t exactly stellar. I don’t know if this is the hardware or the driver but either way it’s a little disappointing to see a score lower than my ThinkPad T61p from two chipset generations ago.  This might have been a conscience decision to reduce heat and battery consumption.  I’ll know more when I test the 8540w.  It was certainly the case for the ThinkPad W510.  Lower than expected GPU scoring.

    The hard drive score is very normal for a 320GB 7200rpm rotational disk.  The HP Elitebook 8440p model I received included a Seagate Momentus 320GB drive.  The SATA controller in the 8440p is a Intel SATA RAID controller with support for RAID 0 or RAID 1. When I receive the upgrade bay hard drive adaptor, I will tear the machine down and drop two 500GB drives in the machine and see what it can really do.  If you don’t want to go the RAID route, plan on using a good SSD drive for improved I/O performance.

    Power and Sound

    Power management and fan noise is becoming increasingly important.  The HP Elitebook 8440p lasted for 3.5 hours last night on the balanced Windows 7 power plan.  I didn’t tweak the plan at all.  I didn’t use the LCD panel on full brightness.  I had it knocked down a couple of notches from the top brightness setting.

    The fan noise throughout the day yesterday was more than acceptable.  It’s nowhere near silent, but it isn’t loud either.  You should get used to having fan noise on a Quad core laptop. I haven’t performed any seriously taxing chores like encoding HD video, but even when the fan did spin up to higher levels it wasn’t obnoxious.

    That’s it for now.  I’ll test more stuff as long as I have the machine, but at soon as the 15.6” 8540w shows up, I’ll probably shift to it for longer term testing.  Whenever that happens I’ll write a closing post on this machine and include some pics.

    [Update for 3/11] I discovered the keyboard light at the top of the LCD panel.  Very similar to the ThinkPad lights that shine down on the keyboard.  I would prefer backlit keyboard keys.

    [Update for 3/15] I decided the likelihood of me keeping this machine for 30 days is slim to none.  I am supposed to receive the HP Elitebook 8540w this week so if that happens, I am going to return the 8440p and let someone else play with it. There hasn’t been any changes in my opinion of the machine.  The keyboard is too foreign to me and I really don’t want to get used to it unless I decide to have Microsoft buy me one for my refresh in July. 

    This evening I was playing around with my new Canon G11 and I decided to take some pictures of the HP Elitebook 8440p.  The pics started out as large widescreen RAW pictures.  I then converted, cropped and compressed them.  Hope you like the result.  Someday I’ll buy some lighting systems and drapes so the hardware porn is better.  In the meantime, these will have to do.  Like I did for the Lenovo ThinkPad W510, there’s some commentary to go with each pic.  As before, your browser will likely give you a scaled view of the pic.  Click the picture to zoom in for the actual detail and dust particles.

    • Front – nothing much interesting in the front.  A few little indicator lights, memory card slot, a big button for lid release and some decent speakers.  That button sticks out a little more than is needed in my opinion.
    • Right – the right side starts with an integrated smartcard reader (thanks HP!), DVD drive also called the upgrade bay, combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, RJ-45 Ethernet port, and RJ-11 modem jack.  eSATA on this machine is fast and stable.
    • Back – on the left side of the back is a little slot for your lock. On the right side you can see the power plug, DisplayPort and VGA connector.  I tested using both the VGA port and DisplayPort at the same time to run two monitors and like the ThinkPad W510, it worked great with the help of the DP –> DVI cable I have.
    • Left – the left side is nicely arranged with a fat vent for the cooling system, three horizontal USB 2.0 ports, 4 pin IEEE 1394 Firewire port, mic and audio out jacks, and a 54mm ExpressCard slot.  That surprised me.  I expected it to be a 34mm Express card slot.
    • Top – the picture of the top doesn’t really offer anything useful to comment on but I thought I would include it because it’s really the first thing you notice when you pull the machine from the packaging.  It’s so nice in fact, that you probably aren’t going to be sticking any stickers on it for some time.  Might even want to put a clear shield on it.
    • Bottom – The bottom is pretty uneventful but you can see the access panels for the hard drive, SoDIMM slot, etc.  You can also clearly see how flush the battery is for this machine. Pay particular not to the front button in the picture. See what I mean?
    • Open – In this picture you can see the keyboard in all it’s glory.  Notice the trackpad is not centered as I commented about earlier.  I wish it was further to the right. The trackpoint is fine as are the buttons around it and the trackpad. Not a big fan of the keyboard. Reminds me some of the netbooks and their chicklet style keys.

    If you look closely at the top of the LCD bezel, you can see the webcam, the little square light button and two shiny things.  Those shiny things are protrusions that are used by the lid fastening and clamping mechanics. They go down into the gray round slots just to the left and right of the trackpad bottom.

    That’s it for now.  Thought you might enjoy the photo tour of the device since it seems the hardware vendors never seem to provide good hardware porn these days.

  • Do you have six figures for a new compact digital point and shoot?

    Need a camera that shoots 1,052 frames per second at 1080p resolution?  Well, if you’re trying to stop action a bullet or a NASCAR race, this baby has your number.  No, it isn’t exactly a compact digital camera, but it is six figures.  $118,000 to be exact.  Full specs and hardware porn at

    This thing makes my new Canon G11 look like a spec of dust. I feel so inadequate now. Grin.

  • Office 2010 Resource Kit – beta compiled helpfile now available

    The Microsoft Office 2010 Resource Kit provides information about new features and changes in deployment strategies for Office 2010. The documentation is intended for IT professionals who plan, implement, and maintain Office installations in their organizations. New and updated content will be published on a regular basis.

    The basic Setup architecture in Microsoft Office 2010 is the same as the architecture introduced in the 2007 Microsoft Office system. The Setup architecture streamlines all aspects of installing, customizing, and maintaining Office. The Setup program unifies and manages the complete installation process. This includes customizing users' Office configuration, deploying multiple languages at the same time, and applying software updates to new installations. This article contains an overview of the Setup architecture, setup sequence of events, language-neutral design and deployment of multiple languages, customization methods, required local installation source, and updates process.

    The Setup architecture helps administrators manage areas such as the following more efficiently:

    • Deployment process so that Office is installed in the most efficient way for their environment.
    • Customization of Office so that users get optimal configuration on their computers.
    • Deployment of language-specific features for users who are located in offices around the world.
    • Deployment of Office in a way that makes future maintenance, including software updates, as efficient as possible.

    Get the Office 2010 Reskit .chm @

  • The Effective Security Practices Whitepaper Series

    Information security is a very dynamic field: legislation keeps changing, technology keeps evolving, and the attacker community continues to be more sophisticated. This turmoil has forced security practitioners to think creatively to address some very difficult problems. Much of this innovation has been locked away within corporations as they have made isolated progress on issues like security metrics, security risk management frameworks, and security policy.

    In order to address this discrepancy, Microsoft commissioned a whitepaper series to share key security innovations. Whitepaper topics came from participants in Microsoft’s CSO Council - a semi-annual gathering of security executives from leading global organizations who serve as advisors to Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group.

    Our goal is to share practices “from-the-trenches” that address some of the toughest problems in security. After numerous interviews, discussions, and debates with these thought leaders, a collection of effective practices emerged. While much remains to be done, we hope these papers fuel the discussion and help facilitate further sharing in the field of IT security.

    Go get em @

  • Forefront Identity Manager 2010 - now available for download

    FIM 2010 is now available in the download area for TechNet subscribers.  If you don’t have a subscription but want a discount, see Matt’s blog on how to save 28%. 

    If you have no intention of purchasing a subscription, no worries.  We have a downloadable evaluation version of the Microsoft® Forefront™ Identity Manager (FIM) 2010 client and server components. FIM 2010 offers a comprehensive solution for managing identities, credentials, and identity-based access policies across heterogeneous environments.

    Users can create their own security and email distribution groups and decide who to include in those groups. They can reset their passwords without calling their help desk. IT Pros can use FIM to manage certificates and smart cards. FIM embeds self-help tools in Outlook so users can manage routine aspects of identity and access. FIM also gives IT professionals rich administrative tools and enhanced automation, and delivers .NET- and Web Services–based extensibility for developers.

    Get the FIM eval @

  • TiVo Premiere is nearly here

    Now available for order at

  • TechNet 2.0 is ALIVE !!!


    TechNet 2.0 is rolling out as we speak. There are literally thousands of pages being lit right now so give it some time for things to quiesce. I don’t have an ETA for completion but when it happens I’ll come back and update this post.

    If you spot obvious issues, could you please login and post a description of the problem you are seeing to the TechNet Website Feedback Forum?

    Thanks very much from the TechNet Team !!!

  • 78mpg, 500hp at 9200rpm, 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds


    This isn’t the 2011 Honda CIVIC.  It’s a Porsche 918 Spyder.  I want one.

  • DFW IT Pro User Group meeting is this week – Clear 4G Info and Promo

    Quinn Devery posted the following information about the meeting that happens this Thursday evening.

    clearresult “We’re really excited about the upcoming event sponsored by Clear. They will be doing product demos onsite at Microsoft and they’re going to run a promo just for our group that you can’t get on the website. Make sure to RSVP and come hear about the 4G WiMax and then see it in person March 4th. Don’t forget Clear will also be raffling a Notebook the same night so you don’t want to miss this event.

    We’ll have free pizza for those that RSVP so make sure you click on Attending for the event. We would appreciate it if you click interested even if you can’t make it so others can see the event and take advantage of the offers Clear will be giving all attendees.”

    RSVP at

    If you read my blog then you probably read the blog post on the 4G testing I did with Sprint.  I now have the 4G+ Mobile USB card from Clear and did some testing Saturday while I was over in Irving, Texas.  The picture above is just one of the speed test results.  I was getting 4MB down, 1MB up pretty consistently from the On The Border restaurant near Fry’s at McArthur and I-635.  They have 4G coverage there which isn’t yet present at my home in Southlake.  I’ll test in Seattle again in a few weeks.

    As for the promotion Clear is going to have at the March 4th meeting this week, the rep said the following, "CLEAR will be offering “FREE Equipment” with purchase of service that day at the event. We will also be raffling a net book as well. Plus giveaways, etc.”

    I replied back to that email and asked if that means all equipment and all plans.  When I have a concrete answer, I will update this blog post.  Sounds like there are going to be some cool prizes and a nice promotion.  If you were considering a 4G device, go to the meeting and hear all about Clear’s 4G rollout and plans.  Should be interesting.  Wish I could go but I have a schedule conflict.  If I can change that I’ll be there.

  • Now this is a kewl iPhone App

  • Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – final thoughts

    I’ve had the Lenovo ThinkPad W510 for nearly a month and it’s time to send my evaluation units back next week. I completed nearly every test I could think of so I thought I would run down some impressions on the machine.  I really couldn’t decide on my approach to this, so I am going to start with a run down on the chassis then get into the nitty gritty details of some test results.  The ThinkPad W510 faired very nicely but there were a couple of areas that need work.  More on those later.

    Photos and Comments on ThinkPad W510

    w510 front I took a number of pictures of the ThinkPad W510.  Nearly all of them turned out really well. I wanted to capture some shots of key areas of the machine.  I also stacked one of my ThinkPad T61p’s on top of it so you could compare the dimensions, port layouts, thickness, etc.

    When looking at the top down view, you can clearly see the new little bumps on the trackpad at the bottom of the pic. I prefer the smooth trackpad on my T61p.  You can also see the color calibration eye sensor next to the fingerprint reader.  I believe this will be present on all of the FDH screen models.  Moving up the unit you can see the speaker grills left and right of the keyboard.  I believe this is also an air intake because the grill is larger than the speakers.  Further up the pic on the bottom of the LCD bezel you can see two microphones.  They work really well though not well enough for podcasting in my opinion.  The webcam is present in the top of the bezel.

    The back shot is interesting because you can see the W510 is wider than the T61p (or W500). Sorry the pic is a little blurry. You can see the yellow powered USB 2.0 port on the left side with the analog modem RJ-11 port.  Who uses a modem in this day and age?  They should have dropped it and moved the RJ-45 Ethernet port there. Notice the 9 cell battery on both units is roughly the same size and extends the same amount.  The right side of the back shot shows the differences in the cooling grill and it’s pretty obvious the W510 is slightly thinker than the T61p above it.

    Following around to the left side you can clearly see the difference in the cooling exhaust. The W510 does a phenomenal job of cooling. Items of interest on this side include the DisplayPort port, two blue Superspeed USB 3.0 ports, a combination USB/eSATA port, IEEE 1394a port, and if you look real close, the location for a smartcard reader if the option was ordered.  My units didn’t have that, but it would certainly be an option I’d want.  Therefore, the Lenovo smartcard reader wasn’t tested.  The little switch is the wireless kill switch.  Notice on the T61p stacked on top that it has both the mic and audio out jacks.

    There is nothing along the front of the unit other than the lid release switch.  The right side of the W510 is however very interesting in good and bad ways. Again, the T61p is stacked on top for reference to the W510 underneath.  Notice on the right side that the two USB ports the T61p has were replaced by the Ethernet RJ-45 port. I am not very happy with that particular change.  As I mentioned, I would have moved the RJ-45 port to the back and dropped the RJ-11 all together. Another peeve is on the right side.  The audio out and mic jacks were replaced with a single combo jack.  That particular change rendered all of my headsets useless.  More on digital audio later.  Also present on the right side is the 34mm ExpressCard slot just above the memory card reader.  And last but definitely not least is the 12.7mm Ultrabay.  More on it with some close-up shots in a minute.

    The bottom of a laptop is always interesting to me.  In years past you would see makers use the bottom for intake or exhaust cooling.  That’s a real bummer when you are using a machine on your lap, the couch or other surfaces that aren’t conducive to airflow.  The W510 has lots of little slits in the chassis for airflow but it all appears to be intake only.  I could not discern any exhaust. We’ll talk more about cooling later. Notice on the bottom is the access to the primary hard drive bay.  I prefer the side access for the prime hard drive that is the standard in the T61p, W500 and T400 but it isn’t a show stopper.  Now that hard drive capacity is at 500GB, I don’t need to swap the primary drive as often for a demo drive, or when using Windows Server 2008 R2.  Also present on the bottom is access to two of the four SoDIMM memory slots. The other two slots are underneath the keyboard. You can also see in the pic of the bottom that I took pictures of the 4389-2UU model which is the 15.6” FHD Multi-touch screen model.

    Ultrabay III

    It seems every generation of a 15.x” ThinkPad requires a new set of peripherals for the Ultrabay and the ThinkPad W510 is no exception. It’s probably for the better in some cases because there are differences in the SATA speeds and this generation has new goodies up it’s sleeve.

    Take a look at the picture of the Ultrabay.  In this pic I pulled the DVD burner and placed it on top of the W510. On top of the DVD drive is the Serial ATA Hard Drive Bay Adapter III Part number 43N3412. This hard drive adaptor gives you the ability to add a second hard drive to the machine. Notice the thickness of the 43N3412 adaptor.  It is not 12.7mm.  Instead it is designed to be used in both the W510 and a host of other machines that have 9.5mm slots. See the pic of it inserted in the W510.  It works but I would have preferred Lenovo created a hard drive adaptor specifically for the W510 that fills the gap and fits more snuggly.

    The Screen

    Now that we’ve seen the outside and did a little tour of it, let me give you a few impressions of the rest of the machine, performance, etc. My impressions of the screen since the first day hasn’t changed much.  It’s a really nice screen. Bright and clear. It’s actually slightly brighter than the HD+ 1600x900 resolution screen present in the other 4389-23U evaluation model I have.  Not drastically so, but it’s ever so slightly noticeable during the day time.

    You’ll probably be disappointed I did not test the multi-touch screen extensively. I don’t have a need for it on a laptop at this time so I had to make some cuts in the stuff I wanted to try.  Therefore, you’ll need to find another review that can give you a better idea of the accuracy of the screen. If I was still a developer, this would be a no brainer.  Get the multi-touch screen.

    With that in mind, I wish the machine they sent me to look at was the FHD 1920x1080 screen without the multi-touch.  The HD+ screen appears to cut glare slightly better than the FHD multi-touch screen.  I’m sure this is due to coatings and screen construction. If all things are equal, I’m sure the non multi-touch FHD is killer.

    I have had several 15.4” 1920x1200 resolution Dell and Lenovo laptops. Not a big fan of that high a resolution on a 15.4” LCD screen. This creates a preference predicament. Should you or I buy the 15.6” screen with a 1920x1080 or 1600x900 resolution? 1680x1050 on a 15.4” screen is my preferred res. I guess I’m thinking I would end up going with the 1920x1080 FHD screen and just set the DPI to 110-125% to deal with font sizes and such.  Not perfect for my eyes, but it’s better than locking myself to 1600x900 and losing vertical resolution. This is a REALLY subjective decision and I would highly recommend looking closely at machines on the market before you choose.

    One other thing on the screen and the video supported by the W510.  The ThinkPad W510 lets you create a dual monitor extended desktop very easily without having to buy an expensive docking station.  I purchased a DisplayPort to DVI cable that allowed me to connect the W510 to 27” and 24” LCD panels and drive them both at 1920x1200. The cable at $22 seems like a no brainer until you save enough pennies for a dock.  If you have a desk at home and your company office, this will definitely be something you’ll want to consider.

    The Keyboard

    I have read a few reports of displeasure with the keyboard on the W510. ThinkPad fans are not forgiving when it comes to the legendary keyboard on ThinkPad models and why should they be?  We use them all the time. I was watching an unboxing video from one owner on the internet and the very first thing he tested was the keyboard. In that particular video the person doing the testing seemed a little dismayed at some slight flex under the new oversize ESC key.  This appears to be by design.  That location draws air in for the CPU and GPU cooling.  The flex is barely there.  Nothing to worry about in my opnion.

    The 4389-2UU unit I received had a defective keyboard and I am apparently not alone. The keyboard on my unit was dropping characters I typed. Since that was the model of the two I was using most, I just swapped the keyboard with the 4389-23U.  Problem solved.  If your W510 exhibits this behavior, don’t worry.  A quick call to Lenovo for replacement should gets things resolved asap.  Other than that, the keyboard is great.

    One other thing for you developers, you can now swap the functions in the BIOS for the CTRL and FN keys. A lot of developers I know use the CTRL key for macros and such in Visual Studio and get annoyed that on the ThinkPads this key isn’t bottom left. The FN key is bottom left so it’s a source of frustration for them.  No more. Easily solved now.


    w510_winsatThe new Calpella laptops really have it all. I would always recommend in the past that if you do a lot of HD video encoding work, you need to purchase a Quad Core desktop machine.  That decision is no longer cut and dry. As you can see in the Windows 7 WEI I captured at the beginning of the eval period, this machine really flies with the right equipment inside.

    When I did that screenshot I had my Intel SSD drive in the 4389-2UU along with 16GB of DDR3 RAM. The GPU isn’t going to get you top honors on the laptop scene but it’s still a very respectable GPU.  I have not tested any games or Blu-ray playback because my eval unit didn’t come with the Blu-ray drive option.

    One thing I did pay particular attention to is the speed of the drives and their interfaces. I did a lot of testing moving data back and forth with the latest rotational drives from Hitachi and Seagate as well as my Intel Gen 2 SSD.  I tested from the primary hard drive bay to the Ultrabay hard drive adaptor and back.  I tested the eSATA connection.  I tested the USB 3.0 ports. I was very happy with the results.  The I/O I observed was 2-5 times faster than my ThinkPad T61p depending on the hardware combination used.  The fastest combination was the SSD drive in the primary bay working with the USB 3.0 enclosure and drive. But the Ultrabay hard drive adaptor and drive was right there in the game as well.  So if you want two drives to use with your W510, it’s probably a logical choice for most people.

    The Quad Core i7 really shines for CPU intensive chores like video encoding. It actually beat my Dell XPS 630i in some tests I ran and the Dell has the Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 in it.  It only beat the Dell by a couple of minutes in each test. However, the Dell final results were superior.  The ThinkPad W510 video captured from my camera was faulty.  I’m suspicious of an issue with the IEEE 1394 connector at this point.  There are a couple of other strange unresolved issues I observed as well.  More later on those.

    Battery Life

    It’s only appropriate to discuss battery life right after talking about the performance because they are certainly intertwined. I don’t use battery power much but I did several full cycle tests with the W510.  This was after setting the CPU performance settings in the BIOS to AUTO instead of max performance.  I also used the Lenovo Power Manager to set the performance profile to Maximum Battery Life.  This of course sets the screen brightness so low it’s nearly unusable so I did crank it back up to about 12 so I could still use the screen and machine comfortably.

    In all of my tests I was getting about 3 hours of battery life. This is doing normal stuff like using email, web browser, Word, Excel, etc.  The battery in the W510 has a FRU P/N of 42T4799 with a ASM P/N of 42T4798.  It also has 55+ inside a red dot. I assume this is a 9 cell battery but I could not find any information to confirm this.

    So there’s a trade-off.  You want a powerful machine?  Be prepared to pay for it in a couple of ways.  Battery life seems to be one of those areas.  This isn’t a 10” netbook but the specs in the tabook.pdf do say the 9-cell battery gives you 4.9 hours of battery life.  It would be good to know if the battery I have is a 6-cell or 9-cell.  If it is a 9-cell, I would sure like to know how to get 1.9 more hours of life, or how 4.9 was arrived at.

    What Else?

    There were very few surprises with the ThinkPad W510.  Most of what I learned and wrote about in the first twenty four hours remains true today. At that time I reported some strange issues with the USB 3.0 ports.  So far I have discovered three different devices that prevent the W510 from booting if they are plugged into the USB 3.0 ports at power up.  This was reproduced on both of my W510’s as well as another in Seattle.  The case is open with Lenovo engineering. The current workaround is to not have anything plugged into the USB 3.0 ports at power on.

    firewire Let’s talk about my headset adventure next. Because Lenovo combined the mic and audio out jack, I could no longer use the headsets I’ve been using the past four years.  I figured this was not a big deal and it was time to move to the digital age of USB headsets.

    I tried a couple of different headsets from Plantronics and Creative but they didn’t work well.  I kept getting this buzzing feedback in the recordings.  So I tried a different approach.  I picked up a SIIG Soundwave Pro 7.1 USB card that allowed me to connect the headsets I’ve been using for years. Same problem.  Buzzing in the podcast recordings. I tried everything I could think of for a couple of days. I tried all four of the USB ports and a variety of settings in software. I ran out of time before the MVP Summit trying to resolve that so I returned the headphones and hardware to Fry’s.

    The third oddity seems to be the 4 pin IEEE 1394 port. I cannot capture from my Sony HD video camera across firewire to the W510 without the video getting garbled with artifacts.  I confirmed the source tape is good.  I tried two different i.Link 4 pin to 4pin firewire cables to rule that out. I tried the video capturing product that came with the W510 and Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum Edition 9. The same camera and tape worked fine with my Dell XPS 630i. The Dell has a 6 pin connector for it’s IEEE 1394 interface so the only difference was the cable.  Considering most of the video cameras today use an internal hard drive and don’t need to be captured from a raw tape, this probably isn’t a huge issue.  If you use firewire devices, be sure to test them.

    I haven’t reported the sound and firewire issues to Lenovo but will soon. Hopefully they can reproduce the problems and provide a fix or workaround.

    Oh, and I did install SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 so see how that went.  As expected, it installed but the NVIDIA video chipset wasn’t recognized, nor were the Intel network cards.  With no time left to track those down, I reset the machine back to the factory image for return.

    Things Not tested

    Since I don’t yet have a 30” LCD flat panel monitor, I could not verify the claim in the specs the machine supports a resolution of 2560x1600 using DisplayPort @60Hz.  I have seen at least one report from a twitter follower that indicates he was unable to achieve that resolution across Dual Link.

    I didn’t test the ExpressCard slot.  I don’t have any 34mm ExpressCard devices and probably won’t have a need for one.  With the improvements in Superspeed USB 3.0 throughput, and a built-in eSATA port, I don’t have a big need for anything else in that slot.

    I no longer use Bluetooth so that was not tested with mice or anything else.  The W510’s I received didn’t have built-in WWAN cards so that was not tested.

    The model W510’s I received didn’t come with RAID support although according to the specs and the hardware maintenance manual, the feature does exist.  This was really disappointing to me when I noticed it because I would love to test RAID 0 or 1 in this bad boy. Looks like you need to order the W510 4389-24U model or some derivative to get the RAID support.

    Since the models I received didn’t have the smartcard reader or blu-ray drive, I obviously couldn’t test them. The smartcard reader compatibility with my Microsoft card is a necessity since they dropped the PCMCIA slot. I would probably need to move to a USB key FOB if the reader doesn’t work.  We aren’t yet allowed to use fingerprint scanners as a sole source of multi factor authentication so I didn’t test that either.


    The Lenovo ThinkPad W510 is a solid machine. The case and construction are awesome as usual and the engineering around the cooling is unbelievable.  Performance is killer with the exception being the video chipset.  The NVIDIA® Quadro® FX880M GPU certainly turns in a respectable score but it isn’t going to be the top of the food chain in the laptop market.

    This machine runs Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V very well. Windows Server will install and run from the Ultrabay drive so the W510 certainly meets most of my technical needs.  There are a few improvements I’d like to see, but all in all it looks like the new Calpella based platform is off to a good start.

    I’m due to replace my ThinkPad T61p in the July timeframe but I certainly won’t make a decision until I get my hands on the ThinkPad T410s.  I’m considering a thinner and lighter machine for my next full time production machine and on paper the T410s looks attractive.  But the W510 has USB 3.0 and other goodies.  Decisions decisions.

    I hope you found this and the previous two blog posts on the ThinkPad W510 informative.  Happy hunting.  Let me know if you have any questions.