Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

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  • Lenovo ThinkPad W520 - mini review

    thinkpad-w520-3High end portable workstations are a special class of computer.  The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 belongs to that class and in many ways sets the bar.  As a daily user of a ThinkPad W510, I was certainly interested in seeing and testing the new W520 to see what improvements were made.

    Keep in mind I don’t have a lab with instruments to scientifically measure power draw, consumption, clock speed of the cpu or gpu, etc.  But I do like to put notebooks through their paces with an interesting application mix.  This is why I call it a “mini” review.

    W510 owners should stop reading here.  It’s that much better. Really. I’m not kidding.

    Executive Summary

    The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 is twice as fast as my ThinkPad W510 at certain chores and eclipses it on battery life.  The ThinkPad W520 has superior battery life over the W510 and reaches 6-7 hours of battery life at a moderate screen brightness.  Lenovo continues to provide excellent thermal management cooling in the W520 workstation. See the performance and battery life sections below for more detail.  In short, the ThinkPad W520 with the new Intel Sandy Bridge chipset is a strong improvement to the Lenovo W Series of portable workstations.

    Specifications

    The unit I received isn’t the top of the line ThinkPad W520 but it has some of the top tier components. It’s a model 4284-A58.  It has the Intel Core i7-2720QM processor (quad-core, 2.20GHz, 6MB Cache), DDR3 memory controller (up to 1600MHz), Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.30GHz), with Hyper Threading (HT) technology. This particular W520 is loaded with 4x4GB 204-pin SO-DIMM PC3-10600 1333MHz DDR3, non-parity, dual-channel memory. The screen is 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920x1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 270 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut.  The video chipset is NVIDIA® Optimus™ technology, which will auto-switch between discrete and integrated graphics.  The integrated graphics is the Intel HD Graphics 3000 in processor, and the discrete chip is the NVIDIA Quadro® 2000M, PCI Express® x16, with 2GB memory.

    The primary drive bay is a full height (9.5mm) 2.5” hard drive bay and will accommodate standard laptop hard drives as well as full size SSD drives.  It’s still bottom access and I don’t like that much.  I prefer side load like the previous generation ThinkPad's. The Ultrabay is still the same as the W510 and is 12.7mm in height. The W520 received included the Seagate Momentus 500GB 7200rpm drive in the primary bay. I tested the W520 with it and the Intel 160GB SSD.

    The W520 with the 9-cell battery is slightly lighter than the W510, but only slightly.  The port configuration around the machine is the same as the W510 though they changed the USB 3.0 chipset to another supplier. This did have an impact on flattening the machine and using an external USB 3.0 enclosure.  You must install the USB 3.0 driver before you use those ports. The new USB 3.0 chipset provider is Renesas.  I am not sure what happened to NEC but this is a change from the W510.

    The chassis dimensions are 14.68" x 9.65" x 1.29-1.44"; 372.8mm x 245.1mm x 32.8-36.6mm. This is exactly the same as the W510.  The W510 and W520 aren’t massive in size but it is a large 15” notebook computer.  It fits perfectly in the Wenger Synergy backpack which I have been using for the past 5-6 years.  Highly recommended.

    Although my W520 didn’t come with a mSATA drive, I have confirmed it is capable of using one in the PCI-E WWAN card slot.  In essence, you can put a tiny Intel Series 310 SSD drive in the slot and use it for OS boot.  This would allow for three drives total in the W520.  Lenovo is promoting RapidDrive for the usage of the mSATA drive but I think OS boot is more interesting.  Although the Sandy Bridge chipset in the ThinkPad W520 has SATA III 6Gbps support, I don’t have the new SATA III SSD drives yet to prove it works.  Sorry, but that’s a big budget line item so it will have to wait for later.  I intend to purchase some Intel Series 510 SSD drives when the price is right.

    The model I received has the Intel 6300 WIFI and Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet chipset.

    Photo Tour

    Front - in this picture and the following shots, I have the ThinkPad T410s on top of the stack, the ThinkPad T410 in the middle and the ThinkPad W520 on the bottom.  There isn’t much to comment on for the frontal view.  Sorry I don’t have the T420 and T420s yet for comparison.  I use Windows 7 lid stickers for my machines so you’ll see that already slapped on the W520.

    Right - the W520 ports are positioned exactly like the W510. On the right side you’ll see the memory card slot, 34mm ExpressCard slot with a plastic filler, the 12.7mm high fatty DVD burner in the Ultrabay, and the Ethernet port.  I don’t like the placement of the Ethernet port here.  I would rather have it in the back where the silly modem is, and have a USB port instead like the T410 above it.

    Back - the one notable change on the back of the W520 is the power connection port.  It has a new design to accommodate the 170W power supply connector and is different from several generations of ThinkPad's.  You can still use the ThinkPad W510 135W power adaptor with this port.  You cannot however plug the 170W power supply into a W510 or W510 dock.  See the connector close up macro shot below.

    Left - the left side of the W520 is no different from the W510.  I will however point your attention to the eSATA port which is a combo port also known as a powered eSATA port.

    Open - I believe the W510 and W520 key layouts are the same although I haven’t examined them close up.  I did notice in this picture some of the keys are a slightly different color.  I think this is due to inconsistencies in the manufacturing process for those keys unless it’s actually supposed to be that way.  You wouldn’t normally see the color difference unless you were looking really hard for it.  It just shows from the flash photography.

    Thin - I usually take a lot of different shots of a machine from different angles and I thought this picture was interesting because it makes the W520 look thin like the T410s.  It’s an optical illusion.

    Power brick top - some people are freaking out about the 170W power supply brick.  It’s rather large and for comparison I have it lined up with the 135W power supply for the W510, and a 90W power supply for the T410.  It’s actually lighter than the 135W brick.  770 grams to 830.  It appears in my testing the 135W brick works fine so if you are short on cubic centimeters you might travel with the 135W.  You cannot use the 90W with the W520.

    Power brick side -  here’s another view of the bricks from a different angle.

    Power connecter - here’s a close up macro shot of the 170W power connector compared to the connector on the 90W and 135W power supplies.

    connectPower Management and Battery Life

    I mentioned in the executive summary above that the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 has significantly improved power management and battery life.  It appears from my testing that it’s at least twice as good as the W510.  After some initial testing, I quickly posted some information.  W510 owners everywhere are crying.

    Why is battery life important on a portable workstation?  In my opinion, it really shouldn’t matter too much.  Almost everyone one I know that uses a machine in this class probably has a smartphone and a slate device or they will soon.

    In the meantime, battery might be important in some situations but this isn’t a machine you’d be lugging from class to class, or meeting to meeting and taking notes on battery.  You could, but it isn’t designed for that.  It’s designed to run high performance workloads and you’d better be plugged into the wall for those. Enough of the lecture already.

    For the consultants in the crowd that have a single machine, you’ll be happy to know the battery life is dramatically improved.  In the tests at the blog post link above, this machine appears to get six hours of battery life quite nicely on the configuration I was sent.  That’s pretty darn good and welcome relief for the workstation crowd.

    Now you can watch a movie or two on that long flight home.  Assuming of course the guy in front of you hasn’t pushed his seat all the way back.  That’s where the T410s or a slate device will come in handy.

    Performance, Gaming and Thermals

    I do a considerable amount of work with high definition video. This seemed like the perfect test to see how much of an improvement the Sandy Bridge pipelining and chipset had improved over the W510.  I was shocked at the results. So shocked in fact I ran the tests several times with different drives to verify what I was seeing.

    w520 perfFor the encoding tests I used Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 10.  I encoded to a 720p Windows Media Video profile at a 6MB data rate.  This is a rich high definition format and it will tax every system I have including the ThinkPad W520.  The source video is from my Sony high def video camera and I have a variety of subjects.  I decided to use last years Fort Worth Mayfest footage.

    The W520 completed the encoding job in 1.5 hours.  The machine did of course kick the fan up on high but wasn’t obnoxiously loud.  I was also pleasantly surprised to learn it didn’t fry the machine either.

    In fact, although the machine was warm on the bottom, it wasn’t scorching hot.  You wouldn’t want it on your bare legs, but it wasn’t bad at all.  That’s a real good sign.  During the encoding the four cores and four hyper threads hovered around 72% CPU utilization.  Plenty of head room to do other stuff if this is your only machine.

    The W510 completed the same exact encoding job in 3 hours.  You read that correctly.  The W520 was twice as fast as the W510 in all of the encoding jobs.  I even used a variety of drives internal and external to rule out I/O bottlenecks.  Yea, my jaw is still on the floor.

    I don’t know yet why the W520 is soo much faster.  I ran these tests six different ways on both machines and every time the W520 sliced through the work in half the time the W510 took.  I checked all of the BIOS, Power management and performance settings three different times to make sure everything was nearly identical except the hardware.  Hardware matters.

    After the encoding jobs, I decided to do some testing of the graphics for gaming.  I haven’t really done any PC gaming in a while since we use the XBOX 360 for that type of entertainment.  However, I still have Half-Life 2 Orange Box and it’s a pretty well known entity.  It was either use it or buy a modern game. I took the cheap route and used Orange Box.

    image

    I installed Steam and all of the games then cranked up HL2.  I made sure to set the video settings in HL2 to 1920x1080 and all of the shading and stuff on high.  The game performed remarkably well.  I was getting some tearing and artifacts on quick turns and such but it wasn’t laggy or gross.  That was with the BIOS set to NVIDIA Optimus mode.  I changed it to NVIDIA discrete only and tried the game again.  Now we’re talking.  Smooth as glass and no tearing.  I haven’t checked frame rates but they are high.

    The W520 does an amazing job of cooling.  It spins the fan up under load and after things simmer down, spins back down.  When the machine is being used under light load, you can use the notebook on your bare skin. It runs nice and cool.  At least mine does.  My W510 also runs cool so they are pretty even on that count.  I’ve seen quite a few W510 reports where that wasn’t the case so I’m hoping Lenovo really has this nailed for the ThinkPad W520.

    Virtualization and RemoteFX

    Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 installed on the ThinkPad W520 with complete ease.  In fact, some of the nagging little workarounds I’ve been documenting for years have disappeared, finally.  I installed R2 SP1 using the usual boot from VHD techniques documented all over my blog.

    For those of you looking at the Lenovo Drivers and Download area, you’ll notice at the time of this review there aren’t many drivers.  Fortunately, everything you need is on the hard drive that came from the Lenovo factory under the SWTOOLS area.  The Ethernet and WIFI adaptors install correctly now with setup.  Everything else is straightforward.

    I installed the Hyper-V role and imported several virtual machines and confirmed everything was working as expected.  Boring.  My colleague Robert Larson asked me to look into making sure the W520 would run RemoteFX.  Now there’s something new and interesting to try.

    RemoteFX is a fascinating technology that lets you run a thin client machine from your desk, but take advantage of advanced graphics on the Hyper-V server.  There are a number of ways to take advantage of RemoteFX but I decided to try something that would really prove it works.

    Hmmm, what 3D application running on the VM would really prove RemoteFX is working?  Aero Glass is already running but you can do that with the right RDP clients so that isn’t good enough proof for me.  I need a game.  Duh.  How about installing Half-Life 2 into the VM and playing it across the wire from another machine on my network?  Muuhaahaa.

    hl2 install

    Here’s a screen shot of me using the Windows 7 SP1 RDP client and RemoteFX to install the game.  You can clearly see the Aero Glass effects in the RDP session.  All of those graphics are being handled by the GPU in the NVIDIA discrete chipset on the W520, not the machine I am using to run the RDP client.  I was pretty shocked at this point that Steam actually installed and worked.

    When I launched HL2, Steam complained about not having the RemoteFX virtual machine emulated 3D card in it’s card database.  I guess I was first.  It let me continue and play the game.  Since I had the RDP client session above set to 720p (1280x720), I ran Half-Life 2 with the same video settings.  HL2 suggested medium shading and such for the settings so I went with that.

    Actual gameplay was better than I expected.  I expected this to completely fail but much to my amazement the game actually worked. The mouse control was really erratic and hyper sensitive, but movement forward and back or side to side was pretty decent.  Certainly proof RemoteFX was working properly on the Lenovo ThinkPad W520.  I’ll go back later when I have time and look more closely at framerates native on the W520 and inside the VM.  I am out of time for this week.

    The Screen and Multimon

    Like the W510, the FHD screen on the W520 is fabulous.  It’s bright and has good contrast. The high Gamut screen has good color support and it’s probably the smart choice for anyone considering a portable workstation.  As with most if not all of the business computers Lenovo makes, it’s a matte screen.  I don’t think I will ever buy a glossy screen laptop.  Well, I haven’t yet.  Anyway, the screen is very nice and I haven’t seen any complaints with it on the W510.

    I am unable to run a test I wanted to run.  Although the W520 can be used in the 135W dock designed for the ThinkPad W510, it won’t drive more than two monitors.  You are going to need the 170W powered dock designed specifically for the W520.  So I could not test driving 3-4 external monitors.  I use three on a daily basis and have a fourth I could have used for the test, but until I have the right dock, it isn’t going to happen.

    MyDesk

    Here’s a picture of what I am talking about.  In the pic above my Lenovo ThinkPad T410s NVIDIA Optimus notebook is driving three Dell LCD panels. That’s a cheap 24” on the left, a new refurb Ultrasharp U2711 27” in the middle, and an aging Ultrasharp 24” on the right.  It’s funny that the middle panel color differences are so pronounced in the pic.  I haven’t calibrated all three together on the T410s and this shows why you should.  Looking at this in person is different.  Your brain calibrates them real time.  More optical tricks.

    Because Optimus based machines have two active video chipsets, you can drive up to four external LCD panels with the Lenovo dock.  I think most people won’t need more than three but four is possible.  It’s the very first test I did with the T410s.  Sorry I could not prove it works with the W520.

    OS and Software

    The ThinkPad W520 I received came with Windows 7 Professional x64.  I was a little surprised to see it show up without SP1 already installed.  Not only that, it isn’t patched to current levels or at least reasonably close levels.  It’s sitting here waiting for me to install 29 important updates. This is pretty inexcusably in my opinion.  Lenovo should really take the time to engineer an image that is more up-to-date than that.  Make sure you update your machine to SP1 as soon as you get it.  Hitting the update button on mine now.

    As for the software that is pre-loaded, I give Lenovo a lot of credit for NOT loading the machine will a bunch of software I don’t want. On first boot you will be presented with some promotions for Norton AV, Bing, Office, etc. but you can politely skip those and move right on.

    Lenovo has added some interesting programs I haven’t fully tested yet.  Skype is installed and configured to use the dual mic and 720p camera built into the LCD panel bezel.  Lenovo spent a lot of time tuning their new systems to work well with VOIP and other conferencing providers like Microsoft Lync so you road warriors could attend meetings. Lucky you.

    In addition you’ll find facial recognition software for security.  I am soo going to test this.  I’m actually thinking of testing that with my Chihuahua Elvis to see if I can use him to unlock the machine.  That should be fun.

    Office 2010 Starter is pre-installed and there are options to purchase an upgrade at any time.  Office Start 2010 includes Word and Excel Starter editions.  Pretty clever.  Give you some core features and provide an easy way to upgrade if you so desire.

    Biztree Business-in-a-Box is there for installation along with Skype, Norton Internet Security, Windows Live Essentials, Corel WinDVD, Corel Burn.Now, Corel DVD MovieFactory, and a few other miscellaneous programs.

    If you intend to use Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 as your primary OS, make sure you save the SWTOOLS directory on drive C:.  You’ll want WinDVD and other apps that don’t come with R2.  I haven’t yet verified the location of WinDVD in the lower level directories but I will.

    Summary

    I didn’t think the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 would be much of an improvement.  It’s the same keyboard, chassis, screen, etc. as the ThinkPad W510.  But the beauty is below the surface and in this case, the Sandy Bridge chipset offers much better performance while managing energy use much more efficiently.

    You’ll certainly want to watch for more scientific testing by the professional review blogs and organizations but it sure looks like a super machine for your consideration.  I look forward to seeing how it fairs against the competition in the shootouts.  This is a sweet machine ready to do some hard work.  Let me know if you have any questions.

    [UPDATE for 3/29/2011] Lenovo.com just lit up the configuration wizards for the ThinkPad W520.  Here’s a sample configuration and price from the US public buying site.  Man, they have some nice new options.  I’d really like to test the RAID support.  Enjoy.

    W520 Sample Config

    [Update for 4/3/2011] Todays project was to flatten the Lenovo factory image and install SLED 11 SP1 x86. The install worked well enough though SLED installations are really slow from DVD. GNOME and KDE are both working with the inbox VESA drivers.  I downloaded and installed the NVIDIA accelerated graphics driver from NVIDIA.com without issue.  To be clear, I have the BIOS set to discrete only.  I don’t believe NVIDIA has Optimus drivers for linux. The accelerated drivers appear to be working pretty well at 1920x1080 with 16 million colors.  Menu fades, app movement, and moving graphics objects around on the screen is fluid.  Transparency effects are working.

    You also might have noticed I removed my “buy with confidence” remarks from the body of the blog post.  The main reason is due to the outstanding question on the support for SATA III SSD drives.  I don’t know if the W520 supports the SATA III 6GB standard. Hopefully an answer is clarified by Lenovo in the documentation, an official blog post at the http://lenovoblogs.com site, or something soon. Eventually someone will benchmark the machine and provide some insight.  I won’t be in a position to do that for several weeks.

    I rather doubt the mSATA slot will be SATA III and I don’t think there are any SATA III mSATA devices anyway. The Intel Series 310 devices are SATA II 3GB speed. So the questions remain for the primary and optional Ultrabay drive interfaces. I supposed this also includes the Lenovo ThinkPad Serial ATA Hard Drive Bay Adaptor III since that is the currently supported hard drive adaptor.  I will be surprised to hear the 43N3412 adaptor is SATA III 6GB capable.

    So until the answers emerge, I would suggest making your decision carefully.  I certainly wouldn’t pay a premium for the new 6GB speed SSD drives until you know for sure the system can fully exploit them.  The machine is still a killer machine and if it fully supports 6GB speeds in all three of the possible SSD bays (mSATA slot, primary bay, Ultrabay), then it would certainly move it into the bad ass category of machines. It’s unlikely that all three bays support the 6GB speeds.

    [Update for 4/5/2011] Good news.  A number of people out there in the wild have received T420’s, T520’s and W520’s.  Several of them have run SSD tests with the Crucial and Micron drives and are reporting jumps in throughput that would be indicative of a SATA III 6GB speeds in both the primary bay, and ultrabay.  I’ve read this now at http://www.storagereview.com/lenovo_thinkpad_t520_review_first_thoughts and from three or four different people in the various ThinkPad forums.

    I’m cautiously optimistic now.  Some of the test results I’ve seen lack detail but at least there are a handful of reports. I’ll feel better when I’ve run my own tests but I thought some of you might be interested.

    Here’s a nice infomercial on the ThinkPad W520.  It also covers a few features not normally mentioned in the reviews.  Notice it says battery life increase of 100% over the previous generation.  See, they put that in writing.

    [UPDATE for 4/6/2011] A little over a week ago I sent some questions into Lenovo around the drives and storage for the new Sandy Bridge based notebooks.  Here are the questions and the answers I received.

    1. Are the supported SATA interface speeds on the new ThinkPad's SATA III 6GB? Specifically, is this true for the T420, T420s, X220, X220t, T520, and W520?

    [Lenovo] Yes, The new Huron River ThinkPads will support 6Gb/s, but our current drives that have been certified are only 3GB/s drives. The current roadmap is showing Late 3Q or early 4Q is when we'll qualify 6GB/s drives. This is true for the T420, T420s, X220, X220t, T520, and W520.

    2. What SSD drives have been tested and are recommended for the new Sandy Bridge based machines?

    [Lenovo]These are all 3.0 Gb/ps.

    1. ThinkPad 160GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive II - Released
    2. ThinkPad 128 GB SS Drive II - Released
    3. Intel 320 Series - Not Released. Lenovo engineering has completed testing/certification of the Intel 320 Series.

    3. What is the hard/ssd drive bay height and size for the new machines?  I need this for the primary bay, and ultrabay for each machine.  I understand some of the bays will only take 7mm height drives so if you provide a table of information on the machines above I would appreciate it.

    [Lenovo] Primary bay height for each system: T420, X220-X220T, W520  approx. 10.5 mm. Ultrabay height for each system: T420, X220-X220T approx. 10.5 mm.  W520 Ultrabay is 12.7mm. Machines with 7mm height drives: Yes The X220/ X220T, T420s will only take 7mm drives in their primary drive bay. 

    4. Which machines support the mSATA drive in the WWAN mini PCIE slot?  Do all of the machines support this? For the machines that do, is OS boot support supported?

    [Lenovo] W520, T420, T420s, X220, X220T. Yes, boot is supported for all of them.

    [UPDATE for 4/20/2011] I have confirmed with Lenovo that although the W520 has Optimus, it does not have Hybrid Optimus and thus cannot support four external displays like my T410s (see that test).  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there you have it.  On the bright side, I will test the T420s before too long and see if it really works.

    See http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?lndocid=MIGR-76617 for the official support document on the Hybrid Optimus technology and supported configurations.

    [UPDATE for 9/19/2011] It’s pretty rare for me to come back to update a review or comment six months after I wrote something but it seems there is a facet of this machine I didn’t really test fully back in March.  I still haven’t but I wanted to bring some information to your attention. 

    First, you notice in my blog post above I’m pretty wild about the new battery life for the ThinkPad W520.  That’s easily understandable because the battery life from the W510 isn’t nearly as good. 

    What you may not know is that the Quad Core CPU is limited to a certain performance level when running on battery power.  The term many people use is “throttled”.  I guess that term works.  Throttling is a well known way to govern something.  Cars and motorcycles have governors to prevent them from going over a certain MPH.  ISP’s and wireless carriers throttle connections when you’ve used a certain amount of data.  In that case of the W520, the CPU is throttled while on battery power.

    I haven’t seen an official Lenovo statement on why this is.  Some speculate they are doing this to prolong battery life.  That’s a pretty noble cause, unless you really need max performance on battery power.  I have seen other speculation that it was done due to some engineering challenge with supplying a hungry CPU with power when it is coming solely from battery.  Until Lenovo explains what is going on and why it’ll be open for speculation.

    Lenovo appears to be working on the problem. They have already published one BIOS that improves the throttling and I assume they are still working on further improvement. They have their senior Social Media folks and moderators involved in the threads. See Lenovo W Series Forum area.  There is quite a bit of activity in the threads there.

    I installed the v1.30 BIOS at the end of last month and can’t really tell much different on my machine with my typical usage models.  I haven’t traveled the past few weeks so I haven’t been running on battery power.  I did do a few quick tests three weeks ago and on my machine the CPU clock speed range is 800-1500 MHz on battery.  I did notice some bugs are still present on sleep/resume so I assume Lenovo is well aware of them and the reason I think they aren’t done with further improvement.

    There are couple of other rather large threads at the Lenovo site.  Thankfully I am not seeing any issues like those that are being reported.

  • Dell XPS 420 First Impressions

    xps420_graphics My first impressions of the Dell XPS 420 can be summed up in one word, "Solid !"  I've only completed a couple of phases in my new machines metamorphosis, but so far I'm pretty impressed with the machine and it's future.  So let's dive into what it was like when I received it, and the road we're on.

    What is the goal?

    When I purchased the machine Sunday, I had a couple of goals.  First and foremost, it's a video editing workstation.  I wanted a Quad core machine that could handle intense high definition and standard definition encoding, decoding and transcoding.  Second, I figured if I held out long enough, the Windows Vista market would mature and I could add premium high definition television recording.  TiVo is still handling the bulk of those duties at the moment.

    The Package

    The box arrived via Fedex in a light rain.  I'm glad it wasn't a heavy rain because the hand holds are open into the box.  There was no water damage.  Inside the box was the typical foam enclosure and a special XPS branded pack of goodies including a mouse pad, wire ties, wiping cloth, binder for disks, etc.  Nice job Dell.

    The Hardware

    Since I already have an array of LCD panels, I didn't order one with the unit.  If you can afford the Dell 24" widescreen LCD, get one.  I love mine.  I also have a 20" 4:3 aspect ratio LCD sitting right next to the 24" in a multimon configuration.  This gives you a ton of viewing options for the various applications and media you might view.  The 24" is running 1920x1200 and the 20" is running 1600x1200.  I use a KVM switch with these two monitors for the machines I own and use for work.

    The XPS 420 computer is a medium to large size case.  There's easy access into the unit and it is designed to hold up to three hard drives, one or more DVD drives, media readers, etc.  I ordered my Dell with the cheapest hard drive they offer knowing I will be immediately replacing the drives through other sources to cut costs.  I also ordered it with the standard 3GB of memory.  The main two hard drive bays are quick access requiring no screws.  There is power routed to both bays.  If you order like I did but plan to add another drive, make sure you buy a SATA cable with the right angle end.  A standard SATA cable will protrude too much and prevent case closure.  I already knew that and had a cable in my drawer already.

    xps420_bigtime The machine is very quiet.  There is plenty of ventilation through the case and it will be easily vacuumed when it's time to get rid of some of the dust.  The case itself is pretty attractive with the piano black front and silver sides. There are lots of USB ports front and rear, IEEE 1394 front and rear, GigE ethernet on the back, and an eSATA port on the back.  I see a future for that port.

    The XPS 420 comes with a Sideshow LCD panel on the front top.  I haven't decided what if anything I'll use it for, but you can add all sort of Vista Sideshow gadgets and have it display stuff like the weather, number of unread inbox messages, stock ticker, etc.  It'll be fun to play with that later but it's a back burner item for now.

    I fired the machine up and took a look around but that was pretty short lived.  I installed Ghost 12 and made an image of the factory install then pulled the 320GB drive out of the box.  I installed a 1TB drive for the OS and applications, then another 500GB drive for additional data capacity.  Although the XPS 420 comes with RAID on the motherboard, I am currently not using RAID 0 or 1.  I do frequent backups so I really don't need the data protection, and I don't have an I/O bottleneck at the moment that would require building a volume with more than one drive.

    The machine configuration I ordered comes with two ATI Digital Cable tuners.  I'm not particularly impressed with the tuners because I think their design and stands are too big and clunky looking.  They are external tuners and connect to the XPS 420 via USB.  Good thing the XPS 420 has lots of USB ports.  The tuner cases are designed to let the heat dissipate.  I have both of my tuners hidden behind one of my LCD panels.  Easy access to them, but out of eye sight.  They are ugly (to me). 

    AdobeElementsSuiteThe Software

    Although Dell lets you deselect a bunch of software normally referred to as "crapware" in our industry, this machine comes with an impressive set of software.  Now don't get me wrong, there's stuff installed I would uninstall like the Google Desktop, but all in all it wasn't totally hosed by a bunch of crud.  One of the suites you cannot deselect on the ordering site is Adobe Elements Studio.  This includes Adobe Premiere Elements 4, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and Adobe Soundbooth.

    I've been using Premier Elements for a while and like it.  I have never used Photoshop before but it's time to learn considering we dropped development and sales of the Digital Image Studio product family.  I've also never used the Soundbooth product, but if it works well, I know we can put it to use.  Dell supplies the product disk and serial numbers for the Adobe Elements Studio products in case you want to reinstall.

    The Operating System (OS) and HD Television

    Dell ships the XPS 420 with a number of OS choices.  Unfortunately none of the ordering configurations had what I want.  So when the tough get going, the tough flatten the box and re-install from scratch.  I considered running Windows Vista Home Premium, the 32bit version that the XPS 420 shipped with, for at least five minutes.  But I decided to roll the dice and install Windows Vista Ultimate x64.  I was a little worried about it for one reason and one reason alone.

    xps420 HD Overhead The XPS 420 can be configured to support high definition recording.  Not just any high definition recording, premium cable high definition recording.  This is called OCUR and it's a Cable Labs certified and approved configuration that is required.  The BIOS used by OCUR machines is special.  So is the activation process.  As it turns out, it was pretty easy to switch to the x64 OS and config.  You just install a retail copy of Windows Vista Ultimate x64.  When you fire up the Media Center shell and go through the TV tuner configuration, you will be prompted for a special product key.  That key is on the COA sticker on the back of the XPS 420.  After you plug it in, the tuners are activated.  In reality, this sets up the PKI key sets used for the DRM required to be in place for OCUR systems.

    After activating the tuners in the Media Center shell, it was a simple manner of downloading the guide and watching the standard definition channels.  Verizon is coming by on Tuesday to deliver the CableCards that plug into the tuners.  After those are in place and properly paired to the Verizon FIOS TV system, I'll be able to view all of the channels I pay for and record any content.  In the meantime, there's a menu item under the TV setup area that lets you scan for "other TV services".  This scan will detect any unencrypted QAM channels and add them to the guide listings.  Most cable systems carry ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and others "in the clear".  My scan found those channels so I mapped them to the appropriate channel for my area thus replacing the crappy standard def signal with the unencrypted QAM HD version.  Nice.  The machine plays high definition absolutely smoothly and fluidly.  It should.  The little screenshot at right shows me watching ABC in HD while directly connected to my Exchange Server mailbox (non cached mode) and surfing the net with IE7.  It's not even batting an eye.

    Performance

    There has been a lot of discussion in the industry about Windows Vista, it's performance and usability.  The Dell XPS 420 really makes Windows Vista shine.  I ordered mine with the Intel Quad Core Q6600 processor, 3GB of memory (2x1GB and 2x512MB), 320GB 7200rpm SATA drive and the NVIDIA 8600 GTS video card.  This is far from being a top of the line machine but it's still a very respectable platform.  Like you, I have a budget so I didn't order the Extreme Quad processor, a RAID array, etc.

    From what I can tell of the performance so far, it's going to meet my needs nicely.  I'll know by the time the weekend is over.  I plan to do some transcoding and video work tomorrow.  When I decide to pull the 3GB of memory and bump it up, I will probably load it with 8GB of 800MHz RAM.  That will improve the overall platform some and give the applications plenty of headroom while watching HD programming.

    If you are a serious gamer, look closely at the graphics card and power supply options.  I decided the 8600 GTS would meet my needs, cut down on power consumption, and lower the heat generated.  So far it seems to be the right choice for the roles my machine will play.  If you are a serious gamer, I'm not sure the other 475W power supply would meet your needs.  Then again, that's why Dell makes the XPS 720 and purchased Alienware.

    Summary

    Like I said, this seems to be a very solid machine.  If you can find one for $1500 delivered to your door, you should jump all over it.  The case and construction offers a lot of flexibility and expandability.  Ask me in 3-4 years how I like the machine.  I hope to have this one that long.  I'll write more about this later after the CableCard install.  Buy with confidence. I am changing my rating to buy with some caveats.  See the 12/29 update below.

    [UPDATE for 12/21/2007]  The CableCard install happened Tuesday without issue and I can see all of the FIOS TV channels in the guide.  I can watch and record the HD channels.  However, I have had a number of recording failures when the machine resumed from sleep.  I am trying to spot a pattern so I am testing various sleep states (S1 and S3).  More later...

    [UPDATE for 12/22/2007]  I updated the tuner firmware to the latest available production firmware from ATI.  I also applied the Windows Vista updates that were recommended in the firmware release notes.  This did not resolve the sleep/wakeup and record issues I'm seeing.  In fact, it made it worse.  Fortunately this isn't the core mission of my machine otherwise I'd be upset.

    ATI Firmware updates:

    http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista32/ocur-vista32.html

    http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista64/ocur-vista64.html

    [UPDATE for 12/27/2007] I have been running my machine for the past five days without letting it sleep.  It has recorded each and every program without issue on a variety of HD channels I receive with my Verizon FIOS TV package.  In fact, extender Xbox 360 HD playback has also been flawless.  I am researching the power states supported by the machine and will experiment with sleep again before too long.  I wanted to establish a baseline to verify the tuners are really working properly when fully powered and connected at all times.  I'd say 5 days and 500GB of recorded HD content has done that.

    [UPDATE for 12/29/2007]  It appears I have the suspend/resume issue resolved with my XPS 420 when recording high def premium channels.  I have a bunch of programs set to record over the next few days so I'll document my config and post a completely separate post on the subject Wednesday or Thursday of next week (assuming we can declare success).  Spoke to soon...  the machine missed a recording this morning so this issue is not fixed... sigh...

    I also seem to have identified a bug in the eSATA port implementation.  In order to use the eSATA port, the Intel ICH9R SATA RAID controller must be in AHCI mode.  My eSATA port didn't work with the factory config they shipped me (x86 Vista Home Premium).  I checked this morning since I still had the factory hard drive in original install state.  I reset the BIOS to factory settings and checked things there, too.  I'm assuming if you buy a machine directly from Dell with a RAID config implemented (two or more drives), that the RAID and eSATA port works.  However, that's a x86 32bit implementation.  I'd be interested to know the drivers and versions implemented on that configuration.  Send me email if you have it.  Dell is aware of this issue and looking into it.

    [UPDATE for 1/11/2008]  I have rebuilt my machine from the ground up.  I am still on BIOS A02 and have the SATA controller in RAID AHCI mode.  My eSATA port is working properly.  In order for me to do this, I had to reinstall the operating system again, which is unfortunate.  I could not figure out how to get it to work any other way even though I received feedback inside and outside Microsoft.  I do not recommend doing this. If you reinstall the OS more than one time, you'll likely break the OCUR HD recording capability if you have the ATI digital cable tuners.  I recommend you wait for Dell to come up with a supported solution from their engineering team.  They may end up fixing this will a BIOS update or something.  I certainly hope so. 

    At this point the only remaining problem I have with my machine is sleep/resume/record/sleep.  I was sent a list of KB articles and their associated fixes.  I will look more carefully at this over the weekend as time permits.  I can certainly live without this working correctly but I would prefer to get it fixed. 

    So where do I stand on my buy recommendation?  I still think this is a super machine.  Dell is very aware of the AHCI RAID issue, sleep/resume and other minor issues.  If you don't need to attach a big freaking hard drive or cluster of hard drives to the XPS 420, then buy with confidence.  If you need the eSATA port and you buy a machine today, most likely the machine will arrive properly configured and this issue is effectively only valid for people that purchased prior to today.  They can be fixed a number of ways right now but obviously a reinstall of the OS would be a last resort.

    [UPDATE for 5/8/2008]  See http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2008/05/08/dell-xps-420-six-month-report.aspx for my six month report card.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – first impressions

    w510 Friday afternoon I received two Lenovo ThinkPad W510’s. The one I decided to look at first is the model with the 1920x1080 Multi Touch screen.  Let me first say I am not a big fan of this high a resolution on a screen that is 15.6”.  I have two other laptops with 15.4” screens that have native resolutions of 1920x1200.  But this machine is very different.

    The Specs

    Here are specifications for the machine I am currently reviewing. It is a ThinkPad W510 Model 4389-2UU. It has a Intel® Core™ i7-820QM quad-core processor 6MB Cache. I loaded the machine with 4x4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz SoDIMM memory sticks for a total of 16GB of RAM. The machine arrived with a Seagate 500GB 7200rpm hard drive.  I pulled that drive and set it aside then installed my Intel 160GB Generation 2 SSD drive.

    The screen is 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920x1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 242 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut, MultiTouch (touchscreen supports two-finger touch).  To keep the screen calibrated, this model includes a Pantone huey™PRO X-Rite® Colorimeter.  The color calibration sensor is in palm rest near the fingerprint reader.

    The video chipset is the NVIDIA® Quadro® FX 880M with 1GB of discrete memory. The chassis has a VGA DB-15 connector which is typical. It also includes a DisplayPort connector (supports single-link DVI-D via cable 45J7915); and has a Maximum external resolution: 2560x1600 (DisplayPort)@60Hz; 2048x1536 (VGA)@85Hz; 1920x1200@60Hz (single-link DVI-D via cable 45J7915).

    The W510 is 15.6W" (WxDxH): 14.68" x 9.65" x 1.26-1.41"; 372.8mm x 245.1mm x 32-35.8mm. The 6-cell weight starts at 5.66 lb (2.57kg); 9-cell: starting at 6.01 lb (2.72kg).  For those of you keeping score, this machine is slightly wider than a T61p, and slightly heavier.  If you are used to carrying around a T61p or W500, you aren’t going to get bent out of shape by the difference.  This isn’t a T400, T410 or T410s so don’t bother comparing them on size and weight.  This is a bigger and heavier machine.  But it isn’t a huge, fat, 17” pizza box either.

    The eval unit I have includes the 5-in-1 reader (MMC, Memory Stick, Mem Stick Pro, SD, SDHC), Two USB 3.0, one Powered USB 2.0, one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, modem (RJ-11), Intel Gigabit ethernet (RJ-45), and an IEEE 1394 FireWire 400 (4-pin connector; 1394a-2000 standard).  I have no idea why Lenovo still includes a modem and connector. In fact, I’m a little perturbed with it’s placement because it’s in the location where I would expect a couple of USB ports.

    Under the Covers

    I needed to go pretty deep into the case right away because I wanted to change the memory configuration and hard drive.  The W510 has four 204 pin DDR3 memory slots.  Two are easy access from the bottom of the machine, and two are underneath the keyboard.  In case you are wondering, the ThinkPad T61p uses 200 pin DDR2 SoDIMMS that are not compatible with the W510.  I have other machines that use the 204 pin DDR3 sticks so I pulled the memory out of all of them and loaded this machine with 16GB of memory.  In the next 30 days I’ll put all of that memory to use with virtualization.

    Lenovo also changed the primary hard drive bay.  It’s underneath the machine and accessible from the bottom.  It isn’t hard to swap drives, but it’s nowhere near as easy as the T61p, W500 or T400.  I don’t really like the new design because I do a lot of drive swaps, but I can live with it.  It certainly isn’t a deal breaker.  The machine is designed for people that don’t swap drives often so you need not be concerned.  Be happy there is relatively easy access.

    Multi Touch Screen

    Touch interfaces are the rage.  They’ve been around for years and thanks to Apple and the iPhone, people have started to discover them en masse.  The model I received for evaluation has the 1920x1080 resolution Multi Touch screen. I was eager to see he brightness and color of the screen because I fell in love with the screen on the W700.  I plugged in the laptop and fired it up.  The first time I saw the screen it had a slight rose colored hue to it.  I just grinned. 

    I launched the Pantone hueyPRO X-Rite application and started the color calibration process.  That is so kewl. You shut the lid, it does it’s thing then beeps on completion and you get to see the results.  MUCH better. I am not a Pro photographer so I’ll let the Pros chime in on the screen from their reviews, but it looks pretty good to me. Extremely good for a touch screen device. The screen itself is listed as an anti glare screen but I noticed more glare on it than my T61p or other laptops. It appears there are some anti glare coatings on the screen. I’m not really sure.

    I do know this, I would not order the multi touch screen. I don’t have a big use for multi touch applications on a device like this so I would order the FHD 1920x1080 without the multi touch option.  For developers, it would seem to be a no brainer to get this option, but I’m planning on getting a slate style device this year so I would forgo the option on this laptop. 

    The FHD is super bright. That is the biggest gripe I have with the other 15.4” 1920x1200 based laptops I have. Those screens don’t have nearly the brightness and contrast as this screen. I still detect a slight graininess but I believe that is due to the touch screen.  The other W510 evaluation unit I have has the HD+ 1600x900 screen and it is bright and extremely clear.  However, that screen dropped the resolution below the tolerable limits for me, so the 1920x1080 FHD screen is going to be the one I get when it comes time for a purchase.  Windows 7 and the DPI settings allow fine adjustments to font rendering to suit your preferences.  I run 1920x1080 at 115% or 125% DPI.  Looks great and it’s easy on my eyes.  Lenovo has a winner with these screens.

    My manager, John Martin, will snicker at the next comment or two.  You see, I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and we were reviewing some data I had on my T61p.  I turned the machine so he could see the screen and he had a surprised look on his face.  I said, “What?” He remarked at how clean the screen was.  I must admit I do like my screens fingerprint and dust free. I cleaned the screen just before I flew to Seattle. You can imagine my shock of all of those fingerprints on the W510 screen after just a few hours of use. Not sure I could live with that.  Clean freak.

    Other Stuff

    Let me tell you about a couple of minor things I thought were pretty cool before I get into a Windows 7 re-install and the tips and tricks associated with that.  First up is my favorite new button.  The Microphone mute button.  Press it an it kills the microphone and lights up a nice, bright, amber orange.  Because I use my computer now for a lot of phone calls, this is a life savor.  If you’ve ever done or said anything you wished you had not on a live mic, you know what I mean.

    I also like some of the power management that has gone into this machine. I will fully explore it in testing over the next 30 days, but I really liked how the management software just shuts down power to the DVD drive until you need it.  Nice. I’ll be testing the power management for real at the MVP Summit.  I haven’t decided if I am taking this machine because I can’t use my data card in this machine (it’s PCMCIA).

    The W510 seems to be running fairly quiet and cool, especially for such a powerhouse machine. I have not taxed the system yet.  I have also not tested battery life.  I did observe one thing I am going to re-test.  I noticed if I put the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 6000 micro USB transmitter in the USB 3.0 port, the machine fails to boot.  In fact, it seemed to overheat the machine.  Strange.  I am going to try a repro on that tomorrow or the next day.

    The machine has two cool looking blue colored USB 3.0 ports.  I was going to trek down to Fry’s today and see if they have any USB 3.0 hard drive enclosures, but I never made it over there.  I am going to try and make the trip after I work out in the morning.

    I have a gripe about the Ultrabay.  Once again Lenovo has changed it so that you cannot use hard drive adaptors from a previous generation of ThinkPad's.  Therefore, the T400/W500 Ultrabay hard drive adaptor will not go into the W510 bay.  I looked closely at it, and it appears I could make it work, but I would have to use an exacto knife on the W500 hard drive adaptor I have.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see if the come out with one.  I don’t see it listed yet.

    w510_winsat Installing Windows 7 x64 – Tips and Tricks

    This is going to be a relatively short section but let me give you some advice.  The eval unit I received came with the 32 bit version of Windows 7 Professional.  Strange.  Nobody in their right mind is going to fill four slots with 1GB DDR3 sticks so everyone has the potential to go well over the 4GB limit for x86 versions of operating systems.  I know, people have 32 bit app compat concerns.  This machine wasn’t designed for them. This is a power user work horse. Use 64 bit operating systems.

    When I started looking at the drivers at the Support and Download area, my sixth sense told me something was missing.  My sixth sense was right.  Fortunately I paid attention to that and instead of flattening the original drive, I pulled it from the machine and set it aside. 

    I had to go back to that drive and get some files in the SWTOOLS directory.  The SWTOOLS directory has all of the drivers and software that is factory installed.  Be sure to copy this directory to a safe place.  Be sure to use the installed ThinkVantage tools to create a factory disk set.  It’s always the first thing I create when I get a new machine.  It takes three DVDs.

    The Lenovo W510 Support and Downloads area currently doesn’t have the power management driver for the W510.  Huge oversight.  This is a key requirement for the Pantone color calibration sensor and software.  It’s also a key prereq for the MIC mute button and other components in the machine.

    You’ll also find out most of the USB ports don’t work well with some external enclosures until the power management and NEC USB 3.0 drivers are installed.  My external 2.5” Vantec NexStar 3 enclosure would only work in the combo eSATA/USB port.  It would not work on the powered USB port or either of the USB 3.0 ports until the drivers were installed.  Thankfully it worked because there were some key drivers needed on it.

    I had already downloaded all of the 64 bit drivers I could find and had them stashed on the NexStar 3.  Good thing.  Windows 7 Enterprise x64 doesn’t recognize the ThinkPad W510 Intel(R) 82577LM Gigabit Ethernet or Intel(R) Centrino(R) Ultimate-N 6300 AGN wireless chipsets using the driver base in the RTM build of Windows 7. That means you cannot talk to the internet and Windows Update until you download and install them from the Lenovo Support and Downloads area.

    Fortunately, nearly everything you need for a 64 bit install of Windows 7 is on the download area.  The rest is in the SWTOOLS directory including software for burning DVD’s and other stuff.  The ThinkPad W510 I received did not come loaded with “crapware”.  In fact, there was very little pre-loaded.  Thanks Lenovo !!!

    Some Final Thoughts and What’s Next

    So far I am very impressed with the physical build of the machine, fit and finish, and performance. I have a lot of planned testing coming the next 30 days including running Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V, Red Hat, and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop if I have time.

    I like the layout of the ports with the sole exception of the RJ-11 port.  Dump that. I’m glad the USB ports are now horizontal instead of vertical.  I am planning on getting a USB data card soon so that will be helpful for it.

    That’s it for now.  I wanted to give you some first impressions in the first 24 hours of having the machine.  I went a little over that because it took some time to back up other machines, move memory and SSD drives around, research the missing drivers, etc.  I have not hit any show stoppers so far and Windows 7 Enterprise x64 is flying (as evidenced in the screenshot above).  Click on the screenshot for a larger view of the data.

    [UPDATE for 02/10/2010] I have gone through the process of installing Windows Server 2008 R2 and documented the steps I took at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2010/02/10/install-windows-server-2008-r2-on-a-lenovo-thinkpad-w510.aspx.  I hope you find this useful.  Please ask W510 R2 comments there. 

    Thanks.

  • TechNet 2.0 – Episode 6 – Wiki

    Each of you has likely used one of the world’s most popular Wiki’s known as http://wikipedia.org. The English section of that site has 3.2 million articles and there are many more supported languages. An excerpt from the mission of the site is “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content.” We have a similar TechNet mission.

    As you’ll recall from TechNet 2.0 – Episode 1 – Core Scenarios and Branding, three big things we focus on for all TechNet scenarios are Content, Discoverability, and Participation. We really want to invite participation from everyone and what better way to combine that with discovery and content than to use Wiki technology?

    Later this year TechNet and the Server & Cloud Division will partner to launch the new TechNet Wiki.

    home

    There are a number of interesting features that are part of the Wiki implementation. You’ll notice a very visible tag cloud. If the pic is hard to read, click it or any of the remaining screenshots for a larger version. Tag clouds are great for navigating large number of articles as well as seeing at a glance where activity is taking place. The Wiki has different views depending on whether you are logged in or not. You’ll notice I am not logged in above and we can see quickly the activity taking place, contact information, and how to use the Wiki.

    Once I login, I can see additional information. In fact, I decided to click the Windows Server tag cloud and I get a listing of tagged articles as seen in the following screenshot.

    tagcloud

    I immediately spot an article I am interested in. You can see the one I am referring to above with the Event ID 3112. It’s the third article down. I click the article link and I am presented with the following information. As you can see, Tony Soper is writing about how to go through the process of troubleshooting a Hyper-V virtual machine issue. If you don’t know Tony, he’s one of our virtualization subject matter experts.

    article

    This particular article and condition was interesting to me because after modifying the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) for my machine, I inadvertently dropped the parameter to start the hypervisor on the Windows Server 2008 R2 boot entry in the BCD store. Tony’s article details this and how to fix the issue or points you to an article for additional help. Been there done that.

    Another interesting aspect of the Wiki is the ability to see the changes that have occurred leading to the current version. You have the ability to run a compare if you like to see the revisions. In the screenshot below, I am getting ready to run the compare against the current version and version # 16.

    history

    After I click the Compare Versions button, I can see the revisions that have occurred as depicted in the screenshot below.

    compare

    As you can see, Tony is correcting his own article but one of you could be adding or changing information as well. In this particular article’s case, you might add some information about using “Boot from VHD” technology and how to be careful not to step on a BCD entry and lose the hypervisor autorun parameter. Wiki’s are great for collecting knowledge like that and we are anxious to get this in your hands soon.

    We believe a public wiki for technical content on TechNet has the potential to be a big step forward in all three areas:

    • For content, while Microsoft teams write some great content, we cannot possibly author all the content customers need to be successful, and a wiki that offers content from the community will increase the breadth and depth of technical content available for IT Pros.
    • For participation, the wiki is a great new way for any IT pro to create and share technical knowledge, engage with other technical people and with Microsoft, and build an identity and reputation within the TechNet community.

    I used the word "potential" above because Microsoft cannot succeed with the TechNet Wiki on its own - success ultimately depends on the direct engagement, support, and ongoing feedback from the IT community.

    It’s a "big bet" for all of us, but one we believe in and are ready to take.

    So, let's start with your feedback - what do you think of a TechNet Wiki? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks !

    [NOTE] The screenshots are of our internal beta staging server so there may be some subtle differences by the time we provide access. Enjoy!

  • Archos 605 WiFi added to my PMP collection

    ARCHOS605 Monday and Friday of last week was like Christmas.  On Monday I received a HD video camera.  On Friday I received the Archos 605 WiFi portable media player.  I bought it for a couple of reasons.  First, my wife was feeling like a second class citizen because she doesn't have one.  And second, because I wanted to. 

    The Screen, Size and Feel

    The Archos 605 I purchased is the 80GB, 4.3" widescreen model.  It's slightly thinner than my Zen Vision W.  I took some pictures of it next to some of my other players for comparison.

    Comparison to the Sony PSP

    Comparison to the Apple iPod Video

    Comparison to the Creative Zen Vision W

    Pictured using built-in stand

    The 4.3" screen is a touch screen.  As a result, the screen does not have a glossy finish like the Zen, PSP or iPod.  The screen itself seems rather rigid.  I hope that means it's going to last a long time.  So far I haven't found a big need to touch the screen much.  You can do nearly everything with the menu button and directional keys. Because the screen is big, the unit isn't small.  The native resolution for the screen is 800x480 pixels with 16 million colors.  That's about twice the resolution of most of my other players and a bunch of colors although I haven't counted them all.

    The actual size of the unit is 4.8'' long x 3.2'' wide x 0.75'' thick.  It weighs 9 ounces which is twice what my 80GB iPod Video weighs.  If you look at the pictures at http://www.archos.com/products/gen_5/archos_605wifi/download.html?country=us&lang=en, you'll notice the unit looks gray metallic (beaded in the close ups) with gray keys.  Those pictures must have been an early prototype because my unit is slightly different.  The keys on mine are white and the unit itself doesn't have the polished stainless steel finish like you see in flash animation on the main page.  That's fine with me because I like the finish my unit has.  It doesn't show fingerprints and it is easy to hold. 

    Video Playback and Battery Life

    Out of the box it plays most if not all of the Windows Media Video and AVI files I have.  I haven't tried any WMV HD.  There are some optional plugins to add support for H.264 or MPEG-2 with AAC and AC3 respectively.  I doubt I'll purchase those plugins.  I'm ripping everything I have to DivX AVI or WMV and it plays them great.

    I'm getting 5 hours of continuous video playback with default brightness and contrast settings.  That's also with 2500k bit rate video.  I'm wondering if I produce different video bit rates if I can reduce I/O to the hard drive and thus extend the battery life more.  I don't think it's a big deal so I'll probably just continue doing what I'm doing.  The last time I went to Hawaii, two movies was plenty so this should be sufficient.

    Disk Capacity

    The Archos 605 I have has the 80GB hard disk.  To give you an idea, I already have 35 movies on it and the hard drive isn't even half full.  To bring this into perspective, I can load the complete Harry Potter movie set, all of the Star Wars movies, the extended Lord of the Rings set, all of the Matrix movies, all of the Indiana Jones movies, all of the Aliens movies, and about 30 other movies.  I'm in the process of doing that right now.  Impressive eh?  Let's see the 16GB Apple iPod Touch do that.  No possible way.

    In case you were wondering, the typical two hour movie is ripping to about a 1GB disk file.  So I'll end up having about sixty to seventy movies on the disk when I'm done.  The Creative Zen Vision W I have will hold a little less.  Basically either of the devices will hold a killer collection of pictures, music and video.

    Archo605Tilted Other Features

    The Archos 605 comes with an assortment of other features.  Some of those features are uninteresting to me, but might come in handy for other people.  For instance, the 605 has a DVR Station option that allows you to record television programming.  I already have HDTV recordings via my TiVo and Media Center PC so I don't really need yet another source of programming.

    My player comes with WiFi and several networking options.  For instance, I could purchase Opera and load it on the 605 and turn it into a cute little coffee shop surfing device.  This is mildly interesting to me, but since I don't have a nationwide hotspot plan, I don't have a big need for this. 

    It appears the Archos 605 is running Samba or something to allow network browsing of shares on my homelan.  According to the docs and features, it's also supposed to have streaming capabilities.  Again, all of this stuff is kewl and all, but I'm using my 605 as a standalone portable media player.

    Summary

    The Archos 605 WiFi is a solid player and lives up to its billing so far.  I purchased mine through Amazon.com when they went on sale (10% off).  I also had a $35 gift card and got free shipping.  I've only been playing with it a few days and so far I only dislike one thing which I plan to fix.  The supplied charge cord sucks.  The cord I'm talking about is the USB cord that allows syncing, charging or both.  It charges extremely slow via USB.  I need to find a quicker charging method.

    The screen is fabulous and will work in "torch mode".  In other words, you can really crank up the brightness and contrast.  If you do, you'll knock some of the battery life off.  For instance, I turned it up and it knocked the video playback time down to four hours fifteen minutes.  If I buy an extra battery or quick charge method, I'll probably run the brightness somewhere less than torch, but something higher than default.

    And in case you were wondering about my honey, she's getting the Zen Vision W.  So I'm loading it with all of the mushy chick flicks and some of her dance videos.  Shhhhhh, keep that a secret.  It's a surprise.

    You'll notice no comparison and only this brief mention of Zune.  My Zune is Microsoft owned and I gave it to Bryan Von Axelson.  He promised he was going to put it to good use.  I'm waiting for the next generation Zune to show up.

    BatteryDock [UPDATE]  I spoke with Archos Technical Support about the charge times I'm seeing with this unit.  It takes about eight hours to charge (when fully drained) if using the USB cord plugged into my laptop or desktop machines.  That is apparently the norm.  That doesn't really surprise me because USB doesn't supply that much power.  So I ordered the battery dock pictured here at right.  This little mini dock serves several functions.  First, it does a quick charge of the battery in the unit.  It also has a built-in battery which extends the video playback by another 4 hours (or so I'm told).  I should know if any of that is true by this time next week.  If so, it looks like I'm ready for a trip to an exotic location.  Tahiti anyone? 

    [FINAL UPDATE]  I received my Archos mini dock battery charger.  bhphotovideo.com sells them for $39.  It adds 4 hours to the playback time of the unit.  Nine hours of nonstop video playback is pretty killer.  Charging now takes less than four hours.  I have forty movies on my Archos 605 WiFi player, so far.  I think I am travel ready now.  Grin.

    FYI, I had to correct the link just above because apparently my source sold my battery doc for the wrong price then corrected the online catalog.

  • My Lenovo ThinkPad T61p now has 8GB of RAM

    Kingston Technology was kind enough to sent some evaluation 4GB SoDIMMs to me for installation and testing.  They arrived a little later than expected this week but were sitting on the front porch when I got home tonight.  They are now installed and I thought a quick screenshot might be in order.  As you can see, the overall speed rating from the Windows Vista WinSAT assessment test is the same, but I have twice the capacity as before.

    I’ll be putting them through their paces as much as possible over the next few days before I head to TechEd 2008.  I need to finish getting through some UNIX interop content first thing in the morning then I’ll start building out an environment with some teeth.

    What’s the current laptop world record for the number of Windows Vista virtual machines that are executing?  Might be fun to put up a number before my flight.

    image

    See http://shop.kingston.com/partsinfo.asp?ktcpartno=KTL-TP667/4G or click the pic above for the Kingston ecommerce store price on the memory I received.

  • Dual Boot from VHD Using Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2

    windows7rc_bloglogo

    Executive Summary

    Boot from VHD is a new technique for installing and maintaining operating system environments.  Unlike virtual machines, the operating system that is running from a “boot from VHD” environment is using the actual hardware instead of emulated hardware.  This means a developer could easily use WPF and the full GPU processing power of a high end graphics card.  In another scenario, this technology makes it easy to setup and run Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Hyper-V role, thus supporting 64 bit virtualization workloads.

    The Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) is the container for the installed operating system.  Because everything is inside a single file, there are a number of benefits that can be realized for data center server environments, as well as managed desktop environments.  The following article dives into the technical details of implementing two operating systems.  Both are installed in a VHD file and can easily be booted by selecting the preferred environment at power on.  This could easily be scripted and automated.

    The Installation Foundation – Windows PE

    The Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) has been updated for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.  One of those improvements is the ability to use a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) file as the target for an installation of the operating system (OS).

    This has some interesting implications.  Booting from a .VHD file that contains an entire OS seems rather magical.  I mean think about it.  You go to look at a hard drive and there’s a single file but Windows Server 2008 R2 is installed inside it.  This would certainly simplify the ability to boot your servers on a completely new environment with little effort.  This is going to turn change management on its ear.

    The same is true for the desktop OS, Windows 7.  You can install Windows 7 inside a .VHD file.  Again, the OS is installed inside a single file and thus makes it rather easy to move or change out and bring up a completely different version of the environment.  This will make test environments for developers super easy to construct and test discrete sets of applications or components.

    One thing that is not well known is how easy it is to create the initial .VHD file and install the operating system into it.  The supported and documented ways are geared towards very well defined support scenarios.  You can see the supported scenarios in the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK).  Most people have been reluctant to take the time to learn this because it involves the use of imagex captures and applies.

    What if you could install with just the DVD?

    You can.  All you need is a hard drive with disk space and the DVD for Windows 7 RC or Windows Server 2008 R2 RC.  In fact, when I was investigating the tools for this article I used a brand spanking new Hitachi 2.5” 320GB 7200rpm hard drive and both DVDs to create a dual boot environment.  Nothing more.  And it’s much simpler than I thought.  The key is WinPE and DISKPART.  Here is the screencast demonstration of the tools in action.

    The Screencast Video – 23 minutes – Win7 and R2 Dual Boot via VHD

    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    The Command Sequence Used in the Video

    1. Boot your machine with a blank hard drive using the Windows 7 DVD.
    2. Click next on the language screen if English is appropriate.
    3. SHIFT+F10 to launch a WinPE command console.  Although the commands below are in upper case, the commands are not case sensitive.  I am only using upper case for readability here.
    4. Enter DISKPART to run the utility.
    5. LIST DISK to see the available disks in your system.  I am assuming a single raw disk.
    6. SEL DISK 0
    7. CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
    8. FORMAT FS=NTFS QUICK
    9. LIST VOL
    10. ASSIGN
    11. LIST VOL
    12. CREATE VDISK FILE=c:\windows7rc.vhd MAXIMUM=200000 TYPE=EXPANDABLE
    13. SELECT VDISK FILE=c:\windows7rc.vhd
    14. ATTACH VDISK
    15. CRE PART PRI
    16. FORMAT FS=NTFS QUICK
    17. ASSIGN LETTER=V:
    18. LIST VOL
    19. LIST VDISK
    20. exit DISPART
    21. exit WinPE command console
    22. Install to the newly created 200GB (fuzzy math) virtual hard disk which looks just like a partition to Windows Setup
    23. Repeat steps 11-18 for the Windows Server 2008 R2 VHD but with the obvious changes for the vdisk filename, size, etc.

    Other References and Articles

    Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 RC – get it @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=60a07e71-0acb-453a-8035-d30ead27ef72.  This is the bible for the supported methods of using “Boot from VHD”. 

    Windows Virtualization Blog – see their VHD boot post at http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/2009/05/14/native-vhd-support-in-windows-7.aspx.  Particularly interesting is the performance area of the post.

    Knom’s Developer Corner – another nice post at http://blogs.msdn.com/knom/archive/2009/04/07/windows-7-vhd-boot-setup-guideline.aspx.

    So What’s Next ???

    Tomorrow I am going to backup my existing Windows 7 production hard drive.  Windows 7 is installed in the traditional fashion on a 200GB drive right now.  I am going to restore the backup to a larger disk then install Windows Server 2008 R2 RC into a .VHD and test mixing them.  That’s a bit of a hybrid and one I think a lot of developers might be interested in.  It would certainly demonstrate you can have a traditional implementation of your production OS, but flip to any other Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7 testbed very easily.  I’ll follow-up here or another post when I get that implemented.  Enjoy.

    [UPDATE for 5/23/2009] As I indicated just above, I wanted to run an extension of the test I recorded.  I backed up my 200GB Windows 7 RC environment then restored it to a 320GB drive.  After that, I booted from the Windows Server 2008 R2 RC DVD and created a bootable VHD with R2 inside.  The VHD is stored in a folder at the root of my 320GB disk.  The R2 setup program fixed up the bcdstore area and I now have a dual boot hybrid.  Windows 7 is installed in the traditional manner.  R2 is booting from the VHD.  Both are available on the selection menu at power up. Interesting stuff for sure.

    [UPDATE for 5/25/2009] Since I received a couple of questions out of band on how I captured the demo, let me explain.  The demo was captured using Camtasia v6.0.2.  The demo was a Hyper-V virtual machine, not native hardware.  I had mentioned that in some of the preliminary takes but I guess I didn't make that clear in the final take.  Therefore, the booted OS in the screencast is actually using the emulated hardware of the virtual machine.  Everything you see in the demo works on my native hardware, a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.

    One other thing, the VHD that is being booted from will expand to the maximum size specified at creation.  It will revert to the used size when you shut it down.  Keep this in mind because that buffer must exist at boot time or else.

    [UPDATE for 6/14/2009]  Although this article was originally written using a blank hard drive, I have received a few suggestions for adds, so here they are. 

    1. Backup your machine first.  Yep, this is a good idea as always if you are messing with a drive you care about.
    2. Decrypt the drive if using BitLocker.
  • Norman Gentle is the next American Idol !!!

    NormanGentle

    ROFL !!!  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should.  Too funny.  This is Norman’s expression after his most excellent delivery to Simon.  Ha ha ha.  The expression on Ryan Seacrests face later was priceless.

    [UPDATE for 2/15/2009] I still can't believe he made it to the Top 36, but if you've been watching the other contestants you know things are starting to get serious now.  How far will Nick actually make it?  Only Simon knows...

  • I got your back - Windows Vista SP1 coming sooner than you think

    It goes without saying that there has been a considerable amount of feedback around our release schedule for Windows Vista SP1.  Don't think for a second that because I'm silent about such issues on my blog, that I am not working our internal communication channels to be your advocate.

    Being an advocate means I get an opportunity to assess the situation with my "customer base", which is now world wide, and offer my opinion on what we should or should not do.  I've done that in the past and will do it in the future.  It doesn't mean I'll get what I want, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

    vista_wallpaper However, I support our product groups and senior leadership decisions.  If Microsoft chooses not to release some software when you think it should be released, we usually have a darn good reason for the decision.  I am not privy to all of the details of those decisions so when I offer an opinion back to our senior leadership, I can't get away with the type of comments I've seen posted on a variety of blogs and websites this week.  I have to be a lot more diplomatic.  Diplomatic doesn't mean I can't be direct, and I'm known for being direct. 

    The good news is that there are some changes coming to the release schedule I think you will like.  Keep an eye on the Windows Vista Product Group Blog @ http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsvista/archive/2008/02/11/windows-vista-sp1-availability-for-technical-customers.aspx for the update.

    You should know that I, and members of my team take IT Pro satisfaction and dissatisfaction seriously.  My team no longer just includes the US IT Pro Evangelists.  I consider the IT Pro Evangelists world wide to be part of my team and I assure you, there is plenty of discussion around what happened this week.  The release schedule was only part of the discussion.

    Suffice it to say I listen.  So do my peers.  You may not always know we have your back, but we do.  We try really hard to keep you informed, educated, entertained and happy.  It doesn't always work out that way, but we try.  So if you're so inclined, give us an F on our report card for the week or month.  We'll try hard to get an A+ next time.

    With that in mind, come see us at the launch events.  We'll have some fun.

    [UPDATE for 2/9]  I thought Mike and the Windows team were going to provide an update yesterday.  Obviously they didn't.  Maybe we'll get one Sunday or Monday.  Got a crystal ball?

    [UPDATE for 2/11]  Mike's update is now at the link above. 

  • 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.

    Performance

    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.

    Summary

    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.

  • RichCopy bulk file copy tool released – get it here

    People have been asking me for years in my presentations what that icon on my desktop called “RichCopy” was.  I would of course tell them all about it.  That was always followed by a request for the utility.  Well, it only took nine years to fulfill that request, but it’s finally here.

    I didn’t even know we were going to release it, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it prominently displayed right at the top of the April TechNet Magazine.  The cover pic on the website is too small for you to see the box next to the TechNet name, but fear not.  Head on over to the column from Joshua Hoffman called, “Utility Spotlight: RichCopy

    Joshua gives you some of the background, history, and other information in the column.  But you’ll want to head right to the download link and grab one of my favorite utilities. Here’s a screenshot of this bad boy in action.  In the job below, I am uploading the content for the Interop Road Show to a server in Seattle.  RichCopy has ten upload threads going and as you can see, I am uploading the very beginning of the self extracting archive.

    RichCopy

    This brings me to an important point.  If you are supplying people a big fat .ISO image or zip file, please rethink your strategy.  WinRAR from RARLabs is a great archive utility and when combined with a tool like RichCopy, it’s a match made in heaven.  With WinRAR, I took the entire set of content and archived it into 100MB chunks.  People that use multi threaded download tools like RichCopy are going to love me for that. 

    My team standard for FTP is the wonderful FileZilla.  Like RichCopy, FileZilla is also multi threaded.  I have never used RichCopy for FTP because until the public release, you were required to be connected to our corporate AD forest to use it.  And the last thing I want is a FTP client that is running across the VPN connection.  That has all changed now, so I need to run some tests with both of them and see if there’s a clear winner.  Today I am using RichCopy for SMB and FileZilla for FTP.  Using a single util for both may make more sense now.

    Get RichCopy @ http://download.microsoft.com/download/f/d/0/fd05def7-68a1-4f71-8546-25c359cc0842/HoffmanUtilitySpotlight2009_04.exe.

    [UPDATE for 5/1] Ken Tamaru was/is doing development and maintenance of RichCopy.  He recently started a blog at http://blogs.technet.com/ken/.  There is the place to ask RichCopy questions.  Keep in mind however he has a day job and it’s completely different than being a developer for the RichCopy utility.

  • Apple OS X Snow Leopard – the first 24 hours

    image On my way to meet the wife for dinner last night, I stopped by the local Apple retail store in Southlake, Texas to pick up a copy of OS X “Snow Leopard”.  The packaging and even the website for the OS proudly claims this version of OS X is “The world’s most advanced operating system. Finely tuned.”

    My expectations were high after reading all of the hype over the past few months.  I was also anxious to see if Apple had really delivered a 64bit operating system for my relatively new MacBook Pro.  What a let down.

    In-Place Upgrade

    Like many people, I popped the DVD into my Mac and kicked off the upgrade.  The setup program informed me it would be about 45 minutes until it was complete.  The upgrade was painless.  All of my applications still worked.  I have a short list of apps on my Mac so I wasn’t too surprised.

    I decided at this point to see if the 64 bit OS would do what I really want.  Virtualization.  So I removed the 4GB of memory and replaced it with 8GB of DDR2 PC2-5300 667MHz memory.  It appeared at first that all was well but as it turns out, that would not be the case.

    Since I own a copy of VMWare Fusion, I figured I’d see what happens when I allocate a bunch of the memory to a Windows 7 Enterprise x64 virtual machine.  I started off with a crazy allocation, 6GB.  That didn’t work well.  In fact, I started backing down the allocation all the way back to 1GB and still had problems.  This seems familiar.  Time for bed.  Investigation to proceed later the next morning.

    64 Bit Kernel Mode

    Much to my surprise, my Mac was not running the 64 bit Snow Leopard.  I give Apple a break up to this point because if they had converted from a 32 bit OS to a 64 bit OS via an in-place upgrade, that would have been magic.  But they didn’t so there’s the first strike for the “most advanced” title.

    As usual I started digging around the internet via bing.com and google.com to see what I could uncover.  I eventually stumble across http://mygrotto.org/2009/06/boot-64-bit-snow-leopard-kernel.php which does the best job of spelling out some of the tricks to force OS X 10.6 to load the 64 bit kernel.  I had already checked my EFI version and knew it was EFI64.  I implemented the nvram boot-args AND the Kernel Flags in the /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist file.

    Neither worked.  In fact, holding down the 6 and 4 keys at boot don’t force the 64 bit kernel to load either.  WTF?  Sorry, a little cussin is warranted at this point.  I got tired of messing around with this and figured it might be time to change direction.  So I flattened the box.

    Flatten the Box

    This particular figure of speech is in common usage among geeks.  In operating system parlance, it means to reinstall the OS after first repartitioning and formatting a hard drive.  It’s a really destructive step and one that “normal” users don’t do very often, if ever.  Most users have no clue how to really backup and restore a machine, so the notion that you are going to wipe a hard drive is a scary thought.  I do it frequently so I am well aware of the implications regardless of the OS.

    Most of the instructions on the internet imply that a clean install of OS X 10.6 isn’t possible with the $29 DVD unless you already have 10.5 present on the target disk.  I tested this theory.  Sure seems like the theory is wrong.  I purposely whacked 10.5 with a hard drive wipe, powered off mid stream, wiped again, etc.  I was still able to boot from the Snow Leopard DVD and install.

    Where’s my 64 bit kernel?

    After the clean install completed, I set out again to force the 64 bit kernel to load.  None of the techniques worked.  Neither did the program at http://www.macdownloads.com/info.php/id/32252/32--or-64-bit-kernel-startup-mode-selector.

    The world’s most advanced operating system?  Bull crap.  Here I have a rather expensive MacBook Pro that isn’t even two years old and STILL can’t run Apple’s premier operating system in full 64 bit mode.  By comparison, the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I am typing this on is six months older and runs 64 bit versions of Linux, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.  In fact, R2 on my recent SSD drive is nothing short of breathtaking.  OS X 10.6 is not the most advanced operating system by my standards and I hold a really high bar.

    Some Good News – Exchange mail support

    After spending way too much time screwing around with trying to get the 64 bit kernel to load, there were some bright rays of light in my OS X 10.6 journey.  The new Mail program and it’s support for Microsoft Exchange is rather good at first glance.  Setup was easy and the sync process was ultra fast.  The preview pane sucks.  It only displays at the bottom and reminds me of a circa 1996 email program.  It’s threaded discussion view is pretty decent, so there are some aspects I like.  It’s also “free” with the OS.

    I installed a number of other applications on Snow Leopard.  I first re-installed Office:Mac 2008.  After that, I headed over to http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.mspx and grabbed Entourage Web Services Edition, Messenger 7 and the latest RDP client.

    The Entourage experience was much improved over prior versions I’ve used.  The initial sync was fast compared to the positively glacial speed of prior versions.  I like the Erage UI and like the OS X Mail client, setup was really easy.

    Summary

    I would hardly call OS X the most advanced operating system in the world.  Sorry, it just isn’t.  The 64 bit stuff should just work and I shouldn’t have to try and hack kernel settings via configuration files and non volatile boot args.  We kick Apples ass in that regard on a much wider array of consumer hardware, at a lower cost.  There is no debate on that.

    If someone figures out why my Mac won’t run the kernel in 64 bit mode, let me know.  I’m probably going to take it to the local store and let the “Geniuses” there take a shot at it.  And by the way snarky people, don’t bother sending me a screenshot of your unibody Mac working perfectly.  My MacBook Pro hasn’t burned through it’s first Apple “Cares” agreement so this should not be happening on a Santa Rosa based mac.

  • Silverlight Streaming v2 Test - check this out

    I'm doing some work with the Expression Suite v2 Beta and part of that is control over the player properties for the streaming video.  This is pretty important for posting to my blog.  But I do believe I have this figured out now.  Here's a HD 720p stream.  In order to play this video, you probably need a rather fat pipe.  If it doesn't play smoothly, please comment on your ISP connection.

    For the embedded player control below, there are a few things I'd like you to test.

    1. Full screen button - on the player bar, the icon on the far left makes the video play full screen. ESC gets you back out of full screen mode.
    2. Pause - check to see that it pauses and resumes.
    3. FF/Rewind - with this embedded control, it doesn't really fast forward or rewind.  It should however move the current video position on clicks to either button.  I noticed you can't really move around in the video until the download is complete.

    What do you think?  Pretty rad, eh?

    [UPDATE] I have changed the encoding so that the bit rate is now 3MB instead of 6MB.  I am also testing the download and autoplay UI in Encoder v2 Beta.

    [UPDATE for 6/15/2008]  It's back to 6MB.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – now available for order

    w510 Have some money to spend on the latest wares from Lenovo?  Here are the specifications for the new Lenovo ThinkPad W510.  Well, at least the one I would order if I could afford it.

    Intel® Core™ i7 Quad Core Extreme i7-920XM, 16GB PC3-10600 1333MHz DDR3 RAM, 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920x1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight,
    242 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut, and the NVIDIA® Quadro® FX880M, PCI Express® x16, 1GB memory GPU.

    It also comes with USB 3.0, eSATA, and other bells and whistles.  If you have to ask about the price, go order one at lenovo.com but this isn’t a $300 netbook.

    Full specs at http://www.lenovo.com/psref/pdf/tabook.pdf. Order this bad boy at lenovo.com.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad W500 - mini review

    W500 I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 (model 4061-2KU).  This machine is really similar to my ThinkPad T61p in many ways, but there are some improvements that have been made in some key areas.  Click the image at right for a high resolution image of the ThinkPad W500.

    Video

    The W500 I received has the “switchable graphics.”  What this really means is that is contains two video chipsets and you can swtich back and forth between them.  The W500 I tested has the ATI™ Mobility FireGL™ V5700 and the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD video chipsets.  The Intel chipset is used for battery consumption.  The ATI chipset is used for high performance graphics.

    Screen

    The W500 I looked at came with the 15.4" (391mm) WUXGA (1920x1200) color, anti-glare, CCFL backlit, 175 nits, 16:10 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio LCD screen.  This particular screen is slightly dimmer than the WSXGA+ T61p’s I have but frankly I end up turning the brightness down on them anyway.

    Making a choice between a screen with a native resolution of 1920x1200 and one with a native res of 1680x1050 is a really personal subjective decision.  I’m a firm believer that most people would pick the brighter 1680x1050 screen, but you really need to see them side-by-side and make the decision on your own.  The screen on the W500 I received also has an integrated webcam (although I did not test it).

    Memory

    The W500 uses DDR3 memory and came configured with two 2GB memory sticks for a total of 4GB.  For those of you wanting to upgrade the amount to 8GB, keep in mind that means upgrading the OS to 64bit and finding some 4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz DDR3 204 pin memory sticks.  Good luck with that.  The good news is that those are the same sticks used by the ThinkPad W700.  That’s also the bad news because the allocation of those sticks are going to the W700 Quad bad boys right now.

    Ports

    Lenovo moved the ports around on the machine (as compared to the T61p).  A DisplayPort is new for the W500 and like the T61p it includes three USB ports, IEEE 1394, Ethernet, VGA connector, and modem.  Oddly, the modem port is now where the T61p USB jacks were.  Does anyone still use analog modem?  I don’t really get that.  I guess if you need a fax it’s there but I can’t remember the last time I used dial-up.

    All of the USB ports were moved to the left side of the machine and are now vertical instead of horizontal.  This could present some problems for those of you that are using fat USB sticks or cell cards.  I am now carrying a USB extender cable for this very reason.

    CPU

    Back to the meat of the machine.  The proc is a Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T9600 1066MHz system bus 6MB L2 cache processor.  In short, it’s fast.  Much faster than my lowly T61p T7500.  It’ll be interesting to see if Lenovo decides to add one of the mobile Quad Core CPU’s later.  I have no idea if they will but considering how well engineered the ThinkPad cooling is you would think they would want to compete in the 15.4” space.  For now, if you want a Quad, you’ll have to step up to the big brother W700.

    Case, Keyboard and Power

    The W500 case construction is rock solid like the T61p and as usual, the keyboard rocks.  For those of you that want the CTRL key where the FN key is, sorry, Lenovo is still doing their lone wolf thing.  As I understand it, this mostly affects developers that use the CTRL key a lot.  As you might expect, the W500 weighs about the same as the T61p.  All of my T61p’s have the 9 cell bateries but considering how little I use battery power, I’ll probably replace them with 6 cells and reduce the weight some.

    A lot of emphasis has been placed on green computing with this machine and there are all sorts of power management profiles and “battery stretch” capabilities.  I haven’t really had a chance to test how long I could really run on battery power but they advertise 9 hours with the 9 cell battery.  If that’s true, you could fly from Dallas to Hawaii on battery power.  Now I’m guessing that life doesn’t include DVD playback, but it sounds like you’ll have plenty of email checking juice when using the proper profiles.

    OS Checks

    As expected, the machine arrived with Windows Vista Business x86.  I created the factory disk set and tested that the disks would put the machine back to factory shipped specs.  You should be aware that the factory config will partition your drive into three partitions for recovery and rollback purposes.

    I flattened the machine and tested that Windows Server 2008 x64 would install and run Hyper-V.  It does.  I had a bit of an issue getting the Ethernet driver to load for Windows Server 2008, but I managed to force it.  I reported this to Lenovo and asked our internal team to look at it and see if they can improve that a bit.

    I also flattened it again and installed Windows Vista Enterprise x64 with all of the drivers and software.  The goal was to install Vista from scratch and install the drivers and software to see if there were any gotchas.  I didn’t see any but my testing was pretty brief.  I was mostly interested in making sure the networking worked, video switching worked, power management worked, etc.  Like I said, I didn’t spot any glaring issues on the core stuff but I didn’t test over a long term.

    I did not test Windows XP or any Linux variants like Novel SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.  Sorry, I just didn’t have the time for this round of testing and I need to get this machine in the hands of some other folks.

    Summary

    If you are looking for a new machine and were worried about the replacement for the T61p, there’s no need to worry.  As expected the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 is a rock solid machine and will be a contender in the corporate laptop market.  It comes with an impressive set of credentials and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the W500 for several years.  Buy with confidence.

  • The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 i7 Quad Core has seven hours of battery life? Really?

    thinkpad w520 3When the rumors of the Intel “Sandy Bridge” chipsets started to surface, I was skeptical. It sounded too good to be true and frankly I started dismissing it as marketing.  The claims seemed outrageous.

    Then I read one of the first reviews of a Sandy Bridge based machine, the Apple MacBook Pro, detailed by the highly respected AnandTech.  The MacBook Pros put in some rather respectable numbers for battery life.  I’m thinking, really?  A quad core with life beyond three hours?

    Sure enough, the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 I am writing this on turned in 6.5 and 7 hours of battery life in my first two tests. I haven’t even turned on the “battery stretch” mode of Lenovo’s Power Manager program, nor have I turned off Aero Glass and all of the bells and whistles of Windows 7.  This is double, and in some cases, triple the battery life over the previous generation ThinkPad W510.

    You might be thinking that the ThinkPad W520 clearly must be crippled and no longer deserving of the “workstation” designation.  Think again.  This baby is fast.  As you can see in the WEI result below, the W520 is knocking down a respectible WEI number.  As the moment I have the BIOS set in discrete GPU only mode.  Therefore the graphics number is for the NVIDIA Quadro 2000M side of the Optimus graphics chipset.

    image

    How did I conduct my battery tests?  Good question.  On both of the tests I wanted to simulate realistic activity I might be interested in on a long flight.  Usually when I am on an airplane I like to watch a movie or surf the web if there is WIFI available.  I fly a lot of American Airlines flights so I use GoGo Inflight Internet.  Both of the following tests were with Windows 7 Ultimate x64.

    On the first test, I played some videos nonstop.  They were Windows Media Video (.WMV) files at various bit rates and screen sizes.  The video playback was either fullscreen or in a window.  Screen brightness was 11-13. WIFI was on and in use the entire time.  I had Tweetdeck running fullscreen during the entire time.  Tweetdeck is a really chatty program and I like to use it for this type of test because there’s no way the WIFI device is going to get powered off due to inactivity. This test lasted 6.5 hours.  I couldn’t believe it.

    For the second test, I recharged the battery overnight.  I disabled the WIFI device (Intel 6300) and didn’t use any other programs. Screen brightness was 11-13.  Most of the time it was set at 12 or 13.  I fired up a movie and let the test run.  It lasted 7 hours this time.  Obviously this wasn’t a fluke.  I’m impressed.  Most of the W510 owners I know get 2-3 hours of battery life so 6.5-7 is clearly miraculous.  I haven’t even tried the really harsh “battery stretch” modes of the ThinkPad Power Manager.

    I will write more detail later on this machine, impressions, and results but I thought you would be interested in the battery life which still has me floored.  I would certainly like to see that kind of battery life in my ThinkPad W510. 

    One other thing.  The picture of the ThinkPad W520 at top right in this article was doctored by me.  I took the stock W520 image then added a screen shot of my Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 desktop.  In the screenshot I have Hyper-V running, the Hyper-V management console, and a R2 SP1 virtual machine running.  Windows Server R2 SP1 installed very cleanly on the ThinkPad W520.  I also have themes and Aero enabled (just for grins). I’ll provide some notes on R2 installations later.

    Looks like another killer offering from the folks at Lenovo.  More details coming later. Enjoy.

    [UPDATE for 3/25] Someone asked about the power brick.  Here’s a comparison of the 90W, 135W and the 170W.  Keep in mind the 170W weighs less than the 135W.

    [UPDATE for 3/29] Both machines were using Intel 160GB Gen 2 SSD drives in the test runs above. The W520 was in Optimus graphics mode. I am running a test right now where the W520 is using the 500GB Seagate hard drive, and it’s set to discrete only video. After I run this a couple times, I’ll report back. My guess is that it will have a significant impact.  More later.

    [Update for 3/30]  My ThinkPad W520 is getting four hours of battery life when the BIOS is set to use only the NVIDIA 2000M discrete GPU.  For these tests I was also using the 500GB 7200rpm Seagate laptop drive to serve up the video.  The movie ran continuously during this time.  I also had the Intel 6300 WIFI adaptor enabled and Tweetdeck was covering about 66% of the screen.  The screen brightness was sitting at 11 during the entire time.  This is still pretty darn good considering. Moral of the story: use Optimus when you need to stretch your battery life.

    Also, I noticed in the forums people are curious about the use of the 90W adaptor so I ran more tests with it.  If the ThinkPad W520 is turned off, the 90W will charge the battery back up.  Therefore, you could re-charge the battery at night while you sleep.  However, the 90W will not maintain that charge when the machine is powered on an in use so I don’t think it’s a good travel strategy.  I don’t have a 65W charger.  I used to, but I think it went out the door with one of the children and never came back.  As usual.

    [UPDATE for 4/11/11] The previous tests were based on the Lenovo factory image.  Not long ago I flattened the machine and rebuilt it from scratch using the drivers on lenovo.com.  I also decided to see what battery life was like with “Keith’s Max Power Savings”.  That’s a custom power plan and profile I created using Lenovo Power Manager and the Power Options Control panel applet. It’s basically my version of a power source optimized environment.  Very stingy on battery.  Very powerful but not maxed out when plugged in.

    The results were better but not earth shattering better. I did two tests that were similar to my previous test.  In the first test, the WIFI adaptor is enabled, Tweetdeck is running and updating the entire time, and a video is playing.  I noticed in my settings review that the WIFI adaptor wasn’t in the most miserly setting (see below). At the lower setting it might have added 15 minutes of life.

    For the video I used an HD 720p sized video with a 3.5MB data rate in .MP4 format.  The movie is 2:30 in length and I set it to loop continuously. The machine died on the vine at 6 hours 25 minutes.  I have the power plan set so that the critical percentage is 0 and to take no action.  It literally runs until it dies.

    For the second test, I disabled the WIFI adaptor and didn’t run any apps other than the video.  Both tests had the screen brightness set at 10.  This test managed to squeak out more time as expected and it died at 7 hours 23 minutes.  Both of these tests were using Intel SSD drives as the source for the video file.

    Here are some key notes on the settings I am using to achieve these longevity scores.

    BIOS - Graphics Device=Optimus, OS detect for NVIDIA Optimus=enabled, Intel SpeedStep mode for Batt=Battery Optimized, Thermal mgmt scheme for batt=Balanced, Optical drive speed=norm, CPU power mgmt=enabled, PCIE power mgmt=enabled,

    DC Power Plan Settings - system perf=low, cpu deeper sleep=enabled, fan=balanced, display brightness=10, optical drive power off=enabled, dim display=never, lower display refresh rate=15 minutes, lower to=50Hz, turn off display=never, stop hard disk=30 secs (but irrelevant), standby=never, hibernate=never, pcie link state power mgmt=max power savings, multimedia playing video=optimize power savings, USB selective suspend=enabled, slide show=paused, sys cooling pol=passive, low batt alarm at=0%, notification=none, action=nothing, reserve batt=0%, crit batt alarm=0%, action=nothing.

    DC Control Panel Power Settings - there is a lot of overlap between the two plans and they each don’t have all of the other’s settings so you need to watch carefully which plan clobbers the other.  Here are the unique settings only in the control panel applet. WIFI adaptor power saving mode on battery=medium (an error on my part), Intel Graphics Power Plan=max batt life, min processor state=5% (default), max processor state=5% (default), IE9 JavaScript Timer Frequency=max power savings.

    I have never messed with the minimum and maximum processor state percentages but I might do that on a future run to see if it has an effect.  I have not tested “battery stretch” mode either. I’m pretty much done testing battery life.  Seems pretty good for a quad core notebook to me.  Certainly good enough for my needs.

    IMG_1163IMG_1164 Click the image for a larger view.

  • 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 hp.com 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.

    Performance

    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.

  • G.SKILL releases low priced 4GB laptop memory SoDIMMs

    image We were having some conversations this morning about a bunch of laptops being rolled out to Microsoft field personnel. One of the people on that thread tipped everyone to some new low price laptop memory sticks of the 200 pin 4GB variety.

    G.SKILL has apparently quietly started shipping the F2-5300CL5S-4GBSQ modules to the likes of online ecommerce powerhouse newegg.com.  See http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231202 for the current price of $169.99 per 4GB stick.  Now the question is, who is going to be the first person to order some and load up a laptop?  I can’t.  I’m already all full.

  • I spy the Windows Vista SP1 x86 Full DVD (integrated)

    Windows Vista SP1 x86 (FULL) is now on the TechNet Subscriber download center.  It's the 32bit fully integrated version of the OS.  I just downloaded it, burned a DVD and have the install running in a Virtual PC 2007 virtual machine.  Finally!!!

    VistaSP1FullInstall

    My download took minutes.  Being first helps.  It flew down the fiber pipe to my house at 1.8meg per second.  I wish all my downloads were that fast.  Your mileage will vary.  I'm planning on "enhancing" my VM first thing.  I'm going to enable IIS7, then drop PHP, MySQL and Wordpress on it.  When I get it working, I am going to do a screencast on the process.  Getting ready to record how to do that with Windows Server 2008 in a few minutes.  Enjoy!

    [UPDATE for 2/25/2007] I compared the size of the .ISO I downloaded from the TechNet subscriber download area to the one I pulled directly from the internal build server.  Exact match on number of bytes.  Golden goodness.  I am also very happy with it's performance in the VM.  I'm told most of the speed is coming from Intel VT.  Rock and roll baby.

    To be clear, my host environment is a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p running Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 x64.  I'm running the x64 version of Virtual PC 2007 although very little of VPC 2007 is actually x64.  I am using the VM additions from Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 (13.813).  The VM is of course the x86 version of Windows Vista Ultimate SP1.

    [UPDATE for 2/28/2007] The x64 DVD .iso is now online.  See http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2008/02/28/i-spy-the-windows-vista-sp1-x64-full-dvd-integrated.aspx for more details.

  • Dell XPS 420 six month report

    xps420_bluray I've had my Dell XPS 420 six months now so I thought I'd give you an update on my impressions of the machine and changes I'm made to it since the initial purchase.  In reality, it just now does everything I want correctly.  Windows Vista SP1 fixed the last issue I had with the machine.  So once again for all of you that want to stick with Windows XP, this machine is a really good reason to go with Windows Vista.

    My XPS has been running Windows Vista Ultimate x64 since nearly day one.  All of the applications I use work really well on the 64 bit platform, even though most of them aren't native 64 bit compiled apps.  I am using two main video editing tools.  Sony Movie Studio Vegas Platinum Edition and Expression Studio 2.  Vegas is my workhorse and I am getting ready to create my first high definition DVD on Blu-ray.  I don't yet have a Blu-ray disk burner, so if someone has a good recommendation, let me know.

    A few weeks ago I pulled the two 512MB RAM sticks and replaced them with two 2GB sticks.  I have a total of 6GB of memory now in the machine.  I don't really need all of that memory but the memory at dell.com went on sale and I had a $200 gift card waiting to be burned.  So I got some memory, a Zune charger for my wife, and some other stuff.

    The one thing that hasn't worked correctly until recently is the machines ability to wake up from sleep and record a program.  If you are buying one of these to be a DVR, then that would be a key feature that needs to work.  Mine didn't.  It would sleep correctly.  It would wake up on time and attempt to record.  But the machine wouldn't record.  It had something to do with how long the tuners need to wake up before they were ready.  I guess they need strong coffee like I do.

    A few days ago I upgraded the firmware on my ATI TV Wonder Digital cable tuners.  Here are the links to the new updates:

    32 bit: http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista32/ocur-vista32.html

    64 bit: http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista64/ocur-vista64.html

    After I upgraded the tuners, I installed Windows Vista SP1.  I was told after applying SP1, I should re-apply the NVIDIA video drivers for my 8600 GTS so I did that as well.  Magically everything works now.  For the past three or four days it has woken from it's slumber, recorded whatever I had scheduled, then gone back to sleep ten minutes after doing the recording.  Yaaay !!!  It has never done that correctly until this week.  I don't know exactly what fixed the issue.  It was probably the combination of the firmware upgrade, and SP1.

    Now keep in mind my XPS 420 is a pretty lowly model by XPS standards.  It has the Intel Q6600 quad core processor.  The video card is a good video card, but it is by no means a top of the line card.  But my machine is very quiet and does exactly what I want it to do, and I have high confidence it will continue to do so for the next three to four years. 

    If you are considering one of these, buy with confidence.  Rock solid.  Nice looking.  Good price.

  • Should I Be Evil?

    There's been a considerable amount of discussion lately about Apple, our image, and if Microsoft employees should buy Apple products.  There is no official policy that says I can't buy an iPod, iPhone or a Mac.

    But how does this look to you?

    Do you think more or less of me if I do?  Do you care what kind of phone I use?  What kind of message am I sending to you if I purchase the 3G iPhone 2?  I mean after all, I'm a paid Microsoft Evangelist not an Apple Evangelist.

    What does evangelist mean exactly?  I always think it means I get to preach the Microsoft gospel.  Praise the Lord!!!  I like doing that.  I have high confidence in our products. But I grew up being a Consultant with one of the "Big Six" integrators where I was a trusted advisor and always recommended the best product or solution for the customer. 

    I already have a Mac.  My MacBook Pro is a Microsoft asset and I use it to understand where we are strong and weak relative to the competition.  When I do reporting on that type of analysis, I really try to be fair in my judgements and trust me, the Windows group hasn't been pleased with everything I've said.  Neither have the Apple enthusiasts.

    So, should I be evil and buy yet another Apple product or drive a stake in the ground and never buy again?

  • Testing My Apple MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM

    8gbMacBookProAnyone out there have an Apple MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM?  No?  Don’t tell me you are going to let a Microsoft Windows evangelist totally beat you to the finish line on this one!!!

    All kidding aside, I decided to pull the two Kingston 4GB SoDIMMs out of my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p and test it with the machines I thought could handle it.  Since nearly all of the laptops I have are Intel “Santa Rosa” PM965 or GM965 mobile chipset based machines, unless the OEM did something specifically to block it I had high confidence they would work. 

    This includes the 15.4” Apple MacBook Pro I have.  Here’s a screenshot from my Mac showing it all booted up and running.  My Mac booted without issue and ran perfectly well. This is the original .tiff created by Grab.

    For those of you running Parallels, Fusion or other memory hungry applications, I’m sure you’ll be interested in the implications.  Now you can run a number of virtual machines with some pretty large memory allocations.  I would imagine an application like Final Cut Studio would really dig the extra memory as well.

    A couple of things that come up when I post stuff like this you can’t verify.  First, you won’t find this in the specs at apple.com.  That doesn’t mean I’m a liar or trying to pull some stunt with Photoshop.  I mean think about it, why would I do such a thing? 

    Second, more memory doesn’t automatically equal more speed from the machine.  The 4GB modules are still running at the same speed as the Samsung modules that are normally in my mac.  However, because you have more capacity, you now have the ability to run certain applications in a more efficient manner.  For instance, now you could allocate considerably more memory to a Windows Vista, Windows XP or Linux virtual machine.  That is going to make them run faster.

    [UPDATE for 7/6/2008] The model MacBook Pro I have is the late 2007 machine. It's model MA896LL/A and the exact specification for it are at http://support.apple.com/kb/SP13. Your MacBook Pro will need to be this machine or later to support more than 4GB of memory.

    [UPDATE for 7/7/2008]  I have had so many emails from internal and external that I have decided to do a long term test on my MacBook Pro.  Yep, I pulled the 4GB sticks back out of my ThinkPad and they're back here in my MacBook Pro.  So I'll run with them for a couple of weeks or longer and see if I encounter any issues. First up, run some virtual
    machine testing with some large allocations...

  • Verizon Samsung Omnia - first impressions

    In the initial first day of use with the Verizon Samsung Omnia, I was pretty frustrated.  Much of that frustration was misplaced and was a hold over of the HTC Touch Pro I now have boxed and ready for return.  What lowered my frustration with the Omnia?  The first is clearly seeing that a device with no keyboard must be used differently.  If it weren't for the ability to assign key commands for two keys, I would have already boxed the Omnia back up as well.  So let me give you a run down on what I've learned and unlearned in the past three days.

    VZ Samsung OMNIA The OS and a few tricks

    I've been using the Windows Mobile operating system for a pretty long time now.  Now to be perfectly clear, I've always been a Smartphone guy, not a Pocket PC guy.  I prefer single handed operation without a stylus.  So as you might imagine, using Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 on a device with no keyboard, four buttons, and an optical mouse presents a huge challenge for me.  What I realized after using the Omnia for three days is that Windows Mobile really needs a very different UI for devices like this.  Thankfully Samsung did something about that and built an extension to the WinMo Today screen (pictured at left).

    As you can see in the screenshot at left, the Samsung Today screen has twelve easy to use icons that allow you to launch an application or take you to another set of panels to run programs or change system settings.  So far with the Omnia I haven't even cracked open the stylus and used it with the device because there's no need for one.  The screenshot at left is doctored.  It's the standard Samsung Omnia pic with the Samsung Today screen (actual) layered over the top of it.  So about the only difference in the pic and the real unit sitting in front of me is the lack of the VZ logo and the fact the VZ unit doesn't have a front facing camera.

    I made several subtle changes to the the settings of the device that helped enormously.  There are two buttons on the right side of the Omnia.  One for the Main Menu and one for the Camera.  I decided to change the Main Menu button so that it's press action is actually <OK/Close> instead.  This change is very useful for going back, or closing an email message without exiting Outlook.  It's nearly impossible to press the little X in the top right hand corner of the screen otherwise.  The UI for Windows Mobile will need to be changed in the future to account for difficulties like this. 

    Since the Main menu is frequently used, I also changed the Camera button action so that it goes to the Main menu when pressed.  You can still get to the camera functions via this button but you must press the button and hold it to do so.  Now with both of those changes, one handed operation of the device is MUCH easier.

    I also decided I like the optical mouse button to act like a mouse.  The default setting is four way navigation but after making the button changes above, I decided having a mouse was more useful for that button. We'll talk about a couple of other matters regarding input in a few minutes when we talk about the soft keyboard.  But first, let's talk about the overall device looks, screen, battery life, etc.

    Groundbreaking Looks?

    This phone looks familiar to another device on the market.  Hmm.  I wonder which one?  The Samsung Omnia shell is slightly smaller than the iPhone.  Not much smaller though.  The screen on the Omnia is 3.2" while the iPhone is 3.5".  In other words, the form factor is nearly identical.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.

    The Omnia is a nice looking phone.  Chrome edges around the screen in the front are a nice touch.  The black back has a slight texture making it pretty easy to hold on to and cut down on fingerprints.  The pic just below is from the Samsung stock of photos and lacks the Verizon logo on my unit.

    The screen is nice and bright although it suffers from a relatively low resolution.  It isn't bad.  It just isn't a super high resolution screen.  Regarding the brightness, the screen comes dangerously close to being unusable in bright sunlight.  Regarding the resolution, colors and contrast, I am withholding judgement until I've had a chance to watch some video on it.  More on the video later.

    Samsung OMNIA - croppedSo while the unit isn't probably breaking any new ground here, it's a nice looking and feeling phone.  I don't think the screen material is nearly as nice as the iPhone or other phones I've seen and seems to be a common complaint in the reviews I've read before I received mine.  I guess it remains to be seen how well the material will hold up to the wear and tear of a touch screen.

    Battery Life

    So far the battery has been doing a good job.  I have not really put it though it's paces yet, but it doesn't appear that the usage of the screen sucks the battery as badly as the HTC Touch Pro.  I am running a series of battery tests this week and will have a much better idea in a few days on any shortcomings if they become apparent. 

    Regarding the battery testing, I do plan to run some sustained video playback tests with this phone.  I figure if you are going to include DivX decoding support and a large screen, you are certainly inviting folks to use it to watch movies and video from the Internet or your private collections.  So I'll be torturing the little guy this week in your honor and report back on how well it faired, or not.

    Until that happens I'll be doing the usual battery tests with Exchange ActiveSync set to check for messages every fifteen minutes during prime time, and every thirty minutes otherwise.  After I get done running some of those tests, I set things to Direct Push always connected and see if it has a material impact.

    The Applications

    The application mix is pretty much the standard set for a Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 device.  Noticeably absent compared to the Sprint Touch Pro device is the Live Search and GPS apps.  In fact, the GPS capability on the Omnia appears to be locked to the Verizon VZ Navigator GPS application.  The problem I have with the application is the additional $9.99 USD they want per month for using the feature.  It probably isn't a show stopper for me, but I won't be paying the extra money for the feature.

    The Omnia comes with two web browsers.  Pocket IE and Opera.  Opera is pretty nice and easy to work with on the screen.  Panning and zooming is straightforward.  I won't be spending hours reading the news on this screen, but it certainly gets the job done in a taxi or train.

    With the large screen of the Omnia, reading and responding to email is pretty easy.  Portrait mode is great for looking at the list of messages.  Flipping over to landscape for replies is super easy and the soft keyboard seems to work nicely.  The screen size is also going to come in handy while viewing spreadsheet data with Excel.

    The Verizon Omnia also comes with a Touch Player audio/video playback application.  I copied a DivX .AVI video from my Archos 605 WIFI PMP to the Omnia and it would not play.  I am now looking for the precise video specifications the Omnia supports.  I was surprised it didn't play the video.  If someone spots the video specs that are supported, let me know.

    The Phone

    The phone functions of the Verizon Samsung Omnia are very good.  Call quality and clarity is excellent. I have no problems using the phone in single handed operation with one very big exception.

    With my previous phones, finding a contact in my contacts list is very easy.  Press a couple of characters on the keypad to filter the list on last name, or simply scroll the list quickly with a navigation pad.  Neither technique is easy on the Omnia, especially if driving.  If you are driving it's really rather impossible.  I am going to have to investigate voice commands more deliberately as a result.  Or simply don't attempt to use the contact list while driving.

    For those of you that like to use headsets, you'll notice there is no 2.5 or 3.5mm jacks on the phone.  You can however use one of the adaptors that came in the box for both sizes of headphones.  The adaptor for 3.5mm also includes a volume adjuster, microphone and mute button.  I thought that was a nice touch.  However, the phone really needs an equalizer.  I could tell by listening to the FM radio with my Omnia it's going to be needed.  Not enough bass for me and my Shure earphones.

    The Camera

    Finally someone decided to produce a WinMo phone with a decent camera.  The 5 megapixel camera shoots in still or video camera modes, and has a variety of settings.  Two of my favorite still camera modes are the Smile Detection and Panorama options.

    Smile detection takes a picture when the subject being shot has gone from their usual bah humbug frown face to a nice fake smile.  This is actually a great mode to use for babies and other subjects that are hard to grab that perfect shot with.  I have no idea how it does with dogs but I can tell you my dog Elvis was not happy when his Mommy put an angel costume on him this weekend.  You weren't going to get a smile outta him.  No way.

    I need to go skiing in Colorado or something to put the Panorama mode to the test.  That mode automatically stitches eight pictures into one huge picture.  Really cool stuff.  You don't have to use all eight to create a widescreen shot.  Two or more works.

    The Verdict?

    The jury is still out right now and deliberations aren't expected to be complete, at least not in this household, for another week.  I am now used to the navigation nuances and have gotten used to using the application mix.  A trusted friend hates the phone but he doesn't have the shipping Verizon version.  I'm liking it more and more.  It's small, light weight and powerful.  It doesn't display any problems with performance and it appears the battery will last a couple of days.

    After I figure out what video formats it will accept, I will torture the battery more and report back.  Until then, if you are looking for a Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 device that looks similar to the iPhone and will work well with your corporate Exchange email, look no further.  You'll get used to the software based keyboard in a few days and will be able to peck out short responses to burning email in no time.  Just don't expect to write a novel on the thing and your expectations will be set appropriately.  More later in about a week or so.  By then I'll know if it's a keeper or not.  Happy Holidays.

    [Update for 12/2/2008]  I am now using Voice Command very effectively for calling contacts instead of using the soft keyboard.  I am no longer worried about using the device in an automobile.  See http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/en-us/help/more/voice-command-tips.mspx for some great tips. 

    clip_image001And on the battery life front, things are looking really good.  So far my Omnia has been unplugged from the charger for two days (about 40 hours) at this point.  I'm pretty confident it's going to pass the 48 hour mark later this morning.  Usage during the past 40 hours has been pretty light but I have made a few calls, read a few articles on msnbc.com off and on during the past couple of days, read a lot of email from the phone, messed around with various properties and settings, etc.  I guess it's been a little heavier than light but it hasn't been a big voice call day, nor have I performed any video playback.  That's coming later this week.

    I did spot one bug yesterday morning.  Our corporate EAS policies force PIN protection after fifteen minutes of idle time.  It stopped doing that on my Omnia yesterday morning until I rebooted.  Shhhhh.  Don't tell our IT folks.  Grin.

    [Update for 12/3/2008]  After fully charging my phone today, I unplugged it from the charger at 6pm and ran off for dinner with my wife.  After I got back home, I transferred some movies to the phone (.wmv format) and kicked off the sustained video playback test.  For this round, the phone was able to handle 4.5 hours of sustained playback before it started complaining about remaining battery juice.  Basically it has enough juice right now to make a short call and that's about it.  Not bad.  That's better battery life than my Zune 30 or Zune 120.  I'll run another test later today and see if I get the same mileage.  After that I start running Exchange direct push tests to see if that changes any of the times I've observed.

    So far the only reasons I've spotted for a return is the fact my contract with Verizon is 24 months.  The lack of a keyboard isn't bothering me and frankly we all need to get used to it.  I have a feeling the voice recognition and control revolution is getting ready to really take off.  Telling your phone what to do seems very natural.  14,000,000 iPhone users can't be wrong, right?  Night.

    After sleeping on this overnight, I'm beginning to wonder how important the GPS feature is to me, and the fact I can't use it with Live Search.  The more I think about it, the more I dislike being locked into a phone like that for 24 months.  Is there any such thing as a perfect phone?  My search hasn't turned one up yet.

    [Update for 12/5/2008]  Exchange direct push cut the battery life nearly in half on my Verizon Omnia.  I still got well over a work day with it turned on, but it's certainly a consideration.  I have my prime hours set from 7am to 10pm M-F.  When I have ActiveSync set to grab email every 15 minutes during prime hours, and every 30 minutes in off hours, I get a little over 50 hours of battery life.  It was about 27 hours with direct push enabled for prime hours.

    [Update for 12/7/2008]  I have good news and bad news.  The good news is it appears after testing fours devices since 10/24 I have reached a decision on what to use as my smartphone for the next 12 months.  The bad news is that it isn't going to be the Omnia.

    If you are a regular on my blog you know I started with the Palm Treo Pro on ATT.  I then tested the HTC Touch Pro on Sprint.  After that is was the Samsung Omnia on Verizon.  And now I am testing yet another Palm product, the Treo 800w on Sprint.  All I have to say is that it's good to go home.  The Palm Treo really fits my style very well.  I'll write an article about the 800w so let me wrap this one up.

    In the end on the Omnia there were a couple of things I didn't like.  The 24 month contract was the deal killer. I didn't like the contract duration, price for voice and data, and the incremental $9.99 for using VZ Navigator and the GPS chip.  It just added up.  I can use the Sprint Palm Treo 800w for half the price and only lock myself to a 12 month contract. 

    Second, I don't think the current version of Windows Mobile does the device justice. The Omnia is simply the best WinMo competitor to the Apple iPhone on the market I've tried but it isn't enough.  A year from now I hope we'll have a better Windows Mobile OS out the door that a screen only device like the Omnia can really take advantage of.  Until the, I am sticking with my keys, buttons and simplicity.  That and real work needs more of my time.

    I think a lot of people are going to be very happy with the Omnia.  It has a lot of great features and it taught me to use Voice Command.  A slightly larger, higher resolution screen with an improved UI will make it a very strong competitor.  I figure in 12 months that will be the case.  Cheers.

  • Windows 8 BIOS Keys - embedded goodness

    imageA couple of weeks ago I purchased the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A02US notebook.  It came with Windows 8 Professional pre-loaded.  I’ve been wanting a Series 9 machine for quite some time, but I waited until the Ivy Bridge based silver model landed on USA shores.  When I saw that mwave.com had them in stock, I purchased one. This particular model has a TPM chip and a three year warranty.

    When I received the notebook and fired it up, I was a little dismayed at the bloated Windows 8 installation.  Not only that, the 128GB mSATA SSD was half consumed already.  Not a very good start. Since my family already owns the Sandy Bridge model, I knew it would run Windows 7 well and with a pending trip fast approaching, I wiped the drive and installed Windows 7 Ultimate x64.

    Prior to doing the wipe, I did attempt to create the factory DVD disk set with Samsung’s built-in recovery solution.  I could never get that program to create the boot media.  After looking at the user guide, I noticed they no longer create DVD disk sets and expect you to store the image on an external hard drive.  That appeared to work though I am unsure how to do a successful restore without the boot media.

    Windows 8 to the Rescue

    The machine has been running great.  But the entire time the whole Windows 8 question has been nagging at me.  I ordered a Crucial M4 mSATA 256GB SSD and waited.  I also picked up a retail copy of Windows 8 Pro at the Microsoft employee store.  When the Crucial drive arrived, it was time to test some new Windows 8 features.

    Now maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but in addition to secure boot and all of the other work in the BIOS and UEFI area, we have also worked with OEM’s on a new licensing model.  If you look at the bottom of my machine, you’ll notice there is no Windows 8 Certificate of Authenticity (COA).  There is an official Windows 8 logo sticker, but no product key.

    The good news is that you no longer have to worry about it fading or getting scratched.  The 5x5 key is embedded in the BIOS.  Therefore all I had to do in order to install a fresh clean copy of Windows 8 was attach an external DVD drive, boot from the retail DVD, and run setup. As soon as I connected to the internet, the machine activated.  It never asked me for a key.  No fuss!!!

    And in case you are wondering, all but three of the device drivers for this machine came right off the Windows 8 Pro DVD.  Two were resolved by running Windows Update and installing from the WU servers.  The remaining device it probably an Intel management driver or something.  I’ll look into it later.

    I really dig this feature.  I don’t have to worry about the key and I know I can re-install whenever I want.  Pretty freaking cool.  Enjoy!

  • Is the HP Envy the Mac killer?

    Apple has enjoyed a tremendous amount of mindshare and market share the past few years.  Many people think they are the innovation leaders and their stock price reflects that.  But there are a number of companies that have had Apple in their sights for quite some time and the market is getting ready to shift.

    Windows 7 is getting ready to ship.  It’s a good OS. Maybe great.  But it is made better by the quality hardware products that run it, or the applications that run on it.  We all know this.  The Microsoft partner channel is critical to the success of Windows.  The laptop market is getting ready to go white hot again.  I’ve been talking with hundreds of customers and nearly everyone I talk to is waiting for a key date, 10/22/2009.  Why?

    Because everyone is waiting to buy a new computer.  Upgrading from Windows XP?  Nope. Buying a new machine with Windows 7 already on it.  Want to see a machine on my short list?  Look no further.

    HP Envy

    HP is pretty cocky to name a machine Envy.  But then again HP is doing pretty well and the specs for the Envy look great.  I would trade my ThinkPad today for this machine.  That should not be surprising.  It’s been a loyal servant but it’s 2.5 years old and that is getting ready to make it positively ancient compared to the crop of new machines coming out.

    image

    So what’s so hot about the HP Envy?  How about a Quad core processor and up to 16GB of RAM for starters.  And that’s in a slim package. In the picture above you can seeing the Envy all snuggled up to the MacBook Pro.  As you can see, it compares nicely.  Click the link just above or the pic and head on over to the gallery on gizmodo.com.

    Plug in a nice eSATA drive and we are ready to rock Hyper-V virtualization or Hi Def encoding.  The rest of the technical specs are very respectable.  According to a few articles on the internet, the HP Envy 15.6” model starts at $1800.  The 15.4” Apple MacBook Pro starts at $1700 so it would appear we have an interesting horse race here.

    Summary

    So what should you do?  Get a bag of popcorn because the show is getting ready to start.  First up this week are the new Windows Mobile Devices.  After that, there should be a steady parade of laptops and netbooks showing themselves before Black Friday.  Game time.

  • Running the Zune 80 on Apple OS X v10.5

    Zune on OS X v10.5 Don't get mad, get even.  I must say I didn't like the "review" Ryan Block gave the new Zune today on the engadget.com website.  Maybe it's because I own an Apple iPod Video 80GB.  Maybe it's because I own a Playstation portable (PSP).  It might be because I own the Creative Zen Vision W.  Or it could possibly be because I own the Archos 605 WIFI.  And it's very likely because I own the Microsoft Zune 80GB player and am a Microsoft employee.  Damn straight it is.

    I think I'm pretty qualified to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a portable media player.  I own many of the top players on the market and understand their nuances.  It might be that I learned to do fair and balanced evaluations of hardware and software while working at another company before joining Microsoft.  As a result, it really irks me to see Ryan rant on about how bad the Zune is.  Apparently it irked a lot of other people, too.  They turned off comments after about 130.  Nice.  Come on Ryan, there's plenty to like and it will be a solid competitor this holiday season.  Sorry you didn't get the Zune 80 to play with.  Come check mine out.

    As you can clearly see in the picture, I am running the Zune software on my Apple MacBook Pro with Leopard.  In fact, it's the 64 bit version of the Zune software (2.1.888 to be precise).  So it isn't accurate to say you can't use a Zune with an Apple computer or OS X.  If you click the pic, you'll get the full size version and see more detail.

    And for those of you that are skeptical the pic is real, trust me it is a full screen capture I did just a few minutes ago.  If you look really carefully, you can see how.  Or simply read back through my blog and you'll figure it out.  I'll probably get some screencast software installed to my Mac soon, then I can show ya for real.

    Zune potential customers, you are going to dig the Zune software and device.  I snagged an 80GB Zune at the CircuitCity near my house this morning. I think we took an awesome step forward.  I'll give you a serious run down on my impressions soon.  I need to do some transcoding tests first so I can take some video with me on the road. 

    Read all of the reviews on the grid.  I think you'll find the vast majority of the reviews are very very positive.  There's a reason for that.  Oh, and before I forget, if someone spots a kewl kickstand case for my Zune 80, let me know.

    Enjoy Zune!

  • Windows Server 2008 screencast - Virtualization 10 Minute Tour

    Windows Server 2008 is going to ship its next public release candidate very soon.  Inside that release will be a CTP of Windows Server virtualization (WSv).  WSv will be setting the stage for a whole new wave of technologies so with that in mind, I thought I'd give you a quick peek at the product via a screencast video I created.

    Hypervisor

    ws2008 I love that name.  It's catchy and kewl.  It sounds like a supervisor for hyper space or something.  It does of course refer to the new thin layer that is installed on Windows Server 2008 also know at the virtualization parent partition.  It's also a a term used industry wide so when you hear the term, it doesn't just refer to the Microsoft implementation.

    Our hypervisor, code named "Viridian", is an installable Windows Server 2008 role.  After installation of this role, you can start installing one or more child partitions in which to run your virtualization workloads.  Installation of those virtual machines is fairly straight forward although there are some things you need to be aware of.

    Virtual Machine Additions

    In order to use the new high speed VMBUS, you'll want to uninstall any previous additions from Virtual PC or Virtual Server, then install the integration components for WSv.  We're looking at making that transition as painless as possible, but you'll have to work through some of this manually until we get that work done.

    Snapshots

    You'll notice when you start looking at the CTP (and the screencast demo below), that we've added the ability to take snapshots of your virtual machines in either an online or offline state.  This gives you a look into the VSS capabilities that are coming. This is going to offer much more flexibility in your high availability and disaster recovery planning.

    Management Tools

    We do of course ship a management console with WSv which you'll see in the demos.  However, our strategy is to take advantage of the System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 product for advanced management of the virtualization partitions, VM workloads, monitoring, reporting, resource assignments, etc.  You simple won't believe what's coming and I'm not going to spill all of the beans just yet, but you can count on some deep dives later.

    The Screencast

    Take a look at the screencast and go on a tour of Windows Server virtualization (WSv).  The video is a little over ten minutes in length and I tried to hit some of the key areas so you can get a quick technical overview of the product.  If you want to save this local and review it offline, please right mouse click the second link and "SAVE AS".

    Save Local - http://msinetpub.vo.llnwd.net/d1/keithcombs/ws2008/WSvTour.wmv

    Other Resources

    A number of new websites have gone live in the past week or so.  Here are a few of my favorites.  You haven't seen anything yet.  We are just getting started.

    http://www.microsoft.com/scvmm

    http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization

    http://technet.microsoft.com/scvmm

  • Installing Windows Server 2008 EE on a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p

    ws2008 This morning I installed Windows Server 2008 Enterprise x64 VL on my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.  The VL stands for volume license and it allows me to activate via our corpnet KMS server or through MAK key activation.  The bits I installed are likely the RTM bits.  They are still being hammered and the build I installed has not been declared the shipping version just yet.  Patience grasshopper.

    The installation is really painless.  In fact, if you are doing a Core install, you simply won't believe how fast the installation actually is.  We interviewed some candidates for my team on 1/22 and I had proposed to the interview team that we should hand my HP 6910p to them, the Windows Server 2008 DVD, and tell each one of them to install and activate a Core installation.  I thought it would be a great test since it only takes 20 minutes but I guess the other members of the team thought it would freak out the candidates. 

    So how easy is the install?  Here are the steps I go through:

    1. Consider updating your ThinkPad T61p to the latest BIOS.  This link is to the .ISO file for the 12/27/2007 7LETA9WW (2.09-1.08) BIOS.  I use the CD .ISO because the Windows installers Lenovo produces don't run on Windows Vista x64.
    2. Using a blank hard drive (or one you are going to whack in setup), boot the T61p from the Windows Server 2008 DVD.
    3. Proceed through the setup instructions and install the bits.  The installation is nearly identical to installing Windows Vista because it uses a nearly identical WinPE environment, SKU prompts, etc.  Which reminds me, you can install Standard, Enterprise or Datacenter from the same disk.  I used Enterprise.  Because I was using the VL media, I am not prompted for a product key.  If using MAK activation, you will have to supply a product key later.
    4. After installation is complete, you are forced to set the local administrator password.  You must use a complex password.  For instance, P@ssw0rd works but password does not.
    5. You will be presented with some initial tasks on the first login.  Change the machine name, set the time zone, turn on update notifications, etc.
    6. After you dismiss the initial task list, the Server Management console will launch.  Go to the features and add the "Wireless LAN Service" feature.  This is required if you plan to use wireless connectivity from Windows Server 2008.
    7. Go to the Lenovo drivers download area (US English).  The obvious prerequisite is that your T61p is attached to a working Ethernet connection.  Windows Server 2008 includes inbox drivers for the Intel 82566MM Gigabit Ethernet card in my T61p.
      1. Download the video drivers.  The Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I use has the NVIDIA video chipset, so download 7kd634ww.  This install package is the Windows Vista x64 NVIDIA drivers.
      2. Download the wireless drivers.  My T61p has the Intel 4965agn chipset so download 7kwv50ww.
      3. Download the Intel chipset drivers (oss704ww).
    8. Unpack the drivers by double clicking the .EXE's you just downloaded.  They are unpacked by default to c:\drivers\win
    9. Install the Intel PM965 chipset drivers by executing c:\drivers\win\intelinf\infinst_autol.exe.  Reboot when prompted.
    10. Install the NVIDIA video drivers by executing c:\drivers\win\video\setup.exe.  Reboot when prompted.
    11. Install the Intel wireless drivers by executing c:\drivers\win\wlanint2\vista\drivers\v64\iprodifx.exe.

    Other Optional Installs

    1. Launch the Server Manager console and install the Desktop Experience.  This provides the ability to use Windows Media player, turn on themes, and other user oriented applications.
    2. Turn on the Windows Audio service.
    3. Turn on the Windows Audio Endpoint Builder service.
    4. Download the Soundmax drivers (7ka213ww).  Double click this exe and let it expand to c:\drivers\vista\audio.  Run setup from this location.

    At this point you have a pretty functional Windows Server 2008 machine with full audio, video and networking.  I usually stop here because I don't really worry much about Bluetooth support, the fingerprint scanner, etc.  We have a few people running Windows Server 2008 on their T61p's as a full time production machine.  I'll probably get some other instructions from them on the remainder of the drivers they install.

    In case you are wondering, the Desktop Experience and audio driver installs are required if you plan to capture any demos with Camtasia 5.

    Enjoy Windows Server 2008 on your smoking Lenovo Thinkpad T61p !!!

  • What is the best developer laptop on the planet, and why?

    HP I’ve been discussing various aspects of the developer world with Andrew Kass lately and as you know I am not short on opinion.  So I thought I would ask you a couple of questions.  I know a lot of you are either developers, used to be developers, or know and have to deal with developers.  Grin.

    What is the best laptop for a developer, and why? 

    Sounds like a simple enough question but there are a lot of variables.  And if you were going to buy a machine today, what would it be? 

    What operating system would you run?  What would the toolset look like?

  • TechNet 2.0 – Episode 1 – Core Scenarios and Branding

    The TechNet team at Microsoft is planning some big changes to the website over the next few months – they call the project “TechNet 2.0” or “TN20” for short. John Martin leads the TechNet team, (he’s also my boss!) and he and I decided to partner on a new blog series to introduce all the new things the team has planned and get feedback from the IT community.

    So, each Tuesday and Thursday in February I’ll post a new episode here that covers some important aspect of this project.

    Last week I sat down with John to record a podcast on episode one of this series.  In this episode we are going to go over the vision for TechNet, the core customer scenarios we think are important, the TN20 project, and some new things we are doing with branding. 

    Here’s the podcast on those subjects and below is a summary of what we talked about. You’ll also noticed at the end of this post I have provided the podcast in .MP3 format for podcast subscribers.

    Episode 1 Podcast

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    What is TechNet?

    TechNet is Microsoft’s site for IT professionals, here to make you successful with Microsoft products and as a technical professional by providing the best technical content, essential tools for the job, and connections to Microsoft product groups and the technical community.

    What are we trying to do with TechNet?

    We are on a mission.  We want to make TechNet the best possible online experience for IT Professionals. As you can see, our mission goes beyond just providing product documentation and whitepapers. Sure, we still want to provide the essential architecture and planning guidance for our products and technologies, but we also want to connect you to people inside and outside Microsoft and enable you to actually participate in the TechNet experience. 

    And, in order to do that, we focus on five key scenarios.

    1. Help Me! - Help me find technical content and solve technical problems, quickly
    2. Keep me Smart - Provide me with content and resources to increase my technical skills and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in my area
    3. Connect me with the product - Show me your future plans and let me provide feedback
    4. Connect me with people - Help me find and engage smart people at Microsoft and in the community
    5. Downloads - Make it easy for me to find and download the bits, tools, and resources I need to do my job

    Across all five scenarios, we invest in:

    1. Content quality, relevance, and timeliness
    2. Ease of discoverability
    3. Opportunities for community participation and contribution

    John does a great job in the podcast of describing each and what we think they mean.  Is he correct?  Feel free to comment below.

    What is TechNet 2.0 ?

    TechNet 2.0 is a broad initiative kicking off this month to increase your success with the core scenarios above. We especially want to make sure to improve the way you discover information. 

    This of course includes site navigation but as you’ll see in other parts of this series, we have a few tricks up our sleeve I think you’ll like, that go beyond just navigating the site. 

    TechNet 2.0 project goals also include better content quality and timeliness, and new opportunities for you to participate in the site.  I am not going to steal the thunder from all of those key areas right now. We’ll describe those more fully in future episodes of this blog series.

    Now that you have an idea of the strategy and mission, let’s take a look at one of the new features of TechNet 2.0 since it’s going to be immediately visually apparent.  In fact, you don’t even need to wait to see some of the changes I am alluding to.

    Stacked New TechNet brand and Product-branded centers

    As you can see in the screenshot at right, the TechNet brand has been updated to a new look-and-feel and the TechNet home page reflects the new design and color scheme. But, as you can see in the picture (click the pic to see a much larger version), TechNet will no longer be a vast sea of blue – TechCenters are changing.

    When we launch TechNet 2.0, you’ll see each major product TechCenter will be “themed” with its own unique brand elements.  For IT pros, TechCenters are the online face of each product and each product will have its own unique home on TechNet.

    The most striking example of this will be Office with the orange theme, but all centers will share some important common elements in their design. This will provide a consistent experience across the TechCenters which should make the site easier to use and the content more discoverable. 

    I like the product oriented branding.  The color and theme immediately registers with me and helps me determine if I am looking for information in the right place.  For instance, check out the Exchange TechCenter.  Their logo is there, theme, and versions.  We will dive deep into versioning, and other changes to TechCenters in later blog posts.

    Summary

    TechNet 2.0 is a broad initiative to make you more successful with core scenarios on TechNet. The TechNet team focuses on Content, Discoverability, and Participation across five core customer scenarios. One major change to TechNet will be how TechNet and TechCenters are branded. But that’s not all. We will dive deeper into all the new features that make up TechNet 2.0 release in the next seven parts of this series.

    Please comment.  We would like to know in each part of the series what you think.  We take your feedback seriously and it helps us frame and prioritize what we do now, and in the future.  It’s one of the reasons I went to work for the TechNet team.  Where else could I have a more measurable impact on the IT Pro customer base than technet.microsoft.com?

    I’m also part of the v-team already thinking about TechNet v.Next so it’ll be important to get your feedback on what you like and dislike over the next few weeks and months.  We look forward to that conversation.

    On Thursday I’ll post TechNet 2.0 - Episode 2 – TechCenters. In that episode we’ll talk about the new TechCenters design and how they help you find what you need, quicker. See you Thursday!

  • Windows 7 Lenovo ThinkPad T61p WINSAT score – try to beat this

    In the past 48 hours I tested a couple of different Lenovo ThinkPad T61p’s with Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Beta 1.  Both of the machines have 8GB of Kingston memory.  Both have the same GPU and video RAM.  One has the Intel T7500 Core 2 Duo CPU.  You can see the post I did on it at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2007/09/06/windows-vista-x64-on-the-lenovo-thinkpad-t61p.aspx in September of 2007.  At that time there was no such thing as a 4GB SoDIMM.

    T61p World RecordThe other ThinkPad I have is a more recent version.  It’s one of the last T61p’s made with the T9300 CPU.  It was going to be my corporate domain joined legacy Windows Vista machine.  At least until a little package arrived in the mail this afternoon.  It was from Kingston.  Sweet!!!  Christmas in January.  First CES now this.

    So I took my new little goody out of the box, dropped it into the Lenovo primary drive cage and stuck it into the T61p.  I popped the Win7 install disk in the DVD drive and installed Windows 7 Ultimate x64 onto my new friend.  Fifteen minutes later I was hitting update.microsoft.com looking for the NVIDIA WDDM 1.1 video driver.

    Uh, Hello Keith?  Did you just say 15 minutes?  Yep.  It happened so fast you would think I just installed Windows Server 2008 Core.  I’m actually going to have to go back and run a couple of tests on that again to make sure I’m not lying.  It was the fastest Windows client install I’ve ever done I think.  Might have been 20 minutes but I don’t think so.

    The Kingston Connection

    As you might recall, my group is sponsored by Kingston this year.  Kingston supplied memory for each of the US IT Pro Evangelist on my team.  Only one machine mind you, but hey, that’s a heck of a lot better than nothing.  Making the jump from 4GB to 8GB on a demo machine is a big jump.  It has helped immensely this year and in many ways kept me from having to travel with two machines.

    Our Kingston representative introduced me to a number of her colleagues while we were at TechED 2008 in Florida.  One of those introductions was with executive in charge of the SSD line of drives they were working on.  He asked me if I’d be interested in testing some samples when they became available.  I of course said yes, and the first of the evaluation units arrived today.

    Kingston SSDNow M Series

    ssdm-series The drive that arrived is the Kingston SSDNow SNM125-S2/80GB.  Here’s the marketing blurb from the website:

    Kingston's new line of SSDNow solid-state drives (SSD) rounds out its suite of enterprise products. The SSDNow M Series uses Intel's solid-state drives, which are the best-performing drives on the market. By improving a computer's performance and durability, SSDNow M Series drives help increase the productivity of power users.”

    Hey, I’m a power user and if the scores in the screenshot above are any indication, this baby is going to absolutely smoke anything I’ve had in the past.  There’s only one problem.  I’d like to use this drive fulltime for a couple of weeks and I’m currently using 81GB of disk space on my old tired legacy platter hard drive.  Legacy.  Grin. 

    The other problem is that I’m just getting my Windows 7 (almost said Vista) environment ship shape.  I’m a little over half way through the installation and testing of all of my drivers and applications with Windows 7.  But when the going gets tough, the tough use Ghost.  Yea, that’s right.  Old habits are hard to break.  So I’ll probably just finish up what I’m doing then take a Ghost snapshot and restore the image to the new SSD drive.  I’ll probably have that done before the weekend is over.

    Bring It People !!!

    In the meantime, if any of you happen to have a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p and manage to break my record above, let me know.  Sure looks like Kingston has a fast drive and you simply would not believe the boot times with Windows 7.  I’ll take notes over the next few days and weeks and report back on install times, boot, suspend/resume times, etc.  I’ll also measure some big copies, virtual machine loads and other fun stuff.

    For more information, see http://www.kingston.com/ssd/m-series.asp.  You can also get more information on the technical specs at http://download.intel.com/design/flash/nand/mainstream/mainstream-sata-ssd-datasheet.pdf.

  • What do you use for URL and keyword blocking?

    Today I trekked down to the local Fry’s and picked up a couple of items I’ve been wanting and needing.  The first item was the Netgear FVS318 ProSafe VPN Firewall.  On paper this firewall has everything I need, except one thing.  Throughput. 

    image I have a Verizon FIOS internet connection.  The 25/5 plan I have gives me great speed.  But after connecting the Netgear FVS318 and running some speed tests, it became all too obvious very quickly this was going to be a swift return.  I was only getting download speeds of 7MB and upload speeds of 3MB.  In other words, this device was a terrible bottleneck.  So I didn’t even bother testing URL blocking or content filtering.  The picture at right is what it’s supposed to look like.

    So back to the question in the title.  What do you use at the gateway level to block websites or do content filtering?  I was talking with a nice man and his wife about their needs, and they would also like content filtering via keywords.  I noticed the FVS318 allows for 32 URLs or keywords, but that seems like a pretty small list.  If you have teens, you know why I am asking.

    Most of the consumer grade firewalls seem to be lacking this feature.  I used to do this easily with the ISA Firewall Server that was part of Microsoft Small Business Server, but I am no longer using a business class static ip plan internet connection.  Maybe it’s time to move back.  My wife is pretty fed up with hosted email.

    Recommendations and advice welcome.  Thanks.

    One last thing to the parents reading this.  Do yourself a favor and do not put computers in the bedrooms of your home.  Keep all of the computers and game consoles in a common area.  This includes laptops.

  • Using Verizon EVDO with Windows Vista

    I’m sure by now that a number of you have signed up for the Verizon BroadbandAccess EVDO service.  If you are a trail blazer and are part of the Windows Vista testing gang, you have probably noticed by now that Verizon’s connection software (VZAccess) doesn’t run under Windows Vista.  Never fear, there is a solution to this problem.

    Creating an EVDO Dial-up Connection

    • Insert your EVDO modem card.  I am using the PC 5740.  Make sure you are doing this at home or in an office and Windows Vista networking via your homelan or office lan is already working.  The detection process needs to get the drivers from the Windows Vista update site.

    EVDO modem detect

    • Click the yes button to search for the drivers.
    • Let the detection process complete and you’ll see the success result dialog box as indicated below.

    EVDO modem installed

    • Go to the Network Center.  You can get to this a variety of ways, but Control Panel | Network Center works.
    • Click Setup a connection or network in the left hand list of tasks.
    • Click setup a dial-up connection as shown below

    EVDO setup dialup1

    • Pick the modem from the list.  In my case, it’s the Curitel PC Card.  This will bring you to the next screenshot and allow for the other information we’ll enter.
    • Enter #777 as the phone number.
    • Enter a network name.
    • Check the box that lets other users use this network on your machine.  I use this for guest access on my machine.

    EVDO setup dialup3

    • Click the Connect button and the new connection will be attempted.  You should see the success message similar to the dialog below.

    EVDO setup dialup4

    Happy surfing!!!  FYI, I also tested VPN connectivity across this to my corporate network.

    =================================

    [UPDATE 7–15–2006]

    VzwFor the Kyocera, KPC650,

    • Copy the Verizon VZaccess installer to your harddrive
    • Open properties, click the run in XPxp2 compat mode and run as admin
    • Install the software.
    • Once the install finishes
    • Insert the card and use network center to create a new dialup connection
    • If you are prompted for drivers look in program files\verizon wireless\vzaccess manager\drivers\650
    • Dial #777 – no username or password
    •  
    • You don’t need to use the VZaccess software
    • I have noticed sometimes when I wake the system and insert the card the system won’t see it.  If you just reboot with the card in it will work fine.

     

     

     

  • The Windows Vista Product Guide was here...

    Windows Vista Product GuideEvery so often, something really kewl comes along that you just have to have.  The Windows Vista Product Guide is one of those objects of affection.  It’s a comprehensive look at the Windows Vista product line and explains the features, the differences between the product versions, screen shots, etc.

    A word or two of warning is in order.  First, the guide is pretty big (313 pages) so the filesize is almost 44meg.  Second, you’ll need to install WinFX XML Paper Specifications Document (BETA) stuff in order to render this guide.  You can download the WinFX goodies at http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/xps/viewxps.mspx.  Since I already had IE7 installed, I just installed the WinFX Runtime Components and was able to view the document without issue.

    I cheated a bit however (as usual).  I am running a Lenovo T60 Dual Core laptop so it certainly has the power to do such things.  Let me know your experience.  I am also currently in the Microsoft Toronto office so I sent the document to one of their high speed duplex printers.  Now I have a few extra pounds of reading for my trip home tomorrow.

    Bluestripe_180[1]

    UPDATED 4/14/2006

    So, where’s the guide?  I had permission from the Program Manager to post the Windows Vista Product Guide to my blog. Apparently, it isn’t quite ready for public consumption so I was asked to remove the link.  If you were lucky enough to download the “sneak peek” preview, enjoy!  The guide will be back when we ship Windows Vista Beta 2.

    By the way, the isp server that had the guide caught fire.  Just teasing... 

  • Running A Bunch Of Vista SP1 VMs on Hyper-V With A Single Laptop

    In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words.  I spent some time this afternoon and evening setting up for a fun little test of the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I have.  As you’ll recall from my previous post, my laptop is loaded up with 8GB of memory.  So I thought it would be cool to fire up a bunch of virtual machines to see how effectively Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V allocate and juggle memory.  I was able to get fourteen operating system instances running at the same time.  The host OS is of course Windows Server 2008 Enterprise x64 with Hyper-V RC1.  In the screenshot, you’ll notice I am running six instances of Windows Vista Enterprise SP1 x64 and seven instances of Windows Vista Enterprise SP1 x86.  Paging and disk I/O really went up after I fired up VM number eight. 

    That’s a total of 14 operating systems executing on a single laptop folks!!!

    I could have added more disk spindles to the test to improve the I/O bottleneck, but I decided to see what this would be like with a normal travel rig.  Therefore, there are three disks in use.  Two standard 2.5” SATA drives in the T61p, and your run of the mill external Maxtor drive attached via USB.  Not exactly exotic, but this is a memory test, not a demo that requires more efficient I/O.

    Here’s the screenshot.  You can click the image to get the larger view.

    14OperatingSystems 

    One other thing, the host environment is also running several other services when the screenshot was captured.  Active Directory, DNS, and several other role services are running.  I also noticed after I did this screenshot, that the VM highlighted and executing has 1024MB of memory allocated instead of 512 like the rest of the VMs.  I wanted to get 14 Windows Vista VM’s up and running on a single machine.  I could have done it.  Drat. Maybe next time.  Pretty kewl anyway.

    Now obviously this test isn’t very useable, but one thing it points out really nicely.  Memory allocations are accurate.  And, when you are running a laptop with 8GB of memory, you add a whole new dimension to the environment.  Now you can realistically run 7-8 virtual machines with a wide variety of products and technologies.  Enjoy.

    [Update for 6/7/2008] I altered the title.  I removed the reference to a world record since it really isn’t a certified world record.  Still pretty impressive though.

    [Update for 6/8/2008]  What do you do when you are doing laundry, packing and getting ready to travel to TechEd 2008?  Clean the pool?  Nope.  Cut the yard?  Naw, it can wait another week.  Hey, let’s run another test.  Here it is folks. Twenty Seven Windows Vista Enterprise SP1 Virtual Machines executing courtesy of Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V.  All of this is running on a single laptop, the world famous Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with 8GB of Kingston memory.  This time I added another hard drive and split the load.  I also used a couple of parent disks, and each VM is executing off a differencing virtual disk.  The first pic is of all the VMs executing.  Keep in mind this is a total of 28 operating systems running on a single laptop when you take into account the parent OS, Windows Server 2008.  The second pic shows me killing off the VM’s and the freeing up of the memory.  Nice staircase.

    27WindowsVistaVMs

    Pretty cool, eh?  I know you think this is crazy and unusable.  I did notice while firing them up under this configuration, that I could easily use 10 client virtual machines with the settings and hardware I used for this test.  So some interesting scenarios come to mind with the use of Group Policy, Patch Deployment, OS Deployment, etc.  I’ll experiment more in a week or so.  Nice.

    Here’s the screenshot of me slamming the door on all of the VM’s.  I just punched the “Turn Off” link which is hard core to the VM.  But that’s what snapshots are for.  I’ll fix them up later.

    GoodNight

    For those of you coming to TechEd 2008 in Orlando, feel free to stop by the System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 booth.  I’ll be working it a few hours each day.  Enough fun.  Time for me to get some of my last minute chores done. 

  • Who's the fastest OS in the land? WinXP vs Vista vs OS X

    Last weeks "interesting" Gartner report on Windows reminded me I had some unfinished business.  I've actually been waiting for Windows XP SP3 to release before I ran some tests, but I decided to go ahead and have some fun today while watching the Masters.

    Round One - Cold Boot Timings

    Round one goes to OS X and the Apple MacBook Pro.  Surprised I said that?  Well, it wouldn't be a very credible blog post if I lied, and frankly I wasn't really surprised at the result.  The MacBook Pro is well known to boot, suspend and resume very efficiently and quickly.  I haven't yet tested the suspend/resume timings.  That will come later.  One thing before we get to the details of the cold boot test, the MackBook Pro didn't spank the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with Windows XP or Windows Vista.

    vista_wallpaperI set each OS to boot and automatically login to an ID.  As soon as the desktop was displayed and the browser icon was visible on an application bar, it was launched.  Each of the browsers were set to hit my blog homepage.  IE7 was the browser used for Windows XP and Vista.  I tested both Firefox and Safari on OS X.  The OS X Safari combo was the fastest combination.  The MacBook Pro averaged right at 60 seconds for this test.  But the ThinkPad T61p with Vista and IE7 was right behind is with an average of 1:10.  Windows XP with IE7 followed that with 1:15.  As you can see, there was no earth shattering difference.  So the bottom line on cold starts is that if you are really worried about 15 seconds each day, you have too much time on your hands.  Hit the power button and get your coffee.  Each of the machines will be ready when you get back.

    Round Two and Three - File Copies

    Round two goes to the ThinkPad T61p.  The second and third round of tests were file copies.  I had heard so many stories that Windows XP totally kicks Windows Vistas butt, that I really wanted to see for myself.  Unfortunately I waited until after I had already installed Vista SP1 so I don't have RTM test results.  The SP1 test was interesting though.  I have seen reports SP1 is actually slower than Vista RTM.

    For the file copy test, I decided again to use something real world.  I copied my documents around.  I was careful to shutdown the machines and drives in order to flush any cache after each copy.  The block of data (my documents) amounts to 7366 files, 1537 folders, clocking in at a whopping 42.7GB.  Not huge, but enough to be annoying for file copies.  The files are a healthy mix of big, medium and small files of all sorts.

    I did some tests on the T61p that isn't possible on the MacBook Pro because the MBP doesn't have the ability to have two internal SATA drives.  Not surprisingly, the T61p internal SATA to SATA file copy with Windows Vista SP1 x64 was the fastest copy. It accomplished the copy in a little over 19 minutes.  As with the cold boot test, it wasn't an earth shattering difference in my opinion from the fastest file copy test to the slowest file copy test.  You might note here that Windows XP Pro x86 took 30 minutes to complete the internal SATA to SATA copy.  11 minutes longer than Windows Vista x64 SP1.  It's pretty clear to me from that test Vista is holding it's own nicely.

    The next round of copies involved an external SATA enclosure using USB 2.0.  Enter from stage left, the MacBook Pro. The MBP won this round, but it didn't best the 19 minute test above.  I don't have a 34mm eSATA ExpressCard to use in my Mac, so I couldn't test using that interface.  The first test I did was to copy the files from the external SATA drive to the internal MacBook Pro hard drive.  I have the 160GB 7200rpm drive in my MBP.  The MBP did that in short order taking only 22 minutes.  From there, I did copies from the internal drives back out to the external SATA drive.  I did that from Windows XP, Windows Vista and OS X.  For the OS X test, I reformatted the drive with the native journaled OS X file system.  OS X took 30 minutes.  Windows XP took 36 minutes.  Windows Vista took 40 minutes.  As you can see, significant differences but hardly time enough to kill a cold beer.

    Hardware Used

    Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with 4GB of memory, NVIDIA Quadro FX 570m, Intel T7500 Core 2 Duo.  The MacBook Pro is nearly identical from a hardware standpoint.  Same CPU, same GPU and the same amount of memory.  The T61p has one thing that the Mac doesn't.  The T61p has a multibay drive bay that allows my to insert a second hard drive and test SATA 150 to SATA 150 file copy performance.  All of the drives used are 7200rpm SATA drives.  The external SATA enclosure is a Vantec 3.5" eSATA enclosure and contains a 500GB Hitachi Deskstar SATA 300 drive.  The USB 2.0 connection was used, not eSATA.  eSATA could only have been tested with Windows because I have a 54mm ExpressCard which is incompatible with the Mac.

    Summary

    I learned something by doing these tests.  The main thing I learned is that the performance of the three operating systems is closer than I thought.  In fact, it's really a waste of time to debate it.  In this busy age, a few minutes here and there aren't worth having the holy war I see waged when the various camps talk about the Mac and OS X, Windows XP and Windows Vista.  Now granted we aren't testing applications here, and the tests above were really simple, but I'm comfortable with the results. 

    It used to be that day that you could point at the price of Apple hardware and software and question the premium they used to charge.  Apple has smartly lowered those prices and removed that argument from the equation.  Apple is also holding the Windows OEMs to a high standard by having a highly tuned platform.  By owning both I can tell you there isn't a big difference in the performance and stability of the two platforms, if you are running hardware that is properly designed for Windows Vista, and the Vista installation is properly installed and configured.

    The next few comparisons I plan to make will compare the ThinkPad to the MacBook Pro from a hardware perspective, then some of the features of the three operating systems.  When we get to the user interfaces and features, we'll crank up the war of words.  Who knows, you might be surprised what I write.

  • Upgrading Windows XP machines?

    vista_wallpaperDuring the conference call my team had on Friday, we were discussing the upcoming content we are planning for the August-December timeframe.  One of my team members who shall remain nameless stated that most of the customers he has talked to aren't upgrading existing Windows XP machines to Windows Vista.  Instead, they are just buying new machines with Windows Vista as the old XP machines roll off the books and are re-purposed, or die.

    Is that accurate?  Is that what you are doing?

    None of the security, network, search, etc. improvements warrant an upgrade of an existing machine, even with Aero glass turned off so that it performs on par or better than Windows XP?

    [UPDATE for 5/18]  For those of you that want to call me a confused idiot and other derogatory remarks, or want to spit venom at Microsoft in the form of comments here, don't bother because I am unlikely to publish your art.  If you want to be polite, courteous and offer some insight into the decisions you or your customers are making, then that is welcome.

    My wife thinks you are all crazy.  The says Spider Solitaire alone is worth the upgrade to Windows Vista.  Grin.

    [UPDATE for 5/19]  I watch referrals to my blog and noticed a few of you have picked up on what you think is a story here.  First of all, you should know this article has no basis in fact.  The person on my team that made the comment was offering an opinion but he has hardly spoken to every Microsoft customer and gathered any empirical data to support such a statement.  Second, the small smattering of comments don’t indicate any particular fact or trend either.  My questions were posed to initiate some dialog on the subject, nothing more.

    I am always perplexed at why people go looking for dirt.  I guess dirt sells.  I’d rather have a conversation about what we are doing right and wrong. Offer an opinion on which way I think people should go.  So here’s mine. 

    Buying a machine with Windows Vista is a smart move.  If the OEM has done their job, then the out-of-box experience should be good.  Your experience is going to vary depending on the OEM and of course they know if they do a sub par job, your return business is at stake.

    As for the upgrade question, this is something you’ll have to decide but it should not be too terribly hard to test.  We worked hard to provide you an array of hardware and software compatibility tools.

    Windows Vista offers a lot of benefits, even for older machines.  I’m running Windows Vista Enterprise on a Compaq Evo n620c and it runs very nicely.  The machine is nearly five years old and only has one gig of RAM.  Your experience will vary and I respect the decisions you make. 

    I just want to know why you make the decisions, and what we can do better down the road.  That’s what blogs are for.  Having that conversation. 

  • Last blog post – I’m headed to Apple

    Remember that Windows Vista SP1 blog post about “I have your back!” ???  Well, apparently nobody had mine so my last day with Microsoft will be April 11, 2008.  I probably won’t post many more blogs posts here.  The empire is obviously nervous about anything I do so I’ll be nice until then.  Until then…

    apple What about after?

    Well, that’s a different story.  I am taking a couple of weeks vacation after that, then I start work for Apple.  Yep, you read that correctly.  My role will be very similar to the one I have now, except I get to evangelize all things Apple.  They want me to focus on OS X integration with AD, cross platform identity management, desktop management, security, etc.  In short, stuff right up my alley.

    What about blogging as Apple?

    I wrote that into my employment agreement.  Yep, Steve had to sign off on it.  I’ll be blogging, screencasting, webcasting, doing live events and stirring up the usual amount of trouble. 

    And the good news is that I won’t have to move to Cupertino.  I’ll obviously be spending a lot of time there especially to begin with, but I don’t have to pick up and move my family, have my wife sell off her business, etc.

    So, it’s been a wonderful 12 years at Microsoft, but it’s time for a change.  Before I’m really gone I hope to have a new email address, blog domain and other contact information worked out.  If not, just keep and eye out for http://blogs.apple.com.  It’s coming.  Finally.

    Ok, APRIL FOOLS SUCKAS !!!  :)

    Do you really think I would switch?  Come on, even I’m not that evil.

  • Pity OS X doesn’t like 8GB of memory in my MacBook Pro

    apple I received a flurry of questions via email when I posted information the other day that I had 8GB of memory in my Apple MacBook Pro.  At the time of my post, I had only intended to boot the OS and see that it appeared to work correctly, recognize the updated amount of memory and shutdown cleanly.  In other words, a short cursory test.

    But the questions kept coming so I decided last night to reinstall the memory and do more testing.  This time I decided to put my ThinkPad T61p back to it’s original configuration of 4GB RAM and do some longer term testing on the MacBook Pro.

    Now For The Bad News

    Unfortunately after running the MacBook Pro for almost 24 hours, it isn’t looking good.  One of the key scenarios for wanting to move to 8GB isn’t working worth a damn.  I’m talking about virtualization.

    VMWare Fusion Testing

    I started my virtualization testing using VMWare Fusion.  It’s my preferred Mac desktop virtualization product and considering I purchased it last October, it seemed to be the logical place to start.  I already had several virtual machines built and waiting in the wings for testing.  To be specific, I tested Windows Vista Enterprise SP1 x86, Windows Server 2008 Enterprise x64 and Red Hat Linux Desktop 5.1 x86. 

    The very first test I ran was to increase the memory allocation on the Windows Vista virtual machine from 1GB to 3GB.  Seemed like a simple enough test.  I mean after all, if that ran well, then it would be time to run Windows Server 2008 with a similar memory allocation, thus proving Fusion and OS X could handle the memory above the 4GB 32bit line.  Bad idea.  Booting the VM with 3GB of memory slowed the entire system down.  I mean really slow.  Firefox and Entourage were almost unusable to the point that they wouldn’t respond to mouse clicks.

    When I booted up the Windows Server 2008 virtual machine, the overall system performance ground nearly to a halt.  That’s not good.  The Windows Vista VM was set to 3GB and the Windows Server 2008 VM was set to 2GB.  Clearly something was wrong.  At the suggestion of one of our internal Mac enthusiast, I removed VMWare Fusion 1.1.3 and installed VMWare Fusion 2 Beta 1.  No change in the results.  So I’m thinking at this point there are still a number of variables to consider and we don’t yet know who the real culprit of the problem performance is.  How do we remove a variable? 

    Parallels Desktop for the Mac

    In order to remove one of the variables, the simplest solution seemed to be removing VMWare Fusion and installing and testing  Parallels Desktop for the Mac 3.0.  If by a stroke of luck Parallels worked flawlessly, then we would at least know there’s a bug in Fusion and it needs to be reported to the VMWare team.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Parallels is going to fair any better than Fusion.  The maximum amount of memory you can allocate to a Windows Vista virtual machine is 2GB.  I didn’t look to see if there was a hack to allow for more.  I created a Windows Vista Ultimate x86 VM and allocated 2GB of memory.  The install was fairly painless and execution of the VM after installing the Parallels Tools was pretty good.  The overall OS X and system performance was no where near as bad as the Fusion experience.

    But that was only one 2GB virtual machine and we need more.  So I decided to create a Windows XP Pro x86 virtual machine.  So far it’s been installing for about five hours.  Now keep in mind nothing else is running on the system other than Parallels and this install.  The Windows Vista virtual machine isn’t fired up and running yet.  This isn’t looking good.

    So where does this leave us?

    Good question.  I don’t have a good answer yet.  When the XP install finishes, I’ll certainly run it and Windows Vista to see if they’ll behave and work correctly.  If they don’t, the next thing I’ll do is pull the 8GB of RAM back out of the machine and reinstall the 4GB of  memory to see if the virtual machines work properly (with smaller memory allocations).  I don’t see much point in testing a 6GB configuration by mixing a 2GB SoDIMM with a 4GB SoDIMM.  That is unlikely to solve the performance problem although it is probably an interesting configuration choice for a few of you.

    Assuming by pulling the memory out of the box, things settle down and perform properly, then Apple, VMWare, Parallels and Kingston have some work to do.  At that point it would not be apparent if the 4GB sticks are in fact faulty, or OS X needs a fix, or Fusion and/or Parallels need a fix.  This would certainly be out of my hands for any further testing.

    I’ll update this post tomorrow and as needed over the next few days to give you updates on my observations but I wanted to let you know things aren’t looking good at the moment.  On the bright side, the 4GB sticks have performed absolutely flawlessly in my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate x64, Virtual PC 2007 SP1 x64, Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 x64, Windows Server 2008 Enterprise x64 and Hyper-V, and a whole boatload of applications. 

    It’s a shame I can’t say the same for the Mac.  Hopefully Apple will come out with a “certified” sku or configuration soon.  I have already informed Kingston and have requested an Apple SME if they have one.

    [UPDATE for 7/10]  As expected, Parallels ran slightly better but took a nose dive off the cliff when I started two virtual machines.  I pulled the two 4GB sticks out and reinserted the two original 2GB sticks from Apple and everything ran MUCH better.  At this point it looks like there is some sort of compatibility issue.  I’ll let the makers of the products figure it out.  Sorry, until they do you are better off running a good Windows machine with an x64 version of our OS if you need more than 4GB of memory.  Sad but true.  I tried.

    [UPDATE for 7/11] I configured my Mac for bootcamp and installed Windows Vista Enterprise x64.  I also installed Windows Server 2005 R2 SP1 x64 and ran three virtual machines with the 4GB  of system memory configuration.  No issues.  That ran well.  I shut things down gracefully and installed the two Kingston 4GB sticks bring the total system memory up to 8GB.  The machine would barely boot Windows Vista and run.  It is now apparent to me the memory sticks I have have some sort of incompatibility with the MacBook Pro I have.  My testing of this has now concluded.  It’s up to Kingston and Apple to resolve.

  • Windows Virtual PC and Win XP Mode RC - now available

    windows7rc_bloglogo Microsoft is pleased to announce  the availability of Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP mode Release Candidate. RC is an important milestone in our path to final delivery of Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode.

    Please make sure to read the Release Notes and the Installation Guide before installing.  Also please note that a Beta to RD upgrade is not supported.  You must uninstall the Beta before installing the RC product binaries.

    Here are just a few highlights for the product:

    • Manage USB devices with virtual applications: You can attach and detach USB devices while running virtual applications. The USB device management UI can be easily accessed form the right click context menu of the Virtual Applications icon, on task bar.
    • Jump list for virtual applications: Right clicking on the virtual application icon, on Windows 7 taskbar, displays a jump list that allows one to easily launch virtual applications from the taskbar.
    • Drive share settings: You can select the host computer drives that you would like to share with the virtual machine; in the virtual machine settings.
    • Windows XP Mode tutorial: A tutorial that introduces the user to Windows XP Mode features is displayed during Windows XP Mode Setup.
    • Faster Windows XP Mode setup: Improvements have been done to reduce the setup time for Windows XP Mode.
    • Compact differencing disks: You can now compact the differencing virtual hard disk to reduce the size occupied on the disk.
    • Support for optional components install in XP Mode: Windows XP optional components can be installed in Windows XP Mode.
    • Choose destination location for XP Mode files: You can choose the destination folder to store all virtual machine files for Windows XP Mode during XP Mode setup.

    Go get Windows Virtual PC @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=4c3a0944-a2e6-4f01-9c57-5b55885875cc.

    Go get Windows XP Mode @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=487f1e8b-f868-4c1e-a047-1b2306c0f592