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Windows 8 and the up and coming Hardware Revolution

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware, Windows | Posted on 19-09-2011


This past week I was at the BuildWindows conference where the wrapper was finally taken off of Windows 8. We’ve known for some time that Windows 8 was coming but we only had a few glimpses of the real story behind Windows 8. Tuesday we finally got to see the full details about Windows 8 and how big of a release this really is (bigger than Windows 95!).

The biggest news around Windows 8 was the announcement about the new touch first Metro desktop. This means Windows 8 will have count them *two* desktop modes. At first, like many, I had my concerns about it but it wasn’t until I played with both the Samsung tablet given away at Build and playing with it at home on the metal of a notebook I have that I can put into a docking station allowing me to use it with dual screens that I started to get excited. I’ll try to explain so bear with me, this is going to be a long post.

If you haven’t seen the new desktop and how it works I invite you to watch this presentation by Jensen Harris that was given at Build entitled: 8 traits of great Metro style apps.



The PC Isn’t Dead

There have been many articles about how the PC is dead in the news lately. These articles in my opinion are just bogus crap articles spurred on by the press to have something to write about. When the press has lulls in news they have to sit around and speculate what’s happening and thus we get articles about how the PC is dead and how we are all going to be walking around in a world with these consumption devices (tablets and phones). What they fail to think about is that *someone* (you and me) at some point has to produce information for these devices to consume.

FACT: It takes longer to produce information than consume it.

Thus given the old saying of “use the right tool for the right job” why would anyone think the greatest device known to man at producing, consuming and creating information, the PC, is dead? Simple, it is called money. That’s because they get paid to write these articles and speculate.

So, the PC isn’t dead. This is a fact. Don’t argue against me, you’ll lose. It is going to be around for a long time. Here’s the kicker though… it is going to just look different thanks to Windows 8.

Consuming and Producing Information With One OS

As I see it, there are mainly two different modes we use information. We are either consuming information or we are producing information. It turns out the absolute best device for doing both of these is still the PC (you know that thing that isn’t dead?).  If anything, the PC it is about to undergo a major revolution. And by revolution I mean the hardware is going to change as we know it today. Me personally I fully welcome this change and here’s why.

The past week at the Build conference I spent the majority of my time consuming information. I did so on two devices: iPad and phone. The times I had to produce small amounts of information via tweets, text messages or quick responses to email these devices worked. Notice I used the phrase “small amount of information”.  This is key because once we move past producing a small amount of information these devices fail.

Have you ever received an email on either your phone or tablet where you told yourself, “I’ll answer that later”? I bet everyone has. Why? Because these devices are information consumption devices. Let’s face it, when we have to do real work these devices fail. I don’t know how fast you can type but I can pump out upwards of 140 words a minute. Now why in the world would I want to use touch type to type say 25 words a minute? My time is valuable and thus when I have to produce more information (like a blog post) that requires more typing I’m not going to do it on a consumption device (tablet, iPad, etc).

The reason Windows 8 is such a game changer is it is going to allow all of us to consume information and produce information on the same device.

Windows 8 is like a Transformer. It can transform to consuming information to also producing information.

Windows 8 The Transformer

Install Windows 8 Dev Preview in VMware WorkstationWhat does Windows 8 have that changes this? For starters it has a touch first interface. This new interface (pictured to the left) is really the the consumption interface. Microsoft calls it the Metro interface. But the standard desktop interface is there as well, what myself and others have coined as the Retro interface. Or as I like to call it, the desktop where information is produced or created.

The Metro interface is immersive, full screen apps, full touch enabled, and as Microsoft calls it *fluid*. For tablet and slates this new interface is going to serve us all very well once developers start filling up the store with awesome applications.

The Retro interface is what we are accustomed to in Windows 7 today. Nothing has changed there except we’ve gotten a lot of new enhancements. Windows 8 builds on top of Windows 7 and just makes things better with new features like:

  • New ribbon added to Windows Explorer
  • Ability to mount ISO files natively (yeah for developers)
  • Hyper V
  • New taskbar features (unique taskbars per screen)
  • and many more

Being able to switch between these different modes is powerful. Switching between the two is easy and very smooth just by pressing the “Windows” key on the keyboard. Or the “Windows” button if you have a tablet.

By having both a touch first user experience and the full desktop this allows the user to transform the operating system to meet the various requirements how the user wants to interact with information.

Apple for example has a desktop OS and they have an OS that runs their iPad/iPhone. When you’ve hit the point to where you need to produce information instead of consume it one has to set their iPad down and reach for their notebook or PC. This is something I think Microsoft has gotten right by simply just using Windows 8 to do it all. Think about it for a minute. Think about how the Enterprise today provisions and manages iPads or Android tablets? They sort of don’t. By leveraging Windows, Microsoft has just put tablets and slates into the Enterprise so all of the tools of deployment, management, etc can be leveraged (bitlocker, roaming, active directory credentials, etc). Remember your tablet is just Windows! Brilliant! Folks this is a game changer, make no mistake about it.

With Windows 8 the hardware revolution that is coming is going to change things as we know it today. I see a day when we won’t have a desktop at home to get multiple screens, and a notebook to carry with us, and a tablet to carry with us. I see all of these devices converging into one simple and easy to use PC, I mean tablet, I mean slate, I mean notebook. Someone will create a new name for it. Something like… SlateBook (remember you read that here first! Smile ).

We already sort of got a hint of this from Samsung with the tablet they gave attendees at Build. It came with a docking station and a keyboard. This allows everyone to interact with the machine normally on the retro desktop. But it also is a tablet that can be removed from the docking station and used as more of an information consumption device leveraging touch.

The PC isn’t dead, the devices will just transform for the user as they need it to. And Windows 8 is the OS that is going to make that possible.

My Perfect Windows 8 Computer

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past week and I’ve researched a lot of devices as of the past week trying to find something I could maybe even potentially purchase to run Windows 8 that would transform if you will. I’m saddened to say that I haven’t found anything *yet*.

My perfect Windows 8 computer is going to have the following characteristics:

  • Be easily dockable so it can be used at home where all of my peripherals will plug into it (multiple monitors, speakers, keyboard, mouse, etc)
  • Be powerful enough to run as a desktop but also not consume a lot of battery life
  • Be thin enough that I can remove it from the docking station and carry it with me
  • Easily transform into an information consumption device
  • Easily transform into an information producing device

Yes I want my cake and eat it too but I am tired of having three devices to do three different things. As I see it, Windows 8 will allow us to embrace a new hardware revolution where these devices converge into a single power device. It will in fact be a PC (personal computer) but it will be also a tablet for consumption and support full keyboard and mouse to switch between consumption to information producing.

Right now my perfect device would be an ultra thin notebook like the Asus UX21 that would also have a touch screen that can be transformed into a slate / tablet.

Now I’m not saying that there will not be a lot of just tablets created and sold. I am sure there will be. But from where I’m sitting I’m honestly tired of tablets, and notebooks, and really not having my full computing experience with me wherever I go. Yes I want my cake and want to eat it too.

If the OEMs can get the hardware right Windows 8 I predict is going to start a new hardware revolution whereby consumers can purchase one device that does it all. Will they be cheap? Probably not but honestly who cares! Would you rather carry one device with you everywhere or three?

One? Good glad we agree. Smile

New Hardware: Running Windows 7 With Four LCDs

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware, Windows | Posted on 22-06-2009


For years I’ve had two monitors on my computers.  Working at home every day in and day out has reminded me that two just isn’t enough.  I find myself constantly flipping between windows and applications, especially since all the development I do is virtualized.  At work we recently upgraded the majority of our developers with new Core i7 machines with two 22inch LCDs.  Since I already had my own machine I asked if I could just get two of the new LCDs.  A few days later two new Dell 22inch LCDs showed up at my house. 

Planning for their arrival I found out we use Humanscale M7 monitor stands at work.  M7’s aren’t cheap retailing for about $500.00.  That was out of my price range to get all four LCDs setup.  After hours of digging around I finally found a quad LCD monitor arm I was comfortable purchasing and it was only $88.00!  Here’s what I settled on:

Quad LCD Monitor stand Fully adjustable New

The product is sold by Tyke Supply on Amazon and is manufactured by http://diwei.com/.  There really wasn’t much to go on to decide if this product was going to hold up and be sturdy enough but I pulled the trigger.

When the product arrived the first thing I noticed was how heavy it was.  As soon as I unpacked it I realized I had a winner.  The arms of the unit are extremely well built, very heavy aluminum.  It even came with an alum wrench to tighten things down. 

One word of caution is make sure you have someone to help you setup the unit.  This is not a one man job as it takes one person to hold the screens while the other person tightens them down on the pole. 

I was extremely surprised how sturdy the unit is once installed.  It doesn’t move once tightened down at all.  As long as you have a hang over on your desk you can install this unit.  As you can see below, it slid right onto my over hang. 


Windows 7 allowed me to easily configure the screens how I wanted them.


And of course, you have to see all of this screen real estate from the front or this blog post wouldn’t be complete.


The two LCDs on top were my previous Dell 19inch LCDs I purchased from the Dell refurb store several years ago and the bottom two are the new Dell 22inch LCDs work sent me.  If you are curious as to what is where on all of the screens here is what is running where right now (subject to change):

  • Top Left – TweetDeck
  • Top Right – Windows 7 gadgets, live messenger, pandora, email
  • Bottom Left – VMWare Windows Server 2008 virtual machine (work)
  • Bottom Right – Browser, Explorer, FeedDemon, Live Writer
  • I’ve only had this configuration for a couple of days and with so many screens and windows open I can honestly say that the new features of split screens, Aero Peek and others in Windows 7 make it incredibly easy to get around.

    I may have to cancel all future speaking engagements because I seriously don’t want to leave my desk now.  🙂

Ask The Elder: Recommendations for a Home Media Server Project

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware | Posted on 11-04-2009


One of my friends from college recently sent me a question about what I’d recommend for a home media server project.  He explained he had an old HP Pavilion 6835 PC (800MHz Celeron, 256MB, 30GB, 100watt PS) that he was thinking about turning into a media server.  He went on to say he didn’t want to turn this into a home theater pc (which is good because it would never hold up) and he was thinking about putting Linux on it to serve files.  He asked for hardware tweaks and then at which point would he be better off just building a new machine from scratch.  Here’s my recommendation.

The Bad News

Let’s start with the bad news first.  The first thing we need to get out of the way is upgrading this machine.  It is a “Pavilion”.  That means “end-user” in regards to HP’s line of computer offerings.  It is a consumer based PC.  As a matter of fact this PC shipped with things like Microsoft Works, Real Audio Player, America Online, CompuServe, EarthLink etc.  It has an integrated graphics chip (Intel 810 using shared memory) and while cheap when originally purchased, it just isn’t something that is upgradeable. 

Then there is the hard drive problem.  Obviously more and bigger hard drives will be needed.  The 1TB drives that we see today for $100 will not work on the machine (bios limitations and connectors have changed).  Basically this machine would need to be gutted to make it even workable.  About the only thing this machine would be good for I can think of is setting up a Linux firewall.

The Good News

imageWhen I have an itch I want to scratch I like to find solutions that fit the problem at hand and fit it well.  While “piece-milling” things together sometimes works,  I have found it turns into more headache and ultimately wastes time and money.  This is a perfect case to recommend something that has already solved this problem. 

The solution provides easy setup, configuration, and offers more features as a specialized device than trying to build a full blown computer to just store files.  Enterprises have been using them for years and now we are starting to see them creep into the consumer space as home networks get more complicated.   The best part of all is my friend can get what he wants all for about $234.00, still run Linux (without even knowing it), and store all of his media files.  Answer: Media Network Attached Storage

Since he’s a Mac user primarily, iTunes integration is of course going to be key for him.  The HP Media Vault 500GB Network Attached Storage device solves the specific problem of centrally locating files within the home while also allowing iTunes and other media devices to see the files. 


The unit also allows for additional drives, works with the Xbox 360, and works from Windows, Mac and Linux based computers.  It also supports automatic backups, media streaming across the home network and many more features.  It is a great way to centralize and backup files and even supports advanced features such as RAID 1 for mirroring data.  All in all a fantastic device.

Of course there are some other options as well.  Netgear has a device as well that is a little more pricey but has some other features.  Check out both options if you are in the market.

But I’m Not a Mac User, What Would You Recommend?

Another option for those that have Windows computers and networks is to purchase a Windows Home Server.  We have one of these and couldn’t live without it.  It provides a central location for files similar to the NAS (network attached storage) but does a lot more.  It backs up all computers on the network each night and provides an easy way to restore files.  And when I mean it backs up the computers, I mean everything, not just certain folders.  It allows you to access your computers from remote locations, share photos with family and much more.  Mine even backs up all my important files to the cloud for off site backups.  If you want more information about Home Server, check out the interview we did on Deep Fried Bytes last September.  If you are curious, a new Home Server will cost about $499, but it is well worth every penny.

External Drives – Which Technology Should You Use?

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware | Posted on 10-04-2009


I’m amazed when I talk to friends who are comfortably happy using external USB drives to store information.  I ask them how their copy speeds are and they normally respond with the usual speed of 10-25MB/s for USB.  They then follow that up with, “I wish it was faster, it takes so long to copy large files.”.  Let’s face it, files are getting bigger and as more and more people go digital with photos and video, we need faster ways to move this data around for backups and other purposes. 

The good news is we’ve got faster transfer methods than USB but for some reason most people don’t know about it.  For some reason my friends don’t believe me when I tell them to throw away their USB cable and install an eSata port (or use the one they already have) if their external drive supports eSata.    A few seconds later I get this blank stare of “what is that?”. 

I’m not sure why eSata hasn’t caught on as much as USB but if you are looking to buy a new machine or notebook, don’t purchase one without an external eSata port.  As a matter of fact, make it two if you can.

Here’s the difference in several available external technologies and their respectful transfer rates:

  • USB 1.1 – 12Mbps
  • USB 2.0 – 400Mbps
  • Firewire 400 – 480Mbps
  • Firewire 800 – 800Mbps
  • eSATA – 1.5Gbps (real speed 150MB/s)
  • eSATA II – 3Gbps (real speed 300MB/s)

While eSata I and eSata II have real speeds of 150/300MB/s respectively that’s a tremendous amount more data flying across the bus as compared to USB or Firewire.  To show you this is real, here is a screen shot copying files from a local drive on my machine to an external eSata drive. 


That’s 110MB per second!  If you are copying a lot of information around, doing backups, etc, eSata is the clear winner.  A lot of new external drives come with both USB and eSata.  When you are shopping around you’ll primarily run into USB but most newer drives support both, be sure to get one that does both.  I recently had to purchase a new drive when my external drive failed and I purchased the AcomData PurDrive with 1 TB of data for just a little over $100.00 (this is the F:\ above).  Thus the prices are very reasonable.

Words of Wisdom

What should you do now armed with this new information?  Throw out that old USB drive and start using eSata.  It is here today, it is fast, it is cheap and it works!

Of course, if you have an older machine it may not have eSata.  Don’t worry, you can easily purchase an eSata card as an add-on for your desktop machine. If you have a notebook, obviously the options are a little more limiting but you can purchase a PCMCIA eSata card.

Benchmarks: Core i7 vs Core 2 Duo vs Virtual Machine

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Computer Hardware | Posted on 09-04-2009


Let’s get ready to rumble! After my new machine arrived I set out to answer some of my questions.  How much faster is the new machine than the previous laptop I was using to develop on (anyone that has seen me speak in the last two years has seen this laptop).  Is the virtual machine I’ve been developing on for work faster on the new machine? If so is it faster than my old machine?

To get started I downloaded PerformanceTest which gave me a free 30 day trial.  Plenty of time to test and gather benchmarks.  The program is nice because it allows you to easily load up saved tests and do comparisons as you’ll see.  Let’s get started!

The Setup

Updated 4/11/2009 – Several people requested I run some additional benchmarks so this now includes three new benchmarks for the virtual machines.

To try to make things as fair as I could I did a clean boot of each machine and then killed any background processes that were running (utilities, snagit, etc).  I then ran the benchmark twice and took the faster run.  Here’s what each system is running:

  1. DellD820, Dell Lattitude D820 Notebook, Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz, 4GB, 100GB 7200RPM HDD, Windows Vista x32
  2. DellVM2Proc, Dev Virtual Machine, VMWare, 6.5, Two Processors, 1.5GB, Windows Server 2008 x32 (running on D820 Notebook, external eSata drive)
  3. DevVM1Proc4GB, Dev Virtual Machine, VMWare 6.5, Single Processor, 4GB, Windows Server 2008 x32 (running on new PC below)
  4. DevVM2Proc3GB, Dev Virtual Machine, VMWare 6.5, Two Processors, 3GB, Windows Server 2008 x32 (running on new PC below)
  5. DevVM2Proc4GB, Dev Virtual Machine, VMWare 6.5, Two Processors, 4GB, Windows Server 2008 x32 (running on new PC below)
  6. New PC, Core i7 920, 12GB, 300GB 10,000RPM HDD, nVidia 9400GT, Windows Vista x64


First up is CPU.  Obviously I knew going in the Core i7 was going to take the prize.  What I didn’t expect to see is this wide of a margin.


The processor in the Dell is a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, so not a bad processor.  Still it gets crushed by the Core i7.  The VMWare virtual machine took last place in this round.  That isn’t too surprising since it is virtualized running only one processor. 


This is the biggest surprise of the day.  The little laptop that could came through and crushed the competition.


Even the virtual machine almost had the same score as the new PC.  I am completely puzzled over this one.  Maybe some true hardware guru will have some insight, or maybe the benchmark is just broke ?

Since the laptop and the VM don’t have 3D support the only machine that had a score is the new PC, thus no point in showing the benchmark.


Memory performance starts to give a better idea of how the machine line up in terms of speed.  In this round the laptop takes last place with the VM running on the new PC taking second. 


Disk Mark

The disk mark shows the VM taking the prize.  Why?  I have no idea.  For some reason the VM was able to read twice as fast and won in every other category as well.


The thing to note in the sequential read mark is the new PC is pushing about 102.8 MB/s throughput.  That’s more than twice as fast as the laptop. 


So how did the machines stack up in the end? Well, obviously the new PC is going to take the top prize, but the surprising winner when all the numbers were added up is the VMWare virtual machine took second place!  Even more surprising, the VM with 3GB outperformed the 4GB!  There is definitely a difference enabling two processors in VMWare, about 100 points difference between the two. 

What does this mean?  It means that the virtual machine I develop on running on the new PC is faster than the entire laptop I previously used.  To be honest, developing on the laptop wasn’t bad at all.  It performed very well but the new Core i7 system is literally like running two machines in one. 


Words of Wisdom

I know a lot of developers are using laptops to develop on today because the performance of them has gotten to be pretty good.  The bottom line though is you will never beat a desktop for speed and performance.  My advice is for you to seriously consider ditching your laptop for serious development and use a desktop.  You just can’t beat the performance.