Archive for the ‘UMPC’ Category

My Inventory of Computer Equipment

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

I figure this is a good time to give an inventory of my home computer equipment.  I’m only listing personal stuff here, not my work computers.  I’m also only listing the items that are in active use currently.  We have quite a bit of older equipment in closets or on shelves around here as well.

1. Home-built Desktop PC: I haven’t purchased a desktop computer for over 10-years.  Instead, I build my own system from individual parts, occasionally upgrading when the pricing and my needs dictate.  My current system has an Intel 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 3GB of memory, 1.5TB of hard disk space (spread across 4 drives), NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS video card, and a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi sound card.  The OS is Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit.

2. Vye S37: This is my every-day laptop.  It is a mini-tablet UMPC with a 7-inch touch-screen, a nearly full-sized keyboard, 250GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM.  It is running Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.  I’ve written several previous articles about this device on the previous version of this blog.

3. Apple MacBook: This is primarily my wife’s laptop computer, although I do use it occasionally as well.  This is the newest computer in our collection, having just purchased it a few weeks ago after the power supply died on her old HP laptop.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Mac OS, but we felt that it might fit my wife’s needs much better than Windows.  So far, she has been very happy with it.

4. HP EX470 MediaSmart Home Server: This unit is our primary backup and centralized file storage device.  We also use it as a media server.  This system runs Microsoft’s Windows Home Server OS and I have upgraded it from its stock configuration of 500GB hard disk space and 256MB of RAM to 2.25TB of hard disk storage and 2GB of RAM.

5. Palm Treo 700P (Sprint): My current cell-phone/PDA is the latest in a series of Palm OS devices that I have owned.  I am nearing the end of my current contract with Sprint and will be eligible for the best upgrade rates on a new phone starting September 1.  I’m starting to evaluate options for new phones (a topic for another article) and probably am ready to finally move away from the Palm OS.

6. Sony Playstation 3: Although I do use the PS3 for some game playing, it was actually purchased primarily because it is generally the best currently available choice for a Blu-Ray video player.  The PS3 is located in the upstairs bedroom and is also used to stream music up there from the home server.

7. HP OfficeJet 7410: This is an "all-in-one" color ink-jet printer that also works as a scanner, copier, and fax machine.  A big motivator for purchasing this particular printer was that it has built-in wi-fi networking.  That let us put the printer up in the bedroom (out of easy reach of our preschooler) and still send print jobs to it from the desktop computer downstairs as well as from any of the laptops.  While it is now a somewhat older, discontinued model, it still works pretty well for us.

8. D-Link DIR-655: This router is the centralized networking device for our home network.  It is a fairly new wireless router that includes draft 802.11n high-speed networking.  The desktop PC and home server are both directly connected to the router, while the laptops, PS3, printer, and our DirecTV HD-DVR are all set up to connect to it wirelessly.  The router is connected to a DSL modem with service from DSL Extreme with 6000/768Kbps download/upload speeds.

Vye S37 Review – WMP, Origami Experience, Media Center

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

In previous posts, I’ve promised that I would continue my review of the Vye S37 with a discussion of music players.  Although I started working on the post quite a while back, I’ve held off on completing and publishing as I realized that I really needed to spend more time using the various players.

In this post, I am going to talk about Microsoft’s Windows Media variants: Windows Media Player 11, Origami Experience, and Windows Media Center.  For many UMPC owners, I’m sure these are essentially the default choices for music playback.  On my eo v7110, I pretty much exclusively used a combination of WMP and Origami Experience and they were the first players that I tried on my Vye as well.  In time, I found them to fall short of many of my needs, though.  I eventually tried a few other products and ended up selecting Media Monkey as my preferred music player.  In the near future, I will write up a separate post entirely about that product.

Finding the right music player for use on my Vye was essential as it is one of my key uses.  I have a big CD collection that I have accumulated over many years and have put a lot of time and effort into ripping them all to digital copies.  My wish to have my whole library on my UMPC was a major motivator in buying the Vye and upgrading it to a 250GB hard drive.

Part of the reason for the large size of my collection is that only a fairly small percentage of it consists of typical 10 track or so pop albums.  Instead, I have a very extensive collection of film scores and compilations as well as quite a bit of classical, Broadway and film musicals, and other similarly specialized music.  In those genres, many of the CDs approach the 75 minute maximum and frequently have large numbers of fairly short tracks.  My collection includes over 1,400 albums with over 26,000 separate tracks.

When I first started the process of copying my CDs to digital files, hard disk space was a lot more expensive than it is now.  In order to limit the space needed a bit, I stuck with MP3 files at 128 kbps.  The sound quality on that isn’t bad, but certainly could be better.  Now that you can get a terabyte of storage for not too much more than $200, I’ve been re-ripping the entire collection in the lossless, open-source FLAC format.  Obviously, those files are still too big to be practical for the Vye.  For the portable use, I have converted each of the FLAC files to 128kbps WMA files, which are roughly the same size as the old MP3 versions, but with a better sound quality.

A music library this large does tend to be a bit of a challenge for most digital jukebox software.  That is a lot of meta data to keep track of and I also need a user interface that doesn’t make it too overwhelmingly difficult to locate whatever particular music I am looking for at any given time.

After the jump, I go into a more in-depth discussion of the 3 Windows Media based music players.

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Vye S37 Review – One Month Report

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

I’ve received a few comments on my earlier review posts about the Vye wondering if I was going to continue to post more.  I know that a long time has passed between posts.  Part of that is my usual bad procrastination as a writer, but also a lot was my chosen subject.  I’ve been working on a discussion of using the Vye as a music player and it has turned into a pretty big task.  The main reason is that I have tried out a few different software packages and have wanted to allow enough time to really feel comfortable with the experiences.  I’m also preparing a number of photos to go with that report.  It is pretty far along and I hope to have it posted before too long.

In the mean time, I figured that it would be good to do another of my "stream of consciousness" posts reporting on some general thoughts and experiences now that I have had the Vye for a little over a month.  As with the one-week report, this will probably not be exceptionally focused, but I hope the info is interesting.

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Vye S37 – First week observations

Friday, January 18th, 2008

As the next part of my series of posts about my new Vye S37, I initially started to write up a detailed description of the process of configuration and system setup.  After a short time, I found that I was even boring myself.  Therefore, I’m going to instead just share some overall observations on my first week of use.  I’m going to take a bit of a stream-of-consciousness approach here, so hopefully it won’t be too rambling.

More on the Keyboard

In my last post, I already talked a bit about my early experiences with the keyboard.  The presence of the keyboard definitely is the biggest difference compared to my previous UMPC and I’m already seeing a substantial change in my use patterns.  With the eo, I found that I generally used it primarily as a sort of a combination of a web browsing device (essentially a MID) and an MP3 player.  When I bought it, I had visions of using it more for writing than I ever did.  The truth is that I never really got the hang of making handwriting recognition work.  Even with the improvements in Vista, I still had to make a huge number of manual corrections.  Even short discussion board posts, blog comments, or even emails took a ridiculously long time.

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Vye S37 – Aesthetics and design

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Continuing my early impressions of my new Vye S37, I’m going to spend some time here going over my “first impression” reactions to the overall aesthetics and design of the system. As a reminder, I have previously been using a TabletKiosk eo v7110 UMPC for close to 2 years, so it will obviously serve as a key point of comparison.

Exterior size and appearance

Even having used a different UMPC for quite a while, I still couldn’t help but react a bit to how small the Vye is. Even when the FedEx delivery man handed me the package, I was struck by how small it was. I suspect that if I had told the delivery man that the box contained a full-featured Windows Vista laptop computer, he probably wouldn’t have believed me.

IMG_0530

Since it is a convertible rather than a slate, the Vye is definitely a bit bulkier than the eo was, but it actually gives more of an impression of smallness since the form factor is one that we are generally used to seeing in devices that are twice as big or larger. The eo looks a lot like an enlarged iPod while the Vye looks much more like a laptop that was hit by a shrinking ray.

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Vye S37 – Pricing and Purchase Process

Monday, January 14th, 2008

After seeing the announcements from CES all moving towards smaller, less-powerful UMPCs and MIDs, I realized that my earlier research was correct and that the Vye S37 was clearly the best fit for my needs.  I placed my order late last week and received my unit on Saturday.  I haven’t really spent much time actually using the Vye yet as most of my focus this weekend was on getting the system configured.  This post will be my comments on the purchase process and I will soon add a post with my initial impressions of the system itself.

As I had mentioned in my earlier post, a key factor that attracted me to to the Vye was its use of a 2.5-inch hard drive and the assurance from the company that they could sell me a unit with 250GB of internal storage.  The larger hard-drive added an additional $218.60 to the base system prices that were listed on their web site.  This price came from the $168.60 price (including shipping) that Western Digital charged for the drive plus an additional $50 installation fee.  I also went with the upgraded 2GB memory option. After reviewing the various OS choices, I ended up selecting Vye’s "no OS" option since their price difference for adding Windows Vista Home Premium was actually more than the price of the OEM edition of Vista Ultimate from Newegg.com.  The total price of my system (including FedEx Saturday delivery) came to $1512.60.

 

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Ready to Upgrade

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Within the next few days, I expect to place an order for a new UMPC.  I think that the UMPC that is likely to best fit my needs is the Vye Mini-v S37 Model B.  I have had my TabletKiosk eo v7110 for almost 2 years now and I know that there are now a number of newer models out there that can offer a substantial upgrade in performance and features.  While my eo has served me well, I think it is time to get move up to something better.

I am paying attention to the UMPC-related announcements coming out of the currently running Consumer Electronics Show, but I don’t think it is too likely that anything will be a better fit for me than the Vye.  I’ve already seen the announcements from TabletKiosk and Samsung and their new UMPCs don’t appear to be better fits.  With the current trends, I have little expectation that anyone else will put something out that fits my needs either.  I probably will at least wait until the end of the first day of the show (Monday), but I expect to put in my order for a Vye in the next day or so.

The following is a run-down of the key criteria for my next UMPC purchase as well as the reasons why the Vye seems to meet them closely enough.

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Site Changes

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I have recently made some changes to this site, primarily centered around a switch from Blogger to Wordpress as my publishing tool. Switching to Wordpress gives me a lot more control and flexibility. Unlike Blogger, the publishing tool itself is hosted on my own web space (rather than just the content), thus allowing much more customization as well as access to a large library of plug-ins.

One big advantage is that Wordpress supports the open-standard blogging protocol called Movable Type, which expands my options when selecting blogging tools. I never had much luck getting an effective work process in place with Blogger to allow me to do work on posts via my Treo smartphone. I found tools that would let me write and publish a post entirely from the Treo, but I tend to spend a long time crafting my posts and really need the ability to keep posts in “draft” status and work on them from any of my devices.

There is an open-source Palm OS blogging tool called Plogit that fits my needs rather well. While it was compatible with Blogger at one time, I could not get it to work, probably due to changes made to Blogger by Google since the last Plogit update. With Wordpress, it works fine. Adding the ability to work on posts-in-progress from my Treo in addition to my UMPC and desktop systems will hopefully lead to more frequent updates, although I admit this technology improvement still won’t do much to overcome procrastination…

The other significant change has been to the name of the site. It is now called “Bigbeaks UMPC and Mobile Technology”, indicating an expansion of scope. I still anticipate keeping much of the content compatible with the site’s origin as a UMPC site (thus the retention of “UMPC” in the name), but I decided that I want to add the ability to discuss other mobile technologies without straying too far from the charter. I particularly want to avoid the temptation to stretch the definition of a UMPC beyond reason, such as lumping smartphones, PDAs, or internet appliances under that term.

I started this site fairly soon after Microsoft announced their “Origami” concept for a UMPC and I had purchased one of the first units shipped. Now that the initial wave of excitement has passed, my focus is now more on incorporating the UMPC into my arsenal of computing tools. I was a long time Palm OS user before I got my UMPC and a bit of a shift in my viewpoint came a few months back when I realized that some tasks, particularly quick mobile access to email, calendar, and contacts, were still better suited to a Palm than a UMPC. I ended up buying a Treo 700p. It and my eo v7110 make a pretty potent combination.

I don’t really expect the types of posts that I write to change that dramatically with the new title and slight shift of focus, as I generally expect my current (and any future) UMPC to generally be the centerpiece of my mobile computing experience. Having had a little time to reflect and develop my approach to mobile technology in the nearly a year since I have been a UMPC owner, I simply recognize that writing about my mobile experience is necessarily going to extend beyond UMPCs.

Organizing Music for Origami Experience

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Along with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Origami Experience, a new media player and program launcher specifically designed for touch-screen UMPCs. Since upgrading my eo v7110 to Vista Ultimate, I have been using Origami Experience as my primary music player.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, the large hard drive capacity on the v7110 was a big motivator for me when I choose that model. With a 160GB hard drive, I actually carry around my entire, rather extensive music collection on my eo. My music collection (mostly MP3s at 128 or 192 mbps) takes up nearly 85GB on my hard drive and represents around 1,500 different albums.

In this article, I’m going to share tips in a couple key areas for effectively managing a music library to make it work well with Origami Experience.
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Samsung Q1 Ultra and Amtek T770

Friday, March 16th, 2007

The most discussed item in the UMPC community this week has been the announcement of Samsung’s Q1-Ultra UMPC. Although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention, Amtek also announced a new model, the T770, a few weeks ago at CES. Both of these are fairly substantial upgrades to the first two Microsoft Origami UMPCs to become available to consumers, the Samsung Q1 and the Amtek T700 (sold in the US as the TabletKiosk eo v7110).

As these models are fairly significant re-designs of the first two Origami models, these two systems probably have the best claim to a “second generation UMPC” title. While Samsung has released several incremental upgrades to the Q1 before, the Q1-Ultra is really their first substantial re-design, both internally and externally. In fact, some leaked pre-announcement materials on the awkwardly-named Q1-Ultra showed that it was originally planned to be the Q2, which would have probably been a better name.

While Windows Vista compatibility/optimization looks to be a key driver for both devices, each also has a somewhat updated feature set intended to address some of the complaints/criticisms of their predecessors. Both appear to have improved CPUs and graphics processors. Reportedly, the Q1-Ultra has even been shown running Vista with the rather demanding Aero interface active. Less is known about the T770, although it seems to be a pretty safe bet that it almost has to improve on the fairly poor graphics performance of the T700.

As with the earlier models, Samsung continues to offer a lot more bells and whistles than the somewhat minimalist Amtek device. The Q1-Ultra carries over the built-in ethernet and VGA ports that were standard on the Q1 and it substitutes the Q1’s CompactFlash slot for a now more common Secure Digital slot. It also adds a fingerprint scanner, built-in web and snapshot cameras, and cellular networking. Probably the most talked about addition is a split thumb-keyboard across the face of the unit. This was almost certainly added as a response to the many reviews of the Q1 that complained of the lack of a keyboard. The Q1 was easily the most widely-reviewed of the first batch of UMPCs (some mainstream publications made it look like it was the only one on the market), and it isn’t surprising that Samsung would feel the need to address this widely mentioned item.

The upgrades to the T770 are more internal improvements rather than added features, although it does reportedly add an SD card reader and a camera. It is expected to retain the biggest advantage that the T700 had over other UMPCs, which is the use of 2.5″ hard drives, which currently allows a maximum of 160GB of on-board storage with the potential for 200GB or higher drives in the near future.

Coming down to the bottom line, I guess the obvious question that any UMPC early adopter has to consider is whether or not either of these second generation devices might prompt an upgrade. Personally, I’m tempted somewhat, but still definitely in a “wait and see” mode. Some of the bells and whistles of the Q1-Ultra are attractive, but I definitely would have a hard time giving up the 160GB hard drive capacity that I have on my current UMPC. As for the T770, I do get frustrated sometimes by the fairly weak performance of the T700, but I would definitely need to see strong indications of substantial improvement before I would shell out for an upgrade.

That said, I do see it as a positive sign that the first two companies to ship Origami UMPCs are still committed to the concept and are still working to advance it. In a time when all too many mainstream publications are ready to declare the whole UMPC idea a “failure”, it is very reassuring to see two of its main champions clearly acting like they disagree with that assessment.