Good friend, Louise Dean, from Intel was helping me pull together the case studies for the Visual Studio and SQL Server 2005 launch and when she saw our team lugging around some clunky (and fragile) AMD powered shuttles  for our launch demo’s and she asked why we chose them – “Performance and  Mobility” was the teams answer…

Louise being the kind person she didn’t laugh but I am guessing my team’s intelligence rating went way down in her book that day–luckily her sympathy for her mentally challenged Microsoft partners went through the roof.   Which bring us to a chance visit last month when she mentioned she was working with David Lemphers for the Vista launch and asked what I would like for some “sky’s the limit” Windows Vista hardware.   I indicated I would talk to Keith Holtham our OEM guy to see what was the fastest boxes coming to Australia.  

Keith’s List came  back:

1.       Asus Lamborghini

2.       Toshiba  A 7

3.       Toshiba M400 Tablet

4.       Samsung  X60

So last week when two Toshiba’s (A7 and a M400) and a Samsung x60 show up at my desk I couldn’t believe it!    (Unfortunately the Asus Lamborghini won’t be available until June)

So would did I do with them to test them?   Since this was for my Vista training I installed the following software:

1.       Windows Vista build 5382.1

2.       Windows WinFX SDK

3.       Visual Studio 2005

4.       Visual Studio WinFX Extensions

5.       Expression Interactive Designer

6.       Office 12 Beta 2

Then built a Windows Presentation Foundation Application with Visual Studio and Expression Interactive designer and built a quick Powerpoint v12 slide deck using the new graphics layouts. (I have had issues with Powerpoint v12 on Vista with earlier builds)

I must admit comparing the AMD Shuttle is a bit like comparing Racing Greyhounds to a Bull Dog –But these are the little struggles I have to live with<g>

The reason we went with the AMD shuttles initially was processing power.  Keeping that in mind Keith picked out computers with the new Duo Centrino  CPU’s. The two Toshiba’s containing the latest T2400 1.8GHZ processor and the Samsung running a T2300 at 1.66GHZ…While these numbers seem down compared to my 3.4GHZ HT Pentium IIII desktop the fact they are dual core lets them carry a slower clock cycle yet deliver twice the computational load -with less energy consumption (very important for laptops). Even the Samsung with the 1.66GHZ CPU was as fast as the rest of the field –indicating that none of these computers were CPU bound.  So how did they fare and what did  I think of them?

1.       Samsung X60- After looking at all three of the computers this one I was most excited to start using.  The production quality of the Samsung X60 is the highest of any laptop of any computer I have ever seen.   This quality starts with the packaging and doesn’t stop inside the computer (I had the back opened to drop in more Ram).  The x60 is also clearly one prettiest laptops I have ever used with its polished aluminum case and beautifully appointed stainless steel buttons.  All this with a screen that seemed larger than the one at my local theater so you can see why I was excited about putting this beauty on my desk.   The installs on this computer were anticlimactic with everything  just  worked Aero Video, DVD  codecs, Network cards etc -except  the sound  -which was being directed to the SPDIF output.  I didn’t know how to tell the audio card to use the internal speakers without installing the sound card software and didn’t really care about sound so I just left  it as is…. As I mentioned above the performance of Vista, office and development tools was about the same as the other computers so if the x60 has  a weakness it isn’t the processor or the ergonomics. 

In summary if I was going to replace my desktop with a widescreen laptop and spend my time in boardrooms where appearance mattered this would be my laptop of choice

 

2.       Toshiba A7 – Initially comparing it to the Samsung this computer seemed like the same computer -but in an ugly step sister sort of way.  The packaging was rough plain brown box, the documentation was on thin paper and the computer is a little bit larger than the Samsung-not necessarily a good  thing with a large screen laptop….but then you start to use it and you find out the reason it is bigger is the screen is  .5 inch larger. At one point I noticed I had Word and Visual Studio -next to each other- hang on!  What resolution is this thing running?  I find for the last 4 hours I have been running in it’s NATIVE resolution of 1680X1050!!!!!!!!!  -While that sounds insane (at least to me) it was more useful/larger than my M200 natively running 1280x1024.  As far as installs, again everything just worked (even sound) and all the drivers just snapped into place (not bad for a Beta OS and  very first run hardware!) –and I have to admit seeing Aero running on this machine really did  put the Samsung to  shame (The samsung would only do 1280X1024 with the Vista Aero drivers) One application that didn’t seem to like this expansive real estate was Expression Interactive Designer, it installed okay and everything worked fined except the timeline properties dialog would cause an exception and setting up event triggers(not a huge issues since you can hand code them) As to the applications performance with 1.5 gig of RAM I found that this computer  is DYING for more memory and a 7200 RPM hard drive as the CPU(s) are just sitting idle most the time as the computer is thrashing the disks but I couldn’t figure out where the hard drive was to upgrade it! (Not covered in the manual) – perhaps  it s due the fact this computer comes with accelerometer that parks the  drive in a fall and the hard drive is mounted in the  middles of the case –almost certainly under the keyboard if I REALLY wanted to get at it..….So in summary with the huge screen and processing power that just never quits would I replace my desktop with this computer? –ABSOLUTELY!

  

  1. Toshiba M400 – When I saw the list of computers  I told my team not bother sending me this computer as I don’t typically use the tablet functionality and the spec is pretty much the same  as the A7 (sans that beautiful Video).  My first impression was the computer was even less attractive than the A7 (which has grown on me since using it) and production quality another notch down-(This computer came with the one of the service covers on the bottom cracked.)   But since my team did send it to me, I wanted to make sure Expression Interactive Designer worked on this Toshiba when I filed the bug.  Going through the applications again they all just installed except  for the video driver (I just need to download it) but the standard VGA driver is doing 1280x1024 so no rush.  All the applications are running fine including Expression Interactive Designer, suggesting a Video driver issue above and as far as application performance this computer with 2gig of RAM does seem faster than the A7 – just imagine what they would  do with a faster drive.  Something I going to find out today as the M400 makes it easy to swap drives.  

 

  1. AMD Shuttle- Since I did mention this computer above I should list out my experience with the AMD shuttle at code camp.  The installs went fine except for the Video diver not being picked up -but a quick visit to the ATI website fixed this. Initially (For 2 days) all the applications seemed to work fine and despite running two 10,000 RPM SATA drives I had pretty comparable performance to the laptops.  At code camp i tested everything again and I left it at the demo podium plugged in for the 2 hours until my session – unfortunately in those two hours the computer managed to cook the primary SATA drive that Windows Vista was installed on and left me with no computer.  So would I replace my Pentium IIII 3.4GHZ HT or the ergonomics of three sexiest laptops in the industry with this shuttle? -NOT.

 

Summary:

The Centrino Duo really does open up the possibilities of replacing high end graphics work stations and the most discriminating developer desktops with a mobile solution.  The current builds of Vista really are as easy as putting in a DVD and hitting next a couple of times.  

Unfortunately I only get to keep ONE of these computers and now had the decision of choosing which it was to be.   Fortunately the decision was relatively easy –and not the computer I would have guessed before taking these computers for a test drive. This is due the way I normally work:

1.       I use different INTERNAL hard drives and ximage for separate environments

a.       I try to avoid external drives as a failure points

b.      I try to avoid Virtual images due  to performance issues

2.       Screen real estate is usually not an issue as I have an external monitor at home and use a projector on site with customers

3.       I am typically on the road – with my motorcycle.

     

So what am I typing on right now? The computer I told my team not to even bother sending! –The  M400!

Funny the way the world works!  So if you catch up with me during the Vista events check out my new toy, if you want to see the beautiful new Samsung X60 be sure to attend Darren Niemke presentations and if you want to see the powerhouse beast *Toshiba A7 checkout all the rest of the DE’s (**Frank, Lemphers, Glover or Andrew)

-If you want to see the Shuttle in action Paul Woods (and intern that made me angry by parking in my spot) as he being forced to revive it and use it to do BTS demos here in QLD.

 

-Chuck

 

*Despite the A7 size I probably still would have been my first choice if I could swap the HD as easily as the M400.

**I still have Franks A7 sitting next to me so he won’t have his until next week