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Clients use graphics workstations? Take a look at what HP, Microsoft offer

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by Kevin Jacoby on 12/21/2016
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PC makers are showing renewed interest in the creative-computing market. If your clients routinely work with audio, video and or computer-aided design (CAD), now might be a good time to present them with some cool new options.

Microsoft: A Bite out of Apple

With Microsoft’s introduction in October of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC, the company has clearly set its sights set on Apple’s ample revenue. The Surface Studio looks like an iMac with its modern aluminum chassis and mysterious black bezel. But Microsoft clearly upped the ante, pulling out some nifty magic tricks you simply can’t do on a Mac.

For example: Surface Studio has 10-point touch capability, meaning you can use all 10 of your fingers to manipulate graphics, video content and more on its 28-inch PixelSense display. Trying putting your finger on an iMac screen; all you’ll get is a smudge! 

Or, if you prefer to keep your hands to yourself, you can opt for Microsoft’s pressure-sensitive pen in one hand and unique Surface Dial in the other. The Surface Dial is a round, jog-dial-type input device. Place the Dial on the Surface Studio’s screen, and you can manipulate objects and access app-specific radial menus. 

Microsoft Surface Studio

To be sure, Microsoft’s Surface Studio isn’t cheap. Your clients will need to shell out at least $3,000 to get started. Compared with Apple, that’s pretty steep. You can get a similarly spec’d iMac from Apple for around $1,800. Of course, the iMac doesn’t offer a touch screen. And a professional graphics pen from Wacom or Cintiq can cost as much as $2,800.

HP: Bidding for CAD

All those advantages aside, Microsoft may find it difficult to get graphic designers to switch from the iMac. But CAD specialists are far more platform-agnostic. Apps like the industry-standard AutoCAD often end up on high-performance Windows machines. These PCs offer the option to aggregate multiple graphics cards and memory modules to help tackle bigger jobs.

HP’s Z2 Mini, introduced last month, doesn’t offer quite that level of expandability, but this miniworkstation does come with a ton of power for a tiny box measuring just 8.5 x 8.5 x 2.3 inches. It runs the user’s choice of Windows 10 Pro or Linux, and it supports up to 6 displays (the first 4 native, then 2 with daisy chaining). The Z2 Mini also carries a price tag your clients are sure to love — just $700. (Though that does not include a keyboard, mouse or display. A fully configured setup will retail for much more.)

HP calls the Z2 Mini “the world’s first mini-workstation designed for CAD users.” To shrink the size of a proper workstation computer, HP had to do 2 big things: pack far more horsepower than your average PC into a tiny space, and keep all that power from both overheating and shutting down the whole system.

To achieve these goals, HP engineers came up with a custom cooling system. The Z2 Mini uses 2 horizontally-opposed fans. As the HP photo below shows, the fans draw air in and across vital components (blue arrows), then push it out the back (red). This cooling method isn’t novel in and of itself, of course. The novelty lies in how HP made it work with this much power, and in that small of a space.

HP Z2 Mini cooling system

As for speed, well, the Z2 Mini has plenty. Professional CAD projects need the kind of torque you can get only from a high-end CPU and GPU. So HP went right to the head of class. It offers the option of an Intel Xeon E3-1200v5 processor and NVIDIA Quadro workstation-class graphics with 2GB of video memory.

The Z2 Mini also has room for up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM and two 2.5-inch conventional or solid-state drives (SSDs). Somehow, HP packed all of that into a box you could fit in a car’s glove compartment.

Technology is amazing, isn’t it?


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Why low-cost tablets are here to stay

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by Kevin Jacoby on 12/13/2016
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Tablet prices are coming down — way down. As the R&D costs of last year’s microarchitecture development melt away, OEMs including Microsoft, Amazon and ASUS are focusing on high sales volume over profit margins.

It seems to be working. A report from Statista predicts that 60.3 million tablets will be sold in the U.S. this year, up more than 5 percent from last year’s 57.1 million units. Several reasons account for this upswing in tablet sales. But surely the most powerful must be a marked dip in retail pricing.

Consider: Your clients could pay as much as $1,129 for a full-blown Apple iPad Pro, if that’s the tablet they insist on. Or they could just pay $49.

That’s the paltry fee Microsoft recently charged during its 1-day sale on NuVision’s Duo 10 tablet (pictured), which offers both Windows and full HD. While the Duo 10 isn’t the only sub-$100 tablet in town, it certainly is the most powerful. 

NuVision’s Duo 10 tablet

NuVision Duo 10: a real Windows tablet for under $100

No Popcorn

So what does that $49 buy you? Here in New York City, just 3 movie tickets — popcorn not included! But during the Microsoft sale, it got you a Windows tablet with an 8-inch, 1920x1080 display; 2GB of RAM; 32GB of flash storage, and — wait for it — quad-core Atom “Bay Trail” processor. Need more juice? No problem. For 10 bucks more, you can get an Atom x5-Z8300 “Cherry Trail” quad-core.

Sure, your clients could also buy an Amazon Fire tablet for less than $50. But does Amazon’s device include all that speed? No. Can it run Windows desktop apps? No. Will it power your customer’s mobile workforce? Absolutely not.

As of today, the Duo 10’s price is up a bit, to $99. And it seems that sale really moved the merchandise; Microsoft Store now shows the device as “out of stock.” But you get the idea: Low-priced tablets are real.

Getting Mighty Crowded

While the NuVision Duo 10 certainly takes first price for cheapest, most capable tablet of the season, there are other cost-effective options. That’s especially true if your customers don’t mind spending more to get a better brand name, higher build quality and faster specs.

For instance, Dell, Huawei and ASUS have all launched low-cost tablets this year. The cheapest of the bunch run Android — not usually a deal breaker, but not as business-centric as Windows. On the plus side, these devices offer beautiful graphics, impressive specs and lots of possibilities.

Yoga Positions

If Windows is a must, you can introduce your customers to the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2. While the price tag, starting at about $350, might seem bloated compared to the impossibly cheap NuVision, it’s actually a steal.

Here’s why: The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 is a hard-core business slate with all the trimmings. Those trimmings include Windows 8.1; a choice of 8-, 10- or 13-inch HD display; 1.33GHz Atom Z3745 quad-core processor; 2GB of RAM; 32GB of memory; a detachable keyboard; and AnyPen technology, which lets the user write on the screen with, um, any ballpoint pen. Battery life is promised at up to 18 hours.

Cheap tablets are here to stay. While they might not always cost less than dinner for 2 at Applebee’s, all signs point to a near future filled with falling prices and rising specs. That’s good for all of us.


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In the Zone

Going IoT? Go vertical

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by Kevin Jacoby on 11/23/2016
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly finding its way into all aspects of our lives. And it’s growing fast. Cisco predicts the global IoT market will be worth $14.4 trillion by 2022.

With so much potential revenue in the IoT market, forward-looking channel partners are vying for a better foothold. But given limited resources, what’s the smartest way to approach this herculean task?

Specialize in a vertical market, advises Cisco’s VP of IoT solutions, Tony Shakib. “You need to have the vertical expertise,” he recently told CRN’s IoT Roundtable.

The trick is to first know what’s out there. Then pick a market that lets you play to your strengths. Here are a few possibilities:


If your customers are in the business of sales, helping them leverage IoT solutions to save time and increase profitability is a smart play. An Intel IoT case study on Dunkin’ Donuts provides a great example. Dunkin’ replaced its traditional printed signs with connected dynamic digital signage. The benefits include big savings on printing, shipping and manpower. 

Updated content including menu items, promotions and tantalizing pictures is pushed from a central location to thousands of stores. Big data analytics help content creators determine the best message for each store and update the smart screens in the blink of an eye.




Helping customers deploy a connected industrial workforce is a smart play. Using Intel’s emerging technology, your customers can outfit their workers with sensors and wearables. To illustrate the point, Intel teamed up with Honeywell to create a proof-of-concept for connected urban firefighters and industrial workers




The system uses gesture devices, activity detectors and smart wearables. These connect via Bluetooth to a mobile hub that ties together data on location. From there, the data is pushed to the cloud, where workers in a remote location can assess conditions in real time and deploy additional services. Whether your customer employs miners, construction workers or a remote sales staff, a custom solution can save time, money, and—in some cases—lives.


Connected transportation, like many IoT vertical markets, has the potential for explosive growth. If there’s one thing transportation operators have in common with their passengers, it’s the need for real-time, location-aware information. 



Take trains. Rail passengers are hungry for travel information and entertainment. And operators are looking to gain insight, efficiency and a better safety record. An integrated IoT system can give everyone what they need. Connected sensors, screens, wearables and seats can make the ride smoother for everyone, while providing valuable insights for your customers.

Getting into IoT? Go vertical. The result could be just the market edge you need.

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7th Gen Intel Core CPUs - new updates on speeds & feeds

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by Kevin Jacoby on 11/09/2016
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The 7th Gen Intel Core “Kaby Lake” desktop processors are set to arrive in early 2017. This much we learned from Intel’s announcement at IDF earlier this year. But we did not get many details on the processor architecture. Until now, that is.

A recently leaked Product Change Notification (PCN) provides some hard data on the speeds and feeds of Intel’s upcoming launch.

As you may know, Kaby Lake is the 7th generation of Intel’s now ubiquitous Core i3, i5, and i7 processors. It’s also the follow-up to Intel’s critically acclaimed Skylake series. These 7th Gen processors, like their recently released mobile counterparts, are based on a 14-nanometer lithography.

The 7th Gen Intel Core processor family

The 7th Gen Intel Core Processors promise faster graphics.

But without a significant advance in microarchitecture design, a processor iteration is capable of offering only so much additional speed. Such is the case with Kaby Lake. Its top-of-the-line i7-7700K will offer a base frequency of 4.2 GHz, which is just 200 MHz faster than the previous-generation Skylake’s top of the line at 4.0 GHz. Indeed, all Kaby Lake chips — there will be at least 11 quad-core processors in all — will each show a similar increase of just 0.1 to 0.3 GHz over their predecessors.

Similarly, Kaby Lake’s thermal dynamics will likely be the same as the 6th Gen Intel Core processors. But we can expect to see higher turbo boost speeds, bigger caches, and native support for USB 3.1, HDCP 2.2 and Thunderbolt 3.

Graphics Power

The new 7th gen processors will likely come with significantly more graphics power, too. When Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showed off Kaby Lake mobile processors at IDF, he made special mention of video handling, which showed a big improvement over Skylake. Of particular note was the demonstration of real-time 4K video editing on a laptop, an impressive feat by any measure.

Intel is also bringing its latest Speed Shift technology to Kaby Lake. Speed Shift controls adjustments in CPU frequency, bringing more power to bear on demand. Skylake processors needed 30 ms. to reach maximum frequency, and Kaby Lake’s Version 2 cuts that time in half.

Join our 7th Gen Social Chat on Nov. 17

Of course, leaked spec sheets are all fine and well, but wouldn’t you rather get your details directly from Intel?

Well, now you can. You’re invited to join Business Compute Forum’s next live solution-provider chat on Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET.

The topic will be the 7th Gen Intel Core processors. And our guest speaker will be David Bradshaw, a PC channel product marketing manager at Intel.

During this live and interactive chat, David will answer your questions about the 7th Gen Intel Core processors, including specs, benefits, processor roadmap, and OEM devices.

Also, Business Compute Forum will give an Amazon gift card valued at $100 to one of the chat participants, and you could be the lucky winner!

So mark your calendar for this live chat on Nov. 17, and register now to join us.

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

3 ways data centers are getting faster, more efficient, cheaper

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by Kevin Jacoby on 10/24/2016
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Your customers’ business interests intersect with data-center design every day. Whether they’re browsing Facebook, deploying cloud-based applications, or contracting data analytics services, all the information they want and need comes from an enterprise data center.Intel’s new 60U data-center racks.

Our reliance on these data centers is one good reason why data centers need to become cheaper, faster, more efficient and more reliable. Let’s look at 3 ways they’re doing just that.

1) High-density design and cooling

High-density design is about fitting more servers into a given space. Though that may sound elementary, it’s easier said than done. More servers create more heat; they also consume more energy. When heat production and power consumption hit critical mass, the entire system begins to break down.

For a company like Intel — currently running some 145,000 servers in 60 locations — breaking down is not an option. So, when Intel deployed its new high-density 60U racks (pictured right), the company also upgraded the cooling system.

Using manufactured air pressure, waste heat from the new, larger racks is pushed up through a cooling unit at the top of the 60U enclosure. From there it moves through a series of diffusers and back into the room. Combined with greener, more efficient water-cooling loops, Intel has managed to boost its Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) to 1.06 — that’s on par with Google and Facebook.

2) The distributed cloud model

Some data-center operators are taking the opposite approach. Instead of packing more servers into a single location, they push space-consuming apps and non-critical workloads to underutilized servers in secondary markets.

In a recent study, Jonathan Koomey of Stanford University and Jon Taylor of Anthesis Group found that the utilization of servers in business and enterprise data centers rarely exceeds 6 percent. They also found that 30 percent of all U.S. servers are “comatose” — that is, they use electricity, but deliver no information at all. Renting all that underutilized processing power to others would be a good deal for everyone involved.

3) SSD fast-swap drives

Sometimes small design improvements can make a big difference. A recently published Intel report, Data Center Strategy Leading Intel’s Business Transformation, describes a simple solution to a complex issue. Intel’s silicon-chip design engineers were experiencing a bottleneck. Their increasingly complex chip-design automation workloads required a server-configuration strategy that was more cost effective.

In the end, Intel IT found that substituting lower-cost Solid State Drives (SSD) for part of its server’s physical memory increased design throughput by 27 percent on an array of 13,000 servers.

Even if none of your customers are designing microprocessors, they can still employ cost-cutting methods like using fast-swap drives to increase efficiency and shorten data center configuration timelines. Changes like that can lead to lower costs and higher profit margins. What business owner wouldn’t say yes to that?

Also see:

Cloud users ‘rebalancing,’ finds CompTIA survey

Why data-center clients are rushing to the cloud: McKinsey

Lenovo adds cloud version of anywhere, any-device solution

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The New Business Case for AI

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by Kevin Jacoby on 10/10/2016
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With the latest artificial intelligence (AI) applications and technologies, business will be transformed.

The term “AI” may conjure images of killer robots and Star Trek food replicators. For real-life businesses — including your clients — AI promises to be far more mundane. Yet AI should still be highly effective.

Consider the potential value of tireless machines analyzing thousands of data streams, day and night. Many SMBs collect huge amounts of data from their customer interactions, online sales, social-media streams and marketing efforts. But few have the resources to decode it. As a result, the potential of that real-time feedback too often goes unrealized.

AI can change all that. With the help of AI, your customers can dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of their analytics systems.

Intel’s AI Future

When it comes to AI, Intel is digging in deep. The company recently made two acquisitions to bolster its AI prowess: Nervana Systems and Movidius. With these buys, Intel has dramatically expanded its portfolio of machine-learning and deep-learning software. The results are something we’ll all be able to experience firsthand.

Take Intel’s RealSense technology. It enables self-aware cameras that “understand” their position in the physical world. Devices equipped with this technology — ranging from rugged tablets to aerial drones — are capable of navigation, depth sensing, making complex decisions and offering solutions. And all without direct human input.

intel realsense

Intel RealSense integrates human-like senses into devices.

That brings us to the age of self-driving cars. Major players including Tesla, Google and Uber are racing into this market. The mass adoption of autonomous vehicles — not just cars, but also trucks, trains, boats and planes — should bring an amazing array of opportunities. Traffic lights and road signs will never be the same!

Everywhere Intelligence

But AI isn’t just something for the future. It’s in your pocket now. AI drives the facial-recognition software in your digital photo album. It also informs the talk-to-text app that turns your voice messages into emails.

The potential of AI appears unlimited. Your customers will be able to capitalize on it by deploying devices like Real Sense-enabled cellphones and PCs equipped with Intel’s Xeon Phi processor.

In the very near future, SMBs will also be able to use AI to increase their own operational efficiency. AI can help lower the cost of functions including customer service, sales and data analysis.

AI technology is close — much closer than your clients might know. How will you help them implement it?

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The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

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7th Gen Intel Core CPUs could provide the push customers need to upgrade

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by Kevin Jacoby on 09/21/2016
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The holiday buying season is coming. And Intel is working with hardware OEMs to integrate its latest “Kaby Lake” 7th generation Intel Core processors into more than 100 different 2-in-1s and laptops. Intel says these new models will be thinner, lighter and more powerful than previous iterations.

One notable example is Dell’s updated XPS 13 laptop, which offers a choice of Core i3, i5 or i7 Kaby Lake-U processors with clock speeds as high as 3.4GHz. Other features include room for 16GB of LPDDR3-2133 memory, an optional ultra-high-resolution display, and a Thunderbolt 3 port for high-speed data transfer on the go. Retail pricing starts at just under $800.

Dell XPS 13 laptop; 7th gen Intel Core processors.

The new Dell XPS 13 featuring Kaby Lake-U processors.

Upgrade Potential

The new processors are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Intel built the 7th generation Kaby Lake processors on its existing 14nm lithography, and the new CPUs share much of their predecessors’ architecture. Nonetheless, the 7th gen Core processors also includes some interesting advances. Interesting enough to prompt your customers to upgrade? That depends on their focus.

For instance, customers who create and consume video content may want to upgrade just to take advantage of Kaby Lake’s visual-processing power, courtesy of a new Iris Pro Graphics set. Intel has increased performance for video-based apps that use multiple streams of 4K content, 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR). Considering the popularity of augmented reality (AR) apps — Pokéman Go, anyone? — and the coming high-res visual revolution, Intel has made a smart play here.

Battery performance has taken another step forward, too. You might suspect that because the 7th gen Intel Core processors are faster, their battery lives have been reduced. But Intel has continued to focus on both power and efficiency. For customers who routinely deploy field-service agents equipped with enterprise mobile devices, the Kaby Lake processors’ extended battery life, improved visual feedback and enhanced security could make a big difference.

Speaking of security, the 7th gen Intel Core processors also feature better support for Windows Hello, Microsoft’s facial-ID login system that’s finding its way into a growing selection of PCs.

Overall, Kaby Lake is not a game-changer. But it does represent an important step forward in processor technology. It’s also an incremental improvement that could have a big impact on the design of hardware devices. Have your customers have been waiting for a good reason to upgrade? If so, the 7th generation Intel Core processors could give them the push they need.

Dell XPS 13 laptop; 7th gen Intel Core processors.

PCs powered by the new 7th gen Intel Core processors can wake in 0.5 seconds.

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Intel’s NUC, Compute Stick offering true desktop replacements

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by Kevin Jacoby on 09/13/2016
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The mini-PC market is heating up as customers clamor for low-cost, high-performance solutions. Previous versions of Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) and Compute Stick were good proofs of concept, but they obviously required better engineering. The newest devices deliver that inIntel “Skull Canyon” NUC, Intel Compute Stick. spades.

The most notable addition to Intel’s NUC series is the “Skull Canyon” version (pictured right). While the rest of the line seems better suited to use as light business machines or appliances — say, as a networked terminal, point-of-sale device, or videoconferencing engine — the Skull Canyon NUC has the feel of a true desktop replacement.

The exterior is thoughtfully stylized down to the skull graphic embossed on the removable lid. Under the hood sits a 6th Gen Intel Core i7-6770HQ processor with Iris Pro graphics and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. There’s room for 32GB of dual-channel DDR4 SODIMMs and two M.2 flash drives, though you have to purchase those separately. The result: a tiny device — just 211 mm long, about 8.3 inches — with more than enough power for enthusiast gaming, graphic design and video editing.

Customers who want the best and the fastest should expect to pay around $550 for Intel’s “Skull Canyon” NUC.

Clients looking for a more cost-effective solution? Then offer them Intel’s “Thin Canyon” variant. It’s a NUC designed to put a smile on the face of even the most surly CFO. Listing for about $130, but available on for as little as $117, the “Thin Canyon” NUC offers an Intel Atom processor, room for 8GB of DDR3L memory, and 4GB of on-board storage.

Introducing the new Intel Compute Stick

Sure, those deviceIntel “Skull Canyon” NUC, Intel Compute Stick.s fit in the palm of your hand, but what if your customer wants a computer barely bigger than his or her thumb? Meet the new Compute Stick.

As with the latest NUCs, the name Compute Stick now implies a range of prices and power levels. Customers looking for a sensibly priced stick computer will appreciate the “Sterling City” model (pictured left) which offers a 1.4 GHz Atom processor, 2GB of DDR3L memory, and 32GB of storage for around $130.

No, that’s not a ton of power. But it’s certainly enough to run Windows 10, along with the full Microsoft Office suite. That should be music to the ears of any road warrior tired of lugging a laptop.

If said road warrior is inclined to do some multimedia editing or after work gaming, there’s a Compute Stick for that, too. Customers willing to pay around $485 for the world’s smallest workstation can have the “Cedar City” variant. This model includes an Intel Core M processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 64GB of flash storage, and 4K video output via the HDMI connector. An optional Intel vPro processor offers higher levels of security.

At barely 5 inches long, Intel’s “Cedar City” Compute Stick runs rings around those hulking, beige desktops they made us use in high school. Only this one is the size of a pack of Lifesavers. How times have changed.


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