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In the Zone

Ultraslims: when paying more for less makes sense

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by Kevin Jacoby on 06/24/2019
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At first glance, ultraslim laptop PCs may seem like a paradox.

Compared with traditional laptops, ultraslims are more expensive. Yet they also offer less — lower computing power, fewer ports and smaller screens.

So why would your customers want to pay more money for less computing oomph? Portability is one big reason. These devices, as the name implies, are slimmer than most laptops and therefore a lot easier to pack and lug around. 

Bent into shape

That’s the case with Lenovo’s supremely bendy ThinkPad X1 Yoga. With this ultraslim, less is more — a lot more. It weighs a respectable 3 pounds and measures only 17 mm (0.7 in.) thin.

Yet Lenovo’s latest ultraslim 2-in-1 sports a brand-new engine. Under the hood you’ll find one of Intel’s four 8th generation U-series processors. For the base price of about $1,500, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga sports an Intel Core i5-8250U quad-core CPU running at 1.6GHz.

If your customers are focused on resource-intensive tasks such as graphic design and video editing, they can go all the way up to an Intel Core i7-8650U with vPro and an 8MB SmartCache. That’s a lot of horsepower for a skinny device.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga: quad-core wallop, flexible format

Looking for flexibility? Folding the ThinkPad X1’s keyboard behind the 14-inch screen turns the ThinkPad X1 Yoga into one very powerful tablet.

Lenovo was smart to add its ThinkPad Pro Pen as part of the package. The pen has a slick, built-in charging dock that gives the user 100 minutes of use from just 15 seconds of charging.

Speaking of batteries, Lenovo says the ThinkPad X1 Yoga can work for up to 15 hours on a single charge. But remember, claims like that are usually based on the lowest specs. With fasters processors, more RAM and a brighter screen comes a more frequent need for charges. There’s no way around it.

HP gets its style on

If Lenovo’s ThinkPad is designed for a working lunch, the HP Spectre Folio is dressed for an executive meeting on a private jet. Clad from head to toe in furniture-grade leather, the Spectre Folio is a brand-new take on the ultraslim concept.

A unique hinge system gives the users more options than the average 2-in-1. In addition to the standard shape of a traditional laptops and tablets, Folio can contort into “easel mode,” which puts the screen at a convenient, laid-back angle. This hides the keyboard while leaving the trackpad accessible.

HP Spectre Folio

HP Spectre Folio: unique metal and leather design

Also, unlike other convertibles, Folio actually protects its keyboard while in tablet mode. This helps prevent wear and tear.

When it comes to processing power, the Spectre Folio is more form than function. If your customers are cutting video or crunching big data, this probably isn’t their computer.

However, that’s not really a strike against HP’s leather-clad pad. By choosing Intel’s low heat, high-efficiency 8th generation Y-series processors, HP's designers made it clear they’re more focused on the amazing 18-hour battery life. For the stylish worker on the go, it’s a smart choice.

And for tech providers, there’s another attraction. The higher average selling price of ultraslims can help boost sales even as overall PC sales decline. That’s a big boost from a slim design.

If your customers seek the perfect combination of power, flexibility and portability, tell them to go ultraslim.


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In the Zone

Gaming rigs go into hyperdrive with new Intel Core i9 CPU

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by Kevin Jacoby on 06/20/2019
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Kids today with their overclocked octa-core processors! Back in the day, we had to push our 4th generation i7 quad-cores close to melting point just to carve out a tiny edge in “World of Warcraft.”

Those days are long gone. Your customers can now configure the latest AAA-rated gaming PCs with previously unimaginable power. Even better, they can do it for a fraction of what we used to pay for a high-end rig.

Higher power, lower price

Finding a hot-rodded gaming PC for around $2,000 used to be an exercise in futility. Now it’s perfectly reasonable.

Even if you were to max out a Lenovo Legion T730 with a Core i9 8-core processor, 1TB SSD, 32GB of RAM, and a NVIDIA RTX 2080, the price tag would still fall below the $2,200 mark.

Lenovo Legion T730

Lenovo Legion T730: fully loaded for under $2,200

With a machine like that, your customers could easily be competitive in an eSports league. Make no mistake, that i9 will travel to any universe and shred any alien without breaking a sweat.

Those same specs are also available in T730’s little brother, the C730 mini gaming cube. Lenovo knows there’s nothing like pwning one’s friends at a good LAN party. And that arriving in style is half the battle.

Lenovo C730 mini gaming cube

Lenovo Legion C730 mini gaming cube: small box, mighty punch

That’s why Lenovo packed all that power into mid-sized cube with a handle on top. The Legion C730 may look meek, but in reality it’s quite the opposite.

The beast within

When it comes to cutting-edge gaming PCs, the latest and greatest all have one thing in common: the 9th generation Intel Core i9 9900K.

Intel Core i9 9900K

Some enthusiasts may be disappointed by the 9900K’s circa-2015, 14nm lithography. Indeed, this new engine bears a striking resemblance to the Coffee Lake chips of yesteryear. But like the man said, it’s not what you got, it’s how you use it.

Silicon similarities aside, the 9900K gets its edge from an 8-core, 16-thread array that tops out at 5GHz. No other processor currently available can make that claim.

The 9900K has also got a hefty 16MB SmartCache to keep the bottlenecks at bay when the pressure is on. What’s more, this processor brings all this brawn to reality with a scant 95W TDP, which speaks to the amazing efficiency Intel’s engineers managed to achieve.

Devil in the details

Gaming-PC design is a small world. Many rigs on the market share the same processors, GPUs and drives. But you can still offer your customers a choice of designers, each one presenting a subtly different build to suit the most discerning taste.

MSI and ASUS, for instance, both make high-power gaming machines. They also license motherboard, chipsets and GPU architectures directly from Intel, NVIDIA and others. Their versions of these components have unique features that cater to the gaming connoisseur.

So if your customer is looking for a custom BIOS … a dual-fan, two-layer ball-bearing GPU cooler … and/or two extra 8x PCI Express lanes … you can say yes, yes, and/or yes.

Whatever your customer wants… the answer is out there ... (Cue X-Files theme music).


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In the Zone

What makes the Microsoft Surface so good?

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by Kevin Jacoby on 05/17/2019
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With PC sales in decline, you’d think Microsoft’s Surface business would be feeling the same pinch. After all, the company has never been known for making above-average hardware.

But in fact, Surface hardware sales rose 21% in Microsoft’s most recent financial quarter, totaling $1.3 billion. And for the company’s three most recent fiscal quarters, Surface sales totaled nearly $4.4 billion.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: with 8th gen Intel Core processor

Does Microsoft know something the rest of the PC business doesn’t? Maybe.

Microsoft is working hard to gain ground in the PC hardware market. This much is apparent in the differences between the first iteration of Surface products and the much-improved current versions.

The Surface line currently comprises 5 models: Surface Pro 6, Surface Laptop 2, Surface Go, Surface Book 2 and Surface Studio 2. Starting retail prices range from a low of $399 for the Go to a high of $3,499 for the Studio.

Microsoft also offers Surface hardware as part of a subscription package, Surface All Access. It includes a Surface device, accessories and Office 365. The subscription fee starts at $25 a month for 24 months.

It’s not always about the money

But one surprising fact is that the Microsoft Surface is not always the cheapest option.

For example, put together a Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga X1 with an 8th gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and you’d pay $1,883. Configure the exact same components in a Surface Book 2, and you’d end up paying more: $1,999.

Based on the specs alone, your customer could be forgiven for choosing the less-expensive option. That’s especially true if they’re buying multiple PCs to outfit an entire office.

But if they’d look just below the, um, surface, they’d see a world of difference. For starters, Microsoft has put a great deal of thought into the design of its hardware. By essentially taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Microsoft has turned advanced industrial design into a marketing advantage.

Detachable screen

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the duality of the Surface Book 2 screen. You can fold it under the keyboard — or you can pop the screen right off and use it as a tablet. The Lenovo? Not so much.

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Microsoft Surface Book 2: laptop, tablet, all-in-one

Microsoft’s implementation of the detachable screen is one of those features that may seem simple and obvious, but is actually quite clever. The hardware feels magical and intuitive, as if it was simply meant to be.

Features like this point to Microsoft’s overall new design ethos. This also provides a good clue as to why the company is doing so well in an otherwise down market.


This design ethos can also be seen in the Surface’s awesome array of optional accessories. Microsoft, once again taking a cue from Apple, has wisely created a symbiosis between its core hardware, accessories and Windows 10 software. Superior design makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The Surface accessory lineup includes high-end wireless keyboards, the Surface Pen stylus, Surface Dial, headphones, a dock, and more. All these add-ons are not only well-designed, but also reasonably priced.

Together, these elements create a cohesive ecosystem. Its value could prove far greater to your customers than the nominal price bump over a similar system from another PC vendor.

A little glitz never hurts

But wait, there’s more. Wouldn’t your customers like to use the same computer as Dr. Strange? Microsoft is betting they would.

A bit of obvious product placement in the Marvel blockbuster is just the tip of the iceberg. Microsoft has been playing the long game for years, pushing its slick hardware into popular TV shows and movies including “Mr. Robot,” “Equity” and “Dr. Strange.”

Product placement is a tried-and-true marketing method, mainly because it works. Who cares whether Benedict Cumberbatch has a Core i7 under the hood, or if Jessica Chastain is maxed out at 16GB of DDR4 memory? What matters is that they look good using the gear. And they do!

Will your customers shell out a few more bucks for more style and substance? It’s certainly worth offering them the Surface choice. They may thank you for it.


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In the Zone

Mini-desktop PCs: small box, big bang for the buck

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by Kevin Jacoby on 05/10/2019
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Desktops aren’t dying — they’re just getting smaller.

The latest crop of mini-PCs now offers lots of power and features, minus the giant footprint of a standard desktop. The PC’s future is mighty but small.

Helping your customers choose a mini-desktop used to be all about compromise: “Sure, you can save money and space, but you’ll have to give up on power and flexibility.” Fortunately, those days are long gone.

Today, designers that include Dell, Lenovo, and HP are offering tiny PCs that run on Windows 10 and pack the latest 8th gen Intel Core processors, Intel Optane Memory, and multiple solid-state drives (SSDs).

The only downside of choosing a mini-PC is the option anxiety.

Options galore

Take HP’s ProDesk G4 mini-desktop. It comes in two series (400 and 600), each offering three sizes: mini, small form factor, and microtower. Jumping into the company’s online configurator, you’ll see the ProDesk also offers the choice of no fewer than 8 different processors. These range from the cost-effective Intel Celeron G5400 to the mighty-mighty Intel Core i7-8700T.

Sure, the latter CPU will nearly double the ProDesk 600 Desktop Mini G4's base price of roughly $630. But this processor also delivers 6 cores, each pushing up to 3.7GHz astride a giant 12MB cache. When you have that much steam in your engine, there’s no need to bother with a full-size PC.

HP ProDesk G4

HP ProDesk G4: small box, wide array of options

Other HP ProDesk options include a 16GB Intel Optane Memory module, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and an assortment of solid-state and conventional hard drives.

Are those specs truly impressive? They are when they fit inside a 2.7-pound chassis that’s less than 1 1/2 inches tall.

Swimming down-market

That HP system is impressive, yes. But what if your customer is looking to save a pile of money? That’s where Lenovo’s M720 Tiny comes in.

Lenovo has a high-end name, but with this PC the company is going for the market’s low end. This mini-PC retails for just $325.

Lenovo M720 Tiny

Lenovo M720 Tiny: with a truly nice price

It’s a smart move. While some of your customers will surely be shopping for horsepower, others will want more lower-cost options. If they’re intent on filling a cubicle farm with little PCs, they may be pleased to know that here’s an option from a brand they trust.

The Lenovo’s Tiny equally tiny price tag is the kind of money that used to get you the computing equivalent of an aging hamster on a rusty wheel. But in fact, the M720’s base processor is a downright respectable 3.1GHz Pentium Gold.

Dell aims for the middle

Dell is betting that its OptiPlex Micro will offer the perfect combination of affordable and functional. This little beast’s starting price of roughly $450 puts it right in the comfortable middle.

Dell OptiPlex Micro

Dell OptiPlex Micro: better wait and see

But wait! What’s this under the hood? A Celeron G3930T dual-core? And in a machine demanding over 100 more of your customer’s hard-earned dollars than the Lenovo and its Pentium Gold.

Someone at Dell may have missed a meeting. Perhaps it’s best to let your customers wait and see whether the OptiPlex gets updated with a more powerful CPU.

Mini-desktop PCs have certainly come into their own. They’re less expensive than a laptop, especially when you consider the power-to-price ratio. Plus, they can save a lot of space and money.

Oh yes, it’s time to get small — real small.


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In the Zone

Meet the new face of biometric security

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/17/2019
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Fact: Your customers are concerned about security. We all are, and rightly so. With so much data now stored on both local devices and far-flung servers, keeping that data private and secure has become a hot-button topic.

Unfortunately, the old methods — and that means anything older than 6 months — can no longer cut it. PC users can’t be relied on to remember, much less create, secure passwords.

Also, the bad guys have gotten much more sophisticated. One “white-hat” hacker recently unlocked a popular smartphone’s fingerprint scanner using nothing more than a cheap 3D printer.

The solution? A new generation of biometrics systems. Your customers want — no, need — to know about this.

Hello, face

If your customers still use fingerprint scanners for PC security, it’s time for them to say hello to Windows Hello. It provides facial-recognition security on the latest versions of Windows 10. Like Apple’s popular Face ID, Windows Hello gives users a fast, secure way to log in to their devices.

Setting up Windows Hello is quick. First, the system maps the features of the user’s face. Then Windows Hello stores that data directly on the device — not in the cloud.

Windows Hello security screen

Windows Hello: facial-recognition security for Windows 10

Once the setup of Windows Hello is complete, the user simply looks directly into the camera on their PC, tablet or phone. That opens the home screen 3 times faster than a fingerprint and approximately a trillion times faster than a password (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration).

Microsoft has also been kind enough to share its security tech with some partners. So Windows Hello now works with popular apps including Dropbox, OneLocker and Flow Mail. More are coming soon.

Walk this way

Are your customers looking for security tech straight out of the movie “Minority Report” (I mean in a good way)? Then it’s all about 2 new approaches: gait analysis and iris recognition.

Gait analysis is an emerging biometric technology that relies on machine learning (ML) to record the characteristics of the way a person walks. Apparently, the way we convey ourselves hither and thither is as unique as a fingerprint. And unlike a fingerprint scanner, which requires the user gets up close and personal, gait analysis works well from a distance.

Gait analysis, part of what’s being known as “behavioral biometrics,” is likely to show up in airports and other public spaces before too long. But it’s also got legs in the private sector, where corporate data must be kept secret — or else!

Iris scanning security

The human eye: unique — and difficult to fake

The other new approach, iris recognition, takes advantage of the sheer complexity of the human eye. For each of us, thousands of data points make up a unique signature. And faking another person’s iris is incredibly difficult. That kind of 3D printer, we just don’t have yet!

Safe bet, sound investment

As you might expect, sales of biometrics systems are booming. Iris-recognition sales alone are growing by about 23% a year, according to WiseGuy Reports. By 2022, it expects, the global market for iris-scanning security solutions will be worth some $1.8 billion.

The larger next-gen biometrics market, which includes iris scanners as well as other approaches, is growing by 10% a year, according to StratisticsMRC. By 2022, it predicts, next-gen biometric sales worldwide will reach $29.4 billion.

As these forecasts show, there’s a compelling business case. There’s also a good reason to talk to your customers about next-gen privacy and security.

Hi, robot

Need yet another reason to consider advanced biometrics? Then how about your own personal safety? To that end, a Silicon Valley company called Knightscope this month introduced its K1 security robot, which is equipped with facial-recognition software.

This stationary robot — nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 150 pounds — is provided with images of the faces of “persons of interest” and others who have made actual threats. If one of these people attempts to enter a workplace, the robot can detect their face and sound an alarm. Knightscope says its K1 robot can also scan license plates, and can be used in places such as parking lots, lobbies and reception areas, and shuttle-bus stops.

Knightscope K1 security robot

Knightscope K1 security robot: facial-recognition included

Knightscope says such robots are badly needed. It cites figures from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that reportedly show nearly 6 in 10 senior managers have been threatened by an employee. In the U.S. alone, Knightscope adds, some 2 million employees a year report workplace-violence incidents.

A 6-foot-tall robot may be more security than your customers need. But everyone needs to keep the data on their PCs, tablets and smartphones safe and secure. Today’s new generation of biometrics promises to do just that. 


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In the Zone

LTE notebooks: here comes the 2nd generation

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/09/2019
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The second generation of LTE-enabled laptops is hitting the market now. These devices offer up to 20 hours of battery life, always-connected cellular data, and some much-needed performance bumps.

Make no mistake, this is a glimpse of the future of mobile computing. But it’s early days yet.

When customers ask about LTE-notebooks, you might start with the short answer: It’s as if a cellphone and a laptop had a baby. LTE notebooks run like a PC, but connect like a phone.

Then it’s time to move on to the slightly longer answer: Nearly every major player in the computer biz recently decided to take advantage of Windows 10’s ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) compatibility. So they took a Snapdragon processor, previously used only in cellphones, and popped it into an ultrabook.

The result: a laptop that connects to any LTE cellular network in the world ... sips battery power so slowly it can stay in standby mode for up to a month ... and runs a full copy of Windows 10.

Ready to roam

It doesn’t matter where your customers are when they open up a LTE-notebook such as Lenovo’s Yoga C630. Whether they’re out by the backyard pool or catching a taxi outside Heathrow, their device’s local SIM card can connect to the nearest cell tower.

Lenovo Yoga C630

The Lenovo Yoga C630’s SIM card stays connected anywhere in the world

The sheer convenience of this can hardly be measured. Just think of all the time people waste searching for a reliable Wi-Fi signal.

Asking, “Uh, excuse me, miss, what’s the Wi-Fi password here?” will soon be a thing of the past. And good riddance.

Windows 10 (mostly)

Put one of the new LTE notebooks like the ASUS NovaGo in your customer’s hands, and the first thing they’ll probably notice is the attractive and smudge-proof slate-grey case with chrome accents.

But the second thing they'll notice: Windows 10 seems the same as on their other computers. That’s because it is.


Win10 apps run on the ASUS NovaGo LTE notebook — up to a point

But check out the fine print. Not every Windows app will run on a Snapdragon processor. Even in Windows 10 S mode, some apps may either crash on startup or run as slowly as the proverbial drying paint.

Is that a reason to sidestep this new tech? No, not quite. But it does limit the scope of what you can do on one of these LTE notebooks. That’s worth an honest discussion with your customers before they buy.

A word about specs

That word is RAM. Sure, the new Snapdragon 850 is a drastic improvement over its much-derided predecessor, the 835. But that doesn’t give it anything close to the power of the 8th gen Intel Core i5 quad-core CPU you’d find in a standard notebook.

To stack the odds in your customer’s favor, recommend they equip LTE notebooks with extra memory — 8GB should do the trick. Also recommend an SSD drive, assuming one is available.

This new generation of LTE notebooks is small, light, convenient, and oh-so-connected. They’re worth a careful look.


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In the Zone

Why Windows 7 systems need to be upgraded now

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by Kevin Jacoby on 03/19/2019
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The useful life of Windows 7 is coming to an end. This PC operating system is now a decade old, having been introduced by Microsoft back in 2009.

More urgently, the end of Win7 support is coming soon. Microsoft has set the date for Jan. 14, 2020, which is almost exactly 10 months off.

It should probably go without saying that your customers need to put an upgrade plan in place, like, yesterday. But you should probably go ahead and say it to them anyway.

Who me?

Apparently so. According to Net Marketshare, Windows 7 installations still outnumber those of Windows 10. The market watcher says 40% of currently active desktop and laptop PCs now run the decade-old Windows 7, compared with 37% running the current Windows 10.

Is it because Windows 7 is a better OS? No. Is it because Win7 is universally loved by IT pros? No, not that, either.

It’s because upgrading to Win10 is still difficult and time-consuming, even for a single PC. And if your customers have large-scale installations, the complexity of getting everyone upgraded can seem overwhelming.

Oh, and upgrading can cost a bunch, too. Many shops are running Win7 on years-old PCs. To get the full benefit of Win10, they’ll also need new hardware. The cost adds up. No wonder customers are dragging their heels.

10 is the new 7

This heel-dragging may have made sense last year, but it won’t make sense now, not with the end of Win7 support coming so soon. That said, you can give your customers a one-month reprieve. Common sense and abiding sanity demand an upgrade to the latest version of Windows 10. A new update is scheduled to be released next month.

Nothing short of the most recent build will do. That’s especially the case if your customers plan to hold onto their PCs forever, like luggage.

Here’s the good news: The Win10 upgrade is a much better software platform. Microsoft has learned a lot over the years, and it’s eager to show off the new features.

The Windows 10 April 2019 update (also referred to as 1903 or 19H1) will have a few notable features, starting with a new Start menu. Changes to its code base will make the Start experience faster, while offering a less-cluttered interface with new tiles and shortcuts.

Windows 10 start menu

The next Win10 update will feature a better Start menu

There will also be a new Light theme with fresh icons. Users will be able to mix and match Light and Dark elements to create their perfect custom interface.

Cortana is also coming into its own. Instead of including Cortana in the search function, Microsoft has broken out its virtual assistant and endowed her with a unique taskbar icon.

For users previously stuck in the Windows 7 mud, Cortana will be all new, no matter where the taskbar icon happens to be. Minds will be blown, and time will be saved.

Lite, not Light

Windows watchers are also looking toward Windows Lite. This will be a different sort of animal, destined for Chromebook competitors and dual-screen devices.

Make no mistake, this is Microsoft’s play for the education market, where Chromebook is currently eating the competition’s lunch. Windows Lite — so far that’s just a codename — will likely be an extension of the current Windows 10 S, which supports only apps downloaded from the Microsoft app store.

By limiting apps this way, Microsoft gains an Apple-like “walled garden” where it can control the user experience and drastically reduce security issues. Microsoft can also offer a PC startup time closer to a Chromebook’s 5 seconds, rather than the 41 seconds common to regular Windows 10 installations.

There is no official word yet on when Windows Lite will enter the market. But you can bet it won’t be too long.

With all that coming, now’s the time to help your customers pull off the Win7 Band-Aid. Yes, it might hurt for a second, and they may even cry. But in the end, everyone will be better off in terms of security, efficiency and sanity.

And there are just 10 months left on the clock. After that, it’s Windows 10 or bust. Ready, set…


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In the Zone

How Intel NUC + vPro gives you big business in a small package

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by Kevin Jacoby on 03/13/2019
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Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is the digital cross between a Swiss Army knife and The Little Engine That Could.

Every year the NUC mini-PC gets smaller and more powerful. And every year NUC weaves its way into the fabric of public life as tech-savvy people like your customers find new uses for it.

Intel NUC

Intel NUC: small, flexible and inexpensive

There may be a NUC behind the digital menu at your local McDonald’s. Maybe there’s one powering an interactive map in the shopping mall. Or maybe your most recent video call with London went smoother than usual because there’s a NUC in the conference room.

No matter where NUC pops up, one thing is certain: Its growing ubiquity could be just the opportunity your customers are looking for.

Small PC, big features

To NUC’s admirers, the list of its virtues looks like this:

> Small size: under 5 x 5 x 2 in.

> Light weight: approximately 1.1 lb.

> Flexible: Intel Core CPU, optimized for Windows 10, able to handle 4K displays

> Inexpensive: Retail prices start as low as $217

> VESA-mount compliant: Easily attaches to popular displays, mounts and other hardware

> Intel vPro-compatible (selected models): aids remote management

Digital signage

Digital signage: fast becoming a retail norm

Add these together, and you’ve got the ideal silicon engine to drive digital signs, kiosks and communications hubs. And those markets are big and fast-growing. Digital signage alone should bring in global revenue of nearly $30 billion by 2024, predicts Markets and Markets.

vPro for remote management

Today’s digital retail isn’t just about the tech you install on-site. It’s also about the tech that enables remote management. That’s where Intel’s vPro processors come in.

It took a little while for NUC to come into its own, and a little while longer for the mini-PC to find its way into the enterprise market. But IT pros are fast concluding that remote-management software and hardware is the answer to a great many questions of time, cost and efficiency.

For the uninitiated, here’s the elevator pitch: vPro-enabled processors, such as the 8th gen Intel Core i5-8600, have a unique hardware layer dedicated to remote management and security. In the event that a vPro-equipped system has a technical or security issue (such as a virus or drive failure), centrally located IT staff can gain access to the system remotely to perform a variety of diagnostics and repairs.

Intel Core i5 processor with vPro

Intel Core i5-8600 processor: vPro inside

Intel’s vPro technology is designed to more efficiently and cost-effectively manage large installations — for example, an office building full of thin-client PCs. But vPro can be invaluable for companies using tablets, PCs, point-of-sale (POS) appliances and digital signage.

Keep in mind, not all NUCs offer vPro functionality. The least expensive versions of NUC feature less-powerful processors designed to run at lower temperatures. But as you move up the food chain to certain Core i5 and Core i7 models, vPro can be added to the mix. This way, your customers need pay only for the functionality they really need.

Intel’s NUC is the little PC that could. And for tech providers and their customers, it’s becoming as handy as a Swiss Army knife.


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In the Zone

How to help customers pick the right 4K gaming monitor

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by Kevin Jacoby on 02/15/2019
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If your customer is getting ready to pick up a 4K gaming monitor, they may also need to get ready for some serious option anxiety.

With the explosion in popularity of Esports and first-person shooters (FPS), monitor manufacturers are pushing hard to dial up the visual experience and rake in the dollars.

Resolution up, prices down

It wasn’t long ago that every monitor supplier was putting out the same top-line spec: 1920 x 1080 resolution, 60Hz refresh rate, DisplayPort, blah, blah, blah.

Those days are over. Today, manufactures including ASUS, Alienware (owned by Dell), and Samsung are doing a good impression of Intel and AMD’s gigahertz war. To gain an edge over the competition, gamers and manufacturers alike are working hard to eek out a few more pixels wherever they can.

You might think this innovation would push prices up, but your customer will be glad to know that prices are actually coming down. Monitor makers are offering hot features at cool prices.

Take the 35-inch Wide Quad High-Definition (WQHD) ASUS ROG Strix XG35VQ. It’s got a max resolution of 3440 x 1440 pixels, a 21:9 aspect ratio, and a beautiful picture that’s free from tearing, flickering and blurring.


The 35-in. ASUS ROG Strix packs a lot for a little

The price? Just $760. That’s a far cry from the four-figure premium this kind of tech demanded just a few years ago.

A fresh look at refresh rates

Another stat on everyone’s lips is the refresh rate. Measured in hertz, it refers to the number of times per second a display is able to refresh the picture. The lowest acceptable rate is 60Hz, but that’s just for “regular” people, right?

The pros know that a higher refresh rate is another chance to gain that much needed edge. So hardcore gamers are looking for displays with triple-digit refresh rates.

Acer Predator X27

Acer Predator X27: more costly than most

One of them is the Acer Predator X27. Retailing for nearly $1,800, the Predator is one of the more expensive screens on the market. But it offers a 144Hz refresh — more than double that of a standard display — and an enormous resolution of 3840 x 2160.

Displays going round the bend

Another popular trend these days is the curved display. Let’s face it, you can only see so much at once, especially if you’re sitting right in front of the screen.

That is, unless the screen is curved.

Alienware's 34 Curved Gaming Monitor, at 34 inches, is smaller than the 49-inch models that get most of the press. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in pixels. At 3440 x 1440, it has nearly a million pixels more than the popular Samsung CH90.

Alienware 34 Curved Gaming Monitor

Alienware 34 Curved Gaming Monitor’s refresh rate can be overclocked

The Alienware also boasts a 4ms response time and 120Hz refresh rate you can actually overclock. Take that, League of Legends!

A big, shiny future

As demand grows for high-high-performance screens, there’s no end in sight for visual innovations. Size and resolution are already growing at an incredible rate.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Samsung’s latest 8K QLED signage display, appropriately dubbed The Wall. At up to 292 inches (or over 24 feet), it will officially be the world’s biggest, highest-resolution display.

Sure, you say, but that’s way off in the future, right? Nope. Samsung has already announced 8K televisions, some with what it calls Real Game Enhancer. Apparently the future is now.


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In the Zone

Get ready for sub-11-inch notebooks, packed with 3D CPUs

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by Kevin Jacoby on 02/11/2019
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New ultra-portable, sub-11-inch and very powerful notebook PCs are coming.

That’s thanks to Intel’s Project Athena. The project first crept into the news back in 2017, but without much detail. But this year at CES, Intel removed the wraps to reveal an incredible design that will provide the underpinning for these new ultra-portable notebooks.

Remember the giant push for Ultrabooks, circa 2011? This is going to be a lot like that. Only this time, the gear will be even smaller, lighter and faster.

Processing in 3D

The story of the upcoming Project Athena-class notebooks from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others is also a story about 3D chip technology.

Intel likely knew long ago that Moore’s Law would approach its end as the company’s fabrication process got more difficult. But it wasn’t until recently that Intel solved the puzzle of how to keep making smaller, more powerful chips. That solution came in the form of a vertical-stacking method that Intel calls Foveros.

Intel Foveros

Intel’s Foveros method stacks processing components

Instead of embedding components next to each other on a single silicon die, Forveros stacks the components, one on top of another. That also means more performance can be packed into a much smaller space.

Intel’s first Foveros-produced chip is codenamed Lakefield. It’s made up of 4 Atom cores atop 1 unidentified Sunny Cove processor.

Intel Lakefield

Lakefield, Intel’s new 3D chip, uses Foveros

Intel says we’ll see the new Lakefield chips in new ultrabooks toward the end of this year. If so, that will be just in time for the 2019 holiday shopping frenzy.

New ultrabooks

Intel’s Foveros method delivers several advantages that should enable manufacturers to rewrite the  book on ultrabooks. By stacking components on a single die, Foveros can leverage previous discreet designs, creating a new platform that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

For instance, components designed for 5G integration, artificial-intelligence management and advanced graphics can be stacked on a high-performance processor core. And the resulting package will create neither a larger footprint nor higher thermals, as it did previously.

That means PC devices can get smaller while also getting smarter. These new ultrabooks should have capabilities far beyond those of their predecessors. The very nature of mobile computing could improve dramatically in verticals that include healthcare, education and manufacturing.

Next steps

Is it weird to start looking beyond a product set that hasn’t even been released yet? Not if you’re in the tech biz. Foveros has far-reaching implications that could impact the PC and mobile device landscape for years to come.

As the 3D chip production process is further refined, manufacturers will have the tools to create a new array of very small, very powerful devices.

ASUS Project Precog dual-screen PC prototype

Foveros could power Project Precog dual-screen PC from ASUS (seen here in prototype)

We could see mobile tech with foldable screens, multi-screen clamshell designs with integrated AI and onboard Wi-Fi 6, and laptops with as much or more facility than current high-performance desktops. You could wake up one day to a fleet of 5G interconnected devices that mesh seamlessly with smart homes, virtual offices and autonomous vehicles.

This isn’t only an opportunity to prepare for the next generation of laptops. It’s also an opportunity for you and your customers to imagine a future of tiny PCs — and huge profits.



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