Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops (5)

Lenovo ThinkPad T60p Widescreen

CPU: 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7200
Display Size (inches): 15.4
Wide Screen: Yes
Total HD Size (GB): 100
Min. Weight (lbs.): 6.2
Price When Reviewed: $2199

Corporate wide-screen ThinkPad includes workstation graphics.

The ThinkPad T60p Widescreen is Lenovo's first wide-screen corporate laptop with workstation graphics. Its 256MB ATI Mobility FireGL V5250 graphics chip is optimized for OpenGL, the programming environment of choice for many big-name game developers and other 3D-modeling professionals. The WSXGA+ screen has the high, 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution needed to do detailed graphics work. The screen is quite dim, however, despite being rated at 200 nits. This drawback isn't a deal breaker, but even compared to the 150-nit-rated standard-aspect 14-1-inch Lenovo ThinkPad T60, the Widescreen definitely looks a little darker.

Our $2199 test machine was otherwise very nicely designed. Equipped with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo 7200 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 100GB hard drive, it was a good performer. In WorldBench 6 Beta 2, it earned an admirable speed score of 73. The battery, an upgrade in our notebook from the standard six-cell to a nine-cell, lasted a lengthy 4.5 hours. The T60p Widescreen is also well equipped for wireless communications, with draft-n (and 802.11a/b/g) Wi-Fi support as standard and cellular broadband as an option. At only 6.2 pounds, it truly is a mobile workstation.

The T60p Widescreen has all of the same great ThinkPad features as the smaller T60, including a top-notch keyboard with dual pointing devices and a modular bay for using two batteries at once. But only the strongest eyes will want to squint at this machine's dim screen for long.

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Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops (4)

Lenovo ThinkPad T60

CPU: 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7200
Display Size (inches): 14.1
Wide Screen: No
Total HD Size (GB): 100
Min. Weight (lbs.): 5.7
Price When Reviewed: $1899

This lightweight business laptop has capacious battery life and ships with Windows Vista Business.

A very nice corporate laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad T60 is ideal for on-the-go executives who chafe at ultraportable limitations. It's big enough to have a 14.1-inch screen and a first-rate keyboard, yet plenty light enough to carry, at 5.7 pounds. Battery life with the nine-cell upgrade included with our $1899 (as of 5/9/07) review unit was superb.

Our test machine came with Windows Vista Business and featured a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 processor and 1GB of RAM. It performed well in our tests. In the WorldBench 6 Beta 2 suite, the T60 scored a slightly better-than-average 69. In battery testing it endured for almost 5 hours on a single charge of its upgrade battery, one of the best times we've recorded for a Vista laptop. Better yet, ThinkPads have a modular bay that can hold another battery (instead of the dual-layer DVD rewritable drive), so you can work off of two batteries at once.

The T60 is a sturdy, slim unit with the ThinkPad's classic black case. Among many useful features, the great keyboard includes browser back and forward keys, and touchpad and eraserhead pointing devices. The screen is of a standard aspect ratio--instead of the wide-aspect design most notebook vendors have switched to--and it uses a matte rather than a glossy finish, but it's reasonably bright and not at all bulky. All of the basic connections--USB, audio, video, and communications ports--are present, including an ExpressCard slot. But the unit lacks a FireWire port and memory-card slots. The stereo speakers are a bit weak.

The flexible pricing starts at $1200; optional extras include broadband wireless, a fingerprint reader, and a larger 160GB hard drive. You can also request almost any flavor of Windows Vista or XP.

The ThinkPad is not ideal if your idea of good laptop includes media buttons and loud audio. But if the best balance of portability and performance is what you need, it could be the perfect addition to your carry-on gear.

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Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops (3)

Gateway E-475M

CPU: 2.2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7500
Display Size (inches): 15.4
Wide Screen: Yes
Total HD Size (GB): 100
Min. Weight (lbs.): 7.2
Price When Reviewed: $2270

Gateway business laptop delivers great performance and battery life.

If a 7.2-pound laptop with a 15.4-inch screen isn't too bulky or heavy to carry in your estimation, you may well find Gateway's new business laptop ideal for toting in a satchel or backpack. It has a durable smudge-resistant exterior, a shock-mounted hard drive, and a close-fitting lid to keep out debris. Equipped with one of Intel's latest mobile dual-core processors, the $2270 (as of 5/9/07) E-475M is also one of the fastest notebooks of the moment, and it has terrific battery life.

The E-475M's classic matte-black case has a more business-oriented look than the two-tone M-465E it replaces. The rounded, clamshell lid keeps paperclips and other small items from working their way between the screen and keyboard, making this the perfect laptop for stuffing into a grubby bag.

Equipped with 2GB of RAM and a new 2.2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7500 processor, the E-475M is the fastest Vista notebook we've tested to date. It bested our previous top WorldBench 6 Beta 2 scorer, a Micro Express NP5760 running an older 2.33-GHz Core 2 Duo T7600 chip and Vista Home, by 1 point--83 to 82. Our new speed champ is powerful enough to handle any application, even 3D gaming. (The speakers are no great shakes, however.) Wireless-communications fans get the bonus of the chip set's support for five-times-faster draft-n Wi-Fi. The Gateway aced our battery tests, as well, lasting 5 hours, 17 minutes on a single charge.

The screen has the more conservative matte finish rather than the glossy sheen so popular these day, so it's not blazingly bright--but neither does it reflect office lights. The WXSGA resolution of 1680 by 1050 pixels makes icons small, but that's the necessary trade-off if you like being able to open a lot of windows or to see all of a big document at once. The rest of the design is good overall, if a bit spartan. The keyboard is classic Gateway: plain, with no quick-launch buttons, but comfortable. Case connections are also modest but cover all the bases, including a front-mounted wireless switch. The 100GB hard drive could be bigger, but at least it's a high-speed, 7200-rpm model. The E-475M is one of the rare Gateway systems to offer a modular bay. Though the bay's release is awkwardly situated on the bottom, and is stiff and hard to work, being able to swap out the dual-layer DVD burner for a second battery or hard drive is a valuable expansion option.

Extras not included in our review unit's price include an optional fingerprint reader, an integrated smart card, Gateway's built-to-fit privacy filter, and a detachable docking station with a very nice charging bay that lets you keep an extra battery ready to go.

Though not cheap, the E-475M injects some much-needed excitement into Gateway's notebook lineup. It's a good-looking and durable design, topped off by great performance courtesy of one of Intel's latest dual-core processors.

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Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops (2)

Asus A8JR-4P021C

CPU: 1.66-GHz Core 2 Duo T5500
Display Size (inches): 14
Wide Screen: Yes
Total HD Size (GB): 120
Min. Weight (lbs.): 5.5
Price When Reviewed: $1099

A dim screen is the only significant drawback on this otherwise solidly performing and reasonably priced laptop.

The $1099 (as of 5/9/07) A8JR-4P021C has the makings of a quality notebook for worker bees limited by their company's tight budget. It lasted exactly 2 hours in our battery tests, well below average for a small laptop but enough to tide you over for short periods of unplugged work.

The 14-inch display has a good resolution, but its side-on viewable angle is quite narrow compared to other notebooks we've looked at recently.

The keyboard is easy to type on, though the mouse buttons accompanying the touchpad are slightly stiff. It's full of conveniences, including five thin black keys along the top that provide shortcuts to various functions, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless communications. And the notebook is nothing if not generously equipped: It has a FireWire port, a dual-layer DVD burner, both ExpressCard and shared flash-memory card slots, and three different video-out ports (VGA, DVI, and S-Video). The unit is also equipped with a 120GB hard drive, a Webcam, and enough ports (including five USB ports) to connect a small office of peripherals.

Unlike Asus's A8Js, which features a 512MB nVidia GeForce Go 7700 graphics chip, the A8JR uses ATI's new Mobility Radeon X2300 graphics chip, which can also use up to 896MB of main system memory. Our test model also included 1GB of RAM and a 1.66-GHz Core 2 Duo T5500 processor, making it agile enough for challenging work apps and light entertainment such as DVD movies. The system earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 60, which places it about 20 percent behind the fastest all-purpose Vista notebooks we've tested so far.

The light, 5.5-pound A8JR-4P021C has a nice design and represents a good value for the money; but test-drive the screen for yourself before you commit your cash.

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Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops (1)

These laptops can do it all and are a great choice for most notebook users. Ratings and rankings can change due to pricing and technology changes, so check back frequently for the latest info.

HP Pavilion dv6500t

CPU: 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7300
Display Size (inches): 15.4
Wide Screen: Yes
Total HD Size (GB): 120
Min. Weight (lbs.): 6.2
Price When Reviewed: $1309

This well-designed multimedia notebook performs well, thanks to one of Intel's latest mobile processors.

A beautifully crafted consumer notebook, the new HP Pavilion dv6500t has backlit media controls and a stylish case that's made for showing off.

Capable of serious work as well, it's a strong performer, yet fairly light (6.2 pounds) and easily totable. The keyboard is a tad bouncier than that of its predecessor, the dv6000t. And though bright and readable, the 15.4-inch screen tends to reflect overhead lights. Also, HP downgraded the dv6000t's 1.3-megapixel (1280-by-1024-pixel) Webcam to 0.3 megapixels (640 by 480 resolution) on the dv6500t. These are minor nits, however.

While the dv6500t adds a few more circles to the subtle motif on its designer lid, cosmetically the system is largely the same gorgeous laptop as its predecessor, with the same durable, high-gloss casing and piano-black hinges. New are support for draft-n Wi-Fi (in addition to 802.11a/b/g), a fingerprint reader for security, an HDMI output for connecting to a television, and the option for an HD DVD-ROM drive (though our test unit came with a multiformat, dual-layer DVD writer). The dv6500t has three USB ports and a seven-in-one shared card slot, and the configuration we tested included a 120GB hard drive.

Our $1309 (as of 5/9/07) review model also came equipped with 2GB of RAM and the new 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 chip, which together helped it earn a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 75--just 10 percent behind the fastest laptops we've tested. As a result, the dv6500t can handle any type of application, from mainstream to multimedia, except 3D shooter games. The dv6500t's integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 can use up to 358MB of main system memory; but for real gaming muscle, you'd want to upgrade to the optional 256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics chip.

Battery life was excellent: The notebook lasted just 3 minutes shy of 4 hours in our tests.

Multimedia junkies still have the HP QuickPlay feature that was found on the dv6000t. This entertainment menu launches with one tap or a swipe of the touch-sensitive strip at the top of the keyboard, letting you enjoy DVD movies, music, personal videos, and photo slide shows without booting Windows. Meanwhile, fantastic stereo speakers pump out the sound. An ExpressCard TV tuner is remains a $130 option. The Pavilion dv6500t's dazzling look may not be for everyone, but lurking beneath the glossy surface is a serious laptop. If high fashion fits your portable lifestyle, work never looked so good.

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Scientists close in on “cyborg-like” memory chips

Two scientists from the Tel-Aviv University have shown that information can be stored in live neurons. The research results provide a new way to help understand how our brain learns and store information, but also indicate that a “cyborg-like integration of living material into memory chips” could become a reality in the foreseeable future.

The experiment published on May 16 in Physical Review E, is based on the idea that linking neurons can result in spontaneous, coordinated firing. Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel-Aviv University said that they were able to create additional firings by using a special protocol of local chemical stimulations, which created multiple, rudimentary memories stored in the neuron network.

Neuron network with electrodes (c) Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob

To create stored memory in the neurons, the researchers introduced a chemical stimulant into the culture at a specific location. The stimulant induced a second firing pattern, starting at that location. The new firing pattern in the culture along coexisted with the original pattern. 24 hours later, they injected another round of stimulants at a new location, and a third firing pattern emerged. The scientists used an array of electrodes to monitor the firing patterns in a network of linked neurons, which revealed that the three memory patterns persisted, without interfering with each other, for more than 40 hours.

Previously published researched already indicated that coordinated neuron firing, referred to as synchronized bursting events, could be viewed as “memory templates” or “precursers of memory-related activity modes in task-performing in vivo networks.” However, Baruchi and Ben-Jacob are apparently first to actually “store” information in a cultured neuron network for an extended period of time.

Baruchi and Ben-Jacob concluded that chemical signaling mechanisms might play a “crucial role in memory and learning in task-performing [living] networks.” With some imagination, the experiment resulted in a chemically operated neuro-memory chip – which could show a way towards a memory chip that not only includes “dead”, but also living material.

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Intel Intros 3-Series Chipsets with FSB1333 and DDR3

The Bearlake Chipset Ready For 45-nm Processors

Once a year, Intel upgrades its chipset families. While the launch date for mobile and server chipset solutions keeps changing, June has been the traditional time frame for major desktop chipset releases. We've seen as many as five chipset generations for the Pentium 4 between 2000 and 2005, and the current 965/975 chipsets have powered the Core 2 processor family for almost a year. Intel will present its new 3-series chipset family June 5 during Computex in Taipei, Taiwan, while non-disclosure agreements with worldwide media end today. This article details the nitty-gritty of Intel's 2007 Bearlake chipset family, also known as 3-series.

Over the last few years, the importance of PC core logic has changed drastically. Back in the days when the Pentium or Pentium II was sold in the channel, your chipset choice had a noticeable impact on overall performance. This isn't the case anymore today, because the second-level cache (L2) was relocated from the motherboard (slow) onto processor boards (Slot A for Athlon, Slot 1 for Pentium II/III - faster) and, subsequently, onto the processor die (Athlon on socket 462 and Pentium III on socket 370 - really fast). Integrating the L2 cache into the processor has been the most effective way of accelerating your system, because highly-efficient caching logic is the key to maximum performance.

Yet the chipset probably is the most important building block for a computer, because it carries all the important interfaces and largely determines the feature set of your system. Very dense transistor designs not only allow the processor makers to build 45-nm and 65-nm chips, but they also boost manufacturing yields and facilitate the production of chipset components. The result is a level of integration that has increased tremendously. All modern chipsets, for example, include a multitude of interfaces for add-in cards (PCI Express or PCI), sophisticated dual-channel memory controllers (Intel platforms only), lots of USB 2.0 controllers (there are two ports per controller), a HD Audio controller, Gigabit networking controllers and modern Serial ATA storage controllers with four to six ports. Some chipsets also offer management features. Clearly, the purchase of a full-featured mainstream motherboard provides the components an average user needs, with the exception of powerful graphics.

It doesn't come as a surprise that the new 3-series chipset clearly is a winner from a feature standpoint. First of all, Intel releases the P35 (mainstream) and the G33 (mainstream with integrated GMA 3100 graphics). The faster G35 and the enthusiast version X38 (PCI Express 2.0) will follow in Q3. Both P35 and G33 carry a DDR3 as well as a DDR2 memory controller. Both also include an upgraded Serial ATA controller for six devices and eSATA support. The most important feature may be official support for FSB1333 system speeds, which is required for the next-generation Core 2 processor generation based on 45-nm manufacturing (Penryn).

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Which is the Best Mainstream CPU?

High-End Fell Below $200

If you're looking to buy a new system or a new processor, then you've come to the right place. A lot has been going on in the market, though Core 2 Duo is still the best choice, and AMD still has no technology to fight back. Its quad-core processor called Phenom is positioned to be a show-stopper - we will see. Then again, we've seen substantial price cuts that put even high-end processors at prices below $200. It's time to have another look around.

Intel's Core 2 Duo processor has been dominating benchmark results ever since its launch in the summer of 2006. Thanks to a large, shared L2 cache for both processor cores, modern 65 nm manufacturing, and the more advanced processor architecture, not even the top model 3.0 GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 has a chance of winning many benchmarks. However, this applies purely to raw performance.

From the standpoint of performance per watt of power consumed, the Core 2 Duo may look better too, as all processors are rated at a maximum of 65 W, while AMD still has 89 W models. The Core 2 Duo, though, doesn't carry an integrated DDR2 memory controller, which is an integral part of every AMD64 processor and thus increases their power consumption. Even so, AMD doesn't look bad - if you compare entire platforms, Intel doesn't necessarily win the power race as well. Finally, there have been substantial price cuts both in the AMD and in the Intel camp, which has actively reshuffled the balance of power - and created confusion at the same time.

AMD's first quarter results were not very amusing for the firm, as it lost considerable market share and had to post losses. While the acquisition of ATI wasn't quite a bargain, the important issue is processor prices, which were almost cut in half in the firm's attempt to stay competitive. The result is obvious now: AMD may be able to sustain its weakened market share with its Athlon 64 processors, but it isn't making a lot of money.

You will find the latest processor prices at A link to Intel's pricelist didn't work, so we recommend using the prices of a recent TG Daily article for the sake of comparison. Even after the latest price cuts, the Core 2 Duo E6700 (2.66 GHz) is tagged at $316. This is 30% more expensive than what AMD asks for the Athlon 64 X2 6000+ top model (3.0 GHz), which is priced at $241. The Core 2 Duo E6600 is indeed faster, but the percentage difference is in the single-digit range.

Taking into account the recent price cuts and looking back at how much processor performance has increased since the introduction of dual core CPUs, we clearly recommend against spending a lot of money on a CPU. You will spend at least double the money on a quad core processor versus a dual core, and many applications still don't benefit from the additional cores. At the same time, having a dual core versus a single core CPU is more important than fighting over a few hundred megahertz. The existing quad core products (Core 2 Quad) will be replaced by next-generation products in the third quarter of 2007.

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