New Samsung Laptops: The Series 5 Ultrabooks

While at the Samsung stand at the CES, we had a good look around the notebook area. Lots of new products were on display, and we’ll be producing some in depth reports on each of them as they come closer to launch and available for a detailed review. But what stood out for us was the new Samsung laptops named the series 5 Ultrabooks.

These are also the first new Samsung laptops that official carry that title Ultrabook. Available in both 13.3” and 14” and with hard drive and solid state options, these Ultrabooks are Samsung’s first foray into the Intel-created “thin and light” category.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook Profile Side on

Samsung have finally thrown their hat in the ring with an officially recognised Ultrabook range in this new samsung laptop.

With the Series 9 notebooks under the spotlight, it’s always going to be hard for other models to come out from the shadow of that impressive form factor and make its own mark. However, where the Series 9 is definitely more aspiration in market position, these new Samsung laptops make it much more accessible and affordable to own a Samsung Ultrabook.

The 13.3” series 5 sits right where we would expect a good quality, well featured Ultrabook to: 13.3” screen size, 2nd Gen Intel i5 processor, and a slim, silver body with no moving parts, unless you chose the hard drive model with 500GB of storage. It does add a little to the weight but for those who need it, it’s probably better than ensuring you’ve always got your portable hard drive on hand.

The screen was the most and refreshing one (pardon the technical pun) I’ve seen in a while – sporting a matte finish. Ever since we released details of the first Ultrabook, a matte screen request has come up in the comments section a few times and it’s great to finally see one in this category. Matte delivers much less reflection, and the 300 nit brightness means you can take it outside and use it in daylight without the massive light bounces.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook matt Screen playing video

Matte screens are a rare find these days, but it's great to see one in an Ultrabook, which probably needs it most of all.

This suits Ultrabooks in a huge way, because the lightness and slimness encourages mobility and field use. The 1366 x 768 resolution is standard for this size screen, and doesn’t replicate the Asus UX31 or Macbook 1440 x 900 high definition screen. The matte screen and high brightness does help compensate.

Ports are also wide and varied to support most connectivity needs as well, with HDMI, USB 3.0 and 2.0, Card reader, and onboard Ethernet. Wireless connectivity is also impressive, with Bluetooth, N Wireless and WiDi all onboard.

Design wise it’s a smart looking though conservative design. Curved edges take away any edginess and the chiclet keyboard is comfortable to type on. It’s easy to hold in one hand and sits between the Acer S3 and the HP Folio Ultrabook from a weight point of view.

The 14 inch Ultrabook is extremely interesting from a labelling point of view. Take away the Ultrabook tag and what we have here is a light, well designed 14” notebook with all the ports and media drives you need.

Place it in the Ultrabook category and it’s kind of like the guy who is always stooping down to walk under door frames and slouching in his chair to remain inconspicuous  – suddenly the 14” Series 5 model is defined and measured by the relevant things around it, and it looks a little big in comparison to what we’d expect in an Ultrabook.

However Samsung have made sure that the 14” fits within the strict definition of an Ultrabook by using the required components, including processor and solid state, and sneaking under the weight and thickness limits by the smallest margin. For example, the thickness limit for a 14” Ultrabook is 21mm, and Samsung tip in at 20.9mm.

The one component I didn’t expect to see in an Ultrabook, regardless of size, was an optical drive, in this case a DVD Burner/Player. Although I can see where this might come in handy for those that use DVD media all the time, it is probably not what would be required in an Ultrabook.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook optical drive anyone want to watch a dvd?

What do you call an Ultrabook with a DVD Drive? Not sure, but we'll just call it a Samsung Series 5 for now.

Samsung have made sure it impresses in performance, with very fast measured boot time, blink-and-you-miss-it wake up from sleep or lid opening. Because the Intel guidelines change with screen size, one of these new Samsung laptops has also managed to offer a 1GB dedicated graphics option as well, depending on what model hits what region.

The two main competitors for the Series 5 14” model would be the Asus U46SV, and the Lenovo U400. Comparing against those two non-Ultrabook models, the Samsung is a very slim and light 14” notebook, easily beating both the Asus and Lenovo models in weight (both around 2kg with the Samsung at 1.64kg in SSD version) and thinness (Lenovo is closer to 23mm and Asus around 24mm).

So this is becomes the conundrum – should a slim notebook with awesome specs be shoehorned into a category because it exists, or will it succeed in its own right by having the optimum performance  against its competitors?

My guess is that on a shop floor, against other 14” models, this new Samsung laptop will still be a strong choice because of its comparatively slimmer and lighter dimensions. A 14” notebook with optical drive and dedicated graphics that weighs only 1.64kg? That’s pretty impressive by any measure.

For more details and specifications, please visit www.ultrabooknews.com for both the 13.3″ version and the 14″ model.

Here’s our run through of the Series 5 Ultrabook range covering both the 13.3” and 14” model, where we look at the features and discuss the definition of an Ultrabook:

 

Here is where we’d love to hear your thoughts! Would you prefer one of the new Samsung laptops named the Series 5  ultrabooks , and  why? Feel free to ask any questions about the range as well.

Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas – Reflections on CES 2012

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, and left behind a buzz of excitement and expectation for products and platforms that we will begin to see later on this year. A week after returning to Sydney, and with a couple more videos to upload, I thought I’d look back on the show in a holistic view and pick out some highlights.

There were no revelatory launches or announcements, mostly there were hints of things to come, partnerships to blossom and a drive to make things even simpler for users. Here are some of the impressions I had while walking through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

There is an ecosystem war about to be waged, and the prize is… you. Apple and Google have been fighting for the mobile device market for the past few years, with Google now an extremely capable and experienced hand in the cell phone market. However, inroads have been harder for Google to create for the tablet market, which is still predominantly iPad.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will put its hat in the ring for ecosystem and cross-device dominance, with Windows 8 expected to be deployed across a raft of new products including desktops, touchscreen all-in-ones, Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

CES attendees flocking to the Microsoft stand to obtain a glimpse on what will be on offer this year.

Windows are in the enviable position of possessing a user base of hundreds of millions that are potentially customers for the Windows 8 system. Of course, many of them are already using iPhones or one of the many well regarded Android Smartphones, and are knee-deep in the App markets of either one.

However, if Windows does manage to execute the launch correctly, it could potentially convert a fair percentage of these users over through the promise of complete and seamless connectivity of files and data through any device. It could be pretty compelling if they can tie Skydrive into the cloud service that manages the always-synched nature of the always connected, always on products that we now demand.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which was derided by many at the time of the announcement, now it seems to be one of the smartest moves for both companies to survive and succeed in the brave new world of the smartphone market.

On the other hand, Intel’s major push with Lenovo and Motorola into Google-powered mobile devices later this year gives Android another shot in the arm to stay ahead of the competition and flourish in bourgeoning markets like China – what a country for Lenovo smartphones to launch in! The name of the game here seems to be installed base, and on this metric both Android and iPhone have a comfortable head start on Microsoft.

Nearly every PC brand represented at CES had an Ultrabook offering, and this Intel-created category of slim and light notebooks has given notebooks a new lease of life where there has not been any tremendous technology bumps since the first wave of Core i3/i5/i7 processors were released.

Intel stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

With Intel announcing that they are entering the mobile phone market, other mobile phone chipmakers have been put on notice.

The Ultrabooks show how light, connectable and thin Windows notebooks can be. With most of Intel’s marketing funds being pushed towards the Ultrabook category, it’s no wonder manufacturers are producing their own takes on the Ultrabook in terms of design, weight and ports. As the gap between a standard notebook and an Ultrabook begins to narrow, Ultrabooks will become more attractive for its attributes of SSD, unibody shells, lack of moving parts, instant-on and practical portability without compromising comparable performance.

At the Microsoft Keynote, a few important announcements were made that will start to affect the landscape of PCs later in the year. The first was the announcement of Kinext coming to Windows PCs, and that the developer kit would be released at the beginning of February. This is the first step away from the standard keyboard and mouse and towards Natural User Interface, where gesture and voice control may become a standard plug in for devices in the future. Kinect started as a gaming platform but it was always quite clear that its potential went far beyond waving your hands in front of the TV and would have positive implications for many industries.

Microsoft keynote at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Microsoft Keynote... if only they could get the voice recognition software on that dang Windows Phone to work. :-D

The other key announcement was the support for ARM devices for the Windows 8 platform. This means that popular tablets like the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab could end up with Windows pre-loaded in the future. This could be a sigh of relief to traditional PC manufacturers, who will probably find deploying Windows on their tablets less burdensome than Android.

Not that Google is entirely on the outer, either. Intel’s chosen platform for its initial foray into the mobile phone market is with Google, which will strengthen its share in the smartphone category and possibly shore up support for tablet devices.

Integration and simplification seems to be the mantra for many AV companies, who are becoming less reliant on third party peripherals and building technology into their products. For example, LG will have Wi-Di in selected models, making the investment in a Wi-Di enabled notebook much less of a consideration because of the need to buy a Netgear or Belkin add-on, for example.

Glassless 3D was also on display for many companies, including Sony and Toshiba. Toshiba had glassless versions for their notebooks as well. The biggest issue is the need for the viewer to be positioned in exactly the right angle and distance for the 3D effect to take place, otherwise it just shows two overlapping images. It’s a progressive step and an indication of where this will head next.

Television-size OLED screens made an appearance as well, and we’ve seen how good images look on a small 7.7 inch screen, and they looked absolutely amazing on a 55 inch display – thin, light, bright with real colour depth. These are the displays of the future, taking over where Plasma and LCD was and where LED is now.

I was very interested in the integration of Google TV into TVs as well, which to me seems like the proper evolution of the Smart TV. LG’s demonstration of Google’s search and select activity on its screens showed how Google can become the default driver for finding relevant video content regardless of source on your television screen. With YouTube focusing on Channels instead of users, and licensing broadcaster program listings, the melding of online, cable and free to air content could be Google’s next big platform.

LG and Google TV stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Google TV... changing the way we watch TV and putting the control firmly back into the viewers hands.

There was plenty more that I saw, including a fair bit of home automation and security and more IP connected devices and appliances. But for the most part, this year seemed to be all about the evolution of platforms and the devices that will support them.

We’ll be following up with key manufacturers here in Australia as products are released and look forward to sharing our views and demonstrations of these new devices and platforms as they become available. What new gadgets and devices are you looking forward to seeing in the market?

Until the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from the Ritchie’s Room team thanks for watching and reading and we can’t wait until CES 2013.

CES 2012: Intel Smartphone Reference Design Demonstration

At the Intel Keynote at the CES, CEO Paul Otenelli made quite a few major announcements, some of which will start to bear fruit later in the year. Of the big pieces of news to come out of that event was Intel’s foray into the Smartphone category – providing chipsets for manufacturers as an alternative to existing suppliers.

We were impressed with the performance capabilities of the reference design - if this manifests in a vendor-based smartphone, Intel has a rosy future in the smartphone market.

Intel are not dipping their toes in the water either – they are launching with Lenovo in the Chinese market. This does make a lot of sense – because manufacturing will most likely be based in China, speed to market and scalability will be competitive advantages from day one.

As a chipset manufacturer, Intel could simply provide the processor feature set and engineering samples and leave it to the builders to start from scratch. However, Intel actually develop full working samples of devices to inspire and create a performance baseline that brands can use as a template.

At the Keynote, there were actually a few Reference design models – one for Smartphone, for tablet, and for Ultrabook. The Ultrabook reference design was interesting in its capability to shift into a touchscreen tablet.

Outside of the keynote, the only reference design model that was publicly demonstrated was the smartphone, and it was an impressive display. If this is truly how smartphones built with Intel architecture will be perform, then Intel can’t ignored as a viable alternative for manufacturers looking to improve the experience of their products for customers.

With 4G network infrastructure being built, high definition content becoming the norm, and smartphones increasingly taking share in the mobile phone market, Intel look to be in a good position over the next year.

Check out these live demos of the Intel Reference Design on the Intel stand at CES.

The first one is a spec introduction and web browsing demonstration:

 

The second one shows a gaming example:

 

This last one demonstrates high definition video playback:

 

Would you consider a smartphone if it has an Intel sticker on it?

 

Ritchie’s Room at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)!

The 2012 CES is only a few days away and we just wanted to shout out to all our readers that we will be updating this site has much as possible with news from the 2012 tech launch event.

We will be on hand for all the major announcements from the big brands attending CES 2012.

We expect to see and share with you some great new releases including the latest Ultrabooks, Tablets, Windows 8 gear, and the latest in Smart TVs, smartphones and networking products.

We’ll be sharing this on all our social networks, so you ‘ll be able to track our updates and posts on the following platforms:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ritchiesroom

Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritchiesroom

YouTube: www.youtube.com/ritchiesroomtv

Google Plus (the link is not an extension as such)

and of course right here on Ritchie’s Room!

So feel free to subscribe to us on any of the above social links and bookmark us here for regular updates straight from the Las Vegas Convention Centre and other venues in town.

If there is anything you’d like to know specifically, or think think there is a stand worth looking at for our readers, here’s your chance to have your Ritchie’s Room roving reporters get around to these stands during the show. We’ll do our best to cover as much as possible during the days we are there.

Cheers, and until next time… in Vegas!

Consumer Electronics Show 2012 – Looking into the Tech Crystal Ball

We'll be right in the thick of all the product announcements, keynote events and vendor stands to bring you the best of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the past year, we’ve had a great time sharing, discussing and responding to you, our readers around the big stories of 2011. Tablets, Ultrabooks, Media Players, iDevices and other categories like photography and home appliances have all had their interesting issues and product releases.

So what can we expect from 2012? The best place to start is in Las Vegas, at the Consumer Electronics Show. Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Google and many of the major computing vendors will be there to show off products and concepts that will make their way into the hands and households of users later in the year.

The great news is we’ll be reporting on all the hot stories from the CES fair in words, images and videos. We’ll be there from the kick-off event on the evening of Sunday 8th January, attending Press Day on Monday and then hitting the stands from Tuesday through to Friday.

We will be providing some insights into the announcements from the major manufacturers, reporting on the keynote events and spend some hands-on time with the new devices and hopefully talk to some key people involved in the industry.

It should be an interesting week as we expect to see a stack of exciting new products including convergence ideas in Home Entertainment, Windows 8 product concepts, as well as new Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

There will no doubt a lot of different products that we will have the pleasure of touching and seeing while at the CES show that will illustrate in their own way what direction this industry might take over the next 12 months.

In the spirit of how we run things here at Ritchie’s Room, we’d like to hand the mic over to you the reader, and ask what it is that you’d like to see us cover and explore while at the CES in January?

Samsung Series 7 Slate PC: First Look

In October, Samsung will be releasing their latest offering in the tablet/slate space, unaffected by legal wrangling. Samsung provided an evaluation unit of the upcoming Series 7 Slate PC for a few fun hours, and I walked away quite impressed with what they have been able to do with a Windows-based tablet.

Not just another tablet... The Series 7 Slate PC

With Ultrabooks being all the rage, Apple continuing to dominate the tablet market and Android-based tablets showing real innovation, this product definitely needs to have some stand-out features to cut through the noise from all the other computing offerings.

I think this slate device from Samsung not only competes nicely against the incumbents, but keeping in mind what Windows 8 has in store next year, sets the benchmark for a solid out-of-the-box Windows solution.

Series 7 Slate on dock.

The specifications actually sound very Ultrabook-ish. A low voltage Intel i5 processor, the same as the one used in some Ultrabooks, with 64GB or 128GB SSD capacity, 4GB of RAM and a choice between Premium and Professional operating systems. The local Australian versions haven’t been confirmed yet. Just like the Ultrabooks, there is no dedicated graphics, relying on the Intel HD Graphics to handle all the video processing requirements.

The screen is a bright (400 nit) 11.6” LCD with a 1366 x768 widescreen resolution. Wireless is naturally built-in, as is Bluetooth for connection to keyboards and other devices. There’s a front and back camera with 2MP and 3MP sizes respectively.

All in the box... Dock, keyboard and stylus come with the Series 7 Slate.

However, the specs are only one part of the story. This is easily the best looking, easy to carry Windows tablet I’ve played with so far. The metal finish across the entire body is striking and would stand out from existing tablets. Those who purchase with design and style in their criteria would be turning their heads in this slate’s direction. The capacitive screen is very responsive, presumably carrying on from Samsung’s experience in previous tablets and smartphones.

Light and thin come to mind as well, with the unit weighing only 860 grams and a tad under 13mm thick.

 

There’s enough connectivity to satisfy most users on the actual tablet, with Micro-SD card, micro-HDMI, full-size USB and headphone input all present along with the dock connector. Other buttons include power, volume and orientation-lock.

Series 7 profile showing USB flap, headphone input, volume, HDMI and power.

Windows 7 has never been a serious contender in the touch-based environment. Smartly, there is an active electromagnetic pen included, which makes much more sense for standard windows operation. The pen can be floated slightly above the screen and still be detected by the display.

 

If you want a more touch-friendly interface, Samsung does include a Touch Launcher program, which is essentially a skin for selected programs to be grouped within a one-touch, slide based environment. It’s a small but cool program that gives a degree of familiarity to those already using tablets.

Touch-based program launcher on t he Series 7 Slate.

On that topic, Samsung have deliberately called this a “slate”, with no mention of tablets, and it seems that its target market is not the app-based content consuming market – this is definitely a product you would create documents on first, and use as a casual touch screen device second.

Full PC performance when you need it.

The dock and Bluetooth keyboard are included in the box as well. The dock provides charging, Ethernet, USB 2.0, headphone and HDMI outputs, while the slim, metallic keyboard provides a very real notebook feel while the tablet is docked.

 

And this is the attraction – while docked, the Series 7 Slate offers a high performance PC, perhaps hooked up to a larger HD monitor. Out of the dock and on the road, it’s still capable of running all of the Windows applications you need but in a truly portable form factor. This is no netbook-level Windows tablet. The slate has a claimed 7 hours battery life but I didn’t have it long enough to confirm that.

Rear of the Series 7 Slate showing 3MP camera and dock connectivity.

From the short experience I had, it’s easily one of the best Windows 7 executions of a tablet form factor yet. The stylus may be anachronistic to some but makes total sense in a Windows environment, until Windows 8 arrives sometime next year.

An example of Series 7 Touch Launch programs - the Recipe app.

The Series 7 Slate will be priced at similar levels to some of its Ultrabook cousins, but if local sales of the Asus EP121 Windows Slate are any indication, there is a market for those who need to hold on to their Windows-based applications and this complete package may be just the ticket.

Would you consider the Slate as your next PC purchase? How would you be using it?

Ultrabooks: Thin Is In

You may not know it yet, but notebooks will be going through a revolution in the next 12 months. A new class of mobile PC will emerge: thin, light, style-focused and high-performing.

A women measuring her waistline

We've been concerned about our waistline for years and now it seems we also want thinner notebooks.

Fuelled by advancements and competitive innovation from both AMD and Intel, notebooks have ramped up in performance and specifications, but with the exception of a few, haven’t really shed their traditional notebook dimensions or basic characteristics such as boot up time and battery life. At the same time, tablets have become a mainstream product that can replace a notebook for some tasks.

The Ultrabook range, coined by Intel, addresses some of these issues affecting the notebook market. Although netbooks were the more mobile and lighter version of its notebook sibling, they are limited to a smaller screen and fitted to more basic PC tasks. Ultrabooks are designed to deliver the full PC experience, with the core propositions of “thin” and “light” manifesting themselves in stylish, eye-catching designs.

Ultrabooks will be the portable PC you want to use, and be seen using. The casual look-at-me email or Facebook check at a café will never have been more popular once these machines start making their way into the market.

There’s no doubt that notebooks are the best value they’ve ever been, and from a “bang for buck” perspective there’s never been a better time to upgrade if you feel the need to. But with longer battery times, an “always on” state similar to tablets, and a burning desire to reveal your sleek Ultrabook at every opportunity, you may find the attraction too hard to resist.

Intel are predicting that Ultrabooks will make up 40% of the consumer notebook market by the end of next year, with each successive Intel chip development driving even greater performance. The first range, due out in October, will make use of a low-voltage variant of the Sandy Bridge processor.

Acer will be the first PC manufacturer to reveal their Ultrabook lineup in Australia later this week, and we’ll be there to take a close look at their offering.

The revolution starts now.

Ritchie’s Chat Room: Intel Director Makiko Eda

As the director of Intel’s marketing and sales division for Asia Pacific, Makiko Eda can talk with authority about her company’s current and future position in a world now dominated by daily tablet announcements. Hailing from Japan, Eda was in Sydney to meet retailers and get an update on the Australian arm of the Intel business.

After the worldwide recall which affected all PC manufacturers, Intel is preparing to re-launch its second generation Core processors commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Eda is under no illusion that the recall did not affect business for both Intel and its customers, admitting there was “pain in the supply chain, delay, and missed opportunities in the market.”

Eda notes that they have strengthened their verification process in the production and testing areas, saying there is definitely a need for “an extra step at the factory”. After the success of the first generation of iCore models, Eda noted there was a “military” push to get the new chips to market, and when they did find the issue that sparked the recall, Intel “had to make a quick decision.”

That recall left much of the market starved of higher value product, particularly in the quad core notebook range. The challenge now is to make enough noise about a category that has been overwhelmed by the interest in tablets. “We hear a lot of concern, that computers are kind of boring”. The new range, Eda says, “has a lot of new capabilities and can bring more excitement into the category. As Intel we have to do a better job of communicating that excitement and experience that Sandy Bridge brings to the market.”

So how does Intel feel about the impending onslaught of tablets? “Tablets are a great device, but they’re not going to replace computers.” says Eda. “It’s going to be a secondary device, but it is getting a lot of attention in the market.” With NVidia becoming well known for their tablet processors, Eda says Intel will have their own offering in the second half of the year. “Our products will focus on energy efficiency, performance and added value to the tablet.”

In the meantime, Eda says that netbooks remain a viable alternative in the near future as a second device, and that Intel are working with manufacturers on innovations to keep the netbook category relevant. “We’ll come up with interesting form factors, like hybrids. You’ll get the goodness of tablets, ease of access and thinness but at the same time you have the convenience of the keyboard.”

Intel have set their sights on the lounge room as well, with a host of manufacturers showing off Intel-embedded Smart TVs at this year’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas. Said Eda, “We’re working with some partners to enable the internet experience on TV more seamlessly. We want to make it an out-of-the-box experience.”

With cloud computing also on the horizon from a consumer perspective, Eda believes that the enterprise space will derive the most benefit at this stage, where “the internal cloud makes more sense”. Consumers may not be ready to make the leap because “you rely so much on the communication infrastructure. You may still want to have a photo on your hard drive; you may have videos you want to see, without thinking ‘do I have an internet connection here’?”

Security will be foremost in the minds of end users when products like Chrome notebooks begin to make their way into the retail space, and to that end, Eda says that Intel are “working on hardware-based solutions”. Intel’s acquisition of McAfee may be part of that plan, with Eda hinting that Intel intends to “extract some of the (McAfee) goodness to integrate into the core business with security features in the future.”

With the computer industry evolving quicker than ever, Intel faces challenges from many corners, but Eda is confident of her company’s ability to repeat the successes of last year’s Core processor launch. As Eda explains, there’s more to computers than talking about speeds and specifications. With the marketing focus on the “experience”, rather than the product, Intel is “trying to put a little bit of the human side into it.”

Interview courtesy of Intel Australia.

Intel’s New Processors: Bridging the Gap

On Tuesday 18th January, Intel hosted a media and retailer launch in Sydney to demonstrate their new processor range, the second generation of the Core Processor Family, commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Special overseas guest and Intel evangelist Mooly Eden revealed to the audience how processor development is changing within Intel, delivering his presentation with humour and enthusiasm. It’s a fairly dry subject, but Mooly managed to steer clear of too many specs and statistics and focus on the practical benefits that he and Intel believes the new range will deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge General Manager Philip Cronin

General Manager of Intel Australia/New Zealand Phillip Cronin opens the event.

As a retail technology buyer, it was a great opportunity to gain some insight into the company whose name adorns millions of notebooks and desktops worldwide, yet remains hidden deep inside those products. The physical Intel product can only be imagined as a concept; it is what the platform enables us to do as users, that has secured its success as a microprocessor manufacturer.

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden

Highly entertaining and passionate about processors & people: Vice President & General Manager PC Client Group, Mooly Eden.

On a global scale, some of the statistics Mooly quoted are mind-boggling. One million PCs are shipped everyday around the world. The new processors carry 1.16 Billion transistors on each chip. From a user perspective, there are 2 billion internet users around the world, 240 billion emails sent per day, 2 billion videos viewed daily, and 2.5 billion images uploaded to Facebook per month. These usage figures are the ones that have brought into focus Intel’s challenge – to meet the demands of how we interact with our PC on a daily basis, which is far removed from our behaviour only a few years ago.

Intel Sandy Bridge Brain and Human Brain

Mooly reminded us that today’s chips are not too far away from having the same number of connections as a human brain. The words “Sky” and "Net” were thrown around as well.

PCs have indeed shifted from being a desktop in a room that everyone shared, to being a completely personal device that is used to socialise and communicate online. As more educated consumers, we have all progressed from looking at and comparing specs before purchasing a PC, to now judging whether that product would enhance the experience of what we would normally use a computer for – in other words, seeking out the practical benefits rather than checking out what’s under the hood.

Intel Sandy Bridge Samsung Notebooks

One of Samsung's hot new models. Also, there is a notebook in this picture.

At this launch, the issue of content creation versus consumption was raised, and I think it highlights one of the biggest challenges to chip makers. Most of us think that when we are moving our movies and music to a portable device, or uploading new photo albums to our Facebook account, it all falls under the umbrella of “consumption” – it’s all being moved around to be shared and enjoyed. Nothing is being “created” as far as the user is concerned.

However, from a PC perspective there is PLENTY going on. Every time a video moves from a PC to a portable device it needs to be “transcoded”, or changed from one format to another. This requires not only a high speed, reliable link between devices but also sheer processing power to alter the file into a format best suited to the device it’s being transferred to. Likewise with photos uploaded to Flickr or Facebook, the images need to be compressed without major quality loss before uploading. All of this is “creation” – creating a new file to fit the requirements of a new device or online destination.

Intel Sandy Bridge Acer Notebooks

Acer's new look premium notebooks, incorporating an innovative touch interface.

Yet, the expectation of any user, myself included, is that those activities should “just happen”. So behind the scenes, Intel is working to a new paradigm – determine the ideal user experience, understand the environment in which it’s happening and deliver hardware that can cope with those demands.

Quick Sync is a good example of supporting user behaviour. It’s basically a transcoding feature that speeds up the compression much quicker than any hardware before it. And because the HD graphics engine is on the same chip, Intel claim there is no need for a dedicated graphics card unless you’re a hardcore gamer or high definition video editor. The demo certainly was impressive, more so as it was without discreet graphics hardware. To drive the point home, some high resolution rendering and bulk-photo red-eye removal processes were demonstrated and were amazingly quick.

Mooly introduced the PC Theft Defence Service, which in simple terms assists in rendering a notebook useless if it was stolen and then connected to the internet by the thief – the user would be able to send a “suicide pill” which the notebook would pick up online and self-destruct. He also showed off a new game, Portal 2, which used motion-sensing equipment to navigate and control a third person shooter.

I was impressed with the avatar demonstration that replaced a person’s real face with a new, animated one – one which could be changed by choice. The point of the demo was to show what could be achieved with the new processors, and where man-machine interfaces may evolve.

Intel Sandy Bridge Avatar

Weirdest tech moment of the night: Mooly talks with an avatar of… well, himself.

The final announcement of the night was a new entertainment feature called “Intel Insider”, which allows full HD movies to be streamed if it detects the new Intel processors in the PC. Because the new Intel Core range uses encryption technology, some movie studios are warming to the idea of releasing full high definition digital versions of its movies – for a price of course. This represents a new distribution opportunity for an industry beset by piracy and illegal downloading.

Sandy Bridge Intel Insider for HD movies

Commercial or controversial? Intel Insider got tongues wagging. Intel didn't bite.

There are two sides to this from a user perspective. Firstly, it does open new markets for film studios to deliver movies in high quality without fear of the file being copied and distributed via torrents and P2P networks. iTunes has proven that people will pay for content when it’s easy to access, manage and enjoy. The flip side is this is the first time a component company, as opposed to a software company, has joined forces with movie studios, and the fear voiced in the room during question time revolved around Intel’s ability to determine what can be watched – if the chip can be used to access content, could it also be used to prevent certain files to be played? An interesting take, but probably not the conspiracy theory some hope for. Movie studios might yet embrace digital distribution on a larger scale, and this is one step towards opening up that comfort zone for the normally paranoid and protective film companies.

Of course, high definition streaming is one thing, but being able to watch it on a big screen is another. WiDi, which is an Intel feature enabling wireless streaming from a notebook to a flat panel screen, has been improved to 1080p streaming. This works in well with the full HD movie streaming offer. Content will be streamed from a content provider to the notebook, which will then push the content onto suitable televisions. This provides an opportunity for film studios, notebook makers and television brands to work with retailers to come up with a bundled offer that makes it easy for the customer to understand and use all the benefits that Sandy Bridge promises to deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge WiDi Wireless Streaming

Full HD streaming from a notebook to an LCD. Wireless just took another leap forward.

There was a lot to absorb at the Intel Sandy Bridge launch, and the overall feeling I had was that Intel are reaching out to customers more than ever, bridging that gap between what the geniuses at the Intel labs think up in the theoretical world and what users are demanding in the real world. We’re looking forward to chatting to Intel in the near future to discuss their strategy in more detail.

Cheers until next time!

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden and Ritchie Djamhur

Myself and Mooly Eden after the Q & A session.

Intel’s New “Sandy Bridge” Sneak Peak

This week, two of my contacts from Intel came to visit me. The purpose? To show me a demonstration of their new Sandy Bridge Processor, and Bing Lee had the honour of being the first retailer in Australia to see it in action.

Being under a confidentiality agreement, I can’t talk about the specifics of the demos or specs that were displayed. What I can say is that the demonstrations definitely showed that the new processors perform impressively well, utilising the GPU/CPU combination that this new 32nm platform offers.

Intel have been talking up Sandy Bridge for a little while now, so there is some information out there, however to see it in action was exciting. It’s no secret that a huge proportion of internet traffic is video and will continue to grow its share, and that video transcoding from PC to portable device is a common task. From an end-user perspective, PC gaming, video content and the way it is delivered and managed is a big focus for the new Intel range and it’s great to see real-life applications benefiting from the new architecture.

That’s all I can say for now, but thanks to Intel for the demo, and look forward to posting more details closer to the launch date!