Huawei API v4.0

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The $500 Gaming PC


In this month's System Builder Marathon $500 PC, we plan to spend every penny (and then some) to strengthen some of the subsystems our last effort left lacking when we knocked $100 off our budget.

The system we set out to build one quarter ago was a low-cost box that would excel in all areas, not just gaming. The resulting machine represented nice platform balance for casual gamers, but certainly wouldn’t live up to the expectations of the hardcore enthusiasts who originally wanted to see how low we could go.

As we were quite pleased with the motherboard and processor, we didn’t look to spend more on either of these components. We added an affordable cooler and also benefited from AMD’s recent Athlon II speed bump, which provided us with an extra 100 MHz for the same cost.

$500 Gaming PC System Components

With the machine’s foundation established, we then looked to address the rig’s gaming prowess; specifically, the need for more graphics muscle. Rather than gamble and explore the M3A770DE’s x16/x4 CrossFire performance, we opted for the safer route of a single card. Finding Sparkle's GeForce GTX 460 768 MB in stock at $160 set the bar a bit higher than we originally anticipated.

Much-welcomed price drops brought four gigabytes of memory well under $100. The cheapest kit fit nicely within our budget, but then meant we could only afford a small bump in storage capacity.

The Antec EarthWatts 380D provided a boost in overall power supply quality, while delivering enough +12 V amperage to keep our overclocked components stable. This power supply was $45 on its own, but could be secured in the NSK 4482B chassis for a total price of $65. Our pricing chart above doesn’t reflect the available discount code, so in the end we come in a little over budget. Currently, the cost would be a bit higher, but making some parallel moves that take advantage of holiday savings could bring this machine down under $500.

Processor: AMD Athlon II X3 445

Use of the retail AMD boxed cooler in September’s $400 PC capped performance gains from overclocking and unlocking the Athlon II processor. This time we chose an aftermarket cooling solution that was affordable and left greater headroom for pushing voltage and core speed.
The AMD Athlon II X3 445 sports three 128 KB L1 caches and three 512 KB L2 caches, but lacks the shared L3 cache found in AMD’s Phenom II processors. This 45 nm chip offers three processing cores, a 3.1 GHz stock core clock speeds, and solid overclocking potential.

CPU Cooler: Rosewill RCX-ZAIO-92

Rosewill's design features a copper base, three copper heatpipes, and aluminum fins, cooled by a variable speed 92 mm PWM fan. Although it's not the quietest or best-performing cooler, it offers a good blend of price, performance, and noise.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: November 2010

Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, what a gamer needs is the best graphics card within a certain budget.
So, if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right card, then fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming cards offered for the money.

November Updates:

October was an exciting month for graphics hardware. The big news, of course, was the introduction of AMD's Radeon 6870 and 6850. Here is the bottom line: the Radeon HD 6850 is almost as fast as the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB, and the Radeon HD 6870 is almost as fast as the GeForce GTX 470.
The MSRP of the new Radeon HD 6850 and 6870--$180 and $240 respectively--is lower than the street price of GeForce competition prior to launch. However, Nvidia made a successful counterattack by lowering the street price of its GeForce GTX 460 1GB and 470, which can now be found as low as $190 and $250, respectively. This is a big deal for value-conscious gamers, who only weeks ago had to pay ~$230 for the GeForce GTX 460 and ~$300 for the GeForce GTX 470. All of these cards, Radeon and GeForce alike, are excellent buys at the new prices.
What are the finer points of AMD's next-generation graphics cards? Perhaps most surprisingly, they're slower than their similarly-named predecessors. So, if you missed the launch story and own a Radeon HD 5850, the 6850 isn't going to be an upgrade for you. The same goes for the 5870/6870.
Beyond that, the Radeon HD 6000-series introduces Blu-ray 3D playback support and the framework for a stereoscopic gaming ecosystem, though AMD's effort remains very premature in the PC space. The HD3D initiative is generic and supports the stereo over HDMI 1.4a. As a result, AMD has no Radeon-specific 3D displays or glasses technology to bring to market. The downside is a reliance on other vendors, and as of now, the only HDMI 1.4-equipped monitor is exclusive to Europe. For the time being (in North America, at least) the only way for consumers to use the new Radeons in 3D mode is with a compatible television that already has its own bundled glasses. 
The new Radeon cards also boast a new method of anti-aliasing called morphological AA that produces results similar to super-sampling, but with very little performance overhead using a post-process compute shader. Though this seemed a bit buggy at launch, the company recently uploaded a new driver to help address intermittent issues with the technique. AMD also let us know that it will be following the Radeon HD 6800-series soon with a high-end Radeon HD 6900 lineup that will replace the Radeon HD 5870 and 5970.

Of course, Nvidia didn't sit by and watch the action. It released the new GeForce GT 430 earlier in October. With performance below the Radeon HD 5570 DDR3, this card wasn't designed to win any speed races. Instead, it's intended as an entry-level HTPC board capable of Blu-ray 3D playback and HD audio bitstreaming over HDMI. This card can be found for as low as $70 online and is the only half-height option with this unique combination of features (although there are other options in that price range, if either of those features aren't necessary for your application). You can read more about the GeForce GT 430 in our launch review.
Aside from its entry-level GeForce card, Nvidia also released 3DTV Play, a feature that allows any GeForce card armed with an HDMI 1.4 output to transmit stereo content to displays that support 3D over the HDMI 1.4 standard. This means that GeForce cards can compete with the new Radeon HD 6000-series when it comes to playing back 3D on consumer televisions, while Nvidia's 3D Vision maintains a clear advantage when it comes to PC monitors and projectors with quite a few models specifically able to handle the company's proprietary 3D Vision standard. The market will likely provide AMD owners with increasing numbers of compatible 3D monitors and projectors in the future. But in the meantime, 3D Vision is the only prolific option for these display types.
What does the near future hold? As we've mentioned, AMD made no secret that the upcoming Radeon HD 6900s will arrive before the end of the year. Common sense suggests that Nvidia has something up its sleeve with which to combat the new high-end Radeon lineup. Keep your eyes peeled for that.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:
  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos.
  • The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a chassis with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices from our PriceGrabber engine, for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list; they might represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.

Best PCIe Card: $100 And Under

Best PCI Express (PCIe) Card For Under $50:

Radeon HD 4650 

Great 1280x1024 performance in most games, 1680x1050 with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4650
Codename: RV730
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 320
Texture Units: 32
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 400 (800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1
I'm resurrecting this one for budget-minded gamers, as all of the other worthwhile cards cost $65 and above (far too close to the powerful Radeon HD 5670).
You will not find a card that packs more punch than AMD's Radeon HD 4650 at the alluring $50 price point. With solid stock performance and an overclockable GPU, this card is an excellent starting point for our list of recommendations, and a wholly worthwhile upgrade if you're currently stuck using a motherboard limited to integrated graphics.

Best PCI Express (PCIe) Card For $80:

Radeon HD 5670 

Radeon HD 5670
Codename: RV830
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 400
Texture Units: 20
ROPs: 8
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 775
Memory Speed MHz:   1000 (4000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
An extra $15 will buy you a vastly superior Radeon HD 4850 or GeForce GTS 250. But for the reduced price of the Radeon HD 5670, you won't have to worry about a power supply upgrade, as this card requires no auxiliary PCIe power cable.
Along with this benefit the Radeon HD 5670 offers DirectX 11 compatibility, along with all of the other Radeon HD 5000-series features, such as multi-display support and high-def audio bitstreaming. Folks planning to buy this card for a budget Eyefinity setup need to pay attention, as some manufacturers don't include the DisplayPort output needed to use three monitors simultaneously.

Best PCIe Card For ~$95: Tie

At the $100 price point, Nvidia's GeForce GTS 250 and AMD's Radeon HD 4850 hang on in an eternal battle to deliver fantastic performance to budget-oriented gamers. We don't think you can go wrong with either of these cards. As long as they're around, it'll be hard to recommend DirectX 11-class cards priced $20 or $30 higher.
With an eye to the future, your choice between these affordable products probably depends more on whether or not your motherboard is CrossFire- or SLI-compatible.
Neither the Radeon HD 4850 nor the GeForce GTS 250 offer DirectX 11 support. But then again, at this price point, how many DirectX 11-class features are you really going to be able to enable before performance starts suffering in a big way?

Radeon HD 4850 512 MB 

Exceptional 1680x1050 performance in most games, 1920x1200 in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 512 MB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1986 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

GeForce GTS 250 512 MB 

Exceptional 1680x1050 performance in most games, 1920x1200 in most games with lowered detail
GeForce GTS 250
Codename: G92b
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 128
Texture Units: 64
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 738 / 1836
Memory Speed MHz: 1100 (2200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Intel Pentium 4 Vs. Atom: A Battle Of The Generations

Intel Pentium 4 Vs. Atom: A Battle Of The Generations

Most people know that Intel’s Atom is a slow, low-cost processor. But does it even offer enough performance to take it beyond desktop processors nearly a decade old? Today we're comparing a modern Atom CPU to two Northwood-class Pentium 4-based PCs.
We were sorting out some old hardware in one of our test labs and wondered what to do with our old Socket 478 Pentium 4 gear. Disposing of it doesn’t feel quite right, and we know that many Pentium 4 systems remain in service. Clock speeds between 2 GHz and 3.4 GHz still provide sufficient performance for a home server or backup PC, so why not put up two different Pentium 4 systems against single-core and dual-core Atom solutions to see how today’s low-cost computing solutions hold up?

Convenience Computing
We done several articles dealing with Atom and comparing its performance and efficiency with other solutions. First and foremost, it’s important to note that Atom is not in the same market segment as desktop-oriented Core 2, Core ix, Phenom, or Athlon processors. Atoms enable the lowest-cost netbooks and nettop computers. They aren’t meant to be particularly efficient, and they won’t satisfy a power user. Any entry-level Core i3 desktop will provide many times better power efficiency, in fact.
Atom makes sense where local computing performance doesn’t matter very much: browsing the Internet, communicating via email or social networks, and processing documents and spreadsheets. For these, Atom is more than enough.
Buy Atom or Recycle P4?
Does it make more sense to purchase a cheap Atom-based computer or to recycle and/or continue to use an existing Pentium 4 machine? Both run at decent clock speeds and come with 512 KB of L2 cache. Both can be considered above average if you have modest performance expectations. And both have a comparable transistor count: 55 million for the Pentium 4 (based on the Northwood design) and 47 millions for the Atom 230.
More importantly, you might be able to get an older P4 system for very little money from a friend or business upgrading to newer hardware. We compare the Atom 230 and D510 to a Pentium 4 (Northwood) 2.2 and 3.2 GHz.
Oldie But Goldie: Intel Pentium 4 (Northwood)

The Northwood-based Pentium 4 was the first processor to employ Intel’s Socket 478 interface and dual-channel memory. It was the second Pentium 4 generation, and it utilized a 130 nm CMOS manufacturing process with 512 KB of L2 cache and clock speeds between 1.6 and 3.4 GHz. Early versions were based on a 400 MHz front-side bus speed (100 MHz) while faster models ran at 800 MT/s (200 MHz) and used dual-channel DDR-400 memory. 

The step to an 800 MT/s FSB and the 865/875 Express chipsets brought substantial change. Intel introduced its LGA 775 interface and the 90 nm Prescott core in 2003, but since these chips increased power consumption without introducing an equivalent performance increase, we decided to stay with the older platform for this review.
First, we tested a Pentium 4 at 2.2 GHz. This is a 400 MT/s FSB design that didn’t support Hyper-Threading. In order to get the comparison numbers with HT, we also added a Pentium 4 C at 3.2 GHz. Hyper-Threading is valuable bcause the operating system perceives two processing cores for every physical core. The technique is better at saturating the Northwood’s long, 20-stage pipeline. The 3.2 GHz model runs on an 800 MT/s FSB with a maximum TDP of 89 W, while the 2.2 GHz model stays below 57.1 W.
Obviously, the 3.2 GHz version is much faster, but it also drains significantly more power at idle and under heavy loads. Keep in mind that processors in 2002 did not have power saving mechanisms like SpeedStep. As a result, both Pentium 4 systems require at least twice the idle power than our Atom solutions and up to five times the peak power. Will the Pentium 4 system be capable of delivering performance in about the same range?
DFI’s LANParty Pro 875B with an ATI Radeon 800 Pro served for this project.

Better Than Its Reputation? Intel's Atom

Atom 230
The Atom 230, also known as Diamondville, was Intel’s first Atom generation. It comes with clock speeds of up to 1.6 GHz and a 133 MHz front-side bus. It also supports Hyper-Threading, like the Pentium 4, and has the same 512 KB of L2 cache. But this is all they really have in common.
While the Pentium 4s we used are 130 nm products, the Atom uses Intel’s 45 nm process. The limited clock speed paired with the modern manufacturing process helps the single-core chip to stay within a thermal envelope of only 4 W. Unfortunately, the whole Atom platform doesn’t necessarily save power, since Atom 230 typically pairs with the terribly inefficient 945GC. Still, if you only look at the CPU, Atom does really well.

A direct comparison between the Pentium 4 and the Atom 230 at 1.6 GHz reveals little in common. The Atom 230 significantly trails the Pentium 4 in some tests, while it stays fairly even with the Pentium 4 2.2 GHz in others. The MP3 encoder Lame runs much faster on the Pentium 4 systems. So do Adobe Acrobat, iTunes, and WinZip. However, the 1.6 GHz Atom 230 actually does better than a Pentium 4 2.2 GHz in 7-Zip and Adobe Photoshop CS4, and it’s not too far behind in HandBrake and MainConcept, although the overall results are awfully slow on both platforms. Still, the Atom supports more advanced SSE instructions, which may explain a part of the results.
Atom D510

The second-gen Atom D510 is a dual-core part based on the Pineville core. It’s based on the same execution core as the first-generation Atom, which is why it doesn’t really deliver more performance per clock than Diamondville. The new CPU is rated at a 13 W TDP, which looks like a lot more than the initial Atom’s 4 W. However, Atom D510 includes a more advanced graphics engine and memory controller, making the northbridge obsolete. This clearly helps the latest Atom reduce overall platform power consumption by going from three chips to two.
The CPU runs at a similar clock speed as before, now 1.66 GHz with a 133 MHz quad-pumped front-side bus. The two cores still support 64-bit operation and Hyper-Threading, which means that the operating system can access four logical processing cores.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

iPad versus Netbook-Tablet Hybrid Head to Head

Apple's iPad has left an indelible mark on the Tablet PC universe. It wasn't that long ago when just about everyone gave up on the tablet. Just about every notebook manufacturer in existence tried their hand at making a tablet at one point or another, and just about everyone hung it up by 2005. For whatever reasons, tablets never managed to catch on in the consumer industry, but now, things are different.

Consumers have shown a willingness to adapt somewhat and try new things. Some thought ultraportables would never catch on; their steep price tag and small screens didn't make sense to some, but road warriors have proven that these diminutive machines do actually have a place in society. Netbooks have a similar story. Many credit 
Eee PC line with really kickstarting the netbook craze, and even today, these tiny, inexpensive laptops are selling like hotcakes to individuals who just need a simple machine for web browsing and e-mail to take on the go. No bells and whistles leads to lower costs, and lower costs lead to increased attention and sales.

The iPad has arrived during an interesting time. It's a time in which many consumers are re-evaluating their computing needs, and they're striving to decide whether a full-sized notebook, a netbook, a tablet or something in between is best for them. The iPad has definitely driven more people than would traditionally consider a tablet, to investigate the iPad's usage model.  That said, does it really make sense to buy this device over a netbook, or better still, a netbook / tablet hybrid? We covered the ins and outs of Apple's first tablet in our full review, but this article is intended to dig deeper and investigate whether an iPad or netbook / tablet hybrid is best suited for you. These two are the most similar of the machines currently available in terms of price, form factor and usability.
For our comparison, we're going to focus mainly on another machine that has just recently hit the market, Lenovo's IdeaPad S10-3t. It's a cutting-edge netbook / tablet hybrid with one of Intel's newest Atom processors, Windows 7, a full touch panel, a swivel screen to turn it into a full tablet, and of course something the iPad lacks: a real keyboard. The S10-3t starts at $549, while the iPad starts at $499, but if you want to add a USB port or SD card slot to the iPad, the starting price rises to $529, making these two machines comparable in terms of the initial investment.

Join us in the pages ahead to get a better idea of how the iPad does and doesn't live up to the standards set by modern day netbooks, and how the S10-3t outperforms and under-performs in a variety of tasks.

The iPad As A Work Machine

Here's the first, and possibly most important, point. Many users looking for a new mobile machine because they want to get work done on the go. Productivity is paramount, and they have to be able to access and use certain applications in order to consider a given machine for purchase. The iPad excels in a few ways here, and falls noticeably short in others. Let's look at a few positives:

For starters, the 1GHz A4 chip performs far better than its gigahertz rating would indicate. iPhone OS 3.2 screams on this machine, and there's essentially no lag whatsoever when opening any application. It's blazing fast doing what it can do, but therein lies the rub. There's a serious limit to what the iPad can do in terms of getting real work done. Does you work require full access to Gmail? The Mail app and even Gmail's optimized iPad Gmail web app aren't "full versions" of Gmail, so you'll lose important extras like being able to send as a different address. Trying to use the desktop version of Gmail within Mobile Safari is a battle you'll eventually lose, as not every aspect of Gmail works as intended on that browser.
Then there's the issue of real, desktop applications. Do you need Photoshop? Microsoft Excel? A specific plug-in to work with a special media player? None of those are available, nor will they ever be. Apple has no intentions of ever allowing a full desktop operating system to run on the iPad, so you'll be stuck with a glorified mobile phone OS for the life of the product. This is a potential deal-killer for some, particularly those who need to get real work done in desktop applications.

All that said, power users aren't the only ones out there that need to work from the road. Does your "work" consist of replying to basic e-mails, scanning PowerPoint or Word documents and replying with suggested changes, or simply keeping tabs on your colleagues? First off, we envy your job. Secondly, the iPad might work well for you. If you only need basic e-mail capabilities, it's a nice machine. The on-screen virtual keyboard is better than some cramped netbook keyboards, and it's actually really easy to get into a groove and bang out a serious line of messages on the iPad. Keeping you focused on one application enables you to hone in on the task at hand, and there's no doubt that the iPad really hums along on e-mail. It's also super portable, has excellent battery life and is easy to operate.

The iPad As A Fun Machine

Here's where Apple really starts to look smart. The iPad is easy to grab, has 10+ hours of battery life, is tied directly to iTunes (which you probably already use if you're an iPhone or iPod users) and has apps available to stream ABC, Netflix and more Web content. It's easy to hold, the screen is gorgeous and it can play back HD video content very well. It's really one of the better portable viewing options on the market, and no file seems too taxing for it to play back beautifully. The elegant iTunes interface makes pausing, rewinding and adjusting volume a cinch.

It's also an iPod, and again, the user interface is a sight to behold. It's easy to comb through your music and enjoy it in the background while working in another app, and it does so without the lag associated with the desktop version of iTunes. There's also a huge, huge catalog of apps to choose from. Everything from Netflix viewer to DJing a party is possible, and considering that over 3500 iPad-centric apps have been created already, there's a good chance that you'll soon have more apps to choose from than you have time to try and use.

This is Apple's ace in the hole. No netbook has an App Store, and while Intel is trying to change that, they're too far behind in their efforts (in our opinion) to give the App Store a run for its money anytime soon. People know the App Store by name, and Apple has made it super easy to browse, buy and download apps. The true potential of the iPad has yet to be seen; it's all in the hands of the developers who are crafting apps right now for the device. Over on a Windows-based netbook, you're limited to desktop software. And while there's a lot of that out there, it generally takes longer to develop and acquire. It's also spread out everywhere, making it harder to find exactly what you need. If you're a power user, this probably doesn't matter, but for the casual computer user, the App Store is a clear winner.

Overall Usability

Is Apple's iPad fun to use? Absolutely. It's only frustrating from a software standpoint. You can't use real desktop apps, which is annoying, but what it can do, it does very well. The touch panel is top-notch. We haven't touched a more responsive touch panel at this scale, ever. The colors and viewing angles are also best-in-class. It's easy to use outdoors, and enjoying media on the screen is easy thanks to the rich colors and sharpness. Apple has figured out a way to make computing with your fingers easy, intuitive and enjoyable; few other touch panel machines can say they've even come close to accomplishing the same.

Unfortunately, Apple has also limited the ability to expand the iPad's uses on the hardware side. There's no WiDi, there's no USB port, and there's no SD card slot. The latter two can be added through a $30 accessory bundle, but even the USB port only accepts image uploads from tethered cameras. There will be no support for USB printing, USB webcams or any other USB device aside from a camera

The Highlights

    The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible As A Work Machine:

    So, the S10-3t can fold over and become just as much of a tablet as Apple's iPad, albeit somewhat larger and heavier. So that's taken care of but what it can also do is flip back and become a netbook, with a real, physical keyboard. That's a huge bonus for true professionals. There's just no way to type out even an article as large as this on a virtual keyboard with any level of extended comfort. Real keyboards are necessary to get real work done, so the netbook/tablet wins in a landslide here. Then there's the issue of ports. The S10-3t, as well as many other touch panel-based netbooks (Asus' Eee PC T91 comes to mind from last year), has a few USB 2.0 sockets that can be used for mostly anything, as well as an SD card reader, VGA output for showing content on an external display and oftentimes an eSATA socket.

     Again, the S10-3t just feels more like a "real" computer here. If you're looking to get work done that requires those ports, there's no question that the iPad will let you down, while the S10-3t and tablet convertibles like it, will manage. On the software side, Lenovo installs the full version of Windows 7 on the S10-3t, so aside from exceptions of soiftware that requires a really powerful CPU or GPU, you can install any real desktop app onto the tablet/netbook 
    hybrid. Need Photoshop? It can install. It won't run with blazing speed, but it works in a pinch. The same can be said for any special media player you prefer or most any other "work app" that is only compatible with Windows systems. In case you haven't realized, a machine with a full-blown operating system crushes the iPad in terms of its ability to get actual work accomplished.

    The issue here is that real work takes longer to get done on the S10-3t. We were underwhelmed with the performance, with the N470 processor taking long periods of time to launch basic applications and handle rather basic tasks but it did get them done.  If you go into it knowing that your netbook will perform noticeably slower than a Core 2 Duo or Core i3-powered notebook (not to mention your quad-core desktop), you'll be okay. If you expect to whiz in and out of applications like you can on the iPad, you'll be let down. It's a matter of compromise, but at least the S10-3t acts like a real PC, even if slowly.

    The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible As A Fun Machine:

    Here's where the S10-3t starts to look a little less appealing. Whereas the iPad is tailor made to scream through HD content and interact seamlessly with Netflix, ABC and loads of other Web programming, the S10-3t stutters through the same thing. The integrated GPU is no match for most 1080p material, and even some 720p content stutters and lags in places. Even YouTube HD seems burdensome. The desktop version of iTunes works well enough for audio, and playing back image slideshows is also fine. But for HD media playback, the iPad simply wins out hands down. A discrete GPU would turn the tables significantly for the tablet convertible, but it would also raise the price by at least $100, if not more. 

    Then there's Flash. The iPad cannot handle Flash, and if the bickering between Adobe and Apple is any indication, it never will. Many websites are shifting to HTML5 just to suit Apple, but you can't count on every single site doing that. The bad news is that the S10-3t doesn't really handle Flash well. It will (slowly) load it, and most content plays back steady if no multi-tasking is going on in the background, but again, it's a compromise. It will handle Flash, but slowly, and with occasional playback issues. Apple would rather you just see HTML5 media in a seamless fashion. You'll have to be the judge as to which philosophy you'll subscribe to.

    The Atom-Based Netbook-Tablet Convertible Overall Usability:

    Here's where we describe the mixed bag that is using the S10-3t. The S10-3t can act like a real PC. It can do "grown-up" tasks. It can load Photoshop and Word, and it can easily attach documents and files to e-mails. But it does so slowly. It won't blow you away with speed, and in fact, it will probably frustrate you on occasion. If you're looking for a machine that works quickly, with "instant-on" sort of speed like the iPad, this isn't it. But in order to get real work done while having that sort of performance, you'll need to spend far more on a robust ultraportable or full-size notebook, and then you're really comparing apples to oranges.

    The touch panel also needs some TLC. Responsiveness is generally lacking, and the Windows desktop just isn't meant to be used with a fingernail or stylus.  There are some desktop apps that make frequently used menu items larger in order to touch them more easily, but it's still no quicker than using the trackpad. In our opinion, the S10-3t falls badly short as a 
    tablet PC, as does Windows 7's touch interface currently.  Neither really makes using a computer with your fingers a joy, and both make it very easy to just throw your arms up in frustration and go back to the keyboard/trackpad input method. 
    You really need to bolt on some third-party UI, like HP's TouchSmart interface for example, to provide a reasonable touch UI experience on Windows 7 as it stands today.


    The innovation that Apple has engineered in this space has not yet been replicated in the PC space. If you have very specific uses or know of very specific software titles that were built to work with touch panels, you can consider this point moot, but the average consumer should know that using a touch panel on a Windows 7 netbook isn't a very productive experience.

    At the end of the day, the S10-3t is a far better work machine than fun machine, and it will actually enable you to get "real work" done, which is something the iPad can't say. Using it may be cumbersome on occasion.  However, if you're willing to deal with a few hiccups and a touch panel that isn't nearly as beautiful or responsive as the one on the iPad, you may, at some point make a decision to consider a netbook or tablet convertible and get down to business. Of course, you need to make sure your work won't keep you away from the AC outlet for too long.  In our testing, the S10-3t's battery only lasted 2-3 hours, which is around 4x shorter than the iPad's battery life.

    The Breakdown: 

    Early on in our discussion here, you probably thought we were claiming the iPad was really ready to compete with netbook / tablet hybrids that run Windows, or possibly vice-versa. Now, it should be pretty clear that that's not quite the case. It's like expecting an Android based tablet to compete with the upcoming HP Slate; you can't reasonably expect a mobile handset OS to go toe-to-toe with a full fledged desktop OS and win in most cases.

    What you have is a case of two devices meant for two different markets, and it's up to you to decide which camp you're in. Are you looking for a small machine to handle fun and games? If so, the iPad is tough to beat. HD media playback is flawless, the screen is gorgeous and responsive, and it's easy to get 10+ hours of battery life. It's a truly fun machine to use when you're just looking to be entertained.
    Are you looking for a small machine to handle real work tasks and provide the type of expandability you've grown used to seeing on full-sized notebooks? If so, the S10-3t (or any other similar netbook / tablet hybrid) is probably a safer bet. It offers a real OS (Windows 7), and while it's slower at handling some tasks, it does get them done. The iPad doesn't even offer to get "them" done at all. There are many compromises made in a machine of this size running full-blown apps that can result in lack-luster performance and a short battery life, most notably, but if you're willing to put up with that, a netbook / tablet hybrid is simply far more capable as a work machine than the iPad.

    So, we think the options are laid our pretty clearly here. Are you an iPad kind of guy/gal, or is the "real worker" in you yearning for a Windows-based netbook/tablet hybrid? There's no wrong answer, just a really important lifestyle decision to be made on your next mobile computing platform of choice.

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