Sunday, May 6, 2007

XP User's Guide Series

Just came across this series on Windows Vista. Not read it yet but it looks to answer the common questions that most XP users have when using Vista. Check out the series here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Toshiba P100 review


My two year old A 20 17" wide-screen laptop was stolen late last year and the insurance company replaced it with a brand new P100 - PSPAGA-014001. This is the recently released Vista model with the maxed out specs.

In Brief
Core 2 duo 2.16G
NVidia 7900 GTX/512
200G HDD
Media Centre remote control
You can look up the rest if you are interested.

First impression - Nice!

When I unpacked it there was not the usual plastic wrapping but instead there was a quality cloth pouch and a cloth insert between the screen and keyboard. This will come in useful for when I transport it to add additional protection. It has been stored in my laptop case.

The appearance is neo-traditional, with a metallic blue top. It does not feel particularly solid when handling it and the lid bows somewhat to the touch. It gives the impression of being rather fragile, although I doubt it really is, but maybe this is the compromise between robust and light. Lifting the lid reveals a full keyboard including numeric keypad which is if not unique in a laptop highly unusual. It means that the user does not have to battle with the triple mode keys in failing light (eyesight) to enable unique keypad function. To accommodate the keypad in the available space the cursor movement keys have been reduced in size. This takes some getting used to but most keyboards do and this is not really a big problem.

I have to say up front that I hate every iteration of "pointing device" I have ever used on a laptop and the "mouse pad" is no exception. I remember the first time I saw one at a demo when they were first released and the salesman was telling me how wonderful it was (don't they always) but ... there were these problems with false triggering, moisture, tricky pointer movement, and in the next 15 or so years all I can is "they have not fixed these problems yet?". Now I have that rant out of the way I can get back to the review.

The dual mode mouse pad is "interesting". The mouse pad doubles as a quick launch facility. In quick launch mode a blue light behind it illuminates the touch "buttons". After using it several times the novelty quickly wore off and I will probably never use it again. By the time you have tapped the dual mode button, made sure that it is in launch mode, started the application and put the pad back in mouse mode the user could have located the item on the desktop and launched the application from there. One could of course keep it in launch mode but it is still rather fiddly to use.

One additional feature that immediately strikes the user is the finger swipe pad. This can be used as power on security, user login, application launch or HDD encrypt-protection. This is fine until the driver crashes. After several days of not rebooting the driver typically crashes. But while it works it is very handy - but a word of warning - do not forget your passwords.

Otherwise the unit is much like any other Toshiba and quite familiar.

This model seems to have every conceivable port. It is missing the legacy parallel and serial ports, but to be brutally honest if you are spending about $4k on a laptop then the last thing on your list will be centronics or RS-232C ports and they make room for more usefull ports such as additional USB ports. (A computer can never have too many USB ports.) However there are four USB V2 ports, PC Card, Express card, DVI and RGB video, Fire Wire, headphone/digital audio out, microphone, line in and memory card reader. On many laptops you have to pay extra for a port expander or docking station to get this selection of ports but not on this model. Much kudos to Toshiba for the flexible port options.

The optical drive in this model reads and writes up to dual layer DVD in whatever format your heart desires.

Also in the package is a USB IR receiver and what appears to be a self adhesive IR extension on a rather long wire that plugs into the back of the IR receiver. This comes with a Windows Media Centre remote control. There is no in box documentation for this and no on disk documentation as far as I can see. Neither is there any mention on the Toshiba web site of this device except for the PDF flyer available from the Toshiba web site. Having said that you do not have to have a doctorate in computing science to figure it out. After all who reads manuals anyway? It would have been nice though.

Overall it is quite large but for the power and facility not unexpected. It is after all a desktop replacement and is certainly not designed with the average shirt pocket in mind.

Turning it on

Turning on the machine is an experience in and of itself. The machine is pre-loaded with Vista Home Premium and this is set to auto-configure when first started with very little user intervention. Of course the location, time, and language must be set along with startup userid and password but it is - as with XP - fairly seamless. With one exception. There is a distinct possibility your children may leave home, get married, have children and maybe even grandchildren of their own in the time it takes to configure the OS. It does seem to go on for an inordinate amount of time, with more reboots than seems absolutely necessary. I lost count of the number of reboots.

Once it is configured though it is a dream to use...except for the configuration. As with all Toshiba units it comes with a Toshiba enhanced custom suite of programs to configure the laptop. Amongst which are the finger print reader, wireless connections and power settings. As with most computer programs they are easy once you know how to use them and the on disk PDF manual does describe their operation, but these programs are by no means intuitive. When I wanted to configure the wireless key it took quite a while and several failed attempts to find the relevant window. PnP was well named Plug and Pray, in this case for guidance to find the right path to enlightenment - ie. the correct configuration window. Similarly the fingerprint configuration is a mixture of differing screens for differing aspects of the configuration. Again to configure the video you have to open not one, not two, but three different cascading windows with many tabs and options to actually set the video options. One of the nice things about Vista is that it automatically recognises when you plug in a PnP monitor. However customising the configuration is not for the faint hearted. Why does it have to be so obscure?

Using the P100

I have not yet had a chance to stress test it but I have noticed a few minor problems. Mostly the performance is reasonable, but I suspect Aero is taking its toll. Either that or the video driver is playing up.

Playing the online game There was fine except for a fair amount amount of lag, especially when loading a new environment. Turning off Aero for There and switching the default render to DX8 did improve the performance but not as much as one would expect for this level of computer. I have read that there is an issue with file I/O and speed. Since There uses a lot of file I/O especially when moving around in the world the lag may be associated with that but it is hard to tell. There was one small annoyance with the use of voice in There. Initially whenever I spoke the system seemed to auto adjust the voice input and adjust the level so that I was barely audible. I could not seem to discover how to turn this affect off. Even getting to the sound settings was an adventure. I did not expect it to be identical to XP but I did not expect an additional level of obscurity. Eventually - for some unknown reason the sound stopped autoadjusting but now behaves in very strange ways that are impossible to explain without lots of screen shots - so I will not even attempt that, except to say - how hard do they have to make it? Also when playing videos using Windows Media Player there was some jerkiness when playing on the digital or native LCD, but not on the analogue display. Although I have not tried these programs with Aero off it may be associated with that. This is surprising considering the power of the CPU and video.

I am yet to give the Windows Media Centre a good tryout. I have a 37" widescreen LCD TV but the digital input is faulty and I am waiting for it to be repaired. I am looking forward to setting it up.

When plugging in the external monitors they immediately auto detected and asked me how to configure them. Once both external monitors were plugged in I had the choice of any two of the three video displays and could configure spanned or cloned, with a choice of primary and secondary. I could also select the display to be on either the left or the right. Funnily enough once the display position (left/right) was selected it took a trip to Google to find how to change this setting. Also once the computer was restarted after a reboot or sleep the external display was to the right of the internal display. Maybe I am missing something here but I think the smarter OSs get the less intelligent they become?

The screen is quite glossy but this does not seem to cause any problems in my environment. The screen is quite bright and purely subjectively (with poor eyesight and slight RG colour blindness) appears better than my 22" wide screen displays. For a laptop the display is excellent and superior to anything else I have experienced.

Other than a few rather minor annoyances I have no problems and fond it a delight to use.

What I like

These are what I consider to be the better aspects of the P100.

- Processor Core 2 duo 2.16G - should be enough processing power there

- Video options. You can select any two of the three video options. I have two 22" WS 1680x1050 monitors. This fits neatly into the resolution of the native display. I can use any two of the 22" WS monitors and native display at once in either spanned or cloned configuration. When you plug in the display it pops up a dialogue asking how to configure the additional display.

- Lots and lots if I/O options. I find it difficult to imagine wanting any additional I/O options. Well maybe a couple but that would be pure greed.

- High quality video display. excellent - I have heard the the HP is a little brighter, but it seems to be just a matter of degrees here and if I want gaming or hi quality video then I will hook it up to my TV... which brings me neatly to...

- DVI interface. You you use this beast as a fully paid up member of the Windows Media Centre community. Granted - the only thing lacking is the TV tuner but with USB tuners for around $100 it is no biggy IMHO. I am looking forward to getting it hooked up to my 37" LCD TV.

- Top end video card. With the 7900GTX and 512M DDR 3 ram this is one fast video card and capable of driving 2 hi res displays independently. Impressive to say the least.

- S/P Dif audio. The high quality digital audio to drive the surround sound home theater.

- Hi quality inbuit speakers. Well...ok not the surround sound theatre but good enough for general use. Fairly impressive for their size.

- Fingerprint reader. I hate typing and anything that gets my fingers away from the hated keyboard has my vote.

- BT and wireless. Fairly standard these days.

Neutral points

- Weight - to be expected. Not that I really mind it.

- S-Video - why? Even if I had no other option I probably would not use it. The quality is so bad.......

- Dual mouse pad. Cannot really see the point. I think it was one of those "It seemed like a good idea at the time" things.

- CD/DVDplay and control buttons - I cannot remember the last time I used this type of thing. I usually forget they are there after the first few time I use them. Most of the time I just operate the application the way I normally do. Besides there is the remote for that sort of thing, right?


- Vista - which is not too bad - seems rather buggy add has a significant performance hit. I am looking forward to getting some of the bugs out. Reminds me of the unpatched XP - pre SP. But to be fair Vista per se is not my gripe but some of the negatives that come with running Vista. The additional load - esp with Aero, the small bugs still present, and the "paranoid" default security setting. Roll on SP1 - or maybe even SP2. I am strongly recommending people to not install Vista unless there is a specific reason to.

- The obscure and layered configuration options. They seem to be trying a little too hard to make it easy and instead have made it even more complex.

- Size and weight. Not much to be done here though. It really comes with the territory, this is why I bought the tablet as well.

- Battery life. Not a lot of advantage actually having a battery if you cannot watch a video all the way through and you even have to decrease the screen brightness to get it to last any time at all on battery. I am certainly looking forward to seeing one of the newer technologies with better capacity to weight/size ratios.


This is one powerful beast that would have no trouble handling any game environment - maybe not to maximum detail, and especially with Aero enabled - but for a portable with more than acceptable ease. Although I have not tried it for high end high res gaming as yet I am not so sure that it would have the performance needed whilst running Vista. For the non-gamer this has more than enough power to handle all but the most demanding of tasks. The numerous I/O features including audio, video and remote make it ideal (although rather expensive) as a media centre.

The weight, size and battery life are what one would expect from such a machine and you would expect to run it from the power most of the time. It is more of a portable desktop replacement than your genuine notebook.

This unit can be used as a portable desktop replacement and can be a gamers machine, media centre or just a general purpose high end workstation. But offset against this is the cost, size, weight and battery capacity.

Toshiba have definitely built this as a no compromise system but I am not convinced that Vista is yet ready for this hardware. Would have liked to compare the same hardware under XP.

Training Vista Handwriting

This is a great tip for Tablet PC owners from the guys at GBM. This is it here. I am yet to take his advice - and believe me my handwriting is worse than my typing so I am hoping that it can improve my recognition somewhat.

Hey guys I am here....

Well this is yet another attempt at getting a tech blog going. Here goes - yet another rank amateur adding his noise to the great unwashed WWW.

So to introduce myself .... I am from an electronics background and still dabble, but I have been working more or less in IT for about 20 years. I work as a Unix sys admin at the moment but have worked in various capacities over the years.

My personal computer collection consists of a P 64 dual core 3.2G with an nVidia 6600GTX, 2G ram, and 3 320G SATA HDDs. A Toshiba M400 tablet. A P100 with the 6900GTX/512, 1.5G and 180G HDD. An HP 6965 Pocket PC.

I also have other bits and pieces which I will be sharing with you no doubt in the coming entries.

Hope you enjoy my vain ramblings.

Till next time ...