Xi3 Low Power PCs

Xi3 Corporation LogoDavid shows off Xi3‘s latest developments including the X7A modular computer and the Z3RO Pro. If you haven’t seen Xi3’s offerings before, you need to check them out – they’re small cube-like units totally unlike your normal case.

The X7A is aimed at the power user with a quad core AMD Trinity processor, Radeon graphics, 8 GB RAM, SSD (up to 1 TB) and more ports than you can shake a stick at. The modular part means that in future you’ll be able to upgrade components without replacing the whole unit. Prices start at $1099.

The Z3RO Pro is more budget friendly, starting at $549. With only a dual core processor and 4 GB RAM, it’s more suited to general office activities, but it will run two monitors. The killer feature here is that it consumes only 15W of power.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Korus Portable Wireless Speakers

Korus LogoTodd and Don interview Nortek‘s Rob Halligan about the new wireless speaker system called Korus, which instead of using wifi or Bluetooth, uses SKAA, a wireless hi-fi audio standard that won CES Innovation awards in 2010 and 2011. The benefit of SKAA is low latency and greater range, but the downside is that it’s not built-in to any smartphone, tablet or media player. This is solved via a dongle, the Korus Baton, a SKAA transceiver which comes in USB, Apple Lightning and Apple 30 pin variants. Plug it in to the PC, Mac or Apple device and you are good to go. An Android version is expected later in the year.

Using SKAA rather than wifi or Bluetooth also means that there’s no faffing around with SSIDs or pairing with PINs; it’s simply a case of pressing a button on the wireless speaker and the speaker locks onto the nearest Baton. Press the button again and it moves onto the next.

Korus currently have two speaker units for sale, the V400 and V600, priced at a penny shy of US$350 and $450 respectively on the Korus shop at www.korussound.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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HP Goes Large with the Z1 at CES

HP logoHP has announced the second generation of its Z1 high performance all-in-one workstation, with a 27″ ten-point touchscreen running Windows 8. The Z1 G2 is aimed squarely at power users, featuring 4th Generation Intel Xeon and Core processors, and RAID storage options paired with the latest NVIDIA Mobile Quadro GPUs for the best graphics performance. It also comes with Intel Thunderbolt 2 ports.

Since its launch in 2012, the highly acclaimed HP Z1 has opened the eyes and ears of customers hoping to solve business problems no longer being met by current vendors,” said Jim Zafarana, vice president and general manager, Commercial Solutions Business Unit, HP. “Today’s professionals demand high-performance products that are serviceable and easy-to-use, all wrapped in a sleek and elegant design.

HP Z1 G2

The Z1 G2 comes equipped with Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, for data transfer speeds four times that of USB 3.0. That’s nippy. To round out the high spec, the Z1’s audio capabilities aren’t too shabby either with dual-tone, front-facing speakers and DTS Studio Sound Audio. Overall, this is a beast of a machine.

The new HP Z1 G2 workstation is expected to be available in late January, with prices starting at US$1,999.

Roccat Woos Gamers at CES

Roccat LogoHardware outfit Roccat Studios are dropping a whole bunch of new toys at CES  for the hardcore gamer, including headphones, mice and keyboards. Known for their signature Kone gaming mouse, the new products look the business.

First up are two additions to the Roccat range of mice. On the left, there’s the new Kone XTD Optical which has a 6,400 dpi optical sensor. If my maths is right, that means you can move the mouse just 4 micrometers and the movement will be picked up. That’s tiny – a piece of paper is about 90 micrometers thick. On the right, it’s the Kone Pure Military, coming in three different designs – Desert Strike, Naval Storm and Camo Charge. I like the look of these! The Pure Military “only” has a 5,000 dpi optical sensor. Both mice have Roccat’s tracking and distance control unit (TDCU) for more precise gaming and greater accuracy.

Kone XTD Optical Mouse      Kone Pure Military Mouse

 

Next are two additions to the Ryos keyboard range, the TKL and TKL Pro. Both are compact keyboards without the numeric keypad and the Pro version comes with per-key illumination and effects such as “breathing” and four different switch colours. As you’d expect from any serious gaming keyboard, keys can easily be programmed with macros and there are three additional programmable thumbster keys below the space bar.

Ryos TKL Keyboard

Finally, two new Kave XTD headsets have been announced – the 5.1 Analog and the Stereo. The 5.1 Analog is the successor to the original Kave 5.1 and is made for gamers who already have a 5.1 soundcard, with both audio jacks and USB connectors to power up the in-cable remote and LED lighting. Weight has been reduced by 25% while improving comfort and build quality.

The XTD Stereo has same design and build, with a pair of driver units giving rich gaming stereo sound. The noise-cancelling microphone can be removed when not required and the mute LED can silence the microphone at inappropriate moments.

Kave XTD Headset

 

Prices were not disclosed at time of announcement, but you can learn more at Roccat’s showroom in the Venetian Hotel during CES 2014.

 

Logitech m560 Wireless Mouse Review

Logitech LogoThis is the era of the touch user interface with smartphones and tablets present in large percentages of households in the US and Europe. Microsoft has taken touch to the heart of Windows 8 which is great if the device has a touch screen but an exercise in frustration if it doesn’t. However, all is not lost, as a mouse such as the Logitech m560 can take away a good chunk of the Windows 8 pain. Hurrah!

The Logitech m560 Wireless Mouse is a full size mouse primarily aimed at desktop users, though it will work with any USB-equipped computer, whether desktop, laptop or tablet. The m560 is sold in two versions, one black and one white, and obviously the one reviewed here is the white one. The mouse is packaged in an easy-to-open blister pack and inside there’s a mouse, nano receiver, AA battery and instructions, which are worth a quick glance to understand the considerable capabilities of the m560.

Logitech m560 Mouse Blister Pack

Once freed from the packaging, the nano transceiver must be slotted into an empty USB port. Once that’s done and the mouse has been turned on via the underside button, the m560 is good to go. The battery is even pre-installed. As usual with the Logitech mice, the nano receiver can be stored in the battery compartment for safe-keeping.

Logitech m560 mouse

The Logitech m560 is a 5 button mouse with a scroll wheel. There are the standard two buttons on the unbroken top surface, a third button behind the click wheel and the two buttons the left side of the body. The scroll wheel can switch between a click mode and and a free-wheeling mode, which allows super fast scrolling. The overall shape of the mouse is symmetric so will suit both left and right handed users, though the extra two side buttons are best used by the thumb on the right hand.

The m560 is designed to overcome the main irritations of using Windows 8 on a non-touch device. Pressing the middle button behind the scroll wheel initiates a swipe in, so pressing the button then moving the mouse to the right will bring up the Charms bar. The same button and moving to the left will bring up the Apps bar. The button towards the front toggles between the new Windows 8 Start menu and the traditional view. The other button clears the current windows away and shows the desktop. When the Windows 8 Start menu is shown, the scroll wheel shifts the menu left and right. All of these actions make Windows 8 easier to use.

The m560 works well too with Windows 7 and Vista, though clearly the actions will be slightly different.

How does it feel? I really liked the Logitech m560. The white surface has a matte, almost egg-shell finish to it and I loved the way it fitted in my hand. The free-wheel mode for the scroll wheel was a revelation as I had never previously used a mouse with this feature and, boy, you can whizz through long documents. The additional buttons make Windows 8 a pleasure to use on a non-touch device so the m560 is highly recommended under these circumstances. Overall, if we did product ratings on GNC, I’d give it 5 stars.

The Logitech m560 wireless mouse is available from all good retailers with a list price of GB £34.99 or US $39.99.

Thanks to Logitech for the loan of the review device.

Barnes & Noble Retires Nook Apps for PC and Mac

Barnes & Noble logo Avid readers who have been enjoying the Nook app on their PC or Mac are in for some disappointment. According to The Digital Reader Barnes & Noble has officially ended its support for the Nook app for PC and the Nook app for Mac.

More specifically, this is in regards to the Nook for PC for Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. It also is in regards to at least some Mac versions of the app. The Digital Reader got an email from Barnes & Noble that suggests that people use Nook for Web instead (whether they are on a PC or Mac).

The eBook Reader notes that Nook for Web doesn’t allow you to save the book you are reading offline. You have to go online to access it. Another problem is that not all of the Nook books are available through Nook for Web. Some people are going to lose access to at least some of the Nook books that they had access to through the apps that have now disappeared.

Personally, I am an avid reader. I love to read and I have more books than I have shelf space for. I am one of the people who has a pile of books that I am dying to read… as soon as I get through the ones I bought before them. Despite my love of reading, I’ve never been interested in owning an eBook Reader. To me, paper books are a whole lot safer than digital ones. I won’t lose them if an app disappears.

EA Offers “Something For Your Trouble”

EA LogoSimCity has been mentioned quite a bit in blogs, news articles, and various forms of social media recently – for all the wrong reasons. EA, the makers of the game, have done an excellent job of finding ways to frustrate potential players. I haven’t seen this much complaining about a game since the launch of Diablo III (which didn’t have nearly as many problems as SimCity has).

The situation is a quick study in how to completely alienate your customers. Create a game that requires you to be online in order to play it, and there will be people who loudly voice their opinion that they want to be able to play the game without having to connect to the internet. You know, like they could with previous versions of SimCity.

Follow that with serious server instability issues, and you will quickly frustrate the players that were willing to play the game online. The longer this goes on, unfixed, the more frustrated and angry players are going to get. Eventually, people got fed up and tried to return the game, only to learn that EA was refusing to accept any returns on SimCity. Its an effective way to decimate the amount of customers who once were loyal to EA, as well as to discourage new players from considering the purchase of one of their games.

Today, it appears that EA has become aware of the negative publicity regarding SimCity that is spiraling across the internet. The company will be offering “something for your trouble”. EA is offering a free PC download game from the EA portfolio as a peace offering. Their blog says:

And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

The question is, will this freebie be enough to encourage frustrated gamers to stick with EA (and potentially buy another game from them, someday)? Is it enough to make you decide to “hang in there” as SimCity gets updated throughout the weekend?

Amazon Introduces AutoRip

AudioRip logo Amazon has introduced a brand new service called AutoRip. This is a very different way of looking at music storage. In short, it takes the CD that you purchased from Amazon and puts it into your Amazon Cloud Player. It also will make that album available on your PC or Mac, Kindle Fire, Android phone, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Right now, this service is only available to customers in the United States.

This is a rather unexpected move in a time when record companies are screaming about pirating and copyright. Perhaps they aren’t complaining about AutoRip because it only allows users to put CDs that they really have purchased into the Amazon Cloud Player? I’m not sure.

It is clear that gifts of CDs that your friends or family purchased for you from Amazon are not eligible for AutoRip. There is also this interesting piece of “fine print”:

Some record companies require us (Amazon) to insert identifiers in the metadata that accompanies music when you download it from the Amazon MP3 Store or Cloud Player. This includes the music you have purchased from Amazon.com and matched music imported to Cloud Player from your device.

These identifies may include a random number Amazon assigns to your order or copy, purchase date and time, an indicator that the music was downloaded from Amazon, codes that identify the album or song (the UPC and ISRC), Amazon’s digital signature, an identifier that can be used to determine whether the audio has been modified, and an indicator whether the music was purchased from the MP3 store or imported to the Cloud Player.

Look for the AutoRip icon in search results and CD detail pages to find out if it is one you can use with this new service. The MP3 versions of your past AutoRip eligible CD purchases are already available in the Cloud Player, where they are being stored for free. CDs that you purchased through Amazon, from as far back as 1998, are eligible for AutoRip.

Buffalo Launches Thunderbolt Portable SSD

Buffalo LogoFollowing on from GNC’s review of the MiniStation Air earlier this month, Buffalo have a launched the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD. As you might guess from the name, it’s a portable SSD with a Thunderbolt connection so it’s ideal for connecting up with Apple Macs.

Combining the SSD with Thunderbolt, the MiniStation has a read performance of more than 370 MB/s and a write performance that exceeds 250 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book. And I think those are Bytes and not bits. PC users aren’t left out with a USB 3.0 connection too, though it’s not as fast as the Thunderbolt connections.

MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD

Paul Hudson, Sales Director for Northern Europe at Buffalo, said: “The MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD combines a highly robust and aesthetically pleasing design with exceptionally fast data transfer speed. We have seen how Thunderbolt hard drives have transformed the available speed for read and write to storage devices, but with the additional of SSD in the Buffalo range, the speed stakes are raised again providing astounding performance.

The drive is bus-powered and will be available in two storage sizes, at a recommended price of £229.99 for the 128 GB product and £349.99 for the 256 GB version. There’s a .pdf spec sheet here.

Hopefully GNC will be bringing you a review of the MiniStation Thunderbold SSD in the not-too-distant future.

Elite: Dangerous

There’s a pretty good chance that if you are a 40+ British geek, the mere mention of “Elite” will roll back the years to hours of gameplay in front of a BBC Model B, flying a wireframe starship around an almost limitless universe. Trading, fighting, arms-dealing, slavery, whatever it took to get respect and the coveted Elite status. Even now, I still feel a small hint of pride in my own Elite achievement, over 20 years later.

Created by David Braben and Ian Bell, Elite was the first 3D game and eeked every last ounce of performance from 8 bit processors and 32 KB of RAM, even less once the OS had taken its share. There were tricks such as making all the objects in the universe concave, which significantly reduced several calculations in techniques such as hidden line removal and despite being largely only in monochrome, it was totally amazing for its day.

The successor to Elite, “Frontier”, never gained the same traction as the original Elite. In some ways it was too big and just wasn’t as immediate as the original Elite.

Returning to the original ethos of Elite, David Braben has launched a Kickstarter campaign for “Elite: Dangerous” to raise £1.25 million ($2 million) for the development of a new game in the canon, aiming for delivery in March 2014. Elite: Dangerous will be a multi-player game in a massive universe and initially the game will be for the PC, but other platforms will be looked at.

As usual, there are various funding levels, but £20 gets you a copy of the game plus the opportunity to reserve your commander’s name. But if you were looking to get lunch with David Braben at £5000, I’m afraid that all five slots have already been taken.

There’s additional reporting at the BBC.