Tag Archives: hp

HP’s Elite Slice and the problem with modular PCs

“HP reinvents the desktop” says the press release announcing the Elite Slice, a small modular PC, composed of square sections which you stack together.

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“It is the first modular commercial desktop with cable-less connectivity” adds the release, which caused me to pause. I was sure I had seen something like it before; and certainly it looks not unlike Acer’s Revo Build:

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Acer’s Revo Build

Nevertheless, I have a high regard for HP’s PC products, and often recommend them, so I was interested in the Elite Slice.

The base unit is 6.5″ (16.51cm) square and 1.38″ (3.5cm) deep and can be powered from a display using a USB Type-C cable to minimise cables. Various specifications are available, with 6th gen Intel Core i3, i5 or i7, and up to 32GB RAM. HDMI and DisplayPort video output is included. Storage is SSD from 128GB to 512GB. Availability is from the end of September 2016, and price is “from £500”.

In practice you are likely to spend more than that. On HP’s US site, you can order an Elite Slice G1 with Windows 10 Pro, Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, USB mouse, 65 watt power supply for $1235.00 (around £950).

So what modules can you get? On offer currently is an optical disk drive and a Bang & Olufsen audio module. There is also a mounting plate that lets you fix the unit to the wall.

There are other options that are not actual modules, but can be specified when you purchase. These include a wireless charging plate (so you can charge your phone by placing it on top of the Slice) and a fingerprint reader.

There is also a HP Collaboration Cover which once again has to be specified with your original purchase. This is for conferencing and adds the functionality of a Skype for Business (Lync) phone. You can buy this bundled with the audio module as the “Elite Slice for Meeting Rooms”, priced from £649.

I looked at the Elite Slice at the Showstoppers press event just before the IFA show in Berlin last week. It is a good looking unit and will likely be fine as a small business PC.

That said, I am a sceptic when it comes to the modular concept. For a start, the HP Elite is not all that modular, with several options only available on initial purchase (fingerprint reader, wireless charging, conferencing cover). “Covers … require factory configuration and cannot be combined with other Slice covers” says the small print; so if you want wireless charging as well as conferencing, bad luck.

Second, the HP Elite Slice is actually less modular than a traditional PC. While I was looking at the PC, another visitor asked whether a more powerful GPU is available. “We are looking at doing a GPU module” was the answer. However, buy a standard PC with a PCI Express slot and you can choose from a wide range of GPUs, though you might need to upgrade the power supply to run it; that is also easily done.

The downside of a traditional PC is that it is bulky and clunky compared to a neat thing like the Elite; but it sits under the desk so who cares?

Be warned too that if you buy a HP Elite in the hope of a regular flow of exciting modules over the next year or two, you may well be disappointed. Another bright idea will come along and the Elite will be forgotten – just as we heard nothing from Acer about the Revo Build at this year’s IFA.

More details on the Elite Slice are here.

HP ElitePad 900: a tablet that is easy to disassemble thanks to magnetic screen attachment

I saw the HP ElitePad Windows 8 slate at a trade show last week and was impressed by a feature I had not heard about before: easy serviceability.

Tablets are usually intimidating to disassemble, thanks to screens that are either glued in place or which require alarming force to prise away. The ElitePad is different. It is a slate which is actually easier to take apart than most laptops, thanks to magnetic attachment. HP supplies a  depolarising jig into which you slot the tablet, whereupon you can easily remove the screen with a suction handle. There are a couple of screws to undo first, but it looks like an easy job.

Here are a few screen grabs from the explanatory video (embedded at the end of this post) which show what is involved. This is the tablet in the jig with the screen about to be removed.

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This is the screen coming away.

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And here is the unit with screen removed.

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Once opened up, HP says you can replace these parts:

  • Dock connector
  • speaker system
  • SD and Sim card connector
  • webcam
  • NFC (Near Field Communications) sensor
  • battery
  • wireless LAN
  • antennas
  • power board
  • motherboard
  • processor
  • memory card

According to the video, the motherboard “contains the SSD” which sounds disappointing, since one of the first things you might want to do is to replace the rather small 32GB or 64GB SSD with a larger one.

Unfortunately this feature is not aimed at home users wanting to modify or fix their own tablets; you need the jig and HP training. At least, that is the official line; but I imagine that the DIY community will also benefit from this approach.

The ElitePad has a 10″ 1280×800 screen, dual core Z2760 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, and 32GB or 64GB SSD. It also supports memory expansion via an SD card, and there an option for a SIM for mobile broadband. Battery life is around 8 hours.

HP is using expansion jackets to adapt the ElitePad for specialist tasks – a throwback to the iPaq (remember that?) handheld computer which used the same concept. This includes jackets with additional battery, a productivity jacket with a keyboard and stand, a jacket for medical use, a retail POS (point of sale) option, and a rugged case for outside use. I hated the iPaq jackets, which were horribly bulky, but these look like a better proposition, though it is still a shame to bulk up your nice slim slate with fat case.

According to HP, a key selling point of the ElitePad is enterprise manageability thanks to Active Directory support. Of course this is x86 Windows 8, not Windows RT which cannot be domain-joined.

I do get the impression that HP has put considerable effort into the ElitePad which is not just a me-too Windows 8 product. Good to see.

The main snag with the ElitePad is its high price. It starts at $699 in the US, or £520 + VAT in the UK, and considering the lowly specification in terms of processing power, and the extra cost of the accessories, it looks poor value, though if it is a perfect fit for your business it might still be worth it (and no doubt you will get a better price if you buy in quantity).

When the cartridges cost more than the printer: the Inkjet market is absurd and disgraceful

I would love to be in one of those meetings at HP or Canon or Epson where they discuss the size of the ink cartridges in their next range of inkjet printers.

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“We got away with 10ml last time,” one might say. “Do you think we could try 8ml”?

“No, let’s do 6ml and call it lite. The 8ml can be XL for high capacity.”

The reason is this has come up for me is that my Canon MX700 all-in-one printer, which has until now performed well, has stopped working. The LCD display says Error 6A80, the lights on the print cartridges have gone out, and it will not do a thing.

While I am not sure what the problem is, it might possibly be the print head. This is a small piece of plastic which includes the actual print head with the microscopic holes through which the ink is squirted, and the cheapest I can find it is around £65.00.

On the other hand, I can get a new Epson BX305FW all-in-one printer for £72, less than that if I shop around.

When the cartridges cost more than the printer

Well, we are used to living in a throwaway society, but the situation with inkjet printers is beyond absurdity. The reason, you see, for the low prices of the hardware is that they are vehicles for selling ink cartridges, for which the prices are crazy high. Therefore there is a direct connection between the high prices of the cartridges, and their small capacity, and the likelihood of my taking a nice all-in-one printer with not very much wrong with it, and throwing it into landfill.

Since I needed to print some documents urgently, I got my old 2001 HP DeskJet 895cx down from the loft and went into town to see if I could still get cartridges for it. As I looked, I noticed that Tesco is selling the HP Deskjet 1050 all-in-one printer for £29.97. This takes HP 301 cartridges; colour is £16.97 and black is £13.97 (you need both): total £30.94. So yes, the cartridges cost more than the printer.

If the cartridges supplied with the Deskjet 1050 are the same size as the ones you buy, it would pay you just to buy a new printer whenever the cartridge runs out. This does not please me; it is a disgrace.

Now, curiously HP does not specify how much ink is in its 301 cartridges. Rather, it gives page yields. So we learn here that the HP 301 black ink cartridge  delivers 190 pages of average coverage. The high-capacity HP 301XL delivers 480 pages.

My old printer, as it happens, also has standard and high-capacity versions. The HP 45 standard (21ml) delivers 490 pages. The HP 45 high-capacity (42ml), which is the only one I have ever bought, delivers 930 pages.

In other words, mysteriously, what is now high-capacity is less than what used to be standard; what used to be high-capacity is no longer available, if you get the latest HP DeskJet.

You can pay a lot more than this for inkjet cartridges. Prices of £30 to £40 or more are common, for three-colour cartridges. Together with a black, it might cost you £60 or more to replenish.

This drives users towards the thriving alternative market in refurbished or compatible cartridges. This is unfortunate, because all inks are not equal, and a leaky or substandard cartridge can damage your printer. On the other hand, if you do the sums, the saving from just a couple of cartridge replacement cycles may be enough to buy a new printer. Buying the non-approved refills is the rational thing to do.

I am not picking on HP. Others vendors are equally bad.

Where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here? Logically, we should ignore the price sticker on the printers and look at the cost per page, which means mostly we won’t be buying these machines. We do though; in fact, I nearly bought the cheap Tesco printer this morning just to solve a problem, and so the cycle continues.

I would like to see the regulators take action on this. Instead of forcing Microsoft to produce pointless N editions of Windows, which nobody buys, maybe the EU could specify a minimum page yield for ink cartridges, to force change, or otherwise regulate this wasteful and damaging business practice.

Finally, if you are from HP or Canon or Epson or the like and want to tell me about the high quality and expensive research behind your ink technology, you are welcome, as long as you also tell me two things:

  • What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet printers?
  • What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet cartridges?

Thank you.

Update: I made some progress with Error 6A80. The print head is fine. Now, many people on the internet have reported this problem, though there are likely multiple reasons for it, but the only relevant article I’ve found is this one, which is in German. Note the helpful pictures. The print head should park at the right of the machine, where there are some pads and wipers that maintain the head. On my machine the wipers had got stuck in the forward position – see the first image in the thread. When I pushed them back – second image on page two – the error cleared. However it reappeared shortly after; but I now think that somehow cleaning up this part of the printer (which is hard to get at) could fix it.

Further update: I did eventually take the printer apart and pretty much fixed it.

What’s in HP’s Beats Audio, marketing aside?

If you are like me you may be wondering what is actually in Beats Audio technology, which comes from HP in partnership with Beats by Dr Dre.

The technical information is not that easy to find; but a comment to this blog directed me to this video:

http://www.precentral.net/what-beats-audio

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According to this, it comes down to four things:

1. Redesigned headphone jack with better insulation, hence less ground noise.

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2. Discrete headphone amp to reduce crosstalk. This is also said to be “more powerful”, but since we do not know what it is more powerful than, I am not going to count that as technical information.

3. Isolated audio circuitry.

4. Software audio profiles which I think means some sort of equalizer.

These seem to me sensible features, though what I would really like to see is specifications showing the benefits versus other laptops of a comparable price.

There may be a bit more to Beats audio in certain models. For example, the Envy 14 laptop described here has a “triple bass reflex subwoofer”.

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though this user was not greatly impressed:

I ran some audio tone test sites and found out the built in laptop speakers do not generate any sound below 200 Hz. In the IDT audio drivers speaker config there is only configuration for 2 speaker stereo system, no 2.1 speaker system (which includes subwoofer). I’m miffed, because on HP advertising copy claims “HP Triple Bass Reflex Subwoofer amplifiers put out 12W total while supporting a full range of treble and bass frequencies.” Clearly I am not getting “full range” frequencies.

Still, what do you expect from a subwoofer built into a laptop?

Don’t be fooled. 24-bit will not fix computer audio

Record producer Jimmy Iovine now chairman of Interscope and CEO of Beats by Dr Dre, says there are huge quality problems in the music industry. I listened to his talk during HP’s launch event for its TouchPad tablet and new smartphones.

“We’re trying to fix the degradation of music that the digital revolution has caused,” says Iovine. “Quality is being destroyed on a massive scale”.

So what has gone wrong? Iovine’s speech is short on technical detail, but he identifies several issues. First, he implies that 24-bit digital audio is necessary for good sound:

We record our music in 24-bit. The record industry downgrades that to 16-bit. Why? I don’t know. It’s not because they’re geniuses.

Second, he says that “the PC has become the de facto home stereo for young people” but that sound is an afterthought for most computer manufacturers. “No-one cares about sound”.

Finally, he says that HP working with, no surprise, his own company Beats by Dr Dre, has fixed the problem:

We have a million laptops with Beats audio in with HP … HP’s laptops, the Envy and the Pavilion, actually feel the way the music feels in the studio. I can tell you, that is the only PC in the world that can do that.

Beats Audio is in the Touchpad as well, hence Iovine’s appearance. “The Touchpad is a musical instrument” says Iovine.

I am a music and audio enthusiast and part of me wants to agree with Iovine. Part of me though finds the whole speech disgraceful.

Let’s start with the positive. It is true that the digital revolution has had mixed results for audio quality in the home. In general, convenience has won out over sound quality, and iPod docks are the new home stereo, compromised by little loudspeakers in plastic cabinets, usually with lossy-compressed audio files as the source.

Why then is Iovine’s speech disgraceful? Simply because it is disconnected from technical reality for no other reason than to market his product.

Iovine says he does not know why 24-bit files are downgraded to 16-bit. That is implausible. The first reason is historical. 16-bit audio was chosen for the CD format back in the eighties. The second reason is that there is an advantage in reducing the size of audio data, whether that is to fit more on a CD, or to reduce download time, bandwidth and storage on a PC or portable player.

But how much is the sound degraded when converted from 24-bit to 16-bit? PCM audio has a sampling rate as well as a bit-depth. CD or Redbook quality is 16-bit sampled at 44,100 Hz, usually abbreviated to 16/44. High resolution audio is usually 24/96 or even 24/192.

The question then: what are the limitations of 16/44 audio? We can be precise about this. Nyquist’s Theorem says that the 44,100 Hz sampling rate is enough to perfectly recapture a band-limited audio signal where the highest frequency is 22,500 Hz. Human hearing may extends to 20,000 Hz in ideal conditions, but few can hear much above 18,000 Hz and this diminishes with age.

Redbook audio also limits the dynamic range (difference between quietest and loudest passages) to 96dB.

In theory then it seems that 16/44 should be good enough for the limits of human hearing. Still, there are other factors which mean that what is achieved falls short of what is theoretically possible. Higher resolution formats might therefore sound better. But do they? See here for a previous article on the subject; I has also done a more recent test of my own. It is difficult to be definitive; but my view is that in ideal conditions the difference is subtle at best.

Now think of a PC or Tablet computer. The conditions are far from ideal. There is no room for a powerful amplifier, and any built-in speakers are tiny. Headphones partly solve this problem for personal listening, even more so when they are powered headphones such as the high-end ones marketed by Beats, but that has nothing to do with what is in the PC or tablet.

I am sure it is true that sound quality is a low priority for most laptop or PC vendors, but one of the reasons is that the technology behind digital audio converters is mature and even the cheap audio chipsets built into mass-market motherboards are unlikely to be the weak link in most computer audio setups.

The speakers built into a portable computer are most likely a bit hopeless – and it may well be that HPs are better than most – but that is easily overcome by plugging in powered speakers, or using an external digital to analog converter (DAC). Some of these use USB connections so that you can use them with any USB-equipped device.

Nevertheless, Iovine is correct that the industry has degraded audio. The reason is not 24-bit vs 16-bit, but poor sound engineering, especially the reduced dynamic range inflicted on us by the loudness wars.

The culprits: not the PC manufacturers as Iovine claims, but rather the record industry. Note that Iovine is chairman of a record company.

It breaks my heart to hear the obvious distortion in the loud passages during a magnificent performance such as Johnny Cash’s version of Trent Reznor’s Hurt. That is an engineering failure.

First look at HP’s TouchPad WebOS tablet

I took a close look at HP’s WebOS TouchPad tablet during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

This 9.7” machine looks delightful. One of its features is wireless charging using the optional Touchstone accessory. The same technology can also transmit data, as mentioned in this post on wireless charging, and the TouchPad makes use of this in conjunction with new WebOS smartphones such as the Pre3 and the Veer. Put one of these devices next to a TouchPad and the smartphone automatically navigates to the same URL that is displayed on the TouchPad. A gimmick, but a clever one.

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From what I saw though, these WebOS devices are fast and smooth, with strong multitasking and a pleasant user interface. Wireless charging is excellent, and a feature you would expect Apple to adopt before long since it reduces clutter.

I still would not bet on HP winning big market share with WebOS. The original Palm Pre was released to rave reviews but disappointing sales, and HP will have to work a miracle to avoid the same fate.