Category Archives: Hardware Reviews

We are constantly getting a wide variety of hardware and software to test and exercise under a range of conditions. As you might expect, some work better than others, some play nicely with others (or not), and a few are genuinely pleasant surprises. Here you’ll find a collection of reviews on a range of products. We’ll be updating this section frequently as we run across new stuff, so come back soon and often!

USB4 Means Yoga Pro 9 Stays On

I have to apologize to the review team at Lenovo. I’d told them I’d be sending back their splendid Yoga Pro 9(i) last Friday. Then I got an assignment from AskWoody to write about external, USB-attached NVMe (and other SSD) storage devices. So of course I had to a buy a current-gen 40 Gbps USB4 drive enclosure. Also, its inbuilt USB4 means Yoga Pro 9 stays on here at Chez Tittel while testing is underway. Sorry, Jeff and Amanda: I need to keep this beast a bit longer…

Why USB4 Means Yoga Pro 9 Stays On

Short answer: it’s my only PC/laptop with USB4 capability. And I want to research and write about same. And on the Yoga Pro 9i the first thing I observe is that while it has two USB-C ports, only one of them supports 40 Gbps throughput (the other is USB-C 3.2 and tops out at half that). This makes a big difference in read/write speeds. Ditto for cables: for best results you need a cable marked 40 Gbps or Thunderbolt 4, too. The device info for the MAIWO 40Gbps enclosure shows what needs to appear for fastest I/O:

USB4 Means Yoga Pro 9 Stays On.Settings-USBdevinfo

The salient info is at the bottom: 40Gbps. It also detects a Gen3 NVMe SSD.

Over the next 10 days or so, I’ll be comparing enclosures, drives, and cables with related measurements. This should be interesting. But for now, let me observe that I paid US$70 for a 40Gbps NVMe enclosure yesterday. When I bought the previous generation (20Gbps) enclosures, the cheapest ones cost US$120 or thereabouts. It’s good that the technology is getting both faster and cheaper. I’m very interested to see how quickly Macrium Reflect can back up the Yoga Pro 9i with a fast SSD and this fast enclosure. Should be fun!

Top of the Heap? You tell me…

FWIW, Cale Hunt over at WindowsCentral just anointed the Lenovo Yoga 9i as the #1 best laptop for 2024. I’ve found it to be pretty stellar in my 5 weeks working with it so far. It’s been great at handling complex programs, lots of VMs, and both compute- and graphics-intensive workloads. Too bad it came out before Copilot + PC requirements were known. It’s close, but not quite at that level. Sigh.

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Yoga Pro 9i Shows Incredible SSD Speed Variations

I’m digging into the behaviors of the svelte and powerful Yoga Pro 9i I’ve had for two weeks today. It’s a speedy and powerful beast of a laptop. It’s half the thickness (30.23mm/1.2″ vs 19.4mm/0.77″ on average) and ¾ the weight (2.95kg/6.5 lbs vs 2.23kg/4.9 lbs) of the Lenovo P16 Mobile Workstation (Gen1). But it’s either on par with or faster than that bigger beast of a desktop replacement. All this said, though, running various NVMe drives and enclosures, I’ve observed that the Yoga Pro 9i shows incredible SSD speed variations.

Why Say: Yoga Pro 9i Shows Incredible SSD Speed Variations

The first set of CrystalDiskMark (CDM) results for the Yoga Pro 9i serve as the lead graphic up top here. These come from the internal SSD inside the unit’s M.2 drive slot. According to Device Manager that drive is an SKHynix_HFS001TEJ9X115N (1TB PCIe x4 NVMe 1.4). Those are pretty respectable results, and serve as a point of reference against external drives.

What makes the Yoga Pro 9i interesting is its two USB-C ports. One is labeled USB-C (20 Gbps) and the other is labeled Thunderbolt 4 (which means 40 Gbps) [see the ports diagram from this April 29 post]. Theoretically that means port 3 (USB-C 20 Gbps) tops out at half the speed of port 4 (USB-C Thunderbolt 4 40 Gbps).

And indeed my only Thunderbolt 4 NVMe enclosure — an Acasis TB-401u claims to support that 40 Gbps top rate. The on-the-ground reality is, however, something quite different with a Sabrent Rocket 1TB NVMe 1.3 SSD  installed therein. Much of this comes from an older v1.3 SSD inside a 1.4 enclosure with access to TB4/USB4 compatible ports. But these results fall far short of what I’d expected to see:

Yoga Pro 9i Shows Incredible SSD Speed Variations.acasis

This looks like results for a typical USB 3.x UASP device IMO

In fact, I got at least some better results from a less-capable Crucial CTP2000P3SSD8 (2TB, NVMe 1.3) inside a less capable enclosure (Sabrent EC-NVME: USB 3.1 Gen2) in the slower USB-C 20 Gbps port. Here they are:

Yoga Pro 9i Shows Incredible SSD Speed Variations.sabrent/crucial

Big bulk reads (top left) are much faster, but everything else is (mostly) slower.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. What I take from it is that for the fastest backups and big file transfers (video, AI models, and the like) you’re better off spending more on a faster enclosure and a faster SSD to get the most out of the connection. I’m going to have to systematize this, and run some more tests. Great fun!

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Pondering AI PCs Means TOPS

Since last Friday (April 26) I’ve been working with the Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 laptop. It’s also called a Yoga Pro 9i. I’m a little mystified by the “i” that comes and goes for this device name. If you look at the lead-in graphic you can see the User Guide calls it “Pro 9i” while Lenovo Vantage calls it “Pro 9.” It’s an early AI PC from Lenovo, which means it has a Copilot key and a built-in AI processor, aka NPU (Neural Processing Unit). As I’m now learning, pondering AI PCs means TOPS (trillions of AI or “tera” operations per second) matter — a lot!

If Pondering AI PCs Means TOPS Matters, What’s the 9(i) Got?

According to Intel Ark the name of the NPU integrated into the Intel Ultra Core i9 185H CPU is “Intel AI boost.” Otherwise, there’s precious little info available about its capabilities except for the frameworks it support. For the record, those are Intel’s own Open VINO, WindowsML, DirectML and OMNX RT.

I had to turn to Copilot to get more information about the 185H NPU. Here’s what it told me:

Intel’s Core Ultra “Meteor Lake” offers an AI Boost NPU with 10 TOPS

Since I’ve learned to verify whatever Copilot tells me, I found this stat verified at Tom’s Hardware in an April 9 story. When I asked Copilot directly “What’s the TOPS rating for the AI Boost NPU in the Intel i9 185H?” it came back with a higher number that I couldn’t verify. Here’s what it said:

The Intel Core Ultra 9 185H processor features an AI Boost NPU that can perform approximately 34 trillion operations per second, which translates to 34 TOPS (Tera Operations Per Second)12.

The second source it cites may explain this apparent discrepancy, though: the 10 TOPS is what the NPU itself contributes. But Arc and NVIDIA GPUs can also support the same AI frameworks mentioned above, and can thus add to a unit’s overall TOPS rating.

Put this into more Copilot context that asks if it itself can use NPU resources:

Microsoft Copilot is now set to run locally on AI PCs with at least 40 TOPS (Tera Operations Per Second) of NPU (Neural Processing Unit) performance.

Given that the Yoga 9(i) comes close to that number, I’m still wondering if it qualifies or not. So far, I can’t find any details that lead me definitively to an unequivocal “Yes” or “No.” Sigh.

The Next Generation Gets It, For Sure?

Another Tom’s story, also dated April 9, says the next “Lunar Lake” generation will include an NPU rated at 45 TOPS. Further it also asserts that PCs with such chips will offer 100+ TOPS overall when they become available. AMD likewise says it will play in that same ballpark, as will the Snapdragon X Elite chips.

I’m still unsure as to whether or not my current review unit — that is, the Lenovo Yoga 9(i) has enough AI oomph to run Copilot workloads locally. I’ll keep banging away at this, though. Eventually, I’ll figure it out. At this point, I’m still at the start of the learning curve…

Rereading Tom’s Hardware I See This…

The Tom’s Copilot Locally story relies mostly on quotes from Intel to set things up — namely, from Todd Lewellen, VP of Intel Client Computing Group. He says:

“[..]And as we go to that next gen, it’s just going to enable us to run more things locally, just like they will run Copilot with more elements of Copilot running locally on the client. That may not mean that everything in Copilot is running local, but you’ll get a lot of key capabilities that will show up running on the NPU.”

This seems pretty clear that the current generation — including the Core Ultra i9 185H in the Lenovo Pro 9i  — does NOT fall under this umbrella. That said, I think it leaves open whether or not it will make any difference for other AI workloads. Should be interesting to get to the bottom of this!

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Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 Intake

When I got home from a visit to a dental lab around lunchtime on Friday, the Boss asked “Were you expecting a package?” I’d asked Lenovo to send me a Yoga Pro 9 earlier that week, so my answer was a tentative “Maybe…” And sure enough, that’s what it was. Over the weekend, I had time to get through all steps in the Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 intake process. It proved more interesting — and educational — than I expected…

What I Got for Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 Intake

There were some interesting surprises in what showed up. Basics of the unit’s configuration include:

  • Intel Core Ultra 9 185H (Meteor Lake/13th Gen+)
  • 32 GB LPDDR5x-7467 (soldered)
  • Hynix 1TiB NVMe SSD PCIe x4
  • 16″ Lenovo LEN8BAI Monitor 3200×2000 resolution monitor
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX211 network adapter
  • Intel AI Boost NPU & Copilot key

There’s more, but I’ll get to some of that in the next section. The main reason I requested a short loan of this formidable PC was for access to a machine with NPU and Copilot key to take them for a spin. Looks like this unit retails for around US$2,100 at the Lenovo Store.

What I  Learned During the Intake Process

TLDR answer: LOTS of things. I’ll elaborate by noting first that the unit came with Windows 11 Home installed (immediately upgraded to Build 22631.3527 Enterprise). Because I usually interact with most PCs — personal, production and test/loaner units — via RDP, sticking with Home was not an option for me. It’s OK: because I’m an MVP I get a MAK key for Enterprise as part of my Visual Studio subscription. Lenovo will destroy my image upon its return anyway. But if you decide to purchase one, you can indeed configure it with Pro for a mere US$2 extra. That’s what I’d do, for sure…

I found myself a little mystified by the new Meteor Lake Intel Core Ultra 9 185HCore Ultra 9 185H CPU. Intel refers to this CPU as “formerly Meteor Lake” but doesn’t really assign a “Generation” number. Its Intel home page studiously avoids mentioning such info. My unit was built in early February 2024 according to its outside sticker. Its Intel Ark page describes it as Intel Core Ultra processors (Series 1) so it looks like NPU endowed chips are starting a new numbering scheme instead. This should be interested to see play out, expecially with Snapdragon X systems on their way into this same niche.

I also observed that read/write speeds vary significantly by USB-C port type. As you can see in the next graphic, port3 is USB -C 20Gbps, and 4 is Thunderbolt 4. These produce “interesting” benchmark results where one is noticeably faster than the other for some values. Indeed, TB4 is faster for 1M read and 4K random writes, while USB 4 is faster for 1M write and 4K random reads. Others are more or less a wash. I’m going to have to try faster SSDs to see if that makes a difference (I suspect it will).

Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 ports (left & right sides)
Lenovo Yoga Pro 9 ports (left & right sides) [Double-click image for full-size view]

What About AI Stuff?

I can tell that Copilot runs faster on this laptop than on other, older models (even a ThinkPad P16 Mobile workstation with a 12th-Gen i9-12950HX CPU but no NPU). But other than that I haven’t really messed around enough with Copilot and other AI functions to get a sense of the differences. Stay tuned! I only get to keep this unit for a month, so I’ll be writing about it regularly over the next few weeks.

Other Observations

Here are some bullet points that reflect other stuff I noticed while unpacking, setting up and using the new Lenovo Yoga 9 Pro:

  • The shipping materials proudly proclaim “plastic-free packaging” in several places on the boxes. Two egg-crate holders supported the laptop, with one small internal cardboard box for the brick and power cord. There was some soft material labeled 22/PAP between the upper and lower decks of the clamshell. Ditto for the label on the black bag inside which the laptop itself was sitting. The material uses a plastic-recycling symbol (three arrows forming a triangle) but lookup tells me … yep, it’s paper! Even the twist-tie that held the power cord together was covered in brown paper. Good job, Lenovo.
  • For some unholy reason, Lenovo included McAfee AV on the Yoga 9 Pro. I uninstalled it right after I performed the OS updates on that PC. Defender is fine with me: I no longer use much, if any, third party security software.
  • Have to laugh: the Copilot key is a big deal on these new Windows AI-Ready PCs. But the onscreen keyboard (Ctrl+Winkey+O) does not include such a key. I bet MS will fix this before these AI-Ready PCs get into wider circulation.
  • The Open Source Snappy Driver installer (SDIO version) gives the drives already installed on this laptop its blessing. It’s not an absolute guarantee that everything’s up to date, but it’s pretty darn close. Good-oh!
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Is ARM In Your PC’s Future?

I just saw an interesting story over at Windows Latest. It’s entitled Microsoft; Industry considers Windows on ARM as the future of computing. We’ve seen Windows on ARM for 3-plus years now. But so far, the user experience has been more under- than over- whelming. Nevertheless,  I’m inclined to agree that ARM has revolutionary PC potential going forward.  Thus IMO it IS reasonable to ask: Is ARM in your PC’s future? Let me explain… as you look at the CPU package in the lead-in graphic (Image Credit: AnfraShop.com).

Why say: Is ARM In Your PC’s Future?

I’ve been writing ongoing tech briefs for HPE, around the  ProLiant server family since last December. Much of my research, analysis and reporting has centered around ARM CPUs. Specifically, I’ve been exploring benefits they confer on cloud-based servers vis-a-vis top-of-the-line x86 Intel and AMD processors :

  • Energy efficiency: ARM CPUs routinely deliver the same or better performance as the other CPUs, but consume 50-70% less power.
  • Footprint: ARM CPU-based servers require only 1/3 the physical space (and volume) of their intel or AMD counterparts. That means either major savings on rack space, cooling, cabling and yada-yada, or 3 times as much capability in the same space.
  • Predictable and improved performance: ARM (Ampere Altra and Altra Max) CPUs use a single constant clock speed and lots of cores to keep things in synch and running smoothly. They can handle higher loads, faster and more predictably (with less jitter, too) than the competition.
  • High core-count ARM CPUs (Ampere Altra and Altra Max) can handle AI workloads without needing supplementary GPUs to offload or assist with such processing. Considering that the latest high-end Blackwell NVIDIA GPU is expected to cost US$30-40K, that’s HUGE (the current spot price for the top-of-the-line Ampere Altra Max M128-30 is US$2,305).

Pretty amazing, eh? It’s already shaking up the cloud and data center server market in a big, big way.

What Does This Have to Do with End-User PCs and Laptops?

Right now, not much. But in general, the ARM processors all share the smaller footprint and improved energy efficiency characteristics that help set the high-end ARM server CPUs apart from intel and AMD. They won’t offer anywhere near the same number of cores, and they’re also likely to use multiple core types (Ampere Altra uses only single-threaded cores, all identical, all in lock-step).

A March 13 MS announcement about worldwide availability of an “ARM advisory service for developers” had this to say about ARM silicon:

This is no surprise, as many across the industry consider Windows on Arm devices as the future of computing, with unparalleled speed, battery life, and connectivity.

Like me, MS apparently sees the uptake of the advantages that ARM architecture brings to computing having a significant impact at the end-user level. This is going to be interesting to watch unfold. It’s going to be even more fun to play with and test, to see if the running gear lives up to the breathless hype. If the benchmarks that Ampere and HPE are publishing are any indication, this could very well shake up desktops and laptops over the next year or two, as it’s already doing so for the rack-mounted server market right now.

Will the next PC/laptop I test have an ARM CPU? Gosh, I hope so. Will the next PC/laptop I BUY have an ARM CPU? Jury’s still out, but it’s looking at least possible, if not downright likely…

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Panasonic FZ-55 Semi-Rugged PC

OK, then. I got a half-hour+ with a Panasonic team yesterday via Zoom. This group of folks included a couple of engineers, a couple of marketing folks (including the US product manager), and the PR person who put things together for me. The focus of our call:  the Panasonic FZ-55 Semi-Rugged PC shipped out for eval just before Christmas. It was a great call: I learned a lot.

Understanding the Panasonic FZ-55 Semi-Rugged PC

The best info nugget in the call: learning the FZ-55 Toughbook is a “semi-rugged” device. I also learned that the category of “ruggedized PCs” includes a “fully rugged” type as well. I snapped the default desktop background from the FZ-55 for the lead-in graphic: it’s pretty cool.

Semi-rugged PCs use cases invovle “somewhat harsh” conditions. But they’re not completely watertight or dust-proof. That’s what distinguishes them from fully ruggedized PCs (which indeed are water- and dust-proof). That said, as a  semi-rugged PC, the FZ-55 targets  use in field structures (including tents, vehicles, and so on). It’s also great for factory-floor conditions where there’s no airborne water (e.g. rain). Here’s a link to the US specsheet for the FZ-55.

Such PCs can handle wide temperature ranges (at least -25C/-13C to at least 50C/122F). They’re also built to withstand ambient dust and grit (with port doors closed), moderate vibration and shock, short-lived spills or moisture, and more. As one of the Panasonic techs explained “The FZ-55 is intended for use away from the weather, but works well in vehicles, tents, or other temporary strucures.” That’s because it’s semi-rugged: got it!

What About Fully Rugged (Toughbook 40)?

The Toughbook 40 is the FZ-55’s fully rugged counterpart. As you can see in the next image, it’s completely sealed up to make it water- and dust-proof.

Panasonic FZ-55 Semi-Rugged PC.tb40

The Toughbook 40 is fully ruggedized: that makes it bulkier but completely dust- and waterproof.

It’s got the same modular design, with user-removable expansion packs that include various port combinations, storage and memory add-ons, oodles of wireless options, and more. Surprisingly, it costs only around 25% more for similar equipment as compared to the semi-rugged FZ-55.  Peripherals and expansion modules are about 50-60% higher, on average. That said, the Toughbook 40 is an 11th-gen Intel platform not a 13th-gen platform. Thus, it lags somewhat behind the FZ-55 but with good reason, as I explain next.

A Tale of Two Lifecycles

Simply put, the FZ-55 is on a faster lifecycle than the Toughbook 40. In part that’s because fully-ruggedized PCs have a longer design and test cycle. It’ also because fully-ruggedized PCs have to be bigger and bulkier, to seal everything up. They require more expensive and demanding parts, with various related supply chain complications. In large additional part, however, it’s also because fully rugged devices aim more squarely at defense and emergency use (think FEMA, after a hurricane or firestorm). These agencies have hairy, complicated acquisition and purchase models and mechanisms, and don’t like things to change more often than absolutely necessary.

The upshot of all this is that semi-rugged devices run on a 3-5 year lifecycle for enclosures and platforms, with an 18-24 month lifecycle for the innards involved. That explains the FZ-55-3 model number, which indicates this platform (FZ-55) is on its third set of innards (3). On the other hand, the rugged PCs run on a 5-8 year lifecycle for enclosures and platforms, with a 36-48 month lifecycle for those innards. That explains nicely why an 11th-gen intel CPU remains a “current model” (this CPU family made its debut in early 2021, and is still inside the current window for both enclosure and innards).

That’s how things go in Windows-World, where semi-rugged PCs chug along on a faster timetable than fully rugged ones. Cheers!

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Incase Takes Over MS Branded Keyboards

Last year, MS announced it would stop making its company-branded mice and keyboards. As somebody’s who’s been using MS keyboards since Homer was a pup, I was naturally concerned. But those concerns were allayed last week. That’s when peripheral maker Incase announced it would sell those products as “Incase designed by Microsoft” items. Indeed, Incase takes over MS branded keyboards as part of that deal. As you can see in the lead-in screencap, that includes my beloved Natural Ergonomic 4000 (top center).

When Incase Takes Over MS Branded Keyboards, Then?

The announcement isn’t completely clear about exactly when this cutover will occur. When MS announced they’d  exit this segment of the hardware business (they’re sticking purely to Surface branded hardware going forward), they simply said they’d sell out of existing stock. Methinks Incase will need to ramp up and get going before the new incarnations of the old MS-branded items will reappear for sale.

Currently, my fave model under the old brand goes for about US$400 on Amazon. The last time I bought a pair was in 2020, and I paid US$108 for 2 of them from Newegg. I still have one unopened in the original box, but the one I’m typing on right now is about ready to be retired. It still works like a champ, but the keycaps for A, S, D, C, V and M are worn to invisibility, and many of the other right- and left-hand main keys are spotty at best. And I’ve spilled at least three coffees on this puppy over the past 3-4 years…

Hopefully, Incase Restores Rational Pricing

Most other vendors are selling ergonomic keyboards in the US$35 to $70 range (I just checked at Newegg). I’m hoping that means when Incase turns the tap back on they’ll fall somewhere in that range. If and when that happens, I’ll order another pair of keyboards. When I need a new one, I always order two, so I’ll have a spare in case something goes wrong with the one I put in service first. Fingers crossed.

At any rate, I’m grateful Incase took over these venerable mice and keyboards from MS. Hopefully, I’ll keep clacking away at the same layout until I decide to hang things up for my own retirement. Even then, I’m sure I’ll keep at least one around for old time’s sake.

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Panasonic Utility Takes Roundabout Path

Heh! I have to chuckle about this one… In learning the ins and outs of the new Panasonic Toughbook FZ-55 I have in hand right now. I’ve been following instructions from the manual and, via e-mail, from the PR team. It’s been interesting. All of these sources have asked or advised me to “run the PC Information Viewer.” Good enough, but more interesting than it needs to be from a find & launch perspective. Indeed, this Panasonic utility takes roundabout path to get to the desktop. Let me explain…

Why I Say: Panasonic Utility Takes Roundabout Path

To begin, the tool is named PC Information Viewer. First, off I looked in the Start menu under “PC” and “Panasonic” (just in case, given its origins). Nada. Nothing under “All apps” matches this value.

Then the very nice and helpful PR person asked me to send output from aforementioned PC Information Viewer so the tech folks could look it over. Still couldn’t find it. But it did finally turn up. Inside the Panasonic PC Settings Utility, there’s a Support tab up top. When you click that tab, lo and behold! As you can see in the next screencap, a “Launch PC Information Viewer” button appears at bottom center. Notice also it’s deliberately low-res with big print and extremely easy to read (good design move, developers!)

Panasonic Utility Takes Roundabout Path.panpcsettings

THERE’s the right launch button!

And sure enough, when you click the button the PC Information Viewer utility opens right up, to wit:

Panasonic Utility Takes Roundabout Path.SetDiag.exe

And finally, here’s the PC Information Viewer application: SetDiag.exe.

By right-clicking its taskbar entry while running I was able to pop up the Properties window, where I learned the name of this program is SetDiag.exe. If only I’d been able to find that somewhere in the docs, I’d have been able to get there eventually using the run box. As it turned out I had to use the voidtools Everything search tool  to see its home folder:  C:\Program Files (x86)\Panasonic\pcinfo. That’s apparently not inserted into the PATH variable, either.

Sigh. Just sigh. But with a little perseverance I got it sorted… That’s the essence of thriving in Windows World: taking the directions as stated, and figuring out how to make them do something useful.

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Speccy ToughBook BSOD Analysis

Here’s an interesting situation: after installing Piriform’s Speccy hardware inspection tool on the new loaner Panasonic Toughbook FZ55-3, it crashes every time I run the program. Indeed, you can see the corresponding BSOD screen in the lead-in graphic. The stop code is SECURE_PCI_CONFIG_SPACE_ACCESS_VIOLATION. The culprit: the cpuz149_x64.sys driver. After some online research, my Speccy ToughBook BSOD analysis tells me that this driver is attempting PCI data access that Windows 11 disallows.

To be more specific I found an Open Systems Resources (OSR) community discussion that lays out exactly what’s going on. The datails are nicely covered in an MS Learn item. It’s named Accessing PCI Device Configuration Space, dated 3/13/2023. Essentially it  constrains developers to use the BUS_INTERFACE_STANDARD bus interface, and specific read-config and write-config IO request packets to interact with said bus. Based on its BSOD error, the cpuz149_x64.sys driver apparently fails on one or more of those counts. That made me wonder: is there a workaround?

Speccy ToughBook BSOD Analysis Says: Don’t Use That Driver!

For grins, I found the offending item in my user account’s …\AppData\Local\Temp folder hierarchy. I renamed it with a sy1 extension. Then I tried Speccy again: it still crashed. Drat! The program is “smart” enough to see the file is missing and supplies a new one. Now that folder shows the old renamed .sy1 file and a .sys replacement (with today’s data and a recent timestamp).

Speccy ToughBook BSOD Analysis.file-returns

When I rename to deny access to the current instance, Speccy supplies a new one.

That can’t work. Inevitably, the program promptly throws another BSOD. According to the Speccy forum, this happens with Memory Integrity enabled (as it is on the TB, and I want to keep it that way). This is what causes the BSOD. What to do?

If You Can’t Fight, Switch!

Fortunately, there are plenty of other freeware hardware profile and monitoring tools available. I happen to like HWiNFO64 myself. So I’ve removed Speccy and am using it instead. It is well behaved in its PCI bus access behavior and causes no BSODs.

Frankly, I’m surprised Piriform knows about this issue and hasn’t switched to a different driver (apparently, it comes from Franck Delattre over at CPU-Z, judging from its name). But boy howdy, is that ever the way things go sometimes, here on the wild frontier in Windows-World. Yee-haw!

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Unboxing Toughbook Then Updating Same

I just got the kind of Christmas present that delights me. Even though I won’t get to keep it, I’m having a total gas unboxing, updating and setting up the Toughbook 55 PC that Panasonic sent Friday week. It’s a “ruggedized PC” designed for field use in hazardous duty situations (military, first responders, hostile environments, and so forth). In some surprising ways, tho, unboxing Toughbook then updating same has posed some interesting challenges and roadblocks. But it’s been fun!

And I totally lucked into this situation. At the end of November, my TechTarget story “The 6 best rugged computers for business use cases” went live. Shortly after, Panasonic contacted me to share more information about their latest Toughbook model. My response: if you can, please send me one to review. It took a while, but now I’ve got one in my hot little hands. Read on for more info, in what I plan as a series of descriptions and discussions. This one covers unboxing and initial setup and impressions. Others will go into more detail.

FZ55-3 Toughbook Specs

Here’s what came with the particular model FZ55-3 I received:

  • i7-1370P (14 Cores, 20 logical processors)
  • 32 GB DDR4-3200 Samsung M471A2G43CB2-CWE
  • Integrated Iris Xe Graphics Raptor Lake-P/U  GT2
  • 512 GB NVMe SSD Kioxia KBGBAZNV512G
    (PCIe 4.0, 1.4x OPAL)
  • 14″ InfoVision Display 1920×1080 (Full HD)
  • 1 or 2 GbE Ethernet adapters (I219-LM)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ax (Intel AX211)
  • USB 3.2 (USB-C) & 3.1 (USB Type A) ports
  • Multiple Serial ports (Com 1, 3, 4 & 6)
  • LG-BU40N Blu ray player/burner
  • Plug-ins for (1) fingerprint reader, (2) smart card reader, (3) 2 serial ports (D-9 & D-15) + PS/2 Keyboard port

As you’d expect from a MIL-STD-810H compliant device, it’s tough, all buttoned up and ready for some harsh, demanding action.

Gotchas While Unboxing Toughbook, Then Updating Same

I did run into a series of little gotchas while bringing up the Toughbook (TB), then applying WU updates, and adding some some software to put it through its paces. Here’s the current list:

1. The TB wouldn’t connect to my Asus WAP right next store to my desk on a butcher’s rack. It would, however, happily connect to the Spectrum Arris box in the master closet (25′ away).

2. As an experiment, I elected to synch my local apps, settings and so forth with those on another PC (P16 Mobile workstation) during OOBE. This quit at some point with a generic and unhelpful “Something went wrong” error message. That said, this functionality returned on a later reboot and completed successfully. Go figure!

3. Updating and downloading took longer than I’m used to (possibly because of the more distant Arris Wi-Fi connection). I eventually switched over to wired Ethernet (GbE). It still took longer to download and update stuff than I expected it to: stiffer security built-in perhaps? That would make sense for certain kinds of “digital hostility” that this unit is built to withstand. A subsequent check (LAN file transfer for an iso Win11 image) showed it could well be the NVMe SSD that’s the bottleneck. More testing will resolve this.

4. Among my various usual post-install/acquisition software items, I installed Piriform Speccy. It immediately crashed the TB as soon as it ran. Sigh. BSOD with an out-of-bounds memory error. I’ve seen this on other PCs before, it’s from unauthorized access to the PCI bus. I’m using HWinfo instead (it works fine).

Seems pretty normal for bringing up a new PC in general, especially one that’s been deliberately hardened.

First Impressions

NVMe access speeds aside, this is a fast, capable laptop. I like the display (it’s bright and easy to read). The keyboard is immediately usable with tangible key travel and good key placement. It switches between Wi-Fi and GbE with ease and aplomb. Switching from a 14″ built-in display to a remote 27″ monitor means I have to pay attention to where I leave apps I close (or leave open) — otherwise, they show up off-screen on the smaller built-in display.

A unit configured like mine costs somewhere between US$3,600 and $4,000, as far as I can tell (from online shopping comparisons). This is the kind of system that costs more, but is designed to withstand grueling and rigorous situations and uses well outside the range of usual home or office environments. So far, color me impressed…

Stay tuned! I’ll be writing more about this unit over the next month. I’m especially impressed with the TB’s swappable modules and keen attention to protecting itself from schmutz and dust. I’ll explain more later — I promise!

 

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