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!

GPU Buying Circus Resumes Briefly

Those who need to know were probably already paying attention. Those who don’t, however, may find this story to be an odd mix of bemusement and horror. Around midnight last night, would-be GPU owners looking for reasonable prices started lining up at Best Buy outlets around the USA. At 7:30 this morning, the company started handing out tickets to the first 100-200 people in line. What were these people lining up for? The latest installment, as the GPU buying circus resumes briefly — long enough for the company to sell through its allotment of 17,000 30xx GPUs. Models include 3070, 3080 and even a few of the seldom-seen 3090s.

Why and How the GPU Buying Circus Resumes Briefly

Every now and then Nvidia teams up with Best Buy to release a fixed lot of graphics cards for sale to the public. These may be purchased at the maker’s MSRP. Otherwise, GPUs available for purchase through typical outlets — Newegg, Amazon, CDW and so forth — routinely sell for 2 or more times those prices. On eBay, the multipliers get even larger.

Why is this happening? There’s still a shortage of GPUs on the marketplace even though China has basically shut down its mostly coal-powered coin-mining operations. Those operations have moved elsewhere — some even to the USA — and are still buying huge numbers of GPUs. By holding these sales at Best Buy from time to time, Nvidia is helping a small percentage of gamers and PC enthusiasts buy equipment that’s otherwise too pricey to contemplate.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I’ve written recently about upgrading one of my desktops to a Ryzen 5800X CPU on an Asrock B550 Extreme4 motherboard, with 64 GB RAM, a fast NVMe SSD, and so forth. What’s missing from this configuration is the GeForce 3070 or 3070 Ti that would typically be part of such a refresh. I’ve got a second machine I’ll be rebuilding in similar fashion before the end of September.

Right now, I’m running older Nvidia GeForce 1070 Ti models on both of those PCs. (FWIW, these sell for US$800 on Newegg right now; I paid about US$400 for them 5-6 years ago.) I had briefly considered leaving the house at 4 AM this morning to line up for a shot at a card at my local Best Buy. But then I realized that if I’m not willing to wait 6 hours in line for Aaron Franklin’s world-class BBQ here in Austin, I’m not willing to do likewise for a GPU, either. It’ll just have to wait. Prices should come down sometime in the next 6-12 months. Or, I’ll wait for a windfall of some kind, hold my nose, and pay US$1,400 for a GPU that should cost US$600. Two of them, in fact. Sigh, and sigh again.

Note: Here’s a shout-out to Tom’s Hardware (for whom I write regularly about Windows OS topics) whose story clued me into this circus: Best Buy Restocks 17,000 Nvidia RTX 30 Series GPUs Tomorrow, August 26. It’s what prompted me to write this story.

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New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch

The electrician visited our house early today to fix some switches. He also helped us find a GFI plug we didn’t know we had (duh!). He had to turn off power at the breaker box momentarily, so all the PCs went down. I took that opportunity to pop the case on the new Ryzen 5800X build. I moved the NVMe SSD from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot. That’s when I learned this new NVMe system delivers formidable punch power, I/O-wise. Let me explain.

If New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch, How So?

We’re talking about the transition from PCIe x3 to x4, along with a new generation of SSD controller technology here. The lead graphic shows CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 results from my 2016 vintage i7-6700 system left and the 2021 vintage Ryzen 5800X system right. The underlying NVMe drives are Samsung 950 PRO 512GB left, and Sabrent Rocket Q 2TB right. The speed increase ranges from 1876.41 vs. 3444.19 (upper left), or 1.83x, to 124.9 vs. 226.81 (lower right), or 1.75x. The biggest differences occur in the upper right cell, and the one beneath it. Those ratios are 2.13 and 2.12, respectively.

Thus we’re talking about a speed boost ratio for I/O in the neighborhood of 7/4 at the slowest and 15/7 at the fastest. In roundish numbers, say 2:1. That’s pretty decent. I daresay it’s a big enough difference to be noticeable. I can tell the difference in ways that range from working with the filesystem, to performing backups, to running applications, and more.

Where Value Sits…

I’m still learning how the new system works, and what it can really do. I just ran WhyNotWin11 on the PC and it doesn’t have TPM turned on. I just checked the Asrock website. Happily it provides instructions on how to turn on fTPM in BIOS for that motherboard. It’s a single, simple option, so I’ll take care of it the next time I reboot. Then, the system should be ready for Windows 11.

Switching the NVMe from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot delivered the promised speed increase. It also made the 2 previously blocked SATA devices on that machine visible. So far, it’s been a peach to work with. The speed and capabilities of this current-gen Ryzen processor definitely impress. I am indeed inclined to think the upgrade was worth the cost. I’m still waiting for Nvidia 3070 cards to come down in price before endowing that PC with more graphics oomph, though.

Stay tuned. I’ll report in on system temps and stuff, and take a few pics of the build later this week. Should be fun!

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USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen

Just yesterday I got videotaped for an upcoming session at SpiceWorld 2021 Virtual. One of the subjects I covered for HPE covered “the aging of technology” and what that does to IT efficiency, security and resiliency. That got me to thinking. “How has USB fared as faster busses, faster connections, and faster media have evolved over the past while?” I decided to conduct some USB flash drive follies 4th vs 11th gen systems to see what changed.

What’s Up With USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen?

It turned into a tale of two drives, two systems, and three means of attachment. These were as follows:

Drive 1. Sabrent mSATA SSD enclosure with Samsung 950 EVO mSATA 500GB SSD USB 3
Drive 2: Fideco NVMe SSD enclosure with Sabrent Nano NVMe 1TB SSD USB 3.1
System 1: 2014 Vintage Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (i7-4650U, 8 GB RAM, USB 3)
System 2: 2021 Vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X12 (i7-1180G7, 16 GB RAM, USB 3.2/Thunderbolt 3)

The three means of attachment were USB 3, USB 3.1 (both using Type A connectors) and USB 3.2 using USB-C.

Technology Trumps Bus Speed

First things, first. There’s simply no comparison between mSATA and NVMe devices. It’s an order of magnitude from the older mSATA SSD technology to the newer NVMe. That tells me — and it should tell you — it’s simply not worth buying mSATA devices anymore. If you’ve still got them (I’ve got half-a-dozen) you can still use them.

The aging effect shows very strongly in the mSATA results. They stay pretty much the same across both systems and across all USB connection types (3.0, 3.1, and 3.2). That’s because the mSATA enclosure is either 3.0 or 3.1 (I just checked: it’s 3.0).

Things get more interesting with the NVMe devices. They run at about half-speed when there’s no UASP support on the PC (as with the Surface Pro). Amusingly, I got the same results from my Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock with a USB 3.1 cable plugged into the NVMe enclosure. But when I used a USB-C cable directly into a USB-C port on the ThinkPad X12 I got big-block read/write speeds of ~1050 MBps read/~1004 MBps write from the NVMe flash device. Compare that to ~455 read/~457 write through the Thunderbolt dock for the same device.

Very interesting! This tells me that USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 or better drive enclosures, coupled with PCIe x3 or better NVMe SSDs in those enclosures deliver the fastest external drive storage I can use today (on my newer systems with USB-C, of course). And it looks like the performance boost from using the fastest possible port and connection is also very much worth it. Good to know!

This just makes me more interesting in acquiring a Thunderbolt 4 dock to see if it can extend that performance to secondary ports (right now, I get best speed only from USB-C ports on the X12, of which there are only 2).

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X1 Yoga Gen6 First Look

OK, I admit it. I’ve been sitting on this machine for a couple of weeks, buried in a mountain of other work. Ordinarily, I write my first look piece a day or two after a review unit shows up. Thus, my X1 Yoga Gen6 first look really includes a second and third look as well. And I must say, Lenovo has succeeded in injecting new oomph and vitality into a series of PCs that I’ve owned from them as far back as 2012. To be more specific, I’m talking about the latest iteration in the series: the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6.

Taking the X1 Yoga Gen6 First Look

Once I’d finished reviewing the ThinkPad X12 detachable tablet, I contacted the reviews team at Lenovo to request a loaner of this splendid little laptop. What they sent in response far exceeded my expectations. Here’s what this “Storm Grey” brushed aluminum laptop includes:

  • CPU: 11th Generation i7-1185G7 (4 cores/8 threads) 3.0 GHz
  • RAM: 16 GB LPDDR4X 4266 MHz RAM (soldered)
  • Graphics: Intel Xe Graphics Rev2
  • Storage: Hynix PCIe x4 NVMe SSD 512GB
  • Monitor: 3840×2400 Flex View Display (touch-enabled)
  • Ports: 2xThunderbolt 4 USB-C, 2xUSB-A 3.2 Gen 1, HDMI 2.0, Garaged Pen/Stylus, Headphone/mic mini-RCA jack, Kensington lock slot
  • Dimensions (HxWxD): 14.9mm x 313mm x 223mm x / 0.59″ x 12.32″ x 8.77″
  • Weight: Starts at 1.35kg (3 lbs: mine weighs 3 lbs 2 oz/1415g)

To my amazement, the current price for this unit as configured is ~US$3,800 (in round numbers, not including applicable sales or VAT taxes). This is a beast of a laptop, with an equally monstrous price.

What US$4K Buys You: Quite a Lot, Actually

The brushed aluminum deck and exterior are much more fingerprint resistant than my older X380 and X390 models in their standard Lenovo matte black finish. The construction is rigid and strong, with no real flex in either the keyboard or monitor decks of this 2-in-1 device. I found it easy and fun to use as a tablet with keyboard deck folded back behind. I found the keyboard just as usable and capable as most other modern Lenovo keyboards. For somebody who types for a living, that means a lot.

The speed of the RAM and NVMe SSD are pretty great, and the top-of-the-line i7 mobile CPU (1186G7) is likewise both powerful and capable. Right now, in fact, this laptop is the fastest PC at Chez Tittel and its 3840×2400 UHD panel the highest resolution display as well. In fact, I was amazed that the default scaling factor was 300%. That’s a good thing because I can’t see the text when it’s scaled 1:1 (100%). Touch is responsive, and the colors are vibrant and intense (500 nits, 90% DCI P3 color gamut).

The Thunderbolt ports come in really handy. In fact, they’re among the few Thunderbolt 4 capable input ports here at Chez Tittel. I’ve got several Thunderbolt 3 docks, which which the PC works splendidly, but so far I haven’t been able to stress test the high end of Thunderbolt/USB-C capabilities.

X1 Yoga Gen6 First Look.ssd-speeds

USB-C to the left with a Samsung 960 NVMe; Internal PCIe x4 Hynix NVMe to the right.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

So far, the internal NVMe CrystalDiskMark results (right-hand side of preceding graphic) are among the fastest I’ve seen here at Chez Tittel. The external NVMe is a Samsung 960 1 TB unit in a Sabrent USB-C SSD enclosure. Those results are also quite good. In fact, Macrium Reflect accomplished a complete C: image backup from the internal to the external drive in 2:46 with observed data rates of 1.7 to 2.0 GBps. On-disk size of the Macrium Reflect Image file (.mrimg) for that task is 22,821 KB (22.28 GB). That’s fast!

I Can See This Laptop as a Daily Driver

The target audience for this PC is business users. And in fact, I can see this device as a “daily driver.” If connected to  one or two external monitors, keyboard and mouse, plus extra storage through a Thunderbolt dock, I could use it as my everyday computing platform myself. The beauty of this approach is that one’s primary desktop turns into a traveling machine simply by disconnecting from the dock and heading out the door. I’d probably take my 1 TB USB-C attached external drive along, too for backup and recovery stuff on the road.

If you’re in the market for a high-end do-it-all machine, the X1 Yoga could be what you need. If you’re willing to plunk down the nearly US$4K it costs it can do the job. Then, if you’re willing to spend another US$1,500-2,000 to outfit it with additional accoutrement for in-office use it can serve as a primary computing platform. I’m thinking 2 27″ monitors (Dell UltraSharp 27 4K), decent keyboard and mouse (I like Microsoft’s offerings), and 2x5TB or larger external HDs attached via USB-C or USB A 3.1 or 3.2 would do it. And of course, this recently built PC meets all Windows 11 hardware requirements, so upgrading should be a breeze.

Highly recommended, for those who can afford it. My 2019 vintage X390 delivers about 75% of the performance for less than 35% of the price, though…

Check Your Prices, Dude!

After feedback from Lenovo arrived to the effect that “list prices aren’t best prices” — a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse — I did some shopping around online and found a Full HD version with touchscreen (all other components the same) for US$2409.07. The lower resolution screen also extends battery life, so may be a better choice anyway. In fact, Newegg has the same configuration for a mere US$1,689 (FHD touchscreen but all else the same). Perhaps my concerns for price are overstated? You bet! Should I have shopped around a bit before posting this story? Too right! Somewhat abashed, I strongly recommend the FHD version of this laptop as a “killer deal.” Sigh.

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My Personal 13.3″ ThinkPad History

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog post X390 Yoga Replaces X220 Tablet, my trusty old ThinkPad X220 Tablet is aging out of useful Windows test machine status. This got me to thinking about my personal 13.3″ ThinkPad history. In fact, all of those PCs are still in the room here with me and I’d like to run through them in today’s disquisition. Let’s tackle the series in chronological order.

My Personal 13.3″ ThinkPad History Begins

It all started in 2012, when Que (Part of Pearson Publishing) asked me to help revise Windows 7 in Depth for the upcoming release of Windows 8. Its beta release occurred in February, and I started looking for a pair of suitable test PCs at that time. Because touch was integral to Windows 8, but still rare and expensive, one of those two units HAD to include a touchscreen. That’s what led me to the ThinkPad X220 Tablet (and a ThinkPad T420 laptop) both with i7-2650M CPUs, 8 GB RAM, and (if memory serves) 500MB 2.5″ spinning disk drives. Read more about the ThinkPad X Series at Wikipedia.

Changes and Upgrades Follow

Over the next few years, I made many changes to those two laptops. SSDs emerged and I endowed each of them with Plextor mSATA 256 drives. This let me take advantage of their empty M.2 slots, which were designed to handle either cellular wireless access or storage. I also upgraded the HDDs to OCZ SATA-III SSDs, doubled up RAM on both machines to 16 GB, and purchased a PCIe card with 2 USB 3 ports to include higher-speed USB access on those PCs (both include only USB 2 ports built-in).

Over the years, these machines served me faithfully and well. I took them on the road for many legal and consulting jobs, not to mention family trips. Last year, the T420 proved increasingly difficult to upgrade to production Windows 10 versions. But the X220 Tablet kept chugging along until about 4 months ago, when a new Intel Management Engine upgrade failed, and left that firmware in a perpetual error state. Since then, it too, has proved increasingly difficult to upgrade to the latest Dev Channel Insider updates and upgrades. That said, the machine was designed in 2011 and purchased in 2012, so I would have to say it’s had a long and productive go here at Chez Tittel.

Phase 2: X380 Yoga Comes Aboard (2018)

In 2018, I actually acquired 2 X380 Yogas, both more or less identically configured. Each includes an i7-8650U Intel 7th generation (codename Kaby Lake) CPU, 16 GB DDR4 soldered RAM, and a 1 TB NVMe OEM SSD. (One  has a slower Toshiba, and the other a faster Samsung model.) I use one for the production version of Windows 10 (currently 20H2 awaiting the 21H1 enablement package offer from WU). The other one runs Windows 10 Dev Channel Insider Preview release (currently at Build 21390.1010).

The X380 has proved an excellent bring-along family/entertainment PC, when I’ve also carried a “work machine” on family trips and vacations. It’s got the right combination of size, display, computing capabilities, and battery life to make a great media platform.

Phase 3: X390 Yoga Joins the Party (2019)

As my wife’s ancient Mini-ITX PC (Ivy Bridge i7) started showing signs of age, I decided to buy an X-series ThinkPad for her as a main machine, hooked up to an external monitor, mouse and keyboard using a Belkin USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 dock. That didn’t pan out, so I got her a Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro in 2020 instead. I’m using the X390 as a test machine for Insider Preview releases, and have also taken it on the road. It’s pretty much identical to the two X380s except for some minor port differences. (The X390 has two USB-C ports one of which is Thunderbolt 3 capable; the X380s have more USB-A ports and fewer USB-C).

Phase 4: ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 Gets a Look-See (2021)

Because of my long and productive history with this particular ThinkPad series, I contacted Lenovo to see if the might send me the latest 11th Generation (Tiger Lake) version of this PC. They did: it arrived here yesterday. Known as X1 Yoga Gen 6, the unit has an i7-1185G7 CPU, 16 GB of LPDDR4x 4266MHz RAM, and a 500GB Hynix SSD (an OEM model I’ve never come across before). It’s got enough interesting bells and whistles that I’m looking forward to writing up a first look on this nice little laptop. Also, this machine is my first exposure to Lenovo in some color other than black (it’s  a mat and muted steel grey all over as you can see in the photo).

It’s too early to tell much about this PC. So far, I’ve turned it on, hooked it up to Wi-Fi, set up my Microsoft account, and installed a few apps (mostly for testing and benchmarking). You can see its publicity photo, however, as the lead-in graphic for this story. I’m planning to write a first look piece about it next week.  Stay tuned!

 

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X390 Yoga Replaces X220 Tablet

With the 2012 vintage Lenovo X220 Tablet going into a well-earned retirement, I need a replacement Dev Channel test machine. I’ve decided to call upon my 2019 vintage Lenovo X390 Yoga to fill that role. As the X390 Yoga replaces X220 Tablet, I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot more about this machine, even though it’s been around for 16 months or so.

More About X390 Yoga Replaces X220 Tablet

Originally, I purchased this laptop to replace my wife’s aging Ivy Bridge mini-ITX PC. I ended up going for a Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro instead. Since I bought the machine in December 2019, I’ve been using it to test the current GA version of Windows 10. Now, it’ll switch over to following the latest bleeding-edge Dev Channel releases.

Here’s how that PC is equipped:

  • 8th Generation (Whiskey Lake) i7-8565U CPU
  • 16 GB RAM (2×8 GB, soldered, DDR4 2400 MHz)
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • SSDPEKKF512G8L Intel 1TB NVMe SSD
  • Intel Wireless-AC 9560 160Mhz Wi-Fi adapter
  • 13.3″ FHD (1920×1080) touchscreen
  • Fingerprint reader, Windows Hello camera
  • 2xUSB 3.1 Gen 1; 1xUSB-C; 1xUSB-C/Thunderbolt 3
  • MicroSD card slot
  • ThinkPad Pen Pro stylus included
  • Dimensions: 12.2″ x 8.6″ x 0.63″ / 310.4 x 219 x 15.95 (mm)
  • Weight: 2.85 lbs (1.29 kg)

Lenovo’s port map graphic that follows shows where everything is, on the unit’s right and left sides. It’s been a treat to work with and use.

X390 Yoga Replaces X220 Tablet.portmap
X390 Yoga Replaces X220 Tablet.portmap (click image for full-sized view).

Backup and Restore

Any test machine has to have backup/restore capability. That’s because there’s always the chance that updates, upgrades, or fiddling about will cause trouble. That’s what beta testing is about. I’m also prone to occasional “what-ifs” that have landed my PCs in trouble. Thus, it pays to be prepared.

I’ve got a speedy SATA-III SSD (Sabrent enclosure, Samsung EVO 500 nominal/465 GB actual) plugged into the USB-A port for backup. It takes about 6.5 minutes to do a complete image backup of the boot/system (and only current) drive. I’ll need to pop for a microSD card for this machine, now that’s it’s moving into a more active test role. I’ve also got a Macrium Reflect bootable Rescue Media USB Flash device ready to run restore as and when I need it.

How I Work with Test Machines

I don’t work directly on my test PCs, unless there’s some activity or utility that won’t work remotely. Frankly, I use RDP from my primary desktop for most interactions. That’s because I can do everything from my comfortable desk chair working on 2 Dell 2717 monitors. Almost everything works well that way. And if I do need to access the X390, I need only rotate my office chair to the left to access the unit. It’s situated atop a rolling file cabinet right next to my desktop case.

As time goes by, I’ll be writing about this nifty little laptop more and more in dealing with Windows 10 Dev Channel releases and related topics. Keep an eye out, and you’ll soon see evidence to support this prediction. Cheers!

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Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12

It’s been nearly a month since the brand-new ThinkPad X12 showed up at my front door. Since then, I’ve used it for a variety of everyday computing tasks, including writing stories, conducting research, tuning and tweaking, and more. As I’ve gotten to know it better, I’ve come to like it better as well. It’s not exactly perfect, but it’s not bad, either. In fact, living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 has been a mostly positive experience.

It’s Good, Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12

Here’s what this machine brings to its users:

CPU: 11th Gen i7-1180G7 (formerly Tiger Lake; 4 cores/8 threads; 12 MB Intel Smart Cache; max frequency: 4.6 GHz)
RAM: 16 GB (neither Speccy nor CPU-Z will tell me anything about the soldered-in RAM in this unit: interesting! The product page shows it as LPDDR4X 4266MHz.)
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Display: 12.3″ FHD 1920×1280 anti-reflective touchscreen 400 nits: bright and readable enough for me
SSD: Western Digital SN530 SDBPMPZ-1T00-1001 NVMe PCIe Gen3 x4 interface 1TB capacity (nominal: 953 actual)
Wi-Fi: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX-201 160MHz adapter
Keyboard deck with fingerprint reader, pen/stylus included in purchase

Right now, the purchase price for an identically configured unit at the Lenovo website is US$1,570.00 (Memorial Day sale price). There is one kicker though: the site says “ships in 4+ months…delay due to COVID-19 global pandemic.” Ouch!

What I Like About the ThinkPad X12

This four-core/eight-thread mobile CPU is surprisingly fast and capable. Hooked up to a Thunderbolt 3 dock, I get access to added storage, wired GbE (if I want it), and more than enough wattage to charge its battery nicely. The Wi-Fi 6 adapter is amazingly peppy: I just got 640-plus Mbps from Ookla Speedtest to my nominal GbE Spectrum connection. It’s almost as fast as GbE, and sometimes I don’t even notice it’s connected wirelessly.

Battery life is great, too. I routinely got 10 hours or better when using the device untethered. Such use involved mostly reading Kindle eBooks, light-duty e-mail checks and web surfing, and watching an occasional video. It’s much better than my old (2014 vintage) Surface Pro 3, on which I’m lucky to get 4 hours of battery life.

It’s especially cool that Lenovo includes the keyboard cover (with fingerprint reader) and a pen/stylus as part of the purchase package. MS still charges separately for those, to the tune of US$150-200, depending on deals and options.

What Don’t I Like About the ThinkPad X12?

Not a whole lot actually. That said, I was surprised at the relatively slower speeds from its Western Digital SSD. Check out the CrystalDiskMark results from the X12 (left) vs. my 2018 vintage X1 Extreme, with a Samsung OEM 1 TB SSD. Makes me wish Lenovo had picked a bit more expensive SSD for the X12 .

Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12.CDM-compare

X12 CrystalDiskMark 8 left, X1 Extreme right.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Other negatives are mostly minor. There’s no microSD or SD card slot for flash media. The unit sports 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, but no USB-A (or other ports, except an RCA mini-jack for audio). The built-in speakers are fairly flat and lacking in power and the front and rear cameras relatively low in resolution and visual fidelity. For me, none of this is a big issue, nor a deal-breaker.

I wanted something more affordable, a bit faster, and with better battery life to replace my aging Surface Pro 3. For my needs, especially for reading eBooks in bed, the ThinkPad X12 is a winner.  It’s as close to an iPad with real PC capabilities as I’ve ever come. IMO, it’s worth taking seriously. If it fits your needs like it does mine, it’s worth buying, too.

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First Look: Lenovo X12 Tablet PC

I’ve owned a Surface Pro 3 since 2014. Before that I owned a Fujitsu Q704. Both were small, powerful, somewhat loaded i7 tablets. I also had a Dell Venue Pro 11 with an i5 CPU. I liked all of those machines. Indeed, I appreciate a moderately powerful tablet PC that’s  compact and can handle office/productivity work. That’s why I requested “something similar” from Lenovo. They sent me their latest detachable 11th Gen (Tiger Lake) ThinkPad X12 last week. This is my first look: Lenovo X12 Tablet PC introduction and overview.

First Look: Lenovo X12 Tablet PC.Speccy Overview

Speccy lists basic componentry: 4-core 11th-gen i7, 16 GB RAM, Iris Xe graphics, 1 TB WD SSD, Intel AX201 Wi-Fi.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Taking a First Look: Lenovo X12 Tablet PC

Lenovo also sent me a full-sized wired keyboard and a ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 Dock Gen 2 (PN: 40AN0135US). I wouldn’t recommend attempting serious use of this device without a USB3 or Thunderbolt 3/4 dock, because it needs backup storage at a minimum. The ability to add one or two monitors via HDMI or DisplayPort is nice, as is wired GbE and a bunch of USB3 ports (4 on the back, 1 on the front). The unit I received MSRP is over US$2,500 but you won’t pay Lenovo more than US$1,700 to actually take it home (not including wired keyboard and Thunderbolt dock).

In the connectivity vein, the X12 features a Thunderbolt 4 controller for its USB-C ports. AFAIK, this is the first time I’ve worked with a PC that has Thunderbolt 4 support, rather than the preceding version. It picked up my Belkin dock immediately (though it’s a Tbolt 3 version device). It just happened to be sitting on the same desk, and immediately brought up the Seagate 5TB and a 16 GB Mushkin USB3 UFD, as you can see in the Speccy screencap above.

My first time to see Thunderbolt 4 come up in the eponymous control center app.

Basics Stats, Look and Feel

The tablet is thin and light (1.67 lbs sans keyboard; 2.4 lbs with). Dimensions are petite at 11.15 x 8.01 x 0.34″ (sans keyboard) or 0.57″ (with keyboard) (in mm that’s 283 x 204 x 8.6 or 14.5). Nevertheless, it feels pretty sturdy in the hand and on the lap (though I don’t much care for the lapabilty of this kind of PC ). If I’m not at a desk or table, I prefer to use the tablet by itself sans keyboard.

It’s got a full HD panel (1920×1280 pixels) that’s rated at around 400 nits of brightness. So far, I’ve found it fine for reading, surfing and handling email (but I really haven’t put it through too many of its paces just yet). I’m not quite familiar enough to rate its battery life yet, either. That said, it’s never flagged while I’ve used it, though I’ve yet to use it for longer than 4 hours.

More to Come … Soon

That’s it for today’s first look. I am impressed enough with the X12 to be considering a purchase of my own such unit. I will take more time to play, measure, and experiment. Then, I’ll know better if my desire to own this beast is merely a passing case of techno-lust, or a genuine desire to own another tablet to replace my aging Surface Pro 3. Stay tuned!

 

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Pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad

Today’s disquisition is a bit off the beaten track and brings Windows 10 to bear only tangentially. My family is in the market for another tablet, primarily for reading and media consumption. I’ve already owned an iPad 2 (now retired) and currently own an iPad Air 2 (2014 vintage). You’d think I’d buy another iPad, right? But the model I want (iPad Air, 256 GB, cellular) costs a whopping US$879 at the Apple Store right now. And then, there’s a new generation of Fire HD tablets about to arrive, at less than half that cost. By the time I add in a cover and keyboard, it’s more like a 2.5:1 cost ratio. Frankly, that’s what has me pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad.

Price Provokes Pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad

On the plus side, the iPad offers more power, lighter weight, and higher screen readability. On the minus side, it ends up costing $700 more for more or less the same capability, most of the time. At 12 hours versus 10 hours of battery life, the Amazon Fire HD comes out ahead on untethered operation, too. Then too, the Fire HD Plus Pack costs under US$300. The device even accommodates a MicroSD card for added storage capability (which the iPad does not, though you can attach storage through its input port, using a special US$13 to 20 adapter).

What’s fascinating to me, though, is the front-and-center add-in on the Fire HD of a Microsoft 365 subscription. Though it means you can use the unit for web-based Office right away, I’m also convinced it will be usable as a Cloud PC client (as will the iPad also, no doubt) when that comes out later this year. Thus, either platform will serve as a “thin client” for my Windows 10 stuff sooner or later.

To me that raises the very real question of why I should spend 333% more to get an iPad? Shoot, it looks like Fire HD can do most of what I need for substantially less. For a lot of people, I’m thinking that’s exactly what Amazon wants. I may just try it, and see what happens!

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Thunderbolt 4 Is Getting Underway

OK, then: first things first. Thunderbolt is a joint technology effort from Intel and Apple. The first iteration appeared in 2011, and version 4 (aka Thunderbolt 4) is just showing up in the marketplace. Intel’s 11th gen processors and supporting motherboards are the first to provide native Thunderbolt 4. And of course, add-on PCIe cards for Thunderbolt 4 are also starting to trickle out (see this ASUS item, for example). Hence the assertion that heads this story: Thunderbolt 4 is getting underway.

I’ve had recent experience to show me that the speed advantages it can confer are measurable and tangible. At the same time, I’ve learned that the right cables can — and do — make huge differences.

What Thunderbolt 4 Is Getting Underway Really Means

The following table sums up the differences among Thunderbolt 3 and 4, and USB 3 and 4 versions. Basically, it offers more and faster capabilities, but is limited to special, certified cables no more than 2M in length. It can also handle either 2 4K displays or 1 8K display, and works with the latest PCIe 32Gbps lanes. It is, in fact, a pretty strong argument for all-around hardware upgrades (mobo and ports, cables, and peripherals) all by itself. Check the table for details, please.

. Thunderbolt 4 Thunderbolt 3 USB4 USB 3/DP
1 universal port
40Gb/s cables up to 2 meters
Accessories with up to 4 TB ports
Min PC speed requirement 40Gb/s 40Gb/s 20Gb/s
(40Gb/s is optional)
10Gb/s
MinPC video requirement 2 x 4K displays
or
1. x 8K display
1 x 4K display 1` display (no min resolution) 1 display (no min resolution)
Min PC data requirements PCIe 32Gb/s
USB.3.2 10Gb/s
PCIe 16Gb/s
USB 3.2 10Gb/s
USB.3.2 10Gb/s USB 3.2 5Gb/s
PC charging port required At least one
PC wake from sleep w/TB dock connected Required
MinPC port power for accessories 15W 15W 7.5W 4.5W
Thunderbolt networking
Mandatory certification for PCs and accessories
Intel VT-d based DMA protection required
USB4 specification Compliant Compatible Compliant Compatible
Source: Table from 11/20/2020 Liliputing story about Thunderbolt and USB versions.

What I Plan To Do About Thunderbolt 4

I’ve got a new PC build in my relatively near future (as soon as finances allow). I’ll be making sure to pick motherboard and CPU with Thunderbolt 4 support. I’m looking around right now and while some cases do offer USB-C support, none of them have caught up to Thunderbolt 4 capability just yet. I may end up waiting for that to occur, and go ahead and recycle the trusty old Antec 902 case I recently reclaimed from my sister. This may take some further thought and research. Stay tuned!

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