Thursday, July 31, 2008

HP TouchSmart IQ506 - on my Wish List now!

Above is a picture of the new HP TouchSmart IQ506 touchscreen / touch-enabled PC. Calling it a Personal Computer may be a bit of an understatement though, since this nifty gadget has a lot more to offer than most "normal" desktop personal computers.

First and foremost in the innovative feature set (and the thing that attracts me most to this machine) is the awesome 22" 1650x1050 resolution widescreen MULTI-POINT TOUCH SCREEN interface.  If you are familiar with HP's first incarnation of the TouchSmart (the IQ770), you'll quickly notice a difference in both the screen size (the old one was 19") and the fact that the interface is now *multi* point touch-aware (sorta like the Apple iPhone).  Multi-point touch allows for easier (or more intuitive) ways to execute tasks like a "zoom" on a map or such.

The HP TouchSmart PC is currently available in two models: the IQ504 and IQ506, which start at $1,299 and $1,499 respectively (the latter having more features, like dedicated NVidia 9300M-GS graphics built in, a TV-Tuner, and a bigger hard drive - 500GB vs. 320GB on smaller version). Both include Intel Core 2 Duo processors - T5850 (2.16 GHz), 4GB of RAM, slot-load DVD burners, wireless, Gigabit LAN, and Bluetooth. But, just like its predecessor, the one thing that I find a bit annoying is the lack of any way to connect an external monitor (being a "media PC" or sorts, I find this oddly lacking, since I would really like to output the signal to an HDTV perhaps).

The system is using Microsoft Windows Vista 64-bit edition (Media Center) from what I can tell.  But, HP has also extended upon Vista's own media abilities through it's custom TouchSmart software that makes really nice use of the touch-interactive abilities of the display / input.

I'll be watching for a good sale price on one of the IQ506's (or it's successor, which from what I found in HP's online manuals that hint at a version with an NVidia 9600M-GS graphics card, is due in the fall of 2008).  Currently, the best price I have seen for the IQ506 was at OfficeMax online, with a sale price of $1349 USD.  CostCo carries the thing too, and includes shipping in the price (though, currently they seem to be selling at the normal list price of $1499).  I expect some promotional sales to be appearing as the holiday season nears for 2008.  This may be my Black Friday 2008 Christmas Sale purchase if I get lucky and find a bargain then!  :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Dell Studio Hybrid - Cool Factor!

If you have not seen the new Dell Studio Hybrid PC Computer yet, perhaps that picture says it all. It's so cool! Heck, I am almost sold just on the design and color options (interchangeable nonetheless!) alone, as it definitely stands out.
I liked how this picture gave a better feel for proportion - allowing you to see how it compares to the size of a standard DVD or CDROM. Size and weight specifications (with sleeve on):
Length: 7.75 inches
Height: 2.8 inches
Depth: 8.3 inches
Weight: 4.8 pounds (with stand) - AWESOME in my opinion! I hate moving weighty "desktops" around!
The new Dell Studio Hybrid Desktop is VERY small as you can see, but it has quite a bit of functionality from the technical specifications:
  • This is a full-fledged modern Intel Dual-Core Intel Core-2 Duo system, with current processor options including:
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5750 (2.00GHz/667Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5850 (2.16GHz/667Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T8100 (2.1GHz/800Mhz FSB/3MB cache)
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T9300 (2.5GHz/800Mhz FSB/6MB cache)
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T9500 (2.6GHz/800Mhz FSB/6MB cache)
  • You can have up to 4GB RAM put in here;
  • Option of up to 320GB SATA Drive
  • It runs Windows Vista -- various editions, including 64-bit Vista I would assume since the processsors are Intel EMT64, though I didn't see an option to order Vista specifically in 64-bit flavor - and, since I don't know much about Microsoft Vista in general, I have no idea what options even exist. :)
  • For networking, it has integrated Gigabit Ethernet NIC (nice!) (RJ45) for super-fast LAN connection, plus built-in wireless "draft-N" Wi-Fi
  • Five USB 2.0 compliant ports, IEEE1394a port (4-pin), HDMI video connector, DVI video connector, and an AC adapter connector (of course)
  • For audio: Digital Audio: S/P DIF Out; Analog Audio: Headphone (front); Line-in / Line-out (back); has Intel High Definition Audio 2.0 features.
  • Oh, and I really like this choice: 8X Slot Load CD/DVD Writer (DVD+/-RW) OR 6X Slot Load Blu-ray/CD/DVD Combo Drive - that makes this thing an interesting media-player option too.
  • Integrated Intel X3100 Video Card. This is the only thing I don't particularly like the sounds of, since I prefer using an NVidia accellerated-graphics card, but I understand why integration is NEEDED to pull this off. A full-fledged high-end Nvidia GeForce 8800 or 9800 would be nearly half the size of this whole computer and probably double (or more) the power consumption :)
Speaking of power consumption, one of the main selling points with this product is that it is rather "eco" in that it uses much less packaging, and uses far less power than a conventional "normal" desktop PC. Dell claims as much as 70% power reduction compared to a normal PC! Sweet! (and, as I sit here on a hot day typing on my conventional desktop, I can't help thinking how much less air-conditioning would be required!) And, this Dell Studio Hybrid surely should handle most corporate-desktop needs: thus, it makes a lot of sense for saving power and desk space all in one!

I have been contemplating buying a new computer (or two) for testing out various operating systems on. I actually don't care at all about Vista, but instead about Linux and other open-source operating systems. I'm hoping Ubuntu Linux 64-bit edition would run on this thing, and for the price of a "base model" or whatever, I think I will try it out (the sick part is I will have to pay for Vista even though I have no plan to ever use it! arggh!) But, as I started out saying, the size alone has my interest, as I can easily find room for it. And, I love the whole power-savings idea!

So, I am leaning towards the no-monitor option (already have one on a switchbox) and the T8100 Intel processor, plus 4GB RAM. It's pricing out at around $900 or so with the config I have entered, which isn't TOO bad. Actually, I am now wondering about availability and ship-dates. We shall see.

Mergers Concentrate Failure Potential

Something I have not heard talked about much during this latest round of negative news in the investment banking, banking, and mortgage related financial businesses is how mergers have concentrated points of failure throughout our financial system. Mergers have been all the rage in the past couple decades, with the big companies getting bigger and bigger through rampant acquisition activity. The end result is a financial system where the top few banks, brokerages houses, investment banks, and mortgage GSEs control an immense amount of assets and liabilities. As such, a failure of any one of these large institutions can lead to a domino effect.

Mergers were sold to everyone as the panacea of financial growth opportunity. Things like "economy of scale" and "improved efficiencies" and even some statements as lame as "it will allow us to compete better" and so on are always cited as the reasons for these mergers that have progressed to mega-mergers (which have led to near monopolies in many industries too). But, people never point out the obvious problem: you concentrate all your risk into one firm too by extending too much power and credit to one firm. It's the old adage "don't put all your eggs in one basket" that comes to mind.

Fact is, our government is supposed to prevent mergers that lead to monopolies or monopolistic-like business practices, but I have utterly lost any hope in our government's ability (or willingness) to reign in the widespread super-consolidation that takes place daily. In fact, every time a new merger announcement comes up that is "subject to regulatory approval", I quickly tell everyone that thinks that an obvious end-result monopoly won't be approved is wrong (i.e., I always bet the government will do purely what business wants and allow the consolidation to occur, even if there exists not a single competitor in the market - just like the XM/Sirius merger of recent). I've watched for years now how the government allowed the former ATT companies all merge back together (why did we waste time breaking them up!?) as well as all sorts of oil companies. And, of course, we've seen financial firms merge and consolidate further and further.

To get back to the point here: allowing this to happen is anti-competitive, and moreso, it puts us all in a position where one large company's failure (or potential failure) can jeopardize the entire economy. Of course, these same firms are now so big that our government decides "they are too big to allow to fail", so we the taxpayers get to back them through a precedence that is forming yet another club of special powers: those firms that have achieved such market dominance that they now have a way to directly access taxpayer-backed funding.

Decentralization is a great method for minimizing the likelihood of catastrophic failure in networks, power-generation, food production, and yes... even in things like banks! So, instead, what do we do? We do anything to prevent widespread "off-grid" decentralized power generation... we allow mega-farms to be formed and corporate controlled... and we allow corporations of all types to merge into behemoths that are "too big to allow to fail".

So much for the day of "ma and pa" stores and businesses. Small businesses typically generate the most jobs, and generally don't take more than they give (as do many LARGE corporations through their endless special-interest tax-credits and other handouts and incentives). Small businesses are not getting a direct line to the taxpayer for their funding, but instead, they have to risk their own personal assets in many cases just to stay afloat. That is what we should reward!

America was founded on principles that shown bright and gave us the "land of opportunity" mantra. It will become increasingly difficult for REAL competition to flourish via small, independent startups, especially when the larger players that already have "economy of scale" on their side also have the government on their side in nearly every conceivable aspect of their business - including direct financing sources now (via you, the taxpayer). Who is going to come in and bail out the little business that is having a rough go of it in this economy, and who doesn't even get a single dime in tax abatements, job-creation-credits, and other incentives only available to larger firms (that quite often take much more than they give if you ever look at the balance of credits and incentives given them vs. what they create in employment taxes, income taxes, etc).

OK, I'm done ranting for now. But, keep in mind, concentrating such power into a few firms is also concentrating further likelihood of catastrophic failure in the future.