First look: PQI H560 HDD, military standard storage

pqi-h560-shockproof-hdd

It was amusing to learn that there is a bunch of volatile folk out there in the big wide world whose job it is to test the ruggedness of our consumer technology. They drop, throw, bash and molest the products for us so that we may rest assured that, when our clumsy mittens fumble with that brand-spanking new hard drive and it flat-spins its way face first into the tiles, our machinery will be A-OK. These people even have codes and whatnot that are then awarded to the product.

PQI’s H560 is one of those gizmos sturdy enough to have survived repeated drops from heights of up to 46in. It now proudly carries a military standard 810F 516.5, which effectively means we can be pretty abusive to this storage device and it will not give up on us. All your films and MP3s are safely tucked away within a specialised rubber casing and gently carried through that awful tumble down the stairs by unique internal shock-absorption suspension technology.

Product overview:

If you’ve ever dropped a precious gadget, you will know that chilling feeling of trying to boot up post-accident and being crestfallen as you realise you should have taken out some insurance, or at least, have had a more rigorous system in place for backing up your data.

With this hard drive those fears are assuaged. Just don’t get any strange ideas about second guessing the military’s test methods and dropping the PQI from your apartment window several floors above the Earth.

The more pedestrian aspects of this hard drive are up-to-scratch: a USB 2.0 interface means quick and painless data transfer, a sweet touch is that the USB cable is built-in meaning no silly cable-fuss; the 320/500/640GB capacities dictate that you can easily carry a whole video rental store around without worry; single-button backup functionality allow the paranoid amongst us that extra touch of peace-of-mind and the bundled Ur Fortress encryption software means nobody is any wiser that you’ve been raping the Bittorrent sites recently. Its a 2.5in SATA drive with miniscule dimensions of 5.7 x 3.2 x 0.9in and weighs a paltry 350g so portability is a non-issue. Plus its Mac and PC compatible.

So, start dropping your very own PQI H560 today (Ed: At your own risk of course!)

Apple iMac (late 2009) 27-inch Review

new-imac-quadcore-led

iMac’s used to be the obvious choice for people who prefer style over substance. This is no longer the case, over the last 10 years Apple have steadily improved their all-in-one computer and the latest incarnation is the fastest all-in-one solution on the market to date. The two ultra-high-end 27-inch iMacs are the first to uses Intel’s Core i5 and i7 quad-core processors. And the other lower spec iMac’s feature Intel’s core 2 duo.

The Display

The first thing you will notice in Apple’s new all-in-one computer range is the amazing screen. The 27-inch model is bite the back of your hand beautiful and has been made with high definition video in mind. Featuring an insanely high resolution of 2560×1440 graphic designers and techie types will certainly take notice of the new iMac screen, especially now that it features energy efficient LED technology. Like many of the top LED HDTVs, the black border that surrounds the new iMac screen reaches out to the very edge; the aluminium border from previous iMac’s has now gone and Apple’s engineers have managed something quite beautiful.

The never-ending glass edge gives the impression that the screen is bigger than it really is. The only downside of screen is the glossy finished which often means you can see yourself in the reflection. But, on the upside the glossy finish allows the display to produce deep blacks and rich eye-popping colours. With the increased screen real estate the question you will ask yourself is: “Do I put this in the office or in the living room to show off?”

The Look & Sound

The body of the new iMac is made entirely of aluminium, the plastics from previous models have gone and you’re now left with the best looking computer on the market. Like previous iMacs, the ports are located behind the computer in the bottom left corner. Featuring a headphone/optical output minjack, an audio line/optical digital audio input minijack, four USB 2.0 ports, one firewire 800 port, a mini DisplayPort and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Apple has strengthened the possibility of using this piece of kit as part of an entertainment centre with an upgraded speaker system. The new speakers are a vast improvement. You’ll still probably want to add some external speaker if you put it in a big room, but if you have it a normal sized bedroom, den or office the new speaker have more than enough power.

Performance & Kit

Apple has included quad-core compatibility for the first time in an iMac; they give you the option of Intel’s I5 2.66 quad-core or i7 2.80 quad-core. The i5 features technology that Intel calls Turbo Boost. If an application isn’t using every available core, the cores that are idle shut off, and the active core speeds up to 3.20 Ghz.

For the first time the new iMac come with Bluetooth keyboard (not a full sized effort with the number pad missing) and the much lauded Magic Mouse. The mouse has been attracting quite a bit of attention, first of all the new mouse looks beautiful and feels instantly comfortable. Apple claims nothing less than a reinvention of the computer mouse. But then, Apple would. It features the trackpad technology used is Apple’s laptops to the surface of the mouse. The mouse’s surface allows you scroll up and down with supreme smoothness and a quick flick of you two fingers left or right will allow you to move between photos or back and forward in the web browser. Over the lat few days I have begun to warm to the magic mouse to the point that when I went back to using a track wheel it felt peculiar and alien after the smooth surface of the Magic Mouse.

Conclusion

The iMac is a marvellous piece of design and now if features the raw power that we have all been waiting for. Sure it does have its down sides the lack of a Blu-ray drive and no HDMI might seem unforgivable to some. But Apple has managed to create an all-in-one solution that rarely disappoints and will surely fly of the shelves over Christmas.

Our Score

4/5

ATI’s 5970 fastest pixel-pusher goes up to (DirectX) 11

In the bleeding edge world of technology, graphics cards are probably the bloodiest of them all. The new world’s fastest pixel-pusher is ATI’s 5970, essentially two of its (already pretty impressive) 5870 GPUs squashed into a single card for the considerable sum of £580.

Well, I say “squashed”, but by all accounts this card is a monster. It’s barely able to fit in even some serious enthusiast cases, extending further than the edge of a standard ATX motherboard by quite some margin (as this comparison image at Trusted Reviews shows).

ati-5970-graphics-cardOf course, the card needs plenty of space to dissipate heat when you’re fitting a frankly obscene 4.64 teraFLOPS of computing power in. For reference, just ten years ago, IBM’s ASCI Red supercomputer held the record for the world’s fastest and only managed a meagre 2.38 teraFLOPS. Back then, it cost around $1,000 per gigaFLOP (meaning $2.38 million total), so £600 isn’t all that bad.

Bit-tech.net clocked the 5970’s heat output at peak as just lower than its predecessor, the 4870X2. But then, who the hell is paying £600 for a graphics card without having liquid cooling or similar? Keep it nice and cool you can overclock it. Oh yes, there’s even more power than you think.

Dave James at TechRadar found that the 5970 “really does have a lot to give”. They managed to get the core clockspeeds from 750MHz to over 900MHz, while also increasing the memory from 1GHz to 1.2GHz. I’m not sure if I can handle thinking about performance at that level without a stiff drink. In fact, the overclocked card gave “a massive 93 per cent increase in [their] DX11 Heaven benchmark”. These dual-chip cards aren’t actually supposed to be twice as good as the single-chip versions. It’s against the laws of physics (or something).

Oh, and did I mention that you can stick two of these in your machine and CrossFire them if you’re some sort of billionaire mentalist? Considering that Bit-tech noted that this is “the first graphics card to deliver playable frame rates in Crysis at 2,560 x 1,600 with 0x AA 16x AF at High quality”, the CrossFire ability is just showing off.

The reviews all seem to come to similar conclusions. Yes, it is fastest graphics card so far. Yes, it is ridiculously large and expensive and, as Trusted Reviews point out, “if you own a single monitor then it’s simply overkill”. So, no, you probably shouldn’t really consider buying one.

But surely I’m not the only one considering abandoning food and hygiene products to be able to afford this?

Analysis: Will the Wii fall foul of its own success?

Hardware sales in Japan have always been a good indicator of Nintendo’s prospects, strong sales in Japan synonymous with Nintendo’s continued success worldwide. Recently however, Sony Japan have slowly but surely been eating into Nintendo’s market share.

During the week ending 15th November 2009, the PS3 sold nearly 40,000 units a piece in Japan while the formerly all-conquering Wii was able to shift just 21,000 (stats courtesy of Media Create). Compare that to statistics from this time last year and they make for a staggering comparison – the Wii comfortably outselling the PS3 by a factor of six to one.

nintendo-wiiWorrying times for Nintendo, particularly because this seismic shift is in part self-perpetuated – a direct consequence of the Wii’s unparalleled success. By creating a system perfectly suited for mass-adoption by a whole new section of the public: the games console virgin.

Consequently Nintendo created a license to print money in the short term, but also presented Sony and Microsoft with the opportunity to appeal to those same console-buying newcomers – a fact not overlooked by Nintendo’s rivals.

‘We have lots of data that suggests that lots of people bought into N64 as their entry level gaming device, and were happy to upgrade to a more powerful machine [the PS2] later in the life cycle when the price point was right for them. I think we’re going to see this later on PS3’ suggested Andrew House, head of PlayStation in Europe when speaking to Edge in June.

Nintendo’s problems are magnified by a series of related issues, for instance, the over-saturation of the Wii’s games catalogue with sub-standard releases. As new Wii owners seek out games it’s unlikely they’ll know what are good and bad games and so may simply chose based on packaging. The ramifications, if consumers purchase a series of poor games, is obvious – the Wii is consigned to the cupboard and in some instances replaced by a competitor’s console.

A lack of ‘triple A’ releases by Nintendo is another issue. 2009 may have seen the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wii Sports Resort and Punch-Out!! But where is the new Zelda, Mario Kart, StarFox, Pokemon, F-Zero, Donkey Kong, Kirby or Metroid? And, where is the online multiplayer? Surely a Wii Sports Resort which could be played online is an advertisers dream, with family’s coming together from all parts of the country, or even world, yet Nintendo have failed to seize the opportunity.

So what is Nintendo’s next move? Rumours abound that a HD ready Wii is in the works and Nintendo have form when it comes to revamping their existing consoles – just look at the DSi XL, already selling over 100,000 units on its maiden week in Japan. At the same time Nintendo are already hyping up E3 2010 as the show that will see any number of console selling titles announced, a new Metroid and Mario already announced and rumours of more Zelda on the way.

Will this be too little too late to stop their market share being stolen by its competitors or does Nintendo have another ace up its sleeve? One thing is for sure, with Sony and Microsoft about to launch further improvements for their systems – in the guise of the PS3 Wand and Microsoft’s Natal – whatever Nintendo has in store had better be good.

Netgear Stora brings RAID to the rabble

Like some sort of mildly advanced superhero, Netgear is swooping in with its new Stora network drive to bring serious RAID backup to the average PC user who is only slightly more terrified of network settings than they are about error messages containing the word ‘fatal’.

In a world where houses seem to have netbooks and laptop strewn all over them, network drives offer a useful backup solution. However, as anyone who’s ever had their backup drive fail on them will tell you, one backup is less safe than you might hope.

Netgear Stora

What Netgear is offering is a drive designed to avoid being intimidating wherever possible. The styling is, unsurprisingly, pretty close to wireless routers from the same company and features a jet black exterior with curved edges and those blue lights that have become so fashionable.

The USB port on the front lets you transfer files from a USB drive, but more interesting is the ability to attach a printer for sharing over the network. Considering how difficult it can be finding a simple way to get your printer onto your network, this is a seriously welcome bonus.

Software-wise, the Stora is suitably stocked. There’s UPnP/DLNA-certified media streaming for sending compatible media to just about everything these days (TVs, Blu-ray players, games consoles, PCs… you get the idea). There’s also a premium service that offers remote access and playback of your various media, social networking compatibility and access from smartphones.

Around the back of the Stora you’ll find the hard drive bays. One is already filled with a 1TB drive for your file-storing delectation with the other sitting empty. Pop a second hard drive in and the Stora will take on the task of setting the two drives up in RAID 1 for you – meaning that you don’t get any extra storage, but everything is stored on both drives.

The cloud may be the next big thing, but this type of network drive offers a great halfway house for those who want to work wirelessly, but aren’t ready to entrust all of their files to the great ether.

Video delivery service for PS3/PSP hits UK

Over on the other side of the pond our American cousins have had the pleasure of being able to download movies at their whim straight to their PS3 or PSP for well over a year; today, finally, Sony’s Video Delivery Service launches in the UK.

So what’s it all about? Well, by logging into PSN you’ll now have the option to browse and download over 800 movies. Sony hopes to increase their library via weekly updates – they’re already promising a whole slew (or should that be sleigh?) of Christmas movies in the coming weeks.

PlayStation Store

Users can take their pick of SD or HD and also opt to either rent or download and keep, with prices starting as low as £2.49 for a rental and £6.99 to permanently buy a movie. If you choose to rent you’ll have 14 days to watch the movie and, once you’ve started watching it, 24 hours to finish it.

Bigger releases available at launch includes Angels and Demons; Bruno; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; Crank 2; The Dark Knight; Dead Space: Downfall; Gran Torino; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; National Treasure; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Public Enemies; Star Trek; Terminator Salvation; Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen; Valkyrie; and X-Men Origins: Wolverine ­­– phew!

Early trials of the system show download times to be swift and video quality to be high enough to keep all but the most discerning resolution junkie happy. The biggest complaint is with the price of the more recent movies, particularly those in SD, with prices of as much as £8.99 causing plenty of complaints on Sony forums.

If the Video Delivery Service is to prosper then surely they have to bring their prices into line with the likes of Blockbusters and other rental outlets. Even better, Sony should be looking to provide a range of subscription services to allow users to pay for a set number of movies per month. Until then it might be worth checking prices elsewhere to make certain the same film isn’t available on to buy on DVD for less.

Packard Bell released first-ever “Freeview Certified” PC

Rock god Alice Cooper might be asking us to throw out our TVs for a new Sony Bravia, but now it’s PCs and games consoles that are taking on the telly’s job – Xbox 360 users can access Sky TV, the Wii is set to get the BBC’s iPlayer, and now there’s Packard Bell’s latest offering.

The latest piece of technology to do two jobs for the price of one (more on that later) is the Packard Bell OneTwo series, the first PCs to be Freeview certified.

These all-in-one PCS are slim and stylish, with a glossy black finish – not bad for a company that had been considered less fashionable than Susan Boyle before her makeover.

Packard Bell Freeview PC

Forget the old days of TV cards, the oneTwo PCs have a built-in Freeview digital TV tuner alongside the new Windows 7 operating system. All you have to do to have the benefit of all your usual computing tasks, PLUS up to 50 free-to-air channels available through Freeview in your spare room, kid’s room or wherever you want, is to plug the PC into an aerial socket, follow the set-up steps in Windows Media Center and you’re good to start watching.

You also have the facility of a hard drive recorder, so you can record shows or complete series direct to the hard drive to watch later, and pause live TV (a huge bonus for parents of small children, who rarely get to see TV without any interruptions, or just for popping out to put the kettle on).

A touch-sensitive screen means you don’t even need to use a keyboard or mouse if you don’t want to. Handy if space is tight. But that glossy finish will soon be covered in smears, as it allows the user to utilise all the touch-screen functionality of the latest Windows 7 OS. To complete the multimedia options, it is possible to have a Blu-ray drive pre-installed.

Prices start at around £599 for the 20in screen and around £899 for the 23in screen.  The smaller sized all-in-one – the oneTwo M – has a mainstream 20in HD display (1600×900 resolution). It’s based on the Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 CPU and equipped with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4500 GPU.

The 23in machine – the oneTwo L – boasts an advanced full HD 23in screen with a resolution of 1920x1080an Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 CPU, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670 GPU with 1GB of GDDR5 and support for DirectX 10, E-SATA, optional Blu-ray drive and and 5.1-channel surround sound via the integrated 5 Watt stereo speaker.

If you think it sounds a little pricey, just do some maths.  Factor in the cost of a separate hard drive recorder and Freeview box (around £180) and a portable TV, and it doesn’t seem so bad.

With its slim design, and a single power cord to avoid a spaghetti junction-like situation round the back, it looks like the Packard Bell oneTwo series All-In-One PC going to be the space-saving all-in-one solution for a lot of bedrooms this Christmas.

Tweetbox? Twitter, Facebook, Zune & Last.fm on Xbox

Just completed that awfully tedious and awkward mission in Grand Theft Auto? Well, you can now tweet about it straight from your Xbox 360, let your Facebook friends know and listen to some celebratory tunes on last.fm!

It’s the next step in Microsoft’s quest to twist the Xbox 360 into a social media hub, bringing the interactivity of your computer right into your living room.

Xbox 360 Update

But these three services are only available for Xbox Live Gold members, which costs around of £39.99 a year, and are after downloading an update.

Will it work? Twitter is notoriously fidgety, even for the most dextrous of the mind, with its 140 character limit a burden who all those wishing to indulge in resplendent interior monologues.

And it might even irk those of physical flexibility too, with the Xbox’s lack of our old favourite QWERTY meaning that producing that perfect 140 character tweet will never have been quite so difficult.

Or how about traipsing through all your friends’ intimate details, photos and loved-up wall posts on Facebook? Not exactly the most glorious of past-times when you’re sporting hands bathed in sweat after that marathon Pro Evolution Soccer session.

Coming after the announcement in which Sky set about dishing out its services into the Xbox’s of the nation, this marks a truly significant step in the potential abolition of the classic games console, but the practicality of this intriguing but couch-potato encouraging initiative will have to be under question.

And, in a time when Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 can rack up hefty amounts of hype and take over the world for one day, perhaps the archetypal and romantic notion of the enduring qualities of gaming reigning supreme over tweeting from your Xbox about your breakfast is still true today. Try typing that in 140 characters.