Monday, February 18, 2008
So, quick post on my TabletPC enthusiasm/addiction.
My Gateway CX210 tablet, which I have a love-hate relationship with had some issues. Nothing major, but enough that I wanted to send it in before the warranty expired. A motherboard swap was in order, but the piece wasn't in stock. SO they kept my baby for 2 weeks and when it still wasn't in stock, they sent the system back to me unrepaired. Two weeks later they got it in stock and after all the fuss, the swap didn't solve the problem. Annoyed? Slightly. So, they were going to swap out the system for an entirely new unit. Being the sly guy I am, I asked if I could pay some sort of upgrade fee for the latest model. I get a call a few hours later letting me know that I will be a brand new, just released, maxed out system. It's nice to see some companies still valuing their customers like that. While it was annoying to lose my system for that long, replacing a 1.5 year old system with a brand new one shows alot of class.
So, I bring this up because the time to get a new PC is just about here. The Penryn chips and latest motherboards are starting to trickle out. The next iteration of systems, as in the ones you'll see in ~8-10 months, won't be adding too much that the average user will notice (anyone care if they have an on-chip memory controller? Thought so.) Penryn systems with their 45nm goodness are starting to hit the streets as we speak. Gateway just upgraded their desktop replacement tablet system with the C-141X and XL. When checking, look for these processor numbers: T8100, T8300, T9300, T9500, X9000 (those would be 2.1, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.8GHz (quad) respectively).
For you Mac peeps, by the end of the month there should be refreshes of the MacBook or MacBook Pro or Both. Why? Penryn shipping in volume for one. Multitouch for two. Apple has learned long ago that adding funky new Mac-only tech one one item can steal sales from other lines, as people wait for the feature to appear in related products.
So, for Tablet PCs, there are:
Gateway C-141X and XL (14" screen means a full page of text.)
Toshiba M700 (Tied for my first place choice. Smaller screen. Lighter.)
Fujitsu T4220 (not upgraded to Penryn yet)
Dell Latitude XT (way underpowered CPU, but much-hyped screen and digitizer)
HP tx2000 (AMD CPU = yuck)
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (considered one of the best universally, but lacks widescreen, and a has a slower CPU)
From the point of view of someone that needs some decent number crunching power, the Gateway and Toshiba really stick out. It's not the most portable, weighing in at the same weight as a 15.4" system, but it gets the job done. Note that Gateway got it right on the RAM. Don't bother with 4GB of RAM - Windows will only see 3GB. If all you want is a ssytem for reading/annotating papers, note taking, and surfing, any will do, though the Dell will feel a bit balky. I would probably go with a 12.1" version, like the M700. to keep the weight down. Just make sure the battery lasts a while, or that you can add a modular bay battery.
Another option is to use a regular laptop and get a Wacom Bamboo or Bamboo Fun pad. They're essentially USB digitizers (work on Mac and PC), that just lack the nitty gritty of the more popular, artist-intended Graphire and Intuos lines (no tilt detection, and a 'measly' 512 levels of pressure). I was seriously considering this route, until my whole system was replaced. I might still pick one up for my home PC. I'll post a link to the Digital Trends review when I do. Got my eye on the medium sized silver Fun edition. Not sure if you want a full time tablet PC? Grab one of these for $70 and mess around with it! (The Bamboo is around $70 online and the medium Fun version is around $170 (at Costco).)
As for a Mac tablet, don't hold your breath. There's the ModBook, which is shipping so slowly that I still can't get a review unit. Then there's the rumored Apple official version. Expect it to drop mid next year at the earliest. There are a number of reasons, but just from someone that has watched the Apple product cycle for years and knows the tech business pretty well, there is no way we will see it this year, and it would be questionable to see it next year.
(Update: Engadget has a nice breakdown of the next iteration of laptop chipsets, dubbed Centrino 2. Right now is the best time to get a system if you plan to keep it for under 2.5 years. The only major upgrades on the horizon are 1) faster bus (rarely the major bottleneck in laptops) and 2) DDR3 support (ridiculous prices now, and expected to drop around mid next year). The only other thing I forgot to mention is that 500GB laptop drives should hit the shelves by next month, so if you store massive amount of data, maybe a one month wait is in order.)