Having just rebuilt my production desktop one week ago, I’m still in the process of tweaking and tuning that system to bring it up to max performance. Over the weekend, I installed Samsung Magician 4.4, the latest version of the SSD utility for the 500GB EVO 840 drive installed as the boot/system drive on that machine. Then, I ran a pair of tests to see what impact this had on system performance. By at least one measure, the difference is astounding, as the following before and after screenshots will attest:
BEFORE: CrystalDiskMark shows that the mSATA port on the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H is running only at 3 Gbps (half-speed, in other words).
AFTER: CrystalDiskMark shows an improvement of 1.5 orders of magnitude, WEI shows no change. What gives?
Turns out that the massive performance boosts on sequential read and write shown in the first two blocks of CrystalDiskMark measurements while dramatic, simply don’t reflect much file system activity in the real world (except perhaps when transferring files larger than the 1 MB default block size shown). The second two blocks (4K normal access, and 4 K with a queue depth of 32) are closer to real life, except that queue depths on most Windows desktops seldom exceed a range of 6-8, even under heavy read/write IO loads (see Samsung’s informative discussion of “Benchmarking Utilities: What You Should Know” for more good information on what’s going on here).
Thus, the results that stay more or less the same for Sergey Tkachenko’s implementation of the old Windows Experience Index (WEI) for Windows 8.* (and the Windows 10 Technical Preview) really reflect the overall impact of the drive optimization software on performance for Windows desktops. That’s not to say that these utilities are worthless, or that you shouldn’t use them: firmware updates, disk optimization, and over-provisioning capabilities can indeed improve performance and extend the usable life of such devices. I just don’t think anybody should expect them to offer major performance improvements simply by virtue of their ongoing presence in the runtime environment. At best, I believe that improvements they can offer are incremental (probably less than 10% on overall I/O) rather than dramatic (an order of magnitude or better, as the first two blocks of the CrystalDiskMark results might lead one to hope for).
Anybody who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that I collect – and blog about – useful Windows tools on a pretty regular basis. Here’s another one for consideration for your Windows toolbox, from developer and Windows-head Nic Bedford (whose UK-based Nic’s Blog is also worth tuning into from time to time): it’s called System Restore Explorer (SRE)and it finds all of the restore points defined on the current running Windows image, and allows you to choose one at a time for mounting as a folder on the system drive using Windows (or File) Explorer like this:
SRE finds and exposes the Volume Shadow Copies that represent Restore Points.
India’s Tech Gizmo wrote a nice review of this tool (though it’s pretty brief), and developer Paul Pruitt (who has developed a similar tool for more general exploration of volume shadow copies called Shadow Explorer) also gives Nic credit for crafting a useful tool as well. I need only point out that System Restore Explorer lets anyone explore the entire contents of any chosen Restore Point, and copy files from that restore point as needed, for most readers to fully appreciate what it’s good for. Followed with the observation that it provides a way to grab and restore or replace missing or damaged files from a current runtime image for Windows Vista, 7, 8, or 10, this lets Windows admins know why it’s useful to keep around for those occasions when it might come in handy. Great stuff!
I’ve been running the Windows 10 Technical Preview (Win10TP, as I abbreviate it in my blog post title) for about two weeks now, and I’m feeling better about the environment and the experience of running this latest desktop OS from Microsoft than I expected to be. In fact, I’m more than just a little bit impressed with the new environment’s ease of use, stability, and its willingness to accommodate a production system’s hardware and software components. So far, the only program that has flat-out refused to install on Win10TP is Franck Delattre’s excellent and informative CPU-Z utility (currently at version 1.71, which raises an incompatibility flag for build 9860, despite the Web site’s assertion that CPU-Z 1.71 “…adds the support of Windows 10,” which probably applies to build 9841 but does not yet extend as far as 9860).
Sergey Tkachenko’s WEI runs fine in Build 9860, despite issues with 9841, to report basic system performance ratings.
From an install and setup perspective, Win10TP follows very much in Windows 8’s entirely respectable footsteps: installation is quick, painless, and pretty easy. Applying updates ditto, though I’ve been spoiled by using Start8 on Windows 8 sufficiently that I’ve had to retrain myself to key search text in straight at the start menu/start window without jumping right into menu navigation.
Frankly, I was amazed to see Win10TP get 99% of the drivers right on the first boot-up into the OS following the initial install. It did miss a couple of devices (which showed up as “Unknown” in Device Manager) from the MSI Z87-G45 motherboard in my primary test machine, and like Windows 8, Win10TP doesn’t recognize Killer/Atheros Ethernet devices, either. Thanks to the StarTech ASIX GbE USB 3 NIC I keep around for tablets and notebooks devoid of wired interfaces, I was able to plug that bad boy into the test machine, and gain network access with which to obtain updates and download missing drivers lickety-split. DriverAgent (my driver analysis and access tool of choice) runs fine on Win10TP, and I was able to use it to grab the elements that I needed to bring that machine up to snuff.
It took me less than 15 minute — a new “personal best” — to bring all the Win10TP drivers up-to-date after a clean install. Amazing!
I’m still in the process of re-creating a typical production environment on my test machine, beavering away in my spare time. So far I’ve installed the following items successfully, reading from the “All Apps” menu on that PC: 7-Zip, 8GadgetPack (Core Temp even works with the CPU Usage gadget), CCleaner, Chrome, Intel Management Engine Interface and the great new Driver Update Utility v2.0, Logitech SetPoint, Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center, NVidia 3D Vision center and so forth, SlimImage, and WinDirStat. All appear to work correctly. I’ll be moving onto MS Office 2013 next, as soon as time permits.
Earlier this month, I sold the Fujitsu Q704 Stylistic tablet PC that I purchased last January, having learned as much from it as I could, and having also decided it didn’t present enough performance and stability for the costs involved in acquiring and maintaining that platform. Early last week, I ordered a Surface Pro 3 (i7-4650U CPU, 8 GB RAM, HD Graphics 5000, 256 GB SSD) to replace that unit, so as to give me a Windows tablet to play and work with. It arrived on Friday afternoon, about the same time my son came home from school. I was in the middle of upgrading my production PC, so the last thing I wanted to do was to unbox and set up another new PC. “That’s OK, Dad,” said Gregory, “I’ll do it.” And do it he did, all by himself (with a little help logging into my Microsoft Account) to the point where he used the system to do his homework this weekend.
The latest addition to our computing stable is already a huge hit with the younger generation.
I stayed busy through the weekend working on my production PC (which I’m writing this blog post on right now), applying updates, catching up drivers, installing MS Office and a bunch of other applications. I also decided to consolidate 4 of my older and smaller 3.5″ hard disks (ranging in size from 750 GB to 1.5 TB) onto my remaining spare Toshiba 3 TB SATA3 3.5″ HD, which supported data throughput over 100 MB/sec in its USB3 drive caddy for really big files (and probably averaged about half that overall during the entire drive copy marathon session involved).
An interesting and terrifying dilemma emerged on Sunday morning, as I was continuing my setup marathon. Suddenly, for no reason I could discern, I found myself unable to use my keyboard on any of the machines I was logged into with the shared Microsoft account I typically use. When my son “accidentally” reset the desktop theme on the Surface to High Contrast, and the same theme immediately popped up on my production PC’s screen and that of my traveling Lenovo laptop, I realized that something about the account settings made on the Surface was preventing my other machines from using their keyboards. A little poking around on the notification area showed me that my son had enabled Sticky Keys and Filter Keys on the Surface to improve use of the Type cover on that machine. Unfortunately, those settings also turned off the keyboard on the other Windows systems that shared those settings. Though it took me over half and hour to get to the bottom of the situation and find a fix (turn off both of them completely), once properly diagnosed it was relatively easy to work around. Of course, because I didn’t immediately understand what was going on, I first tried multiple keyboards on my production desktop without success. It was only when I turned to the Lenovo and found its keyboard out of commission as well, even though the keyboard drivers reported those peripherals as present and working, then saw the sudden change of desktop them across all systems, that I figured out the shared account settings must be involved.
This is a level of synchronization that I hadn’t encountered as a problem before. I’ll use this experience to warn admins to tell their users that they should be careful with account settings, particularly when they run the same Microsoft account across multiple machines. That also raises the interesting query of how all this will play out when people start running the same account on their smartphones as well as on conventional PCs.
Next month HP is expected to reveal a new PC product line up aimed at the commercial market, a little over a month after it split the company in two.
But questions still remain as to whether the move will succeed in getting itself on track with its hardware business and address the gaping holes in its mobile strategy with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.
Longtime high-tech industry observers wondered why it took HP so long to do the split.
“It was overdue,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, based in San Jose, Calif. “The two halves of the company have been pretty separate for some time.” As separated partners, both companies should become more agile, he said.
It’s a model that companies like IBM started to follow a while ago. For example, IBM sold off its hardware business to Lenovo, allowing them to focus solely on the enterprise with its software and services business. IBM also aligned itself with Apple with a far reaching enterprise alliance to benefit both companies.
But on the flip side, there’s a danger in splitting the company in two. There’s nothing so far that says HP Enterprise is required to sell HP Inc.’s hardware when they sell to customers.
Indeed, what’s to stop HP Enterprise from selling a Lenovo or Dell PC for that matter?
“In this model, it’s unclear how [the two entities] will work together,” said Tim Bajarin, a long-time industry analyst and founder of Creative Strategies Inc., based in San Jose, Calif. “Does the enterprise group support a 2000 PC sale? Will the PC business be able to innovate on their own? Where does HP Labs fit in all of this? While I understand the reasoning and the goals there’s too many outstanding questions that makes it hard to determine whether it will be successful.”
What’s the mobile story?
While the industry contemplates HP’s, it seems like the company is beginning to fill in the gaps of a cohesive mobile strategy. With new 2-in-1s coming down the pike and a recent partnership with VMware, HP could be on track for the future.
In fact, the HP-VMware deal is a strategic move that could plug the hole from the lack of an enterprise mobile management platform strategy. But, the partnership may be confusing too.
“It’s a good offering and reflective of where the companies need to go [for] management services,” says Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst and founder of TECHnalysis Research LLC, FosterCity, Calif. “[However] If I’m from HP Inc. … part of what I want to offer is the software and services. If [I was a customer] and wanted services I could go straight to VMware whereas [before] I was going to HP because I wanted the hardware piece and services to be bundled along with it.”
Other analysts agree.
This is a good example of large organizations selling anything they can get their hands on, says Chris Hazelton, research director, enterprise mobility, for 451 Research, in Boston. Before, HP didn’t list enterprise mobility management as part of its mobile offering, which was a mistake, he adds.
For its part, Hazelton calls the deal between HP and VMware a big win for VMware and Airwatch.
“The idea is to create a one-stop shop for mobility and that’s what these system integrators, app developers and ERP vendors are jumping on this door opener to the mobile enterprise,” he says. “One manages mobile devices, another manages the user data and together [they] start building the ecosystem for apps and services. That’s where HP is going to provide value.”
And with that, here’s hoping HP’s new strategy and its new commercial PC offerings is enough to begin plugging in the gaps.
Right now, you can buy an el-cheapo HP Windows laptop for $200. It’s designed to compete with Chromebooks, while offering a more familiar (and complete) computing experience — at least, in the minds of some — than the “other platform” can provide. Curious as to what’s inside the New HP Stream 11 (official product name: HP Stream – 11 – d010nr Laptop) after reading about it on Paul Thurrot’s SuperSite for Windows, I wandered over to HP’s specs page to learn more about what makes this device tick.
Thurrott loves the look of the new HP Stream 11; I see it as just another 11″ notebook, albeit a very inexpensive one.
Here’s what HP provides buyers for their $200 bucks. It’s not overwhelming, and to me it’s very reminiscent of what those of us who decided to give netbooks a try about 5 years ago were likely to encounter, updated to reflect more modern OSes and mobile device components:
|HP Stream 11 Specifications|
|Processor||2.16 GHz dual-core Intel Celeron N284|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1 x63 with Bing|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics|
|Display||11.6″ WLED-backlit 1366×768|
|Memory||2GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Hard disk||32 GB eMMC|
|Wireless||802.11 b/g/n, BT 4.0|
|Power Supply||45W AC adapter|
|Battery||3-cell, 37 Wh Li-polymer|
|Ports||USB3x1, USB2x1, HDMI, audio|
|Expansion slots||SD card reader|
|Energy Efficiency||Energy Star qualified; EPEAT Silver|
|Webcam||HP TrueVision Webcam with digital mike|
|Pointing device||HP ImagePad with multi-touch gesture|
|Keyboaerd||97% size island-style|
|Weight||2.74 lbs (1.24 kg)|
|Software Included||See specs page: bottom row of table|
The secrets to the low price come primarily from four elements. First, the Windows 8.1 with Bing option involves no MS license costs to HP, and brings the price down by $50-80 right there. Second, the Celeron processor is a no-frills workhorse that provides basic functionality sans bells and whistles, and in large lots, can’t cost more than $20 apiece. 2 GB of memory isn’t the absolute minimum, but it’s a workable amount; in large quantities, such SO-DIMMs probably cost $10. The real secrets to the low cost of the device are the slow but cheap eMMC storage device (“eMMC” stands for embedded MultiMediaCard, which is essentially the same kind of flash chips and controller found in an SD card or a low-end UFD, with low speeds to match; less than $25 in large quantities) and the all-plastic clamshell enclosure for the laptop itself. The device is a close match for many Chromebooks in components and by no coincidence whatsoever, also in cost.
Now, it remains to be seen if there’s an appetite for such devices. I’m planning on buying one for my son’s 5th grade class at school. His fourth-grade teacher loved the Chromebook I gave her for that class to use. Now, we’ll see if a workable Windows analog gets the same reception.
Last Friday, two interesting and complementary blog posts appeared, each with its own discussion of security in the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview version. The first comes from Microsoft itself, in a post by Jim Alkove for the Windows for Your Business blog, entitled “Windows 10: Security and Identity Protection for the Modern World.” The second occupies a significant portion of Paul Thurrott’s mind-bending Windows SuperSite article entitled “Windows 10 is the Most Audacious Release in the History of the Platform.” This is pretty strong stuff, and will take a little time to work your way through. Hopefully, the summary that follows will give readers the impetus to do just that.
It is too facile to say that Windows 10 locks things up from a security perspective, though it certainly adds and extends protection at many levels.
Source: Shutterstock 210211225.
The MS blog post raises the following issues:
- Windows 10 is intended to “move the world away from the use of single factor authentication options, like passwords.” Once mobile devices are enrolled, they become one of two factors required for authentication, where the second factor could be a PIN or a biometric (e.g. a fingerprint). This lets a user’s smartphone vouch for his PC and requires attackers to compromise two devices to mount a successful attack. MS describes this functionality as allowing a mobile device to “…behave like a remote smartcard and it will offer two factor authentication for both local sign-in and remote access.” It works with existing PKI infrastructures, and with Active Directory, Azure Active Directory, and Microsoft Accounts. MS is also taking steps to protect user access tokens created upon authentication from attack by storing them in a secure Hyper-V based container.
- Windows 10 will build “robust data loss prevention right into the platform itself.” This involves use of strong encryption technologies from BitLocker, Azure Rights Management, and Information Rights Management in MS Office, but adds DLP technology “that separates corporate and personal data and helps protect it using containment…” so that there’s “… no need for … users to switch modes, or apps, in order to protect corporate data, which means that users can help keep data safe without changing their behavior” (emphasis mine). This applies equally to mobile devices running Windows Phone and to other devices (also possibly mobile) running Windows. VPN control options for remote access are also extended and improved, including “app-allow and app-deny lists” as well as controls aimed at “specific ports or IP addresses.”
- “When it comes to online threats, such as malware, we’ll have a range of options to help enterprises protect against common causes of malware infection on PCs.” This includes options for device lock down, mechanisms to allow users to install only trusted apps (though MS provided signing services) that covers “anything that can run on the Windows desktop” for both mobile and desktop devices and PCs.
Thurrott follows up with his own salute to security improvements, including:
- Use of Azure Active Directory (AAD) instead of Microsoft Accounts (MSAs), which “enables corporations to federate their on-prem Active Directory with AAD and continue using the Universal apps platform and other features that required an MSA in a way that respects their internal policies” (emphasis mine).
- Integrate multi-factor authentication more deeply into the platform (ties into the use of mobile devices as what Thurrott labels as “virtual smart cart technology” through use of mobile devices as explained above).
- Information protection is another way of describing data loss prevention (DLP), which Thurrott views as an “evolution of the rights management technologies Micrsofot has been working on for over a decade…”
- Secure remote access, which Thurrott explains as an “evolution of the managed VPN technologies that debuted in Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1” which he sees as “extend to individual desktops and Universal apps (per-app VPN) and managed via MDM” (Microsoft Device Management) and made “available to all third-party VPN providers.”
The MS post conveys all the key points, but Thurrott is better at estimating their impact on enterprises and organizations that will deploy the new OS sooner or later (probably later, if history is any guide, though these new features may actually provide a real impetus for businesses to speed things up, somewhat). Good stuff!
PCs are not dead and neither is Microsoft.
The company proved the skeptics wrong and posted strong revenue for its fiscal year first quarter 2015 earnings. Microsoft posted $23.2 billion in revenue, up 25% compared with the same period last year. However, net income was down $4.5 billion, compared with $5.2 billion a year ago.
While Microsoft’s fortunes are tied to a variety of technologies from PCs, servers, tablets, and Windows to Office 365 and cloud services, its transition to a mobile and cloud-first company is clearly making headway.
Indeed, Microsoft is actually making money from its hardware and posted nearly $11 billion in revenue in its Devices & Consumer group. Not only is the Xbox console doing well, even Surface is making a comeback. This quarter Surface posted $908 million in revenue, much of it driven by sales from the Surface Pro 3. That’s a big turnaround considering Microsoft had to take a $900 million inventory write-off for Surface RT during its fourth fiscal quarter of 2013, causing the company to miss Wall Street’s expectations.
On Windows Phone, Microsoft only enjoyed “modest gains,” said CEO Satya Nadella during the earnings call. Those gains took place in Europe where Microsoft captured some market share due to low-cost phones.
It’s clear Microsoft has a lot of work to do against the smart phone leaders. The company hopes its Windows ecosystem of universal apps will drive sales but what matters is how Microsoft executes its strategy. The company must convince device owners to make the switch away from Apple iOS and Google Android. Today, it’s all about the apps. Good luck, Microsoft. That’s no small feat.
What will be interesting is whether enterprises make the shift towards PC refreshes once Windows 10 ships next year.
Both Microsoft and its OEM partners enjoyed some growth during fiscal 2014 due to businesses refreshing their PCs with the end of support for Windows XP in April 2014. But now, there’s little incentive for IT pros to go through another PC refresh, especially if the upgrade cycle occurred within the last two years.
PC growth will continue and the overall worldwide decline in shipments is not as high as before according to recent market data from IDC. PCs are not getting cannibalized by the tablet market as much as before and the growth of well-designed notebook PCs and Chromebooks all factor in to a more stable market. IDC forecasts PCs to decrease 3.7% in worldwide shipments for 2014, which is less than was previously forecasted with a decline of 6%.
Nadella said he expects the enterprise to go back to its normal PC business refresh rate in 2015. I suspect, though, that despite early positive feedback for Windows 10, it won’t motivate businesses enough to upgrade their employee’s PC as most likely they’ll be able to run the new OS on a “fairly new” PC. By that I mean one that was bought or leased only within the past two years.
Where Windows OEM Pro licensing reflects the PC market forces, overall Windows volume licensing did grow by 10%. However, it’s going to be a tough battle for Microsoft now that they’re offering Windows licenses for free for phones and tablets below 9 inches. That’s lost revenue, which they think will be offset by the emerging low-cost $199 Windows PCs the industry will see unveiled this fall and winter.
For IT pros wondering whether they should move their organization’s on-premises Office productivity suite to the cloud, more companies seem to be doing so as sales of on-premises Office are getting cannibalized by Office 365.
With Office, one-third of the renewals include Office 365, according to Amy Hood, Microsoft chief financial officer. “We are seeing a mix shift from on-premises to the cloud, from transactional purchasing to annuity, and from standard to premium versions,” Hood said.
Let’s say you’ve been meaning to install Windows 10 on a test machine, but you haven’t gotten around to that just yet. Because MS has already released another version of the Windows 10 Preview, this might mean you’d have to download and install the original build (9841), then do likewise for the latest version (Build 9860) to play catch-up. “Wouldn’t it be easier,” I can hear many readers grumble, “if MS just provided a new ISO file so that those just getting started with Windows 10 could just install 9860 in one fell swoop?” Alas, that’s not what MS provides, but there is a way to get there from what is available, thanks to Chris Holmes, an automotive electrician from NYC who dabbles pretty seriously with Windows stuff as an avocation (and thanks also to Sergey Tkachenko of WinAero.com for alerting me to this possibility by posting a nicely illustrated blog about an ESD Decrypter tool and how to put it to work).
Holmes has actually blogged on this topic himself in a post called “Make an ISO for Windows 10 9860,” wherein he describes how to take the ESD file from the 9860 Win10 update and convert it into an ISO for direct installation. ESD stands for electronic software download, and for Windows updates, it refers to an encrypted and heavily compressed Windows Imaging Format, or .wim, file. This file is part of the download for the 9860 update: it’s named install.esd and it resides in C:\$Windows.~BT\Sources while the download and install process is underway.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the ESD Decrypter tool, you can use it to create what the program calls a “traditional Windows ISO” from the install.esd file you’ve obtained and stashed in a directory of your choosing. You can either shell out of the download and install runtime environment on a Windows PC while the install gets underway and save a copy of install.esd, or you can grab the x64 or x86 versions of that file directly online (thanks to links from Tkachenko’s blog post on the subject). Either way, you’ll run the decrypt.cmd file from an administrative command prompt windows, and type the number 4 at the command prompt input line to build a traditional ISO image. From there, you can use Rufus to construct a bootable UFD installer for the latest Windows 10 build, and be off and running with the latest version without first having to install Build 9841 and immediately upgrade it to Build 9860. I like it, and you probably will, too! In fact, this is a nice addition to my overall Windows image management toolkit.
In the last week’s technology news, I’ve been struck by the recent confluence of several business and technology factors that either promise or threaten — I can’t yet really decide which — to remake the world of personal computing as it’s currently understood by those who come at it from the Windows direction. Certainly, it’s already clear that for the bulk of the world’s low-end consumption of processing power, the advent of low-cost high-function smartphones and tablets primarily based on Android has broadened the total user population enormously. Microsoft is by no means oblivious to this trend, and has been casting about (along with technology partners such as Intel) to find a counter to the otherwise inevitable loss of its market position to Google and the hordes of budget device designers and fabricators driving the Android phenomenon relentlessly forward.
The HDMI stick is the same size as a typical USB flash drive; plug it into a suitably-equipped TV, add keyboard and mouse, and you’ve got a PC at your disposal.
Here are some examples of what I’ve been seeing that lead me to believe that the Windows team may be closing in on some interesting and possibly effective low-budget counter-thrusts:
In this story at Neowin, a $200 Windows 8.1 PC that’s small enough to fit into a pocket is depicted and discussed: “ZOTAC unveils the ZBOX PI320, a $200 Windows 8.1 PC the size of a chunky smartphone” (10/21/2014; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735F CPU, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash SSD, 3xUSB3 ports, full-size HDMI, microSD, Ethernet GbE, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.o).
Sean Portnoy at ZDnet profiles an E Fun Nextbook in a story entitled “$179 10-inch Windows 8.1 tablet coming to Walmart,” (10/21/2014; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735G CPU, 1 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash SSD, 1xmicroUSB2, mini-HDMI, microSD, 10.1″ 1280×800 IPS touch screen, attachable POGO keyboard base, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.o, one year free Office 365 subscription with 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage and 60 free Skype world minutes monthly).
Shreyas Gandhe writes about a $125 UFD form-factor PC in another Neowin story entitled “Intel Bay Trail-based HDMI stick capable of running Windows 8.1 goes on sale” which recounts an Alibaba affiliate selling a complete HDMI dongle-based PC for $110 (the extra $15 covers shipping world-wide; 10/19/2014; no OS included or pre-installed; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735 F or G, 2 GB RAM, 16 or 32 GB Flash SSD, 2xmicroUSB2, micro HDMI, microSD, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0). Here’s the link to the English-language product page at Aliexpress for “Merry He’s store” in mainland China.
In all three cases, users gain access to usable computing for $200 or less, in form factors that range from a mid-sized tablet with clamshell keyboard (E Fun Nextbook), to a sub-NUC supercompact PC (ZBOX PI320), to an HDMI plug-in PC ready to add to just about any modern TV set to turn it into a fairly full-featured PC that can run either Windows (all models) or Linux (HDMI stick). These devices put reasonable computing power into just about anybody’s hands in an affordable and compact vehicle, where a TV set can act as a first (or second) monitor. A modest outlay for peripherals (keyboard and mouse) turns these offerings into usable desktops, even.
What we see here, I think, is a real riposte at the emerging dominance of Android based smartphones and tablets, at the same price points as those “other” devices already deliver. It remains to be seen whether the low-end buyers at which these offering are aimed will “get” that PC capability buys them more than what Android devices deliver, or it they will even care. I do think this latest wave of low-cost Bay Trail devices has a chance to retilt current buying trends in the global marketplace, but only time will tell if that chance will turn the tide or not.