Microsoft's Mission To Reignite the PC Sector ( 221 writes: Sales of personal computers have been declining for so long — 14 consecutive quarters — that it's hard remember a time when PCs ruled the tech world. Now Nick Wingfield writes in the NY Times that Microsoft is leading the way on a mission to re-ignite the PC market by taking the once-unthinkable step of competing with its hardware partners. This week, Microsoft dived even further into the business with a laptop device, the Surface Book. The stated reason that Microsoft got into the PC hardware business three years ago, with the original Surface, was not to put PC companies out of business — but to better illustrate the capabilities of its software, providing devices that would inspire PC makers to be more innovative.

One of the most remarkable things about Microsoft's growing presence in the hardware business is that it has not led to open revolt among its partners. Initially, many of them were not happy about Microsoft's moves, complaining in private. "It's positioned as a laptop, very squarely against the MacBook Pro as an example. But that could also be extended to a Dell XPS 13, or an HP x360," says Patrick Moorhead. One reason there hasn't been more pushback from OEMs is that Microsoft's Surface business is still relatively small. Another is that the money Microsoft has poured into marketing Surface has raised the broader profile of Windows PCs. While Microsoft obviously risks alienating its partners, it's doing so with a much bigger fight in mind. "Right now Microsoft really believes that it has to have a combined hardware, software, and services play to go up against the likes of Apple," says Moorhead. "That's why it's doing this. That's why it's taking such an aggressive stance now, moving to laptops."


From Microsoft, HoloLens VR Dev Kit, New Phones, Continuum 87

Ars Technica and scads of other tech hardware sites are reporting that the big news so far from this morning's Microsoft product launch event in New York is that the company's Hololens development kit will begin shipping in the first quarter of next year, and at a price that puts the units out of the hands of typical consumers: $3000. At that level, developers are more likely to make the plunge, which Ars applauds.

The company also announced three new smartphones: two of them, the Lumia 950, 950XL, are worth designating "flagships," while the 550, notably, will sell for $139, putting it in the territory of cheap grey-market Android phones. More interesting than spec bumps, though, is Continuum for Windows, a Window 10 feature which made its official debut at the event. Continuum is one manifestation of the pocket-computer idea that others have had as well in various forms: it means that with an adapter, a phone can be used as the CPU and graphics engine when connected to a screen and keyboard: "The adapter features a Microsoft Display Dock, an HDMI and Display Port, plus 3 USB ports to provide productivity on the go and let you plug in additional peripherals, such as mice and keyboards. Other accessories can be connected too, Microsoft said."

Microsoft also demo'd the Surface 4. Its improved screen is 12.3" at 2160x1440, for a pixel density of 267 PPI. The new pro has a Skylake 6th-gen processor, which they say provides a 30% performance boost over the Surface Pro 3, and a 50% boost over the MacBook Air. The SP4 goes up to 1TB of storage, and up to 16GB of RAM. The Type Cover was improved as well — the touchpad is 40% larger and supports 5-point multi-touch, while the keys have better travel and pitch.

On top of this, Microsoft also unveiled the Surface Book laptop. Its defining feature is that you can unclip the 13.5" touchscreen and use it separately as a tablet. The keyboard dock has a dedicated GPU that will boost performance when attached. Microsoft is using a new type of hinge that bends and extends at multiple points, so you can also reattach the screen backward if you want to use it as a tablet while keeping the extra GPU power available. They claim a 12-hour battery life for the Surface Book.

Four Men Arrested Over Million-Dollar MacBook Heist 100

An anonymous reader writes: In January of 2014, Anton Saljanin was hired to drive 1,195 Apple MacBooks, valued at over $1 million, from a vendor in Massachusetts to a pair of high schools in New Jersey. The day after picking them up, he told police that the truck disappeared overnight while he slept. Later that day, he told police he just happened to spot the truck abandoned in a parking lot while he was driving down the highway. Unfortunately for him, detectives quickly realized none of these things could be true. Footage from CCTV cameras and cell-site records for his phone indicated he met with his brother and drove to another suspect's house, where they unloaded the laptops. Later, a fourth man helped them sell some of the MacBooks, often at steep discounts. The four men have now been charged in federal court for the theft.

Intel Launches Onslaught of Skylake CPUs For Laptops, Hybrids and Compute Stick 54

MojoKid writes: Intel is following up on its Skylake launch bonanza by opening the floodgates on at least two dozen SKUs mostly covering the mobile sector. The company is divvying up the range into four distinct series. There's the Y-Series, which is dedicated to 2-in-1 convertibles, tablets, and Intel's new Compute Stick venture. Then there's the U-Series, which is aimed at thin and light notebooks and "portable" all-in-one machines. The H-Series is built for gaming notebooks and mobile workstations, while the S-Series is designated for desktops, all-in-one machines, and mini PCs. Also, the Y-Series that was previously known as simply the Core M, (the chip found in products like the 12-inch Apple MacBook and Asus Transformer Book Chi T300) is now expanding into a whole family of processors. There will be Core m3, Core m5, and Core m7 processors, similar to Intel's Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 CPU models in other desktop and notebook chips.
Desktops (Apple)

Could the Best Windows 10 Laptop Be a Mac? 435

dkatana writes: Now that Windows 10 is finally out there many people are looking for the best laptop with the power to make the new OS shine. The sweet spot appears to be in $900-$1500 machines from Dell, Asus and HP. But Apple, the company that has been fighting Windows for ever, has other options for Windows 10: the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. According to InformationWeek there are many reasons to consider purchasing a MacBook as the next Windows machine, including design, reliability, performance, battery life, display quality and better keyboard. Also MacBooks have a higher resell value, retaining up to 50% of their price after five years.
Input Devices

Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Caps Lock Key Still So Prominent On Keyboards? 698

Esther Schindler writes: The developers at .io are into tracking things, I guess. In any case, a few weeks back they decided to track team performance in terms of keyboard and mouse activity during the working day. They installed a simple Chrome plugin on every Macbook and collected some statistics. For instance, developers have fewer keypresses than editors and managers—around 4k every day. Managers type more than 23k characters per day. And so on. Some pretty neat statistics.

But the piece that jumped out at me was this: "What's curious—the least popular keys are Capslock and Right Mouse Button. Somewhere around 0.1% of all keypresses together. It's time to make some changes to keyboards." I've been whining about this for years. Why is it that the least-used key on my keyboard is not just in a prominent position, but also bigger than most other keys? I can I invest in a real alternate keyboard with a different layout (my husband's a big fan of the Kinesis keyboards, initially to cope with carpal tunnel). But surely it's time to re-visit the standard key layout? What keys would you eliminate or re-arrange?

AppleCare+ Now Covers Batteries That Drop To 80% 152

Mark Wilson writes with news that Apple's AppleCare+ plan has been updated to address one of the biggest worries that people have about products with non-removeable batteries, and that become very expensive paperweights when the juice runs out. From BetaNews: "Previously, the extended warranty only covered batteries that would hold 50 percent charge or less. Now this has been updated so that you can request a free replacement within the coverage period if your device's battery is only able to hold 80 percent of full charge. The new terms to no apply to everyone — it all depends on when you bought your Apple device. If you bought your iPhone, iPad, iPod or Apple Watch before April 10, 2015, you're stuck with the old terms. I wish this change applied to my MacBook Air, with which I'm lucky to get 90 minutes of battery power.

Intel Adopts USB-C Connector For 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3, Supports USB 3.1, DP 1.2 179

MojoKid writes: The high speed Thunderbolt interface standard, which is used for everything from hyper-fast external storage solutions to external graphics cards, has been slow to take off. You can blame the high-priced Thunderbolt peripherals and the uber-expensive cables (at least when compared to your garden-variety USB cables). For most people, USB 3.0 is "good enough" and making a huge investment into the Thunderbolt ecosystem has been reserved for those in the professional video editing arena. However, Intel is looking to change all of that with Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 once again doubles the maximum bandwidth, this time jumping from 20Gbps to a whopping 40Gbps. While that is impressive in its own right, the truly big news is that Thunderbolt 3 is moving away from the Mini DisplayPort connector and is instead adopting the USB-C connector. As a result Thunderbolt will also support USB 3.1 (which is currently spec'd at 10Gbps) and can optionally provide up to 100W of power (in compliance with the USB Power Delivery spec) to charge devices via USB-C (like the recently introduced 12-inch Apple MacBook).

Tor Connections To Hidden Services Could Be Easy To De-Anonymize 50

angry tapir writes with news of a report presented Friday at Hack In The Box which outlines a counterintuitive fact about Tor: Identifying users who access Tor hidden services — websites that are only accessible inside the Tor anonymity network — is easier than de-anonymizing users who use Tor to access regular Internet websites. That's because the addresses of the Hidden Service Directories (HSDirs) used to index those Tor-network-only sites, though shuffled daily, can be predicted (and hijacked) with cheap brute-force techniques. "The researchers managed to place their own nodes as the 6 HSDirs for facebookcorewwwi.onion, Facebook's official site on the Tor network, for the whole day on Thursday. They still held 4 of the 6 spots on Friday. Brute-forcing the key for each node took only 15 minutes on a MacBook Pro and running the Tor relays themselves cost US$62 on Amazon's EC2 service.

Dell Precision M3800 Mobile Workstation Packs Thunderbolt 2, Quadro, IGZO2 Panel 133

MojoKid writes: Dell recently revamped their M3800 model to better entice graphic designers, engineers, and other high-end users who often work in the field, with a true mobile workstation that's both sufficiently equipped to handle professional grade workloads and is thin and light to boot. Dell claims the M3800 is the "world's thinnest and lightest 15-inch mobile workstation" and at 4.15 pounds, it could very well be. In addition, ISV tools certifications matter for workstation types, so the M3800 gets its pixel pushing muscle from an NVIDIA Quadro K1100M GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Other notable specs include an Intel Core i7-4712HQ quad-core processor, 16GB of DDR3L memory, and a 256GB mSATA SSD. One of the new additions to the M3800 is a Thunderbolt 2 port with transfer speeds of up to 20Gbps that allows for the simultaneous viewing/editing and backing up of raw 4K video. Finally, the M3800 is equipped with a 3840x2160 native resolution IGZO2 display, which equates to a 60 percent increase in pixel density over a current gen MacBook Pro with Retina display. Performance-wise, the M3800 holds up pretty strong with standard productivity workloads, though as you can image it excels more-so in graphics rendering throughput.

How Windows 10 Performs On a 12-inch MacBook 241

An anonymous reader writes: As Microsoft prepares for the launch of Windows 10, review sites have been performing all sorts of benchmarks on the tech preview to evaluate how well the operating system will run. But now a computer science student named Alex King has made the most logical performance evaluation of all: testing Windows 10's performance on a 2015 MacBook. He says, "Here's the real kicker: it's fast. It's smooth. It renders at 60FPS unless you have a lot going on. It's unequivocally better than performance on OS X, further leading me to believe that Apple really needs to overhaul how animations are done. Even when I turn Transparency off in OS X, Mission Control isn't completely smooth. Here, even after some Aero Glass transparency has been added in, everything is smooth. It's remarkable, and it makes me believe in the 12-inch MacBook more than ever before. So maybe it's ironic that in some regards, the new MacBook runs Windows 10 (a prerelease version, at that) better than it runs OS X."

Fastest 4.5 Watt Core M 5Y71 In Asus T300 Chi Competitive With Full Core i5 CPUs 48

MojoKid writes: Asus unveiled its latest addition to the Transformer series at CES in January, the Transformer Book Chi, which just recently began shipping. Available in three sizes, the new Transformer Book Chi Series features a 2-in-1 detachable design. The flagship Transformer Book T300 Chi offers a 12.5-inch screen, an Intel Core M processor, and a fanless cooling solution. The 2-in-1 detachable design employs a magnetic hinge that supports four usage modes: Attached, Detached, Flipped, and Tented. The T300 Chi measures about 0.65 inches when docked, making it slightly thinner than an Apple Macbook Air. Asus claims the T300 Chi is the world's thinnest Windows tablet, measuring just 0.28 inches thick. More interestingly, perhaps, is that Asus built this machine with Intel's fastest Core M chip, the Core M 5Y71. In the benchmarks, it competes well even with full-sized ultrabooks, though battery life does take a hit due to the system's mechanical limitations and smaller 31Whr battery. At prices from $400 to $900, this might be an interesting choice for anyone considering the new Surface 3, too.

Laptop Destroyed Over Snowden Leaks Is Now an Art Exhibit 52

An anonymous reader sends word that a busted MacBook Air and a Western Digital hard drive that once held Snowden revelations are going on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. "The remains of computer hardware which had contained the Guardian's London trove of Snowden documents – and which was destroyed on the rather spiteful demands of GCHQ personnel – have gone on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. While the frankly unremarkable remnants of a MacBook Air are uninteresting in and of themselves – who among us has not taken an angle grinder to an errant machine? – the causes of the MacBook Air's destruction are seemingly interesting enough to merit those remnants being considered art and subsequently included in V&A's new exhibition about 'the museum as a public space and the role of public institutions in contemporary life.' Disconcertingly titled All of This Belongs to You, the exhibition is to include 'three specially curated displays,' among which is Ways to be Secret, which will examine what the curators describe as 'the contradiction between our concern for online privacy and our obsession with sharing via social media.'"
Portables (Apple)

Apple Doubles MacBook Pro R/W Performance 204

Lucas123 writes Benchmark tests performed on the 2015 MacBook Pro revealed it does have twice the read/write performance as the mid-2014 model. Tests performed with the Blackmagic benchmark tool revealed read/write speeds of more than 1,300MBps/1,400MBps, respectively. So what's changed? The new MacBook Pro does have a faster Intel dual-core i7 2.9GHz processor and 1866MHz LPDDR3) RAM, but the real performance gain is in the latest PCIe M.2 flash module. The 2014 model used a PCIe 2.0 x2 card and the 2015 model uses a PCIe 3.0 x4 (four I/O lanes) card. Twice the lanes, twice the speed. While Apple uses a proprietary flash card made by Samsung, Intel, Micron and SanDisk are all working on similar technology, so it's likely to soon wind up in high-end PCs.

For Boot Camp Users, New Macs Require Windows 8 Or Newer 209

For anyone using Windows 7 by way of Apple's Boot Camp utility, beware: support for Windows via Boot Camp remains, but for the newest Apple laptops, it's only for Windows 8 for now. From Slashgear: This applies to the 2015 MacBook Air, and the 13-inch model of the 2015 MacBook Pro. Windows 8 will remain compatible, as will the forthcoming Windows 10. The 2013 Mac Pro also dropped Boot Camp support for Windows 7, while 2014 iMacs are still compatible, along with 2014 MacBook Airs and 2014 MacBook Pros. For those who still prefer to run Windows 7 on their Macs, there are other options. This change to Boot Camp will not affect using the Microsoft operating system through virtualization software, such as Parallels and VMware Fusion. Also at PC Mag.

Reactions to the New MacBook and Apple Watch 450

As the dust settles from Apple's press conference yesterday, there have been a broad variety of reactions around the web. Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic says Apple's $10,000 watch demonstrates the company has lost its soul. "The prices grate. And they grate not because they’re so expensive, but because they’re gratuitously expensive. ... To many commentators, this is unsurprising. It’s good business sense, really. Apple has made its world-devouring profits by ratcheting up profit margins on iPhones. There is no better target for these massive margins than the super-rich. But high margins do not a luxury brand make." Others suspect the high-end watches are targeted more at rich people in China.

As for the less expensive watches, perhaps they're around not so much to become a new major sales category for Apple, but rather to drive more iPhone sales. Meanwhile, the redesigned MacBook may signify a bigger change for the laptop industry than people realize: "We don’t need all those other ports, Apple says. We are living in a wireless world now, where we can connect most of our peripherals without cords." The new MacBook has also fueled speculation that Apple could be working on a more powerful tablet, something that could compete with Microsoft's Surface Pro line.

Does USB Type C Herald the End of Apple's Proprietary Connectors? 392

An anonymous reader writes The Verge has an interesting editorial about the USB Type C connector on the new Macbook, and what this might mean for Apple's Lightning and Thunderbolt connectors. The former is functionally identical to USB Type C, and the latter has yet to prove popular in the external media and "docking" applications for which it was originally intended. Will Apple phase out these ports in favour of a single, widely-accepted, but novel standard? Or do we face a dystopian future where Apple sells cords with USB Type C on one end, and Lightning on the other?

Apple's "Spring Forward" Event Debuts Apple Watch and More 529

samzenpus (5) writes There was a lot of news at Apple's Spring Forward keynote today. Here's a list of some of the most eye-catching announcements.
  • HBO Now standalone streaming service coming to Apple TV and iOS apps in early April for $14.99 a month.
  • Lowered price of Apple TV to $69.
  • Apple Pay accepted at up to 100,000 Coca-Cola machines by the end of the year.
  • ResearchKit Announced: Is open source and allows medical researchers to create apps, and use the iPhone as a diagnostic tool.
  • New MacBook: Lightest ever at 2 pounds, 13.1mm at its thickest point. 2304x1440 display, consumes 30% less energy. Fanless, powered with Intel's Core M processor. 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0. and 9 hours of web browsing battery life. Supports many protocols through one connector USB-C. Ships April 10, starting at $1,299.
  • iOS 8.2 is available today
  • Apple Watch: Accurate within 50ms of UTC. Read and delete email, built-in speaker and mic so you can receive calls. It tracks your movement and exercise. Use Apple Pay, play your music, use Siri and get any notification you get on iPhone today. 18 hour battery life in a typical day. Sport model starting at $349, stainless steel price: $549-$1049 for 38mm, 42mm is $599-$1099, and gold edition starting at $10k. Pre-orders begin April 10th, available April 24th.
Portables (Apple)

Apple Launches Repair Program For Longstanding 2011 MacBook Pro GPU Problems 99

AmiMoJo writes: Apple has just launched a MacBook Pro Repair Extension Program for Video Issues to provide out-of-warranty repairs for MacBook Pros and Retina MacBook Pros sold between February of 2011 and December of 2013. Symptoms of affected computers include "distorted or scrambled video on the computer screen," "no video on the computer screen (or external display) even though the computer is on," and unexpected restarts. Some users have been complaining about 2011 MacBook Pro GPU issues since shortly after the systems launched. Those complaints continued for well over three years—outside of the warranty window even if you bought AppleCare, at least if you bought the systems at launch—and were more recently the cause of a class-action lawsuit.

Dell 2015 XPS 13: Smallest 13" Notebook With Broadwell-U, QHD+ Display Reviewed 118

MojoKid writes Dell's 2015 XPS 13 notebook made a splash out at CES this year with its near bezel-less 13-inch QHD+ (3200X1800) display and Intel's new 5th Gen Core series Broadwell-U processor. At 2.8 pounds, the 2015 XPS 13 isn't the absolute lightest 13-inch ultrabook book out there but it's lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Air and only a few ounces heavier than Lenovo's Core M-powered Yoga 3 Pro. The machine's Z dimensions are thin, at .33" up front to .6" at its back edge. However, its 11.98" width almost defies the laws of physics, squeezing a 13.3" (diagonal) display into an 11.98-inch frame making it what is essentially the smallest 13-inch ultrabook to hit the market yet. Performance-wise, this review shows its benchmarks numbers are strong and Intel's Broadwell-U seems to be an appreciable upgrade versus the previous generation architecture, along with lower power consumption.