Sunday, May 27, 2012

Alienware M17x R4 review

Alienware-M17x R4 While most manufacturers are busy paring down their Ultrabooks to the daintiest of proportions, Alienware’s M17x R4 looms somewhere at the other end of the scale. This giant of a laptop spills over the edges of the average lap, packs in the priciest components money can buy, and tops it all off with a 17in Full HD screen. And now that Intel’s Ivy Bridge has wormed its way inside, it promises to be seriously fast too.

Physically, the M17x R4 is much the same as ever. With the AlienFX lighting array capable of illuminating the laptop in multiple colours or being switched off completely, the M17x R4 can glow or adopt all the subtlety of a flashing, neon-lit Ibiza nightclub. It’s entirely up to you.

The thick, contoured body continues the air of brutishness, but there’s one downside to the bombproof construction: it’s almost impossible to carry with one hand, and with the M17x R4 tipping the scales at a considerable 4.37kg, it isn’t a laptop we’d relish carrying about with any regularity.

That bulk, however, proves the perfect ally for the kind of high-end gaming components secreted within, leaving plenty of room for sizeable internal heatsinks, large twin exhausts and a pair of internal 2.5in hard drive bays.

Those rear exhausts aren’t only for effect, either – they provide the quad-core processor and mobile GPU each with its own dedicated cooling, so temperatures remain reasonable even when they’re both working flat-out.

With the GPU cooled by a triple heatpipe and the CPU by a dual heat-pipe arrangement, the Alienware brushes off the demands of all-day gaming effortlessly. The only downside is noise – push the CPU and GPU flat out with a combination of Prime 95 and the devilishly challenging FurMark, and both fans spin up to intrusive levels.

The Hardware

The powerhouse behind all this is Intel’s Ivy Bridge quad-core Core i7-3610QM processor. It’s a 45W CPU whose nominal 2.3GHz clock speed Turbo Boosts up to 3.3GHz. As with all the new Ivy Bridge parts, the Core i7-3610QM hosts a range of advances over the previous generation.

The die shrink to 22nm combines with Intel’s Tri-gate transistor technology to leave the processors providing even more performance per watt. The integrated GPU, meanwhile, has been upgraded to Intel HD Graphics 4000, which adds DirectX 11 support and an extra four execution units to bring the total up to 16.

Tasked with the challenge of our Real World Benchmarks suite, the new Ivy Bridge hardware teamed up with the M17x R4’s 64GB Samsung PM830 SSD to produce a scorching result of 0.94. By comparison, the Samsung Series 7 Gamer we reviewed earlier this year, powered by a 2.2GHz Sandy Bridge Core i7-2670QM, scored 0.84. It’s also only 6% slower than our reference desktop PC, powered by a Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K.

Alienware-M17x-R4 It’s a stunning achievement, and even more so when you consider the Alienware’s performance in the media encoding portion of our benchmarks, where it proved 3% quicker than the reference PC.

The CPU performance is undeniably impressive, but the Alienware doesn’t really get into its stride until gaming comes into the equation. Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 takes the reigns for everyday tasks, but the top-of-the-range AMD Radeon HD 7970M steps forward for games.

It’s a beast of a GPU: with 1,280 pixel shaders and 2GB of RAM at its disposal it tore through our Crysis benchmarks, pushing an average of 42fps with Crysis running at Full HD resolution and High quality. It wasn’t until we engaged Crysis’ Very High quality setting that the card dropped below 40fps, finishing with a final average of 35fps.

Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 architecture might pale in comparison to AMD’s top-end GPU, but it marks a solid improvement over Sandy Bridge’s HD Graphics 3000. With Crysis running at 1,366 x 768 and Low quality, Intel’s upgraded GPU managed an average of 43fps, 25% faster than its predecessor.

Upping the resolution to 1,600 x 900 and nudging Crysis up to Medium quality saw that drop to 22fps. Given that Ivy Bridge’s Crysis performance is almost on a par with AMD’s new Trinity platform, it’s certain that AMD is will have to work hard to remain price competitive.

If there’s one thing absent from the Alienware M17x R4, it’s any real sign of Ivy Bridge’s improved efficiency. The CPU certainly runs cool – we never saw the core temperatures exceed 83 degrees, even after running at 100% load for several hours – but the huge 17.3in display and high-performance components take their toll on battery life.

The M17x R4’s 90Wh battery ran dry after only 3hrs 2mins in our light-use test, and taxing the CPU flat-out with our looping Cinebench test saw the Alienware expire after only 1hr 10mins. We’ll have to wait for an Ivy Bridge Ultrabook, or a more down-to-earth laptop to see if Intel's new chip can really deliver on the battery life front.

The details

Sensible isn’t a word that features in Alienware’s vocabulary, though. Every ounce of the M17x R4 is being geared towards high-end gaming performance, and it hard isn’t to warm to such an extrovert character. Fire up one of the latest titles, such as Diablo 3, and the Alienware delivers a full-bodied, luscious experience.

Our model came with the Full HD 17.3in panel option, and while colours are a little cold, the 621:1 contrast ratio and 298cd/m2 maximum brightness are plenty enough to make games really pop off the screen.

Audio, meanwhile, is hugely refined by laptop standards. With Klipsch speakers firing out of the glowing front grilles, audio is crisp, detailed and underpinned by only enough bass to make us hesitate before reaching for the headphones.
In the core areas, the M17x R4 also has it nailed. The backlit keyboard has a delightful soft-touch feel under the finger, and the keys have plenty of travel and a cushioned break at the end of the stroke – it’s a pleasure to type on. In addition, while few gamers will ever need to use the touchpad, it’s equally good. The discrete buttons are a welcome sight, and the wide touch area provides lag-free cursor control and responsive two-fingered pinching and scrolling.

Look around the M17x R4’s huge chassis, and you’ll see acres of space for connectivity. With four USB 3 ports, HDMI 1.4, mini-DisplayPort, D-SUB, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader, an optical digital output, separate headphone and microphone jacks, and a dedicated headset output, there’s absolutely nothing lacking.

If there’s one minor quibble, it’s with the wireless – the single-band 802.11n Centrino chipset seems a little out of place on such a high-end laptop. We’d recommend shelling out the extra £15 for the killer Wireless-N upgrade with its triple stream and dual-band support.

Indeed, the sheer level of customisation on offer is astonishing. The base model starts at a reasonable sounding £1,300 inc VAT, and it’s easy to send the price soaring over the £2,000 mark by adding faster CPUs, dual hard drive setups, RAID arrays, SSD boot drives, swapping the AMD or Nvidia graphics, or upgrading to a 120Hz 3D-capable, Full HD display. As gaming laptops go, the Alienware M17x R4 is a pretty flexible beast.


Alienware’s M17x R4 is a heavyweight in every sense of the word. The Ivy Bridge processor delivers outstanding performance, the AMD Radeon HD 7970M is more than a match for the latest games and the gargantuan chassis just oozes quality from every port.

It isn’t cheap, but spend some time juidiciously sifting through the myriad customisation options and it’s possible to drop the price closer to the £1,500 mark. If you’re looking for a multimedia powerhouse to take the place of a bulky desktop PC, this Alienware machine is simply out of this world.

Author: Sasha Muller
PC Pro

HDTV Review : Panasonic TC-P50ST50

Panasonic-TC-P50ST50 Panasonic plasma HDTVs have a well-deserved reputation for producing very dark black levels, and the TC-P55ST50 continues that trend. The 55-inch plasma panel not only delivers inky blacks, it's out of the box color accuracy is outstanding too.  At $1,699.99 (list) it's not exactly a steal, but it's not quite as expensive as our reigning Editors' Choice plasma, last year's Samsung PN51D8000 ($2,299.99, 4 stars). The TC-P55ST50  is 3D ready, but it doesn't include glasses, which means you'll have to shell out upwards of $300 for active shutter 3D glasses for a family of four. You'll also pay more to run this set, since like many plasmas, it's not particularly energy efficient.

Editors' Note: This review is based on tests performed on the Panasonic TC-P55ST50, the 55-inch model in the same series. Besides the screen size difference, the $1,399.99 50-inch TC-P50ST50  is identical in features, and while we didn't perform lab tests on this specific model, we expect similar performance.

Design and Features

With the TC-P55ST50 Panasonic moves away from the glossy black bezel design used on earlier models, including the Panasonic P50GT30 ($1,199.99, 3.5 stars) we reviewed last year. This time around the panel is framed by dark gray bezels with a slice of clear trim around the outer edge. A silver brushed aluminum base complements the cabinet and gives the set a touch of elegance. The stand does a fine job of supporting the 61-pound cabinet, but it doesn't swivel.

Behind the right-hand bezel are power, channel, and volume controls and an input select button that doubles as a menu button when you press and hold it. The rear of the cabinet holds all of the I/O connections; three HDMI ports, two USB ports, and an SD card slot are vertically mounted and face left for easy access. Ethernet, TV/antenna, and digital audio out connections sit horizontally under a recessed space notched into the back panel. Here you'll also find a proprietary mini-component video input port for use with the included component dongle. It's odd that Panasonic only equips this model with three HDMI ports considering most HDTVs have four, and in the case of the Sharp Elite Pro-60X5FD ($5,999, 4 stars), five.

The 9-inch remote has 43 buttons and a four-way directional rocker with an Enter button. The main keys have red backlighting that makes them easy to identify in a dark room. The three main keys (Menu, Internet, and Viera Tools) are situated above the rocker assembly, while the number keys and player controls are at the bottom of the remote along with a Help key that launches a built-in user manual.

There's also a 3D button that lets you view 2D content in a simulated 3D mode. As I found with the Sharp Elite Pro-60X5FD , converted 3D picture quality isn't up to snuff compared with true made-for-3D image quality. You don't get the depth and clarity that true 3D offers, and there's a good deal of crosstalk. As with the P50GT30 , the P55ST50 does not include active shutter 3D glasses, so be prepared to part with an additional $80 per pair.

Image settings include five preset picture modes (Standard, Cinema, Custom, Vivid, Game) and your basics: Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, Sharpness, and Color Temperature. Panasonic's Pro settings allow you to adjust color space and set high and low white balance for reds, greens, and blues. Other Pro settings include panel brightness and gamma adjustment.

The Audio setting menu offers Bass, Treble, Balance, and Surround settings, as well as a volume leveler to keep those pesky commercials from blasting you out of your seat. The TC-P55ST50's 8-Train speaker system, consisting of eight mini domes and a slim but powerful subwoofer, provides a solid wall of sound with a good amount of bass, but the surround effect sounds thin.

Panasonic's selection of Web apps is top notch; streaming movie channels include Vudu, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant video, and CinemaNow, and you get Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and YouTube. Internet Sports channels include MLB, MLS, NBA, NHL, and Fox Sports. The Viera Market Connect menu offers plenty of free services as well as pay-for apps like Uno, Apple Muncher, and Let's Golf 2. And, there's a built-in Web browser.


I tested the TC-P55ST50 using images from the DisplayMate suite of HDTV diagnostic tests, SpectraCal's CalMAN software, and a CS-200 Chroma Meter. After a basic calibration the panel produced a nice dark black level reading of 0.02 cd/m2, but it could only manage a peak brightness of 85.45 cd/m2, which is tad darker than the P50GT30 (88.58 cd/m2) and quite dim compared with the Samsung PN51D8000 (244.92 cd/m2).

Out-of-the-box color accuracy was excellent. The panel practically hit the CIE (International Commission On Illumination) chromaticity coordinates for red, green, and blue on the nose, as shown in the CalMAN-generated diagram below. More importantly, the P55ST50 delivers an excellent picture; colors popped from the solid black background in the Seasonal Forests chapter of the BBC's Planet Earth Blu-ray, and shadow detail was outstanding in the darker Ocean Deep chapter. What's more, there was no evidence of the fringing effect that plagued the P50GT30. Off angle viewing was typical of a good plasma panel. There was no loss of luminance from an extreme side angle and colors remained bright and true.

3D performance was good, but not on a par with our Editors' Choice high-end LCD, the Sharp Elite Pro. I noticed some crosstalk while watching clips from IMAX Under The Sea 3D, but the artifacts were minor and didn't detract from the overall experience. Panasonic's glasses are lighter than most active shutter glasses, but aren't as comfortable as today's passive glasses, like the six pairs that come with the Editors' Choice Vizio M3D550KD ($1,429.99, 4 stars).

Plasma HDTVs aren't known for energy efficiency, and the P55ST50 is no exception. With Power Saving mode disabled, the set used 305 watts during my testing; that number dropped to 245 watts with it enabled. The P50GT30 averaged 225 watts, while the Samsung PN51D8000  used 105 watts in Standard mode. If energy efficiency is a deal breaker, consider an LED-backlit LCD model like the LG 55LM6700 ($2,299.99, 4 stars), which only consumed 67 watts.


The Panasonic P55ST50 is a tastefully designed 55-inch plasma HDTV that delivers very accurate colors, deep dark blacks, and wide off-angle viewing. Its $1,700 price tag is not unreasonable considering its performance, but you'll end up spending around $2000 if you need four pairs of 3D glasses. You don't get the brightness and superior image quality of the Samsung PN51D8000, but you do get a slightly bigger screen and a much smaller price tag.

PC Magazine

Friday, May 25, 2012

No Ice Cream Sandwich for Sony's Xperia Play

316658-sony-ericsson-xperia-play Sony confirmed today that it will not upgrade the Xperia Play, also known as the "PlayStation phone," to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

"After extensive in-house testing with our developer teams and working with our partners, we have concluded that a consistent and stable experience, particularly with gaming, cannot be guaranteed for this smartphone on Ice Cream Sandwich," Sony said in a Friday blog post. "Therefore, we will not make the Android 4.0 upgrade available for Xperia Play."

Sony said its decision was "verified" when developers, testers, and game content providers had the same feedback after using the ICS beta ROM for unlocked Xperia Play smartphones.

"Our priority has and always will be, to provide the best possible user experience on Xperia smartphones," Sony continued. "In this instance the ICS upgrade would have compromised stability, where we look to ensure a quality gaming experience with games optimized and developed for Xperia Play."

The news comes shortly after Sony published a blog post in which it outlined a list of reasons existing phone owners may not want to jump up to the sleek new interface of Ice Cream Sandwich.

The company is not totally avoiding ICS upgrades, however. The Xperia arc S, Xperia ray and Xperia neo V got Android 4.0.3 last month, and will soon be upgraded to Android 4.0.4. Other Xperia devices are also on track to get Android 4.0.4.

"The first smartphone to be upgraded will be Xperia S, starting from the end of June," Sonys said. "Then Xperia P will follow, whilst Xperia U will receive it a little later in Q3."

The Xperia arc, Xperia neo, Xperia mini, Xperia mini pro, Xperia pro, Xperia activem and Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman will also start receiving their updates next week.

PC Magazine

Canon EOS 650D coming in June - specs leaked

canon-eos-650d-coming-june-specs-0 Canon has been rather tardy with the release of its 2012 mid-level DSLR, the EOS 650D (Rebel T4i in the US and other regions). Its predecessors, the Canon EOS 600D and EOS 550D, were released in March 2011 and April 2010 respectively, but this year's spring has passed and there's still no sign of the new model.

It is believed, however, that Canon-ites won't need to wait much longer: sources claim its launch will be next month. As dedicated website Canon Rumours states: "An announcement is slated for June."

The same site has also heard some leaked specifications for the 650D, including the adoption of an 18-megapixel CMOS sensor that may or may not be the same as in last year's 600D. Also listed is a 9-point AF (again, the same as found on the 600D) and the very welcome continuous auto focus in live view and video recording modes.

Perhaps the most tantalising rumour is that the EOS 650D will come with a touchscreen LCD screen. After the superbly large one on the 550D and swivel version on the 600D, this comes as the next evolutionary step.

That's about all that's come out for now, but if the June announcement is correct, Pocket-lint fully expects the speculation to ramp up in volume over the next couple of weeks.


Smartphones with quad-core chips and 4G LTE coming soon

Quad-core processors have not yet been combined with 4G LTE in smartphones, but that could change soon.

Nvidia on Thursday said a quad-core Tegra 3 chip and a third-party LTE modem will be used in the Fujitsu Arrows X LTE phone, which will come to Japan in "summer." A company spokesperson could not provide a specific date, and further details of the smartphone were not immediately available.

Nvidia's own Icera 410 LTE modem was also approved for use on the AT&T wireless network in the U.S., paving the way for smartphones with quad-core chips and LTE modems.

Nvidia and Qualcomm are the only companies that offer a package of quad-core processors and LTE modems for smartphones, but the technologies have not yet been paired. For example, HTC's One X smartphone is offered with a quad-core processor in the non-LTE variant, but with a dual-core processor in the LTE variant. ZTE offers the Ascend D Quad smartphone with a quad-core processor, but the handset does not support LTE.

LTE will offer fast download speeds and quicker access to websites, and quad-core chips speed up smartphone performance. But there have been troubles matching the two technologies together, with one of the issues being smartphone battery life, said Jim McGregor, an industry analyst.

"When you add more cores, you should be able to do things faster and shut down cores. That's theoretically," McGregor said. "But the minute 4G kicks in, it's the same old theory: You run something faster, you're going to run out of power."

Some of those issues could be resolved as chip circuitry gets smaller and LTE modems are integrated in processors over the coming years, McGregor said.

Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon chips integrate 3G/4G inside the chip, and the company has said its quad-core chips will be used in LTE phones in the future. Nvidia's Icera 410 LTE modem isn't integrated, and a company spokesman said the part is best suited for tablets and clamshell devices. Nvidia's integrated Tegra processor with a CPU and modem is coming in 2013, and that chip will go into devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Smartphone chip supplier Texas Instruments has opted not to provide quad-core chips for smartphones because of cost and heat concerns.

PC Advisor