Hardware

Introducing $149 Chromebook Laptop Computers

I have often written “the price of hardware keeps dropping” and that has never been more true than today. This morning, Microsoft announced a new 1.37 pound Surface 3 tablet with Windows 8.1 selling for $499. (See my earlier article at http://goo.gl/OZoWk4 for details.) A few hours later Google announced that two companies will soon sell Chromebook laptop computers for $149 each. That is a very attractive price for a full-sized laptop computer that can run tens of thousands of programs!

Today’s announcement of $149 Chromebooks is only going to make these systems more popular. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of youngsters found Chromebooks under the Christmas tree later this year. Quite a few adults may do the same.

Developed by Google but manufactured by a number of different companies, a Chromebook is a laptop computer for yourself, a child, a grandchild, or for an adult with limited or no computer experience. These low-cost systems also have become very popular in schools and in corporations where dozens, even hundreds, of computers need to be made available in identical configurations. As of last July, Google boasted it had sold more than a million Chromebook units to schools the previous quarter alone. System maintenance costs on Chromebooks are almost zero, much cheaper than the cost of maintaining a large number of Windows computers.

Microsoft Announces Surface 3 Tablet Computer with a Full Version of Windows 8.1 for $499

Microsoft today announced a new 1.37 pound Surface 3 tablet with Windows 8.1, available in May for a starting price of $499. It will run a full version of Windows 8.1 and should be capable of running any Windows genealogy program available today. With the 1.37 pound Surface 3 tablet, you should be able to carry your favorite Windows genealogy program and your entire database with you. Best of all, the battery will last for an entire day of constant use. I suspect this new tablet computer will drastically cut into the sales of iPads and Android tablets. However, the Surface 3 tablet won’t be available until some time in May.

Update: Want a Cheap Laptop? Add a Keyboard to an iPad or Android Tablet Computer

Yesterday I published a Plus Edition article of (+) The PC and the Macintosh are Dying. Several newsletter readers posted comments about how they felt that the “keyboards” of tablet computers are insufficient for daily use. Actually, there is a simple and effective solution, one I have been using for about two years.

I am republishing an article I wrote last April that shows how easy it is to add a good keyboard to an iPad, an Android tablet, or even to a cell phone. I never take my iPad with me without the Logitech keyboard. Both slip into the same carrying case that also protects against scratches or other damage from dropping the devices.

Many people own and love their tablet computers. I have an Pad Mini and it has become my primary traveling computer. I hear similar statements from owners of various Android tablets as well. As useful as these tiny powerhouses may be, they are still seriously hampered by the lack of a keyboard. The solution? Add a keyboard!

Many people own and love their tablet computers. I have an Pad Mini and it has become my primary traveling computer. I hear similar statements from owners of various Android tablets as well. As useful as these tiny powerhouses may be, they are still seriously hampered by the lack of a keyboard. The solution? Add a keyboard!

iPad with Logitech Keyboard

That suggestion is obvious. Adding an external high quality keyboard converts a tablet computer into a reasonably-priced laptop computer. Perhaps it should be called a netbook.

Paperspace: Your Computer in the Cloud

Would you like to obtain a fancy new, powerful computer with all the latest bells and whistles and even including nearly unlimited storage space? The new computer will run 3D CAD, rendering, simulations and photo and video editing as well as all of the other programs that are less demanding of computer power.

If so, would you be willing to pay $10 a month for it plus a broadband Internet connection? If so, read on.

Back Up Your Hard Drive to a 256-Gigabyte Flashdrive

Flashdrives (also called thumbdrives or data sticks or USB drives or a variety of other names) are amongst the handiest devices available for a computer owner. Now the capacity of thumbdrives is increasing and the prices are decreasing. Where have we heard that before in the computer industry?

A flashdrive is a small piece of equipment used to store and transfer information for computers using a USB connection. You can use a flash drive to store music, photos or other documents. Flashdrives are also frequently used to transfer files from one computer to another (sometimes called “sneakernet”) and also to make backup copies of information storied on a desktop or laptop computer.

Early flashdrives would store less than a gigabyte of data but things change quickly in the computer business. Storage capacities have grown rapidly over the years. Today, you can even purchase flashdrives with one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes or 1,000,000 megabytes) of storage space although at astronomical prices. See http://goo.gl/bxxDn2 for one high-priced example.

If a computer user can settle for less storage space, prices become enticing.

Microsoft Reduces Prices and Offers a Trade-in Program for the Surface Pro 3

I own one of the original Microsoft Surface RT tablet computers, purchased in 2012. It was a disaster. It has a great display screen but a rather poor keyboard. Worst of all, it doesn’t run the normal version of Windows. Instead, it runs a variant called Windows RT that looks like Windows 8 but will not run normal Windows 8 programs. A few programs created by Microsoft were converted to Windows RT and were included with the tablet computer. However, most other software vendors ignored Windows RT. There were no genealogy programs available for Windows RT.

The Microsoft Surface RT tablet computer turned out to be the Edsel of my computer collection: I dabbled with it for a few days and then buried it in the back of the closet.

I must admit, however, that Microsoft apparently has learned from its earlier Edsel, uh… Surface RT tablet. Microsoft brought out newer models every few months and each one had significant improvements over the previous version. The latest Surface Pro 3 actually is a very nice and useable system.

HP Stream 7 Signature Edition Windows 8.1 Tablet Computer for $79

Rick Broida’s excellent Cheapskate Blog at http://goo.gl/8wzrQx today has an article about a bargain computer that will appeal to many people, genealogists and non-genealogists alike. Ignore the first part of the article about a Lenovo laptop and scroll down to the brief mention of the HP Stream 7 Signature Edition tablet available for $79, including shipping charges. Regular price: $99. This 7-inch tablet computer weighs less than one pound and yet runs the full version of Windows 8.1, the same as what you might run in your desktop or laptop computer.

This tiny tablet computer should be able to run the full version of RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Builder, AncestralQuest, Family Historian, Heredis for Windows, and most other genealogy programs designed for the Windows operating system.

Use a Book Stand as an Effective and Cheap Holder for a Tablet Computer or eReader

I love digital ebooks. I rarely purchase books printed on paper any more. I carry more than 150 books with me when I travel. (Try doing that with paperbacks!) My books are all stored in my tablet computer. I also watch television programs when at home on the same tablet. Sometimes I watch sporting events or news broadcasts when seated on the front porch or watch late night television when lying in bed.

There is but one problem: I find it difficult to hold the tablet computer in my hands for an extended period of time. I get tired of holding it. Luckily, I found a cheap and effective solution: a book stand.

Want a Cheap Linux Computer? Buy a Chromebook!

I have written often about Chromebook computers. See http://goo.gl/E1lj16 for a list of my earlier articles concerning Chromebooks. I have one of the early Chromebook models and use it often. Most Chromebooks sell for $200 to $300 and yet meet all the needs of many computer users. Early Chromebooks were limited to running cloud-based applications that required an Internet connection all the time. However, the programmers continue to add new features and now you can perform many tasks offline when using the Chrome operating system. (See https://support.google.com/chromebook/answer/3214688?hl=en for details.)

Technically-savvy users have also been able to reformat the hard drives and install Linux almost since the day the first Chromebook appeared. However, a new method of installing Linux allows both the Chrome operating system and a full version of Linux to run simultaneously. Linux will operate in a window within the Chrome operating system. Not bad for a cheap computer!

Start the New Year with a Clean Windows PC

Here is a great suggestion for Windows users:

“Undo a year’s worth of wear and tear

“Consider what your PC has been through in the past 12 months: Windows Update added dozens of patches to your operating system; you’ve likely installed some new third-party software, uninstalled other programs, and upgraded or patched apps and utilities; and you’ve probably altered, tuned, and tweaked various aspects of your system’s user interface and software settings. And you’ve undoubtedly created and deleted myriad new emails, documents, photos, MP3s, videos, spreadsheets, and such.

“All during that time, your hard drive spun hundreds of millions of revolutions and the system fans rotated for hundreds of hours. Heat, dust, and chemical degradation did their inevitable damage, reducing the remaining physical life of your system’s components. In short, just as we’re a year older, our PCs are not the same machines they were a year ago.

Windows 8 Laptops for $200

I have written recently about low-priced tablet computers running Windows 8.1. These are obviously available at that price because Microsoft recently slashed Windows’ license fees that are charged to vendors. Now even full-sized laptops are available at prices not seen before: $199.

To be sure, these are low-end laptops. They aren’t very fast, have mediocre video, and limited storage space. Still, a Windows 8 computer for $199 is going to appeal to a lot of people, especially during the holiday season. While I haven’t tested them myself, I believe these low-priced laptops are capable of running every Windows genealogy program available today as well as thousands of other programs.

A Portable and Secure Hard Drive that you can Slip into your Pocket

The Western Digital My Passport Ultra is a portable drive that you can slip into your shirt pocket. Best of all, it features 256-bit hardware encryption and integrated local and cloud backup solutions that allow you to make use of your Dropbox account to create a an additional backup. It is one of the better devices available today for making backups and for carrying your information with you. From a privacy viewpoint, the Western Digital My Passport Ultra is a great portable hard drive that has the capability to encrypt everything on the drive to keep it safe from prying eyes in case it is lost or stolen.

Apple 1 Computer Sells for Record US$905,000

Click on the above image to view a larger version

In the October 8, 2014, newsletter I wrote, “Here is a Chance to Own a Piece of Computer History: an Original Apple 1 Computer.” I wrote about a History of Science auction at Bonhams New York here an original Apple 1 computer was to be sold. Auction officials expected to attract bids between US$300,000 and $500,000. They were wrong.

The computer sold for US$905,000, becoming the most expensive Apple computer ever sold.

Details may be found at http://www.gizmag.com/apple-1-computer-sold/34422.

The Recent Growth of Chromebooks: Right For You?

I have written often about Chromebooks, the low-cost competitor to Windows and Macintosh laptop computers. (My earlier Chromebook articles can be found by starting at http://goo.gl/LoScjt.) I purchased one of the first Chromebooks and still use it often. As Mark Spoonaur writes in Laptop Magazine:

Whether it’s because of their very affordable prices or an aversion to Windows 8′s complexity, more and more shoppers are buying Chromebooks. There are some valid reasons to choose a Chromebook over a Windows machine, including a very intuitive interface (it’s largely browser based), a lack of upgrade headaches, and less worrying about malware. And while Chromebooks have limited offline capability, there’s a growing number of apps that work without a Wi-Fi connection.

In fact, sales of desktop and laptop computers have been declining in the past few years; but ABI Research found that, in the most recent quarter, Chromebook shipments increased by 67 percent, quarter over quarter. The research company expects that, year over year, Chromebooks shipments will double. (Details may be found at http://goo.gl/dT2nBb.) ABI Research Analyst Stephanie Van Vactor made a statement that “Consumers are hungry for a product that is cost effective but also provides the versatility and functionality of a laptop. The growth of the Chromebook market demonstrates a niche that is gaining traction among consumers.”

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Portable Scanner

One of the most useful, low-cost gadgets is an affordable, foldable, quick setup, photography lightbox. The StandScan Snap can digitize business receipts, documents of all sorts, photographs, jewelry, coins, or even items you wish to sell online. By using a large-screen television of a computer projector, it can even be used to project live demonstrations using small objects with an iPhone’s Airplay or similar software on an Android phone.

The Standscan Snap is a foldable lightbox made from a high-quality recycled laminated card stock. It is easy to put together as the various tabs snap into place. There is no software to download, no drivers to install, and no cables to connect. You can begin using StandScan Snap within seconds of opening the box. Simply snap the frame into place, switch the lights on and start shooting.

The Standscan Snap folds up at any time and easily fits into a laptop carrying bag, making it great for traveling. Best of all is the price: $34.95.

Here is a Chance to Own a Piece of Computer History: an Original Apple 1 Computer

Click on the above picture to view a larger version.

The upcoming History of Science auction at Bonhams New York could provide fine opportunities for investments in rare collectibles, including a 1976 Apple 1 motherboard. According to Bonhams, around 200 Apple 1 computers were built and were the first pre-assembled personal computers to hit the market. This particular model is believed to be part of a first batch of 50 and was sold for US$666.66 at the time. It is said to be in working order and, complete with vintage keyboard, Sanyo monitor and owner’s manual, is expected to attract bids between US$300,000 and $500,000.

HP Stream Laptops and Tablets will provide Windows on a Budget

I have written often about Chromebooks, the low-cost laptops that boot quickly, never get viruses, and provide the functionality that most computer users want. These lower-powered computers typically sell for $200 to $300. They need to be connected to the Internet to run most programs although there are a number of exceptions.

Chromebooks have been selling like hotcakes. Amazon publishes a list of the company’s 100 best-selling laptop computers at http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Computers-Accessories-Laptop/zgbs/pc/565108. As I write these words, Chromebooks are the third, sixth, twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth most popular laptops on the list. I stopped looking after #15.

HP obviously has been paying attention to sales numbers. I suspect HP’s sales of Windows laptops has been dropping due to competition from Chromebooks. (HP also makes Chromebooks but I suspect the profit margins on Chromebooks have been slim.) Now the company has announced its own line of low-cost laptop and tablet computers that run Windows 8.1, apparently designed to compete with Chromebooks.

The new tablet computers start at $100 and $150 respectively, and will run full Windows 8.1, not Android or iOS. The 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch notebooks are priced at $200 and $230.

Zuta, the Tiny Printer that Fits in a Briefcase or in Your Pocket

I travel a lot. Of course, I always take along a laptop computer. …and a tablet computer … and a cell phone. I use them often while traveling and occasionally have a need to print something. Of course, packing a printer in the suitcase is close to impossible these days. To be sure, there are a few compact printers that are advertised as “portable” but I have always found them lacking. They are either a bit too big and bulky or else they print slowly or only on special paper that feels “waxy” and rubs off on your fingers. In short, I have never found a portable printer that I wanted to carry with me… until now.

Zuta is a tiny printer that is entering production now. It is expected to ship in January or soon after and will have a price tag of about $240. To be sure, it will be a slow printer at 1.2 pages per minute but it is compact, not much bigger than a softball. You won’t use the Zuta to print a book but it should work great whenever you need to print two or three pages. It will print on normal paper as used in almost all other inkjet printers.

Chromebooks vs. Windows Laptops: What Should You Buy?

I have written often about the advantages of Chromebooks when compared to Windows systems. (See my past Chromebook articles by starting at http://goo.gl/nz9UMN.) Now Laptop Magazine has published a side-by-side comparison by Anna Attkisson of Chromebooks versus Windows. If you are considering the purchase of either a Windows or Chromebook laptop, you will want to read the article.

Attkisson compares the following:

Are DVDs and CDs Disintegrating?

There have been a number of articles in this newsletter and elsewhere in genealogy publications about long-term storage of magnetic and optical media. Many of us are concerned about the life expectancy of CD-ROM and the newer DVD-ROM disks. Tina Sieber writes in the MakeUseOF web site, “While estimations predict a life time of up to 200 years for optical discs, we can never be sure when they are really going to break. However, by being aware of what determines the life span of optical discs and what causes them to break, you can make choices and significantly increase the survival time of your stored data.”

Tina describes music on CD and movies on DVD disks, but her comments apply equally to computer data stored on DVD-ROM disks.

You can read her article at http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/cds-truth-cddvd-longevity-mold-rot/.

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