Collected Topics from 41,000 Feet

I'm somewhere over India right now on my way to a tour of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Jakarta over the next ten days. While there I'll be conducting training sessions for all types of Lenovo sellers, attending a blogger meeting, and also participating in a few press interviews. It's an aggressive schedule, but it suits me just fine. I brought along my Flipcam and SLR camera and I'll see if I can find any interesting items to share with you all. Today's post consists of unrelated thoughts each not long enough to justify its own blog entry.

SPILLS What got me thinking about a blog entry in the first place was that a Singapore Airlines flight attendant uncharacteristically spilled hot soup on me and my ThinkPad. Admittedly the spill wasn't much in volume – more of a big hot splash than anything. However a feature unique to ThinkPads saved me a lot of frustration – the pop-off keys on the keyboard. Cleaning out the remnants of the sticky liquid was much easier when I could remove and replace individual key caps.

UPDATED BLOG ENTRIES I updated two previous blog entries before I left on Saturday – the W700 and Switchable Graphics posts. The W700 has now achieved a Vista Experience Score of 5.9 for every performance subcategory. There is no way for it to score higher as Microsoft's current rating system maxes out at 5.9. The W700 is FAST, but you already knew that. The second update was to correct an error on my part. nVIDIA does in fact have switchable graphics technology. If you want more details on either of these, check out the previous posts. They've been annotated at the bottom to reflect the changes.

INTEL SOLID STATE DRIVES The new solid state HDD drives from Intel seem like they're going to perform quite nicely. Based on what I've read on the web, a lot of Intel's messaging seems to be around performance per watt. In other words, the drive should wake up, hit the throttle, and then slam the brakes to reenter low power mode as fast as possible. Is this a real benefit or marketing fluff? An SSD's power draw is already so low that saying something new is "20 percent more power efficient" (I made that number up) really isn't saying much. And will the proposed faster performance just make my processor seem that much more slow? I'm already waiting for my processor with my current generation Samsung drive. If I switched to a new Intel drive would I just be putting a 5.0L engine into a Honda Civic?

DRIVER UPDATES One of the things I did before leaving was to run ThinkPad System Update and update my drivers. Most of the stuff that updated didn't really need updating inasmuch as I wasn't experiencing any problems. So I accepted the default recommendations. BIOS. Fine, what the heck. UltraNav driver. Might as well. And so on. Access Connections is now @ version 5.0, and I don't really notice any difference on my XP system. Sadly, most of the updated functionality we provided in version 5 will only work on Vista. (If you're running Vista, it's a must have upgrade.) I was upset with the Presentation Director update as it deleted some of my carefully constructed schemes and renamed others. What a mess. Along these same lines, Access Connections also added a Verizon Wireless scheme when I already had one. I wish there was a user selectable "Stupid mode" and "Expert mode" for these utility updates. ThinkPad Power Manager also gets a major face lift and functionality upgrade – if you're running Vista. But even if you're running XP, there's a cool new feature called Dynamic Brightness Control. It saves power by decreasing screen brightness in situations where it doesn't matter, such as boot/shutdown, when your screen saver is running, or when you've locked your system. What most people will not stop to consider is the energy saving implications when running on AC power. To badly mangle a famous quote: A million watts here and a million watts there and pretty soon you're talking about real money. I don't see any downside in using this feature. Just go get it and start using it.

WIDESCREEN DISPLAYS Judging from continuing forum traffic, screen aspect ratios are still a pervasive issue. There are still a vocal minority of people who have not accepted widescreen displays. Longtime readers of this blog already know that I've lamented the demise of the 4:3 aspect ratio panel. We live in a vertical computing world where content is best digested top to bottom, and thus on a taller and narrower display, i.e 4:3. The display panel industry has completely forced PC manufacturers' collective hands and made us go widescreen on all of our product lines. Any 4:3 ratio displays you see today will quickly disappear not to be seen again. The pain isn't finished yet. There is another shift on the horizon – the shift from 16:10 displays to a 16:9 ratio display. Manufacturers have less waste when they cut their big LCD glass sheets into certain shapes. Since they are also making glass for LCD televisions in a very low margin industry, it only makes sense from their points of view to make the aspect ratio consistent and push towards a 16:9 aspect ratio world. Unfortunately, what's better for your television is not better for your notebook PC. This shift will again make display screens more rectangular, shorter, and squatter. Thanks to Mark Hopkins for the prompting on this issue.

THINKPAD KEYBOARD CHANGES And finally – the updated T series keyboards. Yes, there is quite a visible change when you pull the keyboards off of a ThinkPad T400 system and look underneath. However, I have seen some data from our ThinkPad Engineering team that shows that the keyboards still have the same strength as the previous generation. There is no reason for me to doubt these data points nor the veracity of those engineers. I'd like to see some of our naysayers participate in a double blind study to see if they really can feel a difference. Otherwise this is just a tempest in a teapot. Just because it seems horrible doesn't mean it necessarily is. Maybe if we had proactively marketed the change as reducing weight without impacting strength we might have been able to promote this positively. There's probably a corporate lesson here.