by March 10, 2007 0 comments

Very fast paced developments are happening in the space of technologies that
empower a notebook user to perform more tasks in a lesser time and using lesser
energy. And these technologies also include a higher degree of data reliability
and system stability into notebooks than is available on a standard desktop.
Some of these are of course re-invented names and marketing gimmicks, but there
are some fascinating new technologies included in every new notebook available
today and we take a tour through some of them.

There are three technologies that power LCD screens: transmissive (suitable for
indoors), reflective (for outdoors) and transflective (mostly outdoor). All LCD
displays use a polarizing film to filter light. The type of film used, can vary
the quality of display as well as how the display performs under different
lighting conditions. A rough matte finish, common to traditional LCDs, will
bounce light off in all directions causing problems with the image’s brightness
tending to the user’s eyes.

LCD technologists are using a chemically treated smooth-finish matte
polarizer now to counter this problem and produce better and brighter displays.
These new LCDs are called ‘anti-reflective’ screens.

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HP/Compaq’s BrightView, Sony’s XBRITE and Toshiba’s TruBright are all
anti-reflective screens. Anti-reflectives have been around since 2003 on
Japan-made notebooks. Such displays are said to have the best and most crisp
pictures with wider viewing angles (that’s a great plus for LCD screens). You
can make out an anti-reflective screen from their glossy appearance and very
bright displays when you turn them on for the first time-software or hardware
controls need to be used to set them to appropriate viewing brightness.

Power savings
Savings in electrical power used by the notebook are of great benefit to
notebook users. One of the ways that notebooks save power is by stepping down
the power consumption of the CPU depending on how much of it is being used.

This technology was central to processors for the mobile line up (Pentium M,
Celeron M and the Intel Centrino platform). Now with two cores in your notebook
instead of one, you don’t want to suddenly double your power consumption!
Thankfully, the updated version of CPU Stepping within Core 2 processors from
Intel features an advanced power management technique.

Samsung’s 32 GB solid
state drive is NAND Flash driven and works through a PATA interface. SATA
versions of the drive are expected soon

For instance, in the older processors only some parts of the CPU could be
turned off, since there was only one processing core and more than one task
would be running all the time. But with two cores on the die, it is possible
that an entire core is idle and it can be fully switched off. In the same way,
many areas inside the core can also be turned off. For this, the updated CPU
programming language introduces many more CPU power states that the OS can use
to command parts of the processor to turn off, depending on the load it expects
to put on it.

Compute power
In line with the increments in the number of processing cores, notebooks can be
very powerful today. We use the phrase ‘can be’ for a reason.

Simply having two 64-bit cores in your notebook (like with an Athlon X2) does
not instantly guarantee you superior compute-power. You need several things to
go with that, not the least of which is 64-bit drivers and OS to run it with.
Then, your applications must need 64-bit processing to run better.

Otherwise, it is just overkill. That aside, consider what is available in the
market. The latest CPU to get off the blocks is the Intel Quad Core (QC). Though
we are yet to see a QC notebook, the potential to have four computing cores in
your notebook, along with the ability to supplement it with a good graphics
system, like the Nvidia GoForce 8800 GTX (if such a model ever becomes
available) is too good a deal. For now, a dual core system is the best bet if
you want value for money.

Hard disks
About two years ago, the first solid state hard drives meant for notebooks and
other mobile computers made an appearance. The first one was from
Samsung and boasted a capacity of 32 GB. This came in two form factors: 1.8 inch
and 2.5 inch.

The Centrino Duo platform
for dual-core Intel notebook processors includes additional power states to
control and switch electrical state for each core individually

These disks used SLC (Single Level Cell) and MLC (Multi Level Cell) NAND
Flash technology. The speeds of these drives are currently 57 MB/s read and 32
MB/s write with a 1ms latency. Using SSDs (Solid State Drives) like these, one
can expect lower power consumption in mobile computers as well as completely
avoiding damage or loss due to vibration and shocks. It also reduces the size
and weight of the unit compared to a conventional hard drive of similar speed
and capacity. The current Samsung SSDs are PATA based and SATA versions are
expected soon. SanDisk has also introduced 32 GB 1.8-inch versions of SSDs, and
claim to boot Vista in as fast as 35 seconds.

An HHD (Hybrid Hard Disk) is a combination of conventional magnetic hard-disk
technology with Flash-based cache to provide both long term and longer-short
term storage. The HHD has a non-volatile compact-flash cache 128 to 256 MB
buffer that can be accessed faster than conventional volatile cache memory when
the disk is powered on. The larger cache (conventional HDDs have a cache of 16
MB or less) allows for more data to be accessed faster, reducing power
consumption as well as HDD wear and tear. In HHDs, data is read from and written
to the cache memory rather than the magnetic part till the file is finally
closed, or the cache fills up and the disk logic removes less used content back
to the disk. Vendors can also ‘pin’ applications or data to the Flash (making
sure they are protected from erasure) letting them come up faster. Windows Vista
includes a new technology called ‘ReadyDrive’ to take advantage of such
features, letting the system resume from a hibernated state from cache memory
rather than the hard disk. As of now, HHDs will work only with Vista. HHDs are
scheduled to ship as you read this. This doesn’t mean traditional hard disks are
vanishing. Vendors are now upping the ante with capacity battles with a flurry
of high-capacity releases over the past year. The last time we checked, notebook
HDDs could hold 300 GB of data in a 2.5 platter, with the honors going to

Data protection
Three technologies stand out of the cloud when it comes to mobile data
protection-EC2, TPM and anti-shock hard drives. Anti-shock is now standard fare
on quite a lot of branded notebooks from the likes of Lenovo and HP. Air-bag
cushions guard the hard drive from shocks and violent movement while sensors
park the drive heads to prevent physical damage.

TPM is old and has been talked about a lot. There is a chip on the system’s
motherboard that contains a private key and this is used to encrypt all content
on the system’s hard disks. You remove the drive and it becomes useless anywhere
else. If you try to debug the chip to get the key out, it blows up in defense.

EC2 is from HCL and works on the same lines as other snapshot-based
data-recovery systems. There are two forms of EC2 available, one requires
hardware and the other is just software. The hardware version is available only
on HCL notebooks and desktops, requiring the bundled EC2 software to take a
snapshot as well as recover data. The USP is that EC2 takes just a few seconds
to snapshot an 80 GB hard disk with a reasonable amount of data, and it can
restore everything back to the last snapshot in less than a minute! Snapshots
are taken of the raw hard disk and are independent of any hard disk partitions
created. When data goes corrupt or you end up with a system that just does not
work, reboot and just after the POST screen, hit the key to start the EC2
Recovery Console. The types of loss it can deal with include deleted files,
corrupted files, deleted or corrupted registry entries, deleted and formatted
disk partitions, unbootable systems. EC2 cannot currently protect systems with
more than one physical hard disk. It can also not protect externally connected
storage like USB disks and DAS (Direct Attached Storage) at your systems.

Several kinds of biometric security are available for notebooks
today-finger-print, face recognition, retina scanners and even palm vein
scanning. Finger print recognition is nothing new. Face recognition and retina
scanners work using a standard (though plus 1.3 Mega-pixel would be preferable)
Web camera that’s attached to the notebook to. Software on the notebook will
attempt to locate key points in the photograph taken by the Web cam and match it
with previously stored photographs. But, this is only as reliable as the
lighting conditions and software quirks as we found when
reviewing the Lenovo 3000 Y500 (in the Reviews in this issue) with face
recognition abilities. Similarly, the size of the eye can affect how well a
retina scan works for granting access to a notebook. Palm vein scanning is yet
another tool of Biometrc security that aims to be better than the rest. While
inconsistencies in face recognition, retinal scan and finger printing have been
discovered, palm vein scanning is by far the safest.

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