Project Prodigy.

Besides wanting a new Laptop, I've craved for a new Desktop PC. Particulary a Mac Pro, but in all honestly, a Mac Pro is too impractical for me... Budget primarly, but also I just don't need that kind of hardware. I do however love the design, the handles for one, but also the Hard Drive managment. And just how damn quiet they are too.


In the last month, I have been dabbling with an Upgrade my Desktop PC... I was running:

2.4 ghz Core 2 Quad Q6600

X48 Chipset P5E-Deluxe MB.

8 GB DDR2 800

3, 500 GB Seagate Drives in a RAID 5 Array

Saphire 6850 Pro (The graphics card wall about the only thing I'd really upgraded in the last few years.)

All of which were housed in a ThermalTake Mozart VE1000SWA which is a Refridgerator of Case.




I recently purchased a SuperMicro MicroATX Server Board that ran Dual 2.5 GHZ (Socket 771) Quad Core Xeon CPUs (non-hyperthreading), I also purchased 16GB ECC DDR2.

I ran into several problems with board, for starters, despite it being the size of MicroATX Board, no case was was really designed for it to be be mounted inside (CPUs are one the right edge of the board where RAM is typically located on a MicroATX Board), only about 4 of the mounting screws would even line up. Also, while the board did have a 16x PCI-X slot, it lacked on board sound, luckily the board had one legacy PCI slot and I had an old Sound Blaster X-fi lying around.

This would have all been fine and dandy, except when I finally got around to mounting it all into my ThermalTake Mozart 1000 Case, I ran into problems. (I have mounted the Board and components into another Chasis previously to test it all out, and didn't run into any problems, but once in the Mozart everything changed. The machine would take incredibly long to post (like 3 minutes) Also it wouldn't use


my 6850 Graphics card, it kept using the onboard VGA controller. After several reboots, I noticed the CMOS kept reseting, and all of the BIOS configs kept going to default.


At this point, I cut my losses, I decided I should this server board as a server, and not a new Desktop. So I moved the board into a rack mount Chasis and am planing on building a new ESXi server once I have some spare Hard Drives.


Well, I had already purchased a 120GB Kingston HyperX SATA 6 SSD and a Hitachi 1TB HD for this new Desktop, but I didn't have a Desktop for them to go in. For a while now I'd been following Bitfenix's launch of a New ITX Case called Prodgiy. The case while relatively small, was really designed with the gamer/enthusiat in mind, while sporting numerous HD bays and several fan/water cooling mounts. It also has a little design theivery from the Mac Pro in the Handles on both top and bottom of the case.

I've loved the ITX movement for a while, I've built several ITX boxes as well as Shuttle XPCs which use similar boards. Infact before going to the gigantic Thermaltake Mozart Case  I used a Shuttle SK43G AMD PC as my primary Desktop.


I have been planing on buying the Bit Fenix case for a while, just to be a side project I would build, as I had time. Well my failures with the Xeon Supermicro Board, prompted me to speed up that project and build this PC:




This is my Prodigy PC. Here are Specs:

Bitfenix Prodigy White Steel ITX Case

ASRock H77M-ITX  MotherBoard

Intel Core i7-3770 Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz CPU

16GB (2 X8GB) Corsair Vengence DDR3 1600 RAM

Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S3/120G 2.5" 120GB SATA III SSD


And parts I salvaged from the old Mozart PC:

CoolerMaster 700W Powersupply



Here are the Windows Experience Ratings in Windows 7:



Not too shabby! I'm posting this on the new machine and I'm really impressed with the size of the case, and the Power of the IVY-Bridge CPU. I'm also looking forward to giving USB 3.0 a whirl. Only thing I'm not crazy about is that the MB is a little tight to work on (yeah I know, it's ITX) but I also didn't like the lack of Case Fan Power Taps on the mainboard, which prompted me to plug in the intake Fan to a a legacy HD connector, which it turn prompted to plug a legacy Power cable into the modular PSU.

Also ATX Motherboard Power cables are just too stiff to get really good cable routing in a PC this small. That said, the air flow is still amazing, and the PC is very quiet. Maybe not a silent killer like a Mac Mini or Mac Pro, but on Par with any Shuttle.

This might be true of the Black version of the Prodigy case, and it's front panel is a grated vent like the Mac Pro. I opted for the white to cut down on the dust on the front panel as it's a solid peice of plastic rather than a grate.


A ton of X230 Reviews have come out today.

There had been a trickle of early reviews. Which weren't allowed to cover the CPU as Intel was embargoing stories about the Laptop CPU IVy Bridge Processors.


The embargo lifted today and of course full reviews of the Lenovo X230 one of the First laptops to use this new CPU hit the Web.


Engadget's Review here:


While I haven't big a huge fan of Engadget of late, this review is pretty good. Most notably is there test of the battery which they found to be slightly less performing than last year's X220. They do make a few mistakes like not having Video, and also claiming there was no USB 3.0 option for the X220.


Mobile Tech Review  

This is probably the best review of the bunch. Video is here, Covering the Keyboard, the Back light, but even more impressively they game on the X230! Demoing Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and Call of Duty. While I would have loved to see them play Diablo 3 or StarCraft 2, you really can't fault them because they actually showed off probably the biggest feature of the new Ivy Bridge line of CPUs the new Integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset embed in the Ivy Bridge CPU.


Great Text review, has a bunch of great pictures comparing the X230 to the X220. Also they tested taking the X220's Keyboard and putting it on an X230. While most keys worked, there were some weird mapping issues with Functions keys and the delete key.

They also did a first thoughts review here:

This included some good videos.  




Oh where to start. I just don't understand why they let Scott Stein review Thinkpad laptops, it's clear he hates them. First off, he claims the machine is bulky... And in the Video claims it "weighed him down in his backpack." Seriously? The machine only weighs around 3 lbs! (are you that weak?)  What he really means is compared to an Ultrabook. Sure Scott, it's hefty compared to an Ultrabook, but considering that it has a removable Battery, a ton more ports then most Ultrabooks on the market, and a swappable HD bay. I'm not sure why he is even bothering to make the comparison. Also Lenovo isn't trying to put this machine in the Ultrabook category. They left that for the New X1 Carbon.


  Also he is still critical of the Track Point mouse. Scott it wouldn't be a Thinkpad without the Track point, get over it!


 It’s clear to me that CNET and Stein truly believe there reader/viewer ship to be strictly consumer masses and not Geeks.  What ircks me is that CNET has another Laptop reviewer that is far more fair minded, Dan Ackerman. While Ackerman still reviews acknowledging that the Audience is less geek and more consumer. His reviews of Thinkpads are far less harsh than Stein.




Why am I being more critical of CNET for basing their review towards consumers? Well let's face facts; Most consumers will never go near a Thinkpad:




A) They are rarely sold in retail stores like Best Buy, Microcenter, or even Office supply stores like Staples; Office Max or Office Depot. You really can only get them via Lenovo's website or through calling them. A few different configurations will show up on New Egg and TigerDirect, but that's about the only other place you can get them.


B) CNet's Scott Stein will point this out alot but honestly unless you are a Thinkpad fan you probably only get a Thinkpad if issued one from the IT department. Fair enough, but why even bother with the review if you believe your Audience to be consumers and not geeks?




My Review:



 I don't have an X230 in my hands so I can't really give a full review but here's what I'll say:


1) It's a Thinkpad, the classic keyboard is gone, and that's a real concern for diehard fans. But from most of the reviews, it's not too bad and it's probably worth taking a look at (if you can find one to play with). It's a business professional class PC, it has more ports than any Ultrabook, you can swap the battery and the HD.


2) Lenovo charges far too much for this laptop. While the Ultrabook comparison may be unfair, it's something to consider when Laptops with SSDs are coming out at less than $1,000 and the HDD version of the X230 starts over a $1,000. Lenovo isn't Apple and should stop charging as much as them.


3) Why isn't there a higher Screen Resolution option? Sure the IPS panel option is a nice. But Lenovo has really shied away from offering better screen options on Notebooks with under 14" LCDs. My X61 tablet has a higher resolution screen and it uses an older 4:3 Aspect ratio. With Laptops like the Asus Zenbook UX31 and HP Envy Spectre touting 1600x900 panels. It really shouldn't be hard for Lenovo to offer a higher resolution option in this form factor.


4) Ivy Bridge is why you would buy this machine. The X220 is on clearance sale right now. And you can and will be be able to the get them cheaper (under $800) for the next few months. Sure you probably won't be getting USB 3.0 (unless you can find that option) or that fancy new keyboard, you will be getting a solid laptop. Ivy Bridge's real advantages lie in the graphics performance and for casual gaming the X230 will deliever far over the X220. Ivy Bridge also allows for a 16 GB Memory configuration on the X230.




I'm still on the fence about what Laptop I'll be upgrading to this year, the X230 will be in the running.


More Windows 8 Thoughts: Why can’t it look like this?

Windows Blogger Paul Thurrott recently posted two very interesting concepts for changing the look of the Desktop and Metro UI’s in Windows 8. I found both of these ideas very appealing, as I have stated before I am not fan of the currently very poorly designed Metro/Desktop and their frustrating relationship with one another where I am constantly switching between them.


Let’s take a look.


Paul’s Original Idea:

(Shown here:



I really like concept. It's fuses Metro with the desktop in a way I can use it. While it some ways it reduces the live tiles to the Desktop gadgets of Vista and Windows 7. It still accomplishes the idea set out by Metro with Windows Phone. At a Glance-able UI. Almost like the Notifications area on cell phones this gives you the info you want quickly.

Also this doesn't nessecarly mean the the Full screen Metro tile UI is gone. It could still have a place on Tablets, but on Desktops this is far more user friendly.

In this concept Metro Apps still exist, but they don’t have to be full screen. This is another big plus to me, as I really don’t like how Metro Apps look on a 27” 2560x1400 Display. It seems ridiculous, one reason a person buys a monitor with high resolution or even buys multiple monitors is to have more desktop space to look at things side by side (or even more things at once)


I also really like the Paul is proposing the bring back of the Start menu.


Paul recently created a new concept after receiving a lot of comments and even some feed back from the Windows 8 team.


Microsoft’s central argument against my original design—they actually had several reasons—was that Metro-style apps and the desktop needed to be kept separate in order to retain Metro’s built-in security functionality. And in that design, I had Metro-styled tiles on the desktop and was asking about opening Metro apps right on the desktop.

Well, I have the solution. And it works just like Metro apps already work, while still providing access to useful live tiles from the desktop. Best of all, it uses standard Windows 8 screen sharing features.”

Here is Paul’s new concept:


(Shown here:


 While I’m not nearly as much a fan of this, as I was of his original idea. This is still better than what MS currently has shown in their Consumer preview. This update still allows for Metro to share the space with the desktop. And in a weird way is better accomplishes the fusion of Metro with the Start menu.

Metro apps stay full screen but can work with Start Menu like this:



This still feels more like a compromise. Microsoft really needs to get off their high horse of treating the Metro UI as this special consumer Development playground. Unless you can download phone apps into Metro and vice versa there really isn’t much of a point. Yes, Metro is pretty much the exclusive UI/Platform in Windows RT.  But again, who cares? I probably won’t be using Windows RT, why? Because I have an Ipad and a Windows Laptop. I don’t need a Windows Tablet. Microsoft, you were late to the game, and you aren’t going to catch up, move on already.



Windows 8: These are not the same thing….


I’ve been giving the Windows 8 Consumer Preview a good run through. I thought it best if I tested it on a device that had both a Keyboard and Mouse, but also a Multi-Touch Screen. So I’ve been using a Dell Inspiron Duo Netbook.

There are a lot of things I like about the new OS: Faster boot times (even with Hard drives), Booting Windows off a USB Drive, the New Copy/Paste Dialogue with Graph, and the new Task Manager. But there is also a lot I’m really disappointed with, and in some cases down right frustrated with.

The title of this blog post focuses on a recent issue I’ve had, but helps encompass my problem with Windows 8 on whole: Metro…

Metro is the new UI that started with early roots in the Zune, but became popular and matured in Windows Phone, continued on to Xbox 360 Dash board, and now replaces the Start menu in Windows.  Metro on the surface is an interface that emphasizes touch, by employing large Square icons (tiles). Tiles and content such as text also employ the idea that menu are looking at is too big for the screen so you must scroll from side to side to see all of your content or selections. Not a big deal right? Well if it stopped there we probably be fine.

The methodology behind Metro in the desktop OS is this: Bring a simple to use Mobile interface to the Desktop PC. This might be alright if all you want to do is check the Weather, play a game or write a simple email. Which to be fair Tablet  Slates’ like the Ipad or Android Tablet do pretty well already.


What’s frustrating is that behind the Metro interface still lies the power house that is the PC. And when Metro applications are merely dumbed down full screen counter parts to their desktop counterparts, why would I want to use them?

Take Internet Explorer my example in the picture; the Metro version features a full screen HTML 5 viewer with no tabs that looks pretty good on a tablet. However, it’s limited, not just because it lacks tabs, but it also lacks Browser Plug-ins like Flash, or even Silver light. I can’t watch Netflix in this browser or even go to a lot of webpages.   Probably my favorite feature in the Metro version of IE is the option to send the page you are viewing to the full version of IE that runs on the Desktop. This is IE 9, which does support Plugs-Ins, and is also an HTML 5 viewer as well. So I’m left asking, why did I even start the Metro Version in the first place?


This is true of a lot of Metro Apps, like photos and mail there just simply better desktop tools to get the job done. And in most cases they work just as well when I’m using the Duo as a tablet. Sure they might not be as clean and as polished for touch, but when I can’t do something in the Metro version, it’s frustrating, because I’m left wondering why I even bothered running the Metro version. I’m very fearful what the next version of MS Office will be like, will I start the metro version only to have close it and reopen the doc I’m working on in the full version? Or will I have a button for switching in and out of Metro version of the app.  


I really feel strongly that one of two things needs to happen before Windows 8 is ready for Sale:

1) Users should have the ability to turn off Metro and use the traditional desktop UI with Start menu. It’s honestly faster and easier to use in a Desktop environment.

2) Metro Apps need to be able to quickly switch from Metro/Tablet form to their fully functioning desktop counterparts, otherwise why would a user even pin the Metro Version when on a traditional Desktop PC or laptop.

I understand Microsoft’s thinking, they are trying desperately to clone the success of the Ipad’s easy to use OS in to Windows. And let’s face it. Windows isn’t ideal for Tablet use, it was never designed to be.

But that doesn’t mean, the desktop user should use a tablet friendly UI on their computer.  It’s frustrating! Much in the same way a Desktop UI is for a Tablet user. These two things shouldn’t be the same, as much as we may desire it. Microsoft by fussing the two isn’t really doing a service to either, and instead is merely making a headache for all of us.

In many ways the Inspiron Duo really is an ideal platform for testing out this OS, it has both the Desktop and Tablet modes to play in, much like Windows 8. But when I’m in the tablet mode I feel like things are lacking in function or usability. And when I go into the Desktop, it’s hard to click on things with my finger. 


Microsoft these just aren’t the same thing, please stop acting like they are.


I'll be posting More Windows 8 thoughts as I have time. I just really hope someone listens.


Why I keep using my old laptop… Or Why New Laptops suck.

I currently use a Lenovo X61 Tablet with the rare resolution of 1400x1050. I say rare, because somewhere in Production of this machine, Lenovo stopped making it with this panel and only made it with the 1024x768 panel.

I really love this laptop, it has a Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of Ram, and I put in a 60GB SSD… The battery has seen better days, and the fan could be a little quieter, but still a great machine. The resolution is amazing, having used a lot of 1024x768 laptops, and even some newer netbooks with 1366x768, the 1400x1050 display is just awesome! But I’ll admit, my X61 is beginning to feel long in the tooth. Core 2 Duo is great, but a in a year with IVY Bridge around the corner this Laptop is really going to show it’s age.

Lenovo has released 3 generations of X-series tablet (X200, X201 and X220) since the discontinuing of my X61. And while these may be tempting to some, they aren’t to me.


Core I7 sandy bridge and 8GB of ram all sound great, but what doesn’t is the seriously lack of resolution that has occurred in Lenovo’s light weight Laptop line. First the X61 drops the 1400x1050 resolution option; then the X200 (which was the first wide screen convertible tablet for them) only has a resolution option of 1280x800 (same with the X201). And now the X220 has a pathetic screen resolution of 1366x768.

Yes, I realize that I’m unlikely to find a laptop these days that doesn’t use a 16x9 or 16x10 aspect ratio. Which is a real shame seeing how 1400x1050 actually gives you more pixel real-estate then most modern wide screen resolutions. In part because I getter better height, without having to have an extreme width. (that said, I’ll be the first to admit that wide screen on laptops have made for better keyboards on laptops).

1366x768 seems to be the  default panel  resolution for any Laptop LCD under 13” these days, both the 11” Mac Book air and any 11” Ultra book use this resolution.  All Lenovo Laptops tablet or otherwise that use less than 14” LCD panels come in this resolution and there are no options for anything else. I have no problem paying for a better panel, but Lenovo won’t take my money.

Now, yes I could go to a different Laptop manufacturer, I’m certainly willing to entertain the idea of sacrificing the tablet functionality for lighter weight and higher screen resolution, but let’s look at choices out there:

Apple’s 13” Mac Book Air features panel of 1440 x 900. Certainly better than 1366x768, but I’m not sure I want to pay the apple tax, considering I want to run windows 7 on the machine. Also there is a lack of an Ethernet port.

Asus Zenbook X31 has a resolution option of 1600 x 900. Not bad. Still lacking in an Ethernet port. Also the touch pad feels very laggy, and the laptop all together feels very top heavy.  

Surprisingly Sony makes a 13” Laptop that features a  1080p (1920x1080) 13” Panel, the VAIO Z21, but the price is a little out there for the machine, around $2,700. However they do also have the VAIO SA line for around $1000 that has the 1600 x 900 resolution.

Ideally I’d love the same laptop I have now, just with a Sandy Bridge upgrade. Or An X220 tablet with a minimum of a 1600x900 panel. Both of which seem unlikely. And I suspect when Lenovo upgrades to the X221, there still won’t be a better panel option. Further proof being their recently announced T430U Ultrabook will have a 14” LCD with a 1366x768 panel… Yuck!


At this point, I’m still left with a conundrum of what to do, I can put money into my existing X61 by purchasing a new battery and possibly a larger SSD, but I’d much rather put that money towards a new machine.

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