Monthly Archives: December 2006

Ferrari 1000: The Windows Experience Index (WEI)

Now the the recent unpleasantness seems to be behind us I thought I would knuckle down and start reviewing the Acer Ferrari 1000 that Microsoft and AMD sent me. One of the things that seems to be the cool thing to do when you get a new laptop running Windows Vista is to check out the Windows Experience Index.

What is the Windows Experience Index?

The Windows Experience Index is a number which rates the hardware and software configuration on your machine as it relates to its ability to run Windows Vista. The one number you get is actually a base score which is actually the lowest of a number of sub-component scores. Wikipedia has a great entry with several links which describes which tests are performed in order to determine the scores.

If you have a Vista machine handy you can get in and look at the Windows Experience Index by clicking on Start and typing “performance” into the search box, then selecting “Performance Information and Tools” from the results (usually the second in the list).

One thing that I will council you on is that sometimes the WEI is way wrong for whatever reason and you need to get it to recalculate. Ed Bott’s post reminded me of this as he re-ran the score on his Ferrari 5000 review machine.

How did the Ferrari 1000 score?

For example on the Ferrari 1000 the base score is 2.8 which I thought was pretty low, but if we look at the break down we can see what the problem is.

As you can see under the Graphics component it is saying that there is a sub-score of 2.8 which is the lowest so that becomes the base score. Since I’ve got three machines (laptops) on my desk here running Vista I thought that I would do a side by side comparison to see if we can figure out what kind of configuration settings make a difference. The machines are:

So lets look at processor performance first. On the processor the Acer scored 4.7 which is on an AMD Turion 64 X2 mobile processor (dual core jobbie). I compared this with the Fujitsu (4.7) and the Dell (4.7) both of which were running Intel Centrino Duo processors. Since they all came out the same I can probably take from that that the tests were really designed to use the 32-bit processors, it would be nice for WEI to be updated at some point in the future to leverage the unique capabilities of 64-bit processors but that would invalidate comparisons between 32-bit and 64-bit machines (although 32-bit machines are an endangered species anyway).

Next up is the memory performance and this is where I saw some differences between the Microsoft supplied machine and the Dell and Fujitsu that I already had. The Ferrari clocked in at 5.3 for memory performance where both the Fujitsu and the Dell came in at 4.7. I wonder if this is down to the 64-bit processor and some optimised instructions and it would be interesting to compare to the Core2 processor (anyone want to provide their stats here?).

Graphics performance is actually comprised of two numbers, what I call your standard desktop/shell graphics performance and your gaming graphics. On the Ferrari the desktop graphics performance came in at 2.8, where as the Fujitsu score 3.4 and the Dell 3.6. In my experience with Vista the drivers that you are using make a lot of difference. On the Acer I am using the configuration that was supplied by Microsoft and AMD which I suspect are problably the approved out of the box drivers that came with Vista for this particular ATI card. On the Fujitsu I am running the bog standard Intel 945GM drivers for Vista and on the Dell I am running some hacked NVIDIA drivers from LaptopVideo2Go.com. So at the moment the NVIDIA drivers are giving better performance but I wonder whether updating the ATI drivers would yield better results – I won’t do it now half way through the review but I will retouch on this later and try the latest drivers from ATI (if I can find them).

On the gaming graphics score the Acer, Fujitsu and Dell scored 3.1, 3.0 and 3.2 respectively. So they are all pretty close to each other there. Both the Acer and the Dell support up to 512MB of RAM allocated to the task of doing high-end 3D graphics and both of them have 256MB discreet and then share the rest with the operating system. The strange thing about the ATI driver was that it said it was actually capable of sharing up to 895MB of RAM for graphics from the OS – so I am actually quite suspect on that driver right now.

Still – this card is going to be OK for most gaming tasks and can certainly hold its head high in laptop circles (I am sure some of the desktop GPUs would really leave it to shame and I have heard some good things about the Dell M90′s from co-workers).

Finally lets look at disk performance. Disk performance is often one of those things that is overlooked when configuring a laptop, and if you do anything that requires lots of disk I/O like running virtual machines, compiling code or reading 3D models and textures then you are going to want a fast disk. Both the Acer and the Dell are configured with 7200RPM drives and they scored 4.8 and 4.9 respectively which is OK I suppose. The Fujitsu only scored 4.4, but it only has a 5600RPM drive (or whatever) so whatever is tested there obviously doesn’t stress the metal too much (I expected much lower for the Fujitsu).

Overall the Ferrari 1000 probably sits somewhere between the Fujitsu and the Dell in terms of performance but if you have memory I/O intensive applications then the Ferrari is probably going to get the job done better. It would be interesting to compare these results to the Core2 chips from Intel but I think that AMD has a reasonable offering here which was actually news to me.

What do I think about WEI?

When Microsoft invented WEI they basically generated the profits for hardware vendors for years to come. Even within Readify reporting your WEI has become the new status symbol and people are actually spending serious time comparing their ratings and optimising their machines – its yet another geek status symbol and I don’t think it’ll be long before we see WEI status proudly displayed on the front of computers and geeks sporting WEI t-shirts.

Obviously the devil is in the detail so you really need to look at the sub-component scores and if you are actually going to go out and buy hardware to optimise your system then I suggest reading up on exactly what the scores are testing and figure out if you really need that. Despite what some people say, Vista will run fine on existing computers. I used to run Vista on an Inspiron 6000 which was quite good, it just didn’t support Aero (or at least it didn’t during the BETA) and I needed that for some of my development work.

From the development perspective it is interesting to speculate how we could use the WEI statistics to optimise the behaviour of our software. Deepak Kapoor has an example on his blog on how to get access to WEI information using WMI and C#. How much more complex would your code get if you started optimising for WEI stats along with your program logic – probably something best left to the runtime.

The Java Inverse Reality Sphere

When I read this article by Calvin Austin, this image popped into my head and I couldn’t help but put it down on paper.

Years ago I was talking to a Microsoft employee who mentioned that sometimes he thinks that there is an inverse reality sphere around Redmond, but I think it is a general problem in this industry that we believe that 2 + 2 = 5, hrm, maybe the Java folks have raced ahead and implemented the “because” operator :)

Example usage:

Platforms.Rank[0] = “Java” !! Platforms.Options == PlatformOptions.DotNet && PlatformOptions.Ruby;

Sometimes I kill me, I really do :)

Microsoft giveth (for review), and the blogosphere taketh away.

On the first day, Microsoft giveth . . .

“No good deed goes unpunished” is how my latest e-mail from Aaron Coldiron started. It seems that the reaction in the blogosphere to some bloggers being treated to a new Ferrari laptop pre-loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 has caused Microsoft to rethink what they want the future of the laptops to be. Marshall got the same e-mail that I did from Aaron.

To be honest I kinda feel for the marketing folks at Microsoft. They have this product that they have worked on for over four years, and then sit down and decide out they want to market it. Of course they have all the usual channels like TV advertisements, technical events and launch parties but since Windows XP and Windows Vista something magical has occured – the citizen media was born where individuals like you and I get to publish our own opinions. They sat down and thought lets get some fully baked kit out for them to review – in fact, lets work with one of our hardware partners (AMD) to see if we can give away the machines.

So – they set their plan in motion and they go out and find bloggers to seed the kit with, some people are likely to give positive reviews, whilst others not so positive, they are bloggers, their individual reactions are difficult to predict as is (as we have seen) the reaction of their readers.

Bloggers being bloggers blog about this new kit arriving on their door step, in fact most even disclose where it is from (even though they don’t have to – they aren’t journalists, disclosure is a good idea, even for bloggers). As far as I can tell, after that some folks started pointing figures at the bloggers suggesting that they had been compromised. The news explodes all over the blogosphere and suddenly the marketing folks at Microsoft are thinking “what just happened”. As far as I can tell, a few things seem to be going on:

  • People are ascribing journalist ethics to bloggers (Dan Warne).
  • People are thinking that getting a laptop is going to move the dial.

To be honest, I am beyond caring. I’m going to do the review at two levels, from a user level which I am hoping that my wife will help me with and also from a software developer level. After that (probably end of January/beginning of February) I will take the laptop away from my wife and give it away on my blog somehow – Microsoft has requested those that received a laptop to do this to help avoid any more unpleasantness.

To be honest its not what I wanted to to, I was excited to be able to give my wife a new laptop that I would envy (which I would also happen to be able to test 64-bit builds of my software out on).

. . . on the second day the blogosphere taketh away.

Anyway, I think CrunchGear said it best when:

The real problem here is that there are hundreds — even thousands — of BLOLGGGERS who feel they they, too, should receive free laptops. Back when it was just PC World and PC Mag fighting over red hot back-up software at PC Expo, the PR world was a simpler place. Now, when Marshall gets a laptop, JoesHardwareGearSiteAndAmazonSplogBlog.org wants one as well and will get all pissy and ethical when they don’t get the access they so richly deserve.

And with that, this is my last post on the topic (the digg bubble seems to be curving over now anyway). In the coming weeks I’ll be posting the reviews from the software end.

 

Technorati tags: , , ,

Can a free laptop move the dial?

So I log in this morning and open up my e-mail to see what kind of blogstorm this free/gift/review Acer Ferrari laptop from Microsoft and AMD has caused. It seems that the blogosphere is interested in the news and that opinions vary widely between in implying that I’ve been bought as a blogger to congratulations on a great score.

Some of the choice comments that I got on my blog so far:

  • a.hoc: If you keep it you’ll never be viewed as someone who is capable of having an unbiased opinion. Cout me in as one of many who won’t be returning to your blog. Unsubscribed.
  • fred: notgartner blog: bought and paid for
  • allison: Have you figured out why you only got a 1000 and others got a 5000? [reply: Not sure Allison, although I think it might be something to do with my dainty fingers :P]
  • Callie: the entire blogosphere is aware of all the other bloggers who’ve received this same gift, and that’s what it is – aka, a bribe.

First off, thanks to all that seem to be interested and passionate enough about this to respond. Some of the comments seem a bit harsh or misdirected at best, but I will address that in a moment. There has also been a fairly large number of trackbacks to other peoples blogs, I’ve categorised them (mostly for myself):

That is a lot of feedback in under 24-hours, especially for a B-list (if even) blogger like myself. In fact the whole affair has caused a spike in my blogs traffic:

But what can I say to those that imply that I’ve been bought because its something that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Moving the Dial

The idea of a bribe is to effectively change the behavior of someone by giving them something they want, like money, lovin’, or as proposed in this case, a gadget. But before you can go around suggesting that I’ve been bribed to say good things about Vista, Acer or AMD you first need to determine that my behavior has changed – did Microsoft move the dial?

Because I don’t know all of the people that suggested that I had been bought (a.hoc, fred, Callie) I am not sure how long they have been reading my blog or whether they know much about me, but here are some facts:

  1. I am a software developer that has been working with Microsoft’s .NET platform pretty much exclusively since the year 2000.
  2. I co-founded the Melbourne .NET User Group (although I have since moved interstate and it is run by others now as the Victoria .NET Special Interest Group).
  3. I have represented Australia to the International .NET Association.
  4. I have been awarded as a member of the Microsoft MVP program for five consecutive years (or is it more) – full disclosure, MVPs get access to a MSDN Premium subscription for free.
  5. I have been a member of the ASPInsiders group since inception.
  6. I work as a Senior Consultant for a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner called Readify which does a lot of work for Microsoft and Microsoft Consulting Services.
  7. I’ve spoken at a number of major Microsoft technical events, in particular TechEd Australia 2004, 2005 and 2006.
  8. I am a co-organiser of Code Camp Oz, a Microsoft-centric community event held in Australia each year (third year coming up).
  9. Most recently I was a guest editor on TechTalkBlogs which was started by Microsoft’s very own Frank Arrigo.
  10. During November I toured Australia (six cities) presenting at the partner-orientated Ready Summit where I presented in UI, security and data enhancements in Vista.

That is a fair bit of Microsoft centric activity right there so to argue that Microsoft could move the dial on the tone of my blogging is simply laughable, I am already a fan of their technology, and if you are coming to my blog expecting me to encourage people to avoid Microsoft products you are probably barking up the wrong tree.

I write my blog for me, and to be honest I am still amused that anyone would bother downloading the content that I write, I guess its for my technical observations and the other stuff that I dig up. I doubt it is for my unbiased writing style :)

What is happening to the laptop?

Well, to be honest I’ve been running Vista on and off for the past three years (back when it was called Longhorn) and pretty much non-stop for the past six to nine months, so there isn’t much in the platform that I don’t already know about (although as a developer I am always finding new APIs to tinker with). That is why I started out with a mostly hardware orientated review because I thought I could definately do it justice (it is new hardware territory for me).

Next I am going to give the laptop to my wife who has hardly used Vista at all and has actually being resisting until it came out of BETA. This will be her first laptop and her first time running Vista and my plan is to somehow capture her feedback as a “Vista-newbie”. Some of the things that I thought would be a good outcome was:

  1. Nicola starts a blog and journals her experiences there.
  2. Nicola guest writes on my blog and journals her experiences here.
  3. Nicola and I do some screencasts together playing with Vista.
  4. What do you think?

All of this is part of my goal of getting my wife blogging, so far I’ve been unsuccessful but to be honest, given the reactions of some people on this blog you can hardly blame her for being a little bit gun shy.

Summary

I am not even sure if this whole thing would have been noticed if folks like Robert Scoble didn’t blog about it, but I think even he is swinging around to the idea that this is a pretty good marketing ploy. As he points out I think one of the key issues is disclosure, and in my case I did disclose that I was sent the laptop for free from Microsoft – and even in this post I’ve disclosed more about myself that some of my new subscribers didn’t know about (regular subscribers would know most of the above about me anyway).

Ironically I posted up this piece the day before the laptop arrived about marketeers earning mindshare rather than buying it. On the surface this might look like a circumstance where my advice wasn’t heeded, however, I actually believe that this is a perfect example of how the blogosphere can actually “arrive early”. In this case I think that the Vanishing Point Game is more newsworthy than a few geek bloggers getting laptops.

Finally, this blog is about me and who I am, it is not about what I am trying to sell (or what others are trying to sell). It reflects my thoughts, interests and passions, I am not a journalist so don’t try to hold me to a set of standards which I have not signed on to uphold.

 

Acer Ferrari 1000: The Unboxing

Bella woke me up this morning wanting to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). I’m on holidays so I thought why not, I climbed out of bed, grabbed a “blankie” and a pillow and zoned out on the couch while the movie rolled.

The Courier BoxBy about mid-way through the movie I was woken up by the door bell, since Nicola wasn’t up I figured I should shake off the snooze and answer it. At the door there was a courier standing there holding a medium sized box (I’m all about scientific measurements in the morning). Anyway – along the outside of the box the words “Acer” were printed – my dazed expression turned to a giddy smile.

Backstory: About mid-December I was contacted by Aaron Coldiron from the Windows Product Management Group and asked if I would like to try out an Acer Ferrari 1000 courtesy of the Windows Vista team and AMD (the Acer Ferrari has a Turion64 dual core processor and ATI graphics). I was interested in trying out the device mostly because I hadn’t used Vista on a 64-bit machine before and I hadn’t used an AMD processor in I don’t know how many years.

Anyway, I carried the box into the bedroom and woke up Nicola to show her the box (I know how to impress the girls). I then moved forward to the unboxing ceremony. The first step was to get rid of the courier box. Inside was a nice black box with Acer and Ferrari branding. I pulled it out and unwrapped it all.

The Real Ferrari 1000 Box

037

040039

Inside the box you get the following components:

  • Spare extended life battery; looking at the power consumption of this thing in full swing it’ll probably burn through the batteries pretty quick unless you fine tune the settings. My advice would be to kick it down to power saver when it is unplugged and turn the screen brightness down. Fortunately the keyboard has a quick access key for the Windows Vista power settings (Fn-F3). I ran the system off the batteries for about two hours until I found my US-to-Australian power converter.
  • Power supply; nothing to talk about here except that it was a US plug which had me on a downer until I realised that I had previously purchased a converter for another purpose – back in action!
  • Weird-VOIP PC card thingy; I haven’t tried this out yet, but it looks like a PC card that plugs into the laptop for the purpose of charging but allows you to take phone calls away from the device. I’ll probably do a blog post on this later to describe how it works and where I think it might actually be useful.
  • External DVD drive and cable; I hadn’t realised that this thing was missing an onboard DVD drive but after lifting the device up I am thinking that I could get used to the drive not being a regular component of the main machine (the laptop it self is very light). The drive connects via firewire which means that the remaining 3-USB ports are available for all the plug-in devices you might have.
  • Phone cable; does anyone use these anymore?
  • Anti-static screen cleaning cloth; I got one of these with my Tablet PC and I have to admit that they are quite useful with these high gloss screens (they tend to get finger marks).
  • Bluetooth mouse; most laptops don’t come with a mouse, well, not unless you pay extra for them. The nice thing about this Ferrari laptop is that it came with a decent mouse which was also Ferrari branded, so it looks the business. In fact the mouse wheel actually has a Ferrari tread on it (cute).
  • Pouches for everything; rather than a standard laptop bag the device came with a pouch which makes more sense for its smaller form factor. I can see this device fitting in my wife’s handbag with the pouch protecting the carbon fibre lid from scatches. One thing that probably needs a bit more thought is places to put the smaller internal pouches once the device is actually in it (this is actually a common design flaw with vendor supplied laptop bags).

So that is the unboxing. I’ve now tuned on the device and have started to get a feel for it but I will be following up with a more detailed post on how various parts of Vista work with the Ferrari but for now a few final physical observations.

  • The integrated camera is a 1.3 mega pixel which can actually rotate to point towards the user out out to the rest of the world.
  • I like the metal buttons on the trackpad, it actually looks like a razor edge.
  • When you turn the machine on a series of red veins on the top actually glow.
  • The texture of the plastic inside the device is a bit weird, it feels almost like it is velvet.
  • The screen does 1280×800 resolution which is pretty good for a consumer grade laptop of this size, and the image on the screen is bright and crisp, possibly due to the high gloss finish on the screen.

Well – thats it for now, you can check out the rest of the photos up on Flickr check back later on for a more detailed investigation of how well the device goes with Windows Vista and Office 2007. My wife is an expert Vista-novice so I will be enlisting her help to try out all the features.

P.S: From the desk of Loki . . .

045OK – so this is the first time that someone has sent me a device to review, and even though I am a pretty active blogger I thought it was pretty weird. However, it now looks like I am a participant in a viral marketing campaign called the “Vanishing Point” game. Along with the laptop came a letter “From the desk of Loki” with the following text:

You are now a decoder. There are only a few like you, but thousands more are looking for you. Find the other decoders before Zero Hour. Go to: www.vanishingpointgame.com

A spectacular adventure is on the horizon…. can you find it before it disappears?

-L

P.S. I’ve hidden something in a puzzle box for you. Find the box, find the way to open it?

After reading the letter there was a knock at the door (spooky) and our neighbor delivered a box, presumably the courier must have thought it was for them (we live on a split block). Inside the cardboard box was a wooden trick box which took me a few moments to open up. Inside was another copy of the letter and a USB memory stick and on the stick were three files:

  • Cipher Key 4.jpg
  • from_Loki.txt
  • Loki.wmv

I have uploaded the video to Soapbox on MSN Video under the tag of “vanishing point”. I am uploading from an ISDN connection so progress is slow. Anyway – I am off to find fellow decoders and crack some of the puzzles!

Update: Folks have requested that I post up the cypher key image. As you can see the key is not a new one as I’ve seen it posted on the Internet is a few other locations – thanks to those who referred me to http://vanishingpointwiki.com.

 

 

telstrawatch.com, one of my new pet projects.

Hopefully the URL is working for everyone. Tonight after lamenting my lack of broadband once again I decided to launch telstrawatch.com. The idea behind this site is to serve as a public space for people to comment on Telstra, both good and bad (and there are both good and bad stories out there). I started off by posting my most recent Telstra story.

This is actually a bit of a double experiment because until now I have believed that I best served my audience and own selfish blogging interests by maintaining a single blog – maybe this will prove me wrong?

If you have a Telstra story I would love to hear it, either link the my story post over at Telstra Watch or leave a note in the comments. If it is interesting I might invite you to put up a more detailed post on the blog itself.