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Markus on Development and Publishing

This is Markus Egger's professional blog, which covers topics such as development, publishing, and business in general. As the publisher of CoDe and CoDe Focus magazines, and as the President and Chief Software Architect of EPS Software Corp., Markus shares his insights and opinions on this blog.

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Monday, June 25, 2007
My New Toshiba Portege M400 Tablet PC

So I broke down and ordered a new Toshiba Portege M400 Tablet PC after moaning and groaning about what to get in a recent post. It isn't exactly the device I had in mind, but I guess one lives in the real world and ultimately has to go for something that is actually available. And it turns out the device isn't all that bad after all. All in all, I paid about $2700 for it by the time it was all said and done. That compares pretty favorably with some of the non-tablets I had been looking at. I think I would have had to shell out about $5000 to get the configuration I would have wanted. Of course, such as machine would have had better graphics capabilities, but beyond that, be quite comparable.

As promised, here are some performance figures on my new tablet:

The overall Windows Experience Index is 2.3 (running in high performance mode), which is not all that great. It breaks down as follows:

Component What is rated Score
Processor: Calculations per second

5.1

Memory (RAM): Memory operations per second

4.6

Graphics: Desktop performance for Windows Aero

2.3

Gaming graphics: 3D business and gaming graphics performance

3.0

Primary hard disk: Disk data transfer rate

4.6

So really quite respectable overall. Everything except the graphics stuff is really really good. But the graphics card on the other hand is a real clunker. 2.3 for crying out loud! Oh well, this is the top of the line for tablets at this point...

BTW: Turns out that both the batteries and the power supply seems to be compatible between the M400 and the M200. That is a nice surprise. I knew that the batteries were compatible, but I could have sworn someone told me the power supply wasn't.

The memory on the other hand is NOT compatible with the M200. I had specifically asked whether it was since I wanted to move some of my memory over, but it isn't! One is using DDR dimms, while the M400 is using DDR2 dimms (such as this one). This pisses me off, because I specifically asked about this when I bought the system. Jerks!

Talking about memory: It is a real pain to replace it, even if you do have the correct dimm. This was easy with the M200, but the M400 has the memory under the keyboard. This document explains in detail how to replace the memory.



Posted @ 5:49 PM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (10)


Saturday, June 16, 2007
How the 'Floating Views' in Xiine work...

A lot of people ask me how the 'floating items' in Xiine work that we use in places such as the main Library, or in a collection of individual issues (as seen in these two screen shots):

The cool thing about the list of "brands" or "channels" in the first screen shot (such as the "CoDe Magazine" or "Addison Wesley" items) and the list of individual magazine covers in the second screen shot, is that they animate during resize or search operations (the search looks particularly cool, I think).

So what control are we using there? A fancy third party control perhaps? Nope! All we use is a listbox with some custom layout added. Rather than just listing items top to bottom, we use a flow layout within our listbox. In addition, we animate each item within the listbox. We have implemented that by subclassing a 'Grid' which we use as our items within the listbox. That particular subclass has some extra code to animate the grid from position to position. So if the window is resized and forces an item to flow to the next row, instead of just putting it there, we go through a sub-second animation from its old position to its new position. All items within the list always do this no matter why the position changed (and we will fine-tune that more in the future since currently, the animations can get annoying when a screen first loads), resulting in quite a fancy and cool appearance. Plus, it makes things really intuitive.

PS: If you want to check it out in action, download the free Xiine client from www.Xiine.com.

 

Posted @ 11:58 AM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (6)


Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Buying a new Tablet PC... or not?

My old Tablet PC finally bit the bullet. Not sure what happened exactly, but it went into screen-saver mode, and never came back out. I managed to reboot it in safe mode after some fiddling, but that is just about it. I am pretty sure the graphics chip is part of the problem, because as soon as I enable the regular graphics driver, it shuts off at once. Also, in safe mode, there are weird artifacts on screen at all times. Plus, there are other problems. It only seems to boot right with the batteries taken out (which makes it hard to use it on a plane...).

Anyway: The machine was old. Hardly ran Vista (although it runs Vista faster than XP, interestingly enough... but not with Aero Glass). In fact, at DevTeach this year, one of the people who came to my session remarked in the evals that I need a faster machine. But the thing is: Which other machine would I buy today?

Basically, I want a portable machine that I can use as a desktop replacement since I am on the road so much. At the same time, I need tablet functionality, since I really think I can't do without pen input anymore. It's not that I am using it all the time. Perhaps only once a day on average or less. But most of the time when I catch up with email (for instance), I use handwriting recognition. It is awesome on planes. I just laugh at all the other people who are trying to use their computers in regular mode, cramped into their seats, while I sit there, relatively comfortably (for a plane), handwriting away. I will not give that up!

So what I want is basically a kick-ass tablet. Nice big display. High resolution (1600x1200 would be nice). 4 gigs of RAM. Nice harddrive. Good graphics (512MB) for Vista and things like Xiine. Sure it would be nice if it was light weight, but that is of secondary importance to me. I am a developer and not an "information worker". I need to be able to do more than just run Office. I will run Visual Studio, Expression Studio, SQL Server, and lots more. I need power! And perhaps I would even like to play the occasional game from a hotel room.

The trouble is that such a machine does not exist. It seems that all Tablet PCs today are low-power, and just focusing on mobility. I agree that those things are important for many scenarios, but there should be alternatives. Buying any sort of notebook computer with less than 2GB of RAM today is just silly. Buying a computer that doesn't have a good graphics chip is silly too. Non-tablet notebooks have already understood that. I just want to add handwriting recognition into the mix, and all of a sudden, there are no more options.

So it looks like the Toshiba Portege M400 is the best option right now. (I had the M200 before and was very happy with it). I could buy it with 4GB of RAM, but that is pretty expensive. One option would be to buy it with a single 2GB chip and add one of the 1GB DIMMs I had in my M200, so I'd get a total of 3GB, which should be OK for now. There are no graphics options, and the default GPU is pretty weak. But it should be enough to run Aero Glass reasonably well. Unfortunately, they could not tell me what the Vista graphics performance index is for the system. That would have been extremely helpful. (If I end up buying the system, I will post it on this blog. Update: Check performance numbers in this post.). The screen resolution situation sucks too. I can basically get the same 1400x1050 display I had in the M200. This is an upgrade option. Unfortunately, it isn't any better than the old display, and it doesn't come in the brighter versions like the lower resolution displays. (Which are not glare displays... I really wonder about those anyway... when did we ever come to the conclusion that a highly reflective display is good?). This system would set me back about $2700 (tax and shipping included).

So I am really not all that happy with the overall situation. Should I buy a regular notebook instead? Something really high powered? I would probably have to drop about $4000 to get what I want. Ouch. Plus, since I do not want to give up my "tablet lifestyle", I'd need some sort of tablet PC in addition. Perhaps a slate only (those are the tablets that do not have any keyboard at all). And then what? Carry them both? That would be very mobile and convenient (NOT!). Maybe I should just carry my UMPC for those scenarios, but I really need those to get more powerful for it to be a real option. Right now, they are still pretty slow. Otherwise, UMPCs would be ideal. All in all, the dual option isn't very attractive. Way to expensive overall, and just not convenient...

 

Posted @ 8:27 AM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (9)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All My Blogs:
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