NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2010
Mobile Computing
By Chuck Horowitz, a member of HAL-PC, Texas
May 2010 Issue, HAL-PC Magazine, newsletter of the Houston Area League of PC Users, Texas

chuckh@hal-pc.org (click to email author)

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of hype about the value of a Netbook computer for searching the web on the go. If you’re like me, getting older and wearing glasses, a Netbook is not the best idea. I wrote a while back about the Acer Aspire Netbook that I purchased. I liked the idea of the 2.3 pound weight which made me feel like I was not carrying around a brick. For me, it’s not very good for surfing the web at all. With an eight inch screen, half of it is taken up by the web sites headers and the other half doesn’t show me enough of what’s on without a lot of scrolling. Because of the sacrifice I made to keep the weight down, I do not have a hard drive or DVD in the machine. So now I carry all of these items as externals (a lot more weight than if they were in the machine). My Netbook has an eight gigabyte solid-state memory and two additional eight gigabyte Secure Digital spots. For my needs, I would have been better off with the hard drive and the DVD built-in and with a larger screen.

Check out PC World’s February 2010 edition for the article on “The True Cost of Wireless Carriers’ Netbooks” starting on Page 23. I didn’t buy my Acer Aspire this way. When you add the initial cost of the wireless connection (it has its own phone number which isn’t useful for anything but connecting to the web) you wind up with a hefty cost between the cost of the phone and your monthly bills.

Well, USB 3.0 is here! “Superspeed USB 3.0 has a theoretical through-put of 5 gigabytes per second.” Best of all, it’s backward compatible with USB 2.0. You will need a new cable and host adapter to get this performance, though. When used on a USB 2.0 port, you will get USB 2.0 performance. There have not been any consumer electronic devices for USB 3.0 announced as yet. Some devices may appear next year for digital cameras and camcorders.

A note of caution is in order here. Don’t be fooled by the impending vendor hype. You should not be paying any more for USB 3.0 than you’ve been paying for USB 2.0. PC World has rated 10 portable hard drives, ranging from $100 to $230 and sized from 320 gigabytes to 1 terabyte. The Iomega eGoMac at 500 gigabytes was rated very good and sells for $100. The Western Digital My Passport Essential at one terabyte is also rated very good and sells for $200. Read PC World’s February 2010 edition for more details.

Current “Ultraportable Laptops” are rated by PC World in their April 2010 edition. I’m not sure that I would want the 4.8 pound ones on my lap for very long. The prices for the rated machines range between $589 and $4,450. Of course, the $4,450 machine is a Sony. I do like the 120 and 256 gigabyte solid-state drives being offered by Dell and Samsung, although they’re not cheap.

Have you heard about the Pennsylvania school that installed software that activated the built-in web cams remotely? It’s one thing to give a notebook computer to students or teachers that they can take home to do schoolwork, but it’s an invasion of privacy to remotely activate the web cam and spy on these people at home. There’s not much difference between peeking through their window and spying on them by web cam, except for the convenience for the spy. They should throw the book at these people (I mean the notebook). I’m sure this was done to spy on the private lives of the students and teachers and had nothing to do with schoolwork or rules and regulation protection.

Here’s a warning from a senior systems engineer “unless your laptop (notebook, netbook) is completely shut down and powered off, then there is the possibility for a criminal using either Wi-Fi detectors and/or Bluetooth receivers to identify within close proximity where a device may reside within location.” I guess what he means is that even if you hide it in a cabinet or drawer it can be located and stolen. If it is a corporate machine, the data it contains can be just as valuable as the machine to a thief (possible more). A good tip: disable any functions that makes the machine go to sleep – this will actually have it shut down when you close the lid.

Chuck Horowitz, a HAL-PC member, can be reached at chuckh@hal-pc.org for questions or comments.  

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