Posts tagged ‘Network PC’

The hybrid life

acer-iphone My mother has had a laptop of one variety or another for over 17 years … until now. Now she has an iPhone.

So, when her laptop came to an untimely death (as if there is timely death for a computer), we had a heart to heart.

The solution was to go with a light weight "nettop" for her desk.

Specifically, she now has an Acer Aspire Revo. It’s the entry level model. (I blogged about using the next level up as my media center). Both of these are tiny by traditional PC standards. Really, truly! – less that 8" square and less than 2" thick. Rather than take up desk space, I just stuck it to the back on the monitor. It dramatically simplified the cables and wires and stuff.

These days she only needs to get to Gmail, Google Reader, Google Apps, Google Calendar, Google tasks, online banking, Facebook, … see a trend? In the past she also had some games. Now, everything is out on the web "in the cloud" as they say. Even more to the point, everything she does can also be done from the iPhone. The advantage to the combination is that everything stays in sync – EFORTLESSLY. If she reads an email on the iPhone, it does not show up as a new email on the computer. Even better, if she adds an appointment on the iPhone, it shows up in her Google Calendar.

To be honest, I’m a bit jealous. About 70% of my work could go out on the web but that would violate "company policy".

My next media player will likely be a nettop

500x_2009-04-04_162054[1] I’ve been on the fence about building / buying a replacement for my Popcorn Hour media player. It now looks like even the low end new NetTop PCs with the ATOM+ION combination are "good enough".

I liked the price of the new Acer AspireRevo entry level hardware ($200) since it has the ION graphics which handles 1080p for my TV. However, I was concerned with the underpowered ATOM 230 (single core 1.6Ghz) CPU. I really like the idea of the big brother with the ATOM 330 (dual core 1.6Ghz) CPU but it has the pricier $330 wallet sapping. has a good walk through of setting up the Acer with XMBC and credits burgemaster with the details.

My Apple "netbook"

iPodScreenShots-web I was away for part of the weekend and my usual travel gear includes either my Thinkad X60 or a flash drive with all of my usual tools. This trip I took my iPod Touch. It was, an a word, "perfect".

My daily routine – whether work day or not – includes checking my personal email, reading news, checking weather, and scanning blogs and feeds. Occasionally I might also author a short blog post.

There are apps for Google Reader, WeatherBug, AP News, IMAP email (which Google supports), Contacts (which GMail supports via an Exchange-like interface), Kindle books, Google Voice, and WordPress. It also serves as my alarm clock and let’s me listen to (currently anything tagged "supernatural"). With OS 3.0 for the iPod Touch, the landscape keyboard makes typing an acceptable task (as long as you are not attempting "war and peace"

So my "netbook" could really be called a "pocketbook" but I’m a guy so I won’t do that.

Review / Comparison: Popcorn Hour A-100 vs Mvix MX-780HD – part 1

Well, I’ve been testing the Popcorn Hour A-100 and the MVix MX-780HD for a couple of weeks now and it’s a mixed review.

Both devices serve up media – video, music, and photos – and both support high-def content and output. Both are honest that their focus is video and the audio and photo support is secondary.

The easiest way to detail my findings is to show what capabilities I take from each …

Physical Device

  • A-100 form factor – it’s small and looks very simple
  • MX-780 on-device screen and controls – in a pinch, you can still navigate the menus and debug some issues.
  • A-100 USB ports on the front – makes it easy to plug in a USB key with new firmware to upload
  • MX-780 USB ports on the back – keeps the unit looking clean if you add USB hard drives to the unit for media storage
  • MX-780 wireless – it’s not fast but when there is no Ethernet handy, it becomes the only game in town
  • MD-780 IR remote – its got a good familiar layout for A/V controls
  • A-100 IR remote glow buttons – I’d like illuminated buttons on the remote but glow is better than nothing
  • A-100 alternate IR remotes – there is documentation about how to use other remote controls

User Interface

  • A-100 web-able user interface – although the default on-screen interface is fixed, enough people have documented how to create a custom interface using third party software and generating HTML that can be used to drive the A-100.
  • MX-780 zoom – I expect basic video zoom. The Md-780 has some bugs (likely its the codecs) but the A-100 has no zoom unless you are watch a DVD source.
  • MX-780 FF/RW – the MX-780 supports 2x thru 32x while the A-100 has only 2x thru 8x
  • A-100 slow motion – I expect basic video slow motion playback – I use this in movies to catch the sight gags and stuff.
  • MX-780 A-B repeat – I use A-B repeat to loop a short segment of a movie when I can’t make out what the actor just mumbled. I also use it to loop scenes I want to pay attention to different elements.


  • A-100 codec – more supported formats and much more stable. Both devices support HD video with full 1080p output. But the A-100 does it better and even supports the latest EVO file format for DVDs. Beyond supported formats, the MX-780 simply crashes a lot. I am guessing theyr software codecs are just buggy. I have videos from lots of sources (my movies, home movies of sporting events, movie trailers from the internet, podcasts, etc.) and I don’t feel like running them all through a transcoder to normalize them.
  • MX-780 power management – I expect a device to turn off as much as possible when I press the “power button” but the A-100 only kills video output and leaves all the reast running, even if there is nothing to do. This means the device is hot all the time.
  • MX-780 video output control – both devices support HDMI at various rates but the A-100 has a glaringly bad bug with aspect ratios
  • A-100 torrent client – I can leave the A-100 running and leave my PC shut off at night but still get a torrent file. I will say, the torrent client is very messy – it is so chatting that it makes my network very unusable for most things. I throttle the torrent client but it would be very cool if it could relaize you are trying to stream internet content and auto-throttle.
  • A-100 network services – supports SMB and NSF shares, FTP, and some HTML interfaces. The MX-780 has a proprietary solution for Windows users and everything else is “shutdown player and treat it like a USB device to your PC”. It’s not very convenient if you want to keep the media player with the media center and not your computer.
  • MX-780 internet radio – both devices support streaming radio content but the MX-780 makes it easy to get started with a library of sources loaded into the firmware. The A-100 has austencibly the same library but it’s out on the internet.
  • A-100 potential extensibility – it relies on a “medial portal” and “community services” which third party web sites. This sucks becuase it is very unreliable and it’s hard to get the right content (it’s very limited right now). It would be a big step forward if there were a way to download the pages from the “portal sites” to the A-100 so they would be quicker and more stable. There is support for basic HTML interfaces so I’d really like to see better documentation and some samples. Everything should run right off the A-100 and not require a streaming server (as is the defacto case today).
  • 00000 documenation – they both get a huge goose egg for documentation. They rely on wikis that have very little in the way of “getting started” and common trouble shooting. In stead, they rely on a user community which generates thousands of pages of content and no way to distill it down to useful long term documnentaiton. Neither community is paid so if they don’t feel like dealing with another user, they don’t. Both communities have done great work but if your issue is not the hot topic of the week, it mostly goes unnoticed.

I called this “part 1” because I don’t feel I’ve covered everything and am leaving the door open for a “part 2”. But don’t hold your collective breath on that actually occuring.

Has the time finally arrived for Network PC’s ?

olpc-xo Back in the early 1990’s companies like Sun, IBM, and Lotus were talking about and developing solutions for “the network PC revolution”. The idea behind the network PC – for those who managed to escape the hype and disappointment – is that all of your applications and data reside on a server somewhere an all you need is a lightweight PC connected to the network. Today that sounds obvious but 15 years ago it was a pipe dream born of the promise of one Java running everywhere like magic.

Today, the premise still holds only now, Java on the PC has finally be dumped as just not a good idea. Instead, the applications rely on a powerful local web browser to provide most of the compute power and some industry standard programmed methods – HTTP, AJAX, HTML, XML, JavaScript – to create the user experience and interface to the server. It all works pretty well.

nokia810So now that we have the “good apps” and the “fast network” where is the Network PC ? I mean, an $800 Windows Laptop or $1200 MacBook are loads of fun but with presumable everything running out on the Internet somewhere, what do we need these high end machines ? It’s a bit like driving to the Starbucks for a coffee in a Ford Excursion or Chevy Suburban or the not soon enough forsaken Hummer. All you need is a city car. The same is true for the network PC.

If they build it, will they come ? That is the real question. Can we get over the consumerist mentality of “more is better” ? McDonalds would cringe at the thought of people getting only what they actually need.

701f Fortunately, there are a few but growing number of computer manufacturers see the opportunity. Asus now has Eee PC, Everex has the “green PC” (at Walmart) ntel has the Classmate, Nokia has the 810 ultra portable tablet you will even be able to buy one of the OLPC computers (one of the One Laptop per Child) for your very own. These are all *new* computers below $400. If you don’t need a laptop, the price can go even lower.

So, if you use Gmail or Google Apps or spend most of your time on Facebook then one of these new breed of computers may be an option. They are not true network PC’s but they are getting close. If they make the screens more “normal sized” and made Linux flashed or use a hot-start mode for that “instant on” feeling, then we have the elusive network PC.

I plan to take a 10 year old computer and give it a try <recycling is green too you know>.