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We speak exclusively to the CEO p10 8 workstations put to the test p76

Ten health professionals give their diagnosis p30

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Switch to Life after Google Apps silicon Why you’ll want to and how to do it p104

Meet the next-gen processors p124


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HIGHLIGHTS THIS MONTH

Full contents overleaf

PRODUCT OF THE MONTH Linksys Velop

Remember that “My husband went to New York and all he got me was this lousy T-shirt” design? Well, you may feel the same way when we say that we spent a week in Las Vegas for CES, the world’s biggest trade show for consumer technology, and our favourite product was a router – but bear with us. With the promise of zero signal degradation throughout your home or office, it could be the answer to your Wi-Fi problems. p45

p110

TIP OF THE MONTH We explain how to recover lost files on p48, but our top rescue tip is from Jon Honeyball’s column. If you haven’t already created a USB recovery disk for your system, do so now.

p104

BUSINESS CHANGER OF THE MONTH Thinking about switching to Google’s online tools, aka G Suite? We turned to a man who’s put theory into practice.

PEOPLE OF THE MONTH

p30

We didn’t just rely on one health expert for our feature “Can technology save the NHS?”. Led by Professor Iain Buchan, we sought the views of ten professionals working in the field. Discover why they think the answer is “yes” – with caveats – on p30.

p124

FACT OF THE MONTH HPE – the enterprise incarnation of HP – has demonstrated a memory-driven computer that “improves execution speeds up to 8,000 times”. Are silicon processors under threat?

THE LABS IN NUMBERS

p76

8

The workstations we test on p76 have some truly terrifying stats.

£43,368

TOTAL COST OF SYSTEMS

60GB AVERAGE AMOUNT OF RAM

1

WORKSTATIONS

2

AWARDS

WINNER 3


NEWSSTAND COVER

2017p38

18 BEST PRODUCTS FROM

Does BlackBerry have a future?

We speak exclusively to the CEO

p10

Buy a superpower PC 8 workstations put to the test

p76

CAN TECH SAVE THE ?

18 BEST PRO DUCTS FRO M

2017p38

BONUS SOFTW ARE

CyberL ink PhotoD ir worth ector7 £50 p5 2

Ten health professionals give their diagnosis p30

ISSUE 270 APRIL 2017 £5.99

Life after Switch to Google Apps siliconnext-gen Why you’ll want to and how to do it p104

Meet the processors p124

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10 BlackBerry reveals comeback plan

COVER STORY

30 Can technology save the NHS?

We caught up with BlackBerry CEO John Chen, who suggested third-party handsets and security consultancy are the way forward for his company.

Can technology bring the troubled National Health Service back from the brink? Ten leading health experts give their diagnosis.

12 Infographic: Security and the Internet of Things

36 Implants ready to replace pills and prescriptions

Numerous IoT devices are being exploited by hackers – here’s how.

Tiny computers can take control of, or “hack”, our immune system – with remarkable results.

13 The broadband escape hatch

COVER STORY

We trawled the show floors in Las Vegas to identify the latest tech trends and hunt down the 18 best products.

48 How to recover lost files

Nik Rawlinson explains how to restore files that have been deleted by mistake.

52 CyberLink PhotoDirector 7

SECURE YOUR WIFI

TIPS FRO M A PRO Google the £71 Pixel:

tested

4

FULL PRODUCTS WORTH £90

DARIEN GRAHAM-SMITH Why spending half of your life in an office is antisocial. BARRY COLLINS Sports streaming could be the killer app for virtual reality.

25

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NICOLE KOBIE Why must buying a new phone be so painful for Android users? DICK POUNTAIN Dick explains why his program passes the musical Turing test.

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VIEWPOINTS

FEBRUARY

4

Stewart Mitchell discovers why Intel’s latest desktop processors fail to move the performance needle and what the future may hold for the firm.

ISSUE 268

Conference calls have long been plagued by bad connections. We meet the British company that claims to take the stress out of remote meetings – while still using traditional telephony.

14 PC Probe: Has Intel run dry?

2017 £5.99

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JANUARY

PROFILE

3 THE PC PRO

The “Handback Threshold” offers a benchmark for customers frustrated by abysmal broadband.

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Fully exploit this powerful photo-management suite, part of our bonus software package.

Hands-on reviews of our 18 favourite products from this year’s CES show floor

ER COVER

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38 The CES 2017 wishlist

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ter job Step by a Linke step: Become Saving Ble dIn maes tchley Par Exclusive: tro p50 Why Dr took to Sue Blac k Twitter k p116

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CES 2017/REVIEWS/LABS

p61 The Huawei P9 Lite is just one of three attractive phones on test that cost around £200

BEST OF CES 2017 Samsung Chromebook Pro Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Dell Precision 5720 AIO HP EliteBook x360 HP Sprout Pro Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Lenovo Miix 720 LG 32UD99 Samsung UH750 ViewSonic VP3881 Asus ZenFone AR Honor 6X Linksys Velop Norton Core Cooler Master MasterCase 5t Lego Boost LG MEB-500 Wireless Mouse Sevenhugs Smart Remote Razer Project Ariana

40 40 40 41 41 41 41 42 42 42 45 45 45 45 46 46 46 46 47

LAPTOPS & PHONES Dell XPS 13 Honor 6X Huawei P9 Lite RETENTION Wileyfox Swift 2 X

54 58 61 62

PERIPHERALS Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Samsung C24FG70FQU AOC AGON AG271QX

IP CAMERAS Axis M1065-LW D-Link Vigilance DCS-4602EV ORDERS EnGenius EDS6255 Hikvision Darkfighter

64 68 69

THE NETWORK Netgear ProSafe XS716E TP-Link Auranet EAP330

7 16 28

Subscriptions Next month One last thing…

70 73

ANDROID SECURITY APPS Avast Mobile Security 74 AVG AntiVirus Free 74 Bitdefender Mobile Security 74 Kaspersky Antivirus & Security 75 McAfee Security & Power Booster 75 Norton Security and Antivirus 75 WORKSTATIONS Armari Magnetar V25 Pro 82 Lenovo ThinkStation P910 83 Scan 3XS Classic 3D 84 Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S 85 Chillblast Fusion Pascal P5000 88 InterPro IPW-BWE 88 PC Specialist Eric 90 Yoyotech BlackBox SLX 90

p76

REGULARS Editor’s letter The A-List Readers’ comments

Philips 275P4VYKEB Astrohaus Freewrite

94 96 97 98

100 101

We put eight heavyweight workstation contenders through their paces

108 129 130

THE NETWORK

PC Specialist Eric

Scan 3XS Classic 3D

Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S

92 Business Focus: IP cameras

What to look for when choosing an IP security camera for your business.

99 Cheat Sheet: Windows Update How to make patching Windows painless.

102 Do I need cybercrime insurance? We explain how to guard against the threat.

104 Deploy and manage Google apps

Looking for an easy-to-use cloud-based app suite? Anthony Lawrence introduces G-Suite. FUTURES

124 The post-silicon world of chips

We reveal what could follow silicon processors.

126 Q&A: The internet of seals

Why experts are connecting seals to the internet.

127 What is... Space Nation?

The startup that wants to send us all into space.

128 GDO: The Tim Peake Exhibition

We visit the museum celebrating the astronaut.

REAL WORLD COMPUTING

110

JON HONEYBALL Why Microsoft must make it easier to update Windows 10, tidings of comfort and joy from Amazon, and a top tip for iOS users struggling with battery life.

113

PAUL OCKENDEN IFTTT can provide unconventional ways to keep track of your stocks and shares – plus Paul looks at some truly wire-free cameras.

116

KEVIN PARTNER Referral traffic from your blog could be worth thousands – and it doesn’t have to be laborious. Kevin outlines the six best tips to get it up and running.

118

DAVEY WINDER Davey explores an Android security app that’s worth its 69p-per-week price, and reveals a new word to strike fear in our hearts: “faketivist”.

120

STEVE CASSIDY When the plastic in your device is crumbling to dust, you know you have a problem. Steve pits his wits against various machines dabbling with disaster this month. 5


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April2017 Issue270

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Editor’s letter

It’s timetoplace technologyatthe heartoftheNHS IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that we were founding the NHS from scratch today. Ignoring the fact it would struggle to get out of committee stage, there would be one obvious difference from the current setup. Just as we can’t imagine hospitals without reliable sources of electricity and running water, we would make absolutely sure that the internet would work reliably throughout. I’m not arguing that broadband is as vital to hospitals as electricity and water, but technology can and will save more lives as this century marches on. You only need to listen to the experts – we share the views of ten health professionals from p30 – to understand the difference it can make. A joined-up system that supports our talented and dedicated nurses, surgeons, GPs and consultants could be the biggest social changer of the 21st century. Walking through the halls of CES, the world’s dominant technology trade show held in Las Vegas each January, made this even clearer (see p38 for our pick of the best new products). Despite my total lack of success on the blackjack tables, I’ve visited the show for the past 15 years, and in that time I’ve seen health applications grow from a niche selection of products hidden away in a corner of the South Hall to taking over a hangar’s worth of space. Much of this is tied up with fitness, which is a little ironic because in those 15 years there has been no sign of the CES attendees becoming any trimmer. Nevertheless, the health benefits of the now-cheap sensors built into phones, watches and wearables are so obvious that I barely need list them. And so I come back to the concept of a freshly minted Technology-Based NHS, or TBNHS for short. With reliable internet access baked in, and personal data from the

sensors built into the gadgets we carry around with us all the time, we can start thinking about a people-based system rather than one centred on buildings and facilities. Each of us has a unique medical history, our own biological dataset, so combining that individual information with the staggering amount of available data makes personalised diagnoses a reality. Not just when something goes wrong, but earlier too. As a basic example, consider the “smart bra” technology being developed by MIT startup Bloomer. This measures the surface temperature of the skin, providing early evidence of tumours, along with heart monitoring and blood pressure. Connected to an app on your phone, all the key information can then be shared with doctors. As Jon Honeyball has flagged in columns past, a data-based health system will only work if we can fully trust the NHS with our data, and much work still needs to be done there. It will take an even bigger cultural shift to move the millions of health professionals who are used to working in a certain way – a building-based way – to fully embrace modern technology. So I accept that my vision of a TBNHS is naive; we’re not creating the NHS from scratch, we’re building on something with 70 years of proud history, and we would need to break an industrial number of eggs to make this particular omelette. Still, the rewards are becoming ever more visible, ever more reachable, so forgive me if I dare to dream.

Tim Danton

Editor-in-chief

CONTRIBUTORS

Nicole Kobie The alternatives to silicon are lining up; Nicole digs behind the claims to see whether there’s any real prospect of it being replaced. See p124

Davey Winder How does our security expert Davey Winder keep his Android phone safe from hackers? Discover a little tool called LapDog on p118

Nik Rawlinson All of us have suffered the pain of lost important files. On p48, Nik explains what you can do about it – both before and after the disaster strikes

John Chen We interview BlackBerry CEO John Chen to find out why he sees a stronger future now the company has stopped making phones. See p10 7


April2017 Issue270 EDITORIAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Tim Danton: editor@pcpro.co.uk EDITORIAL FELLOW Dick Pountain ASSOCIATE EDITOR Darien Graham-Smith REVIEWS EDITOR, ALPHR Jonathan Bray: jon@alphr.com FEATURES EDITOR Barry Collins FUTURES EDITOR Nicole Kobie BRIEFING EDITOR Stewart Mitchell LETTERS & SOFTWARE EDITOR Nik Rawlinson ART & PRODUCTION ART DIRECTOR Paul Duggan FREELANCE DESIGN Bill Bagnall, Sarah Ratcliffe, Heather Reeves SUB-EDITORS Max Figgett, Priti Patel CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Tom Arah, Steve Cassidy, Jon Honeyball, Dave Mitchell, Mark Newton, Paul Ockenden, Kevin Partner, Davey Winder CONTRIBUTORS Ian Betteridge, Professor Iain Buchan, Christopher Minasians, Anthony Lawrence, Alan Martin, Thomas McMullan, James Morris, Alex Reis, Nathan Spendelow PHOTOGRAPHY Michael Pheasant ADVERTISING Tel: 020 7907 6662 GROUP ADVERTISING MANAGER Ben Topp: ben_topp@dennis.co.uk PRODUCTION Tel: 020 7907 6055 GROUP PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Robin Ryan DIGITAL PRODUCTION MANAGER Nicky Baker PRODUCTION EXECUTIVE Maaya Mistry CIRCULATION & SUBSCRIPTIONS Tel: 0844 844 0083 pcpro@servicehelpline.co.uk CIRCULATION MANAGER Emma Read NEWSTRADE DIRECTOR David Barker LOGOS & REPRINTS Tel: 020 7907 6132 Anjum Dosaj Halai: anj_halai@dennis.co.uk, SOFTWARE DOWNLOAD TECHNICAL SUPPORT software@pcpro.co.uk

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To tie in with our lead feature on p32, “Can technology save the NHS?”, we asked the team: “what technology would you like the NHS to embrace, and why?”

“Remote GP appointments via webcam: a physical visit is often a waste of everyone’s time.”

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PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION “IBM Watson. There’s a Printed by Wyndeham Bicester. special medical-skew version for diagnosis so it Distributed by Seymour Distribution, 2 East Poultry Avenue, should be a straightforward London EC1A 9PT. Tel: 020 7429 4000. drop-in. Oh, and “backwards” security, PC Pro is produced by Danton Media Limited and published where the patient’s monthly by Dennis Publishing Limited, a company registered in fingerprint or other England, number 1138891. biometric is what logs the medical people in to COPYRIGHT the record-keeping system. © Dennis Publishing Limited. PC Pro is a trademark of Felix Dennis. Assuming, of course, that This publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form they’re not in hospital in whole or in part without the written permission of because someone cut the publishers. off the identifying digit.”

“Everyone should have a digital ID with a link to anonymised NHS data to user info held on their personal smart card.”

“Knowledge sharing where a patient’s diagnosis gets passed back up the line to everyone who’s seen them beforehand. Paramedics and GPs have no idea how wrong they sometimes get diagnoses because there’s no system in place to inform them.”

“The infrastructure, including reliable and fast Wi-Fi across the NHS. It needs to get these basics sorted first, which would then open the door to the delivery of a fully functioning, tech-driven health service.”

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Briefıng Slug Sectionhead

Background and analysis on all the important news stories

Security and the Internet of Things Our infographic outlines how IoT devices are being exploited p12

Broadband escape hatch The “Handback Threshold” could offer a way out for customers p13

PC Probe Has Intel finally run dry on the desktop? p14

BlackBerryreveals comebackplan Third-party handsets and security consultancy are the way forward, according to the BlackBerry CEO

BLACKBERRY IS PINNING its hopes of an unheralded comeback on licensed handsets and a fledgling security consultancy, the company has told PC Pro. The one-time market leader in business handsets lost its way when touchscreens transformed the smartphone market, but it claims a new business model will revitalise the range of BlackBerry phones, while the company looks to build a new business based on its reputation for corporate security. The company says it still sees growth potential for BlackBerry-branded phones, although it won’t be building them itself. “We continue to have a handset business, but my handset business is changing a little bit now,” BlackBerry CEO John Chen told PC Pro. “Now BlackBerry will be licensing to other people, and we still have a strong hand in the portfolio, and provide all the software.” Chen claims that the licensing deals will create more BlackBerry

Five stories not to miss

10

LEFT BlackBerry sees potential in branded, thirdparty handsets, which it won’t be designing itself

have multiple parties creating and distributing, and I also have local parties to compete in other countries, which I normally cannot compete with,” Chen said. “So, what I’ll need to do is to create these partnerships, and let them compete with my biggest arch-rival, and I will then get out of the process.”

handsets than ever before, serving more markets. “There are going to be more BlackBerry phones out there, because now I

1 Chemistsclaimvictoryover burningbatteries

StanfordUniversitychemistsclaimtohave solvedtheproblemofincendiarylithium-ion batteriesthathaveafflicted devicessuchastheSamsung GalaxyNote7.Thetechnology includesaflame-retardant reservoirinsideameltable layerinthebattery’scasing. Whenabatteryreachesa criticaltemperature,the retardantisreleased.

2Microsoftadds ebookstoWindows arsenal

Microsoft is set to start offering ebooks through the Windows Store. Microsoft revealed it would add EPUB-format books to Windows 10 with the Creators Update. Books will be a hub entry in Microsoft Edge, and will include books bought from the company, unprotected EPUB titles and PDFs.

3 Oraclefacing discriminationcharges

OracleriskslosingUSgovernment contractsaftertheDepartmentofLabor filedalawsuitagainstthefirm,claimingit breacheddiscriminationlaws.Itclaims thatOraclepayswhitemalesmorethan femalesandminoritystaffersforthe same jobs,citing“grossdisparitiesinpay evenaftercontrolling”.ItalsosaysOracle discriminatedinfavourofAsianrecruits.


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Chen said building phones is a fool’s errand when faced with competition from manufacturing giants in Asia, with profit margins too slim to make the effort and risk worthwhile. “In the case of the largest business set up for this, Foxconn, which manufactures the iPhone, the net margin was 1-2%,” he said. “But the revenue was $145 billion. So when I look at this business, I say I’d rather be a software company.” BlackBerry will retain the right to block the distribution of phones that fall short of its quality or ethos, but Chen admitted the company would only do that as a matter of last resort. “We have veto rights over the portfolio, because since they’re using our brand, if there’s something strange that they’re doing, then we could stop them from releasing the phone,” he said. “Anything that violates our brand concept, then I would change it.”

Building phones is a fool’s errand when faced with competition from manufacturing giants in Asia However, BlackBerry’s recent history of failed handsets will make it difficult for the company to be too prescriptive with hardware partners, according to industry watchers. “The perception has inhibited BlackBerry because companies saw it as a failing hardware manufacturer, and that confusion is really hard if you’re selling yourself as a consultancy,” said Nick McQuire, an analyst with research company CCS Insight.

Securing business

While BlackBerry may struggle to impose itself as an authority on handset design, it does retain a strong reputation for security among both enterprise and government customers. The company will, consequently, continue to push existing products, such as the

ABOVE BlackBerry is joining with Giuliani Partners, the security firm of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (right)

4Squirrels“posebiggercyberrisk thanRussianhackers”

Hackers and Russians have been blamed for cyberattacks on power networks, but one researcher says the chief culprit is the squirrel. Having collated data on more than 1,700 power cuts globally, Cris Thomas claimed squirrels were far more dangerous than cyberterrorists to “counteract the ludicrousness of cyberwar claims by people at high levels”.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server, as well as look for new acquisitions to strengthen its security portfolio. Moreover, it will offer business customers advice on how to secure communications and the Internet of Things.

5Startups pricedout ofSilicon Roundabout

Londontechhubthe SiliconRoundabout hasseensuchlarge rent increases that startups can no longer rentincreasesthatstartupscannolonger affordtosetupshopthere,accordingtoaccountants atHackerYoung.Thenumberoffirmssettingupinthe SiliconRoundabouthasfallenfrom10,280to3,070.More affordableareassuchasCityRoadinN1andLeicester Squarearenowthemostpopularsmallstartupspots.

“Its legacy customer base has been government and government customers, so it’s building out a professional services business based on that trust,” said McQuire. As part of BlackBerry’s push into consultancy, the company announced it would be partnering with Giuliani Partners, the security consultancy of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who has recently been chosen to head up Donald Trump’s cybersecurity efforts. Chen said he was impressed by the Giuliani Partners’ client list. “It has a really impressive clientele, which I probably couldn’t reach,” admitted Chen, citing the governments of Columbia and Poland among the Giuliani client base. “[They’re] normally just not the places we’d have the reach for. And they have a lot of enterprise customers.” BlackBerry could also benefit from being close to the decision-makers in the US government, which has pledged to treat cybersecurity as a priority. “Giuliani has been on stage in New York evangelising about how BlackBerry helped New York during 9/11, because it was the only infrastructure working,” explained McQuire. “He also has a focus politically on fighting cybercrime, and BlackBerry is trying to step into that and use those relationships. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.” 11


Briefing Infographic

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Security and the Internet of Things The Internet of Things (IoT) has seen devices as diverse as baby monitors, industrial infrastructure sensors and front-door locks that can be controlled remotely. While we marvel at this near-universal connectivity, there are real concerns from security researchers and

academics that the system lacks sufficient controls, with a variety of platforms and protocols making it virtually impossible to standardise security. Here are several examples of how IoT devices are being exploited.

Lightbulbs

DVRS

Hackers used a flaw in the ZigBee IoT platform to demonstrate how a worm could spread from one Philips Hue lightbulb to another, using only the platform’s wireless signal to infect neighbouring lamps. The attackers used a fly-by drone to infect an office block’s lights, claiming an infection could go city-wide with enough bulbs in close proximity.

Many connected devices are set up with default passwords that aren’t easily changed, making them straightforward to attack. One such weakness in DVR and IP camera components made by XiongMai Technologies allowed hackers to create a botnet of 100,000 devices, taking out a range of websites, including Amazon and Spotify.

Webcams

Baby monitors

Smart cameras designed for security are vulnerable to attack themselves. The Exploitee.rs group showed last year how remote codeexecution exploits could hijack Samsung’s SmartCam range by injecting commands into devices’ web interfaces to gain root access.

Officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York are among those who have warned of poorly secured baby monitors that allow anyone to view footage from the cameras and, in several cases, talk to babies and parents from the device. Default password settings were again the culprit.

Heart monitors The US drug administrators issued warnings that a wireless component in a heart-monitoring and pacemaker-adjustment system was vulnerable. The Merlin@home Transmitter vulnerability allowed hackers to “remotely access a patient’s RF-enabled implanted cardiac device… which could result in rapid battery depletion and/or administration of inappropriate pacing or shocks,” the FDA said.

Source: IHS

Number of IoT devices globally

2015 15.4 billion 2020 30.7 billion 2025 75.4 billion 12

Smart meter networks

Front doors

Hacker Netanel Rubin demonstrated a hack of smart meters that could lead to bill manipulation and potentially dangerous changes to electricity settings. Exploiting the ZigBee or GSM platforms using wireless signals, Rubin intercepted communications between the utility company and the meters.

University of Michigan academics hacked into Samsung’s SmartThings home-automation system and made a “spare key” for a smart front door controlled by the system. According to the researchers, the platform gave too many privileges to apps, resulting in hackers turning off “vacation mode” and triggering fire alarms.


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Newtoolopens broadbandescapehatch

“Handback Threshold” offers benchmark for customers frustrated by abysmal broadband BROADBAND SUBSCRIBERS WHO suffer with

worse-than-expected connection speeds have a new weapon when trying to escape from their contract. The Downstream Handback Threshold – a new measure on BT Wholesale’s line checker (pcpro. link/270check) – identifies whether a customer’s connection is in the worst 10% for performance, the threshold by which customers must be released from their contract without charge. It’s a response to Ofcom regulations that aim to provide consumers with more information about the “minimum guaranteed access line speed” when signing a contract, but also has benefits if customers find speeds are far below what they expected. Ofcom introduced regulations that allowed customers to break their contract if their speeds fall below the threshold more than five years ago, but until now that information has been privy only to the broadband providers themselves.

ABOVE The checks will give customers more data

HotterPireleased Hotter Pi released Raspberry Pi has released an updated version of its Compute Module, promising a tenfold increase in performance. The idea of the Compute Module was to provide budding manufacturers with a way of producing customised products based on the Pi platform, allowing the “team in a garage” to create devices on a par with bigger operations. The latest version, CM3, brings the unit into line with the Raspberry Pi 3, and contains twice the RAM of its predecessor along with the promise of improved CPU performance. The module comes in two flavours, one with onboard flash memory and one with an interface that builders can use to connect to their own memory. The standard CM3 ($30) uses the same BCM2837 processor as the full

Raspberry Pi, clocked up to 1.2GHz, with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of on-module eMMC flash. The Compute Module 3 Lite ($25) has the BCM2837 and 1GB of RAM, but includes an SD card interface. Raspberry Pi said the CM3 is generally backwardscompatible, but warned that it was 1mm taller and may be more difficult to cool. “The processor core supply can draw significantly more current, so the processor itself will run much hotter under heavy CPU load,” said COO James Adams. “Designers need to consider thermals based on expected use cases.”

“If the performance of an individual line falls below this speed, the provider is responsible for investigating whether there is a fault which needs to be resolved or whether the line simply cannot support greater speeds using the current technology,” BT said in a statement. The new tool may help prevent drawn-out battles with an ISP’s call-centre staff. “Sometimes it’s an issue getting call-centre people to understand what your results are saying and going through the hoops of getting the line tests done – it’s not a simple process,” said Andrew Ferguson, broadband expert at Think Broadband. “The ISPs had it before, but now it’s visible to customers, so when you get through to someone in the call centre, having that information and knowledge will help.” The new tool is something of a pyrrhic victory for customers suffering from sluggish broadband. While it may now be easier to escape a contract with your current provider, customers may find that speeds are equalling appalling with rival suppliers. As BT pointed out: “whilst the end customer can choose to end their service, moving to another provider may not make any difference to their service/speed, as if an individual line can’t support the required speed because of technology

limitations then it’s unlikely to do so via a different provider”. Indeed, some customers may even find they’re better off reverting to ADSL from fibre connections. “There’s a crossover point, where you’re a certain distance from a cabinet and you may be getting 3Mbits/sec on ADSL, and it might be better to go back to ADSL,” said Ferguson. “The threshold should mean you can say: ‘I’ve tried it, and it was no faster so I need to go back to the old ADSL, because I know how it worked.’ If it’s triggered, you should get your setup fees refunded and that can be hefty, maybe £60.”

SPONSORED LISTING

Virtual Reality Show WHEN? Friday 21 & Saturday 22 April 2017 WHERE? Business Design Centre, London WHY VISIT? Try out VR products, meet the top brands and innovators, enjoy unique experiences. Discover a new reality. www.virtualrealityshow.co.uk 13


PCProbe

Stop the clocks: has Intel run dry on the desktop? Intel’s latest desktop processors have failed to move the performance needle. Stewart Mitchell investigates whether this is indicative of a longer-term slump

W

hen Intel released its seventh-generation Core processor range in January, many were left unimpressed by the performance of its top-end desktop processors. Kaby Lake, Intel’s codename for the range, provided a significant boost for mobile devices, but the desktop risks being left to fester, despite Intel’s assurances to the contrary and the re-emergence of AMD as a force in the CPU market. “We know performance matters,” said Intel’s client computing vice president, Navin Shenoy, talking about the latest generation of chips. “It’s why we continue to focus on improved performance, delivering double-digit productivity performance increases – up to 20% for performance and gaming notebooks and 25% for desktops.” Yet most third-party benchmarks published to date have found that the high-end processors are not significantly faster than existing CPUs, especially if those sixth-generation parts were overclocked. While Intel has increased the clock frequency of processors with Kaby Lake, there are minimal architectural changes and many of the performance improvements on chips using the company’s 14nm technology rely on optimising specific tasks, such as video decoding and memory management. “Looking at the core CPU benchmarks, Kaby Lake doesn’t really provide much of a noticeable performance enhancement over [its predecessor] Skylake,” said Mark Hung, an Intel specialist at research firm Gartner. “Given the slowdown in Moore’s law, Intel decided to make a third generation [of 14nm chips] by making further architectural refinement. A lot of the improvements were made with Skylake, so there wasn’t much room to make further optimisation.” When PC Pro queried the discrepancy between Intel’s 25% performance increase claim and external benchmarks, the company contested reports that performance improvements were minimal, but appeared to backtrack on the scale of the gains on offer. “Intel’s 7th Gen Core family is expected to provide high single-digit gains on 14

BELOW Third-party benchmarks show the seventh-gen range is little faster than previous CPUs

productivity performance,” the company said in a statement, while pointing out that there were bigger improvements in specific areas such as 4K video. “Seventh-gen Intel Core processor graphics deliver additional 3D graphics performance, driven by process and architecture improvements, when compared to sixth-gen Intel Core processor graphics. These improvements range into double-digit increases,” the company added.

Holding fire?

Has Intel lost interest in the niche desktop, or is it simply biding its time until it can perfect the Cannonlake 10nm process due at the end of the year? At least part of this bottleneck in desktop performance is due to the increasing difficulty of “obeying” Moore’s Law, and, according to analysts, Intel has tried to squeeze more from the 14nm production process and left itself little headroom for improvement. Historically, the company has worked on a “tick-tock” cycle, where the firm moves to a new process one year and then refines that process the year after. For example, Ivy Bridge in 2012 saw chip production move to a 22nm process, which was the tick, and a year later the company improved the performance with the Haswell architecture, the tock. Then Intel moved on to the 14nm process. “Haswell was a great desktop product in many respects, and then things started to change when Intel moved to 14nm,” said David Kanter, an analyst with the Linley Group research company. “The process was more geared to improving low power operation instead of maxing out peak performance. “The 14nm process that brought us Broadwell really did great things for mobile, and it was pretty good for servers, but the high-end desktop wasn’t super impressive.” Skylake followed in the traditional “tock” cycle, but the benefits were less pronounced than earlier revisions, and Kanter believes the company ran out of headroom when it needed to release another upgrade on the same production

Kaby Lake doesn’t really provide much of a noticeable performance enhancement over its predecessor Skylake


@PCPRO

Briefing PCProbe PC Probe

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process. “It’s the third generation, and the problem is that Intel’s planning cycles are long and it didn’t have the option to redesign the CPU and make it faster because of the development cycles,” he said.

Diverted focus

While technical issues have played a part in the arrested development of top-end desktop chips, there are good reasons why Intel has chosen to focus on other areas of its business. Research figures for 2016 released by research companies IDC and Gartner both highlighted that PC sales had shrunk for the fifth year in a row, and within this dwindling market, laptops continue to far outsell desktops. That’s reflected in the improvements made to the processors. “If you look at client PCs, really the vast majority of them are laptops, and there the design considerations are very different,” said Hung. “Power efficiency and video-encoding performance are much more important than raw CPU performance.” Kanter agrees that Intel is merely following the money trail. “For consumers, the high-end desktop chip is still between $400 and $1,000 and that’s probably going to stay the same,” said Kanter. “Gamers will pay that, but the issue is how often do they upgrade and how much are they going to spend on their CPU? “Intel is a tech powerhouse, but it’s also focused on the bottom line. The data centre market is more lucrative than the high-end gaming market.”

One-horse race

Another reason Intel hasn’t been pushing the performance barriers is that it doesn’t have to: there’s no credible competitor forcing the company to up its game. Intel’s biggest rival, AMD, has lately switched its focus to GPUs – although it is set to challenge Intel on the desktop once more with its Ryzen chips later this year. Experts say that Intel has effectively been competing with itself for a number of years. “If Intel can produce something that’s really amazing and all of a sudden PC buyers want to upgrade every three years instead of every five, that moves the whole market, and that’s more important to Intel than what AMD is doing,” said Kanter. And despite promising early benchmark results from Ryzen, AMD is not expected to challenge Intel on highend performance. “The world is waiting to see what frequencies the Ryzen gets, because if AMD can come in with a noticeably better frequency and better per-core performance that would be really surprising,” said Kanter. “My expectation is that it will come in with something that looks roughly competitive with Ivy Bridge or Haswell,

ABOVE Analysts argue that Intel’s 14nm Skylake design left little or no room for improvement

so maybe 20% behind, and at a competitive price – although AMD has been keeping its cards close to its chest.” Either way, analysts believe that Intel will remain the dominant presence on the desktop for some time. “The desktop market is still significant and it’s important to Intel because it’s a very high-margin business and there will be some high performance features,” said Hung. “I don’t see Intel stepping away from desktops in the near future.”

APCmaker’s perspective We asked PC maker Chillblast if it had seen any significant performance increase with the latest generation of Intel processors. Sales manager Ben Miles told us: “It’s true that instructions-perclock differences are non-existent, because the chips are fundamentally identical, except for the iGPU,” he said. “For those running their systems at stock speed, however, the higher clocks of the Kaby Lake parts make the launch actually much better than the previous generational increase.” “For example, the [sixthgeneration] 6700K launched at

4/4.2GHz, wiping out its advantage over the [fifth-generation] 4790K which was 4/4.4GHz. The 4.2/4.5GHz of the [seventh-generation] 7700K means it handily dispatches both of these chips, which were roughly similar in performance. “These clock speed improvements are replicated across the whole range. This, along with new features like the Z270 chipset supporting Intel Optane (3D XPoint memory technology) and improved overclocking capabilities makes Kaby Lake, surprisingly, a more interesting launch than the last one was – at least to us!”

15


TheA-List PREMIUM LAPTOPS

NEW ENTRY

The best products on the market, handpicked by our editors SMARTPHONES

Dell XPS 13 (New)

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

dell.co.uk

shop.samsung.com/uk

Dell only needed to refi refine ne its brilliant XPS 13 design to keep top spot, and that’s what it does: it’s slightly quicker and adds more options, but it’s the edge-to-edge 13.3in display and super-compact chassis that lift it above the opposition. Oh, and it’s now available in Rose Gold. REVIEW Issue 270, p54

With the Galaxy Note 7 gone forever, it’s not all bad news for Samsung: its replacement on the A-List is the S7 Edge, with its dual edge 5.5in AMOLED screen still the pinnacle of quality. Despite the arrival of the Pixel and iPhone 7, it’s the best phone in town due to its brilliant camera, expandability via a microSD slot, weather-proofing and astronomical battery life. REVIEW Issue 261, p70

Android, 32GB, £639

13in ultraportable from £999

ALTERNATIVES

NEW ENTRY

Lenovo ThinkPad Apple MacBook Pro 13 (2016) X1 Yoga

A dream laptop that turns into a 14in tablet with the swivel of a keyboard – yet it still weighs under 1.3kg. Simply beautiful design from Lenovo. From £1,780; lenovo.com/uk REVIEW Issue 263, p56

The high price stops it from taking Dell’s top spot, but a nine-hour battery life, sleek design and – for a premium – the Touch Bar make this a stunning machine. From £1,449; apple.com/uk REVIEW Issue 268, p54

Dell XPS 15

Dell takes the XPS 13’s beautiful design and applies it to this blistering 15.6in laptop. End result: the best 15in all-round laptop on the market. From £1,199; dell.co.uk REVIEW Issue 258, p62

ALTERNATIVES

Honor 6X

A top-quality phone, with a metal body, fingerprint reader, fine screen and dual-lens camera adding up to a winning combo. 32GB, £224; vmall.eu/uk REVIEW Issue 270, p58

OnePlus 3T

The 3T is faster, has a bigger battery than the 3 and an improved selfie camera – enough to keep it as the top mid-range choice. From £399; oneplus.net. REVIEW

Issue 269, p68

TABLETS

EVERYDAY LAPTOPS

Apple iPad Pro 9.7

Asus ZenBook UX305CA

apple.com/uk

zavvi.com

While the Surface Pro 4 is our top tablet choice for serious work, the iPad Pro 9.7 retains its A-List crown as an all-round tablet. Add the Smart Keyboard and Pencil and you have an amazingly versatile computer. It’s superb for taking down notes by hand, for typing when necessary, and a glorious tablet when you need it. REVIEW Issue 261, p64

For £550, Asus has produced a remarkable machine. It looks stylish, the build quality is excellent, and to include a high-quality, 13.3in, 3,200 x 1,800 screen without whacking up the price is amazing. Only the 128GB SSD disappoints. REVIEW Issue 260, p75

ALTERNATIVES

ALTERNATIVES

Lives up to Microsoft’s promise of a tablet that can replace your laptop, with a stunning screen. 128GB, £609; microsoftstore.co.uk REVIEW Issue 264, p88

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Not a world-beater, but water-resistance, superb design and numerous tweaks add up to a great phone. 32GB, £599; apple.com/uk REVIEW Issue 266, p54

Stylish and lightweight, £550

Pro tablet from £549

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Apple iPhone 7

Google Pixel C

The next OS update will make this beautiful piece of hardware even more usable. It’s the best Android tablet by a country mile. 32GB, £399; store.google.com REVIEW Issue 264, p83

Apple iPad mini 2

A price drop due to the iPad mini 4’s arrival makes this old-timer more attractive than ever. 32GB, £239; apple.com/uk REVIEW pcpro.link/almini2

Acer Asus ZenBook Chromebook R11 UX330UA

Quite simply the most attractive and practical Chromebook you can buy today, weighing 1.25kg and complete with a 11.6in IPS display. £229; pcworld.co.uk REVIEW pcpro.link/alistr11

Can’t quite afford a Dell XPS 13? This is an excellent alternative: for the spec, which includes a i5-6200U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, it undercuts Dell by £100. £850; pcworld.co.uk REVIEW Issue 266, p62

Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA

Brings the style and substance of the UX305CA (our A-List choice) but adds extra flexibility thanks to a 360-degree hinge. £900; currys.co.uk REVIEW Issue 265, p70


@PCPRO

The A-List

FAC E B O O K . C O M / P C P R O

ENTHUSIAST PCs

Palicomp i5 Focus

Chillblast Fusion Strix Gaming PC

Base unit, £1,000 palicomp.co.uk

An overclocked Core i5, 256GB Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD, 16GB of RAM, plus a GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card add up to one super-powerful machine. REVIEW Issue 266, p88

WORKSTATIONS

NEW ENTRY

Scan 3XS Classic 3D

i7-6950X workstation, £4,750 scan.co.uk An overclocked Core i7-6950X combined with Nvidia’s new Quadro P5000 graphics, with a high-quality supporting cast of components and chassis, translate into a superb content-creation tool for the right price. REVIEW Issue 270, p84

A winning debut for Kaby Lake, with Chillblast overclocking Intel’s top-end chip – the Core i7-7700K – from 4GHz to 4.2GHz and supporting it with 16GB of 3GHz DDR4 RAM and a superfast Samsung SSD. The great case is the icing on top. £2,150; chillblast.com REVIEW Issue 269, p54

This machine oozes quality in all the right places, with a GeForce GTX 1060 partnered with Intel’s Skylake i5-6600K chip to excellent effect. Consider adding an optical drive at the time of order. £800; yoyotech.co.uk REVIEW Issue 265, p64

NEW ENTRY

NEW ENTRY

Lenovo ThinkStation P910

Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S

Lenovo pulls no punches with this amazing workstation: a pair of highend Xeon E5-2867W v4 processors, Quadro P6000 graphics, 128GB of RAM, four 512GB SSDs and four 4TB hard disks tell their own story. Incredibly expensive, but worth it. £12,250; lenovo.com/uk. REVIEW Issue 270, p83

EVERYDAY MONITORS

Eizo FlexScan EV2450 1080p display, £264 scan.co.uk A great-value 24in IPS display that offers more colour-accurate images than you’ve any right to expect at this price – and a reassuring five-year warranty too. REVIEW Issue 263, p72

Yoyotech Warbird RS10-V2

This NAS-sized device packs the power of a tower system, with the choice of specification near-identical to the Scan’s winning formula. You just need to decide if it’s worth paying extra for the miniaturisation. £5,899; workstationspecialists.com. REVIEW Issue 270, p85

NEW ENTRY

Asus VC239H

AOC AGON AG271QX

Don’t be fooled by this 23.6in monitor’s price. It uses an IPS panel, helping photos and movies look bright and natural out of the box, and its colour accuracy is astonishing for the price. It isn’t fancy, but if your budget is limited then it’s a bargain. £130; scan.co.uk REVIEW Issue 263, p72

AOC targets gamers with this 27in screen, which offers 144Hz refresh rates at its native 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, but it’s a fine all-rounder too. With excellent colour accuracy, even photo and video editors should be happy. £410; amazon.co.uk REVIEW Issue 270, p69

Dell UltraSharp UP2716D

NEC SpectraView 232

PROFESSIONAL MONITORS

Eizo ColorEdge CG277

Professional monitor, £1,600 wexphotographic.com Spectacular image quality; stunning colour accuracy; amazing flexibility. Just three reasons the ColorEdge CG777 won our Labs dedicated to monitors for professionals. REVIEW Issue 260, p88

This 27in screen couldn’t match the Eizo CG277 for outright quality, but compared to most screens it offers superb colour accuracy – especially for the price. It supports hardware calibration, has ultra-thin bezels and is packed with connectivity. And you can buy almost three to each CG277. £581; dell.co.uk REVIEW Issue 260, p86

A great choice if you need a single colour-accurate monitor to finalcheck work but don’t want to pay a fortune. It’s undeniably expensive for a 23in 1,920 x 1,080 screen, but stunning image quality and an array of features sweeten the deal. £519; wexphotographic.com REVIEW Issue 260, p92

Fitbit Charge 2

Pebble Time

WEARABLES

Apple Watch Series 2 Smartwatch, from £369 apple.com/uk This refined and upgraded Apple Watch – complete with GPS and water resistance – is the best allround watch/fitness tracker around. No more just a notification centre on your wrist, it’s now a genuinely helpful tool. REVIEW Issue 266, p62

The fitness tracker lacks only built-in GPS. In return, there’s everything you need – including an OLED display and heart-rate monitor – packed into a sleek design. Note it’s designed for ease of use rather than in-depth data analysis, so fanatics should look elsewhere. £114; johnlewis.com REVIEW Issue 268, p78

Now discontinued, but we still love the simplicity of the Pebble Time, a fun, practical watch that works with both Android and iOS. App support is limited, but all the fundamentals are covered, and the colour e-paper screen helps the Time achieve five days of battery life. £79; amazon. co.uk REVIEW pcpro.link/alpebble

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The A-List

@PCPRO

FAC E B O O K . C O M / P C P R O

WORKGROUP PRINTERS

Kyocera P6035cdn

Colour laser, £374 exc VAT printerland.co.uk An affordable workgroup colour laser with classy print quality at high speeds, hitting 29ppm in our tests. Running costs of 1p and 5p colour are commendable too. REVIEW Issue 262, p96

Brother MFC-L5750DW

HP PageWide Pro 452dw

This mono laser delivers crisp results at 46 pages per minute, while a generous 8,000-page starter cartridge and 12,000-page replacements mean running costs work out at 1p. Great scanning and cloud features round off the deal. £207 exc VAT; printerland.co.uk REVIEW Issue 269, p101

Forget all you thought you knew about office inkjets: speeds of over 50ppm and costs of less than 1p per mono page are more than a match for similarly priced lasers. It’s a bit picky about paper, though. £218 exc VAT; printerbase.co.uk REVIEW Issue 262, p95

Canon Maxify MB5350

Lexmark CX310dn

HOME OFFICE PRINTERS

Brother MFC-J5620DW

A3 all-in-one inkjet, £188 printerland.co.uk

It may look dull, but this boxy A3 inkjet is user-friendly, delivers decent speeds (our 20-page mono doc appeared in 91 seconds) and has low costs of 0.6p/4.5p per page. REVIEW Issue 262, p81

This inkjet has been designed for a busy life, with twin 250-sheet paper cassettes as standard, plus a 50-sheet duplex ADF. Text emerges a shade sharper than the Brother’s, and it’s just as speedy – but running costs are a little higher at 1.1p/5.2p per page. £209; pcworld.co.uk REVIEW Issue 262, p82

Lasers still win for pin-sharp text, and this colour unit impressed in a number of areas: great all-round quality, solid 18.7ppm mono and 11.9ppm colour speeds, and good running costs for a laser at 2.1p/9.7p per page. There’s a 50-sheet ADF, but no Wi-Fi. £209; ebuyer.com REVIEW Issue 262, p85

Synology RT1900ac

BT Smart Hub

ROUTERS

Netgear Nighthawk X4S

802.11ac router, £265 broadbandbuyer.co.uk

In return for that staggering price, you’re getting top-end performance, today and in the future – thanks to support for multi-user MIMO. Bags of advanced features only add to its allure. REVIEW Issue 256, p86

SMB ROUTERS/ACCESS POINTS

DrayTek Vigor 2860Ln

Secure router, £320 exc VAT misco.co.uk A brilliant router for businesses that demand excellent security features, while its VPN support is second to none – the price includes support for 32 IPsec VPN tunnels. It’s worth every penny. REVIEW Issue 258, p95

Until now, Synology was probably best known for NAS drives, but this 802.11ac router suggests it may become a major player here too. Not only fast, easy to use and packed with features, it also comes at a price that undercuts rivals by up to £50. £136; ballicom.co.uk REVIEW Issue 256, p87

If you’re a BT broadband customer, this is something of a bargain at £50 (discounted from its “full price” of £130). It lived up to BT’s bold speed and range claims, with fast and reliable performance even at distance. It’s free to new Infinity subscribers too. £130; home. bt.com REVIEW Issue 264, p64

NEW ENTRY

TP-Link Auranet EAP330

This access point provides an affordable, secure and highperformance wireless network, while its bundled management software offers scope to grow and control your network without having to pay anything extra. A great choice for growing businesses £169 exc VAT; ebuyer.com. REVIEW Issue 270, p101 ebuyer.com

Linksys LRT224

We weren’t overly impressed by the LRT224’s performance in our speed tests, but if your main concern is business VPN options then take note: this compact steel box can handle up to 50 site-to-site or client VPNs, despite its low price. £121 exc VAT; box.co.uk REVIEW Issue 258, p96

SCANNERS

Visioneer Patriot D40

Network scanner, £379 exc VAT tradescanners.com 67ppm scan speeds, impeccable paper handling from the 80-page ADF and a fine software bundle makes this a great choice for small businesses with big demands. REVIEW Issue 264, p100

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Brother ADS-3600W

With a scan rate of 50ppm, impressive output quality, wide support for cloud services and a comprehensive bundle of features, the Brother ADS-3600W has every document-digitising feature a small or medium-size business could possibly need. A fine alternative to the Patriot D40. £462 exc VAT; ebuyer.com REVIEW Issue 263, p96

Fujitsu fi-7480

This scanner is overkill for most businesses, but it delivers astonishing scan speeds – 68ppm for A4 pages – and impeccable paper handling, backing it up with excellent scan quality and OCR abilities. It could revolutionise document management. £1,995 exc VAT; tradescanners.com REVIEW Issue 267, p102


@PCPRO

SECURITY SOFTWARE Kaspersky Internet Security 2017

Little changes in the 2017 update, but it still offers perfect protection in tests – and now adds a VPN and tools to update and manage software. 3 PCs/1yr, £20; amazon.co.uk REVIEW Issue 267, p64

Avast Free Antivirus 2016

The A-List

FAC E B O O K . C O M / P C P R O

Avast Free Antivirus 2016 can’t match paid-for suites for virus detection, but it remains a strong performer with some nifty features. Against tough rivals, this is the pick of the free crop. Free; avast.com REVIEW Issue 265, p84

Bitdefender Internet Security 2017

While the interface is a step back from 2016, everything else that’s great about Bitdefender stays: most notably the silent but deadly “Autopilot” protection. 3 PCs/1yr, £25; amazon.co.uk REVIEW Issue 267, p65

RACK SERVERS HPE ProLiant DL20 Gen9

The ProLiant DL20 Gen9 packs a powerful hardware configuration into the smallest of rack spaces. It’s very affordable and versatile, and its silent running makes it highly suited to a wide range of deployment scenarios. £1,273 exc VAT; uk.insight.com REVIEW Issue 260, p101

PRODUCTIVITY SOFTWARE Microsoft Office 2016

We’ll be honest: there’s very little here for anyone upgrading from Office 2013. However, this is still the best office suite for professionals. From £120; office.microsoft.com REVIEW pcpro.link/aloffice16

LibreOffice 5

The interface looks a little dated, and the lack of collaboration features is a shame. But interoperability with Word and Excel is better than ever, making this a fine upgrade if you don’t want to pay. Free, libreoffice.org REVIEW pcpro.link/allibre

Scrivener

A brilliant package for serious writers: not only a word processor, but a tool that helps you organise your ideas and manage the process of composition from start to finish. £29; literatureandlatte.com REVIEW pcpro.link/ alscrivener

PEDESTAL SERVERS HPE ProLiant ML30 Gen9

An excellent choice for SMBs with an eye on the future. The low price makes it great value, it has the best remote management features in town and offers plenty of upgrade space. (On test: model 830893031.) £763 exc VAT; uk.insight. com REVIEW Issue 265, p99

Broadberry CyberServe XE3-RS300 Dell PowerEdge T130

There’s little to fault in the well-priced CyberServe. Small businesses will particularly appreciate its versatile storage arrangement, combining top SSD performance with plenty of growth space. £1,195 exc VAT; broadberry.co.uk REVIEW Issue 260, p99

NAS APPLIANCES Qnap TS-831X

The T130 packs a lot into its compact chassis and won’t disturb you even in a small office, with our audio tests measuring a noise level of only 37.9dB. Storage features are basic, but there’s room to grow – a fine first server. From £399 exc VAT; dell.co.uk REVIEW Issue 265, p98

BACKUP

CREATIVITY SOFTWARE Adobe Creative Cloud 2017

Adobe entrenches its position as an indispensable resource for creative professionals, with useful upgrades to the core print-orientated apps such as Photoshop, and some exciting new additions for digital designers too. Complete plan, £46/mth; adobe.com/uk REVIEW Issue 268, p72

Adobe Photoshop Elements 14

Despite few new features, this is still the best home image-editing tool around. Consider subscribing to Lightroom and Photoshop proper instead, though. £50; amazon.co.uk REVIEW pcpro.link/alelem14

Kerio Control NG100

The NG100 is probably the smallest UTM appliance you can buy, but it’s no lightweight. It runs the full version of Kerio’s Control software, providing SPI firewalling, IPsec VPNs, IPS, deep-packet inspection and bandwidth management. With 1yr unlimited licence, £389 exc VAT; kerio.com REVIEW Issue 262, p101

WatchGuard Firebox T70

This UTM appliance offers SMBs a wealth of security measures, teamed up with a super set of remote management tools, at a competitive price. With 1yr Total Security Suite, £2,178 exc VAT; watchguard-online.co.uk REVIEW Issue 268, p103

VOIP SERVICES

As if to prove that tape backup will never die, along comes the seventh generation of LTO. HPE delivers an amazing package that bumps up speeds to 300MB/sec and cartridge capacities to 6TB. £2,618 exc VAT; uk.insight.com REVIEW Issue 263, p100

HPE StoreEver LTO-7 Ultrium 15000

Sipgate Team

PowerNAS Rackmount 2U

Arcserve Backup r17

3CX Phone System

Simply brilliant for SMBs: it supports Windows and VMware VMs; works with Windows 10 and Exchange 2016; the price includes data deduplication; and it’s easy to use too. File Server Module, £899 exc VAT; arcserve.com REVIEW Issue 261, p101

A big bump in performance and a handful of UI improvements keep Cubase at the top of the audio-production tree. A worthwhile upgrade. £400; dv247.com REVIEW pcpro.link/ alcubasepro8

SECURITY

A great-value package for SMBs with an eye on the future, the TS-831X is 10GbE-ready with room to expand. Plus, Qnap’s software offers a superb range of data protection apps. Diskless, £710 exc VAT; broadbandbuyer.com REVIEW Issue 266, p98

A fine choice for storage-hungry businesses. It’s a powerful and affordable appliance with all the features of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, and big expansion potential makes it a solid investment. From £1,952 exc VAT; powernas.co.uk REVIEW Issue 266, p97

Steinberg Cubase Pro 8

For a harried IT manager, Sipgate Team offers all the benefits of VoIP with none of the hassle. There’s no minimum contract, no on-site server, and easy management via a web portal – plus all the features you’d expect. From £15 per month exc VAT; sipgate.co.uk REVIEW Issue 263, p101

If you want to host your own IP PBX then 3CX Phone System does everything you could ask for. It’s easy to install while offering an incredible range of call-handling features for the price. 4-channel licence, £270 exc VAT; 3cx.com REVIEW Issue 261, p94 21


Profile BACKGROUND INFO ON INNOVATIVE BRITISH COMPANIES

LoopUp

We meet the British company that claims to take the pain out of conference calls – while still using traditional telephony

KEYFACTS

LoopUp aims to give “a better meeting experience” without user training but using traditional telecoms LOCATION London and San Francisco FOUNDED 2006 EMPLOYEES 120 WEBSITE loopup.com

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hen you’re interviewing the CEO of a remote meetings company, you expect absolutely nothing to go wrong with the conference call. Yet we’re ten seconds into my call with LoopUp, barely past the pleasantries, and it’s gone pear-shaped. “Did you, by chance, use our dial-in numbers, Barry?” How does Steve Flavell know I’ve dialled directly into the conference, rather than enter my phone number and have LoopUp call me back, as his software urged me to do? Because when I’m talking, I’m not showing up as the active speaker on his screen – just one of the many advanced conference-call features that has seen LoopUp post 30% year-on-year growth for the past few years. And so the old-school journalist, dialling in directly to make sure his recording of the conversation works properly, breaks the demo. Breaks the demo needlessly, at that, because the recording of calls is yet another LoopUp feature, with the administrator being emailed a link to the recording the moment the call ends. LoopUp’s CEO has the sheer misfortune of being interviewed by a teleconferencing luddite, but he soon puts me straight on why my 20th-century dial-in approach is being fast left behind.

Call chaos

RIGHT Steve Flavell (pictured) and Michael Hughes have been joint CEOs of LoopUp since founding it in 2006 22

Conference calls are routinely a dismal experience. Nobody’s quite sure who’s speaking unless they introduce themselves before they speak; participants on speaker phones ruin the audio for everyone; and even getting into the call in the first place can be an ordeal, requiring you to punch lengthy codes into your handset, with one fat-fingered mistake requiring you to go back to the beginning and start again. The internet alternatives (Skype, Google Hangouts and so on), are great if everyone’s on a rock-solid connection, but we’ve all been on calls where the wibbles outweigh the words you can actually hear. Flavell and his San Francisco-based business partner, Michael Hughes,

had tired of these flaws as far back as 2003, when they first decided there was money to be made in making conference calls better. By 2006, that idea had turned into LoopUp – the company the pair of them remain joint CEOs of a decade later. “There were software-based products in the market,” Flavell says of the teleconferencing world of a decade ago, “but the 85-90% silent majority of people doing these remote meetings were still just dialling into audio-only conference calls with numbers and codes, and having to put up with a whole set of quite familiar frustrations. Things like having to ask ‘who just joined?’, or ‘who’s that speaking?’, ‘who is it with all that background noise?’. We set LoopUp up to provide a better experience for that silent majority of people who need to meet remotely in business.” LoopUp is a software solution that still uses the traditional telephone system for its back-end. Invitees are sent a link to dial into the call, which they can open in the web browser of whichever device they may be using at the time – smartphone, tablet or PC. The web interface invites them to enter their name and telephone number, and in seconds they receive a call that automatically places them in the conference – no 12-digit codes, no saying your name after the tone, none of the usual palaver. “Once you’ve put that number in, it remembers it for next time, so joining a LoopUp meeting becomes just a couple of clicks,” said Flavell. After you’ve joined the call, your browser is automatically redirected to a web page for that meeting, opening up features such as screen sharing and automatic identification of the person speaking at the time. And even if you’ve never met some of the participants, LoopUp helps you get familiar, with links to LinkedIn profiles or specific meeting profiles, where the administrator can identify people’s roles – handy on calls with several participants or external clients. (I can’t help thinking that had I been able to see the screen on our call, my profile would have read “Moron journalist who can’t follow simple onscreen instructions”.) The other big feature for LoopUp’s enterprise customers is


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SHARED SCREEN

ABOVE After joining a meeting, you’re directed to a web page, opening up tools such as screen sharing RIGHT If you’re not familiar with some of the participants of the meeting, LoopUp provides handy links to LinkedIn profiles

Profile

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security: the system is ISO/IEC 27001certified globally for information security management, meaning IT managers can tick a compliance box and not have to worry that confidential materials shared in conference calls will end up in the wrong hands.

Traditional telephone

Although LoopUp is operated through a software interface, the back-end still relies on the traditional telephone system rather than internet telephony. That’s for one simple reason, said Flavell: reliability. Business customers don’t have time to waste on dropouts or dropped calls, which is one of the reasons they’re prepared to pay for a service such as LoopUp instead of relying on free alternatives such as Skype. “For enterprise remote meetings, it can’t be hit and miss – they have to work every time,” said Flavell. “If you put VoIP in the product… it may be fine X times out of ten, but the times that it’s not, it’s just not worth it for the enterprise.” The ubiquity of traditional telephony is another huge advantage. “You can use Skype with a colleague in a different country, if you know they’re a Skype user and you know they have Skype on their machine, that’s fine,” said Flavell, adding the caveat: “If you’re prepared to take the degree of risk that the audio quality may or may not be great every time.” However, Flavell claims it would be foolhardy for businesses to rely on free software for critical meetings with clients. “[Enterprises] can’t rely on prospects, customers, partners, suppliers, external parties all having that software. You have to have something that will work more ubiquitously across internal and external situations.”

LoopUp became the first company to list on AIM post-Brexit – and it raised £40 million in the process

Going public

There’s no doubt Flavell has the same surety in the company’s prospects as he does in the reliability of its

conference calls. Many British companies would have pulled their plans to float in the wake of the decision to leave the EU, but LoopUp remained firm, becoming the first company to list on AIM post-Brexit. It raised £40 million in the process, and at the time of writing, a gradual increase in its share price had added another 20% to the company’s market cap. Why did LoopUp take the risk of going public? “We were looking for growth equity,” said Flavell. “We went public, rather than private, because in our market there’s a credibility effect that’s very helpful. We’re selling into the enterprise… it’s not a consumer product. We’re competing against large companies like the BTs of the world and the Ciscos of the world. The credibility that comes with having shown we’re suitable for the public market allows us to compete better in this industry.” Indeed, you get the sense that despite winning some very big corporate clients, LoopUp wants to make itself known to a wider audience. The company approached us to appear in Profile rather than the other way round, a sure sign of a brand that’s decided to get on the front foot in terms of public relations. In a field that’s dominated by huge names such as GoToMeeting, Cisco’s WebEx, TeamViewer, and of course companies such as Google and Skype, this relatively small British upstart is going to have to fight hard for every client. Which is perhaps why, for the first time, the company’s made a free 30-day trial of its software available to potential customers. Flavell doesn’t only want to be better known by potential customers, but among other software companies too. He says a big focus for the company over the next couple of years will be ensuring that LoopUp integrates well with other collaboration software, such as Slack and Salesforce. “The winners will not just be the ones who are excellent at what they do, but are also excellent at playing well and integrating well with other excellent products that do different things,” claimed Flavell. “You’re almost looking for a collaboration world in the future that is like a federated set of best-in-class products that play well with one another. “You may want to draw information into your remote meeting from Salesforce, show a Box document, collaborate on a Google Doc together. That’s all fine, and the best-in-class products should allow that,” he adds. It sounds like Flavell needs to organise a few LoopUp meetings with fellow CEOs… BARRY COLLINS

Whataboutyou? Do you work for a British technology company that could be profiled in PC Pro? If so, get in touch: profile@pcpro.co.uk

23


Viewpoints PC Pro readers and experts give

Out-of-hours email? That’s the only sort I do these days What’s truly antisocial is the expectation that you’ll spend half of your life sitting in the office I find much to envy about the French, from their cuisine and culture to their sun-drenched beaches and – a particular love of mine – their stunning ski resorts. Yes, Darien Graham-Smith is we Brits have the PC Pro’s associate editor. Cairngorms, but it’s Send him a message on hardly the same. Twitter at any time you Another thing I’ve like, day or night. always admired is the @dariengs very French notion that a job is just a job: something to be discharged with dignity, then walked away from at the end of the day. So I wasn’t surprised to see France, at the start of this year, legally enshrine “the right to disconnect” – that is, the right to ignore work-related communications outside of one’s regular working hours, except as specifically agreed. Indeed, my immediate response was to wonder why we don’t have the same thing in the UK. Perhaps that’s partly down to my instinctive distrust of employers, or at least of the market in which they operate. There’s a constant pressure to grow profits and cut costs, and in practice it’s often quality of life that gets squeezed. It’s all too easy to imagine a future where round-the-clock availability is a standard condition of employment.

24

their views on the world of technology But the truth is that, in many cases, the problem is self-inflicted. We choose to bring our own devices to work; we voluntarily configure them to pick up our work email, and we check our messages at odd hours without anyone asking us to. Even if your employer jokingly “forbids” such behaviour, there’s something seductive about keeping an eye on your inbox as you go about your life. It makes us feel important, as if the office can’t function without our ongoing attention. If doctors and firemen need to be constantly on call, who’s to say our own duties are any less urgent?

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erhaps we also believe that “going the extra mile” will further our careers. In some cases it can, although it can end up in a dangerous spiral: a friend of mine who used to work in a law firm in the City told me her colleagues ended up working past 10pm every night. No-one wanted to be the first to leave, for fear they’d be passed over for promotion. For those of us who feel uneasy setting down our professional responsibilities at the end of the day, perhaps an edict from on high is just what’s needed. Yet, while I may applaud the principle of France’s new law, the fact is that it wouldn’t work for me at all. Since the birth of my

This, it must be admitted, can create the odd moment of stress. I might be out at the shops, or in the park with Scarlett, when a message comes in that calls for an urgent response – for example, a sub-editor might not be able to get to work on a page until a query has been cleared up. At such times, needs must: you might spot me sneaking away into a corner of the supermarket for a quick phone call, or briefly perching on the see-saw to tap out a quick reply on Slack. For a while, Tim developed an uncanny knack for sending me pressing questions that would pop up on my watch in the middle of Scarlett’s swimming lessons, which was an interesting challenge. But overall, that’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have to manage my time. It means I don’t need to cram my relationship with my daughter into evenings and weekends. And I don’t have to feel guilty about downing tools as and when I’ve finished, regardless of what the clock says. I’m saying all this not merely to boast. I think that this sort of flexible working model is the future – and I’m not the only one. Numerous companies, including Dennis Publishing itself, are downsizing their headquarters, not because staff numbers are shrinking, but because fewer and fewer people are needing to come into the office every day. To be sure, there are some roles that demand a regular physical presence, but the direction of momentum is clear. So when I see the French declare that you shouldn’t be expected to check in with your employer outside office hours, I’m conflicted. For those who still work a regular nine-to-five, I can see this being a real step forward. It’s an important line in the sand that I wish had come in with the BlackBerry. At the same time, I can’t help feeling that the idea of strictly compartmentalising one’s life into work and personal time is increasingly anachronistic. Of course, we don’t want to spend our lives at the beck and call of our employers, but working irregular hours doesn’t have to be the enemy – handled right, it’s gloriously liberating. And while it can be frustrating to have your boss pop up with a technical question while you’re out enjoying the sunshine, the point is, you’re out enjoying the sunshine, rather than cooped up in an office watching the clock. If that’s what the French law seeks to protect workers from, then all I can say is vive la différence!

There’s a constant pressure to grow profits and cut costs, and in practice it’s often quality of life that gets squeezed daughter I’ve been largely based at home; the concept of “regular working hours” has gone completely out of the window. And frankly, I’m loving it. The appeal is obvious. My life no longer runs to an inflexible schedule: I can get up early in the morning and edit Dave Mitchell’s Business Focus reviews before breakfast. I can write a feature in the afternoon while Scarlett’s having her nap, or wait until she falls asleep at night before setting up this month’s software downloads. Technology has liberated me from the strictures of the working day. Naturally, I’m not doing all of this in isolation. Throughout my working hours, whatever they may be on that particular day, I’m firing off Slack messages to Tim Danton and other colleagues; they in turn respond at whatever point is convenient to them.

darien@pcpro.co.uk


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I have finally got my head around virtual reality Live sports streaming is the killer app for VR – but will poor hardware kill it at birth? Queueing for an hour to find a sick bag waiting at my seat: it wasn’t the most promising of starts to Intel’s CES press conference. By the end of it, however, it had proved the most Barry Collins has spent memorable event of more than two months of my four days in Las his life in Las Vegas. Send Vegas, and one that details of support groups to forced me into a rare @bazzacollins admission – I was wrong. At CES 2016, I had been treated to an early demo of the HTC Vive, and I could barely have been less whelmed by my first proper exposure to virtual reality. The demos were silly, the headset uncomfortable and I could fully understand why Intel took the precaution of providing sick bags to this year’s attendees: the Vive left me feeling more nauseous than an all-nighter in Vegas’ cocktail bars. So, having queued for almost an hour to discover that Intel’s press conference required attendees to wear VR headsets, I let out a weary sigh. As spare seats in the hall began to evaporate, I came seriously close to doing a Bullseye: I’ve had a lovely day, Jim, I’ll let someone else have a go. I’m so glad I stuck it out, because a year to the day after I first pulled on a VR headset, I finally understood what the fuss was about. My lightbulb moment had nothing to do with new hardware. Yes, we were wearing Oculus Rift headsets instead of the HTC Vive, but if I hadn’t seen the logo on the outside of the goggles I would have been none the wiser. Instead, it was a demo of what these headsets could do that won me over. Midway through the conference, our headsets flicked to a live basketball game, which was being streamed using technology from a company called Voke VR that Intel

How long will it be before Sky Sports VR offers you the chance to sit in the dugout alongside José Mourinho?

bought recently. Suddenly, I found myself courtside. Look straight ahead and the players are warming up, look to my right and there’s a bloke in the seat next to me tucking into a hot dog. Yes, Intel had screwed up its timing and switched to the game at halftime, but I couldn’t care less: I got it. Immediately, I could see the potential for streamed sports events. Just like being at a real game, no longer are you forced to watch through the director’s eyes. You can watch what’s happening off the ball, see what the coaches are doing on the bench, even gawp at the cute girl in the third row if you want to. What’s more, you don’t have to sit in one seat. By looking down to my left, I could change the camera angle from the side of the court to behind the hoop, getting an entirely different perspective on the game. The potential for such technology is huge. How long will it be before Sky Sports VR offers you the chance to sit in the dugout alongside José Mourinho, for example, or in the Kop for a Liverpool match?

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hat’s not to say all the problems I encountered last year have been immediately wiped away. Far from it. The hardware is still amazingly clunky. I’m sure it was no coincidence that Intel asked journalists to put on and remove the headsets several times during the hourlong demo. Had we been wearing those enormous, heated rubber masks for a solid hour, we’d all have left drenched in sweat. And not only from the heat of the mask, but from the fans of the enormous gaming laptops that were sat on every journalist’s desk, required to power the VR headsets in the first place. Then there’s the cost of that high-end hardware. I’d estimate there was half a million pounds’ worth of laptops and headsets in that room, serving 260 of us. VR will never become mainstream if you need to be tethered to a two-grand gaming laptop. It needs to be a lightweight, wireless headset that connects to your Sky box, and we’re at least a couple of generations of hardware away from that scenario – maybe more. Display resolutions also require enormous improvement. The basketball match was impressive, but it felt like I was watching on the Betamax video player my dad brought home from Dixons in the early 1980s. The refresh rate was so poor you could see the ball smear as it arced into the hoop. We’re used to Full HD resolution on a smartphone: standard-def VR simply won’t cut it. Yet, that’s a huge bandwidth problem. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich explained that rendering a football match in full 3D generates two terabytes of data per minute. Try streaming that over your broadband connection, and you may just get to watch kick-off by the time the game has finished. Which is why I utter a hollow laugh every time one of the imagination pygmies from BT tells the Today Show that fibre-to-thecabinet is “fast enough”. No it’s not. Look what’s coming.

Viewpoints The truth is current hardware – headset, client and networking technology – simply isn’t good enough to deliver a compelling experience at an affordable price, and it might not do so for another five or ten years. By which time, VR could be as dead as 3D TVs. Given the enormous potential I saw at CES, that would be cause to reach for the sick bag. barry@mediabc.co.uk

Why does buying a new phone have to be so painful? Android users must re-examine the market every 18 months. No wonder people buy iPhones

I need a new phone. This should be a fun and easy shopping task, not least as I have access to the best resources to uncover which handset is the best on the market Nicole Kobie is PC Pro’s (waves at reviews Futures editor. She editor Jon Bray). laments the increasing Yet I despair. size of smartphones, but The Android-based may give up and hold her market is so hit and new handset with both of miss, while it’s easy her tiny hands. to see why Apple fans @njkobie simply buy the next iPhone whenever it’s time for an upgrade. They know it’ll be at worst fine, and at best the top handset on the market. For us Android users, sifting through the hundreds of available handsets not only takes effort but comes with added pressure. Get this decision wrong and I’m stuck with a device that will frustrate me a hundred times a day. Smartphones are too important to my everyday life to be a buying decision made lightly. For this reason, I’d do pretty much anything to keep using a smartphone that works for me, but my beloved Sony Xperia Compact Z3 has finally succumbed, with the microphone failing so it no longer works for voice calls. The busted mic is the latest in a string of issues I’ve had with the handset, including repeatedly having to replace the flap that covers the charging port and switching to Bluetooth because the headphone jack stopped working. Even so, I’ve always been willing to make such fixes to avoid shopping for a replacement. 25


Viewpoints The obvious upgrade would be the new version of the same model, the Sony Xperia Compact Z5, but reviews have been mixed – solid camera and battery life, but reports of touchscreen issues and overheating leave me cold. Why Sony didn’t simply update the processor and display and carry on with a great little phone is beyond me. Keep it simple and I’ll keep buying your phone.

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o now it’s time to try another handset maker, meaning a survey of what’s on offer from the likes of HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola and Samsung, alongside alternatives such as OnePlus or Google’s own Pixel. Every tech website in the universe has a “best Android phones of 2017” listing, but each comes to a different conclusion. That’s not really a surprise, as everyone values something different in a smartphone. Here’s what I want in a handset: hard to break, fits my tiny hands, all-day battery life, doesn’t drive me up the wall. Should be easy, but instead of ticking the boxes, the so-called innovations smartphone manufacturers offer are unnecessary wrap-around displays and software that tells me when it’s cold out so I wear appropriate clothing – an abuse of AI to replace the combination of a basic weather report and common sense. Once I do sift through such guff and settle on a handset – my phone has been broken for weeks and I’m still yet to decide – there’s another challenge: getting to grips with the UI skin that all handset makers can’t resist dumping on top of Android. While waiting to make my mind up on my new smartphone, I’ve been using an old HTC One M9; although its skin is simple, it still has a learning curve, adding extra pain to Android upgrades. Is it time for consolidation in the smartphone market? It would make aspects of shopping easier, although fewer phones on the shelves of Carphone Warehouse et al likely means it’ll be even harder to find a handset that fits my niche needs. What I would really like is a bit more focus from manufacturers, for them to stop shovelling out so many different models and make sure what they do produce is good quality. Look at Apple. If an Apple fan’s iPhone fails, they just buy the current model as replacement and it’s always good. How easy is that? I’m not yet ready to switch to Apple, so my plea to Android makers is simple: stop with the crazy features and instead focus on consistency. If all HTC or Motorola or Sony phones were consistently great, it’d be easier to simply stick with a brand and upgrading would be a joy rather than a pain. Maybe it would give our reviews editor fewer phones to play with, but it would make sticking with Android much less of a shopping challenge. work@nicolekobie.com

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The program that passes the musical Turing Test

sight-read musical notation at the best age. Instead, I took up guitar in my teens and taught myself blues and ragtime by listening to records. This had a profound effect on my understanding of music, because the guitar is a fundamentally chromatic instrument: each fret is a semitone, so the difference between white and black notes means nothing. I did eventually teach myself to read notation but I’m far from fluent, and more to the point it actively irritates me. I now think chromatic.

I got Python, I got rhythm: after a quest to computerise composition, the answer came at atomic level

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I have mentioned here a few dozen times how deeply I’m into music. I play guitar, bass and Dobro; I regularly attend chamber and orchestral concerts Dick Pountain is editorial fellow of PC Pro. You can at Southbank and listen to his foot-tapping Wigmore Hall; I sample tune at pcpro. listen to classical, link/270dick, but he will jazz, blues, rock, deny responsibility if you bluegrass, country, put your back out trying dubstep, reggae, to dance to it. EDM and much more on Spotify, both at home and on Bluetooth earbuds while walking on heath or park. But, for the past 20-odd years I’ve also been working on my own system of computerised composition. It started in the mid-1990s, using Turbo Pascal to write my own music library that let me generate MIDI files from Pascal programs, and play them on any General MIDI synth. Before too long, however, the memory management limitations of PC-DOS became an obstacle to writing big programs. I’ve picked up and dropped this project many

ence when designing my system I decided not to make the “note” its fundamental data structure, but rather – like MIDI itself – I treat pitch, time, duration and volume as separate musical “atoms”. It’s trivial in Python to strap these atoms together as (pitch, time, duration, volume) tuples, then manipulate those as units, and it enables me to translate ASCII strings into sequences of these atoms. The process of “composing” a tune becomes a matter of writing strings that define melody, rhythm and dynamics, each of which I can alter separately. More significantly, the program can manipulate them by splicing and chopping, applying functions, adding randomness, say to change the rhythm or the timing of the same melodic fragment. All the compositional tricks such as fugues, canons, rondos and arpeggios are easy to achieve and automate. Play the same fragment in a different scale – major, minor, cycles of thirds, fourths, fifths, whole tone, Bartok’s “Golden Section” pentatony – by choosing from a tuple of scale functions. I can even create new scales using lambda function parameters. It’s strictly a system for programmers, interfaced via a single Python function called “phrase” that takes five ASCII strings as parameters. An invocation might be: S.phrase(1, 1, scale[mx], Key[2], Acoustic_ Bass, S.nSeq(inv(p),t,d,v,m)) This writes a sequence of notes, its length defined by those strings, to one MIDI track. Programs tend to be short, 40 or 50 lines with lots of loops. Using ASCII permits tricks such as turning a name, let’s say Donald Trump, into a tune (a sinister bass riff). MIDI is limiting, and the instruments aren’t great, so any tunes I like I put into Ableton and play them with samples. I like some electronic dance music, but that’s really not what this system is for. I’m more into jazz/classical fusions with tricksy rhythms and harmonies that would be hard to play on real instruments. People worry that robots are going to put them out of a job, but neither Adele nor Coldplay need have any fear. My competitors would likely be software suites developed at France’s IRCAM and INRIA, and they needn’t panic either. And I don’t intend to build a graphical user interface, because for me writing program code is as much fun as playing with music.

My system lets me dissect music into its atomic parts, before later reassembling them to generate tunes few humans could play times over the intervening years, planned and failed to rewrite it in Ruby, then finally succeeded in rewriting it in the blessed Python. And I recently cracked a couple of remaining knotty problems (both related to the grim unfriendliness of the MIDI protocol) to produce a system that automatically generates tunes that sometimes sound like human music – a sort of musical Turing Test. My system lets me dissect music into its atomic parts, before reassembling them to generate tunes few humans could play. One of the few real regrets of my life is that as a child I turned down the offer of piano lessons, and therefore didn’t learn to

dick@dickpountain.co.uk


Readers’comments Your views and feedback from email and the web

Not so Excel-lent idea

I really hope Microsoft ignores Jon Honeyball’s plea (see issue 269, p110) to change Excel’s default behaviour for long text entries in a worksheet cell. As far as I can remember, spilling this into the adjacent cell - if empty - has always been the case and surely can’t be described as a bug. I prefer this default behaviour and often make use of it in formatting my worksheets. As I’m sure Jon is aware, there are many ways to avoid problems with this behaviour and placing an apostrophe in adjacent cells must be one of the worst! The easiest way must be to format the cells to wrap. OK, you may want to reset the row height, but surely this isn’t a problem, especially as it produces exactly the effect Jon craves? Alternatively, you could just format the problem columns in different colours. In Jon’s example, format column 3 to red, and it immediately becomes clear where the text belongs. Or make use of Ctrl with the down arrow to find the next occupied cell in a column. Of course, this won’t work correctly if apostrophes are used. I think this is just a case of personal preference - and definitely not a bug. Keir Walker

Starletter Your first computers feature (see issue 268, p46) was an enjoyable read. I myself have fond memories of my ZX Spectrum and Amiga 500, falling in love not just with what these machines could do but with the potential of computers as a whole. What I found puzzling, however, was several contributors talking about “pre-internet” when discussing early computers of the 1980s and 90s. What they really meant was “pre-World Wide Web”. I expect a lay

Dropbox and Team folders

We didn’t know any of this until late on a Friday afternoon, when Microsoft Office suddenly couldn’t find recently 28

Editor-in-chief Tim Danton replies: Mea culpa!

Glad you’re enjoying the magazine, though, and perhaps we’ll bring back the programming challenge at some point.

This month’s star letter wins a metal-bodied, durable, 64GB USB 3 Flash Drive Bar from Samsung. Visit samsung.com/uk for more details.

PC Pro often advises us to be careful when choosing online services. Support, you said, was crucial – but often overlooked. We switched to Dropbox from Livedrive after experiencing some poor support ourselves. Since then, Dropbox has introduced a new feature called “Team folders”, which has:

deleted shared folders and files from our users’ local drives rewritten their syncing preferences, meaning syncing now reverts to copying “all cloud storage files”, not just the ones they chose to sync, which... rendered laptops virtually unusable, stalled apps and made files inaccessible.

person to get these terms mixed up. Despite this, well done on a great magazine (even though you removed the nice programming challenge from the end of the magazine). Julius McPherson

ABOVE The new “Team folders” feature in Dropbox caused problems for reader Mark Robson

accessed files, and Adobe products lost track of our embedded assets. Our users had to reset their syncing preferences and Dropbox, which had already started syncing to the new location, then started to re-index, and continued to download files. We’re a small agency and manage Dropbox ourselves so, at 5.15pm on the Friday it happened, put in a call to Dropbox support. It had closed 15 minutes earlier. Over the weekend, we raised two support emails. No reply. On Monday at 9.30am, we called support: we were told that they were busy, to leave a voice message and they’d get back to us. No-one did and, at 11.15am, we called again. Dropbox said that it had received a lot of calls about this, but that the feature update was an improvement, and had to be implemented for everyone, at once. Support referred us back to emails they’d sent about these announcements. None of them warned that “when we rename your folder, it will delete everything locally, remove your personal syncing preferences, attempt to download all cloud storage, but leave some files where they were because they were in conflict”. Nor, for that matter, did they say that the change would bring our PCs to a virtual standstill for what has so far been three days and counting. Microsoft was given hell when it kept displaying the “Do you want Windows 10?” banners, but at least it asked. Dropbox just did it without explaining the ramifications. Mark Robson

A spokesperson for Dropbox replies: We

can’t comment on individual use cases. However, during the launch of Team folders, no files were deleted. For users who were still using an earlier version of Team folders, Dropbox needed to refresh some folder names and locations to ensure that Team folders are consistent for the whole team. Providing good customer support is something we take very seriously at Dropbox. Dropbox Business Admins were notified 12 days before, with an email that provided suggestions for how they could prepare for the update. We also offered 24-hour support via our helpdesk. We’re committed to delivering a seamless experience for our users and feel strongly that the improved Team folders will deliver on that. For any users in need of assistance, we’re continuing to provide 24-hour support seven days a week.

Sky-high prices

Having read your December 2016 Labs test of £999 PCs (see issue 266, p76), in which competition was “tight”, “a few system builders chose not to take part”, and you claimed that was “their loss”, I’m left wondering whether the results were too good to be true. It isn’t possible to buy the PCs at the price advertised, with similar specs now costing between £749 and £1,051. If your criteria included availability, why can’t I buy a similar spec at those prices in January 2017? I’d challenge you to run an update, and name and shame those who don’t supply, but I doubt that any supplier would take part. So, what’s the point of your article? You obviously need advertising to help pay for the magazine, but in my opinion you also need to revisit your roots and question the validity and purpose of your articles and PC Pro as a whole. Don’t let the greedy corporate tail wag the trustworthy


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dog or you may find your subscribers start to walk. David Parkes

Editor-in-chief Tim Danton replies:

Unfortunately the big price rises were due to Brexit (something we cover next month in detail). In the following issue, I wrote an update in our Letters page about this, and I also wrote a more detailed post about it on our Facebook page. In short, almost all the manufacturers were unable to keep down to the original costs once the pound reduced in value to the dollar. Sadly, this situation hasn’t greatly changed since. I honestly don’t think this has anything to do with corporate tails wagging the dog!

Readers’ poll

The so-called Snooper’s Charter means a wide range of government agencies can now access a record of your online browsing activity. So we asked, do you already use a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your web browsing activity private?

74% Yes

VPN

The social butterfly effect

Is it only me, or are we all at the mercy of FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Life would be so much simpler if I could wean myself off social media, but I worry that not being on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and co means I will lose touch with friends and ex-colleagues, miss out on job opportunities, stop getting invites,

The trouble isn’t that I’m getting too many invites – it’s the blizzard of cat videos and jokes that surrounds them and turn into a bit of a social pariah. I removed every social app from my phone last Lent, but post-Easter they were back. I did the same for Advent (I know that’s not the point), but only made it to the end of week one. The trouble isn’t so much that I’m getting too many invites – it’s the blizzard of shared links, cat videos and jokes that surrounds them. It’s left me wondering whether it’s even possible to take an active part in modern life without signing up to every social network going. Bob Da Silva

No

3%

What’s a VPN? As a more tech-literate audience, we were expecting a fair number of you would use a VPN to browse, but the fact 74% of respondents said “yes” was a surprise. Motives varied, with 27% using a VPN to access content that’s otherwise not available in the UK, but the vast majority – 94% – did so to keep their browsing activity private. “The [Investigatory Powers] Act has made me pause before browsing (even though I’m not committing any crime),” wrote Andrew. “I’m sure any excerpts from any browsing history could be made to look suspicious.” “This act definitely made me more cautious,” said Furqan Tafseer, “but I started using VPN six months before the act came out, after reading and knowing more about online privacy!” Some people felt more relaxed. “I’m happy to be monitored if suspected of wrongdoing,” wrote Martin. “This act will not change the way I browse.”

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I use a VPN because wholesale snooping is morally wrong and I have no reason to trust the government Dominic Just because communication has moved online doesn’t stop it from being private communication Mark Wilson The government should only be allowed to target a suspect with reasonable cause and not just log innocent people Rich Tapping phones isn’t acceptable, so why is tapping the internet? Orwell is spinning in his grave Anthony Hunt 14 PAGES

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Editor-in-chief Tim Danton replies: Darien Graham-Smith touched upon this last month (see issue 269, p24), going cold turkey for a week, but while completely checking out of life online isn’t practical, restricting your social interaction might be. If you commute, how about only checking your feeds on the bus or train to and from work? Alternatively, if you eat alone, read them over breakfast and then don’t log in again until the next day. You’ve already tried what we consider to be one of the most effective fixes: removing the associated apps from your phone. Try it again, and this time promise yourself a meaningful reward if they’re not back within two months, by which time you may have grown used to the more limited interaction, and realised that only being able to check in when you’re sitting in front of a PC doesn’t mean necessarily lead to missing out at all.

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CAN TECHNOLOGY SAVE THENHS? T Can technology pull the National Health Service back from the brink? Yes it can, ten leading health experts – including Professor Iain Buchan – tell us

he NHS is undoubtedly in crisis. One in ten GP practices now regard themselves as being financially unsustainable, according to the British Medical Association; hospitals are “close to breaking point”, the same organisation warns; and estimates for the funding shortfall facing the entire service range from the tens to the hundreds of billions. In 1948, political momentum, “big enough data” and “good enough technologies” turned three simple principles into a world-revered health system. Those principles were a national health service that met the needs of everyone, was free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need, not ability to pay. But with an ageing population and proportionally 30

fewer people chipping into the pot, those three principles are under severe threat. Can anything save the NHS? Politicians seem long on rhetoric but short on answers, and even shorter on the cash required to plug the funding gap. Could technology be the white knight everyone’s searching for? We’ve canvassed the opinions of ten health industry experts, all of whom are involved in driving technology into the NHS in Greater Manchester, one of the devolved administrations that has been able to run pioneering trials of new technology without being dragged down by the weight of the NHS. They’ve identified and piloted practical ways in which technology and Big Data could help solve the crisis – but are they confident that their groundbreaking work won’t simply be lost in bureaucracy and endless funding battles?

CONQUERING THE DATA MOUNTAIN

If there’s one thing that the NHS isn’t short of, it’s data. As Dr John Moore, clinical director of adult critical care at the NHS’s Central Manchester Foundation Trust, explained, his hospital alone has “data on over a million patient hospital admissions with over 100 million clinical observations or test results”. It’s what – or what isn’t – happening with that data that gives cause for concern. Too much patient data is held in silos, trapped within proprietary systems and formats at a trust or department level, or not shared with related departments such as social care and transport. Most concerningly of all, patients have little or no control over their own health records. Making full use of the data available can deliver amazing results, such as easing bed-blocking, where


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patients remain in hospital for longer than they need to. “Understanding patient recovery with electronically recorded four-hourly observations and patients’ blood test results will allow us to model when patients can go home safely and continue their recovery,” said Dr Moore. “Utilising technology in this way will allow us to incorporate machine intelligence into our medical planning and reliably predict a patient’s recovery pattern dependent upon their admitting condition, other health issues and demographic factors. This will promote both early discharge and the identification of those patients that may not require admission in the first place.” Specialists believe that too many people are admitted to hospital unnecessarily because risk-averse clinicians simply don’t use data to make brave decisions. “Technology

SavingtheNHS

PLUGGING IN PATIENT-LED DATA

ABOVE Making the most of patient data should ease issues such as bedblocking, where patients stay in hospital for longer than needed

offers us an alternative to crude binary thinking, which all too often oversimplifies healthcare,” said Professor Rick Body, a specialist in emergency medicine. “Clinicians conventionally seek to ‘rule in’ and ‘rule out’ important diagnoses. However, the popular reaction to underdiagnosis means that our tolerance for both is low. The resultant paralysing risk aversion can mean that, for example, patients are admitted to hospital if there’s even a 1% probability that they have a serious diagnosis.”

Nowadays, it’s not only the professionals who collect medical data about patients, but the patients themselves. That heart-rate monitor you wear when you go jogging, the dietary information you plug into a slimming app and the sleep data recorded by your smartwatch could all help make better clinical care decisions. Currently, however, there are few ways of feeding patient-generated data into the health system. “People can contribute personal health information and home monitoring to inform better care,” said Stephen Critchlow, founder and CEO of Evergreen Life, a business in Manchester that harnesses NHS data in apps for patients. “Healthier lifestyles can be supported with passively and proactively collected data, which are becoming the digital

31


Even cheap, wristworn consumer heart-rate monitors could help detect an irregular pulse

byproducts of everyday life. Combining clinical, self-care and wellbeing information in this way could reduce NHS pressures (for example, unnecessary clinic visits when home monitoring will do), make us all healthier and free up resources for the neediest.” The case for accelerating the use of data collected by patients themselves is strong. For example, many strokes are preventable if only patients with an irregular heartbeat were picked up and treated with anti-clotting medication. A GP putting her/his finger on a patient’s wrist to feel for a sporadically irregular pulse (the sign of atrial fibrillation) is much less likely to pick up the condition than a device worn for a week that reports back to the GP. Medical technologies for this purpose are expensive, but an irregular pulse is a crude signal that even cheap consumer health devices, 32

ABOVE Patient-led data could reduce unnecessary trips to hospital and free up resources for the neediest

such as wrist-worn heart-rate monitors, could help detect. Even without the benefit of continuous monitoring devices, it’s not a great technical leap for an “NHS app” to ask a patient to put their finger on the back of a smartphone with a juxtaposed light source and camera. This could detect the heart rhythm (or lack of) from the change in light passing through the skin, as small blood vessels fill up and block the light after each heartbeat. Simple, everyday technology that could save lives, if only there were some way to feed that data into the system and marry it with other potential data clues, such as previous family history of heart attacks, high blood pressure or near-miss strokes. The Greater Manchester medics have already seen positive, cost-saving

results when patients are asked to record their own health symptoms via their mobile devices. “We’ve demonstrated that patients with rheumatoid arthritis are willing to report symptom data regularly using a smartphone app incorporated into their medical record,” Will Dixon, professor of digital epidemiology at the Greater Manchester Connected Health Cities programme, told us. “We’ve proven that access to data on chronic disease symptoms improves clinical consultations. In time, we’ll be able to better prioritise outpatient appointments using this data, providing better care at lower cost. Such data also has the power to uncover unknown patterns of disease and response to treatment.” Sumit Nagpal, CEO of LumiraDX, a company that combines patient diagnostics with clinical records, says empowering patients to collect and share their own data can only be a


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good thing. “Such a model of care involves more accountability for our own health and lifestyle choices for each of us,” he said. “It delivers more proactive care by knowing what is happening to us, in real-time, via use of personal diagnostics, biometrics and social media. It arms our caregivers with a much more complete picture – always with our consent – of our health and social care history when we need their help.” And better still, it does so at reduced cost. Eric Applewhite, director of the Greater Manchester Connect programme, agrees that greater citizen involvement is the key. “The future of better care is when residents meet us online at a time of their choosing, understand what we know about them, and use that knowledge to co-manage their care with us,” he said. “After all, how can we meaningfully talk about care

ABOVE The future of care surely involves patients co-managing their treatment with the NHS online

co-ordination and improvement without them at the centre?”

MOVING FROM DIGITAL HEALTH TO DIGITAL SELF

It’s not only within the NHS that data silos must be broken down. Data must also move more freely between different public services if health data is to inform decision-making in social care, transport and other related areas, and vice versa. For example, increased levels of physical exercise across the whole population would have a profound effect on reducing common long-term conditions that consume the lion’s share of NHS resources. Greater Manchester has a new tram system that could improve public health by giving residents the option to walk/ tram to work rather than take the car, but there is a problem: its fares are the highest in Europe. Furthermore, those

who can’t afford the tram/walk option tend to live in areas with much higher levels of ill health, as revealed by an infographic plotting average life expectancy at the different stops on the tram lines. Could Greater Manchester save tens of millions of pounds on longterm healthcare by reducing tram fares in areas with the greatest health problems? Quite possibly, but without access to the data, the decision-makers don’t have the opportunity to make such fundamental choices. Smart cities of the future will hopefully react to their residents’ health data, adapting services for individuals and communities accordingly. “This information comes from across the public-service sector – health, social care, education, transport – giving a holistic view of the environment and place,” said Professor John Ainsworth, director of North England’s Connected 33


It is vital that we ensure data can be made available at the point of need for patients

Health Cities. “This increased connectedness will enable public services to be planned and managed to transform the NHS from a service that treats disease to one that maintains health.” Dropping our defensive attitude to sharing health data is key. “Changing how we think about data from ‘where is it stored?’ to ‘where it is needed?’ is the next big step toward a safer, more effective and efficient NHS,” said Gary Leeming, informatics director for the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network, which brokers technology development and novel applications between industry, academia and public services. “It’s vital that we ensure data can be made available at the point of need, especially for patients.” 34

ABOVE Experts hope increased connectedness will transform the NHS from a service that treats disease to one that maintains our heath

“Social bots will bring together communities and build support networks for patients and carers,” said Leeming. “Distributed ledgers will provide oversight and assurance around privacy and access. Combined, we can really start to use health data to transform the fundamentals of how we deliver care.” Healthcare providers must also consider new ways of delivering services that patients will be familiar with, and be prepared to take bold experiments. For example, if patients accessed community nursing in an “Uber-like” model, they might avoid surge periods, thereby spreading the NHS load. Of course, this may also increase demand, but only experimentation will provide the answers.

FEAR OF CHANGE

Despite the application of technology and Big Data holding so much promise, there’s a widely held fear that healthcare professionals will be resistant to change, having suffered from so many poorly implemented experiments in the past. “As a clinician and researcher, too much of the technology innovation in the NHS that I see fails,” Dr Ben Brown, a GP and Wellcome Trust doctoral fellow in health informatics, told us. “Take the NHS Summary Care Record, for example. Doctors in out-of-hours services seeing patients at home or at walk-in centres couldn’t access patient records to see vital information about their current conditions and care plans, so a national solution of a Summary Care Record was developed. This was a technology-led development rather than technology pulled through to solve specific clinical problems.


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OUR EXPERT PANEL PROFESSOR IAIN BUCHAN is director of health informatics at the University of Manchester (herc.ac.uk) and UK’s Farr Institute (farrinstitute.org) for Health Informatics Research. He is also director of civic analytics for Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

GARY LEEMING is informatics director for the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network, brokering technology development and novel applications between industry, academia and public services.

RACHEL DUNSCOMBE is CIO of the UK’s most digitally mature hospital, Salford Royal, and lead for the implementation of one of the new NHS centres of global digital excellence in Salford, Greater Manchester.

PROFESSOR JOHN AINSWORTH is director of North England’s Connected Health Cities (connectedhealthcities.org) programme that is integrating the byzantine data sources in NHS “regions” and analysing the data to help the NHS learn from its fluid inputs and outputs, adapting pathways of care accordingly.

DR JOHN MOORE is clinical director of adult critical care at the NHS’s Central Manchester Foundation Trust.

ERIC APPLEWHITE is director of the GM Connect programme of large-scale data integration to enable Greater Manchester’s public services, including the NHS, to better serve its citizens.

“There was little support from clinicians for this technology, because it had a clunky interface and lacked the detailed patient information needed to be ‘actionable’. Furthermore, it was widely deployed with relatively little user testing. So, can technology save the NHS? Well, it depends on whether the above criteria are met.” Even if the technology is sound, other pressures on the health system could force doctors to resist new initiatives. The NHS is fixated on moving services out of hospitals and back into the community, in a bid to save costs. That has created a surge in demand for GPs and community nursing. So don’t be surprised if GPs push back at making access to primary care easier through apps for patients. They have been there before with the Summary Care Record.

DR BEN BROWN is a GP and Wellcome Trust doctoral fellow in health informatics at the Farr Institute, researching how to support better care decision-making from the data that already exists in GP records.

PROFESSOR RICK BODY is a specialist in emergency medicine who has been exploring new ways to use technologies to take the pressure off accident and emergency departments while also giving patients better care.

Timing, problem-solving and local integration are essential if technology is to rescue the NHS. Dr Amir Hannan, a GP in Hyde, has spent 16 years rebuilding the trust of the patients, carers and community after taking over the practice of serial killer Dr Harold Shipman. He said: “The NHS is strapped for cash but has a potential army of activated patients, community leaders and staff who are vital to giving the NHS the resilience it needs going forwards.” Those driving NHS technology programmes are hungry for effective change. “My view is that we’re on the cusp of exciting changes with NHS England, NHS Digital and the providers all pulling in the same direction to provide a health system where citizens’ data will be used to optimise their

PROFESSOR WILL DIXON is professor of digital epidemiology, medical director of the Greater Manchester Connected Health Cities programme and an honorary consultant rheumatologist at Salford Royal.

STEPHEN CRITCHLOW is CEO and founder of Evergreen Life, which has grown successful technology businesses around NHS data and is now investing in app development in Manchester.

health outcomes,” said Rachel Dunscombe, CIO for the UK’s most digitally mature hospital, Salford Royal, and lead for the implementation of one of the new NHS centres of global digital excellence in Salford. “It’s not the technology per se, it’s the data and knowledge held within that data that can improve health outcomes greatly – the technology allows the collection of this data. Pair this with the interoperability to allow citizens to share data with their care providers to provide a lifestyle backdrop and we have a whole new picture.” Technology alone can’t save the NHS. Nor can technologies that focus on clinicians, NHS organisations, care professions or even patients. The NHS is more than a giant franchise of organisations – it’s a social movement that can drive socio-technical health and care innovation. It just needs leaders with the vision, bravery and wherewithal to deliver it. 35


IMPLANTS READY TO REPLACE PILLS AND PRESCRIPTIONS

I

Tiny computers can take control of our nervous system with remarkable results, finds Alex Reis

magine visiting your doctor and, instead of leaving with a prescription, you come out with a small device implanted in your body and a new app on your phone. No more worrying about what time you must take a pill – all you need do is let technology take its course. As implausible as it sounds, this day may not be too far away. This is the promise of bioelectronic medicine – a field where our nervous system is treated like a hackable, electrical infrastructure. It’s an area of study that asks: what if, instead of using drugs to treat a condition, implants could control and tweak our bodies? What if, somewhere down the line, you could combat a tumour by harnessing your own neural signals?

HACKING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

For Kevin Tracey, based at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York and one of the pioneers in this field, it all started with a desire to understand inflammation. For years, his team studied why the body reacts so dramatically to inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, and why these diseases are so difficult to treat. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, current treatments typically involve prescription drugs to block the production of a protein called tumour necrosis factor (TNF), which 36

the body generates excessive amounts of in cases of inflammation. However, there are many problems with blocking TNF – not least the high price of treatment and potentially life-threatening side effects. “Despite the importance of the TNF drugs, up to half of the patients are not optimally treated and are not cured,” said Tracey. “They continue to have pain and they need other options. We also know that these drugs are extremely expensive, and some patients are afraid of taking those drugs because they have significant side effects,” including increased risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Tracey’s hope was to develop more effective drugs, but instead his team stumbled on a surprising connection: they realised that, in the case of inflammation, TNF production is controlled by the immune system, which in turn is controlled by the nervous system. Finally, after 15 years of research, the team had its target. The vagus nerve, which runs down the neck, turned out to be the link between the brain and the TNF response. “We mapped the neurological circuits that originate in the brain and control TNF production in the body,” said Tracey, adding: “we discovered that those circuits travel in the vagus nerve, one of the body’s major nerves that connects the immune system to the brain”. At this stage – comparing the brain to a computer – the idea was to “hack” the nervous system to control TNF production. Following this


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Implants

ABOVE New bioelectronic medicine treats the nervous system as an electrical and hackable infrastructure LEFT Tiny devices can be implanted in the neck to control the activity of the vagus nerve

Images: UC Berkeley, Takayuki Suzuki, Jasper Nance

BELOW The implants may make it possible to thwart conditions such as diabetes and hypertension

approach, they found it was possible to control the activity of the vagus nerve by stimulating it with a low-voltage current, using a small neck implant. “You can change the frequency, you can change the amplitude, you can change the voltage, and by changing those parameters, we are able to stimulate the fibres that control TNF, without a significant effect on heart rate,” said Tracey. “Patients can have their TNF blocked without experiencing stimulation of the other fibres that control other sites.” This discovery led to one of the first clinical trials to use small implantable devices instead of drugs to treat a condition, and the theory held true: patients with rheumatoid arthritis saw their symptoms improve significantly during the treatment. That, inevitably, raised another big question: what other conditions could this technique be used to treat?

TAKING OVER THE CONTROL TOWER

Virtually every mechanism in our body is regulated through our nervous system. Think of it as an airport control tower: each pilot may be in charge of his own plane, but ultimately, they all have to take orders from the control tower. This may sound like a terrorist attack, but if you “hack” into the control tower, you have control of all the planes. The challenge ahead is to identify the neural circuits that control other targets in the body, potentially making it possible to thwart other conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, arteriosclerosis and

even cancer. The day will come when it will be common practice to control insulin levels in diabetics, regulate food intake in obese patients, or adjust high blood pressure in those with cardiovascular conditions with one of these devices. “The race now is to find mechanisms that can be targeted with future devices,” said Tracey. Identifying targets is only half the battle, however. The technology also needs further refinement. Today’s implants are too big, the batteries don’t last long enough, and they eventually cause scar tissue to form. Based at the University of California, Berkeley, Michel Maharbiz leads one of the teams trying to solve some of these issues. “One of the problems that we’re interested in is that neural implants cannot survive for years and years in the body,” said Maharbiz. This is down to the materials, the size of the implant, and whether there are wires and tethers. However, when the technology’s cracked, Maharbiz sees the implants delving into other areas of the body too. “I think that this technology will go beyond just recording from the nervous system to recording other information from organs to do preventive health, or to track the state of a tumour,” he said. “You don’t have to measure just nerve activity, you can measure oxygen, pH, temperature. There are many things that one can measure with a general application.” “I think it’s a wonderful time,” he added. “This technology is really maturing, and there’s real hope that in the next decade you’re going to start seeing systems in humans that last a very long time.” And, in turn, they’ll help us last a very long time, too. 37


I

f there’s a capital of weirdness, it’s Las Vegas. This makes it the natural home for CES, the world’s biggest technology show, because it’s also an oddity: a show that gets bigger every year, at a time when trade shows seem to be losing relevance. Maybe this is because CES has never stood still and has, over 50 years, reinvented itself many times. CES 2017 feels like a herald of change. A few years ago, what we call “computer” technology dominated; now CES reflects that technology is everywhere and in everything. From talking cars to sensors capable of making anything “smart”, it covers every kind of technical endeavour.

EVERYTHING IS SMART

Think of a man-made object and someone, somewhere, is making a “smart” version. Smart beds capable of sensing when you’re

38

snoring and gently tilting the mattress to help stop your partner strangling you; smart fridge cameras that suggest recipes based on the available ingredients; smart cat feeders that can sense which cat is eating if you have more than one; walking sticks that sense how much exercise a person with limited mobility is getting and can alert you if they have a fall. Even a smart hairbrush. This is all driven by the second major theme of CES: smart devices that take advantage of the processors, sensors and location tech that have been developed for smartphones. In fact, if you want to think about what makes a product “smart”, just ask if it uses mobile technology. According to research by the Consumer Technology Association (the organisers of CES), 47% of global tech spend goes on one device: the smartphone. Clearly, this is driving incredible economies of scale for

processors, memory, location and other sensors. This, consequently, makes the cost of bringing products to market – even in small quantities – much lower. You can make 10,000 of your smart devices, sell them online, and make a decent profit. You may not even have to stump up much capital. Many of the products at CES started life as crowdfunded projects, usually on Kickstarter. The ability to raise even significant amounts of capital on the basis of an idea alone, without having to persuade a bank or VC to give you money, is liberating. If you have a good idea, there’s less and less reason for it not to actually turn into a product you can sell.

NO “BIG” INNOVATIONS

Of course, the big boys are still around. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung and Sony all made announcements at CES


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CES2017

HIGHLIGHTS FROM CES

THE2017 WISHLIST CES sets the technology agenda for the year ahead. Here we explore the underlying trends from 2017’s show and exhibit the best of the products our team discovered while trawling the show floors

CONTRIBUTORS: IAN BETTERIDGE, BARRY COLLINS, TIM DANTON

and, in some cases (such as Dell and HP), virtually revamped their product lines. But with some exceptions – HP���s interesting Sprout Pro (see p41), for example – they’re not driving innovation in the way they once did. Much of this is down to the pace of development of the underlying technology. Intel’s processors, which drove a huge chunk of the innovation from the 1980s to 2010, are no longer the driving force they once were (see p14). Intel still makes excellent products, but the pace at which it can improve its processors is slowing. Instead, mobile technology is now the driving force. So, how long before the pace of development of mobile tech sees ARM push into the areas currently dominated by Intel – in particular, laptops? Some will argue that ARM remains too weak in performance to compete, even at the

low end. At the moment, only Apple seems to be focused on pushing performance to challenge Intel processors. But Apple keeps its processors to itself, so it’s away from the main flow of the tech world. As smart devices get smarter and the phone becomes even more of the centre of our technological lives, things will change. The more complex smart devices become, and the more we ask them to do, the more processing power they’ll need. ARM processors may not ever overtake Intel at the high end, but within a couple of years, the insides of most laptops will be more like smartphones than the current generation of computers. Everything at CES suggests it’s smart, mobile-based technology that will take over the world, and it’s happening faster than anyone would ever have imagined.

BEST OF CES 2017 AWARD WINNERS

AsusZenFoneAR CoolerMasterMasterCase5t DellXPS132-in-1 DellPrecision5720AIO Honor6X HPEliteBookx360 HPSproutPro LegoBoost LenovoThinkPadX1Carbon LenovoMiix720 LG32UD99 LGMEB-500WirelessMouse LinksysVelop NortonCore RazerProjectAriana SamsungChromebookPro SamsungUH750 SevenhugsSmartRemote ViewSonicVP3881

45 46 40 40 45 41 41 46 41 41 42 46 45 45 47 40 42 46 42

★ BEST OF ★

CES 2017

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LAPTOPS & PCS SAMSUNG CHROMEBOOK PRO

PRICE $449 AVAILABILITY TBC It seems the stylus has become the must-have “Pro” accessory of the past year. The Surface Book, the iPad Pro, the Lenovo X1 Yoga and now Samsung’s Chromebook Pro have all decided the pen is the hallmark of a pro-grade machine. You might question the point of a stylus on a Chromebook, unless you’re keen on marking up web pages. However, the Chromebook Pro has another notable feature: the ability to install and run Android apps. That opens up the ability to jot down notes in apps such as Evernote or OneNote, as well as unleash your creativity in apps such as Adobe Illustrator Draw. The question is how responsive the stylus is in such apps, and we aren’t yet able to answer that from our brief hands-on on the CES show floor. However, the Pro device is so-called because it runs a Core m3 processor, partnered with 4GB of RAM, which should be ample for most Android apps. In our brief tests with the pen, it didn’t suffer from any significant lag, and the 0.7mm nib is thinner than most, although the glossy screen didn’t replicate that pen-on-paper feel. In fact, build quality does little to justify that Pro label. As with most Chromebooks, Samsung’s gone for a full-plastic casing, and it doesn’t feel like a premium device. It’s the same casing used for its sister device, the Chromebook Plus, which is fitted with an ARM-based processor instead of an Intel one. What price premium Samsung will apply to the Pro is unclear at the moment. But with the Chromebook Plus priced at $449, we’d expect to be paying near £500 when it’s launched later this year. That puts it in the same territory as premium tablets, and will certainly give Android fans a decision to ponder.

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DELL XPS 13 2-IN-1

★ BEST OF ★

CES 2017

PRICE From £1,349 AVAILABILITY Now Dell designed a classic chassis with the XPS 13, and the company then found itself in tricky second-album territory. Would the revamped XPS 13 be more of the same or would it be more experimental? The big – and perhaps only – notable change to the XPS 13 is the 360-degree hinge, first pioneered in the Lenovo Yoga range. Now the device flips back on itself, turning the XPS 13 into a tablet as well as a terrific little laptop. Seemingly keen not to fiddle with the design too much, Dell could be accused of taking a rather half-hearted approach to tablet mode. While the keyboard is disabled when the XPS 13 is used as a slate, it doesn’t retract like it does on the Yogas. And while there’s an optional stylus to help make tablet mode more accessible, there’s nowhere to stash it when not in use. Budget for replacement styluses for when the supplied one goes AWOL at the bottom of your laptop bag. As before, there is a range of specs to choose from, with both Quad HD and Full HD display options, the latest Core i5 or i7 processors, up to 16GB of RAM and various storage options among the lineup. While the base model starts at $1,000 in the US, UK buyers must pay from £1,349 for a Core i5 version with 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. Time, perhaps, to pop over to New York.

The device flips back, turning the XPS 13 into a tablet as well as a terrific little laptop

DELL PRECISION 5720 AIO

PRICE From $1,599 AVAILABILITY April 2017 It’s not often an all-in-one stands out for its audio quality, but that’s what Dell’s hoping to achieve with the 5720 and its consumer stablemate, the XPS 27. It’s fitted with more speakers than your average nightclub: six mounted beneath the screen, comprising four full-range drivers and a pair of tweeters, as well as two more downward-firing speakers and a pair of passive radiators to deliver the bass. It’s hard to determine audio quality among the bustle and hubbub of CES, but this all-in-one definitely won’t need a set of external speakers connected for casual listening: even on a packed demo floor, it made itself heard above the din. Internal specs are under wraps presently, but the 5720 will include options for Xeon processors and AMD Radeon Pro graphics, edging it in front of the XPS 27 when it comes to outright workstation power. Certainly, if the demonstration running Adobe Premiere Pro is anything to go by, this won’t be found wanting for performance. There will be few complaints about the screen, either. Dell claims it has 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut covered, and 27in is a good size for a 4K display. Even the tiniest of icons on the Premiere Pro interface could be dabbed with a finger, and you don’t feel overwhelmed sitting in front of it. Like the Surface Studio, the screen also folds flat like a designer’s easel, and this is unlikely to be priced anywhere near as steeply as Microsoft’s desirable desktop. The 5720 has nothing more than a “coming soon” label on it at the moment, but it’s definitely one to add to your list of potentials if you’re thinking of deserting the iMac or crave a powerful all-in-one.


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HP ELITEBOOK X360

PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY TBC HP has started to make some tasty-looking laptops in the past couple of years, but even its most cutting-edge business machines have focused on being thin and light rather than stylish. The EliteBook x360, then, marks something of a departure, packing in not only the 360-degree hinge its name suggests but also a hint of style. These hints come from the “diamond-cut accents” on its aluminium unibody chassis, and judging from our inspection at CES, the 13.3in screen looks just as impressive. We also appreciate the fact that, at the press of a switch, you can massively reduce viewing angles – perfect for working on a sensitive document in public. As you’d expect from a business laptop, the remaining key features revolve around security – including an optional fingerprint or smart card reader – but also take note of the promised 16-hour battery life, in part thanks to Kaby Lake chips. While these may not be winning hearts on the desktop (see p14), they’re more than making up for it on laptops.

HP SPROUT PRO

PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY March 2017 The original HP Sprout was a tough machine to explain. Part all-in-one, part projector, part 3D-modelling system, it aimed to digitally capture 3D objects from the physical world. This second-generation version not only looks sexier, it also allows you to hold models to be scanned rather than stick them on the mat, while a new “touch mat” has a 20-point capacitive surface designed, HP says, for four hands to work at once. There are internal upgrades, including a Kaby Lake Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 960M graphics, while an active stylus with palm rejection and better sensitivity makes it more pleasant to use. Questions remain about the Sprout, including what people will do with it. It’s had some success in education, but we look forward to third-party developers who take advantage of the SDK HP provides. And we hope HP drops the price: the current version costs almost £2,300.

get our hands on a review sample) and you have an enticing laptop for mobile workers. Naturally, as Lenovo’s flagship laptop, the X1 Carbon will come with a heavyweight selection of components, including up to 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage, and we suspect a price to match. As with the 2016 X1 Carbon, though, it should be worth it.

The Sprout Pro not only looks sexier, it also allows you to hold models to be scanned

LENOVO THINKPAD X1 CARBON

PRICE From $1,349 AVAILABILITY February 2017 With most CES laptop updates restricted to the addition of Kaby Lake processors, the all-new ThinkPad X1 Carbon was a surprise. The name stayed the same, but almost everything else changed, with Lenovo performing the trick of squeezing a 14in display into effectively a 13in chassis. The two key stats are weight anddepth: 1.14kg and 217mm respectively. That depth represents the difference between your 14in laptop being usable on a typical plane seat or not. Add the promise of 15-hour battery life (a promise we will be testing as soon as we can

LENOVO MIIX 720

PRICE $999 AVAILABILITY April 2017 Many try but few succeed – we speak, of course, of the many attempts to dethrone the Surface Book. We even saw a $500 effort from an unknown Chinese manufacturer tucked away on one of the CES stalls, but with a kickstand that wilted under pressure, it was hardly a contender. The Miix 720, on the other hand, feels like a thoroughbred. When we tried it out for a brief play, everything felt top-quality. The keyboard had a solid backing and was a pleasure to type on; the Core i7 processor ensured Windows 10 felt nippy; the 12in, 2,880 x 1,920 screen looked fantastic; and Gorilla Glass keeps it safe on the move. And the optional Active Pen should last for six months via its AAAA (yes, quadruple A) battery. With a price of $999, this truly could be a Surface Book beater.

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CES2017 CES2016

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SCREENS

SAMSUNG UH750

Samsung’s Quantum dot technology appears to be synonymous with rich and accuratelooking colours

We were won over by its four- side borderless design, which meant it could be used as a three-screen array

PRICE $1,999 AVAILABILITY June 2017 The ViewSonic VP3881 completes our trio of award-winning monitors from CES 2017, but it’s a little different from its LG and Samsung rivals. Of course, it looked fantastic on the show floor, but this display boasts professional credentials: pre-calibration means it can promise a Delta E of less than two, with the option of hardware calibration if you need it. For once, we were also swayed by its gentle curve – a feature that makes sense when you’re sitting in front of a 37.5in display. The 3,840 x 1,600 resolution and ultra-thin bezels only add to its appeal, which is a good thing considering its $2,000 price. It’s a good thing we’ve got a few months to save up before it goes on sale.

LG 32UD99

PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY TBC LG made a few big announcements at CES, including both a 77in OLED TV and “Smart InstaView” refrigerator, but we weren’t distracted by such trivialities. For us, the pick of its lineup was a relatively humble 32in display. It doesn’t even have fancy screen technology, other than support for HDR: instead, we were won over by its four-side borderless design, which meant it could be used not only as a standalone monitor but as a three-screen array. With the advent of Thunderbolt in more laptops, this could be a fantastic way to create your dream desktop display without spending thousands of pounds.

★ BEST OF ★

CES 2017

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PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY Early 2017 You couldn’t move for curved displays on Samsung’s huge CES stand, but we’re yet to be convinced of this format’s merits. We are, however, fans of Samsung’s Quantum dot technology, which appears to be synonymous with rich and accuratelooking colours. Debuted on Samsung’s TVs, it’s now migrated to its monitors, with the UH750 offering a 1ms response time and AMD FreeSync support to lure in gamers. Even if you never push your graphics card beyond Scrabble, though, the beautiful images and 4K resolution on this 28in screen will be reward enough.

VIEWSONIC VP3881

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PHONES & NETWORKS ASUS ZENFONE AR

PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY TBC Asus announced the second phone to support Google Tango – the augmented-reality “platform” that will, supposedly, help you do things such as choose a new kitchen table by previewing it through the phone’s display – at CES 2017, giving Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro some company. The ZenFone AR wins for usability, being more compact despite housing a 5.7in display, while packing in a cutting-edge set of core specs: with a Snapdragon 821 processor and 8GB of RAM, it should fly. Add a 23-megapixel camera into the mix, along with support for Google Daydream, and this highend handset appears to have it all. Sadly, we don’t yet know the price or when it will go on sale.

The Norton Core is one of the most striking routers we’ve ever seen

NORTON CORE

★ BEST OF ★

CES 2017

PRICE $200 plus $120/yr subscription AVAILABILITY Summer 2017 The first time we saw the Norton Core at CES, we weren’t sure whether to check its specs or take it home to put on Mum’s mantelpiece. It’s one of the most striking routers we’ve seen, looking like an architect’s model of the dome from The Crystal Maze. Why is Symantec getting into the router business? With the PC security software market in decline, it seems Symantec is attempting to assuage people’s fears about IoT devices, claiming the Core will keep watch over everything from your smart doorbell to your Sonos sound system. The accompanying mobile app reveals which devices are connected to the router, sends alerts when a new device attempts to join, and gives the entire network a “security score”; but the small print warns that, of course, Core “doesn’t offer 100% protection”. Additional features include parental controls, letting you determine which hours the kids can go online with their phones, as well as custom QoS controls that afford more bandwidth to games consoles or streaming devices during congested hours. As for the router itself, it’s a dual-band 802.11ac model with 4x4 MU-MIMO. It has two USB 3 ports for file-sharing and four Gigabit Ethernet ports, although having a tangle of wires dangling out the back of the Core would rather ruin its aesthetics. Jon Honeyball tells us Norton is doing “clever stuff” with the omnidirectional antennae inside the Core, although we’ll have to see whether that will be sufficient to get signal to the far end of the garden. Norton wants $200 for the router at a special pre-order price, and it will cost you $120 per year after the first 12 months, which covers unlimited IoT devices and up to 20 PCs, Macs, phones and tablets. It can be pre-ordered in the US and will launch in the summer.

LINKSYS VELOP

PRICE Single unit, £200 inc VAT from pcworld.co.uk AVAILABILITY Now Now here’s a product we look forward to testing ourselves: a router that promises blistering speeds in all areas of your home or office. Linksys told us that it had been in development for three years, as its engineers worked to ensure that it could live up to its technical promise. It’s based on mesh networking, which is hardly new. But unlike rival offerings such as Sky’s, it doesn’t degrade as you move further away from base. With tri-band MIMO – one 2.4GHz, two 5GHz – it will automatically detect the best channel for each client, rather than basing it merely on the location. Linksys also promises blissfully easy setup to match the beauty of the unit’s design. The only problem we foresee is price: you’ll probably want at least three units, which will set you back £500. Ouch.

HONOR 6X

PRICE £225 inc VAT from hihonor.com AVAILABILITY Now The 6X gets a full review on p58 this month, but here we’ll stick to what wins it a “Best of CES 2017” accolade. First and foremost is price: for the all-round build quality on offer, it’s nothing short of amazing. And while it isn’t the fastest around, and the screen can’t compete with the very best, those are sacrifices we believe many would be willing to make in return for cash in the pocket and its highly respectable battery life.

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ENTHUSIASTS & RANDOM COOLER MASTER MASTERCASE 5T

PRICE €249 from coolermaster.com AVAILABILITY Now We spent an hour admiring Cooler Master’s 2017 lineup, from RGB cooler fans to a limited edition 1,500W power supply, but it was the red-and-black MasterCase 5t that kept calling us back for a second look. We’re not normally swayed by tempered glass and blackened metal, but the combination of form and function was in everything from the carry handle to the modular design. Admittedly, at this price it’s suitable only for enthusiasts, but if you’re leaning towards a system packed with the latest components and want to give them a high-end showcase, buying this will make you very happy – especially as you can keep adding extras, such as the RGB fan, when funds allow.

LG MEB-500 WIRELESS MOUSE

PRICE TBC AVAILABILITY TBC When we told LG’s marketing director we were awarding a “Best of CES 2017” award to the MEB-500 Wireless Mouse, it took him a moment to respond. “Well,” he eventually said, surrounded by gigantic flashing screens, “thank you for recognising one of the more niche products on our stand.” We admit it is a bit strange to be taken by a mouse at the world’s biggest tech show, but there’s something about the VW Beetle-like design that won us over. Not only its looks, but how it folds up compactly when not in use and yet elegantly unfolds – and feels like a “real mouse” – when you use it. As our American friends would say, it’s “neat”.

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★ BEST OF ★

CES 2017

The remote adapts its interface for whichever service or device you’re controlling

LEGO BOOST

PRICE $160 AVAILABILITY Late 2017 Build. Code. Play. That’s the promise of Lego Boost, a “building and coding set” that should be hitting shelves in time for next Christmas. The key idea is that children from the age of seven can bring their Lego creations to life by coding controls into the iOS and Android apps. The Boost set will include three Boost bricks – a “Move Hub” with a tilt sensor, a colour and distance sensor, and an interactive motor – plus a playmat and 843 Lego pieces. And while there will be five sets of instructions to build Lego’s own creations (including a robot, cat and guitar), the real idea – as ever with Lego – is to let kids create whatever their imaginations dictate.

SEVENHUGS REMOTE

PRICE $299 AVAILABILITY Summer 2017 All-in-one remotes are normally huge monstrosities. That accusation couldn’t be flung at the Sevenhugs Smart Remote, a device that is billed as “the first remote for everything”. This dinky little lozenge has a full colour touchscreen, and the display adapts its interface for whichever service or device you’re controlling. It can take charge of regular devices such as TVs, hi-fi equipment, streamers and blinds, as well as the more esoteric IoT devices such as smart lights, thermostats, weather stations and locks. It also has custom integrations for a wide range of services, including minicab nemesis Uber, IFTTT, Sonos and many others. In total, Sevenhugs claims compatibility with 25,000 different devices, and it can learn infrared remote controls for those not in its library. The key will be how well it handles custom controls such as the Sky button on your Sky remote, which was difficult to test on the CES show floor. Each kit comes with a remote, charging base and three room sensors. It’s already romped past its Kickstarter funding target, with kits selling for $229, and they will hike to $299 when it’s launched in the summer.

There’s something about the VW Beetle-like design that won us over


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RAZER PROJECT ARIANA

PRICE N/A AVAILABILITY N/A As its name suggests, this isn’t a product as such. Instead, it’s a fascinating proof of concept that shows how console and PC gaming could evolve and turn the whole room into your gaming environment. Let us explain. Razer created a room inside its large CES booth, with a gamer sitting on a sofa in front of a large wall-mounted TV, with a projector mounted on the ceiling. All perfectly conventional. Then the action started, and the walls became part of the gameplay,

FIVE QUIRKY HITS AND MISSES TRIBY

One of the many devices unveiled at CES to be powered by Amazon’s Alexa voice engine, Triby claims to “unlock new home-automation scenarios”. If the slogan needs a bit of work, the concept doesn’t: start your morning workout, for example, and Triby will turn down the thermostat, play music and show you what you should be doing next on its black-and-white E Ink display. The device is reminiscent of an old-fashioned portable radio, except clad in soft blue rubber, and it has the advantage of portability, unlike Amazon’s Echo devices. It’s available for $199 on pre-order from invoxia.com/triby-io.

UNLEASHED

This German invention is another Kickstarter hit. It’s an advanced remote control for Nikon or Canon cameras and, unusually, the Bluetooth dongle plugs into the camera’s AV ports rather than the hot shoe, leaving you free to shoot with flash. The accompanying mobile app (iOS and Android) lets you control all the major camera settings: shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance, as well as controlling the shutter for long exposure shots where you don’t want anything to wobble the camera and introduce blur. It’s €149 from foolography.com.

QUIRK LOGIC QUILLA

The Quilla looks like a huge wall-mounted Kindle, and is aiming to replace interactive whiteboards. Quirk Logic’s marketing materials claim that writing on the E Ink display “feels like paper and pen”, although that’s an optimistic claim if our two-minute test on the CES show floor, where there was definite evidence of lag, is representative of real-life performance. Your scribblings can be shared electronically as PDFs or even to other Quilla users, if anyone’s brave enough to buy two of them. Prices are yet to be determined.

GRIFFIN BREAKSAFE MAGNETIC USB ADAPTER

acting as peripheral vision to complement the main images appearing on the screen. With a variety of lamps pulsing to match the blasts, for once it lived up to the adjective “immersive”. And you don’t even have to wear a VR headset. Project Ariana is currently only a concept, but Razer told us that it only took a week for its chosen game developer to adapt the game to make it work in the room, opening up the possibility of this becoming mainstream. Imagine, for example, a racing game where you can see the car overtaking you to the right...

Many people have bemoaned the lack of ports on the latest MacBook Pro, but Apple’s decision to drop the MagSafe connector has proven just as unpopular. Griffin is profiting nicely from Apple’s single-mindedness by delivering its own version of the connector. Part of the USB connector stays attached if the cable is yanked; the other breaks free, supposedly leaving the laptop unharmed. The magnets felt a little strong when we yanked on the demo cable, but Griffin’s man said they were selling by the bucketload.

EKKO SMART MIRROR

There were several smart mirrors on display at CES but, on reflection, the Ekko was the smartest of them all. The mirror includes face recognition, so it knows who’s sitting in front of it, adapting the traffic information, music playlists and news headlines to each user’s individual profile. Menus are swiped through using gesture controls, avoiding fingerprint smears on the mirror itself. All this will set you back $399 from miliboo.com.

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HOW TO RECOVER DELETED FILES Deleted a file by mistake? We’ve all been there. But, as Nik Rawlinson discovers, all is not necessarily lost

D

oubtless, you’re familiar with that heart-sinking feeling when you realise, too late, that your diligent housekeeping has accidentally consigned your accounts, holiday photos or unfinished novel to history. But you’ll also know that deleted information isn’t always gone for good. Can your data be rescued? The answer is: it depends. A multitude of factors, including your file system, the media on which it was stored and how long it is since the file was deleted will determine what can be recovered. Over the next three pages, we look at the various options, tools and techniques that will give you the best chance of getting back your lost work. Sadly, though, we can’t offer any guarantees: this is one area in which the computing gods might not be on your side.

How is undeleting possible?

When you delete a file – or empty the Recycle Bin – you’re not actually removing it from your hard disk. Rather, you’re simply wiping it from the file-allocation table – an index that tells Windows where on the disk all your files are saved. The actual information is still there, although the disk sectors it occupies are no longer marked as in use. That might mean they get overwritten with fresh data right away. Or those 48

ABOVE A regular “Quick Format” merely wipes the index of files on a disk. The data that was contained within those files isn’t removed, and can be recovered as long as it hasn’t been overwritten

BELOW While Windows itself doesn’t contain an “undelete” feature, there are plenty of third-party tools that can scan your hard disk for erased files and restore the lost data


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Otherrecoveryscenarios

ABOVE The iOS security model makes it hard to recover lost files from an iPhone or iPad, but the OS does keep an archive of deleted photos for 30 days, so you can easily rescue them if you change your mind

particular parts of the disk might not be touched for weeks or even years. As long as they haven’t been overwritten, the data can be recovered: the police enjoy a high level of success in restoring deleted files from recovered hard disks, as do identity thieves. That’s why specialist secure-deletion tools exist, to provide peace of mind that sensitive information can’t be recovered. You don’t need to be an expert to recover deleted data. There are numerous consumergrade tools that make the task simple. The key is to minimise the risk of the data you want to recover being overwritten: secure removal tools make great play of the fact they overwrite each sector several times, but in reality that’s an excessive precaution. As the Center for Memory and Recording Research at the University of California, San Diego, has found, “in today’s drives, multiple overwrites are no more effective than a single overwrite” (pcpro. link/270undelete). In other words, if your file is overwritten just once, you can say goodbye to any chance of recovery – so it’s essential to act as early as possible.

What if I’ve accidentally formatted my entire drive?

Depending on exactly how you formatted the disk, it may even be possible to recover data from a drive that’s been wiped clean. In a regular “Quick Format”, the old volume and directory information is discarded and replaced with a new, empty structure – but, just like when you delete a single file, the actual information remains on the disk. It’s as if you’ve torn out the index at the back of a book, but left the pages in place. As before,

If the data you’re recovering doesn’t reside on your boot disk, then things are a little easier. As long as no applications are writing to the drive from which you want to recover files, you can safely perform the data recovery operation inside Windows itself. As to which tool you use, there are a number of options. A popular package is Piriform’s Recuva (recuva.com), which is completely free and can be run in a “portable” mode that doesn’t require installation to your hard disk (see overleaf). Another good commercial option is Disk Drill: it’s available for both Windows and Mac from cleverfiles.com, and can recover lost files not only from Windows drives, but from Mac format disks and Linux (EXT3/4) formatted drives. The free version will only recover up to 100MB of data, but upgrading for $89 removes the limit, and you don’t need to pay the fee just to see what it can find. It can work with internal and external drives as well as memory cards, and it’s impressively quick. The files themselves are presented in their original locations on the directory tree: you can just tick the box next to files you want to restore, so there’s no need to recover an entire branch if you only need a small amount of data. That may be enough to help you avoid tripping the upgrade threshold.

Recovering data from phones, cameras, MP3 players and more

If your external device can be mounted as a drive in Windows, you can normally scan it for recoverable files in just the same way as a hard disk or USB flash drive. For example, if you’ve lost data from a memory card you can follow the steps outlined above to try to restore your pictures. Where phones, media players and so on are concerned, things get more complicated. These devices may not use standard file systems, or they may connect using a high-level protocol such as MTP (media transfer protocol) that doesn’t allow Windows to access the disk directly. For Android devices, the simplest option is to install an app that will do the job locally. DiskDigger, for

example (on the Google Play store), comes in two versions: one for recovering photos (free) and one – DiskDigger Pro – for all other file types (£2.30). Sadly, it’s not so simple with an iPhone: it’s not possible for an app to access the file system without jailbreaking the device, which we wouldn’t recommend. Your best bet is to enable regular wireless backups through iCloud, from which you can restore the device contents in their entirety if need be. There is one handy exception, though, and that’s photos. As of iOS 10, deleted photos aren’t purged straight away, but are instead sent to a dedicated album where they’re retained for 30 days. You can find them by tapping Albums on the Photos app’s bottom bar and scrolling to

the Recently Deleted collection. Another problem can be recovering deleted files from NAS drives. If possible, your best option may be to connect the device directly to a PC and scan it from within Windows. Failing that, you may be able to remove the constituent disks and use a USB enclosure to hook them up to your PC. This won’t work if they’re configured in a RAID array, but if you’re feeling confident in your technical abilities, you might be able to mount the array in a Linux virtual machine. If you don’t already have a VM hypervisor of choice, Microsoft’s own Hyper-V is included in the Professional editions of Windows 8 and Windows 10, while Oracle VM VirtualBox is a decent free alternative (virtualbox.org).

ABOVE It’s not just Windows: there are numerous tools for Android that can bring back files you’ve mistakenly deleted

BELOW Recuva might not be the most flexible file-recovery tool in the world, but since it’s free, it’s a good place to start

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CreateaUSBflashdrivetorecoverlostfiles

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Download the Lazesoft Recovery Suite Media Builder from pcpro.link/ 270lazesoft. Run it and you’ll be presented with the window to the right: click the Data Recovery icon, and your disk will be scanned for deleted files. For now, though, we just want to create a bootable disk, so click the large Burn CD/USB Disk icon at the top of the window.

Now click the USB Flash button and choose the drive letter of your USB stick. WinPE is very compact, so any drive of 1GB or larger should be fine. Needless to say, it will be wiped, so make sure you’ve copied any important data off it before continuing. Click Start and then wait a few minutes while the WinPE components are downloaded and set up on your USB drive.

When the recovery environment has loaded, you can launch Lazesoft’s data-recovery tool directly from the main program window. Select Undelete, then select your target partition and wait while your disk is scanned. At length, you’ll be presented with a tree of discovered files in the left-hand pane: explore this, and tick the box next to any ones you want to recover, then click Save Files to restore them to a new location.

In the window that opens, you’ll be asked to specify the Windows version of the target computer. If you don’t specify this, the software will assume whatever version of Windows is running on that PC. If you want to create a generic bootable disk, we suggest you select Windows 8.1: this supports all the latest boot and disk technologies found in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

Once complete, you’ll have a bootable USB drive. When you need to use it, you can either configure the BIOS of your target PC to boot from it. If you’re running a more recent UEFI-enabled version of Windows, you can select it as a boot disk by opening the Recovery Options window in Settings, selecting Restart Now, then “Use a device”, and click EFI USB Device.

You can also run other Windows programs within the WinPE environment, so long as they don’t need to be installed to a hard disk. For example, if you prefer to use Piriform’s free Recuva recovery tool, you can download the portable edition from pcpro.link/270recuva and extract it onto your USB drive. You can then launch it from the Windows File Explorer within the Lazesoft recovery environment.

the information can be recovered, as long as you act quickly and don’t overwrite it. The corollary is that, should you ever want to erase an entire disk, you should perform a “full” format; this is much slower, but completely overwrites the sectors that previously contained your files. Mac users can also use the Security Options in Disk Utility to set the degree of overwriting that takes place when formatting media. The default is an insecure “quick” format: you can adjust this to overwrite the disk two, three or seven times.

LEFT Here’s Lazesoft’s data-recovery tool in action. Once you’ve chosen your target partition, the software will scan for all available files, including those that were previously thought lost

Recovering lost data

As previously mentioned, all of the deleted files will remain recoverable until they’re overwritten. Unfortunately, Windows is constantly writing temporary files, log files, updates and so forth to disk, so the more you use your computer, the more likely it becomes that your data will be irretrievable – even if you don’t create any new files yourself. The answer is to create a bootable 50

USB flash drive containing file recovery tools. You can boot from this drive and search your hard disk for recoverable files without the risk of potentially overwriting them in the process. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to create such a USB drive before you need it – and

while technical gurus may prefer to build a recovery environment from scratch, there’s no need to be an expert: there are several bootable drive images, both free and paid-for, which you can set up with just a few clicks. Many of the drive images are based on Windows PE (the Windows Preinstallation Environment), which provides a basic Windows system that doesn’t need to be installed on a hard disk. One Windows PE-based solution that’s worth a look is Lazesoft Recovery Suite, a handy all-in-one tool that’s free for personal use – see above for how to get set up.


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Manageandenhanceyourimageswith

CyberLinkPhotoDirector7 This powerful photo-management suite is all you need to organise and edit your digital images. Nik Rawlinson explores some of its capabilities

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hotoDirector is the perfect tool for both large-scale image management and fine editing. Version 7 is included in this month’s software downloads (see p66) – and here’s how to get started. The first step is to familiarise yourself with the environment. The opening screen shows your library; if you’ve just installed the software, you’ll see a sample image opened for editing in the main pane, with thumbnails of other sample photos below it. We’ll use these images in this walkthrough so you can follow along.

Three buttons at the top of the application window switch between view modes. To edit a picture, simply click Adjustment at the top of the screen; the sidebar switches to show the adjustment tools. Most edits are applied frame-wide when you drag the sliders – but, as we’ll show in the steps opposite, you can be more selective when you need to work with smaller areas directly.

Sortandrateyourimages

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FIND THE BEST PICTURE Your first job on importing a series of shots should always be to filter out any duds, so you can focus on working with the best, before sharing them with friends and family. Switch to the Browser (thumbnail) view from the toolbar or by pressing F8, and apply star ratings to each of the samples. To do this, simply hover over them and click the spots below each shot to turn them into stars.

SELECT AND REJECT Images that you don’t want to work with can be marked as rejected, so they don’t get in the way. Where you have several related images, and you don’t want them to clutter your library, select them all, right-click the selection and pick Stack. They’ll be collapsed into a thumbnail with a number beside it showing how many pictures it represents. Click the number to expand or collapse the stack. 52

SORT YOUR SHOTS Switch to List View by clicking the button on the second-level toolbar, then click the Rate column header to sort them by score. This will help you to identify which shots need more work. Shift-click on the highest-rated shots to select them, then right-click and pick Flagged from the Mark As menu. This will make them easier to find when it’s time to pick out the images we want to take further.

FREEFORM FILING Finally, before we start editing, let’s add some tags to our images so that we can search for them in the future. Select a picture (or a range of shots), click the sidebar’s Metadata tab, expand the Tags section and enter as many keywords as you like, separated by commas. In future, you can type tags into the Search box at the top of the Library interface to quickly find related images.


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Editandcorrectyourphotos

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FRAME-WIDE ADJUSTMENTS Now that you’ve identified the pictures that need more work, pick one to edit and switch to the Adjustment workspace – to follow our example, pick “orchid island.jpg” from the samples and switch to “Viewer only mode”. As you’ll immediately see, the foreground of this image is very dark: we’re going to remedy this, and also straighten out the uneven horizon.

STRAIGHTEN UP Now let’s sort out that horizon. Click the Crop tool in the Regional Adjustment Tools section, immediately below the histogram; the image will be overlaid by a rule-of-thirds grid. Hover the mouse in the editing window but off the image, then drag the curved arrow until the horizon is aligned with the grid. You can also use the handles on the edges and corners to reframe the image at this point.

ADD INTEREST Let’s tweak our photo to make it look like it was shot at sunset. Pick the Gradient Mask tool ( the last button in the Regional Adjustment Tools section), click at the top of the image and drag around halfway down the image. Now increase both the Temperature and the Tint: notice how the effect follows the gradient we defined. We’ll also adjust the saturation of our red, orange and yellow tones.

SOFTEN THE SHADOWS We don’t want to lose that moody sky, so rather than bump up the exposure we’ll just lift the shadows. Drag the sliders for Midtone to 20, Dark to 100, and Darkest to around 70. You should now see the boat much more clearly, while the sky is very little changed. Drag the Tinge section’s Clarity slider to 65% and increase the saturation to around 25% to give the image greater impact.

SELECTIVE EDITING To the right of the boat, there’s a green plastic bottle that spoils the composition. To remove it, pick Spot Removal from the Regional Adjustment Tools; now, click over the bottle, then drag the white circle to an unspoilt area of the image, which will be used as a template for blotting out the bottle. You can move either circle to refine the result, and use the sliders to adjust the size and edges using the sliders.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST After adding a vignette to draw the eye in to the centre of the frame, it’s time to compare our result with the original image by clicking the “Compare before/after” button below the workspace. As you can see, we’ve made a big improvement to the sample photo, bringing out the detail, removing unwanted objects and adding warmth to the sky. Now it’s ready for saving, printing or sharing. 53


Reviews Slug Sectionhead

The biggest, best, most exciting products in tech – tested, evaluated and reviewed

NEW EDITION

DellXPS13 A further refinement of the XPS 13 keeps it at the top, but competition is getting ever more fierce

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@PCPRO

SCORE

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PRICE As reviewed, £1,083 (£1,299 inc VAT) from dell.co.uk

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hey say you should put your money where your mouth is, and that’s exactly what I did when I saw the Dell XPS 13 at CES 2015. Squeezing a 13.3in screen into what is, for the rest of the industry, a 12in chassis remains a magical achievement. That its major sleight of hand is to reduce the bezels to almost zero, and in doing so create a luxurious edge-to-edge screen, only adds to its desirability. That’s why the XPS 13 has been PC Pro’s A-Listed ultraportable for almost two years, and why I chose it as my work laptop 18 months ago. Despite a bruising existence of being thrust in a rucksack each day, and the occasional trip to Las Vegas, it’s holding up exceptionally well. Still, I was curious whether Dell’s latest update to its iconic laptop would make me keen to upgrade. First let’s tackle the number of major changes Dell has made to the design. Which is, a big fat zero. Well, that’s not entirely true. Dell is making a 2-in-1 model with a lid that rotates through 360 degrees, much like Lenovo’s Yoga laptops, but the basic XPS 13 design remains nigh-on identical. (See our pick of the best products from CES on p38 for our first impressions of the 2-in-1 version.)

Fiddling with perfection

Compared to my original XPS 13, there have been minor tweaks both inside and outside. The micro-HDMI port of the first model was replaced by a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support last year, so if you’ve invested

BENCHMARKS Dell XPS 13 (2015) OVERALL 50 0

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BREAKDOWN SCORES Image editing 92

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Video editing 55

Multi tasking 33

BATTERY: video playback, 7hrs 46mins

in a Thunderbolt-toting monitor or peripheral then you’ll be delighted. For those, like me, who use that micro-HDMI port to connect to a slightly older monitor, an adapter is the only choice, with no other video outputs available. If you have £400 or so to spare, though, take note of Dell’s Thunderbolt Dock TB16. Complete with 180W power supply, this has enough might to charge the XPS 13, plus the bandwidth to feed three Full HD displays, two 4K displays or a single 5K unit such as the Philips 275P4VYKEB (see p70). With just one cable to contend with, this will neaten up your desk at a stroke. It’s not the prettiest object, stemming from the solid-cube-ofblack-plastic school of design, but I’d be willing to live with this for the extra connectivity it provides. Namely two USB 2 ports, three USB 3 and Gigabit Ethernet. You do get two USB 3 ports on the XPS 13 itself, one on either side, plus the still-useful SD card slot. There’s also a single 3.5mm headset jack, a battery gauge button and indicator (which I’ve used twice in the past 18 months) and the power input. Aside from the thoroughly average speakers built into the sides, that’s your lot. This means that anyone looking for wired connection to a network will again need an adapter or dock, but the 802.11ac Wi-Fi Dell includes provides a solid connection. The relatively small disappointment here is that Dell sticks with a 2x2 MIMO antenna. There’s Bluetooth 4.1 as well, but no room for a SIM slot.

Kaby Lake factor

Dell also upgrades the key specs inside, with our model including a seventh-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel Core i7-7500U. This quad-core chip runs at 2.7GHz with a Turbo Boost to 3.5GHz, so sits near the top of Intel’s mobile range, and while the processors inside the workstation PCs in this month’s Labs make it look almost snail-like with a score of 50 in our benchmarks, in reality the updated XPS 13 is fast enough for all but the most demanding tasks. It’s a modest boost over the previous Dell XPS 13, based on a sixth-generation Core i7-6500U processor, which scored 46 overall in our benchmarks. It might have done a little better if Dell had submitted a unit with 16GB of RAM – the

maximum it offers – but I’d be most tempted to upgrade the SSD. You can buy the XPS 13 with anything from 128GB to 1TB of storage, but be careful. The bottom-end model’s 128GB SSD is a slower SATA drive, so not only will it become rapidly full but it will feel slower than the NVMe drives Dell otherwise uses. Even though it costs £999 and includes a perfectly good Core i5-7200U processor, the £999 offering is best avoided. If you want 1TB of storage, though, you’ll have to pay £1,699 – albeit with 16GB of RAM and a touchscreen. Dell constantly “Notably, you can upgrade switches configurations the Dell XPS 13’s SSD and provides offers on its yourself, so you aren’t website, but expect to limited to what you can pay around £1,400 for afford when you buy it” what I would consider the sweet spot: a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM. Coupled with the i7-7500U, that’s enough power and storage to comfortably get you through the next three years. Notably, you can upgrade the Dell XPS 13’s SSD yourself, so unlike most modern laptops, you aren’t limited to what you can afford at the time of purchase. ABOVE Our only criticism of Dell’s design is the webcam beneath the screen

Big decisions

With the upgrade to Kaby Lake, I also hoped for improved battery life, but it’s actually a little worse. Where the previous version lasted for 7hrs 58mins in our video-rundown test – we set screen brightness to 50%, switch off Wi-Fi and set a looped video running – this time it gave up after 7hrs 46mins. 55


Reviews

That may sound at odds with Dell’s promise of “up to 22 hours, 21 minutes of continual use”, but that’s with the Full HD screen rather than the 3,200 x 1,800-resolution model we tested. This has a telling effect on life, with Dell’s own official tests showing that an XPS 13 equipped with a Core i3 processor and Full HD screen at 40% brightness can indeed last for 22hrs 21mins in MobileMark 2014; but that drops to 13hrs 15mins with a 3,200 x 1,800 screen and Core i5 processor. This makes your choice of screen all the more crucial. I opted for the 3,200 x 1,800 display back in 2015, but that’s only because the higher-spec models tend to include it. A Full HD, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution suits the 13.3in screen size perfectly well, and means you avoid the occasional problems with tiny system text. Dell sent our review sample with the higher-resolution display, and as expected from previous XPS 13 models, this performed well in our technical tests. It covers 92% of the sRGB gamut and reached a peak brightness of 290cd/m2, and is a joy to gaze at. (Until you think about all that battery life it’s consuming.) Our review sample also included touch support, and while this worked well, it should be seen as a bonus rather than a must-have. It adds 90g to the unit’s weight, up to 1.29kg from 56

the non-touch 1.2kg, and while I’ll admit that it can be useful to reach out and touch – especially when web browsing – most of the time the excellent, wide touchpad suffices. You may also be tempted by the Rose Gold model of the XPS 13 that Dell offers. Here, personal taste very much applies, but I wasn’t tempted when I saw it on show at this year’s CES, simply because a solid mass of faux gold can end up looking tawdry. Dell’s UK arm appears to agree, with only one configuration available in Rose Gold from dell.co.uk at the time of writing.

Still great

Laying my hands on the latest XPS 13 reminded me of many things that I still love about this laptop. The design remains a phenomenon: sleek and stylish without pretention, with a high-quality display that very nearly lives up to Dell’s “InfinityEdge” branding.

The keyboard is also a joy to type on. The only design annoyance is the mediocre webcam that sits underneath the screen – hardly the optimum position for conference calls. Gamers will also be frustrated by the Intel HD Graphics 620 chip inside; you’ll have to drop right down in resolution if you want to play any recent 3D games. If gaming is an interest, you’d be far better served by the excellent Razer Blade Stealth (see issue 269, p60), which offers an optional graphics enclosure for £200. Just add this, and your graphics card of choice, and serious gaming is within your grasp. So, should you buy the XPS 13? As the logo on the previous page rather betrays, this remains PC Pro’s A-Listed laptop. It’s more than fast enough, battery life remains a strength, and even after two years the design remains unsurpassed. ABOVE It’s great to The competition is mounting, see Thunderbolt and though, whether from offbeat two USB 3 ports pretenders such as Razer or more squeezed in conventional rivals such as Asus with its ZenBook 3 (see issue 269, p52). Tellingly, both beat Dell “Dell’s official tests show for value. Asus offers a ZenBook 3 with a 512GB that an XPS 13 equipped SSD, Core i5-7200U and with a Core i3 processor 8GB of RAM for £1,065 inc and Full HD screen can last VAT; Razer sells a Stealth for 22hrs in battery tests” powered by a Core i7-7500U with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for £1,350. Compare that to the exact system we put to test here: a Core i7-7500U, BELOW The Rose Gold 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD edition is a little too currently costs £1,299. That would ostentatious for us seem far too expensive but for the 13.3in, 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen display. And Dell’s luscious, bezelless screen remains a decisive factor – both Asus and Razer’s laptops use a 12.5in display but their chassis are a similar size as the XPS 13. The XPS 13 remains a fantastic choice. No doubt. Personally, there isn’t quite enough here to make me so green-eyed I must upgrade, but I do quite fancy a larger SSD. Time to dig out the screwdriver. TIM DANTON SPECIFICATIONS Quad-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U processor ● Intel HD Graphics 620 ● 8GB RAM ● 13.3in 3,200 x 1,800 IPS display ● 256GB NVMe SSD ● VGA webcam ● 802.11ac Wi-Fi ● Bluetooth 4.1 ● USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 ● 2 x USB 3 ● SD card slot ● Windows 10 Home ● 304 x 200 x 15mm (WDH) ● 1.29kg ● 1yr on-site warranty


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Honor 6X

A brilliant design for a brilliant price, Honor’s 6X is a great alternative to the more mundane Moto G4 SCORE

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PRICE £187 (£224 inc VAT) from vmall.eu/uk

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hile Honor may not wish to be pigeonholed as a low-budget smartphone brand – it prefers youthful and brave – the fact remains that it’s rather good at making them. And its latest, the Honor 6X, is its best yet. This squeezes a Full HD, 5.5in LCD screen into an all-metal body with a choice of three colours: silver, grey and gold. Its rear is curved, sitting nicely in the hand, and while the screen isn’t curved like the Samsung S7 Edge, it does taper at the edges. It feels like a premium phone. A dual SIM slot adds handy flexibility for travellers, or you can choose to fill the second slot with a microSD card, but note the microUSB connector – there’s no USB Type-C connector for fast charging. Compensation comes in 32GB of storage and the fingerprint reader, which nestles nicely at the back and rapidly unlocks the phone. The screen is another highlight. A contrast ratio of 1,694:1 helps it produce wonderfully impactful images, while a peak brightness of 502cd/m2 means it’s readable even in bright sunlight. Colour reproduction isn’t quite so good, covering only 89% of the sRGB gamut, but this is by no means obvious. Indeed, thanks to Honor’s “eye comfort mode,” which filters out blue light in the evenings and automatically adjusts brightness and colour temperature according to ambient light, it’s very easy on the eyes. I’m also a fan of the dual camera, a unique inclusion at this price. In this case there’s a 12-megapixel main unit coupled with a 2-megapixel secondary sensor, allowing it to take “wide-aperture” shots similar to the iPhone 7 Plus’ Bokeh mode, blurring everything beyond the point of focus. The effect isn’t quite on par with Apple’s plussized handset (which, at almost triple the price, is to be expected), but it’s still good enough to give your shots a face-lift. 58

There’s also the usual suite of shooting modes, with the rear camera producing decent shots packed with detail. Even in low light the Honor 6X produces balanced, well-judged exposures, albeit a little grainy, and a single LED flash helps cut through the darkness when conditions get really tricky. Critically, the Honor 6X’s snapper beats the similarly priced Huawei P9 Lite (see p61) by a country mile in our outdoor tests. If you feel the need to tweak your images, you get Pro still and video modes for fine-grained control over every aspect of your images, allowing you to tinker with ISO and exposure values. Despite the price, the Honor 6X is no slouch. There’s a 2.1GHz Kirin 655 octa-core processor inside, joining forces with 3GB of RAM. With a Geekbench single-core score of 784 and 3,319 for multicore, the 6X is more or less a carbon copy of the similarly specified P9 Lite. This translates into a smooth and responsive experience, and surprisingly stable multitasking. Honor says its smart file system (HTC’s 10 Evo has a similar facility) reduces file fragmentation for faster response times and it

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certainly feels that way. It’s a great performer once you fire up Android games, too. It scored an average frame rate of 8.4fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test, which is perfectly respectable for a budget phone, and the likes of Threes and Angry Birds 2 ran without a hitch. Battery life is good rather than great. It’s a substantial 3,340mAh unit, lasting 11hrs 18mins while playing back video continuously in flight mode. That lags behind the current king of budget phones – the Moto G4 Plus – which lasted over two hours longer. ABOVE You It wouldn’t be an Android phone can buy the without a bit of overlay tinkering 6X in three and the Honor 6X is no exception. colours, including an Usually this is the point at which understated gold we castigate the manufacturer for insisting on preloading its own onerous launcher software, but Honor’s EMUI is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. Yes, there’s still too much superfluous preinstalled software – a handful of naff games and unnecessary apps – but you can get rid of them. The downside RECOMMENDED is that the 6X doesn’t ship with Android 7 Nougat, although Honor is promising an over-the-air update in the coming months. “The 12-megapixel main This price bracket is full of low-budget phones camera is coupled with a worth considering, but 2-megapixel secondary the Honor 6X stands out sensor, allowing it to take from the crowd. Its design, ‘wide-aperture’ shots” camera quality and performance are great for the money. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus may deliver more bang for your buck and have better battery life, but the Honor’s fancier design and dual-lens camera make it a great alternative. LEFT The screen It’s a high-quality phone for a bargain tapers off at the price. NATHAN SPENDELOW edges, adding to this phone’s luxurious feel BELOW To hit this price, Honor has stuck with an old-fashioned micro-USB connector

SPECIFICATIONS Octa-core 2.1GHz/1.7GHz Kirin 655 processor ● 3GB RAM ● Mali-T830 MP2 graphics ● 5.5in IPS screen ● 1,920 x 1,080 resolution ● 32GB storage ● microSD slot ● 12MP and 2MP rear camera ● 8MP front camera ● 802.11n Wi-Fi ● Bluetooth 4.1 ● NFC ● micro-USB connector ● 3,340mAh battery ● Android 6 ● 76.2 x 8.2 x 151mm (WDH) ● 162g ● 1yr warranty


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Huawei P9 Lite

The Huawei P9 Lite gets so much right, but battery and camera problems hold it back from greatness SCORE

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PRICE £165 (£198 inc VAT) from mobicity.co.uk

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ith Huawei’s current P9 range costing between £449 and £549, the P9 Lite is an oddity at £198. It’s almost as if the Chinese company took a look at the low-budget king Moto G4 and decided to dethrone it. And, but for a couple of missteps, it comes tantalisingly close. At first glance, it’s hard to tell the P9 Lite apart from the P9. Both have 5.2in screens, chamfered edges and clean lines; both feel slim and sleek. The telltale giveaway only becomes obvious if you hold them in your hand: the P9 Lite sacrifices the aluminium back of its sibling for a smooth plastic finish. The other changes are more subtle. The Leica branding is dropped from the camera as it’s no longer in charge of photography duties. You’ll also find a micro-USB charging port rather than USB Type-C. Otherwise, it’s business as usual, right down to the square fingerprint reader on the back of the handset. Things improve further with the screen. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover the Huawei P9 Lite uses the same panel as the P9, because the 1,920 x 1,080 screen is excellent. First off, a 1,532:1 contrast is impressive, allowing for sharp, impactful images. The brightness is good, too, at 482cd/m2, and in terms of sRGB coverage it’s up there with far more expensive phones: 98% of the colour space is covered. That’s substantially better than the 90% of the Moto G4. Nor can you argue with the specifications for the price. A 2GHz octa-core Kirin 650 chip runs the show, backed by 3GB of RAM, and while there’s only 16GB of internal storage it does have a microSD slot. The specs translate into smoothrunning apps, and it proved around 20% faster in benchmarks than the Moto G4: 770 versus 632 in Geekbench 4 single-core, 8.3fps versus 7fps in GFXBench Manhattan 3

onscreen. The best phones are twice as fast, but for less than half the price you shouldn’t expect miracles. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from here. Huawei makes two mistakes with the P9 Lite and how you use your phone will decide how big a deal this is for you. First, battery life is bad. Really bad. We test every phone using a looped 720p video in airplane mode, with the brightness set to 170cd/m2, and then measure how many hours the handset lasts. The vast majority of phones comfortably break into double figures, but the P9 Lite died shortly after crossing the nine-hour mark. The Moto G4 lasted 13hrs 39mins in the same test, while the Samsung Galaxy J5 pushed on for 17hrs 50mins before giving up the ghost. The second problem with the P9 Lite is the camera. Something clearly

has to suffer with the drop in price from the P9 to the P9 Lite, and Huawei’s 13-megapixel choice produced pictures with blurred detail and a lack of vibrancy, with everything taking on a gloomy, underexposed tone. This was with or without the camera’s HDR mode. In lower light indoors, things got even worse. Images proved grainy and lacked detail, and while the flash helped a little, the camera clearly isn’t a selling point for this phone. If I was to be unkind, I might compare the P9 Lite to someone you meet with amazing, superficial charm, but who has the potential to irritate once you get to know them better. On this occasion, though, the irritation will ABOVE The depend on how you use your phone. 5.2in screen is If you don’t take many the star of the photographs, then an iffy camera show, and shone in won’t really be a problem. Likewise, our tests if you’re so serious a photographer that you have your own DSLR on you at all times, then this shouldn’t stop you considering the Huawei P9 Lite. The battery is a concern, but as Huawei has stuck with the venerable micro-USB port, you’re not likely to ever be too far away from somewhere where you can top up your phone. And, if you’re happy with those sacrifices, then the “Huawei makes two Huawei P9 Lite is a mistakes with the P9 Lite, good choice. It doesn’t and how you use your phone feel like a £198 phone. Performance-wise, it will decide how big a deal elbows in front of this is for you” both the Moto G4 and Samsung Galaxy J5 with impressive ease. Where it faces stiffer competition – and one reason the P9 Lite doesn’t win a Recommended award – is in the Honor 6X (see p58), which is a little ironic as Honor is a Huawei-owned brand. The P9 Lite is marginally cheaper, but it would need to be closer to £150 for us to recommend it. ALAN MARTIN

LEFT At first glance, it would be hard to tell the P9 Lite apart from its more expensive siblings

SPECIFICATIONS Octa-core 2GHz/1.7GHz Kirin 650 processor ● 3GB RAM ● Mali-T830 MP2 graphics ● 5.2in IPS screen ● 1,920 x 1,080 resolution ● 16GB storage ● microSD slot ● 13MP/8MP rear/ front cameras ● 802.11n Wi-Fi ● Bluetooth 4.1 ● NFC ● micro-USB connector ● 3,000mAh battery ● Android 6 ● 72.6 x 7.5 x 147mm (WDH) ● 147g ● 1yr warranty 61


Reviews

WileyfoxSwift2X

X doesn’t mark the spot, with the latest phone from the British upstart falling behind its aggressive rivals SCORE

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PRICE £183 (£219 inc VAT) from wileyfox.com

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ou could be forgiven for thinking Wileyfox had faded back into obscurity. The British manufacturer kicked up quite a fuss back in 2015 when it launched its first handsets, the Storm and Swift, with the latter causing plenty of excitement with a £129 price, Cyanogen OS and 5in display. At the time, it was a real competitor to the third-generation Moto G. Eighteen months on and Wileyfox hasn’t made the impact on the UK smartphone market that we thought, and perhaps hoped, it would. Walk into a Carphone Warehouse today and you’re still far more likely to be faced with big names such as Apple, HTC and Samsung. That isn’t for want of trying. The Swift 2 X represents the fourth iteration of the Wileyfox Swift brand, with the original followed by the Swift 2 and Swift 2 Plus – neither of which, sadly, won us over. Despite costing a still cheap £160, the Swift 2 wasn’t a big enough improvement on its forebear: a dull 720p screen, poor battery life and disappointing camera left it lagging behind the much-praised Moto G4. So we come to 2017 and Wileyfox’s latest cunning attempt, bumping up the price to £219 with – to quote its website – a “bigger, brighter screen and bigger battery”. Its almost as if Wileyfox took all the criticisms levelled at the original Swift 2 and decided to address each fault head on.

Dejá vu

Not everything has changed. The Swift 2 X still has the slightly rounded rectangle design of its predecessor, complete with navy blue tinge. In fact, aside from that not-so-obvious screen size bump to 5.2in, it looks incredibly similar to the Swift 2 that came before. This is no criticism, as the best thing about the Swift 2 was its clean, all-metal design. It retains the useful

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fingerprint scanner on the back, but while this was a real plus six months ago it’s now almost commonplace: both the Honor 6X (see p58) and Huawei P9 Lite (see p61) sport such a reader, and both unlock the phone more quickly. One thing that has changed is that the second-rate 720p screen of the Swift 2 is dead and buried. Wileyfox has finally embraced the Full HD revolution, with the Swift 2 X packing a 5.2in, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS panel. Those jagged-looking icons of the original are gone, with a far more impressive 423ppi density, while a contrast ratio of 1,385:1 lends itself to plenty of detail-rich images. At a peak 625cd/m2, the 2 X’s display is also dazzlingly bright. The previous screen could only reach 344cd/m2. Only covering 86.6% of the sRGB colour gamut isn’t great by modern smartphone standards, and is just shy of the Moto G4’s 91%. This means that images aren’t particularly punchy, with colours looking dull by comparison.

Snap judgement

There’s much less of a difference between the camera in the Swift 2 and 2 X – and I don’t mean that as a

ABOVE Wileyfox makes the wise move of upgrading to a bright, Full HD screen

compliment, with the 16-megapixel camera producing mixed results. Surprisingly, it was indoors where it fared best. Colours were natural and rich, with the 2 X coping well in low-light conditions with the help of its dual-LED flash to cut through the darkness. Move outdoors, however, and images looked subdued, even with plenty of light. It struggled with exposure too, with an unnaturally fierce white sky. And don’t even touch HDR. Irreparably washing out the picture with no obvious recompense, the camera sucked up what little detail remained, with heavy whitewashing making an appearance in every HDR-enabled picture. If you’re an avid photographer, stick with the Moto G4 or G4 Plus, or consider the Honor 6X.

Speed and battery life

The Swift 2 was also criticised for mediocre performance, with its 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 struggling in benchmarks when compared to low-budget rivals. Sadly, despite the price boost, there’s no change here, with the “It’s almost as if Wileyfox only improvement being 3GB of RAM compared to took all the criticisms the 2GB of the Swift 2 levelled at the original (note the Swift 2 Plus Swift 2 and decided to had 3GB of RAM). address each fault head on” That’s reflected in the benchmark graphs opposite, with the Kirin 650 and 655 processors found in the Huawei P9 Lite and Honor 6X respectively giving them a clear lead in Geekbench 4. For gaming performance, though, there’s little to separate any of these handsets. If that’s important to you, consider the OnePlus 3T instead. Run-of-the-mill performance doesn’t translate into lengthy battery life, but then again that’s what we’ve come to expect of Wileyfox handsets. LEFT USB Type-C and support for Quick Where the Swift 2 lasted for 9hrs Charge 3 means a 25% 32mins in our video-rundown test, charge in 15 minutes the 2 X kept going for 9hrs 18mins


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from its 3,010mAh battery. That’s not a scratch on the Moto G4’s 13hrs 39mins lifespan. But there is good news. With a USB Type-C connector and support for Quick Charge 3, you can expect to achieve roughly 75% charge after just under an hour plugged into the wall. And if you’re in a real hurry, it can get to 25% after 15 minutes.

Buying decision

Geekbench 4, multi-core Huawei P9 Lite

3,359

Honor 6X

3,319

Motorola Moto G4 Plus

2,582

Motorola Moto G4

2,453

Wileyfox Swift 2 X

2,072

WileyFox Swift 2

1,967 Geekbench 4, single-core

Honor 6X

784

Huawei P9 Lite Motorola Moto G4

632

Motorola Moto G4 Plus

632 629

WileyFox Swift 2

784 770

There are other good things Wileyfox Swift 2 X 629 about this phone. Having 32GB of storage and a microSD slot – which Screen brightness (cd/m²) doubles as a nano-SIM slot in addition to the micro-SIM Wileyfox Swift 2 X 770 626 – is good to see in a phone at Motorola Moto G4 540 this price. There’s NFC and Honor 6X 509 Android Pay support, and it Motorola Moto G4 Plus 486 has a loud, clear speaker too Huawei P9 Lite 482 – a nice touch for those who WileyFox Swift 2 344 use their phone for voice conferences. But then we come to the Battery life (video-rundown test) OS. With Cyanogen having 13h 39m Motorola Moto G4 closed its development 13h 31m Motorola Moto G4 Plus doors, it’s no surprise that 9fps Honor 6X 11h 19m Wileyfox has promised to WileyFox Swift 2 9h 32m move all its current phones to Android 7 Nougat in the Wileyfox Swift 2 X 9h 18m first quarter of 2017. For the Huawei P9 Lite 9h 8m moment, though, it’s shipping with an OS that’s And if money is really tight, there’s no longer officially supported. the plain Moto G4. For around £160 Even with the promise of support you still get strong performance, staff within Wileyfox who can a fine camera and 13-hour battery handle Cyanogen queries, that’s not a great situation. life. NATHAN SPENDELOW Even if it had the latest version SPECIFICATIONS of Android, though, I couldn’t Octa-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon recommend the Wileyfox Swift 2 X. If you’re looking for a stylish metal 430 processor ● 3GB RAM ● Adreno 505 graphics ● 5.2in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS design then the Honor 6X is the screen ● 32GB storage ● microSD slot ● obvious choice; if camera quality is 16MP/8MP rear/front camera ● 802.11n more important, it pales in comparison with the Moto G4 Plus. Wi-Fi ● Bluetooth 4.1 ● NFC ● USB Type-C connector ● 3,010mAh battery ● Cyanogen 13.1 ● 73 x 8.2 x 143mm (WDH) ● 153g ● BELOW The 16-megapixel rear camera performs much better indoors than out 1yr warranty

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SamsungGear S3Frontier

Impressive battery life, design and software make this the best alternative to the Apple Watch SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £291 (£350 inc VAT) from samsung.com/uk

I

n stark contrast to most smartwatches, the Samsung Gear S3 has great battery life: charge it to 100% and it’ll last you almost five days. The first four days with normal operation (with the screen in timeout mode and no GPS) and then, when it hits 5%, more than 24 hours of use in power-save mode. That’s fantastic stamina for any smartwatch, let alone one with a colour AMOLED display. Then there’s the aesthetics. The Samsung Gear S3 is available in a couple of flavours – the Classic and the Frontier – and both look stunning. The Frontier is a real looker, finished in smoky, gunmetal grey, with a burly rubber wristband (both large and small sizes are included in the box), butch knurled buttons, and an aggressively notched bezel that rotates with a light clicking action, just like on a dive watch. The difference is that this bezel isn’t simply for adornment or timing purposes; it’s part of the fabric of the way the watch works. Spin it and the watch face whirls away to reveal a galaxy of different notifications and widget screens. It’s also used to scroll through items in lists and alter settings, depending on whereabouts in the UI you find yourself. The Gear S3 watch still has a responsive touchscreen, but I found myself using the bezel whenever possible because it leaves the screen free for reading. The 1.3in panel has a resolution of 360 x 360, and it’s topped with Corning’s wearable-specific scratchand shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass SR+. It’s comfortably readable in most conditions at the default setting of seven and, handily, it automatically dims in low-light conditions, so it won’t annoy everyone in the cinema when you check the time. The problem with the Samsung Gear S3 is that it’s a bit beefy. At 46 x 12.9 x 49mm (including the lugs), it’s thicker than most smartphones, and I found that with some shirts it wouldn’t slip under the cuffs

64

comfortably. If you have more slender wrists, you may prefer to stick with the Gear S2.

Clock the features

But those with thicker limbs will be pleased to discover that Samsung has considerably improved on the Gear S2’s capabilities with the Gear S3, and the big upgrade is built-in GPS. This means that, as with the Apple Watch Series 2, you can track your run without your phone. This worked well, locking onto GPS satellites in around 1min 30secs from cold in a built-up area of central London. Also new is a built-in speaker to go with the microphone the Gear S2 already had. This unlocks a couple of new capabilities, principal among which is the ability to answer and make phone calls from your wrist. This isn’t something I’m keen on doing when I’m out and about, but it comes into its own at home. The Gear S3’s Wi-Fi connectivity means you don’t have to be within Bluetooth range of your phone to receive

ABOVE That chunky bezel not only looks good, it’s integral to how the Gear works

notifications and make/receive calls, so if the phone rings you can answer even if you’ve left your phone by the bed. The speaker also allows the watch to double as an interactive fitness coach while you’re working out. It will gee you up when you start to fade and deliver timely audible info as you pound the pavement. The only problem is that the speaker isn’t loud enough to hear over the rush of breath from your lungs and the blood pounding in your ears, so you’ll have to use the Gear S3’s Bluetooth connectivity to hook up a pair of headphones instead. These new capabilities build on the Gear S2’s already-impressive collection. There’s an optical heart-rate monitor that continuously tracks your pulse during exercise and keeps tabs on your resting rate with spot checks during the day. There’s an altimeter/barometer and an associated app, keeping tabs on your altitude and atmospheric pressure. There’s NFC, 4GB of storage for music, wireless charging via the WPC standard, and a dual-core 1GHz Samsung Exynos 7270 chip with 768MB of RAM. It only slowed down while playing Fruit Ninja – but that’s not what the S3 was made for. In every other respect, it responds smoothly and instantly to touchscreen dabs and clicks of the bezel.

Ready, get set...

RECOMMENDED

BELOW A built-in altimeter is just one of this fitness-friendly watch’s features

Sadly, the Samsung Gear S3 isn’t properly waterproof like the Apple Watch Series 2; it’s water-resistant and rated to the IP68 standard. This means that, although the watch can be submerged to a depth of 1.5m in freshwater for up to 30 minutes, you can’t take it for a swim. That sets the Samsung Gear S3 at an immediate disadvantage to the Apple Watch Series 2, which has a decent swim-tracking mode in addition to GPS and heart-rate monitoring. But the Samsung hits back with excellent automatic tracking and stats-packed activity monitoring. Walk briskly for a few minutes and the watch will quickly pick that up and log it as an activity. The same happens if you take it for a run and forget to manually hit start. It will also auto-pause when you stop to cross the road, and it reports a rich bank of data to your phone once you’re done, from the usual average speed, distance and average heart-rate data to the more unusual average and maximum cadence. Also excellent is the series of health-based widgets you can view your stats on, which look great and


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FAR LEFT There’s no shortage of health-related info to discover LEFT We found the heart-rate monitor to be accurate no matter the activity RIGHT There’s no shortage of tracking information, including how much sleep you’re getting

BELOW The AMOLED display is sharp and bright, yet this watch lasts for up to five days on a charge

present data in a surprising amount of detail. These can be dropped in on the right-hand side of the watch face, and show all the usual stuff – calories burned, steps taken and your recent sleep record – plus a couple of extras, including the number of floors you’ve climbed and a screen that lets you monitor the number of cups of coffee and glasses of water you’ve consumed. It all feeds into the S Health app on your phone, which syncs the data and presents it in a more digestible manner. If you’re familiar with the app through owning a Samsung phone, there will be no surprises here: the app presents your goals at the top of the main page with a couple of key stats on graphs beneath (steps and sleep by default), with specific data, from your stress levels through SpO2 and floors climbed, encapsulated in a series of square panels below that. Tap one of those and you can drill down into the nitty-gritty.

Tizen, king of the OSes

Note that Gear watches are no longer limited to working with only Samsung phones. Although the Gear S3 runs Samsung’s Tizen wearables OS, you can pair it on any modern Android phone via the Samsung Gear app. Generally, the watch’s notifications system works well. As they’re delivered, all notifications are stacked up to the left of the watch face – just swipe left or twist the bezel anti-clockwise to get to them. And just as it’s possible to answer calls on the watch, it’s also possible to respond to SMS and WhatsApp messages directly on the watch face. You can either tap out words and

emoji using the onscreen keypad or, if you’re feeling brave, have Samsung’s S Voice transcribe for you. This all works beautifully: S Voice has improved to the point at which it managed to transcribe the basic messages I dictated to it reasonably reliably. However, it’s weirdly inconsistent in what you can respond to and what you can’t. I had the Gear app installed on a Google Pixel XL, and while notifications for email received via the Gmail app were sucked onto the watch, there was no way to act on those emails other than to read them (in full) on the watch or to open them and respond on the phone. The way it interacts with Google Calendar also leaves something to be desired. It will display your appointments and reminders, but there’s no way of filtering the view if you have multiple calendars and want to exclude one or two. Then there are the third-party apps, which are in short supply; the inevitable side effect of being on a proprietary, single-company platform. There’s a Spotify remote controller app and a Facer app for downloading or creating your own watch faces, plus a healthy selection of games, but there’s nothing like the selection available to its rivals. When the Editor’s Picks in the Gear store includes a speedometer, a couple of games and a calculator, you know you’re in trouble.

Time to buy?

The question is, should you care? I’d argue not. The watch’s core apps and general allround capabilities are so good that it’s worth the price without any extras. The fitness side of things is particularly strong, offering most tools that fitness fanatics need to log exercise and keep motivated. Notifications work just as well – niggles aside – as on Android Wear watches. The big bonus, though, is that the Samsung Gear S3 combines all of those things with superb battery life and luxurious high-end design. It feels like a luxury “Although the Gear S3 runs watch and a high-end Samsung’s Tizen wearables smartwatch combined. OS, you can pair it with any It’s a pleasure to use, to wear (as long as your modern Android phone via wrists aren’t too slim) the Samsung Gear app” and to train with, and even at a price of £350, it’s now the Apple Watch alternative to beat. If you own an Android smartphone and you’re looking to invest in a smartwatch, you should put the Samsung Gear S3 at the very top of your list. JONATHAN BRAY SPECIFICATIONS 1.3in 360 x 360 AMOLED display l dual-core 1GHz processor l 4GB memory l 768MB RAM l GPS l 802.11n Wi-Fi l Bluetooth 4.2 l heart-rate sensor l IP68 water and dust resistance l 380mAh battery l 1yr RTB warranty l Samsung Tizen 2.3.2 OS l 46 x 12.9 x 49mm (WDH) l 62g 65


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Samsung C24FG70FQU

Expensive for the size, but a beautifully made curved monitor with image quality to match the best SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £250 (£300 inc VAT) from overclockers.co.uk

Q

uantum dot technology is widespread in TVs, but the Samsung C24FG70FQU is the first computer monitor we’ve seen to include it. Just like AOC, opposite, Samsung has gamers in its sights with this 24in curved screen, which also features 144Hz refresh rates and 1ms response times. The technology comes at a cost: £300 is a lot to pay for a Full HD 24in screen, especially when finding another £100 or so will buy the 27in AOC. Still, the moment you touch it, it’s clear this is a well-made, stylish display. The monitor’s unusuallooking stand provides full height, tilt, pivot and swivel adjustments and despite its rather delicate appearance, holds the display firmly in place. Being a curved display, it supposedly makes movies and games more immersive than conventional panels. I’m not convinced: because of the small size of the panel, the overall effect isn’t as dramatic as it is with larger curved monitors, such as the 34in Acer Predator X34. As for features, there’s plenty on offer here, with three game mode buttons at the bottom-right-hand corner and a joystick control situated at the rear. The joystick is a welcome addition, as it makes it easy to navigate the monitor’s onscreen display menus. Which was handy, as the first thing I did was disable the blue light that beams out obtrusively from under the monitor. There’s plenty of flexibility when it comes to adjusting the picture to your liking. You can tweak gamma and colours individually, the refresh rate, response time and enable Low Input Lag mode, among other things. Samsung provides two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort input. There’s a 3.5mm headphone output jack, but disappointingly considering the target market and price,

68

there’s no USB hub. The monitor also supports AMD FreeSync, meaning owners of a compatible AMD card can enjoy tear-free gaming. The C24FG70FQU’s most interesting aspect, however, is that quantum dot technology. This uses dots ranging from 2nm to 10nm wide to produce a more focused “beam” of light than a traditional backlight, which theoretically leads to greater colour accuracy and a brighter image. And it seems to work. Coupled with the C24FG70FQU’s VA (vertical alignment) panel, this is a fabulouslooking screen. I measured the contrast ratio at 2,501:1, lending images a tremendous sense of solidity and impact. Colour accuracy is fantastic, too, with an average Delta E of 0.45 (the closer to 0 the better) meaning the C24FG70FQU is ideal not only for gaming, but also more serious pursuits. When set to sRGB mode, it covers 99.6% of the colour space. These are impressive numbers. And it just keeps getting better. The monitor is dazzlingly bright, reaching a blazing 379cd/m2, allowing you to use it comfortably in bright conditions; note that if you want to minimise response time, the monitor’s brightness falls to around 250cd/m2. That’s still usable in all but the brightest of rooms, however. The sole negative is that maximum 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, which is disappointing for the price. This is, however, a gaming monitor first and foremost,

and on that front, there’s little to complain about. It runs at up to 144Hz at Full HD and performed valiantly during my tests running Counter Strike: Global Offensive, with no noticeable ABOVE This monitor’s headline feature is its ghosting and ultra fluid motion. curved display, but That’s surprising given the we’re bigger fans of monitor is based on a VA panel, which the technology inside is typically weak in these areas, but it’s all down to Samsung’s advanced motion-blur reduction. This switches the backlight off in four different stages to prevent the blurring effect as you move from one frame to the next. I was also impressed with the lack of input lag (with Low Input Lag mode enabled), yet another feature that makes this a fine gaming display. If you’ll be gaming competitively, I’d suggest setting the “This is a fabulous allmonitor to Faster or Fastest response time rounder, with its 144Hz modes. Unlike the AOC refresh rate, excellent AGON AG271QX, which colour accuracy and great suffers from overshoot build quality” ghosting when a similar mode is enabled, there’s no problem at all with the Samsung. The C24FG70FQU is a fabulous all-rounder, and with its 144Hz refresh rate, excellent colour accuracy, low input lag and response time, and great build quality, it’s hard to fault. The price of £300 for a 1080p is a touch steep, but if nothing but the very best will do, it’s worth stumping up for. CHRISTOPHER MINASIANS

LEFT The unusuallooking stand provides full height, tilt, pivot and swivel adjustment

SPECIFICATIONS Curved 23.5in VA panel ● 1,920 x 1,080 resolution at 144Hz ● 1ms moving picture response time ● DisplayPort ● 2 x HDMI ● 3.5mm headphone out ● pivot ● 140mm height adjustment ● -2⁰/17⁰ tilt ● -15⁰/15⁰ swivel ● 75 x 75mm wall mount ● 1yr warranty ● 545 x 386 x 530mm (WDH with stand) ● 5.2kg


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AOC AGON AG271QX

Greatforgaming,butthis 27inscreen–witha1440p resolution and 144Hz refresh resolutionand144Hzrefresh rate – is a fine all-rounder too rate–isafineall-roundertoo SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £341 (£410 inc VAT) from amazon.co.uk

T

here’s no doubt who AOC is targeting with its new AGON line of monitors. The AG271QX is the first we’ve seen from the range, and with its aggressive red-andblack design, it would make a fine complement to a gaming-focused case such as the Cooler Master MasterCase 550t (see p46). Running 144Hz at 1440p, this 27in monitor has a lot to offer beyond looks, too. It’s stacked with features, one of which will interest owners of AMD-powered graphics cards: the inclusion of AMD FreeSync. This will synchronise the monitor’s refresh rate with your AMD GPU’s output, providing tear-free gaming. AOC also makes an Nvidia G-Synccompatible model – the 165Hz AG271QG – which costs £579. While it lacks the stylish arm of the Samsung opposite, the AG271QX is well made, with a sturdy stand that offers full pivot, height and tilt adjustments. The bezels are pleasingly thin as well. On the side is a handy fold-out arm, which can be used to hook your headphones onto the right-hand side of the monitor. You’ll find four USB 3 ports at the rear, two to the right (one of which can be used to fast-charge your smartphone) and two beneath the screen. The monitor also has a pair of 3.5mm jacks, one for headphones and one for your mic, while video inputs are covered by DisplayPort 1.2, DVI, VGA and a pair of HDMI sockets, one of which is MHL-compatible. Despite being part of the AGON gaming line, the

monitor shares the same OSD as other AOC monitors, and that’s a good thing: I’ve always found the AOC interface easy to use and feature-rich. Within the OSD, you can adjust the gamma, colour temperature, and fine-tune the red, green and blue levels. There are also options for a low-input lag mode, Overdrive and a blue-light filter if you’re worried about your late-night gaming habit disrupting your sleep patterns. The AG271QX employs a TN (twisted nematic) LCD panel, which means its viewing angles aren’t fantastic. When tested with our X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator, though, the monitor achieved an impressive 96.5% sRGB colour-gamut coverage, a great result for a TN panel. I found colour accuracy was top notch, too. With an average Delta E of 0.8, photo and video editors can be confident that what they see onscreen will be a close match to real-world printouts and broadcasts. Brightness is perfectly fine at 307cd/m2 in sRGB mode (it will go brighter, but sRGB mode limits brightness to 90%) and I measured the contrast ratio at 1,078:1. The latter isn’t a bad result, but it does lag behind VA panel monitors, which stretch out

to 2,000:1 and beyond. If you’re used to such panels, the colours might look a little washed out to you. But, of course, the AGON AG271QX ABOVE This monitor’s styling and features has one intended purpose – gaming are squarely targeted – and at that it’s very good indeed. at gamers Testing with a Logitech G502 gaming mouse and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, I found the AG271QX extremely responsive, while also offering low input lag (with Low Input Lag mode enabled). The monitor’s response time can be reduced still further using Overdrive, but I found noticeable ghosting with Strong RECOMMENDED Overdrive enabled. If you’re not going to be gaming competitively, the medium Overdrive LEFT Need somewhere to hang setting provides that sweet spot of your headphones? relatively low response time and little No problem to no ghosting, and this, combined with an impressively sharp 1440p panel, means games look great. Should you buy it? If you’re a gamer looking to upgrade from a Full HD 60Hz panel “With an average Delta E of then I’d say yes, without hesitation. But, despite 0.8, photo editors can be the obvious branding, I confident that what they don’t want to pigeon-hole see onscreen will be a close this display. It’s a superb match to real-world prints” all-round screen, with accurate colours, fantastic build quality and design, plus a wide range of inputs and outputs. CHRISTOPHER MINASIANS

LEFT There’s no shortage of USB ports spread around the side and bottom

SPECIFICATIONS 27in TN panel ● 2,560 x 1,440 resolution at 144Hz ● 1ms grey-to-grey response time ● DisplayPort ● DVI ● 2 x HDMI ● D-SUB ● 8 x USB 3 ● 3W speakers ● 3.5mm mic in plus headphone out ● pivot ● 130mm height adjustment ● -3.5⁰/21.5⁰ tilt ● -20⁰/20⁰ swivel ● VESA mount ● 1yr warranty ● 623 x 433 x 218mm (WDH with stand) ● 6.8kg 69


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Philips 275P4VYKEB

A 5K 27in screen that delivers stunning visuals at a price that undercuts its high-res rivals SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £574 (£689 inc VAT) from amazon.co.uk

W

hile 4K monitors are an increasingly common sight on people’s desks, 5K screens have been slow to catch on. The most well-known is the panel gracing Apple’s flagship 27in iMac, but other manufacturers seem less committed: Dell’s UP2175K has disappeared from the company’s website, leaving this nascent market to displays from companies such as HP and LG. With typical prices in four figures, this lack of appetite from both buyers and sellers isn’t such a surprise, but at less than £700 inc VAT the Philips 275P4VYKEB is the cheapest 5K monitor we’ve seen. That compares to around £900 for LG’s UltraFine 5K Display and more than £1,200 for the HP Z27q. Prices are volatile, though, so it’s worth hunting around before you buy – and don’t be too shocked if the Philips’ price has increased too. As you’d expect of a premium monitor, the Philips’ build quality is exceptional and the stand is both sturdy and flexible. You can pivot, rotate and adjust the height of the monitor, making it ideal for designers and photo editors who want to flip between portrait and landscape mode. The bezels have low-profile edges, but both the top and bottom bezels are thick. I like the brushed blackaluminium finish, though, and the glossy panel adds to the chic look. Glossy panels have some benefits, too – they provide a deeper black level response – although they are prone to reflections in bright conditions. Video inputs are limited, with only two 70

DisplayPort ports, and you’ll need both to display full 5K. If you wish to use the second DisplayPort port for another source, you’ll be limited to 4K (3,840 x 2,160) at 60Hz. There’s also a 3.5mm output headphone jack and a threeport USB 3 hub on the left edge, while the top bezel houses an integrated webcam and mic, useful for basic video conferencing. There’s a pair of integrated 2W speakers too. Philips has always had a feature-rich OSD, and it comes as no surprise that its rangetopping 5K monitor offers a broad range of options. You can tweak the gamma, colour temperature (including pre-calibrated Adobe RGB and sRGB), and change between preset colour modes through the “SmartImage” menu. My only quibble here is that the OSD buttons are touch-sensitive rather than physical, which makes them frustrating to use. Philips employs a 10-bit PLS panel with a maximum resolution of 5,120 x 2,880 at 60Hz, and viewing angles are fantastic. It’s bright too: I tested it with our in-house X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator, and found it could output 310cd/m2 brightness in sRGB mode. Where it

suffers is brightness uniformity. In particular, I noticed minor backlight bleed in the bottom left corner. For photo and video editors who intend to edit in 5K this could prove to be a problem. All LED monitors have a degree of ABOVE 5K monitors have failed to sell in backlight bleed, but you’d expect a big numbers, but this more consistent performance on a one’s affordable high-end monitor. Luckily, colour gamut reproduction is much better, with 99.3% of sRGB, 97.9% of Adobe RGB and 86.8% DCI P3 covered. Colour accuracy is strong too, with an average Delta E of 1.03, while its contrast ratio is an acceptable 954:1. RECOMMENDED Last, and quite possibly least if you’re choosing a 5K monitor, is its performance in games. Here, a relatively slow 8ms response time is LEFT The stand makes it easy to flip between noticeable, with input lag on the landscape and sluggish side, but ghosting is minimal. portrait modes The Philips 275P4VYKEB has its flaws – there are problems with brightness uniformity and those touch-sensitive buttons “If you’re searching for a are irritating – but these are comparatively minor. 5K monitor, and see the The colour accuracy, size glossy panel as a positive and resolution make a rather than a minus, put great combination at this this atop your shortlist” price. If you’re searching for a 5K monitor, and see the glossy panel as a positive not a minus, put this one at the top of your shortlist. CHRISTOPHER MINASIANS

LEFT The Philips has a professional design to match its professional aspirations

SPECIFICATIONS 27in PLS panel ● 5,120 x 2,880 resolution at 60Hz; 8ms grey-to-grey response time ● 2 x DisplayPort ● 2MP webcam ● 3 x USB 3 ● 2 x 2W speakers ● 3.5mm headphone out ● pivot ● 150mm height adjustment ● -5⁰/20⁰ tilt ● -65⁰/65⁰ swivel ● VESA mount ● 1yr warranty ● 639 x 580 x 273mm (WDH with stand) ● 5.32kg


DISCOV ER V ELOP Velop is a high performing modu modular Wi-Fi mesh system built with Dynamic Tri-Band technology that works seamlessly to create a high-range mesh network. Unlike traditional routers with range extenders, Velop’s Tri-Band Wi-Fi mesh system provides Wi-Fi throughout your entire home without lag or buffering. Each Velop Node seamlessly expands your Whole Home Wi-Fi, so you can add nodes to your growing mesh network to cover homes of almost any size and build.

Velop Nodes work together as one mesh system, giving you a single Wi-Fi name and password, and the freedom of not having to switch networks. Compact, and sleek in design, nodes can be placed in open spaces without unsightly connected cables and works with Amazon Alexa™. Velop is easy to set up using the Linksys App and is backed by a 3-year limited warranty and tech support.

★ BEST OF ★

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Reviews

AstrohausFreewrite

It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s expensive, but writers will enjoy the Freewrite’s old-world charms SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE $499 from getfreewrite.com

S

et Your Story Free, the Freewrite typewriter tells me, beneath a stylised illustration of Edgar Allen Poe. The command gives a clue to the purpose of this backwardsfacing piece of technology – a device that intentionally eschews the digital in favour of a design that emphasises clunky keys and sturdy physical levers. As I write this very review, the text appears on a small rectangular screen embedded into the typewriter, in E Ink. That makes it usable outside even in sunlight, with the promise of “weeks of battery life”, while a frontlight means it’s possible to use in the dark too. The words I type now are automatically uploaded to my account, but – just like a typewriter – there’s no means to go back and select previous sections of this document on the Freewrite itself, save from deleting everything up to that point. Any typos and misguided paragraphs must be corrected on my laptop later. As someone who has never written with an actual typewriter for a sustained amount of time, this rhythm is totally alien to me. Everything is flattened onto a single, linear plane, and I’m left to forge my way forward, one mechanical clunk at a time. From the physical levers to the nostalgic case design – angled towards me like a set dressing from series one of Mad Men – this machine wants me to consider a way of typing that isn’t joined at the hip to emails and messages and Spotify playlists and news and Twitter and copying and pasting. It’s a strange experience. I feel vulnerable. As if I’m writing words that are hard to erase and without completely knowing where they’re going. My only option is to keep

pushing on, or to give up. Perhaps this is why depictions of typewriters in film are full of frustrated writers, tearing off sheets of paper and tossing them into bins. There is an elephant in the room. The Freewrite costs $499 (around £412). I’ve had to guess that number from memory, because I don’t have a tab open to search for the information, but I will correct it afterwards (I did). I also had to write it as dollars because there is no button for pound sterling. Regardless, this is a silly amount of money to spend on something that, on the surface, gives you far less than... I stopped writing that paragraph because a colleague sent me a video on my actual computer, of a singing Japanese robot. Normally that would go unmentioned, but I feel as if I need to be honest with you. There’s an intimacy to writing like this. I’ve closed the lid of my laptop now. We are alone. Yes, the Freewrite is ridiculously expensive for what it is. You could buy a Chromebook for less than half the price, then install apps designed to disconnect you from the internet. You could even buy a vintage typewriter on eBay for a few tenners, although you’ll need to find ink ribbons, and it may be more of a task to lug it around with you. Why would you spend that money…

Sorry. I stopped writing that paragraph because I decided to post the video of the Japanese singing robot to Twitter. Again, I normally wouldn’t mention this. It would ABOVE The mechanical keyboard simply be folded into the structure of is highly reminiscent writing we’ve all become accustomed of typewriters to, flitting between tasks and thoughts as they crop up. I’ve put my phone away. We are alone again. So the Freewrite costs an absurd amount of money, and yet, and yet. There is something about this typing and this intimacy I’m feeling with the thing I’m writing. I once went to a talk by Will Self and Iain Sinclair about their dead friend, the “It’s easy to dismiss the writer, JG Ballard. It took Freewrite as an oddity for place in a church hall, which was fitting because well-heeled posers, but the pair spent most of the writing technology doesn’t time bemoaning the loss move in a straight line” of typewriters. Self in particular fetishised the pattern of writing typewriters offered, and at the time I thought: this pair of old coots and their nostalgia, pfft. Now, I can start to get a grip on what they were saying. Writing in this manner does feel different, and it creates a different type of writing. A different way of thinking, even. One that befits the idea of a novel, LEFT You’ll only need perhaps, with its space for the frontlight on in the internalised thought. dark, as the Freewrite It’s easy to dismiss the Freewrite uses E Ink technology as an expensive oddity, angled to nostalgic retirees and well-heeled posers, but it shows that the progress of writing technology doesn’t necessarily travel in a straight line. With its USB Type-C port and automatic cloud syncing, the Freewrite doesn’t ignore internet connectivity, but instead keeps it under tight control. It shows an alternate path, a cul-de-sac even, where typing doesn’t happen across 20 tabs. THOMAS MCMULLAN 73


Androidsecurityap AvastMobile Avast Mobile Security SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

AVG AntiVirus Free SCORE

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Bitdefender Mobile Security& Antivirus SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE Free; premium subscription £1.79/mth, £6.99/yr

PRICE Free; premium features £1.69/mth, £6.49/yr

PRICE 99p/mth, £9.95/yr

A

L

B

vast’s antivirus tool is our favourite ike Avast, AVG supports its free free option for Windows – and its Android antivirus app with third-party Android app is just as impressive. In adverts. Upgrading to the paid-for AV-Test’s latest tests it blocked all known “Pro” edition is cheap, however, and not only Android malware, and achieved a 99.9% banishes the ads but adds app-locking and real-time protection rating. That’s better device-locking features. You also get a than many paid-for apps. neat “Camera Trap” function, which Avast Mobile Security also detects when someone’s trying to scored full marks for unlock your phone and emails usability, with no measurable you a photo of the culprit. “AVG’sfreeanti-theft impact on battery life or Even if you stick with the performance – although the serviceletsyoulocateyour free product, AVG AntiVirus same can be said of all six of is far from a bare offering. As phone–orremotelylock well the security apps this month. as on-installation app itandwipethedata” The free app isn’t loaded scanning, there’s optional with features, but you can web protection to warn you enable a daily security scan, if you’re visiting suspicious and PIN-protect your settings and websites, and the option to carry out Google Play, along with one app of your scheduled scans on a daily or weekly basis. choice. You can also carry out a privacy audit A simple Wi-Fi analyser is also included, to identify apps using potentially exploitable which checks that intruders can’t access permissions – and, if you’ve rooted your your network, and AVG’s free anti-theft phone, you can take advantage of Avast’s service lets you locate your phone, sound an custom firewall. This lets you block internet alarm – or, if you fear it’s lost, remotely lock access for apps, or set them to use Wi-Fi only, it or wipe the data. Google’s free Android so they don’t eat your mobile data allowance. Device Manager offers the same capabilities, As on Windows, the free Android app but AVG provides a friendlier front-end. If pushes you towards other Avast products, you have several devices to protect, you can including the paid-for junk file cleaner and use the AVG Zen portal to manage multiple the company’s SecureLine VPN service. The installations and check settings remotely. interface is also dotted with third-party While AVG offers a good range of features, adverts; a low-cost subscription gets rid of it annoyed us by showing adverts on the these, and removes the single-app PINAndroid lockscreen. This is easy to disable, protection limitation, so you can secure as but it’s an obnoxious thing to do in the first many apps as you wish. It doesn’t activate place. It also couldn’t match the best security those extra Avast features, so what you’re left apps in AV-Test’s most recent malware tests: with is something a little less feature-filled its real-time protection score of 96.2% wasn’t than McAfee – but overall Avast provides a disaster, but it makes AVG a tough sell excellent protection for little or no money. when others get closer to perfect protection.

74

itdefender doesn’t offer a free edition of its Mobile Security app. If you’re counting the pennies then that may immediately put it out of the running – but a subscription isn’t expensive, and it does mean you don’t have to put up with adverts or tolerate crippled features. On installation, you’re invited to scan your device and configure your app-locking settings. There’s nothing very novel about the idea of PIN-protecting selected apps, but Bitdefender offers some thoughtful features: you can choose to automatically disable app-locking when you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi, and optionally capture a photo of anyone who tries to guess your app-lock PIN. The anti-theft module similarly has a few stand-out features. You can locate and control your phone via SMS, so you can track it down even if it’s disconnected from the internet. You can silently call it and listen in to its surroundings, to help you discover where it might be. And if you’re wearing an Android Wear smartwatch, this will alert you when your phone drops out of range, so you’re less likely to lose it in the first place. Along with a privacy advisor that highlights apps with wide-ranging permissions, and a web security module, it adds up to a well-rounded package. Best of all, Bitdefender achieved a perfect 100% score in AV-Test’s malware tests, for both real-time scanning and offline detection. That makes it a persuasive contender for anyone who’s willing to pay for mobile protection – and since it installs as a fully functional 14-day trial, you’ve nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.


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Reviews

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psshootout Kaspersky Antivirus &Security SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

Darien Graham-Smith puts six security apps through their paces to find out which deserves a place on your Android phone All prices include VAT

McAfee Security &Power Booster SCORE

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Norton Security and Antivirus SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE Free; premium features £9.99 per year

PRICE Free; premium features £2.49/mth, £29.99/yr

PRICE Free; premium features £9.99/yr

Y

M

A

ou can download and use Kaspersky’s free security app for as long as you want, with no adverts and little in the way of pushy upsell. On the face of it, that’s an excellent deal because Kaspersky delivers great protection, scoring a near-flawless 99.9% in AV-Test’s most recent tests. What you get, though, is a minimal experience. Malware scans must be initiated manually – even newly installed apps aren’t scanned automatically – and the only other major free feature is an anti-theft module, which includes the ability to take remote photos and to automatically be notified of the phone’s new number if the SIM is changed. Cough up £10 for a year’s subscription – or activate the 30-day trial option that’s hidden away in the Settings menu –and the app becomes much more useful. Real-time malware detection kicks in, and you’re protected not only against dodgy websites, but also from text messages containing scams or phishing links. There are also options to block calls and SMS messages from specific numbers, and to conceal certain contacts within your address book, so that anyone prying into your phone won’t find their details. These features aren’t guaranteed to work on platforms more recent than Android 4.4 KitKat, however; if they’re important, you might want to test them out on your own phone before paying for a licence. While Kaspersky’s protection ratings aren’t to be sniffed at, its free app is too stripped down to recommend. The full package is stronger – but it doesn’t do much that alternatives such as McAfee don’t offer for free.

longside the usual malware scanning cAfee Security is tools, Norton Security’s signature a rather weird feature is its App Advisor. This tool proposition: the – only available to paid-up subscribers – free app gives you a strong scans the apps on your smartphone and flags feature set, but upgrading any that exhibit unwanted behaviour. That to an expensive premium RECOMMENDED might mean leaking personal data, tracking licence adds very little of your location, displaying ads, automatically substance. Subscribers get updating themselves, or gobbling up battery access to telephone support and a cloud power and mobile data. It’s a fine-toothed backup function for photos and other media approach that goes beyond merely files; that latter feature might sound useful, categorising apps as safe or unsafe. but it’s limited to a miserly 2GB. That’s not to say that Norton won’t do that The overall package is impressive. You as well. Indeed, in AV-Test’s latest round of can PIN-protect as many apps as you want, testing, Norton was one of the few packages and set up secure profiles in which certain to achieve an impeccable 100% protection apps don’t appear. There’s web protection score. It also integrates with Google Play, for Chrome, and the usual anti-theft inserting risk reports into app descriptions measures that allow you to track your phone to warn you away from dodgy wares. over the internet or via SMS. You can While free users don’t get the full also remotely take a photo, and App Advisor experience, you do receive an alert if a different SIM get daily, weekly or monthly is inserted into your phone; malware scans, plus all the you can even set up a PIN that “You can set up a PIN expected anti-theft features. makes it impossible for a thief to uninstall McAfee that makes it impossible Similarly, while interactive web protection is for paying without resetting the phone. to uninstall McAfee customers only, everyone can There’s also simple but without resetting” take advantage of Norton’s smart integration with Safe Search tool, which directs Android Wear. Not only can you to trustworthy websites. you set your smartwatch to And while Norton Security doesn’t warn you when your phone loses include app-locking, it will direct you to contact, you can also set up an alarm on Google Play to download Norton’s free, the phone itself – to spook thieves – and standalone app-locking tool. automatically lock the handset. In all, it’s hard to fault Norton Security’s McAfee scored an impressive 99.9% in credentials. The problem is the price: it costs AV-Test’s latest real-time protection test, £30 a year. That covers unlimited mobile and the same for general malware detection. devices, so it might make sense for a family, It doesn’t make any sense to pay for McAfee, but most of us will find it hard to swallow. but it’s a great free antivirus option. 75


WORK Armari Magnetar V25 Pro

PC Specialist Eric 76

Scan 3XS Classic 3D

Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S


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Labs Workstations

FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO

STATIONS Chillblast Fusion Pascal P5000

InterPro IPW-BWE

Lenovo ThinkStation P910

IFYOUWANTTOGETAJOBDONEFAST, CHANCESARETHATAWORKSTATIONISWHATYOUNEED. WEPUTEIGHTHEAVYWEIGHTCONTENDERSTOTHETEST

E Yoyotech BlackBox SLX

very year, films become more spectacular, games more realistic and the ambitions of the creative minds behind them more extreme. While Broadwell-E, Quadro and Radeon may not have the same household recognition as Peter Jackson, James Cameron and JJ Abrams, they’re just as important when it comes to the spectacular effects we see on-screen. And the computing power such directors demand is now within all of our grasp, even if their talents remain elusive. We celebrate our own cast of eight wannabes in this Labs, ranging from “budget” sub-£2,000 offerings to a £10,000-plus Lenovo blockbuster. Whether you need an all-powerful machine for business use, to power a personal creative project or you’re just interested in the cutting-edge of the tech industry, read on.

Contents

Armari Magnetar V25 Pro Chillblast Fusion Pascal P5000 InterPro IPW-BWE Lenovo ThinkStation P910 PC Specialist Eric Scan 3XS Classic 3D Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S Yoyotech BlackBox SLX

82 88 88 83 90 84 85 90

Buyer’s guide to workstations How we test plus results Feature table Back to virtual reality View from the Labs

78 79 80 86 91 77


BUYER’SGUIDE TOWORKSTATIONS

WHETHERTHISISYOURFIRSTWORKSTATIONPURCHASEOR YOU’RELOOKINGTOREPLACE AFLEETOFEXISTINGMACHINES,THEREAREKEYFACTORSTOLOOKOUTFOR

O

ver the past couple of years, professional content creation workstations have become quite generic below a certain price point. The Intel Core i7 processor has come to reign supreme, with Xeons only in blue-chip and dual-socket systems, while Nvidia’s Quadro graphics are virtually universal. The giant black chassis is also de rigueur. But this month’s workstation Labs shows a little more variety, with not every system matching this profile. There are still plenty of big black towers of power, but a few of the manufacturers are trying to take a leaf out of the Mac Pro’s book by packing unfeasible levels of computing into small packages. This is ideal for a creative with limited workspace or who just wants something with that aesthetic. Also, AMD has made a bit of a comeback with the new Radeon Pro range, even if currently this is confined to the more price-conscious end of the market. This variation is welcome, but makes it even more important that you ensure the specification you purchase meets your content creation needs. Just because a PC is called a workstation doesn’t mean it will be fit for your particular use. Depending on whether your intended use is 3D animation, design, video editing, photo editing, engineering or scientific visualisation, your needs will be subtly different.

Right tool, right job

With all of the above tasks, the more powerful the computer you have, the better. However, with workstations ranging from £1,500 to £10,000 and beyond, you must make sure that the components you spend money on will truly benefit the tasks you intend to perform. If your main objective is 3D modelling, for instance, the graphics will be more important than the processor. An expensive multi-core Xeon or top-end Core i7 won’t benefit the modelling process very much, whereas putting money towards a higher-end graphics card will reduce project times noticeably. Unfortunately, even with 3D work, the GPU will still mostly likely only benefit the modelling stage. For the 78

ABOVE The Pascal architecture in Nvidia’s latest chips is a potent beast, but that’s not where you should necessarily put your money

rendering part of the process, more cores is better, with less emphasis on clock speed – the complete opposite of modelling. If,therefore, you want a workstation for both tasks, you’ll need to compromise on one side unless you have a big budget. This is where the most recent Broadwell-E Intel Core i7 processors can be a great choice, with up to ten cores and lots of headroom for clock cycles, although the top models are very pricey. There are now renderers that are harnessing the immense amount of grunt available in modern GPUs for final rendering, but they’re still quite proprietary and can’t just slot into a

workflow without some customisation. Nvidia’s CUDA architecture, for example, has been harnessed by the Iray rendering that can be obtained for most popular 3D modelling and animation software. But only Nvidia’s cards support CUDA. OpenCL is the alternative that both AMD and Nvidia graphics cards support, with AMD being particularly optimised, and now offering its own ProRender alternative to Iray. It should also be noted that GPU-based renderers don’t support every effect that the modelling software does, so the output might not look quite as you hoped. But GPU rendering is definitely picking up interest.

All about the output

Not all types of 3D activity are the same, either. For CAD, engineering and medical visualisation, there will be less emphasis on photorealistic output, so a system that is aimed at

Howwetest We wanted to give the broadest advice, so we used a wide variety of software for testing. PC Pro’s benchmark suite assesses image processing and video encoding abilities, and then multitasking, which are combined into an overall score, giving an indication of ability in these content creation tasks, as well as general activities (see p91 for the results). On top of this, we added tests specifically aimed at higher-end workstation tasks. To test 3D modelling in all the main content types, we added SPECviewperf 12.1, which runs OpenGL (and one Direct3D) viewsets based on a number of popular 3D content creation, engineering and medical applications, including Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, and Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks. Maxon Cinebench R15 also contains an OpenGL modelling test, alongside a highly multi-

ABOVE SPECviewperf includes tests based on professional software, including 3ds Max as shown here

threaded 3D rendering test, which benefits greatly from multiple processor cores. We tested CPU and GPU-accelerated 3D rendering with the Nvidia CUDA-oriented OctaneBench and OpenCL-powered Luxmark 3.1. Although OctaneBench doesn’t use the Iray engine, it will provide an indication of the system’s

potential with this renderer. We also tested the raw performance of the storage subsystem with ATTO’s Disk Benchmark. The end result is a comprehensive set of results, showing exactly which type of content creation software each workstation is best suited for. See the main set of results opposite.


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Labs Workstations

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modelling will be the optimum choice, because rendering won’t be so intensive. A new form of content creation, on the other hand, is VR (see Back to virtual reality, p86), with even greater demands on your graphics hardware and some other specialist considerations too. If you’re a video editor, though, you won’t need to buy the fastest professional graphics. Although software such as Adobe Premiere Pro CC has some CUDA and OpenCL acceleration, the benefits aren’t huge. You’re better off spending money on a high clock-speed multi-core processor here, alongside plenty of memory and oodles of fast storage. A multi-disk performance RAID array will be preferable if you’re editing 4K

but clock speed can help – alongside lots of RAM. Once you’re set on your balance of activities, you can decide whether you want the resulting specification inside a standard or small chassis, and you may not need to compromise much on performance for the latter. You will also need to consider whether you want to go for a big brand or one of the smaller specialists that exclusively target the content creation market and might provide more performance for your money. For this month’s Labs, we have mostly focused on the latter, and the variety of form factors and hardware specifications gives you plenty to choose from. Read on to find your perfect content creation workstation partner.

video and, due to size requirements, this will probably have to be made of mechanical disks unless your pockets are very deep indeed. Photo editing, on the other hand, probably won’t benefit from lots of cores,

ABOVE Intel promises that its latest Xeon processors cope best with demanding tools, but Core i7 chips remain popular

Testresults Cinebench R15

(CPU, CB-CPU score)

Overall desktop performance Cinebench R15

(OpenGL, CB-GPU score)

Workstation Specialists

3,776

SPECviewperf 12.1

Lenovo

Recommended

Workstation Specialists

2,177

Armari

195

Scan

InterPro

2,128

InterPro

193

InterPro

Labs Winner

Scan

2,080

1,661

Armari

0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

(Maya)

Workstation Specialists

117

Recommended

Lenovo

102

66

Yoyotech

0

25

50

75

100

125

150

200

158 Recommended

148

Scan

Labs Winner

79

Yoyotech

90

Yoyotech

78

PC Specialist

89

100

150

LuxMark 3

200

(CPU)

Recommended 1,587

104

0

50

Recommended

958

InterPro

3,464

Workstation Specialists

931

Chillblast

3,455

Workstatio Specialists

3,438

714

116

PC Specialist

571

Yoyotech

1,649

Yoyotech

116

Yoyotech

541

PC Specialist

1,635

Armari

114

Scan

50

100

150

200

250

Did not finish Labs Winner 0

500

1,000

1,500

250

5,238

Did not finish Labs Winner

Scan

2,000

200

5,225

Armari

Chillblast

Armari

150

(GPU)

PC Specialist

0

100

LuxMark 3 Lenovo

1,121

165

Recommended

Lenovo

PC Specialist

50

181 166

Chillblast

Armari

InterPro

172

144

181

81

Lenovo

181

Labs Winner

InterPro

109

0

(Catia)

192

Armari

250

189

Lenovo

70

PC Specialist

150

(SolidWorks)

Chillblast

75

Armari

100

InterPro

109

Chillblast

50

Overall desktop SPECviewperf 12.1 performance

Scan

114

InterPro

0

Workstation Specialists

127 Labs Winner

148

Recommended

Lenovo

SPECviewperf 12.1

Scan

159

PC Specialist

938

PC Specialist

167

146

136

Workstation Specialists

SPECviewperf 12.1 Workstation Specialists

158

Labs Winner

Chillblast

180

Chillblast

1,241

Yoyotech

Labs Winner

Scan

Recommended

Lenovo

183

Yoyotech

1,790

Chillblast

205

(3ds Max)

0

1,500

3,000

4,500

6,000

79


RECOMMENDED

Armari Magnetar V25 Pro

Chillblast Fusion Pascal P5000

InterPro IPW-BWE

Lenovo ThinkStation P910

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

Price (inc VAT)

£3,897 (£4,676)

£4,417 (£5,300)

£4,695 (£5,634)

£10,208 (£12,250)

Supplier

armari.com

chillblast.com

ipworkstations.com

lenovo.com/uk

Warranty

1yr on-site plus 2yr RTB (parts and labour)

2yr C&R parts and labour plus 3yr RTB labour only

3yr RTB parts and labour

3yr on-site NBD (parts and labour)

Processor (max clock speed)

3.2GHz Intel Core i7-6900K (3.7GHz)

3GHz Intel Core i7-6950X (3.5GHz)

3GHz Intel Core i7-6950X overclocked to 4.2GHz

2 x 3GHz Intel Xeon E5-2687W v4 (3.5GHz)

RAM fitted (slots/free)

64GB (2/0)

64GB (8/4)

64GB (8/4)

128GB (16/8)

RAM speed

DDR4 2.4GHz

DDR4 3GHz

DDR4 2.4GHz

DDR4 2.4GHz

Make and model

2 x AMD Radeon Pro WX7100

PNY Quadro P5000

PNY Quadro P5000

PNY Quadro P6000

RAM amount

8GB GDDR5

16GB GDDR5X

16GB GDDR5X

24GB GDDR5X

Outputs

4 x DisplayPort 1.4

4 x DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, stereo (via adapter)

4 x DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, stereo (via adapter)

4 x DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, stereo (via adapter)

SSD make and model

Samsung SM961

Samsung SM961

Samsung SM961

Samsung SM951

Nominal capacity

1TB

512GB

1TB

512GB x 4

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

Hard disk make and model

Seagate Desktop SSHD

Seagate Barracuda

HGST Ultrastar 7K4000

Nominal capacity

4TB

6TB

4TB x 4

Spindle speed

7,200rpm

7,200rpm

7,200rpm

SSD cache

MLC/8GB

Memory buffer

64MB

64MB

64MB

Pioneer Blu-ray writer

Hitachi-LG DVD-RAM writer

Overall Information

Core components

Graphics

Drives

Interface

Optical drives

Motherboard Motherboard (make and model)

ASRock X99E-ITX/ac

Asus X99-E WS/USB 3.1

Asus X99-A II

Lenovo custom

PCI-E support (slots/free)

x16 (2/0), x1 (1/0)

x16 (7/6)

x16 (4/3), x1 (2/2)

x16 (4/0), x4 (2/2), x1 (2/1)

M.2 slots/free

1/0

1/0

1/0

4/0

SATA support (slots/free)

SATA 600 (6/6), SATA Express (1/1)

SATA 600 (8/7), SATA Express (2/2)

SATA 600 (10/9), SATA Express (1/1)

SATA 600 (10/6)

1 x U.2 (free)

2 x Flex Connector (free)

Other

Case Model (dimensions, WDH)

Armari V25 Pro (88 x 400 x 360mm)

Phanteks Enthoo Evolv (235 x 510 x 495mm)

Fractal Design Define R5 (232 x 521 x 451mm)

Lenovo ThinkStation P910 (200 x 620 x 446mm)

PSU make and model (power output)

Intel, quick swap (750W)

Corsair RM850x 80 Plus Gold (850W)

EVGA GQ 650 Gold (650W)

Lenovo (1,300W)

CPU cooler

AIO Liquid Cooler with 140mm fan

Corsair H100i v2 Digital Water Cooler

Corsair H100i v2 Digital Water Cooler

Lenovo Air Cooler

Rear ports

2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, optical S/PDIF, eSATA, 2 x USB 3.1, 4 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, PS/2 mouse / keyboard combo, Wi-Fi aerial connections

2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 2 x eSATA, 8 x 3.5mm audio jack, optical S/PDIF, 2 x USB 3.1, 8 x USB 3

Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, optical S/PDIF, 2 x USB 3.1, 4 x USB 3, 4 x USB 2, PS/2 mouse/ keyboard combo

2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 2 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 4 x USB 3, 4 x USB 2, serial, eSATA, FireWire, Thunderbolt 3

Front/top ports

2 x USB 3

3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 2 x USB 3

3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2

3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 4 x USB 3, 9-in-1 memory card reader

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Interfaces

Operating system Windows version

80


@PCPRO

Labs Workstations

FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO

LABS WINNER

PC Specialist Eric

Scan 3XS Classic 3D

Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S

Yoyotech BlackBox SLX

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

✪✪✪✪✪

£1,666 (£1,999)

£3,958 (£4,750)

£4,916 (£5,899)

£2,383 (£2,860)

pcspecialist.co.uk

scan.co.uk/3xs

workstationspecialists.com

yoyotech.co.uk

1yr RTB parts and labour (first month C&R) plus 2yr RTB labour only

1yr on-site plus 2yr RTB (parts and labour)

3yr on-site NBD (parts and labour)

1yr RTB parts and labour (30 days C&R) plus 2yr RTB labour only

4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K overclocked to 4.6GHz

3GHz Intel Core i7-6950X overclocked to 4GHz

3GHz Intel Core i7-6950X overclocked to 4.2GHz

3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6800K overclocked to 4.3GHz

32GB (4/0)

64GB (8/0)

32GB (2/0)

32GB (8/4)

DDR4 2.13GHz

DDR4 2.67GHz

DDR4 2.67GHz

DDR4 3GHz

PNY Quadro M4000

PNY Quadro P5000

PNY Quadro P5000

PNY Quadro M4000

8GB GDDR5

16GB GDDR5X

16GB GDDR5X

8GB GDDR5

4 x DisplayPort 1.2, stereo (via adapter)

4 x DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, stereo (via adapter)

4 x DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, stereo (via adapter)

4 x DisplayPort 1.2, stereo (via adapter)

Intel 600p Series

Intel 600p Series

Samsung SM961

Samsung PM961

512GB

256GB

512GB

256GB

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

NVMe M.2 PCI Express

WD Black WD2003FZEX

Seagate Barracuda 7200.14

Seagate Barracuda

Toshiba DT01ACA200

2TB

2TB

2TB

2TB

7,200rpm

7,200rpm

7,200rpm

7,200rpm

64MB

64MB

64MB

64MB

Hitachi-LG DVD-RAM writer

Asus DVD writer

LG GS40N DVD writer

Asus Z170-E

Asus X99-A II

ASRock X99E-ITX/ac

Asus X99-Deluxe II

x16 (3/1), x1 (3/3)

x16 (4/3), x1 (2/2)

x16 (1/0), x1 (1/0)

x16 (4/3), x4 (1/1), x1 (1/1)

1/0

1/0

1/0

1/0

SATA 600 (10/9), SATA Express (1/1)

SATA 600 (6/6), SATA Express (1/1)

SATA 600 (6/2), SATA Express (1/1)

1 x U.2 (free)

SATA 600 (8/7), SATA Express (1/1) 2 x U.2 (2 free)

Corsair Carbite Series 200R (210 x 497 x 430mm)

Corsair Carbide 330R Titanium (210 x 495 x 484mm)

Workstation Specialists (161 x 333 x 239mm)

Anidees AI Crystal Glass (216 x 475 x 497mm)

Corsair CS Series Modular 80 Plus Gold (650W)

Corsair RMX650 80PLUS Gold (650W)

SFX 80-Plus Gold (600W)

EVGA Gold 80PLUS (750W)

CoolerMaster Hyper 212X Fan Cooler

Noctua NH-U14S

Corsair H100i v2 Digital Water Cooler

NZXT Kraken X41 Liquid Cooling

Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, optical S/PDIF, USB 3.1 (Type C), 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, PS/2 mouse/keyboard combo

Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, optical S/PDIF, 2 x USB 3.1, 4 x USB 3, 4 x USB 2, PS/2 mouse/keyboard combo

2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, optical S/PDIF, eSATA, 2 x USB 3.1, 4 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, PS/2 mouse/keyboard combo, Wi-Fi aerial connections

2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x USB 3, 5 x USB 2, 2 x USB 3.1, 5 x 3.5mm audio jacks, S/PDIF

2 x USB 3, 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack

2 x USB 3, 3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack

3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 2 x USB 3

3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm mic jack, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

81


ArmariMagnetar V25Pro

An amazing chassis design packs a huge amount into a tiny package that is aimed at VR content creation SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

Armari Magnetar V25 Pro

PRICE £3,897 (£4,676 inc VAT) from armari.com

T

he Armari Magnetar V25 Pro is unusual in this month’s Labs in lots of ways. For a start, the chassis is blue, where every other workstation on test is black. It’s also tiny, more like the kind of pizza box size you might expect gracing a reception desk rather than a content creation studio. But stuffed inside this tiny case is a powerful eight-core processor and two graphics cards. So this is still a potent machine. The Magnetar V25 Pro, in the specification sent to us, is specifically aimed at creating VR (see Back to virtual reality, p86). Nestled in the base of the unit is a breakout box for an HTC Vive headset, although this is also compatible with Oculus Rift. Note that it was supplied for demonstration only, and isn’t included in the price above (it adds about £50, plus the cost of the Vive headset). The case itself is a custom unit designed by Armari, so won’t be available from any other company. Despite the diminutive size of the V25 Pro, the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac motherboard inside supports Intel Haswell-E processors including Xeon E5 v4 CPUs all the way up to 22 cores (if you have the £4,000 spare this CPU costs). However, Armari has decided to balance power with cost and supplied the eight-core Intel Core i7-6900K instead, running at 3.2GHz with a 3.7GHz Turbo Boost mode. It also hasn’t chosen to permanently overclock this, as is usually the way with Core i7s. However, with Hyper-Threading on hand, there are 16 threads available so this should be a pretty potent processor. The motherboard only sports two DIMM slots, but Armari has filled both of these with 32GB DDR4 DIMMs running at 2.4GHz, for a total of 64GB. This will be more than enough for most content creation tasks, including VR. Powerful processing isn’t the only surprising thing packed into the V25 Pro. The motherboard only sports one 16x PCI Express slot, but a riser card 82

flips the orientation of this so that two graphics cards or other PCI Express devices can be supported. One of these can be dual-width, too, meaning even massive adapters such as the Nvidia Quadro P6000 will still fit in this chassis, with another PCI Express device alongside. This would mean both slots operate at 8x, but a single card will get the full 16x benefit. Since our sample was aimed at VR content creation, Armari shipped it with dual AMD Radeon Pro WX7100 graphics. This is our first glimpse of the new Polarisbased Radeon Pro range from AMD, which replaces the FirePro that hadn’t seen a refresh since 2014. The WX7100 has 2,048 stream processors compared to the 1,792 in the FirePro W7100 it replaces, but it promises nearly twice as much compute power, although memory remains at 8GB of GDDR5. Armari has chosen to supply two cards to provide the best possible

ABOVE Don’t judge the V25 Pro by its light blue cover: stuffed inside is an eight-core processor and two graphics cards

BELOW The V25 Pro is super-slim, especially compared to other systems on test

performance with AMD’s ProRender software for the money. The V25 Pro supports up to five SSDs – two PCI Express and three SATA – but this particular sample sticks with a single drive. Fortunately, it’s a sizeable 1TB Samsung SM961 NVMe PCI Express M.2 unit. This is an incredibly rapid SSD, providing sequential reads at 3.2GB/sec and writes at 1.6GB/sec. Performance elsewhere is commendable, but shows the focus of this particular specification, with an eight-core processor where most other systems used ten or more, and the AMD graphics. Only the PC Specialist and Yoyotech lagged behind in Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering and the PC Pro Media Benchmarks, although the Armari’s scores can hardly be criticised. The AMD Radeon Pro WX7100, whilst clearly superior to the Nvidia Quadro M4000 in most modelling applications, can’t compete with the P5000 or P6000 either. But this system is aimed at OpenCL rendering, and the two cards together produced a LuxMark 3.1 score of 5,225 – around the same as Nvidia’s Quadro P6000, which costs more than this entire system on its own. As a hugely compact platform for AMD’s ProRender software, the Armari Magnetar V25 Pro is a triumph of powerful engineering.


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Labs Workstations

LenovoThinkStation P910

A huge system in every way, with dual Xeons and the fasted professional graphics currently available SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £10,208 (£12,250 inc VAT) from lenovo.com/uk

includes 24GB of GDDR5X memory, which translates into a bandwidth leap from 317GB/sec to 432GB/sec. Even more impressive is the huge jump in CUDA cores from 3,072 to 3,840. That’s well over twice as many as a Quadro M4000. The storage provision on our review sample is more a showcase of what’s possible than what you might specify for everyday usage. Our P910 came with a princely total of eight drives – four PCI Express NVMe M.2 SSDs and four 7,200rpm SATA hard disks. The former are all 512GB Samsung SM951 units, which have been superseded by the SM961. The latter are 4TB Hitachi Ultrastar

ABOVE You can easily remove almost every component in the bespoke Lenovo case

RECOMMENDED

BELOW The P910 had the second fastest score ever in the PC Pro benchmarks

7K4000 drives. Both choices are a little slower than the very best, but when the SM951 manages reading at 2.4GB/sec and writing at 1.47GB/sec we’re certainly not going to complain. Especially when there’s a wealth of possibilities for performance RAID configurations to improve things, with 18TB of capacity to call upon. With two processors and the fastest graphics around, unsurprisingly, the P910 came top of most of our tests. Its Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering result of 3,776 is more than twice what many of this month’s systems managed. Only the OpenGL score of 148 was a curious aberration. And thanks to the immense video encoding and multi-tasking potential of the 24 cores, the P910 cruised to the second fastest score we’ve ever seen in the PC Pro benchmarks. Its OctaneBench 3.04 and LuxMark 3.1 scores were also way ahead, showing the potency of the P6000 for GPU rendering whether with CUDA or OpenCL. Furthermore, the SPECviewperf 12.1 scores were mostly way ahead of the P5000-based systems, although not in every viewset. It’s difficult to judge the P910 against this month’s competition, because it’s so different in price and uncompromising specification. It may be expensive, but not really any more than you would expect for the amount of hardware included. Moreover, you have to admire the tool-free chassis design, which would streamline upgrade and technical support. This is a blue chip product for a blue chip price, but nobody got fired for buying IBM, even a decade after its PC hardware division was bought by Lenovo. 83

Lenovo ThinkStation P910

T

he Lenovo ThinkStation P910 may be twice the price of anything else in this Labs, but it’s also in a different league when it comes to performance. That’s due to a dual-socket motherboard, twin Xeon processors and the most expensive graphics card currently available – the latter alone is responsible for nearly half the cost. While most of this month’s workstations have been integrated into high quality but generic chassis, Lenovo is big enough to design its own entirely bespoke cases. And what a job it’s done: you can remove almost every component by just pulling the correct combination of clips or levers. The M.2 storage caddies unclip and slide out, and even the PCI Express adapter cards and fans can be released in this way, albeit with some care and dexterity. Lenovo equipped our review samples with a pair of high-end Intel Xeon E5-2687W v4 processors. It’s an understatement to say that these are highly capable CPUs: they have a whopping 12 cores apiece, each running at a nominal 3GHz with a top 3.5GHz Turbo mode. For good measure, there’s Hyper-Threading too. This will be a phenomenal platform for CPU-intensive tasks such as rendering, but it’s still great for modelling. Lenovo has partnered its twin processors with a hefty 128GB of 2.4GHz DDR4 SDRAM. Should you ever need more, there are eight DIMM slots free for upgrades to a maximum of 1TB. The core specification is decidedly no nonsense, but this is matched by the graphics provision: enter the Nvidia Quadro P6000. This hugely powerful card costs around £4,400 exc VAT. A direct replacement for the Quadro M6000, the P6000


Scan3XSClassic3D

The very competitive price and powerful components make the Classic 3D our top choice this month SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £3,958 (£4,750 inc VAT)

Scan 3XS Classic 3D

from scan.co.uk/3xs

A

t first glance, the Scan 3XS Classic 3D isn’t particularly unusual. Yet another black full tower chassis, yet another Core i7, yet another Nvidia card. But it manages to edge ahead of its competitors thanks to generous pricing, especially when compared to this month’s similarly specified alternatives. Scan hasn’t been as aggressive as some this month when it comes to frequency-enhancing its processor. The Intel Core i7-6950X is set to 4GHz rather than its nominal 3GHz, while others opted for 4.2GHz. But that’s still a good boost, and with ten cores on hand there’s plenty of processing power available. The processor isn’t cooled by a water system, but by a Noctua NH-U14S sink and fan, which is nearly inaudible and very good at keeping the CPU temperature under control. The increased processor speed is backed by the full three years of the manufacturer’s warranty, of which the first year is on-site. The hefty Core i7 is partnered by 64GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 SDRAM. Scan has supplied this as eight 8GB DIMMs, so unfortunately you can’t upgrade without swapping out RAM. However, 64GB should be adequate for most needs for the lifetime of this system; note the Asus X99-A II motherboard has a 128GB maximum, should you need it. The 3XS Classic 3D joins the crowd by offering Nvidia’s brand new Quadro P5000. This is now the ultrahigh-end card of choice, since the P6000 above it is so ludicrously expensive. With 2,560 CUDA cores and 16GB of enhanced GDDR5X memory, this is a truly capable professional 3D accelerator for modelling or, should you wish to venture into such a field, GPUpowered rendering. Primary storage is the one small chink in Scan’s armour. Intel’s 600p Series is the first TLC 3D NANDbased SSD to hit the market,

84

and it brings the prices of PCI Express NVMe M.2 SSDs down close to that of the formerly cheaper SATA variety. But while it’s faster than SATA, it’s not as quick as the Samsung SSDs on show this month, with reading at 1.13GB/sec and writing at 468MB/sec, with the latter only a couple of times faster than a SATA hard disk. Scan also supplies only 256GB of SSD storage, but it’s joined by 2TB of Seagate Barracuda 7200.14 conventional 7,200rpm hard disk storage. With reading at 206MB/sec and writing at 198MB/sec, this is a quick hard disk. There’s a 24x Asus DVD writer to

ABOVE Whether you are modelling 3D, image editing or video editing, the 3XS has what it takes

LEFT The Classic 3D doesn’t look special at first glance, but has a lot of bang per buck

round off the specification, but no handy memory card reader. Performance is as expected for the hardware. The Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score of 2,080 is around 5% behind the Core i7 6950X systems with more aggressive clocks, with the OpenGL score of 180 also a little down on the competition. However, the SPECviewperf 12.1 scores are just as capable, with a very good result of 146 in 3ds Max 05. The OctaneBench result of 139 is the best of the Quadro P5000 bunch, showing good GPU rendering abilities, although the LuxMark test wouldn’t run on this system for some reason. In the PC Pro benchmarks, the second best image-editing result and third best video-encoding score show that this system is a capable all-rounder. Whether you’re modelling or rendering 3D, image editing, or video editing, the Scan has what it takes. The Scan 3XS Classic 3D isn’t quite perfect. Its primary SSD isn’t the quickest. But apart from that it can go toe-to-toe with most of this month’s contenders, with the exception of the monstrous Lenovo ThinkStation P910 and its two CPUs. Considering that the Classic 3D is anywhere between £450 and £950 cheaper than its competitors, this workstation gives you a lot of state-of-the art content creation kit for the money.


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Labs Workstations

WorkstationSpecialists WS-X1100S An unfeasibly huge amount of power packed into a tiny chassis, even if you pay for the privilege SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £4,916 (£5,899 inc VAT) from workstationspecialists.com

Storage is again on par with much larger workstations. An M.2-based NVMe SSD takes care of the operating system and application software, with Workstation Specialists choosing 512GB version of Samsung’s everpopular SM961 SSD. This provides the usual 3+ GB/sec reading and 1.6+ GB sec writing. We were pleased to see a 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200rpm SATA hard disk for more general data storage as this is one of the quicker hard disks, with sequential reading reaching 200MB/sec. There’s space for a third storage device if required, too, and a slimline DVD writer is already in place – meaning storage is more than catered for. With the same specification as physically larger systems, the WS-X1100S offers comparable performance. In fact, the Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score

ABOVE Workstation Specialists must have some TARDIS-like technology to squeeze in the Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics card

BELOW Despite its phenomenal power, the tiny WS-X1100S looks like a NAS device

of 2,177 is the highest of any singlesocket system this month, and the OpenGL score of 205 is the highest too. The OctaneBench result of 138 shows the potency of the Nvidia Quadro P5000 for GPU-powered rendering, while the LuxMark score of 3,438 shows the potential this system has for OpenCL-powered rendering – note, though, that this can’t compete with the pair of AMD Radeon Pro WX7100 cards in the Armari system or Quadro P6000 in Lenovo’s monster tower. There was a bit of variance in the SPECviewperf 12.1 results compared to other systems using the Nvidia Quadro P5000, with a lesser score in 3ds Max 05 but equal or better results everywhere else. We’re not overly concerned by this anomaly: the WS-X1100S will be a great system for modelling. In particular, the sw-03 SolidWorks result is the best we’ve seen from any system, while it scored the best image-editing score in the PC Pro benchmarks this month (and the second best video encoding score too). This will be a fantastic basis for pretty much any workstation task you might want to throw at it. However, you do pay for the benefit of the compact chassis. Scan packs almost as much hardware into a regular chassis for nearly £1,000 less. The Classic 3D has a slower, smaller SSD but otherwise is comparable in features and performance. So whilst the Workstation Specialists WSX1100S is a phenomenal feat of construction, it’s really only worth the extra money if you need the small, compact size. 85

Workstation Specialists WS-X1100S

L

ike Armari, Workstation Specialists opts for a small form factor chassis packed with potent hardware. But Workstation Specialists has taken a more conventional approach to its specification, essentially shoehorning what other manufacturers put in a standard black tower into a case that could easily be mistaken for an unassuming NAS device. So the WS-X1100S might be small, but it still packs in a phenomenal amount of powerful hardware. It shares the same tiny ASRock X99EITX/ac motherboard as Armari, offering support for processors up to the 22-core Intel Xeon E5 v4, but Workstation Specialists opts for the current top Core i7-6950X instead. This is nominally a 3.5GHz ten-core processor, but the company permanently sets the frequency to 4.2GHz. There’s 32GB of 2.67GHz DDR4 SDRAM supplied as two 16GB modules. We would have preferred to see 64GB, especially as there are only two DIMM slots, but 32GB is enough to get along with for the time being. The most amazing inclusion is the Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics card; Workstation Specialists must have some TARDIS-like technology to squeeze this huge dual-slot card into such a tiny machine. The P5000 is a significant upgrade over the M5000 it replaces, with 2,560 CUDA cores compared to 2,048, and the new core design means it can potentially deliver greater power from these than the super-expensive M6000 could supply. The P5000 also comes with 16GB of frame buffer, twice that of the M5000, while GDDR5X memory means bandwidth leaps to 288GB/sec from the M5000’s 211GB/sec. So performance will be higher in every respect.


BACKTO VIRTUALREALITY

EVERYONEISTALKINGABOUTVRHEADSETS,BUTTHESEVIEWINGDEVICES NEEDCONTENT.WHATDOESTHATMEANFORTHE SYSTEMSUSEDTOCREATEIT?

C

ontent creation workstations evolve with the kind of content people want to consume, and in 2016 a new content form emerged from the hype: virtual reality (VR). Well, I say emerged, but in fact it’s more like a resurgence, because VR has been a focus of interest at least a couple of times before. The VR head-mounted display concept was first demonstrated by Ivan Sutherland with his Sword of Damocles back in 1968, and there was another surge of interest again in the early 1990s. But the technology wasn’t mature in either cases. The graphics were too blocky and response to head motion too delayed for VR to be more than a novelty. Nevertheless, the concept of total visual immersion never failed, in the same way that 3D cinema keeps coming and going. It has always felt potentially exciting. Our continuing interest via films such as Tron, The Matrix series and the forthcoming Ready Player One is testament to this. So in the middle of 2014, when Facebook purchased the promising Oculus Rift, VR exploded back on the scene. It took almost two years for the

86

BELOW The HTC Vive is currently getting everyone excited

BELOW The concept of VR dates back to the Sword of Damocles almost 50 years ago, but the supporting cast of hardware has had a major upgrade

hottest concept around to become the hottest content too. That’s because, far from being another flash in the pan, this time it looks like VR could have everything it needs to take its place alongside film, TV, music and other media forms. On the consumer side, getting access to VR experiences now has an extremely cheap point of entry. As long as you already own a capable smartphone, a Google Cardboard setup costs under £10. Then there’s Samsung Gear VR

for £50, and LG’s 360VR Headset for under £100. The standalone options are also proliferating. Oculus Rift may have been the device that kickstarted the resurgence, but the more expensive HTC Vive appears to be the one that is getting everyone excited, and was even used to help the director of Star Wars: Rogue One to visualise scenes. Consoles are getting in on the act now too, with Sony’s PlayStation VR offering a cost-effective gaming option and a library of titles ready to take advantage (with some tweaking, admittedly). Graphics cards are also being listed as “VR Ready”, since gaming is a central focus of VR and one of the biggest potential markets.

■ VR: what is it good for?

Right now, though, we’re still at the phase where we try to work out what exactly this new media format is for. The medium of virtual reality is itself novel, and much like the way film was just exciting on its own in the late 19th century, with a simple shot of a train coming towards the camera causing astonishment, we’re still enjoying the mere concept of being able to look around rather than being forced to look through a fixed frame. What that means for how we construct stories and entertainment is still up for grabs, particularly when you throw in new forms of gesture-based control, omnidirectional treadmills, and haptic feedback devices. All of the VR consumption devices described above provide varying levels of ability to look around a stereoscopic view of a recorded or 3D-rendered world. The visually immersive qualities of VR aren’t what makes it such a novel medium, however. VR can be anything from a fairly passive guided experience derived from film to one that’s much more interactive, like a game. It can consist of pre-recorded 360-degree video or dynamically 3D-rendered worlds. VR opens up a whole new level of hardware requirement, both for production and consumption. Just take the simple concept of watching 360-degree video compared to Full HD. With the latter, the resolution being sent to the screen is 1,920 x 1,080. But if you want a


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360-degree video to have the same level of detail wherever the viewer looks, it will need to be many times that resolution: wherever the eye of the viewer stops, they’ll need to see a Full HD frame. With 3D rendered in real-time, only the area currently visible will need to be rendered. But if this is intended to be stereoscopic, two slightly different points of view will need to be rendered simultaneously, one for each eye.

n Creator challenges

So what does this all mean to content creators? For game development, it’s maybe not such a huge leap, as the viewport on the world was always meant to be moved by the user. The world can be designed in the same way, and it’s only the player’s graphics hardware that has the extra work to do, since it essentially needs to render the scene twice, once for each eye. For other types of VR, there could be a greater amount of data to handle and work with. A 360-degree video edit might stitch together Full HD footage from multiple cameras. A 360-degree setup with GoPros is often six or more cameras in a ball, producing an 8K image. If you’re rendering out 3D for a more passive experience rather than using a game engine, the scene will need to be exported at a much higher resolution in a 360-degree format. The general 360-degree format used is called equirectangular. This stretches a spherical view into a rectangular frame, which will return to the appropriate proportions when viewed using VR hardware. To give you some idea of what might be required for VR of this type, the H.265 standard supports 8K, or 8,192 x 4,320.

When it comes to content creation hardware, VR poses particularly taxing constraints. Much larger frame sizes will need to be worked with than for a traditional framed view. This is great news for AMD, Intel and Nvidia, because it means that faster CPUs and GPUs will be required to create VR content, so they will sell more hardware, and premium higher-end hardware too. Betting on this situation, AMD has focused on VR content creation with the Radeon Pro WX series, and calls this ecosystem LiquidVR. In the past, although the professional and consumer graphics cards were based on GPUs from the same designs, the board configurations and (in particular) the drivers meant that they were definitely optimised for their respective user types. Pro cards aren’t as fast as their (much cheaper) consumer-grade equivalents for

Labs Workstations

ABOVE The equirectangular 360-degree format stretches a spherical video view into a rectangular frame

BELOW AMD is betting big on virtual reality, offering new cards designed to both consume and create VR scenes

gaming, and consumer-grade cards are often very much slower with professional content creation software. But AMD is aiming to make its Radeon Pro cards as good for testing the VR and games content you create as they are for making it. As an added bonus, AMD is also going head-to-head with Nvidia’s Iray. Alongside the launch of the Radeon Pro, AMD is rebranding its FireRender technology as ProRender. This is similar to Iray except that it uses OpenCL rather than CUDA, so can combine the CPU with the GPU for an extra boost, in a similar fashion to the LuxMark benchmark we used for testing this month. It’s a little behind Iray in terms of software support, though, with plugins just for 3ds Max, Maya, Rhino and SolidWorks. AMD is also touting the VR camera support in ProRender. The Radeon Pro is meant to be the card you can use to create VR content, render it out with GPU acceleration, and then see how good it looks – all on the same hardware. Whether or not this really works as intended is still to be fully tested, since the Radeon Pro WX has only just arrived. But it certainly shows how important VR has become for content creation, and we’re only at the beginning of where things could be headed over the next couple of years. 87


Labs Workstations

ChillblastFusion PascalP5000

A solid workstation backed by a lengthy five-year warranty, but not the best pick if speed is your priority SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £4,417 (£5,300 inc VAT)

Chillblast Fusion Pascal P5000

from chillblast.com

C

hillblast has followed this month’s of a full-sized black tower containing an Intel Core i7-6950X processor alongside Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics. However, unlike other manufacturers offering this specification, Chillblast hasn’t shipped the processor overclocked. Instead, it runs at its nominal 3GHz with 3.5GHz Turbo mode. If customers want to order it overclocked, though, then Chillblast is happy to do so at no extra charge With ten cores and HyperThreading, the rendering power on offer remains considerable. Chillblast allies the Core i7 with 64GB of 3GHz

InterProIPW-BWE

A great selection of components, but just pipped at the post on value by Scan SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £4,695 (£5,634 inc VAT)

InterPro IPW-BWE

from ipworkstations.com

T

he InterPro IPW-BWE is another full-sized tower system based around the ten-core Intel Core i7-6950X, overclocked to 4.2GHz in this case, which is kept at bay by Corsair H100i water cooling. The processor is backed by a reassuring 64GB of 2.4GHz DDR4 SDRAM in four DIMM modules, with four more slots free for upgrade when required. InterPro matches many other manufacturers this month with graphics, too, partnering the top-end processor with a similarly capable Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics card. This is the new ultra-high-end option from Nvidia, replacing the M5000 and trouncing its predecessor for frame buffer with 16GB of GDDR5X

88

DDR4 SDRAM, providing a good platform for the Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics. The latter is a powerful choice, with 2,560 CUDA cores and 16GB of superfast GDDR5X memory. The storage provision is reasonably generous, with a 512GB SSD alongside a 4TB hard disk. The former is a rapid Samsung SM961 NVMe PCI Express M.2 unit, providing 3.3GB/sec reading and 1.53GB/sec writing. The 7,200rpm hard disk is unusual in that it’s a SSHD, so it has 8GB of SSD built in as a cache. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s super-quick for workstation tasks: the cache isn’t used during sustained throughput, and our tests placed it as the slowest hard disk on test, providing 162MB/sec reads and 164.5MB/sec writes. The non-overclocked processor also holds the Chillblast back in this month’s company. The Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score of 1,790 is 22% behind the fastest system with the same CPU, and the OpenGL result is also constrained to 167. We saw a similar story in the PC Pro benchmarks, particularly when video encoding and multitasking, so the overall score is 19% down on the fastest Core i7 this month. Modelling is less affected, however, with mostly competitive SPECviewperf 12.1 scores, as well as decent graphics acceleration

memory and a whopping 2,540 CUDA cores. Storage ticks the right boxes, too, with a 1TB Samsung SM961 NVMe PCI Express M.2 SSD for operating system and applications alongside a very generous 6TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200rpm SATA hard disk for general data. Both are quickest in their class this month, as well as being the largest. There’s even a Blu-ray writer on hand for removable storage. InterPro has no surprises performance-wise. The Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score of 2,128 is excellent, as expected for a 4.2GHz ten-core Intel Core i7, and so is the OpenGL result of 193. The OctaneBench score of 124 is a little behind some systems with the same graphics, but LuxMark scores are on par. This system should have plenty of GPU rendering power on tap for Open CL or CUDA. The IPW-BWE acquitted itself well in the PC Pro benchmarks, too, as do all the systems using the Core i7-6950X. This system will be great for image and video editing. The SPECviewperf 12.1 results are also

@PCPRO

FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO

ABOVE Chillblast’s full-sized black tower contains an Intel Core i7-6950X processor, which, unusually, isn’t overclocked

for Open CL and CUDA rendering. Overall, the Chillblast is a sensible choice of components, and the firm is also unique in offering an excellent five-year warranty, with the first two collect and return. If this peace of mind is important to you then the Fusion Pascal is a solid alternative to the similarly specified Scan, and with a Corsair H100i watercooling system already in place we think it makes perfect sense to ask Chillblast to overclock it before delivery.

ABOVE The InterPro did itself proud in the benchmarks and will acquit itself well, whatever the task

in line with other Quadro P5000equipped systems, showing the supreme abilities for modelling that this graphics accelerator has on offer. The InterPro IPW-BWE is a capable and well-specified workstation with no obvious weaknesses. Whatever your workstation tasks, it should acquit itself well. The only thing holding it from an award this month is the sheer value demonstrated by Scan’s 3XS Classic 3D.


PCSpecialistEric

Excellent value, but its lack of all-round pace means it struggles against the highend competition SCORE

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PRICE £1,666 (£1,999 inc VAT)

PC Specialist Eric

from pcspecialist.co.uk

W

e can see why PC Specialist didn’t call this workstation Jack. While most of this month’s systems are just as well suited to rendering as they are to modelling, the PC Specialist Eric is more onesided. Thanks to the choice of a quadcore Intel Skylake processor, albeit a fast one, this system is better suited to tasks where clock frequency and graphics are primary factors, rather than core count. The processor in question is an Intel Core i7-6700K. This runs at a nominal 4GHz, but PC Specialist has permanently set the clock to 4.6GHz to get the best out of its capabilities, with Hyper-Threading on hand to present the four physical cores as

YoyotechBlackBoxSLX Great value, but the BlackBox trails many competitors this month in performance SCORE

✪✪✪✪✪

PRICE £2,383 (£2,860 inc VAT)

Yoyotech BlackBox SLX

from yoyotech.co.uk

Y

oyotech gets a high mark for flair when it comes to choice of case, with the chassis of its BlackBox SLX sporting a full sheet of glass to allow admiring glances at the well-lit interior components and neat construction. However, the firm has taken a more conservative approach to specification than other manufacturers this month. Instead of the top-end ten-core member of Intel’s Broadwell-E range, the BlackBox SLX sports the entrylevel six-core version, the Core i7-6800K. Yoyotech transforms its 3.4GHz nominal clock speed to 4.3GHz, providing some benefit when modelling with some applications. The processor has been partnered

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eight virtual ones. It pairs it up with 32GB of DDR4 SDRAM running at 2,133MHz. PC Specialist opts for Nvidia’s Quadro M4000 graphics. The Quadro P5000s that dominate this Labs have more than 50% more CUDA cores and twice the memory, albeit for twice the price, but if cost-per-performance is your priority then AMD’s new Radeon Pro WX7100 may have been a better option: it currently offers more of the latter for less of the former. The storage selection is reasonable, however. The Intel 600p Series NVMe M.2 PCI Express SSD isn’t as quick as the Samsung alternatives found elsewhere, with just 1.11GB/sec reading, but at least the capacity is 512GB. The Western Digital Black 7,200rpm SATA hard disk similarly offers a respectable 2TB capacity, but is slow, reading at 167MB/sec. A DVD-RAM writer is also included. The quad-core processor means the Eric has the lowest Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering result this month, but 938 is hardly a poor score. Its OpenGL result is the second lowest too. Yet, whilst the PC Pro benchmark figure is relatively poor overall in this month’s

with a decent but not extraordinary 32GB of DDR4 SDRAM, although it has a fast 3GHz clock. It’s amazing to be writing this – what a difference a year makes – but the main weak area with the BlackBox SLX is the choice of Nvidia Quadro M4000 graphics. This is still a great professional 3D card, but AMD’s FirePro WX7100 is faster for less money, and in the absence of a Pascal-based upgrade (unlike the P5000 and P6000 models found elsewhere this month) the M4000 is looking less like the ultimate affordable choice that it did but a few months ago. The choice of storage is also budget conscious but more respectable. The SSD for operating system and main software only offers 256GB, but is still the quick Samsung PM961, albeit not the SM961 that’s even quicker. It manages reading at 2.68GB/sec and writing at 1.44GB/sec. The 2TB Toshiba 7,200rpm SATA hard disk is generous enough and one of the quicker units this month, providing reading and writing over 200MB/sec. Otherwise, performance is a little lacklustre. With six cores on offer, the BlackBox SLX has the second-lowest Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score of 1,241, as well as the lowest scores in the PC Pro benchmarks. Modelling

ABOVE Priced at a competitive £1,999, the Eric is an excellent choice for image editing and modelling

company, thanks to video encoding and multitasking results, the image-editing result is respectable. Due to the Quadro M4000 graphics, the OctaneBench and LuxMark GPU rendering scores are near the bottom of the pack. And although the SPECviewperf 12.1 results aren’t exactly low, they’re mostly outclassed by every other system this month. That said, the Eric is keenly priced at £1,999, and is great for image editing and modelling.

ABOVE The BlackBox, with its glass window and well-lit, neat layout, is sure to draw admiring glances

abilities are good, but SPECviewperf 12.1 results are eclipsed by the Quadro P5000-based systems, and mostly beaten by the Armari’s AMD Radeon Pro WX7100, too. However, there is an upside to the less potent components chosen by Yoyotech: the price. Costing under £2,400 exc VAT, this system is around half the price of some of this month’s offerings. So whilst it doesn’t win on performance, it’s great value.


VIEWFROMTHELABS INTEL AND NVIDIA HAVE GOOD REASON TO BE HAPPY THIS MONTH, BUT AMD IS STARTING TO SHOW BOTH ITS TEETH AND ITS LONG-TERM STRATEGY

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or the past couple of years, Nvidia has managed to keep ahead of AMD in professional graphics. The Quadro range from Nvidia has leapt a couple of iterations in front of the AMD FirePros, so that few workstation manufacturers have been opting for the latter over the past 12 months. However, this Labs has arrived as both AMD and Nvidia have released their next generations, and interestingly they’re currently not going head to head. Nvidia’s new Pascal-based P5000 and P6000 offerings, both of which are in this month’s test, are high end and powerful. The P6000 will set you back north of £5,000 inc VAT and the P5000 around £2,000. For the time being, however, there is no P4000 (or lower) available, so for more modestly specified workstations the manufacturers still rely on Nvidia’s Maxwell-based M4000, which is what we’ve also seen this month. Handily, this is where AMD’s new range comes in. AMD has rebranded its professional cards Radeon Pro. The Fire name dates back many years to pre-AMD days, when the Fire GL brand fronted graphics cards sporting

3DLabs chips. AMD clearly thought the Fire moniker had lost some of its vigour, whereas the Radeon name still holds a reputation for performance, since AMD’s cards have kept pace with Nvidia’s more closely in the consumer space. As is evident in our tests, James Morris is a the AMD FirePro WX7100 can workstation expert show the Nvidia Quadro M4000 and course leader in a clean set of heels in most 3D web media at modelling applications, and it’s Ravensbourne around 25% cheaper too, for the same @CyberWest quantity of memory. While Nvidia is likely to gain the upper hand again when the P4000 arrives, it probably won’t be by a huge amount, and possibly not in every test “AMD is also soon to release either. Nvidia is also going to have to think its new Ryzen processor, hard about its which could give the top-end very pricing, since the Broadwell-E Intel Core i7 4000-series cards have CPUs a run for their money” cost about the same for generations, and AMD has positioned its WX7100 significantly cheaper. So far, the AMD Radeon Pro isn’t going to give Nvidia anything to worry at the higher end, as we’ve had no word about WX8100 or WX9100 cards

ABOVE Nvidia’s new Pascal-based P6000 is high end and powerful

just yet. But it does look like AMD is having a bit of a renaissance, particularly as the Radeon Pro cards are intended to be as good for running games and VR as they will be at creating these content types; that means you can test on the same system you design with. AMD is also soon to release its new Ryzen processor, which could give the top-end Broadwell-E Intel Core i7 CPUs that have been used in most of this month’s systems a real run for their money too. One thing’s for sure: when it comes to workstations, the next few years will be as hard-fought as the battles in the games and movies they create.

PCProbenchmarktestresults Overall PC Pro benchmarks

(reference PC = 100)

Recommended

Lenovo

Overall desktop Image editing performance PC Pro benchmarks

(reference PC = 100)

Workstation Specialists

426

173

Video editing PC Pro benchmarks

(reference PC = 100)

Recommended

Lenovo

406

Multitasking PC Pro benchmarks

336

Scan

InterPro

327

Armari

149

Scan

Scan

Labs Winner 325

PC Specialist

149

InterPro

Yoyotech

146

Chillblast

273

Chillblast

269

Armari

282

Chillblast

268

Armari

169

PC Specialist

126

Yoyotech

0

100

200

300

400

500

Workstation Specialists

160

Labs Winner

397

Labs Winner 317

Workstation Specialists

394

315

Scan

Labs Winner 386

142

Armari

InterPro

141

Yoyotech

164

PC Specialist

Lenovo

Recommended 141

PC Specialist

163

Yoyotech

50

100

150

200

0

534

InterPro

329

Chillblast

0

Recommended

Lenovo

Workstation Specialists

(reference PC = 100)

100

200

300

400

500

334 312 180 94 0

100

200

300

400

500

600

91


Slug Sectionhead

The Network Practical buying and strategic advice for IT managers and decision makers

Cheat Sheet Steve Cassidy shares strategies on coping with Windows updates p99

The Business Question Is it time to insure your company against cybercrime? p102

How to deploy Google Apps Now called G Suite, we reveal how businesses can switch p104

BUSINESS FOCUS

Choosetheright IPcamerafor yourbusiness

Dave Mitchell explains what to look for when choosing an IP camera, and subjects four contenders to real-world testing

S

urveillance is a controversial subject, but when it comes to protecting your business there’s no debate: physical security is just as important as keeping your digital assets safe, and security cameras provide a great benefit. Part of that benefit is in deterring incidents: an opportunist thief, or an untrustworthy employee, will think twice about crossing the line if they know they’re being watched. If a crime does take place, footage can provide evidence in investigations. Cameras are essential for businesses handling cash on their premises. And since cameras are now within reach of the smallest business, there’s intense competition at the lower end of this market – meaning prices for even quite sophisticated surveillance solutions are at an all-time low. There’s an IP camera to suit every budget, and this month we test four very affordable models to help you make the right choice.

■ The big picture

Modern security cameras are mostly known as IP cameras, because they transmit their images over your office network (or over the internet) using a regular TCP/IP data connection. The technology is much smarter and more 92

versatile than old CCTV (closed circuit television) systems, which used a dedicated analogue connection to a receiver. Modern cameras also offer superior image quality, although if you cut your budget too far it’s still possible to buy some pretty ropey equipment. Avoid cheap cameras with resolutions of 640 x 480 pixels – there’s just not enough detail to really see what’s going on. We’d call 720p a practical minimum requirement, and since such cameras can be found within the

BELOW Hikvision’s hefty Darkfighter delivers superb picture quality

£50 to £100 bracket, it’s hardly an unreasonable stipulation. Stepping up to 1080p – also advertised as 2MP resolution – is probably overkill for a single office space, but it’s a good idea if you’re monitoring a large area: the extra detail means you can zoom in and get a better view of what’s happening in different parts of the picture. There are also cameras supporting 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160) – but don’t get carried away and pay more than you need to for this sort of capability.


@PCPRO

FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO

You want to be able to see who’s doing what, but you don’t need to capture every hair on their head.

■ Bullet or dome?

IP cameras come in various shapes and sizes, and it’s important to pick the right one for the location. The traditional design, with a cylindrical or oblong camera housing attached to an angled wall-mounting, is called a “bullet camera”. Such cameras are easy to install – you just need to drill a few screw holes – and the design makes it easy for manufacturers to fit infrared LED illuminators around the lens, making them ideal for nighttime surveillance. If you want to position a camera outdoors, check its ingress protection (IP) rating. For all-weather use, you want a camera with a minimum IP65 rating, and if you need it to survive sub-zero temperatures then look for one with an internal heater or an optional protective shell. For indoor use, dome cameras provide a discreet alternative, with certain vendors now offering lowprofile “smoke detector”-style models. A dome camera can be mounted securely on a ceiling, and metal bodies and polycarbonate lens covers make them hard for vandals to damage. Many dome designs also offer PTZ – pan, tilt and zoom – capabilities, with a motorised lens body that can be remotely controlled. Panning and tilting allow you to direct the camera’s view horizontally and vertically, so the camera can cover a much larger area. Zoom lets you get a close-up view of anything interesting, should you be watching an incident unfold. If you want this feature, choose a camera with optical zoom: digital zoom merely magnifies the picture, and doesn’t actually add any detail. Higher-end PTZ cameras may offer an automated patrol mode, which moves the camera between different preset pan and tilt positions after a certain number of seconds, so you can record what’s going on over a larger area than a fixed-position camera could. Some cameras can even detect moving objects and automatically track the lens to follow them.

■ Intruder alert

A key feature of modern IP cameras is their motion-detection capabilities. Rather than recording thousands of hours of empty rooms and courtyards, you can set your camera software to store footage only when something’s moving. You can have alerts sent directly to a specified email address whenever unexpected movement is detected, and footage can be uploaded to FTP servers, network shares and, in

The Network BusinessFocus

some cases, local microSD cards – so you have multiple ways to get at your recordings even if the camera gets smashed, or the local network goes down. Sophistication improves as the price goes up, with the better models supporting multiple detection areas and facilities for fine-tuning sensitivity. If your camera has a microphone then you can also trigger actions when noise goes above a set level. Some cameras have internal speakers too, allowing you to have a two-way audio conversation with an unexpected visitor: alternatively, in the case of some Axis cameras, the camera can simply play a warning sound if triggered.

■ Power to the camera

Naturally, your security camera needs to be powered. The easiest and most reliable way to handle this is using power over Ethernet (PoE), which lets you drive your camera over a single network cable, without being constrained by the locations of your power sockets. Many vendors assume you’ll be using this and don’t include a mains adapter in the box. If your office doesn’t already have PoE, the simplest way to get set up is to buy a PoE injector, which adds power to a single Ethernet connection. It’s a small box that can be had for as little as £20. If you’re deploying IP cameras around the premises, however, a multi-port PoE switch is likely to be much more cost effective, allowing you to run multiple cameras (or other powered devices), while taking up only a single power socket.

■ All hail Internet Explorer IP cameras normally give you the option of streaming video in two

codecs, namely Motion JPEG (MJPEG) and H.264. The former is outdated technology: you’re better off always using H.264, as its video compression process is more efficient, especially when there’s little or nothing happening in the viewing area. To illustrate the impact of this on network usage, we used the ColaSoft Capsa analysis tool to monitor an IP camera feed. In our graph above, you can see MJPEG using 18Mbits/sec, while H.264 used 1Mbit/sec with no motion, rising to around 4.2Mbits/sec when motion was introduced. Unfortunately, Microsoft Edge doesn’t support H.264 plugins, and many cameras won’t work “An IP camera could even with Google Chrome in H.264 mode either. Things reduce your insurance are improving, but for premiums, since its mere now you might have to get presence can deter used to the idea of using Internet Explorer 11 to would-be criminals” monitor and control your cameras, as it supports both codecs and all their plugins. Another option is to use the viewing software bundled with the camera. Quality and features vary hugely across vendors, but most consoles will allow you to monitor multiple cameras at once, and some also offer facilities for remote viewing over the internet.

ABOVE We used the ColaSoft Capsa tool, which generates graphs, to monitor an IP camera feed

Dataprotection The use of surveillance equipment at work is governed by the Data Protection Act. This doesn’t mean you need to wade through reams of red tape, but before you install a camera you should come up with a policy detailing exactly what you intend to monitor and why, as well as for how long you plan to archive the footage. Make sure your staff are all aware of this policy – be responsive to their privacy expectations and put up signs advising visitors that they might be recorded. For more information, see our Cheat Sheet in issue 264, p107.

■ For some must watch

An IP camera can be your tireless security guard, constantly monitoring your premises and your property. It could even reduce your insurance premiums, since its mere presence can deter would-be criminals, and even the most basic models can be a godsend in the event of an attempted burglary or other incident. The only question is which one’s right for you – there’s a huge choice out there to suit every pocket and every premises. Read on to see which IP camera is right for your business. 93


The Network BusinessFocus

AxisM1065-LW

It’s pricey, but this little 1080p camera simply won’t be beaten for video quality and surveillance features SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £267 exc VAT from networkwebcams.co.uk

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he Axis M1065-LW is one of the smallest IP cameras on the market, making it an attractive option for offices seeking a discreet indoor surveillance solution. What’s more, despite its miniscule size, it comes with a list of features to match IP cameras twice as big. That includes a maximum resolution of 1080p at 25fps, with support for both wired and wireless network connections. With an integrated infrared illuminator and a PIR motion sensor, it can detect movement and record video in the dark as well as the daytime. There’s also an internal microphone and speaker for two-way audio, while a microSD card slot means you can store video locally as well as to network storage. It’s a shame that there’s no PoE support, but the included power supply has a decent 2.9m cable, so your positioning options aren’t too limited. We found that the camera took less than a minute to set up over a wired connection, and its native web interface is very easy to use. From here, setting up a wireless connection is simplicity itself: you can choose your SSID from a list, or use the WPS button on the side of the camera. The M1065-LW impressed us with its video quality. Its live view is pinsharp, with excellent contrast and colour balance. You can choose from

ten resolutions and configure multiple stream profiles, meaning you can set up different image sizes, frame rates and compression levels to suit different destinations. For night-time operation, the IR illuminator has a range of 10m and switches on automatically when light levels drop. We found the PIR sensor also worked well, with movement within 6m triggering our alert actions. The one concession you’ll probably have to make is accessing the camera via Internet Explorer. Neither Edge nor Chrome supports the Axis Media Control plugin required for H.264 streaming – so if you want to watch your feed in one of these browsers, you’ll have to live with MJPEG. And while Firefox will stream H.264 through the QuickTime plugin, there’s an annoying three-second video delay. IE has no such limitations, however: we were happily able to stream in either video format, with latency of less than one second. When we enabled audio, the web interface also installed an AAC decoder plugin. Audio transmission is half-duplex: to speak to someone, you click and hold the Talk button at the bottom of the live view page, and let go when you want to listen to them. Overall sound quality isn’t great, but it was good enough for us to hold a conversation with someone next to the camera.

@PCPRO

The camera can be set to respond to a wide range of events, including motion (detected by either the camera or the PIR sensor), audio noise or camera tampering. The camera comes preloaded with Axis’ clever Motion Detection 3 app, which offers variable sensitivity, so you can ignore small movements such as birds landing on the windowsill. You can set up rules to link triggers to actions, such as recording to the microSD card or to a network share, sending images to HTTP and FTP servers or emailing them and playing a warning sound clip stored on the camera. You can also set up schedules to apply different rules at different times of the day. It’s a system with ABOVE The Axis is scope to grow, too: Axis’ free Camera one of the smallest Companion software supports cameras on the multiple sites, each with up to 16 market, but it’s not cameras, and provides centralised lacking in features recording and playback facilities. The interface provides live views of assigned cameras, along with facilities for browsing recordings and a slick investigation mode for frame-by-frame viewing. We found it automatically discovered our Synology NAS appliance, listed available shares for selection and set RECOMMENDED up motion detection for us. We also had no problems linking the Axis iOS app to our MyAxis cloud account and viewing camera feeds remotely from our iPad. “The M1065-LW impressed For a small office or us with its video quality: its shop, the M1065-LW is expensive, live view is pin-sharp, with comparatively but it delivers premium excellent contrast and protection. It’s small enough to be unobtrusive, colour balance” and offers top-notch image quality and a comprehensive set of surveillance features.

LEFT The M1065-LW delivers classy video quality, making it a top choice for indoor monitoring 94

PCPRO.CO.UK

SPECIFICATIONS 1/3in RGB CMOS l 2.8mm, f/2.0 lens l 1080p max res l 25fps l MJPEG/H.264v10/100 Ethernet l 802.11n wireless l PIR sensor l IR illuminator internal mic/speaker l microSD card slot l external PSU l Axis Camera Companion and Camera Station (one licence) software l 61 x 37 x 106mm (WDH) l 128g l wall mount bracket and table-top stand l 3yr RTB warranty


D-LinkVigilance DCS-4602EV

A very affordable outdoor IP camera that’s built like a tank, although image quality is merely adequate SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £162 exc VAT from ebuyer.com

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he DCS-4602EV, a member of D-Link’s Vigilance professional surveillance family, is designed to go where other IP cameras fear to tread. Its IP66 rating makes it fully weatherproof against dust storms and heavy jets of water, and its solid metal casing and polycarbonate dome have an IK10 external mechanical impact rating – the highest – meaning it can stand up to a physical battering too. The DCS-4602EV is based on a 2MP CMOS with a top resolution of 1080p. Moreover, it features 15 infrared LED illuminators circling its lens, which D-Link claims will deliver night vision at a range of up to 20m – something our tests bore out. The camera only supports wired connections, and the expectation is that you’ll be driving it via PoE – the 12V power supply is an optional extra. A short waterproof Ethernet cable protrudes from the camera’s base, so the RJ-45 connection isn’t a chink in the DCS-4602EV’s armour. The tidy web interface makes light work of configuration, but as usual Microsoft Edge and Chrome don’t support H.264 streams. We had no such problem with IE 11, in either format, and were also able to use Firefox via the QuickTime plugin for

H.264 – although as with other cameras, this introduces an annoying three-second latency for motion. D-Link tells us it’s looking into these issues but is currently advising Windows 10 users to stick with IE 11. Live view quality is reasonable, but the camera’s focus is on the soft side, making the image appear very slightly blurry. Still, it’s good enough for general surveillance of areas such as lobbies and corridors. The camera handles artificial lighting well and, when positioned outdoors, it reacted quickly to changing light levels. We suggest you keep it out of direct sunlight, however: faced with our brightest scene, the camera turned down the exposure so far that the areas in shadow were too dark to be usable. The web interface is standard across D-Link’s range, so you’ll find a PTZ control pad on the left side, even though the pan and tilt buttons do nothing on this camera. The zoom buttons do work for the DCS-4602EV, but since this is digital zoom it’s only good for blowing up the image: you won’t capture any more detail, and quality breaks down at the maximum 10x setting. We defined two streams – each with their own resolution, codec and frame rate for PC and mobile viewing – and saw quick links in the live view page, along with buttons for full screen, taking snapshots and recording on demand. Setting up motion detection is simple too: you can draw zones to

mark where you want it be active, and set a global sensitivity level. A handy indicator in the live view shows when motion detection has been triggered, and this can be linked to a range of events. Up to five email, FTP and NAS servers are supported and we could decide whether to send snapshots, video clips or system logs “It features 15 infrared LED to them. You can also set events to be automatically illuminators circling its triggered to a schedule, or lens, which D-Link claims to a camera reboot. will deliver night vision at In addition to the camera’s own web a range of up to 20m” interface, you get D-Link’s D-ViewCam software for accessing up to 32 cameras and managing BELOW The recordings to multiple storage DCS-4602EV provides locations. The console looks dated, a good field of view, but it works fine on Windows 10 and although its focus offers plenty of tools, including a could be sharper handy e-map facility. There’s also an iOS app: we had no problems accessing the video server host on the LAN, but if you want to access it from outside your company network, you’ll need to manually set up port forwarding to allow it to get through your firewall. The DCS-4602EV is a tough, all-weather camera that’s built to last and offers plenty of features. Image quality isn’t the best, but if you’re looking for a vandal-proof outdoor IP camera, the low price makes it an attractive choice. ABOVE An IP66 rating makes the camera weatherproof against dust storms and heavy jets of water

SPECIFICATIONS 1/3in 2MP RGB CMOS l 2.8mm, f/1.8 lens l 1080p max res l 30/25fps (60/50Hz) l IP66/ IK10 certified l MJPEG/H.264 l 10/100 Ethernet l PoE l 15 x IR LEDs l 10x digital zoom l D-Link D-ViewCam software l 110 x 110 x 72mm (WDH) l 2yr RTB warranty 96


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EnGeniusEDS6255

Night vision isn’t great, but this little camera packs in a lot of surveillance features for a tempting price SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £180 exc VAT from solwise.co.uk

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easuring just 65mm in diameter and 96mm tall, the EnGenius EDS6255 is small enough to provide discreet surveillance. With night vision and wireless network support, it’s well equipped, and it’s quite a bit cheaper than the Axis M1065-LW. The kit includes a circular plastic mounting bracket and a set of clips for hanging it from the T-rails of a suspended ceiling. The orientation of the lens can be easily adjusted via a small screw in the side of the camera body, with a tool that’s handily secreted in a slot below. On the other side is a rubber cover for the microSD card slot and reset button. We had no problems powering the camera via the lab’s HPE ProCurve 2626-PWR PoE switch – although EnGenius also includes an external power adapter for those users who want to use a wireless connection. Setting this up is pain-free: the web interface listed all of the SSIDs in the camera’s vicinity, allowed us to add multiple SSIDs as AP profiles for quick selection and also offered a quick WPS setup option. Once up and running, the camera supports two live video streams, using

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either H.264 or MJPEG at up to 30fps. The first supports resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080 while the second is aimed at mobile viewers and only goes up to 640 x 360. As usual, however, this is also the only stream you can access via either Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome. Switching to Internet Explorer 11 got everything working perfectly, and we found image quality at the top resolution to be very good. Focus is sharp, colour quality realistic and motion is conveyed over H.264 with only the slightest of delays. It’s also easy to access your video streams over the internet, thanks to EnGenius’ free DDNS service. After enabling this on the camera, we could use the EnViewer iOS app to access its live view from anywhere in the world, as well as taking snapshots to our iPad’s photo library, recording and playing back video and listening to its mic. EnGenius even provides a QR code label for the camera, for effortless connection. The bundled video management software (VMS) adds more value, providing a well-designed console and a video wall for up to 16 cameras. It worked fine with Windows 10 and we used it to view live feeds, schedule recordings, set up motion detection events, browse the video archive and apply an e-map for quickly accessing different cameras.

For motion detection, you can create up to three windows, each with their own sensitivity rating, and schedule when they’re active – but only one action can be applied to all of them. When any one is triggered, you can record to either local or network storage, and fire off notifications to email, mobile devices “After enabling EnGenius’ running the EnViewer DDNS service, we could use app and the VMS console. The camera also supports the EnViewer iOS app to audio and cameraaccess the live view from tampering detection, which can be linked anywhere in the world” to various alerts and recording destinations. The EDS6255’s weak suit is night BELOW The camera vision. According to the datasheet, the delivers a sharp image EDS6255 has 12 IR LEDs, but we could at 1080p with good only see one on each side of the lens. colour balance Whatever the reality, its night-time range is limited: after dark, we were completely unable to make out details beyond a range of 4m. An annoying quirk of the software also means that a schedule can’t go past midnight, meaning if you want to run motion detection overnight you have to create two separate schedules. The night-vision quibbles aside, the EDS6255 is a versatile IP camera offered at a reasonable price. It packs a lot of useful features into its compact shell. As long as you don’t need to peer too deeply into the murk, it delivers good video quality and comes with decent video management software. ABOVE The EDS6255 packs a lot of features into its compact shell, including night vision and 802.11n wireless

SPECIFICATIONS 1/2.7in RGB CMOS ● 2.8mm, f/1.8 lens ● 1080p max res ● 30fps ● MJPEG/H.264 ● 10/100 Ethernet ● PoE ● 802.11n wireless ● 2 x IR LEDs ● internal mic ● microSD card slot ● external PSU ● EnGenius Video Management software ● 65 x 65 x 96mm (WDH) ● 237g ● 2yr RTB warranty 97


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HikvisionDarkfighter DS-2CD4B26FWD-IZS

Top image quality, an IP67 rating and colour at low light levels make this a great choice for surveillance SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £299 exc VAT from networkwebcams.co.uk

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ikvision’s Darkfighter is an IP camera for all seasons. This big 2-megapixel bullet camera has an IP67 rating, indicating that it’s dust-tight and able to survive even the heaviest rainstorm. As the name implies, it’s also designed to work even in very low light conditions. This is no idle claim. We found the Darkfighter served up colour footage at light levels that would normally see a camera such as this switch to black-and-white infrared mode. From our outdoor test location, it delivered full colour images well after dusk, with only street lights to work with. This wouldn’t be useful if the images themselves were blurry and indistinct, but we found the live view was sharply focused, with excellent colour balance and contrast. This quality was maintained in both our indoor and outdoor location tests, and even though the camera only has two IR LEDs, we found the claimed surveillance range of 20m was perfectly achievable once the evening became properly dark. The camera is exceedingly well built – it weighs a hefty 2kg – and it offers a far more generous range of connection options than your average IP camera. No fewer than seven cables

are routed out the back, offering analogue BNC, female 10/100 Ethernet, alarm input and output, RS-485 serial, audio in, audio out and a connector for the optional power supply. There’s also a waterproof slot cover underneath the camera, where you can insert a microSD card for local storage. It all comes with an internal bracket for wall or ceiling mounts, and for external mounting there’s a junction box to keep your cables dry. Hikvision’s tidy web interface provides easy access to a wealth of features. You can simply click buttons on the live view screen to change the aspect ratio, take snapshots, record to local or network storage and activate a mic and speaker connected to the camera’s audio cables. The camera can serve up three simultaneous live streams, but the primary one only supports H.264: we could access it with IE 11 and Firefox, but Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome wouldn’t work. The second stream supports MJPEG, meaning it works in all browsers, but it’s aimed at mobile users and only has a maximum resolution of 704 x 576 pixels. Motion detection support is excellent: you can define up to eight different areas to monitor, each with its own sensitivity settings. An arming schedule allowed us to decide when

each zone was active on each day, and you can link events to actions such as recording to local or network storage, sending an email and triggering an alarm output to a device attached to the camera’s I/O block. You can also configure different types of detection. Line-crossing detection triggers an alarm if an object or person moves through a line drawn on the live view: you can draw up to four lines and also set detection for either direction on one-way only. RECOMMENDED Intrusion detection triggers an alarm if an object enters a predefined area or remains in it for up to ten seconds, while video-tampering detection triggers an alert if an area in the live view is covered over. “Motion detection support There’s also a target is excellent: you can define cropping option, which you draw a box up to eight different areas lets around an area of interest to monitor, each with its and assign it to the third own sensitivity settings” stream. If you see something in the primary stream, you can switch to the third stream to focus on this region. The kit includes Hikvision’s iVMS-4200 software, which is a BELOW The complete video management platform Darkfighter lives up to for multiple cameras. It worked fine its name by delivering with Windows 10, where it discovered colour vision at the our camera and offered recording and lowest of light levels playback tools, e-mapping, event management and a video wall for up to 16 cameras. Hikvision’s Darkfighter bullet impressed with its range of features, versatile software and excellent video performance, especially in low light. The IP67 rating makes it ideal for all-weather surveillance so, despite the high price, it’s great for businesses seeking surveillance without compromises. DAVE MITCHELL ABOVE The camera is exceedingly well built, weighing a hefty 2kg and offering a range of connection options

SPECIFICATIONS 1/1.8in 2MP RGB CMOS ● 2.8-12mm, f/1.4 lens ● 1080p max res ● 25fps ● IP67 certified ● MJPEG/H.264v10/100 Ethernet ● PoE ● BNC ● I/O block ● RS-485 ● audio in/out ● microSD slot ● 2 x IR LEDs ● Hikvision iVMS-4200 video management software ● 100 x 312 x 104mm (WDH) ● 2kg ● wall mount bracket ● 2yr RTB warranty 98


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challenges. For one thing, once you configure a machine to get its updates from your company’s WSUS server, that’s where it’ll always look – even if it’s a laptop that’s frequently out roaming the world. Setting up a firewall and VPN to cope with this is a big extra task. And it’s not something you can be breezy about: it’s the roaming machines that you really need to keep secure, to ensure they can’t be used as an entry point for an attack.

Windows Update

Keeping your workstations patched is essential to the security of your business. Steve Cassidy finds out how to make the process quick and painless We’re seriously considering disabling Windows Update. It gets in the way, and the fixes never seem to affect the functions we use. This is not an uncommon attitude. Business owners who are in the habit of striking deals with suppliers and partners often expect they can do the same with their IT provisions. But updates aren’t something you can negotiate with. Even if external threats don’t worry you,the minute you want support from a vendor or supplier, you’ll need to show your systems are up to date – or you may find yourself high and dry. This might be a shock to the system for those who cut their teeth in the more laissez-faire world of Windows XP, but it’s the world we live in now. If that seems excessive, bear in mind that if you do get infected, it’s not just your business that will be affected, but everyone you connect with via email, chat and other platforms. Think of updates as protection for your reputation, as well as your digital assets. But we have work to do! We can’t be sitting around waiting for our computers to update every Monday morning. Strictly speaking, this would be more likely on a Wednesday morning, following Microsoft’s regular “Patch Tuesday”. In practice, I’ve yet to see a business with a properly managed network that suffers from this problem at all. Admittedly that’s some careful wording, because Windows Update doesn’t always run as smoothly as it should – but there are easy ways to make the whole experience more or less seamless. Schedule installations for the middle of the night, don’t let people turn their PCs off (or wake them remotely as needed), and ensure your workstations have plenty of disk space. Can we speed things up by running an internal update server? It is possible to run your own update server, and it can definitely accelerate the update process by ensuring your clients get their shiny new bits over the LAN rather than downloading huge updates over the internet. But the size of network at which this becomes economical is pretty large, and the process is not without its own

Fine, we’ll get our updates from Microsoft. But can’t we make them arrive more quickly? The speed of Windows updates can seem very random, with some machines updating much more quickly than others. This can be partly to do with how many machines are screaming for updates at the same time. Your network security can play a part too: Windows 10 can speed things up by sharing updates over the LAN, but it won’t work if your traffic is – perhaps for good reasons – strictly locked down. Another factor might be whether your IT supplier is using Microsoft’s update servers or its own mirror, which is likely to be much slower. It’s not always obvious when this is the case, but if your Anniversary Update took a fortnight to arrive, that’s a clue that you’re getting your updates from a subsidiary source. Other signs of being in this kind of architecture include being sent single-machine activation keys rather then licence-agreement numbers in your purchasing emails.

It’s frustrating: getting away from updates was a big part of why we moved to the cloud! One advantage of cloud services is that they can be patched invisibly, without any action or interruption on your part. But the patching still needs to be done: there’s a reason why hosting providers expect you to pay for “If your Anniversary updates to your virtual servers, just Update took a fortnight to as if they were right beside you in the room. Meanwhile, as direct-connect arrive, that’s a clue that services become more popular, it you’re getting updates turns out that these are really just from a subsidiary source” VPNs with semi-intelligent endpoints within your data centre. Guess what? Those are hot attack targets too, and that means they also need regular updates. One way or another, however you structure your business, you have to accommodate the fact that online services must be kept up to date.

Whenupdatesaren’tanoption It’s been drummed into us that all software needs regular patching. But, sometimes, industry-specific software is sold explicitly without updates: the bits you receive are frozen in time at the moment the contract was signed. If you feel uneasy about running such software then good, you should. In cases such as this, my advice is to turn to virtualisation. The precise arrangement depends on how the software is locked down:

ideally you want to have a fully patched host OS, and keep the insecure elements within a VM. If the proprietary software needs to run “on the metal” (for example, if it’s used to control custom hardware), keep all your other applications in the VM to minimise exposure. In all cases, test your setup thoroughly: if there’s a problem, you want to find it before your nuclear refinery centrifuge control application goes live.

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NetgearProSafeXS716E This 10-Gigabit switch delivers high-speed plugand-play networking and is perfectly priced for SMBs SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £928 exc VAT from broadbandbuyer.co.uk

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etgear is a high flyer in the SMB network switch market, offering an unbeatable combination of features and value. Its new XS716E aims to cement that position, bringing fuss-free 10-Gigabit (10GbE) switching within reach of any small businesses. The proposition makes a lot of sense: with so many servers and NAS appliances now 10GbE-ready, it’s an instant and easy way to expand network bandwidth and remove bottlenecks to critical applications. Positioned at the lower end of Netgear’s Smart Managed switch portfolio, the XS716E has 16 fixed 10GBase-T ports, plus a single SFP+ fibre port. The latter is dual personality, sharing its link to the backplane with the sixteenth copper port, so you can’t use both at the same time. Don’t get this switch confused with the older 16-port XS716T, which has two SFP+ dual-personality ports. Costing around £200 more than the XS716E, the XS716T offers more advanced features, including 802.1x authentication and Auto-VoIP – plus Netgear’s “Layer 3 Lite” which supports IPv4 and IPv6 static routing, VLAN routing and ARP. Installation is as plug and play as it gets, with two management models to choose from: you can use either the

switch’s own built-in web server, or Netgear’s free ProSafe Plus configuration utility. This provides full access to all the same features as the web interface, and can also discover and manage multiple switches from one interface. The web console worked fine with Microsoft Edge and provides easy access to all features. You don’t get any glitzy switch graphics (as you do with the XS716T), but it’s easy enough to check on switch and port status. The port list shows the negotiated connection speed – you’ll want to leave auto-negotiation enabled, as the only manual options are to disable ports or set them to Fast Ethernet speeds. Loop detection can also be enabled, and you can decide whether or not to allow the switch to be accessed by the ProSafe Plus utility. VLAN options extend to the port and 802.1q varieties, and you can use basic or advanced configurations in both cases. Advanced port-based VLANs, for example, allow ports to be members of more than one VLAN. Ports can also be placed in up to eight link aggregation groups (LAGs) for high-speed, fault-tolerant trunks. However, these can only be static and not dynamic, as the switch doesn’t support 802.3ad and LACP (link aggregation control protocol) groups. QoS lets you assign one of eight priorities to each port, with a minimum bandwidth applied to each one. The switch also supports 802.1p

and can detect these fields and assign the priority defined in the packet. Alongside all these technical capabilities, the switch also features some clever power-saving technology, with support for the 802.3az EEE (Energy Efficient Ethernet) standard. With this enabled, the switch automatically detects cable lengths and adjusts power accordingly for shorter runs; disconnected ports have their power slashed to a minimum, decreasing overall power consumption and heat output. That’s not to imply that the XS716E RECOMMENDED is a power hog. We measured the unit on its own consuming a mere 19W, and adding 10GbE links to our server and storage arrays saw consumption rise by only 2W per connection. The cooling fans run very quietly too. The monitoring tab provides basic information about port traffic, with tables of bytes sent and received for each one. Unlike the XS716T, though, the XS716E doesn’t “The Netgear XS716E brings support SNMP or syslog high-speed networking to servers. That said, if you have a network analyser the masses at a recordyou can use the port breaking price of less than mirroring feature to send traffic from all selected £60 per 10GbE port” ports to the one it’s connected to for further analysis. There’s also a cable tester that could prove useful: this checks whether cables are functioning correctly, and if it finds an electrical fault it willl tell you roughly where the fault is in metres. The Netgear XS716E brings high-speed networking to the masses at a record-breaking price of less than £60 per 10GbE port – a value proposition other vendors can’t hope to compete with. You don’t get the full set of features found on more expensive switches, but for SMBs seeking a fuss-free speed boost for their network it’s the perfect choice. DAVE MITCHELL ABOVE The XS716E has 16 fixed 10GBase-T ports plus a single SEP+ fibre port

LEFT Web browser management or Netgear’s ProSafe Plus utility – the choice is yours 100

SPECIFICATIONS 1U rack chassis ● 16 x 10GBase-T ● 1 x SFP+ shared ● 320Gbits/sec backplane capacity ● 2MB packet buffer ● 16K MAC addresses ● 128 VLANs ● internal PSU ● Netgear ProSafe Plus utility ● web browser management ● limited lifetime warranty


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TP-LinkAuranetEAP330 A business-class AC1900 wireless AP, made superbly affordable thanks to the free management software SCORE ✪✪✪✪✪ PRICE £169 exc VAT from.ebuyer.com

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entralised wireless network management has historically been a significant business expense – but nowadays many vendors are simply giving it away. For small businesses, TP-Link’s Auranet EAP330 access point offers the best of both worlds: buy it as a standalone AP, and when the time comes to expand, add additional units and manage them all with TP-Link’s free EAP Controller software. The EAP330 is packed with business-class features. It’s an AC1900 AP with support for concurrent 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, sporting three internal omni-directional aerials for each band. Lurking under the solid metal casing you’ll also find two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one of which supports 802.11af PoE and 802.11at PoE+. We were pleased to see that, on first contact, the AP’s web console immediately asked us to change the default administrative password. The impression was then rather spoilt by defaulting to open SSIDs for both radios, but it took mere seconds to apply encryption. The EAP330 supports eight SSIDs per radio each with their own security profile. During SSID creation, you can choose an authentication scheme, opt

to conceal or broadcast the SSID and enable isolation to stop wireless clients on the same SSID from seeing each other. VLAN membership can also be used to stop guest wireless users from accessing systems on the LAN. You can also tighten up security by requiring users on specific SSIDs to provide a global password and serving up a custom AUP. You can’t directly upload a company logo but it’s possible to redirect guests to an external web authentication page or RADIUS server. We found performance was good. Our Netgear AC1200-equipped Windows 10 desktop averaged a speedy 60MB/sec at close range when copying a file to a server on the LAN. The AP also has a good reach: we were able to wander with an iPad nearly 45m down the main building corridor before the SweetSpots app declared the signal lost. QoS (Quality of Service) is enabled on both radios and automatically prioritises voice and video traffic. You can view tables of connected clients and rogue APs: if you want more advanced features such as wireless heatmaps and traffic graphs, you’ll need to switch to the EAP Controller software. Setting it up isn’t a big upheaval though: the software took two minutes to install on a Windows 10 client, and immediately spotted our two test APs. At this point, in standalone mode, they were classed as “pending”: once “adopted”, they obediently adopted all their wireless settings from those configured in the software. One default SSID was assigned to both

The Network Reviews

radios, but you can add more and apply upload and download rate limits to each one. All other standalone features, including guest portals, QoS, scheduled power cycles and MAC address filters can be configured from here. The site statistics page is very informative as it provides graphs, tables and pie charts of APs, SSIDs and total wireless traffic. It’s easy to spot bandwidth-hungry users: the “Quick RECOMMENDED Look” section shows the most active APs and the busiest client across the entire managed network. What’s more, along with AP discovery and database services, the software runs a local web server, so it can be accessed from anywhere. The browser-based portal is nicely designed and opens with a customisable map page, where you can view AP locations on each managed site, and use heatmaps to plan coverage. To manage multiple distributed sites, you can set up a “The AP has good reach: we private cloud service were able to wander with an using an Amazon Web Services EC2 instance. iPad nearly 45m down the TP-Link has a superb main building corridor video explaining how to before the signal was lost” create an EC2 Free Tier instance, install the EAP Controller and manage all your APs over the internet. TP-Link’s Auranet EAP330 is well suited to upwardly mobile SMBs. It provides an affordable, secure and high-performance wireless network, and the EAP Controller software is a class management act that offers scope to grow your network – without having to budget for an expensive subscription. DAVE MITCHELL ABOVE This tiny AP is packed with features that small but growing businesses will love

LEFT The free EAP Controller software provides high-quality centralised wireless network management

SPECIFICATIONS AC1900 802.11ac/n/g/b/a wireless AP ● concurrent 2.4/5GHz radios ● 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ● PoE/PoE+ on port 1 ● 6 x internal omni-directional aerials ● wall/ceiling mount ● drop ceiling T-mount bracket ● external PSU ● 221 x 194 x 37mm (WDH) ● web browser managementv ● TP-Link EAP Controller Software included ● lifetime warranty 101


THE BUSINESS QUESTION

“ShouldIinsuremycompany againstcybercrime?” UK businesses are under attack, so is it time to guard against the cybercrime threat in the same way we do floods and fraud? Nik Rawlinson investigates

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wo-thirds of UK businesses have been victims of a cyber-attack over the past 12 months. Figures released in June 2016 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) highlighted a serious and persistent threat, with a quarter of all large firms that had experienced a breach being attacked at least once a month. “Everyone from TalkTalk to Sony and Ashley Madison have hit the headlines after suffering some form of cyber-attack,” said the Association of British Insurers’ Malcolm Tarling. “It used to be the province of large multinationals but small businesses are equally vulnerable to this type of crime and much less resourced to tackle it. In some cases, it could threaten their very existence.” Falling victim to cyber-attack will never have a positive outcome, but the one measure you can put in place, aside from making sure your systems are fully patched and your network is as secure as possible, is to take out cyber-insurance. Although not new, this specialist cover is gaining prominence as cybercrime becomes more mainstream. 102

Basic protection

The government is looking beyond traditional online crime – fraud, pornography and so on – to make business cyber-attacks a priority. “Too many firms are losing money, data and consumer confidence with the vast number of cyber-attacks,” said Ed Vaizey, former minister for the digital economy. “It’s… crucial that businesses are secure and can protect data. As a minimum, companies should take action by adopting the Cyber Essentials scheme, which will help them protect themselves.” Cyber Essentials (cyberaware.gov. uk/cyberessentials) is a system of accreditation that certificates qualifying companies as being hardened against attack. It costs around £300 exc VAT, depending on the accreditation body, but earning certification will protect you from a wide range of online threats. The government claims implementing Cyber Essentials will shield you from around 80% of vulnerabilities. That still leaves a one-in-five chance you’re vulnerable, and the cost of putting right the damage can be significant. Over the past year, the

cost to SMEs of repairing a network, database and business operations ranged from £75 to £311,000, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. The lower end of that scale is manageable but at the upper extreme, as Tarling explains, “a cybercriminal can bring any business –particularly an SME – to its knees”.

Cyber-insurance

Relatively few firms are insured against cybercrime. The government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2016 (pcpro.link/270cyber) found that just “two-fifths (37%) say they have some form of cyber security insurance. This is significantly less common among micro-firms (30%) than among small (47%), “Insurance industry estimates put the number medium (48%) and large (40%) ones. It is also a of companies that believe more regular provision in they have cover, when they education, health or social care organisations (52%), don’t, at around 40% ” and is much less prevalent than average in construction or manufacturing firms (22%).” However, these numbers mask a more serious problem, which is the extent of the cover the firms think they have versus the reality. Insurance industry estimates put the number of companies that believe they have cover, when they don’t, at around 40%. Now would be a good time to dig out your policy and check if you’re among them.


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“Businesses shouldn’t see this as a ‘nice to have,” Tarling argued. “It should be seen as part of your essential business planning in the same way that you’d insure your property against fire or flood.” Stephen Ridley, of insurer Hiscox, which has offered cyber-insurance since 1998 and seen take-up treble in the past year, has advice for first-time buyers. “Look out for policies that specify minimum security conditions in the policy wording. Ask whether it’s a ground-up or top-down policy – do you start with a basic package onto which you’ll need to bolt extra features, or does your insurer offer you everything as standard?” The latter will give the best peace of mind, but Ridley advises asking how your chosen provider would handle a claim, too. “Do they just sign over a cheque and tell you to use it to sort out the problem yourself, or do they have people who can come in and help? We have a panel of expert firms, IT forensics, PR and legal consultancies who are always on call, 24/7, to help mitigate the longer term reputational damage that can be done.” Tarling also talks of sourcing cover for “internal business losses, privacy breaches, cyber-extortion and hacking damage” as well as cyber forensics support, and highlights the fact that “a lot of insurers can also provide risk-management services to help businesses assess where they may be vulnerable and advise on which steps could be taken”.

Reputational damage

Many businesses handle large amounts of personal data, some of it sensitive, and as users we put a lot of trust in their ability to keep it safe. As Alex Mathews, EMEA technical manager at cyber security firm Positive Technologies explains, “as people wake up to the sensitivity of

The Network TheBusinessQuestion

the data stored about them… they become more protective. [If a company loses that data then] they vote with their feet and walk away. It takes a lot of time and money to acquire new customers, but only seconds to lose them.” Positive Technologies’ research into the impact on customer loyalty of a data breach indicates that almost a half of respondents would cancel their accounts, a third would avoid using that company in the future, and a quarter would go so far as joining a class action suit against the firm holding their data. Cover for the latter, which Ridley calls cyber liability cover, is included with many policies, but fewer of them focus on it than in the early days of cyber-insurance. He said most businesses are interested in protecting themselves against unexpected costs or loss of earnings. The price of a policy will depend on the nature of your business, and the amount and type of data you’ll be gathering. An ISP would buy cover worth several tens of millions of pounds, with the risk shared between multiple insurers, usually arranged via Lloyds of London. Yet Hiscox has seen interest in policies filter down to even one-person startups in recent years as cybercriminals shift their attention to low-hanging fruit. For small businesses such as this,

premiums in the region of £150 per annum should give cover of up to £100,000.

Personal data security

ABOVE Ashley Madison, Sony and TalkTalk have all suffered high-profile attacks

Anyone who has made an insurance claim will know that once you’ve been compensated, it can take time to get back on your feet. An insurance policy is no substitute for ongoing care and attention to your data security, even if some insurers maintain a surprisingly generous approach in this respect (many, for example, will provide cover for both internal negligence and external malicious actions, but check with your provider before signing on the dotted line). Also, even though you might prefer to keep a data breach private, the law makes notification to the Information Commissioner’s Office mandatory for many firms (pcpro.link/270breach). Worse, while you’re morally obliged to warn your customers, there may also be a legal requirement there. Holding another person’s data, whether that be their documents, their accounts or their credit card details, is a modern-day responsibility that must be undertaken with all due seriousness. As the Association of British Insurers’ Malcom Tarling reminds us, “cybercrime is no longer the domain of only the larger multinationals”.

TheexpertviewDaveyWinder The notion that cyberinsurance can do anything other than apply balm to the burn, should the worst-case scenario become reality, is both somewhat misguided and of great concern. I say somewhat misguided as insurance can steer a business towards cyber risk reduction. That it can provide anything other than palliative care isn’t, however, open for debate. Whether it is downright dangerous in a well-meaning “homeopathic cure for cancer” kind of a way is debatable. How many businesses are investing what could otherwise be more profit into protecting data on ethical grounds? I suggest that

if legal and financial burdens were removed then there would be little “incentive” to take security seriously at all. Cyber-insurance chisels away, albeit slowly, at the latter of these. If the company bean-counter determines that the bottom line remains healthier following a brown-fan incident because the insurance pay-out tips the balance books in the right direction, then where’s the incentive for ongoing investment in meaningful security controls again? The answer is in the legal burden that remains. However, anything that removes focus from the data security prize is a bad thing by default as far as I’m concerned. That said, it doesn’t have to be that way. There can, and should, be a more sensible middle ground

when it comes to risk, liability, premiums and protection. By which I mean that the insurance industry could feasibly become a driver towards standardisation and compliance, outside of those market sectors for whom such buzzwords are the bread of life. If premiums were lower for organisations that not only met measurable levels of defensive requirement, but were audited to prove it, then we would be getting somewhere. Similarly, if the insurers red-pencilled their get-out clauses so that premiums turned into pay-outs where audit targets were met, there might be more of a desire to meet them in something other than a half-arsed manner.

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How to deploy and manage Google’s G Suite Looking for an easy-to-manage cloud-based application suite? Anthony Lawrence introduces Google’s G Suite

Y

ou might not immediately recognise the name “G Suite”, but you’ll certainly know its component parts. G Suite users get access to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides; email is handled by Gmail; and cloud storage by Google Drive. For real-time chat and conferencing, there’s Google Hangouts. Essentially, it’s a centralised, manageable gateway to Google’s familiar services – a package that, until late last year, was called Google Apps. The suite comes in a variety of tiers. G Suite Basic provides access to the standard services, but G Suite Business will be the right choice in most cases: it adds useful features such as long-term email retention, unlimited storage for users and data auditing. Whichever you choose, it’s designed to be as easy as possible to deploy, with none of the complexities of Microsoft’s Domain/Tree/Forest architecture. Indeed, it’s simple enough for a non-IT manager to set up the basics, although as I’ll discuss 104

below, there are numerous technical issues that need attention if you want everything to run smoothly. My own experience is with the G Suite for Education package – largely the same service as G Suite Business, but offered to educational institutions for free. My journey began in a newly established secondary school in Hackney, which had opened its doors to pupils in September 2013. For me, this was an excellent place to start, as I didn’t have to worry about issues such as migrating an existing mail server or moving existing users onto a new system. The school’s specific objective was to set up G Suite – or, as it was called at the time, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) – as the primary tool of communication within the school, and as a major resource for delivering classroom education. Consequently, if you’re deploying G Suite inside a business, your aims will likely be similar, as will the deployment process.

Planning

Since G Suite is simple to manage, and doesn’t require you to roll out any new software, it’s tempting to imagine you won’t need to do much in the way of planning and preparation. However, there are plenty of issues that need to be considered before you begin. For a start, you need “Since G Suite is simple to both the right hardware and infrastructure. In the manage, it’s tempting to case of our school, we imagine you won’t need needed to ensure good to do much in the way of Wi-Fi coverage, so users planning and preparation” could access the Google apps and services reliably from anywhere on the campus. There are many capable Wi-Fi systems that might promise this, but they’re not all optimised for the same usage cases. For example, let’s say you have a large number of wireless devices roaming around your premises, but only half of them are connected at any given time: here, Fortinet access points might be ideal, thanks to their virtual


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cell system that hands off invisibly between access points. As long as your APs are strategically located – something a detailed site survey can establish – moving around is seamless. On the other hand, if you have lots of stationary devices connected all the time, then a different arrangement might make more sense. Take a school scenario. If you need to stream video to a classroom full of tablets then you’d also want to make sure that your AP had enough bandwidth and large enough antennae to give all of the pupils a strong connection. Another concern was that the broadband line itself should be future-proof. It’s a good idea to think three years ahead of what you need, meaning you can meet new demands as they emerge and don’t have to go through the upgrade process every single year. Installation costs are, of course, a factor, but once these are out of the way, the annual renewals should get cheaper – particularly when your contract is nearing its end and there’s room for discounts. In our case, we also wanted to research our web-filtering options – this was a school, after all. Thankfully, this is easily handled: there are plenty of standalone web-filtering services, and some brands of firewall now offer direct support for Google accounts, meaning you can simply sort users into filter groups.

Adding your domain to Google

Once your infrastructure is sorted, you’re ready to set up your domain on Google, which will then be used for all your G Suite communications. For example, if my new domain was pcschool.org, then I could have my email address as edwardmail@ pcschool.org – even though when I checked my mail I’d still be using the regular hosted Gmail back-end. If you’re fortunate enough to be starting completely from scratch, setting up your G Suite domain is very straightforward. You simply need to make sure that you own the domain name and provide it during the registration process. There are other organisational questions you need to consider, though: which users will you set up as Super Administrators, to manage your services? Who will be responsible for policy development and data protection? And whose name will be listed as the Data Owner? Spend some time going through the Google dataprotection agreement and research anything that you’re unsure about.

Setting up users

Once your G Suite domain has been registered, the Super Administrator

can log in right away at admin.google. com and start setting things up. You’ll probably want to start by clicking on the Users icon and creating some users and groups. As you do, you may notice that the directory tree is somewhat similar to an Active Directory – but much easier on the eye. The default view is of Organisational groups, the top level being your domain. If you want, you can create multiple organisations: this will be overkill for most deployments, but could be useful if, for example, you’re working with multiple brands owned by a single company – or putting together a trust or academy with many schools. To start, I suggest you set up only a few test users within the top-level organisation, and explore the settings on offer before opening up G Suite to everyone. I set up two groups below the top level of pcschool.org – the group names “Staff” and “Student”

The Network GSuite

TOP Before you begin, you’ll need to decide which users you want to be administrators ABOVE Once the domain has been registered, you’ll want to click on the Users icon to create users and groups

BELOW You can configure the security settings, such as single sign-on, to make life easier for your users

are self-explanatory. Dividing users into groups is helpful for all sorts of admin tasks, such as setting up access to shared resources and applications. Here’s also where you can create email distribution lists for group-wide email communications and shared resources such as Google Docs, Sheets and so forth. For example, the email group allstaff@pcschool.org would contain all members of staff, so we could easily send announcements to this address. You can also configure security settings, such as single sign-on – which makes it much easier for users to access all services without having to repeatedly authenticate – as well as required password strength and two-step verification.

Other settings

As I’ve mentioned, G Suite is very simple to manage, and as you click around the interface, you’ll find all the major configuration options you’re likely to need. The Apps page lets you restrict or allow the use of individual services – such as Google Calendar, Sites and Analytics – as well as custom apps that can be added from the G Suite Marketplace. It may be a good idea to limit access to these, in order to improve performance. Another useful feature is Device management, which lets you manage whether or not employees are allowed to access G Suite services on their own smartphones and tablets, or enforce policies on company-owned devices. Similar functions are offered for Chrome OS devices, such as specifying update settings, or locking Chromebooks so they can only log on to your domain, or only connect to specific networks depending on who’s logged in. Click around and you’ll also find data-migration options, for organisations that need to transfer data from another source (such as a decommissioned Exchange server), and settings for alerts and reports. If you need more information, Google’s online documentation at pcpro.link/270gsuite will point you in the right direction. If you need more detailed assistance then, as a paying customer, you can even call on 105


The Network GSuite web filtering. You can then begin adding early adopters – ideally, choose technically proficient users who can quickly get the hang of G Suite, and support their colleagues with any questions. If you’re setting up a new domain from scratch and need to create a large number of users, you can enter all the necessary information into a CSV file and import it: you’ll find full instructions, along with a link to a sample file, at pcpro.link/270gcsv. It’s also a sensible idea to test that any Chrome OS devices in your organisation are set up as you intend. When devices are first enrolled, they populate the top-level organisation and can then be moved into groups. In our school, we once again had two groups, called “staff” and “students”; in more complex organisations you might set up departmental or role-based groups.

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Learningthelimits Once you deploy Google Apps, you may reasonably expect that everything will run quickly and smoothly in the cloud. But every system has its limitations: one that we hit early on involved the number of users able to simultaneously access a shared document. Twice a week, we wanted to share a Google Doc with around 100 users, but when all of them clicked in to access the document, only 25 of them were able to make edits. For the rest, Google Docs fell back into read-only mode; we had to wait for one user to close the document before the next could access it. The only way we could break the log-jam was to stagger the sharing of documents across smaller groups. Today the limit has been raised to 50 users editing at once, with a maximum of 200 users overall, but it’s still a restriction you should be aware of – and a reminder that you can’t take everything you want to do for granted.

Training

The G Suite apps are ABOVE Device easy to use, and many TOP It’s a sensible management allows idea to test that any employees will already you to decide whether Chrome OS devices be familiar with them. or not employees can in your organisation All the same, it’s access G Suite via are set up exactly as important to make sure their mobile devices you intend everyone understands that switching to G Suite is a cultural shift. Since phone-based technical support – everything is online, and something regular Google users sharing is pervasive, don’t get. moving into the cloud requires a different Configuring and testing thought process to traditional office your Google Admin console and email tools. It requires more of It’s a good idea to test all the major a sense of data protection and good features of G Suite before you make old-fashioned efficiency. it available to everyone in your In our case, we staged our organisation. That includes user training over a 12-week school term; groups, email-distribution lists and businesses probably won’t divide up their time in quite this way, but three months is still a good period overview of what staff are If you’re using G Suite for to aim for. It’s Education, then you’ll get working on, as shown. long enough access to one feature that In our school, we to tackle partnered this with the isn’t included in the Business everything that EduLife service, developed by package: Google Classroom. needs to be This online app provides an Wizkids, which automatically covered, but efficient, centralised way to synchronises timetables with short enough Google Calendar and helps track classes, and distribute to keep up and collect items of work. I you set up classes, groups, the momentum. distribution lists and so forth. recommend each teacher As we sets up an individual class and This information can then be mentioned invites students to join in the accessed from any mobile above, it’s also device, making it easy for same way they’d share a a good idea to document. If you then invite students and educators to identify some keep on top of their schedules the head of department as a early adopters teacher, they can get an easy and talk to their colleagues. who can pass on skills and

Stayingontopofschooling withGoogleClassroom

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knowledge to the others as needed. If you can give these people advanced training in smaller groups in the early days of deployment, this can go a long way to ease the pressure on IT support from users who are unfamiliar with the system. For a school, therefore, I would recommend one early adopter per department. With this support, it shouldn’t take long for your workforce to get up to speed with G Suite. And once everyone’s comfortable with the brand-new way of “It’s important to make working, you can get more ambitious with it. sure everyone in your This is where G Suite company understands really comes into its own: that switching to G Suite it’s simple enough to get started with minimal is a cultural shift ” experience, but also customisable enough to support complex projects and reorganisations. What’s more, there are a wealth of downloadable administration tools and useful add-ons from the G Suite Marketplace – so if you want to do something that isn’t possible at the moment, someone can always create and develop it for you.

ABOVE The G Suite for Education package is very similar to G Suite Business, but is given to institutions for free


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JONHONEYBALL

“Onepartoftheproblemisthetime ittakesforWindowsUpdatetosit therecontemplatingitsnavel”

Why Microsoft must make it easier to update Windows 10, tidings of comfort and joy from Amazon, and a top tip for iOS users struggling with battery life

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ometimes there are advantages to having two of something. This is especially true of laptops and desktop computers. Those with long memories will recall how I bought two Dell XPS 13 laptops about a year ago, and how the initial updating with Dell was somewhat fraught with issues. To say it was amateurish would be an understatement – the updater app not updating drivers, Dell shipping a full UEFI firmware upgrade that wasn’t digitally signed, and so forth. Over the course of 2016, though, things improved, and the arrival of the summer release of Windows 10, along with the ongoing raft of fixes and drivers, turned these two laptops into solid workhorses around the lab. That was, up to the point where one of them decided not to boot. The Windows boot loader said something was corrupted and it couldn’t be fixed. A trawl around the intertubes showed something had become corrupted with the boot-loading section and that a repair was in order. This would have been fine, except Dell doesn’t supply a bootable USB stick with its devices. And on this

device, the option to boot to recovery partition didn’t work. It had turned into somewhat of a boat anchor. I tried booting from a spare shrink-wrap Microsoft disc but that didn’t get very far either. My humour levels were starting to run low, as I considered my alternatives. And then it struck me – build a recovery USB stick from the other XPS 13 and see if that could recover things. Building the USB stick didn’t take too long, and I managed to get it started on the dead sample, despite the font being almost too small to read. It offered a clean reinstall of the entire system, which is the option I grabbed with both hands, and not long after I had a machine that had been recovered. It booted just fine. Well, that was just the start. Getting all the drivers and patches installed took the best part of a whole day. I had reanimated the corpse at around 10am in the morning, and I was finally finished with Windows update patching by about 8pm in the evening. This is not acceptable. While I appreciate the mind-boggling complexity of a Windows update,

Jon is the MD of an IT consultancy that specialises in testing and deploying hardware @jonhoneyball

BELOW My XPS 13 laptops had become solid workhorses – until one decided not to boot

it must surely be possible to bring something up to a known staging point quickly. This is, after all, what was promised so many times in the past. One part of the problem is the time it takes for Windows Update to sit there contemplating its navel while not much happens. Again, it should surely be possible to do a “no, I mean right now please, and at full speed” setting? The solution might be to run a local WSUS server, but in today’s interconnected world it seems mad each of us holding gigabytes of cache when the originating servers can and should be able to feed at full speed. I’m also curious why the rebuild USB stick that I generated wasn’t patched with all the updates that the second XPS 13 had received over the months. I thought this process was automatic, but clearly not. Time to do some investigation, methinks, along with a look at some Windows imaging software suitable for the home/SoHo market. Nevertheless, it’s a timely reminder that if you’re a home or SoHo user, building that recovery USB stick shouldn’t be optional – it’s something you don’t need at all right up to the moment when it becomes critical. If you haven’t built one now, then go buy a cheap, 8GB USB stick and run the applet to create the image.

Dialog box from Apple

The front-screen notifications area on an iOS device is a remarkably useful place – you can set it so that apps can update their status in this area, giving you fast access to important things. Imagine my surprise to discover that the Office 365 Service status app had a visible widget here too, to tell you about any ongoing issues with the Office 365 cloud service infrastructure. Should I be so surprised that the panel has the title line of COM. MICROSOFT/O365SHDMOBILEAPP. IOSTODAYEXTE? No, I guess not, because clearly this means something to you and me, and if it doesn’t then we must be stupid. 110


Jon Honeyball Opinion on Windows, Apple and everything in between – p110

Paul Ockenden Unique insight into mobile and wireless tech – p113

I’m running out of patience with some vendors wºhen it comes to badly implemented software. One such app had an import routine whereby you could plug a USB stick with some files into the front panel of the device, and it would import the files onto the internal storage, all under the control of an iOS app. All of this sounds straightforward until I realised that the programmer was one out on the numbering. So the first file of ten to be imported was called File 0, and the tenth and final one was called File 9. Because it never got to the magic ten, the app then sat there singing to the birds in the trees. The only explanation is that the developer responsible couldn’t be bothered to test the code before allowing it to escape. On the subject of code quality, I’m starting to become extremely grumpy about beta testing and ongoing support forums. A key decision-maker for me today is to examine the support website for a company and make a judgement as to how serious it is about the whole support issue. Software does and forever will have bugs and issues. And we have long gone past the simple old days where things could be ironed out and then left for years to work in a sensible fashion. My advice? Look for bug reporting that assigns a publicly visible bug number to you, and which is then fully followed through by the support staff. Look for Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 issues and how open the vendor is being about them. Any attempt at obfuscation tells you that either the company in question has something to hide, or its bug- and fault-handling system is wholly out of control.

Kevin Partner Blogs can be a great source of free traffic to your site – p116

By the way, a huge “you cannot be serious” goes to foscam.com. I looked at one of its webcams for a friend, and to properly evaluate it I needed to have a small ongoing subscription to pay for cloud storage. That’s fine, but the time has passed and I wanted to stop the payment since I no longer even had the device. Its website has no subscription-cancellation facilities whatsoever. Nothing on the site, nothing on emails. I contacted its support team who seemed surprised that anyone would ever want to cancel. It took a bunch of emails until I got through to someone who could actually recognise that its site was deeply lacking and that I wanted my sub cancelled immediately. How hard is this stuff? Clearly too hard for many vendors. It’s another item for my 2017 Resolutions List of Things I Won’t Accept Any More.

Davey Winder Keeping small businesses safe since 1997 – p118

ABOVE “Alexa, please switch on the Christmas lights.” IFTTT’s arrival for the Echo is tidings of comfort and joy indeed

“IFTTT for Alexa is in its early days, but the progress rate is refreshingly rapid”

Remote-control Christmas lights

Although you’re reading this in the shining new world of 2017, I’m writing this on my kitchen table a few days before Christmas. And there is something rather lovely about being able to say “Alexa, turn on the Christmas lights” and the magnificent tree in the

LEFT Microsoft isn’t alone when it comes to badly implemented software, but how on earth did this message ever reach users?

Steve Cassidy The wider vision on cloud and infrastructure – p120

hallway lighting up in all its splendour. Even better is to tell it to turn off the lights at the end of the day, as I stagger for the stairs. The arrival of IFTTT on Alexa was overdue, but at least it happened. I haven’t yet found time to set up IFTTT routines for Alexa, but these will come. I am having fun with Stringify, which allows for even more sets of connected routines and a cascading of events. It’s clear we’re in early days, but the progress rate is refreshingly rapid. Oh, and if you want a giggle, look for some of the YouTube videos where Alexa and other voice-controlled services get into a round-robin chat between themselves.

Win32 on ARM

A long time ago in a place far, far away, Windows NT existed as a portable operating system. Providing you had the compiler technology, it could be started up on most anything of your choice. Which is why NT ended up running on Intel, Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC. Around the release of Windows 2000, the Alpha port got canned, and everything else fell off the table, leaving Win32, Win64 on the AMD 64-bit Opteron and then Intel “Itanic” as it got named. Today, we’re back to Win64 on Intel on the desktop and tablet market. Let’s ignore Windows Mobile because, well, everyone else has. So the news that there will be an ARM port of Windows is fascinating, 111


Real world computıng disable the Win32 Intel emulation, and lock it down so tight that it never shows its face again unless I really, genuinely need it. If some part of the base OS requires Win32 emulation to work or, even worse, the Office team crow about supporting this platform by forcing the Win32 app onto it, then it should die a horrible death, and I won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Lab connection speed

if only because we’ve been there before too. Back at the release of Windows 8, there was the ARM port called RT. I liked it a lot, if only because it ensured you couldn’t run any of that nasty Win32-specific malware and other crapware that has accumulated over the decades. RT was a flop for many reasons, not least that Microsoft couldn’t be bothered to support it properly. The Office group wasn’t interested in doing a decent port, and the whole edifice ground to a halt before it even got going. So the news that it’s back, and this time Microsoft means business, is fascinating, not least because this time it will support Win32 executable code as well. It does this by having an emulation layer that softwareemulates the Win32 code running on the ARM processor. Don’t think that this will run a CPU-intensive app as quickly as a native Intel processor would – it simply can’t. But I think the idea is that you can dip into the world of Intel Win32 code when you need to. Hold on, doesn’t this sound familiar? Oh yes, so it does. Back in the era of Windows NT 4 on Alpha, Digital came up with a truly stunning cross compiler. It took a Win32 application and cross compiled it, instruction by instruction, into native Alpha code. When you quit the app, the Alpha-ised code was saved out alongside the original Win32 code, so it didn’t have to be recompiled next

112

time. The more you used the app, the more Win32 code got “Borg’d” into Alpha code. It was extremely clever, and worked well. And it was pretty darn fast too, which wasn’t surprising because the Alpha chip was a rocket ship compared to the rather pedestrian Intel chipsets of that time. This time around, however, it’s an ARM processor that will do the emulation. ARM processors are wonderful, most notably for their very efficient power consumption and ability to ramp up and down in speed, voltage and power efficiency in the blink of an eye. Still, running Win32 code won’t be easy. And note this is Win32 code, not Win64 – so you can forget any 64-bit apps working. What’s my reaction? Well, first consider that Microsoft has still singularly failed to rid the Windows ecosystem of malware, crapware, advertware, bad drivers written by teenagers and so forth. One reason I like iOS is because it’s so locked down. I’m too old to worry about malware every time I click on a link. That’s why I liked Windows RT on ARM – it gave me the familiarity of Windows with the security I treasured. Okay, I’d have to overlook the horrible mess that was Windows 8, and the even bigger mess Microsoft made of the RT platform and port. But it showed promise. So I am interested in this new Windows 10 on ARM initiative, but with one condition: that I can

ABOVE I’m too old to worry about malware every time I click a link

“I liked Windows RT on ARM – it gave me the familiarity of Windows with the security I treasured” BELOW We’ve been running a 100Mbits/ sec in, 100Mbits/sec out connection to our ISP Merula’s data centre

The car world has an old saying that “you can never have too much horsepower”. In the computing world, we live in an era of effectively unlimited CPU power, unlimited RAM and unlimited storage. But internet connection speed is the bottleneck. In my lab, we’ve been running the main network on a 100Mbits/sec in, 100Mbits/sec out connection across the courtyard to the data centre at our ISP, Merula, here in Huntingdon. A short fixed-length interconnect like this is remarkably cheap and getting cheaper each year. As part of the lab’s ongoing security oversight, I’ve been thinking about getting a rack within the Merula data centre itself, into which I could put a mirrored set of core storage. Something between 50TB and 100TB would do for the stuff we have to keep to hand at all times. But the 100Mbits/sec interconnect was going to be a real issue. Yes, I could do the replication from NAS to NAS within the lab and then carry the storage over to Merula, but it would be better if the rack inside Merula was at the same core 1Gbit/sec speed as the main lab network. After talking to Richard at Merula, we decided to upgrade the line between the buildings to gig in, gig out on fibre. This has gone live and I’ve seen pretty spectacular network speed tests to the outside world.


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The ultimate plan is to move the Meraki firewall over to Merula into our rack, and then to have the rack at full gig speed to the lab. Of course, onward connectivity won’t be at full gig speed. For starters, that would hog the entire data-centre connection. Second, I don’t need gig speed to the wobbly web, and indeed many web and FTP sites won’t feed out data at such a high speed anyway. And finally, the Meraki firewall is limited to handling data at about 250Mbits/ sec in full stateful packet inspection mode. I could go for a faster firewall, but this would be more suited to a global corporation than small lab in Huntingdon, with a price tag to match. I’ll keep you posted.

Battery on iOS

Here’s a useful feature for you to find on your iOS device. Drop into Settings, find the Battery item and scroll down. Choose “Last 24 Hours” and then click the clock face to the right. Each currently running app is shown with

ABOVE Digging into the battery-usage info on your iOS device – or Android – can help spot battery hogs

two or three interesting pieces of information. First, you get to see how much onscreen time the app has taken, and also what proportion of the battery capacity has been used by it over that time. For clever apps that can run in the background, you can also see the amount of time they did so. This is a great place to look if you think an app is hogging your battery life. Look for an equivalent on Android too. This information is there if you care to look for it, and it can really help you understand what’s going on. jon@jonhoneyball.com

PAULOCKENDEN

“Youcouldflashyouroffice lightsredifoneofyourstocks isplummeting” IFTTT can provide unconventional ways to keep track of your stocks and shares – plus a look at some truly wire-free cameras

W

e’re all being encouraged to save for our old age, and with good reason – I think many of us now realise that the basic state pension probably won’t provide sufficient income to live comfortably when we retire. This means we’re faced with a number of options: plough money into workplace or private pensions, invest in property, play the stock market, or simply never retire. I suspect many of us will be forced down the latter route. Actually, most of us will probably end up with a combination of these things – I know I will. As part of this, I dabble a bit in stocks and shares, all made conveniently tax-free by being wrapped up in an ISA. But if you try to build a retirement pot using the stock market, you need to keep an eye on the share price of the stocks you own. If a stock starts to tank, you’ll hopefully have set up an automatic “stop loss” to minimise the damage to your retirement fund, but what about smaller movements? How do you keep a close watch on these? Well, there are no end of apps and websites available, all designed to help manage a share portfolio. Far too many of them for me to mention here. Personally, I use Google Finance. It’s

Paul owns an agency that helps businesses exploit the web, from sales to marketing and everything in between @PaulOckenden

BELOW It’s really easy to pull share prices into Google Sheets – you only need to know its “stock ticker” and its exchange

not perfect – the Android app is frankly awful (I hardly ever use it), and the website has seen better days. But it’s free, and it has one massive advantage: the stock prices are mostly real-time, whereas competitor products tend to have a 15-minute delay. Sometimes, when share prices are crashing (or getting a sudden boost) those 15 minutes can be crucially important. Google claims that some prices can be delayed by 20 minutes, but I’ve never seen this. Recently, though, I’ve been looking at things you can do beyond what’s available with these tools. For example, you can create your own spreadsheet to keep an eye on your portfolio – with live stock prices. The easiest way to do this is using Google Sheets, because it contains a built-in function to do share-price lookups. It’s dead simple to use – you just need to know the “stock ticker” for the company involved, and the exchange it’s listed on. So to pull in the share price of Lloyds Bank, for example, you’d use =GOOGLEFINANC E("LON:LLOY","price"). Although LLOY is the standard ticker for Lloyds Bank, one thing to watch out for is that Google’s “LON:” prefix for the London Stock Exchange is somewhat non-standard. Many other tools would require you to specify “LLOY.L” instead (some use an alternative .LON suffix). But that’s simple enough, and you soon get used to the format that different tools need. In the example pictured to the left, I used “price” to get the realtime share price, but there are many other parameters you can use, including the opening price and volume. See the full list at pcpro. link/270stock. You can even pull in historical data, so you could plot 113


Real world computıng a graph of the value of your share portfolio on a monthly basis across a year, for example. What if you’d prefer to keep your data in Excel? Well, with the most recent versions of Excel there’s nothing built-in. Earlier versions had data connections to MSN Money, but the whole thing was quite US-centric and flaky. With recent versions of Excel, the best way I’ve found is to download the Stock Quote add-in from pmstockquote.codeplex.com. This retrieves data from Yahoo Finance. Once installed, the equivalent formula to retrieve the Lloyds Bank share price is =PSQ("LLOY.L","Price"). Notice the “.L” format with the stock ticker. The other difference is that with Yahoo Finance the data is delayed by 15 minutes, unlike with Google. If that’s a problem for you, there’s a neat hack (okay, a horrible kludge) you can do to get the share price data from Google into Excel. (I’m assuming you’re using the Windows version of Excel here – there’s a way to do it with the Mac version but it’s much more complicated.) First, create a new Google Sheet listing the prices of the stocks you want. Then publish this sheet to the web; go to File | Publish To The Web. Choose the tab you want to publish and then select CSV. The most important thing here is towards the bottom: in the “Published content & settings” section, tick “Automatically republish when changes are made”. This ensures the data in the CSV file is always kept up to date. You’ll then be given a link for the published CSV file. Copy this, and open up Excel and create a new blank workbook. Select the Data tab, then New Query | From File | From CSV. Then, in the filename box, paste in the link that you copied from Google Sheets and click Open. It might take a moment, but Excel will pull in the data from the Google Sheet and show you how it will be formatted. You can adjust things if you want, but it’s easiest to hit Load. Rather than messing around trying to make this worksheet look nice, I tend to just use it to pull in the raw values, then link to these from another sheet where you can do pretty layouts and complex calculations. It all works pretty well, but I think you’re better off doing the whole

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Google Sheet, so you could use this trigger (or a series of them for all of your stocks) to create a long-term archive of your share price values. People assume that these services are all about switching off lights and turning down your heating, but there’s so much more they can do if you look beyond such expectations.

A tale of two cameras

thing in Google Sheets. It may not have some of the functionality you’ll find in Excel, but for monitoring a share portfolio it’s perfectly adequate. And holding the data in a Google Sheet means it’s easy to access from anywhere, including mobile devices. One last thing while I’m looking at share prices, and that’s IFTTT support. I’ve mentioned IFTTT before, Jon talks about it in his column this month (see p110) and I know many of you already use it. For those who don’t, think of it as a kind of online glue for linking various services together. It stands for If This Then That, and that’s exactly how it works. You give it a trigger and an action to perform when that trigger happens. It’s used a lot for connected home applications. Things like “IF someone presses the doorbell THEN turn on the porch light”. But you can do so much more with it than that. One of the things that works as a trigger is stock prices. In particular, you can set a trigger if a share price falls by a certain percentage. If you have Philips Hue lighting or something similar, you could flash your office lights red if one of your stocks is plummeting. Perhaps a little less drastic would be to pop up a notification on your phone, or send you a message on Slack. Another IFTTT share-price trigger is the value when the markets close. An available action is write a row to a

ABOVE IFTTT can do all kinds of things to warn you when a share price tanks, including flashing your Hue lights red

“People assume IFTTT is all about switching off lights and turning down your heating, but there’s so much more it can do”

I received a simple request the other day from someone on Twitter: “Which is best, Arlo or Blink?” For those who don’t know, these are both cloud-connected camera systems. At first glance they might seem very similar, and indeed the two systems do share many similarities, but there are some crucial differences. The key similarity is that both are truly wire-free security cameras. I say security, but they can obviously be used for other tasks too. You’d be amazed at the number of supposedly wireless cameras that need a permanent power supply. What’s the point of that? Until recently Netgear’s Arlo system was pretty much the only choice for a truly wire-free camera system, but now there are others. One of the most recent entrants to the UK market is Blink (it has been available in the US for some time). I should point out that I’m talking about the original Arlo system – there’s a new Pro model out in the US but not here at the time of writing, and it will probably be out at some point in early 2017. I’ll try to cover some of the differences below. And there’s also a new XT version of Blink, which again is available for pre-order in the US, but isn’t here in the UK. In terms of similarities, both are small cameras that can be positioned discreetly. With both systems you also need what Arlo calls a base station and what Blink refers to as a Sync Module. The Arlo base station looks like a wireless router, and that’s exactly what it is – the system uses its own dedicated 802.11n, 2.4GHz network. You can see it when you do a Wi-Fi scan from any nearby device. Blink takes a different approach: the cameras and Sync Module all hop onto your existing Wi-Fi network. I prefer the Blink approach as the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band can get a little crowded, and adding another network can just add to the congestion. But Arlo has the advantage that it will work in environments where there’s no existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, as the base station plugs into a LAN port.


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Both cameras are battery-powered. The Blink uses two lithium AA cells, which the manufacturer claims will last up to two years, depending on usage (obviously I haven’t had mine long enough to test that claim). Arlo is powered by four lithium CR123 cells, which are considerably more expensive than the Blink AA batteries and in my experience typically last around four months. Blink can also be powered by an external power supply. The Arlo cameras I have here can’t, although this is an option with the new Arlo Pro. I can’t see the point, though – the big USP here is that these cameras are totally wire-free. Arlo can be used outdoors, but the current version of Blink is strictly an indoors product (the new XT version adds weatherproofing). One thing to note is that both are triggered using a passive infrared (PIR) detector, rather than noticing changes in the image. This is to improve battery life, which is a good thing, but the downside is that you can’t mask parts of the field of view from triggering the camera. In fact, with both systems the detection range extends beyond the field of view, so they’ll sometimes record clips with no visible movement. One annoyance with Arlo cameras is that they seem to enter a very deep sleep mode, and can take a few seconds to wake up when the PIR detector sees movement. As a result you’ll often see someone just walking out of frame – not much use if you need to catch a burglar. Blink seems to have got this issue sussed, firing up the recording process very quickly, so you’re more likely to capture your suspect. On screen, at least. The thing is, with Blink the burglar will also see you, or rather the camera. A blue LED comes on when the camera

is recording (the Arlo camera provides no indication at all), and at night the Blink uses a bright white LED for illumination whereas the Arlo uses infrared LEDs. So Arlo is much more anonymous, although if a ne’er-do-well looks at the Blink camera because of the LEDs perhaps that’s a good thing – you’ll get a good view of their face! Blink’s nighttime images are in colour too, whereas Arlo’s IR images are black-and-white. Incidentally, the new XT version of Blink has infrared illumination at night. It’s as if the two systems are copying each other. Blink records audio as well as vision, whereas the existing Arlo system is silent. But guess what’s in the new Arlo Pro – yup, audio recording. It actually goes further than that: the audio is two-way. So if someone triggers one of your cameras (perhaps a delivery driver), you can talk to them (“Leave the parcel behind the big flowerpot, I’ll be home in ten minutes”). Both systems are controlled via an app. Blink’s app is more feature-rich, allowing much more control over what’s recorded and when, whereas the Arlo app is a bit more polished and user-friendly. Arlo can be controlled from a website too, whereas Blink is strictly app-only. Both camera systems can be connected to SmartThings as part of a greater home automation and security system. Arlo has an official integration, whereas for Blink there are a couple of community-developed handlers. The one I particularly like is

ABOVE The Blink camera has a bright LED for nighttime illumination, which could draw attention to it – not necessarily a bad thing

“Cameras that record to local hard drives become useless if a thief steals the hard drives too!”

LEFT Netgear’s Arlo cameras can be used outdoors, which is one advantage over Blink

from RBoy (you’ll find more info at pcpro.link/270blink), but note there’s a small charge for it. If you search on GitHub you’ll find other free options, but they won’t be as well supported. Arlo also has support for IFTTT, but there’s no sign of it yet with Blink. Both cameras record to the cloud. That’s vital if you use them for security. Cameras that record to local hard drives become useless if a thief steals the hard drives too! Arlo’s free plan gives you seven days of storage for up to five cameras. For a small extra fee you can have more cameras and up to two months of storage. I pay £64 per year, giving me 30 days of storage and up to ten cameras (I have six). It also provides enhanced support – something I’ve needed. To date, three of my six cameras have failed. Blink doesn’t offer any storage plans. You get access to up to ten cameras by default, and the cloud service records two hours of video clips. When that’s exhausted your earlier clips are overwritten. Technical support is all done online, unlike Arlo, which taps into Netgear’s global support network, with local call centres around the world. Video quality of both is 1,280 x 720 (so they can each be classed as HD), but I think the Blink’s image quality is slightly better. Both are easily good enough to identify people, though. Each cameras has pros and cons, and the new versions being released edge them even closer together. Right now, I’d pick Blink for indoor use, and Arlo for outdoor use. The latter also edges it in terms of support and integration. But Blink is much more cost-effective, in terms of the initial hardware costs, the ongoing costs of storage and, most importantly, the batteries used to feed the cameras. So that’s Arlo and Blink – I have some other connected (albeit less “wireless”) cameras here too, and will look at some of those next month. @PaulOckenden 115


Real world computıng KEVINPARTNER

“Yourblogcouldbecomeasource offree,endlesstraffictoyour website,andapricelessasset” Referral traffic from your blog could be worth thousands – and it doesn’t have to be laborious. Here are the six best tips to get it up and running

M

y blogs have been worth tens of thousand of pounds over the past few years - they don’t make any money on their own, but rather help drive customers to my ecommerce site and online academy. And, crucially, the traffic they send costs me nothing. When I launched my online retailer, back in 2010, I used Google AdWords to attract potential customers with the result that very nearly 100% of traffic was paid for. Fast-forward to 2016 and paid traffic accounts for only 31% of visits, with organic search and referrals from the blog driving 57%. My blogs, which have their own domain names and server space, have two main purposes: to provide another means of funnelling potential customers to our main sites and to boost our overall visibility in the free organic rankings. They’re not intended to make money on their own, so many of the techniques promoted by blogging gurus don’t apply. For example, you’ll be relieved to know that, if you want to use a blog in this way, you don’t have to post every day – quality and, crucially, relevance are much more important. Having said all that, there’s no getting away from the fact that creating and populating a worthwhile blog takes a lot of effort and that it will be over the following months and years that you’ll reap the benefit. To help smooth the process of setting up and running your blog, here are my best tips for each aspect.

Kevin is a serial entrepreneur who has set up a number of successful online businesses @kevpartner

“You don’t need to post a new article every day – it’s much more important to get the topic right”

1. Getting set up quickly

I recommend buying a separate domain name on a different server to your main business. This gives a sense of independence to both readers and Google. Choose a host that provides an automated WordPress install – Heart RIGHT Setting up Postie can take some time, but once ready you can “file” stories from wherever you happen to be 116

Internet consistently performs well in PC Pro’s customer survey and you can get serviceable hosting for less than £10 per month. You could use one of the themes included with WordPress, but I recommend opting for a framework theme such as Genesis (studiopress. com) and then choosing a suitable child theme. This shortcuts the process of creating a good-looking site with all the features you need – the time saving is well worth the cost.

2. What to write about

If your blog is to support your main site, concentrate on relevance rather than frequency – it’s much more important to get the topic right. Avoid posts that will go out of date at a certain point, and instead focus on evergreen content. So, what should you write about? Everything related to your main business. You can’t possibly know, in advance, which posts will prove most popular, so spread your net wide. Once you’ve had enough traffic to make the data meaningful, you can find out which topics interest your audience and, at that point, write more posts related to those topics. For example, two pages account for around half of all visits to my candle-making blog – one covering how to calculate the amount of wax

to use when making a candle and the other explaining how to choose the right wick. To be honest, I put those pages together purely because customers kept asking me the same questions but it was only on examining the data that I discovered just how popular these articles are. In fact, if you Google “how much wax to use in a candle”, that blog page appears at the top of the organic results, accounting for tens of thousands of visits. Come up with a list of topics to write about based on the product or service you offer – just make sure every blog entry covers a discrete subject so Google can match its contents with a search phrase. If in doubt, go for a shorter, more focused entry, aiming for around 500 words.

3. Use strong pictures

Most WordPress themes use the post’s Featured Image as a thumbnail, so you’ll need at least one photo or graphic per article. Where possible, I supply my own images and use Google Photos to lick smartphone photos into shape. Pixabay (pixabay.com) is my go-to resource for library photos. All the images are Creative Commonslicensed, so you can use or modify them as you please - you don’t even need to give credit. Over the past few years, Pixabay’s range and quality of images has improved tremendously to the extent that, for general-purpose shots, I rarely go elsewhere. If you need graphics, diagrams and composite images, then Canva (canva. com) is my favourite tool for creating good-looking layouts without any fuss – although I almost always use my own photos for the backgrounds. If photos are an important part of your blog – for example, if you visit conferences or write about fitness – you can use IFTTT to automatically post camera shots to your blog as you take them. You can find the recipe at


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pcpro.link/270ifttt. You’ll need to connect the service to your blog and install the IFTTT app on your phone. I recommend creating a WordPress category for your photos and adding that to the settings for the applet. This way, you can set up your blog to handle these photo-only posts in any way you like (as a gallery or photo-roll for example). Once set up, adding a post is as simple as touching the widget on your smartphone to launch the Do Camera app. Snap your photo and it will be automatically added to your blog. Unless you’ve chosen for new posts to be saved as drafts, it’ll be published immediately.

4. Email your posts

For me, the key to posting regularly is to make the process as convenient as possible, and the best approach is to do this by email. That means I can compose my posts on just about any device, whether or not I have an internet connection. The Postie plugin (postieplugin. com) requires a little effort to set up but, once this is done, creating a post is as simple as writing an email, attaching a photo and hitting Send. Start by setting up an email address you’ll send your posts to – Postie recommends Gmail and provides specific instructions – but make sure you don’t use this email address for anything else. I prefer to create an address using random characters so there’s no chance of it being guessed. I recommend setting up Postie to treat emails as if they were written in plain text rather than HTML, as it’s extremely unlikely your mail client uses the same styles as your website. By using plain text, your default styles will be applied. You can tell Postie to use an attached photo as the post’s featured image, and you can also use a shortcode to tell it where to embed any image. For example, Postie will replace #img1# with the first attached photo, #img2# would use the second and so on. I also tell Postie to set each post to draft status rather than publishing immediately. This is so I can give each one a quick check before making it live – especially important if I have it set to be automatically

shared on social media. It might seem that having to go into WordPress to check and publish each post would negate the point of using email but, in practice, I can pre-fill my queue will lots of email-generated posts and then go in, say, once a week to quickly preview each one and schedule them for publication. This is much more efficient than going in and out of the Dashboard – something I can only really do from my office computer.

5. Automate sharing

Google uses the popularity of a blog as a signal that it should carry more weight in the ranking algorithm, so the more traffic you can send there, the better. By integrating with social networks, you can increase visitor numbers both by directly publicising each post and making it easier for visitors to share the posts themselves. The first step, then, is to add social sharing buttons to every post. The simplest way to achieve this is with the Jetpack plugin, which is included with every WordPress installation. You’ll need a free account with WordPress.com to set it up, giving you access to a range of functions that replace a host of third-party plugins. To add sharing buttons, go to the Dashboard and click Jetpack | Settings | Engagement | Sharing. You can specify which channels you’d like visitors to be able to share your posts on. Don’t select all of them, but you should include Facebook, Twitter, Email and Print at a minimum. Jetpack also offers to share your posts automatically on social media, but I found it difficult to set up so I use IFTTT recipes to share each post. To do this, you must first connect IFTTT to your Facebook account and then select your page; you can only use it with a single Facebook page and a

ABOVE I use IFTTT to automate as many processes as possible

“Just activate IFTTT and your blog posts will appear on your Facebook page automatically”

BELOW Use Google Analytics to analyse which posts are most popular – I guarantee it will surprise you

single blog unless you have multiple IFTTT accounts. You can find the recipe at pcpro.link/270ifttt2. It needs no configuring: just activate it and your blog posts will appear on your chosen Facebook page automatically. You can now do exactly the same with Twitter, Pinterest and other services. You can also have social networks create posts on your site. For example the recipe at pcpro.link/270ifttt3 automatically creates a blog post each time you upload a YouTube video to the connected channel.

6. Track your progress

Once your blog is up and running, you need a way to measure traffic levels over time. Jetpack includes some built-in stats, and you can access more detailed data from your WordPress account. However, Jetpack won’t tell you which percentage of your visitors are using mobile devices, or where in the world they live. It also won’t allow you to track the effectiveness of your links in driving purchases from your main site. For this level of information, you need to set up Google Analytics. Thankfully, this is straightforward – the hardest job is finding out how to add the tracking code to your site. You’ll be rewarded with an astonishingly detailed insight into your visitors, including a “real-time” view that shows which posts are most popular at any particular time. You’ll need to spend some time and effort to set up and maintain your blog: this isn’t a quick fix for traffic. Just make sure you post regularly, nurture and share the blog to give it the best chance of coming to Google’s attention and becoming established as an authority in your field – at which point it becomes a source of free, endless traffic, and a priceless asset. Next month, I’ll explain how to use email marketing to your advantage. kevin.partner@nlightn.net 117


Real world computıng DAVEY WINDER

“Forthepriceofabagofcrisps,you getthejumponhackerswhomight havecompromisedyouraccount” An Android security app that’s worth its 69p-per-week price, and a new word to strike fear in our hearts: “faketivist”

W

hen it comes to security apps and smartphones, I tend towards the sceptical. Oddly there isn’t a security category in the Google Play store for Android, but do a search for security apps and you’ll soon understand why. Alongside the handful of big-name vendors that have extended their security-suite grasp into the mobile realm, to very mixed effect, you’ll be faced with numerous apps promising to either lock your screen (Android does that perfectly well), delete files (that’s security in what way now?) or check for some tired old vulnerability or other (use a web-based scanner and check for the lot in one go). To give you some idea of how jaded I am with regards to the state of security apps for Android – although iOS wasn’t any better when last I looked – you only have to consider how many I have installed on my Nexus 6P. I have six security apps on my smartphone, and I’m heavily invested in the business of security as you can imagine. Two of these are my mobile VPN clients of choice (Nord for the Double VPN function I detailed last month, and F-Secure Freedome for the ad-tracking protection and sheer speed when I need it). That leaves four apps, one of which is my two-factor-authentication code generator and another that syncs with my desktop password vault. Of the remaining two apps, one is an all-purpose security suite in the shape of Kaspersky, installed as it came as part of the deal when I installed the desktop version, and retained as it offers a vast amount of

118

Davey is an award-winning journalist and consultant specialising in privacy and security issues @happygeek

“LogDog will quickly spot a hacker jump from one service to another and try to access them in series”

BELOW LogDog isn’t unique, but it is a valuable additional layer of security

tangential functionality. However, it’s the least interesting app of those half-dozen on my phone. The final app is one I’m still in the process of testing. LogDog: Anti-Hacking Guard for Android, not to be confused with another app called just LogDog, even though that’s what I’m going to call it from now on in. Rather than stop your phone being hacked per se, it monitors online services you use and protects your data from exposure by keeping you updated about any suspicious behaviours that could point to a potential compromise. For example, instead of protecting your Gmail account from being hacked (that’s down to your own behaviours and use of secure passwords along with two-factor verification), LogDog quickly notifies you if it suspects the account has been hacked. The idea is that the sooner you know about a compromise, the sooner you can protect data by changing passwords. So how does it actually work, then? “Instead of building a better lock,” the Israel-based developers say they give users a dog “that barks when an intruder breaks in”. This algorithmic guard dog monitors your nominated online accounts for indicators of compromise and provides nearreal-time notifications when it finds any. By monitoring your access routines across all the online services being protected, LogDog has an opportunity to detect suspicious activity in a way that the individual services can’t do alone. That isn’t to say that Facebook and Google aren’t pretty sharp when it comes to logins from previously unknown devices or unused locations: they quickly notify you. However, by pooling patterns of behaviour across multiple services, a much better level of behavioural

ABOVE The number of services monitored determines your LogDog subscription level

granularity can be achieved. That means sign-in locations and times, the number of messages sent, plus a bunch of other parameters. It scans each protected service for these behaviour patterns every few minutes when your device is switched on. This should mean fewer false positives and more real-time control in the hands of the user. For example, LogDog will quickly spot a hacker jump from one service to another and try to access them in series. In the Facebook and Google example, the individual services won’t know an access attempt has just been made at the other and as such is an indicator of suspicious behaviour. LogDog can consider your routine across devices as well as services, all the time improving the granularity of the threat landscape image coming into focus. What kind of routine behaviours? Well, if you were to send a batch of emails from your Gmail account within a few minutes at a time you wouldn’t normally be active, say 4am, then a flag will be raised. Another would fly up the flagpole if there’s activity in any of your monitored accounts from one location when your smartphone is confirming that you’re somewhere quite different. These flags may well be false, but you get the opportunity to check that for yourself and, because it’s an early detection, should the suspicion be confirmed then you can lock the intruders out of your account immediately. To do all this, the app needs your login credentials for every service to be protected. That’s a whole lot of trust you’re handing over to the developers, along with a whole lot of


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very valuable data. Or at least it would be were you handing it over, which you’re not. First, the developers have been around for a while; I first encountered LogDog back in 2014, so trusting them isn’t as big an issue as it might have been for new kids on the block. Second, you can trust them not to have access to either your usernames or passwords, as these are all encrypted and stored on the device itself. Your credentials never set foot on the LogDog servers, and should you uninstall it then every shred of personal data is removed with it. To do any of this for more than one service, after a generous 30-day trial period when full “Pro User” access is granted, costs money. To protect four accounts is £35.88 for the year, eight accounts is £71.88, and both are billed annually. There’s also a monthly billing option for the eight-account package of £7.99, but that works out as £95.88 over the whole year. Accounts covered, at the moment, are: Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. The chances of you having or wanting to protect all eight are minimal I would suggest, with a “big four” social media account package covering Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. Whatever option you choose, the Pro User account also comes with credit-card protection and premium customer support. The card function checks to see if your credit cards are listed for sale on the black market, although LogDog doesn’t specify which of the marketplaces on the Dark Web are checked, and there are quite a few of them. Interestingly, LogDog doesn’t ask for the credit-card numbers but instead looks for your name, country and postcode. There’s another function called Inbox Detective which, as the name suggests, pokes around in your email for suspicious stuff. Using this does grant access to your email account, albeit limited to the period of the scan. LogDog states that no information is saved during this time. Not much useful information was deduced either, it seems to me. Indeed, I’d say that in its current format the Inbox Detective is more Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes. Harsh? Maybe, but let me explain further. You see, LogDog’s friendly detective scanned some 10,000 entries in my inbox and found eight threats, giving me a very below average (98%) threat score of just 60%. Now, upon checking my report I discovered the three (US format) social-security numbers shown as threats were

LEFT Email contents can also reveal data threats

nothing of the sort. The first was a question asked by a Quora user, the second a number used by Maplin to identify a special offer, and the third ditto but from an ecommerce site mailing. Then there was a bank account number, or more precisely a US bank account number, which turned out to be a tracking number from the Post Office. This left the more serious-sounding “3 passwords are not safe” threat, of which one was, indeed, a password (a plain-text reminder from Manchester Airport – naughty naughty). The other two weren’t passwords at all – or at least not my passwords. The eagleeyed will have realised that makes seven threats, the eighth being accompanied by a padlock and the words “your details may have been leaked”, which is rather worrying.

ABOVE LEFT Normal usage patterns are used to spot indicators of compromise

BELOW Dark Market sources are scanned for your credit cards

Apart from it wasn’t, sort of. It was a notification of one of the many 2012 service breaches that I (along with millions of others) was caught up in. Quite rightly there was an option to change the password, something I had done at the time (in fact long before the breach became known about). So, really, there was only one threat in there. One and a half if you include the old breach notification. On the plus side, there were no malicious links or credit-card numbers found among the 10,000 emails. It left me wondering what the real-world use of this weekly scan is. False positives, false alarms, call them what you will; bottom line is that they do nobody any favours and exist purely to confuse how secure things are. I contacted the developers about my experiences and was told that adding “country sensitivity” to get around the false positives caused by cultural differences in personally identifiable information formats was “definitely on our roadmap”, which is a good thing. I also asked about the cost of this feature as, at the time of writing, it states it is “free for a limited period” only. Having asked the question, I can confirm that you can use it once per month for free on an ongoing basis. If you wanted to scan more often, then the tool is included as part of the Pro User subscription. So, is LogDog worth installing as a free tool? Probably not, as the one-account limitation makes it rather too narrow a security focus for me, although your mileage may vary. Is it worth paying £35.88 a year to protect four accounts and get the Card Protector and Inbox Detective? Absolutely. That works out at 69p a week. So, for a bag of crisps, you get the jump on hackers who might have compromised one of your big online service accounts? How is that not good value for money again?

Who’s taking to the threat stage?

I was having an interesting talk about actors with the chief information security officer (CISO) of a rather large multinational the other week, as you do. The conversation had nothing to 119


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STEVECASSIDY

do with the latest West End production, but a stage that sees just as much drama. We were talking about the security stage and the threat actors who inhabit it. Now, there’s an argument to be had that it doesn’t matter who is behind the breach; preventing further data exfiltration, patching the security holes and ensuring it doesn’t happen again are priorities, whoever did the attacking. I’m not sure I agree. Knowing the true nature of the attack, the motivation behind it, can aid your response strategy immensely. A rigid post-breach response isn’t ideal; you need to be flexible or you leave yourself, or rather your organisation, open to further breaches. The people that slowed your online operations to a crawl with a DDoS attack may have left a warning to stop trading with “Company X” on ecological grounds, but that doesn’t make this a hacktivist incident. Indeed, any DDoS response (any breach actually) should involve a broader forensic examination. DDoS is often used as a smokescreen to divert attention, and resources, away from the real target. That target could be data theft (cybercriminal actor) or a malware drop (daring cybercriminal, or more likely a nation state actor). A term that cropped up was a new one on me: welcome to the “faketivist”. My CISO friend explained that a faketivist is using smoke and mirrors like the DDoS attacker I just mentioned; the faketivist is a nation state actor using a hacktivist or cybercriminal persona to disguise their real hacking, data exfiltration or malware implantation activity. Another good reason not to take the rigid-response, formally structured approach. If the person investigating is convinced a criminal is behind the breach, they’re far less likely to consider that the victim is being targeted by an advanced persistent threat (APT) group; and far more likely to miss the secondary attack that will reap the threat actors their real reward. The days of the lone wolf hacker are not behind us, but the stage has become a lot more crowded, and the actors are often reading from myriad different scripts.

“Lotsofcursinglater,Ihadjustput everythingbacktogetheragain– andthenthemachinewouldn’tstart”

davey@happygeek.com

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When the plastic in your device is crumbling to dust, you know you have a problem. Various machines came close to disaster this month

I

wish I were a better photographer. I’ve spent a tonne of money in blaming the equipment, and each time I try to take a decent picture, it’s a disaster. Which is my excuse, really, for not being able to back up the content of this article – much of it on the topic of nasty failures in SATA disks – with firm photographic evidence. My first SATA failure happened at home, where I found a dead server one morning. I desperately tried to take pictures of what the problem turned out to be, but swirls of black smoke deposits across shiny interior metal don’t photograph well, at least not when Cassidy is holding the camera. Instead, you’ll have to make do with what I share below and across the page. I even tried excising the worst damaged part, a cheap third-party power-splitter Y lead, going from one old-school (otherwise known as a “Molex”) connector down to two SATA power feeds, photographing it on a grungy, mid-contrast, red leather wristrest. No luck; you’ll have to make do with the plain photo below. The key issue was that this cheap little bit of wiring loom is never normally expected to get even slightly warm – nowhere near the temperature of the CPU in the server, and certainly nowhere near combustion levels. It carries a few volts at a current of a couple of amps at most. Yet it had given off smoke, and in the course of whatever that failure looked like, it had also taken out the drive it was attached to. Or vice versa: in this case, the drive was an SSD that I had mounted in the big fat heavy fluted metal heatsink of a WD Raptor enterprise-grade disk, which one might have thought would contribute to getting rid of this excess heat.

Steve is a consultant who specialises in networks, cloud, HR and upsetting the corporate apple cart @stardotpro

“This cheap little bit of wiring loom is never normally expected to get even slightly warm”

BELOW My bad photography aside, you can see how badly this cheap, third-party power splitter has been charred

I was nowhere near the next cause for burnout alarm. In any case, I received no reports of photogenic heat damage from my esteemed colleague whose blushes I shall save, for he lost two drives simultaneously in a desktop NAS box. At my suggestion, he followed the wiring back a bit within the case and yes, the two dead drives were on the same spur of the power supply. Naturally, in a small desktop NAS with four drives, most users plump for the compromise configuration, being a RAID5 with a single-parity disk – this being okay against one dead disk, but not okay at all against two, simultaneously dead disks. I paused for a bit of Schadenfreude, having noted that this colleague has many different types of storage deployed in many configurations, and that he therefore wouldn’t be suffering too badly from this little blip – and then moved on to a new heat-related nightmare. Let’s list the kit first. A VMware host box in a small company, running version 5.5 unmolested for the past few years. Due to get the 6.5 update/ migration pretty soon but otherwise unremarkable, with the VMs sitting purring away on a pair of WD Red 2TB SATA disks. One VM (just to prove a point, really) was offboard, hosted on a Netgear ReadyNAS via iSCSI; most of the user data was on


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a separate NAS, hit directly by the users over the standard LAN. This made it a bit less scary when the machine, after several years of operation in all weathers, started running hot. Hot enough that it took only about six weeks for the fans to eat through their bearings and start colliding with their own enclosures. This didn’t seem very challenging. Bad fans? Change the fan. Spend £20 on eBay for a good one, shut the box down, wrench out the old fan and shroud casing... and find that the new casing isn’t quite the same. But the fans are: lots of cursing later, I had just the right bit to undo the self-tapping screws on all the fans, put the good fans in the right casing, put everything back together again – and then find the machine wouldn’t start. Or rather, it would start, but would then shut down well before any boot screens were visible. Much panicking, quietly so the client didn’t notice. Eventually I got it to go, I thought by taking out all the RAM and the graphics card and re-seating them. Even this wasn’t a good indicator of the source of the failure, though: a revisit ten days later to carefully shut everything down and get the machines out of the way of the carpet contractors was much more indicative of the true state of affairs. Like my home server, this machine had become painfully hot, which is why the fans had maxed out and killed themselves. It was even hot in the same area that mine had broken down, just around the junction of the drive electronics and the power cable: but no smoke here, no telltale wisps across otherwise pristine, silvery tin. This machine had just nicely cooked the plastic moulding that supports and presents the power contacts to the cable, so that the plastic de-cohered into a dry, crumbly, dusty mass.

It was necessary to move the drive carrier to change those misbehaving fans, causing the cable and connector to flex and leave a blackish-grey crumb trail on the blackish-grey flock of the old carpet. Once I picked up the server and moved it, I finally found the evidence - tiny hummocks of denatured plastic, neatly lined up under where the drive tray rests in the open position. No, I don’t have any pictures of this either. And I was way too scared of disturbing what was left of that drive’s electrical connections (effectively a coppery comb of irregular conductors, hanging unsupported in the open air) to try and get a nice clean shot of what was left behind up in the machine itself. Eventually I found a way of very gently spring-loading the connector so that the machine would spin up

ABOVE And here’s the effect of that cheap power splitter on my far more expensive SATA hard disk

BELOW Building the perfect NAS isn’t just about the box you choose; it’s about the hardware and software you support it with, too

without restarting, which was just about enough breathing space to get some idea of what was left on disks and backups, and what could be done to redeem the situation. See the box overleaf about non-Windows file systems and disastrous behaviour for some of what I found; the bottom line was that I had set up this machine with two partitions on the most important VM (a mirror, spread across two disks). All the action had been on just one of those two – quite enough to make the machine fail to start, and probably responsible for occasional crashes in the months leading up to discovery. So I had a realistic prospect of preserving and copying half the mirror to another disk or VM host. In reality, this was much faster than triggering the cloud-based machine image recovery option. Oddly, this was very leading-edge when it came to all matters cloud, but not so hot when it came to the actual workflow of the restore process. By the time I had the required empty Windows server built and ready for the restore, I could have made a LAN copy of the VM’s file system and had time for a slap-up fish-and-chip dinner down the road. The very best survivor was the VM living on an iSCSI shared array: all I had to do with that was disconnect it from the old server and connect it to the new server, then import it to the inventory within vSphere and stitch together its LAN card needs with the resources on the host. Some final tweaks remain unvisited here: the switch needs to be told to run the iSCSI ports with all the knobs turned up to 11. That means flow-control on, jumbo frames, and ideally a whole separate VLAN so the separation of traffic is as clear in the minds of the administrator as it is in the config of the hypervisor. I had already exceeded my reboot and fiddle interval with this workforce, however, so I had to let that sleeping dog lie. In my experience, those tweaks can double the speed of a Gigabit Ethernet link, taking the usual disk I/O figure from a respectable 50MB/sec up to an occasional 110MB/sec: it’s remarkable that an entire Windows server can run across a disk channel like that, without impediment to all but the most finicky, trained eye. My fix for this nightmarish brush with data loss is to start adding some serious depth to the way this 121


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BadSamba little operation stores data. First of all I found an excellent supplier of not just single 3.5in SAS interface disks, but whole swarms of them: ETB Technologies (etb-tech.com) put me together a care package of the correct, supported RAID card with the correct, supported wiring loom and some suitable 2TB SAS drives. I could then build up both servers with the kind of invisible, hardware-mediated RAID that I’ve recovered many times in the past without this kind of drama. The next move is to find the right role for the NAS box in this setup. It’s not a case of blind loyalty, my supplier right or wrong: I expect all designs and vendors to hit unexpected issues that stop their kit doing what it’s supposed to, and I want a quiet life, without persistent panic calls and difficult conversations about invoicing every time this comes up. Those two factors mean that having more than one platform – and more than one instance of the platform – is the right way to provide protection against the more frequently encountered causes of data deprivation. I’m going to keep everything on hardware RAID; I’m going to have two servers, each with two disks, plus a NAS with a further four disks. In fact, that could give me a little bit more protection than I strictly need, but in this case I really don’t mind that. Windows DFS will be presenting the share, with VMware allowing me to take complete image backups of the VMs (no fiddly restore processes involved!) and to use the NAS as an iSCSI target. No need to dabble with peculiar, debatable definitions of “domain member” status being upkept by under-documented NAS operating systems. I know many people assume this is overkill, and that the cloud ought to just make all this stuff work. It may be a mark of my client base, that they tend to be somewhat older, early adopters of technology and therefore burdened with a lot of dross they really don’t need to be keeping. I have a couple of responses for the cloud fans: the first is that cloud access is a distinctly mixed bag, all across the UK, and there are places where it just will never be fast enough to cope with the data portfolio of the customer. Not because of the twisted

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Not Bad Santa. On this occasion I was working with two file systems that, on the surface, are much later developments than Windows NTFS. One was VMware’s VMFS, controlling the basic disks that added together made my Windows VM’s mirror. The other was the quite opaque and achingly under-documented file system inside a Synology NAS box. Neither of them quite like to behave the way we’ve become unconsciously used to when dealing with Windows, especially when it comes to error messages. When hacking into a misbehaving VMware server, you have five ways to link with the storage subsystem. You can use the basic vSphere GUI client; the web client; VMware vCenter; the vSphere management assistant; or PowerShell with the VIX extensions. The list is almost overwhelming, but the problem is nothing will help you to figure out if an operation has failed. I tried to copy the damaged VM file set five times, because while the progress dialog shows what’s going on, it simply vanishes should the operation not work. This is scary, because many of the higher-level management tools appear to assume that all is okay with the hosting file system, and that any issues are within the VMs. This means they adopt a strategy of “always move rather than copy” – a copying regime with absolutely no safety net for failure to complete. And I was getting plenty of failures. In the end, I opted for the traditional Windows client, but to get the whole process to complete unimpeded, I had to take a user PC and stand it in the server room, on a known new decent patch cable, to prevent the overall copy process dying mid-spurt. The problem with the Synology was at another level entirely. Once it lost track of the domain it had

been associated with, nobody could log in to get their files. More uncomfortably than that, all the information on how the system copes with changes in Windows authentication started with the helpful doublewhammy of a firmware upgrade and a complete wipe and reload (presumably from that handy entire second copy of the files you’re keeping somewhere that doesn’t participate in the problem). I opted not to take that course, because waiting several days to complete a restore wasn’t a luxury available to me. So I found a series of deeply unpleasant behaviours: especially amusing was the dialog box that lets you edit the domain controller IP address, and then simply puts the original value back, without telling you why it has done so. This is beyond infuriating, because even Microsoft admits that bad things happen and you might lose a domain controller without the realistic or timely prospect of a complete, perfect restore. And having more than one way into your files, which are stored in more than one place, is a perfectly sensible and common role for a NAS box. Yet you can’t tell from the responses on the very pretty, all-GUI, all-clickable config screen what the outcome of a particular choice will be – one of which at any turn could be to render your files inaccessible or deleted. I don’t have a specific fix for this one. What happened was that the old, damaged DC eventually restarted after about 20 or 30 goes (whatever VMware was doing, or whether it was a bit of electrical good fortune, I know not), which suddenly and magically made it possible to edit the Synology DC IP address field, and be sure that it had stuck – and go for a reboot.

LEFT VMware vCenter will help you hack into a misbehaving VMware server, but won’t help you figure out if an operation has failed

economics of the internet supply companies, but because an early adopter of technology tends to carry on adopting. This means that the majority of these people’s files, sorted by size, are not part of that long tail of 15 or 20 years of mail: they are, rather, very bang-up-to-date things. My favourite recent discovery was several versions of a company “about

us” video, left on the workstation of the CEO for her to choose between. Not yet optimised for the web, they were a handy 20GB each. “Oh yes, the nice young man had to come in because he said I wouldn’t be able to receive them via email!” she said. I said that my opinion of how nice he was might be different from hers. cassidy@well.com


Futures Slug Section Sectionhead head

We explore the trends and technologies that are set to shape the future

Q&A: The internet of animals Vodafone “headsets” mean we now know where seals eat dinner p126

You could be an astronaut Why Space Nation is on a mission to turn us all into astronauts p127

Geek Day Out Relive Tim Peake’s time on the ISS – in Chichester p128

Quantum,grapheneand more:thepost-silicon more: the post-silicon worldofchips Silicon chips have powered PCs for decades. Nicole Kobie reveals what could come next

S

ilicon is the wonder material that enabled the computing revolution, but challengers are stepping up as we hit its fundamental size limit. Researchers are developing alternatives to silicon-based designs such as graphene, quantum and even biology-based creations, and we may turn their way if computing continues to leap in processing power as per Moore’s law. “The current cutting-edge silicon circuits use transistors, which are approximately 10nm [10 billionths of a metre] in size,” said Philip Thomas, a PhD student from the Graphene NOWNANO course at the University of Manchester and author of a recent paper on future computing materials. “That’s ludicrously tiny: a thousand of these transistors lined up back to back would still be far shorter than the width of a human hair.” Nevertheless, silicon can shrink even further. “10nm is still quite a bit larger than the absolute fundamental limit of using single silicon atoms, which are around 0.1 nm in size,” Thomas explained. “However, we’re unlikely to get to the point of using single silicon atoms because of the challenges of accurately building few-atom circuits on a large scale.” That, along with other technical limitations such as overheating, means we may need a new wonder material at some point.

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Why silicon’s here to stay… for now

Before we explore the materials and designs in the works, a reminder that there are reasons to carry on using silicon. “Silicon electronics is a very mature technology with pretty low manufacture costs,” Thomas said. “We’re also unlikely to run out of silicon. While high-performance computing pushes on using new technology, I wouldn’t be surprised if we still use silicon electronics in day-to-day appliances for many more years until a successor technology finally becomes cheaper. There’s no fundamental reason to replace silicon electronics for something as simple as a microwave oven, for example.” None of the researchers we spoke to see silicon being usurped for decades, if not longer, particularly for everyday use. Tom Hackenberg, analyst at IHS Markit, noted that computing patterns are changing away from high-powered devices towards portable machines with cloud support, meaning we won’t need to continue meeting Moore’s law at an individual hardware level. “The future of computing is moving toward cloud computing, fog computing and the Internet of Things,” he said, with individual systems using cloud computing for processing demands beyond what’s available on a device. Professor Andrew Adamatzky, head of the International Centre of

ABOVE Intel need not worry just yet: silicon is unlikely to be fully replaced for decades

Unconventional Computing at the University of the West of England, predicts silicon will remain the main material for computing chips for many years to come. “We both will be dead long before silicon will retire,” he told me. Indeed, he predicted that its replacement won’t come for 100 years or more. However, in the meantime, new materials and methods of computing could be used for niche purposes and extreme computing, such as supercomputers.

New materials and methods of computing could be used for niche purposes and extreme computing

Wonder materials

New materials will start to work their way in via hybrids, mixed with silicon. “The first replacements for silicon in conventional electronics (computers, phones, et cetera) – which are probably just a few years from market – are other semiconductors,” said Thomas. The floral-sounding germanium has already been demonstrated by IBM, which last year used a combination of germanium and silicon in 7nm transistors. “Germanium is being mixed with silicon, but beyond that people are looking at indium gallium arsenide, which is already widely used in light-emitting diodes (LEDs),” he said.


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Weirder ingredients are on the way, including graphene – which is so flat it’s described as 2D. “Atomically thin or ‘two-dimensional’ materials such as graphene and molybdenum disulphide could act as more longterm successors to silicon,” Thomas suggested. “These materials allow for electronic circuits which are potentially much faster and much more energy-efficient. It’s also possible to layer different materials on top of each other to create quite sophisticated circuit components that are just a few atoms thick.” This could also lead to flexible devices, such as a lightweight phone that wouldn’t crack if left in your back pocket, but Thomas isn’t convinced graphene is the answer because it doesn’t switch on and off easily – a key skill for transistors. “There are plenty of other reasons to use graphene in electronics – for example, as a transparent touchscreen – but other two-dimensional materials which are semiconductors, such as molybdenum disulphide, are likely to become important players in electronics.” One place graphene could find a home is the server market, said Hackenberg. “Eventually silicongraphene hybrids and graphene processors may appear over the next few decades, but they’re not likely to dislodge traditional silicon solutions very quickly,” he predicted. And, like your hippy aunt, electronics could go organic, with components being made out of polymers and other organic molecules. “While two-dimensional materials have generally superior properties to organic electronics, researchers in organic electronics will tell you that they currently have the edge in terms of potential for mass production,” Thomas said. “However, that’s likely to change with time.”

New formats

Future computers may also be built using entirely new processing methods. One option is optoelectronic circuits. Rather than have the 1s and 0s correspond to different levels of electric voltage, light is used. “This is most likely in telecommunications networks: fibre-optic cables already allow for incredibly high datatransfer rates but are presently slowed down by the electronics at each end of the telecommunication network,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of work going on trying to create optical circuits, and while they offer much faster circuitry than silicon-based electronics, the challenge is in scaling these circuits down to compete with electronic circuitry.” Then there’s quantum computing, which uses qubits that have more than

two states for processing – a pair would have four states, while three would have eight, exponentially increasing processing abilities. “Quantum computing is a completely different way of building electronic circuits that relies on manipulating the quantum properties of single particles,” said Thomas. “Quantum computing is still very much in its infancy – it makes 2D material work look advanced – but if it works... it’ll transform the way we do computing.” But Hackenberg believes quantum has limited use, and as such won’t have much impact on silicon. “It will only be applicable to the growing deep learning and artificial-intelligence computing, which really has limited impact on the total available market for silicon processors.”

specialised and never will be used as a general-purpose computer – if at all.” While sceptical about quantum et al, he has some bold ideas about what the future of computing might look like. “Computers will be growing inside our bodies,” he predicted, although considering that he expects silicon to remain the norm for a century, consider it a long-term bet. “Personal computing will become intrapersonal and intra-cellular. Each neuron of a human will be hijacked by a self-growing, self-repairing, self-reproducing molecular network. “Computers will be inside us. They will grow with us. They will span all living creatures on the planet in a united computing network.” In other words, if you find silicon processors impressive, wait until whatever replaces them shows up to blow our minds – perhaps literally.

Computers will be inside us... they will span all living creatures on the planet in a united computing network

Sceptical successors

Adamatzky is unconvinced by the above predicted systems. “They all have their own niches, but their potential is exaggerated,” he said, pointing to quantum systems. “Quantum computers are very

In-memorycomputersandTheMachine

There’s another way to speed up processing power that has nothing to do with chips: inmemory processing. “It’s based on the idea that it’s quicker to access data stored in RAM than on a hard disk, and has become more widespread in recent years as the cost of RAM has decreased and as 64-bit CPUs have become the norm,” said UWE’s Philip Thomas. That’s the idea behind HPE’s The Machine, an attempt at memory-driven computing. “In today’s computers, memory and processing are entirely separate, and as much as 90% of the work is devoted to moving information between tiers of memory and storage,” said HPE spokesperson Patrik Edlund. “HPE believes that only by redesigning the computer from the ground up – with memory at the centre – will we be able to overcome

the limitations of today’s technologies.” In late 2016, HPE demonstrated a proof-ofconcept memory-driven computing system. The demo showed compute nodes accessing a shared pool of fabric-attached memory, an optimised Linux-based OS running on a customised system on a chip, optical communication links, and new software designed to take advantage of abundant persistent memory. “Simulations based on the memory-driven computing architecture’s new software programming tools running on existing products already have improved execution speeds up to 8,000 times on a variety of workloads,” Edlund said. “HPE expects to achieve similar results as it expands the capacity of the prototype with more nodes and memory.”

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Q&A Internetofseals:whythey

haveantennaeontheirheads Researchers wanted to know where seals get their dinner, so they glued mobile Researcherswantedtoknowwheresealsgettheirdinner,sotheygluedmobile phonetechnologytotheirheads.DrBernieMcConnellofStAndrews’Sea MammalResearchUnittellsuswhyhe’sconnectingsealstotheinternet wANT TO KNOW where harbour seals go? Give them a mobile phone and let them call home. That’s exactly what researchers at the University of St Andrews’ Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) have done with the animals in Scotland, creating an internet of seals via data-collecting sensors and mobile phone technology that’s glued to their heads in order to study diving population numbers. However, don’t worry that Scottish seals are now the laughing stock of the sea, with antenna hats for the rest of their lives. The animals moult once a year, shedding the device. As it’s impossible to predict if the hardware will end up in the sea or on the shore, the seal data has to be collected live, with snippets uploaded from the sensors at predetermined times via Vodafone’s network. Dr Bernie McConnell, a researcher at the SMRU, revealed how the system works and why it’s worth connecting seals to satellite internet. ■ How did you track seals before this type of technology? Way back in the 1980s, we were the first to track a seal, and used a satellite system. That’s when everything was big and clunky… about 12 years ago, we jumped on the GPS bandwagon. And then in the past two years or so, we’ve been approached by Vodafone, which has vastly helped us to be more economical with energy by using the GSM [Global System for Mobile Communications] system. ■ How does the system know when to upload data? There are three phases these animals undergo: they can be on land, or at sea; at sea, they’re at the surface or they can be in a dive. Nothing works underwater, so we’re restricted in terms of reeling in data. We will inhibit any [data transfer] when the animal is underwater and normally wait until the animal is out on land. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee us connectivity, because it could be in a place where there’s no GSM coverage. So how often we actually get 126

data relayed back depends on the behaviour of the seal and the coverage. But we get it every two or three days.

Dr Bernie McConnell is a researcher at the St Andrews unit, and knows how to attach a mobile phone to a seal

■ Why not leave the connection open more often? The one battery charge has got to last six months. We have to be what we call “really Scottish” with this system… it takes energy to actually establish a channel. So it’s not real-time data. ■ What information is being collected? We’re peering underwater – with the data we get back, we can reconstruct the animals’ movements, their behaviour. And we can essentially observe animals through telemetry. It’s essentially GPS, which is location, and depth, which tells us something about whether the animal is feeding on the seabed or feeding in the water. There are ten tags that we put on at Orkney. One of the things that we found there is that [the seals] seem to have different foraging areas. Each individual has a foraging area that is very repeatable, as they’re animals of habit, but they’re all very, very different, which makes our studies sort of difficult as well. If they were all going to the

We’re peering underwater – with the data we get back, we can reconstruct the animals’ movements

BELOW The fetching devices simply fall off when the seals moult their skin

ABOVE Specialist, energy-dense batteries means data can be beamed back for six months

same single place, then we’d study that place. Now we know where we could target our sampling of those sites to understand what’s [going on with the fish stocks in those areas, and how it affects the seals]. ■ What technology leaps would you like to see next? The thing that keeps us awake at night is minimising the use of energy. So we have extremely specialised batteries, the most energy-dense batteries on the planet. We’re working on solar cells, but being in Scotland, there’s not always a lot of sunlight. It would be great if we could relay pictures, if we could have a small camera onboard the tag that could take pictures of what the animal is feeding on. You’re talking [about] sending out much more data. Capturing video or still data from a tag isn’t that challenging. What is challenging is compressing it using minimal amounts of energy. As this is going from 3G to 4G and all the way to 5G, all of these systems have become more efficient. So we hope to be able to have more complex sensors so we don’t have to guess that the animal is feeding – by analogy of travelling to the shops, we can see when the seal is at the shops, but we want to see what it’s buying.


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Futures

Whatis...

SpaceNation? Thelistofpeoplewhohavevisitedspaceisfilledwith thetoptalentsinengineeringandscience,butstartup SpaceNationwantstoturnusallintoastronauts

OursistersiteAlphrcoversthelatestintech andscience.Hereareitstopstorieson innovationsjustoverthehorizon Recreating literature for the smartphone age Books no longer need to be words on paper, but how will literature change as our stories shift into new formats on phones? That’s the idea being considered by the Ambient Literature project, which you may remember from our “Novel ways to reinvent ebooks” article (see issue 264, p42). Ambient examines how storytelling could evolve using video, GPS and other features found in our gadgets. The phone “has rapidly become a reading device, but so much of what we read on our smartphones wasn’t made for smartphones,” said Kate Pullinger, who is working on a piece of writing for the project. Alongside the traditional novel, stories could be told via podcasts, ambient music or even augmented-reality experiences such as Pokémon Go. pcpro.link/270stories

F

ewer than 600 people have been to space, but that’s surely set to change: the advent of commercial space travel is now tantalisingly close. Space Nation wants to kickstart the shift from professional astronauts with science and engineering skills to Joe Public – and to help, it’s built an app. So I can download an app that will fire me into space? Not quite. Download Space Nation’s app, and you’ll be given a series of games to test if you have the required qualities to be an astronaut. If you shoot to the top of the rankings, you have a chance to take part in real-life, in-person astronaut training.

What happens if I top the charts? If you manage to top the leaderboard in the app phase, it’s time to put down the phone and head to one of Space Nation’s three-month intensive training sessions, held at as-yetundisclosed locations. You’ll face mental, physical and social challenges and lessons, so even if you’re not selected to break the bonds with Earth and jet off into space, you’ll walk away with some solid teamwork skills, the organisers claim. I smell a rat. How many people will actually become astronauts? The founders have pledged they’ll choose someone by the end of 2017 and extend the programme to train more astronauts. At least your chances are better than they’ve ever been – unless

you’re a scientist or engineer working for the European Space Agency. What’s the point of Space Nation? Alongside spurring interest in science and technology education among children and young people, the company believes that a new era in space travel is approaching – one in which normal people, rather than only overachievers, will head into orbit. Once we humans start mining asteroids, astronauts will no longer be pilots and scientists alone, but cooks, cleaners and, well, miners too. Space Nation wants to start getting people ready and learn the best way to offer such training. Whoever wins the contest in the first year will head up as a tourist, while in the future they’ll likely be given jobs, the company said. Does it have its own space shuttle? Not exactly. Space Nation has teamed up with Axiom, which is planning a commercial space station. It aims to run space flights for tourists by 2019, and send the first components up to the International Space Station by 2020. If that sounds ambitious, Axiom is led by Michael Suffredini, the former director of the ISS. It will take more than friends for this project to work, but having such connections will help. Sign me up! Hold on. The app wasn’t yet released at the time of writing; Space Nation promises it will launch in early 2017. Head to spacenation.org to sign up for email alerts.

Should parliament become an innovation lab? MPs will move out of the Houses of Parliament for several years to allow for repairs, and thinktank the Hansard Society argues that it’s a perfect time to trial democratic technology solutions. But politicians aren’t all convinced that technology itself is the answer to democracy’s problems, with MP Stella Creasy arguing it’s already “impossible to engage with the level of volume” from existing engagement tools such as Twitter, email, e-petitions and Facebook. Exactly what a “future parliament” would look like currently isn’t clear, but Rebecca Rumbul, head of research at mySociety, called for “considered interaction” rather than Westminster attempting to build a “Facebook for politics”. pcpro.link/270parliament

A new meaning to viral content It turns out that those annoying social media hypochondriacs who share their every symptom on Facebook and Twitter are doing us a favour. Since 2013, the Food Standards Agency has studied social media for mentions of illness to track norovirus outbreaks. The FSA said it can accurately predict an increase in the illness in a specific area a week ahead of an outbreak 70% to 80% of the time. When an outbreak looms, the FSA triggers a digital public awareness programme, encouraging people to wash their hands and avoid ill friends. pcpro.link/270food 127


Futures

GeekDayOut: Novium’s TimPeake Exhibition TheChichestermuseumcelebrates local-boy-done-goodwithaspacethemedexhibition

T

im Peake brought pride to all of Britain with his six-month stint aboard the International Space Station, but you can forgive Chichester’s Novium Museum for being a little more enthusiastic than most – he grew up in the West Sussex town, after all. The Novium is celebrating his astronomic achievement with a dedicated exhibition, which Peake’s own parents helped organise. “Tim’s journey from Chichester schoolboy to astronaut has been really inspirational to people of all ages, and as the museum in his home city, it wanted to do something to celebrate his remarkable achievements,” said Cathy Hawkes, museum manager. His parents donated one of the key exhibits, the blue flight suit Peake wore to enter the ISS, and Hawkes noted that “it’s amazing to think that this clothing has actually been in space”. There’s more from Peake’s extraterrestrial trip. “The display also contains special compression garments that Tim wore on his journey back down to Earth, space food donated by the European Space Agency – which was created by Heston Blumenthal – and letters from his fans around the world, which 128

were vaguely addressed to Tim’s home, such as ‘Tim, astronaut, Sussex’ and found their way to Tim.” Aside from Peake’s fan mail, there are activities and displays revealing what life is like aboard the ISS. “You can try your hand at doing activities wearing special space gloves, which gives you an idea of some of the things that Tim would have had to do on the International Space Station,” said Hawkes. “There are also robot arms which you can use and test your skills at. “Tim’s dad also came up with an idea to turn part of the gallery into sleeping quarters so people can find out about sleeping in space, and they can also listen to Tim’s very own music playlist,” Hawkes added. And if you’re looking for a new line of work, there’s a careers area with quizzes to reveal which space-related job most suits you. “There’s also an augmented-reality area where you

ABOVE Tim Peake’s parents, Angela and Nigel, helped organise the exhibition and also donated items ABOVE RIGHT The Novium’s Space Saturdays feature hands-on science experiments for kids

can explore the International Space Station and look for Tim Peake, who is hiding in there somewhere,” Hawkes said. If you have a youngster who has a passion for science, bring them along to the Novium’s Space Saturdays, which feature hands-on science experiments, or to the museum’s themed sleepovers. “The learning element alongside the exhibition is really important. One of the things we want to do is to promote the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and inspire young people to realise the wealth of opportunities that are available as a result of studying these subjects,” Hawkes said. “Tim’s message is that if you work hard, you can realise your dreams, and that is a key theme of the exhibition.” Visiting the Novium Museum in Chichester is completely free of charge. For more details, visit thenovium.org/timpeake.

There’s an augmented reality area where you can explore the ISS and look for Tim Peake, who is hiding somewhere

LEFT Both kids and adults can have a go at using the ISS’s iconic robot arms


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Onelastthing...

I

t was a rare treat to record the PC Pro CES podcast along with Messrs Danton and Collins (podcast 401 on soundcloud.com/ pc-pro). Doing it from my room on the 20th floor of Las Vegas’ Mirage Hotel, with a “volcano” erupting every 30 minutes down below, might not have been the best choice, but needs must. CES is turning into a rather weird event, which is also mirroring the industry. There were thousands of exhibitors in attendance, each trying desperately to grab even ten seconds of your time. There is a real feeling that “you have to be there to be there,” even if that first appears to be contradicted by the lack of stands from big guns such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. A lot happens away from the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre, though, and that’s true of almost all companies. If you want to have your senses exploded, go to one of the stands of the big players. Here you will find an orgy of corporate self-expression spread over a stand as big as the centres of many market towns. Some of the tech on display is just breathtaking – unbelievably thin TVs from LG, Samsung and Sony with eye-popping colours and deep blacks. (Of course, this is specially tuned material designed to show off the best capabilities of the screen; I’m fairly sure a rerun of The West Wing wouldn’t look as amazing.) Trying to work out what is good and what is merely there is hard work, because there are often gems hidden away in unexpected places. But finding them is the stuff of tired feet, and pounding headaches, because the number of companies who specialise in iPhone cases can be somewhat overwhelming. Despite all of this, you make your best effort to get around the indescribably huge aircraft hangers that are LVCC, and then start trudging through all the other new areas that have sprung up. And at the end of a day, you just want to grab a bite of something solid to eat, suck down a cold beer and go to bed. But another PR bunny has emailed suggesting it would be “totally awesome” if you could pop round to their evening event, where the music will be so loud you can’t even think straight, and industrialstrength gin and tonics flow a little too readily. My team at work maintains that this is all a holiday. That I actually go to Vegas to lounge in a 130

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HisannualtriptoCES leavesJonHoneyball undertheweather butoptimisticabout thefutureoftech spa having a relaxing time. Now whilst I would recommend Sin City for exactly that purpose, the Vegas of CES is unbelievably hard work. And then you get ill – “CES flu” is an annual phenomenon. It might be due to the flights, but I fly a lot during the rest of the year and don’t get unwell then. So why do we bother? It is excruciatingly tiring, and it’s just after Christmas, which doesn’t help. There is way more than you can cover in the time available. Everything is eye-wateringly expensive unless you get a long way from the strip itself. The press event days are manic – yes, there really is a three-hour queue for the Samsung keynote. The days are long and night folds into day. But hopefully you spot a trend, a spark of something new. A validation that VR really is a waste of time for the moment, because the data rates required by the high-resolution screen panels require a monster desktop computer. That event-level networking is still mostly broken, and that buying a $70 PAYG SIM from T-Mobile for unlimited LTE data and USA-internal calls is a really good idea. That the Internet Of Things is becoming almost a contagion, and that a whole new wave of customers will get burnt in ways they simply cannot conceive today. That everyone is looking for the next big thing after mobiles and tablets, and that Amazon might have managed to become the biggest player in the IT world without anyone really noticing. Voice control is a game changer, and it is here and now. And all of those expectations and promises from vendors, such as Apple CarPlay and Microsoft’s embedded OS for cars, are just melting away like the morning dew. The harsh reality of a cold sunrise in Vegas is the greatest leveller there is: “Not good enough” is the verdict that is handed out time and time again, as dreams are shattered and business plans torn up. It’s truly the modern battleground for a vendor. Did you see their widget? Wasn’t it crap? Good? Interesting? Worth a look? View, consider, consume, move on. I have just ten seconds for your pitch – at 15 seconds I am moving away. Engage with me now, right now, or I am gone. It’s brutal in its approach. But in this swirling gale of noise, lights, queues, people, viral explosions, you get to see into the future. And I think it’s going to be fun, which is why I’ll be there next year.

‘Not good enough’ is the verdict handed out time and time again, as dreams are shattered and plans torn up

Jon Honeyball is a now slightly poorer contributing editor of PC Pro; he wishes he’d bought his dollars back in June. Email jon@jonhoneyball.com


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PC Pro - April 2017